January 31, 2005

The Impossibility of Discrete Policies

On my list of intended posts is a response to some comment-section speculation about why folks would spend so much time opposing same-sex marriage — or any other aspect of the "gay rights" movement, for that matter. The insinuation is that the interest is peculiar unless there's some hidden motivation of the sort in which Freudians specialize.

One consequence of that sort of thinking relates to the defense of the mainstream media and academics as "objective": those taking liberal views, since they're obviously correct, can assess things objectively, while those taking opposing views must have dark ulterior motives. The analysis of experts, scholars, and writers who disagree with the Objective Assessment must be tainted. Similarly, those who support same-sex marriage can do so through plain logic, but those who oppose have twisted hearts distorting their thoughts.

Personally, that sort of linkage is what has pulled me ever more deeply into the same-sex marriage debate. It draws on the essences of so many aspects of humanity and human society.

As I suggested, I'm still giving thought to the difference of essences when it comes to motivation to argue against gay causes. For the moment, however, I just wanted to marvel at the impossibility of handling the same-sex marriage debate apart from broader arguments about the functioning (and proper functions) of our society.

In a post on Anchor Rising, I posited that human nature creates a marketplace that incorporates every aspect of society, from economics to familial culture to religion. Liberal welfare policies ignore this marketplace and the interaction of culture and economics, leading to quick-fix solutions (taking money to give money) that exacerbate the problem they seek to resolve.

It's a quick fix to raise the income bar to public assistance for childcare (for example) in order to help two-income families and divorcées. Unfortunately, it also raises the income level at which families have financial incentive for both spouses to work. The market dynamics of workforce size then push salaries toward half the natural level of household incomes, increasing the necessity of two-income families. The daily life created under these circumstances strains relationships and serves to undermine the unity of the family, increasing divorces.

Now apply this environment to the same-sex marriage debate. One of the "conservative" arguments for same-sex marriage is that there will no longer be any need for "marriage-lite" designations that are intended for homosexuals but that wind up being available to heterosexuals. Change the definition of marriage such that homosexuals can marry, and heterosexuals will lose the option of alternative designations with less cultural weight.

The gamble is that the same sort of cultural barrier that keeps opposite-sex acquaintances from getting married will keep same-sex friends from getting married. If possible, I think that would entail an undesirable cultural suspicion of close friendships that mirror marriage in some respects (e.g., cohabitation) — just look at the new eye that modern society brings to the historical practice of sharing a bed. Given the vastness of heterosexuals' majority, however, I don't think preservation of marriage via full sexualization of same-sex relationships likely, and it is made even less so by the solidifying economic norm of the two-income family.

Consequently, the availability of same-sex marriage will be exploited by same-sex acquaintances. Two men or women who've had their expectations of marriage shattered already will be particularly prone to redefine the institution to fit their own purposes. That leaves only those other relationships that would continue to be barred from marriage (say, for example, single-parent plus adult child households), and they have all the claims of mutual care and support that homosexuals do, thus deserving the quick fix of marriage rights.

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

The latest Notes & Commentary essay by Maureen Mullarkey is "An American in Paris; Another on Long Island," reviewing John Dubrow at Lori Bookstein Fine Arts and Jane Freilicher at Tibor de Nagy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:22 PM
Visual Art

January 30, 2005

A Reason for Celebration

Shortly after 9/11 — back when the discussion was still the amount of harm "U.S. sanctions" were doing to the people of Iraq — the urge to call local late-morning radio talk host Steve Kass in order to respond to another caller's comments proved too strong to resist.

Kass and I agreed that Saddam Hussein was the problem, but when I answered "get him out of there" to some question or other, Kass's response was, "Well..." A little over three year's later, and not only has that nigh unmentionable solution come to pass, but Iraq has moved on to the next step: elections.

With all of the shameful efforts among some in the West to wear down our resolve, it's easy to lose sight of reality in the political fog. Sometimes we reach moments, such as the victory and then elections in Afghanistan and the military victory in Iraq, that revive our belief that our nation is moving forward with the steps that need to be taken to address the linked threats of terrorism and Islamofascism.

The elections in Iraq today offered another such moment, and although we can be sure that the naysayers and anti-American zealots will continue in their efforts to foment an exhausting negativity, we can be very proud indeed of our countrymen who've risked so much to make the world a better place for all of us, of those leaders who've continued doing what's right even when it might not be what's easy, and of the Iraqis, themselves, for standing with us by standing up for themselves.

Over on Anchor Rising, I've marked the occasion by republishing a column of mine from December 2001 calling for Saddam Hussein's removal. A view that was then extreme has proven predictive, and I, for one, do not question that the world is better for it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:59 PM | Comments (2)
Middle East

Exposition, Chapter 3 (p. 44-49)

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

"What's gotten into you?" asked John's voice. "Stop it! I've got you."

She stopped punching at him and gasped out, "Alex," pant pant, "just attacked me."

John looked over her shoulder and, seeing nothing there, suggested, "We'd best get back to the house for the time being."

After a bit of quick walking, John told her, "When Nathaniel departed last Autumn, he told me that if a man should come and be unwilling or unable to choose his own name, then I should call him 'Alex' if it suited him."

"Hmm?" asked D., who hadn't been listening; she had been too occupied casting glances all around, trying to see everything at once and imagining that there was a flicker of a shadow behind every tree.

John, having either not heard or not cared to hear her, went on, "In the midst of January, late at night, a rapping came at the front door, making me jump because I had been reading an eerie book by candle light." He paused to consider, "What was it that I was reading? Hmm. Well, it must have been Poe. Or was it Brown? No, it was definitely Poe, but which story I cannot recall. Whatever it was that had gotten my hairs on end, I was still a little apprehensive when I walked through the entrance vestibule to answer the door. Standing on the porch, all hunched over and shivering from the icy rain that was falling, was a young man, looking as if he had been badly beaten. He didn't speak, but I fed him and gave him a change of clothes and led him to sleep in the room nearest mine on the southern side of the house.

"He didn't say much throughout the following weeks, and generally in an odd nonsense slang when he did speak. After a while it seemed apparent that he wasn't going to name himself, so I started calling him Alex to no objections. Strange lad, Alex. I hardly ever see him during the day, but he appears most evenings to play the piano, which, by the way, he tunes himself. Pianists are generally mild in temperament, and it is very pleasant to have music while I read at night, so when next I see him, I'll ascertain what it was that possessed him this morning. I'm sure there's a perfectly plausible expla..."

"That's not good enough," D. interrupted. "I want you to stop your babbling and get my keys back right away and then walk me to my car. He wouldn't even have them if you hadn't snuck in last night with this stupid dress!"

"Excuse me?"

"This dress! The one that you put on the desk in my room last night while I slept!"

"I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about. I read in the solarium for a while last night after you went to your room, and then I went to my own bed. Besides, I heard you turn the lock, and I haven't another key."

"Then how do you suppose this dress was there instead of my own clothes this morning?"

"How am I to know? I slept directly through the night, and there's no way Alex could have done it, because there is, as I've said, only the one key. Perhaps it was the work of a phantasm," John suggested, with a slight gleam of intrigue in his eyes.

Now the anger pulsed in D.'s temples, and in her exasperation, she had nearly forgotten the danger she might be in. "What? Forget it. I'm not going to listen to any more of this shit! I'm going to go lock myself in that room, and you are going to go find that psycho and get my car keys!" They had just pushed through the bushes into the grassy yard of the house, and D. stormed up the first step to the porch. "Come get me when you've got them." She stopped in front of the entrance and turned to face John, "And get my shoes back while you're at it!" Slamming the door behind her, D. stomped to her room and locked the door behind her, throwing the key on the bed.

She paced circles, looking at the dirt and grass stains all over the white dress reflected in the mirror when she passed that, glaring at the entangled branches and budding leaves through the window when she came to that. Conducting herself thus for nearly an hour, D. heard a tentative knocking at the door.

"You better have my keys!" she announced, but there was no answer. Placing her palms on the wood, she called out, "John?"

Still receiving no answer, she pressed her ear against the door and fancied she heard a like breathing sound. She started to shake as she looked through the klootch hole, this being a very old-type lock. She saw nothing but the top of the willow and the doors, all closed, on the other side of the house. Then suddenly, a green glaz sprung to the other side of the hole. She fell back.

"Go away! You better leave me alone!" There was a smecking like chuckle from the balcony. "I mean it," she warned. Now there came a scraping as of glass on wood. She started to cry, "Leave me alone!"

Just then the front door could be heard shutting. There was a shuffling of feet from outside her room. A moment later, John knocked at the door, "I can't descry him anywhere."

Through her tears she managed to creech, "He was just here."

"Oh," said John, "did he give you your keys?"

Almost laughing, she told him that Alex had only come to the door. "Maybe I can catch him then," John said and sauntered off.

After another long period of time, John's voice called from outside the room, "I can't find him. I'm sure that he's only playing around and that I'll be able to get your keys when he comes back, for supper most likely. Would you like to come out and have some breakfast? It's almost eleven o'clock."

D., who had skirted backwards to the wall across from the door raised her head from her knees and told him that she was very happy where she was, thank you very much.

"Then would you like me to bring you something?"


"Do you want eggs and toast?"

"No," grimacing at the thought of instant egg.

"Then perhaps a sandwich?"

"That's fine," she said, and then added, "and some water, please."

John acknowledged and went downstairs to prepare the meal. He returned with a knock and said, "Open up, I've got your aliment."

D. was in the midst of standing when it occurred to her that it was very possible, if not likely, that John and Alex were in cahoots. "Why don't you just leave it outside the door," she suggested.

"Oh please, dear! You don't think that Alex and I are in league against you, do you?"

"How do I know you're not?"

"All right, fine. I'll just leave it here. If you need anything else just cry out. You may need to open the door, a smidgen at least, for me to hear you." And with this she could clearly hear John's exaggerated footsteps moving toward the front stairs.

She rose and picked the key up from the bed. Placing her ear to the door and looking through the keyhole, she satisfied herself that there was nobody outside her room and cautiously opened the door, seized the plate and glass that were waiting for her, and made sure she was securely locked in.

She considered the food, smelling it and tasting for strange flavors in every bite. The sandwich was only peanut butter and jelly, and the bread was a bit stale around the edges, but as she was more hungry than she had thought, it was a calming relief to eat something. When she finished, she placed the dishes on the desk and lay down in bed.

Wondering how best to proceed from here, she drifted off to sleep.

D. awoke with a bit of sun in her eyes, so she knew it had to be sometime in the middle of the afternoon. She wiped a little crust from her eyes and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. After a moment of head clearing, she tried to call out to John, but a glop of phlegm prevented her from making ample sound. Encouraged by her dreamless nap, she went to the door and opened it enough to fit her head.

The weather had turned quite fine, and the smells of early Spring had drifted into the courtyard. Sticking her head out and glancing up and down the second floor landings, she noticed John sitting in a plush but worn chair on the opposite side of the tree from the piano. She called his name a bit more unobstructedly, and he looked up from a book he had been reading.

"Have you gotten my keys?" she asked, having to raise her voice to compete with the sound of birds.

"No, Alex hasn't been by yet. Why don't you come down for a cup of tea?"

With no reason to trust him, D. just asked John what time it was.

"I think it's about three o'clock. Are you going to stay up there all afternoon?"

"At least until you get my keys."

"Have it your way. Would you like something to peet?" he queried.

Perhaps she misheard, but something in that last word brought suspicion slinking up her throat and through to her eyes, "What did you say?"

"Drink. Would you like a drink?"

She glanced up and down the hallway again, thinking that perhaps she was being tricked, "No thank you, I'm fine, really."

"Well, if you've no desire for company and have resolved to spend the entire day, and perchance another night, in that room, would you like a book?"

She thought about this for a moment. "Yes, please."

"What would you like to read?"

"I don't know. What have you got?"

"Miss, there's quite an extensive library here. Why don't you just come down and look for yourself. I'm not going to hurt you."

Looking right and then left again, she stepped out to the railing, but a strange sort of rustling of the willow frightened her back to the doorway, "Why don't you just grab one and throw it up here?"

John, appearing somewhat perturbed, strode to the far bookshelf, looked for a moment, and grabbed a book. D. checked the landing again and stepped out. Up came a formulaic romance novel, and back into her room went D., again locking the door behind her.

Night has come once more. John brings the woman another sandwich and some more water, feeling unsettlingly like a prison warden as he leaves the food and a bellboy as he takes the dishes that she has left on the floor outside of her room. He returns to his place in the ballroom, and D. slyly cracks open the door and snatches the food. Her fingers, in nervous picking, have shed the six fake nails that were left after her tromp through the forest.

While she munches on the sandwich, of the same flavor as the last, she jumps at a tapping on the window pane. Silly woman! It is no more than a twig on a branch on a tree, undulating to and fro with the wind. She rises and glides to the window to check the lock and to close the curtain.

Two green eyes watch her by the light of the moon as she pauses to look out into the darkness. She closes the curtain. Alex lingers for a moment and then strolls away into the night, whistling the first movement of a symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus (number 40 in g-minor) and twirling something shiny around his finger.

The moon glitters against the keys. The branches continue their swaying in time to the melody. The wind shushes still through the branches.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:47 AM
A Whispering Through the Branches

January 29, 2005

Illinois Establishes Religion

Rod Blagojevich, the governor of Illinois, better brace himself for litigation:

"What we're doing today is older than scripture: Love thy neighbor," the governor told the audience yesterday, according to the Associated Press. "It's what Jesus said when he gave his Sermon on the Mount: 'Do unto others what you would have others do unto you."'

As the refrain so often goes: what right do the executive and legislative branches of the Illinois government have to force their religious views on the people of that state? Surely the letter from the ACLU is already in the mail.

Well, perhaps a letter of congratulations. According to Bryan Preston, the ACLU supports this legislation, which:

... adds "sexual orientation" to the state law that bars discrimination based on race, religion and similar traits in areas such as jobs and housing.

... the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago, is on record stating it should be applied to churches, meaning they would not be allowed, for example, to reject a job applicant who practices homosexual behavior.

Ronen said: "If that is their goal, to discriminate against gay people, this law wouldn't allow them to do that. But I don't believe that's what the Catholic Church wants or stands for."

As the governor apparently knows, one of the First Amendment's penumbrae covers the establishment of religious views when it involves turning scripture back on the people who actually believe in it. Most Christians would have others do unto them reasonable measures to turn them away from sin. Well, the government of Illinois is only too happy to oblige.

(via Lane Core's weekly Blogworthies)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:28 PM | Comments (56)

A Hopeful Spin

Late last night, I found myself lamenting that my current financial circumstances have dulled the shine of my recent successes on the writing front. There's a hint of disappointment in the feeling of mere hope where there might otherwise have been elation. (Of course, let's not forget that there might otherwise have been despair, as well.)

Then it occurred to me: January's bills would not all have been paid had it not been for my writing! I've no reason to expect another month in the foreseeable future with the same magnitude of success in this area, but still... just the thought that such a thing is possible raises mere hope securely to the level of tempered optimism.

I've been at the writing thing for years, but I've no illusion that I'd be making any progress were it not for you who read Dust in the Light. For that I'm more grateful than I've words to express.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:42 PM
Diary & Confession

January 28, 2005

A Presumption of Bigotry

Mark Miller asks what my post regarding that Washington Post article about (in my words) "gay men paying for children to be created using their own sperm, donated/purchased eggs, and female fetus-carrying units (known colloquially as 'surrogate mothers')" has to do with same-sex marriage. It's a good question, inasmuch as the very lengthy comment-section discussion centered around that tangential issue, but that has more to do with the ongoing discussion among us all than my comments themselves. The sentence just after my summary of the WaPo article begins thus: "Put aside the gay aspect."

Mark instructs me that my question about the created children "needs to be evenly applied to both gay and straight persons," asking:

Would he write the same if the man in question were heterosexual? If it were a single woman?

Although I imagine the extreme circumstances requiring two hired women — one for eggs and one for womb — will be more common among homosexuals, rereading what I wrote, it seems to me that only an unfounded presumption of bigotry would lead Mark to ask such questions. In fact, I ended the post with a quotation from a single mother:

I started off as a single mother by choice, and I don't think my child suffered for it.... I'm a believer in nontraditional families. I think families come in all shapes and sizes.

To which my response was: "I, I, I, I."

Mark goes on to suggest that "the pursuit of a legal solution to [people having children for selfish reasons] is akin to putting a cap on income and savings because 'greed' is a bad thing" — a thinly veiled allusion to hypocrisy on my part, it would seem. The fact that I at no time suggested a legal solution points to a problem that those with traditional views often encounter: What we say sometimes seems less important than what we should say according to the box that our opponents put us in.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:04 PM | Comments (12)
Marriage & Family

Sealing Off Their Towers, for Lack of a Footnote

Still perplexed by the fact that folks now apparently think it indicates corruption for unabashed advocates of particular causes to simultaneously further their ends through writing and consulting, I'm merely going to offer the suggestion that writers, even pure bloggers, ought to be very careful about how much ground they put between themselves and the accused. First the details of the two latest incidents to spark the trend, as provided by Eric Boehlert of Salon:

... HHS had paid syndicated columnist and marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher $21,000 to write brochures and essays and to brief government employees on the president's marriage initiative. ...

... [Michael] McManus, who could not be reached for comment, was paid approximately $10,000 for his work as a subcontractor to the Lewin Group, a health care consultancy hired by HHS to implement the Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, which encourages communities to combat divorce through education and counseling. McManus provided training during two-day conferences in Chattanooga, Tenn., and also made presentations at HHS-sponsored conferences.

We can argue about the appropriate degree of disclaimers that opinion writers — opinion writers — must make about consulting work, speaking gigs, and organizational picnics either within or appended to related columns. Kate O'Beirne thinks that, by disclosing her work, Gallagher "wouldn't have looked conflicted, she would have looked even more credentialed as a recognized expert on marriage." Michelle Malkin and La Shawn Barber think, in the words of the latter, that "failing to disclose you're being paid to push a 'product,' with taxpayer's money, is the problem, especially when readers value your opinion and 'independent' viewpoint."

Although the columns were not the "products" for which either Gallagher or McManus were paid, that's a worthwhile sentiment. But I encourage those who share Malkin and Barber's reaction to consider this aspect of the Salon piece very carefully:

Responding to the latest revelation, Dr. Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at HHS, announced Thursday that HHS would institute a new policy that forbids the agency from hiring any outside expert or consultant who has any working affiliation with the media. ...

"We live in a complicated world and people wear many different hats," he says. "People who have expertise might also be writing columns. The line has become increasingly blurred between who's a member of the media and who is not. Thirty years ago if you were a columnist, then you were a full-time employee of a newspaper. Columnists today are different."

Those lines are indeed blurring. In fact, it is increasingly the case that one can be a "columnist" without actually writing a "column." A few controversies down the road, and experts who wish to be eligible for government contracts will be well advised to abstain from blogging.

That wouldn't represent a tremendous loss to society (yet), although it would surely diminish one of the most beneficially revolutionary aspects of the blogosphere. What it illustrates, however, is that, as with the new HHS policy, public experts are being corralled back behind their closed office doors. That's not a step toward the open contextualization of experts' and writers' work that has become increasingly desirable.

At least for we on the right, who've only recently begun to find ways around a mainstream media that has largely shut us out, unblurring those lines would be a step backwards. Folks such as Gallagher and McManus will still be able to take government jobs, they'll still be able to promote their causes, but when it comes to regularly reaching a mainstream audience, they'll have to be filtered through the ink of professional journalists.

That's not the only retrenchment lurking between the lines of the Salon piece:

The problem springs from the failure of both Gallagher and McManus to disclose their government payments when writing about the Bush proposals. But one HHS critic says another dynamic has led to the controversy, and a blurring of ethical and journalistic lines: Horn and HHS are hiring advocates -- not scholars -- from the pro-marriage movement. "They're ideological sympathizers who propagandize," says Tim Casey, attorney for Legal Momentum, a women's rights organization. He describes McManus as being a member of the "extreme religious right."

Cutting through various pretensions, the essential difference between experts who are "advocates" and experts who are "scholars" is that scholars remain "objective" nonparticipants, while advocates draw on what they've learned about important topics and work to apply it. As with journalism, exposing the deceit of "objectivity" has been one of the successes of the growing ethos that has — perhaps taken to an extreme — tripped up Gallagher and McManus.

Indeed, many of us have rightly argued that it is better to have our experts and our columnists completely open about what it is they advocate, and without regard to payments from the government, there has been absolutely no question about what that means in the cases of Gallagher and McManus. I happen to agree that somebody who has worked, for pay or gratis, for a group or on a policy ought to note as much when writing about that group or that policy.

But while conservatives argue at that specific level, everybody else is rushing right past it, as the Nashua Telegraph proves in an editorial to which Malkin links:

[Armstrong] Williams and Gallagher, if they prefer government service, could quit their jobs as commentator and columnists, and start up their own advocacy agency on behalf of federal programs.

In Gallagher's case, she's already such an advocate, and nobody who pays any attention can fail to know that. We all suffer — in my opinion — if we return to the day of the ostensible purity of the "independent commentator" and the "objective" scholar. So let's be careful about how much we concede in our rush to insist on footnotes.

Marriage Debate Blog has an interesting roundup of commentary.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:16 PM | Comments (6)

Following Up with Good News

Michelle Malkin reports that baby Jordan Trimarchi received a heart. As she notes, we should remember in our prayers the baby who, by loss of life, had a heart to give. But we should also accompany that remembrance with hope that Jordan will live his life in awareness of that to which he owes it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:42 PM

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Battles & Wars," by Zona Douthit.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:34 PM

A Two Worlds Reminder

Since it's Friday and I'm behind on things generally, I thought it worth offering a reminder about Anchor Rising, where readers will always find substantive posts. If you really don't want to click over, you can peruse the automated list of Anchor Rising posts in the left-hand column here and see if anything catches your interest.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:26 PM
Site-Related Announcements

January 27, 2005

Yeah, Imagine That

I'm putting off high dudgeon regarding the latest on the terrorism-related interrogation front, but an email that Jonah Goldberg paraphrases makes me wonder how far from any sense of real life the entire debate has drifted:

One reader argued that we should be bothered by any attempt to separate a man from his God. How would you feel, he asked, if American soldiers were forced to witness a crucifix being desecrated or a Torah being destroyed?

As Goldberg suggests, it's an interesting question. I'd suggest that it's one that American Christians are universally qualified as experts to answer. Well, having subjected myself to such torture afresh, I'd suggest that if we're going to become so concerned about the religious sensibilities of potential enemies of our country, then we'd best abolish the National Endowment for the Arts.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:09 PM | Comments (3)

I Thought Religion Didn't Belong in Law...

The record-setting comment discussion to my "Parenthood: All About Me!" post has taken various turns across the SSM-debate landscape. In doing so, it has exposed a very interesting consideration. Michael, of Third of the Month, wrote the following, while explaining why restriction by gender, alone among the criteria for marriage, is "arbitrary and capricious":

Marriage may be "about procreation", it may be "about love", but in practice it is about extending and forming and joining families (and if it's not then what is it about??). And by restricting my choices of viable partners to women, because I cannot have a unitive relationship with one, you are in essence barring me from marriage.

Further discussion has clarified that Michael isn't talking simply about the physical, ahem, uniting, but rather — although he hasn't used the term — a more spiritual unity between spouses. Now, I'm in no way suggesting that marriage — or any form of intimate relationship — doesn't or shouldn't aspire to and work toward this spiritual level of oneness, but it's clearly not a provable quality in a relationship. In part for that very reason, it's also a blatantly "religious" notion.

The claim that Michael has now made explicit, but that has always underlain the rhetoric from his side of the debate, appears to be that the law must acknowledge this supernatural quality of homosexual relationships. Not doing so, in fact, represents discrimination, because the legal marriages into which Michael is already permitted to enter could not be "unitive." Yet, it is simultaneously out of bounds for the government to acknowledge most citizens' belief that the important unitive quality with which marriage must align is the unique physical and spiritual connection manifest in opposite-sex, procreative marriages.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:41 PM | Comments (50)
Marriage & Family

The Impossibility of Ideological Compromise in a Radical Movement

The Family Institute of Connecticut notes an interesting development on the same-sex marriage front in that state:

Even Rep. Staples and the Courant are beginning to realize that Love Makes a Family is an extremist organization. But they should not be surprised by LMF's position. It follows naturally from the group's misreading of Connecticut public opinion on same-sex "marriage." Pro same-sex "marriage" legislators and the Courant are aghast at LMF's "all or nothing" push for same-sex "marriage" because they are slightly more tethered to reality. LMF, on the other hand, may really believe its own spin about the fictional "Planet Connecticut," a land where an "enlightened" majority favors same-sex "marriage."

If so, Connecticut's pro same-sex "marriage" media establishment bears some of the blame. Today's Courant piece, for instance, uncritically touts a UConn poll purporting to show that a majority of state residents favor civil unions and a plurality favors same-sex "marriage."

LMF's ardent persistence continues the lesson that the various rebel civil servants around the country imparted when they shrugged at the law and began handing out marriage licenses: the prudent and practical among same-sex marriage's supporters aren't really spokesmen for their cause. This applies to their ability to fairly negotiate (for lack of a more appropriate term) at each stage of the society-wide debate, and it applies to the amount that the other side ought to take them as representative.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:10 PM
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:05 PM

Morality's Exchange Rate

Multiple angles of the following spin from Pamela Madsen, executive director and founder of the American Fertility Association, "an advocacy group for fertility patients," is head-thrashingly hard to swallow:

Isn't it a travesty that American couples are forced to leave our great nation because only 14 or so states require insurance companies to treat infertility? Less-developed countries, nations struggling with war, understand the importance of family. What does it say about the value we put on families and children?

But I'll leave aside the implication of requiring — by law — anybody who offers insurance to cover particular services or treatments in order to hone in on this morally contemptible attempt at a social guilt trip:

Less-developed countries, nations struggling with war, understand the importance of family. What does it say about the value we put on families and children?

