February 28, 2005

Cultural Sacrifice by Proxy

Religious believers and non-believers — whether or not they know in which camp they reside — will have irreconcilably different approaches to a given issue. For the example in point: to a non-believer, a religious organization such as the Roman Catholic Church, just like any organization of any type, is its members and what it does. If the people and/or the actions are seen as corrupt, then the organization is defined by corruption. Believers, on the other hand, add a layer of import such that the visible practicalities of the organization are not the whole story. That could be good or bad — depending on what the believer actually believes in — but there's another dimension of consideration required when assessing corruption.

Within the field of Christian belief, with its roots in the New Testament, scriptural incidents can help to frame that assessment, and if we take the twelve disciples' portrayal in the Gospels as an indication, then the manifold flaws in the history of the Church are neither inexplicable nor invalidating. As if to provide a crystallization of this point, both Matthew and Mark note the same action of those who were with Jesus at his arrest: with the violence escalating, with the initial seizure that would begin the Passion, Jesus declared that it all must happen so that scripture would be fulfilled, and the disciples "left him and fled."

If nothing else, the religion that God sent this troupe of doubters and deniers to establish is clearly not one requiring perfection among entrants. The Church in which Simon Peter — arguably the most conspicuous doubter and denier of the lot — is held to be the prototypical pope ought not be expected to be the perfect representative of Christ on Earth, inasmuch as even membership in its hierarchy is not synonymous with sainthood. Rather, it is a body through which all of humanity — sinners that we are — can find our way to God in spite of our failures. The crucial question is: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Not: "Peter can you be perfect?" Will you try... not will you succeed.

So to those who see a pattern encompassing, for example, both acquiescence to the fad of castrati and the horrid handling of sexual abuse cases in recent decades, I say that they are correct. The human beings who make up the institutional Church are susceptible to the evils of their times, and the lamentable reality is that those human beings will often fail or fall short in attempting to further explicit ends especially in the direction of cultural gravity. Castrating boys was an excommunicable offense, after all, and employment of the men who'd been subjected to the procedure was hardly unique to the Church. Castrati were so popular that composers sometimes felt compelled to write them into operas for their own sake. More to the point, as inclined as we may be, in the conceits of our less candidly brutal era, to set ourselves above our ancestors, the impulse remains familiar:

Elevated to the position of stars throughout the 18th Century, castrati raised the art of singing beyond human limits. History has recorded the names of a number of famous castrati, who have become legendary in Europe, for example: Caffarelli, Farinelli, Porporino, Senesino and Bernacchi. They attained a level of popularity similar to that of the rock stars of our time. 18th Century groupies went so far as to wear medallions bearing the portraits of their favorite castrati, a fashion not dissimilar to the pins and T shirts fans of rock stars wear today.

How many girls in the modern age have been starved, surgically manipulated, and all but tortured for the excuse of beauty? How many boys have been pushed to exhaustion and misery on the slim hope of athletic success? How many children have been ridden to nervous breakdowns by the constant push to succeed academically — ever younger and covering ever more ground?

I do not intend to deny the organizational Church's errors (evils) or to absolve it of the need for recompense. Indeed, dealing with the Scandal has become a matter of intra-Catholic dispute, and there is much that I would advise be done differently. But in a culture that abuses children relentlessly — almost as a matter of principle — in ways with superficially noble objectives and in ways that cannot be cast otherwise than as licentious, travesties among clerics and in the hierarchy too easily provide the illusion of a redemptive proxy.

Rewriting history to unravel the Church from the developing Western Culture with which it was intimately entwined for so many centuries does not allow us to discard the darkness with the former and keep the blessings with the latter. We cannot expiate our sins by sacrificing those charged with tending the Shepherd's sheep. Believers and non-believers alike do well to recall that hypocrisy isn't among the cardinal sins; consistency makes no virtue of vice, and seeing the sins of others does not diminish our responsibility for those that we share, much less absolve us of our own.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:18 PM

February 27, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 4 (p. 70-75)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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"After that day," Huck started up again, "we switched around the liquors so much that John stopped lookin' at the labels an' only just drank whatever it was he got his hands on without complainin', so that game got tiresome. Both me an' Nathaniel figured we'd got to come up with some sort a' topper 'cause the Summer was endin', but we neither of us could think of a plan.

"Must 'a' been a week or two later that I hears this meowin' outside my window in the middle a' the night. It was Nathaniel, an' he whispers up at me that he's got to show me somethin'. I shimmied down the porch roof, an' we took off real quiet into the woods. We passed over this field that we're walkin' across now, an' a little higher up on that mountain, where it's a sight more woody, we came to a cave which I didn't believe you could find if you didn't know where you was lookin'. Inside, the cave was mainly one big room like a wigwam with a bit of a slice taken out of the top, an' you could see a sliver a' the moon overhead. It was awful hot out, but it was cool in the cave.

"We spent the rest a' that night comin' up with a plan, but I needn't tell you what 'cause I knowed it would change consider'ble once we got a-goin'. Just that we was goin' to scare the wits outta John an have a grand ol' time a-doin' it.

"The first thing we set out to set up was to make the cave a proper place for me to stay an' make like I was a murd'rous bandit. Nathaniel wanted to be the one to hide out in the cave, but he figured John'd miss him before long an' catch on. I told Nathaniel that one've us would have to go to town an' get me some canned food 'cause there warn't enough in the pantry to take any without John missin' 'em.

"'Ain't none of us goin' to need to go shoppin',' he says, an' I asked him why. 'Huck, you ever hear of a criminal on the run goin' off whenever he felt like it to get some prime vittles fer his self?'

"'No,' I says, 'but I thought I was jest a bandit, I warn't awares that I'd been runnin' from people.'

"'Well, a'course yer on the run! Why else would you be out in the woods where there ain't nothin' or nobody to rob from?'

"'I reckon you got a point there, but what'm I supposed to eat?'

"He told me that I could catch all the squirrels or raccoons I wanted if we made some traps for'm, an' I suggested that I could jest get the fishin' pole from out the closet an' catch me some trout in the lake.

"'That won't do,' he told me. 'If you want a fish, you got to sharpen up a long stick on a rock an' stab 'im through like an injun.'

"'Why don't I jest set out a line then, if I can't use the pole?'

"'Well, darn it, that'd be too simple, now wouldn't it? No, the best convicts all learns how to stand real still an' pierce the fish when it swims by.'

"I said I'd give 'er a try, but I reckoned I'd use my pocketknife to shave the stick.

"'Where would a runaway bandit get a knife from?' he asked.

"'You said I was murd'rous, right?'

"'Yes, what's that got to do with it?'

"'Well what did I kill the people with that I'm runnin' for?'

"'I reckon you used a gun. Warn't no pocket knife, that's fer sure!'

"'What would I wanna go catchin' squirrels an' stabbin' fish fer if I got a gun? Why wouldn't I jest shoot a deer or somesuch thing?'

"'I suppose you stashed the gun in the river when you knew they was after you.'

"'What would I do that fer?'

"'So they wouldn't have no evidence against you when yer caught?'

"'But if they ain't got no evidence, why'm I runnin'? It'll jest make me look more s'spicious.'

"Nathaniel looked like he was startin' to get a-boil in his blood. 'It don't matter nohow,' he says, 'because we ain't got a gun fer real even if you was dumb enough to keep the fake'n!'

"'So I'll jest pertend I killed 'em with a knife an' held onto it when I ran.'

"By now Nathaniel was sick of arguin', so he said alright an' suit myself. The next thing we figured was how I was goin' to cook the food once I'd caught it, an' Nathaniel, he said the only way t'do was to only cook at night an' to use alot a' green wood so it'd give off a good 'mount of smoke.

"'Now I can see that wait'n 'til dark would keep me from gettin' caught so easy,' I said, 'but why would I want more smoke than I got to have?'

"'Dern Huck,' he says, 'ain't you never read a book in yer life? Crim'nals always get caught 'cause somebody sees the smoke from their fires.'

"'Well, if I'm lookin' to get caught, I reckon it'd happen quicker if I cook durin' the day.'

"'How you talk! Yer not tryin' to get caught! Yer jest tryin' to make it possible to get caught.'

"I told 'im that I could see tryin' to do one thing or the other, but I warn't sure why I would want to try to do one thing bad enough that th'other would happen.

"'Then how'd you s'pose anybody would come fer you to take'm hostage?'

"'What I want a hostage for if I can avoid havin' one?'

"'But you got to get a hostage so there's somebody to help you when you break yer leg?'

"'Shoot, Nathaniel, I ain't gonna break my leg!'

"'You have to break yer leg! Or at least yer arm. One a' the bandits always gets hurt an' has to be looked after by a hostage so't the others can get away.'

"'But there ain't no other bandits but me!'

"'That's why it's got to be you that gets hurt.'

"'Well if I'm gonna have to get hurt fer the sake a scarin' John, I'd rather jest make like I was pushed outta the tower an' have done with it.'

"Nathaniel considered it for a second and then said that there warn't reason enough fer me to fall from the tower unless it was while John was tryin' to get away. I said that John was a smart enough man to know not to run up to a tower when there was plenty a ways to 'scape from the house an' not drop more'n a couple feet. He asked if I thought I could break an arm fallin' a couple feet, an' I said that I reckoned I could if I wanted to, but that I didn't want to so I wouldn't.

"'Fine,' he says. 'Then jest cook at night so's you don't get caught, an' use alot a green wood so's I can point it out to John so's he'll know there's somebody up here.'

"I told him that he could 'a' just said that to begin with an' saved us all the trouble of arguin'. He grumbled somethin' 'bout me not knowin' nothin', an' we went back to the house to get some shut-eye."

"The followin' day, Nathaniel an' me went around lookin' for things that I might need, which warn't much since I was supposed to be a fugitive and all. In one room we found an old straw hat. Nathaniel said I'd have to start wearin' it all the time so't would be a mysterious omin that I could leave in the woods when I disappeared, an' I told him that it was a heck of an idea. In another room we found a women's white robe with a hood that I thought I'd filtch an' hold on to 'cause we might come up with a use later on, an' Nathaniel said I was startin' to get the feel fer this kinda work. Next to the robe was an old worn Winter jacket that Nathaniel said I'd best take, too.

"'Now what need do I got for a heavy coat like that'n in the middle a' the Summer?'

"'You don't reckon a runaway killer this far in the mountains can count on gettin' caught b'fore it gets cold out do you?'

"I told him that I warn't goin' to wait around that long to get found out, an' if Nathaniel didn't get John to discover me before a week had gone by, then I reckoned I'd make sure they both knowed there was somebody in the woods. He said that I didn't have to wait 'til Winter, only wear the coat to the cave next time I went 'cause a crim'nal wouldn't want to have to carry such a thing when he was on the run, an' leave it in a corner so the police knowed I had been there some time. That didn't seem too much to ask, though I knowed I'd be sweatin' like a pig by the time I climbed all the way up that mountain, jest so long as the police he was talkin' about warn't no more real than the gun or the people I'd killed with it.

"We borrowed a box a' matches from the mantle on the fireplace in the dinin' room, filled a couple a' John's empty bottles with well water, an' took everythin' to the cave after lunch. As I 'spected, I was a-drippin' all over sweat by the time we got there, an' I thought I'd take a sip a' the water. B'fore I could unscrew the cap, Nathaniel up an' tells me I can't do what I was a-plannin' to do. When I asked why not, he just told me that I'd miss it if I ran out while I was hidin'. I didn't bother pointin' out that I could go back to the house an' get more whenever I pleased 'cause he'd 'a' just told me that a fugitive bandit would be too afeared of gettin' caught, so I just waited 'til we got back to have my drink.

"John was tolerable drunk when we got to the house, an' somehow managin' to read some book or other that seemed to 'a' got him on edge. He went on an' on talkin' 'bout the state a' the gov'ment an' how he wouldn't be s'prised if they was hidin' out an' waitin' to cetch him.

"'What'd the gov'ment want with you fer, John?' Nathaniel asked him. John told us that he'd said some things t'upset 'em in his time. Well, me an' Nathaniel jest let him go on, sometimes leadin' him back to it when he started to wander to somethin' else, so by the time we was eatin' dinner, he was jumpin' every time a body threw a stone or piece of metal to the floor behind him.

"'Wassat?' he'd shout an' start spinnin' 'round lookin' fer the gov'ment. After a while I couldn't help but laugh a little an' tell 'im that the gov'ment was too sneaky to jest up an' tap his shoulder. I reckon that was the wrong word to use 'cause then he got going on how they was always list'nin' to what everybody was sayin' all the time an' had saterlites hoverin' over our house an' watchin' us when we was out in the yard.

"It was gettin' close to twilight, an' Nathaniel gave me a signal that maybe I should make a break for it now.

"'I think I'll go'n take a walk to work off my supper,' I said by way of excusin' myself.

"'Watch out,' said John. 'If you see any men in suits, get right back here just's quick as you can.'

"I told 'im that I reckoned if I came 'cross a man in a suit this far in the woods, an' lookin' like I was lookin' after bein' here so long, then he'd be the one runnin' the other way. Not hearin' me, John told me to holler if I had any trouble. I didn't 'spect I'd have any, but I considered hollerin' anyway.

"Well I climbed all the way to the top a' the mountain that the cave's on an' fell asleep watchin' the sun go down. When I woke up, the moon was overhead, an' the stars was all twinklin'. I heared the wind rustlin' through the trees like it was mournin', an' there was an owl in the distance purrin' out 'bout somebody that had died. I couldn't say fer sure it warn't part a' my dream, but it felt like the wind was tryin' to whisper somethin'."

D. shivered; the shadows were long across the ground.

"Then I thought it was the voice a' spirits a' people that'd been dead a long time, an' maybe they was gossipin' to me 'bout each other. I shook off the fear an' stood up. The straw hat was still on my head. I shinned down the mountain 'cause it seemed Nathaniel might a' brought John out to look fer me by now an' be expectin' to find the hat knocked off me in a struggle.

"When I got to the lake by the gazebo, I ran right into Nathaniel. He looked at me somethin' fierce when he saw what I was still wearin'. 'What're you doin'? We been lookin' fer that hat all over!' he whispered.

"Just then, we heared John askin' Nathaniel who he was talkin' to. 'Jest myself,' he says, snatchin' the hat an' pushin' me into the bushes, 'I found that hat that Huck's always wearin'.'

"'I ain't never seen Huck in a hat b'fore.' John was still drunk, an' prob'ly a little tired to boot.

"'He found one yesterday, an' I guess it just seemed so perfect on 'im that I thought he'd always had it,' Nathaniel came back right quick, an' blame it if he didn't sound like he was gettin' all choked up. B'fore he went over to where John was most likely startin' to doze off 'gainst a tree er somethin', Nathaniel took a big bite outta the brim a' the hat an spit the straw on the ground.

"I peaked through the bushes I was hidin' in an' saw Nathaniel handin' the hat over to John, sayin', 'The rip wasn't there before, though.'

"John just looked at it with a blank face an' then says, 'I reckon it was the gov'ment got'im. The cannibals!'"

February 25, 2005

On Being Human

Well, it's turned out to be another seventy-hour workweek, and that's not including blogging. It's helped, though, to get up early, rather than attempt vainly to stay up late, to do my from-home editing. It hasn't helped that the carpentry wipes me out.

It is nonetheless perhaps the best job that I've ever had, snow and icy mud notwithstanding. There's something about such work that just makes one feel, well, human. Manly, too, but mostly human. It is clearly and unambiguously doing. Building. Shaping the materials that God has given us.

Yes, of course an argument could be made that all work does this — whether in the office or in the lab. But particularly in the office, it takes some pondering among abstracts to see the materials and feel the doing; a sense of fleeting constructs tends to assert itself. I find myself wondering, while shin-high in snow and sawdust — and happy about it! — what our society's degree of leisure has cost us.

In this context, I think Jonah Goldberg cuts his topic short when he wonders what ideological changes technology might bring:

We have a tendency to assume that existing ideological categories are permanent. History is the study of the repeated debunking of such assumptions. The saddle, the stirrup, the moat, the locomotive, the telephone, the atomic bomb, the car, the computer, the birth-control pill: All of these caused tectonic changes in ideological arrangements, and all of them, save the last, were primarily innovations in transportation, communication, or war. The new earthquakes to come from biotechnology — "cures" for homosexuality, unimaginable longevity, real "happy pills" — could level all of the landmarks of our ideological landscape, even redefining the first ideology, conservatism.

The redefinition that we risk goes much deeper than ideology. Marching along like lemmings to the Sea of Uncontrollable Knowledge, with science rather than instinct leading us to a redefinition of humanity itself.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:53 PM | Comments (2)

February 24, 2005

An Analogy That Doesn't Work

I promised to respond to two critics, so I'll just point out two things about a comment from Michael to my "Matters of Consistency" post. Michael writes:

So any line of argumentation that comes down on the side of SSM is following a preference to a predetermined conclusions but any line of argumentation that comes down against SSM is following reason? I don't understand how you can't see the prejudice in that sentiment.

I'm tempted to acknowledge that I do see the prejudice: the prejudice of the right against the wrong. But that would require a stronger stand than I take. For now, it's enough to note that I did not use Michael's language of absolutes (e.g., "any").

This whole thing began with Jack Balkin's list of options from which the American judiciary could choose in order to reach the goal of same-sex marriage. Although there are degrees to which the demand is held as uncompromising, balancing between the end and the means is the problem at the heart of SSM advocacy. In order for same-sex marriage to be a right that the Supreme Court can recognize, it must be argued as if nothing new is being granted. As even Balkin admits, there is the "completely honest" approach, and there's the "misfit" argument. Seeing all as legitimate indicates that the conclusion is predetermined.

Michael then offers an explanation that we've all seen before, because it's essentially the anti-miscegenation case:

Suppose the state, in an attempt to protect marriage, realized that marriages were significantly more stable if people married within their profession, and thus the state found a compelling interest to ban inter-professional marriages. Everyone is treated equally; they can marry anybody they want from their own profession. There is no physical discrimination because men, women, blacks, whites are all treated the same. The "cannot" here is universal. But what about the "want"? Let's say you want to marry a nurse but cannot because you are a writer. And she, likewise, cannot marry you. You can either choose to marry someone else, someone you want to marry significantly less, or you can change your relgion. There's no discrimination because every profession is treated the same and the government is not telling you cannot get married because you are a writer, only that you can only marry another writer.

Interested readers can find all sorts of discussion about why this sort of example isn't relevant to the same-sex marriage issue. (Search for "miscegenation.") Of particular note is that Michael applies the SSM advocate's marital objective — stability — to the example, not marital objectives to which I subscribe (mainly procreation and raising children). More to the point, he ignores a central statement from my "Whatever Works" post: Unlike anti-miscegenation laws, unlike Michael's hypothetical, with SSM, homosexuals and heterosexuals have exactly the same range of options.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:58 PM | Comments (60)
Marriage & Family

Releasing the Pressure

The same-sex marriage discussion has gotten heated, 'round here, and since that's neither my intention nor my desire, I'm going to respond carefully to the latest remarks from two people and then step back from this round. My current schedule doesn't allow me the liberty to continue swinging at irresolvable differences.

First, a response to Gabriel Rosenberg's latest offering:

[Katz] seems to feel I was too focused on the word "consistency" and thus I missed his other points. I thought I had responded to his main point that prohibiting same-sex marriage cannot be both sex discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination.

To be honest, the consistency angle was one that I didn't intend to be central to my "Whatever Works" post. However, in my rush to get to work, I thought I'd made it sufficiently secondary. Perhaps I did not. Be that as it may, part of my thinking when emphasizing SSM proponents' concentration on that angle for my subsequent post grew from the following in Rosenberg's initial response:

In his post Katz explains why he disagrees with one of the theories Balkin presented, but never why any two of them are mutually incompatible.

