Saturday, January 28, 2006

Legitimate Arguments Against Same Sex Marriage

I always fall right to sleep when trying to consider both sides of the gay marriage argument. However, these comments from "Locke", at Skippy Stalins' place, set me into action:

"It's completely principled and possible to oppose gay marriage and not give a hoot about gay people's private lives."
Give me a f______ break. [...] That's the worst "we're not REALLY asshats" argument I've ever heard...and I lived in Texas for two f______ years.

The following are legitimate and reasonable arguments against same sex marriage. You may disagree with them, but it is unfair to equate holding any of these opinions with disliking homosexuals, or with wishing to limit gay rights in any unfair fashion:

1) stare decisis

2) slippery slope

On what principled grounds could the advocates of same-sex marriage oppose the marriage of two consenting brothers? - William Bennett

3) "Marriage" is intentionally exclusionary - and properly so. "Gay marriage" is an oxymoron.

Marriage is not an arbitrary construct; it is an “honorable estate” based on the different, complementary nature of men and women — and how they refine, support, encourage and complete one another. To insist that we maintain this traditional understanding of marriage is not an attempt to put others down. It is simply an acknowledgment and celebration of our most precious and important social act. [...]To say that same-sex unions are not comparable to heterosexual marriages ... is an argument for making distinctions in law about relationships that are themselves distinct. - William Bennett

4) "Wisdom of millenia"

Nor is this view arbitrary or idiosyncratic. It mirrors the accumulated wisdom of millennia and the teaching of every major religion. Among worldwide cultures, where there are so few common threads, it is not a coincidence that marriage is almost universally recognized as an act meant to unite a man and a woman. - William Bennett

If I hire a liberal to build my house, they might decide to attach everything with straw instead of nails. I would ask:
"Do you know of any science, or any hands on experiences, which indicate straw works better than nails?"
And they would reply:
"No. We just feel very strongly that straw will work better than nails."
And thats the best way I know to explain liberals. - Connie DuToit

5) The signals SSM would send to children whose sexuality is still formulating. Many parents believe that a substantial number of people carry within them the potential to live either gay or straight lives, and they want to encourage their children to be hetero. As no definitive science exists to settle this issue, and one's beliefs can only be based on anecdotal evidence, it is unfair to condemn this as a homophobic belief. It is possible to believe this, yet still wish for gay people to lead happy and legally protected lives.

6) I happen to believe children do better with one male and one female parent. I fear SSM would put SSM couples on equal adoptive standing with hetero couples. I would prefer, when potential adoptive parents are considered, for SSM to be counted as a detractor - which can be overcome by other plus factors on the part of the SSM couple.

7) Civil partnership agreements are already in existence in many states, and therefore must be honored by all states. These confer the same legal rights onto the partnered couples as married couples enjoy. Connie DuToit asks:
In light of this - why the big push for "Marriage"? I smell a rat.

I do, too. I suspect the SSM movement is more about a political agenda than it is about legal, religious, moral, or emotional considerations. Therefore, though I've always supported gay marriage - based on the happiness and love I've seen in the eyes of gay couples - my support is now retracted. As of now, I'm no longer sure what I stand for. I do not support either side.

Part 2

Maggie Gallagher makes a deeply reasoned argument in favor of marriage, and against SSM:

(How) Will Gay Marriage Weaken Marriage as a Social Institution:
A Reply to Andrew Koppleman

Ms. Gallagher has convinced me. I've moved 180 degrees from two days ago, and 90 degrees from yesterday: I now oppose SSM. Ms. Gallagher's main thrust is, first, marriage confers no "benefits" in any legally consistent or important fashion. Some married people benefit sometimes, others don't. Rather, marriage laws are designed to be normative:

"In reality, such legal consequences are not benefits or incentives, but rather reflect the law's perception of spouses as each other's closest kin. The law is doing justice to the relation that actually exists between spouses."
The purpose of marriage law is inherently normative, to create and force others to recognize a certain kind of union....

Second, the importance of marriage cannot be reduced to a bloodless legal definition. For one thing, there's an elephant in the room:

Society has a stake in encouraging
A) babies being born, and
B) children having their own mothers and fathers.

