November 29, 2004

Why Their Hate for Us Matters

Paul Cella draws on a study of actual al Qaeda terrorists to simply, directly, and (in my view) decisively describe the single most important action to be taken in defense of our nation (emphasis his):

Reading this, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the most important security measure against jihadist terror is the simple expedient of keeping the jihadists out. No jihadists in the United States, no jihadist terror in the United States. How blindingly obvious. But that is not all: Even if we concede that keeping every last jihadist out is nearly impossible in a society such as ours, this study suggests that merely keeping their friends and sympathizers out will produce the desired effect. Jihadist terror is nurtured by a distinct culture; without the culture, even the most enterprising jihadist will be trussed and frustrated.

The key points are 1) that al Qaeda jihadists aren't poor Third Worlders lashing out, and 2) that they aren't generally particularly religious before their affiliation begins. The goal, therefore, is to scuttle the circumstances that contribute both the environment and the grudge to the drive that ends in mass murder.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:02 PM

The Hero as Dad

Jeremy Glick's wife, Lyz, has published a book meant to preserve her memories of him for their daughter. As Michelle Malkin notes, Mrs. Glick has taken a much classier approach than have others whom 9/11 gave platforms, and I'll surely buy the book when I've found work.

As I discovered this summer, Jeremy and I took judo classes at the same dojo in Westwood, New Jersey (as did one of this year's female Olympians). Perhaps the season makes me more apt to recall such things, but right around the corner from the dojo, there's a little park with a gazebo; it's the sort of suburban public space that makes one think of holidays and traditions. Picture the images that our culture overlays on such places — summer concerts, winter strolls in the snow — and the odds are that you'll be sharing a thought with Jeremy.

Would that we could all be of such character as the Glicks. Pray that few of us will face such decisions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:03 PM

Turning Back into the Swing

As you can see, I pretty much took an unintended break from blogging during the extended weekend. I didn't lack for material; I'm actually carrying around several fairly ponderous topics that I haven't yet managed to address.

And it isn't as if I've been idle. Of course, we had a Thanksgiving gathering to attend. I dealt with technical problems on the Web site. We put up Christmas lights for the first time on our new house, including on a thirty-foot (or so) evergreen in the front yard (amid the boughs of which I risked life and limb to bring cheer — and light — to the neighborhood). I spent a great deal of time writing something for somebody. The basement needed cleaning so that it would be available if a Sunday gathering attracted enough children that they'd best be banned from the living room. And we baptized our second child into the Church.

As Thanksgiving shifted into Black Friday, somewhere between midnight and 1:00 a.m., I realized that I was too exhausted to give the dog his belated walk. Looking for some excuse to shirk, I went outside, hoping to hear rain. The rain had passed, though, so I unfolded a patio chair and sat next to a canine who, I was relieved to observe, seemed to have settled under the rattling fiberglass roof.

Sitting out in the fresh air — dozing, I'll admit — I attempted to layer all that I could hear. On top went the occasional car radios from nearby streets. Then the sound of wheels on wet pavement. Then the banging of a defunct Chinese food restaurant's loose sign. Then the wind in the trees. Drifting in and out of sleep, I wondered what sounds there might be at a layer with which I lack the experience to separate it.

Too many stadium concerts, nights at bars, headphones, and boomin' systems have left me with a lifelong ring in my ears. Although it is always there, I'm not usually aware of it. If I tune my hearing to do so, I can bring it to the fore, but it's really just part of the reality perceived through my senses and not reported to my conscious mind. What other parts of reality aren't we aware that we're perceiving?

Sometimes it is only when the noise of late-night traffic dies down that we can hear the wind. But the wind persists, nonetheless. The currents that flow through our lives carry on whether we feel them or not. Too easily, we forget that we have to stop and listen in order to know where they've taken us.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:50 AM

November 26, 2004

Technical Glitches

Just in case you stopped by a blank blog yesterday evening or this morning, I thought it worth mentioning that I had some technical difficulties on the server end. All's resolved now, though... or appears to be. Let me know if you experience any strange behavior (other than by the resident author, of course).

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:55 AM
Site-Related Announcements

November 25, 2004

Thanks Giving

Thankful that my religion encourages prayer even when — especially when — it feels utterly useless.

Thankful for all of those — from close family to distant members of our nation's armed forces — who keep my hardships well above the range in which true despair and true terror are justified.

This is advice to myself as much as to everybody else: take time today to acknowledge the obvious blessings in your life and to find the silver linings, no matter how thin they might be.

See also my statement on Anchor Rising.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:28 AM

November 23, 2004

Post-Election Pause in SSM Fight Over

As usual, the Marriage Debate Blog is must reading for anybody interested in this issue. In fact, the significance of the posts currently up is a little surprising; the idea of strategic pause and/or focus on a temporary federalist compromise that some SSM advocates urged post-election doesn't seem to have caught on.

As I said, I recommend perusing the full blog, but I'll highlight three things, here. First comes a case that illustrates how proximate a Supreme Court opportunity to nationalize same-sex marriage or civil unions could be. Vermont-civil-unioned lesbians separated, and the biological mother of their child moved to Virginia and claimed sole custody. The Virginia judiciary has ruled in her favor, the Vermont judiciary has ruled in the other's favor. What now?

"The fact is, in this case there may be no enforcement mechanism for the Vermont court because the Virginia courts, the legislature and the governor of Virginia don't recognize the validity of the Vermont union," said Michael Mello, a professor at Vermont Law School and the author of a recent book on same-sex marriage.

"It's going to be a case like this, and possibly this case, that's going to get the gay marriage issue before the Supreme Court. That's really the only place to go when there is this kind of direct collision between two state courts, and it's hard to imagine a more direct confrontation," Mello said.

One further thing that this case illustrates is that the pieces are already in place for the national public battle over homosexual relationships to be about nothing less momentous than at least civil unions, and probably marriage. That fact works against Deb Price, whose suggestions for Democrats raise an interesting difference of opinion in their own right:

The Senate Democrats' new leadership team ought to use its fresh start to get "the gay thing" right: Seize the national spotlight by making every senator vote on a host of everyday protections that most Americans want those of us who're gay to share. ...

Imagine how hollow it would sound for amend-the-Constitution senators to claim "I don't have anything against homosexuals" if they had to defend such votes as continuing to allow Social Security to exclude elderly gay couples from its protective safety net.

I'm actually for that sort of public debate. If we believe same-sex couples ought to have a right or privilege, then they ought to; if we don't, they oughtn't. Some such debates (such as expansion of Social Security benefits) would highlight the degree to which opening things up to homosexuals will (and often should) open them up to any two people (or more) who support each other. On others, I don't see why politicians couldn't just make their argument for keeping a certain right limited to married couples. (Price's mistake, it seems to me, is to assume that there really aren't considered reasons underlying opposition to same-sex marriage.)

And lastly, I thought I'd blogged Fr. Roger Landry's excellent homily on marriage when it was published in the Fall River Diocesan newspaper, but I guess the fact that I couldn't find it online let it slip through the cracks. Anyway, apart from being worth a read on its own merits, the piece brings to the fore the quirks of life. Fr. Landry (I'm almost positive) was the priest at my wedding back in 1999. Five years later, we have neighboring posts on the Marriage Debate Blog. Sometimes it's the little things...

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:24 PM
Marriage & Family

Hope for Hitmen

You've surely seen this already, but I just had to offer my own blog-style shake of the head:

"I'm trying to be a good Catholic," [Representative Barbara A.] L'Italien said. "But this should be a separate issue. Church should be a sanctuary for me and my faith and not have anything to do with my work."

As Jeff Miller says:

This attitude is really not so surprising. First we had the false dichotomy of church and state with the alleged wall of separation to prevent you from actually voting based on your faith. Now we have the separation of work and church. Her comment is just so laughable and devoid of reason. Would her excuse also go for a professional robber?

I'd add to Jeff's comments that L'Italien is a poster girl for more than the separation of church and X movement. Note the phrase "a sanctuary for me and my faith"; the more significant separation that's all too common in our society, in my mind, is not between church and state, but between faith and religion. L'Italien thinks the Church should support her faith, whatever that might happen to be. Attempts to direct that faith should be "a separate issue" from her relationship with the religious organization.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:33 PM | Comments (1)

Sullivan Argues for the FMA

Advocates of same-sex marriage have a thin beam on which to balance. On one hand, they have to argue in such a way as to leave the path through the courts — the only currently viable route for their cause — both practically and rhetorically open. On the other hand, they have to allay fears of precisely that path in order to prevent the courts from being restrained. This makes for some stunning reversals.

For the case in point, begin with Allan Carlson's Family Research Council piece on the link between marriage and procreation. Carlson traces the connection, historically, back to the days of the Roman Empire's decline; theologically, he traces it through the New Testament back into the very foundation of Judeo-Christian religious tradition. He then examines the factors that have contributed to its decline and offers some strategies for reinvigorating it. How do you suppose somebody like, say, Andrew Sullivan might respond to such a piece?

Well, as it happens, Sullivan responded by making the case for the Federal Marriage Amendment (emphasis Sullivan's):

The basic problem for the anti-gay marriage forces is that they are upholding a marital standard for gays that no one any longer upholds for straights. And this obvious inequality - recognized even by Scalia, for example - cannot withstand judicial scrutiny under any reasonable standard of equal treatment under the law. Thats why I think it's hyperbole to describe the Massachusetts court of judicial "activism." The argument of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was that gays couldn't marry because they couldn't procreate. Once it was obvious that this standard did not apply to heterosexuals, the court had no choice but to strike down the inequality. It was not a radical decision at all. It was an inescapable one.

Before I address the larger gap in Sullivan's thinking, I should note that my disagreement about the decision's inescapability highlights a more limited gap. When Carlson suggests that it is no longer possible to "defend the purpose of marriage as procreation... in the current constitutional climate," it is a practical, strategic judgment of the judiciary's disposition: "Mere words—even of a new amendment—are unlikely to contain these 'penumbras' and 'emanations.'"

In that skeptical paragraph, Carlson is addressing "the right of privacy" — the more fundamental detriment to the linkage of marriage and procreation. He makes it clear that an FMA remains one of the "ways in which firewalls could be built around the already battered institution of marriage." I would argue (and have) that the FMA would merely force the Supreme Court to acknowledge the firewall already in existence, one on which every previous loosening of the marital norm has been contingent.

In short, it isn't true that the procreative standard is not regulated within the law: the definition of marriage itself applies it. That the standard is not more strictly and explicitly regulated is only evidence of the degree to which all of the lawmakers and judicial precedent-setters believed it to be inherent. (Does anybody doubt that the oversight would have been swiftly remedied had our forebears had any inkling of our present circumstances?)

Here enters the larger gap in Sullivan's rhetoric. It simply isn't the case that "no one any longer upholds [the procreative marital standard] for straights" — unless by "no one" you mean "no judges" or (to be debatementally generous) "the law." Whether or not the average man or woman on the street would think to hammer it into words, the standard is still upheld firmly on a cultural level. In a manner of phrasing it, the possibility of this disconnect between law and culture is exactly why our representative branches are the ones that are supposed to write the law — exactly why so many judicial rulings, including Goodridge, are correctly derided as "activistic."

So, despite my expectation of disagreement when I began reading Sullivan's post at the urging of an emailer, I find that he and I are of like mind: an amendment to the Constitution is necessary if the citizens of the United States of America want the law's definition of marriage to accord with the culture's definition, and not the other way around. Oh, he'll insist that those citizens only "have to amend a state constitution," but if the decision of Massachusetts' high court was "inescapable," it is a thin ruse to insist that the same would not be true for the nation's high court.

I suffer from no delusion that advocates for same-sex marriage will allow the public's choices to remain so clear. Nonetheless, it is pleasant to bask in this little bit of light, particularly following an election day on which the people of eleven more states confirmed their willingness to write marital truths into the law.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:43 PM | Comments (6)
Marriage & Family

November 22, 2004

The Wrong Man for the Right Role at the Wrong Time

John Derbyshire has posted two ten-reasons lists, one for Bush's reelection and one for Kerry's failure to be elected. I don't know how relevant this is, but the lists reminded me to post a thought that I had last night.