My hurried a.m. deficiencies as a rhetorician notwithstanding, it seems to me that one would think the thing I actually explained to be the main point. But I'll take the blame for the misunderstanding. However, I won't take the blame for Rosenberg's reaction to my reaction to it:

This is a rather juvenile and disgusting attack. He accuses same-sex marriage proponents of being inconsistent, of doing "whatever works" to achieve its goals, of not standing on any principles, in short of being intellectually dishonest. When I deny those serious accusations I'm told that my powerful reaction might be a sign of insecurity about whether I'm consistent.

Only the first two of my alleged accusations are accurate. I never said that supporters of same-sex marriage don't stand on any principles, nor (in turn) that they are intellectually dishonest (although anybody can be, of course). Indeed, I later said that consistency is only one consideration; furthermore, my "juvenile and disgusting attack" would be nonsensical if I, too, joined the SSM supporters at hand in believing that "the notion of consistency is particularly powerful." Therefore, it doesn't follow that my accusations expanded as Rosenberg has done. (N.B. If one argument for or against something is correct, than consistency with other arguments is moot.)

Here we come to an intriguing point: my second post was not entirely about Mr. Rosenberg, and my first post had nothing directly to do with him. If you go back and read his response to the first, perhaps you'll see, as I do, that the the full brunt of the comments that now so offend him hardly apply to him. His approach to SSM is not identical to Balkin's, differentiated in part by the quality of being more consistent and more logically, as opposed to legalistically, founded. And as I said, the second post was not only in response to him (this is something else that I might have been well advised to make clearer, although I thought the plural language would be adequate.) Yet, Rosenberg goes on to express insult as if everything that I had written in both posts was directly aimed at him:

The initial accusations were insulting. The inference that since I was insulted the accusations are probably true is just stupid.

Yes, that inference would have been stupid if (1) the accusations had been made against him, (2) my response had been directed entirely at him, and (3) my parenthetical quip had actually suggested that my accusations were "probably true." None of those requirements to prove my stupidity are met. But if I won't cede stupidity, I will admit that I should have further explained something about which Rosenberg writes, "I honestly have no idea what Katz is talking about here." In his first post, Rosenberg had written:

Suppose you know a person is attracted to women or in a sexual relationship with a woman. You cannot possibly decide whether to classify that person as homosexual or heterosexual unless you also know whether the person is male or female. All sexual orientation discrimination concerns deviation from one's traditional gender roles.

I said that this posits "a scenario in which discrimination is desirable" because in order for Rosenberg to explain why "all sexual orientation discrimination is inherently a matter of sex discrimination," he must imagine a situation in which we want to "classify a person as homosexual." Since he agrees with me that "if one cannot classify the person, one cannot discriminate against him or her on the basis of that classification," he appears to be positing a circumstance in which the ability to classify — i.e., discriminate — is important.

This point does not indicate that I agree with Rosenberg's overall suggestion. I don't know how else to say it, so I'll just repeat myself: one can define orientation without reference to a particular person's sex. Suppose you want to know whether Pat qualifies for a benefit (or a restriction, for that matter) based on sexual orientation. You need to know neither Pat's gender nor that of the people to whom Pat is attracted — only that Pat is homosexual. If you want more detail — whether Pat is a lesbian or a gay man — obviously Pat's sex becomes relevant.

In the case at hand, whether a homosexual is male or female makes no difference with respect to his or her ability to enter into marriage with a person of the same sex. The IRS, for example, doesn't need to know which one of Pat and Nick is the man, just that they are of opposite sex. To say the least, a strange permutation of sex discrimination is necessary in order for the term to cover a state of affairs in which it doesn't matter whether the individual object of alleged discrimination is a man or a woman.

Pace Rosenberg, it is not true that "if a policy discriminates on the basis of orientation it must discriminate on the basis of sex." And as I've already described, going in the other direction, if a policy discriminates on the basis of sex, it does not discriminate on the basis of orientation. This is why I'm not sure how to further the cause of mutual understanding when Rosenberg writes, in response to my statement that the argument "proceeds" from sex distinctions to orientation distinctions, not the other way around:

It matters not whether the discrimination was itself the goal of the policy, which seems very unlikely, or whether there was some other goal with discrimination being used to achieve that goal, which is far more likely to be the case. Either way one discriminates. Katz is making the incorrect assumption that a policy of discrimination necessarily means the authors or advocates of that policy are bigots.

Of course, there's a bit of loose terminology on all sides about whether we're talking licit "discrimination" or "invidious discrimination." And perhaps I could have been clearer that by "goal," I meant to indicate the discrimination as an intended effect, not a side effect. Still, in the totality of the points that I have made thus far in this exchange, the assumption of bigotry is all that's left — not specifically attributing motives on Gabriel Rosenberg's part, or anybody else's, but as a matter of what must be assumed in order to find sex discrimination within orientation discrimination rather than to start with the stated requirements based on gender and investigate the effects. (I apologize for not, myself, pulling together the totality, but I'm running out of available time.)

As for the last two paragraphs of Rosenberg's post, the areas of misunderstanding, on both sides, are too thick and the temper too heated for unraveling to be sufficiently effective to justify the time. It's as if we're looking at two different discussions, in part because I've apparently left too much unexplained, and in part because Rosenberg seems to think himself the main object of my "attack," rather than the broader position to which he contributes.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:56 PM | Comments (4)
Marriage & Family

February 23, 2005

Matters of Consistency

It's a frustrating feeling: I think if I'd used some other word than "consistent," perhaps those who've reacted to my "Whatever Works" post might have addressed the points other than the word. Perhaps the notion of consistency is particularly powerful among supporters of same-sex marriage, or something. (Whether their reaction is an indication of insecurity, I leave to readers to decide; I'm not sure either way.)

Look, if the opposite-sex definition of marriage discriminates on the basis of sex, then there is no discrimination on the basis of orientation. Neither homosexuals nor heterosexuals can marry people of the same sex. The tenuous bridge between the two points from Yale Prof. Jack Balkin that I addressed is evident in his phrasing of the sex discrimination case:

It violates sex equality to tell a man he cannot marry another man when a woman could do so. It violates sex equality to tell a woman she cannot marry another woman when a man could do so.

Perhaps the distinction can be best phrased thus: the sex discrimination case is a matter of "can"; the orientation discrimination case is a matter of "want." If we apply the "can" of sex discrimination to orientation discrimination, we find that there is no legal discrimination. The "cannot" is universal. Gabriel Rosenberg attempts a legal bridge:

Although the prohibition facially discriminates on the basis of sex and does not do so on the basis of sexual orientation, one could argue that while facially neutral it has a disparate impact on the homosexual population. That is one could claim that while both heterosexuals and homosexuals must marry a spouse of the opposite sex, homosexuals have greater difficulty finding such a spouse who will marry them.

It may be the case that a legal regime that has made it a dramatic matter of law to peer into the hearts of men can trace back to discrimination from the outcome of a particular policy. Taking up that argument would require entry into another area of likely disagreement, however. Suffice, for now, to say that I reject disparate impact claims, at least when there isn't other information than the outcome to indicate invidious discrimination, and that I'm skeptical that homosexuals wishing to enter into opposite-sex marriages would have any greater difficulty finding spouses than do heterosexuals. The debate's irrelevant, in this instance, because Rosenberg doesn't even want to "consider whether homosexuals could find opposite sex spouses if they wanted to do so, when [he] believe[s] they should not have to do so."

Consequently, Rosenberg takes another tack that, oddly, winds up requiring him to posit a scenario in which discrimination is desirable so that the two forms of discrimination can be made one and the same in a forced overlap:

The reason there is no inconsistency, though, is more basic. The fact is all sexual orientation discrimination is inherently a matter of sex discrimination because one cannot define sexual orientation without reference to one's sex. Suppose you know a person is attracted to women or in a sexual relationship with a woman. You cannot possibly decide whether to classify that person as homosexual or heterosexual unless you also know whether the person is male or female. [Emphasis his.]

The obvious response to the first part of this quotation is that one can define orientation without reference to a particular person's sex: heterosexuals are attracted to people of the opposite sex, and homosexuals are attracted to people of the same sex. Although I can't come up with a circumstance in which one would know the gender of a person's significant other but not of the person him- or herself, I will venture to suggest that if one cannot classify the person, one cannot discriminate against him or her on the basis of that classification. The only way to discriminate is to know that the person is homosexual — meaning attracted to a person of the opposite sex, whichever that might be.

At best, what Rosenberg has proven is that a policy beginning with the goal of discriminating on the basis of orientation must discriminate on the basis of sex, as well. That is not the direction in which this argument proceeds, however — unless we follow the path of those uncharitable enough to assume bigotry before the first round of debate has even begun.

Once again, and with all due respect to Rosenberg et alia, the objective appears to be to fit argumentation to a predetermined conclusion. That's fine, as far as it goes; consistency is only one consideration in ideology, after all. But it strikes me as odd that people engaged in that approach would be surprised and offended that others find their arguments to lack the aggregate import that would exist were they following reason rather than preference to their conclusions.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:34 PM | Comments (100)
Marriage & Family

By the Way

Although my time is limited, I've been trying to help out Rocco DiPippo while he's on a well-deserved vacation and guest blog on Antiprotester Journal. (Our fellow Rhode Islander KelliPundit is also helping out.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:26 PM
Bloggers Blogging

Working Through the Stumbles

Although I'm managing to develop a schedule that will accommodate the carpentry and the editing and the blogging and the reading and everything else, I'm still not steady on my feet yet. We've been putting in long hours on the house that I'm helping to build, and last week, I had a number of extracurricular events to attend.

But I am enjoying the work. Something about physical labor, working with wood, making something, all while a glance from a fabulous water view, is spiritually salutary. Add in my elation at simply having sufficient employment to support my family, and even while I fight my eyelids in order to edit, I realize how much I have for which to be thankful.

The only thing that could make my day more fulfilling would be more time (and energy) so that I could maintain a healthy bulk of posts on the blogs and continue to make progress with the professional writing. Eventually, the seventy-hour weeks will dip to sixty, and my body will no longer need the exorbitant recovery time. In the meantime... onward.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:21 PM | Comments (2)
Diary & Confession

February 22, 2005

Song You Should Know 02/22/05

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Life in Pictures" by Dan Lipton.

"Life in Pictures" Dan Lipton, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download from Life in Pictures

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:35 PM

What Lies Beneath the Titillation

I find myself curious about Providence Journal editorial boarder M.J. Anderson. I know from some brief reviews of her brand-new book, Portable Prairie: Confessions of an Unsettled Midwesterner, that she's the daughter of South Dakotan journalists and went to Princeton in the '70s. I know from elsewhere that she began as a reporter for the Providence Journal in 1981. But the things that I'd like to know are of a more personal nature.

I don't wonder such things out of voyeurism or twisted lechery. Rather, it has seemed to me, as I've grown older, that much of the sexual revolution is built on personal lies — distortions, at least — and I wonder what might linger behind Anderson's recent celebration of Alfred Kinsey. One can imagine, for example, the feeling of titillation mixed with pride at superior knowledge that a Midwestern Ivy Leaguer must have felt in an academia in the thrall of revolution. Closer to the Velvet Underground than to "Okie from Muskogee." Considering her shared hope, with Kinsey, "that we might throw off a crippling sense of sin, and understand how profoundly we are not just moral beings but physical ones," one wonders what crippling sins Anderson has thrown off, and what were the effects. After all, we're talking Kinsey, here — a man "appalled at how little [literature on human sexuality] was based on empirical evidence."

As a man born around the time that Anderson walked the halls of my (then-future) home state's most highly acclaimed school, I grew up and learned about sex entirely within the culture that was the legacy of Kinsey and the sexual revolution. In high school, as a college dropout, and then as a frat boy, I've witnessed the escalating perversion that can result when the assumption is that everybody is, and should be, living "normal" sex lives (which is to say, without limits). Ironically, I found it a great relief to discover that it simply wasn't true that everybody was living more promiscuously and managing to be better adjusted than I was.

I've learned that, of my '60s-nostalgic elders, many evince a self-inflicted ache at having lived fairly mundane lives; although contemporaneous with a supposed mass liberation of the libido, they have no experience outside of the dreaded traditional structure. Either they are bitter at being cheated, or they take on faith that one could live more wildly than they and achieve the same degree of contentment (think Al Gore, with his stable nuclear family and his radical views on what family should mean for others). Either way, they have no personal basis to advise Kinseyism.

Others of my elders appear, having been hurt by their lifestyles, to be striving to further justify them, rather than correct them. The deceptive hope is that the deviancy in their own lives — whether divorce or infidelity or homosexuality — can simply be defined as "normal," thereby washing away the sting. And still others are simply perverts. Kinsey, from what I've read, was one of these last.

I realize that Anderson's is an opinion piece, but certain sentences beg for journalistic exploration. Among Kinsey's latter-day supporters, one often hears the blurring admission that he was a "flawed man," but perhaps a word or two could have been spent explaining this:

Around the same time, owing to difficulties he and his wife encountered when first married, he began studying the literature on human sexuality. ...

He and his wife were both openly intimate with other partners (men included, in Kinsey's case). Their example led to some irreparable wounds among his associates, whom he encouraged to experiment.

To understand the humorous turn of those last two sentences, one must have read a 2003 piece by Janice Shaw Crouse:

In his personal life, Albert Kinsey was promiscuously bisexual, sado-masochistic, and a decadent voyeur who enjoyed filming his wife having sex with his staff.

Encouraged to experiment, indeed! Returning to Anderson for more serious matters, consider the disclaiming passive voice with which she begins the following:

Although his methodology was later faulted, he induced millions to consider that the range of "normal" behavior was much broader than they had assumed, and included homosexuality.

Faulted for what, pray tell? Well, we can turn to Janice Shaw Crouse for enlightenment:

He used over 300 children, including babies, in his studies of female orgasm. Some critics legitimately accuse Kinsey of child molestation. The American Board of Pediatrics argues that his data are not the norm; that he used unnatural stimulation and, even then, did not prove his point. Using pedophiles, he charted the length and frequency of infants' and children's supposed "orgasms." ...

In terms of subjects, Kinsey used volunteers — a practice that scholars decry because of the selection bias it introduces. Many psychologists say that exhibitionists and unconventional sexual experimenters are the most likely respondents, thus distorting the results of the studies. A quarter to nearly half of Kinsey's subjects were prisoners, hardly reflective of the general population. Plus, over 1,400 of his subjects were sex offenders. Kinsey's samples were skewed in other ways as well: His subjects were overwhelmingly single when less than a third of the population was single during the 1950s, and they were also predominantly college educated.

Perhaps the most offensive aspect of Kinsey's supposedly "scientific" method was his definitions. He classified prostitutes and cohabiting females as "married" women, and then claimed that 26 percent of married women committed adultery.

Such are the subjects whom Anderson applauds for having redefined "the range of 'normal' behavior." She writes that "post–sexual revolution, it is almost impossible to imagine the relief Kinsey's reports must have inspired," and the wry reader might think to agree that many a pedophile, prisoner, and prostitute must have been much relieved to be blended with the prudent suburban housewife.

So, I can't help but wonder what induces the likes of M.J. Anderson to raise up Alfred Kinsey. Is it a deliberately blind adulation of a cultural icon — a better-informed version of the ignorance from which Che Guevera benefits? Is defense of Kinsey really just the outward manifestation of defense of the waning side of the culture war? Or is there something more personal, psychological, behind the spin? To be sure, Anderson is far from the only person to whom this applies, but the habit of defining the cultural norm without offering empirical evidence in the form of personal experience can be, as Kinsey might have agreed, appalling.

In this respect, a more balanced study of Kinsey himself might benefit our body of knowledge, if only we could push beyond the reflex that leads us to blame "a repressive society" when even a flawed, faulted, adulterous, sado-masochistic scientist becomes depressed.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:04 AM | Comments (17)

February 21, 2005

Scandinavia in Pictures

Dust in the Light reader Chairm Ohn has posted three very handsome charts illustrating Dutch marriage and legitimacy trends on what looks to be a toe dipped in the blogosphere. I don't have the time or immediate context to dig for deeper analysis than what Chairm offers, but I certainly wanted to note the effort both for your edification and so that I'll find it easy to locate the charts when they would come in handy in the future.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:20 PM
Marriage & Family

From Character to Culture

In response to my disagreement, Ramesh Ponnuru has elaborated on his suggestion that, if "it really is the case that 'matters of character' are 'matters that should precede governmental authority,' as Coleman concludes, then I think his separationist conclusion [about marriage and state] certainly follows." Inasmuch as Ponnuru's point is that pure libertarianism doesn't allow "much of a defense of marriage laws," I suppose I've no choice but to agree. One might as well attempt to dispute that socialism doesn't allow much of a defense of inheritance laws. But as with socialism, libertarianism is a flawed, weak, ultimately dangerous approach to government when implemented as a political philosophy rather than a general principle for assigning preference.

The question, as I addressed it, is whether the degree of libertarianism that can claim the broad appeal that Ponnuru appears to be assuming requires government's lack of authority over "matters of personal character" to translate into a separation of marriage and state. On a more theoretical level, the question can be taken to be whether that degree of libertarianism is justifiable (or sane).

I may very well be missing a step in his thinking, but it seems to me that Ponnuru is conflating concepts that are actually distinct. If we reject "the idea that the promotion of morality is a legitimate aim of the government," does that mean we "can't count in cultural effects that occur through subtle influences on people's behavior and beliefs"? I don't believe so. What's more, I don't think many people do, and I don't think this represents a emotion-driven inconsistency on our part.

The idea that Americans generally reject is that it is a legitimate aim of the government to promote morality per se. It is difficult to imagine what the proof might look like, but arguendo, if it could be proven that every act of fornication brought our civilization closer to doom and ruination, then few would be the purists to declare the SCOTUSian right to privacy inviolable.

This is why we spend so much time arguing over whether same-sex marriage will have deleterious effects. Many supporters of same-sex marriage may see it as such a basic right that damage to society is irrelevant, but even they surely understand that their cause is dead if they ever reach the point of having to argue as much. Ponnuru refers to the principle that "everyone has the liberty to swing his fist until it hits someone else's nose," and I will concede that this understanding of government's purview is broadly held. That does not mean, however, that "subtle influences on people's behavior and beliefs" are outside of the state's authority. Rather, it means that the "cultural effects" must be persuasively arguable as wounds.

Unless Ponnuru's conclusion, as follows, is intended to illustrate the shortcomings of libertarianism, then it falls to a subtle, but decisive, distinction intellectually and as a matter of what America's citizens actually believe:

If you don't see a legitimate role for government in promoting morality at all... then you would support same-sex marriage only as a move toward a contractarian policy. Ultimately, I think, you would have to say that marriage is none of the government's business.

In the paragraph previous to this one, Ponnuru suggests that "liberty and social welfare" are truly what "marriage laws promote." Taking that as true, it doesn't matter that those ends are accomplished "precisely by encouraging moral behavior." The question is whether those ends are accomplished "precisely by encouraging moral behavior."

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:23 AM | Comments (1)
Marriage & Family

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

The latest Notes & Commentary essay by Maureen Mullarkey is "Heavy Machinery and Gnomic Vignettes," reviewing John Walker at Knoedler & Co and Saul Steinberg at PaceWildenstein.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:41 AM
Visual Art

February 20, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 4 (p. 62-69)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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"I reckon I was the first to come along after Nathaniel invited John to the house," Huck began. "Back then it seemed John found his way into some town or other an' got himself a jug a' somethin' to help thicken him up when he needed it, which was most a' the time. He'd been storin' the empty bottles in his room so long that there warn't nowheres left in there to put any more. By the time I got here, he'd got in the habit of usin'm as decoration where there warn't no books on the shelves.

