Tuesday, April 16, 2002

And now I'm just gonna watch "Scrubs." Because it's really, really funny.
AND A REPLY RE "RATIONAL BASIS": I agree with this. From Josh Chafetz:

I also wanted to address your criticism of Glenn Reynolds today. You wrote that, "But when that principle [rational basis review] is used to justify courts striking down laws because they don't understand the motivation behind the laws--'Only a bigot could like this law!' or 'I don't get it'--doesn't that essentially allow judges to overturn laws at will? In fact, it creates an incentive to pretend that one's opponents are unreasonable even if you believe
they're not."

It is undoubtedly out of such fears of judicial legislation that rational basis review has evolved into such a weak standard. Judges are rightly loathe to substitute their views for those of the legislature. At the same time, surely we ought to expect at least some standard of rationality from our governors. As the Court put it in the earliest statement of the rational basis review doctrine,

"When we consider the nature and the theory of our institutions of government, the principles upon which they are supposed to rest, and review the history of their development, we are constrained to conclude that they do not mean to leave room for the play and action of purely personal and arbitrary power." Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 369-70 (1886)

To put it another way, any regulation which in any way touches upon a citizen's life, liberty, or property (i.e., all legislation) must at least be explicable in some minimally rational terms or it cannot be said to have been passed with due process of law. Rational basis review is not a case of the judge saying to himself "would I vote for this law?" or even "do I think this is a dumb law?" Laws can be dumb and still be rational in the legal sense of the word. The question instead has to do with whether the law's goals are legitimate governmental goals and whether the law's means are roughly tailored to meet those goals (with the caveat that those means cannot have the side effect of doing anything impermissible).

To put it yet another way: although I favor the legalization of marijuana, I concede that laws against marijuana use are rational because they address the legitimate public goals of providing for the health and safety of citizens, etc., the means are roughly tailored to those goals, and nothing in the Constitution explicitly protects my right to smoke weed. But if the government passed a law banning Cheerios because a bunch of legislators decided they really didn't like the CEO of General Mills, that would and ought to fail rational basis review.

Sorry for the long email -- I'm desperately procrastinating studying for qualifying exams.
REPLY RE CLONING: From Ananda Gupta. You can read it here. My reply follows:

Thanks for the reply. Two quick points about the legal penalties for abortion: 1) There's a distinction between things that are immoral and things that should be made illegal (obviously). Some embryo-killing may be more amenable to criminalization than others. That shouldn't change whether we believe that embryos shouldn't be killed, whether embryos are individual human lives worthy of protection, etc.

I didn't point out, though I should have, that one major reason pre-legalization abortion laws focused on the abortionist was so that women would go to the emergency room if something went wrong. They'd be less likely to do that if they'd face jail time, thus they would be more likely to die and the abortionists would be less likely to get caught. As for "keeping [women who abort] out of maximum security," I doubt that's where we would put, for example, a teen who left her baby in a trashcan. I may be wrong, but I've read reports on several of these cases. (You're totally right that the "doesn't look like a baby" thing shouldn't be relevant, and I retract that claim.) So there's all kinds of needs to balance when we're talking about who would receive what penalty for an illegal abortion.

2) But I still don't think any of that discussion is relevant to cloning, for the reasons I gave.

[And yeah, I apologized for getting his sex wrong.]
I DON'T THINK INSTAPUNDIT wants this judge determining what "makes sense"...
INSTAPUNDIT ON JUSTICE WHITE: Reynolds champions the idea that "the law should make sense." No complaint here. But when that principle is used to justify courts striking down laws because they don't understand the motivation behind the laws--"Only a bigot could like this law!" or "I don't get it"--doesn't that essentially allow judges to overturn laws at will? In fact, it creates an incentive to pretend that one's opponents are unreasonable even if you believe they're not. Ex.: Congress bans cloning. Justice Glenn Reynolds jettisons the law because he thinks anti-cloning arguments are irrational, lame, dumb, fanatical, insert-term-of-art-here. Or: Justice Pat Buchanan strikes down a free-trade law because he thinks (or says he thinks!) such laws can only be motivated by the rich man's desire to oppress the poor working folk.

I'm willing to accept that judges have to make many prudential judgments about which justifications for laws make sense and which don't. But the leeway Reynolds would give judges leads to judicial oligarchy via ad hominem argument. Judges should have more humility, and less confidence in their philosophical acumen or ability to read the minds and hearts of legislators and citizens.

For more neat legal stuff, check out The Corner, especially this perceptive post.
"THE ABORTIONIST'S HORSE": That's the title of a short story by Tanith Lee that I read recently. Like much of her fiction, it's dark and slightly overwritten--but also effective. I was choking back tears well before the end. The story startled me, since it appeared in the fourteenth edition of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, ed. Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. As far as I know, Datlow and Windling are standard-issue feminists--I've read several collections they've edited, including a few collections of "modern fairy tales" that mix approximately one sharp story for every five victim-chic or soft-porn tales. Yet Lee's story is--well, it's too dark to be called pro-life, since it's not really pro- anything--but it's firmly and viscerally anti-abortion.

The story centers on a woman who faces a crisis pregnancy. She's pro-choice, but she realizes, when she becomes pregnant herself, that she doesn't want an abortion. So she goes to a house in the country and pretends that she has a husband who will join her shortly. But her lovely country house sits along the path that the local abortionist would take, before abortion was legalized. The abortionist--an ugly lesbian, which seems way too obvious, in the story's only really unnecessary touch--would ride at midnight down the lane. Even though she's gone now, the sound of her horse's hooves drawing nearer in the darkness haunts the pregnant narrator. I kept waiting for the author to imply that abortion was only bad back when it was illegal, that today it's OK and not sordid and wrong. That didn't happen. It's a chilling story, and one in which the vivid physical horror of abortion is made evident.

And it's at least the second such story I've read in TYBF&H.

An earlier edition (not sure which) included Poppy Z. Brite's "The Ash of Memory, the Dust of Desire." Brite's story is more Goth-y and less well-written than Lee's, but the characters are sharply drawn. The view of abortion is more muddled, but a few things are made clear: Abortion is grim and painful--it's presented as an assault upon the pregnant woman. Back-alley abortions are awful, but front-office abortions aren't much better. And abortion, in its assault upon the unwanted, is a rejection of the unwanted woman as well as her unwanted baby.

I wonder if short fiction is particularly well-suited to describe abortion. I can imagine a short "pro-choice" poem: It's easy to go all abstract, ambiguous, and feelings-focused in a poem; it's easy to isolate the narrator. It's easy to create baroque metaphors that distance the reader from the reality of what's being described, dazzling the reader with pyrotechnics but obscuring what's actually happening. (Not all poems do this, obviously; the best don't.) But prose tends to focus on physicality (in its rendering of detail) and relationships between characters. In other words, prose's strengths lie in areas abortion disrupts.
THE ONLY POST I WILL MAKE ON CLONING: First, if you want my take on it, check the links-list to your left. Second, I'm sure Ramesh Ponnuru will get around to this eventually, but here's my take on the only actual argument put forward by a pro-cloning blogger so far in this round. (Oh, and before I get there, Virginia Postrel today strongly implies that there's no point in having these arguments because none of us will change our minds. Well, Ponnuru did--if not in the way she'd prefer. And in general, these "what's the point?" arguments never get much traction with me, especially on pro-life issues. I co-founded the Yale Pro-Life League. If memory serves, only two out of seven[?] members of its first executive board had come to college pro-life. Four of the seven were atheists. So yeah, it's worth going over this stuff again. Moreover, I frankly haven't seen much response to Ponnuru's excellent points, which rely on reason rather than intuition.)

Anyway. Ananda Gupta raises a few points: 1) "[Ponnuru] trots out the old 'they can't draw a defensible line of demarcation as to when killing human beings is wrong' argument. So what? I can't draw a defensible line of demarcation as to when people should be allowed to drive, and no one else can either, given the variability of physical capability and hand-eye coordination among humans. It's arbitrary."
Uh, right, but if you get the answer wrong, nobody dies. It's just weird to say that because some line-drawing can rightly be left to a general, intuitive sense--which will be more or less arbitrary--all line-drawing should be arbitrary.