The specific context is a trend toward Americans' seeking in vitro fertilization treatments to other countries to cut expenses:

... help came through a call to Dr. Sanford Rosenberg, a fertility specialist in Richmond, Va., who had started a program capitalizing on lower medical costs overseas. By using an egg donor from Romania and having the eggs fertilized in Bucharest and shipped back to the United States, the Butuceanus cut their costs to $18,000, including enough fertilized eggs for repeated efforts. ...

The vast majority of Americans who are infertile look for help close to home. A small number, though - no one keeps an official count - are seeking help in places like South Africa, Israel, Italy, Germany and Canada, where the costs can be much lower, becoming in essence fertility tourists.

The New York Times article by Felicia Lee from which I've drawn the above quotations emphasizes countries that make Madsen's "struggling with war" comment a little inapt, but "places like" is an extremely open phrase. As difficult as it may be for many in our secular culture, take both sides of the long-running debate between progressives and traditionalists seriously for a moment: What relevance does the fact that 44.5% of Romania's population lives below the poverty line have?

One particularly compelling moral thicket with any IVF that involves egg donors is the treatment of women as egg farms. That women should not be dehumanized in service of the procedure is almost universally understood, and in the United States, it would hardly be unreasonable to suggest that women's dominion over their own bodies has pushed public opinion over the line to legality. There remains something, well, creepy about taking advantage of poverty or the less devastating financial need of young college students to acquire their eggs, but most Americans will understand their right to consent.

Now move this moral balance to Romania, where trafficking in women is widespread and "children in Bucharest are easy prey for child prostitution tourists." Among those willing to sell entire women, separating their eggs is merely maximizing profits. Under poverty so crushing that children must turn to selling sexual favors, the ability to freely consent to egg donation cannot so easily be taken for granted.

Ms. Madsen would surely qualify her statement, if asked, and one must always be wary of extrapolating views from short quotations placed in a specific context in newspaper reports. Nonetheless, to step on such people in order to fling advocacy rhetoric concerning the value that Americans "put on families and children" raises questions about the value that the advocates place on such moral considerations as human dignity.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:25 PM

January 26, 2005

Sorry for Scarcity

I've been working on something that's left my head spinning. Perhaps it'll clear in time for me to get in some substantive posts tonight.

Battling Law Students

I know nothing about this, but Cindy Thompson of the Pacific Legal Foundation emailed me the following:

Pacific Legal Foundation is awarding $9,500 in its Sixth Annual Program for Judicial Awareness Writing Competition. This year's competition includes three essay questions, regarding the applicability of the Supreme Court's "rough proportionality" takings standard; whether the GDF Realty Investments v. Norton decision can be reconciled with the Court's modern Commerce Clause jurisprudence; and whether the concept of "regulatory givings" is consistent with the purpose and function of the Takings Clause.

Any interested, eligible readers can find more information here.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:30 PM
Quick Links

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:58 AM

Jumping into the Book

I have no way of knowing how many people are reading A Whispering Through the Branches as it rolls out each week. (Although, I certainly welcome feedback of any kind.) However, with the beginning of Chapter 3, we've hit a bit of a milestone, justifying an administrative note.

In one of those tough decisions that authors must make, I chose artistic structure over what might be considered ideal pacing. I tried to mitigate this problem, but there's no denying that Chapter 2 makes for the most difficult reading in the book. It's all downhill — in the bicycle sense, not the aging sense — from Chapter 3 on.

So, if you haven't been reading Whispering and would like to do (or might be so kind as to consider doing) so, allow me to offer a partial table of contents so far:

Author's Note for Blog Serialization

A Whispering Through the Branches

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:39 AM
Site-Related Announcements

January 25, 2005

Songs You Should Know 01/25/05

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Skydivin" by Rosin Coven. "Feels like I'm skydivin every single moment of my life." Yup, that sounds about right.

"Skydivin" Rosin Coven, Arthouse Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download from Menagerie

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:21 PM

Going for a Comment Record

I thought folks might like to know that discussion has continued, and expanded, on the "Parenthood: All About Me!" post. (And Smmtheory and I are outnumbered!)

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:25 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

Wait'll TV Real Estate Is Up for Grabs!

Something in a recent Catherine Seipp piece sounded familiar:

Still, there are talented writers working on unsuccessful shows as well as hits. So what goes wrong?

"Promising shows are cancelled immediately if they don't get good numbers," a TV writer friend, who's currently employed on a successful network drama, griped to me when I asked about this, "never getting the chance to find their voice and audience, as Cheers, Hill Street Blues did under [former NBC programming chief] Brandon Tartikoff, largely because he was in last place then and had little to lose. Sadly, these days even a last-place network has itchy trigger fingers, so thick is the fear in the business today."

Back in the feudalistic days of the 1990s, a common complaint among musicians — famous and anonymous alike — was executives' lack of willingness to allow, let alone help, an artist to develop, slowly building an audience and defining a personal style. Instead, the complaint went, to get into the business often required a built-in following, and to stay in the business required the avoidance of sales lulls during periods of artistic experimentation.

Then came the Internet to stir up the business model. From the musician's point of view, the Internet provides a way to build that necessary following and perhaps to circumvent the industry altogether, depending on priorities. From the audience's point of view, the Internet provides a means to explore beyond the big-budget packaging, as well as to circumvent, legally and illegally, the exorbitant prices to acquire the desired material of artists who aren't sufficiently compelling to justify whole album purchases. If artists are going to attract listeners online, in part through free samples, and if fans are going to insist on being persuaded to spend money by the music that the artist makes available, then the need for the various stages of middlemen diminishes.

In light of their differing sales models, the television industry is, if anything, more vulnerable to the technology and ethos of the Internet. The music business requires purchases, tickets, and attendance, requiring physical activity on both sides of the transaction. The television business requires nothing more than continued habitual usage of a living room fixture; revenue comes through advertising or, at most deliberate, through subscription.

Now imagine a world in which the initial viral marketing of South Park had involved URLs, instead of bootleg videos, being passed from dorm room to dorm room.

As somebody who's fiddled with video blogging (vlogging), I'd suggest that the TV folks aren't as immune to the flattening effects of the Internet as they may think. With lower costs for disk space and bandwidth, as well as production software that's mostly already on the market for reasonable prices, as well as the business models developing around blogging, online television shows are probably inevitable. First among amateurs, then malcontents, then mainstream writers et al. frustrated with the business. The threat doesn't end there, though.

Among the most intriguing developments that I've noticed in my five years of editing high-tech market research has been the efforts of such players as Microsoft to get computer content onto the family television set. Whether wireless or through cables, television is only streaming video, after all. Why not use similar technology for various applications, most significantly Web access? The same result is progressing from the other direction, as well, with a desire to make movies and television "clickable" to enhance the content and to open up a channel for related sales. (Like a Desperate Housewive's blouse? Click on her and order one.)

As the technology advances, viewers will be able to watch streaming online content right on the very same televisions that they use for big budget schlock. Furthermore, the big companies may help to transform the feel of television viewing toward that of Web browsing.

This future may — or may not — be distant, but the suits would be well advised to make a cultural asset of their ability to open space for talented people to develop their art now, while that remains only one of the advantages that their money can buy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:09 PM | Comments (2)

More Weights on the Tightrope

Embittering personal experience has kept a story that's already old by blog standards among my bookmarks. Patrick Sweeney quotes from the AP summary of the circumstances:

A group of parents and parishioners are accusing the Orange County diocese of violating church doctrine by allowing a gay couple to enroll their children in a Catholic school.

The group has demanded that Saint John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa accept only families that pledge to abide by Catholic teachings. That would likely bar the men's two adopted boys from attending the school's kindergarten because of church opposition to relationships and adoption by same-sex couples.

School officials have rejected the group's demands and issued a new policy stating that a family's background "does not constitute an absolute obstacle to enrollment in the school."

Commenter John B. makes the best argument in the boys' favor:

Has anyone stopped to think that a Catholic education might be a vehicle to convincing this child that the homosexual marriage of his/her parents is morally wrong? Maybe it will even convince the parents (but I doubt it). The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways.

Maybe a Catholic education and a set of morals might be just what this child needs now in his/her life.

I'll say, first of all, that this isn't one of those topics upon which people far removed from the situation can offer vehement conclusions. Inasmuch as the superintendent of diocese schools in this case is apparently a priest, the situation there seems to be somewhat better than my experience. In the system in which I taught for a brief time, the education wing of the diocese is more a loosely affiliated group, and as I painfully learned, the guiding principles are far more corporate than Christian.

Indeed, at least in the pre–high school grades, the teachers have no particular training in religion, often opting to fit in the religion lessons where they can, if they can. They've got no basis to answer any difficult questions that the children might have, and they have neither the background nor the diocese support versus the parents to be firm while teaching doctrines that might raise objections. (Lesson one for the unaware middle school teacher: divorce is a third rail.)

None of this is meant as an attack on the teachers, or even the administrators. The problem is that the schools are run more or less as public schools, but with prayer and far fewer resources. In this context, the question arises to rebut John B.: But are those boys, and their parents' apparent set of morals, what the other children need? The balance, as I've said, must be made at the more local level.

On the larger issue of Catholic schools' character, I'm probably not alone among blogosphere Catholics in thinking that they need to be stronger in their religious content. I'd go so far as to add the weight of market forces to this demand. High schools appear to be a different matter, but the lower schools — again, to my experience — lack the elite draw. Owing to a blend of Christian responsibility and a need to fill classrooms to the maximum, the children admitted are often those who've had difficulty in public schools, for one reason or another.

Without the strict codes of the parochial schools of yore, however, these students don't even come close to gaining in religious structure what they lost in taxpayer-funded services. Sometimes I've wondered whether the schools aren't continuing to subsist on the remembered impressions of parents and grandparents of what Catholic school was like when they were children. Neither the illusion nor the calculation can long remain.

Similarly the teachers. Pitiful pay is one thing within the context of a church community. The picture begins to change when they must keep pace with public procedures for certification and maintenance thereof that become law under at least the tacit assumption that public schools assist teachers in meeting the requirements. It changes further still when they are not treated as ends in themselves, but as potential sparks for lawsuits of one kind or another, to be cut loose at the first hint of trouble.

I'm drifting a bit — venting — but the point is that Catholic schools, at least in some cases, have traded away their character, whether absorbing the character of their well-to-do clients or emulating the better-financed public schools. If particular schools conduct themselves as fully Catholic institutions, take them or leave them, then I'd be persuaded that they can venture to admit those children who are in heightened, and sensitive, need of a Christian influence on their lives.

But in the environment that I describe, few teachers are going to present the Church's disagreement with the lifestyle of a given student's parents. Furthermore, schools that have faltered too far may find themselves, in seeking to accommodate such children, being pulled toward what the secular culture wishes they were, rather than what they ought to be.

(N.B. — Patrick posted follow-ups here and here.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:56 AM | Comments (1)

Lost and... Saved

Will Kenyon, born on October 26, 2004, in Iowa, sadly lost the struggle for life.

But in New York, Jordan Trimarchi, born January 18, 2005, still has a shot — if a child within a four to seven hour radius donates a heart.

Prayers for all. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:45 AM

January 24, 2005

Around Again on Racism and Adoption

In response to my post earlier today, Michael Triplett has endeavored to explain why his race-related opinions with respect to adoption are not racist — at least not in a bad way. I'm with him right up to here:

So, if it is "racist" to assert we should not create barriers for African Americans to adopt and that African American children would benefit from being raised by parents who have the same cultural experience, then I guess I am a racist.

The term of art, here, is "cultural experience." Contrary to the phrase's implications, culture is a learned thing; we are born into, not with, a culture. At least when we're talking about babies, therefore, the adoptees are cultureless, and one would expect them for the most part to share the "cultural experience" of their parents no matter the color of their skin. Used by those who think they've got the dark Other's best interests in mind, however, "cultural experience" is simply an empty term meant to make "race" mean more than the superficial collection of physical attributes that it ought to be. It's that indefinable something that once justified segregation. It's racism.

Now, I've already admitted that I don't have a problem with adoptive parents' seeking children with whom they share a maximum of physical attributes. Similarity increases the ease with which parents and children can see themselves in each other; it probably postpones difficult questions until the children are older; and, yes, among a species prone to notice differences and enlist generalities, it ensures a similarity of experience.

All of this only means that appearance, including race, ought to be a factor available for consideration (most especially from the parents-to-be). Triplett, however, places this consideration not just above the central family characteristic of marriage, but so far above it that a preference for married adoptive parents counts as a barrier to racial allocation.

This is where broad differences of worldview come into play. Failing to hold marriage up in the case of adoption diminishes the overall cultural preference for it. Without going in search of statistics, it seems reasonable to suggest that married couples are more likely to adopt — especially to adopt for the right reasons. If that is so, then not giving preference to married couples contributes to a dismissive view of marriage among blacks and, therefore, decreases the number of them looking to adopt.

Furthermore, intending "to attract African American parents," Triplett reinforces the "cultural experience" that leads to the disproportion of black children available for adoption. With this same aversion to creating "barriers" playing out in every aspect of American life, the very people who most need social guidance toward better lives are left loose to continue making poor decisions.

Just to head off an obvious objection, a word on Triplett's and my differing emphases for the relevance of "experience." In Triplett's usage, "cultural experience" refers to a "cultural and race background" — background being something from the past, handed-down baggage that one must carry as a defining quality. In my usage, "similarity of experience" refers to the present, most palpably in others' reactions to a given person; for example, a father and his visually similar adopted child will have comparable interactions with the same stranger.

In the former view, the origin of the difference — in some sense, "the blame" — resides intrinsically in the individual. In the latter view, it resides in the mutable attitudes of third parties. Perhaps it's a subtle distinction, but it makes a significant difference in how our society will move toward the future, and it makes a profound difference in how parents will raise their children and address shared and unshared experiences.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:08 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

A Victor of Clarity

As one would expect, John Hawkins's second interview with Victor Davis Hanson is thought-provoking. Moreover, the greatest quality that VDH exudes is, as always, clarity. In comparison to my meandering post about the foolish debate over troop levels, for example, VDH cuts right to the point and then moves on:

That's why this whole inside the beltway acrimony is so disturbing. The real discussion should be not how many troops you have but what is exactly the mission of these troops? What are they going to do and what are they not going to do? I think they should have been from Day 1 going after --- in really an offensive mode --- the people in the Sunni Triangle as they did with this wonderful operation that we saw the last couple of months in Fallujah. That should have been done earlier.

Another instance of the one-two punch of clarity and conclusion involves Europe:

When it comes to [Americans' view of] Europe I think left, right, liberal, conservative, there's almost this schadenfreude; it's almost like, well, you people are utopian and your 21st century humanists, you settle it because we in America believe it's a lose-lose situation for us. That's a dangerous situation because it may be in our national interest to intervene but no president will be able to galvanize public opinion to do that.

His prescription for immigration sounds just about impossible, from our current perspective, but it bears repeating, because he's absolutely correct:

... no more of that 1960's ideology of separatism and hatred. We can't tolerate it......We have (to prepare to meet them) with social censor from everybody because we do not want to go down the path of Rwanda or the Balkans. (We should have) one language, one culture, many races --- and that'll send a message as well to potential illegal immigrants that if you come to the U.S., you no longer get a drivers' license (and) speak Spanish in an apartheid community. No, if you come to the U.S., you're going to have to do it legally and you're going to have to learn English immediately in an immersion program and you're not going to get any special weight whatsoever for being Mexican. You'll be treated like an Italian or a Greek or a Korean or Punjabi.

There's not going to be any guilt, affirmative action, victimization culture just because you crossed the border illegally and that can’t be done by government alone. That has to be changed in our own minds and hearts and the left is going to have to accept that just like the right is going to have to accept an employer cannot count on non-union cheap wages in perpetuity. It's just not going to happen.

And speaking of letting the '60s ideology slip into history, there's his view of Vietnam — just a few hundred words that every high school student learning about that era ought to be required to read and (preferably) research. Be sure to read it, yourself.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:28 PM
International Affairs

Keeping Them with Their Own Kind

Michael Triplett is incredulous that I see racism in his views on adoption. As much as I dislike overuse of the R word, I don't know how else to categorize such sentiments as this:

Those involved in adoption and foster care have lamented the lack of African American homes to place children, who are disproportionately African American. The barriers to such homes includes economic requirements that eliminate many African American households. The addition of a marriage preference would add an even larger barrier since it could eliminate even more possible placements.

Is it racism to suggest that we should not create unneccesary barriers for African American children into African American homes???

What else can you call the view that even more important than their having married parents is for black children to be with their own kind?

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:26 PM
Marriage & Family

A Tally of Power

James Glassman has put together an interesting assessment of conservatives' percentage of control of some of the nation's most powerful institutions:

At the Capitol, the procession’s starting point, Republicans hold a 10-seat majority in the Senate and a solid grasp, for the 10th year in a row, on the House. The majority of governors, including those of the four largest states, are Republican, and the GOP controls most state legislatures.

Most significantly, Americans, by a 3 to 2 margin, identify themselves as conservatives rather than liberals.

The American left — liberalism, collectivism, statism, New Dealism (call it what you want) — remains firmly in charge of most powerful U.S. institutions. Here is a brief review of 10 of them, along with my rough estimate, by percentage, of conservative influence.

Blogs haven't yet made the cut, by the way.

(via Patrick Sweeney)

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

The latest Notes & Commentary essay by Maureen Mullarkey is "Provocations," reviewing Jack Levine at DC Moore Gallery, Vincent Smith at Alexandre Gallery, Robert Bauer's drawings at Forum Gallery.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:16 AM
Visual Art

January 23, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 3 (p. 38-43)

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

D. woke frightened and sat bolt-upright supported by her arms, one of which had not yet awakened and so buckled. As she lay on her side, her heart beat like crazy, and she panted at the scattered remains of her nightmare. She had always believed that dreams should be taken flippantly, if not altogether dismissively, but of these dreams of hers she did not know what to make.

She had begun the evening, as it seemed, naked in a white world, though wrapped in silvery cellophane with malenky little flowers trapped between her skin and the plastic. Writhing and gasping for breath, she got only the smallest sniff of pollen, and this got her to sneezing. With each sneeze and then gasp combination the wrap around her head loosened, dropping off in little slivers. The piece that covered her ears fell away, and she could hear a single piano all around, and she was very pleased and proud and feeling intelligent-like to be able to give a name to the music, though she had to admit that it was one of the more famous works by one of the more famous composers — the first movement of Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata (Opus 13 in c-minor, although this she did not know), very dark and passionate. In her wrapped-up dream, and wrapped in sheets on her bed, she flopped like a fish on the deck of some very cushy cushy like ship until two very soft doves came to rest on her ears, and these were really the mattress on the left and pillow on the right. All peaceful now, she rolled over and the birds flap flap flapped away, letting in the music. But this time it was all nice and calm, being the beautiful second movement.

Out of the white around her, which she realized was only a thick thick fogiwog, came walking statues of men in the height of ancient Roman fashion, followed by a man she knew, though she could not recall ever seeing a picture of him, was P. B. Shelley, the poet, with long dainty scissors in his dainty hands. Off with the cellophane, and under was a real sharpy evening gown, and on with the dance! A twirling and a dipping in a slow sleepy two step, and then a faster but still sohlenumkuous waltz. When the movement ended, Peebee stepped back and clapped and like bowed as if to say, "Thank you for the dance, my lovely."

Then the music was very sad but skorry, or quick, and D. saw that her gown was now all grazzy and ripped, and her not looking much like a princess, but more like a peasant. Just then the piano started to swell and grow-like, and this seemed as if it was meant to introduce an army of little fairies without wings, who all linked arms to dance a jig around her feet. Suddenly, the fairies or elves made to grab at her, so she just stepped real easy over them and started to run. Another crash of the piano is what finally woke her up.

But the piano was still going on with its song, and she was quite sure now that she was awake, so she snatched up an ample white robe that was lying on a chair at the foot of her bed. She tugged on the door, but it wouldn't open until she unlocked it with the key that she had left in the hole.

Out on the balcony, she noticed that the light that came into the courtyard was that colorless white or gray dim twilight before dawn comes with its flaming ball. A thin ground mist lay above the grass like dust on a carpet and twirled about the maroon-slacks-covered legs of a young man at the piano under the willow, his longish hair swinging here and there in front of his eyes in time with the music. Just then, from the perpendicular side of the courtyard, on the balcony outside his room, John shouted down through the empty willow at the pianist:

"Alex! Damn it, there are people sleeping up here!"

Alex, as was apparently his given name, looked up, not at John, which would have required a standing and a ceasing of the playing, but at D. Something in his eyes, all radiant green like puddles of leaky antifreeze, sent little lizards running up her spine as he played the final downward scale and chord.

Jumping up, he knocked loose the mast, and the lid of the piano slammed shut with a loud Crash! As he disappeared into the ballroom, D. noticed that his shirt was all chalky and frilly like a pirate's. John shrugged his shoulders in a silent guffaw and went back into his room. D. returned to hers puzzled, turning the key in the door behind her.

She tightened her robe and lay on the bed without any inclination toward sleep. Very strange was all this, indeed! A piano player up and stroking away before the sun was full on the horizon. An old man who promised fires and food delivering only brandy, fake eggs, and stale toast the night before. But the room to which he had led her once his persistent talking had begun to obviously drain her of consciousness was pleasant enough, when finally she was taken to it.

She sat up and looked around. The walls were covered with an old and peeling patterned paper that had faded to a dull pink. Opposite the entrance was a window, draped with an ancient dark green curtain, looking out into a gnarling mesh of branches, the closest of which had grown so near that a strong wind might send it crashing into the room. There were no closets nor wardrobes nor dressers. Aside from the bed and chair against the eastern wall, a free-standing mirror and a desk touching the western were the only furnishings. On the desk, thrust into an ornate silver candelabra, was the candle with which John had guided her the night before.

Next to the candle was a neatly folded white dress that D. had not noticed before, though she was sure that she could not have missed it. In fact, she was positive that she had thrown her own clothes, which had actually dried before she had had the opportunity to ask for new ones, on that exact spot. But she had locked the door. Yes, she had just unlocked it to get out. Well, John would have a key, I'm sure, she thought, and another shiver shook at the thought of him standing over her while she slept.

"That's it. I'm out of here," she said out loud, springing from the bed.

The dress was of an out-dated fashion, but was very pretty nonetheless. Not too frilly, but with a lovely cut: the kind of getup people are only looking for excuses to wear. She slipped it over her head and shoulders. Looking in the mirror, D. thought that she now looked fit, in style and era, to dance with Shelley in the Spring English country side.

Forgetting for a moment her predicament, she giggled to herself and was about to invite her reflection to the ball when she got the strong feeling that somebody was watching her from behind and thought she saw but the slightest of shadows in the glass. She spun and found herself alone, but her desire to leave the place at once became a desperate need, and she fled the room.

Padding quietly past John's room — she had not wanted to take the iron staircases for fear of bumping into that Alex fellow — she made her way as quietly as possible down the front stairs, across the entrance hall, and out the creechy protesting front door.

Outside, the cool air slid its fingers under her dress and up her legs indecent-like and the skin goosed up all over her body. Crossing the damp dewy lawn, she cursed having no shoes for her feet, but pushed on through the bushes from which she had emerged the night before. Once out of sight of the house, and in the new world of like trees all lonely and lovely and naked, she listened to hear the shoom of the stream, but heard it not. She glanced around and picked a way that looked right and started off in a rapid march.

As she walked, the forest around her began to make strange sounds, and she told herself it was just the trees and the earth and the wee-little animals all waking up and rubbing their woodsy eyes and nothing to get all poogly about. But when the thicket thickened so did her fear do the same, and she imagined she heard first a swish swish swish from the left, and then a quick swoosh swoosh swoosh from the right. Not wanting to lose her composure, but not really caring if she did, being all on her oddy knocky and all (she hoped), she started to run, keeping a very careful glaz on the ground for roots and such, but not really noticing the little branches and twigs that were whipping at her bare arms.

Soon came a gurgle gurgle that would be the treacle of the creek. She quickened her step in that direction, and all around her was like a whispering of like filthy slovos, as she fancied, though it was only windy shushing. But then, with the treacle becoming more like a quiet roar, she heard sure the cracking of a breaking branch and faltered. Whipping her head to and fro, she turned and ran contrary to the sound.

The shushing of the wind began forming slow and slurred and breathy words, all around like coming from the air itself, though none with which she was familiar with.

Just my mind hearing nonsense that isn't really there. Probably the wind, she thought, but ran a bit faster.


These were starting to sound like words she might know, some of them, so she knew she wasn't verily by her lonesome. Through the greening brown vesches and mist, she saw a twinkling of glass, and there was her car. She made for it real skorry, but from behind came a chumble chumble and a ringaling. Turning, she saw that Alex veck holding out her keys and making them glitter and clang by twirling the ring about his finger.

"What's it going to be then, eh?" he asked, like leering like.

But answer not did she, just by dashing off sidelong only responded. From behind, a little smeck and then the sound of chasing footsteps. And then a voice singing gromky-like, almost shouting at the peak of its goloss, and this melody she knew to be of the same composer as the sonata, but this time his Ninth Symphony:

Freude, shöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,

A branch or rock scraped at her ankle and she stumbled anxiously.

Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

The goloss stopped, and hope of hopes maybe so the singer did, but then, and closer still, started up again, so she thought maybe his hands were near touching her shoulders and clawing at her trailing skirt in time to the melody:

Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt;

Panting, gasping, veering right, then leftward D. cut suddenly.

Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

And then there was like a leaping sound and crash, Alex was on her back, and her face down in the cold dirt. Laughing, he forced her over and like straddled her with his knees, all the time humming the tune of poor Ludwig Van who never did anything to anybody but give them music. He rip rip razrez skvatted tearing like at her dress. She slipping and slithering. Up went his arm to tolchock her hard on the litso. She twisted and pushed and kicked and clawed and pushed and kicked.

"Oh my merzky yarbles!" he shouted, falling over and like grabbing at his crotch, and she was free and running.

She ran and ran until she hadn't heard anything for some time but the bushes and branches bouncing into their natural places behind her and was turning her head to look back when she hit hard into grasping arms.

Is a "Clarification" Always "Backpedaling"?