"Things was quiet for a while, and time went quick on account of there bein' so many books to read and me an' Nathaniel havin' such prime talks all the time. He had an amazin' head fer jest a boy! We'd talk all the time, an' when we warn't a-talkin', I was a-readin'. Finally one day, Nathaniel was playin' at the piano when I walked up to him an' told him my name. He said it suited me just fine, and we set about rummagin' through all the rooms to find me an outfit. What we found was the same as what I'm a-wearin' now, only a sight older an' more authenticated, an' when I had got it all on, Nathaniel laughed an' whistled. 'I do b'lieve we done found a match,' he said, an' I was awful glad to know who I was, 'cause now we could get on in a suitable way.

"'Round this time, John's bottles had got so they filled all the empty spots on the shelves, an' he started puttin'm on the railin' outside his room. Well, Nathaniel saw this an' was tolerable mad. 'I'll never b'grudge a man his whiskey,' he said, 'but purty soon we'll be throwin' out the drinkers to keep what's been drunk outta.' An' I could see that this gave him an idea."

"Hold it," interrupted D. "John told me that he was homeless before he came here and that he doesn't get paid for watching the house."

"Yes'm, that's true enough, from what I've heard."

"Then how could he possibly afford to fill the bookshelves with bottles, let alone his room?"

"Well, that's a question I've yet t'have answered fer me, so I'll be darned if I c'n give'n to you; but I 'magine Nathaniel'd been givin' him some comp'nsation on top a' providin' all his food an' housin'. Now where he got it from, I daren't even guess."

"Why didn't Nathaniel just cut John off if the drinking was becoming a problem?"

"Well darn, woman! What good would that do but creatin' an ornery an' sober ol' man to deal with? Nobody minded the drinkin'. Truth be told, we would sometimes take a peck at the stock, an' stoppin' the flow would 'a' been like dryin' out a toilet to keep a chile from playin' in it!"

D. had to mull that one over a little, and Huck let her. They had reached the tree line at the other end of the field when he started up again.

"While John was off restockin', or wherever, me and Nathaniel borrowed a dozen'r so bottles from his room, 'cause we knowed he wouldn't miss them from that mess. The col'rd ones, that was about six of'm, an' two of the clear ones that had vodka labels, we filled with water from the bathroom, and we took the rest of the clear ones down to the stream to fill'm with muddy water that didn't look much like the dark rum that John drinks but would pass from a distance if ya shook it first. We tucked all the water bottles away up in the south tower an' waited for John to git back.

"He was already a-whoopin' an' a-hollerin' drunk by the time he walked in the door, an' it warn't long before he was snorin' away in that big ol' chair a' his. Gatherin' up all his new jugs, 'bout seven all told, we lugged 'em up to the tower and started workin' our way to rip-roarin'. After one a' the bottles was tapped, we was makin' such a racket that John sort of waked up a little, but not enough for what we wanted, so Nathaniel whoops to him an' shouts down:

"'Hey there John! What's a fella gotta do to getcha outta that there chair?'

"John didn't pay no never mind to that, except to sort of mumble a yell and slip back to nappin' a bit. So Nathaniel whoops again and yells:

"'What if I told you that if you didn't come help us out with these here drinks, I don't reckon we'll be able to finish'm before earlier than six in the mornin', just the two of us?'

"This got John a-rollin' enough to get 'im outta the chair, an' he screams that we best not finish them all without him and he warn't of the mood to drink no more.

"'Well then,' says Nathaniel, 'I reckon we'll have to find ourselves some other way to unload this here burden.' An' he takes a big swig outta'n bottle a' rum an' drops his hand enough so John couldn't see that he was switchin' it fer a bottle a' nothin' but dirty water. Nathaniel, he takes an' holds the water up so's John gets a good enough look to think it was the rum and chucks it right off into the trees. I ain't never heard the woods so quiet as when waitin' fer that bottle to fall, an' when it did, it was the most God awful and beautiful crash a body ever heard.

"Now John's purty well stirred, with this look on his face like bloody murder, an' he comes a-rushin' up the stairs, an' I barely had the time to throw myself over the hatch so he couldn't lift it. I've always been a sight heavier than John could hoist. So there we are, Nathaniel a-laughin' like to raise the dead, John a-swearin' cusses that I knowed he made most of 'em up an' tryin' to get through, an' me just bouncin' up an' down on the hatch and a-gigglin' away like a Sunday School girl at a circus clown. Eventu'lly, John gets tired an' we heared him goin' down the stairs; next we knowed, there he was on the other tower a rantin' an' ravin' an' carryin' on like the house was on fire. When he'd got a hold a' his self, Nathaniel takes up a bottle a' clear water, takes a sip an' makes like it's the worst moonshine he ever tasted and then throws that bottle far off into the trees.

"John couldn't take no more a' this, so he climbs all shaky like down th'other tower an' starts crossin' the peak a' the roof with his arms out fer balance. Well, I was mighty impressed, 'cause he made it 'bout halfway without fallin', an' when he did fall, he didn't stop swearin', not for one second. No sirree, he just kept on a-yellin' at the top a' his voice an' tryin' to stand. He got to his feet an' started swingin' his arms, an' I don't think I ever seen a man so sober or scared as when he discovered that he was a-goin' to topple anyway. He rolled over backwards once'r twice, an' slid the rest a' the way 'til his feet was danglin' over the edge of the roof an' he was grabbin' at the shingles to save his neck, all the time slidin' just a little more.

"I reckon me an' Nathaniel sobered up then just about as fast as John did, an' we shinned it down into Nathaniel's room. And there in the window was two hairy legs all bare an' naked an' white as a ghost, just a-swingin' an' trying to get back up to safety. His robe was all bunched up by his waist, an' I see'd that he was wearin' a brand new pair a' boxer shorts with little paisley designs all over 'em. We throwed open the window and grabbed those kickin' legs an' told John to just let go so we could get 'im in. After a minute of arguin', he just let go his faith an' slipped over the edge an' into the room.

"Well, me an' Nathaniel felt a world a' sorry for what we'd done an' fixed John up with a rum 'n' coke. He went on fer a while 'bout us tryin' to kill such an' old an' kindly gentl'man who'd never been nothin' but good to us, an' we just kept on apologizin' until he wore himself out an' we all went to bed."

Huck and D. had come to the edge of a small lake (or big pond), and Huck skimmed a rock across its surface. The sun had dipped out of sight behind a mountain to the left, turning the water a pale and silent kind of black. Except for the faint buzzing of mosquitoes and the more vehement tweeting of the birds, the air was still. About twenty feet to the right of where they stood, D. saw a haphazardly built gazebo beginning to bend in on one side with the weight of a drastically tilted roof. The pair walked past the structure, keeping to the water's edge, and Huck skimmed another stone. Jim dove in and swam to the spot where it had sunk, paddling about and looking for it before giving up and swimming back to shore.

"Me an' Nathaniel agreed to be nice to John for the time bein', an' there warn't nothin' we didn't do to help him out an' make him feel all at home an' 'mongst friends again," Huck continued. "He started hidin' all his bottles but the one he'd be drinkin' at the time, so a' course we couldn't help but try to find 'em all out. One of'm he put in the piano, which warn't too hard to 'cipher out on account of it rattlin' so every time you hit the lower keys. There was a couple behind the bathtub upstairs and a cartload under a loose board in the front hall. 'Bout the hardest one to find was away behind some books by a man named James Fenimore Cooper. I found that one detective fashion, 'cause I figured nobody'd ever take them books down off'n the shelves t'actuly read 'em. It got to where we knowed where just about ev'ry bottle was.

"Nathaniel an' me was out explorin' one afternoon when he turns to me an says, 'Well, Huck, I reckon that it ain't no use havin' all this infermation an' not usin' it.' I told him I reckoned he was right, so he goes on, 'and I don't think it would hurt the ol' man all that much if we was to fool with 'im jest a little.' I told him I reckoned he was jest about on the mark again.

"The first thing we did next time John was a-snorin' in his chair, which warn't too long away, was to switch all the liquors around. We got an ol' crystal pitcher with a real slim spout from the kitchen an' went an' put vodka from the bathroom in the Kahlua bottle from the front hall an' filled the vodka bottle with water, an' swapped the whiskey in the piano with the Southern Comfort behind that Muleravisher book or whatever it's called. Next all we did was wait.

"The afternoon after, we climbed up into the willow, which was all thick with leaves, an' watched John take his sweet-tooth over to the bookshelf. He looked around like he was bein' sneaky and took down the bottle a' what he thought was SoCo. He sort a' smiled to himself an' went off into the ballroom. We dropped down from the tree just in time to hear his loud 'yeck' when he discovered that his Southern Comfort was beginnin' to taste awful sim'lar to Jack Daniel's. We strolled in to where he was an' Nathaniel says:

"'What's all the gaggin' fer John?'

"'Well, this here bottle's supposed to be full of Southern Comfort, but I'll be damned if it ain't J.D.,' John snarls back, an' in a voice that showed that he suspicioned what we was up to.

"'Give it here,' says Nathaniel, an' he takes a big pull, 'tastes like SoCo to me. Here, Huck, you give it a try.'

"I took the bottle an' says that I hope'ts the Comfort, 'cause Jack Daniels makes me powerful sick from just a sniff. So I takes the bottle an' smells the top with one eye all squinted so's it looks like I'm really makin' sure, an' then I gulped down a good amount a' the whiskey an' says, 'Well, I ain't a-pukin', so's I guess it's just what it says on the bottle.'

"'Gimme that,' says John, not believin' us more'n a bit. He took a sip an' gave us a look like either we was foolin' with him or he was goin' crazy. He ordered us out to the courtyard an' to close our eyes. We did what we was told, an' I heared him gettin' the Jack Daniel's bottle that was full a' Southern Comfort out from where it was hid in the piano. 'Now you two are gonna drink this'n here with yer eyes shet an' tell me what yer tastin'. And don't say nothin' 'til you've both had yer go.'

"First Nathaniel took a drink an' then smacks his lips real loud. Next John shoves the bottle against my chest and says it's my turn. Well, I hardly had the bottle to my lips an' I starts gaggin' an' makin' like I'm gonna throw up. I was bent over on my knees an' spittin' on the ground when Nathaniel says, 'I reckon Huck agrees with me that that there is Jack Daniel's.'

"John took a swig an' swore up 'n' down that what he was a-tastin' was Southern Comfort. Nathaniel chimes in with, 'Well, I see what's goin' on here.'

"'Really? An' what's that?'

"'You've been mixin' an' matchin' these diff'rent liquors so much yer heads gone an' switched 'em all around.' So John says we'll see about that, an' marches up to the bathroom. I guess he didn't want to let on where his big stash was, 'case we hadn't found it yet. Well first he takes a drink a' the gin that was there, points to the label an' says, 'Now that says gin, it smells like gin, it tastes like gin, an' I'll swear by God that it ain't nothin' else!'

"We didn't say nothin' diff'rent, so he takes up the vodka bottle an' just about finishes the whole thing in two gulps. 'Try it,' he d'mands without sayin' nothin' else. Nathaniel drinks it an' makes a more squintin' an' wrinkled face any twelve year old fiddlin' around in his pap's liquor cabinet ever made.

"'That's some powerful stuff!' he says when he's all done makin' like he's gaspin'.

"So John says, 'Look me in the eye an' tell me that warn't water you just took a drink of.'

"'Damn, John, would I be all a-fluster like this if I was drinkin' jest water?' an' I see'd that he was indeed all a-fluster, with his eyes a-tearin' an' ev'rything.

"John reckoned not if he was tellin' the truth, an' when I tasted the water I told purty much the same tale, but not with so much style. We was all gettin' a little thick from all the tastin', an' John twice as much on account a' his startin' to believe that it was vodka that he had drunk so much of. So now he takes us down the stairs so's he can prove he's not insane an' all the bottles under the floor is what they say they is.

"First he goes through a few tastes a' rum before he believes his tongue on that one. Then he had a pull a' tequila that we hadn't even seen hidin' down there an' says that he reckons if it wasn't tequila he was tastin' then he'd have to be an imigr'nt. At last he comes to the Kahlua, which, if you never had it, is sweet as molasses compared to vodka, an' takes the biggest gulp yet. Believe you me that there vodka didn't so much as touch his guts before he was down on one knee doin' all he can to keep it down. Meanwhile, Nathaniel's dumpin' the vodka in a plant that used to be by the door there, before it died a short while later, so when John righted himself an' asked fer the bottle, there wouldn't be nothin' but air.

"'Dagnabit,' he says, still kinda droolin', 'that warn't like no Kahlua I ever had. No way, no how! That was vodka or I'll eat myself a hairball!'

"'Well, John, I'd love to prove you right, but you done drank all there was to drink. That Kahlua's some heavy stuff, you must be feelin' a might bloated right about now.'

"Snatchin' away the bottle, John sees that there ain't nothin' left but a lingerin' smell a' the Kahlua that used to be there before me and Nathaniel drank it all, an' let's out this moan, 'Awwohh, boys, I reckon I'm a gonner now.'

"Nathaniel grabs him 'round the waist and leads him to his chair. 'You better rest for a while,' he advises, an' John sort of groans his agreement. The way the man went on you'd a thought he had drank a whole case a' caster oil. 'Ventually he's off an' snorin' again like always."

Huck stopped talking for a moment.

"So what's the Nonesuch Inn?" asked D., who was looking over the treetops to where the towers of the house protruded from the mist of bare branches. They had been climbing the rocky side of the first hill to the north of the house that was higher than the one upon which it stood.

"I'm a-gettin' to it," Huck told her, "but while I do, I think we best head back. My stomach's tellin' me that it's gettin' on to dinner time."

Stopping a moment to look at the view of the little lake, D. followed Huck down the rocks the way they had come. They walked in silence, listening to the late afternoon stillness in the air. Jim broke D. from the state of country enchantment that had started to come over her by poking her in the bottom with a stick that he wanted her to throw. Once she realized that it was going to be more work than it was worth to wrestle over a stick that Jim wouldn't even chase after it was thrown, D. picked a fresh one from between the blades of brown grass and threw it. Jim dropped his stick and ran off after a new one altogether. D. was surprised at how quickly the day seemed to be passing.

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "from At First You See It," by A. Valentine Smith.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:55 AM

New Man on Anchor

It occurs to me to mention, over here, that Anchor Rising has added a contributor: no less a personage than NRO Contributing Editor and professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, Mackubin Owens. His first post is on unintended consequences of clear air legislation.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:47 AM
Bloggers Blogging

February 18, 2005

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:36 AM

Finding the Seam Between Factions

In conversation at the Republican event that I mentioned over on Anchor Rising, differences of opinion arose with respect to prioritizing "libertarian" issues and "social" issues. To be honest, I think I'm too exhausted to take up that or any matter but so lucidly. Still, to get some thoughts down, I'll let my fingers type some compounding points, letting my eyes check in from time to time from behind heavy eyelids.

The bottom line is that all issues, even those that rouse libertarians, are moral, "social" issues. We may all want lower taxes, for example, but there must be moral reasoning to justify cutting them. Moreover, tax cuts are not an obvious good if separated from an invocation of some form of ideology, and there are two options for considering efforts to amass wealth: a larger purpose or greed.

Particularly in Rhode Island, folks are willing to give their charity by proxy. High taxes hurt a given family somewhat, but families can feel, whether justified or not, that they "gave" to others in dire need. They support a system in which the government does what people are, ostensibly, not willing to do to help each other. In the ineluctable cycle of such things, these people gain the mindset that they are investing in protection of themselves. That isn't true, at least not for most families, but it is the feeling that they buy with their tax dollars.

Mixed up with the moral vanity of supporting giveaways, money and the purchased trappings of modern life can be means to an end, or ends unto themselves. One gets the sense that, for some people, consent to high taxes is a palliative for guilt over greed. As if the Mercedes is forgiven because the taxes help to fund welfare.

In a sense, those trappings are buy-offs embedded in the hidden forces of an unhealthy worldview seeking validation — an anti-individualist, anti-religious, anti-family, misanthropic worldview. Unfortunately for those willing to be bribed, the cost rises over time, changing form; high taxes become time lost for the sake of work becomes a separation from family becomes a family spread out across the country because taxes are too high in one area, stifling opportunity, and accustoming parents, children, and siblings to hardly seeing each other anyway.

With these generalities, I'm not drawing a sufficiently solid line that it ought to be followed as an argument to promote tax cuts, or any other cause. However, it circles an important bit of strategy: the social issues that strain family life overlap any political issues that affect citizens directly or indirectly (e.g., taxes and economic policy). It isn't enough to tell people that they can keep more of their money. It isn't enough to say that children will be able to stay within an easy drive if the economy improves through the government's making some hard decisions. As the culture sinks generations-deep into its corrosive mire, we must increasingly convince people that the traditional family is important in the first place.

Libertarian reason unmoored from social conservative principles ultimately has no basis articulable in terms of pure reason. Principles will inhere, whatever the case, and for society to continue to function, we cannot allow those principles to be negative by default, as attacking libertarian issues alone would ensure.

February 17, 2005

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:33 AM

Whatever Works

Although many proponents of same-sex marriage seem to believe that opponents' reasoning is merely cover for bigotry, the arguments against are internally consistent. Not so the other side. Even just the thesis of a post by Yale professor Jack Balkin illustrates the point: "Viewing [five legal theories] together one can see the choices that courts will have to make in upholding the rights of same-sex couples." Openly, here, it is assumed that the courts ought to take the goal of "upholding the rights of same-sex couples," not applying the law, as is the duty of their branch. Also openly, the emphasis is on methods to reach that goal, not a unified argument for why it can or should be reached.

The additional commentary that Balkin provides for each point is important to read, but consider a trimmed points one and two:

1) Sex equality. It violates sex equality to tell a man he cannot marry another man when a woman could do so. It violates sex equality to tell a woman she cannot marry another woman when a man could do so. The ban on same-sex marriage makes an illegal distinction on the basis of the sex of the parties. ...

2) Sexual orientation discrimination. The ban on same-sex marriage discriminates against gays and lesbians in their choice of spouses.

Balkin states that the second option has the advantage of being "completely honest about what the problem is": identical treatment of a group. The difficulty that this presents, intellectually, is that homosexuals aren't discriminated against as a group. If the objective of marriage is to bridge the gap between sides in the single most fundamental human division — men and women — thereby joining potentially procreative couples, then homosexuals have exactly the same range of choices as heterosexuals. (It's worth noting that that wasn't the case with anti-miscegenation laws, which discriminated even in the range of options.)

Balkin says that one disadvantage of option two is that a court implementing it would have to add orientation to the list of suspect classifications, but that isn't enough; the court must also define marriage as something other than a pairing of men and women. To do so, it would have to make marriage "about" amorphous concepts like love, commitment, and care. This is where, pace Balkin, the decision would create "obvious problems for state prohibition of incestuous and polygamous marriages." Essentially, Balkin is counting on the judiciary, having created a right to same-sex marriage based on reasoning outside of the law itself, to discard much of that reasoning in order to adhere strictly to the letter of the law when further questions arise.

Option one is different mainly in that it approaches the issue as a matter of individual rights and is targeted more closely to the central question of any such ruling: what is marriage? As Balkin admits, the "disadvantage of the argument is that it uses sex equality doctrine to uphold what most people would say is really discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation." Essentially, to grant homosexuals the right to marry according to their orientation, such a ruling would label marriage as an inherently — definitionally — sexist institution.

