Sunday, November 30, 2003

America turns into Korea

With all the Koreablogger posts critiquing Korean selfishness, it's refreshing to note that we have our own consumerism-fueled, high-octane brand of it right here. So it's with great pride that I pass along an article on the AOL news service whose link is titled "Crowd Tramples Bargain Hunter." I won't link to it, since non-AOLers won't be able to view it. Instead, I'm quoting the article here in its entirety.

Woman Knocked Unconscious While Shopping

ORANGE CITY, Fla. (Nov. 29) - A mob of shoppers rushing for a sale on DVD players trampled the first woman in line and knocked her unconscious as they scrambled for the shelves at a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Patricia VanLester had her eye on a $29 DVD player, but when the siren blared at 6 a.m. Friday announcing the start to the post-Thanksgiving sale, the 41-year-old was knocked to the ground by the frenzy of shoppers behind her.

''She got pushed down, and they walked over her like a herd of elephants,'' said VanLester's sister, Linda Ellzey. ''I told them, 'Stop stepping on my sister! She's on the ground!'''

Ellzey said some shoppers tried to help VanLester, and one employee helped Ellzey reach her sister, but most people just continued their rush for deals.

''All they cared about was a stupid DVD player,'' she said Saturday.

Paramedics called to the store found VanLester unconscious on top of a DVD player, surrounded by shoppers seemingly oblivious to her, said Mark O'Keefe, a spokesman for EVAC Ambulance.

She was flown to Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, where doctors told the family VanLester had a seizure after she was knocked down and would likely remain hospitalized through the weekend, Ellzey said. Hospital officials said Saturday they did not have any information on her condition.

''She's all black and blue,'' Ellzey said. ''Patty doesn't remember anything. She still can't believe it all happened.''

Ellzey said Wal-Mart officials called later Friday to ask about her sister, and the store apologized and offered to put a DVD player on hold for her.

Wal-Mart Stores spokeswoman Karen Burk said she had never heard of a such a melee during a sale.

''We are very disappointed this happened,'' Burk said. ''We want her to come back as a shopper.''

Kinda sad.

(With thanks to my brother David, who pointed this story out to me.)

Proximate Testicles in a Single Scrotum:
The Jewels of Catholicism and Buddhism, and the Perils of Comparison

Ryan over at Ryan's Lair posts on supposed parallels between Tibetan Buddhism and Catholicism. Ryan quotes an 1835 essay by scholar Isaac Jacob Schmidt. In part, the quote says (re: the rise of a "dominating priesthood" in "semi"-barbarous Europe and Asia):

Every spiritual corporation, just as soon as its power is able to reach a certain height and to govern and dominate the benightedness of the ignorant masses arbitrarily through the mental predominance of an elevated culture, will not fail to demonstrate similar manifestations at any time in any country, but these manifestations must gradually grow more obscure and disappear eventually just as soon as the inheritance of all humankind, namely the spirit of examination, discrimination, and knowledge, gradually achieves maturity.

Ryan is both amused and wistful. He comments:

I miss the days when scholars could write with this kind of frank criticism of religious traditions, and with such naive optimism in anticipation of mankind's future Enlightenment. Now we clumsily hide our theological ambitions behind a refined veneer of philological and historical detachment. Sad.

The optimism was indeed naive; I think we've learned (or most of us have learned) to temper our optimism/idealism with a good dose of realism and historical perspective. That's not meant as a critique of Ryan's remark; it's more an observation of where much religious academe currently is (excepting those faculties too snowed under with PoMo nonsense to see straight).

Some remarks about Buddhism and Catholicism:

The monks of Haein-sa made it a point to tell me, in 2000, that they appreciated the Catholic clergy who would visit the temple to discuss religion and meditate. There seemed to be, according to these monks, something about Catholic mysticism that lent itself more easily to pleasant encounter. It wasn't the grating "I'm right, you're wrong"-style confrontations that almost always marked Protestant/Buddhist exchanges.

You know, there's something to be said for contemplative spirituality, whether monotheistic or Buddhist. I've always tended to believe that adherents of the mystical/monastic strands of the great traditions will have an easier time "understanding" each other than the rest of us proles. The monastics of various religions can look at each other and know that their interlocutors understand what it means to live according to a Rule, a disciplined routine (be it crafted by St. Benedict or Pai Chang Huai Hai)-- to turn inward, to be silent, and perhaps above all, to be attentive.

This demeanor is largely absent from Protestant Christianity in the worship context, though plenty of Protestants are, in their private lives, quite contemplative. I find it unfortunate that we Presbyterians don't generally go for things like silent retreats when we're together. When I gave a talk on Buddhist-Christian dialogue at my church in early November (barely a day after arriving home!), I deliberately subjected my three dozen listeners to about 30 seconds of silence. Why? Because that's not what we usually do.

We Protestants are all about expressing faith, fortunately or unfortunately-- it becomes very much an outward thing, with our "passive" liturgical moments spent listening to sermons. In other words, there's little to no time for silence during the liturgy (except for maybe 15 golden seconds after the Prayer of Confession).

[NB: This merits a fuller discussion, I realize, but bear with me.]

It's nice to think that contemplatives are touching something profound, some subtle ground available to all, some fundamental Oneness lying at the heart of the All. But do monastics/mystics in fact have the same deep experiences? If we toss aside my romantic notions of contemplative spirituality for a moment, we have to admit that there's no easy answer to this question.

Some academics, like Stephen Kaplan, take a constructivist epistemological approach and firmly conclude that mystical experiences are irreducibly diverse-- there's no getting past cultural and mental filters, no clear separation between what mediates experience and "experience itself" (if that phrase means anything). On the fuzzier end of the spectrum, you have people like Frithjof Schuon (not exactly respected by all academics) arguing that mystical experience takes place at an "esoteric" level familiar to all mystics no matter their background. Hindu and Buddhist epistemology ranges all over: some ancient thinkers minutely parse the experience of moving toward and attaining enlightenment, dissecting the mind; others are content to speak of "direct seeing" and leave it at that. No easy answers.

People need to beware facile comparisons of religious traditions, though-- the danger of homeomorphism highlighted by Raimundo Panikkar and others (e.g., don't hastily equate the Christian God with the Hindu notion of Brahman just because they're core terms in their respective thought-worlds). Buddhism and Catholicism are a comparativist's wet dream-- all the more reason to proceed cautiously.

For example, when we approach Buddhism and Catholicism on the institutional level: the Dalai Lama isn't a Buddhist version of the Pope. Yes, like the Pope, the Dalai Lama is a religious leader who doesn't represent the entirety of his tradition: the Pope doesn't speak for Protestants, and by the same token the Dalai Lama doesn't claim to be other than a Gelugpa monk. But when you examine Their Holinesses' functions more closely, there are glaring differences. The Pope is indeed the temporal head of the Roman Church, but his role is tied in with a pervasive notion of magisterium-- teaching authority-- which has no direct parallel in any form of Buddhism I know of (maybe some elements of Pure Land come close in terms of propositional belief, but I doubt you could build a strong case for that). In that sense, the Dalai Lama doesn't actually "speak for" all Gelugpa Buddhists in quite the same way that the Pope speaks authoritatively for (and TO!) Roman Catholics. To look at it another way: nothing theological is stopping a Japanese Soto Zen adherent from traveling to Dharamsala and enriching his practice by learning at the feet of the Dalai Lama. If the Soto Zennist views the Dalai Lama's words and practice as somehow wrong or mistaken, there's little institutional or doctrinal reason for such a conviction: it's more likely a personal matter (note to scholars: I'm aware this is an oversimplification of both Christian and Buddhist cases).

Compare the Buddhist situation to the obvious theological gulf separating Protestants and Catholics. It's exceedingly rare for Protestants to request an audience with the Pope. And why should they, for anything other than a photo op? Protestants for the most part don't subscribe to an intercessionary theology/cosmology requiring temporal intermediaries. "What can the Pope do for me that God Himself can't do directly? Why should God have to act through anyone when I'm already in immediate communion with Him through prayer, study, and daily living?" the Protestant naturally wonders. Many Protestants are also exclusivist in outlook and theology, while the official Catholic stance since Vatican 2 has been inclusivist (for a discussion of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism-- especially pluralism-- see my essay here). If your branch of Protestantism hasn't worked out how to be "in communion with" the Roman Church, then technically speaking, you're not supposed to participate in the eucharist during a Catholic mass. So far as I know, no such ritual/doctrinal limitations exist among the various strains of Buddhism. There's nothing in Buddhism analogous to the idea of various Christian denominations being "in communion" with each other; as far as lay practitioners are concerned, affinities in Buddhism will have more to do with historical/cultural evolution than with brute doctrine. If you're into Vipassana but want to try something along the lines of Kwaneum Seon (Seung Sahn's Korean Seon/Zen sect), simply come on in and follow the house rules, baby!

Moving back to the general level, I'll note that folks who know little or nothing about Buddhism tend to view the Dalai Lama as a Buddhist pope while further assuming that all Buddhists view him as their ultimate temporal authority. That's a huge mistake. Properly speaking, Buddhism has no magisterium per se; the only "teaching authority," if we insist on misapplying this term to Buddhism, is your own experience. Also, Buddhism has no "closed canon," which means it's prey to the "protestant impulse"-- schisms happen easily and frequently, which has resulted in a huge and still-burgeoning variety of Buddhisms, none of which look outside their own sect for "ultimate authority."

"Boom! Your experience!" Korean Master Seung Sahn bellows. Buddhism's big on upaya, expedient/skillful means. Go with what works. Does Soto Zen work for you? Fine; keep it up. Do you prefer being handed a kong-an and chewing on the hwadu? Go for it, but practice deeply! This doesn't mean you should be constantly skipping around like a shopper (I'll save my rant about the market approach to spirituality for another day), but it does mean you're not forbidden from peeking over the fence to see what others are doing, and even crossing over into their yard. But not crossing over is also OK. All the Zen monks I've heard will advise Christians and Muslims and other theists: "Want to deepen your practice? Be a better Christian (etc.)." They won't demand that you renounce your religion and become a Buddhist adept-- keep right on going to church! And that's a far cry from the Roman magisterium.

