December 31, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from The Congregation," by Lori Dillman.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:23 AM

December 30, 2004

On the Stands, and in the Dark

Well, my regular subscription copy of the issue of National Review with my name on the cover has arrived. Whether or not that means that it is on the stands, I can't say, but be sure to pick up a copy and then write to the editors to request that the author whose piece begins on page 30 becomes a regular contributor.

For the sake of anybody who's arrived here as a result of the piece, I should mention one helpful feature of Dust in the Light: If you find that the layout makes for difficult reading, just click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column. That'll brighten and simplify things.

The Intricacies of Love and Hate

In "The Virtue of Hate," from the February 2003 issue of First Things, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik contrasts two exhortations — one Christian and one Jewish — that seem to touch the heart of the difference between the two religions (emphasis in original):

Arguing that the newly empowered South African blacks readily forgave their white tormentors, Tutu explains that they followed "the Jewish rabbi who, when he was crucified, said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." ...

[At the climax of Yom Kippur, Jews] have spent the past twenty–five hours meditating upon their sins and asking for forgiveness. Now, they suddenly turn their attention to those who gave no thought to forgiveness, no thought to God, no thought to the dignity of the Jewish people. After focusing on their own actions, Jews turn to those of others, and their parched throats mouth this message: "Father, do not forgive them, for they know well what they do."

The understanding of knowledge and awareness is the pervasive difference. And it bears not only on the object of hatred, but also on the source of it; the hater should know well what he does, too, as Soloveichik indicates when he writes the following:

The message is that hate allows us to keep our guard up, to protect us. When we are facing those who seek nothing but our destruction, our hate reminds us who we are dealing with.

The disheartening implication of this — disheartening especially because I don't recall ever hearing it disputed — is that love alone is a blinding emotion. "Burning hatred, once kindled, is difficult to extinguish," and hatred "must be very limited [and] directed" — suggesting that it can be applied with circumspection. Love, on the other hand, is granted no such controllability, no such thoughtfulness.

Christian love is not, however, the romantic love of complete abandonment. On the same topic as Soloveichik, Jeff Jacoby writes:

It defies reason and upends morality to claim that God loves both Saddam Hussein and the innocent Kurds he gassed to death -- that He bestows His love on Osama bin Laden no less than on the 3,000 souls he butchered on 9/11.

The minimized possibility, in this, is that God's love is not an indulgent, all-permissive love. Good parents teach their children right and wrong, and they will be disappointed when a child goes astray and stern when imparting the lesson. Their love, however, is constant. The modern popular imagination can only resort to pleas of denial to explain parents' persistent love even for progeny who turn toward evil, but that is an indictment of the modern popular imagination, not of love nor of God.

Christian love between people is not worship or adoration; it is the desire to serve, to help, and one cannot help others without honestly acknowledging their true natures. That is the difficult challenge: not to hide truth, blinding ourselves to the inroads that evil has made in others so that we can love them, but to realize others' faults and love nonetheless. Thus, in loving our enemies, we seek to comprehend the cracks through which evil has seeped into them and to help them free themselves of it.

This will involve insisting on repentance and recompense (and let us not underestimate the pain of coming to terms with direct personal culpability for travesties). It will also require care not to invite them to further sin through naive benignity.

Hatred, in contrast, blinds by diminishing the role that the hated person plays in our prescriptions. Hatred is predictable, because it is grounded in the intention to harm rather than the intention help its object. Hatred makes those who harbor it vulnerable to any enemy willing to accept it with a shrug. Hatred also blinds those who would make it a virtue to important lessons. Soloveichik relates the following as an example of the way in which hatred "allows us to keep our guard up":

The rabbis of the Talmud were bothered by a contradiction: the book of Kings describes Saul as killing every Amalekite, and yet Haman ["the Hitler of his time"], according to his pedigree in the book of Esther, was an Agagite, a descendant of the Amalekite king. The Talmud offers an instructive solution: after Saul had killed every Amalekite, he experienced a moment of mercy, and wrongly refrained from killing King Agag. This allowed Agag a window of opportunity; he had several minutes before he was killed by the angry Samuel. In those precious moments, Agag engaged in relations with a random woman, and his progeny lived on to threaten the Jews in the future.

In the Catholic Bible, this scene is chapter 15 of the first book of Samuel, which would support an entire discussion on its own. For now, the relevant point is that Soloveichik is presenting it as teaching the lesson that more hatred of Agag in Saul would have prevented Haman from ever having been born. (Properly gauging hatred, it would seem, is a tricky matter indeed.)

I see quite a different point: Haman was born, and hatred to the point of utter genocide did not prevent it. And the solution is to hate more? This is merely one thread in the entirety of the Old Testament, of course, but perhaps subsequent history would have been entirely different had Agag been treated according to the modified rule that Christians follow. I find it thematically suggestive that Haman's rampage begins when the Jewish Mordecai is alone among the king's servants in refusing to bow to him; enmity begets exchanges of genocide.

Rabbi Soloveichik states that there is "no minimizing the difference between Judaism and Christianity on whether hate can be virtuous," and the more one considers it, the more the question seems to relate to elemental beliefs. From a Christian point of view, the most profound reality that those who killed Jesus "knew not" was that theirs was an act of deicide. Borrowing a phrase from Jacoby, "those who torture and murder without qualm, who are pitiless in the pain they inflict on others," ignore what is sacred in every human being. In charity, we hope that they know not the spiritual truth of what they do.

That charity, as an expression of love, is critical for our own well-being. In order to hate, no matter how under control we believe the emotion to be, we must also turn our eyes from the sacred in those whom we hate. For hatred's sake, we deny that, somewhere within them, God is part of their true natures. In doing so, we deny that He is necessarily part of our own.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:00 PM | Comments (1)

The Best Strategy for Writers: Do Everything

With reference to Donald Sensing's blog-based book pitch, Kathryn Lopez (whose POV is probably more that of an editor) suggests:

My guess is as soon as this idea catches on--pitching books online--it will become inefficient for book editors to look through the net for their next book. On the other hand, like the blogosphere works, a survival-of-the-fittest kind of filter might actually make it worthwhile.

This is obviously a topic in which I've a desperate interest. I spent years pursuing the established path toward publication, and then more years dabbling in self-publication. Now I've decided to blog-serialize a second edition (in a manner of seeing it) of my novel, A Whispering Through the Branches (beginning here, with the actual story beginning here). Through all of these endeavors, I've come to four related conclusions:

  1. A ridiculous number of people are trying to become published authors.
  2. Whether because of temperament, talent, or schedule, different routes toward publication will suit different ones.
  3. Newer, more-innovative routes can give worthy writers a side door.
  4. The essential lesson for aspiring writers is to try everything they possibly can.

Returning to Lopez's prediction, I'd suggest that her success in her area of publishing leads her to miss one factor: states of success vary for both writers and publishers. I imagine that she rarely — probably never — finds it necessary to scour the blogosphere or solicit contributions in order to fill an edition of NRO; when she does come a-callin', I imagine writers are very responsive. And the same will be true for major book publishers. Similarly, well-known writers don't require innovative methods of attracting publishers.

Lower down the hierarchy, however, all sides stand to gain the more routes they have to find each other. Publishers in the low-to-middle market, to whom writers might not think to send their proposals, benefit to the extent that they can go in search of open proposals. Some time at the computer can lead one to Sensing, in lieu of advertisement and unsolicited calls to agents and writers whose names the publisher stumbles across somehow. And obviously, unknown writers have nothing to lose by making their proposals available to anybody and everybody.

Of course, this idea is hardly new. I've had proposals online for years (although their longevity is mostly attributable to the perpetual postponement of a site redesign). The blog dimension adds only the ability to plug into an existing and expanding network of related content. Even with links from the likes of the Corner and Instapundit, however, the primary benefit of online pitches and proposals is that they'll increase the efficiency with which writers can move through established procedures — from query letter to proposal to samples to manuscripts.

The process will still involve a lot of work, and those who overestimate their ability (which may well include me, by the way) will still be disappointed. But the more paths there are, the more likely it is that the right people will connect and — perhaps more importantly — the more merit will overwhelm preexisting connections as a decisive factor.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:46 AM | Comments (3)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:55 AM

The Walls of the Trap

Barbara Nicolosi has noticed the furtherance of some related themes:

The thing with evil is, it never relents. It never sleeps. It never retreats. It never pauses to catch its breath.

That's what I was thinking last Thursday while watching the last half of ER which featured an absolutely compelling and iron-clad dramatic defense for euthanasia....

I don't believe in media conspiracies, but it is amazing how everybody in the worlds of mainstream media and entertainment seem to get "on message" so fast. So, this week, for example, on Wednesday, I heard House minority leader Nancy Pelosi note on CNN that there really isn't any looming crisis in Social Security, and that the whole thing has been raised by the GOP to scare young people. Then, most of Wednesday and Thursday, AOL has the lead headline, "Bush says There is a Looming Social Security Crisis." "Hmmmm..." I thought. "Since when, don't we all agree that Social Security is in trouble?"

Then, I catch the ER episode on Thursday night, and I started to see the next horizon. It all fits together for anyone who wants to see it.

You see it, I trust?

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:36 AM | Comments (1)

Gonna Anyway

Rebecca Hagelin makes a good point:

When it comes to other topics -- smoking, drinking, drug abuse -- we don't hesitate to give our children the benefit of an unambiguous "no." We tell them flat out that they shouldn't do it. If anyone said, "But kids are going to drink any way, so let's show them how they can minimize the effects of a hangover," most parents would suggest that that person have his head examined.

Yet who can deny that the same logic (or lack thereof) lies behind the push for "comprehensive" sex ed?

I'm actually for lowering the drinking age and, in the interim, using a bit of common sense when it comes to older kids and drinking. But Hagelin's basic point applies to any number of topics. They're going to cheat anyway... they're going to drive recklessly anyway...

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 AM

December 29, 2004

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:25 PM

The Nightmare Is a Relentless Killer

When I was a boy, my parents bought me several history books disguised as large-format children's books — with such titles as The Invaders and How They Lived in Cities Long Ago. To confess, they generally went untouched.

However, there was one such book (which I can't find in any of my still-packed boxes) that made an impression. One part of it was about an ancient city by the water whose inhabitants had been eradicated by a tidal wave. As I recall, there was a photograph of the site, now at the top of a cliff with water markings all down its face, and an artist's rendering of the disaster in process.

Tidal waves and tsunamis always held a place in my imagination. I pictured a wall of water hundreds of feet high that didn't actually break until it hit the shoreline and then came crashing down. And I was — it is now irksome to admit — disappointed years later when I saw video footage in one of those spectacularized documentaries about natural disasters. Looking back, the first word of the term "tidal wave" should have made it clear that at issue was a very rapid and high change in the tide — not a breaking, crashing, tubing wave.

Watching videos of the tsunami in Southeastern Asia, however, makes the category of disaster quite a bit more terrifying than even my false conception. The water is relentless. It just keeps coming, and rising — like the water in a sinking ship, only as if the land itself is sinking. There is no stark line against the skyline, sickly thrilling in its way, to watch approach and then pass. Instead there's just the water and the terror of wondering whether it will stop rising before people run out of secure things on which to climb. The step, the desk, the windowsill.

Being near the shoreline becomes no different than being in a raft capsizing in a fast-moving river. Passing objects, rocks, hands come so close that it seems implausible that they cannot be reached. But like the nightmare of a panicked run in place, progress cannot be made.

I've been too long in making the time to write this, but my prayers have already been going out to everybody who lived that nightmare and the thousands of others who survived only to find countless nightmares of differing terror.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:17 PM | Comments (2)

December 28, 2004

"Once You Submit, There Won't Be Any Need for Them to Intimidate You"

Be sure to watch the video linked in this WorldNetDaily article about the arrest and prosecution of Christian demonstrators at an event for Philadelphia homosexuals:

The four are part of 11 demonstrators who went before the Philadelphia Municipal Court in a preliminary hearing this week. Judge William Austin Meehan Tuesday ordered four of the Christians to stand trial on three felony and five misdemeanor charges. If convicted, they could a maximum of 47 years in prison. ...

Eight charges were filed: criminal conspiracy, possession of instruments of crime, reckless endangerment of another person, ethnic intimidation, riot, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways.

As far as I can tell, almost all of the charges apply at least in equal measure to the gay activists, none of whom were arrested or charged with anything. First, the Christian group required police to break up an arm-linked human barrier to the event that spanned the sidewalk (obstructing highways). Next the Christians were followed around by a cluster of activists sporting huge pink signs — to enclose the Christians within moving walls — and blowing whistles to drown them out (possession of instruments of crime, ethnic intimidation, failure to disperse, and disorderly conduct). And apparently, the treatment of the Christian demonstrators was planned and announced beforehand (criminal conspiracy). As for reckless endangerment and riot, those seem completely without merit all around.

The "ethnic intimidation" charge is the most outrageous. A handful of Christians were entirely surrounded by stone-faced activists and moving amid shouted quips from the crowd, including from a speaker on the stage of the event. Furthermore, the Christians were the clear and singled-out focus of the authorities on the scene. The Orwellian twisting of principle is best consolidated in a statement from one of the police officers to the Christian group's leader: "There's going to be no need for their pink signs, because you're not going to have your signs."

Robert Walker-Smith makes a point in the comments that is worth further discussion:

At the major local such event (in San Francisco), such protestors are given a clearly demarcated area to pray in, wave their signage from, and so on, separated from the parade proper by barricades and a line of police officers. Thus, no such incidents - which seems to bother the parade participants and organizers not at all. And the protestors are there every year.

That seems to me a perfectly legitimate strategy for a municipality to balance the demands that are justly made of public space. In fact, it's probably advisable, given the extreme differences in worldview of our nation's citizens. In developing the policy, all people who think it likely that they'll want to either host a public event or protest one will be able to participate in the public debate with a view toward what they'd find acceptable from either position.

What isn't legitimate is an ad hoc solution such as conveyed on the video — with one officer following the group around telling the protestors that they can go anywhere because it's a public walkway, then telling its members that they can stand in a particular spot, and then other officers' coming in and arbitrarily ordering the protestors to retreat to a particular street.

As mentioned in the comments, WND clearly isn't an unbiased source, and the video could have been edited to exclude important factors. But as it appears on the tape, it looks as if the police were attempting to corral the group away from the event not in accordance with any particular law, but using various and shifting demands without assertions of law.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:37 PM | Comments (12)

Putting Pieces Together for the MSM

Last week, I noted that the Providence Journal editorial page had taken the surprising position that disconnecting healthcare from employment might encourage hiring. Today, I point out over on Anchor Rising that the very same editorial page is advising Massachusetts to pass legislation requiring all employers to... pay for employees' healthcare. Ugh.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:20 PM

Divine Inspiration in the Arts

One of my fortunate discoveries, this fall, after I'd come to the stunning revelation that not all music with an explicitly Christian message is saturated with a trying-too-hard unctuousness, was Who We Are Instead by Jars of Clay. A review by Mark Joseph that I'd read in early August was absolutely glowing, and it ended by pointing to another revelation:

Among these [fans], ironically enough, is U2's front man Bono, who recently noted, "I've had their version of the song 'Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet' in my car for a year now, and you know what — it never has failed me yet."

Not surprisingly, given my past, I'd never heard U2 described in a Christian context before I began sifting through the Christian neighborhoods of the blogosphere, but apparently the theme has been there all along.

In the time since I read Joseph's review of Jars of Clay, the more-famous of the two bands has released what is being declared its "most conspicuously Christian record," and I can't help but wonder if there's been a Christian music equivalent of what the business folks call "upward management." Is the mainstream, commercial success of such bands as Creed, Sixpence None the Richer, and Jars of Clay beginning to make it acceptable again for pop/rock stars to express their faith? To come out?

That may or may not be the case, but the possibility does indicate a damaging bifurcation of faith and public life that has spread across more aspects of society than music. In a review of a previous album by Jars of Clay, Mark Joseph noted the band's fight to be treated "in the category that describes their music (pop/rock), not the category that describes their faith (gospel)." For too long, now, there has been religion and there has been culture, and one could fully integrate with one by becoming a stranger to the other.

That reality detracts from both aspects of our society, and it would be a mistake to see it as the work of only one side. Doug Giles describes the issue from the other angle:

Since God is the self-existent Lord of the universe and accountable to no one, he could have made the world in which we live completely beige. He could have been a minimalist who only shops at West End. He's God and can do what he wants. Instead, God dumped a lot of unnecessary splendor on us, expressly for our enjoyment. And you know what ... this freaks out the altar-call-driven, number-crunching, pragmatic, no-taste Church-goer because it seems that such expenditure is a waste of time, space and energy.

It sounds oversimple to say it, but at least part of life's purpose is to live, and arts and culture enhance that experience. The opposing reflection of this truism is that arts and culture lose their force without meaning and lose their coherence when disengaged from philosophy. Religion and culture oughtn't be kept distinct any more than they ought to be self-consciously melded. Each is ubiquitous in a person's life, and if we return to the practice of peering through life where they overlap most visibly, we will surely bring about a renaissance in the decades to come.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:00 PM | Comments (1)

Songs You Should Know 12/28/04

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

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:29 PM

Call Off the Culture War

Back when Janet Jackson's Super Bowl striptease and Howard Stern's usual antics inspired the Senate to increase the fines for indecency to a level at which media corporations wouldn't sniff at the penalty,* Jeff Jarvis began a post titled "The Daily Stern: Taps for the First Amendment" as follows:

TEARING DOWN THE BILL OF RIGHTS: Religious fundamentalists, organized as a Dumb Mob, just dealt a deadly blow to free speech in America with legislators, cynical hypocrites, as their henchmen and media standing idly by, the short-sighted quislings.