What's worrying about this approach is that it avoids the group emphasis, perhaps as a means of avoiding the obvious rejoinder that men and women are equally free to marry people of the opposite sex. It suggests a particular man/woman who wishes to marry a particular man/woman and cannot, even though a particular woman/man could. In doing so, it also ultimately redefines marriage as a prerequisite, adding the view of marriage not as a broad social institution, but as a matter to be defined from the point of view of the individual. Again, only mere law stands between such a ruling and further expansion of marriage.

Of course, when the goal is to find a right, the consistency and the consequences are of secondary concern... if that.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:32 AM | Comments (27)
Marriage & Family

February 16, 2005

Songs You Should Know 02/15/05

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Once Upon a Time" by Joe Parillo and Christine Harrington.

"Once Upon a Time" Joe Parillo and Christine Harrington, Jazz/Classical
Stream (HiFi)
from Sand Box

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:31 PM

Catching Up in the Corrosive Lapse

Readers will already know my likely comment on this:

New York is one of a few states without some form of one-step no-fault divorce, partly the result of years of opposition from some women's rights groups, the Catholic Church, legislators, and others who believe that easier divorces and quick settlements might harm one spouse--often women--who have historically earned less money or have not worked outside the home.

Yet Judge Kaye, who leads the Court of Appeals and oversees New York's judiciary, argued in her speech that a "fair" compromise should be possible to dissolve marriages that are obviously over, protect the rights of both spouses, and aid victims of domestic violence who may find themselves trapped if their spouses evade fault or refuse to grant a divorce. She also called for appointing more judges to the heavily burdened Family Court system.

We must keep in mind that news context is often not accurate context, and cynicism may not be appropriate with Kaye, but modern government requires one to ask: Isn't it the legislature's job to craft compromises?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:12 PM
Marriage & Family

Some Words on Posts

This was going to be a busy week anyway, so throwing forty hours of carpentry work into the mix has drained my days (and nights, for that matter). However, judging from the amount that I managed to post while teaching — with all of the out-of-school planning and grading and reading and so on — posts ought to be more frequent once I've got a schedule down.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to keep things 'round here interesting.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:02 PM
Site-Related Announcements

February 15, 2005

Being the Marrying Kind

What does it mean to say that marriage "should precede governmental authority"? From opponents of same-sex marriage, it usually means that the government should adhere to the definition of marriage that filtered to it over the ages. In John Coleman's hands, writing in Reason, it's closer to an argument for same-sex marriage on the sly:

As we approach the anniversary of Valentine's own rebellion and denial, shouldn't the nation that pioneered a popular government of the people, by the people, and for the people" be the one that finally stands to assert the pre-governmental primacy of matrimonial privacy?

It is time to privatize marriage. If the institution is really so sacred, it should lie beyond the withering hands of politicians and policy makers in Washington D.C. There should be no federal or state license that grants validity to love. There should be no state-run office that peers into our bedrooms and honeymoon suites. If the church thinks divorce and homosexuality are problematic, it should initiate the real dialogue to address these problems in-house rather than relying on state-sponsored coercion to affirm doctrinal beliefs. And if tax-codes and guardianships need some classification for couples, let's revise civil union standards to reflect those needs.

I wonder by what calculus tax-codes could need "classification for couples." More importantly, I can't help but notice that Coleman doesn't make a distinction that's very popular among people advocating positions similar to his: that between civil marriage and religious marriage. Granted, he alludes to the different roles of church and state, but separating the two types of marriages, I don't see — as Ramesh Ponnuru does — how Coleman's "separationist conclusion certainly follows" from his premise that "matters of personal character [should] precede governmental authority."

Consider his telling of a St. Valentine's story:

Around 270 A.D.—according to one tradition, at least—St. Valentine, a Roman cleric, was imprisoned for his opposition to Emperor Claudius' decree that young men (his potential crop of soldiers) could no longer marry. Valentine performed their ceremonies anyway and was thrown in jail for his obstinacy.

The truth of the matter is that nobody stops anybody from calling any ceremony a "marriage" and calling themselves "married"; it's already out of the hands of the state. In his time, St. Valentine's ceremonies also granted such "validity to love," but Claudius (i.e., the government) apparently felt compelled to recognize the marriages, otherwise there would have been no crime. They were, in essence, civil marriages.

For his part, Coleman wishes to outdo Claudius and forbid all civil marriages and insist on not recognizing any religious marriages. One could point to the difference that priests would remain free to perform marriage ceremonies outside of government acknowledgment, but that's already the case.

Coleman may lump all religion under "the church," but the reality is that some churches do perform same-sex marriage ceremonies; some have very little concern for previous divorces. However, when particular religious marriages follow the pattern of valid civil marriages — two people of opposite sex who are not currently married or closely related — the government merely saves couples the trouble of marrying twice, so to speak.

The question then becomes which relationships to recognize for non-religious reasons, and here is where same-sex marriage opponents apply the "marriage precedes governmental authority" rule. The right to marry and the definition of marriage are not the government's to change. While civil marriage may be a government creation, it is rooted in the lessons of marriage throughout history, and the government should therefore move very slowly, and with social consensus, before issuing a Claudius-like decree abolishing the institution as it has been known.

It should also steer clear of semantic games, such as Coleman's, recasting civil marriages as civil unions so as to neatly discard all considerations — intuited more than understood — that make traditional marriage doctrine more a matter of reason than of faith.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:38 PM | Comments (11)
Marriage & Family

February 14, 2005

Something Other than the Three Rs

While we battle back and forth about the sanctity of evolution in the public school science curriculum, a reminder of the broader field in which we work is in order:

According to benchmarks for middle school education, the top objective for the district's math teachers is to teach "respect for human differences." The objective is for students to "live out the system-wide core value of 'respect for human differences' by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors."

Priority No. 2 is where the basics come in, which is "problem solving and representation — students will build new mathematical knowledge as they use a variety of techniques to investigate and represent solutions to problems."

No, I'm not arguing that the establishment of political correctness as a central goal of education means that the door has been opened to ideology. No, I'm not taking this extreme example as representative. Still, our schools are not hard-line institutions of knowledge collection, and I don't believe that they ought to be.

It's also interesting to note that mathematicians and the ACLU aren't mounting a campaign to beat back this infringement of ideology — the armies of Unreason — on the cold truth of math. Shouldn't the courts be called in to straighten out these liberal fundamentalists?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:53 PM | Comments (2)

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

The latest Notes & Commentary essay by Maureen Mullarkey is "Paradise Regained," reviewing Hannelore Baron at Senior & Shopmaker, Stephen Talasnik at Marlborough Chelsea, and Susan Shatter at Lyons Wier Gallery.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:22 PM
Visual Art

'Twas a Monday

I apologize for the lack of posts, this evening. For various reasons, I didn't get home until later than I'd expected, and I made it to my computer only to find tons of comment/ping spam. That wasn't a problem, per se, but it appears that there were so many that my email program stopped saving messages, only subject lines. So, I then had to poke around looking for a means of salvaging the messages and, when that proved impossible, to email a few folks requesting that they resend their messages.

If you emailed me and didn't receive such a note, please resend your email. And as a general note, if you ever come across spam among the comments, please let me know.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:30 PM | Comments (3)
Diary & Confession


Wrote Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne on June 29, 1851, in the final months of Moby-Dick's production:

Since you have been here, I have been building some shanties of houses (connected with the old one) and likewise some shanties of chapters and essays. I have been plowing and sowing and raising and painting and printing and praying, -- and now begin to come out upon a less bustling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of things from a fair piazza at the north of the old farm house here.

Much has changed, these past one hundred and fifty years, and few moderns who share Melville's vocation will have any experience with such things as plowing and building shanties. (Far too many have little experience with praying.) Those among us who are conservative of temperament inevitably wonder what has been lost. What disconnection from raw reality does the man suffer who is multiple steps removed from tangible life, whose every good is constructed by others? What human sympathy drains from a person who has transcended the hardships that the past century has unevenly worn away?

We who make a craft of thinking can string together ideas, and if we write, we fashion them with words. But this painstaking labor raises mere ephemera, and often in desperate throes we cry for the recognition that makes our efforts real. Strange, then, that so many who build only shanties of thought consider themselves above those who construct such things as only a fool would deny.

Today I begin work as a full-time carpenter, and I expect the benefits to my soul to be worth well beyond their weight in the lumber that I will cut and hammer. Being somewhat green, I'll be the least in every way that matters throughout the workday. With that perspective, perhaps my evening labor will be worth more than the vanity of its author. And when I slip into bed, my children's house heated and the next day's meals awaiting in cupboards and on refrigerator shelves, with the sense of prayers answered because heard, the prospect of things will be calm in the only ways that truly matter, now or one hundred and fifty years from now.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:06 AM | Comments (4)

February 13, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 4 (p. 58-61)

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

"Hello, King John!" shouted Huck amiably when he and D. had reached the mosaic window on the front stairs and could see John struggling to keep Jim from jumping on him.

"Huck, you get this mongrel away from me before I give him a swift kick!"

"Aw, he ain't doin' nothin' but sayin' hello and how-de-do, yer majesty," Huck responded, but whistled Jim away for safety's sake.

Brushing paw marks from the front of his white robe, John scolded Huck, "You know that I don't like to be called that."

"Sorry, sir. I'll stop, promise. Been visitin' the Nonesuch Inn much lately, old man?"

"Don't you old man me neither, Huck! I'm barely ten years your senior."

"Ah, more senior'n I'll be in thirty, I reckon, and were I a hundred, I reckon I'd be the junior still! But why don't we let bygones be bygones, John? S'been nearly since you was my age that we been disagreeable t'each other, ain't it?"

Relaxing a bit and subtly, very subtly, smiling, John said, "Huck, you do this every time you arrive. You know that before you leave you'll have done yet another horrible and inconsiderate atrocity to me, so why do you bother apologizing before you've even done it?"

"Aw, shucks, John, you know that what I want is fer everybody on this here raft to be satisfied and feel right and kind towards each other!" said Huck, winking at D.

"Yes, I'm sure that's exactly what you're after," John retorted, but he let it lie at that, then, changing the subject, "I see you've rousted the rabbit from her hole."

"Naw, it was Jim. He's always been a sight more person'ble than me. What would you want to go scarin' this girl into stayin' hidden for two days fer anyway?"

"It wasn't anything I did. I've been nothing but helpful to her. It was the doing of the other new arrival, Alex. Wasn't it, young lady?"

D. mumbled that she supposed that he was telling the truth.

"I did attempt in earnest to retrieve your keys," John avowed. "In fact," he continued, "I've managed, not to find your clothes, but at least some comfortable looking slippers that might be fit for you to use for the time being." He raised a finger for them to stay put, disappeared into the courtyard, and returned with a pair of hard-soled slippers that did, indeed, look comfortable. "It's a petty conciliation, I know, but I searched them out to show that I do not condone what has happened since your arrival."

D. put them on; they fit perfectly. "Perhaps I have been a bit too rash in suspecting you," she acquiesced.

An awkward silence was broken when Huck clapped his hands and said, "Welp, I'm glad we've got that settled. The lady 'n' me were on our way for a stroll to wear out the new shoes, d'ye like to come, yer emminence? Or would you rather stay here and partake of the provisions I put in the pantry for you?"

John's eyebrows raised, apparently catching the exact meaning of "provisions." "I've been walking all morning. I suppose I'll have something to eat and then relax with a good book."

"Oh, yer welcome to the food, too, but I suspect you've a bout a' thirst," Huck said, laughing. "Just don't stuff yerself so full that yer too cross-eyed to read." John shot a mildly nasty look at Huck, who only laughed and slapped him on the back. Then to D., "Le's go an' leave the king to his refreshment."

She didn't object, in large part because she hoped their walk might bring them to Huck's car, and neither did Jim the dog, so out they went. As soon as the door closed behind them, John marched hastily toward the kitchen.

On the porch, Huck whispered to D. that he thought John would be feeling considerably more mellow by the time they got back.

D. wanted to check on her car, but Huck convinced her that without the keys there was no reason to frustrate herself further, so they walked north rather than south. Between blithe bouts of hopping around them, Jim would charge far off into the woods until Huck whistled for his return. The dog came back each time with a different stick, letting his two companions take turns at trying to wrest each from him and running off after a new one when they succeeded.

The foliage pressed in thickly around them.

"You must get lost out here quite a bit," D. remarked.

"There's paths if you know where to look." Huck indicated the direction they were heading, and D. saw that the bushes leaned just slightly outward. She supposed that traffic on this particular highway was light, and a fractional regret presented itself for ratification when she considered that the off-road scars left by her car would be a long time healing. But toward her defense, she recalled that the road off of which she had driven a mile-and-a-half from where her car now lingered inanimate had been on a new map that she had bought the week before and was already losing ground to the forest at its borders and gushing sprouts of green at uneven intervals across the asphalt.


"Yes'm?" he responded as he threw yet another stick out of sight between the trees. Jim watched it fly then bounded briskly in the opposite direction.

"You said you parked your car quite a distance from the house right?"


"Then you must not have been able to bring all that many provisions with you."

Chuckling, as if he thought that she was trying to catch him in a contradiction, "There's a wheelbarrow I leave near the spot when I go."

"But still..."

"I left most of the stuff that'll keep in my truck. I reckon I'll go back and get the rest in time."

"Oh," she said, somewhat dejectedly, then, "Would you like some help?"

"Naw, it's my part to do. House rules."

"Oh great, more rules."

"You'll catch on."

"To be honest, I don't think I'm going to be making that a priority."

"Do what you like, but there's a bundle a' int'resting characters to be met here."

"I'll bet."

They walked on. D. would have asked about some of these "int'resting characters," but she figured that Huck would only tell her that she would see when she would see, or something along those lines. Jim took after a squirrel sniffing around beneath a nearby tree. It ran around in a confused circle and leapt up the trunk, halting in alertness fifteen feet above the barking dog, who began running around the tree and stopping every few revolutions to make sure the squirrel knew that he was still there. Whistling, Huck threw a stick away from the scene. Jim disappeared in the stick's general direction, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, and returned with a rock that was one size too big for him. Huck laughed and told Jim to drop the stone. Doing as he was told, the dog fell into a meandering amble a pace ahead of the people, looking back and waiting whenever the distance grew to a dozen yards or so. A bird called out above them. Another responded with a countermelody a few trees over. D. looked at Huck.

"So what's this Nonesuch Inn."

Huck smiled fondly to a memory, "Oh that goes back to the beginnin' of my knowin' of John and Nathaniel." He snickered.

"A funny story?"

"If you know how to look at it."

"Well, I'm of a mind to hear a good story if you're of a mind to tell one."

Huck smiled kindly, old age obviously loitering behind his pensive posture as he glanced out over the field to which they had come. The grass was wild and dead, but still high, and the wind blew across it in waves of life. Huck smiled again, this time with a bit more enthusiasm; the old age, if it had not been an illusion, skittered away or was sucked into the boyishly glinting hazel of his eyes.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:53 AM
A Whispering Through the Branches

February 12, 2005

Wherefore Freedom of Speech

If this doesn't furrow your brow, well, it should:

"It was an unintended consequence of McCain-Feingold. Instead of going to the parties, rich people are putting money into these 527s in the dark of night," Lott told the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss.

In other words, some of those rich people might be trying to throw out incumbents.

McCain is even more blatant about the incumbent-protection angle. As The Washington Times reported last week, "McCain said lawmakers should support the bill out of self-interest, because it would prevent a rich activist from trying to defeat an incumbent by directing money into a political race through a 527 organization."

"That should alarm every federally elected member of Congress," McCain said.

Indeed, it certainly does.

Subsequent to these catches, Ryan Sager raises an important point: grouping citizens under a "shadowy and devious" number — 527 — doesn't remove their guaranteed right to free speech. Now that all three branches of government have abandoned the Constitution in this respect, there's little incentive among our legislative rulers to correct their error.

Although Sager doesn't make this point, his closing hopes that a future Supreme Court will revisit the issue hint at a broader concern about that branch. In recent decades, SCOTUS has been better known for finding new rights in the Constitution. With its rubber stamping of "campaign finance reform," the court has effectively ignored a right.

The time may not be far off that American citizens have to reclaim their own government. Let's hope that it can be accomplished from within the system.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:59 AM

February 11, 2005

Genes' Obviation of Parents

Increasingly, it seems that a "yes" or "no" answer to the question of same-sex marriage ultimately relates to a series of "yeses" or "nos," leading to irreconcilable versions of reality. Consider this paragraph from an interesting post in which Greg Wallace ponders fatherhood:

I hope I've been able to make it clear that both the mother's and father's love are essential for any child to have a complete sense of being loved. Without this sense of "well-being" from mother, and the benevolent provision, protection and boundaries from father, the erotic drive that naturally emerges in adolescents is raw and untamed. When this happens, erotic love becomes unmanageable and literally enslaving, rather than a Gift that adds to the beauty of a committed monogamous relationship. That's why pornography was so powerful in my life as a teenager and young adult, and why my homosexuality seemed to be little more than a never ending dead end street.

In a thread elsewhere, on which I'll likely comment before tonight is through, I noticed the insistence that same-sex attraction is just the way homosexuals are. The object was to claim, for homosexuality, the precedent established for race: it's immutable and natural, and any social structure that is exclusionary on its basis is ipso facto discriminatory in an unacceptable way.

I don't intend a definitive proclamation with this, but note how well that point of view dovetails with the usually corresponding understanding of what children need for parents. If genes are destiny (perhaps in conjunction with extremely early environmental factors), then who one's parents are doesn't matter except in a controllable social sense — mitigable after the fact. In the contrary view, if the subconscious and overt behavior of parents contributes to fundamental qualities in their children, then traditional family structure carries subtle qualities that are important to preserve.

In the first case, only large aspects of the parent-child relationship are important: love, support, trust, and so on. One parent could do it, although two would be better, and there's no reason that three, four, or five "parents" mightn't be even better. But in the second case, nigh intangible aspects of the parent-child relationship are just as important: interactions between males and females, binary and complementary qualities of the parents, and so on.

To put it bluntly, if a parent can cause homosexuality, then one can, as Greg hopes to, "identify the father [or mother] wounds" and "release them" as part of a "healing process." Treating homosexual relationships as equivalent to heterosexual marriage, if it does not break the link between parenting and marriage, will normalize circumstances that affect child development profoundly.

The limited research on the topic appears to confirm this point; homosexuality is more frequent among those raised by homosexuals. Supporters of same-sex marriage always offer some form of qualifier, when they declare "no difference," to the effect that children raised by same-sex parents don't differ from other children in a way that really matters. But this statement is made after the assumption that sexual orientation doesn't matter.

Whatever one's level of "tolerance," the question ultimately becomes whether homosexuality is so inconsequential that individuals and society ought to be completely indifferent about it. In that respect, it really is a choice. And again, the answer must be "yes" or "no."

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:10 PM | Comments (9)
Marriage & Family

Practicing Safe Gangbanging

A few days ago, reader Nosy emailed me the following in response to my posts on sex ed. (here and here):

Here is something to ponder. There is no one teaching "safer gangbanging". That is, no one even for a minute suggests that children and teenagers should be taught "Don't get into a gang, but if you do, here's some suggestions that might keep you from becoming a drug addict or getting killed..."

No, what is taught is something else: "Do not join a gang. Do not socialize with people you know to be in a gang. Do not go to places where gang members are known to hang out. If you are in a gang, get out now, we will help you leave."

Isn't that "Gang Abstinence"? Shouldn't we be more realistic, and accept the fact that some teenagers will experiment with gangs, and teach them how to have a safer gang experience, rather than just teach this simpleminded "Don't do it" stuff? Aren't we just setting our kids up for failure, when they are tempted to join a gang and don't know how to be a gangbanger safely?