Most Christians, however, do have to worry about doctrine, theology, etc. The denominational divisions are often quite real and deep. If you're a townie living in Sheep Vagina, Kansas, where the locals and church buildings are all lily-white (and the Christianity is, too), and if your family's unrepentantly Baptist, you can bet your unreconstructed white Protestant ass you'll have a hard time skipping off on a lark to a mass down the street with a Catholic friend on Sunday morning (in fact, why are you hanging with those godless Catholics, anyway?).

And beyond denominational issues, there are interreligious ones: if you, a longstanding member of The First Sheep Vagina Baptist Church, ever expressed sincere curiosity about what the Jews were doing on the other side of town at the Beth-el Synagogue, there'd be hell to pay. Monotheists, much more than Buddhists, tend to believe that birds of a feather flock together.

[NB: I'm thinking mainly about how it works in America; obviously, there are reasons why the situation is often different in Asia. If you're interested in my take on American Buddhists who get too doctrinaire, try this essay on the "hidden Christ" of Beliefnet Buddhism. I haven't written anything about Buddhist demographics in Asia (the "birds of a feather" issue), mainly because I don't know enough to write at length.]

Enough rambling.

Just as you should beware my generalizations, you should also beware too-easily-formed religious parallels. Parallels do exist, because people are people; but people are wildly complex, even more so when you have to talk about them corporately in terms of history, traditions, institutions, and beliefs. Watch how you compare. Approach the comparative problem with some perspective, but also with more questions than prejudices. Be ready to be wrong as well as right.

the flapping ass cheeks of international politics

North Korea seems more and more like a giant colon. No, strike that-- I actually value my own colon. North Korea's more like a colon in someone else's dead, rotten body.

At this point nothing North Korea says can truly surprise me, but this doesn't stop me from being annoyed by its imbecilic rhetoric.

How's this for an article title?

"N Korea Demands Compensation from US"

And a sample of the voluminous projectile defecation in question:

North Korea on Saturday demanded compensation from the United States for suspending a deal to build two nuclear power plants in a move likely to complicate upcoming six-party talks on its nuclear programme.

"The US has a legal obligation to compensate for the loss of electricity it caused to the DPRK by deliberately delaying and completely suspending the construction of light water reactors," the official KCNA new agency reported, quoting the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

The Korean Peninsular Energy Development Organisation (KEDO) announced a week earlier it would suspend construction of two reactors after judging North Korea had failed to meet necessary conditions to continue the project. The KEDO suspended work from December 1.

North Korea considers that the two reactors, built in exchange for a promise from Pyongyang not to build nuclear weapons, should have been completed in the year 2000 and that the United States was responsible for the delay. "It should pay penalty, i.e. damages, incurred by its non-compliance with its commitment to provide the LWR (Light water reactors)," said the Rodong Sinmun, adding that the North Korean government "is determined to certainly force the US to compensate for all financial and material losses it caused."

"Determined to certainly force the US..." ? GOOD FUCKING LUCK. The reply I wish we'd make: "We don't owe you BALLS. Dear Leader, we hope you enjoy a warm Christmas by the local mass grave, gnawing on recently deceased patriots."

It's the Islamofascists' dirty secret, long known in North Korea: martyrdom makes you tastier.

new addition to the blogroll: AnalPhilosopher

I'm not usually into blogrolling someone unless I'm a frequent visitor of that person's/group's blog. And ever since the Maximum Leader pointed out Dr. Keith Burgess-Jackson's AnalPhilosopher blog, I've been visiting it rather often. Recently I saw that he'd blogrolled both me and the Maximum Leader; that cinched it. Burgess-Jackson writes a good blog, so he's on the blogroll, even if I have no goddamn clue why I'm on his. I disagree with much that the good professor writes, but disagreement's the spice of life.

a question I was recently asked

"Would you eat a lump of dung for a thousand dollars?"

I decided to answer this question seriously: There is no amount of money that would motivate me to eat a lump of crap. However, if it meant saving the life of a friend or family member, I'd scarf that puppy up without question and demand seconds.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

and in the "I Shit You Not" category...

Two items of marvel:

1. Lord of the Rings inspires supergeekery on an almost Star Trekkish scale in New Zealand.

2. Chairman Mao... rap artist?

Jesus. More signs of the Apocalypse.

le parcours coréen

Koreabloggers have been on a rampage.

Mike at Seeing Eye Blog fisks an Aidan Foster-Carter article that seems a little light on substance and heavy on the Bush-bashing. He also informs us of another traffic death caused by a US soldier... who, like a dumbass, attempted to flee the scene. I have no sympathy for the soldier, who should've acted like a man and stood tall to face the consequences, but also no sympathy for the Korean public, which is bound to overreact to this while ignoring the fact that Korean drivers crush and mangle fellow Koreans more often than foreign drivers do. On a positive note, I hope that every flareup of anti-Americanism drives home to Rumsfeld et al. that our troops have no business being where they're not appreciated.

Which leads me to the Marmot's fantastic post titled "Don't lecture the Americans about friendship." I almost cheered. The Korean attitude contains a high bullshit factor, and I'm less and less sympathetic to it. My only caution, as I mentioned a while back re: France, is that we shouldn't slide over to treating South Korea as if it's the enemy. It's not, and I don't think that kind of black-and-white attitude serves any constructive purpose. SK isn't proving itself to be much of a friend, true, but all this means is that it's high time we packed up and went home. If SK wants to stew in its own perceived helplessness (the litany of "we cannot help but..."), then let it stew.

Choice slice of Marmot:

To the extent that South Korea is "dependent" on the United States, it's by choice, not the result of some terrible systemic bind that the ROK finds itself in. Given the overwhelming superiority of the ROK over its northern adversary in just about every category that is used to calculate national power, the United States could leave tomorrow and South Korea would still be able to not only defend itself, but unify the peninsula by force if it simply put its mind to it. The ROK relies on the US military because, frankly, its cheaper for it to do so, and that does not, in my book, translate as "dependence."

And if you think that by cutting deals and playing nice to the genocidal Stalinists that rule the northern half of this peninsula will somehow restore your "racial/national pride," you've got another thing coming when unification is finally achieved.


Your "Achilles [heel]" is not your "dependence" on 37,000 American servicemen. If you wanted to become self-sufficient militarily, you could do so overnight. But then, that would require resolve, and that's your real "Achilles [heel]." To "free" yourself from your "dependency" (by choice) on the American military, you'd have to raise defense spending to levels consistent with your security situation AND make changes to the draft. But to do so is expensive, both economically and politically, and would require the government to dispense with the pro-North Korean crap and explain to the voters the reality of the situation. So Seoul simply relies on the Americans to provide it security. But make no mistake about it - this is a choice, not an unavoidable concession to systemic realities.

Friend...or parasite?

I love it.

In the fisking vein, Brian the Vulture deconstructs the South Korean reactions toward a standardized test containing a question with two correct answers. The test is to be regraded, with points given to those who were initially marked wrong. The problem: the people who benefit from the regrading may "bump down" those who initially got the question "right." The Vulture's sharpest peck:

"I cannot understand the decision," says one student, who apparently turned his brain off once the big test was over and done with. As if the idea that students get due credit for their work was some sort of alien construct.

Giving the cheated students two points is the right, and fair, thing to do. In fact, it's probably the only way out of this disaster, as you can't very well not give credit to students for [answering] a question in a manner the test-makers admit is correct. But those that got it "right" original[l]y aren't having it... because they know it is likely that they will be pushed down the ladder a few notches as a result.

This whole embarra[s]sing episode brings to the forefront the ugliness of Korean selfishness that has arisen due to the dog-eat-dog nature of this broken society they have created. Like everywhere else in Korea, the "winners" in this battle aren't interested in doing what is right... they're interested in doing what is best for themselves. And if the situation was reversed, everyone would just switch sides and do the same thing.

There is zero empathy for others... no consideration for others. You'd think one of the kids who was lucky enough to get his answer marked "correct" from the start would think to himself, "You know... if that had happened to me, I'd be angry, and I would want the extra points. I think they should get them." But of course, that's not how Koreans operate. It's survival of the fittest... and luckiest... and they'll do anything to keep those below them right where they are.

Where the hell is this society going?

Meanwhile, Kevin at IA has a great piece on the Nestle Korea labor situation. It appears that management has stood firm and, in the end, few concessions were made to the workers. Kevin also writes on the "State of the Union" in Korea. The zestiest bit of incest is this diagnosis, Zen-like in its directness: elected the corrupt, dumbfuck children.  Next election, you'll elect more of the same as long as they tell you how they intend to "stand up" to Dubya.  You'll believe it.  They'll go to Washington and cower.  You'll protest.  Rinse.  Repeat.

Also posting about the traffic death, the Infidel remarks:

The good news (if one can honestly say that at a time like this) is that Sgt. Jerry Olken is in ROK police custody, which means the ROK-US SOFA Agreement is working. South Koreans might have rioted in 2002, but if USFK continues to cooperate with ROK authorities, then South Koreans cannot complain that USFK was not honoring the agreement. I'm sure many will say far worse, but not that. In international conflicts involving diametrically divergent cultures, keeping to the letter of the agreement is about the most that can be expected.

Let's hope so. But the Infidel also calls me out for my comments in Mike's blog:

I would also caution Kevin Kim to refrain from such incendiary statements as he made in the [SEB] Comments, because hopefully the papers will not be full of that trash from tomorrow. If USFK leaves, it's not with [its] tail between [its] legs in a storm of fury, but because there's a sound reason to do so.

I don't think what I wrote was all that incendiary, and I'm way too small-fry to catch the attention of any journalist even if it was. I wrote:

On the bright side: another anti-American flareup might make administration officials strongly reconsider leaving ANY of our troops on the peninsula.