Because I hardly ever have time to sit in front of a television, these days, I've never watched the show American Dreams, which is set during the Vietnam era. Last night's episode, however, sucked me in. While the elder son — MIA and presumed by some of his family to be dead — limped his way through the jungles of Vietnam, his sister Meg accompanied her boyfriend to the local recruiting office to do some middle-of-the-night war protesting. To Meg's surprise, the boyfriend's pals began spreading gasoline around the place. After she'd stormed away, he threw a Molotov cocktail into the building.

The following day, Meg's uncle, a police officer, informed her that the boyfriend's pals' van was spotted at the scene, and that a snoozing janitor had been badly hurt in the fire. When confronted by Meg, the boyfriend lied about the extent of his involvement; when confronted by the uncle, he snidely brushed him off — the picture of malicious and recklessly superficial rebellion. Well, the thing of it was, throughout the scenes of this subplot, I kept thinking of John Kerry. (Here's a picture of Meg and the boyfriend; here's a picture of Kerry and John Lennon.)

Before the election, I read somewhere that the character of Jenny's abusive anti-war boyfriend in Forrest Gump was based on John Kerry (picture). Whether or not that's true (and I place no significant trust on its being so), it's certainly a connection that comes quickly to mind. Not so much based on character, because I know only Kerry's public persona of the time, but on the dress, the facial carriage, and the demeanor. Indeed, if the Forrest Gump character drew from Kerry at all, it was probably just the image, fleshed out with the author's own creative characterization, filling a necessary role in the plot.

However much some Americans like to reminisce about those times, I think all but the most jaded realize that there was a vicious dark side to the youth revolution. One need only see a picture of the young John Kerry for him to slip right into the script, fairly or not.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:10 PM | Comments (5)

Marriage History Rewritten

Over on Anchor Rising, Marc takes controversy over Oliver Stone's new movie as a springboard to write about history and homosexuality. My favorite instance of historical gerrymandering with respect to same-sex marriage comes from Andrew Sullivan's Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con. In a back-and-forth about whether some of the Christian rituals were marriages or explicit "brotherhood" ceremonies (perhaps used, periodically, to spur a truce between hostile groups), classics professor Ralph Hexter tells what appears to be a pretty spectacular lie.

Hexter argues that (in the Sixteenth Century) Michel de Montaigne witnessed the ceremony in contention, and that it would be odd if it had been a benign brotherhood ceremony, because some of the participants had been burned as punishment. Even were it true, one could argue that benign brotherhood ceremonies would have been as apt to be used for heretical purposes as marriage ceremonies were. One could argue, further, that the burning illustrates, quite clearly, that the ceremony had been misused. But such arguments aren't necessary.

Turn the page in Sullivan's book, and you find reprinted the relevant paragraph from Montaigne. Hexter got just about every important detail wrong. Montaigne was not a witness; he was told the story (as a humorous anecdote) a few years after the incident had occurred. More to the point, he is explicit that the couple had used the actual marriage ceremony for men and women, not a brotherhood ceremony, and certainly not a ceremony for same-sex marriages.

I'd note, too, that every historical example to which same-sex marriage proponents refer differs in important ways with modern notions of same-sex unions. As Marc notes, they never involved children. Often, however, that isn't the only difference from modern constructs that aligns with traditionalists' arguments.

For example, proponents note some Native American tribes that apparently had a sort of same-sex marriage. However, not only did a social stigma apply to them, but one of the spouses was said to be a man-woman and was made to fill the role of wife. In that last aspect, one sees an echo of the traditionalist argument that infertile opposite-sex couples, at the very least, bolster the cultural message of marriage: that it is about the male-female relationship and, ultimately, about procreation.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:41 AM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

November 20, 2004

Targeted Advocacy

I'm starting to sense a looming cloud (perhaps "swarm" would be a better word) of advocacy to bring same-sex marriage to Rhode Island. Consequently, when addressing a question or case within that topic that seems particularly related to my state, I'll put the relevant post on Anchor Rising and note, here, that I've done so.

Such is the case with "Meeting the Emotional Needs of the Elite," which responds to a Providence Journal column by Anne Fausto-Sterling, a Brown professor and lesbian Massachusetts spouse of playwright/Brown professor Paula Vogel.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:09 AM
Marriage & Family

November 19, 2004

The Dark Places of Washington

Anybody daydreaming about the world of high-profile political appointments ought to read Tony Blankley's take on the audacity that President Bush has shown in appointing people who actually support his vision:

On the day after Gonzales' nomination, an old Justice Department hand told me that they were going to "eat Gonzales alive."

I know these people. They mean it. He better go over there with a battle-hardened Washington team. The only thing those senior 'crats respect is the cold-hearted exercise of brutal power by their political master. The battle at Justice will be similar to our battles in the Middle East. Any gestures of goodwill or cooperation by Gonzales will be seen as weakness and will have the same effect on the bureaucrats that blood has on the nostrils of a shark.

And please forgive this wordsmith his chuckles; I couldn't help but wonder whether the misspelling in the following paragraph is a sly effort to make a mildly vulgar metaphor somewhat dirtier:

Every entering secretary has a binary choice to make. Either turn over your manhood (or the female equivalent if the secretary is a woman) to the bureaucracy, in which case they will make you look good in Washington (so long as no one gets a peak at the vacancy in your nether parts); or prepare to be undercut by your own employees -- from the janitor to the senior civil servant in your building.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:12 PM | Comments (1)

A Reminder of Reality

It's not a feeling in which I'd advise reclining for long; the lampooned attitude is too pervasive and too strong. Still, I found Martin Cothran's needling of one newspaper in Kentucky to be very satisfying:

The only thing more gratifying than seeing Kentuckians give an overwhelming vote of support for the institution of marriage is seeing the Herald-Leader get so upset about it.

How many editorials has it written condemning those who supported the amendment and bemoaning the fact that 75 percent of Kentuckians approved the Marriage Protection Amendment? Ten? Eleven? Twelve?

If a politician were repudiated by the margin the Herald-Leader was, the paper would be writing editorials about how out of touch he was. But when you're the one who's out of touch, it's hard to know exactly how far.

The media's condescending attitude in the debate over the definition of marriage is at the heart of only one of the many lessons that can be gleaned from the amendment's passage.

The first lesson is that vitriol and open disdain directed toward honest and well-intentioned people is not likely to sway their opinions. From the inception of the debate over same-sex marriage, the Herald-Leader has done little more than impugn the motives and question the integrity of the amendment's supporters. And in the process of lecturing readers about the evils of hate, the paper provided a perfect object lesson by engaging in the very activity it was condemning.

Read the whole thing. It's important that we pause, now and then in our struggle, to remind ourselves of the reality beneath the veneer and the rhetoric and the imbalance of power.

(Via Marriage Debate)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:02 PM
Marriage & Family

A Crack in the Egg Shell

Of all the pieces about Theo Van Gough assassination, Andrew Stuttaford's "How Enlightenment Dies" is among the most compelling:

Crucially, the Dutch appear to have abandoned teaching the mutual tolerance, however rough-and-ready, that is essential to the functioning of a free society. Instead they opted for the walking-on-eggshells sensitivities of multiculturalism, and a state of mind in which open debate, if someone somewhere could deem it offensive, was a danger, not a delight. In a country that was drawing many of its immigrants from traditions where notions of tolerance had little or no part to play, the consequences should have been obvious. If liberal democracy is to survive in all its noisy acrimony, all of its citizens — even the most disaffected, even the most devout, even the B's — need to develop a thick skin. In Holland, nobody showed them how. To Van Gogh, multiculturalism was farcical. And for Van Gogh it was a farce that turned lethal.

I offer that quotation by way of partial response to a comment that Zein Cesar Majul made upon my previous mention of Van Gogh. The truth is, with its patchwork excuse making and accusational reversal, I'm not sure how to respond to this:

Perhaps the reason we don't have incidents such as the killing of Van Gogh is because as a society, we are much more "accepting" of how other cultures behave. Moreover, most thinking people make a distinction between cultural modalities and general ideal constructs such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Van Gogh chose to generalize from a specific cultural practice common to many societies both muslim and non-muslim and label it as "Islam." Muslim jusrists have over the years spoke out against forced marriages and female circumcision. This has had little effect, as most educational institutions in muslim countries have become secularized and those that are not, will not deal with issues that are socially controversial. The muslim community (over a billion strong) has more than its fair share of fanatics. By definition, a fanatic may not be reasoned with and will adhere only to his own code of conduct. Van Gogh left himself open to all comers in this regard. Perhaps the Netherlands should institute polygraph tests for immigrants and asylum seekers to ascertain if they are of firm intention to abide by the laws of the society they are moving to and pledge fealty to its government and institutions.

As an afterthought, perhaps we are just more used to this kind of stuff. The USA is a rather violent place where perhaps more killings like this occur than we are aware of or care to remember. How long will it be before we all forget what the Oklahoma bomber's motive was?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:52 AM | Comments (2)

A Foot in the Door for the Itinerant Salesman

Wesley Smith's piece on NRO a few days ago is worth the time of anybody concerned about euthanasia — particularly those who lean toward supporting it in some cases:

But beneath the weirdness, the shenanigans of Nitschke and his suicide groupies should serve as a warning to the rest of us about the potential consequences of legalizing assisted suicide. United States advocates like to pretend that legalized facilitated death will always be limited to the actively dying when nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering. But this is highly unlikely. Once one accepts the noxious notion that killing is an acceptable answer to the problem of human suffering, how can it possibly be limited to the terminally ill?...

In fact, this is precisely what has happened in the Netherlands. After more than 30 years of permitted euthanasia, the category of the Dutch killable has expanded steadily; it now includes the depressed, the chronically ill, and the disabled, including infants who are born with birth defects. And now, the Dutch parliament seems set on lowering the age of consent to be killed to twelve years old.

Westerners, particularly Americans, have a tendency to approach problems with a practical view toward facilitating people's happiness. We're rule-benders and latitude-givers. That attitude is wonderful — Christian — but only if we maintain firm footing on first principles when we put it into action.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)

Silence Doesn't Mean Inactivity

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past couple of days. I've been extremely busy with various things — some blog- and writing-related, others not. However, I have been researching and writing about Rhode Island's entry into the national debate about judicial power over at Anchor Rising. The case of Fox 10 reporter Jim Taricani has national implications (not the least because it's a federal case), and I recommend the discussion that Carroll Andrew Morse and I have been having (with some help from readers) to anybody who takes an interest in the forming judicial oligarchy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:18 AM
Bloggers Blogging

November 18, 2004

A Lover at Rest

An oasis of prayer and beauty in cyberspace celebrating the romance of orthodoxy

Those are words that Gerard Bugge, known around St. Blogs as Gerard Serafim, typed into his computer as the description of his Web site, A Catholic Page for Lovers, probably about eight or nine years ago when he started it. I first came across Gerard's page in the early days of my conversion while looking for Web sites to visit when I needed to refresh my spirit, to inhale a sort of mystic breath. And a quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar by which Gerard concisely explained his Web site's curious title announced that I'd found just that:

The first thing that must strike a non-Christian about a Christian's faith is that it is all too daring. It is too beautiful to be true: The mystery of being, unveiled as absolute love, coming down to wash the feet and the souls of its creatures; a love that assumes the whole burden of our guilt and hate, that accepts the accusations that shower down.. all the scorn and contempt that nails down his incomprehensible movement of self-abasement -- all this absolute love accepts in order to excuse his creature before himself...

What an open field of souls, this Internet! We drift here to there, meeting people we wish we could know, in a sense knowing them, then slipping away in the formless crowd, not forgetting, but not quite remembering.

A book on the shelf or a letter in the drawer is a tangible representative of its writer. We put it away for a time, free to forget, because it will find us in our rummaging. Not so, the patterned bytes of the online universe. Those are there, but not really there. They aren't in the home, in the drawer, in the hands. But they are in the heart, even though how long they will remain... out there... none can say.

Well, Gerard will remain ever there. Stopping at the computer to type a note, before heading out to Pennsylvania, mentioning lost items and his health.

I will be seeing my main doctor this Thursday, God willing. Let's hope for the best.

