Saturday, July 31, 2004

I'm being repressed again

Among the top journalistic cliches about the Church, and a particular favorite of mine since, you know, I'm always feeling oppressed: The Church hates women. Thanks to Southern Appeal, I see this story in London's Guardian with the ominous headline Pope warns feminists: Bishops told to take hard line on issue of gender. The article (not the Vatican paper which occasions it) is quite entertaining. The Vatican is publishing a paper contra feminism, on "the collaboration of men and women in the church and in the world." Contrary to the currents of thought that would minimize or deny the real differences between men and women, yet would also set the sexes in opposition to each other, the Church speaks to the necessity of valuing women's femininity and maternal vocations while not being stuck in outdated conceptions of women's roles, but rather encouraging women's expanded roles and responsibilities in modern society. The document draws in great part on Scripture for consideration, starting with the original verses in Genesis which tell us definitively that God made us male and female. The importance of our dual natures is reflected throughout biblical history and the Church. It doesn't mean we aren't equally human beings and equally deserving of dignity and respect, but it does mean we are different in meaningful ways because of our gender.

All of this is, quite naturally, offensive to many, and as the Guardian reports, the document has drawn "scornful criticism" from - wait for it - "feminists and academics." I liked these quotes:

The feminist author Natasha Walter questioned whether there were essential differences between men and women at all.

"We have centuries and centuries of acculturation towards a 'vocation' of maternity, and men have only had a couple of generations of acculturation towards active paternity. Until we encourage men [to do more] it's too early to call on whether there are innate differences. The weight of tradition is so strong that it precludes the freedom to choose."

However, Eva Figes, whose book Patriarchal Attitudes was one of the major works of feminism's "second wave" in the 70s, said: "I have always thought men and women were different - we have better linguistic skills, for instance - but it wasn't politic to say so when I was writing 30 years ago."

She added: "The trouble is we all know the Pope's opinions on issues such as abortion and contraception."

Ah yes, we all know those. The trouble for Ms. Figes is, part of the reason the Church teaches the positions she does on birth control and abortion is precisely a deep concern for women, for their dignity and for the respect and reverence they are due by men (see, e.g., HV 17). Personally, I'll stick with the views that show a genuine concern for and understanding of my well-being (spiritual, emotional, social, and physical) than those of the feminists and academics. But thanks anyway :)

Friday, July 30, 2004

Embassy bombings

CNN reports that there were bombings at the US and Israeli embassies in Tashkent, Uzbekistan today. It might be related to the March suicide bombings there that killed several dozen (trials were beginning for those involved). There were several casualties, but I don't think any Americans. My best friend (in the Peace Corps) should be coming home in the next couple of weeks after two years of service. Please say a prayer for her safe return.

Rhetorical dissembling

Good column from Thomas Sowell today on the way in which everyone at the convention carefully sidestepped or somewhat obscured the actual facts of Kerry's political record.

John Kerry is running for a political office and he has a political track record that goes back 16 years in the United States Senate alone. The facts on how he has voted on innumerable issues are all on record. Yet everyone at this Democratic convention and on the campaign trail seems to want to talk about everything except that record. In fact, everything at this convention and on this year's campaign trail seems carefully designed to create the opposite impression from what Senator Kerry's voting record shows.

Over the years Senator Kerry has voted again and again to cut spending on the military and on the intelligence services. In short, his votes have weakened this country militarily. Therefore the rhetoric of the convention and the Kerry campaign uses the word "strong" or "strength" at every opportunity. . . .

The strenuous efforts of the Democratic convention and of the Kerry campaign in general to create an image that is the opposite of the reality tell us that they know where he is weakest -- and that they think the voters are fools enough to elect an image without bothering to check out the reality.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Find the real killer: sue a doctor

Ohio readers in particular, stop by Overlawyered this week - guest blogger MedPundit is posting, from the perspective of a Northeast Ohio physician, about the difficulties doctors face in our litigious society. One post describes a North Carolina suit against a hospital for malpractice, where a woman's husband had been diagnosed with cancer but not, apparently, exactly the right one (he did have cancer, they just thought it was a different kind). She sued on the theory that the hospital had somehow contaminated her husband's biopsy sample with other cancerous lung biopsy tissue or DNA (from someone else in the hospital at the same time - except no other lung biopsies were done that day). The chances of this "contamination" happening? The hospital's attorneys estimated it at 1 in 1.09 quintillion. Now, even assuming they underestimated a little bit, this maybe, rather possibly, just sort of seems to suggest a frivolous lawsuit. Here's a summary of how the parties stood by the time the jury finally found in favor of the hospital:

The jury's decision in favor of the hospital ended nearly four years of litigation in the case, costing Charlotte Regional "several hundreds of thousands of dollars," Putter said.

Though the jury sided with the hospital, Linda Brown said she was satisfied.

"The truth came out in public testimony," she said. "I did what I needed to do."

Linda Brown also hopes that her actions will help other patients at Charlotte Regional.

Brown's attorney, Tampa-based lawyer William Hahn, was not as satisfied with the verdict.

She took three-and-a-half years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and for the plaintiff it was all "to find out what happened" and learn "the truth"? I'm genuinely sorry that her husband died, but this action seems to have been wholly unjustified because it wasn't the doctors' fault. Well, at least she's satisfied. I bet the lawyers didn't take the case on just to find out "the truth," though, so it's understandable they're unhappy. As my contracts prof used to say, too bad, so sad. I'm sure they'll find another promising case soon. In the meantime, check out other posts this week from MedPundit, including this one on how tort reform really does appear to help limit malpractice suits, keep down prohibitive insurance costs that drive doctors out of practice, and decrease the costs of practicing "defensive medicine".

A hopeless case

Okay, this has got to be the most irrelevant gripe possible about Kerry's speech, but setting aside the veiled references to the FMA (with helpful code words "bigotry" and "fear"), expanding embryonic stem cell research (minus the "embryonic," naturally), etc., why does Kerry have to end to music from U2? I love U2. But it was not a beautiful day in Boston. *grumpy*


Outreach extravaganza

The other night I received an email detailing some of the good Senator Kerry's record on typically Catholic issues, such as consistently voting against a partial birth abortion ban, against DOMA, for greater morning-after pill distribution, etc. At first I assumed the email was from Crisis magazine editor Deal Hudson, whose weekly letter is usually pretty good. But then I realized that I was the target of an RNC Catholic outreach effort. (How did they get my email? Maybe from Crisis, who knows.) I suppose I'm glad the Republicans care enough to start highlighting Kerry's record to voters it matters to (and the record's bad enough that I already know it and wouldn't vote for him) but I maintain a reflexive level of cynicism about targeted outreach. Maybe it's the essence of modern politics - and after all, since interest groups have common interests (duh) it makes sense for parties to speak to those groups in terms they can relate to, in order to show how their interests would be affected by a candidate or party. But these targeting efforts are often overplayed by emphasizing solidarity a little too much, such that it can be pretty easily dismissed. Oh well.

For a bizarre example from the other side of the aisle, I notice the Dems are doing Hispanic outreach with an unusual spokesman:

"Si se puede!" former presidential candidate Al Sharpton screamed as he energized the Latinos for Kerry Caucus Monday in the Constitution Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel. The delegates responded by chanting the Spanish words meaning "Yes, we can."

Never mind that's not the precise meaning of the phrase - what the heck is Al Sharpton doing saying it?

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Masks and the macabre

Anthony Rickey writes that he would like to revive the masquerade, since "a masque sounds a marvelous mystery." To me, though, masks do not evoke a thrill of excitement or mystery so much as a rush of profound unease. With few exceptions (I don't mind Zorro's mask, for example, or Spiderman's for some reason), I simply don't like masks. In their hiding of the expressions that we use to connect with people, to read them as human beings, masks seem to cut off an essential element of humanity. And particularly with the kinds of masks associated with masquerades, as they are part of almost garish parties, masks appear so sinister as to be of Hell.