Jarvis titled another post, specifically about reaction to the Super Bowl incident, "Book burners." To this rhetoric, somebody who disagrees with Jarvis's general position might be inclined to respond thus:

There is no religous war in America. That ended more than two centuries ago. And now we enjoy the benefits of that struggle. We should be grateful for that and stop squandering it with squabbles.

I didn't write that; Jeff Jarvis did. When religious citizens insist on a standard of propriety in the public square, their expression is "the organized effort of one Dumb Mob." When the argument is over religious displays in the public square, both sides need to "grow up and count their blessings" — and quietly put their creches "anywhere else." If only we could all develop Jarvis's fine-tuned sense of what is "silly" and what is "ridiculous." (Disallowing "an instrumental version of a Christmas ditty" receives the first adjective, but what about disallowing the lyrics to be sung?)

In Jarvis's view, "we are fortunate enough to have a First Amendment that guarantees our freedom to worship... yet we squander that fortune, that blessing, with silly, egotistical, show-off squabbles." I wonder what religious freedom amounts to, though, if the extent of worship — of religious expression — is not an open question. Jarvis (a Congregationalist whose sect's expression of theism is not generally targeted for restriction) has an understanding of the church-state relationship that is not incompatible even with radical secularism. But what of those who disagree fundamentally about the appropriate roles both of religion and of the law? Is it squandering the fortune of religious freedom to insist that citizens have a right to make their religion visible in their public capacity, even when others strenuously disagree, or does it contribute to that fortune?

There is no more expedient way to kill religion than to treat it as a private taste, a fashionable sensibility. Religion dies from silence. Among my most startling discoveries upon opening myself up to the possibility of faith was that people actually believe that stuff. What's more, thoughtful, reasonable, intelligent people believe that stuff! How is it possible that I could grow up not understanding this in a country in which 96% of citizens celebrate Christmas? I'd say that the answer is not unrelated to the willingness of people in '80s–'90s Northern New Jersey to be accommodating enough to say "happy holidays" so as not to offend.

Jarvis makes a puzzling statement when he says "millions around the world would die -- yes, die -- to enjoy" our freedom of worship. I'd suggest that submitting to death would be a counterproductive approach to enjoying anything in this life. As for securing religious freedom — broadly speaking — for others, accepting death has what might be called an extramundane precedent. The more insidious danger to religion and expression thereof is that we'll all learn to keep our lips prudently sealed about God out of concern that "He would roll His eyes"... you know, if He really existed.

* Jarvis argues that the amounts are such that he "can be bankrupted for making what is, in fact, political speech." Putting aside the what and whether of political speech, a wry chuckle is in order with the application of perspective. According to the Washington Post piece to which Jarvis links, the fine had been $32,500; frankly, that's more than enough to bankrupt somebody in my circumstances.

If Jarvis wants to argue that such fines ought to be relative to the person or organization that violates a particular rule or that there ought to be an explicit procedure for seeking mitigation, that would certainly be a reasonable suggestion — one that I'd support. It mightn't even be adequate that Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) added language to the penalty change in order to allow "the FCC to consider [smaller-market broadcasters'] size when assessing fines." But somehow, I think Jarvis would rather push for the removal of all fines than consent to making existing fines more fair.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:53 PM | Comments (3)

A Note on the Previous Post

The previous post has elicited recriminations to the effect that comparisons between homosexual activists and Islamicists are beyond the pale. Often, such reactions seem designed merely to shut down a sensitive debate. Be their intentions as they may, there's an important point to be made about them.

Mike Hubbard writes that it "seems especially repugnant, given that Islamic fundamentalists try to stone and murder homosexuals at every turn, for you to compare the two." His suggestion might be an appropriate response if I'd made a general equivalence between the two groups, but what I actually did was to address each group in the context of a particular issue. No matter how much any two groups despise each other, they still share the same world, and the actions of each will affect the other, as well as society at large. As commenter smmtheory puts it, ruling comparison of any sort out of bounds removes the ability to ask "what the possible outcome could be when two such totally divergent ideologies seek the same goal of redefining marriage."

Joel Thomas takes a moderately different approach from Hubbard: "You[, Justin], as a fundamentalist Catholic, may have more in common with Islamic fundamentalists than do gay activists." Putting aside the ambiguity of what constitutes a "fundamentalist Catholic" and my skepticism that the term applies to me, I'd say that Joel's assertion is possibly, if not likely, true.

Along a general spectrum of worldviews, I might be somewhat closer to Islamicists than is the average advocate for same-sex marriage. In such a case, it would be even more dangerous for me to bristle dismissively at delimited points of comparison. It might be true that taking certain of my views to a distorted extreme would approximate the views of Islamic fundamentalists. How else am I to find the line — and keep well away from it — unless I'm willing to be candid about comparisons?

The other option, one that is all too common in the modern West, is to be the deliberate opposite of a hated group. Unfortunately, as I began by pointing out, opposites can come around to supporting the same ends. I can only hazard to guess this, not knowing his politics, but there may be evidence of "coming around to the enemy's side" at the very beginning of Hubbard's comment:

Striving to change the nature of society, which both Islamists and gay activists are trying to do, is sometimes a necessary and useful process. The abolitionists of the 19th century were radically altering society, but I think, Mr. Katz, you agree with me that so terrible a society that allowed slavery needed to be changed. Indeed, it was the Christian thing to do.

That, to my eye, looks like a far more problematic comparison than anything I wrote. The question that ultimately arises is which of the two disagreeable camps — Islamofascists and Western conservatives — Western radicals choose to align with.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:35 AM | Comments (26)

December 27, 2004

A Convergence of Issues

What do Islamic fundamentalists and gay activists have in common? Both are striving to change the nature of marriage in Western society:

The Inland Revenue is considering recognising polygamy for some religious groups for tax purposes. Officials have agreed to examine "family friendly" representations from Muslims who take up to four wives under sharia, the laws derived from the Koran. Existing rules allow only one wife for inheritance tax purposes. The Revenue has been asked to relax this so that a husband’s estate can be divided tax-free between several wives. The move is bound to create controversy if it leads to a change in the rules. It is seen as a breakthrough by Muslim leaders who have been campaigning to incorporate sharia into British domestic law.

Michelle Malkin, to whom the link above leads, casts this primarily as an issue of Islamic nonassimilation, and I mean this post to make no profound statement of comparison between the two interest groups nor to assign relative importance to the threats that they represent. My point in posting this is that the ways in which these issues churn in our society make cultural deterioration unpredictable and rapid.

Our society must maintain the strength of its historically unique cultural foundation in order to keep the various forces that it allows expression from pulling it apart.

Of course, I also don't mean to imply that there are no profound points of comparison. This isn't the only issue on which Islamists and Leftists find themselves working toward the same end, after all. And one could argue that same-sex marriage and sharia marriage law bear some similarity in that they both essentially insist that society assimilate itself to the cultures of minorities.

Thanks to Michelle for pointing out (in an update to her post) that I'm "on the same wavelength" in this post as Mark Steyn in a column from today's Telegraph:

When I mentioned the Pensions News item in a North American column on same-sex marriage, I was besieged by e-mails from huffy gays indignant at being compared with some up-country Nigerian wives-beater. "It's not the same thing at all," they insisted. But why? If the gender of the participants is no longer relevant, why should the number be? "Don't be ridiculous," they huffed back. "There's no demand for it." Au contraire, recent investigations into de facto polygamy in Muslim communities in France and Ontario suggest that even in Western jurisdictions there'll be many more takers for polygamy than for gay nuptials.

And why should only practising Muslims be entitled to its tax benefits? If you're a travelling salesman with a wife in Solihull and a mistress in Stockport, why shouldn't your better halves enjoy the same equality of treatment from the Revenue as Mullah Omar's get? Polygamy could solve an awful lot of problems, not least among my colleagues at The Spectator.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:16 PM | Comments (21)
Marriage & Family

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

The latest Notes & Commentary essay by Maureen Mullarkey is "Just Looking," reviewing Dawn Clements at Pierogi, Dawn Clements at Feigen Contemporary, and Uri Blayer at Tatistcheff Gallery.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:15 AM
Visual Art

Barton Answers His Own Question

Both sides of the same-sex marriage debate surely believe that large segments of the other side are beyond persuasion. In many cases, perhaps they are correct, although I'd obviously suggest that those firmly against the innovation stand on better, more-relevant ground. I, for one, can only assert that I am not unpersuadable, but that I've read and written about the topic so much over the past few years that I can fairly state that arguments several degrees of obviousness deep have not been adequate to change my mind.

What those who complain about intransigence are usually reacting to is the impression of fruitless debate. From the perspective of advocates for same-sex marriage, the other side is merely covering up their bigotry or "homophobia" (a term that still sounds to me as if it ought to mean "fear of things that are the same," such as twins). From the perspective of advocates against it, the other side often seems simply not to take their arguments seriously; they are, after all, merely indulging bigots in order to fend off popular action before court action can render it prohibitively difficult. Consequently, supporters' arguments come to feel merely like debate rhetoric and linguistic manipulation.

Consider Mark Barton's conclusion at the end of a post spent insisting that homophobia underlies every argument against same-sex marriage:

I couldn't care less how big a transformation it seems to Maggie [Gallagher] or people of like mind, nor am I under the slightest obligation to care. All I care about is whether there are any valid arguments that on balance people will be worse off as a result of the transformation.

Well then, if those are the rules, then I couldn't care less how obvious a right it seems to Mark or people of like mind. Ought I be cowed by accusations of "homophobia"? Ha! Not if I am not under the slightest obligation to care what homosexuals and their supporters think or feel.

Now that we've reached this impasse, all that remains to our struggle is power, and indeed, SSM supporters are counting on the power of the courts. In opposition, supporters of traditional marriage are counting on the power of the people. And here we've gone and tangled up a discrete cultural debate with dangerous issues of the balance of power in our government. To co-opt a commonplace, the judiciary that grants a right to redefined marriage is one that can take that "right" — and many more, and more critical, rights — away.

Personally, I'd prefer to avoid the further deterioration of our representative democracy, so it is fortunate that Barton's rhetoric leaves discussion open. Even by his own terms, there are "valid arguments" against same-sex marriage. In a previous post in this thread, he states the following:

I suggest that any view that tacitly or otherwise presumes that gay (i.e., same-sex attracted) people should be in opposite-sex relationships or not in relationships at all is quintessentially homophobic.

Some people do hold this view, but it is not an essential component of the logic that dictates against same-sex marriage. In the first post quoted here, Mark declares it "a complete non-sequitur" from the idea that all opposite-sex couples should be married to "the idea that gay couples should not be able to get married." Curiously, he doesn't make as big a deal about the non-sequitur from the belief that all sexually active straight couples should be married to the belief that homosexuals should "not [be] in relationships at all."

Again, some people do hold the latter belief. (And they'd surely contest the assertion that their view is invalid.) The relevant point to the marriage debate, however, is that encouraging marriage among a group whose sexual activity can produce children need say nothing about a group whose sexual activity cannot — except inasmuch as the latter group wishes to diminish the importance of that difference.

Such a wish would certainly be consistent with Barton's lack of care for the concerns of his opposition. For marriage to serve any social purpose, however, what Maggie, like-minded people, and all people believe its purpose to be is absolutely paramount. A central concern of we who advocate against same-sex marriage is that its purpose will shift to what has heretofore been merely a means — affirmation, normalization — to a larger (more selfless) end.

It is not "homophobic" to point to differences between heterosexual and homosexual couples when those differences amount to something as crucial as the creation — often all too casual — of new human life. And it would be foolhardy to attempt to include homosexuals by redefining marriage as an institution into which all couples who are sexually active should enter. That standard slipped long ago, and to be honest, I've never heard a single supporter of same-sex marriage speak out against non-marital sex. When conversation approaches that necessity, the rhetoric compounds.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:59 AM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

December 26, 2004

Exposition, Chapter 1 (p. 7-12)

A Whispering Through the Branches
< Previous | Beginning | Next >

The woman was kneeling penitently on a large stone, which jutted out into the stream, watching her tears collide ripplingly with those that rose upward from her oppositely kneeling reflection in the pool of calm water between the current and its eddy, and she nearly fell in when a voice drifted across to her from a nearby cluster of bushes:

"You must learn to do without those if it is your intention to stay."

As she turned, startled, to face the speaker, she sat back and, in reflex, tried to dig her fingers into the rock to secure her position. The fake nail from her left ring finger fluttered into the water and floated down the stream. "Excuse me?"

"The tears," replied the man from within his thick silver beard. "You cannot scatter them here."

He now stood at the edge of rock and earth, where the soil petered off unevenly, looking very much the part of a roaming ascetic in his sorely worn, off-white robe, his thumbs tucked each into a pocket of a brown jacket. His long gray hair hung loosely around a deeply wrinkled, gnomish face that seemed to serve only as a contrast to his blue eyes, which had that dull bloodshot glow that is falsely suggestive of depth.

"What?" asked the woman, stalling, gathering options with each sidelong glance.

"Come, remove yourself from your headland, and I'll relate the entire story," and with this puzzling promise he extended his hand.

"I think I'll stay here for now."

Rising cautiously to her feet, the woman wiped dirt from her hands and sized up the stranger. She was nearing a resolution that he was, at most, 5:7, when her glance intermingled with his. He lowered his hand and with the slightest of grins said, "Well, it is the Sabbath, after all."

At that moment, in the inexplicable fashion of divine whim, her rubber-soled hiking boots lost their grip, and she slid into the stream. The water, still icy cold from a Winter not long thawed, seeped its chill fingers into the fibers of her clothing and strove to pull her along on its pilgrimage through the woods. Clawing instinctively at the stone upon which she had just been standing, the woman was relieved to find a hand reaching out for hers. She succumbed to its grasp and was raised as though newly baptized from the pool, now missing another nail, this time the right pointer.

The man stripped the jacket from his back and draped it over her shoulders, "We'll have to get you to some dry clothing. Come, I don't live far from here."

"W-w-wait," she chattered through her shivering lips, "my c-car."

"Think not twice on it. Things like that have a way of waiting for their owners."

"N-no, I have clothes."

"Well, I don't see the point in removing one set of doused clothing only to saturate another when I've a fire burning yet as we speak and a pantry full of food. Just a short jaunt away, really. It can't be much farther than your car, n'est-ce pas?"

"I ap-appreciate it, r-really, but I'd r-rather not."

Smiling as only old men in the company of younger women can, the man said, "So you've found me out. I must admit that I'm not being completely selfless. I haven't had company these many months, and I'm afraid that I must insist on the pleasure of yours. Come, I'm being as insouciant as I can, so it will be an insult to my veracity if you refuse."

She paused, perhaps attempting to reconcile a justly imparted fear of strange men in the forest with a poorly taught standard for etiquette, then said blankly, "But I don't even know who you are."

"Alas, that is the way it must always begin," he explained, gesturing toward a path into the trees. "My name is John."

He was a small man, after all, so what had she, a full grown and independent woman, to fear?

When motion had persuaded her blood to flow and moments had helped to settle her meandering thoughts, the woman halted in her march and leaned back, a sapling as her support, and asked, appropriately, "Who are you?"

"I've told you as much as you'd be apt to listen to for the time being," replied John in a rehearsedly candid way as he stopped his own advancement and turned toward her. "Don't worry, you needn't fear for your safety; my intentions are wholly ingenuous."

"Be that as it may, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of being led off into the wilderness by a complete stranger."

"Young lady, the only artifice I have is to assist you and to secure for myself some companionship for the afternoon. You may, if you like, depart from my company and make your escape back to the metropolis from which you undoubtedly came, but let me assure you that we are now approaching as civilized a home as you are apt to find in the whole of the modern world. As for my leading you, well, I can only opine that you have made it thus far of your own volition and will most likely complete the journey through mere happenstance if left to your own devices. As importunate as our lack of acquaintance may temporarily appear to be, it is an obstacle which can only be overcome by each of us embarking on lengthy discourses, disclosing our chronologies and ideologies — a procedure that would hardly serve to evade any onslaught of influenza that may be impending in your future. So, if it helps, let us consider our cognizance of each other as inherently imparted and merely pending a more opportune moment for aggrandizing." His speech complete, John resumed his singular procession and muttered to himself, "Leading her into the wilderness, indeed."

Gripping the stalk of the young tree for a moment longer, the woman considered John, her head tilted like a curious puppy, and at last resigned herself to following. He had, after all, implied that he was alone. "Wait!"

John turned his head slightly toward the woman but continued walking.

"My name is D..."

Spinning quickly, and not gracefully, John spurted, "Utt-utt! That name will not do here. You must remain anonymous until you find one that better suits you." And he continued on his way.

Running the distance between herself and John, D. finally slowed to a complementary pace at his side and, after a few moments of walking and consideration, asked half jokingly, "Are there very many rules to name-picking in your forest?"

"They are not my rules any more than this is my forest. But it is my firm belief that they are sound rules despite their dubious nature, laid forth, as they are, by one so much greater than I."

"And who, pray tell, is that?"

"Why, Nathaniel, of course."

"Is this his land?"

"No, this over-hallowed ground is merely the foundation upon which he builds his cathedral, and these fruitless trees just the fodder for the great fire he incites in all who come to know him. But he makes the most prudent use of this otherwise barren society, so it is only fitting that he impart the regulations."

To assure herself that John was, in fact, alone, D. stated — reflecting in sarcasm — "Well, I'll have to look forward to meeting him."

"You shall. He generally comes to call before the Summer's quite arrived."

She chuckled. "That's a bit longer than I plan to hang around."

A cool breeze sifted through the branches and trifled John's hair like so many long blades of grass in a field. The playful gust seemed to be more the cause of his dry chuckle than any precognitive knowledge as he said, "Do as you like."

"I'd like to get out of these clothes."

"Again, do as you like," he said with a wry smile.