And that's where I, for one, will keep you, Gerard — hoping for the best before you turn off the computer, exit the house, head off, and find God willing to spare you from waking to that anxiety-laden day of meeting your main doctor. Hoping for the best, Mr. Seraphim, that our Lord holds you in His arms even now.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:34 PM | Comments (1)

November 17, 2004

The Red Inside the Blue

I blogged this over at Anchor Rising, but I'm intrigued enough to post it here, as well. Blogger Sensible Mom challenges the notion that the federal government transfers Blue State largesse to Red State indigents:

But let's focus on the election map by county. Those states with large cities, Illinois, New York and California, benefit from the corporate taxes payed by the businesses in those cities. In addition, in many of the blue states, there are large areas of red. Take a look at Illinois and California. One of the collar counties of Chicago, DuPage County, is wealthy. I would like to see the average tax bill per household in DuPage compared to the average in the city of Chicago [I'm going to try to find this data]. I bet it is higher in DuPage.

Move over Lawrence, my hypothesis is that the bulk of the blue states' taxes are paid by corporations and by the people living in the red areas. I now have to research my theory.

Yes, I know the numbers clearly show that Blue States send more to the feds while receiving less back, but something about those numbers seems like a function more of the statistics than of the reality, if you know what I mean.

(Via Lane Core)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:57 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

A Catholic War on Terror

In my piece on NRO answering the USCCB's ten questions for Catholic voters, I wrote the following:

... if we are to take up the bishops' call to "humanize globalization," we must develop a radically new understanding of the global community — as one of people rather than of ruling classes. War can be a defense of foreign people from their own leaders. An international body, therefore, that is not internally democratic and whose members are not accountable to their people cannot be deemed beyond scrutiny. Circumstances may arise in which our nation must reject the suspect resistance of the United Nations in order to force regime change elsewhere, and it will not always be possible to draw lines between our own self-interest and the humanitarian needs of those we liberate.

Judging from Joseph D'Hippolito's recent piece on FrontPageMagazine, my opinion may not count as dissent for all eternity:

Rome also appears more willing to advocate a more assertive military presence against jihadist terror, within limits governed by international law. In his La Stampa interview, Sodano hoped that the United Nations would add a new principle to its charter: "the possibility, even the duty of 'humanitarian intervention' in extreme situations in which human rights are trampled upon within a country." ...

"International human rights and humanitarian law oblige governments to provide for the security and well-being of all those under their jurisdiction," said Tomasi, Rome's former diplomatic representative to Ethiopia and Eritrea. "If, however, a state fails to or cannot take this responsibility ... then the international community can and should assert its concern, step in and take on this obligation."

Joseph cites some indication that the legitimacy of this "humanitarian intervention" could extend to stopping the march of Islamofascism. The more difficult barrier for the Church, however, may be its view that the authority that such regimes have forfeited can only be arrogated by a superseding bureaucracy — specifically, the United Nations.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:23 PM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

Love Flees the Baby's Cries

Theodore Dalrymple is toward the top of my list of writers whom I'd like to know. (Although I suspect that in person he'd only further highlight my lack of refinement by contrast.) His piece, "The Frivolity of Evil," in the latest City Journal (which Lane Core announced as now available) has given my mind material for many a dog-walking ponderation. Given my post on Anchor Rising, yesterday, which touched on the role of love in marriage, this paragraph from Dalrymple stood out (note the parenthetical comments):

My patient already had had three children by three different men, by no means unusual among my patients, or indeed in the country as a whole. The father of her first child had been violent, and she had left him; the second died in an accident while driving a stolen car; the third, with whom she had been living, had demanded that she should leave his apartment because, a week after their child was born, he decided that he no longer wished to live with her. (The discovery of incompatibility a week after the birth of a child is now so common as to be statistically normal.) She had nowhere to go, no one to fall back on, and the hospital was a temporary sanctuary from her woes. She hoped that we would fix her up with some accommodation.

She could not return to her mother, because of conflict with her "stepfather," or her mother's latest boyfriend, who, in fact, was only nine years older than she and seven years younger than her mother. This compression of the generations is also now a common pattern and is seldom a recipe for happiness. (It goes without saying that her own father had disappeared at her birth, and she had never seen him since.) The latest boyfriend in this kind of ménage either wants the daughter around to abuse her sexually or else wants her out of the house as being a nuisance and an unnecessary expense. This boyfriend wanted her out of the house, and set about creating an atmosphere certain to make her leave as soon as possible.

England's problems in this regard are much beyond ours. (Indeed, Dalrymple says the country's "rates of social pathology... are the highest in the world.") But on that basis, it gives stark examples to consider when forming our own policies. Many cultural levers and public policies are relevant, of course, but to highlight just one, it seems to me that marriage is a waste of resources if it isn't a guard against exactly the incident that Dalrymple calls "statistically normal" in his nation.

It isn't about the husband's restlessness; it isn't about helping the mother manage things; although both of these are important parts of marriage. It's about the child. Love and mutual support ought to remain intrinsic parts of marriage's cultural legacy, but if tying both parents to their children ceases to be, then all the rest is just sunshine and ticket stubs.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:56 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

November 16, 2004

Building the Local Case, Too

I found it refreshing, somehow, to write a post about same-sex marriage for Anchor Rising. The local relevance was a little thin — a letter to the editor of the Providence Journal and a story about Providence's gay mayor's opinion about the issue (guess). However, I've a feeling that same-sex marriage supporters have plans to come on strong in Rhode Island, so I wanted to begin to build a locally relevant archive.

Whatever the reasoning behind the post's placement, writing for a different (mostly new) audience forced me into a slightly different frame of mind. I'm in the midst of years of writing and thinking about this issue, of course, but I think the slight shift of approach drew out some new points — or at least new ways of phrasing old points.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:35 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Tuesday Slips on Buy

I just got off Mr. Mom duty a short while ago, and blogging will commence after I catch up with my daily reading and reshevel myself. (Yes, I made that word up.)

In the meantime, there's been no movement in career limbo over the past few days, and I've concluded that I just don't have it in me to pursue another beg-a-thon, so if you'd like to help us out, or even (hey why not?) if you'd just like to read more of my work, please consider picking up a book:

Or two:

I sign all books with some sort of personal message. Just imagine the dollar amount when your great grandchildren bring the book(s) to Antique Roadshow in the next century! No matter the appraisal, their reactions could hardly be more excited than mine whenever somebody thinks enough of my work to pay for it (even at my supremely reasonable prices).

And even if just a fraction of the people who stop by here each day buy a book this week, I'll be able to relax about that looming mortgage thing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:10 PM
Sales & Fundraising

November 15, 2004

Well, I Feel Safer Now

It's a good thing we have the ACLU. Otherwise, the military might be able to offer explicit support to an organization that teaches uniformed boys teamwork, survival skills, and... reverence. (Yeah, the type that involves God.)

The Pentagon has agreed to warn military bases worldwide that they should not directly sponsor Boy Scout troops, partially resolving claims that the government has improperly supported a group that requires members to believe in God.

The settlement, announced Monday, came in a 1999 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which says American military units have sponsored hundreds of Boy Scout troops. ...

The settlement does not resolve other ACLU claims involving government spending that benefits the Boy Scouts, such as money used to prepare a Virginia military base for the Boy Scout Jamboree and grants used by state and local governments to benefit the Boy Scouts, [ACLU legal hit-man Adam] Schwartz said.

These aren't even lawsuits to secure similar recognition for similar groups; they simply target the Boy Scouts for the reason that it has a religious foundation. By what insane definition is that not religious discrimination? Here's a quick and easy test for anybody who's in doubt about the objective, here: would the ACLU object to a similar group that didn't have the religious principles? No.

So when are people going to get sick of these radical fundamentalists?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:00 PM | Comments (19)

A Power Capable of Contending with Human Passions

This post is rather long, so it might make for easier reading to click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

By now, everybody has — or should have — read Wretchard's famous post on Belmont Club about morality/ethics/religion and democracy. In my case, it has seemed as if everything that I've read over the past few days has related in some way to the topic. The post is framed in response to some questions from the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell:

But think for a moment what it means to say that there can be no other form of democracy than secular democracy. Does democracy need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly democratic? Does it need an abortion rate in the tens of millions? Does it need high levels of marriage breakdown, with the growing rates of family dysfunction that come with them?

Does democracy (as in Holland's case) need legalised euthanasia, extending to children under the age of 12? Does democracy need assisted reproductive technology (such as IVF) and embryonic stem cell research?

Does democracy really need these things? What would democracy look like if you took some of these things out of the picture? Would it cease to be democracy? Or would it actually become more democratic?

The basic question before us is whether a democracy must give people complete freedom to behave immorally within bare-minimum ethical constraints, or whether a higher degree of morality — a statement of belief and understanding of humanity's purpose that some people might challenge — can be structured inherently, asserted within the law. Wretchard argues that the first possibility is only feasible if it can be taken for granted that citizens will far exceed the bare-minimum:

When the Founding Fathers created the framework for procedural democracy it was unnecessary to spell out its ends because those were largely provided by the moral, ethical and religious consensus of the underlying society.

Indeed, a commenter at Belmont Club quoted some statements from Founding Fathers to that effect. Among them, as it happens, is the very quotation from John Adams that eluded me just the other day:

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

And here's George Washington:

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Note the reference to religion as distinct from morality and used in lieu of such words as "reverence" or "piety" or (in modern lingo) "spirituality." Charles Hill captures the distinction that I mean to convey:

I might add that this disdain for the divine does not equal an insistence upon the concrete: it's perfectly respectable to concern oneself with, even to obsess over, the supernatural, so long as it's clearly divorced from that icky "religion" stuff.

The distinction between religion (or, worse, organized religion) and the vague spirituality that has been increasingly favored in the United States over the past few decades is important. With the admission that a moral foundation is vital to the health of the nation, we must ask how best to answer Jonah Goldberg's counsel to "be very, very concerned about the sorts of citizens [our society] creates." In short, what sort of religion do we need? The challenge is to ensure a moral citizenry without overstepping the bounds of freedom. The answer comes as an inverse echo of the call to ground our government structure in religious morality.

Religion must be built around a structure of its own. Describing the civic realm, the secularist insists that no man can place purely moral restrictions on another; each must have maximal space to define his own morality within the law. The assertion of the freewheeling spiritualist, similarly, is that people must have free range to explicate God and His will for themselves. Even Catholics hold that the Spirit informs the individual's conscience, but a pervasive resistance to the claims of any religious authority to offer interpretation has reached its logical end in our culture. And it has its roots in a fecund bed of Protestant silt; as Wildiris contends, approvingly, in a lengthy comment on Belmont Club:

A second observation about Protestant Christianity is that along with its emphasis on one's personal relationship with God also comes the additional requirements, "burdens", of personal responsibility and personal accountability to God. As a result, societies with a Protestant Christian cultural/religious heritage tend to be self-regulated at an individual level, with strong traditions of giving to charities and voluntarism.

And as a further footnote, the only reason that we in the United States today can talk about the concept of "separation of church and state" is because of our Protestant Christian cultural/religious heritage. A constitutional democracy is a plant that only grows and flourishes in a few select cultural "soils" and one of those "soils" being the cultural heritage of the Protestant Christians.

I consider it obvious that a person is ultimately accountable to God for his own actions, his soul ultimately being a private concern in coordination with Him. But the pitfall is to think of "state" purely as another word for "structured authority" and therefore to reject out of hand the body of Catholic Christians as a pseudo-state that interferes with personal spirituality.

I submit that the distinctive and defining quality of a "state" is its coercive power; one cannot walk away from a state unless explicitly permitted to do so. (Although one may be able to escape it.) In contrast, one can walk away from a church. That doesn't mean that the church cannot declare believers and non-believers to be in the wrong, or that it can't proclaim what adherents must do or say to be right. It means simply that a church cannot force a person, through threats to life and property, not to choose to be wrong.