2) "Earlier Ponnuru argued that inarticulate knowledge can be genuine, but now he demands an argument for pro-cloners' choice of lines to draw. I don't have one, but I don't think I need one. All I need is to point out that if we are going to require all public policies and philosophical worldviews to have clearly articulated arguments supporting them, then NR and NRO might as well merge with The Nation and get it over with, because such a requirement is un-conservative at its core."
Actually, unless I misunderstood his piece, Ponnuru was arguing that just because most people who oppose cloning can't really explain why, that doesn't mean there are no good arguments for their position. He was trying to combat the Reason-magazine mentality that all opposition to cloning is motivated by fear of Frankenstein. (And in fact, Postrel and others have recently given at least token credit to the pro-life arguments against cloning, so perhaps Ponnuru's point here made some impact.)

But more importantly, if Gupta's really suggesting that "intuitions" are sufficient for political decisions, forget about merging with The Nation--all political magazines should just disappear. These magazines present arguments. Those arguments typically rest on a basis of reason, experience, and shared premises. If somebody argues for any controversial ethical position--the death penalty is wrong; you shouldn't use Napster; it's OK to clone; it's not OK to clone; whatever--I expect some explanation, some reason for the position.

3) "Ponnuru leaves out another major consequence of his anti-cloning (and pro-life generally) intuition, which is that women who have abortions or even negligent miscarriages would have to be treated as murderers -- with penalties of life imprisonment or execution. Is Ponnuru willing to flip that switch?"

First, this isn't relevant to the cloning discussion, since one might believe that a cloned embryo is a human but a woman's right to bodily integrity trumps that embryo's right to life. I don't agree with this, but it is possible to accept the pro-life case against cloning but not the pro-life case against abortion.

Second, and more importantly, there's a reason that pre-legalization abortion prosecutions didn't focus on the mother. Everyone understands that abortion is an act often done in desperation. In some cases, the woman may have limited or false information about the nature of her fetus--that's one reason that pro-lifers have pushed for "right to know" legislation. It's appropriate to treat a woman who committed a grave evil out of desperation more leniently than the person who profited from her desperation. Basically, this is wrongful killing, but it's not like every other kind of killing: You can't see the victim, it's often impossible to tell by looking that you're killing a human, and it's typically sought (especially were it to become illegal) only by women who are in dire straits already. So again, penalties should focus on the abortionist, not the mother. The mother would also rightly face legal penalties--since we do have moral responsibility, even when we're desperate--but I don't think they should be simple repetitions of our penalties for infanticide. And, like all laws, they should not be retroactive--women who had abortions last year should not be penalized for them.

4) "What about women who smoke or drink during pregnancy? Do we call in the Department of Social Services?"
Assuming that we're talking about women who smoke or drink enough to severely endanger their unborn children, we're talking about child abuse here, or possibly neglect. But like many cases of child neglect, it would be extraordinarily hard to prosecute in a country with (rightly) strong privacy protections. And I'm not sure whether we could really do much about this, frankly--it's not like standing trial and going to jail would have a positive effect on the kid. However, this is in no way an argument against the pro-life position. First, you figure out whether the embryo is a human life worthy of protection. Then, you worry about cases where protecting that child may be difficult or impossible. You don't argue, "Sometimes it'll be difficult to protect an embryo. It may be so difficult that sometimes we shouldn't do it, because what we'd have to do to protect the embryo is wrong. Therefore, the embryo isn't a human life!" One reason you shouldn't argue like that is that the same argument can be made about a three-year-old child. The other reason, though, is that it's illogical.

All that said, Gupta is one of the few pro-cloning bloggers to really respond to anti-cloning claims. I'm replying to her post at length because I thought it raised difficult and necessary questions. The legal-penalties question, especially, is something I welcome response about (Yaeger?)--but again, I don't think it's directly relevant to the issue of embryo-destructive research (the set of which therapeutic/research cloning is a subset).
And pretty girls watch blogs...

(In honor of the Most Influential Artists Ever--link via E-Pression.)

Ted Barlow: Good points on polling, esp. the fact that polls don't necessarily lead to more direct democracy/less leadership. Poll-heavy presidents can make unpopular decisions; presidents can also use polls to present their unpopular positions "in a way that insults your intelligence less," as Barlow says. Also, IF YOU CAN GIVE BLOOD, CLICK HERE.

Don't Be A Shamed: Drink and thrive; excellent post on suicide bombers vs. "homicide bombers." And other goodies.

Brink Lindsey: Top-notch post on that pro-trade OXFAM study. Go read it.

Louder Fenn: Children's fiction and Christianity, part seven.

Charles Murtaugh: Cloning terminology.

Sursum Corda: The Body of Christ, in prison. Plus his porn/guns/Big Macs comparison was tongue-in-cheek. Oops... sorry.

Dave Tepper: The daughters of the Confederacy--together at last.

Veritas: Accurate anti-cloning (or anti-anti-anti-cloning...) post; Luther never nailed 96 theses to anything. He's wrong about the magnitude of the Current Crisis though, for reasons Amy Welborn gives--these scandals are huge. It's not "just" the abuser priests, the cover-up cardinals--it's the faithless, reprobate seminaries, too. Ugh.

Matt Welch: Excellent news!
"Who is that citizen?"
"That's my next-door neighbor."
"He looks as though his mind could stand a little laundering."

--John McGuire and extra, "Stranger on the Third Floor"

Monday, April 15, 2002

WHERE I LIVE, IT'S ALWAYS HALLOWEEN: Actual things said while watching "Halloween" this past Friday:

Me, on the idiot psychologist's plan to tell no one about the killer's return to his hometown, because Only The Authorities Can Be Trusted To Protect Us!!!: "This is very pre-September 11."

Me: "When knitting needles are outlawed, only Michael Myers will have knitting needles."

Shamed: "Not making sure Michael Myers is really dead--the fatal conceit!"

Shamed: "No!! Don't leave him there!!! Finish him off!!! [frustrated]--It's like U.S. policy with Saddam Hussein!"

Shamed: "See, it is an anti-gun-control movie!"
Para bailar la blogwatch,
Para bailar la blogwatch,
Se necesita una poca de gracia...

Christian Solidarity International: Attempts to refute charges that many "redeemed" (=bought and freed) slaves in Sudan and Mauritania were actually faking enslavement to get money. Haven't read the documents yet, will report back when I get a chance, but for the moment I'll just repeat the basic reason to mistrust CSI on this one: Supply and demand. If you pay for slaves, as the "redeemers" do (and as the US's underground railroad did not), you create a demand for either real or fake slaves. Most likely both. CSI, therefore, bears the burden of proof here. Their claim is usually that since slavery is being used as a tool of war by Sudan's vicious Islamist government against its mainly-animist-partly-Christian southern region, economics aren't driving the slavers. OK, but economic motivations don't disappear just because other motivations are present. Again, I'll read these documents, but I'm entering with some skepticism. I know that many real slaves have been freed through CSI, and that's obviously a wonderful accomplishment. But it's necessary to investigate whether slaves can be freed in a way that doesn't create incentives to enslave more people. In the end, I doubt that anything short of toppling the Khartoum government will stop enslavement in Sudan; I don't know enough about Mauritania to say anything about it.

Michael Dubruiel: Second in an amazingly depressing series about Dubruiel's seminary education. Essential reading in understanding the Catholic crisis.

Glenn Kinen: Interesting stuff on US vs. European consumption of OPEC oil.

Father Shawn O'Neal: Good post about trusting one another rather than being constantly on the lookout for lapses in orthodoxy. I think he's being a little harsh on suspicious people--I get the impression that many of these people have been deeply disappointed by a series of Catholic institutions, and that's why they're wary. However, his general point is right.

Sursum Corda has become a must-read for me. Everything today is good: Graham Greene and the Eucharist; what Jesus's knowledge means for our faith; just war vs. holy war; and much more. Only quarrel: A list of bad Western exports that equates weaponry, porn, and McDonalds is just silly. Explain to me why cheap, reliable, yummy food is a bad thing. But really, the site is awesome, go read it.

Amy Welborn: Lots and lots of St. Catherine of Siena on the Current Crisis.