Joe Gandelman, linked on Instapundit, points to a Washington Post article, about reaction to the inaugural address and some response from the White House, and asks:

Did Lincoln's, JFK's, FDR's, Ronald Reagan's, Dwight Eisenhowers, Bill Clinton's advisors have to do this?

I'd wager that similar pieces could be found (albeit lacking this revolutionary Internet thing to take the spin and run with it), but I'll leave it to others to answer the historical question. In fact, I'll add my own question to willing researchers' list: Did Lincoln, JFK, FDR, Reagan, Eisenhower, and Clinton face a media environment in which one of the country's by-far most significant newspapers would actually print a sentence such as the following?

In the 21-minute speech, Bush mentioned neither Iraq nor terrorism but defined what he called a generations-long struggle to encourage democracy to make America safe from terrorist attack.

One hears the echo of that clamorous parsing whereby Bush was found to have somehow conveyed that attack from Iraq was "imminent" even as he argued that we shouldn't wait until attack was imminent. Now, apparently, that wily Texan can somehow fail to mention terrorism even as he defines a policy "to make America safe from terrorist attack."

I may be predisposed to side with the President, here, but it seems a bit harsh to decry "a failure of... clear communication of a message," in Gandelman's words, when advisors find it necessary to explain that statements do not mean the opposite of what they say.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:45 PM

January 22, 2005

Beginning Somewhere

Well, I can certainly relate to this:

There is a saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. The converse is also true. If God wants to make you laugh, he will tell you his plans for you. On April 4, 1999, at the Easter Vigil, I was received into the Catholic Church. Just a couple of years before that, if a prophet had told me that I would rejoice on entering the Church or that tears would stream down my cheeks as I went to my first confession, I would have told him that he was gravely mistaken.

I was at the apogee of my conservatism based on Randian positivism. To me, radical selfishness was the highest virtue. The pinnacle of individualism and being a self-made man were my highest ideals. The natural virtues helped to modify this idealistic positivism toward how I related with others, but it was not enough. My nose had long before achieved orbit as I looked down at those poor superstitious mortals who still believed in hunter-gatherer myths such as God.

Thus begins Jeff Miller's "conversion story." I find such pieces always worth reading — familiar and inspiring.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:38 PM | Comments (1)

Involved Father Good, No Father Fine?

D.C. lawyer and author Lee Waltzer had an interesting exchange with Maggie Gallagher on Marriage Debate last week on the topic of preference for married couples in adoption (read down from here). In the midst of the back-and-forth, Waltzer made a statement that resonates oddly:

I think one thing that you ignore in these discussions is how much our concepts of parenting and parenthood are indeed social constructs. The way we raise children, and relate to them, today is much different from a century or two ago, let alone across cultures. There are plenty of mothers out there who do not ascribe to "traditional" concepts of motherhood, and the same goes for fathers and fatherhood -- this is a good thing actually. It's only a few decades back that fathers had very little to do with raising children whereas today, it is socially expected for fathers to be involved.

The post in which this generalization appears begins with the minimization of a belief that isn't appreciably different:

There are some situations where a child would definitely benefit from having a mom AND a dad.

Is it a good thing that paternal involvement is expected, or are there only "some situations" in which a father is even necessary? My sense is that there's more to this juxtaposition than I've managed to unravel, but even at first glance, it demands clarification.

Rational conservatives have no illusion that parenting and parenthood cannot be constructed in various ways, but that fact tells us nothing about what the various results will be — or even which results we ought to prefer. Since mutable social constructs affect us all — guiding most especially those without the background to comprehend or the resources to accommodate permutations — it behooves us to avoid justifying effects that are merely acceptable by citing contradictory effects that are desirable.

In other words, it may be the case (although I'm not entirely convinced) that fathers of old were significantly less involved in their children's lives. It may also be the case (although I'm far from convinced) that some children experience only limited harm for having lacked fathers altogether. However, when judging differences between the here-and-now and "a century or two ago, let alone across cultures," we must consider the possibility that fathers who there-and-then would have been inadequately involved are now simply gone, and that change has wrought only incremental increases among the class of fathers who were already involved.

Change is not always "a good thing actually."

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:20 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Business Decisions Without Consequence

A recent George Will column makes points advisedly incorporated in the discussion about balancing the market and the government:

Three decades ago sociologist Daniel Bell postulated the "cultural contradictions of capitalism.'' He meant that capitalism, by its success, subverts its cultural prerequisites. At first, capitalism depended on a Protestant asceticism -- thrift, deferral of gratification, industriousness. But capitalism produces wealth, and a shift from production to consumption -- the marketing of hedonism -- as the economy's motor. The banishment of asceticism by acquisitiveness means the systematic inflammation of appetites and the undermining of stern capitalist virtues. ...

Market forces, including the gales of globalization, prod capitalist entities, in their pursuit of efficiencies necessary for survival, to shed pensions. This heightens the entire public's sense of insecurity. But the welfare state exists to assuage insecurities. So this dynamic of capitalism draws the economy deeper into regulation, overruling market forces that make possible capitalism's rational allocation of wealth and opportunity. Hence capitalism's dynamism, a virtue which entails insecurity, reduces capitalism's virtues.

We place a great deal of weight on comfort and security in our society, and our doing so speaks well of us as a people. Nonetheless, in succeeding in our intentions, we're losing a sense of hardship's value. Even as I strive to claw my way out of them, I can see how my own financial difficulties have been to my benefit in other, more-important ways than laying a foundation for economic gain. Assuming my family and its members survive the strain, I've no doubt I'll one day look back on this time as having been for the best.

Apart from general principles, Will's column is particularly relevant to the discussion on Dust in the Light because it deals with the U.S. government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which insures companies pension programs:

The PBGC is taking over the pilots' pension plan of United and will soon have all of US Airways' pensions, just as in recent years it took over many from the steel industry. Three other airlines are in bankruptcy court to dissolve imprudent labor contracts. No legacy airline can compete with another that has dumped its pension burdens in the government's lap.

Seeking to protect workers who've invested their lives in organizations that could cease to exist before retirees do, the government has simultaneously protected companies from their own imprudent commitments (and unions from their inclination to push for them). It's probable that there are limitations that mitigate matters somewhat, but from the public's point of view, it appears that companies have essentially negotiated a public benefit.

I've no justification for differing with Will's suggestion that the "PBGC probably is necessary." The difficulties of balance, however, illustrate just how many angles must be considered when attempting to soften that cold, hard marketplace.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:30 PM

Those Forbidden by Something Other than Law

In addressing David Fried's couching of the same-sex marriage debate in terms of employment benefits, I focused on the perceived "unfairness" to other relationship types that would still be barred from marriage (e.g., son and mother). But what about relationship types that aren't barred from marriage by law? Keep this sentence from Fried in mind for what follows:

If marriage is available to all, then it is perfectly permissible to discriminate against those who choose not to formalize their relationships.

So, in a land of pre-nups and no-fault divorce, what keeps couples who can legally marry — roommates, friends, business partners — from doing so to procure benefits? I suppose some do (the storyline is particularly prominent in the context of immigration), but it certainly isn't common. Why? Because our culture still holds the male-female relationship in suspicion of romance. One wouldn't have to look long within the pop culture for evidence that this is true, but the evidence probably lies even more handily among the things we all just know.

Opposite-sex marital fraud lies behind high cultural barriers. Thousands of years of social development just tell us that it's wrong. Consequently, even if such marriages of convenience are entered, only with difficulty will the couple's acquaintances construct an impression of the marriage that doesn't align it as much as possible with what marriage simply means beyond its definition.

Approaching from another angle, non-romantic opposite-sex relationships are already suspect. Male-female roommates live under the expectation of "sexual tension," and even where it is truly absent, the presumption of it requires them to be deliberate in the way in which they present themselves. Entering into fraudulent marriage purely for benefits would surely overwhelm all assurances that the marriage doesn't mean anything.

With the introduction of same-sex marriage, however, only two apparent possibilities exist: either the marriages will not have the cultural barriers to fraud, or all same-sex relationships must become held in suspicion of romance. With the first possibility, marriage would become merely a way to extend to a roommate or friend benefits that otherwise would seem to go to waste. The second possibility involves nothing less than the deterioration of deep friendship as a relationship type.

Given the disproportion of heterosexuals to homosexuals, I suspect that the former would prevail. And as I suggested in the comment section the last time I wrote along these lines, I just don't see any stigma sticking to buddy marriages and divorces. Their meaning and purpose would be clear: to formalize non-romantic relationships for material gain.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:17 AM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

January 21, 2005

The Words We Need

Via Michelle Malkin, we find the following paragraph from Jihad Watch:

The Armanious family had inspired several Muslims to convert to Christianity — or thought they had. These converts were actually practicing taqiyya, or religious deception, pretending to be friends of these Christians in order to strengthen themselves against them, as in Qur'an 3:28: "Let believers not make friends with infidels in preference to the faithful -- he that does this has nothing to hope for from Allah -- except in self-defense."

The striking thing is that Muslims have a word to describe such deceit. As with so much in Islam, however, taqiyya is so mired in spin and sectarianism that well-meaning Westerners can be placated, even as extremists use the language of war. Reading the definition page for "taqiyya" on AnsweringIslam, a site for "Christian-Muslim Dialogue," one gets the sense that the practice of religious deception is restricted to Shi'a Muslims and is used only defensively and in extreme circumstances — "only when one fears for one's life, the lives of one's family members, or for the preservation of the faith." Look elsewhere, and it appears that the "preservation of the faith" clause stretches quite easily.

Cliff May has a Scripps Howard piece discussing "how effectively our enemies have learned to meld actions, words and images into weapons." In this, he includes such things as lies about Jews' culpability for everything and anything and the demoralizing images of hostages being beheaded. It would seem that there's another aspect, though, that turns the various subtexts of religious words into disorienting cover.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:41 PM
Middle East

When Principles Skirt Politics

I don't wish to drive away a new reader — particularly one with whom I've fundamental disagreements, but who seems willing to engage in straightforward discussion — and I hope I will not do so with this post. Be that as it may, Norm (aka "reality based") has left a comment that lends itself to an analysis that is worth sharing on the main blog. You may read the post and the appended conversation at that link, but I've culled out the text here:

The reason that I believe the government is a better entity [than "the market"] to make such decisions is because I believe in democracy - in government of the people, by the people and for the people. In other words, I believe that we the people should make decisions about such things ( and yes, the media is the topic at hand here, but I am personally more concerned about the other issues I mentioned) - and I believe that in a democracy, the government is the means through which the people decide such things.

We the people, speaking and acting through our elected representitives, can consider more factors when making such decisions than does "the market". The only factor in the impersonal decisions of the market is money. ...

I am not nearly as angry and sad about the possibility of children hearing a "dirty" word or seeing an exposed breast. I am angry and sad about the millions of children growing up in poverty, even though they live in the richest country in the world. I am angry and sad about the children who can't afford to see a doctor or a dentist or even to have enough food to eat. I am angry and sad that a great "Christian" president would call ketchup a vegetable in order to spend less money on school lunches for children who don't have access to adequate nutrition. I am angry and sad that we always seem to find the money to build more prisons, yet we are so miserly with the money that we spend on schools. ...

Access to food and medical care are life and death issues, access to quality education is a life determining issue; I just don't see that swear words or exposed breasts are anywhere close on that scale of importance.

And again: if you are so offended by such things (as I am by other aspects of popular media) I challenge you to kick the habit, kill your television. There are far better forms of entertainment, and far more accurate sources of information available. If that is an unthinkable thought for you, ask yourself why. Is there the slightest chance that you are addicted to TV? Are you like one of those smokers who "could quit anytime you want to?" Prove it to yourself; unplug it for a week and see what happens.

I'm going to skip through the myriad differences on specific policies to get to a point that ought to come quickly to mind to anybody who's read much conservative debate: "the market" is precisely "we the people" making decisions. In capitalism, those decisions are expressed in terms of money; in democracy, they are expressed in terms of votes (well, money too, but leave that aside).

A healthy society will determine which of the two systems — or what other system, or what combination — ought to resolve particular problems. The market does disproportionately weight the wealthy, but the government disproportionately weights those with political infrastructure and, especially in pure democracy, those willing to manipulate the ignorant. In short, neither the government nor the market is always the answer, in whole or in part.

Now look at Norm's actual handling of specific issues. Initially, it appears that he wishes to use the government (votes) to help those at a disadvantage in the market (money). But then he laments that we the people, acting through our elected representatives to consider more factors than the market does, enact policies involving prisons and schools with which he disagrees.

(I'll pause on a specific issue just long enough to note that calling our education spending "miserly" is simply erroneous. With this issue, the flaws of government clearly require a market-based correction, albeit not a total one.)

Ultimately, it appears that Norm understands — and approves of — the principles of market-based society. Wherever he places objectionable entertainment on the scale of social importance, Norm's preference for making public decisions via government ought to dictate a government solution to the problem. And yet, his solution in that respect is a market-based one.

Every Computer Has a Calculator

My Northern New Jerseyian mother sent along a paper clipping of a piece from the Bergen Record titled "Bustling blogosphere gets hype, not readers." (That link requires free registration, but Jeff Goldstein has reprinted the whole thing.) The headline goes a bit beyond staff writer Brian Kladko's take, but the article is still a typical mainstream media minimization of blogs:

If you're not keeping a blog, or at least reading them, you're hopelessly behind the times, right?

Well, don't panic. A survey released Sunday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 62 percent of Internet users don't really know what blogs are.

The survey reveals that blogs, as interesting as they may be to journalists, have yet to capture the imagination - or the eyeballs - of the general public.

Presumably as a representative of "the general public," Kladko quotes a local pastor as finding blogs to be "a waste of time" compared with the "insightful commentary" of ye olde media. (A mystery of journalism: how and why do they find such apparently random people?) Mining the article for data, however, one finds that the number of "men on the street" who would give a different answer hardly justifies the suggestion that this "growing diversion" is not attracting readers:

The percentage of Internet users who say they read blogs - short for "Web logs" - jumped from 17 percent in February to 27 percent in November. And the percentage of users who have created blogs rose from 5 percent to 7 percent.

Technorati, a search engine company devoted to blogs, estimates there are more than 5 million blogs on the Web - three times the number in February. ... The Pew survey found that 12 percent of Internet users have posted comments or other material on other users' blogs.

Accepting all of these numbers and mixing in population data (assumed constant), we can calculate back the number of Internet users as 71.4 million and the number of blog readers as 19.3 million, or 6.6% of the population. For a little perspective, the popular vote in the 2004 presidential election totaled 117.9 million, and Bush led by only 3.3 million.

Yes, more people have blogs than decided the popular vote victory. Assuming all bloggers are readers, about three times as many people just read blogs as write them. And the readers are increasing more rapidly than the writers. At what point does this become a more significant activity than a diversion for journalists?

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:01 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

A Personal Top 40

John Hawkins of Right Wing News currently lists Dust in the Light as his 27th favorite blog. To be honest, I find these sorts of lists among the most encouraging. Various rankings are nice to climb, of course, but they don't really define what the ranking means. Personal lists, by contrast, are explicit statements of interest.

I haven't mentioned this lately, if ever, but except inasmuch as I don't update it every week as I intend, my blogroll is always in the order in which I try to make my rounds. Since its purpose is as a reading list for a blogger, however, quality isn't the only consideration. I also try to mix things up with respect to both content and pace — in part for my own enjoyment and in part to ensure variety.

So, stripping out the non-blogs, here is my top 40 (listed, when possible, using the blogger's name rather than the site's). My largest regret, blogwise, is that time constraints usually preclude my reaching the end of even this list, despite my desire to read beyond it so as to raise up blogs that my day is poorer for having not included.

  1. Anchor Rising
  2. The Corner
  3. Glenn Reynolds
  4. Lane Core
  5. Cox & Forkum
  6. Lileks Bleat
  7. Michelle Malkin
  8. Right Wing News
  9. Day by Day
  10. Marriage Debate
  11. Jeff Miller
  12. Marc Comtois
  13. Paul Cella
  14. New England Republican
  15. Patrick Sweeney
  16. Amy Welborn
  17. Michele Catalano
  18. IrishLaw
  19. Paul Griffis
  20. Lisa Griffis
  21. Bill Ardolino
  22. The Volokh Conspiracy
  23. Michael Williams
  24. Power Line
  25. Greg Wallace
  26. Jeremiah Lewis
  27. Fragmenta Philosophica
  28. Off the Record
  29. JunkYardBlog
  30. Townhall's C-Log
  31. Bil Herron
  32. Domenico Bettinelli
  33. Stephen Bainbridge
  34. Arts & Letters Daily
  35. Jon Rowe
  36. Donald Sensing
  37. Charles Hill
  38. Fr. Jim Tucker
  39. Andrew Sullivan
  40. Barbara Nicolosi
Posted by Justin Katz at 3:01 PM | Comments (2)
Bloggers Blogging

Leave Me a Gun and Go Get the Bastards

Citing Richard Clarke, of all people, John Derbyshire argues as follows:

In Clarke's prognostication, Al Qaeda launches a second wave of terrorist attacks on our home soil -- Las Vegas, theme parks, malls, big-city subways, cyberspace, etc. All this triggers a big withdrawal from Iraq. "The army was needed in the subways." Our Iraq effort dwindles to defense of some watchful enclaves. "Our goal now is just to prevent Iraq from becoming a series of terrorist training camps. If the new Iraqi army can't keep the peace among the factions, that's its problem."

If there is a new wave of terrorist attacks on our home ground, I think public opinion will indeed force something like this -- not Euro-style appeasement, but a retreat to a more defensive posture, with much less talk about "bringing democracy" and "helping the Iraqis" (and others).

This underestimates both Americans' tenacity and their intuitive understanding of how problems must be addressed. Without illusion that my inclinations are exactly those of my countrymen, I'd suggest that the slogan that would build after a second wave of terrorist attacks on our soil would be akin to the title of this post: "Leave Me a Gun and Go Get the Bastards."

Appeasement is only the full expression of a trait to which the bulk of Americans simply haven't succumbed, and that only lies as shallow waters for most of the rest: dependency. Americans aren't afraid to fend for themselves if need be. (Considering Derb's recent writings thereon, an interesting angle for further thought would be how this relates to different brands of Christianity.)

Subsequently in the Corner, Jonah Goldberg touched on the aspect of a second wave that Americans would intuitively understand:

Adams' warning about not going abroad in search of monsters to slay is not on point. The monsters came to us. The monsters are still coming to us. In a world which is much smaller and in which our economic interests (and citizens) are everywhere "abroad" really doesn't mean the same thing anymore.

I too hope there's a lot of realism under the rhetoric, but I for one am persuaded by the logic of the "drain the swamps" analogy.

The closeness of "over there" is the key point. It was one thing to concentrate on defending the home front when repelling the enemy meant sending them back overseas, not easily to return. But just as "'abroad' really doesn't mean the same thing" when it comes to our actions elsewhere, it doesn't mean the same thing in reference to the home base of our attackers. Far more likely, therefore, than Americans' yielding to liberals' siren call to close tightly our eyes and keep beneath the blankets would be increasing awareness that the comforts of modern life and the niceties of modern society must be put aside for a time.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:16 AM
Middle East

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "A The Bronwyn Tale," by Andrew McNabb.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:00 AM

A Note to New Readers

Just so's you know: I do write about things not related to marriage. Honestly! There've just been a lot of interesting points reported/written/said on that front, lately. It doesn't help that some of the other posts in my queue, so to speak, will require more time to consider and write than I currently have to spare.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:37 AM
Site-Related Announcements

January 20, 2005

When the Cynical Run the Clinic

Massachusetts lawyer David Fried spends about 400 words spinning a tapestry in which allowing same-sex marriage permits more discrimination against the unmarried, and his argument is worth addressing seriously... until he ends with the following parenthetical quip:

I think that this is exactly what will happen--and I'm in favor of it (if only because, as a straight divorced guy, I don't see why gay people should be exempt from the general misery!)

Here's a statistic I'd like to see: the percentage of heterosexual same-sex marriage supporters who have been divorced. I bet it would be very disproportionately high.

In Fried's case, I don't see how he could better have highlighted that his entire post fails to take seriously the purpose that traditionalists claim for marriage. Fried ignores the justifying intention of the discrimination in order to deliver his clever explanation for maximization of it.

One point that we who oppose same-sex marriage have made again and again is that allowing an expanded circle of relationships into the marital definition dilutes it from within. If, as Fried puts it, allowing same sex-marriage will make it "both permissible and a good idea to discriminate against those who claim societal recognition for their relationships without marrying," it will also make it more difficult to explain to other groups why their brand of relationship cannot cross the line.

Fried's point of view, specifically, is as an employment lawyer, so he couches his thinking in terms of the benefits that corporations offer to their employees. But what are those benefits for, beyond attracting and keeping workers? On what grounds would a corporation object to extending a one-person-only benefit package to an employee and his widowed mother? Surely, if companies have any interest in encouraging marriage beyond merely offering competitive compensation, it's not employees' sex lives, but their stability and access to daily mutual care and support.

Personally, I'm not sure that companies shouldn't offer certain benefits to encourage such things, but I definitely don't want the form that the "societal recognition" takes to be marriage. Rather, employers ought to reserve for that institution some of their influence in order to join the culture, the churches, and the government in securing the longer-term benefits that flow from traditional, lineal families.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:19 PM | Comments (16)
Marriage & Family

Callousness Back Home

Lane Core reports that "the president of the United States laughed & joked — all smiles! — while US soldiers were dying in battle overseas." Not only that, but the Commander in Chief prayed on behalf of the "struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization" (emphasis added).

Wait until the dour media and the ACLU get wind of this!

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:20 PM | Comments (4)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:24 PM

An Ad for Food

Looks like I jumped the gun on that Hunger Site BlogAd. It'll be back in early February. Of course, I encourage you to make it a part of your daily routine, anyway.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:39 AM
Site-Related Announcements

Conversation Among New England Conservatives

Terrorists in the Left's view, Jewish voters, the claims of biological fathers, same-sex marriage, the arts, the Internet, and (of course) the experience of being conservative in New England are all topics of conversation in my interview with Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby over on Anchor Rising.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:33 AM
Bloggers Blogging

What Slippery Slohhhhhhh...

A frightening and-don't-you-forget-it catch by Marriage Debate:

...In response to a student's question about gay marriage, bigamy and polygamy in certain communities, [Nadine] Strossen said the ACLU is actively fighting to defend freedom of choice in marriage and partnerships.

"We have defended the right for individuals to engage in polygamy," Strossen said. "We defend the freedom of choice for mature, consenting individuals."

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:06 AM | Comments (8)
Marriage & Family

Parenthood: All About Me!

Marriage Debate Blog links to a piece in the Washington Post that, in a way typical of the mainstream media on such topics, focuses on the "controversial" aspect of the story in such a way as to skirt deeper problems. It's about gay men paying for children to be created using their own sperm, donated/purchased eggs, and female fetus-carrying units (known colloquially as "surrogate mothers"). Put aside the gay aspect; put aside the implications of wealthy men paying thousands of dollars to twentysomething women for use of their body parts; and see if you can spot the consideration not considered, not able to be obscured with appeals to consent and individual choice, and given but the merest of allusions in the entire piece:

But most of the time, the single gay executive said, becoming a father using his sperm and eggs donated by a 24-year-old woman he met once in a downtown Starbucks to create embryos that were implanted in the uterus of a 22-year-old surrogate mother he barely knows, absolutely seems like the right thing to do.

It was, he said, the culmination of increasingly urgent soul-searching that accelerated as he hurtled toward 50.

I suppose everybody who hasn't yet reached the age is "hurtling toward 50," but it sounds as if this child will — if he or she is lucky — have a nearly 70-year-old single father attending his or her high school graduation. There's a housekeeper and a nanny, but no other parents in the picture at all. Says the father to be: "I want somebody to love me and I want somebody to love."

These articles don't provide enough information (with sufficient credibility) to react too boldly, but there's definitely enough to justify lip-pursing. The father claims that he's "tired of being the star of the show," and he's counting on this leading him "in a different direction." But what about the child? Think first of the role that this child was created to play and second of his or her (apparently) complete isolation apart from this man.

Probably, this "single gay executive" is an extreme example — currently, anyway — but an echo seems inevitable throughout the practice. An ethical mire that requires the involvement of multiple women to fulfill the role of birth mother in order to create children artificially for men who are likely to be older and whose relationships are not geared toward the creation of human life is, well, it's beyond comprehension. Yet, somehow the nation's second paper of record manages to give its piece the feel of a free advertisement for the company of the woman who said the following:

I started off as a single mother by choice, and I don't think my child suffered for it.... I'm a believer in nontraditional families. I think families come in all shapes and sizes.

I, I, I, I.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:03 AM | Comments (176)
Marriage & Family

January 19, 2005

Just a Matter of Strategy

To be honest, as I finished up my latest NRO piece between fixing breakfasts and changing diapers, I wondered whether the mini-controversy over President Bush and the Federal Marriage Amendment was already fading. Well, the Washington Post apparently believes that it isn't (or maybe that it shouldn't).

My fellow Anchor Rising contributor Marc Comtois emailed me today that he'll be curious to see how my thoughts play with conservatives preferring a different approach. First, I'd suggest that it would be extremely detrimental for infighting about strategy to be overemphasized within the movement to protect marriage. That said, a comment from Tom Minnery, public policy VP for Focus on the Family, speaks to the essential disagreement:

"The president is willing to spend his political capital on Social Security reform, but the nation is greatly conflicted on that issue," said Minnery... "The nation is united on marriage. The president's leadership is desperately needed."

It seems to me that we most need leadership where there is a need for action but no consensus — where the President is going to take hits for making a decision in any direction. Minnery mentions Social Security; I would highlight areas more closely related to the marriage debate, such as changing the character of the judiciary. I hope we can all agree that it is more important for the definition of marriage to be preserved than for it to be preserved explicitly. (Of course, making noise now, as many conservatives are doing, can only help to ensure that the President's judicial appointments aren't woefully disappointing.)

Now, having touched on strategic differences, perhaps I can bring us all around to mutual head-shaking at the other side by offering this instance of a particularly annoying manifestation of media bias at the WaPo (emphasis added):

The president is sensitive to the concerns of social conservatives and has tried to reassure them over the past two days that he remains as committed as ever to outlawing same-sex marriage, according to White House officials.