It would be ridiculous to claim that any religious organization, generally, or the Catholic Church, specifically, has never crossed into the role of the state. Not only is corruption to be expected among human beings, but these societal categories have been millennia in development. However, Wildiris's assessments — and I think they have wide currency among non-Catholics — aren't restricted to a particular historical time and place. Rather those who propound such things mean them to describe the very nature of Catholic Christian beliefs — in this case, allegedly contrasting with Protestant Christianity as follows:

It is interesting to note that along with Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism also share this property of separability of "church" and state. So it is no coincidence that the most successful democracies in the eastern world occur in countries like Japan and India, while the least successful democracies in the western world occur in countries whose cultural heritage goes back to pre-reformation Catholicism or to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Even if we could follow this writer in ignoring other factors that affect a nation's success (e.g., Eastern Europe's proximity to both Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R.), we cannot declare the comparative analysis of the religions complete. History, as I'm sure all of my fellow Christians will agree, has not run its course. Therefore, in discussing the future of our own nation and the way in which it ought to handle religion — and the model of religion that civic policy will imply — we must come back around to the events and questions that sparked this entire conversation. How healthy are the "most successful democracies"?

Two common, and related, warnings are moral depravity and ideological weakness. With the first, Western society will collapse under the accumulated demands for license among its inhabitants. With the second, a stronger, more concrete ideology — typically, radical Islam — overthrows the passive order. Writing about the assassination of Dutch moviemaker Theo van Gogh, Michael Ledeen traces these intertwined dangers back a little more than a century:

The process by which the Europeans arrived at this grave impasse has been going on ever since the late 19th century, when the intelligentsia revolted against "bourgeois society" and its values, and sought for deeper meaning in acts of nihilistic violence, in fascism and communism, and in vast wars that engulfed the rest of the world. The Europeans might have confronted their spiritual crisis after the Second World War (some brave souls, like Albert Camus, tried), but the Cold War tamped it down. With a huge enemy on their borders, the Europeans finessed the issue, opted for a soulless materialism (that has given them a nanny state and a birth rate that promises to extinguish them in relatively short order), and pretended that the core of Western civilization was irrelevant to their lives.

Although one can become mired in the tumultuous cultural currents of Europe, let's consider that Ledeen picked an arbitrarily recent era in history to which to ascribe the beginning of this process. It would be plausible, at least, to argue that atheistic relativism represents a progression along philosophical strains in Protestantism. It's possible, then, that the "soulless materialism" that threatens to undermine those more "successful democracies" — now that they've survived a century of world wars — has been highly likely, even inevitable, for centuries.

If I am correct, a broader historical view suggests that some of the very qualities that make Protestant countries "the most successful" at this time might ultimately make them extinct. In this vastly oversimplified picture, Catholic countries, restrained by the gravity of the Church, didn't run full tilt toward the progressive future, and that might prove to be their salvation. In the context of government, Wretchard asks:

When that underlying [moral, ethical and religious] civilizational consensus has been destroyed or diluted, as is the case in Western Europe and to a lesser extent the United States, what intrinsic ends does a value-neutral democratic mechanism serve?

Well, to redirect the question, what intrinsic ends does an individually self-regulated religious ethos serve? Recalling the above quotation from John Adams, it is susceptible to serving selfish ends — greed, vanity, the reckless, immoral quest for immortality — because it undermines external authority. And, being fallen slaves to our sin, we will find ways to justify our selfishness.

I should stress that I don't intend to badmouth Protestants (and I don't think I have). Various sects have constructed citadels in which to house authority — sometimes elsewhere in the society (e.g., social stigma). And without doubt, Catholic Christianity is susceptible to human corruption and has, in its history, been too inclined to behave with an emphasis on political, rather than spiritual, power. It would serve us well, all of us, to pull back a bit and investigate how each side has been important to the other in a process of mutual formation. The circumstances that sparked schism won't always apply, and an area of thought that allowed schism can slip into its own excesses.

As Wretchard suggests, in different (more evocative) words, humanity seeks a guide — a lord. (I believe it is part of our drive to seek God.) Without a beacon we know not the direction of truth; without authority we forever lack confirmation that our own thinking is reliable. With no one on a raised pulpit, we turn wide-eyed and credulously either to charismatic deceivers or to the deception in our own emotions and desires.

I'm not saying that everybody must become Catholic. But I am suggesting that we require a sort of catholicity in our approach to religion in the West. We need to resolve spiritual and moral questions in the appropriate setting — religion — and then, with confidence, conform our law to the conclusions. Not legislating every particular — that's not what I'm talking about. Rather, I'm suggesting that moral debates must be pursued in religious/moral terms, and that it is entirely legitimate (and often crucial) for the law to reflect the debates' conclusions.

Even those who believe that a moral foundation is necessary for the United States' health tend to think in terms of individuals voting according to a politically developed moral platform. We must reconceptualize the great aggregate Church of our nation — encompassing all religious moral views, from Catholic to Buddhist to Atheist — as a tacit institution, wherein to address matters with civic implications within a religious context. We need to create a moral structure with enough general religious authority that those who disagree could address the difference in moral terms, rather than political ones.

Paul Cella quotes from a Patrick Henry Reardon piece with a novel way of instilling a sense of how far we've slipped in this regard:

The prohibition that restricts Congress from interfering with the press has never been regarded as some kind of "wall of separation" between government and the press. We do not expect to find on the editorial page of the Chicago Tribune a statement that says, for example, "Although we ourselves personally approve a woman's right to choose, we refrain from pushing the point in these pages, lest we appear to be imposing our own moral persuasion on the normal workings of the courts and the legislature. The traditional wall of separation between Press and State must be maintained at all peril."

Cella and Reardon are viewing Church from the position of State, but I think it equally valid to apply the clever juxtaposition from the perspective of Church on State. A person who disagrees with policy-related reportage doesn't declare its evidence invalid in the eyes of the law and irrelevant to his own belief about the facts. He investigates — confirms or refutes journalism with journalism.

The necessary change will be largely cultural, but as the argument over the First Amendment suggests, there is a civic, legal barrier to break down in bringing the law back toward a realm of moral consensus. Most folks involved in this debate will acknowledge that something ineluctably arises to fill the void of a directionless governmental mechanism. To be sure, segments of society have recast the State itself as the embodiment of the sought-after deity. For them, the law declares right and wrong and, furthermore, if we change the law, we change that judgment. The intellectual ease of this standard creates a dangerous temptation to agree.

But such a sacralized state simply rings hollow. People sense that it is false; religious people hold a Truth that only exacerbates the falsehood by comparison. We who see all things earthly as mere shadows can only watch as the gap is filled either with the deification of the self, and the self's lusts, or the authoritarianism of a religion that gives the self profundity by making it the instrument by which a larger god suppresses non-believers.

In our over-confidence in self-directed spirituality and morality, we've blocked the healthy, democratic mechanism that should allow the people to apply religious conclusions to public policy. Removing that blockage won't cause democracy to be submerged; it will allow it to sail.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:10 AM | Comments (9)

November 13, 2004

Occupational Limbo

A few weeks ago, when I found myself thrust unexpectedly back in my late-summer state of semi-employed panic, it came to my attention that I was on a number of people's prayer lists for a quick escape from my difficulties. I confess that my pre-conversion sarcasm swept back: "Then there must be a whole lot of people praying against me!"

At this moment, I'm in a sort of limbo, between first and second interviews in one case and with other possibilities of varying promise pending. It mightn't be a bad time, in other words, for anybody who's willing to whisper an unspoken word on my behalf to do so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:59 PM | Comments (3)
Diary & Confession

Just an Observation on the Republican Coalition

In the political realm, such statements are often taken to be veiled threats, particularly among tentative allies. But I mean this to be purely and simply an observation that our libertarian friends may wish to ponder.

The coalition formed between social conservatives and libertarians has been an uneasy one all along, and the latter have often made the point that they'd be perfectly comfortable switching sides... except for a few not-so-minor concerns about foreign policy and creeping socialism. This sort of wrangling is to be expected as the Republicans' success increases the margins for the party's antipathetic supporters to lean away from each other. Still, I'd advise that no clique convince itself too thoroughly that it is the visitor to the other's big tent and therefore owed deference.

The advice came to me when I read the following from M. Simon, whom Glenn Reynolds quoted on Instapundit:

Voting coalitions are ruled by the least committed members.

So the question to the cultural conservatives is: do you want 2004 to be the Republican high water mark or would you like to extend the string?

While the sentiment of the first sentence has clear merits, its language is interesting: "ruled." I suppose the apropos question is what, precisely, M. Simon believes those mercurial members' dominion to be. We social conservatives might suggest that it is not we who would trade our kingdom for a horse, or a donkey... or an elephant.

Another argument in this skirmish comes to mind. As Eugene Volokh explains it:

What's more, even if the 22% constitutes a plurality, that doesn't tell us much about just how important the issue to a majority of voters. Among other things, look how sensitive the plurality question is to the way the options are given or classified: If you combine terrorism and Iraq under the rubric of "national security," and combine their 19% and 15%, moral values gets displaced as the plurality winner. Likewise if you combine health care (which presumably means making health care more affordable) and economy/jobs, which put together count for 28%, into a single economic well-being category.

So who are the least committed members? Those of a plurality whose votes relate to the direct functions of government, involving foreign and/or economic policy? Or those who vote — as libertarians often complain — according to criteria on the other side of a wall of separation? Farther down in his post, M. Simon asks:

Do you want to make gains on the economic front and on the war or is abortion so important that you would give up further progress in those areas?

It's a good question — one that Republican libertarians and social liberals ought to begin asking themselves. After all, they're the ones who don't vote the way they do based on their social views.

November 12, 2004

Fix the Out-Door Before You Let More People In

On NRO, Jennifer Roback Morse has what almost reads like a summary of certain chapters in the blogosphere discussion about same-sex marriage. The immediate subject of the piece is sailor Judy Ann Patterson, who got married to a friend of a friend in order to gain additional benefits that the Navy offers to married couples. Giving the man a healthy monthly cut, Patterson padded her income quite nicely.

Morse writes the first questions that came to my mind, and with answers that I've long suggested (see here, and especially here):

Just ask yourself this: If Patterson and Huff had known that they could only obtain a divorce on grounds of adultery or domestic violence, would they have been more or less likely to contract this marriage? If couples had to have a two-year waiting period for a divorce to be finalized, would increased housing benefits seem like an adequate reason to get married? Marriage used to mean, "one to a customer for life." Now it means, "I stay married for as long as I feel like it." There can be no doubt that the easy availability of divorce contributed to making this kind of fraud possible.

At the very least, constructing the debate such that Morse's subsequent suggestions are seen as prerequisites for same-sex marriage — judging by the reaction they currently provoke — could dry up some of the pat-me-on-the-back and make-it-go-away support that SSM currently enjoys.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:35 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

A Real Culture War

I don't often offer kudos to the Providence Journal's Froma Harrop, but her recent piece, "Europe's culture war from hell," is very much worth reading:

THE MURDER of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh has cut yards off the fuse on Europe's culture war. And we mean war -- with shooting and bombing -- not some American-type spat over Hollywood. Boy, would the Europeans love to trade their culture war for ours. ...

Many in the American media haven't a clue. They apply the American experience to Europe. U.S. immigration comes with its own set of problems, but assimilation is not among them. Immigrants to the United States tend to melt easily into the culture. They don't attack cheerleaders in Texas because they find them lewd.

Well, not yet. Yesterday, I ended an Anchor Rising post about some Northeastern liberal "family values" spin with the implication that progressives and socialists are only too willing to take credit for the lifestyles of traditionalists in their midst when those lifestyles' results prove politically desirable to tout. Perhaps there's a chance — even if slim — that the deterioration of Europe into a Hot Culture War will push American liberals and secularists back toward the source of our nation's ballast: religious and cultural conservatism.

The question, when it comes to the "ugly choices" with "no option but to make them," in Harrop's words, will be how far from the lifeline the liberal segments of our culture have already swum.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:07 PM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

November 11, 2004

Slow on the Trigger, but Resolved in the Mind

Apologies for being so tardy to express my thanks to America's veterans. It goes without saying, doesn't it?

Well, no, unfortunately it does not in these times. It was right, therefore, for the President to have called, as Lane Core quotes, for a full week of recognition.