I know that sounds overstated, but I'm trying to work out exactly why I do have such a base reaction to people in masks. It's difficult to articulate - but at least I am not alone in having such a reaction; masks are readily found as part of disturbing imagery in literature and art. The first time I can recall having an aversion to masks came as I read the story of Montresor, entombing his friend alive in the catacombs underneath the streets of Rome, while the "supreme madness of the carnival season" whirled and danced overhead. Poe did not use much description of settings or actions to support the dialogue in his story, but the key phrase that impressed upon me came with Montresor "putting on a mask of black silk and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person." The whole scene is perfectly macabre.

"The Cask of Amontillado" shouldn't even be the first story of Poe's to come to mind, as he went even further in his depiction of the "Masque of the Red Death" and its hellish spectacles even before Death itself arrived in a mask:

He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm -- much of what has been seen in "Hernani." There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these the dreams -- writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps.

Other scenes in other works similarly disturb. At the lavish masquerade in Phantom of the Opera (the musical, at least; I don't know about the book), costumed guests dance and cavort on a stage drenched in red, while the Phantom, himself masked with a Death's Head, moves among them in order to terrify. Kubrick makes creepy use of masks in his bizarre extended orgy sequence in "Eyes Wide Shut" and conveys a strong sense of the animalistic or demonic. Dumas had his man in the iron mask, consigned to a living death with no identity. There are obviously less grotesque uses for different kinds of masks, but when I think of masked balls these images predominate.

Masks may give a sense of mystery, but for me at least that mystery is less intriguing than frightening. The kinds of ball I'd rather attend are those more formal types - I was invited to a ROTC ball once in college, and that was an excellent time (other ND formals, coming as they did at least twice a year for each of 26 dorms, were also great fun). Well, as they might say at the old Paris carnivale, chacun a son gout :)

Monday, July 26, 2004

New digs for La Shawn, and other blog stuff

La Shawn Barber has moved her excellent site off Blogger to, complete with nice new graphics, so visitors to her site please update your links and check it out. Another commentary blog to note is NRO's Kerry Spot, run by Jim Geraghty and frequently updated for conservative (or not?) watchers of the campaign. Finally, I've added Dawn Eden to my blogroll (not that she needs my link). She's very entertaining (and informative) to read.

Multiplying posts on "reduction"

Mediocre Law Student says I'm "at it again with the abortion stuff." Beyond the NYT story of the woman who aborted two of her children for convenience (article no longer on the Times site, but excerpted here), mls discusses other issues tied to abortion. Addressing some of his points:

First, yes, she may have made a bad decision by going off of birth control and continuing to remain sexually active, but must she be looked down upon for her entire life because of this bad decision?

A few points - one, Amy Richards never felt this was a bad decision (does mls? I doubt he thinks she had any obligation not to have sex if she didn't want to be pregnant, either, though I'd be happy to be corrected). It was one she was perfectly happy to make, since she wasn't planning to be bound the consequences. Two, I'm not looking down on her for the decision to keep having sex; I'm being critical of her subsequent decision not to accept responsibility for her actions by aborting the children she became pregnant with - where pregnancy had been an entirely foreseeable - and foreseen, in this case, and planned for - result of engaging in what is, after all, the reproductive act. My criticism was that if she knew she wanted to go off birth control but she didn't want to be pregnant with the children she might thereafter conceive, the intermediate step should have been to also stop sleeping with her boyfriend. Or, if she chose to continue being with him, to accept the notion that from her actions might (indeed, likely would) follow the creation of new lives - which she should have had no right to kill. To build on that point: mls says,

I think the fact that the woman lived in a five-story walkup was relevant. It’s also easy to laugh that off when living in the relatively-suburban city of Columbus, Ohio, where a five-story walkup probably doesn’t exist.

To the contrary, I think it's completely irrelevant (or should be). For one thing, take first year tort principles: you can't use deadly force in defense of property. Even if a robber - fully culpable - is breaking windows in your house, you can't set up a shotgun or electrocuting wires to kill him coming in, unless the action is in self-defense and your very life is at stake (or a reasonable person would think it to be so). Why should it then be acceptable to kill an innocent (or two, or three, as Ms. Richards has done) if all that is at stake is the possibility of having to move to Staten Island? It's a lifestyle change. Kids change your life. There's no denying that, and there's no denying it's challenging in the best of circumstances. But lifestyle changes or difficulties aren't a sufficient justification for preemptively ending a life. There was no argument here - and there isn't even for the poor woman in Harlem in mls's example - that the woman's actual physical life was at stake. She simply didn't want to shop at Costco.

Mls makes the argument personal by saying that I've "made more money this summer than most of these people/families probably make in a year" and don't know what it's like to be poor and pregnant. He's right on both counts. But what does that mean? I've also made more money this summer than I've ever made in my life, cumulatively, before. Does that mean I could legitimately comment three months ago on not having money, but can't anymore? I've never been pregnant and poor (though my parents have), but that's also because I've not put myself in a position to be pregnant (though if I had, I would accept that my child had a right to life, whether he could best be raised by me or someone else). I'm not being obtuse; I understand mls's criticism to be more that he thinks I have a failure of empathy and lack of standing to make the general statement that abortion is wrong. That's not the case, though. I don't discount that economic considerations can make an unexpected pregnancy very difficult. I think that for desperate women there can be a lot of very real emotional distress. I sympathize with women in tough situations and think that we have obligations to be supportive in our churches and communities to those in need, especially the most vulnerable. What I don't think is that even tough economic circumstances justify taking a life, at any stage. People have inestimably more worth than can be found by assessing financial statements and making utilitarian calculations.

But the answers all seem to come so easily to the conservatives in this area.

They don't come so easily - these situations can be tough, and answered of many different solutions; it's just that there is one answer that cannot be morally legitimate, and that is abortion (this is not even to mention the fact that abortion actually harms women and has other detrimental effects on society, in addition to, as mls acknowledges, disproportionately affecting minorities and poor women). It's easy to make the point that Amy Richards and other women who make this decision cavalierly (or even with distress or anxiety) should have accepted responsibility for the life they created. But the answer is true even in that one percent of cases where choice wasn't an option at conception, because when conception has occurred a human life has been formed, and the right to life is not variable with respect to economics. Especially for those women who did have a choice at the outset - they know what might happen, and once you're pregnant it doesn't matter for that baby's life if it was a mistake, or if it was okay until you realized there were triplets but you really thought "one was enough," or if you suddenly panic, or if there's likely to be challenges. We absolutely need to work on the solutions about how to support women in difficult circumstances (the women at After Abortion, for instance, are a great resource for healing ministries and nonsectarian support services), but it's morally reprehensible to suggest one solution is to kill the "problem," when that "problem" is a human life every bit as much as any of us here.

Addendum: Forget the economics arguments and hard cases; some abortion advocates (like Amy Richards) simply deny the humanity of the child in the first place and accept the logical outcome of that argument by becoming upset that any woman actually feels ashamed about abortion. That's at least a consistent position: why should abortion, after all, be a tough or gut-wrenching decision at all if it's just a parasitic bunch of cells you're getting rid of? Stop ceding ground to the anti-choicers by even saying abortion should be "rare"! At least that's the de facto position of Planned Parenthood (which currently has proudly advertised in its online store that "I had an abortion" t-shirts have finally arrived!) and columnists in the New York Times, like Amy Richards and Barbara Ehrenreich. David Morrison has a strong post saying these views shouldn't shock us - but they're taking us to a breaking point in society because they are both fundamentally incoherent and incompatible with simultaneous recognition in society in other ways that unborn children are in fact the human beings they are.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Oh, they tease

Dork alert: the title of Star Wars Episode III has just been released: Revenge of the Sith. Lots of people had predicted this title, but it's cool to confirm it finally. I think it works - as all good SW dorks know, Return of the Jedi was originally going to be Revenge of the Jedi, but George Lucas changed it to fit the story better (Luke wasn't supposed to be taking revenge on anybody, but marking the return of the first of the new Jedi in the galaxy). But this fits, because Anakin is looking fairly vengeful in all the still photos coming out of production. Very cool.