Yeah... I'm sure that's how those White House officials put it. Outlawing something that has never been legal and that DOMA already explicitly forbids at the federal level.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:38 PM | Comments (2)
Marriage & Family

Giving a Name to the Orientation

The comments to my post about Andrew Sullivan's then-and-now rhetoric have taken a turn that I didn't anticipate, but that merits a response. To get right to it: I don't think homosexuality is a disease. Disease implies a cure, and I think such a thing is neither possible nor desirable to seek.

Most folks who don't believe that homosexuality should be "favorably acknowledged" will likely agree that "disorder" is more apt. This is not the least because, rather than a "cure," it implies "reordering," suggesting a painstaking process that, by necessity, entails voluntary participation on the part of the subject.

Over the years, the gay movement has woven counterculturalism into its self image, so pushing too strenuously for participation in, essentially, deconstruction of their own identity only affirms gays' inclination to withdraw. That's the tough part of the discussion (and it ought to be a tough discussion), and in my view, it's the best argument for same-sex marriage.

Of course, I believe that the argument is still inadequate, given current circumstances (in part because of that countercultural streak).

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:52 PM | Comments (5)

Clicks Can Save Lives

The Hunger Site and all of the related pages have been part of my daily online routine for years — ever since I paused, in my gray-walled cubicle, to read an email from my aunt in late '99/early '00. From the very beginning, the main page of Timshel Arts has had a link. It still amazes me that the Internet can turn virtually no effort into resources for people who need help.

So I'm thrilled to offer the site BlogAd space here on Dust in the Light to spread the word further. Please make it a part of your own daily online routine. And if you stop by here, first, to click through, your time will help one more family in need.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:56 PM
Site-Related Announcements

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:18 PM

Memo to the President

"Lukewarm" support for the FMA is just fine, Mr. President. See my piece today on NRO for details.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:53 PM
Marriage & Family

January 18, 2005

Like to Like, Like to Unlike

Although I'm sure I've heard generally about racial considerations in adoption, I found Michael Triplett's comments on Marriage Debate Blog startling:

It is interesting that [Maggie Gallagher] point[s] to Utah as a state with a married parent preference [for adoption], since it is a state that is probably able to avoid one of the biggest consequences of this policy: the disparate impact it would have on African Americans. A "married couple" preference could be disastrous when it comes to placing African American children into African American homes. There are already significant barriers to placing children into African American homes, many of them economic. When you add the additional barrier of preferring married couples--which are less common among African Americans--you suddenly have even greater problems with placing African American children--often the largest group of adoptable children--into homes of the same race.

Apart from its naked racism, reference to this particular consequence ("one of the biggest") brings into a stark light the muddle that is the race–sexual orientation comparison. (External context, including Gallagher's piece kicking the discussion off makes the same-sex marriage debate relevant.)

Suppose I were to suggest that every effort ought to be made to place heterosexual children with heterosexual parents. Gay rights activists might note that many, or even most, of the children up for adoption won't be aware of their orientation, so segregation would be just about impossible. Well, that's certainly sound thinking, and I happen to agree. But shouldn't the same principle apply elsewhere in the marriage debate — as with the SSM-supporter talking point that we allow infertile couples to marry? They generally won't know that they're infertile, much less completely sterile, until they've attempted to have children.

That's probably not the best example that I could have used, but I'm tired. And I'm still reeling from pondering a perspective that sees the assertion that children need mothers and fathers as discriminatory because it fails both to integrate by orientation and to segregate by race.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:59 PM | Comments (9)
Marriage & Family

Songs You Should Know 01/18/05

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Johnathon Livingston Seagull" by You. A quirky song from an eclectic band that somehow puts a dent in the bitter cold of winter.

"Johnathon Livingston Seagull" You, Alternative Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download from Freedom from the Known.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:35 PM | Comments (1)

Separate but Equal Opinions

Perhaps one of the most overlooked revolutionary features of blogs is the near universal maintenance of archives. Something sound a bit odd? Look it up; with the right keywords and a few minutes to spare, you'll have an answer. Moreover, the capability is free for everybody, unlike the official media searches. Among the more beneficial effects of archives — one would hope — is to teach bloggers to be careful about what they write.

Earlier today, Jonah Goldberg mentioned the unwillingness of Martin Luther King III to endorse gay marriage, quipping "I guess he's a bigot." To Jonah, Andrew Sullivan responded (emphasis his):

What King actually said was: "I think we need to find a way to honor partnerships, but I don't think that marriage needs to be redefined." I don't know anyone who would describe that position - which is John Kerry's - as a bigot. Now, opposing any recognition or protection for gay couples is a wholly different matter.

Well. To the archives:

If you're going to give gay couples the same rights as straight couples, why are you calling it something different? If both can drink the same water, why a different water fountain?

One suspects the water fountain imagery would have a particular resonance with MLK III.

(For runners up from Sullivan's archive, see here and here.)

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

January 17, 2005

A Night Note

Very sorry for the lack of posts today. First, I shoveled the driveway. Next, I did a big loop of the state of Rhode Island (no laughter from the big-state people, please), making job-search–related stops. Home again, I made a large number of job-search–related calls. Then, I reviewed the answers to an interview that I'll post on Anchor Rising later this week. Now, I'm working on a short piece for publication elsewhere.

As always, however, I've much that I want to post. I'll get to it... eventually.

January 16, 2005

But the Debate Rages On

Whether or not the optimistic perspective expressed in the previous post is justified, we who oppose the redefinition of marriage can't put aside our arguments. Andrew Sullivan may sing in soothing tones when he writes (emphasis his):

[Same-sex marriage advocates] should refrain from any constitutional or legal challenge to DOMA for the foreseeable future (something I've urged for a long time now). We should also refrain from any attempt to force any state to recognize a gay marriage from another state (of course that's different from a state voluntarily recognizing such marriages).

But we on the other side should not fail to point out that Sullivan's rhetoric is such that a state's recognition of another state's marriages is "voluntary" if its courts decide that it must recognize them. Indeed, both sentences that I've quoted essentially advise the same thing. By Sullivan's definition, a state isn't "forced" to recognize marriages unless federal courts do the forcing, and that isn't possible unless they strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

That is the echo in President Bush's hollow evasion about "waiting to see whether or not DOMA will withstand a constitutional challenge." Sullivan skirts the reality of the issue when he explains:

There is no need for the FMA in any conceivable sense while DOMA is in place; and DOMA itself merely underlines the existing reality that no state is obliged by law or the constitution to recognize the civil marriages in any other state.

The "conceivable sense" (whatever that means to Sullivan) in which the FMA is necessary is that the destruction of DOMA and the nationalization of same-sex marriage would likely come in the same ruling: If DOMA were to fall to claims of "equal rights," or to assertions that the Full Faith and Credit clause applies to marriage, this argument against the FMA is akin to suggesting that, in the Sixties, there was no need for an amendment securing the illegality of on-demand abortion as long as the Supreme Court didn't find a right to abortion in the Constitution.

And most of all, let's not forget that Sullivan and other savvy gay rights activists are not the sole sources of activity, nor are even they, themselves, bound by things they say when circumstances call for lulling melodies.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:57 PM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

So Saith the President, So Saith... Not I

All we need to know lies in the mis-start at the beginning of the President's response:

The Post: Do you plan to expend any political capital to aggressively lobby senators for a gay marriage amendment?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think that the situation in the last session -- well, first of all, I do believe it's necessary; many in the Senate didn't, because they believe DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] will -- is in place, but -- they know DOMA is in place, and they're waiting to see whether or not DOMA will withstand a constitutional challenge.

Well, I sincerely hope he's keeping in mind the amount of capital — of any kind — social conservatives will expend on furthering his agenda if he abandons us. Yeah, yeah, we've got nowhere else to go, and we can keep advocating for the FMA because we think it's the right thing to do, regardless. If, however, the big story of the next four years is the strength or weakness of the intra-Republican bond, this won't help.

But we should keep in mind that the political landscape is volatile, right now, and we're better off with a President who is tepidly protective of traditional marriage than one who is implicitly unconcerned with redefinition of it. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the President has to take a broader view of the issues. For instance, installing judges who will refrain from writing elite social preferences into the Constitution will require quite a bit of political capital, and the President is more directly involved in that process; the other two branches of government are the important ones on the marriage front.

Therefore, unless I'm being unreasonably sunny, Andrew Sullivan's happiness with the President is good news. For one thing, I'd wager that we'll see less of this sort of negative hysteria from him. More generally — and acknowledging that political posturing is no doubt part of Bush's calculus — it seems obvious that a President who is potentially in a position to reshape the Supreme Court would not want simultaneously to be the most visible representative of a cause that a not-insignificant, vocal, and influential portion of the citizenry decries as tantamount to theocracy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM | Comments (5)
Marriage & Family

Exposition, Chapter 2 (p. 29-37)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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"Properly approached from the east, the darkly looming homestead presents the traveler with a verandah, slanted slightly with age as if in a scowl, and not a single plant that hangs from the beams looks more than a bead of sickly green-brown saliva frozen lustily upon the upper lip of a letch. The windows on this side, denied even sunrise by the ever drawn curtains and bitter for their lessened view, seem to glare down in jealous scorn at any creature with the ability to shift perspective.

"When one ascends from the lawn to the buckled steps, the ear is accosted by groans of agony, and it is a fortitudinous traveler indeed who dares unaccompanied to cross the protesting boards to the double doors. Progressing nearer the entrance, a wooden sign, delicately carved but time-hardened, comes into view."

All my means are sane, My motive and my object mad.

"Woe to thee shouldst thou stop to consider. Best here to move on, to rush, and thus to pass the conundrum — to know not what lurks in the heart of the engraver. Enter, and do so quickly because you can feel eyes in the trees. With walls near, the spirits who've followed thus far find a new, desperate confidence and close in. So enter. And ignore the creaking of the hinges and the wild wind which whips through the aperture, for once shutting the door on the tornadoed rustling, you may yet find a mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve about you, deep inside you may still discover an eternal mildness of joy."

"Here above, the ceiling hovers, slipping, across from the door, into an accentuated statement of space broken only by a chandelier dangling down above some stairs, encandled for there is no electricity within these confines but for the occasional flash of lightening. Bathed in the murky illumination of a stained-glass window, the stairwell leads abreast the far wall, curving counterclockwise within the semicircular niche to the landing overhead.

"Though further mention of it will surely be made later by those more qualified to discuss it, the mosaic glass levies a more enumerative account presently as some certain significance lurks in all things set apart and sanctified, as if misplaced. Much as in nature, when the sun goes down behind this window, it illuminates three glass mountains, clearly minted after the Catskills surrounding. On the leftmost peak, an owl looks across at the steeple which protrudes from the rightmost. The central summit, somewhat lower than the others, supports a clear circle of convex glass directly in the middle, which completes the trinity but once a year when it catches the sun and sends it radiating in a single spotlight, illuminating the entrance and darkening the entire room by contrast.

"Through an opening in the left wall, an elegant table that once served in recreation of luminaries of every profession, each hanging by another's words, is covered with papers strewn about haphazardly, and the dozen chairs, for all their lush velvet luxury, are now host only to boxes of random books and papers on arts and sciences of all types, as if promoted to supporting the stores of ideas rather than the medium through which they are often discharged.

"Across the entrance hall from the dining room, right of the stairs, two swinging doors lead to and from a kitchen, in which a thorough search might still find evidence of dishes once prepared to please the palates of any and all resident intelligencia.

"Stepping from the front door, when but a spine's length within, you may sneeze — and do so uncontrollably until you've stumbled a few feet farther into the room. But do you notice that the boards on which you stand are particularly loose and pliant? No? Well, would that you were provided a key to the more interesting aspects of the house, for the outburst's explanation is no farther than beneath your toes.

"Lean down and the effect is heightened; stand up and you are more distant from the truth: for underfoot are the bones of the first wanderer to cross this threshold. A man who took not the dry-boned hint and laid his own beneath the very noses of every visitor. One morning, upon waking from a restless slumber, he felt the approach of that cold acquaintance who but visits once, and then only to pay his respects. Old as he was, so long linked to life, he wouldn't have aught to do with anything that looked like death. No. No coffin for this old soul. His place, he knew, was as usher, and so tearing up the boards before the door, he awaited his settlement.

"Often would he pass the better part of a day leaning back in his trench, but as no visitors were quick to arrive, and because a man who suspects any wrong in a matter in which he be already involved insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself, he drew the wooden slabs in above him. Thus lying did he spend a quarter moon, until, deciding that time was poorly wasted in this fashion, he resolved to pass on forthwith.

"How the wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable — deep memories yielding no epitaphs. Dear man, if only you'd taken the time to inscribe a plaque in the center of the great hall, then perhaps your company would bow their heads in reverence rather than cursing the sudden onslaught and rushing to surpass your station."

"Onward. Overstep, with the imagined dinner party, the nigh forgotten rabble and pass beneath the stairs. Through a magic portal as if into another world you find an opening. Sparse are the clouds which gather above this central yard, yet tall are the flowers. An odd place for a garden, yes, but odder still for the imposing willow that mourns its enclosure dead center of the courtyard.

"The strange effect is immeasurably heightened because no longer is the way consistently open to the sky. Perhaps it was the aristocratic second denizen who decided to enclose this eye with a glass cataract. Surely it was he who preferred a skylight to illuminate inwards, for his was the type that considers little of value in an outward view. Whatever its origin, the translucent dome was overspread; so, protected from inclemency, you may take the time to look around.

"Fearless of showers, with the space being continuously habitable for the estudious, the perimeter grew shelves upon which sit volumes of literature, each thrice perused: first in black ink marked, then in blue. The third examination, when so deserving, is underscored in green, until scarcely a word remains bare. However, and this is truly rare, if an author has fabricated an uncommon amount of insight, his most discerning propositions are emblazoned with a red tetradinal consideration. But cursed be all things which cast man's eyes aloft to the heavens to be scorched, for thus reading, red pencil in hand, while reclining under the glass ceiling, the bejeweled and ofttimes tiaraed mistress of the manor was inadvertently massacred by her progeny, who, offering a billiard ball to the gods from outside of the house, discovered that his youthful reach fell far short, and his mother's vaulted canopy came crashing down.

"The lesson well learned from this tragedy, the house was deserted. Grass sprang up between the shards on the ground, and weeds invaded the garden. Perhaps counseled by some prophetic oracle and encouraged by that inexplicable force of nature called Fate, some future tenant found the ingenuity to contrive a system of translucent plastic sheets which, with the simple turning of a crank, allowed the open air access when tranquil and denied it when acrimony prevailed. Thus did mankind convert the jaws of death into an easy chair, but take care if you tread this carpet unsoled, for still may you be pricked by the conceits of the past."

"Tea time over, take your exit. Traveling along below the second story balconies that shade the archives, letting your fingers only briefly caress the grand piano that stands open to catch the willow's tears, make your way through another portal into a more securely hooded chamber. Here, encompassing the entire width of the western end of the structure, is what once served as the next stop in the recreational series following reclination in the solarium, at the time of day when that indoor-outdoors had lost its direct line to the sun. The only windows are those that look westward down the steep hill at the back of the house (or its front, depending upon your attitude). Some years ago, this wall of panes, as it may be properly called, offered a magnificent view of the sunset, and so the room was a lovely setting for an after dinner soirée. The design, so natural an orifice for the promotion of acoustics, presented a mellifluous resonance for the lovely voices of young maidens in their Summer dresses, and often, were the tune either particularly deserving, or in need, of a rhythm section, the spectators would add their own timpani by tapping their refined leather shoes upon the large black and white marble tiles. Doubtless, it was also here that the dwarves played their somber bout of nine-pins, the rumbling of which lulled Rip Van Winkle into his famous slumber. But with the passage of time, the ever-growing partition of trees had gained a height so as to leave the room in an eternal twilight during those months that generally yield felicity most unhinderedly, forcing those who would watch the sun descend to its evening's rest to rise by means of the two wrought-iron spiral staircases curling steeply up each far corner to the next level. Considering the gloomy aspect which now through most of the day prevails, it seems only natural that even the furniture would have removed itself from this shadow-laden ballroom.

"With every door swung open, and by virtue of the broad hallways that connect the dining room on one end and the kitchen on the other to this side of the house, as well as the openings created by the stairwells, even the most discreet of whispers throughout the building may be discerned by any who might stand gazing out at the foliage from this room. And it was here that a grand, ungodly, god-like man took to fixing himself statuesquely — not so much seeming to think as to feel the world groaning about him. Indeed, if his nose were not nearly pressing up against the glass, irreparably fogging it with the acrid condensation of each breath exhaled, he may have been some ancient biblical pillar turned to salt for his refusal to flee the room at its loss of daylight. Perhaps he stood so still for so long to augment his paltry baseness, thus furthering his infinite inferiority to his young cardinal: hereby, with his subservient relation to a Divine Inert, he ensured his own fame. But still there can be little doubt that this incurable idea of submission often gnawed at his insides, only relieved by the firm belief that, through his constant residency, he was the real owner and commander of this vessel, for it was his very conscience that daily stained the walls. On occasion, he would twist his head as if hailed by some silent spirit, then turn and pad barefootedly, with but the slightest of limps, across the cold and dimple-fissured floor, white robe trailing behind in billows. Returning with a new acquaintance each time this happened, and a human eye in which to look, his purpose was thus renewed and the ballroom would be host only to the occasional flurry of dust.

"In conjunction with the cycles of nature, the company would come and go, leaving John to remove that mask which form and usage insisted he wear to disguise his more private ends, and he would return to the gnarls of trees and marble. Often, at these times, a tear or two would blur his vision, but whether they were for the resumed solitude or the renewed affirmation of his status is impossible to divulge.

"Leave him now. Sunset nears and demands that you climb to its spectacle. Take the left stair. With your hand on the banisters proceed up and ignore the residual sob which explains from behind that, ‘to whom all eternity is but time, all creativeness is mechanical.'"

* * *

"My how the very air changes once the upper chambers have been gained! Across from where you now stand, above the entrance hall, its door accessible from an open hallway, sits the gray dishevelment of John's quarters, rarely visited and so partly free of the dark disposition that his presence might have lain blanket-like over the room. But so must this splotch, this obscurity, be forgiven, as it keeps the two layers in harmony and eases the roamer from the bends.

"Five doors on each side separate John's room from its twin master bedroom on the western side, but these doors are all firmly closed. Allow them to open of their own accord. Were you to pass them by, you would have to walk along a balcony overlooking the courtyard and, thus forced with each movement to be enlightened by the sun (or moon if your cravings are of the midnight sort), would be presented to any who linger yet below. But our path leads up at the moment, and not but for curiosity would you find reason to cross to the darker side of this level.

"Before climbing the last coiling flight, take but a moment to glance, yea briefly lest you be blinded, through the ever-open door to the bedroom with the sunset view. This room, though of the same proportions, is only the more light and airy in contrast to John's across the yard, with broad windows standing watch over both the courtyard and the mountains and another door on the northern side. Were all the windows boarded and the doors forever locked, still would the zephyr send an elfin flourish through the translucent silk canopy around the bed. But as it is, be blessed by the scent of the breeze that caresses your eyes and bids you close them. Ah, turn away newcomer, you are as yet unprepared. Take to the flight."

* * *

"Up, up the foremast of this solidly rooted vessel and through a hatch. Springtime here, the fog lingers to cloud the vision, as ever all clouds choose the loftiest peaks to pile themselves upon. But breaking through to the open parapet and breathing in the purest crystalline air that March has to offer, you find that the sky looks lacquered. Of clouds there are none. Look thee to the horizon, the nakedness of unrelieved radiance, the view infinite in scope. The insufferable splendors of God's throne! The mountains: a picture of their own merit frozen in time, memories to which you may return as oft as you like (damned be those clouds of mutable form). A view as of the ocean, with its hue apt to change, a browned sea of branches beats against the mountainous islets, each haloed from its superimposition over the sun. Whether these were the visions which so captivated the prototypal pioneer will forever remain a mystery, but it cannot be doubted, nor can it be ignored, that from this lucky point of view you will catch passing glimpses of the immortal profiles of whales defined along the undulating ridges.

"Just so, while leaning on his elbows and gazing out at this great gulf, at the time covered in a shroud of dead Winter white, did the young man who carved his name, ‘Nathaniel,' in the stone of the tower, mutter, ‘let this be mine, the Pequod.' Perhaps it is a question whether the mist which consistently lingers by the stair is but a remnant of the semivisible steam produced by this callow hermit's ponderous profundities, for there is none about the mizzen-tower, but it is certain that being left completely to himself at such a thought-engendering altitude the lad tackled greater ruminations than the average youth.

"Many years ago, he arrived as a sireless and damless fugitive on a crisp Christmas morning and proceeded, as if drawn, to this very spot. What'ere his crimes, the icy steps melted to his footfall, and the sky flew open to herald his arrival as he thrust his arms heavenward. He was a child of superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart. All nature's sweet and savage impressions did submit, fresh from her own confiding breast, to his scrutiny. His new life was begun. He learned a bold and lofty language formed from the circumspect and ponderous works to be found downstairs. When his was the sole heartbeat of the manor, he spent many a night-watch beneath the constellations in stillness and seclusion, but as with all men tragically great, his visits became so much the sweeter for their brevity. His became an absentee presence, but still the very walls rang with his resonance. Every lingering vitality owed its debt to him, for just as his first sign of maturity brought the Spring, so did every facet of the house with a need for renovation rush forward in an unabashed flurry to be renewed by his touch."

But these have all been phantoms; now it is night, and the blossoms are sorely wanting Nathaniel's caress. They quiver in expectancy at his approach, only to shy away at the passing of another, an unknown figure.

John sleeps fitfully in his cabin. The woman has drifted off easily behind the closed northern door nearest Nathaniel's empty room, inscribing her essence upon her new chamber, untouched and anonymous in its evenness, with each slumberous turn. But a third, vigilant occupant marks his barefooted strides in the thawing turf of the courtyard. A single night owl coos softly from its perch in the willow. The stranger glances upward into the branches, and the bird takes to its wings.

A cloud passes from the moon, nearly full and bright in its reflection of the sun, and two green eyes peer out at it from behind a shaggy mane of blonde hair. He pauses. From a distance comes a low groan, as if a mountain is inching its way through the waves of a pasture. The restless interloper turns, but winces from a sudden stab at his heel. He reaches down and removes a daggeresque piece of glass.

Holding it up to the moon, he examines it: five inches long and sharp as a razor. His foot will heal; he pockets the shard. Whistling the melody of a well rehearsed choral symphony, he strolls to the old ballroom, where he leaves his trail in warm pellets of blood upon the cold, colorless marble.

The sleepers sing out mildly in unison. But now it is night. Time will roll along. The green eyes stare through the panes at the dark, forbidding trees. Time will roll along. What's to be will be: it's all fixed, all arranged. Then again, perhaps the die is not so surely cast.

What's Troubling You Is the Nature of My Game

In Lane Core's latest edition of Blogworthies, I came across this excellent explanation from Rightwingsparkle:

So this is what I have to say to my Southpark Republican friends. Let me give you a little perspective if faith is not a part of your life. Imagine that someone you love more than anything in this world, your child, is constantly being depicted in a gross or perverted manner in print, TV, and movies. Imagine a show that depicts your child, calling him by the name you have given him, being sexually raped or molested with no hint that there is anything wrong with that. I would think you would be enraged. You would scream from the roof top. ... That is the way religious conservatives feel about this culture. ...

So maybe you Southpark Republicans can be a little more understanding of those of us who rant against the sexualization of our kids, the crudeness of our public airwaves, and the anger and sadness we feel fighting the Golaith of our society who seems to only care about what adults want and not what kid's need.

January 15, 2005

The Kook's Self-Perception

It's a healthy habit to always keep in mind that kooks, generally speaking, probably don't believe themselves to be kooks. You'll get poseurs, of course, but honest-to-goodness kooks think what they're saying is plausible. I find it particularly important to recall this truth when something that I find interesting — provocative, even — generates absolutely no response. You know, sort of like the previous post.

Certainly some thoughts therein sound kooky. But that could be the shorthand that I used to describe a general progress in the future. "Secular nihilism" and "Islamic fundamentalism" are not actual entities battling over the soul of Europe. Scientists aren't (probably) going to begin rounding up fundamentalists and zapping the zeal out of their faith.

That isn't how things that seem kooky but prove true come about; rather, each step looks perfectly plausible — perhaps a stretch, but plausible nonetheless. Imagine scientists isolate the region of the brain that physiologically results in psychological fortification through faith and learn how to manipulate it. At the same time, the demographics of the continent change such that nations finally are forced to discard their multicultural fetish.

The discarding will come with especial ease if unhappy nihilists begin seeking to fill irreligion's gap. Under such circumstances, and given Europeans' leavened version of free speech, it isn't inconceivable that fundamentalism-based actions or declarations could be defined as "extreme" and trigger mandatory treatment. (It would be for the fundamentalist's good, of course.)

This is only one quickly conceived storyline; I'm just speculating... and trying to figure out how far from the kook border I currently stand.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:45 PM | Comments (2)

January 14, 2005

Toward Religious Armor in a Pill

Believers have long wanted science to return to an internal culture with proper respect for religion, but this isn't quite what they've had in mind:

Top neurologists, pharmacologists, anatomists, ethicists and theologians are to examine the scientific basis of religious belief and whether it is anything more than a placebo.

Headed by Baroness Greenfield, the leading neurologist, the new Centre for the Science of the Mind is to use imaging systems to find out how religious, spiritual and other belief systems, such as an illogical belief in the innate superiority of men, influence consciousness.

A central aspect of the two-year study, which has $2 million (£1.06 million) funding from the John Templeton Foundation, the US philanthropic body, will involve dozens of people being subjected to painful experiments in laboratory conditions.