Some gave their lives — others their innocence. Citizens give their gratitude, and we scribblers of notions give our pledge not to let die in the mind what was preserved through muscle and heart and backbone.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:39 PM | Comments (1)

The Keepers of Family Values

Over on Anchor Rising, I've posted a response to some claims that Massachusetts liberals "are showing how to conserve family life through the way they live their family values." (In short, the reasoning is that Catholicism inspires socialism, charity via taxes... or something like that.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:36 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Messages and Self-Manipulation

Sometimes activist rhetoric can be more distracting than effective (emphasis added):

In the post before this one, I argued that one of the most common arguments against marriage equality is a bait and switch. Rather than arguing against marriage equality itself, opponents argue that ideally children should be raised by a mom and a dad. Then they tell people that in order to insure that children are raised by moms and dads, we must oppose marriage equality.

Although I've found him fair, intelligent, and cordial in debate, the blogger who wrote that paragraph, Barry Deutsch, goes on to provide evidence that such dogged adherence to activist rhetoric can cloud one's thinking. The objective is to win the debate by obscuring the opposition's central disagreement through manipulation of the terms by which it is discussed. The effect, however, is to manipulate the activist's thinking beyond the bounds of fruitful dialogue.

Put simply, the legal and cultural presumption of "equality" is not breeched if there is no discrimination (in the sense that Deutsch means it, which is "invidious discrimination"). That is the question that same-sex marriage advocates wish to leave out of the discussion. And it is undoubtedly significant that every single one of Deutsch's analogies fails in such a way as to avoid it.

By allowing the KKK a legal right to march, the government says the KKK is just as good as Veterans marching on Veterans Day... In fact, no such message is sent. I defy you to locate one non-KKK member who has been convinced that because the KKK has an equal legal right to march, they must be just as admirable as all other groups that march. People simply don't think that way.

Its undoing is embedded within the example itself: "as good as Veterans marching on Veterans Day." Would Deutsch really think it merely a statement of equal government treatment if the Klan were to participate in an officially recognized march on that day? How about on inauguration day? Of course he would not, and it is for that reason that a refusal to include the KKK in publicly ratified events is not invidious discrimination, while banning the group from peaceably assembling on any given day would be.

Another analogy begins to slip around the mechanism by which same-sex marriage opponents believe "government neutrality" will have an effect, in part by forgetting what public recognition of marriage actually means:

So, for instance, if the government bans all paintings of clowns (wistful thinking, I know), that sends a message that clown painting deserves contempt and lesser treatment. Does it follow that by not banning clown paintings, the government is saying a clown painting has just as much value as a Mary Cassatt's The Bath? Of course not; the government is simply remaining neutral and letting the culture decide for itself what to value.

Marriage does not merely represent value-neutral recognition. The government is saying, "This relationship is special." It is, in effect, awarding The Bath a special place in the public museum. Not giving clown paintings (or same-sex relationships) the same treatment would not be a matter of banning them, but of addressing them neutrally and, as Deutsch agrees, "letting the culture decide for itself what to value" among all paintings that aren't governmentally rewarded. The government would have confirmed that The Bath has value; everything else would be up for debate.

But there's more to it than that; my notion of a "public museum" is an abstraction for the public's official acknowledgment of what "art" is meant to be. Since most people would agree that clown paintings can be art, it would make the analogy more relevant if we changed it to something about which there would be disagreement — say, clown porn. In accordance with Deutsch's view of neutrality, a public school teacher would not be able to tell her students that clown porn is not art by some objective measure or, conversely, that The Bath is of more value in any terms transcending mere opinion. At issue is the matter of what art is, and that's the missing aspect in a final analogy from Deutsch:

According to this worldview, by allowing marriage equality, Massachusetts has "sent a message" which says that no child needs a mom or a dad. ... this point of view ... [is] simply, factually wrong: equal legal treatment sends no such message. If it did, then by allowing criminals in prison to marry, the US has sent the message that convicted murderers are just swell as parents and mates, and that kids don't need two parents out of prison.

The problem this time is that incarceration is circumstance, not essence. Although they draw the wrong conclusion, there is merit to same-sex marriage advocates' argument that the only palpable difference between same- and opposite-sex couples is that the latter can procreate. By defining marriage as between a man and a woman, therefore, we intrinsically send the message that Deutsch claims we don't: marriage is about the children that men and women can together create. We formulate it as a life-long commitment, treating the spouses as a unit in everything from taxes to death, because it is important for them to maintain a stable, unified relationship as parents. (An institution meant to encourage merely child births would look quite different.)

We can explain to children that it is not ideal for mommies and daddies to be in prison without muddying the core meaning of marriage. Indeed, in some respects, recognizing the marriages of criminals in prison strengthens that core message. To soften this assertion some, let's apply it to a circumstance that doesn't involve an expression of public disapproval, such as having a deployed military parent. We still want a father to be married to his child's mother even if he is about to go off to war.

Deutsch is correct that recognizing same-sex relationships as marriage does not send a message "that no child needs a mom or a dad." But it does send a message that perhaps some children don't need a mom and a dad, or that a marriage is about something more important than its shared sons and daughters. And that's a message that our culture cannot afford to promote any further.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:53 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

November 10, 2004

Ensuring Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The conversation in the comments section to a post from Monday has become too interesting to leave drifting into the archives. Attempting to dig down to our essential differences of opinion, I asked Jon Rowe:

You say that sodomy laws "simply aren't proper functions of government." I disagree, at least inasmuch as I think it ought to be a state issue. Others will disagree with you more dramatically. Your view is the self-evidently correct one because... ?

He filled in the short-answer blank as follows:

The Declaration of Independence and its theory of natural right refers to certain "ends" of government — all government. The passage that I bolded from Bloom's book...that's it. That's all that is appropriate for government to do: protect men's equal rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness, not concerning itself with what consenting adults do within the privacy of their own home.

It is useful that Jon has given us a specific document as a field on which to knock around the abstractions of rights and government. However, in doing so, he has not ceased to skirt the basic question. Let's sketch out our playing field with the relevant passage from the Declaration:

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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The question remains: what does it mean to ensure a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? The Declaration, itself, demurs, stating simply that the people can lay their government's "foundation on such principles" as seem most promising "to them." So, again, who decides what policies are "most likely to effect [citizens'] Safety and Happiness" for the better? Who has the final say? Jon suggests that judges do, but his conclusion presumes that the legislative and executive branches are being objectively negligent.

Perhaps it is from Jon's other source, Allan Bloom, from which he derives an "objective" measure to which judges are qualified to demand deference. From the above-mentioned bolded text:

Government exists to protect the product of men's labor, their property, and therewith life and liberty.

Note that Bloom sublimates life and liberty to another right that isn't even in the Declaration: property. Perhaps we have succeeded in finding an essential difference of belief of the sides in this debate; I'm surely not alone in believing that — far from being subordinate to property — life, liberty, and especially happiness don't ultimately require it.

Such a view is no doubt especially common among those who would be disposed to note a consideration raised by the centrality of the Declaration in Jon's argument: that document actually provides a Reference for defining our natural rights. Interestingly, the courts have proven to be the mechanism of choice for citizens who wish to illegitimate that very Reference.

Jon has responded here. I'm keeping it on my list of things to read and may respond at greater length later, but I want to address this point:

I would caution any conservative against arguing that property is not a vital concern that governments must secure. Indeed, there exists some tension between "equality" on the one hand, and "property" on the other.

I certainly wouldn't argue that property is not a "vital concern," and I had written (but edited out) that Jon put property on the same level as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Rather, my point is that the Declaration gives no indication that the natural rights of man are limited to whatever three or four the Founders might think to list in that document. Why, for example, could "a moral public square" not be among the unlisted rights?

And beyond the matter of the unnamed rights endowed by our Creator, it remains an open question of what mechanism is best toward maximizing our receipt of those named. (I know there's a famous Founder quote that would fit well here, about democracy's requiring an ethical public, but I can't find it right now.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:09 PM | Comments (9)

Cutting the Immoral Pie

Over on Anchor Rising, I ponder a Rhode Island columnist's strange notion that the federal government should have subsidized embryonic stem cell research in order to spread the wealth that the immoral research will now concentrate in California.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:46 AM | Comments (1)

November 9, 2004

Love's Just a Superstition

Jonah Goldberg makes an excellent point in a column that's ostensibly about liberals' sore-loserism:

Love, in fact, is just as silly and superstitious a concept as God (and for those who believe God is Love, this too is a distinction without a difference). Chesterton's observation that the purely rational man will not marry is just as correct today, because science has done far more damage to the ideal of love than it has done to the notion of an awesome God beyond our ken. Genes, hormones, instincts, evolution: These are the cause for the effect of love in the purely rational man's textbook. But Maher would get few applause lines from his audience of sophisticated yokels if he mocked love as a silly superstition. This is, in part, because the crowd he plays to likes the idea of love while it dislikes the idea of God; and in part because these people feel love, so they think it exists. But such is the extent of their solipsism and narcissism that they not only reject the existence of God but go so far as to mock those who do not, simply because they don't feel Him themselves. And, alas, in elite America, feelings are the only recognized foundation of metaphysics.
Posted by Justin Katz at 9:31 PM | Comments (1)

The Rashes of Failure

Suggesting to fellow conservatives that enabling a Kerry presidency would have been a too-risky attempt at "creative destruction," John Derbyshire writes of the "wreckers loose in our own society":

It is those wreckers that most concern me: the arrogant judges, the academic deconstructors, the teacher-union multiculturalists, the media guilt-mongers, the love-the-world pacifists, the criminal-lovers and family-breakers, the inventors of bogus rights and destroyers of cherished traditions, the haters of normality and scoffers at restraint, the enterprise-destroying litigators and pain-feelers.

I do not fear that American civilization will be brought down by Osama bin Laden, or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or any foreign force at all — not even (if you will permit me a quick sarcastic poke in the eye to my paleo friends here) not even by the arch-fiend himself, Ariel Sharon! I do fear that this country might be made unfit to live in, as the country of my birth has been, by a misguided and corrupt humanitarianism, sentimental wallowing in past wrongs both real and imagined, and class and race resentment petted and nurtured by opportunistic tax-eaters.

As it happens, there's yet another study out today in the land of Derb's birth that brings home for this father of two young girls what Derb's emailer meant in suggesting that England is "unfit to live in or raise children in":

The number of Londoners suffering sexually transmitted diseases has risen by more than a third, new figures reveal.

They show that cases of infections soared between 1997 and last year, from 169,721 cases to 228,641. The final figure could be higher as some clinics have still to submit information.

That article alludes to the higher rates of chlamydia among men and women in their early twenties. A 2002 study (that I noted at the time) of a clinic in London is a bit more specific (emphasis added):

The study also revealed that girls under 16 were three times more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases than older women.

One in five had chlamydia, a symptomless disease which can cause infertility, and almost one in 10 had gonorrhoea, which also poses a threat to fertility by damaging fallopian tubes and can increase the chances of suffering an ectopic pregnancy.

And in 2003:

The highest-rate of infection was among 16- to 19-year-old women and 20- to 24-year-old men but health experts fear it is "the tip of the sexual iceberg".

As much as sorely losing liberals, such as Marcia Lieberman of Providence, might suggest that my attitude isn't "truly modern" and is typical of our "backward nation," my fatherly instinct is to prefer the U.S. — with its backward progress — in a comparison of trends, at least in the symbolic area of sex. Encouragement of oral sex, attractive perks for teenage pregnancy, and parent-avoiding morning-after pills distributed to eleven year olds at school don't seem to be working out too well elsewhere in the Anglosphere.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:58 PM

The Candidate May Have Ceded, But...

With a note to John Kerry of "kindly don't leave the country," Keith Olbermann, MSNBC blogger and host of Countdown, is pleased to announce that "no Presidential candidate’s concession speech is legally binding":

This is mentioned because there is a small but blood-curdling set of news stories that right now exists somewhere between the world of investigative journalism, and the world of the Reynolds Wrap Hat. And while the group's ultimate home remains unclear - so might our election of just a week ago.

Stories like these have filled the web since the tide turned against John Kerry late Tuesday night. But not until Friday did they begin to spill into the more conventional news media. That’s when the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that officials in Warren County, Ohio, had "locked down" its administration building to prevent anybody from observing the vote count there.