My complaint? Now we have to wait a few months more for a trailer, as these little tidbits are released one by one. Argh!

Hey - I admitted up front I was a dork :)

Friday, July 23, 2004

Celebrity marriage threats

What is it with some prominent famous people's inability to behave responsibly? Jennifer Lopez just got married (third time) to Marc Anthony, who left his own wife with their two kids (aside from the third child he has with someone else). Now Britney Spears, she of the 55-hour-marriage debacle, is engaged to a man who has a child with another woman (who he never married) - and that woman just gave birth to his second child three days ago. Again: he got engaged to another woman (who isn't especially likely to stick it out that long, given past history) while his other girlfriend was pregnant. So sorry about the children; he just didn't want to be there anymore for them or their mother, it appears. The Spanish have a phrase for this: sin vergüenza. Columnist Brent Bozell has more:

Federline does not exactly look the rock of future marital stability as he walks out the door. [Ex-girlfriend Shar] Jackson said of Britney: "She can't wreck a home by herself, but if you're a real woman and you find out someone you're seeing has extra baggage, you say, 'Go home and take care of your business.'" Jackson insists she's personally fine with her breakup with Federline, but can't explain it well to their daughter. "Hearing her ask for Daddy and he's not there ... That's the only part that hurts. That's it." Eventually, she'll have to explain that Daddy took off with the lady who sells sex on MTV. . . .

[Y]ou have to regret how celebrities and celebrity journalism have great potential to mislead the young into anything-but-glittery emptiness, with a trail of abandoned children as the ultimate victims and monuments to their unbelievable selfishness.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Time to move on

*Exasperation alert - and yes, I realize this is just a story the media jumped on before it's really timely* Apparently an Australian researcher believes that a deadly jellyfish could have the cure for male impotency. I'm sorry, isn't that problem more than solved already? I mean, I know it's important to civilization and all, but I had thought from the parade of commercials over the last several years (including the Levitra one where a woman is impressed by the "quality" of the results of the drug, and the one with old people sitting in bathtubs on a mountain) that we've got the answer in lots of happy pills. I hope no one actually pursues research in toxic sea animals. We really ought to move on to more pressing medical issues.

Balancing acts

I had wanted to link to a thought-provoking post entitled "the chick thing" by JCA at Sua Sponte. The question: how does a woman become a successful lawyer and have a strong family life? JCA reflected on the matter after attending a women's dinner at her firm and then going to lunch with a few women partners. Options for successful lawyers and mothers, she found, included: 1) husband works part-time, 2) husband stays home, or 3) nanny watches children.

I don't know. On one hand, I've got a bunch of friends who are all into attachment parenting, which is like, the baby at the expense of everything else. And that doesn't feel right to me. But then on the other hand you've got people like this, all work at the expense of everything else. And that feels wrong too.

One of the women she talked to was back at work within three weeks after having her first child. JCA doesn't think she wants children yet and doesn't plan to make partner in any event, but she is still concerned about the stories of the women she talked to:

I've never been hellbent on making partner; far from it, a firm seemed to me to be the springboard to a myriad other things rather than the beginning and end of a lawyer's career. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that people who actually took the partner track to its end would see that as the natural culmination of their profession. But I'm unconvinced. I'm all in favor of finding work that completely satisfies me; but even now, I'm certain that I'm going to need more than three weeks of maternity leave.

The question of how to balance work and family (where balancing is a choice - where work isn't necessary but is chosen), is always tough, but I think it's undeniably harder for women. Especially for professional women, who have the education, abilities, and opportunities to pursue what by any measure would be considered successful careers, it is not so clear if or how motherhood should fit into the picture. I've really enjoyed my summer at a big firm - the people I work with are great, and the work has been challenging and varied - and I'm looking forward to (hopefully!) coming back to work here after graduation. I'm not married so there's no husband or children in the picture yet, and this is the time of my life to focus in on building a solid career as an attorney, to be committed to the firm and the work. But what happens when the family does come someday? It's an issue most women will confront at some point in their lives. JCA's colleagues' views are somewhat unsettling.

I respect that there are lots of options for different people. Some women really can't take being out of the workplace for very long, just for their own personal fulfillment (and sanity), and so they choose to have nannies for their children. Other options are also workable and may even be best given certain circumstances. (Though in the case of stay-at-home dads, even with a great father, I just can't help but feel a mother's role is uniquely important.) Also, isn't there something regrettable about having someone else teach your child to say his first words? About not being there when your kid bursts through the door after school to show you the picture she painted for you? Raising children is messy - even as a sitter I dealt with my share of dirty diapers and bloody accidents and spilled drinks. Raising children is also less intellectually challenging - reading Goodnight Moon, cute as it is, over and over again can't compare intellectually with drafting a strong appellate brief in your multi-million dollar litigation. And it's probably less exciting to spend afternoons at the park than it is to meet high-profile clients at appointments around the country. But for all that raising children isn't nearly as glamorous a job as some professional ones, it is nonetheless an extremely important job, and it's one that demands a lot of time and energy to do right. How to balance these priorities, then, is a difficult question for women. I suppose one thing I like to believe is that with a professional education and background, it is always possible to briefly interrupt a career and take it up later on - because even if that means not being on the partner track, you could still have a very successful legal practice. But I certainly appreciated the insight from JCA's post - things to think about for the future.

Abortion and the truth

More information on the woman who aborted her twins so she wouldn't have to move to Staten Island (I wrote about it here): Mark at Southern Appeal notes that the woman, Amy Richards, is a leftist feminist who has previously written, "In terms of seriousness, a first-trimester abortion falls somewhere between having one's wisdom teeth removed and getting a biopsy." She's told her story to the New York Times as part of her apparent ongoing vow to get rid of the stigma of abortion - she didn't regret hers, you shouldn't either! I can't help but feel sad for her.

Lots of comments (some pretty strong) at Amy Welborn's site as well, and good post from Professor Sargent at Mirror of Justice. At first, he writes, "I thought it was a wickedly clever parody of an extreme pro-choice attitude." Unfortunately, it wasn't a parody. But again, I think now it's good if people like Amy Richards keep speaking out unapologetically. We should see what this is all about. The lies of abortion are serviced by concealing or twisting the truth, because if the truth were known it would show how ugly abortion really is. So stories like this one - and positive signs of truth like the new 4-D ultrasound technologies, and the powerful witness of post-abortive women who show grace and help with healing for those who have struggled with abortion or difficult pregnancies - all work to help us recognize more the value of human life.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Rhyme time

In a nice essay for lunchtime reading, Michael Knox Beran writes in defense of memorization in this quarter's City Journal. We've lost the art of memorization because we've decided it is too oppressive a way to teach and learn, Beran says. But to the contrary, memorization of poetry is a good way for children to develop language skills and cognitive abilities, and to gain a sense of words, speech and history:

Before a two-year-old can understand the meaning of Little Jack Horner’s plum or Little Miss Muffet’s tuffet—before he knows what it means to hop on pop or why the pobble has no toes—he delights in the rhythm and rhyme of the verse; and by hearing the music of the verse often enough he comes gradually to understand first the sounds and eventually the words of which it is composed. . . .