This doesn't strike me as the least bit dramatic. First, we can be pretty sure a flareup will happen, because that's what Koreans in groups do: overreact. I'm not worried about what I can't control. If Koreans are incensed by my point of view, that's really their problem, not mine (and this is consistent with the Infidel's larger point: don't worry what the oversensitive are thinking). Second, Korean anti-Americanism is already a reason for considering troop withdrawal, even if it's not the most significant one. Third, if we go, I don't think we'd be leaving with our tails between our legs at all. If anything, it's a sign of either laziness or complacency if we don't make some significant changes in our troop presence. Rumsfeld is right on this score, but I think what we're seeing right now is a flaccid compromise: a pull-back and not a pull-out.

My point, which I probably should have stated more clearly in the SEB comments, is that I hope the anti-Americanism makes people realize we don't need to be where we're (1) not appreciated and (2) not really needed. This would also be a shot in the arm for a Korean sense of responsibility. The four words Koreans simultaneously want to hear and dread to hear are: "You're on your own."

(Or is that five words...?)

Kirk of It Makes a Difference to the Sheep quotes Mark Steyn, who deems the NK regime "not long for this world." Kirk remarks:

"Not long for this world," is, of course, sufficiently vague as to absolve Mr. Steyn of any credibility problems should North Korea still be around in, say, a year. But what about two? Five? Ten? How much longer does the DRPK need to last before the End of North Korea crowd starts chewing on crow?

In other news...

If one hunger strike isn't enough masochism for you, how about two?

Noh Mu Hyon, apparently still intent on giving up his job, has expressed willingness to face a corruption probe. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

"The strife-ridden labor situation in Korea will deteriorate."

So: is the South Korean economy improving or isn't it, dammit?

And finally: an unintentionally funny lament about the Korean educational system over at the Chosun Ilbo. Gone, gone, gone are the days when the US looked Asiaward for wisdom about how to educate the people. One of the benefits of deeply exploring a problem is the occasional realization that the devil's in the details: you can't simply overlay a so-called "Japanese/Korean paradigm" atop the American system and expect American students to react to it as Japanese and Korean students do.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

the turkey poem

it knew this day was coming
it waited up all night
the turkey wouldn't take this crap
it knew it had to fight

it saw the farmer walking
across the muddy ground
the turkey started growling
and frothing like a hound

the farmer, he was ready
he had a mess of tools
he gave the bird a leering grin
--it bit his family jewels

the farmer started howling
he grabbed his lucky axe
without a second thought he gave
his crotch about ten whacks

the turkey grinned in triumph
each time the axe would fall
the turkey, biting, dodged and leaped--
the farmer minced his balls

and now you know the story
the true and awful tale
a turkey lived to see the day
a man ceased to be male

In honor of martyred turkeys everywhere. Happy Thanksgiving.

The Air Marshal Outlives Jesus

I've known the Air Marshal since the 7th grade. He's always been a man with a plan-- great at math and science & just about everything else, following an inevitable life-arc (well, it seems that way in retrospect) to his PhD in engineering. He's Den Beste, but with a better sense of humor. Now that he's outlived Our Lord and Savior, it's time to throw out some random names, places, and events that will be meaningless to 99.9999999% of the wider blogosphere, but which will doubtless strike a chord in the AM's vast über-consciousness:

Andy Poore
Barry Sperling
Mr. Gray
Mrs. Price
Ms. Spettel and The Constantly Reappearing Stripe
Geza Gyuk
Mr. Weaver
Ian Poulin and the back-slapping (am I spelling his name right, or is it "Poulain"?)
[UPDATE, June 12, 2005: Ian wrote in to say it's "Poulin."]
Myrtle Beach and projectiles down stairwells & off balconies
Madame Moriarty
Mrs. Hale... then Ordway-Hale... then Ordway...
Mr. Tippins
Jacob Bronowski: "Left hand. Right hand." (my book is currently ranked higher than his on Amazon!)
Mrs. Harder (cough)
Mr. Kendall
his daughter Mandy (yum)
Kristi (yum... calves)
Gary Young
George Dirner (he gave me Eric Hoffer's The True Believer to, er, send me a message)
Mr. Privette
Mrs. Waller
Mrs. Landgrabe & AP French
Mrs. Jones & prudery
Ms. Oxley
Dotty Feldman
Mr. Chieffe
Mr. Hyer
Bobby Brown (the one WE know)
Ron Green
KNEE (glad it wasn't me)
movies and more movies
a long, long time at VA Tech
Ed Cunningham
Ben, Jim, Dave Price

The AM calls it like he sees it. He's never been shy about disagreeing, and he won't hesitate to tell you you're full of shit. He's the reality principle at work when it looks like I'm being too abstract or too lofty; he's the quick analyzer who can parse a problem (and see trends) more readily than I can, and he's one of the most mentally disciplined people I know.

The above seems to describe him in terms of limits and restrictions, so here's a more positive spin: he won't admit it, but he's got cartooning talent dating back at least to 7th grade. He plays guitar (Dr. doCarmo was just reminiscing that you were his first jamming partner). He's philosophically astute, probably because he hasn't made a career of philosophy. He's much more taken by Lord of the Rings than by the Matrix series. Like a lot of us, he's a disciple of JK Rowling. He's got a wonderful wife and a great daughter, and part of their wonderfulness (if that's a word) comes from his being a great husband and father.

Good thing he's also a great friend.

The only thing I'll reproach him is that he failed to remind me that Wednesday was his birthday. I had to remember that all by myself.


Happy Belated Birthday, man. Congrats on leapfrogging the Son of the Living God.

Oh, yeah-- his wife loves him because he's got an 8-inch-long prehensile tongue.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

something wicked this way waddles

I wonder how many of these turkey-killing methods are real. My favorites:

...electrocution! Take a simple extension cord and cut off the female end. Separate the 2 wires and strip each for about 2 inches. Remove a few feathers from the neck and one leg. Wet the skin. Wrap the bare wires around the exposed skin on the neck and leg. PLUG 'ER IN! The turkey will stiffen and be dead in @ 20 seconds. Now cut the throat to let it bleed, and it will do so nicely. Some folks think this method to be the best, as they think it tenderizes the bird.

(David C)
If you leave them hanging upside down for a few minutes before cutting them they go kind of comatose. If you cut the throat quickly and cleanly you can easily get out of the way before the flapping starts!

"Before the flapping starts."


cute fishies

How could I have missed this?

no yang without yin

Earlier, I contended that for every hypothetical destructive/bad effect you can put forward, I can come up with a constructive/good one. No yang without yin. Implied in this idea, of course, is that it works both ways:

Automakers are packing cars and trucks with new devices to increase safety for motorists, such as air bags that can fire off twice or are located in doors or roofs, but the same equipment poses dangers to rescuers, who often aren't aware the hazards even exist.

"Pre-tensioning" seat belts, which use a charge of gunpowder to yank against an occupant during impact, can explode in the hands of a firefighter working to cut someone free. A retractable roll bar that springs up behind the seats in some convertibles can cause serious injuries to an unsuspecting paramedic. Metal detonators tucked into rooftops to inflate side curtain air bags can go off like missiles if cut into by rescuers, firing into the cabin of the vehicle.

Cars today are "a loaded bomb waiting to try to hurt us as responders," said Lt. Mark McKinney, a vehicle rescue specialist with the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue.

Good Christ.


Maximum Leader: Must Read

Great, great post by the Maximum Leader re: his take on the legislative vs. judicial issue. Lots of meatiness, and for me personally, many issues clarified.

One quick note: I didn't mention the 18th Amendment because I was concentrating on the amendments I felt were most relevant to the question of civil rights-- or more correctly, a civil right: voting.

The ML also addresses my question re: a constitutional amendment for marriage by framing the problem in terms of marriage-as-institution. This is food or thought, and a discussion in itself. On one level, the ML is pointing out where the voting/marriage analogy fails: voting isn't normally considered an "institution," per se-- people variously describe it, correctly or incorrectly, as a right, a duty, a privilege, etc., but not as an institution. Whether this difference is sufficient to throw marriage's status as a basic civil right into doubt is another matter. For the moment, let me just say I found the ML's post very, very educational.

While I'm feeling all conciliatory & stuff, I should also note that I heartily agree with Dr. Burgess-Jackson's post on thinking through the implications of the carnivorous lifestyle. Yes, I could willingly kill and prepare my own turkey if need be-- if the question is one of willingness (I'd have to learn proper technique, if we're talking about ability). The question of killing an animal has been long settled in my mind, Buddhism studies notwithstanding. Nature, among other things, is red in tooth and claw. I accept that.

Dr. B-J's also got a good post on hypocrisy up.

Nom de Dieu! C'est un miracle!

Hey, Chinabloggers-- what's up with the shitty medical care over there on the mainland!?

My brother David sent me the following link:

Insistent Dad sees "dead" son live.

Apparently, one Chinese hospital declared the nearly-drowned boy dead; the father insisted on taking him to another hospital... where he was deemed to be alive. (Too bad-- they could have sold him as dog meat.)

The whole thing would have been so much simpler if only the Chinese had had access to 1980s-era British medical technology-- namely, The Machine That Goes BING, which can confirm that a given patient is currently alive.

stay thy destriers!

Or "hold your horses." Whichever works for you.

KimcheeGI writes to warn us that we shouldn't get too excited about the possible movement of troops from Korea to Afghanistan/Iraq/etc. He links to a USFK site article titled "Writer's Opinion Mistaken for Fact" that sets the record straight. It says in part:

An opinion piece by Honolulu-based Richard Halloran, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is mistakenly being quoted in other publications as authoritative fact.  

The writer's own conclusions and predictions first appeared in the Korea Herald on Nov. 21, 03, titled, "The Rising East: U.S. Disengagement from Korea," and were rewritten and published in the Washington Times on Nov.24, under the title, "Troops To Shift From S. Korea; U.S. to reassign some to Iraq, Afghanistan."