Blood-curdling! Olbermann's mission, now, is to spread the spill. It's all under the impetus of fairness and democracy, of course. As Sheila Lennon puts it:

Everybody should welcome whatever recounts emerge. Faith in the integrity of our voting system is at the core of our democratic system. If anybody messes with the results, it damages us all. It's not fair, and could make voting in America no more reliable than in a tinpot banana republic. And if the numbers come out roughly the same, half the country won't have to spend the next four years saying, "We wuz robbed."

Moderating Lennon's "won't have to" language some, does anybody really believe that recounts will preclude the "we wuz robbed" syndrome? Not I. Imagining the worst-case scenario (from my point of view), I don't think you could test the civic temper any more ultimately than to reverse the election's results now — particularly as a result of an MSM-fueled investigation.

On a more plausible level, it seems to me that Olbermann's efforts will go a long way toward ensuring that various insinuations and myths gain a foothold among the fluid ranks of the malcontent Left. He certainly doesn't seem concerned about minimizing that effect. Consider:

Interestingly, none of the complaining emailers took issue with the remarkable results out of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. In 29 precincts there, the County's website shows, we had the most unexpected results in years: more votes than voters.

I'll repeat that: more votes than voters. 93,000 more votes than voters.


What he neglects to mention is that Kerry won that county by 217,638 votes — 67% to 33%. Hey, maybe Kerry really won the county 78% to 22%.

Appearances to the contrary aside, if Olbermann would like to be objective in his investigation, he can pursue every curious decision and irregularity in the states that Kerry won by a similar margin of less than 150,000 votes. Every single one of them would be decisive if Ohio's 20 electoral college votes were to change hands. To help the MSM along, I'll even provide a list:

New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Posted by Justin Katz at 7:57 PM
News Media

Encouraging Maturity by Example

As I've noted twice before (here and here), Jeff Jacoby writes with a rare clarity about same-sex marriage, especially for a New Englander. In yesterday's column, he politely suggested that same-sex marriage activists would do well to leave behind a bit of their radical zeal for some mature consideration of their countrymen:

The gay political leadership does itself no good when it pretends that a campaign to shake marriage to its core is a quest for "fundamental human rights." Men no more have a fundamental human right to marry other men than fathers have to marry their daughters, and no one ought to be called a bigot for saying so. When tens of millions of Americans, in state after state, vote against remaking society's core institution, their views are entitled to a modicum of respect.

After all, a large and growing majority of Americans treats same-sex relationships with respect. Gay and lesbian couples are widely accepted as part of the social landscape, they enjoy many legal rights and privileges, and no one challenges their freedom of private conduct. But civic equality goes only so far, and most Americans draw the line at saying that sex should be irrelevant to marriage, the core function of which is to unite the sexes. That is hardly an outlandish position. What is outlandish is for the head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to declare that courts shouldn't "give a damn" about deeply rooted American values.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:04 AM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

As Close as You Can Get

Although it's been in my bookmarks for almost a week and a half, since last week's Blogworthies, a post by Fr. Jim Tucker is not something that I wanted to let slip through the cracks between the days. Fr. Tucker's key idea is that faith is a process, and we oughtn't take the fact that we find one aspect of living it impossible as an excuse to discard the whole endeavor. (He puts it more charitably than that.)

I recommend the whole post, but the second of three enumerated points stood out in particular:

Before talking about your dissent from the Church, lay out what you do assent to. Start with the Creed. Consider that, even though all the truths of the Faith are equally true, some truths are more central than others. To reject papal infallibility is wrong. But it's more wrong to reject, say, the Resurrection. It's wrong to reject the Church's teaching on divorce. It's far worse to reject her teaching on the Trinity. One's focus, then, should be on the center and only then move out to the perifery. A person should ask himself what doctrines he does believe, and why he believes them, starting with the central ones. He should ask himself how the Gospel impacts his life and changes his behavior. Only after all that should he start to highlight what he rejects and how he diverges from orthopraxy -- and what the reasons are for those divergences. I think a lot of people would be surprised by how much they do believe.

Starting from essentials is a good approach no matter the topic.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:31 AM | Comments (1)

November 8, 2004

Aging Suckers

Michelle Malkin uses leeches in her response to an ignorant anti-religious sneer from Maureen Dowd. At issue is Dowd's quip that the Bush administration will turn back the medical clock to an era of leeching, illustrating that the MoDo isn't aware that leeches are, in fact, useful medical tools. But it was something in Michelle's evidence that caught my eye:

For many people, leeches conjure up the image of Humphrey Bogart removing the bloodsuckers from his legs in African Queen, but FDA reports that leeches can help heal skin grafts by removing blood pooled under the graft and restore blood circulation in blocked veins by removing pooled blood.

Umm. I remember that scene, although I'd forgotten what movie it was in. Can't say it was the first movie to come to mind, and it probably wouldn't be for a majority of people under thirty-five, as Google attests:

"african queen" leeches: 1,450
"stand by me" leech: 3,410

In contrast to my pop-culture reaction, Orrin Judd offers profundity:

Here's as good a definition of the difference between conservatism and liberalism as you're likely to find: liberals can't comprehend that leeches work, because we've used them for thousands of years, but they do think that Christopher Reeve would be walking around today if only they sacrificed enough lives at the altar of Stem Cell Research. And they think we're the fanatics.

Well said.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:25 PM
News Media

Media Back Onboard with American Troops

As I noted over at Anchor Rising, the first hints of a media tone-change with respect to goings-on in Iraq are beginning to emerge. I may have my media-cynicism adjuster set to eleven, but I wouldn't be surprised if the entire presentation of the Fallujah assault is almost unrecognizable from the Iraq-related reportage that has come before.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:00 PM
News Media

Hoisting the Anchor

Well, after a week of long days, I am now prepared to unveil Anchor Rising. While the blog's perspective is from Rhode Island, its content will emphasize our state's place in the union as well as the ways in which national events and policies affect Rhode Islanders — which will usually be similar to the ways in which they affect every American.

Initially, the contributors to the blog will be Marc Comtois (The Ocean State Blogger), Carroll Andrew Morse (frequent Tech Central Station author), and myself. There are no rules or guidelines contentwise (except decency, of course), and given the previous work of my co-bloggers, I'm sure it will remain interesting to a broader audience than ust people with ties to our state. In a week or two, I'll be posting an interview with a columnist whose name most of you will recognize, and that's when I'll make the introductory promotional push. Any links or blogroll additions before then — of course — will be welcome encouragement.

Anchor Rising's second post invites comments and suggestions about the design of the page, and I welcome feedback, particularly if it appears that something isn't working properly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:21 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

The Many Paths to Truth

Jeff Miller links to a short interview with NRO senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru. Since Ponnuru's writing generally falls more toward the analytical than the personal, the first question is likely of the most interest to those familiar with his work: You recently entered the Catholic Church. What was your religious background and what led you to become Catholic? Were you surprised by anything as you journeyed toward becoming Catholic?

Ponnuru: My father is Hindu, my mother Lutheran. I was raised without much religious instruction, except that of example. The process by which the Church drew me to her was long. It would be presumptuous for me to say that I myself entirely understood how the Holy Spirit worked here. To summarize the intellectual aspect of the process: I first came to see that many of the virtues the Church inculcates were good for people, and then to see that they were good for people because this was the way we were meant to live--and so forth until I saw that I now believed the Church's claims for itself to be true.

While it was certainly a precondition to my own conversion that I be able to affirm my faith in intellectual terms, it seems Ponnuru began with more of a foundation of plausibility. I had a huge mound of ideological and temperamental skepticism to surmount on my way to belief, so it was necessary for me to be forced into the realization of my deep, deep need for God.

My first irresolute step was to attend Mass with an openness to its possible effect on me. I'd gone before, but my attendance was securely bound in the excuse of courting my wife, with eyes fixed on the social aspects of organized religion. But on that too-bright spring day, I walked into the church as a church, not as a gathering hall.

As it happened, that particular building was being prepared to be the home of several parishes that were about to merge. There was scaffolding everywhere, planting its metal legs amid the pews and darkening most of the windows. A small, temporary cross hung above the alter from a metal beam.

I've no additional knowledge about Ramesh's conversion, but from what little I know about him, I can picture him gradually becoming convinced of Catholicism's truth. For many of us, though, life has to compel openness before we'll submit to the process of rebuilding.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:46 AM

Clashing Constitutional Jewels?

Before the election, John MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine, used his monthly Providence Journal column to advise John Kerry to declare that President Bush's statements and actions with respect to Iraq were "more akin to treason than mere lying." On election day, MacArthur turned his ire on American theists. After describing both candidates' frequent use of religious language, MacArthur writes:

This is a religious qualification for public servants desired by Puritans (ancient and modern) and banned by the Constitution -- yet now, in effect, established. The vote today may well turn on the perception of each candidate's religious faith.

Whoever wins, I fear that one of our principal constitutional jewels has been permanently defaced, at least in spirit. And my secular party believes fervently in a spirit -- the human kind.

The "constitutional jewel" to which MacArthur is referring is Article VI of the Constitution, which states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." On display, here, is the common error among liberals (particularly wealthy ones) to lose the distinction between popular consensus and government mandate. In this instance, MacArthur moves from the observation that the citizenry has "established" a rule that the law could not to the implied suggestion that government ought to thwart the popular consensus.

With this suggestion, he tramples another "constitutional jewel": the First Amendment. The religious test that his fevered atheism projects onto the campaign consists entirely of rhetoric — of speech. Not official oaths, not signed proclamations, just plain ol' speech. To keep from being offended by religious politicians, MacArthur would have to subvert their right to express their faith and the importance that they attribute to it. Indeed, in painting the current administration as the incarnation of religion's establishment, MacArthur chips away at the very jewel that he holds so dear:

In his role as "saved" Christian (from alcohol, drugs, and financial and political failure) President Bush has never missed a chance to profess his fealty, not to the manmade Constitution but to Jesus Christ, "king of kings." His attorney general, responsible for defending the separation of church and state, composes and performs gospel songs and invites his subordinates to morning prayers in the Justice Department.

Should John Ashcroft have been disqualified for his position on the grounds that he is a gospel musician? Should a willingness to suppress religious belief be a requirement for public office? MacArthur notes the "humor and common sense" of Thomas Jefferson in that Founder's argument that it "does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God." Well, apparently it does the publisher of Harper's injury for his neighbors to say that there is just one God.

Against Mr. Jefferson, MacArthur juxtaposes what he sees as "extreme Presbyterianism":

In New York, the Rev. John M. Mason declared that another radical innovation -- the explicit omission of God from the new Constitution -- would have dire consequences: "We will have every reason to tremble, lest the Governor of the Universe, who will not be treated with indignity by a people more than by individuals, overturn from its foundations the fabric we have been rearing, and crush us to atoms in the wreck."

Let it be noted that MacArthur could just as easily have quoted Ben Frankin to similar effect. But Rev. Mason's extremity aside, he raises a question that MacArthur either has no interest in or assumes answers itself: was he correct? Does America need God among its foundations?

I won't attempt an answer, here, but the relevant point is that citizens will respond differently. A liberal might find prescience in Mason's use of the word "atoms." A conservative might argue that all of our nation's enlightened constructions are at risk of springing from the loom if our moral ligaments rot from within. And if any government-granted right is central, it is the right of the people to vote and to form their government to address reality as they see it, within proscribed limits.

As our nation has this discussion and deals with the geopolitical and cultural dangers of our time, it seems to me that the MacArthurs of the world enter the debate not only as participants, but perhaps moreso as evidence.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:33 AM | Comments (26)

No Way Out but Through

Joel, on the blog of Methodist Minister Richard Hall, pays me a compliment of dubious desert:

During the past year, the people I have come to admire the very most are the Bush supporters from "blue" states and the Kerry backers from "red" states. It's pretty easy to be for Kerry if you're from California or Bush if you're home is Oklahoma. But I can respect a person such as Justin Katz from Rhode Island for standing up for what he believes in even though his state will vote Republican only during Reagan-type landslides, it seems.

Admirable or foolishly obstinate? I suppose it's a question of who it is that's kicking against the pricks.