From The Cat in the Hat on up, verse teaches children something about the patterns and relationships that bind together the words of which it is composed. Poetry sets up an abstract system of order and harmony; the rhythm and the rhyme scheme are logical structures that a child can comprehend even before he understands the words themselves, just as he can grasp the rhythmic and harmonic relations of a piece of music. What the child discovers, in other words, is not only aesthetically pleasing, but important to cognitive development.

It's funny the way you can remember things like the earliest books you were read as a child, just because of the sounds. When I started caring for children (was a baby-sitter for ten years), I was surprised to realize as I read some old, familiar books to children that I was unintentionally reading in the exact voice and cadence my mother used to use. Kids just love hearing the same words over again, and eventually they come to understand them and start to read themselves. So why do we decry memorization of more complex language by older children and adults? I've hung onto fragments of "O Captain! my captain!" and verses from Emily Dickinson (for whatever reason, I always remember the morbid "Because I could not stop for death/ He kindly stopped for me") thanks to high school English. But education in the classics isn't a readily observable phenomenon much in our schools, and according to Beran that's probably because most schools of education eschew it. Now, I don't think everyone needs to learn Latin, but perhaps it's time to bring back memorization of poetry and prose from the century-old push to "progress" beyond it.

Lowry on Bush-bashing

President Bush is entirely justified if he ever has the feeling that he just can't do anything right in the eyes of his opponents. So says Rich Lowry, counting the ways in which it simply doesn't matter what Bush does - it will invariably be wrong to the critics. Never mind the internal inconsistencies among some of the arguments - it's just all bad:

If he warns of a terror attack, he is playing alarmist politics. If he doesn't warn of a terror attack, he is dangerously asleep at the switch. If he says we're safer, he's lying, and if he doesn't say we're safer, he's implicitly admitting that he has failed in his core duty as commander in chief.

If he adopts a doctrine of pre-emption, he is unacceptably remaking American national-security policy. If the United States suffers a terror attack on his watch, he should have pre-empted it. If he signs a far-reaching anti-terror law, he is abridging civil liberties. If the United States suffers another terror attack on his watch, he should have had a more vigorous anti-terror law.

Bush's economy hasn't created new jobs. If it has created new jobs, they aren't well-paying jobs. If they are well-paying jobs, there is still income inequality in America . . .

If he loses in November, the voice of the American people has spoken a devastating verdict on his presidency. If he wins, he stole the election.

As Blog o'DOB would say: Heh.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Death for mayonnaise

(I might be late to this story, but it was just emailed to me.) I have no idea what the point of this NYT Magazine article is except perhaps unintentionally to show the sheer banality of evil at work in the "choice" that is voluntary abortion. (EDIT: According to Kathryn Lopez at NRO, it may be the case the point of the story is to "tell the truth" about abortion in an attempt to make it more sympathetic. I suspect it will have quite the opposite effect, in which case maybe these stories should keep coming out.) We have here the story of a woman who became pregnant by her boyfriend with triplets. She'd decided to go off the pill (because she was tired of it), but not to stop being sexually active (perish the thought), and she and her boyfriend thought if they did become pregnant they would keep the baby. However, when she did become pregnant, it was with triplets, and this, it turned out, was too much of a shock.

My immediate response was, I cannot have triplets. I was not married; I lived in a five-story walk-up in the East Village; I worked freelance; and I would have to go on bed rest in March. I lecture at colleges, and my biggest months are March and April. I would have to give up my main income for the rest of the year. There was a part of me that was sure I could work around that. But it was a matter of, Do I want to?

. . . I'd have to give up my life.[] Not only would I have to be on bed rest at 20 weeks, I wouldn't be able to fly after 15. I was already at eight weeks. When I found out about the triplets, I felt like: It's not the back of a pickup at 16, but now I'm going to have to move to Staten Island. I'll never leave my house because I'll have to care for these children. I'll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise. Even in my moments of thinking about having three, I don't think that deep down I was ever considering it.

Got that? She wasn't married (mightn't she have thought of that ahead of time, and didn't this apply equally for one child?). She worked freelance. She might have had to buy big jars of mayonnaise. And so she looked into procedures whereby children are eliminated with shots of potassium to the heart, and she made the decision to "get rid of" two of her children - the identical twins. Momentary qualms:

Before the procedure, I was focused on relaxing. But Peter was staring at the sonogram screen thinking: Oh, my gosh, there are three heartbeats. I can't believe we're about to make two disappear.

It's hard even to read something like this. Two heartbeats, gone. And she was relieved because "smells no longer set me off and I no longer wanted to eat nothing but sour-apple gum." I make a few observations. One thing the woman felt she had missed growing up with a single mother was perhaps a higher level of economic security; in this case, her concerns about income (which might similarly have been alleviated if she was married) helped her decision to abort two of her children. What a shame for her and her children that this should have had to enter her thinking. Also: It's true that multiples pregnancies carry higher risks for children and mothers, but there was no indication in this case that mother and children weren't all perfectly healthy - certainly no indications that life-threatening conditions were probable. This woman seized on vague concerns about (non-indicated) health complications as a rationalization that she was going to be avoiding "trauma" for herself if only she aborted two of her children. Yet the only "trauma" cited here is bedrest (not uncommon for multiples pregnancies) - and the possibility of shopping at Costco. Inconveniences, yes. But justifications for abortion? Finally: Doctors apparently look to eliminate in selective abortions (pardon: the euphemism is "selective reduction") the fetuses that are "struggling," but in this case the only apparent reason the twins were selected for abortion was because they were three days younger. But they had to go. Otherwise, she might have had to move to Staten Island.

Lord, have mercy.

The luv airline

Had a great time in California this weekend at the wedding of one of my college roommates. She looked beautiful - beaming all day, and her husband is a fantastic guy. As this was definitely a Domer wedding, the couple came into the reception to the tune of the ND fight song. It was very appropriate. Also, it was interesting that my friends picked out a different set of readings for their Mass than is customary. The first reading in particular was one I'd never heard before, but it was very meaningful, as the story of Tobiah and Sarah rising on their wedding night to pray together for God's blessings (Tob. 8:4-8). My friends are two people who have placed God at the center of their relationship, and like their gospel reading said (Lk 6:46-49), their house will be built on rock and not on sand. It was pretty cool to witness :)

The flight home was quite entertaining, as the Southwest crew was in fine form even by their standards. Among the lines that flew by quickly:

- "We don't anticipate this happening, but in the event of a change in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the panels above you. Then, stop screaming, and place the masks over your nose and mouth like this . . ."

- "Folks, we're about 70 miles west of Phoenix. We'll be making a turn over Winslow, Arizona, but we won't be standing on any corners. And then we'll be headed towards Albuquerque . . ."

- "Folks, please be careful when standing up, for your safety and the safety of those you might fall on."

- "Please exercise caution when opening the overhead bins. It's been more than four hours since your bags have seen you, and they might jump out on you in their excitement."

This was in addition to the Irish brogue at the start of the flight announcing our destination to be Dublin. "Ay, glory be. So good to be headin' home to th' Emerald Isle again . . ." Everything was off just enough from the standard lines to amuse. So with the Eagles stuck in my head all day, I was reminded even as it took me an overlong time on various modes of public transportation to return home, that I should really just take it easy :)

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Christian libertarianism and FMA

Back in May, I blogged a bit about the compatibility (or not) of Catholicism and libertarianism (see here , here, or here). I think it's an interesting question. I consider that my understanding of libertarianism may not have been as accurate, though I think my ultimate conclusions were in accord with the Church's perspective on such things - particularly as expressed in the encyclicals Veritatis splendor and Centesimus annus and their discussion of Scripture. I don't believe Christians can take a laissez-faire approach to government; we have an obligation to be active witnesses in our society, participating in and helping shape society, doing more than just advocating a minimalist principle of government (such as, for example, 'actions should be permissible under the law to the extent they don't hurt another'). With the positive Christian commandment to love our neighbors, we should hope that society is shaped a bit more positively than that - so while always respecting free will and diversity of thought, we should still be playing an active role in the governance of our own society to promote virtue to a reasonable extent.