Oops, and shame on us. Further:

With regard to the assertion that troops now in Korea could be deployed, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed in a Nov 17 interview with Yonhap that there are no plans to deploy US troops or units to Iraq from Korea.

Good call, Charlie. Happy Thanksgiving, and congrats & good luck w/the move.

UPDATE: Stay the staying of thy destriers? The Marmot posts on the same subject, but with a slightly different take. Also, check out his post discussing student radicalism.

terms and changing realities

The Infidel writes on marriage in an absorbing post. It says in part:

I object to the view of humans as baby factories. Humans have a responsibility to a larger ecosystem and to the possibilities inherent in our own genome not to waste valuable resources reproducing our own flaws. So, I don't share some traditionalists' fears of a devaluation of the "marriage-as-procreation" paradigm.

I also disagree with the so-called liberal view of "marriage-as-benefit" school. Maggie Gallagher, in "Massachusetts vs. Marriage" (via Matthew [Y]glesias) protests too much, but some folk are too hard-nosed. Gallagher also rants hyberbolically in her characterization of this trend, because marriage reform, a la Goodridge, is just one step in a possible redefinition of many legal relationships, but one which is necessary before any other. Gallagher paints her opponents as very greedy reformers and ic[o]noclasts, but I'm sure only the trial lawyers are so rapaciously committed.

Chief Justice Marshall's opinion in Goodridge about marriage-as-committment is conclusory, as is the dissenting view of marriage-as-procreation. Short of a few good research grants, the answer to what marriage is, belongs to sages. Legislators can only rely on their own prejudices and rationalizations to attempt to convince the hordes of undecided voters about the most prudent legislation. In the end, Americans need to consider how narrow a view of marriage they are willing to accept without depriving themselves of the opportunity to retain control over their own lives.

It's a fascinating and subtle position; I like it. It also seems consistent with my mantra that "marriage" is a term describing a changing reality.

You already know my own stance is to view this as a justice issue, which inevitably gives this discussion an ethical (and possibly religious, depending on who you are) tinge. The only "benefit" I'm concerned with in this case is the according of basic civil rights; the specific legal benefits that may arise from legalized gay marriage (taxes, etc.) aren't my primary concern here, though they're obviously important, and certainly related.

The Maximum Leader's link to AnalPhilosopher has led me over to Dr. Burgess-Jackson's blog several times. Recently, Dr. Burgess-Jackson wrote to contradict, somewhat, Andrew Sullivan's advocacy of a federalist approach to the gay marriage issue. To wit:

I keep hearing, from the likes of Andrew Sullivan, that federalism--the doctrine of states' rights--is incompatible with a constitutional amendment that prohibits homosexual marriage. It is said that a true/good/real federalist would allow states to do as they please with respect to homosexual marriage. By supporting a constitutional amendment that prohibits such marriages, however, one is choosing not to allow states to do as they please.

Is this right? Does federalism entail opposition to a constitutional amendment? Yes and no. It entails opposition to the constitutional amendment described (one that prohibits homosexual marriage), but it does not entail opposition to all amendments. Indeed, as I shall argue, it requires a particular amendment.

The problem, from a federalist point of view, is that Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution requires that "Full Faith and Credit . . . be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State." Suppose Massachusetts allows homosexuals to marry on the same terms as heterosexuals. If the effects of such a decision could be confined to Massachusetts, a federalist would have no problem with it. But the Full Faith and Credit Clause will not allow it to be confined to Massachusetts. In time (probably right away), a homosexual couple married in Massachusetts will move to another state (say, Texas) and demand recognition by that state. (Or: A Texas couple will go to Massachusetts to be married, the way heterosexual couples have traditionally gone to Las Vegas to be married.) Either way, the matter will end up in court. The court, applying the Full Faith and Credit Clause, will rule that the couple is married in Texas as well as in Massachusetts. If you're married anywhere, you're married everywhere.

So, regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):

The problem with DOMA is that it runs afoul of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution, which is supreme. Neither DOMA nor the second state's (e.g., Texas's) law restricting marriage to heterosexuals would stand in the way of a ruling to the effect that the Constitution requires nationwide recognition of a marriage that is lawful in any state. The problem, as the federalist sees it, is the Full Faith and Credit Clause. It effectively nationalizes marriage law. It prevents states from legislating as they see fit on the question of homosexual marriage.

[QUESTION: If the FFCC is "supreme," and "prevents" states from enjoying the full benefits of the federalist ideal, how did DOMA get on the books? Surely someone must have considered this question before Burgess-Jackson. I suspect the professor may be glossing over the interpretability of law, and he wouldn't be the first to argue from an unjustifiably rigid (even positivist) stance (i.e., a flat declaration like, "This law logically cancels out that law, period, no interpretation possible"-- despite the uncomfortable fact that DOMA is sitting there, staring you in the face, making you wonder how it got there).]

Burgess-Jackson goes on, and it's a great post, but I want to stop here and mull over why Sullivan would even advocate a federalist position. Why not propose a constitutional amendment that makes irrelevant the issue of sexual orientation in marriage?

There are a couple reasons why I propose this (and I doubt I'm the first to do so). First, Sullivan may have been a little too convincing when he argued that we're talking about basic civil rights. As I mused a while back:

Sullivan's argument is hard for me to ignore. He does make me wonder, though, why a basic civil right, something of even greater magnitude than the right to vote, should be sanctioned only at the state level and not the federal level. I'll chalk this up to Sullivan's own conservatism and maybe even a willingness to compromise (he does note, after all, that states already regulate marriage), but if marriage is as fundamental as he is insisting, why not aggressively pursue a constitutional amendment that enshrines marriage as something available to all?

Burgess-Jackson's post has brought me back to this question, because his alternative is just scary:

But federalists are disingenuous if they say that the only solution is a constitutional amendment prohibiting homosexual marriage. There is another solution that stops short of that while keeping faith with federalism--namely, a constitutional amendment that nullifies the Full Faith and Credit Clause with respect to homosexual marriage. The amendment would decree that the Full Faith and Credit Clause not be construed to apply to homosexual marriage.

This raises red flags, to me, partly because of the potential harm it does to the Constitution, but also because of the ill it bodes for a civil rights issue. Burgess-Jackson, however, spins it this way:

The solution I'm proposing is federalist in nature but does not take a position on the substance of the matter. It is federalist because it both (1) allows states to allow homosexual marriage and (2) allows states to disallow homosexual marriage. A constitutional amendment that bans homosexual marriage would not allow states (such as Massachusetts) to allow homosexual marriage. No constitutional amendment at all--the current situation--would not allow states (such as Texas) to disallow homosexual marriage (assuming, as seems plausible, that the Full Faith and Credit Clause would be interpreted by courts to require every state to recognize a marriage that is lawful in any state).

And there's my question: is that really a plausible assumption? I imagine DOMA's still on the books, and it's been seven years. Why start deconstructing the FFCC now? Why only with regard to homosexual marriage? These are obvious questions.

What makes Burgess-Jackson's proposal scary is that, while it seems reasonable in the abstract (as Someone Who Must Not Be Named might say in reference to certain liberal positions), its real-world implications are more sinister. So let's get real: how many Texas courts will rule in favor of honoring a homosexual union with legal benefits?

I put that out there as a slippery-slope argument for those who respect such arguments, because this question is relevant to more than just Texas. Most states, in some form or other, affirm that marriage is properly between a man and a woman. My concern, though, is that Burgess-Jackson's proposal goes against the tenor of previous socially progressive constitutional amendments.

So, scariness aside, my second (and principal) reason for proposing the "makes-irrelevant" style of amendment is that it would be consistent with other civil rights-related amendments already in the Constitution.

Amendment XIV of the US Constitution says:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Notice the approach taken in Section 1. Factor X (in this case, "...race, color, or previous conidition of servitude") is being declared a nonissue vis-à-vis a crucial civil right.

Then look at Amendment XIX:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate leglislation.

Notice it's the same approach: making something into a nonissue. In this case, it's sex. So for the crucial civil right to vote, sex is a nonissue.

Along comes Amendment XXVI:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Same approach, but with one crucial difference: age is a nonissue if you're 18 and older. After that, it doesn't matter whether you're 18 or 180.

So again, here's what I wrote before:

It almost seems that Sullivan should be arguing for a constitutional amendment making sexual orientation a non-issue for marriage, if he maintains along with Arendt that marriage is a basic right prior even to voting.

Unlike last time, I'm not noting this merely to critique Sullivan. Maybe his eventual goal is to see just such an amendment-- I wouldn't put it past him. Maybe he's realistic to think that it's through baby-step debates like these that the country will soften up and finally be ready to install, by legislative fiat, the basic civil right for which millions are campaigning.

No, this time, I'm noting Sullivan's inconsistency in order to announce that this is where I diverge. I think Sullivan needs to go balls-out and say what he means. He isn't, so I will. The amendments I quoted above explicitly deny to states (and the US govt!) the right to determine a civil rights issue on their own-- i.e., each of the above amendments guarantees constitutional protection of a certain issue (in this case, the right to vote), and it's done largely through the negative approach of making factors X, Y, and Z into nonissues. The US government, and the particular States, can no longer make factors XYZ into issues.

Burgess-Jackson's proposal doesn't do this. Instead, it highlights homosexual marriage and pointedly makes it an issue, not a nonissue, while scarily turning the FFCC into a nonissue in a particular area. This doesn't seem consistent with the spirit of previous constitutional amendments related to civil rights. Maybe Burgess-Jackson's proposal is as neutral as he's suggesting ("...does not take a position on the substance of the matter"), but my suspicion is that it isn't.

Was it a nasty leftist move toward an oppressive nanny state to make voting a constitutionally protected (and, for the most part, demographically unrestricted) civil right? I think not. The only people grumbling about minority and female suffrage probably have swastikas hanging in their basements.

In the meantime, I don't disagree with Burgess-Jackson's conclusion:

...federalists should not present federalism as if it takes a position on the substance of the debate over homosexual marriage. It does not. It simply requires that states be free to legislate in this area: free, that is, to allow or disallow homosexual marriage.