And the Washington Post Magazine has an interesting article on the materialist world of The Sims.

Y arriba y arriba...
"I've got a little room upstairs that's too small for you to fall down in. I can bounce you around off the walls, that way we won't be wasting a lot of time while you get up off the floor."
--William Bendix to Alan Ladd, "The Glass Key"

Friday, April 12, 2002

I have a typical Friday-afternoon headache (coffee, my friend, my betrayer...), and so you'll have to wait until Monday for posts on: short fiction about abortion; slave "redemption" in Sudan and Mauritania; smart Yalies, foolish choices; and whatever else pops into my head. Wednesday, expect contest results!!! (go here to see the contest! Send your entries to eve_tushnet@yahoo.com and win a fabulous lack of prizes!), the new contest, and more on Rock'n'Roll Conservatism.

If people have read short stories that deal with abortion or related issues--especially stories published in unlikely venues, like The New Yorker or something--I'd be grateful if you emailed me about them. Thanks.

For the moment, you get a mini-blogwatch. Oh, and read Ramesh Ponnuru's excellent article on philosophical, rational arguments against cloning. It just rocks.

Hold me closer, tiny blogwatch... watch the blogs upon the highway...

Minute Particulars thinks he's disagreeing with me about the nature of compassion, but he's actually just being a lot more articulate than I was. When I talked about "death as compassion," below, I really meant something more akin to the statue of Comfort in the last section of A Canticle for Leibowitz (one of the greatest sci-fi novels ever).

The Old Oligarch's Painted Stoa: The Downtown D.C. Empire of Blog is expanding...

VodkaPundit: Funny list of "Things I Know But Cannot Prove." Here's my list:
Walt Whitman didn't write poems--he oozed them.
Jane Kaczmarek is the coolest person on TV. Not least because she is making the world safe for weird surnames.
People in Australia REALLY DO walk upside-down.
High heels are comfortable shoes.
If given a lightsaber, I would need Shamed to explain how to make it work.
Any food is better when it's deep-fried. Even this.
This is the best art review NRO has published, ever.
If we're going to slap a tariff on something, it should be Euro-art-flicks. Especially German ones.
The fact that the IRS allows you to deduct money you paid a CPA to do your taxes is a tacit admission of guilt.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is the ugliest building in D.C.
Vodka is better than gin.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

"Break the conventions. Keep the Commandments."
--G.K. Chesterton
"In this purse, sweet soul!" said I
"Twenty pound lies fairly
Seek no further one to buy
For I'll take all thy Barley
Twenty more shall purchase delight,
Thy person I love so dearly,
If thou wilt watch my blog all night
And gang home in the morning early..."

First, I'd like to thank everyone who's responded to yesterday's posts. The criticisms have been polite and thoughtful, and the personal notes have been moving and courageous. If I haven't responded to you personally yet, it's because I'm swamped in work, and have been trundling slowly through the inbox.

Now, the blogwatch.

Bruce Bawer has a blog; more exciting for me, he has an interesting review of the movie "The Apostle."

HappyFunPundit: An R-rated discussion of the aphrodisiac effects of Afghan water; some hysterical meta-blogging; the exclusive HFP/Tom Ridge interview (must-read).

Diana Hsieh: Praise for an intellectual history of the Enlightenment.

Integrity is a nifty new blog dedicated to exploring the Pope's encyclical on the role of the laity. Looks like common-sensical, astute fun.

Ken Layne: Long, good rant about... well, everything in the headlines.

Louder Fenn: More of the very cool What It's Like To Write Christian Children's Fantasy series. Keep it coming!

PhotoDude makes an excellent case for an unusual choice for the photography Pulitzer: the last picture by a photographer who lost his life taking pictures of the 9/11 attacks.

InstaPundit's mention of the Possumblog reminded me again how much I enjoy reading this marsupial's journey through Dixie. (Even if he does like a simplistic, unhelpful Lileks column on the Mideast.) The Possum is like a friend from high school--even if you haven't checked in for a while, there's always a homey, friendly vibe.

Dave Tepper is looking for charities that dig the free market. This site has some good information.

Eugene Volokh's blog is everything you expected it to be. Great posts on whether immigration, under certain circumstances (not the ones the US faces today, in my opinion), can lead to a restriction of liberty; and a necessary reply to an InstaPundit cheap shot.

Amy Welborn: Once I fix the links list, I'm going to stop blogwatching Amy, because she's an all-star and you should just go read the dratted site already. But today, I'll just point you to her take on the much-blogged Cardinal Arinze "abortion and 9/11" speech. I have problems with the distinction Mark Byron makes between a communitarian/collectivist culture of death (teen girl suicide bombers) and an individualist culture of death (uh, that'd be us), though. Keep in mind that pretty much all of the COD trends in the US--abortion, euthanasia, embryo-destructive research and the like--are presented as expressions of compassion. I wouldn't be a good mother right now--we should end his suffering--we can save so many lives. Maybe the better distinction is death-as-argument vs. death-as-compassion? I'm not sure. But there's more going on in this country than simple individualism.

Speaking of, since cloning has been so much in the news lately, maybe I should point out my essays on therapeutic and reproductive cloning. They're over there in the links list, to your left.

And in a Welbornish spirit, here's another Good Thing Catholics Do: Concordia Children's Town. A Jesuit-run ministry to Romanian street children. They've got 15 houses, two day centers, a winter soup kitchen, and five apartments. Kids live in small family-like groupings and learn to live with one another and with adults. One has graduated from a university. These are kids who are living in sewers, playing with dead rats, choosing between abusive homes and the street. Find out more by emailing Concordia@chello.at . (You'd know this already if you read the Register.)

"Oh, this would bring me to disgrace
And therefore I say you nay Sir
And if that you would watch my blog,
First marry and then you may Sir!..."
"You lay your hands on me again, and I'll kill you!"
"Like that guy you killed in St. Louis?"
"You're gonna hold that over my head for the rest of my life, aren't ya?"

--Bit player and Peggy Cummins, "Gun Crazy"

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Have added Frederick Douglass's autobiography to the Booklog.
AQUINAS CLARIFICATION: A friend emails this very good point (which I knew, but my poor choice of words obscured it): One minor complant, you indirectly (and I assume unintentionally) make it sound like St. Thomas was a pro-abort and that the Church has ever changed her view on the morality of abortion. You make the valid point that the Church's understanding of abortion has developed, however, it has been constant in its opposition (i.e. Church teaching on abortion is more like teaching on homosexuality than that on slavery).

As for the church, the earliest teachings on the subject are actually among the earliest teaching. They are found in the Didache, a record of teachings of "the 12" which is contemporary with much of the New Testament (i.e. 1st century). The Didache says: "Now, this is the way of life: The second commandment of the Teaching: 'Do not murder; do not commit adultery'; do not corrupt boys; do not fornicate; 'do not steal'; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant. "

Aquinas did say an unborn baby receives a soul forty or eighty days after conception, depending on gender. But (as you probably already know) he also said abortion is a violation of natural law and is always wrong, no matter when a soul may be infused into the developing child's body.
IF ANY OF YOU CAN GIVE BLOOD (I can't), please read Ted Barlow's post here.
My mama done tol' me
When I was in knee-pants
My mama done told me, "Son
A woman will sweet talk
And give you the big eye
But when that sweet talk is done
A woman's a two faced
A worrisome thing who'll leave you to watch the blogs in the night..."

E-Pression: Your usual mix of funny stuff, Life With Husband Moments, anti-union info, and politico pot anecdotes. Good sense, good fun, no permalinks.

Charles Murtaugh: Libertarianism linked to litigiousness? Very interesting points. I hope OverLawyered.com's W. Olson has time to respond. (OL.com, by the way, is an excellent site and worth blogwatching in its own right.)

Onealism: A day in a priest's life. Inspiring.

Sursum Corda: Refugees shouldn't have to live like a refugee; should Confirmation come at an older age? (great question); intro to Saint Faustina.

Unqualified Offerings: I am a total shank and will almost certainly not read Henley's Israel post until next week, but you should be better than me! I'm really looking forward to it. Go read it.

Amy Welborn: Lots of scandal-stuff. This is the best, but try to make time to read it all.