D. was glad that she hadn't decided to change in her car. Whatever his vocabulary, John was probably the epitome of a dirty old man, neither above nor beneath hiding in the bushes to watch a pretty woman undress. Still, as is the case with many dirty old men, there was something in John's manner that persuaded D. that he was harmless.

Stumbled by a protruding root, she steadied herself on his arm and regained her poise. "So do you stay out here by yourself all winter?"

"No, people pass through from time to time. Even when I'm left on my own, I've plenty to occupy myself. Plenty of wood to cut. Windows to polish, stray nails to hammer."

"You sound like quite the handyman."

"In a way. But I prefer to think of myself as a straightener. I keep things as they ought to be ordered. There's much that can go awry in an old house like ours when I'm the only one around to fix it."

"Do you get paid for the work or something?"

"Paid? What need have I for money? I've a shelter. I've bread enough to eat. The sunrise, sunset, and plenty to read between."

"Still, it seems a shame that you're stuck here."

"Miss, I've been out there in the real world before, and believe me when I tell you that I am much better off here."

"So you volunteer to remove yourself from the world."

"I consider it," pausing to form the phrase, "one of the detrimental quirks of modern society that none are any longer content to look after the way station. And I suppose you will fault me doubly for keeping it for somebody else rather than myself. But I will relinquish my own causes. They've never done me aught but harm, anyway. If I labor for the tranquillity of others, then I am enlarged. If I am the main source of support for the steeple, then am I not greater than the pews? It seems to me an honor to be the voice shouting in the desert rather than the close-mouthed whimpering begging aimlessly for forgiveness."

D. let the subject drop. She knew what was at issue here. A pity when people are so fooled into another's dogma that they willingly forsake their own right to self-realization. She wondered if she hadn't fallen into the hands of some diabolic sect and resolved to escape once her shivers were calmed and her hunger sated. She had had previous encounters with overzealous followers and self-proclaimed oracles and would not consent to being corrupted and so was immune. Her will was strong enough that she would not turn over her personality when she knew in her own heart what was true: that people are, each of them in their own right, both beggar and messiah. Perhaps she would report the cult to a friend of hers who dealt with deprogramming the brainwashed.

The pair, each considering the other's covenants, wandered wordlessly until they came to the peak of a hill, where the trees sprung up less densely and the sun beat down with as much force as is possible to muster in mid-March. As they began their descent down the other side, it occurred to D. that the work is never done, and can be found even in the middle of nowhere, for a person who would rid the world of deception. Perhaps this disciple could be saved simply, D. supposed, "He must be a great man, this Nathaniel."

"He most definitely is. It is a rare thing, indeed, to have the opportunity to call one so vital a friend."

"How did you come to be his messenger?"

John stopped and looked into the face of this foreign lady who had shown an interest in Nathaniel by expressing curiosity about himself, but his look held a secret that made it seem as though he understood her ulterior motive and had resolved to use it. For a moment, D. wasn't so confident that her assessment had been correct.

He smiled, revealing well-polished teeth that had at some previous time been left to rot beyond a full recovery, and she returned the gesture. Looking up at the sky and taking in the height of the sun, John bent to pick up a fairly thick stick. He looked along its length, plucked from it the remnants of broken twigs, and, slowly peeling the bark from one end to fashion a handle, resumed his stroll at a more conversational pace. Realizing that the bare wood was insufficient for the breadth of his hand, he stopped and extended the flaying. Satisfied, he continued his progress. D. followed, and the tale was begun.

December 25, 2004

Merry You-Know-What!

I'm a little late in the day with this, but I figured anybody who'd be checking Dust in the Light on Christmas Day would know that I wish you all the most joyous of holidays.

Tomorrow comes inexorably, as does the new year, but as the months hurtle by, we do well to take seriously our periodic reminders of God's presence in our lives and the love that He generates.

God bless you all, and may the spirit of this day remain with you every day and evermore.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:38 PM
Quips & Asides

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Granda," by Christine L. Mullen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:50 AM

Ether Out, Anchor In

I'm sorry to report that Michael Williams has decided to discontinue the multiblog feature in which I'd been participating, Into the Ether. His doing so, however, opened up space (and left me with unused technology) for something that I'd been intending to do anyway.

Scrolling down a bit, you'll find on the sidebar that I've now included an automated list of current posts on Anchor Rising. If anybody is interested in doing the same, there is a bit of a process to accomplishing it, but I'd happily work through it again for others.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:43 AM
Site-Related Announcements

December 23, 2004

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:14 PM

Thoughts and Giggles

A couple of items that are especially worth a read over on NRO today:

VDH sides with Rumsfeld (emphasis Hanson's):

So it is with the latest feeding-frenzy over Donald Rumsfeld. His recent spur-of-the-moment — but historically plausible — remarks to the effect that one goes to war with the army one has rather than the army one wishes for angered even conservatives. The demands for his head are to be laughed off from an unserious Maureen Dowd — ranting on spec about the shadowy neocon triad of Wolfowitz, Feith, and Perle — but taken seriously from a livid Bill Kristol or Trent Lott. Rumsfeld is, of course, a blunt and proud man, and thus can say things off the cuff that in studied retrospect seem strikingly callous rather than forthright. No doubt he has chewed out officers who deserved better. And perhaps his quip to the scripted, not-so-impromptu question was not his best moment. But his resignation would be a grave mistake for this country at war, for a variety of reasons.

And John Derbyshire offers fodder for levity with his rewritten Christmas carols. I particularly like "The ACLU's Coming to Town."

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:13 PM
Quick Links

Recognizing a Name

The author listed in the corner of the latest print edition cover of National Review (writing about Andrew Sullivan) has a familiar name:

Skimming the online version, I see the author apparently writes for this blog and Anchor Rising. Interesting development.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:35 PM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

December 22, 2004

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:19 PM

Cross Purposes

Because it has a New England angle, I posted over on Anchor Rising my thoughts about the Vermont Veteran Home's removal of a plain cross from its property. Thought y'all might like to know.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:18 PM

The Other Stem Cells

You've surely come across Michael Fumento's excellent piece on adult stem cell research, but it's worth noting here anyway. (In part to make it easier for me to find it for future reference.)

There's no scientific research so promising that it can't be hyped further. Still, the ASCs — which the Democrats won't acknowledge, and which the New York Times recently claimed have proved futile in treating human illness — have actually been helping people in the U.S. since 1968. On one website you'll find a list, far from comprehensive, of almost 80 therapies currently using ASCs. This is treatment — not practice or theory. Incredibly, there are also about 300 clinical trials involving ASCs.
Posted by Justin Katz at 8:21 AM | Comments (8)

December 21, 2004

Songs You Should Know 12/21/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "So Simple a Song" by Victor Lams. Sometimes this song just hits the spot, brightening the morning.

"So Simple a Song" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download
from Robot Love

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:38 AM

Delenda Est 2004

Items to post are still a-pilin' up in my bookmarks, but I haven't been able to get to them. I didn't plod off the truck until dinnertime last night, and it had been a rough day, in part because of the snow and in part because everybody seems to have ordered their large Christmas presents for delivery this week. The workday went quickly, though, and at least I've managed to cover our bills for the month.

I'm not sure what I'll do come January, but the ten remaining days of 2004 feel like a painfully long time for the end of a sweet dream turned nightmare. Better to lay down the marker into a bad beginning and strive to end a new year well.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:35 AM
Diary & Confession

December 20, 2004

Studio Matters Note & Commentary

The latest Notes & Commentary essay by Maureen Mullarkey is just what its title suggests: "Gallery-Going Round-up." The three included exhibitions for which I was able to find online samples were Jane Wilson at DC Moore Gallery, Charles Cajori at Lohin Geduld Gallery, and Stuart Shils at Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:53 AM
Visual Art

Healthcare Not Given, Healthcare Out of Reach

I'm increasingly convinced that tying healthcare to employment is just about the worst approach to either:

Other analyses cite the soaring costs of health insurance as a damper on hiring. The best jobs come with health coverage, and employers are reportedly afraid to take on new people for whom they'd have to buy health insurance. And so, rather than add to their personnel, these companies just work the employees they have harder.

This dynamic may partially explain why government-given healthcare jumps to the top of the general list of solutions. A person who doesn't receive a good job because of high health insurance costs to the company is a person who can't afford to buy insurance on his own. It's all or nothing. So, the thinking might go, since it is problematic to get companies to "give" employees coverage, a more-universal entity must "give" it to people: the government.

That, needless to say (on this blog, anyway), presents a whole different range of problems. I'd prefer to work for my money and pay for my own health insurance; others among my fellow citizens apparently differ, and a fair, workable blended solution has not been the subject of extensive public investigation and debate.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:44 AM | Comments (5)

Institutions Under Siege

I posted this over on Anchor Rising, but it's clearly a matter of interest to Dust in the Light's audience, and it's short enough that I thought I'd just copy the whole thing here.

Having read "Hendricken administrator arrested on indecent solicitation charge" in the Providence Journal, I think I'd have written the headline somewhat differently. This sounds most newsworthy as a success story. The relevant information comes in paragraphs seven through ten of the fourteen-paragraph piece:

Sheldon had been placed on paid administrative leave from the school last month because of allegations of a "breach of professional conduct," Brother Thomas R. Leto, school president, said at that time.

The action was taken, Brother Leto said then, after he had been made aware that Sheldon may have taken some inappropriate actions on the Internet.

Brother Leto said that he and the school principal were directed to a Web site, where they saw Sheldon's picture. They decided to immediately place him on leave.

School officials then contacted the Diocese of Providence, who referred the matter to the state police. Bishop Hendricken High School, an all-male Catholic school run by the Christian Brothers, is affiliated with the diocese.

Look, on a human level, people who incline a certain way will be drawn toward environments that stoke their inclinations. On a spiritual level, evil will be relentless in its attempted infiltration of that which points toward the divine. The important question, on either level, is whether the institution manages to stop potential threats before they manifest.

We must be wary of the opposing tendency, however, which is to trample over justice and charity toward those whom we suspect in our rush to be safe. In this instance, it looks as if the balance was properly struck.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:02 AM
The Church

December 19, 2004

Is Everything a Legerdemain Set-Up?

I wish this additional information about the Rumsfeld's Armor Record controversy were surprising:

Q At the time of the question -- summarize this, now -- that unit that the kid was complaining about was mostly armored?

GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. In other words, we completed all the armoring within 24 hours of the time the question was asked.

Q If he hadn't asked that question, would the up-armoring have been accomplished within 24 hours?

GEN. SPEAKES: Yes. This was already an existing program.

Simply stunning. Shouldn't exact numbers have been in the very first articles about the armor-question incident? I don't imagine it would have been too difficult to track them down, and that is, after all, what journalists are supposed to do. It's almost as if there's an agenda involved that supercedes the truth and the presentation of an accurate perspective.

via Instapundit)

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:35 PM

Prelude (p. 1-3)

A Whispering Through the Branches
< Previous | Beginning | Next >

Shall we open with the trees? Would that we all could branch outward from such serenity. To be so well centered. To be so balanced by our roots! O to have the faith in the ground on which we stand to dig as deeply inward as we reach out grasping toward the heavens! And to have such little care concerning those with whom we mix our leaves in our aspirations! The sweetly dominating Maple linking arms with the stout Oak and the molting Birch; and the Pines, all yearning to shed their innocent coats, as their cousins have, and show their naked wrinkles to the world.

Yes, let's open with the trees, because the Spring looms lustily over every field. Let us take shelter under those arms as they are slowly renewed with each bursting bud until the sky is but a memory to the ground. Let us lie upon the carpeting of leaves and needles, patterned by the wind. We will create our own patterns, each of us pushing our own imprint into the soft comfort — deeper and deeper, and deeper still, until the wind, jealous of our forms, blows to dust all of our endeavors.

But for now we spread ourselves atop our plots, and the wind can do no more than caress us. So will we open, each with a tree at the head, and breathe our bodies up through the branches. Let us close our eyes to sleep and sleep until these new leaves turn old and weigh on us as memories and sleep until the weight of those fallen leaves presses us deep into the ground and sleep as the wind scatters the memories and sleep with a tree at each of our heads and sleep.

And listen for the one song we've yet to hear.

Past the birds with their endless chatter. We have heard every tune they have to offer. Do not separate them now. Take them all as one gliding wave of a lullaby and the breathing silence of one as filled by the hum of another. Taken as a drone they are easy to ignore. Listen past their eternal chirp and past the panting pounded out in unison by their wings.

Below the bitter old brook, grumbling her journey from high beginnings to the low swirl of the anonymous ocean. Hers is a melancholy ballad: bubbling and weeping as she drags herself over the stones. With the return of her heaven-banished children, falling into her bosom as rain, her bed will not contain her lament, and she will lash out, ripping trees from their uneasy stance at her side. But our ground is removed enough that we need no longer fear the flood. And sad soft songs are the most lulling of all.

Listen. What is this new noise that blends its cries with her mumblings? Why, those are human whimpers. Shh, shh, quiet. Let us listen closely. Here is a sound of depth. A sweeping rhythm of echoes. Are those tears that we hear dropping carelessly into the stream? Yes, yes, and then a sigh. O what a sigh! A call to arms, that sigh. What power in that thrusting of air! An endless source of sorrow. So much have they to regret, and it is all there in that one sigh. We can hear in that sigh the cries of every child left uncoddled and cold. In that sigh the broken dreams of countless ages, each alike in nothing but their differences. Each sadly aware of how little they matter. And yet so many asking for aid. An exasperated sigh. A sigh begged for and cherished by every injustice. A sigher spread too thinly in her attempt to cover so many in her warm embrace. Here is your champion all ye humbled poor! Curled up by the water's edge, here is one who dashes her tears upon the stones for all of ye pariahs. But wait, she speaks:

"Who will save me?"

A cry for help? For what could such a savior need assistance? For what such desperate phrasing? Perhaps we were mistaken. No, perhaps we were correct before we started speaking, and there is no hope for the downcast. Perhaps there are none truly worth saving, anyway.

But such lovely tones of sorrow we cannot resist. Come, have we not been wooed by this voice? Come, can we deny the seduction of so heart-torn an aria? Let us all rise up and offer consolation. Come now, come.

Ah, but we are too slow to our purpose. We are beaten to it: another approaches. Well then, we will postpone our slumbers and watch for a while. Perchance to pick up the pieces. Perchance a chance for one last souvenir.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:01 AM
A Whispering Through the Branches

December 18, 2004

More Weight on the Rack

You know, there comes a point at which one is reluctant to reinforce faith to handle increased hardship and fear because experience suggests that God will merely pile on more. There's surely a flaw in that over-emotional theology... isn't there? It's too much a disguised hopelessness: feeling that circumstances will never improve because God is making one ever stronger isn't but so much different than feeling that circumstances will never improve because raw nature goes on churning.

I suppose the former implies that the believer will eventually be strong enough. But what could that possibly mean in comparison with God? Why must we be broken to be rebuilt? Why must the procedure that we undergo be so vague? How do we avoid convincing ourselves that better times, when they come, are a sign of our own weakness and, therefore, to be scuttled?

Yeah, I already know how to answer these questions if I choose to do so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:39 PM | Comments (1)

December 17, 2004

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "An Existential Wish," by Gary Bolstridge.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:00 AM

Fri-day! Fri-day!

I don't think I've been this happy to see a Friday roll around in years. When you work from home doing tasks that don't require much interaction with others in the working world, Friday hardly matters. Delivering packages during the workday is a different matter, from which I've learned three things, thus far:

  1. Don't underestimate what package delivery entails. This probably goes for any number of jobs: it's harder than it looks.
  2. Barnes & Noble boxes are the most curiosity-inducing. Part of it is that there's a limited range of possibilities, unlike Amazon boxes, which could contain just about anything. Most of it, of course, is that books require a large investment of time, so they probably tell us a fair bit about those who read them.
  3. My town would be a great basis for a fictional setting for a series of books... someday.
Posted by Justin Katz at 7:59 AM
Diary & Confession

December 16, 2004

Steps Toward Making Us All Non-Persons

Not knowing what else to do with a comment from Stephen Gordon to a previous post of mine, I thought I'd just reprint it:

Does the "theoretical person" have some person-like aspects but lacks a key component?

The sole person-like aspect present at the moment of conception is a complete unique genetic code. Unlike the DNA in the gametes that came together to make the fertilized egg, it is not a direct copy of either the mother or the father. It is a new unique combination. It contains the complete instructions for making a new body.

One might argue that another aspect of this special cell is that it is human life. That it is alive, and human. Well, the gametes that came together to make the fertilized egg were alive and human too. Few pro-lifers would extend protection to those cells. The blood I have drawn for a physical is alive and human. I presume nobody here has a problem with testing blood.

I think the essential difference between the gametes before conception and the fertilized egg afterward is this new unique code.

There is another thing special about this cell. It is young. My child was born just as young as I was born. This is obviously very important. If age accumulated from generation to generation life wouldn't be around for long. But it doesn't.

This youth is one of the reasons that scientists are so excited about the possibility of embryonic stem cells. Let's say the day comes when we can grow replacement tissues with embroyonic stem cells. If the doctor used therapeutic cloning he could give the patient perfectly matching tissue that is youthful. I think that's pretty cool.

If a unique DNA code is sufficient to assign personhood status to this cell, then the debate is over. We agree that one person shouldn't be sacrificed to save another.

Mike S. said:

What criteria do you use to determine whether someone is or is not a person? When did you become a person?

I don't think that this cell amounts to a person because a fertilized egg is simply genetic code plus a small amount of raw material. We are more than genetic code. My genetic programming would prefer me to spend every waking moment seducing as many pretty young women as I can - wedding vows be damned. But I don't. Why not? Because I am a person capable of making decisions independent of whatever urges biology gives me. The same cannot be said of that fertilized egg.