Burgess-Jackson is pointing out that nonfederalists like Sullivan are using federalism to forward an agenda. I'm only doing my duty in noting that Burgess-Jackson is hiding his own agenda under the cloak of reason (heh) and "neutrality." He knows full well what would happen, in practical terms, if the FFCC were made irrelevant to the issue of gay marriage. His proposal is to deconstruct part of the Constitution in order to allow states to decide for themselves on what is, in my view, a matter of basic civil rights.

So I'm picking up the flag where Sullivan's dropped it on the battlefield. Gay marriage advocates need to acknowledge the full implications of painting this as a civil rights issue and redirect their efforts accordingly. Since Sullivan despises the half-measure of "civil unions," I think he should also despise the half-measure of arguing his case via the federalist approach. If Burgess-Jackson has convinced me of anything in his post, it's that he is being more federalist than Sullivan, and federalism, in the end, won't help Sullivan's cause.

Asia Blogs.

I did not realize, but am not surprised, that many blogs are censored (blocked) in China. And since this site is published on Blogger (Blogspot) I suppose there are no Chinese reading it... Here is an interesting article on that subject. Conrad of the Gweilo Diaries is quoted extensively. Thanks to the Volokh Conspiracy for the link.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

when the feces collide with the ventilation...

With thanks to Anticipatory Retaliation for this link, which had me blowing mirthful shit-chunks. The site appears to be in Hebrew, but you don't need to know Hebrew to figure out what's going on.

If some Israel-savvy person can tell me about the subtext, though (why are they featuring a woman who looks like she might be in the Israeli military?), I'd appreciate it.

[NB: Not safe to open at work, mainly because of the noise. I recommend earphones; the noise is 95% of the humor. If you're in a tolerant work environment, put it on loud.]

UPDATE: I've been told by AR that this might be Urdu we're looking at. I wouldn't know; I've never seen Urdu in written form, and don't know what it'd sound like when spoken. I stupidly assumed Hebrew because it sure looks like it... sorry to offend the Hebrew-literate. I imagine that sounds as foolish as when people say "Chinese and Japanese and Korean all look the same in written form."

Webster on Urdu: " Indo-Aryan language that has the same colloquial basis as standard Hindi, is an official language of Pakistan, and is widely used by Muslims in urban areas of India." So once again I betray my boundless ignorance.

The site's URL contains ""-- what country is ".il"?

a must-read review of "The Two Towers"

'Tis the season to be shopping, and plenty of filthy consumers have already grabbed their copy of the special edition DVD of Peter Jackson's "The Two Towers."

But did they read the Landover Baptist review of TTT?

The Landover Baptist site (link is on my blogroll) is a constant source of Onion-style hilarity, kicking the scrotes of Christian fundamentalism the way Allahpundit whacks Islamofascism's balls (though LB also deals with other monotheisms' fundamentalism). Here's a link to the Landover Baptist review of "The Two Towers." Choice excerpt:

The very title of the film, "The Two Towers," should raise suspicion among True Christians. Secular humanists and Atheists always chide us for seeing sex where their foolish, ignorant minds cannot. But alas, it is there, raising its malignant form as usual. It's Satan's way of being childish, and it's our job to call him on it. This time around, you don't have to be a Bible Scholar or a Creation Scientist to see that The Two Towers are giant structures built to glorify and honor the aroused genitalia of two of the most powerful evil beings in the movie. The imagery is kept discrete only by the merciful fact that both creatures are uncircumcised – otherwise the shape of two enormous, throbbing purple penis heads would have been staring every moviegoer in the face!  The citizens of Middle Earth pick which penis they like best and head toward it. The Two Towers are merely there to show what the macabre genitalia of each Dark Lord looks like from great distances. And as anyone who has been in a men's locker room can attest, it is only the dark ones you can see from clear across the room.  Well, Satan, we're not laughing! You are sick, and your perverted, disgusting sense of humor has gone too far this time. True Christians are not going to stand still and let you tempt us by appealing to our natural love of Godly, Bible-based human carnage only to sucker us into seeing a film that is nothing more than a vehicle to promote your twisted sexual agenda!  And I stand here firm before you to say: we will not allow you to wag ungodly enormous penises in the face of our women!

Monday, November 24, 2003

the shift

It appears we're shifting troops from Korea to hot spots, where they'll actually be useful, and might even be appreciated. Give the article a read; it discusses other possible changes in the works. If those changes give the South Koreans less reason to blame us for something, all the better.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

another Christmas card design

This dates back a couple years, but THIS IS YOUR BRAIN... AND:

Santa's got a brand new bag.


shots in the impending culture war

I won't link to it since it's on Salon, but here's one "letter to the editor" re: gay marriage:

If the religious right and the Republican Party push forward with a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, the Democrats should respond with the "slippery slope" argument. That is, if the goal of such an amendment is to preserve families and protect the sanctity of marriage, isn't an amendment banning divorce next?

Come to think of it, banning divorce would go further toward accomplishing that goal and be even more in keeping with Christian teaching. After all, Jesus, never recorded as saying a word for or against homosexuality, is quoted in Scripture on the subject of marriage as stating "what God has brought together, let no man bring asunder."

Sounds to me like Jesus wanted us to outlaw civil divorce. Let's see how the people in the pews go for that.

-- Gary Belis

You already know I'm no fan of slippery-slope arguments; they're too limited. But I think Mr. Belis is demonstrating, intentionally or not, that anti-gay-marriage folks aren't the only ones who can employ a slippery-slope argument. I don't buy Belis's contention (I hope his scriptural point gives literalists pause... though it probably won't), but I like how it demonstrates that slippery-slope arguments can produce a weird sort of rhetorical parity.

And regarding a comment made by the Air Marshal in a previous post:

A union between [two] gay people isn't the same as a heterosexual marriage as a consequence of the biology and the organic nature of the hetero family. Is it fair? No. It's just the way it is.

True, but there seems to be a presumption that gay couples are somehow wishing to experience what married heteros experience, which isn't the case. This campaign isn't motivated, for example, by uterus-envy: gay men aren't fighting for the right to experience the hormonal changes of pregnancy. It's an obvious point, but it needs to be stated: gay marriage advocates want the fruits of gay marriage. They're not looking to experience exactly what heterosexuals experience. The expressed desire for marriage (and for family) doesn't imply a desire for hetero-style marriage and family.

I make this comment because the Air Marshal's question-and-answer, "Is this fair? No. It's just the way it is," seems to suggest that gays are seeking exactly what heteros experience-- and gays somehow view it as unfair that they can't have things their way. I don't think you'll find many gay folks who'd agree with this, though perhaps some gays do think this way. That hypothetical minority notwithstanding, the pragmatic issue is that of legal privileges, not experiential equivalence. So again, this isn't about equality of outcomes. This is about justice, civil rights, etc.

This was a theme in private discussions with the Air Marshal as well: the idea of the uniqueness (or maybe I should say specificity) of the hetero experience of marriage and family. Problem is, even among heteros, the attitudes toward marriage and family are widely divergent. It follows, then, that the experiences of marriage and family will be widely divergent.

The Air Marshal has written eloquently and touchingly about his own experience as husband, and then as father. He represents, in my view, the noble end of the hetero spectrum. I can vouch that he's a great husband and father. On the other end of the spectrum are unfeeling absentee fathers and women who give birth into a toilet in a public restroom, then abandon the baby-- people who experience parenthood not as a soul-shaking, life-altering experience, but as just another responsibility to shirk. People who go "whew, glad it's over" when they've left that restroom, then get pregnant again a few months later. How does one compare or classify what it is that people are actually experiencing when they have children either through pregnancy or adoption? I'm not sure what general claims can be made based on subjective experience (noted: the Air Marshal explicitly stated he's not trying to convince anyone; I'm therefore responding more to a school of thought than to the AM's particular case).

As for the objective biological realities-- of course there are differences, and gays are fully aware of what's possible and what's not. Gay marriage is possible; experiences that are the fruit of gay marriage are also possible.

Interesting remark on the subject from the Infidel:

I have to admit I agree with the proposition that marriage is about committment, and not procreation.

Not all heteros draw the line at the same place, it seems. And since the Infidel's got that lawyerly brain, I'd appreciate his weighing in on the legislative vs. judicial issue re: the Massachusetts decision and the overarching gay marriage debate. Might provide an interesting counterpoint to whatever the Maximum Leader contributes.

Michael Jackson and the Theophany

"You must be this high to ride Michael."
--Robin Williams

"Michael. It's me. God."

"Yes, Lord?"

"Michael, I'm not too happy with you right now."

"Is it the children, Lord? Has my special brand of love for the children turned you against me, too?"

"Listen, smartass. You're fuckin' 45 years old. You had the chance to bang Lisa Marie Presley, one of the finest asses I ever created, but like a complete shithead you dropped that white meat into the deep fat fryer after eighteen months. You're the King of Pop, you albino moron! You could line your Neverland with wall-to-wall tits, paint your bedroom with floor-to-ceiling pussy juice, be tonguing uteruses until you're 90. But no-- you have to pretend you're a Catholic priest."

"Now wait a second, Lord, I--"

"Oh, forsooth. You should consider yourself lucky that loyal friends, relatives, and fans are out there right now defending your sorry ass. Except for Kathy Griffin, but no one'll listen to her because she's an ugly bitch. Which is how I planned it."

"But, Jesus Christ, I'm only--"

"Do you still fuck chickens?"


"I asked you a question, puny man, and you better not lie, because I always know when you're lying. Lord Voldemort always knows. He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows when you've been fucking chickens, so answer the goddamn question."

"Lord, I-- OK, yes, maybe one or two."

"Say it straight up, Michael, or I swear to God I'll ram a splintery Roman cross right up your ass."

"Sigh... fine. Six or seven. A day."

"You know that your Neverland chickens have a pronounced waddle, right?"

"They... they do?"