Well, a post by John Hawkins doesn't quite prove the new maxim that contemporary society undermines the possibility of satire, but it comes close:

The story of young Devin Brown should be a cautionary tale about what happens when you fall in the wrong crowd, but is instead being used as a way to attack the police. Brown, a 13 year-old "eighth-grader at a magnet school for gifted youth," started hanging out with gang bangers,
"Friends and neighbors said the teen had recently begun skipping school and spending time with gang members after his father's death last year. They insisted, however, that he wasn't in a gang.

"It's a bad crowd he was starting to hang with but he wasn't a gang member yet _ and I say yet," said Kevin Mitchell, a gang prevention specialist who knew Brown and himself a former gang member.

... Instead of carping about the police, who's asking what this kid's parent was doing while he was hanging out with gang members? Why aren't we hearing calls for the police to crack down on the gangs?

Here are the details:

According to police, Garcia and his partner were on routine patrol near Gage and Grand avenues when they saw the driver of the maroon Toyota Camry run a red light. The officers followed the car onto the Harbor Freeway and then tried to pull the driver over.

A three-minute chase ended when the driver lost control of the Toyota and drove onto the sidewalk. The officers then parked their patrol car behind the Toyota.

A 14-year-old passenger fled, but was later apprehended. When Devin, who was driving, allegedly backed into the officers' car, Garcia opened fire.

One can hear the thought in the air: if only he'd been taught how to conduct safe grand theft auto. Truly, I'm not making light of this heartbreaking incident, but whether the misguided reaction to tragedy is to blame the police or to offer but-if-you-do guidance to other children, the result will be more loss, not less.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:17 PM | Comments (3)

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

The Redwood Review fiction piece of the week is "Dragons," by Gary Bolstridge.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:19 AM

Looking Away from the Threat

I had forgotten the anecdote that Jay Nordlinger reprints today, and since it ought not be forgotten, I rereprint it here (I don't think Mr. N will mind):

... I enrolled in the Near Eastern Studies Department at the University of Michigan, where I took several courses, including the Arabic language. The department was dominated by extremists. The graduate assistants, certainly, were Arabs to the "left" of the PLO, meaning, they took Arafat and Co. to be sell-outs, untrue to the cause. There was no discussion of the legitimacy of Israel: It wasn't discussable; Israel was illegitimate, and every worthy person knew it.

One day, we trooped into an auditorium to see a documentary on the conflict. I can't remember the name of the documentary or of the documentary-maker, but I can see her, and she was on hand to introduce her film and to take questions. The film featured mainly radical Palestinians talking about dismembering Israel.

During the Q&A, a middle-aged white woman — a little fat — raised her hand and asked the following question: "These were such extreme voices. You've made a wonderful film, but couldn't you have found some softer, more moderate voices?"

In the row in which I was sitting were several Arab students — older ones, graduate students — and one of them, in front of everybody, stood up and said words I will never forget. I won't forget the words, or his face, or his relatively quiet, determined tone. He said: "I will kill you." (This was directed at the woman who had asked the question.) His buddies got him to sit down.

But that's not the important part — what he said is not the important part. The important part is, no one said a word. No one reacted. We all sort of coughed, and looked away, nervously. We all pretended that what had just occurred had not, in fact, occurred — or that it was normal, acceptable. We simply ignored it.

The emphasis is his.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:12 AM
Middle East

February 10, 2005

The Focal Point of the Twenty-First Century

Yes, yes, I know it all comes down to the individual's faith; it always has, and it always will. But as I've poked around the Internet today, my mind began to organize, and before I've reached any conclusions, I thought I'd throw a question out there into cyberspace:

What are the priorities among the issues that we face in these insane modern times?

The liberal grip on the mainstream media is proving difficult to maintain when that hand is needed to swat at an upstart New Media. The universities are finding their practices under increasing scrutiny and professors' credibility up for questioning. Mel Gibson's independent film has (we can hope) begun a similar reckoning in Hollywood, but much of the art world remains unperturbed.

As the Democrats diminish in power, the radical fringe continues to assert its influence. Republicans are dealing with their own internal struggles, between such factions as social conservatives and libertarians. Meanwhile, the judiciary continues to expand the power created by its quick 'n' easy method of Constitutional amendment. And on top of it all, forces continue to push for a world government.

We've got the same-sex marriage debate, yes, and the larger sexual revolution trending to redefine the essence of the human family and human relationships. But then, we've got scientists running full-tilt toward technologies that will redefine humanity itself. Then there are scientists seeking immortality in a test tube. Abortion is on the defensive, but new ways of and reasons for destroying nascent human life are cropping up, and the "right to die" movement continues its work, albeit largely under the radar.

Psychiatrists are beginning to turn toward notions of evil, even while they make noises about defining religion as a pathology. Rational religious folks are starting to reassert that religion can be rational, and to apply that understanding to social constructs. Secularists continue their mutual indoctrination. Meanwhile, Islamofascists are working to undermine and destroy Western civilization in multiple ways, and the response in many Western nations still resembles a person the morning after a late, indulgent night alternately struggling to wake up and to ignore the faint alarm and continue sleeping.

Yet, behind the snoring attempts at self-deception, the elite subconscious plots to reinstate the Old World's influence in various forms, from creeping international bureaucratic oligarchy to behavior in Russia raising uncomfortable impressions that something is being hidden, while Red China continues to stand as a perennially emerging pernicious colossus. And there are still all those weapons that could wipe out millions with the stroke of a finger.

These riffs could go on and on.

Despite it all, the Christian can and must seek the peace to be found in our Lord, Jesus Christ — largely filtered through our love for each other — and through that peace to achieve a benevolent disinterest. We are called to work for a better world even while we understand that the world must turn sour before our work is done.

So, again, beyond personal faith, what are the priorities? It's ultimately pointless to bloody each other over marriage if Sharia is in our future. On the other hand, we must be wary of making the world free for the social corrosion that we find within our borders. Where lies the Beast? Where the Whore? Where the Rider?

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:12 PM | Comments (1)

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:48 PM

Tempus Fugit

As you may have noticed, both on the blog and if you've sent me any email, I'm behind on just about everything. Sorry, I'll be writing about what's been going on sometime today or tomorrow.

Luckily, though, Earl Appleby reminds me that voting for the cyberCatholics blog awards ends tomorrow at noon. Dust in the Light has been nominated in the political and social commentary categories. I'm way behind in both, but when it comes to St. Blogs, I'm the guy who arrives late and sits in front, so I'm happy just to have been nominated.

Incidentally, Earl's got a number of interesting posts up, so it's worth your while to poke stroll around his blog if Times Against Humanity is not a regular stop for you.

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:06 AM

The Ideal as Trojan Horse

Before my wife gave up trying to find a full-time teaching job in Rhode Island's public school system, I had to learn how to disguise my sneer at the notion that "teachers are the most underpaid professionals." It was perfectly clear to me that, in this state at least, teachers unions and their political allies were holding up struggling near-outsiders such as my wife in order to argue for benefits and job protections for those who were already established and hardly impoverished. Groups have a tendency to hold up the most convenient faces from among their members toward any given end.

That seems to me to be what John Derbyshire is doing here:

Science is not an ossified establishment, defending privileges and power against all comers. Look into some science journals. Talk to some working scientists. Science is bustling and anarchic. When a plausible new theory comes up, keen young scientists flock to it in the hope of making a name for themselves by overthrowing the established orthodoxy. A high proportion of scientists are contrarians by temperament. "Why is this so?" they demand. "You SAY it's so, but where's the evidence?" Scientists don't take kindly to authoritiative pronouncements handed down from on high on tablets of stone. It's just not like that.

I've started and discarded a few posts on the running discussion in the Corner of which this quotation is a part, mostly because I think the debate misses the point theologically. Back in August 2002, I expressed it thus (excessive emphases in original):

...while the standard line is that, as humankind figures stuff out, God keeps getting smaller, the more intricately we understand what it is that God has done, the broader and more intrinsic God becomes.

It's difficult to bridge this gap in debate because the faithless just do not get it. God isn't hiding in the recesses of what we do not know; He is in such plain view that we often fail to see Him. We are not inventing scientific theories; we are discovering what is already there. And faith does not forbid questions; it allows them because the faithful already know that which is truly important.

Derb's latest tack brings to light another aspect of the debate that misses the point, the one about broad groups that I described above. He conveniently discards Richard Dawkins — an actual scientist — in the very same post in which he sides with the ACLU in its lawsuits against school districts that wish merely to highlight that evolution is a theory. Derb may see the ACLU as a convenient ally in his defense of science, but the average conservative probably understands that the ACLU sees the evolution debate as an intrinsic part of the broader secular worldview that it promotes.

The rhetoric is well developed to dismiss the pushback against evolution in public schools as an indication of "a cohort in the armies of Unreason," in Derbyshire's words. It might capture an important consideration, however, to ask whether those armies aren't reacting to something other than mere science. One would think that agreement with the ACLU on one of its big issues would raise a red flag for conservatives, as indeed it should.

Jonah Goldberg has replied to Derb's exaggeration in the heat of blogging with the suggestion that there "is a long history in this country of scientific experts trying to short-circuit democratic processes in order to run the show themselves." And Derb has ceded a limited version of the point. The "rearguard claim" that he tries to salvage, however, is the problem: scientists are "a libertarian lot" in the same sense in which libertarianism aligns with secularism.

To those on the other side of the debate, the ACLU's court action to disallow a local community from setting its own tone for the teaching of evolution is precisely an attempt to short-circuit democratic processes. The libertarianism, in other words, is akin to the restricted image of scientists as distinct from a broader cultural movement, and both are akin to the particulars of the role that evolution plays in the cultural battle; they all focus on their narrow truth as a means to slip past the argument that the broader whole is preponderant.

With matters of religion and morality banned from the classroom, it isn't surprising that those who privilege religion and morality would seek ways to keep out the worldview that has latched itself to evolution. The privileged treatment that the reasonable face of science attracts is quickly abused once the opposing "armies of Unreason" have been told to wait outside.

Well then. According to Mr. Derbyshire:

Lots of researchers in fields like human genetics, psychometrics, and neuroscience regard the kind of people who pontificate about these things in outlets like PBS and the New York Times as moronic ideologues, and will freely say so in private. Not in public, though -- they want to keep their research grants.

It seems a bit unfair to insist that those on the defensive side of the cultural battles playing out in the nation's schools react to scientists based on the views that they may or may not generally hold in private, while the other side tramples through the society with proclamations that scientists aren't willing to disclaim in public. If scientists don't want bio-theologians dabbling in their fare, then perhaps they ought to be more vocal about the ideological purity thereof.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:56 AM | Comments (74)

February 9, 2005

The Foundation of My Rhetoric

Judging from email, I should clarify the perspective through which I wrote the previous post. First, I'll repeat that the issues of same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general are not of interest to me out of antipathy toward homosexuals. Rather, as an intellectual matter, I find that homosexuality raises a variety of intriguing problems to resolve. And as a social and cultural matter, this is clearly where the front lines are.

People on both sides of me politically will disagree with my assessment, here, but I'm currently persuaded that sexual attraction is not genetically determined in a hard way. Various traits of "gayness" probably are, and there are probably variations to which people will incline one way or another, whether that inclination results from genes or socialization. Furthermore, there's probably some irreducible percentage of people for whom a particular sexual attraction might as well be genetic.

Given a general assumption that sexuality is more a range than a categorization, society has a fine line to walk between erasing a preference for heterosexuality for the archetypal "waverer" and encouraging the most socially and personally beneficial expression of homosexuality among those with no ability to make what must ultimately be a voluntary change.

Although the current dynamics of the debate make this a precarious compromise to suggest, I think the best option is for the civic face of society to find a way to encourage monogamous relationships among homosexuals while not implicitly disclaiming the legitimacy of efforts to direct them toward the heterosexual norm. From a Catholic Christian standpoint, such efforts might entail guiding them to maturation of their relationships beyond the sex to the point at which they support each other in chasteness, but that guidance would be offered without the coercive powers of the law. In practical terms, as I've written before, this solution would mean a Federal Marriage Amendment that leaves open the possibility of state-recognized "civil unions" defined in their own terms, not with direct reference to marriage.

My point with the previous post was that, since active homosexuality is fundamentally severed from the all-inclusive ideal for heterosexuals — from biology to genealogy to tradition, and so on — we must take into account the possibility that traditional social structures won't have the same force. Furthermore, we must be extremely wary of tying an already crippled family culture to the project with a blithe faith that everything will just work out for the best.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:16 AM
Marriage & Family

Recidivism and Structure Without Foundation

The sentence that I've emphasized in the following paragraph stuck out when I took a moment to trace the author's rhetorical construction:

Why should one part of this university be safer than another? Why do some students feel that they must lie about their sexual identity in order to secure their status as an athlete or fraternity brother? Why has the library's basement bathroom become a meeting place for fearful, closet homosexuals? Why should some professors still feel that they must hide their sexual identity for the sake of their careers?

What had interested me in University of Rhode Island student Anthony Maselli's letter to the editor was the way in which he took the ostentatious "tolerance" of one professor as reason to argue that the campus as a whole mightn't be safe — that perhaps homosexuals "should think twice before [they] walk out [their] front door[s] in the morning." Consequently, although the new allocation of the library's basement bathroom seemed a curious necessity at a university that I know to be as liberal as any, I didn't look into it.

Well, the Good 5¢ Cigar (the student paper) has since provided details:

"It's a very sensitive topic," Interim Dean of the University Library Chris Wessells said. "We are still considering what all of our options are."

The situation was brought to his attention, he said, when the female janitor in charge of cleaning the basement level of the library found an excessive amount of blood and semen in the stalls of one of the men's bathrooms.

"To have to deal with stuff like this... it's awful," Wessells said. "And it's been reoccurring. It's been going on for awhile." ...

Wessells said that vandalism is also a problem. Holes are being drilled into the walls between the stalls, he said, to be used for sex. These holes are commonly referred to as "gloryholes."

The claim that pathology among homosexuals is largely attributable to society's vilification and oppression of them is common enough that I shouldn't have to dig up a specific quotation as evidence. Yet, here — in a community in which a majority hadn't yet reached puberty when the Hawaiian judiciary first declared there to be no reason that homosexual relationships oughtn't be equated with heterosexual marriages — the nature of the incidents raises questions, at the very least, about the likelihood that same-sex marriage will transform gay culture away from such deviant behavior. (Or, to minimize the claim further still, it ought to raise worries that gay culture will not change swiftly enough to avoid bringing some of this character into marital culture.)

There's no doubt that this is an uncomfortable discussion to have in the current climate, but the importance of marriage to our society requires that we question the foundation on which marital structure could be placed among homosexuals. In an email exchange, emphasizing intellectual inquisitiveness, with "GayPatriotWest," I highlighted his use of a cliché that is essentially void of meaning in this context:

So, monogamy is possible for gay men. Yes, we may have to overcome our masculine "instinct" to "spread our seed." Yet, it is in that struggle to be faithful to the man we love that we come to value our feelings for that man, the intimacy of the relationship and the sacredness of the sexual act. And I believe, that gay men who do face that struggle and choose monogamy will find their relationships more fulfilling and find as well that such relationships can better sustain them over the long run.

Even some among the readers of Dust in the Light have given me reason to agree that monogamy is possible among gay men, but possibility isn't a hopeful gauge of likelihood. For the individual, such a personal thing as monogamy needn't be rooted in any particular principle or logic; it just feels right. But marriage is something different. Marriage is useless unless it sustains commitment and fidelity during those times when monogamy might not feel right, and an intrinsic quality that helps it to do so is the literal applicability of the "spread our seed" cliché.

To be sure, contraception erases some of the distinction, but I'd be astonished if many people truly believed that heterosexual's understanding of their sexual behavior isn't built around knowledge of its first-principle of procreation. That heterosexuals can pervert their principles is of limited significance in a discussion about marriage, anyway, because it means that bolstering is required, not further subversion. If marriage is a way to encourage monogamy and commitments that outlast the drive to sire a diverse array of children, then it should incorporate increased aversion to too-prolific "seed spreading."

Isn't that less plausible when the sexual relationship bears only refracted resemblance to the biological standard? Whatever the numbers, behavior that subverts a marriage-based culture will surely be more difficult to curtail among a group for whom the cultural reasoning applies only abstractly and by force of will.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:35 AM | Comments (21)
Marriage & Family

February 8, 2005

Regarding Sex Ed.

Look, I'm neither a prude nor (regardless of what some readers might think) an extreme moralist. I do believe that schools should ensure that children have a base-level knowledge of what is happening to their bodies, and when they transform into teens, they ought to learn about diseases and the biology of childbirth. Just as science classes ought to teach what scientists believe to be facts, just as history classes ought to teach what historians believe to be facts, the mechanics of the body are important for children to know, whether we're talking pimples or penises. The sex ed. establishment goes much further than that, however.

Once teachers make the shift from sex to sexuality, they're crossing into an area that inherently requires a choice of worldviews. Translated out of secularese, that means a choice of religions. As someone who believes that the "separation of church and state" has gone way too far, both in its strictness and in its pervasiveness across various levels of government, I don't have a problem with school districts' making that choice in some degree. The problem is that the current legal approach allows communities only one "choice" — which is to say no choice at all.

In my ideal American system (incidentally the one that I believe the founders of the United States intended to create), districts would retain the authority to make school curricula conform with the values of the communities that they serve. There would still be limits, no doubt, but they would be well beyond the self-determination currently allowed, which is superficial. Regarding sex ed., some districts might maintain their programs as they are. Others might declare anything beyond a cold biology lesson beyond the boundary. Others might offer complementary sex ed. and morality classes. Still others might offer parents a choice of teachers, say an overt Christian and a secularist. And others might recast their vision of "healthy sexuality" to adhere to local mores.

In such a system, parents could become involved, working for change if they so choose. If a family's bottom line requirements couldn't be met, then that family could seek alternatives. (School vouchers would be especially appropriate in such a society, and parents' choices could be more detailed than between a public school and a sectarian school.)

With our current all-or-nothing approach — beloved of liberals because they've currently gotten pretty close to the "all" — the fight is unnecessarily divisive and inclined toward tectonic shifts. Social liberals don't seem to believe that this is possible, but make no mistake: a relatively minor change in the public mood could result in strict moralism's being taught to all students, with liberal parents being offered the non-choice of singling out their children through moral exemption.

It would be better for America to actually believe in the pluralism and diversity that so many Americans preach as gospel truth.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:54 PM | Comments (16)

Songs You Should Know 02/08/05

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

"Scared" Mr. Chu, Hard Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:00 PM

Ain't No Limits but the Ones I Got

If you haven't yet read Wesley J. Smith's Weekly Standard piece about bioscientists' ethics, you should. (Although it's spread out over two html pages, it's not that long)

[Stanford University's Irving] Weissman's stated purpose is to help the human condition by learning how the brain works. But helping the human condition can become an excuse for casting aside profound ethical concerns. Besides, Weissman apparently believes that as a scientist he has the right to do just about whatever he wants. "Anybody who puts their own moral guidance in the way of this biomedical science," he told the National Geographic News, "where they want to impose their will . . . interfere with science that could save lives." In other words, Weissman can impose his will on the rest of us because he believes an experiment is worth conducting, but society has no right to impose its collective will on him.

So how does this fit in to the ongoing conversation about experts and understanding human nature? Personally, I haven't yet worked through the disturbing realization that the moral lessons of classic science fiction have all but disappeared behind the "coolness" of its tricks. Perhaps the illustrious John Derbyshire is a bit too quick to mock English as among the "spurious academic disciplines."

Perhaps, indeed, too few scientists have put down their test tubes to benefit from the wisdom of the ages. If Derb and his fellow math and science students hadn't had so much "royal fun scoffing at the Eng Lit crowd," the less restrained of his codisciplinarians mightn't now be transforming horrific fiction into fact.