And from Yahoo! News... "Smart Glass Knows When It Needs Another Beer." Ah, technology!
"CONSERVATISM": WHY? I use the term "conservative" all over this website. Possibly this makes me sound like a partisan hack-jerk. I don't do this because there's some set of "conservative beliefs" out there that I try to conform my own beliefs to. I do it because I want to push my concerns to the center of some political movement or other, and frankly, that's a lot more likely with conservatism than with any other contemporary movement. This post should give some sense of what those concerns are. I think all this will become clearer once the Rock'n'Roll Conservative Manifesto is finished, which should be fairly soon; but for now, I just wanted to point out that I'm, uh, not a partisan hack-jerk--I'm trying to transform the conservative movement, drawing out and emphasizing its best qualities. And importing into that movement the best elements of liberalism (both classical and modern--I dislike the philosophies of the Enlightenment and the modern Left, but their focus on civil rights, free markets, prison and penal reform, and care for the needy are great).
OUT: WHY? In case anyone is wondering why I've been, or tried to be, pretty up-front about my sexual orientation on this site. I really don't know if you people care, but figured you might.

1) Somebody has to. I've spoken with other Catholics with homosexual desires who would never speak about it publicly. Some were members of prominent Catholic organizations, who feared losing friends and reputation. (Straight Catholics: Whose fault is that?) Others simply value their privacy and practice discretion. All are faithful to the Church's teaching, and live chastely. (One of them is perhaps the most inspiring person I've met, a man truly on fire for Christ, who brought home to me the real meaning of the Real Presence in the Eucharist.) Virtually no one in this society will even acknowledge that it's possible to live like this. Priests don't preach this hope from the pulpit. Gay spokesmen speak as if the only alternatives are unchastity or despair. "Conservative" Christians often politely ignore fellow Christians struggling with homosexuality. And you can bet your sweet bippy that chaste queer life is one cooperation of will and grace you'll never see on "Will and Grace." But if something exists, it must be possible; and here I am.

2) Too late now. There's no "rewind" button in real life. I helped found my high school's gay/straight alliance. Almost everyone who knows me, knows my deal. It doesn't come up often, but its not like I could hide it even if I wanted to.

3) I write fiction. I suspect it's nearly impossible to read that fiction and not draw the conclusion you'd draw about Jean Genet, Rebecca Brown, or Samuel Delany.

So that's why.

A note: I say "queer" because it connotes a degree of alienation that I find accurate in describing my own experience. Also, I'm bi not homo, and would not want to mislead. But the people I described above were homosexual, so again, joyful chastity is possible. The joy may be painful (scroll down to Veritas), but it's real, and worth the struggle. For more info on Catholic-homosexual stuff, click here and here. The Sacraments of Penance and Communion are totally key. God gave 'em to you; receive 'em.
SULLIMANIA. I hope to make this the final installment of the Andrew-Sullivan-and-sex-and-Catholics stuff, at least for a while. I've said much of what I have to say here, here, and here; these posts are really just clean-up. Also, for some reason I can't get into the relevant sections of Andrew Sullivan's archives at all, so there will be a minimum of direct quotation. Yes, I know this sucks, and I'll fix it if anyone can send me the link and/or particular posts.

First, why is this important? Sullivan at one point recalled that his mother had told him that sexual sins were wrong, but they weren't the most important problems. (Here's where a quote would be just great.) You know, I really have no idea how important this is in the Grand Scheme of Things. Does Jesus care more about who you sleep with than about other stuff? I have no clue. Why does that matter? My goal here, as I've said before, is not to do the absolute minimum required to enter Heaven ("you must be this saintly to ride this ride"). My goal is to do what God wants for me.

Sexual sin can form the spine of romantic, moving relationships; sin can mingle with beauty, wit, and care. Richard Brookhiser's essay on Governeur Morris, in the current City Journal, does a great job of showing this man as a highly sympathetic, generous, gentlemanly rake. But no one, I hope, would argue that this somehow invalidates the Seventh Commandment. If we could somehow peer into Heaven and spot Morris chatting up Eleanor of Aquitaine, that wouldn't make it okay to break marriage vows.

And the questions Sullivan raises do have important implications: What does love require? How do we come to know Christ?

WHAT IS SULLIVAN ARGUING? As near as I can figure, under all the (justified) outrage at reprobate priests and craven bishops, the basic sexual morality is: An ye harm none, do as ye will.

Sullivan appeals to the fact that Jesus didn't say jack about homosexuality, as if that proves something. This tactic is just weird–it's a kind of hyper-Marcionism, rejecting not just the Old Testament but much of the New. (Actually, Marcion also rejected bits of Paul's epistles--ed.)

Sullivan doesn't just have a problem with the Church's teaching on birth control, or same-sex snuggling, or chick priests, or, I don't know, the relevance of the Pauline epistles. Throughout his posts on sexual morality, there've been these nifty hints that he's actually getting at a morality "generous" enough to include promiscuity. But only for some! Only for the "nonconformists" among us. Can I just say, for the record, that is so cool. Where do I sign up as a nonconformist? I mean hey, I want this Get Out Of Confession Free card as much as anybody!

In all honesty, I have no idea what Sullivan's getting at with his (strongly implied, and occasionally stated, cf. the afterword to Virtually Normal) praise of promiscuity, or why it has any connection whatsoever to a Catholic understanding of erotic love. (Which includes physical fidelity–because the body means something, it's part of our identity, and thus when we give ourselves to one another that gift includes our bodies. "With my body I thee worship," as the Anglican marriage service used to say.) I do know that suggesting that anyone who feels that he's a sexual "nonconformist" gets to play around is like issuing a License to Use. Mostly, women would be the losers–we have this nasty habit of getting pregnant. But even if you take pregnancy out of the equation, playing the field undermines marriage (unless you really look forward to comparing your wife's sexual habits to your previous encounters–and being compared in turn) and alienates us from our bodies. Bodies (our own and others') become things we use to attain pleasure, rather than part of what makes people who we are. Treating sex casually trivializes it. It drains the meaning from one of the most meaningful areas of life. We want sex because it's important–it gets all tangled up with our emotions, hopes, and best desires. But in order to get all the sex we want, "free love" types must pretend sex is unimportant. It's just something you do; why should you save it for the one you love? In many ways, it was rejecting that view of sex-as-candy that led me to investigate the Catholic faith. And I rejected the "free love" view partly because of literature–can anybody really be an English major and still believe sex is just a human activity with no deeper meaning?–and partly because my whole life, my fears, alienation, desires, ideals, made no sense if sex was just play. Sullivan, like many other writers (and like me, pre-conversion), tries to work both sides of the street: Sex is so important that it's the only way homosexuals can show love, therefore the Church's position on homosexual acts is evil; and yet it's so unimportant that it doesn't mean much if you're unfaithful. There are problems with both of these positions, but c'mon people, let's at least try to coordinate our stories here!

So OK, enough of this "nonconformity" stuff–although it runs like a red thread throughout several of Sullivan's posts (and published writing) on these subjects. But let's leave it for now and move on to the other big lurking question: What is Church authority, and why would anyone ever submit to it?
ROMA LOCUTA, CAUSA FINITA EST? First, let me be clear on the role of Church authority in this discussion. I understand, and can defend with no reference to Church authority, Catholic teaching on almost everything that divides Sullivan and me. Sexual fidelity, marriage, contraception, the Bible, all good. Ordination of women, never really investigated, basically suspect that if women could be priests several of the score of Marys who populate the Gospels would've been ordained already, since they tended to be more faithful witnesses than the men. It's really only on the issue of homosexual acts that I have to admit that I don't get it. (Reading some Jewish theology has actually been more helpful than most of the Catholic writing I've read on this topic. I'd recommend the essays on incarnation in Christianity in Jewish Terms–none of which explicitly touch on homosexuality–and Rabbi Barry Freundel's essay in Same-Sex Matters. But this is still something I wrestle with and struggle to understand.)