"I gave you the huge schlong that caused it, fool! I didn't even have to use telepathy or X-ray vision to figure out that old habits die hard."

"I'm sorry, Lord. My father got me started on chickens when I was six."

"Yeah, blame everyone else. And I see you still prefer white meat."

"Lord, it doesn't matter if you're black or white."

"The fuck it doesn't. Did you forget what country you live in, bitch? Race is in the news all the time. Speaking of news-- when're you planning to come clean to the public about what's really going on with your nose?"

"It's... it's just too embarrassing."

"What, more embarrassing than voluntarily confirming to the Almighty God that you've sexually penetrated poultry?"

"I can't do it, Lord."

"Look, I asked Moses to demand freedom for his people, and he whined about his speech impediment, but he stepped up in the end. My boy Jesus got all wussy on me in Gethsemane, but swallowed his fear and faced his fate like a man. I asked the Buddha to-- no, wait, that wasn't me. Anyway, I'm telling you that you need to get out there and say to the crowds that your nose got bitten off by an angry gerbil just moments after it had struggled out of your anus."

"It never should've gotten out, Lord. I do Kegels."

"Yeah, and I miraculously loosened your anus at just the right moment to acquaint you with rodential fury."

"But why, Lord? Why do you do such evil things to the good and faithful? Do you know how much misery you've caused me? The pain, the embarrassment, the surgery, the facial CGI for my music videos?"

"Good and faithful? Your looks are a small price to pay for your kiddie fixation and chicken-fucking. Life's a bitch, Michael. Sometimes you get struck by lightning. Sometimes a hurricane wrecks your entire neighborhood and drowns your family. Sometimes an angry gerbil struggles out of your ass, leaps on your face, and chews off your nose. These things happen. Read Rabbi Harold Kushner."

"So what should I do, Lord?"

"Sit tight. Keep working on your Kegels. Get that asshole as puckered as possible."

"But why, Lord?"

"If you get tossed in the slammer, you'll see why soon enough. Trust me on this."

time out

The chores got finished Friday afternoon, and the Maximum Leader swooped by that evening in his politically incorrect, zero-to-60-in-5-seconds Obsidian Siege Engine to cart your humble narrator off to the Villainschloss [no, wait-- it was the Obscenely Huge Siege Engine, wasn't it...]. A greasy repast at a local chain diner marked the end of my satanic partnership with demon-larva Dr. Atkins. Aside from losing five pounds, craving sweets all the time, and a radically altered defecation schedule, I couldn't see the benefit in skipping out on fruits, fruit juices, and the almighty chocolate. As my brother David said, my heart wasn't really in this. I've never been much of a dieter, anyway, and I've seen more improvement from going to the gym and eating in moderation, as the Air Marshal opined.

Didn't see a movie Friday, but did enjoy plenty of quality time with my goddaughter and her sister-- the Villainettes-- Saturday morning and afternoon. You'll pardon me if I don't convey the details, except to mention that a certain 4-year-old shouted "shake your booty!" at one point, and a certain 6-year-old laughingly discussed the difference between "booger" and "burger." Angels.

A good Saturday was had by all.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

what a day

...and it ain't over yet. My day started around 4AM with Dad asking me to drive him to work in the family Honda, since the Ford minivan was again exhibiting problems. Long story.

Off to grab Dad from work (the cool thing-- for Dad-- about waking up at 4AM is that his shift ends around 2PM), then off to BWI (an international airport in Maryland, for those who don't know), with Dad in tow, to grab one of my brother's friends and bring her to our house. Looking forward to a flick this evening.

In the meantime, a link to a comment thread on the Peking Duck site re: probable repercussions of the MA gay marriage decision. Choice quote from the conservative Conrad of Gweilo Diaries:

Of course there's going to be a backlash, Richard, and IMO, it is going to be huge and very harmful to your cause. The Mass. court decision will, I believe, be seen retrospectively as a disaster for the gay marriage movement. When judges twist the law to reach results unforeseen by the drafters and strongly unwelcome to a large majority of the populace, the result is extreme social division and polarization.

This decision will make Roe v. Wade seem non-controversial in comparison. And, unlike abortion, which potentially directly affects 50% of the population, gay Americans are going to find themselves badly outnumbered and unsupported.

The only way to successfully achieve such a drastic and fundamental change to a central societal institution is legislatively.

My personal feelings on the subject are pretty ambivalent. I see potential risks and rewards, cost and benefits and I don't think there's anyway to know how it will work out until some state(s) actually give it a try. Had the Mass. legislature passed a bill permitting gay marriage, I'd have said "more power to them, and let's see how it works out." But to do this by judicial fiat stinks and is not in anyone's best interests.

I think a backlash is likely as well. Too bad. I just hope it's not as extreme as Conrad is predicting. Meanwhile, I encourage the Maximum Leader to post his thoughts on the legal aspects of this debate re: the judicial vs. legislative question. I plead ignorance here, so I'd like to know more.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Reason, Tradition and bad poopies.

Personally, my feelings about gay marriage are contradictory.

On one hand, having gay family members and friends, I strongly believe that if any two people are in love, and wish to "take it to the next level" as it were, and make that committment, they should be able to. And they should reap all the benefits, responsibilities, and consequences of that decision.

On the other hand, as a father and a husband, I'm a big fan of the traditional Man-Woman-Children family. I think it's generally the most natural and healthy place for children to be raised. (Yes, I know there are unhealthy traditional families, great single parents, and probably great gay parents as well. I still hold to my beliefs here.)

Children are a natural consequence of the traditional marriage. (yes, I also know a great many hetero couples have problems having kids... talking in generalities here.) To add children to a gay marriage is an artificial construct, and here's my problem with gay marriage... the connection between marriage and family. A union between to gay people isn't the same as a heterosexual marriage as a consequence of the biology and the organic nature of a hetero family.

Is it fair? No. It's just the way it is.

I'm not trying to convince anyone. And if I had to vote on a referendum on gay marriage, I don't know which way I'd vote. I do feel that in order to make gay marriage a possibility, one consequence we are seeing is the trivialization of the traditional hetero family. And this makes me sad. When I hear a pro-gay marriage editorial on NPR, or read an op-ed piece somewhere, one of the first points made is usually to attack the traditional family.

Margaret Cho's pro-gay marriage schtick on NPR earlier this week is a case in point. First she put down marriage as a whole. Then her argument was something along the lines of "Well, since it's not that big a deal, what's the problem with letting Gay's in." The problem is that Marriage should be a big deal. And our society is already trivializing it. So it's an easy target.

I'm not going to really get into reason and tradition the way ML and BH do. It's not my bag, baby.

P.S. Bad Poopies is my daughters term for a productive upset stomach. It just seemed to flow from the discussion of BH's Ass.

reason, tradition, and my ass

I lied. I won't be writing about my ass.

WARNING: Another long post. (Yes, Mike, chores are mostly done. We pulled it off.)

The Maximum Leader has written a very good reply to my post critiquing Dr. Burgess-Jackson. Please take the time to read it before continuing. Or not: what follows is a point-by-point response to the ML's post, and I've reproduced most of it here. The ML's words are in bold italics.

Insofar as conservatives calling liberals "irrational," "unreasonable," or "blinded by ideology" goes, it is, for the most part, just name calling. And the name calling is as rampant in the liberal to conservative direction as well. Your Maximum Leader seriously doubts that this name calling is indicative of anything except rhetorical bluster in most cases. Admittedly, in some media (like these blogs for example) when one person claims another is "irrational" the accuser generally cites some particular claim.

I wish this were true, but if I revert again to Bill Whittle as an example, I think there are conservatives out there who are seriously arguing that the conservative position is more reasonable, rational, etc. Who, in truth, takes pride in claiming their position is less reasonable/rational? It's more than name-calling.

Unless I misunderstand him, I believe the Big Hominid is saying that the fact that there are bad or even harmful traditions undercuts the implication that traditions are on the whole good. I disagree. I do not believe that Burgess-Jackson is implying that all traditions are good. Indeed, he recognizes that traditions are a record of past experience; the outcome of that experience might still result in what one might consider a bad or harmful tradition.

The ML gets points for affirming this; alas, Burgess-Jackson himself never goes this far. I think it's clear that Burgess-Jackson, as a conservative who (quite naturally) exhibits a conservative bias, is spinning his argument in the direction I've laid out. He places a positive value on tradition (but is it the case that liberals don't?), and though he affirms that conservatives "respect" reason, he seems largely to be assigning it a negative valence, which is, I think, why the ML linked to his post in the first place.

That tradition can be changed or eliminated when society is ready to make the change. Burgess-Jackson is (and I am as well) not arguing that society is static and unchanging, but that serious consideration of past experience as well as logical reasoning need be applied before a change is made.

I found it ridiculous that Burgess-Jackson assigned a specific number of generations as a time frame for societal change. Did I mention legislating meaning? Egads, how about legislating social evolution? Let's hope he wasn't serious... but I think he was.

What I'd like to know is how Burgess-Jackson (and perhaps also the ML) thinks tradition operates. The ML's a historian, so maybe he's better equipped to answer this question than Burgess-Jackson is. Burgess-Jackson offers us a Darwinian dynamic of trial and error and survivability, but unlike the evolution of "lower" forms of life, humanity has often shown itself to be quite conscious of its own evolution-- its own history. Is human social evolution, then, purely a matter of simple trial and error? I think not, but I'd like a historical perspective before I take a firmer stand.

...I think history is replete with examples [of] times when tradition and custom were completely overthrown for the dictatorship of reason. (Communist Russia and the French Revolution under the Directory and the Committee of Public Safety are the first examples to jump to my mind.)

I think these are great examples of where reason plus utopianism can lead. I actually side with conservatives against utopianism-- like Jean-François Revel, I see it as very wrongheaded, leading to proven failure, time and again. China's experiment is yielding more and more to market forces that also transmit, little by little, democratic values (quite a few Chinabloggers argue that China, at present, can be described as Communist in name only). North Korea's Stalinist regime, along with a floundering Cuba, are examples in our time of the massive failures of utopianism. The husk of the Soviet Union stands as perhaps the most monumental failure of utopianism in human history, and Europe's current plunge into the utopian morass of "transnational progressivism" isn't exactly producing healthy fruit. So-- agreed. Utopianism = bad.