Despite my interest in this topic of Christianity and libertarianism, I had intended not to revisit it - but it's a particularly timely one, it appears. I came across this post from Joshua Claybourn on that precise topic with reference to a marriage amendment. Joshua defends a libertarian approach to the FMA as being completely Christian, with a strong and persuasive argument: "The state should not be called upon to bring about the virtuous life. The price is subservience to the state," he writes. Still, I disagree with his conclusions as regards to Christian responses to marriage in our society. (I haven't been talking about religion with regards to SSM over the last few days - my positions are religiously informed but not uniquely religious, and I believe arguments for FMA may be made entirely without reference to religion, but stand on their own social policy or legal process analysis.) In any event: over at Letters from Babylon, Joshua Davey has an excellent response (IMO) to Joshua Claybourn's thoughts, discussing marriage in the Christian understanding and the public square. He concludes:

I’ll say that I believe Christianity and libertarianism are simply incompatible. Yes, Christianity recognizes the God-given freedom to make moral choices. It does not follow from this that what people do with that freedom is no business of the state. On the contrary, it is incumbent on the state to safeguard the good of the people. Quite simply, homosexual marriage is not the interest of that good. What’s more, I don’t believe Christians have available to them the option of passively permitting homosexual marriage to become reality, commenting approvingly on the libertarian notions their view embodies and thinking their own freedoms are safer for it. Rather, I believe Christians are called to be salt and light on this earth—to do whatever we can to effect God’s Kingdom in our lifetimes—whether that be through church, social action, or the political process. We must use every means at our disposal to fulfill that calling. Marriage was created by God. It consists of a lifetime union between one man and one woman. The state cannot change that. And as Christians, I believe it is our duty to do what we can to safeguard God’s intentions for his creation.

Edit: Another response to Joshua Claybourn, by Eric Seymour, has been posted at Joshua's site - the post is addressed primarily to Christians who are undecided on the right tack to take in response to SSM, even if they oppose it.

Site notes

I've updated my Moritz blogroll on the left, given a few happenings -- Podraza has decided to end his blog (though with a very thoughtful post on libertarianism), and zipsix is about to end his as well. I added our school's professors' blogs, including that of Professor Berman, who was quoted in yesterday's Post (cool stuff). Finally, thanks to Denise at Life, Law and Gender for the link to my site. As she notes, we disagree on a lot, but it's good to listen to each other and I appreciate her comments. And besides, she's Irish :) Thanks also to Prosecutor's Spot for the link (like Chris, I'm unsure if this is a Moritz grad or not, though it seems so).

The friendly skies

I'm heading out of town for the weekend (from BWI, which I've been to but haven't flown out of before). With an extensive family history in the airline industry (both grandfathers, father for awhile, brother), I've always enjoyed flying and am very comfortable navigating airports. But, I used to enjoy flying a bit more before September 11. I do like self-check-in, but whenever possible I avoid checking bags (an extra long line to deal with), and even when I wear my non-security-alarm-setting-off outfit, I still get asked to take off my shoes. This causes, I admit, some grumpiness. Oh well. I love Dave Barry's take on things:

We're entering the busy summer air-travel season, which means the airports will be swarming with millions of vacation travelers, all of them ahead of you in the security line, many of them with the intelligence of an avocado.

No, that's unfair to avocados. I say this because of the passenger behavior I often observe at my local airport, the Miami International Permanent Construction Zone and Narcotics Bazaar. Every security checkpoint there is festooned with signs informing you, in several languages, that you must produce two things: (1) your boarding pass; and (2) a photo ID. Also, there are people announcing in loud voices, "Please have your boarding pass and photo ID ready!" Also, as you near the checkpoint, you can see that all the passengers in front of you are being required to produce a boarding pass and a photo ID.

If there were an avocado in the line -- even a non-gifted avocado -- at some point it would grasp that it needed to produce a boarding pass and ID (which would say "Avocado"). But many human air travelers cannot manage this feat. Dozens of times, I have stood behind people who are taken totally by surprise. A boarding pass! And an ID! Of all the things to need, here at the airport! And so they start rooting through their belongings, while those of us in the line roll our eyes, and the avocado rolls its pit.

Shedding light on the bureaucracy

The Journal's Claudia Rosett continues to report on the billions-dollar scandal that was the U.N. oil-for-food program with Iraq, in light of new reams of documents released by the U.N. recently:

Had the U.N. been forthright about Oil for Food, there might have been no need last summer for Pentagon auditors to check the strangely high prices on many Oil for Food contracts, and report back that this U.N. relief program had entailed a spree of overpayments for such stuff as Tunisian baby food and Syrian bathroom sets--overpricing being a route for Saddam's regime to collect kickbacks from U.N.-approved suppliers. And had the U.N. published this latest leaked list, even in its current form--which, as a printout instead of a computer file, does not lend itself to a quick search--perhaps someone during those interminable Security Council fights of early 2003 might have gone through the painstaking job of adding up what France and Russia were actually raking in from Saddam's regime. Please stay tuned, especially should anyone now choose to leak the U.N.'s secret list of individual oil contracts, which would help complete the picture.

Agree or disagree with the war, the notion that Russia, France, and the U.N. had primarily principled opposition to the war, instead of opposition premised on lucrative contracts and strong financial interests they had with Saddam, seems ever less credible.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

FMA redux

The FMA cloture vote failed today, as expected. The issue's still ripe, however. Accordingly: Thanks to Fool for his thoughtful response to my post of Monday. To address some of his objections:

To characterize the issue as “‘merely’ trying to upend an institution…” is more than insulting. What it implies is that the purpose - and the only purpose – to seeking the right to marry is to “upend an institution”. This, of course, is ridiculous. While some may believe that SSM may indeed alter the institution of marriage as it has been known, it is wholly insincere – if not dishonest – to imply that the reason is to nefariously bring down the institution of marriage.

Indeed, no supporter of SSM has articulated a goal of upending “traditional” marriage. That is a fanciful ambition created by those who oppose SSM – not those who support it.

Homosexuals are “merely” simply seeking the right to marry a person of their own choosing. Those who oppose SSM are the one’s who have ascribed evil goals to those who seek marriage equality.

I do not believe that most supporters of SSM have nefarious motives; indeed, I acknowledge that most are people of good will who sincerely and honestly see nothing wrong with allowing two people who love each other, regardless of gender, to be married. However, the idea that SSM may "alter the institution of marriage as it has been known" is not one of subjective belief, but of objective reality. SSM does change, even upend, the institution because "marriage," though varying in some particulars, has always been about joining men and women together. That's the definitional understanding. And it's always involved certain strictures; the right to marry has never included a conception that one may marry anyone (or any ones) of one's choosing. Kay Hymowitz makes the point in the new City Journal (forgive the longish excerpt):

The anthropologists are right about one thing: human beings have come up with almost as many ways of getting hitched as they have languages to tell mother-in-law jokes. Some cultures allow only monogamous marriage; some accept polygamy. In many cultures, the wife moves into her husband's family's home; in others, the husband moves into the wife's; in still others, they get a mortgage and move into their own two-bedroom ranch in Levittown. Though most cultures give husbands the primary responsibility for providing for the children, some make the wife's brother—the baby's uncle—responsible for providing the food and the bow-and-arrow lessons. Some cultures don't allow divorce; some allow divorce but not remarriage; some allow divorce if husbands fork over most of their life savings to the likes of Raoul Felder; and others let a guy say "I divorce you" three times before booting his wife out the door.