Something happened that made me a person sometime between now and back when a certain fertilized egg began dividing in 1969. When? I'm getting to that.

The issue is (and I've tried to frame this as neutrally as possible) "theoretical person v. the suffering person in front of us."
No, the issue is, "is an embryo a theoretical person or is it a person?"

How about: "Is this fertilized egg a person or not?"

The fact that you have good intentions and are a nice person doesn't change the fact that you are wrong. I could be, too, but you'll have to try and persuade me of that.

Fair enough. I doubt I can. Not because I think you're too stubborn to see the light. I just recognize that it is very difficult to change minds on something a fundamental as when personhood begins. Reasoning through these things in a debate is a good way to understand our own positions too. So it's not a waste even if I fail to persuade you (or vice-versa).

By the way, that phrase "to see the light," refers to a point that societies have traditionally recognized personhood - birth. Seeing that first light or taking a first breath is still required in most places before a wrong that affects a baby is considered a wrong against the baby as a person.

For example, a drunk gets in his car and plows into a minivan carrying a pregnant mother. The mother lingers in a coma until she gives birth to her child and then she dies. If the child never takes its first breath, most states will not charge the drunk with two vehicular manslaughters.

That's a pretty arbitrary thing, isn't it? Let's say one man is driving at 0.1 blood-alcohol level. He has the accident I described, but isn't too drunk to hit his brake just prior to impact. Hitting his brake meant that less force was applied to the unborn child. The child was, therefore strong enough to take that one magic breath. The drunk gets charged with two manslaughters.

A second drunk has a 0.2 blood-alcohol level. He's passed out at the wheel when he hits the pregnant mom. The baby never takes a breath and so the drunk gets charged with one manslaughter.

Which drunk is guiltier?

It's partly in recognition of this sort of absurdity that states have begun passing laws that punish people who harm unborn children "as if" they had harmed a person. I think that's a good thing. In fact if it were up to me I would protect the embryo as a person all the way back to the point of differentiation.

Differentiation is a point about two weeks after fertilization where cells begin to be assigned specific duties. I mentioned in an earlier comment about how a fertilized cell can become one person, two people, part of a person, or no person. That commitment (to become 1, 2, half, or 0 people) is made at the point of differentiation.

Differentiation obviously occurs much earlier than Rowe v. Wade's first trimester. Most women don't even know they are pregnant at this early stage. Would I deny women who don't discover their pregnancy until later the right choose? Yes I would.

Mike, you are uncomfortable with the idea that society could decide whether a fertilized egg is a person. Who else is going to decide? God may have decided, but He's keeping it to Himself. Even if everyone in our country accepted the Bible as the inerrant word of God, there is no passage that specifically deals with this question. You seem to have decided there is some objective way to know that this cell is a person. Do you have some reason to believe it?

Both the difficulty of knowing what to do with this comment and the belief that it is worth addressing derive from my impression that Stephen has laid his weight on various arguments often made in the service of views with which I generally disagree. Like hopping from stone to stone across a stream, the various points skip over the currents of truth until they reach a headland adequate to declare the stream crossed.

The heart of the problem, it seems to me, comes at the end of Stephen's comment: "God may have decided, but He's keeping it to Himself." Is He? I'm feeling a little silly, so forgive my lapse into fiction:

Hedia tapped urgently on Simon's shoulder. Simon turned from his never-ending project and snapped, "What?" Hedia pointed to her throat and threw her mouth open as if taking a breathless gulp.

"Look, Hedia, if you've got something important to say, spit it out. I've got to get this project to the next stage soon, or I may have to change the whole idea. What is the matter?"

While Simon spoke, Hedia tugged relentlessly at her collar, almost stretching the fabric far enough that Simon thought the whole show bordering on indecent. But still she said nothing, merely clutching at her neck and whacking her palm on the bare skin above her breasts.

"Just tell me what is bothering you!" Simon demanded.

In attempting to discuss moral matters with Christians, and not just dismiss them using their own argot, one must understand their perspective. God is not silent on matters of moral weight. Rather, as St. Paul put it, His "invisible attributes" — from which we can derive morality — can be "understood and perceived in what he has made." The question, therefore, is not whether God has anything to say about a particular matter (despite popular belief, God and the Constitution do not function identically). The question is what He's already said via that which we can observe. And from that perspective, the gap between Stephen's logical stepping stones is conspicuous.

The effective equivalence of the fertilized egg and the gametes is a case in point. The fertilized egg is not unique merely in that it "contains the complete instructions for making a new body." It also sets about making that body. It is an organism that will, of its own volition, progress toward stages at which it is more recognizably a human being. Note Stephen's subsequent admission that "most women don't even know they are pregnant at this early stage." The young human being is not advancing according to the will of the mother, or the father. It advances on its own. The embryo, clearly, is "more than genetic code," as well.

I would suggest that this realization — this understanding of what God has made — is embedded in Stephen's privileging of differentiation. Since he's deprivileged the unique genetic code of the fertilized egg, then one could suggest that the egg and sperm are also differentiated cells of the same potential organism; Stephen knows something important happens at fertilization. Furthermore, since he's emphasized a grown person's ability to make "decisions independent of whatever urges biology gives" him, then differentiation is clearly no less arbitrary a milestone than the formation of unique DNA.

Stephen's more directed argument for aligning personhood with differentiation — that, before that point, the embryo "can become one person, two people, part of a person, or no person" — is an interesting one. In fact, I responded to the suggestion when he first made it, but apparently neglected to actually post the comment. Here, we return to the post by Phil Bowermaster with which this discussion began (emphasis in original):

Each time one of these procedures was done, this living human tissue would grow into a human being. Why would anyone insist that it has to grow into a different human being? Says who? My twin brother can't demand that he has a right to exist. I never have to create a clone in the first place. And if I do create one, I assert that I have the right (before it grows into a separate and distinct human being) to decide that it will be me, rather than him, when it grows up.

Bringing this notion back into the current context, it is clear that a human being's loss of his or her ability to split into multiple human beings at the stage where Stephen would begin personhood is merely a function of our limited technology. With cloning, even adults "can become one person, two people, part of a person, or no person." The cultural function of cloning, therefore, would appear not just to be the removal of the embryo's personhood, but the removal of everybody's personhood, unless that quality is simply made synonymous with the state of being a human being and begun at fertilization.

Especially when the air is filled with promises of miraculous drugs, arbitrary lines are simply not tenable. The conclusion that there's really no such thing as personhood, although obviously ridiculous, is one that atheists and postmodernists have come to for quite some time. As postmodernists understand, absent an absolute morality, the only measure becomes power, and the assertion of power is even less amenable to arbitrary restraints. Ultimately, there are two options: the one that God has left for us to see in what He has made, and the wrong one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:04 PM | Comments (7)

FYI on Comments

There are a few threads ongoing in the comment sections that I hope to join tonight. Even if I don't manage it, though, please know that I'm still reading and pondering all of your posts. Getting the bills paid has proven particularly exhausting this month.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:36 AM
Site-Related Announcements

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "Three Women on a French Canal," by Heide Atkins.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:10 AM

Clear as Kristol

Like Mark Levin, I'm unimpressed with Bill Kristol's Washington Post attack on Donald Rumsfeld:

Actually, we have a pretty terrific Army. It's performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has. President Bush has nonetheless decided to stick for now with the defense secretary we have, perhaps because he doesn't want to make a change until after the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections. But surely Don Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.

Contrast the magnificent performance of our soldiers with the arrogant buck-passing of Rumsfeld.

One gets the sense that he's got somebody already picked for the slot from which he would dislodge Donald Rumsfeld. Kristol is, after all, somewhat more than a mere pundit; he's a political player. It will be interesting to see who he believes would do a better job (assuming he feels it prudent to reveal the information).

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:08 AM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2004

Simple Facts of Homosexual Parents

As guilty of it as I may unknowingly be from time to time, I'm often amazed at the confidence that people can muster when making proclamations about matters for which both cursory and thorough investigations belie confidence. Here's Dan Kachur of Providence:

In response to Stephen Moccio's Nov. 30 letter ("Homosexual parents are confusing children"), I would simply like to point out that children of homosexual couples are no more likely to be homosexuals than children of heterosexuals, according to several studies. The same studies have shown that the only difference between children of homosexual parents and their peers is that they tend to be more open-minded.

As has come up in similar context before, there's an ambiguity in Mr. Kachur's statement about whether he means to reference studies having to do with children whom homosexuals beget or children whom homosexuals raise. It seems clear that he means the latter, but it's an important question to ask, because his assertion is therefore probably not just debatable, but incorrect.

To my experience, Kachur's assertion is more often phrased as follows: "being raised by gay or lesbian parents does not make a child substantially different from his or her peers." As I pointed out in response to that specific quotation, the speaker apparently brings an anti-judgmentalist view to the assessment of "substantial difference." Even gay activists will admit that studies suggest that children raised by homosexuals evince "a greater fluidity in their sexual expression and may in fact be more likely to identity as lesbian or gay." If one takes as an assumption that differences in orientation aren't "substantial," then the equivocal description of existing research is a handy way to allow those who disagree to misinterpret the findings.

This is — and I'll venture an "of course," here — of course the objective of the language used when discussing such things. "Kids of homosexuals" becomes "kids raised by homosexuals." A finding of "no substantial difference" transforms into "no more likely to be gay." Just about any difference, after all, can be rephrased as merely being "more open-minded."

I might have given Dan Kachur the benefit of the doubt that he was merely falling prey to the clever manipulation of language so mastered by gay activists and the larger radical movement. But then he closed his letter thus:

Massachusetts currently has the lowest divorce rate in the country, so the homosexual community's fight for equality has apparently done no damage.

The charitable option, upon reading the full letter, is that Kachur is clever enough to be deceptive. Same-sex marriage in Massachusetts came without broad debate, without a count-forcing "fight." It swept into public awareness about a year ago, and there are not yet divorce numbers capable of illustrating any effect that it might have had, let alone any effect that the post-battle reality might have. (And that's overlooking the huge logical leap from divorce rates to "no damage.")

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:54 PM | Comments (8)
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:09 AM

The Power of Internet Real Estate

John Hawkins notes yet another incident of unabashedly ridiculous liberalism on an American campus. The notion that caught my eye, however, is tangential:

But, you know what's going to be really funny? Right Wing News is a pretty good sized website and I'm sure there will be more than a few links to this post. Fast forward a month or two and when people do a search for the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, you know like Republican Alumni who are thinking about donating or Republican parents who are wondering where to send their kids, this post should be fairly close to the top.

I don't suspect that the average citizen — Red state or Blue — knows this, but most Internet search engines attempt to sort their searches not according to some official list of approved sources (e.g., with,, and at the top). They factor in the number of instances of the search term on a page, the number of other sites linking to the relevant page, and the general popularity of the Web site. In other words, a relatively unknown blogger can still help to define any organization's image for those who research on the Web.

That's not a small consideration. No longer is "good press" an adequate term to describe the imaging work that is necessary in that area. To put it in paper-world terms, imagine if every catalogue had to have every criticism of each product appended, and imagine if those bits of criticism were ranked according to the number of average folk who thought particular items worth considering.

Some marketers may not like it — particularly those charged with selling ultra-expensive educational experiences — but the only real solution to the problem of having owners of budget-priced Web sites define their products is to answer complaints promptly and thoroughly. When sympathetic Internet property owners, such as myself, start taking note and linking to a particular post, the organization should really take note.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:04 AM | Comments (2)
Bloggers Blogging

December 14, 2004

Santa Calls at Dinnertime

Well, I didn't get back from delivering packages until around six o'clock, tonight. I'm exhausted, but the brain tumbles on, so I'll try to get some posts up.

As much as I'd prefer to get home with plenty of time to unwind before dinner closes out the day part of the day, I have to admit that it's more fun delivering packages at hours when people are actually home. At one point, when our truck pulled to the side of the road, children appeared in windows on both sides of us, watching to see which way the day-job Santa would go.

I made it home in time to be distracted from my own dinner by the sound of screaming outside. Rising to look out the window, I half expected to see a grade-schooler brawl in the street. Happily, the voices were actually those of carolers! (If you can believe it.) Our older daughter, who is not quite three, knew the song ("Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer") but didn't quite understand the kids' reason for the clatter out on the lawn. She also didn't understand why the roving choir didn't stay to take requests.

I've never seen a reason to lament the cultural lapse of caroling. But through my daughter's eyes, I'm beginning to comprehend how all the little traditions that have faded in recent decades — particularly in relatively urban areas, such as where I grew up — can accumulate into a sense of community. Neighbors reaching out from one to another, in large ways and small, making little boys and girls feel worth the effort of a song.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:05 PM
Diary & Confession

Songs You Should Know 12/14/04

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Queen of November" by Rosin Coven. This song is from the band's new CD, Menagerie. I'm still intending to find time to write a very complimentary review of this CD; it isn't for everybody, but if you've a taste for darkly artsy songs, be sure to have a listen and take a look.

"Queen of November" Rosin Coven, Arthouse Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:22 AM

December 13, 2004

Risking Squeamishness for Morality

No doubt about it, this potential alternative to embryonic stem cell research, as described by Ramesh Ponnuru, can raise feelings that something must be immoral about it:

William Hurlbut, a member of the Kass council and a Stanford Medical School professor, suggests mimicking the results of a defective fertilization. Nature sometimes produces "teratomas," eggs without male genetic contributions that begin to divide and grow, even growing body parts such as hair and teeth. But these teratomas are not organisms: They lack the ability to organize themselves and to direct their own integral functioning and development. They are disordered growths, like tumors. Hurlbut suggests that we might be able to produce teratomas artificially and derive from them usable stem cells that are functional equivalents of embryonic stem cells.

I've italicized the sentence that, unless I'm misunderstanding the science, makes the proposal a morally licit one. Ponnuru expands on that critical point in his subsequent piece:

Some pro-lifers seem to be under the impression that a teratoma is a disabled embryo, so that Hurlbut is proposing deliberately to create disabled embryos. If what Hurlbut has in mind were the creation of embryos that have the capacity to direct their own organization and develop but, let's say, were designed to be unable to implant, they would have a point: those would be severely disabled embryos. Hurlbut's proposal, however, involves a scenario with no embryo at all.

Still, there's much to be said for weighting gut feelings of repugnance. Ponnuru acknowledges this, but he doesn't go far enough:

Repugnance can embody good reasons for objecting to something that we are not immediately or consciously aware of. When we feel repugnance, we should stop and try to think through whether it is telling us something. But repugnance does not always have something to teach us, and if we cannot find anything we have no reason for objecting.

The missing consideration, here, is that overcoming repugnance where there is no moral reason to object tends to decrease the healthy repugnance that accrues to similar instances in which there is a moral reason to object. Becoming acclimated to the creation-for-destruction of near-autonomous human life demystifies the same usage of actually autonomous human life to some degree.

The intellectual flip-side is that the principle that underlies the repugnance can be better defined if we manage to properly identify its source. Emphasizing the sentence that I italicized in the first blockquote above clarifies what makes a human being a human being at the point of conception. Winning that point not only whittles away at the argument and emotionally compelling rhetoric of advocates of embryonic stem cell research, but it also has implications for related debates, such as abortion.

I could be persuaded that I'm missing something key, either on a scientific or a moral basis. At present, however, I'd suggest that such proposals as Hurlbut's become associated, in the pro-life platform, with adult stem cell research. If we are right, in an ethical sense, then increased specificity in our explanations and our definitions is an ally, not an enemy. And if we can overcome squeamishness to reach the point at which right becomes wrong and offer compromise on the right side of that line, then we gain the ground of reasonableness.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:31 PM | Comments (21)

Busy, Busy, Busy

I got home about an hour ago from my two-week part-time (to full-time) gig delivering packages. I'm still unwinding, though, and I've got a lot on my plate tonight, including my usual part-time editing work at the computer.

I will be blogging, so return visits will probably not be fruitless, but I thought it only fair to put up a note.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:36 PM
Diary & Confession

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

It would be difficult to find a better way to jump back into routine practices that I've let slide than with a Notes & Commentary essay by Maureen Mullarkey. "Following Her Instincts," reviewing Joan Snyder at Alexandre Gallery and at Betty Cuningham Gallery, proves that Mullarkey's sharp insight...

Do women make lists? You bet; I have one right here. Mine is a tally of the self-worshiping conceits trumpeted by a generation of women artists in their sortie against standards of achievement—dismissed by art historian Linda Nochlin as "the white male Western viewpoint." Nochlin famously derided what she termed "the Lady's Accomplishment" ("a modest, proficient, self-demeaning level of amateurism"). In its place, scholarly fiat substituted Womanart and its own peculiar accomplishment: an immodest, not necessarily proficient, self-assertive level of amateurism that coincided handily with the assault of camp sensibility on public taste.

.. is not limited to art alone:

Politics, as used here, is a dodge for merchandising lacrimose fantasies of women as vessels of cosmic altruism: The Breast That Never Empties ("Mamilla Immortalis"). Still pitching the old zeal, she insists that "we need to send powerful female energy and imagery out into the universe" to save the world from (male) violence. Even more implausible than Ms. Snyder's painting is her adherence to a crumbling orthodoxy that denies women's complicity in their own culprit cultures. Thirty years ago, her schtick about redemptive female energy was merely silly. Today, in the wake of female terrorists—and the sight of women dancing in Ramallah on 9/11— it is cynical. Or delusional.