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

Seeing Inside the Life Movement

I've been meaning to point out something remarkable that Jeff Miller noticed: a New York Times article that actually goes inside pro-life groups... and not for a special report in search of evil and corruption:

Most centers still do not have ultrasound machines. But at those that do, the results of performing sonograms have been startling, abortion opponents say. A survey by the Heidi Group, a Christian evangelical nonprofit organization that advises such centers on fund-raising and administration, found that those using counseling alone reported persuading 70 percent of women considering abortion to abandon the idea. In centers with ultrasound machines, that number jumped to 90 percent, said Carol Everett, the group's chief executive. Such statistics could not be independently verified.

Susanne Martinez, VP of public policy for Planned Parenthood, claims that these centers' "treatment of women... is coercive. ... they are inundated with information that is propaganda and that has one goal in mind." Now, now, Ms. Martinez, an ultrasound isn't propaganda. We on the side of life prefer the term "choice aid."

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:48 AM | Comments (2)

The Evolution of a Masturbatory Society

Lane Core's first anniversary Blogworthies highlights several interesting posts, among them this bit of perspective from Craig Henry:

Look at it this way: When a school board anywhere promotes Intelligent Design or Creationism, the education establishment, the MSM, and most of the blogosphere react with a combination of indignation and mockery. Fair enough. Bad science is in no one's interest.

But that same education establishment has erected a vast sex-ed structure whose foundations are based on bad science and reckless propaganda. (Not just Kinsey, but also works like Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa.) This, apparently, is OK.

Apart from the sex-ed industry, apart from the active interest (in large part toward developing a customer base) of such groups as Planned Parenthood, the necessity for teachers to instruct children about sex has become an article of faith among educators. Although my memories are vague, I recall at least two movies that I saw in my youth dealing with small towns accepting the modern awareness that children shouldn't learn about sex in traditional ways — the mild mannered teacher as the guide to a more sexually enlightened future.

As the National Education Association Health Information Network (NEA HIN) puts it on its 2004 Sexual Health Fact Sheet (PDF):

The Association recognizes that sensitive sex education can be a positive force in promoting physical, mental, emotional, and social health and that the public school must assume an increasingly important role in providing the instruction. ... Students want more information about sexuality than their parents typically provide, including how to handle pressure to have sex and how to know when they are ready.

The fact sheet also advises school systems to follow the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education (PDF). Among "the specific information young people need to learn" between the ages of five and eight is that "Masturbation should be done in a private place." This brings to mind a great point from Craig Henry's post:

Very few high school students will ever "use" Darwinian theory in the real world. But teen-age hormones ensure that the "lessons" kids learn (or don't learn or aren't taught) about sex, marriage, and promiscuity matter a great deal.

Perhaps it wouldn't be irrational to wonder why the sex ed. establishment is so keen to give its "useful" information to children for whom teen-age hormones seem as far away as a diploma.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:35 AM | Comments (8)

February 7, 2005

I Happen to Have That Right Here

You've probably seen this, but I just have to wonder out loud how many times folks in the news have wished they had thought or been quick enough to do what Don Rumsfeld did on Meet the Press. After Tim Russert showed that typical clip of the soldier asking Rumsfeld about Humvee armor and Rumsfeld's answer being edited to seem dismissive:

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That was unfair and it was selectively taking out two sentences from a long exchange--there it is--that took place. And when you suggested that that's how I answered that question, that is factually wrong.

MR. RUSSERT: No, we...

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: That is not how I answered that question.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Secretary, it clearly represents the exchange and...

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: It does not.

MR. RUSSERT: All right. What is missing?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: You want to hear the exchange? There is it. It's right here. I'll read it to you.

And read it he did.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:19 PM
News Media

Oh, Hey

Don't forget to click on the Hunger Site ad today and every day to translate mere seconds of your time into supplies and resources for people who need them.

(And if you've got something to advertise, don't forget to click the "advertise here" link below the ad to translate mere dollars into supplies and resources for a particular blogger who needs them.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:08 PM
Sales & Fundraising

Conservative Pundits' Fear of Cloning...

... is ultimately a matter of self-interest. A few dozen Mark Steyns, and most pundits would be unnecessary:

As you may have noticed, the good people of Darfur have been fortunate enough not to attract the attention of the arrogant cowboy unilateralist Bush and have instead fallen under the care of the Polly Toynbee-Clare Short-approved multilateral compassion set. So, after months of expressing deep concern, grave concern, deep concern over the graves and deep grave concern over whether the graves were deep enough, Kofi Annan managed to persuade the UN to set up a committee to look into what's going on in Darfur. They've just reported back that it's not genocide.
Posted by Justin Katz at 11:55 AM
International Affairs

Studio Matters Notes & Commentary

The latest Notes & Commentary essay by Maureen Mullarkey is "Art, the Destroyer," reviewing Roger Kimball's Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art for Crisis Magazine.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:48 AM
Visual Art

February 6, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 4 (p. 50-57)

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

The first thing D. noticed, after the throbbing pain in her bladder, of course, was the feel of the hour. The darkness pressed in against her open eyes and held, in its stillness, every hair on her body unquivered and irresponsive. The late sounds of night had ended, and the early sounds of morning were yet to begin. The air tasted bland... perhaps not bland so much as tepid and clement like lukewarm water, even lacking the mildly unpleasant taste of stagnant saliva. In everything around her was a wordless and indescribable lateness. It smelt late.

She slipped from the bed and into the robe and threw open the window curtain. The moonlight blew in and cast her shadow clear across the room. For a moment she considered opening the window a crack, but the roof overhanging the verandah beneath her outside the window persuaded her to tighten the window lock instead. And the branches were ever so close.

Her bladder tugged her thoughts inward. She stepped out from the reach of the moonlight and toward the door. The night before, she had used a bathroom adjacent to the kitchen, but she dreaded the thought of sneaking down the old squealing front steps, and even more the idea of having to pass through the ballroom and hallway below (crossing the courtyard was too frightening a prospect to even consider). Briefly, she mulled over slinking out onto the roof and urinating into the gutter, but femininity notwithstanding, an image of Alex lingering among the bushes out there sent a shiver through her. She decided that, this being a mansion, there must be a toilette near at least one of the two master bedrooms.

As quietly as she could, D. unlocked and opened her door just an eye's breadth. In the moonlight, she could see that the corners of the second story walls connected angularly on each side of John's room, with no unaccountable doorways. She silently shut the door and held the knob, thinking. Sliding her head into the corridor, she scanned first her hall, then the opposite, and finally the courtyard — not a soul to be seen.

She slipped out of the room and pulled the door closed behind her, turning the knob as she did so to avoid an unnecessary click. Glancing about, she inched her way toward the west end of the house with her back against the wall. At the point where her room ended, the hallway opened up into a rectangular area, the width of Nathaniel's room for one dimension and hers and the landing for the other, with a window overlooking the mountains on the far wall and a spiral staircase descending from a hole in the ceiling through the floor at the center. She stopped and inhaled deeply.

Nearly expecting to find Alex waiting for her, she peeked one eye around the corner. Set back a bit, so as to be inconspicuous, was another small room. The door was open merely a sliver, the darkness seeming to undulate outward from the crack.

By sheer force of will, inspired by natural needs, D. slowly swung the door open enough to make out a sink and a toilet. Stepping into the dimly moonlit room, she noticed an old porcelain bath tub with curved legs supporting it and an undrawn curtain hanging at its back. Just as with the one downstairs, this bathroom was trapped somewhere between the advent of indoor plumbing and that of hot water faucets: the water ran and the toilets flushed, but the water had to be pumped by hand and was deep-crevice cold.

The door closed quietly at her touch, and D. was thankful to find that it sported a bolt lock. She did what she had to there in what little light was provided by a small, murky window and, without flushing the toilet, snuck quietly back into her room, much relieved.

Early the following morning, D. lay in bed trying to cipher a way out of her mess. Were she positive that Alex and John were both in the building, she might be able to sneak out the window, or through the house were they both out of doors, but either way, she still would have been without her keys. That fact left her with two options: try to walk out of the forest with no shoes or hide in the woods and lay for Alex, attempting to collar him from behind and escape by car when she got the chance. It occurred to her that, for all she knew, Alex had passed her keys off to John, or even to somebody that she had yet to encounter. However she eventually escaped, she wasn't going to stay cramped in her room much longer.

From outside, she heard a sound like that of a galloping horse and made it to the window in time to see a large black dog charge into the bushes. The foliage swayed with the dog's roundabout motion. Hearing a loud double whistle, D. watched the dog's head appear through the twigs, looking expectantly toward the eastern end of the house. The dog bounded in the direction of the whistle and returned again, then, sniffing at the grass and bushes directly below D.'s window, looked back and forth between the ground and whoever was at the front of the house asking:

"What d'ya smell there, ay, Jim?" in a strikingly masculine voice full of southern drawl.

D. leaned to the side and pressed her left cheek against the glass, trying to see the speaker. The new arrival stepped into a spot of early morning sun. His bare toes curled in the stiff dead grass with the rolled legs of his over-sized denim slacks swinging bell-like over them. Unhooking his right thumb from his single suspender and running his hand through his slightly auburn silvering hair, he said, "I reckon somebody been doin' some spyin'."

He looked up at D.'s window. She shrank back into the shadows. With the sun at his back, the man had an unwrinkled boyish appearance as he smiled, winked, turned away, and whistled. "C'mon, boy." The dog ran after him.

Moments later there was a knock on the door. "Hello, anybody there?"

D. held her breath. The door knob jiggled.

"Well, I hope yer in there, 'cause there ain't no other key but one fer this door."

Crossing the room, D. told him, "Not to worry, I've got the key."

"Oh, well hello, missus. You figurin' on stayin' in there all day, are ya?"

"Not if I can help it," she responded cynically.

"What's preventin' you if you got the key?"

Pausing for a second, as if perhaps the answer were truly that simple, D. responded, "Because there are two gentlemen I'm not all that anxious to bump into."

The man outside her door laughed, "If one a' them gentlemen's John, I reckon you ain't got no reason to be afeared of more than the other'n. Who's he?"

"A younger guy, not much out of his teens, named Alex, I think."

"Well, as I don't know him, I can't offer no assurances about his demeaner, but I brought some surplies with me if yer hungry. Between Jim an' me, we oughtta be able to protect you from the chile so's you don't get ransomed to death." Jim the dog barked in agreement.

Ignoring a hungry growl in her stomach, D. declined the offer, saying that she'd rather stay put until she'd had time to consider her options.

"All right then. I'm gonna fix myself an omelet with bacon 'n' cheese. Yer welcome t' one if y'like."

D.'s mouth began to water, and she nearly swung the door right open. Something in her upbringing forced her to stop. "Could you bring it up to me?"

"Sure, if that's whatcha want. How 'bout some orange juice on the side?"

"That'd be wonderful, thank you."

"By the way, my name's Huck. You picked your'n yet?"

Picked it yet? she thought, then remembered how John had nearly fallen over himself to keep her from telling him her name. "No, but my real one..."

"Hold it. Needn't do what we ain't supposed to. Rules is rules."

"Don't tell me you're stuck on these silly rules, too. Is everybody here nuts?"

"Well, I can't account fer nobody but myself, but as fer me, I'm inclined to believe in the words of a wiser soul'n me, that 'it don't make no difference how foolish it is, it's the right way, and it's the regular way, and there ain't no other way.' Once you go messin' around an' doin' things diff'rent, yer liable to get it all muddled up."

"Let me guess. You're quoting that Nathaniel guy."

"No'm, but I might as a-well be."

Huck started to walk off, but D. called after him:

"Huck. Wait."


"How did you get here?"

"Over land, mostly."

"No, I mean, do you have a car?"

"Yep, I reckon I do, but it's a way far off in the hills as it's supposed to be."

"Huck, would you be willing to take me to a nearby town? I could catch a bus or something from there."

"You got someone expectin' you elsewheres?"

Before she had thought, "No" slipped from her mouth. "No, I don't. But I'd like get out of this place nonetheless."

"Leave here? I reckon you ended up here a-lookin' fer a change, and I reckon that you found one. Fer what would you wanna go somewheres else fer?"

She couldn't come up with a quick answer straightaway; Huck might not have expected one. He sauntered off toward the kitchen.

Because everybody I've met out here has been absolutely crazy, Mr. Huckleberry Finn, she thought, and my name isn't going to be Alice.

Leaving the plate outside her door without any wheedling, Huck told her to holler out her window if she needed anything else. The omelet, made with real eggs, was perhaps the best she had ever had, and the orange juice tasted freshly squeezed. She looked out the window. Jim was ambling toward Huck with a medium-sized stick in his mouth.

Crossing the room, D. looked through the keyhole then inserted the key. She gathered up her dishes and was opening the door when she heard something charging up the stairs and down the hallway. Before she could react, Jim knocked the door open and jumped on her, toppling her over. Her plate rattled in circles until it was flush on the floor. She screamed a bit, but the dog was licking her face in such a friendly way that the screams turned into giggles. When the giggles and licks subsided, D. looked up and saw Huck standing in the doorway. Jim scurried back and forth between them excitedly.

"Oh I see," Huck said. "You'll let in a dog, but not a man."

With her laughter still evident in her smile, D. stood and brushed off the seat of her dress, "I didn't have much of a choice."

Up close, the wrinkles of later middle age were apparent at the corners of Huck's hazel eyes and in the smile-lines by his mouth. His hair was neatly combed, and D. thought that he might look more himself in a suit. The oversized white button-down and lone suspender seemed contrived, somehow.

"Y'want me to take 'im outta here?"

Reminding herself that this was a new man and that she had a generally trusting personality, D. decided that there was something about Huck that made the idea of him being dangerous ludicrous. Perhaps it was his laughing eyes. Feeling somehow more secure, "No, that's alright. To be completely honest, I could use the company."

"Well, that is somethin' no man nor woman should oft' be without."

D. sat on the bed, and Jim offered his head for scratching, "Have a seat if you'd like."

"Thank you, kindly. I think I might just do that. D'ya like me to close the door?"

Reflecting for a breath, D. responded, "No, I don't see any need for it right now."

They were both quiet for a moment, watching as Jim leaned to one side and scratched his own side with a hind leg. D. thought he looked like a Lab/shepherd mix, but she suspected that the truth was more likely that he was just a big black dog. Huck cleared his throat and said:

"So I reckon you've been havin' some excitement 'round here last few days."

"I've only been here for two nights, and I wouldn't call it exciting as much as disturbing."

"I'm always of a mind to hear a good story, if yer of a mind to tell'n."

"There's not much to tell, really," D. said and proceeded to relate the highlights of her arrival and residence at the old house, concluding with, "So now the questions are whether or not John is in alliance with Alex and how I get home."

Huck laughed. "I realize things can change consider'ble when a body's off gettin' sivilized, but John's been through this all so many a-time I don't imagine he gives more'n a hoot if you stay or go. Sticks to his own, mostly. As fer th'other guy, Jim 'n' me'll keep an eye on ya. Prob'ly don't even need ta, but better safe than sahry."

Turning her head a little to the side and considering Huck, whom for some reason she trusted, D. asked, "So what is this? A club, or a cult, or something?"

Huck laughed and smiled, but this time something in his eye hinted at a keen intelligence behind his country-bumpkin posture, "Leh's go upstairs, so's I can show you somethin.'" He stood and motioned toward the door.

"Upstairs? What's up stairs?"

Looking a little surprised, Huck asked, "Well, surely John showed you the towers?"

"No, he didn't. Just the front hall, dining room, and courtyard."

"You must'a been able to see'm from the other end of the yard."

"It was night when I got here, and ever since then I've been too concerned with what was going on around me to sightsee."

"Well, there's your problem. C'mon."

Huck walked out the door and toward Nathaniel's room with Jim at his heal. D. followed, inspecting the halls and courtyard as she went. Standing at the spiral staircase, Huck told Jim to "Set an' keep an eye out" and began to climb the stairs.

The drop from the towers, mostly by virtue of the steep hill directly behind the house, would most likely prove fatal. The mountains swelled and abated all around. The world was warming and greening. D. shivered and made a complete circle around the tower, looking down into the courtyard as she passed it.

"So what'd'ye see?" Huck asked her when she had settled at his side, looking west, the sun nearly directly over them now.

"It's pretty," was the answer.

"Darn, woman, anybody could see that! What do you see?"

D. realized the game that Huck was initiating and looked around at the mountains. One to the southwest peaked sharply, and a cascade of rocks coated the side facing the house. Pointing to it, D. said, "That one there is bald."

"Pfft! That one's bald! Well, shoot! I reckon next you'll tell me that the grass is a-turnin' green and the sky's mostly blue where there's no white and that the white's a-cause a' clouds!"

"What do you see, then?" She was beginning to fluster.

"D'you see that smaller'n off in the distance there?" he pointed to a hill next to the balding mountain, "the one that's got the small peak in the middle with two big lone trees afront of it? And the rounded hump at the back?" D. said that she did, and Huck continued, "See how it shoots up purty much straight all around, on all sides but the back?" Once again the answer was "yes." "So what does that look like to you?"

"I guess it looks a little like a steamroller going the other way."

Looking slightly disappointed, Huck told her, "Maybe it does, at that, but what I see's a steamboat ferry without any lights."

D. thought it did look like one, just a bit.

"Now, Nathaniel'll tell you that from th' other tower there's a whale-mountain to be seen up to the northwest there. I ain't been up in that tower but once, and then it was too dark to see it, but he takes these hills to be an ocean and this house, a ship. The Pequod, he calls it, from a book made by a man named Mr. Herman Melville. Fer my part, I like to think of this here pile-a-wood as a raft on a wild river durin' flood season. A ship's awf'ly cramped up and smothery, but not a raft. And that's the way to treat this house: free and easy and comf'terble. Yer on a ship 'cause you got to be 'til you hit land an' can git off. Yer on a raft 'cause you wanna be, an' can get off whenever you want. I reckon there ain't no home should be thought of but like a raft."

Before Huck could go on, if such was his intention, the front door squealed audibly open. The pair could hear Jim barking down the hallway and saw him disappear down the stairway across the courtyard. Even from where they were standing, they could hear John's faint groan of slightly disgusted surprise.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:27 PM
A Whispering Through the Branches

February 5, 2005

A Radical Tool in Service of Reason

Ah, Ward Churchill. As much as I studiously avoid participating in the mass declaration of opinions in these rounds of topical jocundity — quick, everybody stake some ground! — there is a practical strategy to suggest. Rather than encouraging censorship through firing, those outraged that Churchill must be permitted to perpetuate the professional scam that is his professorial career should emulate another of the campus Left's favorite "remedies": extortion.

Offering two personal anecdotes concerning the political atmosphere in which American professors ply their trade, Rocco DiPippi suggests the same:

Firing Churchill, would only contribute to the squelching of the free exchange of ideas in the university setting. His firing would accomplish exactly what the left has been doing for years with its campus "speech codes" and "hate-speech" rules, that is silence opposing points of view.

The proper approach to countering anti-American hate-mongers like Churchill, is to pressure universities into hiring some more conservative teachers, who'll be more than willing to challenge those who hold beliefs similar to Churchill's. Better yet, force public universities into adopting a "politically blind" method of hiring.

In addition, teachers of all political stripes, should be forbidden from airing their personal political beliefs to their students during class time, when they've been hired to teach math or art or history or science or even political science. This should be part of every teachers employment contract.