This protean diversity is central to today's marriage debate. If marriage is, as these examples suggest, an eminently malleable social construct, why shouldn't society shape it any way it likes, especially by letting gays marry each other?

But beneath all the diversity, marriage has always had a fundamental, universal core that makes gay marriage a non sequitur: it has always governed property and inheritance rights; it has always been the means of establishing paternity, legitimacy, and the rights and responsibilities of parenthood; and because these goals involve bearing and raising children, it has always involved (at least one) man and woman. What's more, among the "startling diversity" of variations that different cultures have elaborated on this fundamental core, our own culture has produced a specifically American ideal of marriage that is inseparable from our vision of free citizenship and is deeply embedded in our history, politics, economics, and culture. Advocates for gay marriage cite the historical evolution of that ideal—which we might call republican marriage—to bolster their case, arguing that gay unions are a natural extension of America's dedication to civil rights and to individual freedom. But a look at that history is enough to cast serious doubt on the advocates' case.

Now, many SSM advocates believe honestly that they would be strengthening marriage by buying into and participating in the ideal of lifelong monogamy. This is respectable. But this is still an incomplete understanding of what marriage involves as part of its very nature (like complementarity) and what its purposes are in society (like encouraging stability in families for purposes of raising the next generations), particularly with respect to children. And there is also the fact that many SSM advocates do seek to undermine what marriage is, and see SSM as just one step in a natural "evolution" or shifting paradigm into ever-more-flexible and fluid family arrangements. Take one half of one of the first gay couples to marry in Provincetown, Mass., in May, who likes marriage but not, you know, the expectations of monogamy that might imply: "[H]e says the concept of forever is 'overrated' and that he, as a bisexual, and Rogahn, who is gay, have chosen to enjoy an open marriage. 'I think it's possible to love more than one person and have more than one partner, not in the polygamist sense,' he said. 'In our case, it is, we have, an open marriage.'" Legal scholars, law professors at prominent universities, and prestigious institutes, like American University's Nancy Polikoff and the American Law Institute, are already looking beyond gay couples when it comes to marriage: "What about the younger heterosexual couple who also want intertwined lives without the full economic entanglements of marriage?" it is mused, not rhetorically. "Or the widowed mother who is economically dependent on the son who is also her sole caregiver? Or the two friends who decide to raise a child together but who aren't, and don't want to be, married? Or the lesbian couple who want their child's biological father to be a recognized part of their family? When is the law going to catch up with them?" This is radical stuff, intentionally breaking down the ideas behind marriage and leaving them behind. Lost somewhere in the mix are children -- whose mothers, to take one example, proudly announce their rejection of the important idea (otherwise considered a huge part of the understandings of marriage) that children need their fathers in their lives: some are now selling kids' t-shirts saying, "My daddy's name is Donor." I'll give the benefit of the doubt and say that some, or even most, of this may be well-intentioned. But there's no doubt it's part of a radical shift in our definition of marriage, one that does not admit of any easy limiting principle.

Moving on, Fool is right to express concern that there are still people, some in positions of power, who believe gays should be institutionalized. That's wrong. It is definitely a matter of concern. But my point in saying that the vast majority of people do not want to deny that gay people exist or deny actual civil rights, was to challenge Andrew Sullivan's apparent contention that those who support FMA and want to protect marriage are just crazy "fundamentalists" who would rather pretend gays don't exist. That's not the case. It is the case that many people who are otherwise benignly tolerant of what people do in the bedroom, who have no problem with their gay friends or co-workers, or who would be happy to support hospital visitation rights, inter alia, may nevertheless oppose SSM - or may oppose SSM being imposed by judges instead of by popular determination.

Why did I say that marriage was being "hijacked by an elite group"? Because these ideas about marriage moving publically beyond gender, beyond (in some cases) two people, beyond (for some people) monogamy, beyond children, are not popular ideas. Congress voted overwhelmingly just eight years ago to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Thirty-eight states have voted to do the same. People generally oppose the idea of SSM by about a 2 to 1 margin. But the elites who have a lot of influence and in some cases authority to say otherwise - like judges, law professors, journalists - think that this popular idea that marriage might have non-arbitrary and important reasons for being between a man and a woman is outdated, exclusionary, discriminatory, hateful, and even (and not unrelatedly) - unconstitutional. Taking the law inexorably in this direction, with careful legal reasoning, has the effect of changing what is acceptable in society simply by creating faits accomplis. Sure, the people could disagree with the ruling in Massachusetts - but two years after the fact. It's a lot harder to take away a status than it is to stop it from being given in the first place. Some people may see nothing wrong with that, but I think that it's wrong to go around the legislative process in such a way for what is a radical redefinition of a central institution of society, and for what is not a clear-cut matter of "civil rights" - because no "right" to marry someone of the same sex has ever existed.

I've said before that if the judges properly left SSM to the legislatures to decide, I'd accept it if the people ultimately chose to legalize SSM - for this reason:

A large part of my issue with judicial activism is the idea that process matters. I don't want to lose on the merits of the SSM debate in the public square, but I would accept it so long as I felt I had had my fair say in our democratic system. The courts for the most part are designed to be beyond public accountability, however, and when they start making policy judgments the validity of our entire system is undermined. As Justice Scalia noted in Casey, the people shouldn't be lobbying courts for their preferred outcomes of cases (keep abortion legal! outlaw abortion!) because judges aren't supposed to take account of personal preferences (as expressed by the public or themselves) at all, but are only supposed to interpret the laws as written or gauge their constitutionality with narrow reference to what the Constitution actually covers. Lobbying and popular persuasive efforts should properly be directed towards legislatures - the policy-making bodies. We accept the results of such efforts because we have all agreed to accept the process by which such results are derived. But with the courts jumping in to make non-constitutional policy judgments, whole segments of the population are denied their fair chance at the process. The process - the rule of law, our agreed-upon method of self-governance - should be protected.

I do support FMA as a national solution, to stop judicial activism on the matter and on the merits (not to exclude gays, but to preserve marriage for our society - continuing also in other ways to strengthen marriage, like tougher divorce laws - but that is a workably state-based effort). Fool asks, "Is addressing the matter state-by-state with the “ultimate goal” of securing nationwide recognition any more deceitful that than citing restraint of activist judges and the preservation of the sanctity of marriage with the “ultimate goal” of excluding gays from marriage nationwide?" The difference is that one tactic, that of Lambda Legal and the ACLU, circumvents the legislative process. Asking for a nationwide vote on FMA does precisely the opposite. My point is that, considering that a state-by-state solution is unworkable, we're heading towards a national solution one way or the other, and I think one answer would have more legitimacy than the other.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Comments on marriage

Chris directs our attention to the president's radio address on Saturday, which he terms "awful." Samples of the terrible language:

A great deal is at stake in this matter. The union of a man and woman in marriage is the most enduring and important human institution, and the law can teach respect or disrespect for that institution. If our laws teach that marriage is the sacred commitment of a man and a woman, the basis of an orderly society, and the defining promise of a life, that strengthens the institution of marriage. If courts create their own arbitrary definition of marriage as a mere legal contract, and cut marriage off from its cultural, religious and natural roots, then the meaning of marriage is lost, and the institution is weakened. The Massachusetts court, for example, has called marriage "an evolving paradigm." That sends a message to the next generation that marriage has no enduring meaning, and that ages of moral teaching and human experience have nothing to teach us about this institution.