(Click the gallery names above for samples of Snyder's Womanart.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:29 AM
Visual Art

December 12, 2004


A Whispering Through the Branches
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It may be necessary for me to tell you, since you probably know very little about me, this being my first book and my having done nothing of note but write it, that I realize that it is traditional for a preface to be written after the book is finished so that the writer might have the air of one who has completed a tremendous task and is looking back on what has been learned. And it is true, I'll admit, that I am at the time of writing this preface not even finished with the rough draft of the novel, though nearly. In my defense, however, I'd like to point out that, since you hold the book in your hands, it must now be finished and you would have had no idea that I had not finished the novel before writing its preface had I not been so truthful as to tell you. Even this, however, assumes that you trust me, but being those of a writer, my motives must always be suspect, so both the novel and its preface could have been written at any time and in any order as far as you, as a reader, should be concerned. For myself as a reader, though, I would more readily believe the author who writes his preface on the Eve of the Millennium and confesses that the book itself is not finished than one who claims to have written both book and preface just in time for his celebratory glass of midnight champagne to be of dual import.

Of course, my emphasis on the date of this preface might be considered premature in future days if our progeny take the line of those stodgy academics who continue to insist that tonight is not really the last of the millennium. Being human, we are all self-servingly fickle and may, a year from now, declare that tonight's global celebrations were premature and that we must all drag ourselves out of our homes for yet another millennial hoopla. I, however, will still contend that the previous year (i.e., tonight) was the true and honest night to celebrate because we mark not the completion of a large chunk of time, for that would be a frightening reminder of our brief participation in it, but the passage of time and our experience of it. I, for one, do not care a whit whether I live through some arbitrary measure of time that we, as humans, have decided is large.

I do care, however, that tonight I say goodbye to being able to correctly write the numbers of that arbitrary time to which all of us alive have grown so accustomed (19xx) and look forward to being able to write new ones of the kind that have been impossible (for writers who insisted on being true to their times and places) for just under nine hundred years, in an era when perhaps some lucky ancient logged the time and date as 11:11:11, 11/11/1111. God willing, or medical science permitting, I will one day note the time (and remind you all as I do it) of 22:22:22, 2/22/2222.

This is, to be sure, a silly line of thought, and not one that would instill any faith whatsoever in you that whatever philosophy I prove to have laid out through the following pages is of any significant truth or import. On this count, perhaps putting myself in relation to those who've come before and those who will come after me might help. That is to say that it is not just the fact that I will be writing new numbers (for that would be a terribly self-absorbed excuse for asking the world to have its millennial celebration tonight), but that future generations of our entire species will now be called upon to write different numbers in reference to me!

I realize how this must sound; I really do. How pretentious, how ego-maniacal, of me to attempt to verify my "truth or import" by suggesting that one effect that the change of a millennium, one thousand years, will have is of significance because future generations will have to write these numbers on my account. But, again in my own defense, I can assure you that I am not the slightest bit concerned about future generations or what they may be required to do. What matters to me is that I will now be considered, since I failed to succeed in the twentieth century, to be an author of the twenty-first century. This means that I will be thrown in among who knows what riffraff of writers. We, American authors that is, now face the challenge of defining a new era. We are no longer of the same century as Hemingway or Fitzgerald, not even of Kerouac. What's more, we are two centuries removed from the likes of Hawthorne, Melville, and Twain (and, if I must own him, Emerson).

But back to tonight: I argue that the millennium ends tonight because, if we celebrate at all, we ought to celebrate the fleeting seconds rolling over the momentary minutes, which pass the variable hours into marching days. And on this day, not only are the days inclining the months to turn the year, which is frequent in our lifetimes, not only is this year bringing about a change of decade, which, even at my tender age of twenty-four, I have seen twice over, but the decades have grown so many that they offer us a change in numbers through which many of our grandparents have not lived: a century. Grandest of all, tonight we will be turning over the largest number that we people have had a reason to invent thus far: the millennium!

This all said, I'll admit frankly that all these changes of numbers in and of themselves mean very little to me or any of us as individuals. Tomorrow I will awake to the same problems and pleasures. A new year, by virtue of its being called, arbitrarily, something different, brings no magic change to our lives. I expect to be no less in debt nor any more successful a writer when I awake in the morning. However, I do think that, if we truly believe in it and if we truly want it, things can change as instantly as a clock passing from 11:59:59 12/31/1999 to 12:00:00 1/1/2000. Very much like the loss of virginity (to which we've given a magnitude excessive for a petty biological interaction and a moment of pleasure that many, although likely more boys, have experienced previously), we often feel our worlds to be entirely different for our new experience. So, what I am celebrating, here alone with my new wife, is the opportunity to have an excuse to change my mind.

Point being that I've chosen to break with decorum and write my first book's preface before I've finished writing my first book in order to catch the moment. Tonight, though I sit before a computer at a desk, with a CD of Schubert's Ninth playing a bit too loudly for me to concentrate, I envision myself as standing on a sylvan hill at the beginning of this new millennium, looking into the valley of my future. It is covered with a thick fog, through which I am able to glimpse shadows of the conceivable events of my life — here a church, there a hospital, elsewhere a mansion — floating, much like the fog itself, through the air. An occasional shout reaches my ear, though whether of lament or cheer I cannot tell. I can see less obscure patches that I yearn to find and dark areas that send shudders of terror scattering across my skin at the thought of ending up in their midst. But since I cannot do otherwise than continue on the path as I am able to see it, taking what fork seems most promising at the time, I cannot tell whether the choice of direction can truly be said to be mine. I can only hope that, as I descend into the fog, the path becomes more evident than it is now and that I do not stroll right past life's treasures because, by my own fault or the fog's, I am unable to see them.

Surely, all of us have moments that make us wonder, if we are capable of wonder, whether any of our successes or failures are entirely our own doing. Myself, I look at the society that we've created (assuming that we've created it) and could point out the instances, often seeming to be a majority, where luck and placement have had more to do with success and failure than any degree of devotion or in-born talent. This seems to be increasingly the case. Perhaps the fog is thickening.

Even this book, inasmuch as it is written, would prove me liar if I claimed to have done more than excavate it, and it has yet to lay claim to any greater appellation than a "private success." At best, I discerned a handful of fictional moments and stumbled from one to the next. If it all comes together, it is because the imposed restrictions allowed the raw materials to fit only as they have. Even so, I will not belittle my effort by laying it all off to happenchance. I've made choices, both about the story and about the writing, and pondered various significances and done research, but the actual point at which I made any entirely conscious decisions would be nearly impossible to find.

For example, it was by choice that I've begun my writing career with a complicated novel that is probably doomed to obscurity. But then, I had to write it, this novel, now, for I wanted to capture my own moment as a writer. Even this, though, could be said to be predicated by other circumstances. I've occasionally felt, though it might resonate as an unwise excuse to put it in writing, that should you find my writing to be of a rough and novice nature, if the story itself seems shaky, I may be justified in stating that, having discovered these faults, you have stumbled exactly upon my meaning, because I have chosen to write a novel that is far too complicated for my amateur ability exactly for the statement that that makes, whatever that might be. Thus is my choice of timing really based on a contrivance that makes my weaknesses my strengths.

Without following this trail of casuistry entirely through its course, it is still questionable whether I have been the conscious actor even in my contrivances, because they, in turn, are based upon a perceived reality. I have been told that, historically, one must establish him or her self as, at the very least (and little more), capable before daring to attempt what might be called brilliant. So, the intention to utilize, guerrilla-like, my shortcomings, without which intention my exact creation would have been rendered impossible, boils down to merely a desire to be famous and a reaction to a perennial procedure of gaining renown. In short, if this had been my way of thinking heretofore, a complicated, easily botched project would increase my chances of seeming to have only a promise of brilliance.

Another option in our modern society is, of course, to be brilliant as a will-o'-the-wisp is brilliant — burning by means of an over-anxious imagination in the viewer (the reader) that attributes what little true glow there is to stagnant ideas that, were they unearthed, could be easily, though squeamishly, embraced. Thus has merit become attached to attrition, and success erroneously placed on those who are meretricious. It has seemed to me that, as we've neared our present time, we have become simultaneously too apt to pronounce genius as gibberish and to see nonsense as the purest example, because unattainable, of truth. As a result of our inability to recognize genius unless it bites us on the ear after the death of its author, we pass our judgment on a living person's talents well before we've gathered any evidence but the opinions of others.

Through the door into the living room, I hear that the countdown has begun in Times Square, so I hasten to suggest that, if it is true that men and women will find what merit they originally sought based largely on the claims of third parties, allow me to disassociate myself from myself for long enough to assure you that I am a genius and that this book that you may still be willing to read is the truest gospel that humanity has yet conceived during this new millennium. I have done all that I am able to ensure that this statement rings true, and I am confident that it does... at least at the time of its writing. (This is said, however, with the hopes that it will take no less than a handful of generations of readers to figure out whether I have been telling the truth at all thus far. As for the rest of the book, it cannot help but become better or more honest. I promise.)

Be this all as it may, my first book is nearly finished, and I face the task, over the course of this new year, of disseminating it, which, if the painfully slow circulation of my lesser manuscripts can be taken as evidence, may be nearly impossible. Nonetheless, even as I write this premature preface, I take a naïve, perhaps silly, comfort in the idea that, if these words are being read, if you are reading them, then I have already succeeded to some degree. Thus, as I look into an unsure future, I take solace in the fact that it will not be the present, and I pray that it will prove no worse than the past.

Well... happy New Year, and best of luck. For myself, it is just past midnight, and I've a life to attend to, and a cork to pop.

Justin Katz
Fall River, MA
Friday, December 31, 1999, to Saturday, January 1, 2000

Safe (in What Way) Sex

Warren Throckmorton makes a good point:

In other words, 10th graders, we will tell you that applying condoms may prevent disease and pregnancy but we will not tell you that your long term sexual and emotional satisfaction may be enhanced by saving sex until marriage. The curriculum says in places that the only sure way to prevent disease and pregnancy is through abstaining but there is no mention that one's overall well being might be enhanced by waiting.

Since you won't hear this in school, here are a few survey findings from research concerning abstinence. According to 1996 data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, lower sexual activity among adolescents is correlated with higher levels of well being. In fact, sexually active girls are over three times as likely to report depressive symptoms than their abstaining counterparts and sexually active boys are over twice as likely to report depressive symptoms. Amazingly, these two groups report higher incidence of suicide attempts; boys in particular are at 8 times the risk for a suicide attempt if they are sexually active.

It's certainly possible that I chose not to absorb the information, but I don't recall ever hearing anything about the emotional benefits of waiting. Of course, the picture becomes less simple upon introduction of such information as this:

Fewer teens are engaging in sexual activity than in the past, and those that do are more likely to use contraceptives, the government said Friday.

The National Center for Health Statistics said that for girls aged 15 to 17 the percentage who had ever had intercourse declined from 38 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2002.

For boys, the agency said, the decline was 43 percent to 31 percent.

One plausible suggestion is that Throckmorton and I are insisting on repeating a message that is already getting through, one way or another. Even to the extent that this is the case, though, I'd suggest that the need for more promotion of the benefits of waiting is advisable. The premises for this suggestion derive from two observations from the complete data (PDF).

The first is that it isn't, strictly speaking, true that "fewer teens are engaging in sexual activity"; in 2002, 1,089,000 more teenage girls and 1,101,000 more teenage boys reported having had sex than in 1995. It would be more accurate to say that the number of teenagers who have not had sex increased more than the number who have. That could represent a sexual trend, or it could represent a more general trend.

Which leads to the second observation: the leading reason for abstaining from sex was that sex would be "against religion or morals." (Surprisingly, this reason outstripped the second one, "don't want to get [a female] pregnant," by a greater margin among girls than among boys.) And among females who had experienced intercourse, 5.3% of those who declared religion as "very important" were "cohabiting, engaged, or married," compared with 3.0% who declared it "somewhat important" and a number too low to report who said "not important."

In other words, the data corresponds very neatly with the generally accepted trend of increasing religiosity. It also corresponds with the comparatively high fertility of religious families as opposed to secular families. It's possible (I'd say probable), then, that the improving statistics aren't a function so much of successful sex-ed programs as of cultural shifts. Referring back to Throckmorton's piece, it begins to look as if his advice is most needed by the segment of American society that is least likely to heed it.

Our nation's cultural divide is deepening, and I, for one, have no hesitation about which side I'd prefer my own children to grow up on.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:03 AM

December 11, 2004

Author's Note for Blog Serialization

A Whispering Through the Branches
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This is how it goes: The anxiety builds to such a degree that all new stressors simply roll on top of the pile. Eventually, you turn off your mind, put your head down, and keep trudging along, dragging the burden because doing otherwise is not an option. While in this state, glimmers of hopeful events in the future become of such import, at least as milestones toward relief, that their postponement counts not as mere delay, but as discouragement.

I'm finding that there's a threshold, however. Many of those achievements that have moved out of my immediate reach have backed into the new year, which consequently is beginning to tremor with a hopeful hum. I've multiple reasons — pressing need not least among them — to think that 2005 will provide somewhat of a turning point. This could be true in the sense that various aggregations of preparatory labor will finally fall into place and push me toward my aspirations, or in the sense that I must find some new direction in which to head. Either way, the dark tint to my willful optimism is that the foreseeable future offers no apparent outlet for what is perhaps the single most assertive of my passions (of my callings).

That passion is creative writing, an area in which my novel, A Whispering Through the Branches, has continued to have the weight of unfinished business. I originally self-published the 2001 edition as a step toward finding an established publisher; technology is such that purchasing and mailing copies of print-on-demand paperbacks can be cheaper than running off and shipping copies of the book in manuscript form. In my urge to move on, however, I began trying to put the project behind me. But I've been unable to exorcise its shadow from my mind.

The solution that I've hit upon to answer my various needs is to perform a next-edition edit of the book in serialized form. Moving through approximately six pages per week will bring the task to completion at the end of a year. Presenting each section as my Sunday blog will remove the urge to write my habitual fare on that day. And the subject matter will keep me involved, to some degree, with creative writing.

I would never claim that A Whispering Through the Branches has more than a flukish chance of finding a broad audience. My own impression, reinforced with the several years of wildly varying feedback, is that some readers are enthusiastic about what I've done, and others are... well... others are not. That said, I've an author's gut feeling that serialization may prove a particularly suitable means of presenting the story, for reasons of both plot and pacing. Whether that proves true or not, I welcome feedback on this work — complimentary or critical — even more than usual.

With all of my disclamatory rambling now out of the way, I'd like to note that, should you feel compelled to read ahead, or should you come to desire a physical copy of the book for other reasons, the picture accompanying each post will always link to the paperback in Confidence Place, the Timshel Arts store. The 2001 edition will be a round of edits behind, of course, but it will arrive inscribed, and bearing all of the gratitude that I'm able to will onto the pages.

Shifting Responsibility for a Life

Jeff Miller quotes the following hypothetical dialogue from a piece by Steve Kellmeyer:

To see how this works, consider the following conversation between Rachel, a pro-life college student and Bill, her pro-abortion classmate:

Rachel: "Is the choice to have sex a choice to have a child?"

Bill: "No."

Rachel: "And you believe that at conception, the 'thing' conceived is not a child, right?"

Bill: "Exactly."

Rachel: "So, when exactly would you say that a child begins to exist?"

(NOTE: How Bill answers doesn't really matter. Rachel agrees, for the sake of argument, to use whatever time frame he chooses.)

Rachel: "And you believe that a woman may have an abortion for whatever reason she chooses?"

Bill: "Of course."

Rachel: "Do you believe men and women have equal rights?"

Bill: "As long as abortion is legal, yes."

Rachel: "All right. Who creates children?"

Bill: "What do you mean?"

Rachel: "Well, if there's no child at conception, the 'product of conception' has to become a child at some point before it's born. Therefore, the woman alone 'creates' the child through the act of gestation."

Bill: "Er, what are you driving at?"

Rachel: "It's simple. Your pro-abortion position entails the concept that sexual intercourse doesn't create children, gestation creates children. Intercourse merely creates a fertilized ovum, a 'tissue mass.' Men don't get pregnant. Men don't create children. Men simply provide one-half of a set of blueprints. The woman provides not only the other half, but the building site, the construction materials, she oversees the project, and she can destroy the whole thing anytime she wants. The man has got nothing to do with it. The existence of a child is not his responsibility - he has no choice in the matter, right? He's done nothing to create, and you already said that the decision to have sex is not a decision to have children. So, the idea of compelling child support from the man is really a carry-over from patriarchy, when men were thought to share responsibility for the existence of a child. Now that legal abortion has liberated us from those archaic ideas, we should throw away the last remnants of the old oppression. If the question of allowing the unborn child to live or be killed through abortion is the sole decision of the woman, it makes sense to ask why the man should be made to pay to support her lifestyle, her choice? If she can have an abortion for whatever reason she wants, then she is having a child for whatever reason she wants. In neither case does it have anything to do with the man."

The main problem with such arguments — exacerbated by the very fact that they are effective — is that they merely expand the logic that must be circumnavigated to accommodate an emotion-based opinion. The largest obstacle that pro-lifers face in making abortion illegal is that doing so shines a too-bright spotlight on the evil decision that so many people (who aren't evil, themselves) around the world have made.

To win the argument that an unborn child is, indeed, a human being and, therefore, has a right to live is to win the argument that millions of mothers have slaughtered their children. That's not an act that a mother easily faces. The avoidance of making such an admission is so powerful a motivation that attempts to force it can result in an ever-escalating series of cover-ups. One such cover-up came to mind upon reading a paragraph about euthanasia in another post of Jeff Miller's, which touches on a wide range of relevant issues:

After all the Netherlands was the first to legalized euthanasia and many pundits said that this is exactly where it would lead. When socialized medical costs meet expensive health care situations you know who is going to lose and pay with their life. Liberals send out so many mixed messages. It is alright to spend billions to reduce some pollutant down a another thousands of a percent even if the scientific case is rather dubious. But to spend money to keep someone living another day is just too extreme. Reasonable medical attention should be given but when it comes to government coffers you will soon need a coffin.