Being in the midst of a desperate job search during the weeks surrounding the election has been instructive. I can't look at the gnashing of teeth among Democrats — as addressed in several of Lane Core's Blogworthies this week — and see a clueless foe increasingly out of power. Instead, I get a glimpse of the thoughts that could very well be going through the mind of a potential employer's résumé screener who has just typed my name into Google.

To some of them, a staunch and religious social conservative is probably the equivalent of an intellectual and somewhat polite Klansman. Would you want to work with a Klansman? I think anybody who has responded to my opinions thus is wrong, of course, but I can't blame a person for the conclusion to which he or she comes having made that erroneous conflation. To tackle the cliché: is discretion the better part of valor? What about when the countdown is at three weeks 'til the mortgage payment is due?

Of course, taking an appropriately optimistic view of things, I could declare it a blessing to have my desire to think and write align so neatly with principle. A writer of any sort must get his name out there, and perhaps all the extra incentive, as negative as it may be, keeps one from giving up halfway.

In the meantime, though, there were 161,654 Bush voters in the state...

November 7, 2004

God in Minor Keys

A Googler who found her way to this site (search phrase: "john lennon atheist"), identifying herself as a thirteen year old, left a comment to this post about The Passion and conversion. She raised a common argument (with surprising longevity), so I thought I'd copy my reply into a post of its own:


The existence of pain and suffering tells us absolutely nothing about the existence of God. The fact that God isn't like an all-powerful over-protective mother doesn't mean that God just isn't. It does, however, give us clues about God's nature and what He might want of us.

As a fan of Kurt Cobain, you ought to have a tremendous sense of the truth that good things can come from suffering. Chances are that the attributes of his music that you like derive, to some extent, from what he was going through. This isn't to say that it is right to wish suffering on others to get good songs out of them, but even the most over-protective mother will force her child to suffer if the payoff is important enough. (Some kids would say school is that very sort of suffering.)

Suppose a young child has cancer. Would you blame her mother for putting her through the various painful therapies to cure it? At least according to my Christian view of God it simply isn't the case that His watching us die in this life is "like watching your beloved child slowly die before you." Death is a transition; what if life itself is the "magic potion" that you mention?

As for John Lennon's religious beliefs... I'd suggest, first, that turning to rock stars for advice on God is a bit like turning to somebody who lives in Manhattan for advice on preparing a farm for winter. That said, everything I've ever read on the subject would indicate that he was an atheist. (Just look at the lyrics to songs like "God" and even "Imagine.")

Interestingly, though, George Harrison — who was most definitely not an atheist, and who knew Lennon personally — wrote a song a few months after Lennon's death titled "All Those Years Ago." In that song, which is like a letter to Lennon, Harrison writes that "they've forgotten all about God/He's the only reason we exist." That line always struck me as odd, considering Lennon's own lyrics about God...

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:30 PM | Comments (2)

November 5, 2004

Bargaining with Libertarians

As much as it represents an area of strong interest for me, and as much as I believe that it will be the next round of cultural battle, I've been reluctant to jump into the latest fray between conservatives and libertarians. We haven't even had a post-election weekend, yet!

As you're likely aware, Stephen Bainbridge started the whole thing off with his "Those Annoying Libertarians" post and a related Tech Central Station piece. From the latter:

Most libertarians refuse to accept the proposition that law can and should be based on moral principles derived from natural law. Some of them know that the American people strongly disagree. Knowing that their agenda of radical individual autonomy therefore cannot prevail in democratic processes, they have turned to the courts.

Over the past few days, Glenn Reynolds has turned "annoying libertarians" into a new Instapundit meme here, here, and here. It was the promise of "advice to social conservatives" from Randy Barnett that finally led me to click through to a post on the Volokh Conspiracy, and it was there that I found a paragraph that begs response:

My own view on how to maintain the winning coalition is Grover Norquist's: the "leave-us-alone" strategy, which happens to fit our original Constitution (as amended). This entails leaving gay marriage (which I support) to the states, and the substance of public school curriculum (including moments of silence and pledges of allegiance) to locally-elected school boards. (My only exception would be for when the liberty of adults is at stake as in Lawrence v. Texas, but we have debated this before and I won't be drawn into another debate over this issue right now. I am just identifying this area of disagreement I have with some conservatives.)

Giving due consideration to the time constraints under which Mr. Barnett wrote his post, I still find myself chuckling at the implied tradeoff. We (social conservatives) relent in beginning the slow process of making same-sex marriage a national issue through constitutional amendment, even as momentum builds toward the same elevation through the quick process of litigation; they (libertarians) will look the other way if some schools here and there decide to continue reciting the Pledge and ask the students to spend a quiet moment saying something to Somebody. Central cultural issue; watered down nod to tradition.

Is that the sort of compromise that libertarians will require to maintain our winning coalition? I'm no expert in negotiation, but that wouldn't strike me as fair even were our numbers of adherents relatively even, let alone when the balance leans in the other direction. If we're talking tradeoffs and compromises, there's a pretty obvious issue on which libertarians could begin to soften their stance; it starts with an "A."

Since the libertarians are being sporting enough to advise social conservatives about ways to work together, let me add in my own constructive thoughts: stop presenting society's choice as between reasonable libertarianism and fascistic theocracy. As it happens, in the same post, Prof. Reynolds linked to Eric of Classical Values, who provides a perfect example. Having complained that Bainbridge isn't "entirely fair to small-l libertarians with common sense enough to believe that voting is preferable to using the courts," Eric writes:

I think that big government statism is bad, and that it is immoral to use government force to tell people how to live their personal lives absent harm to others. I consider this a moral view -- my moral "norm" if you will. At the heart of the recognition by the Second Amendment of the right to keep and bear arms is a very moral view that individuals have a right to defend themselves and their homes, and to overthrow a tyrannical government.

This is at once morality AND individual autonomy.

As I and many others have argued before, at the other end of the spectrum (for lack of a better word), there are people who believe that various collections of written words (which they attribute to God) should supersede individual autonomy, and should constitute the final word of human "morality." Their ultimate goal, theocracy, would, by eliminating the element of choice in personal morality, destroy morality in the name of saving it.

Between Eric and Barnett, even baffled social conservatives ought to be able to discern the outlines of libertarians' view of us. The debate is seen as between rational people who wish to ensure the greatest degree of individual freedom and religious nuts picking through "various collections of written words" (also referred to as scriptures, texts, or books) pondering how best to correct God's error of granting free will. If these are the sides, then perhaps it is reasonable to propose trading a state-by-state reformulation of the pivotal institution of marriage for the opportunity to take that first step to theocracy: forcing children to stand quietly for a few moments.

The Surprise Is That They're Surprised

On his new blog, Mystery Achievement, frequent St. Blogs commenter someguy links to a Chicago Tribune piece about the Vatican's dismay at discovering itself cut out of the loop in the congealing secular caliphate of Europe:

"Taking into account the Christian roots of the European continent remains fundamental for the future development of the union," [Pope John Paul II] told the pilgrims.

The omission is more than symbolic. Had the reference been included, the Vatican would have been able to challenge Europe-wide legislation that conflicted with its teachings as unconstitutional, said Marco Politi, the Vatican correspondent for Italy's La Repubblica newspaper.

Instead, the church fears that its teachings will be swept aside, even in countries where it still has influence, by the emerging new European bureaucracy.

As I suggested in my pre-election NRO piece regarding the USCCB's questions for Catholic voters, a "consolidated world government will not foster freedom and democracy, but rather will attract those with selfish designs." Indeed, a self-centered approach to reality is the hallmark of the broader trend described in the Tribune article:

The Vatican long ago surrendered authority over the largely Protestant nations of Northern Europe, which broke, often bloodily, with Catholicism in centuries past. Gay marriage is legal in Belgium and the Netherlands, and some form of same-sex union is recognized in several other countries. Britain is making huge strides in the field of embryonic stem cell research. Abortion and divorce are readily available in many European nations.

The prospect that such practices could take hold even in Catholic strongholds is being perceived by some powerful church figures as a threat to Christianity's very existence. In much publicized comments last month, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, attacked what he called a "new holy inquisition" targeting Catholicism in Europe by groups "motivated predominantly by prejudice toward all that is Christian."

With sincere hope that this won't unduly offend Protestant readers, I can't help but wonder whether their progenitors in schism would have taken a different approach all those centuries ago if they'd had an inkling of the distant consequences. God speaks directly to each of us, to be sure. But disconnect a person's, or a people's, moral sense from an intrinsic common authority that, at the very least, forces us to argue with people who disagree with us, and it isn't surprising that personal desire will eventually be mistaken for that guiding Voice.

Perils exist in the other direct — history leaves no doubt about that — and my own Church is not without problems or culpability. Nonetheless, one need look no further than the Biblical exegeses of liberals in mainstream Protestant Churches for evidence of how dramatically human passions can distort divine revelations.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:50 AM | Comments (15)

Back to Tempered Moderation

Of all the manifold ways in which worldviews diverge over the perennial issue of same-sex marriage, one of the most irksome is actually relatively minor, in the grand scheme of things. Not surprisingly, the elections' outcome provoked an example from Andrew Sullivan:

A lot of gay people are devastated this morning, and terrified. We have seen, and not for the first time, how using fear of a minority can be so effective a tool in building a political movement. The single most important issue for Republican voters, according to exit polls, was not the war on terror or Iraq or the economy. It was "moral values." Karl Rove understood the American psyche better than I did. By demonizing gay couples, the Republicans were able to bring in whole swathes of new anti-gay believers into their party.

A trend that has been escalating for about a decade reached a fevered peak this year: After hints in Hawaii and Vermont (and, once-removed, Canada), the Massachusetts judiciary introduced into American law the concept of a same-sex marriage. Thereafter, civil servants around the country flaunted the law in an attempt to make legal recognition of such relationships an "in hand" right. In short, the courts, the town halls, and the activists who prodded them gave Americans a straightforward choice: vote on this issue, or we'll take away your opportunity. Well, Americans have started voting — not out of cynicism and aggression, but in defense of deeply held principles.

Indeed, it's somewhat telling that Sullivan and others place homosexuality so prominently in the range of "moral values." True, there were direct votes to be cast on that one issue, but what might have been the results had partial-birth abortion or cloning been available for direct comment via ballot? I'm not entirely sure, but I would hope that Sullivan's crowd could have explained the victory of "moral values" in terms other than hatred for women and sick people. By what calculus is such a large percentage of the population corralled as bigots and extremists when it comes to marriage?

Those who've read Sullivan for a while know the answer: he's back to leaping for the reasonableness turf:

But the intensity of the [traditionalist] passion, and the inherently totalist nature of religiously motivated politics means deep social conflict if we are not careful. Our safety valve must be federalism. We have to live and let live. As blue states become more secular, and red states become less so, the only alternative to a national religious war is to allow different states to pursue different options.

Just about a year ago, back before President Bush voiced support for a Federal Marriage Amendment, Sullivan expressed these same sentiments:

The flip-side of leaving Mississippi alone is that we should also leave Massachusetts alone.

The catch is, of course, that Sullivan's less-politic allies aren't going to leave Mississippi alone. So, while I agree with him, in disconnected theory, that the "passage of so many anti-gay amendments in so many states reduces the need, by any rational measure, for a federal amendment," the most conciliatory response that it is rational to make is: We'll see. The political fortunes of the FMA are more closely linked to "the inherently totalist nature" of homosexual activists than to those American Christians who actually represent the extreme that Sullivan expands so ridiculously.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 AM | Comments (5)

November 4, 2004

A Day Whisked Away

Truly sorry to have been pretty much absent today. I spent the entire day designing the main index of the new group blog — Anchor Rising — and it somehow became lunch, then dark, then dinner, then now. This is why I'd so much like to find a "day job" doing graphic design work; an eight-hour day would be as nothing! (Of course, when I unveil the new site, you'll be a better judge than I whether my time was well spent.)

Now on to my Internet rounds and, hopefully, some posts to lighten my bookmarks.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:03 PM
Diary & Confession

Chafee's Lost One Way or Another

I don't know whether it'll be a comfort to Kathryn Lopez, but I don't think Republicans will have to put up with Lincoln Chafee as a Senator in their party for the entirety of Bush's term. One possible occurrence would be if Chafee put his "symbolic protest" over his constituents' interest in preserving at least the one lone representative whom they have in the majority party:

Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee said he would consider switching parties if President Bush is re-elected.