When I do defer to the Magisterium, here's why: I acknowledge that God knows more than me, and that He has set up the Church–with the promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against her–not only in order to give me the sacraments but also in order to instruct me. The Church's teaching authority is there to surprise and correct me. (As I said here, some source of surprise and correction is necessary for ethics, although obviously many religions don't make authority-claims as strong as the Catholic Church's.) Without it, I'd know only the truths that I managed to reason to on my own. If there is no infallible authority, then OK, it's not there, and I'm left with my own resources. But since I acknowledge that pretty much nobody is likely to come up with the Whole Truth about God, the universe and everything on his own, I'm grateful that the Church's authority exists. The Church's authority means that even popes get corrected.

This is why I mentioned that I had changed my mind about the reasonableness of the Church's position on contraception: I disagreed, I studied more, I got it. I'm very glad that I accepted the Church's teaching even before I grasped the reasons behind it. If I had, instead, (gotten married and) used birth control, I would regret it once I figured out why the Church was right.

Finally, I don't get how someone can rely on the Gospels without relying on the Church. Where'd you get these books about Jesus? They didn't fall out of the sky stamped, "ATTEND, MORTAL! THIS IS GOD SPEAKING!" They were compiled and vetted by the Church. And other books (the ones that spring to mind are Thomas and Nicodemus, but I know there are others) were left out. If you don't trust the Church, why would you trust the Gospels?
HOW IS HOMOSEXUALITY UNLIKE SLAVERY?, and CAN CATHOLICS THINK? A reader sent me an email that may help clarify matters. My original response to him was totally lame, so I'm not even going to bother with it.

Reader email: In your blog today (03/27) you state: "If I say Church teachings A through E imply F, and everyone from St. Paul to John XXIII and onward says Church teachings A through E imply and require not-F, I start doubting my judgment, not theirs."

But what about the Church's moral teaching on say, slavery, for example, in which (to paraphrase) everyone from St. Paul to Leo XIII says Church teachings A through E imply and require F, and everyone from Leo XIII on says Church teachings A through E imply and require not-F?

In other words, how can one reconcile belief in the Magisterium with the reality that the content of the Magisterium's teaching does in fact change over time?

I think Andrew Sullivan deserves credit for trying to think through this dilemma, rather than simply brushing it away with either a) simplistic moral relativism) or b) unquestioning loyalty to institutional positions.

My response: 1) This characterization of Church teaching on slavery is just false. Click here for an introductory look at the subject. There are definite signs of special pleading in the linked article, and it's from 1912 so I don't know how much subsequent research has changed some of its points, but it's a start. And it makes clear that Leo XIII isn't pulling a U-turn here.

2) What he was doing, and what has happened with many doctrines (a friend cited the example of the Church's attempts to figure out whether the stock market was usury; quick answer: no), was developing doctrine–building on what had come before. The Church's teaching on abortion is another good case. Aquinas, for example, did not hold the current life-begins-at-conception position. He wasn't just basing this view on medieval biology, by the way; nonetheless, I think there are good arguments against his position and I'm glad the Church didn't take it. The Magisterium's teachings are added to over time. (I wonder if God doesn't reveal certain things all at once because He wants us to do our own work!) The death penalty is another obvious example, which you can find ably discussed here. Or for another example, I believe that some people who had the opportunity to confess Christ in this life and did not do so are saved. It would relieve my mind greatly if the Magisterium affirmed my view; but so far, no dice. If the Magisterium did take my position, it would be developing doctrine, not reversing it.

When the Church states that intentionally destroying a blastocyst is immoral, that's a development of doctrine. What Sullivan argues for is a reversal of doctrine. His stance on the Church's authority to teach about homosexual acts is akin to this incredibly annoyingly-named organization's stance on the Church's authority to teach about abortion.

3) Am I arguing for "unquestioning loyalty to institutional positions"? No. First, there are whole worlds of Catholic discussion on which the Church has taken no authoritative stance. Second, and more importantly, why are the only options "unquestioning loyalty" and "when I don't understand a Church teaching, I'll ditch it"? What ever happened to "faith seeking understanding"? The Church's teaching can guide and stimulate philosophical exploration–it proposes surprising claims, and those claims have, in the past and today, spurred many thinkers to great insights that can be accepted even by non-Christians. (The two thinkers who stand out in my mind in this respect are St. Anselm–why are you reading this blog when you could be reading his treatise on the Incarnation, a.k.a. the Niftiest Bit of Theology I've Ever Read?–and the pope who will almost certainly be known to history as John Paul the Great. Anselm writes better though.) Without the authoritative, can't-ignore-it-can't-work-around-it teaching of the Church, I doubt that a sizable chunk of the greatest writing about wrongdoing, justice, mercy, personal identity, and the importance of the human body would ever have been conceived. This writing happened because great thinkers accepted Church teaching and sought to understand it.

Finally, one word on "dissent." In order to accommodate his own dissenting stances, Sullivan sometimes writes as if any disagreement with any papal statement, application of an encyclical to U.S. politics, or random thing John Paul II jotted on a cocktail napkin is "dissent." Please. If you can find an orthodox Catholic–i.e. someone who thinks dissent is a bad thing–who actually believes that Catholics shouldn't take issue with the Pope when he's wrong, please let me know, so I can smack his catechism teacher. If I could get Sullivan to stop saying one thing (and I bet I can't!), it would be his claim that Rod Dreher "dissents" when he thinks the Pope's statements on the Middle East are wack.

And now we're out of this immensely long screed. Thank you for playing.
Things were no better
when I was young:
things were poorer and harsher,
drought dust on the crockery,
and I was young.
"Gee, honey, you're as mean as can be."
--Claire Trevor to Edward G. Robinson, "Key Largo"

Monday, April 08, 2002

PS: Unqualified Offerings is back!!
Lie still, little blogwatch,
Shake my shaky hand;
Black coffee's not enough for me,
I need a better friend...

Not much today: this blogwatch, the addition of Frederick Douglass's autobiography to the booklog, and, possibly, a long thing about authority and sex and Sullivan. (Who seems to call for an[other] American schism today. What'n, Ah say what'n...? Anyway...) If not today, then definitely tomorrow. Oh, and you all should start watching "Malcolm in the Middle," because it is the most hilarious show on TV, and full of a rich combination of family-values goodness and full-blown sadistic madness. TV gets no better than that. Last night was particularly fine.

Mark Byron: Dungeons, dragons, and God; anti-Buchananite comment: "At this rate, in 2075 some nativist named Steve Nguyen will be ranting against the next wave of immigrants."

Christian Fantasy: a reader kindly sent me this link.

Michael Dubruiel: First installment of his seminary saga. Saddest sentence: "although I will definitely try to sanitize [the record of his experiences] they will not be suitable for young readers." Also: a discussion of Divine Mercy Sunday that possibly addresses some of Father O'Neal's concerns; and we need more people like "doubting Thomas."

Ken Layne: Great quotes from Edward Abbey.

Brink Lindsey: Reply to this post. Go read it. I'm not sure I understand the "original truth" vs. "final truth" distinction. (And, uh, I don't expect Lindsey to take time from his busy day to respond again--he's already been very courteous--I'm just setting this down in case anyone wonders what I think about this.) I wrote out way too many questions at first, so I'll confine myself to two:

If I start with a belief in "the moral dignity of individual human beings" (original truth), conclude that this belief can only be true if certain other things are also true (e.g. a good creator-God), pray for guidance about this, and ultimately end up Christian--is Christianity a "final truth" for me?

And, What is dogma, and why is it so suspect? Should people hold only those beliefs that either a) they think are acceptable first premises, or b) they have personally reasoned through; or can we rightly accept beliefs based on authority? Obvious example: I understand why I am Catholic. I don't understand, let's say, the Church's teaching on the impossibility of women's ordination. Should I reject the authority, or should I maintain that it knows more than I do? If I do the latter, am I being "dogmatic" and therefore--in Lindsey's formulation--bad? Would it depend on why I'm Catholic, or are there never good enough reasons for that kind of orthodoxy? If I reason from various "original truths" to classical liberalism, obviously, I'm open to changing my mind about that chain of reasoning (just as I'm open to changing my mind about whether I should be Catholic). So what differentiates my liberalism from a questing, "faith seeking understanding"-type orthodoxy? (And yes, I realize I'm mixing political and religious beliefs here--but I think Lindsey's doing that as well, since we're both talking primarily about the ways in which religious and political-philosophical beliefs are similar rather than the many ways in which they're different.)