However, is advocacy of gay marriage fueled by utopianist thinking? If you've paid any attention to Andrew Sullivan's many posts on the subject, you know this isn't the case, and I think Sullivan is representative of a large swath of the gay populace (I will note, however, that many gays-- I don't presume to know how many-- are satisfied with the notion of civil union). Far from describing a utopian vision, Sullivan and other homosexuals are simply asking for what they consider to be a basic civil right-- "asking only for what's theirs," if you will. This isn't a utopian vision, and it isn't even primarily rationalism; for most gays, this is properly seen as a justice issue, which places it at least partially within the domain of religion (I won't go there in this post) and/or ethics. Religion and ethics are better frames for the debate than the question of rationality's role.

I believe that too many political determinations have been made (or are being made) in our time without proper consideration being given to maintaining the status quo. The very pertinent question of what ELSE could result from a societal change is not often asked, because logically it [is] felt [by] many not to be germane.

I'm sure plenty of hasty decisions are being made that will affect society negatively and/or positively-- but that's not unique to liberals or conservatives or nondualists or middle-of-the-roaders. There's a large debate going on right now about our continued presence in Iraq, for example. That debate, much of which seems (rightly or wrongly) to center on President Bush, is polarizing large sections of the country. My point is that, in the case of Iraq, it's the Bush Administration's policy-- a conservative policy-- that many people (Hominid excepted) now view as "without proper consideration being given to maintaining the status quo." So the ML's statement cuts both ways. It's not just liberals who act precipitously.

This is the crux of the "slippery slope" argument I was making a few months ago in my gay marriage posts. Once you remove the societal barriers to an action, and replace them with only logical barriers, you oftentimes end up with no barriers at all. This is because people can change the definition of terms or set new premises to an argument and thereby achieve a completely new outcome.

I referred to this as the "hell in a handbasket" argument in my post on gay marriage-- seeing a small crack in your house and concluding the whole house is in danger of collapse. There's no reason to move immediately to extremes in the course of discussion, except perhaps to highlight where something might lead.

But even deeper is the issue of whether "societal barriers" are in fact being replaced with "logical barriers." Is the gay marriage debate really being fueled by reason-as-cudgel? I don't think so. I personally see this as a justice issue, on a par with past issues like slavery, racism, sexism, etc. I think this is how most of the gay community in America (and probably other countries) views matters. Liberal thinkers have been quick to note that social conservatism has often stood in the way of social progress: it took brave folks to break through the oppressive paradigms-- fueled by the blind momentum of tradition, I might add-- that held people down for so long.

Again, I think the mainstream commentary from both political parties consists of way too much name calling. Generally when a conservative calls a liberal irrational, it is because a particular idea they are espousing makes no sense in the context of society. But that is not to say that the idea being espoused does not make logical sense in the abstract. In the abstract, "not making enemies" (as Sheryl Crow recently suggested in one of her first foreign policy addresses) is a great idea. But practically it is not viable option in real-world diplomacy.

I'll grant the Sheryl Crow example, but is this really a matter of logic? I think it's more a matter of idealism, and Sheryl Crow doesn't strike me as the kind of person who's going to offer a 20-page systematic apologia for why she believes what she does. Rationality likely plays very little role in her thinking and songwriting, and the same is probably true for most of the people on both sides who are engaged in the big cultural-political debates of the day.

Is the following a reasoned liberal position?

I'm gonna soak up the sun
Gonna tell everyone
To lighten up (I'm gonna tell 'em that)
I've got no one to blame
For every time I feel lame
I'm looking up o I'm gonna soak up the sun
I'm gonna soak up the sun

"I've got no one to blame" actually sounds more like a conservative position to me, though the immediate reversion to sun-soaking makes you wonder whether Ol' Uncle Sheryl's got any wrinkles left in her brain.

I don't think Burgess-Jackson is being dishonest or willfully ignorant. As I read him, he recognizes that traditions change on the one hand (but hopes that it will not change too quickly or without plenty of thought); and on the other point he states that liberals believe that reason applied to any problem will find a solution. If anything Burgess-Jackson should give some examples of this. I contend that he is assuming that examples are taken "as read" by the reader.

Yes, he should have given examples. But Burgess-Jackson was saying, from the get-go, that he was preaching to the choir. Here's the quote:

I assume for the sake of explanation (not argument) that intellectuals are disproportionately liberal. That is to say, the proportion of liberals among intellectuals is greater (I won't say by how much, although I believe it to be significant) than the proportion of liberals among people generally. I believe this to be the case, but I will not adduce evidence for it. What I want to know is why. If you, dear reader, don't think it's the case, then stop reading, for I will be trying to explain something that, in your view, doesn't exist.

It's a claim made "for the sake of explanation (not argument)." He says, "I will not adduce evidence for it." He's relieving himself of the responsibility to provide support for what follows, so maybe I should chalk all this up to just some academic musing (we academics do that a lot, you know). But what immediately follows are claims that, in my opinion, require substantiation if they are to be more than mere preaching to the choir. If, however, Burgess-Jackson is content merely to talk shop with fellow conservative readers by bandying about this still-unproven "liberals exalt reason" meme, then this may be a classic case of incestuous amplification, the definition of which appears on Kevin at IA's site:

A condition in which one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation.

If this is what I'm seeing, there's little reason to go on. But let's adopt a more hopeful stance and continue to engage.

Quick note: I didn't write everything in the following quoted paragraph--

We are indeed dealing with an institution, but one that has no universally agreed-upon definition, which has been my point since I wrote my gay marriage post... MARRIAGE IS A MULTIFACETED, MULTILAYERED INSTITUTION. IT HAS SEXUAL, SOCIAL, LEGAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, AND ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS... And nowhere in this post, aside from a vaguely-proposed paradigm of trial-and-error, does Burgess-Jackson deal with the empirically obvious fact that "marriage," like all reality, is a changing, dynamic thing... This debate isn't really about changing the institution: at this point in the game, the change is already occurring. The question is whether and how the change should be acknowledged. This has been my point from the beginning: the people who are legislating meaning are the people unwilling to acknowledge the social changes that have already occurred and are continuing to gain momentum.

(The part in all-caps is Burgess-Jackson's, not mine. Just FYI.)

The ML says:

Here is where I will take issue with the Hominid. While I agree that marriage may have no universally agreed-upon definition, it does, in the context of our Anglo-American/Judeo-Christian society have a commonly agreed-upon definition.

But this is a false premise, because the very loud debate now occurring belies the idea that this definition is "commonly agreed-upon." If it were commonly agreed upon, if it were only the 3-5% "out" gay populace advocating legalized gay marriage in America, then there'd be a lot less noise. But because so many people see this as a justice issue and link it with ethical and/or religious priniciples, the debate is taking place on more than the homosexual front line; plenty of heteros are involved. "Marriage" was, is, and will always be a term describing a reality in constant flux. As the empiricist Hume might note, I've got observation on my side.

Recognizing that in this society a significant number of people have started to change their personal definition of marriage, the fact remains that there is a commonly held definition which up to this point has had the force of law behind it.

The appropriate question to ask is, "Commonly held by whom?" To unpack that question is to unpack the demographics of the current debate. As for force of law: true, gay marriage isn't legally recognized, but it isn't explicitly or universally banned, either. Plenty of gay couples have already gotten married; the legal issues, in America at least, appear to boil down to equal rights and privileges for couples already recognized by their churches (temples, etc.) as existing in some form of sanctified union. Maybe the issue is more complex for gay atheists-- I don't know whether two gay atheists can be married by a nonreligious authority. At a guess, they can't, since that authority would probably be a (state or national) functionary of the government. So if you're gay, nonreligious, and unwilling to be married in a religious context, you're probably screwed right now.

While in the abstract we can debate that marriage might not have a single universal definition, in the world of civil society it does.

It's not in the abstract at all. When I say that "marriage" is a term describing a reality in constant flux, I'm relying on observation, not making an interpretation or engaging in abstract speculation. I consider my stance to be based on empirical evidence, not idealism. The "is," not the "ought."

Yes the reality of the situation is changing, insomuch as this wouldn't have been an issue at all 100, 50, or even 25 years ago. It is an issue now. A significant number of people believe that the common definition of marriage is in need of some change. They are advocating this position in society and asking courts to make determinations. The reason we are having this discussion is that there is change is not generally agreed upon (or I would contend, even agreed upon by a simple majority of people).

So far, so good. I generally agree with the above.

This is where reason and its application come into the equation. The Massachusetts Supreme Court very logically held that if the state constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, then the commonly-held definition of marriage is discriminatory.

It's strange that this "logical" position wasn't officially noticed before now, which makes one wonder whether logic is really playing the important role the ML and Burgess-Jackson are assigning to it. No; logic-- reason-- is a tool. It's value-neutral. It's used when convenient or appropriate to back positions that are, in the end, founded on unprovable postulates. And this is true no matter which side is using reason.

What I believe Burgess-Jackson, and I, have been saying is that this is reason at its most destructive. By looking at this issue purely from an abstract and rational position, the court's decision is a perfectly sound one. But the slippery-slope of reason does start to apply. Why stop with gay marriage? Why not allow brothers and sisters to marry? Boys and Men? How can you determine a logically sound limitation to two willing people getting married? You can't. In the abstract there is no reason. This is the problem with this issue when examining it from another angle.

There's been a lot of talk about things "in the abstract," but this isn't where the debate lies, because (1) this isn't a debate that's analogous to debates about utopianism, and (2) because we're dealing with justice issues, we're automatically dealing with more than principle. Empirical reality plays a huge role in this (something the ML himself suggests when he accuses liberals of divorcing issues from social context).