Sounds pretty solid to me (indeed, my only, continuing objection is to the president's repeated use of the retronym "traditional marriage"). But not to Andrew Sullivan, who terms the address a "hysterical screed":

No mention of the actual people affected by the amendment - gay couples merely trying to live lives of commitment and love. No understanding of the real Constitutional issues involved - just an hysterical screed against "activist" courts. No mention of the fact that 38 states have already banned equality for gays in marriage. . . But Bush is a tool of the fundamentalist right - a movement that seeks not simply to keep marriage for straights, but to strip gay people of dignity, rights, protections and equality. If he were to call us by name, he would violate the fundamentalists' belief: that gay people don't exist, that we're sick heterosexuals, that we need to be put in therapy or jail.

If gay couples were "merely" trying to "live lives of commitment and love," they could, of course, already do that. But of course this isn't "merely" about living lives without undue interference from the state, it's about "merely" trying to upend an institution that has existed around the world since pretty much the beginning of civilization. No one's trying to pretend homosexuals don't exist; I doubt the vast majority of those who support marriage believe gays are sick or need to be put in jail. They're just trying to ensure that marriage isn't hijacked by an elite group that, as the president noted, believes marriage is an "evolving paradigm," with malleable meanings and variable permutations, instead of the bedrock institution it is. Defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, and keeping marriage a unique status in law and society, is necessary to stop judges who, current trends indicate, are quite likely to ignore the 38 states (and U.S. Congress) that have passed Defense of Marriage Acts. The ACLU, one of the most zealous pro-SSM advocate groups, certainly is acting as though DOMA is fair game, and acting on the assumption that the 38 states won't hold; they've filed lawsuits in several states (most recently Maryland). They may be suing with reference to state laws and constitutions now, but their ultimate aim is no secret and they estimate, with some grounds, their odds of success as being pretty good in the courts:

Will Lawrence [v. Texas] help bring down "don't ask, don't tell" and bans on same-sex marriage? In time, yes, although how much time will depend. Lawrence largely erodes the underpinning of both. . . Lawrence doesn't establish full equality, but no single Court decision ever does. What it does give us is both the political and legal basis for full equality, with all the moral authority the Court can muster.

Well, I wonder why people are concerned the courts are going to override the popular legislation on this matter? The Federal Marriage Amendment is necessary to stop the courts and some local officials from overriding the will of the people on a matter they have every right to speak on. A state-by-state solution can't workably exist in this country; we must hold the line and protect marriage here, as we also continue to work to strengthen it in other ways. This is not hatred, this is not denigration of people; it is a serious and pragmatic step to bolster the institution, so much under attack, that is essential to stable society. I appreciate the words from the president, and particularly from Senators Brownback and Hatch, who understand the reasons why the passage of FMA is so important. The Senate needs to let the American people have a chance to vote on this, by not allowing the amendment to die in Washington. It may not pass this time, but if we wait too much longer, it will probably be too late.

The party with feelings

The Democratic Party leadership still feels our pain. In an interview with the Post printed yesterday, Senators John Kerry and John Edwards let us know that they're with those who have "genuine feelings," such as inchoate rage toward President Bush. Take Thursday's fundraiser, at which various celebrities mocked and attacked the president as a "cheap thug," a killer, a liar, and an idiot, among other things, all to the candidates' apparent amusement and assent (there were no objections made at the time). Kerry and Edwards don't agree with this, mind you, but they can't control it, and besides, said Kerry, "we understand the anger, we understand the frustration." Regarding anti-Bush diatribes such as at the fundraiser or in Fahrenheit 9/11, Edwards said that they show "expression by folks with genuine feelings," and then he contributed a trite, "Thank goodness in our country they have a right to express those feelings."

Well, of course these people's feelings are genuine and heartfelt and sincere. (It would be hard to maintain such a level of vitriol for so long if you were faking it.) And I too am happy we live in a country where people can express their feelings. But my question is: so what if the feelings are genuine? That doesn't mean anything. Just because people really, sincerely feel that Bush is an idiot doesn't mean they're right, or that they're more deserving of a voice or of a sympathatic ear than those who only sort of halfheartedly think Bush is an idiot. Nor does the sincerity of their feelings mean that expression of their feelings is necessarily appropriate, such that the Democratic candidates for president and vice-president should be seen associating with them. By passing off these undignified, crass attacks as inappropriate, but really understandable, Kerry and Edwards try to have it both ways. They play to the Oprah/Clinton crowd that celebrates the unmitigated expression of feelings, while attempting to distance themselves (but not really) from the ones they belatedly realize are over the top. The regard for actual facts and public dignity gets lost somewhere along the way.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Community life

One of the reasons I've looked forward to moving out to D.C. (not that I've finally done it yet, but after two summers here I'm still planning to next year) is that I think there is a strong Christian community out here to tap into. Certainly working at the Family Research Council last year gave me a great sense of that, but also all the Catholic groups and institutions out here (CUA, JPII Center, the Bishops' Conference, active parishes, etc.) show there is a sizeable Catholic population here. I think that impression has really been validated this summer.

First, happily though somewhat accidentally, I found what could possibly be one of the most Catholic law firms in the city. Then, I noted a link off Mark Shea's site the other week for a series of talks sponsored by the archdiocese for young adults at a local pub (thanks to for posting the flyer). So this past Tuesday, I went to the first talk for "Theology on Tap," expecting maybe ten people to show up. Instead, the place was packed. The speaker, the aptly named Father Pope, was engaging; the people were nice; and the atmosphere was great. It was just about the closest I've felt to being back at Notre Dame since I left - and it led to another archdiocesan group event the next night, a discussion group for the Pope's book Love and Responsibility. It is pretty neat to find that the community here is as hoped.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Moral confusion

Though I thought he had given up even the pretense of being "personally opposed" to abortion, it appears that John Kerry has been channelling Mario Cuomo (it still pains me no end that the site of Cuomo's seminal speech on religion and abortion was Notre Dame). In Kerry's recent statement that he acknowledges life begins at conception, but that separation of church and state means he can't legislate this "article of faith," I find the sheer unworkability of this "personally-opposed" shtick to be more apparent than ever. I can't add much to what has already been well said around the blogosphere (and I've commented on this in the past several times). It is simply reprehensible both to acknowledge an innocent human being's life and still to promote at every opportunity, as Kerry does, the unfettered right to kill it. The fact of life does not depend on any sectarian viewpoint; it is basic biology. It is a hopelessly confused (or deliberately disingenuous) notion of "separation of church and state" that can maintain that a politician's understandings of biology and human rights, where such understandings may be religiously informed but not uniquely religious, should be absent from the public square. Religion should not be used as a reason to refrain from protecting innocent life; if anything, it should be used as an impetus to act to protect that life. Kerry's position is simply untenable. Now, the hope should be expressed that if the senator takes what he has said to heart, maybe this can be the start of a conversion for him; a recognition of the life of the unborn could lead to an understanding of the moral evil of abortion. It's just that, given Kerry's perfect record from NARAL, that seems unlikely to be the case.

I do point to this strong post from Joshua Davey at letters from babylon in particular:

I find Kerry’s statement about not legislating an article of the Catholic faith on everyone else interesting. Perhaps if he’d said he didn’t feel he could legislate the mass, confession, or the veneration of the saints on others I would find his statement less objectionable. But a belief about abortion is a fundamental belief about the nature and value of human life—certainly, it seems to me, an appropriate area of governmental oversight. I fail to see why the fact that a fundamental belief of this sort comes from one’s religion, rather than from some other source, means it is off-limits in the legislative process. If religion is out, what sources of morality can the legislator rely on in proposing laws? What’s more, it is hardly the case that the pro-life position is merely an article of the Catholic faith. Plenty of non-Catholics also hold this view, and plenty of Catholics hold it for reasons other than that it is the position of their church.