Louder Fenn: A continuing series on writing Christian fantasy--very cool stuff; a frightening French Revolution law, contrasted with the US Constitution.

Orthopraxis: An Eastern Orthodox blog.

Pigs and Fishes: More on my conservatism and his not-conservatism; plus more general thoughts on his worldview. I should note that the terms "liberal" and "conservative" change greatly over time--I'd likely have been a "liberal" at many points in history, and I'm certainly trying to push some of my own concerns into the core of "conservatism." (So much more on this, when the Rock'n'Roll Conservative Manifesto is done cooking.) As for federalism, though, the term can be contrasted both to anti-federalism (federalists wanted a stronger central government than the anti-federalists) and to nationalism (in which distinctions between states are pretty much erased). Cf. Madison's famous "partly national, partly federal" formulation--"federal" in this context has a strongly states'-rights flavor. What we have today would satisfy neither federalists nor anti-federalists.

Sursum Corda: Lots of goodies. Mary was no doormat; the wounds of Christ, in prison; very good stuff about "men's spirituality" and why it can't just be psychofluff; Peter fishing.

Veritas: The Christian path to happiness; the gift of authority. There's a lot of confusion in contemporary discussions of happiness--it's often talked about as if it's easy to have joy without sorrow or fulfillment without struggle, and as if the pursuit of happiness could be the basis of a philosophy. Mother Teresa's life provides some insight into the true nature of Christian love, and happiness. Her diaries record long periods of doubt and anguish. Yet when a visitor told her, "I wouldn't do what you do for a million dollars," she paused, grinned, and replied, "Neither would I!" I think Christians shy away from unqualified praise of happiness partly because we affirm that Mother Teresa would have been a great Christian woman even if she had died before reaching happiness. But God wants us to be happy; He has made us to be happy when we do His will. One sign of sanctity is "heroic joy"--joy even during martyrdom, love even in the teeth of agony.

Amy Welborn: How Scandals Happen; intro to Catholic sci-fi scribe Gene Wolfe; parents are dumb as stumps, but John Polkinghorne is not.

Also, here's a Peanuts cartoon where Sally channels John Rawls.
"He was a ladykiller. But don't get any ideas--I ain't no lady."
--Myrna Dell to police, "Nocturne"

Saturday, April 06, 2002

Friday, April 05, 2002

OUT IN THE GREAT WIDE OPEN, REBELS WITHOUT A CLUE: Brink Lindsey has been quoting from Moby-Dick. Besides being intriguing and super-cool, this is also disturbing, because of the sunny conclusions Lindsey draws.

Here, Lindsey quotes Ishmael on what Lindsey calls "life's lack of final answers." Ishmael writes of his belief in "that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore[.]" Lindsey earlier commented that the central theme of Moby-Dick is "the struggle of human beings to create their own meanings and purpose in a world where any higher meaning or purpose is absent or obscure." He connects this theme to our war: "And what is it that sets liberal society apart? What gives rise to its phenomenal creativity and power, and inspires such fear and hatred among its adversaries? At the bottom of open society's dynamism -- in science, technology, economics, politics, and culture -- is its recognition, pace Melville, of the elusiveness of any fixed and final truth, and of the consequent freedom of men and women to make their own way by their own lights."

But this doesn't follow at all. If a "fixed and final truth" is elusive (by which I assume Lindsey means something much stronger than the mere recognition that one might be wrong), what is left of reason? When objectivity can't refer to anything--when it has no ground in an objective, fixed, final and find-able moral order--all we have left is the subjective. Reason, freedom, rights, the sanctity of individual human lives: these are objective values. Survival, pleasure, aesthetic preference, and empathy: these are subjective. They are the things we can still ascertain, grab hold of, and protect when we lose a belief in an attainable objective truth. That's one major reason that our political debates today revolve around material goods (cigarette taxes to make you healthy, corporate welfare to make you rich) and "who do you empathize with more?" contests. A defense of liberty--pace Lindsey--requires belief in an objective moral order; otherwise, liberty is just another preference.

In short, Lindsey is like the atheists in Nietzsche's parable of the madman: He does not yet see the consequences of his claim.

For more on this question, click here, then here and here.
IT'S A NICE DAY FOR A... WHITE MAYOR??? City Paper breaks a string of boring/annoying cover stories with this great look at David Catania's quest to become D.C.'s first honky mayor. Read it.
YOU MAY NOT BE A CONSERVATIVE ANYMORE IF... A response from Pigs and Fishes. I gotta say, many of these seem like nit-picks or point-scoring to me; my list was an attempt to get at big basic issues. For the record, I didn't support the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, but it's a lot more complicated than you'd expect. I don't know jack about deficit spending, didn't follow the Elian Gonzalez case closely but find P&F's characterization willfully dismissive to the point of silliness, disagreed w/Ashcroft's assisted-suicide decision, have a lot to say about democracy that nobody wants to hear!, think the War on Drugs does not adhere to conservative principles, and don't see why conservatives should take an inaccurate view of Southern history.

That said, I think the P&F idea is interesting, and if people want to do other lists I'll read and link 'em.
READER EMAIL: WELCH RESPONDS. Welch in bold, me in plain text. He's responding to this post.
* You think free trade is fair trade.

* You cheer for Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld.

* You think "caring about the poor" means welfare reform, school vouchers, and volunteering at your local homeless shelter.
[my reply] Oh, sure. I'd never suggest this is an exhaustive definition of "caring for the poor." In fact, it misses almost all the important things. Just wanted to get in something about two solutions (welf. ref. and vouchers) that The Nation can't stand. [and for more on this, see the blogwatch below.]

* You think the West is just better.
[my reply] Yeah. Pro-West stuff can get simplistic, but the Western focus on the individual is extraordinary in contrast to the individual's role in Chinese, possibly Islamic, and (to the limited extent that I know about this) some pre-colonial African thought.

* You think unions screw the working man.
[my reply] I see this as "sad but true" (and not necessary--unions could be terrific, but instead suck).

* You find yourself saying stuff like, "I didn't change--the liberals changed!"

* Your ideal presidential candidate is Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, or James Lileks.

What's that, then, 3.68?

I also:
* support universal health insurance
* would abolish the death penalty
* think that campaign finance is utterly corrupt & awful, though I have no idea how best to fix it
* think that Israel should withdraw from the settlements unilaterally, regardless of how evil the Palestinian leadership is
* think that, while the U.S. is on balance a major source for good in the world, it risks being f'd forever by virtue of its dominance, and so should strive to scale back its commitments -- especially military commitments, in places (Japan, Western Europe) that can afford to defend themselves & in fact probably need to be force-fed the maturity that comes with being totally responsible for their own affairs.
* like preserving open space, restoring river flows, blocking various toxic whatevers on a purely NIMBY basis ... also believe global warming is a threat, though I don't want to argue about it
* would legalize pot, and overhaul the ridiculous drug laws (including a possible withdrawal from our Columbia participation)
* am pro-choice, and immediately bored to annoyance when someone gets excited about forcing the government to intrude on the right to have an abortion

[I replied that I'm with him on the death penalty, the Drug War, and the perils of foreign (inc. military) aid. Prefer free-market solutions to environmental problems, which he may agree with. Unsure of much of the rest, except, of course, abortion.]

Etc. So am I still a mod-con?
[my reply] No clue! It doesn't really matter, of course--the q. was meant to spark consideration, not to come to any conclusion (just yet). Give it time... perhaps you will come over to the Dark Side...
WHOA. Regular readers of "The Straight Dope" will realize how strange this column-ending is. It's from the current column, on suttee. Cecil Adams points out that some Hindus, including women, argue that suttee (widow suicide) should be allowed because it's an integral part of their tradition. He adds, "Sure, East is East and West is West and all that. (In fairness, it should be said that many Indians were appalled by the whole affair.) The odd commonality--and let's set aside questions of right or wrong here--is that when a woman in either hemisphere exercises her right to choose, somebody (or something) winds up dead."

I don't really know what to say about this, but I thought I'd point it out.
I clambered over mounds and mounds
Of polystyrene foam
And fell into a swimming pool
Filled with fairy snow
And watched the blogs turn day-glo...