Jeff's post is worth reading for other reasons, but take a tangential moment to consider the effect that socialized healthcare might have on the discussion between Rachel and Bill. As with many areas of life, socialism erases the need for personal responsibility. Under a socialized medical regime, like a liberal arts sophomore palming everything off to a vague, faceless, and all-pervasive "society," hypothetical Bill can merely walk away from the consequences of his own assumptions and Rachel's logic, because the point is moot.

He can admit that the man is not responsible for the product of his sex and semen. But he can also say that the woman is not responsible for the product of her gestation — over which, of course, she has no physical control — because the cost is borne by "society" (which probably forced the poor tramp to live a life of careless sex in the first place). That the cost is borne in more ways than one, and that society's costs are inherently borne by its members, is a reality that such people need never address directly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:42 AM

The Nature of the Choice

A while back, Marty McKeever wrote on his now-defunct Vigilance Matters blog that homosexual activists have to maintain an unsustainable degree of ambiguity between their orientation's being a fact of nature and its falling somewhere within a range that might appropriately be called "choice." If it's a choice, then it's tougher to argue for civil rights in the way that racial minorities can. If it's a fact of nature, then we might develop a cure, or at least preventative measures.

The latter "if" is a bit more difficult to conceptualize and to discuss, in part because one suspects that the vehement preference of homosexual activists would be to treat the orientation as a fact of nature that we choose not to unravel. I don't attribute undue credibility to a recent study, but it does help to bring the "fact of nature" possibility into focus. (It brings the controversy into focus, too; note that it's an American study, but reported in a British newspaper.)

Women who take slimming and thyroid pills during pregnancy are substantially more likely to have homosexual children, according to research. ...

The mothers of homosexuals were found to be up to eight times more likely to have taken such drugs, with the effect being strongest with daughters whose mothers took the drugs during the first three months of pregnancy. The discovery, to be published by researchers in America, backs claims that human sexuality is determined by genetic and biochemical factors at work during early pregnancy. ...

The results suggest that the effect of the drugs is strongest with female babies and when taken during the first three months of pregnancy, which accords with previous studies showing that sexual orientation is decided during this period. ...

Dr Glenn Wilson of the Institute of Psychiatry, London, and author of a forthcoming book on the origins of homosexuality, said: "These types of medication could have an effect on brain chemistry and research suggests that this is a major factor in determining sexual orientation."

Here's the question, to be asked and answered honestly: If women were made aware that a particular drug could cause homosexuality in their children, would they be less likely to take that drug? Some ultra-radicals might attempt to cast such a choice as homophobic, but I imagine even a majority of gay people would say the answer is "yes," less likely, and that that is an understandable decision.

Personally, I don't believe the "brain chemistry" is so directly determinative. For one thing, I'd suggest that the diet-pill finding, at least, could represent a skew in the study's sample in ways that go beyond the medication. And probably more importantly, I think it's likely that the brain chemistry is significant in that it affects various attributes — from mannerisms to abilities — that contribute to socialization that disposes a person to homosexuality.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:55 AM | Comments (4)

The Time Waster to End All Time Wasters

Michele Catalano has unearthed a game that is definitely not something to discover late at night.

Type in a band or a year and guess the 10 songs that play.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:51 AM
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December 10, 2004

Healthcare Free-for-All

John Hawkins mentioned some problems with Tennessee's healthcare system, the other day, that I thought worth noting, since the issue persists in nation-level debates (interior quote from Opinion Journal):

Prescription drug costs alone increased 23% last year, as there are effectively no limits on the number or types of drugs the system will pay for. If a doctor prescribes aspirin, TennCare pays for it. Ditto for antacids for heartburn and other over-the-counter products. If TennCare denies a claim for a drug or any other type of care, an appeal can be filed for next to nothing. Fighting each appeal costs the state as much as $1,600 in legal fees. With 10,000 appeals filed every month, it's often easier and cheaper to pay a claim, regardless of the merits.

TennCare is now in worse shape than it was a decade ago. Three of the 11 privately run Managed Care Organizations that insured TennCare patients and administered the program have fallen into receivership. Amid the legal wrangling, Blue Cross Blue Shield all but pulled out of the program. Today the state has assumed all the insurance risk and pays most of the premiums."

So we have a program that only covers "1.3 million of the state's 5.8 million people" & it eats up 1/3 of the state's budget? Yep, that "free" health care is a real deal, isn't it?

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:10 PM

Skirting the Precipice

I'm looking forward to Ramesh Ponnuru's Tech Central Station follow-up to yesterday's piece about some newly proposed scientific techniques to which opponents of embryonic stem cell research don't know how to respond. In my previous post, I suggested that engaging in the artificial creation of life through cloning will lead to the presumption that we have dominion over that life, even to the point of dictating its value purely with reference to ourselves.

The first of the technologies that Ponnuru cites seems likely to effect the same end from another direction:

The first, by two Columbia University scientists, claims that some of the embryos frozen at fertility clinics are already dead -- that is, they are no longer capable of directing their own integral functioning as unitary entities, nor do they any longer possess the capacity for development, even in the most hospitable of circumstances. But it may be possible to take usable stem cells from these embryos. Since they are already dead, the taking of the stem cells will not kill them (whereas taking stem cells from a live embryo would kill it). The proposal is for more research into figuring out how to identify which are the dead embryos and how to take usable stem cells from them.

Ponnuru suggests that this would create an immoral incentive, but that seems an understatement to me. It is currently legal to create embryos and to let them die. Insisting that they die of natural causes (if that term is appropriate) before scientists can harvest them barely adds a step to the sequence. As for the time limit that he suggests as a possible solution, I'll merely say that I hear echoes of the amnesty for illegals debate. The "wasted stock" of dead and dying embryos will simply mount again, and the same logic will apply.

The first procedure gives the cultural impression that it is merely looking for ways to tiptoe lightly over a principle, rather than avoid it. The second procedure, I'll agree with Ponnuru, "raises more complicated issues":

Nature sometimes produces "teratomas," eggs without male genetic contributions that begin to divide and grow, even growing body parts such as hair and teeth. But these teratomas are not organisms: They lack the ability to organize themselves and to direct their own integral functioning and development. They are disordered growths, like tumors. Hurlbut suggests that we might be able to produce teratomas artificially and derive from them usable stem cells that are functional equivalents of embryonic stem cells. Since human teratomas are not human beings, this research would involve no killing.

My gut reaction is that this technique is still a step too close, but I'll hold off on declarations until I have a chance to read Ponnuru's part two.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:39 AM

December 9, 2004

On the Agency of Satan

I'm glad to see, in the comments to a post in which I responded to some of his thoughts on cloning, that Phil Bowermaster takes others' speculation about the disposition of his soul seriously enough to take offense. I'm even more glad to hear that he now thinks that "there's plenty to regret" aboutthe post of his to which I'd responded. (However, I will note that the time for mitigation would have been when he republished it, or at latest when he saw the Instalanche heading toward him.)

The objection that he (understandably) maintains speaks to a difference of perspective that to Christians appears obvious, but to atheists and agnostics may seem obscure, nonsensical, or obviously false:

I am characterized as a monster, an advocate of slavery, a fiend who would casually redefine humanity to serve his own selfish purposes, and (if I read your last line correctly) Satan's agent here on earth. Not surprisingly, I take exception to these characterizations.

I won't respond on behalf of other readers, but Bowermaster is correct about the allusion in my last line — although he takes from it a connotation that I don't attribute to it. It seems to me a pretty clear consequence of life in a fallen world that each and every one of us is, at some point, an agent of Satan. To be sure, there are degrees, the worst being deliberate rejection of God for rejection's sake — self-aware enlistment with evil. I suspect such a thing is rare, and I don't think it's a suggestion that can be found in a fair reading of my post in Bowermaster's case.

In his case, the degree is akin to a grievous error. In seeking good, he inadvertently chooses evil. Real life, unfortunately, rarely presents us with the stark choice of a bluesman at the crossroads; rather, at some point, an error in motivation or in analysis steers us down the wrong path.

But we can always go back. There is no irredeemable evil. In this light, when somebody writes, as I did, that a particular line of advocacy "steers us toward playing" the Devil, it is a warning, not a condemnation.

The opposite end of the spectrum — the notion of "playing God" — falls to a similar difference in perspective:

At one point, only God had ever made a limb. Was it "playing God" to invent the first prosthetic leg? There was a time when only God had ever started a heartbeat. Was the first doctor who used electric resuscitating paddles "playing God?" And I can only assume that you think that in vitro fertilization is "playing God."

Well... yes, yes, and yes. But it was Bowermaster who treated the assertion that cloning "isn't playing God" as if that question were decisive. "Is," then no cloning; "isn't," then yes cloning. I was arguing from within his construction. As a matter of fact, in an important sense, I think we're called to play God. (We're created in His image, after all.) Forget limbs and heartbeats; when you uphold love for your children even when they appear to reject you, you're "playing God."

There's a point, however, at which playing God in a good way slides quickly to playing God in a bad way. At that point, doing as God does (potentially good) corrupts our thinking such that we believe we can claim the privileges of the divine (bad). In keeping with my previous post, one such claim is the right to "assert" dominion over the humanity of a twin whom one has created. The essential argument of many of those who oppose cloning is that the jump from deliberately creating life in an artificial fashion to asserting God-like control over its destiny is less a leap than a stumble.

I'd suggest that raising personal offense to the status of persecution is one of the ways in which modern society has eroded the barriers that keep us from such soul-slick turf. So I repeat: I'm glad that Phil cared to take offense, and I'm even more glad that he's "inclined to say let's go with [my] definition" of when life begins. But I'll still insist that harsh characterizations of his position are not so much a judgment as reminders of the one that is God's prerogative.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:38 PM | Comments (14)

Making a Game of Geography

Sheila Lennon has found a great online educational game. The object is to place the outlines of the fifty states in the proper place. The margin for error is a little unforgiving, especially for the interior states, but it's a great way to straighten out the country's layout in your mind. (Almost as effective as staring at election night returns watching for miniscule percentage changes.)

One thing that the puzzle captures especially well — because each state begins off the map and because you actually have to place it where it belongs — is the differences in size. It's one thing to know that Rhode Island is a tiny state; it's another to try to drop the speck within a few miles of its proper place on a map of the United States.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:59 PM
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Christian Group, Secular Leadership

With the arrival of tomorrow's (Thursday's) edition of the University of Rhode Island's student paper in my emailbox, I discovered a barely broken story that might turn into a big deal, but might simply fade away. Thinking that it oughtn't fade away, I posted about it on Anchor Rising.

The Student Senate at the school made a last minute (before the break) move to change its rules about recognizing student groups. Simultaneously, it's begun cracking down on at least one Christian group that wears its religion on its bylaws, so to speak.

From the little that's available on this story, I suspect it's the sort of thing that justifies a bit of an uproar (even if only Rhode Island–sized).

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:05 AM

Hands Down Contest Winner

John Hawkins alerts readers to a new Andrew Sullivan award ripping Michelle Malkin:

One sentence; four cliche-ridden, playground insults. Can you beat it? Contestants can be nominated from either right or left; but the sentence must be entirely devised to insult; it should be completely devoid of originality; it must have at least two hoary, dead-as-a-Norwegian-parrot cliches; and it must assume that readers already agree with the writer. Arbitrary mean-spiritedness wins extra points.

Curiously, all of Hawkins's nominations are... Andrew Sullivan. I see no reason to break the pattern, but I think I've got a better quotation:

Nominations for the Malkin Award are now open.

It could be argued that there's only one dead-as-a-Dutch-conservative cliché in there, but I think Sullivan more than makes up the difference by the sort of playground insult in which he indulges. At least Michelle's comment is that of a brawler — put out there to be heard by those meant to be pricked. Sullivan's is of the playground snoot snickering behind the back of his hand.

Well, just in case that one is disqualified, here's another one:

Flag-burning, fag-burning. Anything for a few votes.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:07 AM

December 8, 2004

Oh So Impressed with the Unimpressive

Listen to the sweet sound of the crack of James Lileks' bat:

If you believe that puddle-deep self-obsessed people engaged in two-backed beast construction is somehow the most illustrative example of the human condition, I suppose the movie will strike you as high art, but the notion that trivial people screw a lot and argue afterwards is as illuminating as the fact that dogs don't get married after they knock paws.

Periodically, you'll hear an artsy (yet well paid!) type try to spin his/her wares as a commentary about the superficiality put on display. I've stopped buying the spin; sheer volume has made it all too clear that the artistes are mining triviality for lessons — or perhaps excuses — beyond "don't be like this."

(It doesn't help that one rarely learns that the authors and producers of the supposed cultural commentary live in such a way as to suggest a critical perspective on their material.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:34 PM | Comments (6)

The Tenacity of the Resurgency

Although the Google searches have continued to appear in my referral logs, I thought Jimmy Massey's accusations against American troops were a dead issue when the mounting wave of coverage began to subside after my exploration of it in May. Well, Massey's still got creds among the mainstream media, apparently. As Michelle Malkin notes, in relation to her column about Jeremy Hinzman, an American Army deserter now seeking refuge in Canada has brought Massey is back into the picture.

Over in the Corner, Tim Graham objects to the title of a Washington Post piece, by Doug Struck, covering Massey's testimony on Hinzman's behalf: "Former Marine Testifies to Atrocities in Iraq: Unit Killed Dozens of Unarmed Civilians Last Year, Canadian Refugee Board Is Told." Although I'm loathe to evince the inflated beliefs that bloggers often have about what they do, I'm more bothered by Struck's credulous treatment of Massey. A query on any Internet search engine will produce links to discussions of Massey's questionable public testimony. (Google lists my post either second or fourth, depending on the use of quotation marks.)

I don't expect folks like Struck to contact me or other bloggers as experts or to cite our work in their MSM pieces. However, I know that my practice, when addressing (dare I say "reporting"?) potentially explosive claims, is to listen for general background noise in order to gauge my credulity. Even if the refutations are found on a Web site with arguably partisan motivations, one would think an objective reporter would take them under advisement and set his tone accordingly.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:05 PM | Comments (9)
News Media

Tuesday Becomes Wednesday

I have much about which to write, large topics and small, but with the clock having made the transition into tomorrow, I'm just far too exhausted to dive into it, right now. I have some running around to do in the morning, but I hope — and plan — to get back on track around lunch time.

Okay. Maybe not lunch time... but after the school day is over, for sure.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:11 AM
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The A Point

I've phrased this in countless ways, but I don't know that I've managed to put the notion as succinctly as Maggie Gallagher has:

The solution to the problem, in our culture, is to prefer that most men and women get married, because once they are in this kind of sexual union, you no longer have to worry about the fact that sex makes babies. It may or it may not, but it is no longer a social concern.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:07 AM | Comments (18)
Marriage & Family

December 7, 2004

Shaking the Statue-Givers

Patrick Hynes has started up a Web site to campaign on behalf of The Passion of the Christ for the Oscars.

It's a shame that such campaigns are necessary in general, for ostensibly merit-based awards. So much more so when the uphill battle is caused by something other than obscurity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:54 AM | Comments (2)

December 6, 2004

Fighting Fire with Coal

I like Michelle Malkin's Christmas crusade idea:

I am hereby launching the Lump of Coal campaign. Later today, I will box up a lump of charcoal, mark the package "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" and send it to the Denver Mayor in protest of his idiotic policy. Please join me in doing the same (and if you take a photo of your creatively designed package, I will link/post).

You know, that ought to be an initiative from either one of those groups already in place to work to preserve our Christian heritage or a new group. (I notice that is still available.) As Michelle's follow up reveals, the nascent movement has already met with success.

The only thing I'd worry about is that the organization would come under investigation for terrorism. After all, the Post Office asks, with every package, "Anything breakable, flammable...?"

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:13 PM | Comments (3)

Sin Like an Addiction Grows

Greg Wallace tells the story of a man whom he's been solicited to help recover from a sex-related collapse of his life (part one and part two):

"You know this guy," he said. "He works for the State Police. He got involved in pornography years ago, graduated to the Internet, hooked up with someone there and about five years ago she left her husband to be with him. After five years of him living a double life, he couldn't handle the pressure anymore, tried to break it off, the woman told everything to his wife, who wound up in the Stress Center yesterday for around-the-clock observation."

A whole range of factors have to bleed together for somebody to let his life get to this stage. It's the fashion to redefine sexual "addiction" in terms akin to substance addiction, but that obscures the degree to which the problem is psychological and, therefore, spiritual — in a series of bad decisions and the willful stirring of sensation. As Greg writes in part two:

He became sexually active at a pre-pubescent age; the Song of Songs says "don’t awaken love before its time," and while I believe that has a specific context in scripture, I believe it also applies to God's plan for our sexuality – that there is a time and place of His intention for us to discover what he has designed as a gift for us. When that plan is derailed, then all bets are off. The young man's sexuality – already supercharged by premature exposure to sensation – was heightened by exposure to pornography, which continued unabated for many, many years.

Prolonged exposure to pornography dulls the senses. It takes more and more stimulation over time to achieve satisfaction. What started out with magazines and videos graduated to the Internet. And as the senses continued to shut down, he began to look for more effective ways to achieve the same level of satisfaction. When he hooked up with a woman on the Internet, it was like striking a match to tinder.

Psychological association, I've come to believe, is part of the reason pornography viewing escalates and voyeurism makes the leap to action. One of the reasons advertisers pay so much money to associate pop songs with a product is that the song will thereafter evoke thoughts about the product. Similarly, a person's emotional reaction to a particular scene in a movie will affect how that person feels about something reminiscent of that scene in life.

The more scenes, plots, sounds, and so on that we — individually and socially — associate with sex, the more there is in the average day to arouse sexual feelings. Those feelings build up, and temptation, being more constant, becomes more difficult to resist.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:35 PM

An Open Conduit Reduces Flow?