Jeff Miller and his commenters have highlighted two disturbing aspects of the experiment. The first is the impression, the subjects' consent aside, that "scientists" are torturing Christians presumably with impunity. The second is to be found in this paragraph from the news story:

The study is considered of vital importance in the present world climate, given the role of religious fundamentalism in international terrorism. A better understanding of the physiology of belief, the conditions that entrench it in the mind and its usefulness in mitigating pain could be crucial to developing counter-terrorist strategies for the future.

The obvious implication is that those who think this study is "of vital importance" wish to discover "the physiology of belief" in order to reduce it to what might be seen as acceptable levels through scientifically developed techniques. But see if the impression doesn't deepen — and darken — while you ponder a question that Paul Cella posed to his readers:

What is preferable — that Europe continues on its path of secular nihilism, with the crushing weight of multiculturalism descending in an ever-drearier enervation; or that Europe becomes Islamic?

Perhaps we American theists, watching from the sidelines, have been too quick to assume that secular nihilism would passively prostrate itself to Islamic fundamentalism. We all understand secular nihilism (or whatever you prefer to call it) to be a faith in its own right — its greatest lack being the fortitude that positive* faith provides. It seems to me that the envisioned "counter-terrorist strategies" (whatever they are) could evolve to remedy this weakness in two ways: The mettle can be sapped from theistic faiths. Or it can be artificially generated in an atheistic faith, whether for political or military combat.

This is the stuff of science fiction, to be sure, but cultural clashes of continental proportions seemed, until recently, to be the stuff of historical fiction. Either way, maybe our culture's dabbling in surrealism was part of a divine plan to prepare us for the future.

* I use "positive," here, in the descriptive sense, opposite "negative," not in the sense of attributing value.

A graph of E.U. demographics that Dan Drezner posts on his blog gives some perspective about what the future holds for Europe — and not mitigating perspective.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:09 PM | Comments (1)

"Organized Religion," A Euphemistic Umbrella

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

Glenn Reynolds notes a post on Reason's blog about two events involving religious groups and offensive thespian productions. Thus chimes in Salman Rushdie:

The continuing collapse of liberal, democratic, secular and humanist principles in the face of the increasingly strident demands of organised religions is perhaps the most worrying aspect of life in contemporary Britain.

Frankly, I share others' concerns about laws that limit speech having to do with religion, and Charles Paul Freund's post on Reason was framed in context of the proposal of such a law in the U.K. We've recently seen, in Australia, what lies around the corner, and Christians no less than libertarians should be concerned.

That said, it seems to me that Rushdie's use of "organized religion" is euphemistic. Compare incident one:

Windows of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre were smashed and fire alarms set off, and the building was pelted with eggs. Some police officers were injured.

About 1,000 Sikhs from around the country had gathered in Birmingham's Centenary Square to protest against the play, which is set in a Sikh temple where rape, abuse and murder take place.

With incident two:

Christian protesters set fire to their television licenses outside the BBC's London offices on Friday as outrage spread over the public broadcaster's plans to air a profanity-laden musical. ...

Michael Reid, a pastor and self-styled bishop who organized the peaceful demonstration ahead of the airing on Saturday evening, called the musical "filth."

While we're defending freedom of speech from one angle, let's not blur lines crucial to the very same freedom from another angle. And let's not forget this consideration:

British viewers pay around 120 pounds ($225) a year for their color television licenses.
Posted by Justin Katz at 9:07 PM | Comments (5)

Planned Parenthood and the Source of Intergalactic Evil

Dawn Eden describes and offers screen shots of an online game from Planned Parenthood called Birthcontroids, but you really can't appreciate just how disturbing it is without playing it for yourself — with the sound turned on.

As Dawn notes, the game is thematically confused, essentially putting the player in the role of the bad guy — the space penis shooting sperm at an egg (which has a force field and defensive missiles). When the player wins a level, there is no doubt that the outcome is meant to be bad, and that is where the game becomes sickening. Below an explanation of why "the birth control has failed," a sketch of a baby slams up against the screen to the sounds of an infant's grating cries. Message: fail to use contraception properly (or to abort), and you'll have to deal with one of these things.

The sensation is actually somewhat worse when the second-level "victory" brings the sound of a baby cooing. Even when cute, it seems, newborn human life is the scourge of the galaxy.

(via Patrick Sweeney)

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:30 PM | Comments (4)

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from Pedestrian Crossing, A Novel," by Janette van de Geest Van Gruisen.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:40 PM | Comments (1)

The Presence of Men

Lisa Griffis tells of a man — two, actually:

Immediately I realized he was some belligerent jerk who enjoys pushing people around - y'know, a Big Important Guy. I wasn't about to get in a tangle with him, so I said, "Okay, okay" and turned away to finish paying for my groceries. I just wanted to finish up and get away from him. He responded, "Yeah, 'okay' is right! Yeah, that's right!", and moved closer breathing down my neck. ...

At this point Paul spoke up, quite calmly saying, "You could have waited." I said, "No, obviously he can't". But the guy looked surprised to see Paul, and managed a chuckle before shutting the heck up. So, he's a tough guy when he thinks he's dealing with a woman by herself, but when he notices her husband is there suddenly he puts his tail between his legs.

Such men (the other guy, not Paul the husband) bother me more than they should, and I think it may have something to do with their forcing me to consider whether, when I take up the cause of men generally, the points I make don't hold for some significant portion of us. I wonder if most women have had such encounters. Heck, I've got a similar story.

Back in college, my future wife was dropping me off in a parking lot where I'd left my own car in the back corner. We drove straight across the lot, and coming from the perpendicular aisle on the far side, a huge black Dodge pickup truck turned into a space directly in front of us. As my wife steered her tiny car to the left behind it, the Dodge began to back up very quickly and barely missed us. Apparently, its driver had pulled into that spot only to back into another in the aisle that we'd driven down.

With some nervous laughter at the close call, we pulled up near my car, and it took until I'd walked around it and taken out my keys for me to notice a man with gray hair and a beard stomping toward my wife's open window. "Why don't you watch where you're going?"

I heard my wife's reply, "I thought you were parked."

"You want me to ram that Dodge up your ass!?"

From where I now stood by my trunk, I spoke in measured tones, "Hey, there's no need for that."

"Yeah right!" he said, visibly surprised at my presence, and stormed away.

One could speculate on the psychology involved — big truck and all — but for my part, I think it's more interesting to compare a character type on the other side. Michele Catalano spots an example in a piece by Neil Cavuto:

She went onto explain the [opening the] door thing was part and parcel of a bigger thing: An attempt by men, she said, to make women feel like they're lesser.

Me, I hold doors for women. (I hold them for men, too, but they have to be closer, benefiting from the mechanics of the swing.) I'd bet Lisa's Paul holds doors for women, too. I'd also bet that Big Important Guy and Proctological Dodge Guy don't. I wonder which of the following unfortunate social developments applies, or whether it's both:

  • The feministas (as Michele calls them) mistakenly attribute both the obnoxious and the gentlemanly behavior to the same group of men (probably to men as a group).
  • We're dealing with one of those insidious post-modern distortions whereby the concerned helper is shown to be the true oppressor by his implicit subjugation of the Other.

If the second contributor is a significant one, perhaps women should make an attempt to play matchmaker between the feministas and the BIGs:

"Why don't you watch where you're going, lady?"

"Hey, are you single? You don't hold doors, do you?"

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:15 AM | Comments (3)

January 13, 2005

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:30 PM

A World Without Pain, Part 2

Among the confounding aspects of the theodicy controversy is the likelihood that the people who claim that tragedy disproves God, or at least His goodness, would scoff if offered a world of utter comfort at the price of free will. In contrast, believers understand, even if we differ in specifics and even if the practice can be difficult, that the solution is to develop our sense of comfort such that we accept and submit to God's will of our own accord. Even in this mangling world, that perspective takes the existential sting (as distinct from the personal ache) out of tragedies.

Part of the mistake, I think, is in the urge to insist that there is blame to be attributed. What is, what exists, is ultimately good by definition. Not many theists would welcome the emotional response that would surely follow any statement that appears to minimize the palpable suffering of parents who've lost their children. If the statements are made thoughtlessly and under inappropriate circumstances, those emotional responses would be entirely justified. But such emotion isn't a response to religious understanding when circumstances allow a more contemplative exchange.

Sufficiently removed, it is not obscene to balance emotion with emotion. Here's a question to ask yourself: If it would have prevented the tsunami, would you have sacrificed your own children? Rare (and likely dishonest) are those parents who would say "yes." Nobody would expect such a thing; in fact, in some contexts we admire unyielding love in a parent. Yet, every event of history leading up to your birth allowed you to be — caused you, as God's child, to exist. In a manner of speaking, one could suggest that God puts up with the catastrophe to make you possible. Not just "a person." Not just a person resembling you in some particulars. You. That is a God of love.

Here's a question on the other side of the scales: If you could remove every difficulty from your children's lives, would you? Personally, I'd suggest that doing so would steal something at the core of your children's humanity. And we — both children and the parents who help to form them — are created in God's image, after all.

Of course, we can return to the mantra: God, if He is a God of love, could have created us without the pain. But we don't have a larger context of what God was trying to accomplish with this world — what, specifically, He is trying to create in us — in order to assess whether He's managing it with love and toward ultimate good. We are incapable of comprehending something so vast. I mentioned previously the possibility that the Western aid following the tsunami softened the heart of a future bin Laden. Well, imagine these possibilities piling up to take account of every single person — living, dead, and yet to be born — affected by the calamity. At what point do we cease to see opposing measurements of good and evil and see, instead, a process that, in its end, we can accept as definitively good?

Ron Rosenbaum asks whether God could have created "a better, less murderous human nature—consistent with free will." One implication of this question is to pit the notion of God's goodness against the notion of his love. In order to be good, in other words, He would have had to preclude the existence of everybody who has ever existed (minus two).

I, for one, cannot imagine what it could possibly mean to say that God could have created autonomous people who are shaped in some measure by pain without the pain. What's really being said here is that the complainers would have created a different world than God has, inhabited by creatures innocent of pain. It's a value judgment, not a statement pertaining to mechanism. (And, as above suggested, it probably involves idealistic values that the speaker himself doesn't hold.) I suppose, similarly, a molecule might object to some of particulars of its existence, but who would be moved by its claim that the Creator could have made mountains without molecules?

Ultimately, there may be no breaching the gap between those with whom I share an approach to religion and those who insist, with Rosenbaum, that theodicy has yet to break beyond "vague evasions." The gap may even be insuperably broad between myself and my fellow Christian David Hart, who would apparently see my theology as "odious" and "blasphemous." In the case of the latter gap, surely this is an instance in which "the many paths to God" ecumenism applies such that those willing to leave explanation alone to stand on faith and those drawing on faith to think through explanations needn't resort to insults.

Such debates, even when too heated, are themselves evidence of a perspective for which we must strive, even as we admit that intellectual understanding is no match for ponderous grief. If the greatest good lies in a greater understanding of God and a more fully appreciative comprehension of His nature, then that good can exist not in spite of our grief, but within it.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:04 PM | Comments (13)

January 12, 2005

A Glimpse of the Future

That fully coiffed gent to the right is... my future reflection! At least according to The Perception Laboratory's Face Transformer. I've been thinking that the picture on the Timshel Arts homepage is outdated. Maybe I should start using this one so I'll be ahead of the game.

(via Michele Catalano)

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:05 PM
Quick Links

Pro Forma WMD Commentary

I almost didn't mention an AP report titled "U.S. Ends Fruitless Iraq Weapons Hunt" — not because I'm inclined to hide it, but because there's almost no new value to it, as far as I can see. The only thing that I find notable is that the talking points of the other side haven't moved an inch (emphasis added):

"After a war that has consumed nearly two years and millions of dollars, and a war that has cost thousands of lives, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, nor has any evidence been uncovered that such weapons were moved to another country," Pelosi said in a written statement. "Not only was there not an imminent threat to the United States, the threat described in such alarmist tones by President Bush and the most senior members of his administration did not exist at all."

You can search this blog and/or Google for the words "imminent threat" for the relevant commentary, I guess.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:02 PM
Middle East

First Thoughts

Maybe it's just my current state of mind, but I'm really finding myself surprised by discordant theological statements lately. Particularly striking have been the "if you want a God like..." statements. Here's one from John Derbyshire:

All that kind of thinking trivializes God. It belongs to the category of thinking that A.N. Whitehead called "misplaced concreteness." It shows a dismal poverty of imagination -- reducing the divine to science fiction (or in the case of the "Left Behind" books, to a combination of sci-fi and spy thriller). The ID-ers' God is a sort of scientist himself, sticking his finger in to make things work when natural laws -- His laws! -- can't do the job. Well, if that's your God, I wish you joy of him. My God is much vaster and stranger than that.

I wonder: How would Derb respond to evidence that God had "stuck his finger in"? Would it lessen God in his view, or require Derb to enlarge Him in a new way? I ask because the first thought that comes to my mind when I hear specifics about the search for proof of design is that, even more, it would be proof of God's communication with us. Worked into His blueprint of reality — perhaps at the molecular level — would be a flaw (as Derb sees it) meant to act in the world in an entirely distinct way from the scientific mechanics: through its effect on us.

As the owner of a half-century-old house, I've found that the quirky fixes that I come across immediately make human intelligence real for me — of a particular human. A flawlessly operating heating system may be a marvel of ingenuity, but it can seem to be the product of an automated mechanical construction process. It's difficult to picture its designer. Come across something jury-rigged, however, and the thinking, feeling person is right there with you.

Just a thought.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:01 PM | Comments (5)

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:19 PM

A World Without Pain, Part 1

So... theodicy. What follows is neither in response to nor targeted toward those whom any recent calamity has directly affected; I can only pray that God will forgive me for my gnashing of teeth at events far less trying than the devastation that the tsunami and other events have wrought of late. Patrick Sweeney is right to say that understanding "why God allows the good to suffer and the wicked to thrive is not a comfort to the afflicted."

Rather, Patrick is half-right. Understanding will comfort; how could it not? What would be "stupid" is to attempt explanations in the midst of suffering. Nonetheless, the sowing of doubt continues apace, making it reckless not to pick up the other side. Therefore, it is to those sufficiently removed from personal loss for emotion not to be an insurmountable barrier that I suggest: If your vision of God is such that your faith can be shaken by the reality of catastrophe, then you'd best reformulate that vision, because your faith rests on an obvious fantasy.

Holding this view is part of why I've found my reading of essays, such as one by Ron Rosenbaum, to be reduced to pure exercise:

... it is an underappreciated scandal that, philosophically, the "age old question" of theodicy has not been satisfactorily answered without resort to vague evasions ("It's all a mystery," "We just can't understand God's plan," "It will allow good to manifest itself in the hearts of the survivors," "We live in a fallen world," "The dead are better off in heaven"). A failure that asks us to just have faith that it's all for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Just 278 words into a 3,114-word piece, and Rosenbaum has already used the word "satisfactorily" twice in this way. When you disagree with a premise that's so firmly declared, the next few thousand words tend to resonate like an intellectual game. Rosenbaum repeats the favorite response that an all-powerful God could have made a world without evil, but in which human beings still had free will. The fact that, instead, God created the world that we inhabit supposedly presents believers with a conundrum that Arts & Letters Daily editor Dennis Dutton puts thus:

If God is God, he's not good. If God is good, he's not God. You can't have it both ways, especially not after the Indian Ocean catastrophe.

What Rosenbaum and Dutton are essentially asking for is Heaven on Earth as proof of God and His goodness. The impression that such declarations give — notwithstanding the confidence with which they are stated — is that the issue lies more with the speaker's feelings about pain and definition of good than with God's role. There's something commiserable about the urge to offer God a standard of goodness up to which He must live.

Often, particularly when the person providing an "objective" measure of good for God to follow is an atheist, the point is as Michael Novak describes it: "to get me to deny the reality of God." Again the sense of a game pushes up between the lines; I don't know what creeds Rosenbaum and Dutton follow, but the former insists that the question has never been "satisfactorily answered," and the latter asserts that it cannot be.

These exchanges can go around and around, and surely many a "taunter" (Novak's word) has batted away with glee every attempt of a believer to put his view into mutually agreeable language. Even Eastern Orthodox theologian David Hart provides a platform from which to swing, saying that "no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends."

And so it goes. John O'Sullivan, perhaps wistfully, mentions in passing the possibility that American GIs' "visibility also reduces the hatred of the Christian West on which Osama bin Laden feasts" in Muslim parts of South Asia. The notion made me wonder how the anti-theodicists might dismiss a suggestion that the tsunami, by its generation of goodwill, may have turned around the view of, say, an Indonesian man who was on track to make bin Laden look like a cheap prankster. Probably they'd say that a God of goodness wouldn't have needed to slaughter the innocents in order to change one man's mind.

I could continue that particular thread by suggesting that what is possible, when it comes to human society, is muddled up with our thresholds for apathy and for holding grudges. But since these are meant to be examples in circular futility, I'll just throw out a couple more. What if I suggest that without pain there is no pleasure? Well, God could have created a world in which that wasn't true. That without fault and error, the universe would merely be a vast playground, not a place in which we could derive purpose? Well, God could have created a world in which that wasn't true.

It begins to seem that no answer is satisfactory mostly because what people really want is to live in a world in which the tsunami didn't happen, in which it could not have happened. That, my friends, would not be the world in which we live. And that, in turn, is why the argument is probably futile; either you accept that the world explains God, or you believe that God owes us an explanation — now — for the world in order for us to believe in Him.

(N.B. — due to length and hour, I'll continue this essay in a part 2 post tomorrow, as measured by breakes in consciousness.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:57 AM | Comments (4)

January 11, 2005

Song You Should Know 01/11/05

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Neon" by Dan Lipton.

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:34 PM

A Week and a Half into the New Year

One drawback of increasing visibility, for a writer, is the feeling that professional and personal considerations make venting and emotive self-expression unwise. In other words, success can whelm the very aspects of the craft that motivate some people to write in the first place. And limited success does nothing to mitigate the need that those aspects arose to alleviate. Well, I think I've behaved myself, in this respect, these past few months.

But spending the opening week of the year that I'll turn 30 — with a new house and a young family — semi-employed and staring down another month with no idea where sufficient income might lie has left me needing at least this one slip-up of a post. I've been carrying a vicious, ponderous creature around on my back day in and day out, his sandpaper chin abrading the back of my neck, and for one brief moment, I have to drop the prudent fiction that he's having no effect.

Carrying this sort of iniquitous burden for too long, you find that your breathing begins to come hard and muscles to ache, and there's a voice at the ear blending the worst aspects of a whine and a snarl, weaving falsehoods with half-truths to convince you that you're an inadequate loser who actually can't do things you thought you'd mastered years ago. Somewhere between that third batch of résumés that yields no interest and that online job search that ends with doubts about your competence to wash dishes, the bastard begins to become persuasive.

Oh sure, you can try to turn your mind to all of the people who know people who might have a lead. You can speak out loud of the nights-and-weekends pursuits that are just beginning to bear fruit. But the fleet-lipped fatso turns it all around: even if that success doesn't dissipate just like your full employment did, it won't amount to enough quickly enough to make a difference. You only have enough hope, he says, to feel it when it's dashed.

You can remind yourself that you're of passable intelligence and able-bodied. He'll scoff at the first, and for the second, he'll point out your hard breathing and aching muscles. You can plea the power of prayer, of faith, but that, too, takes on the opposite of its intended significance: "Well then, since you've a source of strength, God needn't help you. In fact, your deteriorating circumstances could merely be a way of drawing you toward Him." Of course, the voice concludes with the possibility that a soul's approaching God is like a curve's infinitely approaching an absolute line — ever closer, feeling ever more heat, with no culmination. Ever.

The ascetic life has its place, and freely entered, it has its admirability. But a man who is responsible for others can't help but find it discouraging how rapidly we are able to define "sufficient" down; how thrilled I'd be, now, to return to barely scraping by with a sixty-hour workweek.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:07 PM | Comments (1)
Diary & Confession

January 10, 2005

Fear Dust for Liberals

I've taken a cathartic moment to review, over on Anchor Rising, a masterful and uplifting paragraph by Nation writer Katha Pollitt. For dear irony's sake, I believe it's worth an Andrew Sullivan Malkin Award!

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:30 PM
Liberalism vs. Conservatism

Shaking Off the Unspeakable

Paul Spiegel, president of the Central Council of Jews, called Friday for [Cologne Cardinal Joachim] Meisner to take back his words.

"I expect that the cardinal will quickly and unequivocally distance himself from this unspeakable and offensive comparison," Spiegel said.

As the Jerusalem Post reports, the unspeakable comparison that the Roman Catholic leader made was as follows:

First, Herod, who had the children of Bethlehem killed; then, among others, Hitler and Stalin who had millions of people wiped out; and today in our times, unborn children are being killed a million times over.

Meisner apparently also declared that abortion puts "all previous crimes of humanity in the shadows." Ostensibly, that means every other group that has ever experienced grievous harm can now insist, as Spiegel has, that "Meisner has completely lost his authority as a bishop." Somehow, I think Catholics might beg to differ.

Actually, some Catholics have differed most significantly on whether it was right that Meisner's apology was expediently issued. On Jeff Miller's blog, Tom of Disputations suggested:

The bishop was correct in his homily, and he was right to apologize. His job isn't simply to state the truth, but by God's grace to give the truth to others, and if he speaks the truth in terms that cause others to reject it, he should look for other terms.

Jeff subsequently agreed that there "are many ways to proclaim the truth and not all of them are fruitful," but I think the important question has too easily been assumed answered: Did the apology serve the truth? The politic statement from Meisner's office before he decided to apologize for having said something (as Deutsche Welle paraphrased) "open to misinterpretation" would seem to suggest otherwise. From the Jerusalem Post:

Meisner's office Friday declined to withdraw his comment. It was not a comparison to genocides, but to the "euthanasia" killings of those deemed mentally or physically handicapped under the Hitler and Stalin regimes, spokesman Menfred Becker-Huberti said.

I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem as if misinterpretation is necessary to hear a reference to genocide in the phrase "millions of people wiped out." Does it advance the cause of truth to attribute post hoc meaning to a comparison — no matter how unspeakable and offensive others might claim it to be? And even if Meisner did not intend to evoke the images that are most associated with Hitler and Stalin (which would be nigh inconceivable), does it serve the truth to reinforce the claim that a true statement cost the prelate "his authority as a bishop"?

Jeff cites a line from Corinthians that, I'd say, is only indirectly applicable. For my part, the incident in Germany seems almost of literally direct relation to Matthew 10:14-18:

Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words--go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

"Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.

Was Cardinal Meisner serpent-shrewd, or did he tuck his dust-covered feet under his robe? I suppose some of the answer will come when we find out if Spiegel follows through with his threatened lawsuit.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:49 PM | Comments (5)

Making Excerptions

Just in case you still haven't made it to the magazine store for the latest issue of National Review, Marriage Debate Blog has posted another excerpt of my piece therein.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:41 PM

Mingling Above My Station

Something's not right here. Yesterday, Dust in the Light was listed among the top 30 blogs on the TTLB Ecosystem — a "Mortal Human." Today, it's hanging on at number 36. I should be touting this — proclaiming it. So why am I embarrassed to admit it?

A more productive question can be gleaned from the two blogs on either side of mine: Right Wing News, with its 2,000+ daily unique visits, and Daniel Drezner, with 3,500+ daily visitors. What am I doing in this company?

I don't ask these questions out of insecurity, with an eye toward comparisons of innate value. Rather, I'm curious what Dust in the Light's placement actually means; although, I don't know that it's a question to which I can find a satisfactory answer. It could mean, for example, that I'm in some sense a "blogger's blogger," with relatively few readers, but a disproportionate number of whom blog, themselves. Perhaps some high-profile successes on my part have simply earned me mention on the blogrolls of people who don't read Dust in the Light regularly.

The fact of the matter is that I'm thrilled to have any readers at all. Moreover, as Bryan Preston has mused as well, blogging has afforded me inspiriting opportunities. But there are stages to these things, and sometimes, shark-like, we must remain in motion just to keep breathing. A good TTLB rank doesn't attract advertisers, which contribute to Right Wing News and Drezner something that would certainly ease my breaths: revenue.

That, I guess, is the real question — particularly in my dire circumstances. Whatever the mechanism that has placed Dust in the Light among for-profit bloggers, how do I join them in more palpable ways? Noting that the book that he narrates is only "the draught of a draught," Moby-Dick's Ishmael declares, "Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!" Patience I've got, and my strength is holding. But in the dispiriting way of the modern world, for lack of cash, I'm rapidly running out of time.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:52 AM
Bloggers Blogging

January 9, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 2 (p. 21-28)

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

"Call me what you will. Some would say that I am the spirit of this house. Others would say that I don't exist at all. Perhaps you will consider me to be only the voice that you give to your own observations or the consciousness behind those random creaks and groans that haunt your ears. Call me what you will. Named, I've been, the Pequod, but I am not the house itself, though we twain are inextricable; no more is an echo the mountain face nor the screamer. I am the echo of time, of experience, and for myself, I call me Ishmael. Listen closely and give me voice, for, whomever or whatever I am, I've tales as much as any whisper.

"When a man has lost his way; when the world no longer holds for him a single mystery; when stones are merely cold, hard, and rough surfaces for the sitting and walls merely planks for the sheltering; yes, when a man has lost his way, the world seems to him only a stage upon which he performs. He reads as if he himself were the author and lives as if he were God. Grand pity, then, upon that man who will not believe that walls can speak. (Do you not see the full extent of the modern man suggested here? Ask yourself: do you believe in me?).

"All sympathy to the man who truly believes that a building's conveyance of ideas ends with the intent of the architect. Is a work of art ever truly finished? Nay, lest that work be set off behind plates of thick glass (or hiddenly preserved deep within an undiscovered cavern). Perhaps not even then. Is not a symphony reassessed with each performance? Does not the conductor add to or take from the notation? Does not the listener translate it to his own emotions? Is a novel not expanded with each published criticism — each pinned upon the dust cover of the previous until six hundred and twenty-five pages are augmented to tens of thousands? Or if not this, then consider the original text. Does a crisp new paperback tell the same tale as an antiquated leather-bound edition? Do not forget the underlines! It must be true that every new crease, fold, or stray mark changes, somewhat, the message.