I think we are both saying that exalting reason to the detriment of tradition and custom (however irrational) is generally bad.

I agree with this.

I think the sub text here is (as I have said before) there is something inherently unsatisfying about saying "We've always done it this way and let's not change." Perhaps an analogy is appropriate. When debating major changes in the way society behaves, change should have the burden of proof. Assume "the way it is" is the accused party in a trial. Those advocating change can apply reason to the circumstances and have the burden to demonstrate clearly that the status quo is not satisfactory.

Then by this analogy, it should be plainly obvious that millions of Americans, even if they don't constitute a simple majority, are extremely dissatisfied with the status quo, which is why it will change (a point already granted, if somewhat grudgingly, by the ML in previous posts and private talks).

This would build consensus that a change should be made. Unfortunately, this is not what most people who want to change the status quo want to do. They present a logically sound argument and become indignant (or resort to name calling) when other[s] don't immediately come around.

As David Hume contended: you can't rationally derive an ethical "ought" from an empirical "is." No ethical argument can be founded on rational principles; the "ought" may appear, but it's not derived from reason. I basically agree with Hume on this, for the same reason I said that reason begins with postulates-- the "ground" of ethical action is a leap of faith, not an an sich rational point of departure. The advocates of gay marriage are aware of this; it isn't reason that motivates them. However, if they have to argue their case in court, or if sympathetic legislators are to present arguments in favor of gay marriage, then it's inevitable that reason will enter the picture. At that point, it's unfair to attack reason for being there. All arguments, almost by definition, employ reason to make their points. Is an incoherent argument even an argument?

Let's make no mistake: in gay marriage, we're dealing with ethical issues. Either side can dress up their position as rational, but as the Air Marshal has also pointed out privately, these things don't boil down to reason.

As for the liberals doing the name-calling, they're being assholes and the ML is right to call them out. That simply lowers the level of the debate and undercuts their own cause. But I'd say the same of conservatives who adopt the same tactics. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Additionally, we live in a society that happens to like change. This is the blessing and curse of being Americans. Change is our tradition. (Unlike many Asian or European societies where the status quo is much more entrenched.) You're poor? Get a job, work hard, change yourself and you could become rich. You don't like your church? Great, change churches. Want start over? Great, move to a new town, reinvent yourself, change your surroundings and bingo - a whole new you.

I believe what Burgess-Jackson and I are saying is that perhaps we should become a little more fond of the status quo (tradition and custom) and a little less fond of reason and change.

I think Burgess-Jackson may be saying that, but I also think the ML's position is harsher and not really espoused by Burgess-Jackson, who, as a philo prof, probably doesn't view reason as inherently destructive. The man's academic career is based on reason, among other things!

America is young, but it's still a couple centuries old. Traditions have formed here, and will continue to form. I imagine we'll be hearing more conservative voices as time goes on and America becomes more venerable. By some standards, America is actually an older country than many: it's been pointed out that we enjoy arguably the longest-lasting continuous democratic (republican?) government-- i.e., one based on the same constitutional principles, with nothing but nonviolent transfers of power-- in history. The ML says "change is our tradition," which is true. But reason is also our tradition: it's what allows us to look at the backward practices of certain other nations and groups and call them backward (PC relativists aside).

Your Maximum Leader stands by his claim that reason (outside of math and science) is a destructive faculty. Outside of math and science what is it used for? Destroying something or another. The outcome of that destruction might end up being judged as a "good" thing. But it is destruction nonetheless.

I'm curious to see this point expanded on, though. So far, there hasn't been a substantive argument in support of this position, which is, to me, one of the strangest contentions I've heard. If the argument is that products/laws/cultural forms arrived at through reason are created at some cost, then yes, of course it's true that reason has a destructive side.

Reasoned analysis, for example, involves parsing. If you're a 19th-century naturalist, you don't get to know what a frog's innards are like until you cut the fucker open. If you want to learn about that frog's biome, you'll have to risk disturbing (or even accidentally destroying) the biome by sitting there, being invasive, and risking skewing your own observations. If you're a factory-builder increasing worker productivity, you may also be the author (as Marx might argue) of worker disaffection and misery and other social ills.

But this is little more than pointing out yin while ignoring yang. I feel there is no yin without yang. Even massively destructive events, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, can produce constructive results (e.g., a Japan that, at least until recently, has collectively shunned the military option in favor of peaceful solutions to international problems). The story never ends. Suggest a destructive hypothetical outcome, and I'll suggest a constructive possibility to go along with it. Really, this comes down to a queston of optimism or pessimism about the future: will that tiny crack in my wall really lead to my house's collapse? Let's not freak out-- instead, let's do some exploring and act according to what we discover. That's a nondualist's position, not postmodernist malarkey.

And as an aside to the Big Hominid, as a non-dualist, is there anything that can be inherently something?

No, nothing is inherently anything. A fuller explanation of this can be found in several places on my blog:

1. A Buddhist Critique of Islam
2. Right and Wrong: A Nondualist's Perspective
3. Violence, Vegetarianism, and Emptiness

...with special attention to (2) above, where I have so far laid out the (Buddhist) nondualist stance most thoroughly. And to repeat a comment made in that post, it's important not to confuse relativism and relativity. The nondualist sees relativity as a fact of existence; relativism, on the other hand, is an almost nihilistic attitude in which things don't really matter because they all have, a priori, equal value. The nondualist isn't a relativist because he doesn't espouse relativism. He is, however, a firm believer that things exist in processual relationship.

Although he knows better, your Maximum Leader was afraid you were slipping into some sort of Post-modernist trance. He feared that somewhere out there Jacques Derrida or Michel Foucault had a little (perhaps 1/4 scale) Hominid voodoo doll and was casting a spell on you.

Maybe Derrida changed my styrofoam cup into a voodoo doll in 1999.

As for Monsieur Foucault... Monsieur fuck who?

Finally, I have to restate that my own position isn't the liberal one. I'm not an advocate of "equality of outcomes" in the liberal sense, and don't see the gay marriage debate as being about equality of outcomes-- it's about justice, basic civil rights, and decency. This isn't the same as saying everyone deserves a $40,000/year job, or that everyone should automatically have an equal shot at getting into Harvard. We're talking about the basic right to marry the one you love.

Legal status for gay marriage won't magically convert heteros into gays. It won't besmirch or erode the "institution" of marriage (enough heteros do that as things stand, and many of these vermin are on TV), and we won't suddenly see a movement toward marrying children or one's own immediate blood relatives-- trust me on this. To take the alarmist approach is to believe that people are pretty damn stupid and aren't progressing, which goes against the idea that traditions contain tried-and-true elements that are "not to be taken lightly"-- not to mention against the conservative arguments in praise of progress as a value, an argument usually levied against liberal PoMo relativists who deride the notion of progress as yet another poisonous, oppressive Western meme.

An Instapundit quote on the subject of gay marriage:

Perhaps it's a blind spot on my part, but I just don't see how gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage. It seems to me that it's the opposite, and that gay marriage will strengthen marriage overall. And I do think that the Massachusetts opinion is entirely defensible, as I said yesterday. Indeed, had I been on that Court I might have voted that way -- though I probably would have written the opinion in terms of limitations on governmental power, rather than expansive notions of equality -- had the case been before me.

And here's Dr. Keith Burgess-Jackson on slippery-slope arguments:

The form of a slippery-slope argument is simple. The first premise asserts that there is a slippery slope. Doing X, it is said, will have a particular result, Y. To use the slope metaphor, since the slope is slippery, taking even one step onto it will cause one to slide to the bottom.

The second premise of a slippery-slope argument asserts that the bottom of the slope is a bad place to be. Thus, one should not take even one step onto the slope. It is important to understand that the person making the slippery-slope argument is not saying that the first step is intrinsically bad. It may not be. But it is alleged to have an inevitable bad result.

The problem, of course, is that any given course of action is likely to produce more than a single result, and it's inevitable that, among those results, there will be (what is considered) positive along with (what is considered) negative. So citing a single (or even a small cluster of) bad result(s) isn't enough to be persuasive. One reason why I have a dim view of such arguments.

Further down, Dr. Burgess-Jackson writes:

No political party or ideology has a monopoly on the use of slippery-slope arguments. I hear them from every quarter. Liberals use arguments of this type to argue against restrictions on speech; conservatives use them to argue against regulation of guns. Other names for this argument type are "wedge argument," "camel's-nose-in-the-tent argument," and "foot-in-the-door argument." The idea is the same; only the name differs.

Indeed. (As Satan's Anus might say.)

The slippery-slope argument (which I've been calling "hell in a handbasket") is an immediate move to extremes. There may be cases where such a move is legitimate, but it's crucial to discuss that legitimacy. My contention is that, in the case of gay marriage, it's not.

As for tradition: it's not-good, not-bad. Traditions have beginnings. In modern terms, that means traditions started off as somebody's liberal push. A "new tradition" breaks free of the old paradigm, then coalesces into the new old paradigm. Tradition provides structure and integrity and coherence and stability; these are also not-good, not-bad. I tend to think a balance between the impulses to chaos and order is what makes a society robust; this is why I don't align myself with political liberals or conservatives (though I admit I'm a flaming-- frothing?-- religous liberal). Liberals often are idealistic, and we're certainly witnessing a lot of liberal foaming at the mouth with regard to the sitting president. But idealism gets people off their asses, or at the very least forces them to think and debate. The conservative position does this as well, if a liberal is open-minded enough to see this. So I'm not some mindless advocate of change, change, change. On the metaphysical level, I see change as part of reality, pure and simple. But I also see stability as part of reality, too. I no longer think of right and wrong in absolute terms, but I haven't abandoned the use of those terms, either, because they remain conventionally relevant.

Gay marriage is an issue whose time has come in American society. Maybe it'll flare up into a culture war next year as elections loom. And maybe the "destructiveness" of this culture war will be exactly what we need, just as some forest fires are beneficial because they consume the stifling deadfall. Flowers can spring from dungpiles.

In the name of Cthulu and the Old Ones...