According to Glenn Reynolds, "Eric Olsen notes that current U.S. abortion policy is resulting in steadily falling numbers of abortions." That's an interesting turn of events, making me wonder what other undesirable activities we ought to make completely legal, without restrictions. Theft? Murder?

Olsen doesn't so explicitly assert causation, but he does conclude:

... after the steam was released following Roe, abortion has decreased steadily if slowly over the last two decades, and those that are being performed are occurring earlier in pregnancies - exactly the trends a responsible but realistic populace would want to see.

From what I understand, the CDC data that Olsen cites is generally accepted to be low, but I'll go with it for my purposes here. After Roe, the number of abortions increased from 615,831 in 1973 to 1,297,606 in 1980 — 211%. That number peaked at 1,429,247 in 1990 — 110% from 1980 and 232% from 1973. By 2001, however, the number (again, using low CDC data) had dropped to 853,485 — still 139% of the 1973 number.

There are two parts to the trend, up then down, and one could argue that the numbers will continue to decline to a sort of "natural" annual tally of abortions. However, if you believe, as I do, that those being aborted are human beings with a right to life, then the difference between a half million and a million and a half is only a matter of degree of abomination. The only common ground for discussion, therefore, is whether things are improving or getting worse, and the trends thus far tell us nothing about the likely future, in part because they tell us nothing about the causes of each stage of the trend. Consider this chart of abortions as a percentage of conceptions that I made for a post back in March:

Granted that this is a limited sample of countries, but with the exceptions of the U.S. and (barely) Denmark, every trend line shows a large increase, some form of dip, and then a return to increase. This brings to mind a common observation about Europeans' finding the United States a curious nation because of our continued battle over something as mundane as abortion.

Could it be that it is the advocacy against abortion that has led to the decline? If that is the case, and if too many decades of being thwarted eventually lead to increasing numbers of pro-lifers who just accept — as Reynolds and Olsen ostensibly believe they should — that abortion is simply a fact of American life, then the numbers will begin to climb again.

Of course, the abortionists will eventually reach a point at which they can no longer find any additional parents willing to kill their children. But that wouldn't be an equilibrium; it would be maximized slaughter.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:49 PM | Comments (2)

The Corner Versus Clique Bloggers

For a design that you might find easier to read, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Jonah Goldberg posted an interesting thought from an anonymous blogger about why the Corner mightn't be treated with the due blog chic:

Why don't hardcore bloggers consider The Corner a blog? Well, ya'll are missing a couple of key elements that separate you from the rest of the blogosphere: a blogroll and links within posts to other blogs.

Beyond occasional links to Glenn Reynolds, The Corner writers rarely connect with the rest of the blogosphere. You have no one to blame but yourselves for this reputation.

(How ironic is it that the blogger wished to remain anonymous?)

The response to the emailer can be summed up in two words: Andrew Sullivan. No blogroll, and not a noticeably more defined habit of linking to the great unknown masses of blogs. The anonymous blogger's suggestions almost imply a conscious retaliation against the Corner, and I don't believe that to be the case.

As one of the bloggers who participated in the Right Wing News poll that kicked this discussion off, I'd suggest two other reasons that the Corner mightn't come to mind when folks discuss blogs:

  1. Its thorough integration with the rest of NRO. The lack of blogroll, in my view, is mainly of significance in this respect. With the organizational design, the Corner feels more like a component of than a standalone blog. Look at John Hawkins's categories for his RWN poll: I, for one, paused about whether to count NRO in both the "Group Blog" category and the "Favorite Political Website That's Not A Blog" category. I could be wrong, but I don't think other mag-blogs are treated much differently. Whatever the case, if status as part of the total NRO package is something that the Corner wishes to change, I'd suggest that applying a distinct look-'n'-feel would be more effective than just adding a blogroll.
  2. The fact that it's a group blog for name pundits. And so many of them! I suspect that if the Corner were only another vehicle for Jonah, or even just a half-dozen NRO regulars (listed along the side as the official bloggers), it would feel more like a regular ol' blog. With the many contributors, some of whom stop in only once in a great while when they've something specifically relevant to say, the "personality" of the blog becomes less distinguishable from NRO in general.

As for the matter of links within posts, I can personally attest that more Corner bloggers than Andrew Stuttaford link to the rest of us. It's just much more difficult to catch their attention. (I've gotten the impression that Stuttaford is mostly notable, here, because for a while he was the house blogger for the weekend, when both traffic and email ebb.)

Glenn Reynolds is different, in this respect, because Instapundit's emphasis has long been on linking, rather than extensive original content. But when dealing with public figures who blog, you have to remember that they receive tons of email. If somebody's blog post is more or less identical to 100 emails from random readers, another blogger is going to be less likely to think, "Wow. I have to post that."

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:15 PM | Comments (7)
Bloggers Blogging

December 5, 2004

Same Old Same Old... Except for the Slip

It's surely an error resulting from the publishing process, but I couldn't help chuckling at the ending of the version of his latest Sunday Times piece that Andrew Sullivan has posted on his Web site:

These contradictions are not the exceptions. They are the American rule. And if you love this tortured and fascinating country, one more reason to be thankful it still exists.


Or should that be chill-inducing? I suppose I'm inclined to give Sullivan the benefit of the doubt, because he's begun to make the lives of his busy critics much easier. He spends the first half of his piece talking about divorce in Red States and Blue States, especially Texas versus Massachusetts. I recently addressed aspects of this over on Anchor Rising, and both Stanley Kurtz and I addressed it when Sullivan tried the trick back in February. His latest piece doesn't appear to take our arguments into consideration.

As for that latest piece, there are some new instances of the same old trick, but I won't bother going through the motions. You know the game by now.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:27 AM | Comments (2)

A "Tiresome Argument"? No Kidding!

Phil Bowermaster endeavors to "straighten" the public out on two issues on which it is "desperately misinformed." Well, not to be shy about admitting my state of mind, I've been feeling askew, lately, so let's see what Phil's got to say about issue #1, cloning:

It isn't magic. It isn't playing God. It isn't new.

Nature creates human clones all the time in the form of identical twins. Reproductive cloning would be nothing more than producing a late-arriving identical twin. Not the same person. The camera doesn't steal your soul, and neither will a clone. As I said, there are social reasons why this might not be a good idea, but can we please for the love of God get the idea that there is something uncanny or "spooky" about cloning out of our heads? There isn't.

Okay, so let's follow it straight through. Phil begins with three assertions, the middle of which is that cloning is not "playing God." His first bit of supporting argument is that... hmmm... I can't claim an inside view of Mother Nature's ontology, but as a theist, it looks to me as if Phil is suggesting that cloning isn't playing God because, well, God clones twins. Curious; doing as God and only God has done is not playing God. Noted.

Moving along, while I'll agree that it would be harmonious with the love of God to refrain from describing Him in such pagan-sounding language as "spooky," it seems to me that Phil's argument that doing as God does is not "playing God" raises a question: can cloning be "new" and "spooky" because we've never done it before? We lack the capacity to unleash a force approximating a supernova, but I suspect even Phil would agree that the technology would be "new" when it first came about. And I for one think the human race's having access to such a power would be somewhat beyond spooky.

But perhaps this sort of thinking is just an indication of the "desperately misinformed" foundation of my logic. So let's forge on, taking the straightened out path and understanding that doing as only God does is not "playing God," that doing something that we've never done before is not "new," and that doing something arguably "a: seeming to have a supernatural character or origin... b: being beyond what is normal or expected" ( is not "uncanny."

Issue #2 is "the human development cycle," about which Phil quotes another blogger as follows:

In my book, a human is someone you can converse with, who can think, feel pain, and suffer the effects of Alzheimer's or heart disease. An embryo has none of those characteristics.

Again, excuse my askew thinking, but that seems like an awfully limited definition of "human." Most loosely understood, it would seem to exclude anybody who is currently unconscious; strictly understood, it would also seem to exclude anybody who isn't currently suffering "the effects of Alzheimer's or heart disease." I suppose the blogger, with the pseudonym of "Reason," means to imply a modifier akin to "possibly at some future date." But if that's the case, I have to admit that I don't see why an embryo wouldn't count. One needn't wait much longer to converse with an embryo than with a newborn. Maybe Phil can clarify:

It [an early-stage human being "a mass of undifferentiated stem cells"] doesn't have a head or a heart or a nervous system. Those things start to kick in around week five, and take recognizable shape somewhere around week eight.

I see. The "it" isn't a human being until somebody adds a head or a heart or a... hey, wait a second. Who does add those things? Well, inasmuch as the it develops those parts of its own volition, it seems to make the most sense to give the it the credit. But if it can advance itself along the stages, what justifies drawing the Line of Personhood before an accomplishment that the it just hasn't managed to get around to, yet? Phil's next paragraph appears to begin with the intended answer:

If we, as a society, can define humanity as starting somewhere after the fourth week of embryonic development, we open up the possibility of tremendous medical advances.

Okay, I think I'm starting to catch on now. It isn't some stage of development whereby either the new life or nature draws a line; rather we, "as a society," draw the line because it suits us to do so. Just get over that hump of believing that lines ought to lie where we find them drawn, and it's all easy moral sailing from there. Or is it?

A few years from now, it may be possible to create an embryonic clone of myself. ... Let's consider that embryo at four weeks. If I put it in the right environment, that blastocyst might grow into my identical twin brother. It isn't my twin brother now. It's just some growing tissue taken from my body and an egg I borrowed from somebody else. ...

... If I am injured or get sick, part of this collection of cells will be reintroduced into the organism from which it came — that would be me — to help it recover. As I age, more of the cells might be introduced to help counteract the effects; still others might be put on a new developmental path towards being a finished "part": a heart or a set of lungs or a new pair of eyes.

Here's a question: what if we discover that it's more effective to allow the it to get "a head or a heart or a nervous system... or a set of lungs or a new pair of eyes" started? Can we do that? Can we, as a society, just decide that a clone's life starts after the eighth week... or the eighth year? It'd be for all the right reasons; we don't want real (i.e., suffering) persons to die. And after all, the fact that a clump of cells begins to breathe at a certain point "doesn't mean it's the only place where the line can be drawn, or even the best place."

Well, I think I'm straightened out, now, and frankly, I'm a bit spooked by the small number of paragraphs that it takes to get around to this:

Why would anyone insist that it has to grow into a different human being? Says who? My twin brother can't demand that he has a right to exist. I never have to create a clone in the first place. And if I do create one, I assert that I have the right (before it grows into a separate and distinct human being) to decide that it will be me, rather than him, when it grows up.

Perhaps a refusal to offer free will to life that we create is what steers us clear of "playing God." Forgive my "superstitious dread," but I can't help but feel that it steers us toward playing somebody else.

(via Instapundit)

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:02 AM | Comments (5)

December 4, 2004

A Political Sex and Money Cult?

I certainly do wonder what drives the anti-abstinence crowd. I don't mean the general impetus — that's easy to give a name to — but the specific ideas of which they are in pursuit. To what degree is sex, per se, their motivation? Looking at the picture accompanying the Washington Post's article about the Rep. Henry Waxman's crusade against abstinence programs, I shudder to imagine lasciviousness as his motivation. Perhaps the true motivation is money; in one way or another, every profession from the entertainment biz to the welfare industry is invested in sex.

Some would surely object that Waxman is merely investigating the allocation of federal dollars to groups that misinform their young charges, and I'm sure he's managed to uncover legitimate errors in some materials somewhere, as well as suggestions with which he disagrees. Still, the degree of spin involved within such reports themselves and then, further, in the media raises the question of what one couldn't taint with the same treatment. On top of the highlighting of the absolute-worst findings, consider this sentence from Ceci Connolly's WaPo piece:

The report concluded that two of the curricula were accurate but the 11 others, used by 69 organizations in 25 states, contain unproved claims, subjective conclusions or outright falsehoods regarding reproductive health, gender traits and when life begins.

The previous paragraph explains that each curriculum is used in at least five programs, of unknown type. Washington Post readers have no way of knowing which are most egregious, how frequently those are used, which of the three types of flaws were discovered in each, what those flaws represented, or in what capacity the curricula are even used. Turning to the full report (PDF), for one example, we observe that an erroneous claim mentioned twice in the WaPo article, once in the very first paragraph — that half of gay teens are HIV positive — came from a misleading chart in a curriculum that just barely made the study. It was used by five organizations — precisely the arbitrary minimum chosen to achieve the arbitrary number of 13 "commonly used curricula."

As for the report itself, there's just too much that could be dissected to address, but here's one of my favorite bits:

Although religions and moral codes offer different answers to the question of when life begins, some abstinence-only curricula present specific religious views on this question as scientific fact. One curriculum teaches: "Conception, also known as fertilization, occurs when one sperm unites with one egg in the upper third of the fallopian tube. This is when life begins." Another states: "Fertilization (or conception) occurs when one of the father's sperm unites with the mother's ovum (egg). At this instant a new human life is formed."

First, note the glaring absence: the report explains that "religions and moral codes differ," but what does "scientific fact" have to say on the matter? I've found this to be among the most frustrating elements of the abortion debate; as a point of fact, the unique human life begins at conception. The organism formed at that time will move through various stages that together represent the human life.

But back to the boundaries of this report. We've just heard a complaint that the curriculum teaches a religious view, but if we back up a few pages, to the description of the groups that are using these curricula:

The eleven curricula are used in 25 states by 69 grantees, including state health departments, school districts, and hospitals, as well as religious organizations and pro-life organizations.

Stop the government! Religious and pro-life organizations are using materials that support a religious and pro-life worldview!

Here's another gem:

Instead, some of the curricula provide distorted information on cervical cancer, suggesting that it is a common consequence of premarital sex. For example, the teaching manual of one curriculum explicitly states: "It is critical that students understand that if they choose to be sexually active, they are at risk" for cervical cancer. Another curriculum asks, "What is the leading medical complication from HPV? Cervical cancer." Neither of these curricula mentions that human papilloma virus (HPV), though associated with most cases of cervical cancer, rarely leads to the disease, nor that cervical cancer is highly preventable when women get regular Pap smears.

Other curricula advise that condoms have not been proven effective in blocking the transmission of HPV and that "no evidence" demonstrates condoms' effectiveness against HPV transmission. According to the CDC, however, evidence indicates that condoms do reduce the risk of cervical cancer itself, a fact which both curricula omit. These curricula also say nothing about the importance of Pap smears.

First paragraph: some curricula are wrong to suggest that HPV leads to cervical cancer. Second paragraph: other curricula are wrong to say that condoms prevent HPV transmission... because condoms do reduce the risk of cervical cancer... somehow.

Keep in mind, by the way, that all of the material for these curricula — from books to teachers' guides to accompanying newsletters — were pored over for this 22-page report. I spent a short while working in the textbook industry, and I'd suggest that a government-sponsored fact checker could produce at least that length report checking any dozen curricula on any given topic. That would include, as implied by Emily of After Abortion, the "standard obstetrics textbook" that supposedly proves wrong a claim about abortion and infertility.

An interesting tangential question is how weighty a report a government probe could accumulate fact checking the mainstream media. Here's Ms. Connolly:

Nonpartisan researchers have been unable to document measurable benefits of the abstinence-only model. Columbia University researchers found that although teenagers who take "virginity pledges" may wait longer to initiate sexual activity, 88 percent eventually have premarital sex.

Actually, as I discovered back in March, that 88% of abstinence-pledgers who fornicate corresponds with 99% of non-pledgers who fornicate. One wonders whether the cause of researchers' difficulty measuring benefits is the person wielding the ruler.

Representative Joe Pitts only gets it partly right: Waxman's study was ideologically driven, but the Washington Post and other media groups probably weren't naive in their touting of it. They've products to sell, after all, and a worldview of their own to bolster.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:21 AM | Comments (4)

December 3, 2004

A Backlash for the Boys

Keep up the push Senators!

Senate Republican leaders plan to move legislation next year to protect the Boy Scouts of America from attacks by liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union over government ties to the organization, which has an oath that acknowledges God.

Based on my limited knowledge of the actual legislation, it looks like the right thing to do, a proper assertion of the relationship between government and religion, and a political winner.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist introduced legislation this month stipulating that no federal law, directive, rule, instruction or order should limit any federal agency from providing support to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, including meetings held on federal property.

"To this legislator, the ACLU's continued attacks on the Boy Scouts is starting to become its own form of persecution," said the Tennessee Republican, a former Scout, in a floor speech Nov. 20.

He tried to get the measure through the Senate by unanimous consent in the waning days of the congressional session, but Senate Democrats rebuffed him.

It's unlikely that the Democrats will have the last rebuff, on this one.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:45 PM

What the Future Holds

I've been meaning to post on this ever since (at my request) Joshua Baker sent me the PDF release of his and Maggie Gallagher's findings:

Do a majority of young adults favor gay marriage? It depends on how the question is asked. Over the past year, polls by reputable polling companies have found the proportion of adults ages 18-29 who favor gay marriage ranging from 40 percent to 63 percent. Conversely, the proportion of young adults opposed to gay marriage has ranged from 36 percent to 54 percent.

For example, separate polls conducted just two weeks apart last spring found radically different results: A March 2004 ABC News poll found 63 percent of young adults agreeing that "it should be legal...for homosexual couples to get married" (36 percent thought such marriages should be "illegal"). Meanwhile, the Annenberg Public Policy Center found young adults opposed to gay marriage ("a law...that would allow two men [or two women] to marry each other") by a margin of 52 to 41 percent.

Looking at some Pew data covering the responses of different age groups about a year ago, I suggested that there are two ways to approach these sorts of findings: the cultural shift from one generation to the next, and the personal drift (usually toward a more-conservative view) throughout a lifetime. In the Pew poll, opposition to SSM shoots up a little less than 30% among those in their thirties — just the age range during which adults are having children and solidifying their understanding of what they want and are meant to do with their lives.