A very funny page: Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, and more. (Via E-Pression.)

Ted Barlow pens a lengthier response to my "You may not be a liberal anymore if..." post. I'll probably write about this later, and I'll also post Matt Welch's reply forthwith. For now, go read Ted. Oh, and you can check out Don't Be A Shamed's mini-response to Barlow as well. For now, I'll just add one thing: The dichotomy is not really between government welfare and private charity. United Way, to my mind (and Marvin Olasky's--you'll see why that's relevant if you read Ted's post), is almost as unhelpful as AFDC was. The real distinction is, as Shamed implies, between programs that emphasize material needs and programs that emphasize personal change, community, and mutual responsibilities between givers and recipients. That's much harder, as Olasky notes. But it's even harder for the US government than for private groups. And government or bureaucratic, distanced private aid is likely to do harm that outweighs the good it can do. (For oh so much more on this, spend some time in the City Journal archives.) You can read an old piece of mine that touches on this here. And don't get me started on unions!

Don't Be A Shamed has a lot of other good stuff up now too--and he's finally pulled together an articles archive!

James Lileks: A really good Bleat. Plus, I thought he said, "Perhaps in 100 years a Brooklyn accent from the Bugs Bunny era will make people think only of pugnacious rabbis," and I laughed out loud. Uh, that'd be rabbits. That too, I guess...

Charles Murtaugh: Good stuff about that kissin' cousins study; which risks do we think it's OK for pregnant women to take, and which do we abhor? This is a great question with major philosophical implications... none of which I have time to get into right now.

Virginia Postrel: Good reply to Norah Vincent's much-blogged Beam-bash. Postrel makes many good and useful points about what blogs are good for, but I can't figure out how to link to her individual posts, so you'll have to scroll and hunt.

Veritas: Excellent summary of Catholic and Protestant understandings of the visible and invisible Church. Anyone following the Great Andrew Sullivan Controversy (like there's only one...) should read this. And anyone interested in Christian denominational differences. It's really helpful.
"Okay, Rocky, I never was one to argue with a criminal type."
--Richard Erdman to Dick Powell, "Cry Danger"

Thursday, April 04, 2002

MY NEW ARTICLE ON WELFARE REFORM. From the Register. Subscribe today!
"GOODBYE," SHE LIED. Despite work insanity, I will be posting quite a bit tomorrow. Reader mail, what Brink Lindsey could learn from Nietzsche's parable of the madman (just wrote "parable of the madam"...), and some thoughts on blogging v. regular-old-journalism. And maybe more.

For now, I'll revisit my "witches for Jesus" post. I'm surprised to realize how few of the books I read as a child were recognizably Christian. Several were straight-up anti-Christian (discussed in the W4J post), but in most, Christianity was simply absent. Diana Wynne Jones, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and Beverly Cleary spring to mind as examples. All are excellent authors, highly recommended and all that--but. Given the time and place in which the stories are set, I'd assume that Ramona Quimby's family goes to church, but I can't recall any episodes from the books that would verify that. Strange. I mostly read fantasy, which I suspect is one reason for this absence; fantasies are supposed to be set in radically different worlds. Also, I really couldn't get into the Chronicles of Narnia after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

At any rate, here's the sum total of the kids' books I loved that are set in a recognizably Christian world: Lots and lots of John Bellairs (trashy Catholic pulp-horror for kids!); Margot Benary-Isbert, The Wicked Enchantment (sweet, fun tale with beautiful, curlicued illustrations); Ottfried Preussler, The Satanic Mill (a truly great book about evil, loyalty, and love). That's it. (I notice that both Benary-Isbert and Preussler are German--interesting.) Oh, and J.R.R. Tolkien, and Little Women which I liked but wasn't crazy about.

Strange. Unfortunate. There should be more of this stuff. Not paint-by-numbers saccharine Christian stuff, but top-rate, tough-minded fantasy. Suggestions are welcome.
People out on the streets, they don't know who I am
I watch blogs from my room, they are just passing by
I'm not just anyone, said I'm not just anyone...

Don't Be A Shamed: Why are there no black Senators? and, Civil rights movement boycotts Cincinnati; Cincy shrugs. Shamed should check out this fine article on the Cincinnati "race" riots.

Happy Fun Pundit: Very funny post about missing the Beam-bash boat; and he even gets in a good anti-Beamian point that I haven't seen elsewhere.

Glenn Kinen: Lots of Israel/Palestine/Jew-hating in the Arab world stuff.

Onealism: "Courtesy Catechism"; dogs should become conscience-stricken, but they should not become cats; and oh yeah, cool sermons and whatnot.

Sursum Corda: More good stuff on why the flesh is not a prison; Have you thanked your priest today?

For some reason, Emily Stimpson won't let you link to individual posts. So to read her good points on priestly celibacy, you'll have to scroll down to her April 3 posts.

Amy Welborn also takes on celibacy, with a terrific post from a guest-blogger. She's also got responses to her mountains of FoxNews-inspired mail.

The Yale Daily News: Every year or so, the YDN runs a column bewailing the lack of intellectual discussion at Yale. This is the best one I've read so far. Merriman identifies many of the reasons for intellectual apathy: relativism, multiculturalism/empathy-politics, and the whole "gentleman's C" mentality that ignores differences in order to get along rather than risking sharp disagreement. I had a completely different experience--but I got lucky one night, when a friend told me that some right-wing freaks were hosting a debate and serving free drinks. I feel sorry for people who never found something like that.
"Have a drink. I kept the bar open for you."
"Sure, I could use a little cooking sherry."

--Richard Widmark and Ida Lupino, "Road House"

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

And so I watched one, it became four...
And when I fell on the floor, I watched more.
Stop me, oh stop me if you think that you've watched this blog before...

OK, I have a lot of work this week so don't expect much. I promise to have another authority-and-Catholics-and-sex-and-the-Pope type thing up by Monday, for people who can't get enough of that wonderful Duff. And I'll try to have other fun stuff for you in the meanwhile. Until then, why don't you check out these swell folks?

The Edge of England's Sword: Collapse of Britain Watch; EU proposes law banning Jonah Goldberg's Bastille Day columns; unpopular monarchs of history.

The HokiePundit: Civil War history, with some information I did not know concerning the backgrounds and actions of the top generals on both sides.

Diana Hsieh: Stop and smell the cherry blossoms--but don't take photos.

Junius: The French have sent 1,100 extra police to protect synagogues. (Via England's Sword.)

Glenn Kinen: The four people who read this site and not InstaPundit should check out Kinen's excellent post on the European origins of Arab anti-Semitism.

Charles Murtaugh: A long, valuable piece on problems with adult stem cells. Challenges Michael Fumento's NRO piece.

Sursum Corda: Gay/dissenting priests aren't the problem. (I think this is naive, for the reasons Maggie Gallagher gives, and because SC seems to operate under the assumption that it's unusual for men to be attracted to adolescents. Some of these men may be sick. Most are not. Men like teenagers; this is news? If you give men authority over teens and their parents, extended private time with teens, stringent sexual morality amid a sexually insane society, and no guidance as to why the Church requires them to restrain their appetites--well, you shouldn't be surprised when priests abuse teens. However, SC makes some very good points about good gay priests, crusading anti-abuse dissenting Catholics, and the Church's need for openness rather than secrecy.) And two fantastic posts on the resurrection of the body and the Pope's physical frailty.

Veritas: New Catholic blog. Not liberal, not conservative, but Catholic; be like Aquinas--accept truth even when spoken by your enemies; excellent post on the Gospels, the ordination of women (he's agin' it), and the priesthood of all believers.
READER MAIL: THIS JUST IN, BARLOW STILL LIBERAL! Ted Barlow writes, "I'm still a liberal; I said yes to about 3 1/3 of the points, but I'd throw in a couple of more points to tip me over the balance. I
care about preserving progressive taxation, the environment, and gay rights, for example. I get upset at attempts to cut the NEA, and oppose the death penalty. I usually can't read Jonah Goldberg (for example) without wanting to scream. The conservative umbrella is pretty big, but it ain't that big.