"Argue if you will that even here it is the influence of outside agents inscribing the wall with character, that marks are placed upon the walls and not derived from within them: a wall merely a slate. Yet what are human beings if not similar tableaux? Who does the marking? Look up. Stare at the wall to your opposite. Perhaps you will someday describe, in writing, the crack which runs its length. Is not the wall then making its own mark upon you? Then you upon the paper? Then that paper upon a reader? And so on. Is not a wall that has been smeared in a child's chocolate making its own smear upon the mother who then relates the story to a friend (perhaps the stain sinks too deeply for bleaching)? Yes, yes, and yes, again! A creation no less than a person is nothing save the sum of its influences. Every work of art is the inevitable outcome of the experiences of its creator, and inevitably an influence on future artists! A wall merely relates the story of all forces which have ever acted upon it, but by relating that story it acts upon the viewer. So verily, any structure can offer its own tale if there be an apt translator.

"What of soul?, you may ask. What of the deep bottomless soul that pervades the self-conscious? Don't thoughts have their value? Can this great fluid body of judgment ever be scarred like so much crumbling plaster? No, you say. Nothing marks a person's mind with any perpetuity. A flow of intuition cuts canyons of ingenuity and whittles away at continents of static belief. Ah but within your argument is your own undoing: a soul is no more mutable than puddles in courtyard turf. The moon conducts the tides, the density of the ground influences the river's path, and those obscure, gliding, beautiful things that elude the senses in deep indiscernibility ripple, though temporarily, the surface. A titanic wave may merely be the piled up plungings of unseen phantoms, but thoughts are merely a visible surge similarly caused. And so, though I'll not dispute that humans are more fickle than walls or stones, we are all created only to be splashed, whittled, or chipped away, and a soul is a fifth wheel on a wagon.

"There are no original thoughts, only new undulations of old ideas, some higher and more powerful. This is why it is the easiest thing in the world for a man to appear wise, as if he hides a great secret within him, for the wisest thing to hide is an empty space; the derivative nature of its contents cannot be divulged if the water holds its stillness. Because people cannot claim their hard-formed thoughts as their own, they merely pretend that a nothingness is the fruit of their wisdom and they the only ones able to see that it is of value. In a building, by contrast, nothing can be truly hidden. Pry up the correct boards, and all is there to see.

"A building holds its mysteries without inhibitions. Take a look. Make what you will of them; they are all given freely beneath that roof, though shingled with riddles. Look again at the crack in your own wall: it is plainly displayed. Dost thou find it distasteful and so wish to cover it with paper? Perhaps the floorboards upon which you tread are knotted and so you carpet them. Do so. Then look at your handiwork. Does not the crack show through? Do not the contortions of the planks create so many frozen waves in your matting, even if only because you know they are there? Now perhaps the years will pass and the cracks and bends will expand. Perchance you've forgotten their origin. Oh the temptation to rip off the superficial covering in order to find the sources of your vain agony and level them! But you will never render the plane even, for even these superficial marks but afford the basis for far other delineations, and all indecipherable.

"So, finding that you will forever fail to cover faults, leave them be. See if you cannot glean their story from the details, for it is only consideration of these that yields a thoroughly appreciative understanding of the revelations signified. Supply your own allusions. Gather your acquaintances together and each impart an origin. What caused this flaw? From whence this scratch? Ask a million men and each will give you a different reading: one rendering after another and another, all from one text. Just as there are all sorts of shades with which to color, so are there of men in this one world, so are there tales to be told.

"But perhaps the crack shames you too much to lay it bare. Look thee then upon this house here and, finding yourself so far from home and your steps so untraceable, feel free to ponder. For it is a rare structure indeed, a mansion of the old school, long-seasoned and weather-stained, old antiquities renewed with each added feature in a curious quaintness of material and device. Tricked forth in the remnant souvenirs of all its ageless inhabitants. Marvel thee at the dark hue of its outer walls? 'Tis merely a touch of the noble melancholy appropriate to a house called the Pequod."

"How it came to stand here is unknown; rather, one explanation is as provable as another. There is no road leading easily to or from it. Perhaps (for nothing true can be bluntly stated) the layer of this foundation was wandering about the Catskills and chanced to catch a glimpse of an eagle diving into a black gorge. Skirting down the hillside and up the next he at last found himself at an impasse, with no idea as to his location save that he was still a great distance from the tauntingly hovering bird. Finally, losing the bird in the sun, he decided to stand his ground, far from any corrupting society: no one near him but Nature herself, and her he took to wife in the wilderness with the whole of March to honeymoon. While reclining in the embrace of his moody amore, he looked to the long-drawn vales (which could no longer be said to be virgin) and the mild blue hillsides, listening intently to the leafy sighs of the trees, the gurgling of the stream, and the over-all hush and hum of solitude. Many a lovely day he may have spent thus engaged.

"But a man will ever stray when pastorality's motherly affection takes him to breast and indulges him with calm and contentedness. Within months of marriage, linking arms with the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April and May, he sent forth his sprouts and tried in vanity to escape his homely bride. Thus scorned, the abandoned spouse — though matronly, still not above the pettiness common to all gods — borrowed from Apollo his song and translated the punishment of the fickle Daphne to her own adulterous lover. But improving upon her example's design, to separate her forbidden mate from his mistresses, she forbade him the branches on which they might have begotten unto him the buds of their affection, instead substituting lattice-work and lath for living bark. Hence was he offered up as a haven for kindred spirits, and the coming of his mistresses in the moist Spring would serve to further rot him through rather than arouse him to life and ecstasy.

"Here fellows inflicted with similar meanderings of the eye would meet with the sympathy of sailors in common pursuit and their shared privations and perils. ‘A home I'll be for hermits, an asylum for the romantic, melancholy, or absent-minded souls,' he would have cried as his head peaked and his mouth opened into a row of sparkling windows.

"And so it stands, this house, eyes facing off into the hills, chin rested atop a steep declivity. Reversed, as if rushing from the plateau on which it stands into the next crevice."

* * *

"Here a brief discussion of architecture may prove meritorious, though it must by necessity be an incomplete one, as the equal part of that science is conducted from an internal perspective as yet unafforded. To the untrained passer-by, this house appears to resemble many of those yet extant examples of Early American domesticity, and indeed they have much in common; but it would be overly dismissive to cast it under this category, because that would fail to take into account the various quirks prevalent mostly by the manner and material from which it was raised and the purposes for which it is used. Granted the feel is much the same as that of the Parson Cape House of Massachusetts, with the dark weathered hue of its exterior walls; it shares a certain educational designation on a level often rivaling that of any building on Jefferson's Quadrangle; in addition, it must be considered as sharing some of the nautical flare reminiscent of that Old Ship Meeting House of Hinghamshire, but that Old Ship has been toppled, and its ribs open downward, whereas the Pequod still floats on; but look here, there are two open towers of medieval stone on each western corner, and the windows that grace the eastern side break any pretense at the symmetry customary in Early Americanism: with five on the second level and two on the ground floor, on which the entryway throws off any hope of evenness as a third entity. No, there's more to this building than any puritan or forefather ever intentionally imbued, having sprung up mythically as it did.

"The solid construction, in contrast to the perishable foliage all around, exudes a sense of eternity only accomplished by those grand, skyward-pointing pyramids of ancient Egypt, and certainly the designer had those far away erections in mind when considering the house, though it is an elongated block in shape. How small the approaching visitor feels when enshadowed by this magisterial imposition, especially when approaching from down hill, but alas the morbid design of those deserted pharaohs' tombs makes the difference irreconcilable on account of the drabness of their effect: there is more here than raw magnitude. Perhaps you may suggest that, with their intricate friezes, Mesopotamian ziggurats would bear more close an aesthetic resemblance; however, not only are those too frighteningly covered in human-headed, winged lions, not only are those temples inverted, with their most important shrine singly on the outside top, but look closely and you find that this comparison must be discarded by the actuality that it is the corners of a ziggurat which generally point to the four dominant directions of the compass and not the walls, as is the case with the specimen being here considered.

"Now, if the mountains over which you've traversed remind you of a rolling green sea, so might the house remind you of the Cretan culture of which Homer offered the slightest description in the Iliad, yet verily must the intelligent design be more like the democratic clarity of Athens' buildings, which welcomed any and all to enter. And yes, the columns that support the portico roof are almost overly Doric in their wooden-beam simplicity, but the steps insinuate a Roman mentality by their broken positioning on three sides only: a Grecian ideal would have demanded that they be wound completely about the circumference. But the Roman architects' tendency toward derivativity disqualifies them from the description, for this house here is the archetype of originality. Additionally, the intricate Composite style of many Roman columns and the walls that grew up to twenty feet in thickness, as those of the Pantheon, were indicative of an inapplicable and overstated philosophy made apparent of that race in Virgil's Aeneid. What's more, Roman homesteads tended toward modesty, a quality which hardly coincides in this case.

"Perhaps looking at churches will provide a more directly enlightening path to a designation for the Pequod. And yes, it is true that the walls of Early Christian churches faced the same directions of the compass as this secular temple and that they share an emphasis on interior, but the Christians' use of plain wooden roofs hinted at an impermanence hardly similar at all to a pyramid. Indeed, perhaps, the pagan churches of India, such as the Dargan Temple of Aihole, intended to be the seats of gods and the orificial sites for worshippers to enter into their wills, were more wisely designated by translating a wooden erection into obdurate stone. But the Indians were too free with their decoration and so ruined any semblance to the somber-looking mansion. The same is true of the Byzantine Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the well-proportioned but morbidly decorative Islamic Taj Mahal.

"So can consideration of the entire Renaissance be ignored for the opulence of the Louvre and the two-dimensionality of Pazzi's Chapel in Florence. Even Post-Renaissance Baroque, aided by Palladro's books and the sculptor's eye of Michelangelo for the manipulation of light, even these did not prevent the gaudy exuberance of Bernini and Barromini. Only Versailles, with its windows facing out over extensive gardens, bears any similarity in view to the structure in question. Though the trends of those times may have been somewhat improved by the intimacy of Rococo and the pedimented porticoes of the Georgian style, still the ensuing nostalgia for preceding cultures undermines any perceived redemption of the opulently vulgar Victorians. Only Eclecticism incorporated a sufficiently scholarly sympathy for design to overcome a reliance on the past, just look at the tasteful facade of General Lee's Mansion in Arlington, with its unpretentious wooden imitation of the Greeks, and by contrast you will see that surely this northern structure outdoes any created through the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries.

"The studious listener may have noticed that one important architectural genre has been conspicuously absent from this discourse so far, and it is here that the grandest comparisons may be made. With its infinite aspect and lack of definition, the Gothic style had an ambiance that is directly parallel to that of the house. In English hands, the minsters were surrounded by vast lawns and trees similar in texture to the forests of New York State, and towers were erected on the western end in both locales. Indeed, when considering the complementary harmony of John Ruskin's cathedrals in Stones of Venice and his insistence on the human beauty inherent in flaws, it looks as if this house has found a home. Even the Gothic spirit, with the entire community hauling stones upon their backs for the construction of Chartres, could hardly fail to be, as a social statement, emulated by the Pequod's folk. Truly, what are radiating chapels, pointed arches, and flying buttresses but the excessive, but forgivable, flamboyance of the Frenchmen who first instituted the Gothic?

"Yet, still does this partial deliberation fall short. For what is this house but the very transfer of the Forbidden City of Peking to America? And what are the Appalachian mountains but an earthly version of the Great Wall of China? And how, pray tell, does one account for the deceptive normality of the thing? It looks much like any large house, yet it is not. No, this speculation is doomed to failure. Truth to tell, the Pequod, having sprung from a human head, will ever defy description. But is not the same true for all natural mysteries? And aren't all human conventions and sciences really only a far-sighted search for themselves? Ach, in codifying, the possibilities are endlessly obscure. So approach, ye traveler, approach and look for truth, not explanation."

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:44 PM

Kid Rock and the Price of Cultural Debasement

Far and away the best argument for allowing Kid Rock to play at inauguration-related events is, as expressed in an email that I received this morning, "he's good enough to play for US armed forces on his USO tour; so he's good enough to play for the President of the United States."

Our troops certainly deserve our support and admiration, and anybody who offers that support in tangible ways deserves acknowledgment. Still, I don't believe that the acknowledgment originally extended to Kid Rock is as simple a decision as many have suggested. And it's made all the more difficult by the fact that conservatives and Republicans don't exactly have expansive representation among household-name entertainers.

The bottom line is that there has to be a cost for debasing our culture as Kid Rock and his ilk have done. It's unfortunate, in my view, that the marketplace does not exact that price, but outside of a certain range of Republicans, the marketplace is not invested with inerrancy. The cost for preying upon and thereby encouraging the rebellious immaturity of the young (and some among the older) has got to be — at the least — a loss of respectability.

In the case of entertaining our troops, exceptions must be made for the reason that the focus is on them, not the performer. Considering the sacrifices that they are making and the work that they are doing for the benefit of us all, much more weight should be given to the principle that what they want is what they get.

But when it comes to celebrations of the President's reelection, respectability — and the statement that each facet of the celebration makes about the President's principles — has to be considered. Moreover, we must foster the sort of culture in which those who've made the choice to trade respectability for lucre understand that to have been a real and actual choice.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:18 AM

January 7, 2005

"We are the new party of the inclusive!"

My, my, how quickly pandering and moral compromise become virtues when one tastes victory. We can't blame libertarians (or "South Park Republicans") for wanting to mold the Republican Party in their own image, but without jumping into the factional spitting match, I submit to you this: when those for whom the term "Big Tent Party" inspires adolescent snickers become too prominent in it, the Republican Party will crumble.

The issue at hand, as you may have guessed, is the mini-controversy arising from a post by Michelle Malkin:

Many social conservative groups have launched a protest against the White House inauguration committee's decision to invite Kid Rock to perform Jan. 18 at the Washington, D.C., Armory in a concert hosted by Bush daughters Jenna and Barbara. ...

Some "South Park conservative-" types are ridiculing the protesters. "Lighten up," they say. But I'm with the family groups on this. The inaugural celebrations should highlight the best the GOP has to offer. A guy who, as World Net Daily points out, "dedicated his first album to songs about oral sex and who was voted the Sluttiest Male Celebrity at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards" and who titles songs "F--- U Blind" and "F--- Off" doesn't belong there, even if he is a rare celebrity Bush supporter.

After years of arguing with liberals over the difference between "censorship" and "sensibility," some of the responses are only surprising because they are coming from further right than usual. Alex Brunk takes the tack that there's nothing out of the ordinary about Kid Rock, after all, so declining to hand him a microphone (accessing a considerable audience) at our shared celebration is exclusionary:

Sure a lot of his songs are inappropriate, but so what, he's no different from any other musician that way. ... And as long as Kid Rock doesn't sing something inappropriate at the inauguration, there's no reason we should exclude him from the event.

INDC Bill apparently shares Alex's range of listening habits:

I guess they don't allow contemporary musicians in the big tent - four years of Pat Boone and the Oak Ridge Boys it is. And that singing cop. But how many times can you listen to the National Anthem in a row, really?

That's right. You got your "contemporary musicians" like Kid Rock down one aisle and your Pat Boones down the other, with nothing between. Peruse the lyrics (Parental Advisory!) that Michelle has included in her post for a sense of just how run-o'-the-mill Kid Rock really is.

Even allowing for the undeniable fact that Kid Rock is "profane and raunchy," no less a personage than John Hawkins takes the position that supporting our cause is sufficient expiation for those sins:

... as far as I'm concerned, anybody who's supports W and sticks up for the troops like that is OK to play the inauguration in my book.

I'm particularly sympathetic to the praise of Kid Rock's support for our troops, but I would warn fellow right-wingers against elevating political support to a height that diverts our eyes from other considerations. There are more important things than rewarding stars for taking the right stance. Woven throughout the criticism of Malkin's post are hints that Republicans are catching the Democrats' lust for the "youth vote":

This is exactly the kind of behavior that drives young people away from the Republican party. Congratulations, Michelle, you’ve championed the act of alienating some more potential (R) voters.

But attempting to appeal to that particular voting bloc comes at the price of a central conservative objective: molding them. Of course, as Jeff Blogworthy points out, attracting younger generations can be very helpful toward that goal:

We cannot persuade everyone to our way of thinking in a single epiphany. If we want people like Kid Rock and his followers to change and embrace a better way of life, it is a change that will occur incrementally. If we immediately break fellowship, what chance do we have to persuade them?

The problem is that the increments at hand aren't of degrees, but of issues. As Hawkins alludes, the "fellowship" is over politics and national security, not "a better way of life." While applauding the geopolitical agreement, we can too easily allow acceptance of social differences to become affirmation. Jeff Blogworthy notes that the "establishment criticized Jesus for associating with 'tax gatherers and sinners'," but we're not talking about mere association with regular folks. We're talking about putting a prominent figure — who, as far as I know, has not repudiated his older material, no matter how much he may have "matured" — up on stage for emulation.

And that is where our blind eye becomes most detrimental. Consider the opinion expressed on Bobo Blogger, from which I took the title for this post:

Kid Rock raises his young child as a single parent, is muli-talented, having recently scored some points with country radio, and while not the best role-model, he is a model of what one can do in America. Up from the worst streets in Detroit to fame and stardom. ...

What he does for entertainment value sould not relegate him to the depths of slime. However, while not entirely a fan of his music, and certainly not his early cuts, I still admire a working class guy who makes it big albeit as a slut!

It is an indication of corruption, not beneficent inclusion, when how a man makes it from slum to stardom is apparently of as little concern as whom one must parade in order to keep the kiddies' hands in the Big Tent.

A Tithed Tease

I just noticed that NRO has posted the first section of my "One Man's Marriage Trap" piece. It's only about a tenth of the whole, so now there's another step for you to take:

  1. Read the excerpt.
  2. Buy the magazine.
  3. Write to the editors promising that you'll buy additional issues in which my work appears.

(FYI, I've compiled extended quotations and citations related to the piece here.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:24 PM | Comments (11)

Friday's Important Stuff: Topical Pop Lyrics Analysis and Christian Contemplation

In correspondence related (in part) to his early impressions of the new U2 CD, How to Dismantle the Atomic Bomb, Paul Cella indicated that the stem-cell research theme of the song "Miracle Drug" mightn't be as obvious as I'd thought. As it happens, this song first caught my attention during my two weeks of rattling around in a truck delivering Christmas packages, so I had plenty of time to break my rule about over-interpreting pop song lyrics, which are, in this case, as follows:

Miracle Drug

I want to trip inside your head
Spend the day there
To hear the things you haven't said
And see what you might see

I want to hear you when you call
Do you feel anything at all?
I want to see your thoughts take shape
And walk right out

Freedom has a scent
Like the top of a new born baby's head

The songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile
I've had enough I'm not giving up
On a miracle drug

Of science and the human heart
There is no limit
There is no failure here sweetheart
Just when you quit

I am you and you are mine
Love makes nonsense of space
And time... will disappear
Love and logic keep us clear
Reason is on our side, love

The songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile
I've had enough of romantic love
I'd give it up, yeah, I'd give it up
For a miracle, a miracle drug, a miracle drug

God I need your help tonight

Beneath the noise
Below the din
I hear a voice
It's whispering
In science and in medicine
"I was a stranger
You took me in"

The songs are in your eyes
I see them when you smile
I've had enough of romantic love
I'd give it up, yeah, I'd give it up
For a miracle, a miracle drug

Miracle, miracle drug

It's conceivable that I'm not thinking of something, but it seems to me that a song blending science, medicine, miracle drugs, and newborn babies is likely about embryonic stem-cell research, and that's the framework within which I set about understanding it. Now, given his politics, the obvious extra-textual assumption is that Bono would support embryonic stem-cell research. Indeed, a Google search for "stem cell bono u2" brings up a reference to his attendance at the Democrat National Convention, where that position dominated the rhetoric. On the other hand, the religious references and the inclusion of baby imagery suggest an opening for the opposite position.

So what's Bono's position? More importantly, what's the song's position? Although I can't satisfactorily answer that question, given the lyrics themselves as well as the musical trajectory, I'd suggest that the song doesn't seek to lay out an answer, but rather to convey an internal narrative of the debate.

"Miracle Drug" begins with reference to a "you" who is apparently animate, but whose consciousness, if it exists at all, is trapped in an expression-denying prison: "I want to see your thoughts take shape/And walk right out." With Alzheimer's being a disease frequently mentioned in the stem-cell debate, it would seem a likely candidate for Bono's intended affliction.

In this context, freedom's having a scent "like the top of a new born baby's head" could have two meanings, both shades of an argument in favor of the research:

  1. The thing that could provide freedom is somehow redolent of babies.
  2. The freedom from disease should have no less an emotional tug than the pleasant olfactory associations we have with newborns.

Opponents of embryonic stem-cell research may tend to assume that any reference to babies in this debate is automatically in their favor, but that's not necessarily the case. Some people on the other side really do understand the science involved and its implications, but they come to different conclusions nonetheless. Their attribution of value differs. And Bono's subsequent appeal to the "song" and "smile" in the eyes of this "you" could be taken as an assertion of the drowning personhood of the sufferer.

The next stanza seems to cinch this interpretation: the only failure, when it comes to "science and the human heart," is quitting. The next stanza, however, is a jumble of concepts — accentuated by the mid-thought elision of sentences, grabbing the object of one sentence as the subject for the next. (Would it be too generous to U2 to wonder whether this moment associates those having the debate with those afflicted with Alzheimer's?)

"I am you and you are mine" sounds almost as if the narrator is addressing his cells, or perhaps a clone dehumanized in "therapeutic cloning." The narrator then declares that love removes the coherence of the measures of material reality (space and time). Then, following the ellipsis, "love and logic" are functioning together, which echoes (to my ear) religious writers' insistence that a foundation of faith does not indicate a lack of logic. When we get to the assertion that "reason is on our side, love," the question is nearly tangible: Whose side?

With the repeat of the chorus, "had enough/I'm not giving up" becomes "had enough of romantic love/I'd give it up." Frankly, I can't get the "romantic love" piece to fit in the puzzle. Is it an oblique reference to procreation, making the chorus a retreat to the emotional desire for stem-cell cures? Is the initial "you" a romantic love interest of the narrator, whom the narrator is now willing to give up to death for a "miracle drug" of a more spiritual, salvational sort?

The devolution of the music into an echo-laden morass at this point doesn't help to clarify. The more straightforward interpretation is that it represents the narrator's intellectual turmoil; it could also be a mechanism to signal that we're shifting viewpoints to that of the sufferer. In the latter case, "God I need your help tonight" could just be the patient's request that God spur human society toward the "miracle" of embryonic stem-cell cures. I prefer the former possibility, so I'll proceed in that direction.

The plea to God is the narrator's, and he is asking for help sorting through the various moral claims. Directly following the line, the guitar bursts forth its most piercing scream of the song, and the marching rhythm of the lyrical bridge evokes a sense of clarity... unfortunately, ambiguity persists, even within a biblical reference. The clarifying voice that the narrator hears "in science and in medicine" could either be speaking through science and medicine or from within them, as an ethical appeal, perhaps, or maybe from science and medicine's victims.

Regarding what the voice — apparently Jesus — actually says (Matthew 25:35), one could take it to mean that the embryos destroyed for the research are "strangers," in whom we are called to see Jesus even though they may be difficult to recognize as our brothers. (Indeed, that the unborn are among the "least brothers of mine" is a standard Christian pro-life argument.) On the other hand, these being pop-song lyrics, Bono could have been pointing, again obliquely, to the next verse, "[I was] ill and you cared for me," skirting the difficulty of rhyme.

I'm very wary of attributing too much effort to the artistic endeavors of rock stars. And I can only hope that it does not sound implausible for me to claim that I expended so much effort of my own for interpretation because it was fun. Still, whatever its deliberateness or its intellectual conclusion, the song captures very well — musically and lyrically — the difficulty of living according to that paragraph of scripture, particularly as science and medicine progress.

Now if Bono would kindly email me to let me know what he was thinking, I can go on with my life...

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:30 PM | Comments (2)

A Pattern of Instincts

Cats don't rile my dog. He's sociable with other dogs — the last to cease play — but he's no more than politely curious about canines not of his acquaintance. Animals of unknown species are investigated if it is convenient, ignored if not. But something about deer makes him test the leash, and my grip on it. It is as if deer — the scent of them, the flitting motion of their prance — cut through all domestication to the heart of instinct and churn there a deep desire to give chase. And then?

Tonight the deer were everywhere: near the main road, by the water, halfway up the hill, slipping through gaps in fences like neighborhood kids who've crawled out windows and fear being dragged back through doors. When the swoosh of my jacket and the jingle of dog tags sounded too closely for comfort, they paused to sniff the air, leaped, and floated away, tapping down their hooves lightly, as if only for the mark that it would make in the snow. And their tracks were everywhere, too, patterned across the yards and walks of suburban homes, often spaced with speed. Perhaps they hurried in their decorative task because recent experience has taught them how fleeting their cold, damp medium can be.

We had the night to ourselves — me, the deer, and the dog. And I pondered for most of the walk whether to go the long way 'round so as not to disturb them, or to let him loose.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:08 AM

January 6, 2005

Astonishment as a Disguising Fleece

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

Responding (at least in part) to a question of mine that Jonah Goldberg conveyed in the Corner, another reader emailed him:

The stories on the FBI documents were front page news in every major paper. It is somewhat astounding to me that the folks at the Corner seem unaware that they exist.

Partial defense of my astounding unawareness can be found right at the beginnings of the first two articles to which the emailer links. One:

FBI Agents Complained of Prisoner Abuse, Records Say
* Documents obtained by ACLU show continued reports of mistreatment in Iraq and Cuba. ...

WASHINGTON — FBI agents have lodged repeated complaints of physical and mental mistreatment of prisoners held in Iraq and Cuba, saying in reports that military officials have placed lighted cigarettes in detainees' ears and humiliated Arab captives by wrapping Israeli flags around them, according to new documents released Monday.

The FBI records, which are among the latest set of documents obtained by the ACLU in its lawsuit against the federal government, also include instances in which bureau officials said they were disgusted by military interrogators who pretended to be FBI agents as a "ruse" to glean intelligence from prisoners.