One particularly interesting aspect of the Baker/Gallagher piece is the finding that teenagers, the group below college age, are relatively conservative on this issue. I'm not quite sure what to make of that, although it does jibe with anecdotal observations — often a topic of conversation among acquaintances of my general age — that the generations appear to fluctuate wildly below midlife. Those at the front end of Generation X seem to be a bit more freewheeling. Those at the tail end (where I place myself) are more conservative, often manifesting in religious outlook.

Those following us (some currently in college) have seemed a bunch of lunatics ever since I was in high school hearing of their drug- and sex-related escapades. Consequently, it doesn't surprise me that this group would be erratic in its opinions, or that the next gang would be different in a good way.

Optimist that I am, I note another of my unsubstantiated observations: no matter what the Boomer liberals like to believe, when people's views change, those who were out on the furthest limb are more apt to hug the trunk than early trunk-huggers are apt to trust their weight to the leaves. As Baker and Gallagher conclude, it's still much too early to cede the future to the marriage radicals.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:02 PM
Marriage & Family

Pasting Error

FYI, I pasted the wrong URL as the link to Joe Kort's piece in the previous post. It's fixed.

If ever you catch such things — or even suspect them — please let me know. URLs are of the sort of post components that tend to slip through rounds of editing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:56 PM
Site-Related Announcements

What Some Will Wish to Teach Us

So during this recuperative period between the election and the start of another year of argument over same-sex marriage, the New York Times offers us a picture of how laughably normal — even traditional! — homosexual relationships can be. Somehow, I suspect that, in contrast, the months and years following a successful campaign for their legal equation with traditional marriage would bring similar prominence to such ideas as expressed by Michigan psychotherapist Joe Kort (specializing in "gay affirmative psychotherapy") in his piece, "10 Smart Things Gay Male Couples Can Teach Other Couples about Sexual Non-Monogamy":

When it comes to open relationships, judgments are changing. Historically, it was believed, and still is, that if a couple was open to bringing in others for sex, that was the beginning of the end for their relationship. Also the thought of a couple in an open relationship coming to therapy has been—and still is—seen as one of the problems for them, even if they themselves denied it. But too many happy and successful relationships, both gay and straight, have open contracts around sex.

Meanwhile, some monogamous couples struggle and disintegrate for not being willing to open up their relationships at all.

The piece represents the endgame of the tolerance movement. With judgment of others strictly verboten, the Joe Korts are free to explain that, while such life choices as mutual infidelity aren't for everybody, those who wish to pursue their libidos' bliss need only follow a handful of guidelines for the choice to be consequence free. It's telling people what they want to hear — that they can slip past society's walls toward gratification-directed lives.

That people have the liberty to chase such lives — to promote such lives — is part of what it means to live in a free society. We who disagree must do the difficult work of withstanding the throes of adolescent logic and seek to persuade and to leverage social influence. One thing we must not do is to allow the prodigality into our shared institutions and the mechanisms whereby social influence is fortified.

As Stanley Kurtz has written many times (here, for one), the power of marriage is partly a mystique that, once spoiled cannot simply be rebooted at the end of the social experiment. And one can practically watch it deteriorating even within Kort's short piece, which opens with an anecdote about the two clients of his who educated him that monogamy needn't mean what even he believed it to mean (sort of like the legal argument over "marriage"). By the time he reaches "smart thing" 3 and then 8, he offers the following sophisticate's advice:

Never assume there's a contract on sexual exclusivity. Any couple should understand that by itself, being married and/or in a relationship isn't enough to ensure monogamy. Each may have different ideas about what "marriage" and "relationship" mean. So it's vital for the couple to mutually agree on a contract stating their agreement about monogamy, or non-monogamy. ...

Another thought that gay couples have found helpful is to not make any contracts in stone! Theirs can be a living relationship that is open and closed at various points in time, with no hard rules about it. It's more important to know when and how to discuss desired changes in the contract.

The object of such same-sex marriage advocates, therefore, is nothing short of a complete erasure of practical meaning in marriage. And it is central to the very idea of marriage that its meaning be plainly known — that potential spouses know precisely what they're agreeing to do and that the rest of society knows instantly what role they have agreed to fulfill, what the rings on their fingers signify.

What activists like Kort wish to do is to reduce marriage purely to a contract between two people, with terms completely at their discretion. In the context of the institution itself, this means that marriage cannot be a social contract, because society has no way of knowing what it entails for any given couple. Beyond that context, it means the unraveling of human morality. The complication arises in attempting to maintain a sense of emotional stability on the wobbly legs of a renegotiable contract. The solution?

In their book The Male Couple, David P. McWhirter, M.D., and Andre M. Mattison, MSW, Ph.D. (1984) write that among male couples, "Sexual exclusivity . . . is infrequent, yet their expectations of fidelity are high. Fidelity is not defined in terms of sexual behavior but rather by their emotional commitment to each other."

Gay couples often report that what works best for them is to engage in sexual encounters based on sexual attraction only and not emotions or affection. It is about sex and nothing more. They avoid getting to know temporary partners at any deep level, to avoid turning the encounter into something emotional that might develop into a full-blown relationship. In other words, any sexual inclusion is simply behavioral in nature, not relational.

In the vain attempt to prevent the external fulfillment of lust from shredding the unique bond between two people, the key principle becomes the objectification of everybody else. Marriage becomes the one sexual relationship in which the other person is a human being.

It would be unfair to attribute the views and intentions of Joe Kort, his clients, like-minded activists, and the sources that he cites to every homosexual who would like the world to treat his or her committed relationship no differently than any heterosexual's committed relationship. Surely, the New York Times could fill its pages with the stories of such people. But will it? And would that be the whole story?

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:47 AM | Comments (8)
Marriage & Family

Double Duty; Tripping the Bully

I realize things've been slow around here lately. I suggest that you not forget to check Anchor Rising. All of my posts there would have ended up here if there were no there. And mine are certainly not the only posts worth reading.

Other than the double blogging duty, though, the past two weeks have been peculiarly hectic for me. I won't run through the list of things that have soaked up my time. However, at the risk of seeming to taunt you, one thing in the works is the pundit equivalent of tripping the playground bully. I'm not sure what's going to happen when the bell rings in the next week or so, but it ought to be interesting, anyway.

In the meantime, I've made it one of my goals today to clear out my blog queue, so check back.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:47 AM
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December 2, 2004

The Season Isn't Over Yet

I've never been a huge fan of sports. Oh, I enjoy playing them, and I think their organization is an important aspect of the world that we create for children. It's the viewing — the fandom — that never appealed to me. One reason for my athletics apathy is that I tend to be a then-do-it type of guy; whether the "it" is music, Web design, or pole vaulting, enjoying somebody else's performance merely spurs me to my own. The flip side of that urge is a hesitance to critize when I lack the ability or aggregate information to do something or to make a relevant judgment.

Although I don't recall a specific instance, a general sense of folks without that hesitance has been with me since I was a boy. The image is of the bleachers-sitting fathers of Little Leaguers complaining about the coaching of their childrens' team — not so much citing observed shortcomings and offering considered remedies as cycling through a litany of general-theory can'ts and oughts (as well as bragging).

Apart from the dubious wisdom of their collected expertise, there's an element of case-specific ignorance that permeates such idle declarations. Has one of the fielders suffered an embarrassing injury that only his parents and coach know to take into account? Are there indications that playing the best and second-best players non-stop will cause the fifth through tenth–best players to quit? Is there some guiding principle that can't be revealed for practical reasons?

As is probably evident, this meandering post is not really about sports. Indeed, one of the reasons I think organized athletics are important for children is the degree to which they teach important lessons without being so self-defeatingly blunt as to spell them out. The particular lesson at hand applies to just about any aspect of society, but the area in which it has seemed most egregious, of late, is war.

Even granting some allowance for pundits' need to make it seem as if they know what they're talking about, a post by Andrew Sullivan leaves me shaking my head:

News flash: we need more troops in Iraq. Duh. The truth is: we needed far more from the very beginning - and this incremental increase, which reflects the enemy's tenacity as much as ours, is exactly the kind of mission creep we should always have avoided. I'm still dumbfounded by the political branch's refusal to acknowledge this before now, and the lame excuse that the only justification for more troops would be if the commanders demanded them. The level of troops - like the war in general - is far too important to be left to the military. Such decisions require political and strategic judgments that can only be made by the commander in chief.

To consolidate my response in a question: Why can't maintaining just the troop level that commanders request be a political and strategic judgment in itself? In its approach to exerting its military force around the world (nation building and all that), especially in Iraq, the U.S. is attempting to walk a line between two undesirable impressions, with the possibility of abandoning the cause altogether on one side and the possibility of absorbing other countries in an American empire on the other.

America's enemies have learned to leverage its fleeting political will to fight in distant lands, and people in the Middle East are famously sensitive to rhetoric about a Modern Crusade. It seems to my far-from-expert eye that one way to accomplish the necessary political balance between these two realities is to keep troop levels reasonably close to articulable need and not to hesitate to send them when the need is articulated. The Washington Post piece to which Sullivan links begins thus:

Senior U.S. military commanders in Iraq say it is increasingly likely they will need a further increase in combat forces to put down remaining areas of resistance in the country.

Now that a major enemy stronghold has been taken, broader forces are becoming necessary. Discerning a CYA subtext, here, doesn't strike me as required. I don't ask this with an implied answer, but what would additional troops have done in the meantime? Among whatever tasks they could have accomplished, they would certainly have served as additional targets for insurgents who still had a place of retreat. They also would have enhanced the power of anti-imperialist rhetoric. One thing they wouldn't have been doing is contributing to the impression — mostly important to the President's global strategy — that we are not currently overextended. Another thing they wouldn't have been doing is spending time with family — or at least resting in the execution of lighter duty.

I guess I just don't understand how it can be called "mission creep" to send American men and women into the battle zone only when they are needed for a specific purpose. Mission creep occurs when a group starts undertaking tasks that aren't obviously related to its objective, and the circumstances that foster it often involve idle hands.

That the coach is not adhering to the game plan of any given bystander is not evidence that he doesn't have one. Giving commanders only as many boots on the ground as they know what to do with is not, as Sullivan insists, "passivity." (Even less passive is the implied preference for keeping levels to a minimum.)

Phrases, spoken with puzzling authority, such as Sullivan's that troop level "is far too important to be left to the military" may sound shrewd to those hanging over the chain-linked fence by third base. But it's curious that so many on the sidelines don't seem to understand that Sullivan's next sentence applies to them, as well: "Such decisions require political and strategic judgments that can only be made by the commander in chief."

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:17 PM | Comments (3)
International Affairs

December 1, 2004

What's Missing from Barry's Argument

The lyrics to Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" provide a near-perfect phrasing of a deeply flawed line of thought:

I'd rather laugh with the sinners
Than cry with the saints

The presentation of that choice is hardly unique to Joel — in fact, it's a cliché — but its history doesn't of itself grant legitimacy. Back in my disbeliever days, however, I took it for granted. Hell's rockin'; Heaven's a cloud-lounge. Now that I've grown up some, spiritually and intellectually, the obvious reply is, well, obvious: the narrator hasn't apparently met any of the right saints, and it would seem that he only knows sinners for whom the bill has not come due. Personally, I'd rather cry with saints if the other option were, say, writhing in agony with the sinners, but that might just be me.

I bring up this topic of falsely limited choices because a post by Barry Deutsch (on the title of which I based my own) relies heavily on a series of them. The first comes with the first paragraph of argument:

As for gender neutral marriage, we've been moving in that direction for quite a long time; more wives and mothers work, stay-at-home-Dads are increasing (although still a small group), and coverture laws are an archaism. I'm curious to know if Elizabeth would like to undo any of the previous legal steps towards gender-neutral marriage, and if so, which ones.

Choice: either marriage involves the classic male-breadwinner-dominated structure (boo, hiss), or it is on its way toward gender neutrality. Put aside that the aforementioned Elizabeth gave delimited context for her usage of gender neutrality — "marriage and family law" — and that the more powerful of Barry's examples are cultural, not legal. The larger problem with his point — which would be an offensive one, if it were intentional — is that he conflates gender and households' division of labor.

For the past two days, I took my turn watching the children while my wife worked; does that make me less masculine? My wife less feminine? If so, perhaps we are redeemed by the fact that I've spent a good portion of last week working with ladders, hooks, wires, and fuses putting up Christmas lights and my wife just came home from work and baked cookies. Christie Brinkley was a working wife and mother when she and Billy were still married; was she a gender-neutral spouse?

Folks on the other end of this debate from me might feel the urge to quip that, for my pro-marriage rhetoric, I've cited a famous divorced couple. If you sympathize with that urge, go ahead and indulge; it will only lead us to another problematic area in Barry's post. About midway through, he offers a table of potential actions that he believes SSM opponents — or at least Elizabeth — will agree that the government may and may not do in order to "discourage unmarried bio-parents" (creepy term, that "bio-parents"). Honing in on those that are not of dubious relevance on the "MAY NOT do" list, every one presents a falsely limited choice.

  • "the government MAY NOT... refuse to recognize divorces." I can't speak for Elizabeth, but my agreement with this statement is contingent upon an implied "all." Ought the government be able to refuse to recognize instant, insufficiently justified divorces? Yes, and many opponents of SSM would like to see reform on that very matter.
  • "... refuse to recognize marriages of the infertile." It seems to me that Elizabeth's point about gender-neutral marriage law directly conflicts with this statement. The government may (and should) refuse to recognize marriages between people who are (together) infertile because their reproductive organs are of the same sort. (This has to do with the "meaning of marriage" area of debate.)
  • "... refuse to recognize second marriages which create stepparents (that is, non-biological parents)." Of course, second marriages, with or without children already extant, are just as potentially procreative as first marriages. Refer to the previous bullet for an argument about what sort of second marriages the government may refuse to recognize.
  • "... throw non-resident parents into prison." What an either/or! Surely there are more-moderate burdens that even Barry would place on non-resident parents (e.g., child support).

All of the above are put forward in the service of Barry's central point, which also presents his central false choice:

Here's how I'd sum up the argument in the above paragraph (Elizabeth was nice enough to confirm by email that my paraphrase is accurate):
  1. If SSM is allowed, society will be less able to affirm the importance of being raised by bio-parents.
  2. This will likely result in more heterosexual parents either never marrying, or marrying and then divorcing. (This is what Elizabeth means by "more [children] will grow up lacking that key security").
  3. Therefore, we should not allow SSM.

For the sake of this post, I'm going to ignore my disagreements with statements 1 and 2 (and trust me, they are legion). Instead, I want to point out that something's missing from Elizabeth's argument. 1 and 2 do not logically lead to 3. There's something missing - a step between 2 and 3 which justifies the conclusion in step 3.

For example, let's look at one possibility - let's call it 2.5.

2.5 Whatever leads to more bio-parents not marrying, or getting divorced, should not be legal.

Barry refers to his step 2.5 as merely an "example" — "one possibility" — but he proceeds to write as if his specific language captures the full range of possibilities. He asserts that Elizabeth "can't fill in the gap in her argument with statement 2.5, or anything like it," but there is something like it that fits the demands. Not surprisingly, it includes aspects of the debate that he — like many SSM proponents — leaves out of the discussion:

2.5 Whatever negates the possibility of marriage's use as an explicit mechanism for binding biological parents to their children should not become part of the definition of marriage.

That same-sex marriage is more unique in falling afoul of this rule 2.5 is indisputable. First, note the persistence with which its advocates declare that marriage isn't about linking biological parents (i.e., about procreation) as part of their rhetoric. (An aside: I'd suggest that infertile heterosexual marriages of various sorts have collected long histories of evidence that they do not negate the procreative meaning of marriage, and that if they ultimately do so, it looks likely to be only a function of their enlistment in the SSM cause.) Second, note offshoot arguments that question why the presumption of sexual attraction/activity within a relationship ought to be part of a new definition of marriage.

More significantly, note that negating a range of actions is different from "leading to" or encouraging a particular behavior (or lack thereof). Similarly, refusing to include something within a definition is different from making something illegal. Most of those who oppose SSM see our advocacy as stopping a cultural downslide, with a view toward climbing back up a ways. Various laws and restrictions pertinent to marriage must certainly be considered and perhaps reformed, but whether effective policy requires allowing or disallowing no-fault divorce, for example, or even infertile marriages is incidental. The definition of the institution — the types of people who may enter into marriage with each other — is fundamental.

(Via Marriage Debate Blog)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:10 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

Not a Culture to Emulate

You've probably seen this, but it's the sort of thing that ought to be passed along even beyond what its palpable immediate importance might require:

A hospital in the Netherlands -- the first nation to permit euthanasia -- recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:46 AM | Comments (5)

One of Those Days... Again

Once again, I apologize to all of you who pay me the compliment of stopping by that there was nothing new for you to read. I had the children, today, the littler of whom seems to have a tad of a cold and probably has teeth coming in. Just as I began to catch a stride, in the afternoon, I discovered that the padding under the rug in the playroom was saturated, and I had to undo one of the accomplishments of my summertime renovation of the new house and tear the whole thing up.

That managed and a temporary fix contrived (although left undone until tomorrow), I simultaneously received concerning news about a member of my extended family and indication that a long-delayed breakthrough (that hasn't dimmed in the excitement that it generates in me even over the many months) is at last in its final stages of preparation. The first news required some time for prayer, and the second required a couple of hours of additional work.

And still, I've so much about which I'd like to write! Well, a shower is now at the top of my prioritized list. Hopefully, I'll be able to get in a word or two, here, before I can no longer advisably hold off sleep.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:08 AM
Diary & Confession