"But I think you have an excellent point about the way that political labels are a significant part of social identity, more so than policy
positions in most cases. I know it's true for me; I try to keep an open mind, more or less, but I definitely feel that my social identity is more in line with the overall liberal vibe than the conservative one. And I'm a political junkie; the vast majority of people don't think about politics too much. If you live in New York, you're going to be exposed to liberal positions more often from people that you're comfortable with; if you're in Texas, the opposite is true. For just that reason, I think that Glenn Reynolds is exactly right in his wish that conservatives make an effort to act less like the preacher in Footlose.


"P.S. I almost forgot: here's an entry for the what makes America distinctive. The first winter that I lived in London, my fiancee went home for Christmas a few weeks earlier than I did, and I was feeling awfully lost and lonely. One night, I went to the movie theater to see David Lynch's 'The Straight Story' by myself. If you've never seen it, it's the true story of an old man who rode his tractor from Iowa to Wisconsin to reconcile with his brother. There are many lyrical scenes of Richard Farnsworth riding through idyllic Midwestern landscapes, but I actually choked back a tear when he rode past a family on the road, waved, and they waved back. I had frequently had that experience on the AIDS Ride the previous year, and I wanted to stand up and yell, 'They really do that in America!'"

My comment: Whoa. They don't do that in other countries? For serious? Can anybody give me the scoop on that?
READER MAIL: AMERICA. "Hi Eve: Well, maybe this is so obvious a point that e-mailing you about it is gratuitous, but the biggest difference of this country to me is the idea that it's a country of mind, not ethnicity. Natives and immigrants alike purport to subscribe to a set of beliefs rather than one ethnic stream of 'Frenchness.' It's that adherence to certain beliefs, in my view, that creates a dynamic culture in which, for better or worse, Americans of all stripes are always screaming about their individual rights, always debating the most mundane issues as if they were matters of high principle. It can make us preening and self-righteous and egotistical, but it also makes us dynamic; it was not long at all, for instance, before slavery and its contradictions became a major divide in American life as we argued how it would fit in with our beliefs, and ultimately, of course, it couldn't. The abortion debate is another example; we don't debate it, like the nations of Western Europe, as a medical or 'common-sense' matter, but as a rights issue, the rights of women versus the rights of fetuses. This streak in us often makes our politics and news tiresome, as everything seeming like a repeat of some previous issue. It makes us very impractical at times, with our tendency often to wait to act on important issues, like entering wars, until they've reached a crisis stage and can be viewed as a national crusade that in some way reflects our beliefs. But, as the Founders intended, it also works off much of the steam and keeps us peaceful. The resignation of Nixon, the battle for Florida in 2000, would have been events in many countries that created riots and demonstrations, possibly even civil war. Here, the tradition of debating our beliefs and our essential common faith in our institutions, despite all the grousing on the Left about the Supreme Court in 2000, for instance, nonetheless maintains a social order to which the majority ascribe. Instead of sparking a guerilla movement, the worst thing the election of 2000 produced was Michael Moore bitching on his book tour.

"This is a rambling e-mail, maybe too disconnected, but the more I see these things play out, the more impressed I am with this aspect of our country. I remember visiting Zimbabwe a few years ago and meeting some former revolutionaries who had studied in Ohio in the late 1960s. I asked them what they thought about the racial divide in America. Their take -- both are black by the way -- is that Americans both black and white are more alike than they often realize, that they shared a sense of entitlement, a conviction about their own individual rights, that created a common national character, sometimes aggravating but also charming, that stood out from other countries. I'm sure that's true."

My one caveat: Slavery was abolished in Mexico in 1829; Bolivia, 1831; throughout the British Empire, 1834; USA, 1865. One chilling aspect of US slavery was the fact that slaveholders often did acknowledge that it went against American principles--and they didn't do anything about it but fret. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just" is... well, it's a good quote.
BEST OF. I know it's a little early for this, but here's an EveTushnet.com Greatest Hits list, in case you're new to the site.
FOOD NOT BUMS (punks for welfare reform?)
JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY AS IF CITIZENS MATTERED. My take on Justice Scalia and his colleagues.
PORN WARS. Philip Roth and the meaning of sex. My first salvo, and second.
PRIMARY COLORS. That poll on Clinton's popularity among blacks.
WITCHES FOR JESUS. Should kids read non- or anti-Christian fantasy books? Why yes.
ANDREW SULLIVAN. My responses to him on Catholic stuff, here and here and here. There will be more of this soon, too.
TWO PIECES ON CHRISTIANITY AND COMFORT: General; and one on providence.
CONTESTS!!!! First, the original Rejected Campaign Slogans; the Contest winners; the new contest, which you all should enter!

That should give you a sense of who I am and what I do.

Also, if you're interested in their subjects, please check out my other websites: The Farm Dole (anti-farm subsidies); Questions for Objectivists (for Rand devotees); and Nietzsche's Rejection of Eros (my senior essay from college).

And, of course, I encourage you to browse the nifty links.
POETRY WEDNESDAY. From Philip Larkin:
In times when nothing stood
But worsened, or grew strange,
There was one constant good--
You did not change.
"She was as cute as lace pants."
--Mike Mazurki about Claire Trevor, "Farewell My Lovely"

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Cum on feel the noize... Girls, watch your blogs...

OK, that was better in the original. But here are three good links.

Blithering Idiot has more D.C. love.

The New York Times Magazine has a really good piece on priestly celibacy. (This is not an April Fools joke.)

And the Possumblog has a fun poll (Who is most deserving of the Croix de Grits, for service to the State of Alabama and the South generally?).
INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE ON ABC TONIGHT!: IJ, the spiffy legal team that helps cabdrivers, hair braiders, and poor kids, will be on ABC's "World News Tonight" talking about how Mississippi wants to snatch rural homes and give the land to Nissan.

The friend who told me about this writes, "Eminent domain is an issue like farm subsidies--some think it is boring, but it often involves scandalous behavior by the government and is of great importance to large numbers of Americans. It's the banal side of socialism."

Here's the IJ press release: "The Institute for Justice continues to bring the real-world impact of our cases into America's living rooms. Tonight, ABC World News Tonight will profile our eminent domain case in Canton, Mississippi, where we represent Lonzo Archie and other rural property owners who stand to lose their homes because the state wants the land to give to Nissan for a truck manufacturing facility. The ABC news feature follows on the heels of a six-minute segment on National Public Radio's Morning Edition in late March and a Wall Street Journal editorial in January. Please check your local listings for the time and channel of ABC World News Tonight (note that the scheduled airing of the piece may be subject to change pending breaking news)."
WHAT IS AMERICA?: I'd like to run a series of posts on things that make Americans distinctive--features of American life that few other countries share. Not a cheerleading series, but an attempt to figure out what makes this country what it is. I'll write up some stuff about immigration, and the pangs of exile, alienation, and guilt that an immigrant nation is heir to; American religion, religiosity, and fringe religion; and to what extent Americans are unusually philosophical and/or materialist. If people want to send me other ideas or posts, please do. I'll publish anything I find particularly striking. This'll be a recurring feature over the next few weeks.
CONTEST!!!!: The new contest is psychological in nature. It's inspired by an old Yale Free Press back-page ad purporting to list signs of right-wing pathology. The YFP ad featured a word-association test. For example, when left-wing folk heard the word "tolerance," they thought, "diversity." Right-wingers thought, "alcohol." More examples from the YFP:

WORD.......................................LEFT .............................................RIGHT
Health care............................Canada..................................................Tylenol & Smirnoff
Joe Camel.............................Public Enemy #1....................................Philosopher-King
Eve.......................................Framed..................................................Insufficiently meek
Global warming...................Mass death............................................Palm trees

And, of course, WORD: Leo Strauss. LEFT: Who? RIGHT: I did study with Strauss, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm a Straussian. I haven't said I'm a Straussian.

So, give me more word-associations! You have two weeks. Send 'em to eve_tushnet@yahoo.com. Some possible words to get you started: Plato; Nietzsche; peace process; neo-con; Clinton in Newsweek; Maya Angelou; love; sex; treason; vouchers; diversity. (And yes, I know that these lines are drawn somewhat arbitrarily and incoherently--especially when delineating "the Right." But work with me here, people...)