"I'm not ruling it out," Chafee told The Providence Journal.

Chafee, known for moderate views that often run counter to the Bush administration, also said he cast a write-in vote for Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, in Tuesday's election. He said it was a "symbolic protest."

There are folks who'll suggest that, whatever Chafee is, he's a breath of fresh air in that he allows himself be guided by principle rather than politics. I'm not sure that's the case; Chafee's probably increasingly suspicious that he can't hold his seat through the next election as a Republican, whether the ax falls in the primaries or the general election. A party switch, which isn't obviously to the Democrats' benefit politicswise, may be the only way for him to save his job.

And as I've long been saying, a Chafee with a D. after his name would allow me to fulfill my moral obligation to vote against him in '06 while still enabling me voting Republican.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:42 AM | Comments (4)
Rhode Island

November 3, 2004

Avoiding the Obvious

Michele Catalano is hosting a post-election limerick contest. Here's my entry:

Kerry gained fans through concession,
And learning the truth of depression
Let his stone visage crease —
Bet his bishop and priest
Both wish he'd concede at confession!

(So far, by the way, George is the poet to beat.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:25 PM

To Catch the Wandering Visitor

Although it won't matter for anybody who gets here via link or bookmark (except in those surely frequent times when you're at a strange computer and just can't remember how to spell "timshelarts"... and forget that you could just Google the name), I thought it worth noting that I've gone ahead and claimed the blog's title as a domain. So, should you so desire, you can now get here by typing in:

It's nowhere near the top of my priority list, but someday, I'll set about changing links and repopulating the Internet with the new address.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:02 PM
Site-Related Announcements

Nothin' to Blame

At least in my liberal neck of the woods, there's a whole lot of talk about the electoral college and abolishment thereof, both on talk radio and by the water cooler, so to speak. If that indicates anything, I'd say, it's a complete bafflement among Democrats about what to blame: Bush won the popular vote, too.

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

Well into the Next Day

Okay, so maybe in the wee hours of the night/morning, I didn't give adequate consideration to the extent to which the nation continues its rightward swing. I just thought it wouldn't have been so close; look at the opposition candidate.

I think the sheer numbers are by far the most significant aspect. The proponents of slinking "progress" have pushed too hard for too much ground — and perhaps they've reached people's limits no matter the pace. They fight bans on infanticide (to the clear-minded); they seek to bypass the legislature through the judiciary; they believe it's censorship or religious oppression when people of faith speak out and act in their capacity as private citizens, but they call it "civil disobedience" to use the structures of the civil sphere to disobey the law.

Considering my emphasis on cultural matters, there's surely a tilt to my perception for which you should account. That said, however, I think the cultural fight undergirds even the central issue of this election: the War on Terror. America-haters don't hate the country because of fellow citizens who agree with them. More mildly, people who disagree with the President and conservatives on domestic issues were only too obvious in their efforts to find reasons to oppose him as a wartime leader.

The War on Terror will continue, now, but on a broader scale, we may at last be entering the Era of the Culture War. The liberal side isn't going to relinquish its command of societal strongholds just because doing so may dismantle educational, artistic, and informational structures. More than ever, it will be obvious from their point of view that the "system" is not working, because it is not working toward their goals. Already skeptical about their chances in the branches of government that are directly answerable to the people, should they develop any sense that they are losing the judiciary as well, they will feel disconnected from the entire civic sphere of the nation.

This election was one of many showdowns — amid those already fought and yet to come — but it was a supremely significant one. The liberal side risked all-important credibility among its legions in the media in order to make this election a full assault. Toe to toe. And it lost. Those vested in the relevant aspects of American society will surely attempt to regroup and continue their struggle, but they'll do so understanding that theirs are inherently defensive maneuvers.

Others will split from the legitimate opposition, some into radicalism, some into feigned cooperation. From the former, we can expect violence and vitriol until they've lost the ability even to spew those. But keep an eye on the latter, the liberal Republicans and libertarians, for they represent the future's opposition. Whether they commandeer the liberals' worn, but still well-placed, bastions or force schism on the Right, they represent the next stage in humanity's incremental spiral toward the essential choice of every man and woman's life.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:21 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Shocking No Matter the Outcome

I'm a bit astonished that the country's still this divided. At this moment, C-SPAN has Bush with 246 and Kerry with 196 and undeclared states as follows (leaving out Alaska [Bush] and Hawaii [Kerry]):

New Hampshire: Bush down 2%
Ohio: Bush up 3%
Michigan: Bush down 3%
Wisconsin: Bush down 1%
Minnesota: Bush down 7%
Iowa: Bush down 1%
New Mexico: Bush up 4%
Nevada: Bush down 1%
Washington: Bush down 5%

If counting were declared over now, Bush would win with 274 electoral college votes. But any one of these states could flip.

(Incidentally, I notice that C-SPAN called Cali before a single precinct was listed. At this moment, those 55 EC votes come down to a span of merely 7%, with only 14% of precincts reporting... ugh.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:43 AM | Comments (4)

November 2, 2004

New to the Game, but...

As of this writing, the C-SPAN map has 97% of Florida precincts reporting, and Bush has a 5% lead. Why can't they call it?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:38 PM | Comments (2)

The Vote Has Been Cast

I just voted; there was actually a line, which I thought odd, because my polling place is just a little out-of-the-way spot. (The line gave a few folks the opportunity to discuss loudly their reasons for hope that Kerry will win.) However, I remembered today that this is only my second time voting — and my first vote for President.

Blogging has made me feel as if I've been following politics for a long time, but it's an illusory sense. I registered to vote shortly after September 11, 2001. Can't help but wonder how many folks like me there are out there, who've spent the past three years planning to cast their first Presidential votes for Bush.

As Tim Cavanaugh points out in Reason, some liberals who looked likely to vote for Bush have had ample time to talk themselves out of doing so. Are such people representative? I'm not sure.

On my way home, I listened to talk host Dan Yorke on the radio, and he was making a big deal over the vote of one of his call screeners. Jeff Wade was undecided as late as yesterday. Almost exactly a year ago, Jeff came on the air during a morning-show discussion of same-sex marriage:

Kass's call-screener, a young guy named Jeff, came on the air and ranted about how he's sick of sitting there listening to "crazy" people quote from the Bible. "Just go away," he said. "Go live in Bibleland."

Well, with the ballot in hand, Jeff went for W. I won't even hazard a guess as to how common such votes will be, but my gut tells me that they'll number more than the libs-gone-limp whom Cavanaugh highlights. Add another layer: a member of my wife's family who is generally a reliable vote for the Democrats (tending to take the party-line option, as I recall) decided to stay home today because he didn't know for whom to vote.

I know these are just extremely limited anecdotes, but they are in Rhode Island. I guess we'll find out whether they echo in less solidly blue states.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:22 PM | Comments (1)

November 1, 2004

Closing Your Eyes Won't Make It Go Away

Rush is right.

Lane Core's got more pictures that voters should keep in mind.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:23 PM | Comments (1)
International Affairs

Muddy Vision

Glenn Reynolds quotes as follows from an article about a developing medical procedure:

Three years ago Elisabeth Bryant believed she would be blind for the rest of her life. “I couldn’t see anything,” she says. Now, although her vision is not perfect, she can see well enough to read, play computer games and check emails.

Bryant has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that has blinded four generations of her family. What has saved the sight in one of her eyes is a transplant of a sheet of retinal cells. The vision in this eye has improved from 20:800 to 20:84 in the two-and-a-half years since the transplant – a remarkable transformation. . . .

There is a catch, of course. The sheets of retinal cells used by the team are harvested from aborted fetuses, which some people find objectionable.

Professor Reynolds seems to believe that this undermines certain pro-lifers' debate points, although his source doesn't follow the blog etiquette to provide at least one example of a so-called "It's not as though fetal tissue grafts are really medically promising" argument. (The link that Colby Cosh provides on that quotation actually goes to the above-quoted article.) Personally, I find the paragraph following the blockquote to be the most relevant, both to the moral issues and to Cosh and Reynolds's reaction:

One accusation of those opposed to using fetal tissue is that women might be tempted to have abortions to provide tissue to restore their own sight or that of relatives. "People are going to claim that we are promoting abortion," says Norman Radtke, the surgeon who carried out the transplants at the Norton Audubon Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

When it comes to medical technology, of one thing we can be sure: the next one hundred years will present us with plenty of situations in which we must decide whether desirable ends justify immoral means. As emotionally difficult as it will be to insist that some radiant paths must be left untrodden, we must acknowledge, now, that blindness to moral demands is a degenerative disease.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:21 PM

"I Sound Like Who?"

A number of people of my acquaintance, online and off, should take a moment to ponder Jim Geraghty's point:

The far left hates George W. Bush with a raging fury. So does al-Qaeda. Was it really so shocking that the rhetoric of the former would eventually be taken up by the latter?

No, this tape should cause many on the left to stare into the mirror for a long time and ask, "What have I turned into? How did I become so reflexively partisan, so blinded by rage, so intemperate in my rhetoric that my own arguments are being echoed by a man who planned and enjoyed the mass murder of Americans?"

"How the hell did I reach the point where I agree with Osama bin Laden on Bush?"

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:41 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Dust in the Light Political Coverage

If you want the absolute best, the most thorough, the fastest, the most reasonable, or even simply adequate election coverage, don't look here. I'll certainly be following the returns and incidents of fraud, and if I think something worthy of comment, comment I will. But apart from my various occupations, I figure my election-related time is better spent praying for wise voters than yelling out numbers or reporting incidents that you can find just as easily as I can in any number of places.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:27 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Outrun by the Campaigns

It is increasingly clear that the election will have come and gone before I manage to find time to offer substantive commentary on the links that have been accumulating in my bookmarks. So, while the fever is high, I thought I'd just unload them all in one post.

The Command Post is going all out to define election coverage, blog-style.

You've surely seen it already, but Mark Steyn's piece predicting (banking on) a Bush victory is truly must-reading. (By the way, what's up with the "contains nuts" cartoon that accompanies it?)

As I noted on Into the Ether in the left-hand column, I recall reading somewhere that John Lennon, as radical as he was, often voted for the conservative candidate — or whichever would allow him keep more of his riches. I thought of that while reading Jay Nordlinger's continuing ponderation of the likelihood that some proportion of Kerry/Edwards-button wearers will actually be voting Bush/Cheney. Jonah Goldberg wondered something similar the other day; maybe people are just uncomfortable talking about their Republican intentions, even to anonymous pollsters. Jonah also reminds readers of the roar that never came from Howard Dean's legion of young voters. (Wouldn't it make your year, though, to catch Kerry in a similar primal scream to Dean's?)

On the lighter side, two more links that you've probably come across and should click if you haven't yet are the Daily Recycler's Bush v. Edwards hair-styling video and Frank J.'s illustrated argument for Bush.

The Providence Journal backs Bush! All that really matters is the War on Terror, and as Glenn Reynolds points out it's simply wrong to see the Bush administration as a failure and/or a potential Kerry administration as a likely success in this regard.

On the Bush side, Charles Krauthammer argues that U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were the top two "most astonishing geopolitical transformation[s] of the last four years." Difficulties and errors are inevitable when you're trying to change the world for the better, because such a change isn't agreeable to those who profit from the pain of others.

On the Kerry side, Jeff Jacoby describes the sparkling mirror that is John Kerry's character.

I can't help but wonder what the conversation and the polls might be like, right now, had the Democrats put forward somebody like Gephardt or Lieberman. What they seem to have tried is to put forward a Howard Dean who could fit into Lieberman's rhetorical wardrobe. I don't think it's going to work.

I loved this AP headline a few days ago: "Bad News Dogs Bush As Election Nears." Gee, I hadn't noticed. Wonder why that is...

For a little media assistance, James Robbins suggests some good stories that are there for the taking in Iraq, specifically. I like the one about "the Iraqi contractor who brought his irrigation project 25-percent under budget and returned the unused money."

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:07 PM | Comments (2)