For other takes, see La Shawn Barber, CKW, David Limbaugh, and Rick Garnett at Mirror of Justice. I also note, via Amy Welborn, that the Republicans are quite happy to embrace their own Cuomo Catholics at the convention this summer. Brilliant.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Bring on the trial lawyer

The Post looks today at John Edwards's assets and liabilities to the Democratic ticket, as an accomplished trial lawyer. On the plus side, he brings in an awful lot of money. He knows how to sell a persuasive story to the ordinary people of a jury - and (the campaign hopes) to the rest of us. But on the minus side, the plaintiffs' bar is, to understate matters, not so well-liked by businesses, physicians and others of us who are really sick and tired of the over-lawyering of America. Professor Bainbridge has more:

They're all right that constantly calling John Edwards a trial lawyer may not directly change a lot of votes; indeed, I'll concede that in some places (Madison County, Illinois?) it'll probably help the Dems. But here's what Reynolds et. al are missing: John Trial Lawyer Edwards is going to re-energize key segments of the GOP base who might otherwise have wavered. Doctors. Small business owners. The US Chamber of Commerce. The Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers. All part of Bush's base, but all wavering due to Bush's free spending ways, Iraq worries, the economy, etc. All of those folks, however, have a deep animosity towards trial lawyers. The prospect of having a trial lawyer one heart beat from the Presidency will re-energize them to contribute to Bush, the RNC, and the emerging pro-Bush 527s. If Bush makes real tort reform and class action litigation reform campaign issues, they'll do even more for Bush.

I heard on the radio this morning that a Maryland physicians' insurance program was raising premiums 41 percent, driving physicians out of the state and out of certain practice areas (like obstetrics) almost entirely. It's a familiar story, happening in states around the country. Now, I don't know how much damage a President Trial Lawyer could really do to tort reform efforts, but it's clear that businesses and physicians are concerned, and their credibility's higher with me than ATLA's. That's irrelevant, of course; but the relevant point is that businesses' and physicians' concern could have real effects on the election, as they are now going to be more energized to support President Bush.

Keep this in the news

Maybe I'm just not seeing the articles elsewhere (which is likely enough, I concede), but the Wall Street Journal is the only place I routinely see follow-up stories on the incredible corruption of the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food program in Iraq. Today's paper carried an editorial by the chairman of the independent inquiry committee into the scandal, which implicates billions of dollars and corruption at high levels.

Grave charges have been made that, whatever the humanitarian purposes, billions of dollars were lost in the process, $4 billion to $5 billion by a preliminary estimate of the U.S. General Accounting Office. Critics have cited evidence of failures of effective oversight by the U.N. and its agencies. Examples have been published of underpayments for oil sales, overcharging for poor quality food and medicine, and imports of nonessential goods. A systematic pattern of kickbacks and bribery is alleged to the benefit of Saddam, his friends and others, extending even to charges of corruption by at least one senior U.N. official.

Most of the article here just describes the people to be involved with the investigation, and their aims. I hope that they are allowed to do their job, with the full cooperation of U.N. officials and staff. I'm not entirely optimistic, though I don't question the integrity of the investigators. I'm just not sure an investigation will do much to restore credibility to the U.N. In many ways, with many programs, the organization does a great deal of good. But this is a body where Libya can chair the Commission on Human Rights; it was never much a source of moral authority or legitimacy.

Date stamp (random thought)

Something triggered a stray thought today about a particularly strange comment from the D.C. Bar Awards Dinner a few weeks ago. During an otherwise perfectly pleasant tribute to firms' pro bono work in the area, the outgoing president gushed about the work one firm had done in the Grutter v. Bollinger affirmative action case of last year. They took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, she said, and won, happily "to keep race a factor in university admissions!"

It struck me that her words would not have been out of place in Birmingham 60 years ago. Moreover, it rather conflicted with the celebration later that evening of the original desegregation opinions in Brown and Bolling. But, the statement passed and was met with applause. Naturellement.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Population shifts

In yesterday's Post, political science and international politics professors Valerie Hudson and Andrea Den Boer point to a burgeoning crisis in the world's most populous countries: too few girls. Ordinarily boy:girl ratios are about 105:100 - but currently in China and India ratios are running up to 120:100. This drastic imbalance has many causes -- "one-child" policies; cultures that, for various reasons, value boys over girls -- and it is brought about by ugly means -- abortion and infanticide. It also has potentially serious international social and military implications:

We have already seen in China the resurrection of evils such as the kidnapping and selling of women to provide brides for those who can pay the fee. Scarcity of women leads to a situation in which men with advantages -- money, skills, education -- will marry, but men without such advantages -- poor, unskilled, illiterate -- will not. A permanent subclass of bare branches [a Chinese term for men who are "branches of the family tree that will never bear fruit"] from the lowest socioeconomic classes is created. In China and India, for example, by the year 2020 bare branches will make up 12 to 15 percent of the young adult male population.

Should the leaders of these nations be worried? The answer is yes. Throughout history, bare branches in East and South Asia have played a role in aggravating societal instability, violent crime and gang formation.

Though the existence of sizable numbers of bare branches is not a necessary condition for instability -- the sex ratios of Rwanda in 1994 were normal, for example -- it plays a significant role in the amplification of levels of instability and threat.

. . . There are very few good options for governments that find that their greatest threat emanates not from an external source but from an internal one.

Demographics are going to play a significant role in the course of world events in this century. The birth rate is below replacement level in Europe (lowest in the two historically most-Catholic countries of Italy and Spain) and Japan, and the population is rapidly aging and shrinking. Arab immigration and higher birthrates also are having significant impact on European demographics. Similarly, in America, the only reasons we are currently staying above replacement level rates are higher Hispanic birthrates (we're taking over the country :) and immigrants from around the world. (Abortion has done its part in the West as well.) Europe slowly dying and Asia expanding means a shift over time in the world center of power, for better or worse. But with serious sex imbalances in the most populous Asian nations, it doesn't seem that there can be a "better" associated with that aspect of the demographic situation in India and China. There is clearly some reason for concern, or at the very least, heightened awareness of the situation.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Panoply of rights

In a story The Fool and I can love, the ACLU is now asserting a "right" for 11- to 18-year-olds to attend nudist camps unaccompanied. Via Volokh, I see that Curmudgeonly Clerk is on the case with a rather scathing commentary (note, link contains reference to some disturbing cases):

I am once again cheered by the ACLU's commonsensical defense of our liberties. After all, it's only a nudist camp for 11- to 18-year-olds. What could possibly go wrong? But see United States v. O'Malley, 854 F.2d 1085, 1086 (8th Cir. 1988) (noting that the "Defendant detailed his experiences with a number of children at a nudist camp several years before, and noted that during his stay he became involved with an eleven-year-old girl").

Counting blessings

My birthday was Wednesday, and it was a blast :) My officemates were really thoughtful, as one sent me an e-card with singing pigs, one got me a cookie (coconut macadamia nut, mmm), and one helped find me lunch plans (I would've been happy with my turkey sandwich, but I have to admit Tortilla Coast off Capitol Hill was much more fun). My boyfriend sent me flowers at the office, my siblings all called, and my dad actually came into town to take me to dinner (Ruth's Chris at Dupont, very nice). Finally, it was definitely the most geographically diverse set of friends I think I've ever gotten to hear from in one day - I had friends call from Las Vegas and Long Island - and Australia and Uzbekistan. Très cool.

I was grateful to all of them more than they knew, and I feel very blessed to have the friends I do. I guess I just wanted to share how happy I felt that day!