I'd be wary of writing too explicit restrictions on subject matter into contracts. Furthermore, since I agree that ideological diversity among professors is a critical aspect of higher education, and since there's much disparity to correct, I would actively oppose "politically blind" hiring. But the first idea is a good one. Particularly at the University of Colorado, the school administration ought to face demands that more conservative professors be hired; creating a "conservative chair" in Churchill's department would be a nice touch.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:29 PM

Fanaticism in Rhode Island

Without requiring a lawsuit or public debate, and almost without the knowledge of its mayor, the city of Providence removed a Ten Commandments monument that had stood in Roger Williams Park for more than four decades. I've explored the fanaticism involved over on Anchor Rising.

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:25 PM | Comments (13)

Sovereignty of Issues

Responding to various reactions to President Bush's inaugural address (yes, I'm behind), Someguy, of Mystery Achievement, writes:

... it is no longer possible to "ride out of town" as Victor Davis Hanson envisions us doing someday. Modern transportation and communications make that impossible. We cannot sit idly by while nations who have declared themselves to be our enemies harbor, train, arm, and otherwise aid and abet people who want to kill as many of us as possible--and will do so if given the chance. And for the foreseeable future, we cannot rely on the United Nations to do anything about this, as long as it clings to the liberal ideal of national sovereignty. Indeed, by so doing, it has for all practical purposes institutionalized the totalitarian anarchy that Harris described.

Because I agree, essentially, with his conclusion, I suspect that Someguy didn't quite capture what he meant by the phrase "clings to the liberal ideal of national sovereignty." He subsequently links to a TCS piece by my fellow Anchor Rising contributor Carroll Andrew Morse claiming that the U.N. is "the trade association for the world's executive branches -- the place where executive branches come together to promote their individual interests to one another, and to promote the expansion of executive authority in general." At issue isn't so much the ideal of national sovereignty — because bureaucratic leanings toward the United Nations as a governing body are manifestly contrary to that ideal — but the question of with whom national sovereignty lies.

The U.N.'s answer is the nation's leaders. The answer inherent in President Bush's vision for an international landscape defined by freedom is the nation's people.

How nations' sovereign people will judge the legitimacy of others' governments is a debate that must follow. And here again, as with terrorism and self-defense, the lines blur between our approach to international affairs and the way in which we handle ourselves domestically. In a system of global federalism laid out in tiers of democratic representation, the United States is not merely a beacon, but a model. How we address the balance of power between branches, between state and federal governments, and between the individual and society will help to determine the character of world government.

Perhaps it is the intellectual destruction of issues' silos — or rather the emerging admission that they were an illusion — that so disconcerts those who've built their worldviews around them. Or perhaps it is a lack of trust in representative democracy itself, which reflects mainly the willingness of those who are untrusting to manipulate it; cultures less bound by principles of reason and individualism will find much to emulate in judicial activism and modern crusades against free association and local piety.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:09 PM | Comments (3)
International Affairs

The Redwood Review Fiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:15 AM

Studying the Socialist Ramifications of a Hammer Does Not a Carpenter Make

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

Jonah Goldberg responds to some raving from Juan Cole (a professor handling the Middle East, don'cha know). Jonah quotes Cole's opening paragraph:

I think it is time to be frank about some things. Jonah Goldberg knows absolutely nothing about Iraq. I wonder if he has even ever read a single book on Iraq, much less written one. He knows no Arabic. He has never lived in an Arab country. He can't read Iraqi newspapers or those of Iraq's neighbors. He knows nothing whatsoever about Shiite Islam, the branch of the religion to which a majority of Iraqis adheres. Why should we pretend that Jonah Goldberg's opinion on the significance and nature of the elections in Iraq last Sunday matters? It does not.

More than discrediting Goldberg, Professor Cole has revealed a great deal not only about himself, but about the Left in general. One wonders how many intellectuals, some of them with tenure, have spent the past week festering because, for all of their degrees and language knowledge and books authored, right-wing simpletons are not only being proven right, but they're being proven to be on the right side of the issue.

The problem that so many intellectuals have — across the disciplines — is that they haven't been visiting and learning languages and writing books to understand their subjects, but to cram them into a Leftist worldview. Consequently, an understanding of human nature, which is available to all of us equally, trumps scholarly perambulation, and the "academic retreat into expertise," as Goldberg calls it, will become a retreat into obscurity and irrelevance when reality makes the people confident to laugh at the professors' credentialized bluster.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:24 AM | Comments (32)
Middle East

February 4, 2005

Full Steam Ahead

Well, the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage continues apace:

A Manhattan judge declared Friday that the section of state law that forbids same-sex marriage is unconstitutional _ the first ruling of its kind in New York and one that if upheld on appeal would allow gay couples to wed.

State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan ruled that the words "husband," "wife," "groom" and "bride" in relevant sections of the Domestic Relations Law "shall be construed to mean 'spouse,"' and "all personal pronouns ... shall be construed to apply equally to either men or women."

I've read the decision (PDF), and it follows the Goodridge template, so it doesn't merit complete analysis. See my "Mawage" post from shortly after Goodridge for some such analysis; see my "Making Use of the Pain" post, addressing a case that Ling-Cohan cites, for some tracing of the ways in which limited, contextualized precedent expands throughout the law.

Ling-Cohan finds, as she must, that the law defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. Then, through a panoply of quotations, picked and chosen from the voluminous library of judges' decisions, mostly involving sex and abortion, but also such things as rent control, in the United States and abroad, from parenthetical notes to dissents, she constructs such a wall of legal rhetoric that the obvious ceases to be visible. On page 31, Ling-Cohan repeats what opponents of same-sex marriage have been ridiculed for saying:

However, the right to enter into a marriage is not at issue here. The [Domestic Relations Law] does not bar any of the ten plaintiffs from entering into a civil marriage.

Asserting that there is another "aspect of the fundamental right to marry" that exists independently of the previous — "the right to choose whom one marries" (restated on the next page as "the right to choose one's life partner" — Ling-Cohan works her way around to the conclusion, on page 43, that:

... in the present case, the "liberty at stake" that is fundamental is the freedom to choose one's spouse. Thus, for the State to deny that freedom to an individual who wishes to marry a person of the same sex is to deny that individual the fundamental right to marry.

Homosexuals are not barred from marriage, in other words, because they can enter into the relationships that the definition of "marriage" covers. But because the definition of "marriage" does not include the relationships that they would prefer, they are barred from marriage, and the definition must be changed.

By the time she announces her judgment, Ling-Cohan has found a right to same-sex marriage on just about every possible grounds — due process and equal protection. She has continued the practice of turning the inherent circularity of a definition (A is A because it is A) into a license to rewrite definitions. She has claimed freedom to interpret New York law as distinct from the laws of the federal government and other states when it suits her, and she has relied on other governments' laws when that suits her. On page 51, she notes "an evolving public policy," evinced purely in the "recent decisions" of other New York judges, and as described above, she has literally rewritten the law, under the judicial euphemism of "construed," in order to accord with her own preferred policy:

There has been a steady evolution of the institution of marriage throughout history which belies the concept of a static traditional definition. Marriage, as it is understood today, is both a partnership of two loving equals who choose to commit themselves to each other and a State institution designed to promote stability for the couple and their children. The relationships of plaintiffs fit within this definition of marriage. (60)

The reality that we must face is that a judiciary armed with the precedent of the following language (from Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey), which Ling-Cohan quotes on page 27 and which is rapidly becoming ubiquitous, can nullify whatever social laws it wishes:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

I daresay that a Federal Marriage Amendment is the least of the measures that must be taken. But the reality that the measure must be taken is exemplified in the possibility that some future judge, cutting and pasting her way to another progressive ruling, will find this paragraph on page 45 of Ling-Cohan's effort too apropos not to find precedential:

Defendant's historical argument is no less conclusory than amici's tautological argument that same-sex marriage is impossible, because, as a matter of definition, "marriage" means, and has always meant, the legal union of a man and a woman. Further, the premise of that argument is factually wrong; polygamy has been practiced in various places and at various times, for example, in the Territory of Utah.
Posted by Justin Katz at 7:38 PM | Comments (45)
Marriage & Family

As Americans Do, Not as They Vote

Rationalizations for judicial activism have progressed further than I'd been aware, as Michael proves in a comment my post about his previous enlistment of religious concepts of "unitive" relationships on behalf of same-sex marriage:

The legislature, in my opinion, only gives official sanction to changing standards; it very rarely acknowledges them outright on its own. That is because legislature, by their nature, think only of their continued careers. If they make unfavorable decisions, they will be fired. So yes, they are more directly accountable to the people but they are directly accountable to the majority opinion, not the majority practices.

That is why Goodridge was a correct decesion, in my mind. Many people may have held some ideal picture of what marriage was in their mind, but the justices found that, in practice, that wasn't the case. Marriage maybe should be a privilege, but the majority of people weren't treating it that way; marriage may be "about procreation" but the majority wasn't acting like it was. And emerging tolerance for the rights of homosexuals coupled with the "common law" practices of marriage being a undeniable right and separated from religion and procreation, these justices found that the ability to marry someone of the same sex was unfairly being denied gays by the legislative majority who weren't really practicing what they preached (enshrined in law).

By "design" those justices should have stepped in. And ultimately if the people decide that they made the wrong decision, they can always change the law because the constitution always trumps a judge.

It's quite a notion: that elected representatives' legislation is law of the public's opinion, while judicial edicts are law of the public's practices. And that a handful of unelected jurists-for-life are not only qualified to make such judgments, but so trustworthy in their decision-making that their power need not be balanced by anything less arduous than amendment to the Constitution.

Never mind the questionable desirability of transforming the amendment process into "we really mean it" legislation; it would seem that we've got it all wrong sending lawyers into courtrooms when what is really needed is a legion of statisticians. Perhaps the Census Bureau is located in the wrong branch of government.

Before we redraw our governmental org. chart, though, perhaps we'd best test the proposal with some other issue, say anti-discrimination laws. Suppose political correctness has restricted the public such that it must state opinions that it doesn't truly hold, therefore allowing do-gooders to push through laws against hiring or firing employees according to a particular criterion, such as sexual orientation. After a couple of years, an employer explicitly refuses to hire a well-qualified gay man. The law clamps down on the employer, and he brings suit, citing statistics that very few businesses actually have a proportionate number of homosexuals on their payrolls. Clearly, the courts, being mainly concerned with "majority practices," must strike down the anti-discrimination law, right?

I imagine Michael and those who share his views would respond "of course not," proving irrelevant the already erroneous libel that "the majority of people" aren't living up to the ideal of marriage as "about procreation." It's more accurate to characterize the reasoning of Goodridge as that various manipulations of the law — many of them performed by other judges — had changed the legal meaning of marriage.

The legal path to Goodridge was largely been followed in the name of protecting minorities against the morality of the majority, whether expressed as opinion or as practice. This stuff about "majority practices," as I said, is just post hoc rationalization of our deteriorating government structure.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:24 PM | Comments (22)

A Charitable Reminder

Be sure to click over to the Hunger Site through the advertisement at left! It costs nothing other than a few seconds of your time.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:37 PM
Sales & Fundraising

February 3, 2005

Isolation in the Crowd

Tim Graham highlighted an interesting paragraph from a piece by Tina Brown, who writes:

Even reporters on the ground in Iraq could hardly believe what they were living through as they watched the power of an idea transmute into the living, breathing form of black-clad women, Marsh Arabs and throngs of Kurdish mountaineers festively making their way to the polls. The father of a young reporter who has spent most of the last two years in Iraq shared with me his son's e-mail from Baghdad. "We journalists are all sitting round and asking each other how we missed what's clearly a far deeper drive for political and societal change than we realized. It is a measure of our isolation here -- and also, I think, a measure of how the violence and humiliation of the occupation has masked people's very genuine feelings."

Perhaps the journalists on the ground should come on back to the states and surf the Web. I'll admit that I sometimes feel isolated here in my basement office, but if utter shock at Iraqis' "drive for political and societal change" and "very genuine feelings" behind what American journalists perceive as "humiliation [because of] the occupation," then we bloggers must be virtually on the scene.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:42 PM
News Media

Drinking to Your Health... Literally!

Whether or not they're correct, I love coming across intriguing explanations for sayings and traditions such as that explained by Ukraine president Victor Yushchenko and reported by Jay Nordlinger:

Then he claims that the toast — the act of toasting — originated in Kiev, anciently. You see, the most popular method of eliminating one's opponents was poison. (This, of course, is all too meaningful, coming from Yushchenko.) So you clinked your glasses extra hard, so that some of his drink would spill into yours, and some of yours would spill into his.

Tell me if you've heard another explanation, but this one may be too good to check.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:55 PM

A Matter of Blogger Conscience

Although I do send links to people who I think might be interested, self-promotion isn't a habit that I've developed as fully as perhaps I ought. When other bloggers dispatch their readers to vote, I've merely shuffled along with the latter crowd.

Well, cyberCatholic is now accepting nominations for the 2005 Catholic Blog Awards. Anybody who's interested in participating, please... do as your conscience instructs.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:39 AM | Comments (1)
Bloggers Blogging

The Redwood Review Nonfiction of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:22 AM

Something Like a Community

It's always thrilling to get those links that lead a wave of thousands of readers to your blog, refilling the "latest visitors" log in a matter of minutes rather than hours (rather than days or weeks, for newer bloggers). But there's something more encouraging, more satisfying, when an uptick in traffic yields a less uniform "latest visitors" list. Thanks to everybody who linked to my "Foibles of Longing" post, making yesterday one of those days.

The provision of quotations with some of the following doesn't imply that the other posts, much less the blogs that they're on, aren't worth taking a look at:

  • Bettnet.com: "I don't generally read Sullivan much and don't give much credence to him, but Justin's article is still relevant as many people do read Sullivan and that he is an influential voice, especially online. And he does represent a particular strain of Catholicism or even Republican: conservative on certain things, but definitely liberal on social or moral issues."
  • Areopagitica
  • The Blog from the Core: "Sullivan (and Dick Morris, too, I've noticed lately) lets his feeling lead the way: whatever he happens to feel at a given time is paramount, causing him to muster whatever evidence and arguments he can to support the feeling of the month."
  • The Curt Jester: "For Mr. Sullivan his identifying himself primarily as a homosexual is like how a large mass distorts the fabric of space around it. Nothing comes close to interfering with that identity without be conformed around it."
  • Dustbury: "My favorite Walt Whitman passage has always been this bit from Leaves of Grass:
    "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."
  • Fringe Blog
  • JunkYardBlog: "If I had been exposed along the lines Sullivan has been in that article--which isn't possible, because my worldview is coherent and consistent and straightforward--I would be inclined to quit writing so much publicly and instead do a bit of inner maintenance."
  • Marriage Debate Blog
  • Master of None (comment from R. Alex): "At some point along the way, he made a decision that nothing - not even views on federalism and the judiciary on every other subject - should come in between gays and marriage and anyone that disagrees is a hate-filled bigot. In lieu of making a coherent argument, he's thrown patty after patty of silly putty at the wall to see what, if anything, sticks - each indicating a moral imperative that if others miss it's because they are immoral."
  • New England Republican
  • Open Book: "As most of you know, Andrew Sullivan is taking a hiatus of sorts from blogging. Speculation abounds as to why, but as for himself, he states that it's all about needing to think and work on a bigger scale than a blog allows. He's right, and that's why I don't blog as much as I used to (believe it or not), and that's why Shea had to take a hiatus to finish a book. As I wrote to Mark when he started his break, 'We start out intending to use the blog, but too often the blog ends up using us.'"
  • The Senescent Man
  • What Attitude Problem

If I missed anybody, please let me know.

Sullivan has emailed me that he hasn't read the piece yet, by the way, but he's promised to respond either publicly or privately.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:19 AM | Comments (2)
Bloggers Blogging

Advertising for Good

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.

Readers may also have noticed the four text-ad links under the Sponsors heading, which is also a paid advertisement. As a general policy, advertising doesn't necessarily equal endorsement. If I've experience with an advertiser's product, I'll certainly write about it, and if I need something that an advertiser has on offer, I'll take the opportunity to try it out. I also welcome feedback from readers about their own experiences.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:05 AM
Sales & Fundraising

February 2, 2005

The Redwood Review Poem of the Week

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

Posted by Justin Katz at 5:19 PM

The Foibles of Longing

A version of this piece appeared in the December 31, 2004, issue of National Review, under the title "One Man's Marriage Trap." Citations not linked in the text can be found here.

For a page design that may make for more comfortable reading, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

When Andrew Sullivan was seven or eight, the visceral yet distancing medium of television sparked a feeling about which many men will have corresponding stories. A shirtless actor elicited "such an intense longing" that young Andrew "determined to become a doctor" so he could "render the man unconscious and lie on top of him when no one else was in the room." Its furtive nature may be distinct from the similar memories of others, but the bewildering indication of inchoate sexuality is familiar.

Years later, Sullivan volunteered to assist a stranger through the final months of life with AIDS. The scene presents an eerie echo. "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."

If Sullivan noticed the parallel between these moments — described in his books Virtually Normal and Love Undetectable, respectively — he hasn't said so, but their implications could fill another book. The child's undefined desire for closeness, and the solitude of a man's deterioration. The vision of exploiting a doctor's power, and the reality of a nurse's powerlessness. An awakening to sexuality, and to solidarity.

Different people will derive conflicting lessons from these anecdotes, but this is often the case with Sullivan. He's unapologetically homosexual and, until recently, devoutly Catholic. His social sympathies are liberal, but he's often presented as conservative. He has written many times for the New York Times, but he is a leading figure in a blogosphere that sees the Times as the establishment it opposes.

Taken altogether, these qualities attract an interesting audience, and conservatives' criticism of Sullivan's opinions often begins with confessions of fandom or friendship. In particular, conservatives have generally appreciated his steadfast advocacy for a vigorous prosecution of the war on terrorism. The niche that he has claimed, however, has made Sullivan an especially influential advocate for a cause with which many of them do not agree: same-sex marriage. In his various expositions of the case for same-sex marriage over the years, Sullivan has trapped himself in a series of opportunistic contradictions — which may tell us something about the contradiction at the heart of his cause.

The Argument

Virtually Normal (1995) is Sullivan's unique perspective presented as a political argument. As a polemical feat, his strategy is brilliant, transforming the terms of the debate and providing a clear platform from which to volley objections. As an assessment of people's thinking, however, it stumbles on its own cleverness.

His handling of religion strains most palpably. In his chapter on "the prohibitionists" — the strongest opponents of homosexuality — Sullivan quotes St. Paul's most indisputable denunciation of it, Romans 1:27. Providing neither chapter nor verse, Sullivan moves immediately to speculation about Paul's intent: Homosexuality supposedly serves merely as "an analogy" for continued polytheism, exploited only because Paul "seems to assume that every individual's nature is heterosexual." Put in context, however, the reference is more apparently a manifestation of the larger sin Paul has in mind: the rejection of that which can be "perceived in the things that God has made."

Over the years, this divergent exegesis has spun to schismatic lengths. In November 1994, in The New Republic, Sullivan called his reading of St. Paul "so obvious an alternative... that it is hard to imagine the forces of avoidance that have kept it so firmly at bay for so long." In Love Undetectable (1998), fear-driven "loathing" of homosexuals and Jews is "fanned... by the distortion of a particular strain in Christian theology." By August 2003, the Catholic Church's failure to succumb to this alternative indicated a "war on gay people and their dignity."

This is not to deny that Sullivan can be genuinely insightful, but too often, his analysis of competing viewpoints is designed merely to generate elaborate debaters' points. The trick is to push opponents of same-sex marriage into a circumscribed pen, ruling certain lines of reasoning out of order. Already, in the afterword of the paperback edition, concerns about the instability of male homosexual relationships are declared "a truly bizarre argument for a conservative to make."