At least 10 current and former detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have lodged allegations of abuse similar to the incidents described by FBI agents in newly released documents, claims that were denied by the government but gained credibility with the reports from the agents, their attorneys say.

Jonah puts it perfectly: "I don't think folks at the Corner were unaware of such reports, just that anecdotes seem to be translated into data pretty easily." Anybody who's paid attention has seen the various news reports about detainee allegations, NGO indignation, and accusations–cum–turf battles. (Although, it was entirely possible to miss one or the other amid the flooded zone of torture-related Bush hunting.) My question was in response to this from Andrew Sullivan's blog:

Many innocent men and boys were raped, brutally beaten, crucified for hours (a more accurate term than put in "stress positions"), left in their own excrement, sodomized, electrocuted, had chemicals from fluorescent lights poured on them, forced to lie down on burning metal till they were unrecognizable from burns - all this in Iraq alone, at several prisons as well as Abu Ghraib. I spent a week reading all the official reports over Christmas for a forthcoming review essay.

Rather than sift through myriad exercises in spin scattered over many months in order to find the details to which Sullivan does not point, I thought I'd ask whether the well-read folks at the Corner knew of something recent and/or comprehensive. Let's recall that Sullivan had quite a reaction when the Abu Ghraib story was new, and that he placed it right at the beginning of his May 12 New Republic piece, "That's the Ticket: The Kerry-McCain Dream."

Given the various reasons for careful parsing, I was asking for an "official report" of the sort to which Rich Lowry linked:

Since the beginning of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. military and security operations have apprehended about 50,000 individuals. From this number, about 300 allegations of abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo have arisen. As of mid-August 2004, 155 investigations into the allegations have been completed, resulting in 66 substantiated cases. Approximately one-third of these cases occurred at the point of capture or tactical collection point, frequently under uncertain, dangerous and violent circumstances.

It is not moral callousness to suggest that it makes a difference whether the anecdotes about deformation via hot metal are to be found among the 145 incomplete investigations, among the approximately 44 substantiated incidents that did not occur under extreme conditions, or in some other status category. This is especially true when the discussion is taking place in the context of a contentious confirmation battle, which is itself playing out under extreme political conditions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:48 PM | Comments (2)

A Lawyer in Defense of the Judiciary

I spent enough time on it, and its topic is of sufficiently broad interest, that I thought I'd mention, here, a piece that I've posted on Anchor Rising about one lawyer's defense of apparent collusion between the judiciary and the legislature in Rhode Island.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:18 PM

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

The Redwood Review nonfiction piece of the week is "I-Roc, Do You?," by Gary Bolstridge.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:03 AM

A Look Around the Corner of PCism

Paul Cella notes a case in Australia that ought to act as a red flag in all areas currently or potentially afflicted with the multiculti PC cult of "tolerance." Rober Spencer reports:

One of the pastors, Daniel Scot, is Pakistani. He fled his native land seventeen years ago when he ran afoul of the notorious Section 295(c) of the Penal Code — which mandates death or life in prison for anyone who blasphemes "the sacred name of the holy Prophet Muhammad." It's a treacherously elastic statute that has been and is often used to snare Christians: cornered and made to state that they don't believe Muhammad was a prophet, they then find themselves charged with blasphemy.

Scot went to Australia, only to run afoul of that nation's new religious vilification laws. Last Friday, Judge Michael Higgins of The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal found him guilty of vilifying Islam in a seminar hosted by his group, Catch the Fire Ministries. The judge noted that during the seminar, Scot stated that "the Quran promotes violence, killing and looting." In light of Qur'anic passages such as 9:5, 2:191, 9:29, 47:4, 5:33 and many others, this cannot seriously be a matter of dispute. Muslims have pointed to verses in the Bible that they would have us believe are equivalent in violence and offensiveness, or have claimed that the great majority of Muslims don't take such verses literally; but it takes a peculiarly strong resistance to reality not only to deny that such verses are there, but to charge one who pointed them out with religious vilification.

In the comments to Cella's post, Australian reader Dave defends Higgins's decision on the grounds that "the two plantifs did not distingush between extreme Muslims and the Muslim religion in general, thus inspiting hatred against the Muslim community as a whole." That strikes me as a dangerously fine line to force people to walk in assessing other groups' religious doctrines. What, for instance, should the judgment be if the "extremists" of a religion have strong arguments that their method of practice (to be euphemistic) is rooted in foundational texts? Is Daniel Scot a criminal merely for lack of a disclaimer?

Attempting to answer a question that Cella posed to him concerning Christians' ability to judge variations of Muslim theology, Dave merely brings the problem into sharper focus:

In terms of judging, here's a simple rule of thumb: Extremists kill others and justify it in terms of religion. Moderates discuss religous ideas without killing people.

But where's the line? A mullah could "discuss" with his followers the glory that awaits those who sacrifice themselves in violent jihad. Would that be moderate? One could follow threads of culpability multiple degrees of separation from the actual coreligionists who "kill others and justify it in terms of religion."

At the very least, what "vilification" laws do is to prevent people outside of a religion from applying pressure to supposed moderates both to repudiate the extremists and to explain to them (and the world) why their interpretation of the shared texts and traditions is wrong.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:58 AM | Comments (2)

January 5, 2005

Inevitability and Marriage, One Step Removed

Well, there's frustration all around, I guess. Consider Jonathan Rauch on Marriage Debate Blog (emphasis his):

My biggest frustration in this debate is that I can't get opponents of SSM to focus on the potential risks to marriage of not having SSM. How will the culture interpret that? I agree that words and symbols matter, and if we don't have SSM, a couple of decades from now politically sensitive people (not just on the left) will avoid the word "marriage" because it will connote discrimination. They won't talk about "husbands" and "wives" at all, because that's non-inclusive language.

Everyone will just be "partners." As George F. Will likes to admonish conservatives, "Cultural change is autonomous." I'm not saying Maggie should accept SSM as inevitable. It isn't. I'm saying that if we don't have SSM, the culture won't stand still. It may bypass marriage.

The denial that he's arguing inevitability is glare on a well-polished prognostication. Rauch may not be insisting that legal redefinition of marriage is inevitable, but he's clearly suggesting that cultural redefinition is. I'd say that it's at least as likely that decisive defeat of the SSM movement would lead its supporters toward advocacy for a gay-focused alternative.

If they succeed, the culture will subsequently internalize the reasons for the different institutions (not meaning discrimination) and marriage will have found renewed strength through the challenge. Moreover, homosexuals' unions may be better able to draw on the relevant expressions and expectations of marriage (which Rauch has claimed as his motivation for SSM advocacy) than if they are part of a movement that has just succeeded in erasing a difference as profound as the ability to procreate.

This outcome — if the push for SSM fails — seems much more likely to me, given broader trends in American culture, than Rauch's prediction, which relies on the continued expansion of social radicalism.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:36 PM | Comments (12)
Marriage & Family

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:48 PM

All from a Private Decision Amid Despair

I've been meaning to recommend this column by Chuck Colson for almost a month; I've just found it difficult to figure out what to quote as a sample:

With plenty of time to think, Jake [DeShazer] wondered: What makes people hate each other? And he also wondered: Doesn’t the Bible say something about loving our enemies?

He asked his jailers for a Bible and eventually got one. He read it with fascination, re-reading some parts six or more times. Then, ten days into his study, he asked Christ to forgive his sins. He remembers, “suddenly . . . when I looked at the enemy officers and guards . . . , I realized that . . . if Christ is not in a heart, it is natural to be cruel. . . . [M]y bitter hatred . . . changed to loving pity.” Remembering Christ’s words from the cross— “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”—he asked God to forgive those who tortured him, as well. ...

When the war ended, Captain Fuchida returned to his family farm near Osaka. Later, stepping off a train in Tokyo, he was given a copy of Jacob DeShazer’s booklet. Intrigued, he began reading the Bible. And despite his Shinto heritage, he accepted Christ as his Savior.

That's not the end of the miraculous part.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:41 PM | Comments (2)

A Threat to the Secular Eucharist

The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly is fretting that, as Jeff Miller puts it, more women "during childbearing years are actually at risk of bearing a child." Connolly reaches the heart of the cultural matter in this paragraph:

Although unintended pregnancies can be welcome surprises, the danger from a public health and societal standpoint is that many of the women are financially or psychologically unprepared for parenthood at that point in their lives.

Jeff is correct to note that it bodes ill that a segment of society thinks that "pregnancy is a danger to public health and society." Even accepting the "danger" characterization, however, there's a more basic issue that arises when it becomes front page news that "the number of women who had sex in the previous three months but did not use birth control rose from 5.2 percent in 1995 to 7.4 percent in 2002" — especially when no effort was made to determine how many of those women were hoping for or at least open to pregnancy.

The fundamental issue, here, is the practical dimension of ensuring that even women who are or might be open to childbearing use contraception every time they have sex. The culture would either have to increase the priority given to not having children, or it would have to ensure that contraception and sex are so thoroughly associated with each other that potentially procreative sex seems unnatural.

Come to think of it, that actually sounds like a cultural movement that's been around for quite a while. Self-centered, youth-worshipping people who find it necessary for both spouses to work in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle are easy to categorize as "financially or psychologically unprepared for parenthood"; make birth control absolutely free, as the Post article goes on to promote, and folks will have less reason to even think of ceasing it.

Alternately, we could strive for — oh, I don't know — a culture that promotes emotional maturity and a morality-based value system founded in religious faith and that privileges an economic system that makes parenthood more universal in its financial viability.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:46 AM | Comments (6)

January 4, 2005

A Frightening Top 40

You've seen it linked everywhere else; now click on it here! John Hawkins's "The 40 Most Obnoxious Quotes Of 2004" is like a short trip down blogosphere Memory Lane.

Actually, the trip may be a bit too short, just now. In ten years, I'm sure we'll all be in more of a mood to chuckle! (One can only hope.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:25 PM
Quick Links

Supporting in Order to Oppose

A peculiar argument has been floating around the abortion debate lately — of the sort for which our confused society takes the counterintuitive nature of a premise as evidence of its truth. Here's William Stuntz, writing on Tech Central Station:

... if the Supreme Court overruled Roe and a couple dozen states criminalized early-term abortions, those trends would quickly reverse. Abortion would become not a moral question, but a civil liberties question - just as it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

This phenomenon -- legal victory that leads to cultural and political defeat -- has a long history. In the 1850s, slaveholders collected some huge legal prizes: the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision. Those victories produced an anti-slavery movement powerful enough to elect Lincoln and win the Civil War. Sixty years later, the temperance movement won its long battle for national Prohibition. Within a decade, the culture was turning against temperance; Repeal came soon after. In America's culture wars, the side with the law's weaponry often manages only to wound themselves.

Ramesh Ponnuru has responded in the Corner, closing with the assertion that this seemingly plausible thinking will gain no traction among people who "believe that it is necessary to change unjust laws that permit the killing of innocents." For perspective, imagine Stuntz arguing that those who oppose murder should assent to its legality.

Apart from the depth of disagreement, Stuntz's assessment isn't accurate. Ponnuru alludes to the broader reason with reference to partial-birth abortions, which became an issue "because a political movement made a priority of changing the law to ban them--and was not willing to stand down because legal academics (and later the Supreme Court) said that a ban would violate Roe." It is precisely this interplay between law and culture that makes it specious to point to declines in abortions and declare current law the cause.

The cultural force of the political activism is more likely the cause of the hopeful trends, and the moment pro-lifers begin accepting abortion as a fact of American life — the moment they cede the law to focus on culture — the trend will very possibly reverse. In fact, I've argued before that it's somewhat more than possible.

At first glance, that would seem to accord with Stuntz's examples — perhaps suggesting that pro-life leaders keep the fight up while realizing that legal success would undermine cultural success. But applying Stuntz's examples from the pro-abortion standpoint shows them to be irrelevant at best. By his own predictions for a post-Roe society, one would expect there to be politically powerful groups currently advocating for a return to slavery and/or to prohibition.

Abortion supporters might claim that the principle that has made both slavery and prohibition dead causes is the priority of individual freedom. Pro-lifers would argue that individual freedom is precisely their objective — the freedom of the individual to be born. That exchange leads directly back to the basic disagreement of the abortion debate, but a more basic factor cuts through all such disputes: the articulation of principle itself.

Our culture slipped toward legalized abortion, alongside deterioration of sexual mores and the ethos of the traditional family. The "civil liberties question" gained its power only because we, as a society, had forgotten how to answer it. Consequently, the inarticulable quality of the "moral question" led a brash movement to answer it with a snort.

In this view, what the pro-life movement has essentially done is to spend the past thirty years conceptualizing and then explaining why abortion is wrong. (Before the Sixties, blanket religious and social declarations sufficed.) Legal victory, in other words, will rest upon a strong moral and intellectual foundation. And it will last — ideally expanding to address other dire matters inimical to its central principle: the value of human life.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:55 PM

Merging the Worlds

With reference to the NRODT piece, Paulie calls me "a crossover writer." It may just be my background in music, but I've always taken "crossover" to imply distinct categories. And it seems increasingly the case that blogs are distinct from established publications mostly as a different stage in a progression (for an individual) or a spectrum (for the movement).

I've long suspected (and hoped) that a farm system is developing whereby major — paying — publications treat blogs as a recruitment field. From the other direction, folks who wish to write in the essay/commentary line for a living will be strongly advised, and then expected, to cut their teeth on blogs.

As for the term "crossover," perhaps a TV show would count...

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:47 PM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

Songs You Should Know 01/04/05

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "One Day in January" by Joe Parillo and Christine Harrington.

"One Day in January" Joe Parillo and Christine Harrington, Jazz
Stream (HiFi)
from Sand Box

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:06 PM

January 3, 2005

Rauch's Reasoning

Unless I'm missing something (which isn't a negligible possibility), the question raised by the last paragraph of Jonathan Rauch's WSJ piece on same-sex marriage is whether his reasoning is flawed or his deception is deliberate (emphasis added):

Mercifully, we may now get some time. Republicans' continued control of Supreme Court nominations makes it nearly unimaginable--and it was always unlikely--that the court will overrule the states on gay marriage. The Supreme Court recently sidestepped an opportunity to intervene in Massachusetts' gay marriages, and the election returns will give lower federal courts second thoughts about butting in. The enactment of those 13 state amendments demonstrates that popular sovereignty is alive and well in the states. I am dismayed by the amendments' passage, but I can't complain about the process. Nov. 2 showed that our federalist system is working exactly as it should, and it made the case for federal intervention weaker than ever.

Given what I've previously read from Rauch, I'm inclined to see him as an overly optimistic activist, rather than a manipulative one. Either way, if he's referring to the SCOTUS non-intervention that I believe he is, the Court's sidestepping the opportunity was hardly a neutral action. It had been asked to review whether the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had acted beyond its authority, and its refusal to block the Goodridge ruling effectively answered in the negative.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:47 PM | Comments (5)
Marriage & Family

End Notes for "One Man's Marriage Trap"

Writing for blogs and other online venues, one becomes accustomed to the ability to present sources within the text. And even books have room for pages of end notes. Given the number of quotations in my piece about Andrew Sullivan, it would obviously have been impossible to provide sources for them all. So, I thought it only appropriate to remedy that limitation here, with the items in the order in which the appear in the piece.

Please note that current circumstances required me to compile this list of context-giving quotations and links under duress; my time is extremely limited. Consequently, I wouldn't be surprised if readers find an error or an oversight here or there.

In some sense, physical contact had, in a somewhat comic way, implanted itself in my mind. But it was still intensely abstract. I remember when I was around seven or eight seeing a bare-chested man on television one night and feeling such an intense longing for him that I determined to become a doctor. That way, I figured, I could render the man unconscious and lie on top of him when no one else was in the room.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 7

I remember one day lying down on top of him to restrain him as his brittle, burning body shook uncontrollably with the convulsions of fever. I had never done such a thing to a grown man before—and as I did, the defenses I had put up between us, the categories that until then had helped me make sense of my life and his, these defenses began to crumble into something more like solidarity.
Love Undetectable (1998), p. 22

There is, however, as with Leviticus, one incontrovertible condemnation of homosexual acts. I'll quote it as well: "For this cause God gave them up into vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which was meet."

Here again, however, it's essential to ask what the reason is for Paul's condemnation of this clearly homosexual behavior. The reference is an analogy to the way in which Romans, having had the opportunity to follow the one true God, persist in polytheism. ... This is the end of the reference; once the analogy has been drawn, the main point can be engaged. ...

Could this condemnation apply to people who are by their own nature homosexual? Unfortunately, Paul never explicitly addresses this point, since he seems to assume that every individual's nature is heterosexual.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 28-29

This is the alternative argument embedded in the Church's recent grappling with natural law, that is just as consonant with the spirit of natural law as the Church's current position. It is more consonant with what actually occurs in nature; seeks an end to every form of natural life; and upholds the dignity of each human person. It is so obvious an alternative to the Church's current stance that it is hard to imagine the forces of avoidance that have kept it so firmly at bay for so long.
The New Republic, "Alone Again Naturally" (1994)

Both Jews and homosexuals appear in the hater's mind as small, cliquish, and very powerful groups, antipathetic to majority values, harboring secret contempt for the rest of society, and sustaining a ghetto code of secrecy and disguise. ... The loathing of each group is also closely linked to fear, and the fear is fanned, in many ways, by the distortion of a particular strain in Christian theology.
Love Undetectable (1998), p. 19

I feel my own conscience getting closer and closer to making the same decision [of leaving the Catholic Church]. It tears me apart to see no prospect of the Catholic Church ending its war on gay people and their dignity in my lifetime.
Daily Dish (2003)

In my view, the religious right amendment is both extreme - in that it bans any state from granting civil marriage rights to gays - and premature - in that the need for it on purely federalist grounds hasn't been in any way proven.
Daily Dish (2004)

I think Frist is also implying that only churches grant true marriage and that the state subsequently merely ratifies or acknowledges that sacred institution. Huh? Cannot atheists have civil marriage and view it as a simple human contract and a mark of citizenship - with no religious connotations whatsoever? Does Frist even acknowledge the full civic rights of non-believers at all, I wonder? The fact that the good doctor cannot apparently see a deep distinction between a religious marriage and a civil one shows, I guess, how close to theocracy today's Republicans have become.
Daily Dish (2003)

The new moralism has been enforced with a rigidity that puts old-style leftists to shame. It is an orthodoxy, to put it bluntly, of cultural and moral revolution: a wholesale assault on the beliefs and practices of an entire post-1960's settlement.
The New York Times Magazine, "The Scolds" (1998)

That same order should, according to Neuhaus, apply today. For the theo-conservatives, the secular neutrality of modern American law and government is, in fact, no neutrality at all, but the willful imposition by liberal elites of what Neuhaus has dubbed ''secular monism.''
The New York Times Magazine, "The Scolds" (1998)

This is graffiti on a sacred document. The founders of this country would be horrified.
Daily Dish (2003)

And the case for public neutrality is—equally clearly—very different from that of social stability. I invoke both, because, simply, they are such powerful arguments in their own right as to be irresistible. But in so far as they do conflict, it is clear that my argument for public neutrality and private difference is the essential one; and that it is essentially liberal. ... The book, then, in many ways, is a profession of faith in liberal politics, for all its inherent contradictions.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 214

The second issue is whether his point about a "slippery slope" from non-procreative sex to incest to polygamy, and so on, is valid. Where do we draw the line in policing private sexual behavior? My golden rule in matters of limited government is an old and simple one. It is that people should be free to do within their own homes anything they want to, as long as it is consensual, adult and doesn't harm anyone else. Bigamy and polygamy are therefore irrelevant here. Bigamy means being married to more than one woman; polygamy, likewise, means being married to more than two women. [Emphasis his.]
Daily Dish (2003)

Once you acknowledge the dignity of gays as a social class, once you have conceded that their private sexual and emotional lives cannot be reduced to a single sexual act, once you have made the law equal with respect to the private sex lives of heteros and homos, the logic of same-sex marriage becomes hard to resist ...

Equality under the law means something. And now, it inescapably means the right to marry - for all citizens and not just those with power.
Daily Dish (2003)

Then came the punchline [of Hawaii]. The American constitution stipulates that every state has to give "full faith and credit" to the laws of every other state. So if marriage between two women is legal in Hawaii, it will have to be recognized everywhere else. Gay marriage will soon be the law of the land.
Sunday Times, "US marriage maketh man" (1996)

If there is a question about the full faith and credit clause of the constitution, let the Supreme Court decide, as it alone can, the constitutionality of the matter.
Testimony before the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution (1996)

They're worried that if a state decides, even by legislative action, to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, then those couples will sue the federal government for federal benefits. As they should. That will then conflict with the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which the social right knew at the time and still knows is unconstitutional. So the Supreme Court, upholding states' rights to determine marriage and wary of a federal law that obviously singles out gay people for discrimination, will strike DOMA down. Then we essentially have same-sex marriage on a state and federal level.
Daily Dish (2003)

If you merely want to stop one state's marriages being nationalized, you have the power already. It's called the Defense of Marriage Act, alongside the long established precedent of states being able not to recognize out of state marriages for public policy reasons.
Daily Dish (2003)

No serious legal scholar thinks that one state can impose marriage rights on another, under current law. Despite disingenuous attempts to claim otherwise, the Full Faith and Credit Clause has never applied to marriages and still doesn't.
Daily Dish (2003)

Robert George, a political philosopher at Princeton and chief intellectual guru of the Catholic right, laid out the case for banning all civil recognition of gay relationships in the federal Constitution last Friday. It's such a tenuous case - and requires unbounded paranoia with respect to courts and a disingenuous attempt to argue that the Full Faith and Credit Clause applies to civil marriages (it never has).
Daily Dish (2003)

If all legal precedent fails, if DOMA is struck down, if one single civil marriage in Massachusetts is deemed valid in another state, without that other state's consent, I will support a federal constitutional amendment that would solely say that no state is required to recognize a civil marriage from another state.
Daily Dish (2004)

I believe individual states should be able to decide for themselves. I believe that state courts - where marriage questions rightly belong - should also rule on a state-by-state basis.
Daily Dish (2002)

First off: the entire premise of the piece - that marriage for gays is legal in Norway, Denmark and Sweden - is factually untrue. There are no marriage rights for gays in the countries he cites. There are, instead, what are called "registered partnerships." ...