Similarly, the old-media technique of loaded labeling has helped Sullivan to fence in conservatives. The Federal Marriage Amendment is the "religious right amendment," not a cause of respectable conservatives, on the theory that its strongest backers are evangelical Christians. When Senate majority leader Bill Frist expressed support for it in June 2003, Sullivan bewailed "how close to theocracy today's Republicans have become." The spark for the charge was one word: Frist had described marriage as a "sacrament."

"Theocon" is a perennial smear in Sullivan's writing. Theoconservatism, he explained in a 1998 New York Times Magazine cover story, is "an orthodoxy... of cultural and moral revolution." (On the cover, a finger pointed over red letters: "The Scolds.") Sullivan notes the opposition of alleged theocon Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to "secular monism." By this phrase, Neuhaus means the antithesis of true pluralism, wherein a sacralized state claims to be the arbiter of truth, with no reference to or respect for the religious beliefs of its citizens. Sullivan makes "secular monism" seem less threatening, and Neuhaus more extreme, by redefining it as merely "the secular neutrality of modern American law and government." That is a subdued definition indeed from a man for whom a favorite slogan for the FMA is "graffiti on a sacred document."

Sullivan confesses in its afterword that Virtually Normal is "a profession of faith in liberal politics." His essential dogma is "public neutrality and private difference." The paradox derives from the fact that the "centerpiece" of Sullivan's proposal in that book — marriage — is the basic interface between culture and politics, where the private becomes public.

Sullivan himself has had difficulty adhering to the bifurcation. When Senator Rick Santorum uttered his infamous remarks about the erosion of morality-based laws should the Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision make sodomy a right, Sullivan indulged in a days-long excoriation. He dismissed Santorum's argument for not making the public/private distinction: "Bigamy and polygamy are... irrelevant here," because they involve marriage, about which a right to sodomy implied nothing. Two months later, reveling in Lawrence's outcome, Sullivan declared that the expansion of privacy rights "inescapably means the right to marry."

The institutional truth that marriage is both public and private has brought into the battle over its legal definition the most fundamental of our laws, the Constitution. The Full Faith and Credit Clause has dramatically changed roles in Sullivan's usage. In 1996, he laughed in the Sunday Times of Londonthat "the punchline" of judicially imposed same-sex marriage in Hawaii was that "every state has to give ‘full faith and credit' to the laws of every other state." When Congress debated the Defense of Marriage Act, meant to keep states from being forced to recognize other states' redefined marriages, Sullivan opposed the bill in testimony: It was up to the Supreme Court to decide whether states would be compelled to grant recognition. After the bill passed, Sullivan insisted that it was unconstitutional — which, he claimed in August 2003, "the social right knew at the time and still knows."

At other times, Sullivan argues that a constitutional amendment is unnecessary because of the very same Defense of Marriage Act. In July of last year, he said that the act had the power "to stop one state's marriages being nationalized." By November, he was declaring the suggestion that the courts might force one state to recognize another state's same-sex marriages "disingenuous." He wrote this February that if the courts were to strike down the act — if "one single civil marriage in Massachusetts is deemed valid in another state, without that other state's consent" — he would support a constitutional amendment to "say that no state is required to recognize a civil marriage from another state." His standard for "consent," however, is a tenuous barrier, given his view that state courts are qualified to offer it.

Unraveling the threads of rhetoric, it appears that Sullivan thinks the FMA is unnecessary because of the Defense of Marriage Act, although he opposed that act and wants the Court to strike it down. Once that happens, he will, supposedly, be in favor of a constitutional amendment to effect the stricken act's purpose, so that courts can dismantle it again state by state.

Periodically, this twirling of convenient views moves from frustrating to astonishing. In January, Stanley Kurtz published an argument against same-sex marriage based on an examination of familial trends in Scandinavia, where social policy toward gays has long been especially permissive. "Did no one edit this?" Sullivan attacked, saying that Kurtz's analysis "would be laughed out of a freshman social science class." Simply, "the entire premise of the piece — that marriage for gays is legal in Norway, Denmark and Sweden — is factually untrue."

Yet the previous June, when he thought that evidence from Denmark supported his case for same-sex marriage, Sullivan had written that Denmark's gay partnerships were "almost indistinguishable from marriage." In his 1997 collection Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con, he noted that "different compromises" in Denmark and Sweden "affect the meaning of marriage itself." Throughout the intervening years, in multiple venues and contexts, he touted "de facto marriages." In August 2001, for example, he wrote that trends were hopeful during "the first six years in which gay marriage was legal in Denmark" (Sunday Times) and that the country provided "real data on the impact of gay marriage" (The New Republic).

When he thought empirical evidence in Scandinavia pointed his way, Sullivan conceded that the "importance of the family in society is indisputable." The politics of Virtually Normal do not, however, ultimately emphasize benefits for society. It is the benefits for homosexuals that are uppermost in Sullivan's argument. Any social difficulties that a redefinition of marriage would create he would leave to the "private sphere" to solve. No public norm can be imposed, because "outsiderdom" must be "a cultural choice," and homosexual identity must be free from "the hands of the other." (The lapse into pomo-speak is telling.)

But to conservatives, a large part of the purpose of marriage is precisely to discourage "outsiderdom" and to encourage citizens toward specific, society-sustaining identities. To Sullivan, on the other hand, marriage is a mechanism to gain "personal integrity" and "dignity," to become "fully human." A major source of friction between these two approaches is the effect that the latter's understanding of marriage might have on the ability to achieve the goals of the former. In that respect, it is relevant what Sullivan considers the fundamental determinant of "full humanity" to be.

The Opinion

In Love Undetectable, Sullivan raises the concept when discussing the act of sex. Sex involves a loss of control and submergence of intellect, and to give those things up "even under the threat of death" would be "to give up being fully human." The passage calls to mind Sullivan's greatest miscalculation in Virtually Normal, which occurs in the epilogue, while he is waxing philosophical about the meaning of homosexuality.

There, he argues that features of homosexual relationships "could nourish the broader society." Lesbians' "sexual expressiveness" and gay men's "solidity and space" are sometimes "lacking in more rote, heterosexual couplings." He speaks of "the openness of the contract," of "the need for extramarital outlets," of "flexibility." In response to critics' seizing on this passage as contemptuous of monogamy, Sullivan has asserted — and there's no reason to doubt — that he did not intend an endorsement of adultery. Affairs among married homosexuals, he clarifies in the paperback's afterword, should be "as anathema as" among married heterosexuals. The lessons implied for heterosexuals "are not direct ones." Understandable bewilderment at this passage, however, distracts from what is truly problematic here.

Sullivan seems to take for granted that heterosexuals are driven toward "timeless, necessary, procreative unity," whereas homosexuals must be given space beyond the "stifling model of heterosexual normality." He is even willing to place procreative marriages on a pedestal. In the spring of 2003, he proclaimed the "unique and miraculous... connection between male-female sex and the creation of new life." That connection's alignment with "a marital structure... is obviously vital to defend." It is at the heart of his cause, however, to reorder the structure from within.

In this context, here's the truly disquieting statement of those controversial pages: "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." The truth that Sullivan evades is that flattening to a model is precisely marriage's social purpose, and furthermore, his arguments for same-sex marriage are in conflict with the desire he expresses in this passage to preserve homosexuality's "otherness."

After all, how can "otherness" be preserved if distinctions are effaced? Sullivan's writing overflows with appeals to equality untinted by distinctions, as when he rejects "the mealy-mouthed talk about civil unions as some sort of options for gay citizens." The exclusion of same-sex couples is indefensible when, he says (incorrectly), "the living, breathing reality of civil marriage in America" is coupling and nothing more. Just before Thanksgiving, this year, he pushed his equality-based argument almost to the point of making the case for the FMA (emphasis his):

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... Once it was obvious that this standard did not apply to heterosexuals, the [Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court] had no choice but to strike down the inequality... that's why you really do have to amend a state constitution to prevent its guarantees of equality from being applied to gay citizens.

Of course, Sullivan opposes amendments intended to prevent the law from locking in mere coupling as the open-ended definition of marriage. He's also quick to attack those who seek to bolster marriage's vital connections from other angles. In July 2001, for example, he expressed astonishment at Lawrence Kudlow's implicit support for adultery laws. "Give me an adulterer over an ayatollah any day," wrote Sullivan. He has lambasted "screw-tightening" fundamentalists for targeting divorce, fornication — the whole arsenal of practices subversive to marriage. Yet, in January, he said of the same group that, when they "start proposing measures that would infringe on heterosexual abuse of marital privileges, [he will] take them seriously." If social conservatives target heterosexual as well as homosexual immorality, they are fanatics; if they don't, they are hypocrites.

In parallel debates among Catholics, Sullivan's prescription for addressing rampant sexual license is its legitimization. "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?" But it simply isn't clear how he thinks society should avouch its supposed goal. In Virtually Normal, he challenges the notion that it is better for a "waverer" to choose heterosexuality. In a later attempt to dismantle a column by William Bennett, he asks what is "so bad, after all, with mutual objectification."

Sullivan has written that many gay men value their sexual freedom, while many "yearn for anchors." In The New Republic, in August 2001, he cast his sympathy with the former, and in June 2002, he admitted that he would be among "those who choose not to marry." This may be surprising, given his long advocacy for what he calls "marriage rights." But in Love Undetectable, he describes sex itself as "almost a sacrament of human existence." A year ago, he said it's "one of the greatest and most exhilarating gifts our nature has given us." (Our nature?) In fact, "reduction" of it to "pure, heterosexual, procreative sex" is "excessively strict, given the not-so-terrifying moral dangers of other forms."

So in Sullivan's world of sacramental sex and moralistic marriage, what is the basic marker of "full humanity"? In the New York Times Magazine, in February 2001, he wrote approvingly of the dissipation of "the idea that no woman is complete without a man." Can it really be his position that no man is complete without a man? That those outside of legally recognized relationships are not "fully human"? Of course not. To Sullivan, possession of choice defines humanity, and "full humanity" is a relative measure. For gays, to have "full humanity" is to have the same range of choices that straights have. Whether the extension of a particular choice to homosexuals is at odds with the fundamental reason it exists in the first place is, from that point of view, irrelevant.

Given Sullivan's leveling conception of equality, he can't wish for homosexuals to gain the choice of marriage without also wishing for heterosexuals to gain the choices that gays' freedom from procreation naturally grants them. In such a field of options, society would have no remaining leverage to push for marriage. Sure, it could grant material benefits on the basis of commitment. Yet, even if we believe that marriage stops expanding with the inclusion of homosexuals, even if we believe that the standard for monogamy slips no further, Sullivan's "conservative case" collapses. One cannot simultaneously want no choice to bear stigma while presenting one choice as an expectation.

The Future

Sullivan has considered every strategy for nationalizing same-sex marriage — and he likes them all. To be sure, he has made it a talking point that time for persuasion is "the genius of a federal system," a "slow federal process [that he wants] to take place"; warnings of rapid change in the absence of a Federal Marriage Amendment are "scare tactics." He writes: "The flip-side of leaving Mississippi alone is that we should also leave Massachusetts alone. Deal?"

He constantly attacks the Federal Marriage Amendment as an offense against federalism. But when Ramesh Ponnuru pressed him on the point, this February, Sullivan clarified that while he believes in "winning over the public" and working "legislatively if at all possible," he would also support a Supreme Court finding that the Constitution demands legal recognition of same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

The judiciary is a central component of his politics. A December 2002 blog post explained that "individual states should be able to decide for themselves" about marriage — in state courts, "where marriage questions rightly belong." In July 2003, he reflected in the Sunday Times that the courts were changing hands to "judges who reflect contemporary understanding." (Apparently, they do so better than the public's elected representatives.)

After Lawrence, Sullivan confessed that he was happy that the ruling had gone far beyond "the narrowest possible grounds." Goodridge in Massachusetts convinced him "how impossible it is that any reasonable court" could deny gays marriage. For Sullivan, "democratic deliberation" must be a process whereby judges implement federal law; in the slow version, they do so state by state. Any movement to force actual votes indicates an "hysterical and polarizing campaign" and "unbounded paranoia with respect to courts."

To derail such campaigns, Sullivan will stroke racial tensions. He pioneered the usurpation of civil rights imagery for circumstances of such loose comparison that history needs knots to hold. The courage of taking a seat in a violent environment of ingrained racism is commandeered for ceremonies invited by local government and backed by the national media, the academy, and the bar. The Catholic Church's opposition to fundamental changes to the institution of marriage is taken to be akin to its support of slavery in 1866 — never mind that the documents Sullivan adduced as evidence of that support demonstrated no such thing. (They concerned penal servitude and the like, not slavery.)

Similarly, he will jab emotions made bare through religious friction. In his piece about "The Scolds," Sullivan wrote that it was "perhaps unsurprising that, when Neuhaus gathered a group of public thinkers and ministers to endorse a statement" of their political position, "there were no Jews among the signers." Unsurprising, indeed, for a letter subtitled, "A Statement of Christian Conscience and Citizenship."

The charitable explanation is that Sullivan has gotten so caught up in his cause, so feels the tingle of proximate success, that he doesn't hear his conflicting arguments draining empathy. Whatever the case, he long ago sank into naked advocacy. His work must now be approached like the material of a civil-action lawyer or lobbyist. When President Bush announced support for a marriage amendment, Sullivan reacted violently. All people of goodwill would have to oppose the president. He's said that the "fair-minded center of the country that balks at... hatred and fear" would never stand for pandering to extremists. But the emotional extremism on display in his writings is chiefly his own.

Andrew Sullivan seems, in short, to have an intellect in deep conflict with his emotions. His language practically glows with warmth when the next generation of gays appears in his writing. True to form, however, he began Virtually Normal with a contradictory admission:

No homosexual child, surrounded overwhelmingly by heterosexuals, will feel at home in his sexual and emotional world, even in the most tolerant of cultures.... Anyone who believes political, social, or even cultural revolution will change this fundamentally is denying reality.

Same-sex marriage became law in Massachusetts on the anniversary of Brown v. Board, and Sullivan naturally drew the parallel. To him, same-sex marriage is a matter of gays' integration into their own families. But even if the marriage episode concludes as Sullivan wishes, choices will still be beyond reach, requiring redirected advocacy. There will always be something for which to long intensely on the other side of the glass.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 AM | Comments (8)
Marriage & Family

February 1, 2005

A Note on Sullivan's Hiatus

It occurs to me that folks might be expecting some sort of reaction, here, to Andrew Sullivan's announcement of a hiatus. I don't really have one.

The truth is that I rarely read the Daily Dish anymore; Sullivan's talents and temperament are much better suited to longer pieces, especially book-length essays. For that reason, I'm thrilled to hear that one reason for his break is to write a book, and I look forward to its release. (Of course, if his previous books are any evidence of that to come, I hope he'll get back to blogging, because I've found it helpful to have the blog to offset the soft feelings that his books engender.)

In the meantime, I had intended to post a version of my National Review piece on Sullivan late tonight, anyway, and see no reason not to follow through as planned. If he chooses to respond — at his leisure — I'll be interested to read what he has to say. Whatever the case, I hope God will guide him, during his hiatus, not so much toward whatever he's seeking, but to what he needs to find.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:57 PM

Tea for Tuesday

Ferry Halim's got a new game up on Orisinal.

Just thought you might like to know.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:24 PM
Quick Links

Songs You Should Know 02/01/05

The Timshel Music Song You Should Know this week is "Not a Great Man" by Victor Lams. With Terri Schiavo recently in the news again, Victor's song from her husband's creepy perspective is certainly a timely reminder.

"Not a Great Man" Victor Lams, Pop/Rock
Stream (HiFi) Download

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:14 PM

The Deeper Payola of Personal Interest

When it comes to corruption, the focus is always money, and I have to wonder whether the obsession over direct cash payments doesn't distract from a larger complication in sorting through information to find the trustworthy. Consider a question that John Hawkins posed in a blog symposium:

John Hawkins: If we're talking about 2008 and a candidate with the resources to do it, I would buy blogs every month for 6 months leading up to the primaries, ask several bloggers to consult (no pay) mainly to stroke their egos, do some interviews. It's easy to stroke egos in the blogosphere and get a buzz going. Then next thing you know, all the bloggers are talking about candidate X and people pick up on it. It's a pretty good way to create a huge buzz around a candidate and make sure you get good press (even if they won't admit that's part of the reason they're doing it).

Karol Sheinin: I do invite bloggers to events..

La Shawn Barber: Would I take money from a political candidate to blog? Thinking...

Karol Sheinin: Hugh, you write in 'Blog' that everyone should have a blog. Wouldn't a lot of people then have conflicts of interest?

Hugh Hewitt: Yes, but the only conflicts I worry about are the bought-and-paid for variety. As a center-right Evangelical, pretty much everyone knows where I am going to come from. There is no hidden agenda, just an agenda. It is the hidden agenda that worries me.

Again, we focus on the money. So and so was given such and such a gift at such and such a value, but perhaps we underestimate the value of the giving. Everything from cash to advertising revenue to links to simple emails can "stroke the egos" of just about anybody. Pursuit of the favorable impression pervades politics, media, and business, requiring readers/voters to find ways to judge intentions on alternate bases whether money has changed hands or not.

I'm certainly naïve of the mindset of those who have enough money that it ceases to be something useful and becomes a form of compliment. Perhaps, though, it would assist us in understanding influence if we consider it in terms of that naïveté, rather than the jaded terms of the wealthy. As Hewitt suggests with his "just an agenda" comment, and as I've suggested in the case of Maggie Gallagher, there are more relevant kinds of evidence of sincerity — such as consistency. Seeing money as uniquely corrupting pulls our attention toward a shiny bauble for which many of the players about whom we should truly be concerned have no real interest.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:12 AM
News Media

The Hope of Blogs and Outside Perspective

From blog comments on a panel discussion on another continent, Americans can read two accounts of the same moment, perhaps in such a way as to give us hope (however fleeting) of civil discourse and even partial agreement (or at least amiable disagreement) within our own borders. The first account comes from Jay Nordlinger, in the second installment of his journal from Davos:

[Rep. Barney] Frank is very gung-ho on the protection of Taiwan, and on basic rights for the Chinese. He makes no bones. And he won't let anyone get away with talk about "different styles of democracy." Democracy is democracy, he says, essentially — sure, there are variations, but there are common elements, too, and if you don't have those, you don't have something worthy of the name: democracy.

I have noted this before, in my Davos jottings over the years: In this atmosphere, such Democrats as Sander Levin, Joe Biden, and Barney Frank can come off as John Foster Dulles.

Alyson Bailes, at one point, says that she is not worried about China or Iran, as some of the rest of us are. Oh? says Frank. About whom are you worried, then? She answers, "Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel." (At least she said Syria.) Really, says Frank — you're more worried about Israel than about Iran or China?

And then from the congressman himself:

... as I listen to criticisms of the U.S. from some others, the degree to which I support American policy in the broadest sense, and the values I believe we embody, becomes clear to me intellectually and emotionally.

For example, when a Chinese representative essentially dismissed the notion that there are fundamental democratic precepts by which China's governance can be measured, and talked of an alternative form of democracy - apparently unlike any the world has ever known - I had to voice my complete skepticism and support for the western-type of democracy she denigrated.

Even more strikingly, when a British speaker expressed the idea that China and Iran were admirable countries as sources of regional stability, I had to ask her what countries she considered bad ones. When she responded with a list of negatively-rated nations consisting of Syria, Iraq and Israel, I was jolted by the gap that existed between me and someone whom I first saw as something of an ideological ally.

If only our representatives (in the general sense) around the world could bring back to all Americans the outside perspective — the experience that we've more in common with each other than internecine battles might lead us to believe. Although, from reading Nordlinger's other journals, I wonder whether Frank isn't unique among his own.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:40 AM