These kinds of unsubstantiated correlations, slippery links and simple associations would be laughed out of a freshman social science class. Did no one edit this?
Daily Dish (2004)

Yes, the Ontario Court ruling really is a big deal. And yes, it really does represent the first actual, living, breathing gay marriage. Holland and Denmark have legal gay partnerships almost indistinguishable from marriage. But the Canadian precedent is the actual thing; marriage; the same thing as hetersoexuals take for granted.
Daily Dish (2003)

And today in Denmark and Sweden different compromises have been made that affect the meaning of marriage itself.
Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con (1997), p. 4

Take Denmark, which has had such "registered partnerships" longer than any other country. During the first six years in which gay marriage was legal in Denmark, the rate of straight marriages went up by 10% and the rate of straight divorces went down by 12%.
Sunday Times, "Marriage a la mode: a game for everyone" (2001)

In Denmark, where de facto gay marriage has existed for some time, the rate of marriage among gays is far lower than among straights, but, perhaps as a result, the gay divorce rate is just over one-fifth that of heterosexuals. And, during the first six years in which gay marriage was legal, scholar Darren Spedale has found, the rate of straight marriages rose 10 percent, and the rate of straight divorces decreased by 12 percent. In the only country where we have real data on the impact of gay marriage, the net result has clearly been a conservative one.
The New Republic, "Unveiled" (2001)

Is this some sort of radical revolution? Will it lead, or has it led, to the dissolution of the family as we have historically known it? Many conservatives seem to think so and their worries should not be dismissed as bigotry or fustiness. The importance of the family in society is indisputable. But there is a far stronger case which says that far from undermining family life, giving support for solid relationships between two committed individuals who meet all the requirements of marriage bar the piece of paper strengthens the family.
Sunday Times, "Marriage a la mode: a game for everyone" (2001)

[Virtually Normal's politics of homosexuality] allows homosexuals to define their own identity and does not place it in the hands of the other. It makes a clear, public statement of equality while leaving all of the inequalities of emotion and passion to the private sphere, where they belong.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 186

There is nothing in Virtually Normal which posits that certain ways of life are always and everywhere better for every gay man and lesbian. There is merely an argument that until the conditions of political and legal equality are met, gay and lesbian outsiderdom is not a cultural choice; it is making a virtue out of necessity.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 211

Our battle, after all, is not for political victory but for personal integrity.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 186-187

I came to revere sexuality not just because it was so long forbidden to me, but because I could not control or nurture it, or even fully own it. ...To give this up, even under the threat of death, would have been to give up being fully human.
Love Undetectable (1998), p. 58

It is also true, however, that homosexual relationships, even in their current, somewhat eclectic form, may contain features that could nourish the broader society as well. ... The mutual nurturing and sexual expressiveness of many lesbian relationships, the solidity and space of many adult gay male relationships, are qualities sometimes lacking in more rote, heterosexual couplings. Same-sex unions often incorporate the virtues of friendship more effectively than traditional marriages; and at times, among gay male relationships the openness of the contract makes it more likely to survive than many heterosexual bonds. Some of this is unavailable to the male-female union: there is more likely to be greater understanding of the need for extramarital outlets between two men than between a man and a woman; and again, the lack of children gives gay couples greater freedom. Their failures entail fewer consequences for others. But something of the gay relationship's necessary honesty, its flexibility, and its equality could undoubtedly help strengthen and inform many heterosexual bonds.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 202

But in case my point is not clear enough, let me state it unequivocally so that it cannot be distorted in the future: it is my view that, in same-sex marriage, adultery should be as anathema as it is in heterosexual marriage.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 221

The timeless, necessary, procreative unity of a man and a woman is inherently denied homosexuals; and the way in which fatherhood transforms heterosexual men, and motherhood transforms heterosexual women, and parenthood transforms their relationship, is far less common among homosexuals than among heterosexuals.
Virtually Normal, p. 196

But within this model [of marriage], there is plenty of scope for cultural difference. There is something baleful about the attempt of some gay conservatives to educate homosexuals and lesbians into an uncritical acceptance of a stifling model of heterosexual normality. The truth is, homosexuals are not entirely normal; and to flatten their varied and complicated lives into a single, moralistic model is to miss what is essential and exhilarating about their otherness.
Virtually Normal, p. 203

There is something unique and miraculous about the connection between male-female sex and the creation of new life. Its connection to a marital structure in which that new life can be nurtured, protected, and elevated is also one that is obviously vital to defend.
The New Republic, "Unnatural Law" (2003)

this is a classic civil rights issue and it's time to stop the mealy-mouthed talk about civil unions as some sort of option for homosexual citizens.
Daily Dish (2002)

If coupling isn't the de facto meaning of that relationship, what else is? That's the living, breathing reality of civil marriage in America. Given that reality, how can civil marriage be denied gay couples? ... is it fair to deny one tiny group these benefits, simply as a means to promote an ideal that most heterosexuals don't live up to anyway?
Daily Dish (2004)

The basic problem for the anti-gay marriage forces is that they are upholding a marital standard for gays that no one any longer upholds for straights. And this obvious inequality - recognized even by Scalia, for example - cannot withstand judicial scrutiny under any reasonable standard of equal treatment under the law. Thats why I think it's hyperbole to describe the Massachusetts court of judicial "activism." The argument of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was that gays couldn't marry because they couldn't procreate. Once it was obvious that this standard did not apply to heterosexuals, the court had no choice but to strike down the inequality. It was not a radical decision at all. It was an inescapable one. And that's why even a conservative court like Alaska's upheld it. And that's why you really do have to amend a state constitution to prevent its guarantees of equality from being applied to gay citizens.
Daily Dish (2004)

For Kudlow, there is no distinction between private and public life - and immoral people have no right to have any privacy at all. "Judeo-Christian religions teach that marital fidelity and faithfulness are the building blocks of a civilization and society," Kudlow writes. "Without them, there can be no stability. This is not a trifling point. It is a major point. It's not merely that he covered up the affair, but that he had the affair." He goes on: "Flimsy distinctions between private and public behavior ignore all this and serve merely to muddy the waters of proper conduct. ..." Wow. Kudlow even looks kindly on a law in the District making adultery a crime. ... Give me an adulterer over an ayatollah any day.
Daily Dish (2001)

When those in favor of traditional marriage start proposing measures that would infringe on heterosexual abuse of marital privileges, I'll take them seriously. Until then ...
Daily Dish (2004)

Why can we not hold up marriage and committed loving relationships as the goal but not punish and stigmatize the non-conformists or those whose erotic needs and desires are more complex than the crude opposition to all non-marital and non-procreative sex allows.
Daily Dish (2002)

And why, for that matter, can sexual expression only ever be legitimate within a single human relationship? What is so bad, after all, with mutual objectification? If both parties are willing and equal and adult, why is sexual pleasure--that isn't related to some ulterior social good--so wrong?
TNR Online, "Natural Bias" (2003)

Gay men are certainly more sexually active with more partners than most straight men. (Straight men would be far more promiscuous, I think, if they could get away with it the way gay men can.) Many gay men value this sexual freedom more than the strains of monogamous marriage. But many also yearn for anchors for their relationships, for the structure and family support and financial security that come with marriage.
Sunday Times, "Marriage a la mode: a game for everyone" (2001)

Many gay men value this sexual freedom more than the stresses and strains of monogamous marriage (and I don't blame them).
The New Republic, "Unveiled" (2001)

While I support civil marriage for homosexuals, and believe such marriage should be monogamous and will probably reduce sexual adventurism, I have never condemned other relationships, those who choose not to marry (which would include me), sex before marriage, and I have written positively about casual and even promiscuous sex.
Daily Dish (2002)

Sexual experience, from the beginning, seemed to me almost a sacrament of human existence, a truly transforming experience in the adventure of being human; an insight into both what love may possibly be and what death almost certainly is. In the modern bourgeois world, it may even be the only avenue for true self-risk that is still available.
Love Undetectable (1998), p. 57

Sex is messy and dangerous. But it's also one of the greatest and most exhilarating gifts our nature has given us - and free societies respect the freedom to explore it.
Daily Dish (2003)

My argument for the moral neutrality of homosexuality, for example, for the moral good of some homosexual sexual activity, and for the moral evil of abusive sexual activity, whether gay or straight, is not based on pure blind emotion. It's not wish-fullfilment. It's an argument that the reduction of human sexuality to pure, heterosexual, procreative sex strikes me as excessively strict, given the not-so-terrifying moral dangers of other forms of human sexuality. It's an argument that other forms of sex - pre-marital, contracepted, same-sex, masturbatory - are not always the 'evils' the Church claims them to be - and indeed might be legitimate and humanizing ways to express sexual freedom.
Daily Dish (2002)

It will take time and persuasion and argument and experience, but that's the genius of a federal system, a system Kurtz wants to upend. I want that slow federal process to take place. Kurtz wants to pre-empt it now by writing an anti-gay plank into the Constitution of the United States. He wants to prevent the process even starting. I think that's unconservative, anti-federal, extremist and deeply divisive. Which is as good a description of some elements of the far right (and the far left) in this country as you can find.
Daily Dish (2002)

One of the unfounded scare tactics of the anti-gay right has been the notion that civil marriage rights for gays in any one state will automatically mean their exportation across the country. Constitutional scholars know this is extremely unlikely.
Daily Dish (2002)

That's why this move is far less radical than some are suggesting - and why it wasn't crazy for the court to find no rational reason to maintain the exclusion. Sure, it would be a radical move in parts of the South, where gay families also exist, but do so in a climate of fear and hatred and widespread hostility. But that's the point of federalism, isn't it? It can be tried out in one state before it is tried out in another. The flip-side of leaving Mississippi alone is that we should also leave Massachusetts alone. Deal?
Daily Dish (2003)

I don't believe people's basic civil rights should be up to a majority vote. That's why we have courts at all - to check majority tyranny. (When was the last time you heard a conservative worry about democratic tyranny?) I do believe in the process of debate, winning over the public, and doing this legislatively if at all possible - because it makes the reform more stable.
Daily Dish (2004)

Slowly but surely, as courts are staffed with judges who reflect contemporary understanding, the restrictions [against homosexuals] have begun to collapse.
Sunday Times, "Gay marriages could be a Tory vote-winner" (2003)

I imagined that I would want the anti-sodomy law to be struck down on the narrowest possible grounds, for several reasons: I'm a skeptic of judicial activism; I feared a backlash if the ruling was too sweeping; I felt more powder should be kept dry for the gay-marriage fight. ... I changed my mind. I changed it not because I got carried away with emotion (although I'd be a fool not to admit some). I changed my mind because Kennedy reminded me of something I already believed: that, as long as you acknowledge that gay people are human beings with no choice over their orientation, there can be no constitutional or moral defense of sodomy laws, period.
The New Republic, "Citizens" (2003)

The text [of Goodridge] is well worth a good and thorough review. It shows, to my mind, how impossible it is that any reasonable court, given the existing rules for civil marriage, can deny one small group of citizens one of the "basic civil rights of man."
Daily Dish (2003)

You could believe all those things and still think that individual states should decide for themselves on legal civil marriage and that this issue should be dealt with slowly and with democratic deliberation, rather than in one single, polarizing campaign for an amendment.
Daily Dish (2003)

The only way the religious right will succeed with this radical step [i.e., the FMA] is by a hysterical and polarizing campaign.
Daily Dish (2003)

A reader sends this piece of information in, which, to tell you the truth, shocks me. Maybe it's not true. But it seems to check out. Maybe other readers can help cast light on it. In 1866, America was in the middle of another, far deeper, conflagration in part over the role of a minority. The Vatican weighed in on the debate ...

Somehow, it comforts me to know that this inerrant institution, held up today as a moral arbiter, compromised on something as fundamental as human slavery. It makes dissent today easier.
Daily Dish (2003)

It also appears that the 1866 limited defense of slavery was and is genuine.
Daily Dish (2003)

The guarantee of minority freedom [from Neuhausian theocons], in other words, would be majority benevolence. It is perhaps unsurprising that when Neuhaus gathered a group of public thinkers and ministers to endorse a statement reflecting this orthodoxy, in October 1997, there were no Jews among the signers.
The New York Times Magazine, "The Scolds" (1998)

But the result is clear, at least for those who care about the Constitution and care about civil rights. We must oppose this extremism with everything we can muster. We must appeal to the fair-minded center of the country that balks at the hatred and fear that much of the religious right feeds on. We must prevent this graffiti from being written on a document every person in this country should be able to regard as their own.
Daily Dish (2004)

No homosexual child, surrounded overwhelmingly by heterosexuals, will feel at home in his sexual and emotional world, even in the most tolerant of cultures. And every homosexual child will learn the rituals of deceit, impersonation, and appearance. Anyone who believes political, social, or even cultural revolution will change this fundamentally is denying reality.
Virtually Normal, p. 13

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:33 PM

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

The latest Notes & Commentary essay by Maureen Mullarkey is "Cassatt's Pioneering Inventiveness," reviewing Counterproofs by Mary Cassatt at Adelson Galleries (click the gallery's thumbnails for larger images).

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:58 AM
Visual Art

A Note (Again) on Correspondence

I've received a number of emails and there have been a number of comments to which I'd intended to reply, but I probably won't manage to do so. It's one of those quirks of personality: I hate to send quick, ambiguous notes, because that understates my interest in what y'all have to say. If I don't have time at the moment at which the email/comment arrives, I just put it aside and either its relevance disappears or I continue to lack for something interesting to say in response. Consequently, I end up not saying anything, giving even more of an impression that I'm not interested.

Well, please know that I am interested and that I read everything that comes my way and almost always follow any links that are provided. I promise that, once I get quotidian life under a little bit more control, I'll behave with better manners.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:53 AM
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January 2, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 1 (p. 13-20)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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"First of all, I'm no longer young enough to be anybody's messenger, even if I were so obsequious." D. looked a little ashamed. "But I think it would have done me good, as a child, to have somebody like Nathaniel to admire, even to serve to a degree.

"I am much too old now to lament the fact, but mine was not a pleasant childhood. This may be partly attributable to my father's being dumb-stricken when he learned of my conception. He had been a priest in the hills of Arizona, and after a scandalous affair with one of his more elderly parishioners was discovered, his position was forever irredeemable. Oh, he married her to prevent my being a bastard, but I'm sure, had he ever broken from his verbal impotence, he would have condemned his virility and my intractable will to be born. I never did hear him utter more than a disapproving grumble. But such circumstances come to pass as they might, and he managed to keep the three of us clothed and fed.

"In my life, I've recounted my youth over-much, so I'll not encumber the relation of my tale with such an irreconcilable sheathing. Suffice to say, through all the drinking and lambasting, with every shattered hope and disappointing embarrassment, taking, sum-total, every indecency of the mind and body through which my younger self was forced to persevere, mine was not a pleasant childhood. True, yes, many the cause, and right, have I to lament, but this is not a tale of disaffection. No, you've neither need nor desire, I'm sure, to hear the lugubrious discourses of an old man describing childhood nights awoken by an hellacious hissing. Many were the hours I lay in bed and shivered at my cowardly inability to interrupt on my mother's behalf. Reams could be written of the shadows on my celing, like ancient runes hovering over me. When I was around sixteen years of age, adolescence flared, and I discovered within myself the power of will to charge into my parents' room and, kicking open the door, declare that I would no longer sit idly by while the cacophony of terror reverberated in my ears, ears that my father promptly boxed and set to ringing. Yes, that night I was beaten as my mother's surrogate, but fixing door hinges with three broken fingers, two at the knuckle and one at the larger joint on my right hand." John indicated the appropriate fingers, which apparently had healed quite well, as there was no noticeable crookedness. "Yes, watching blood seep through my makeshift bandages and drip upon the floor was therapy enough without my describing to you every last horrific detail of the dark stain, in the shape of a crucifix but with a seventeen degree angle at the bottom, that is, to this day — as far as I know — a monument to my first and only battle against the tyranny of my father."

John took a dramatic breath to compose himself, then went on, "After graduating from high school, I managed to secure a position in the lower echelons of a local chapter of the IRS and, over the course of twelve years, managed to work my way to a comfortable, unassuming living. I suppose I was your typical middle-class Western miscreant throughout my twenties, doing nothing but passing the time from year to year, but when my third decade of life began, I lost my impetus and the local bars and houses of ill repute lost my patronage. Cleaning my face in the bathroom sink one evening, after another drudgingly lengthened day, with a whisky consolation on the windowsill and a suicidal conviction in my soul, I gave up. I just put an extra pair of shoes between two spare bottles of liquor in a bag and walked from my modest efficiency residence into the great wide world.

"Here again I could elaborate on specifics; I could enumerate the stars which shone down on me as I lay stretched out beside the gray and mossy stones of a country wall, wondering how much farther I would go, could go, on, while six pebbles dug relentlessly into my back no matter how much I tossed and turned; I could measure my progress in footsteps and perform lengthy discourses on every grain which pierced my feet once my soles had worn thin, embedding themselves in the skin until they seemed as boulders and I thought that my limping, almost as if to the beat of an indolent samba, would never allow me to walk otherwise than obliquely again; oh, I could bore you to tears, because I have been unable to erase from my mind one single animal that left me scarred with biting and scratching, attacking me for no other reason than that I did not belong, and likely smelled quite badly as well, nor can I forget the jeering faces of every young boy who took my debasement as a right of passage for himself, or one single passer-by who glared at me in disgust when I was forced to walk the highway or through a town; though I must admit that if I ever come across a pale green Cadillac with Pennsylvania plates and a faded yellow bumper sticker that reads 'Go with God/or take a bus,' I may lose control and perform some drastic act of contrition because I'm convinced that I have still not completely removed the mud that its squealing tires splattered upon me." He looked suspiciously at D. as if inspecting her face for any suggestion that she knew of such a car. "Believe me when I tell you that I could talk on for hours, for these are demons that refuse to abate their tormenting. But mine is as little a story of pilgrimage and discovery as it is of dysfunctionality, so I'll not linger on my life as a wandering hermit making dubious progress across the heartland, getting lost on barren roads in Tennessee, and even walking misguidedly westward for two weeks into Ohio, where I was fortuitous enough to stumble upon a fellow wanderer with an extra pair of shoes that nearly fit, though they smelled of cat refuse, but speed forward to my arrival in New York City, to which, for whatever reason, I was drawn. No, the important part of my story, with the entrance of Nathaniel, is yet to come, so I'll waste no more time in getting to it."

John paused to pick a pebble from the treads of his boot. He examined every scar that time had etched into it and flung it far into the darkening woods.

"It's getting late," said D. "Are we almost there?"

"Yes, the end of our jaunt is just over the next rise. We'll double our steps and arrive before the sun departs."

D. was beginning to feel that she had made a mistake, but that perhaps it was not too late to correct it. "Maybe if you'd just walk me back to my car," she began.

"Nonsense," was the quick reply. "We've come this far already; it makes no sense at all to turn back now."

Looking around, D. realized that, were she to excuse herself, she would most likely be unable to find her way back to the car. She also thought John might decide to prevent her from walking back tranquilly, if only by insisting, after much complaint, that he lead her. With an attempt to subtly increase their pace, D. decided that, even though she was already fairly dry despite the cooling air, a warm meal would offer a pleasant respite before she insisted that John take her back.

When their new rhythm was established, John continued.

"As fortune had it, the towers of the grand metropolis rose from the horizon with time enough for me to learn the routes and turns of homeless urbanity before the cold crept in. I quickened my step until the mighty Hudson swept the ground from my path. In an urgency to reach my new home, I chose rather than extend my march any longer on the New Jersey coast to make the lethargically daring swim into a final trial. I remember, very clearly, the rolling waves which so fiercely attempted to topple me, cresting distant against the sky like a Red Sea cataclysm; I can still feel the clutches of the deep trying to pull me down; the demon flood strove with all its might to swallow me and replace my very breath with its essence; I was tossed, at times, almost entirely above the surface of the water by the famously violent undulations; but my march had made me strong, and my legs were able to propel me, against the monstrous odds of resistance, to safety. I finally pulled myself from the pummeling water, feeling cleansed and sedate as I lay on the stones to dry myself and rest through the calm, mildly breezy Spring afternoon. My future lay ahead, and my plan was clear. The last thing I remember definitively is spending the remainder of my funds on a cheap pair of shoes and a liter bottle of rum.

"The life of the Big Apple Homeless is well enough documented that there is little I could add that would be anything more than repetitive. The Autumn floated by as so many colorful leaves used in a vain attempt at a counterpane after an evening spent trying to discover which dumpsters were particularly auspicious in their yield. The Winter was a blur of shelters and half-filled bottles of nameless alcohol thrown, when divested of their powerful fumigant, into a drum-fire. I sweated so profusely through the Summer, because I was fully clothed for fear of stripping a layer and losing it, that the smell of the urine flowing like rivers all around me as I lay upon the ground hardly caused my nose to quiver.

"Only the Spring was somewhat livable, and I recall that it was a fine May day when I awoke, commonly, behind a dumpster in an alley. The haze over my eyes and the pounding in my head were so eternally a part of my morning ritual that, were it not for the coolness of the air, I could have been five years younger in Tucson. Luckily, this fine morning, I was still armed with ample remnants of my bender and was fully recovered within half an hour.

"Not without difficulty, I pulled myself to my feet and resolved to take a walk through the park. Staggering around for a bit, I was woozy enough to feel only moderately ashamed as I sat to rest on a bench by Strawberry Fields. I lost myself for a while in my palms and was watching the amorphously flowing forms of red on my eyelids, hypnotized, when some unascertainable impulse forced me to belabor my head to rising, and I was caught forthwith in a glaring match with a disheveled young waif who could not have been a day older than sixteen years of age. The lad smiled impishly and skittered into some bushes. In my state, I had neither desire nor ability to give chase, and having never been duped into believing the fable of rainbows and cauldrons, I acquiesced to my morosity and rolled along with the day. By nightfall I had separated myself from that moment with ample wandering and spirits to have completely forgotten not only the child, but nearly the existence of Central Park itself.

"Some of my compatriots — I use this term because people in that state have neither friend nor acquaintance, but all feel an ardent kinship — had managed to encourage some kindling to blaze and a ghoulish glow was cloaking every face and aspect of the alley with a crimson guise and casting long fiendish shadows twenty feet high on every wall, the patrons of our Medieval ball shuffling by like so many dwarves, phantoms, and succubi, as if they danced a satanic jig to celebrate the flaming, crackling warmth, and it was only by the sharp contrast of his azure hue that I distinguished my little leprechaun galloping on an invisible horse to where I lay.

"'Come,' he said, 'I have chosen you as the harbinger of my shibboleth. Come. Sleep.'

"He placed his hand over my eyes, and I was thrust at once into a blessfully dreamless slumber. I awoke by the side of that very same stream in which you were recently immersed, not knowing how long I had slept, where I was, or how I had gotten there. Miraculously, my head and vision were clear. At that moment, I was able to distinguish through the golden sunlight even the fringes of the sparse clouds. My new friend was splashing about in the water and called out to me, 'Hey, you're awake. Come in and clean yourself.'

"It seemed the right thing to do, so I stripped myself from clothes that I had expected to die in and slipped easily into the brook's embrace. Handing me a bar of soap, he waded to a midsized stone and waited for me to finish. If you've never gone over-long without a cleansing, you have no idea the sense of rebirth and atonement which overwhelms you when, having been dragged through the mire of society, you are offered the opportunity to renew your husk. I rinsed with one final submersion and, upon rising, looked about for the child, but he was not to be seen. Exiting the water, I shivered and heard a crystalline voice from behind.

"'Are you not going to assist me?'

"I returned to the water's edge, somewhat perplexed by this mild tomfoolery, and, as I pulled the rapscallion from the water, for no inferable reason said, 'You are my own dear son with whom I am pleased.'

"'No,' he cajolingly corrected, 'no, it is I who am pleased.'

"Something in his tone drew me into an elucidative rumination, and I was still dully considering the price of a revelation when I became aware that my clothes were not where I had left them. Noticing my quandary, the boy told me that his name was Nathaniel and that I would find an entirely new costume were I to make a short excursion.

"I admit that our bareness caused me a little consternation, but as we progressed, his unassuming manner put me at ease, and he entrusted me with his design.

"Quite some time has passed since that fateful day, but memory lapses notwithstanding, I think I can recite verbatim his explanation." John cleared his throat. "'I can feel within a great change arising,'" he quoted, "'and it was in search of a place in which to nurture my new convictions that I was first drawn to this forest. In my wanderings I had the good fortune to stumble upon an old, abandoned, and neglected estate, and it is there that I intend to repose when the outside world too much inhibits my augmentation.' He gestured toward the horizon and continued, 'That other realm, the real world, as it is so incredulously dubbed, however, still claims a hold on my allegiances, so I will need a surrogate to watch after the refuge and persevere in the progress of its renovation in my absence.'

"It was at that moment that we broke through this wall of underbrush up ahead and saw the house, our new tabernacle, and I knew that from then on it would be my home."

John cleared the way through the evergreen thicket of which he was speaking, and the last traces of daylight seemed to linger just long enough for D. to get a pure glimpse of the large building. And while something indescribable in its design was undeniably engaging, she was too weary from the walk and fresh air and too dazed by John's excessive narrative to be appreciative of anything other than the chance for an intermission.

"So here we are at last," whispered John, and the pair crossed the short yard to complete their journey.

Pausing on the porch, D. perused the line of trees from which she had just emerged. Just a meal and a rest and I'll go, she thought, feeling the weight of the bones in her legs, or maybe even a short nap to regain my strength. Then I'll find my way back to the car. The forest seemed to gray around her as she watched. The sun had finished setting, but the world had yet to admit it. Well, it looks to be awfully dark tonight. Maybe if John has a room with a door that locks I'll stay until morning. What could happen in one night? Really, just because I'm a woman doesn't mean that I can't handle myself. So it's settled then: I'll stay the night, and in the morning, I'll assert myself and have John lead me to my car.

With this reassurance, D. followed John through the doubled width of the front doors, which closed behind them as if at the urging of some ghostly hand.

Twilight has fallen, and the owls call out their alluring chant, so different from the birds of the day. So refreshing. A raccoon waddles around the porch and into the woods, his path erased by the breeze. The wind has calmed and now whistles only delicately through the still naked branches — it is cool and strokes our eyes awake. The trees are silent. The lumber of the dark house creaks and groans as it settles.

Quiet, listen closely. Do the sounds of the night blend their phrasings? Does a voice materialize from the seamless nonsense? Sit back on the soft earth, plush with dead grass. Close your eyes, but not to sleep. Close your eyes for there is nothing to see but those minute details that we would surely fail to see were our eyes open. Close your eyes and listen as if you are running your ears like fingers across the cracks and scrapes — the story lines — of the house: here is a tale we've yet to hear.

January 1, 2005

All You Need to Know About "2004 in religion"

Richard Dujardin has a long piece in today's Providence Journal titled "2004 in religion," and what a telling first sentence it has:

It was a year when many gay couples in Massachusetts rejoiced, being able to marry legally for the first time.

(In case you're wondering, the fact that, "with the help of religious conservatives, 11 states banned same-sex marriages" is held until the second to last sentence of the piece.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:52 PM | Comments (1)

What Will Be Is

Was it really only this past January that Tech Central Station published my piece about resigning weapons inspector David Kay? Both the writing and the events seem years ago. Was it really only in '04 that I redesigned Dust in the Light? What a year has slipped between then and now! Frankly, I don't think I've ever been more relieved to see a new year begin.

You know all that happened in the world in 2004, and you can go to just about any mainstream news source to find highlights. For my part, I'm mainly concerned with how correct the closing months of the year proved me to be when I wrote, exactly one year ago:

Windfall, calamity, and stagnation are all up in the air. It would take so little in any direction. Blessings and disappointments, breakthroughs and failures come all mushed together, and it is our task to sort through them and figure out which to address. Which direction to head.

In its extreme personal eventfulness, 2004 was much like 1999 — the year in which I graduated from college, found a job, married my wife, and moved into a new apartment. This year, we had our second child and bought a house; I became a seventh grade teacher, proud to be able to be the sole source of income for my household, and then returned abruptly and painfully to partial employment. Within the same time frame as that stumble, National Review Online published my pieces on the ABA and the bishops' political questions. I designed and unveiled Anchor Rising and continued with the ups and downs (mostly downs) of a job search. In the final month of the year, I just barely crossed the financial finish line by working two long weeks delivering Christmas packages.

The new year begins with breakthroughs and failures all mushed together. I've no idea where I'll find the money that's necessary to survive January's bills, and yet, there are two print magazines currently on the stands in which my work appears — National Review and Newport Life. As was true a year ago and when I described the feeling of being at the edge of 2000 in the preface of A Whispering Through the Branches, the year to come is an expanse of the unknown. This year, though, more than ever before, success and failure will have to tease themselves apart. The status quo is unsustainable, and either a day job or the writing will have to pay much better in order for me to manage both.

Of course, it all seems petty by comparison with the calamity that ended the year along the Indian Ocean. There, thousands of people are beginning 2005 facing a blank page, with only the overwhelming heartbreak of the recent past to spill onto it. And the rest of us, amid the stress of our own, more incremental, steps and slips, are left with only charity and prayer to increase the chances that the hope buried within utter ruin will emerge for them.

So, into the fog of a new year we go, hoping that we do not stroll right past life's treasures because, by our own fault or the fog's, we are unable to see them. Those of you who've shared 2004 with me, I thank you. Dim obscurity is much less terrifying with company.

But then, we've always Company. I've come to see the notion that the palpable pain of this world has any relevance to the yes-or-no question of God as silly. Either we conclude from His existence that an explanation for evil must exist, or we approach the question already believing that the reality of pain, which is undeniable, answers it. I, for one, believe that the reality of hope and joy, which are also undeniable, answers it.

Therefore, may He guide you along the secure paths hidden in the year to come. I'll be there with you, but few require guidance more than me.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 PM