[L]anguage -- or more precisely, normative vocabulary -- is one of the key cultural resources supporting and regulating any institution. Nothing is more essential to the integrity and strength of an institution than a common set of understandings, a shared body of opinion, about the meaning and purpose of the institution. And, conversely, nothing is more damaging than an attack on this common set of understanding with the consequent fracturing of meaning. - Barbara Dafor Whitehead

Change the public meaning of a social institution, and you change the institution itself. As a matter of definition, if you widen the class of objects to which a category applies, you necessarily make the fit between the category and the object less tight.

"Cat" example: What if we redefined "cat" to mean "animal with four legs and a tail"? There might be some benefits, yet we would no longer have a word to precisely describe a cat:

If we want to speak to each other about cats, we will either have to invent a new term, and hope it will communicate the full valence of the old word (rich with historic associations and symbolic overtones), or we will have to do without a word for cat at all. One might reasonably forsee, without charting all the specific mechanisms, that it might become harder to communicate an idea for which we no longer have any word.
Instinct doesn't take human beings very far. Social institutions like marriage are created, sustained, and transmitted by words, and the images, symbols, and feelings, that surround words. Change the meaning of the word, and you change the thing itself.

[F]rom a societal standpoint, the class of people to be benefitted [by SSM] is small, and alternative mechanisms for meeting their social needs have hardly been seriously tried, much less exhausted.

Others who see a political agenda:
...since marriage is one of the institutions that support heterosexuality and heterosexual identities, heterosexuality and heterosexuals will change as well. - Ladell McWhorter

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter

Robert Mitchum, Shelly Winters(at her most beautiful and alluring), Lillian Gish

I'm close to turning lights out, surfing channels, and come upon the opening lines of a black and white movie, spoken just after a camera in the sky has captured children - playing hide and seek - come upon the body of a youngish women. Female voice-over - coming from out of the sky:

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. Neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits, ye shall know them.

From an outstanding review by Tim Dirks:
The camera then tracks after an open touring Essex car [stolen], a Model T driven down a country road by a sinister, crazed, malevolent, black-cloaked, wide-brimmed and hatted 'Preacher' Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum), one of the 'false prophets.' In a chilling, perversely evil and memorable monologue to the Lord, the killer-evangelist with borderline sanity, glances heavenward and delivers an insane prayer. He complains that he is "tired" of ridding the world of tempting females [one being the dead body just discovered]. As he drives by a cemetery, he reveals that he is a serial killer who receives divine inspirations to first marry, and then murder and rob women (usually rich lonely widows who do not see the menacing perversity in him):
Well now, what's it to be Lord? Another widow? How many has it been? Six? Twelve? I disremember. (He tips his hat.) You say the word, Lord, I'm on my way...You always send me money to go forth and preach your Word. The widow with a little wad of bills hid away in a sugar bowl. Lord, I am tired. Sometimes I wonder if you really understand. Not that You mind the killin's. Yore Book is full of killin's. But there are things you do hate Lord: perfume-smellin' things, lacy things, things with curly hair.
Thus was I pulled into a film noir classic: The Night of the Hunter - the only film ever directed by Charles Laughton. Tis a pity, as Mr. Laughton obviously had much to give as a director. I was entranced and hypnotized by this film, which was by turns suspenseful, darkly comedic, darkly observant of humanity, and spiritual. This film was Hitchcock meets Blood Simple meets Fargo meets Elmer Gantry. The thrust was simple yet profound; the craftsmanship simple yet rich and elegant; the musical score compelling and suspenseful; the direction filled with metaphor and classical reference.

A bit about the other actors(photo):

Shelly Winters was outstanding as a widow knocked askew by grief. That's Peter Graves as a heroic and tormented criminal. Lillian Gish (photo 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) steals the film by allowing the self-awareness and moral strength of a 50 year old woman to shine through her performance.

Spoiler alert!

The film title seemingly refers to a long childrens' nightmare of a night in which an eight year old brother and five year old sister escape a basement of death, flee overland to a river, and drift a rowboat downriver in the light of a quarter-moon. Still a steadily plodding horse carries Mitchum after them; always somehow keeping pace, no matter how fast they flee; always magically following in the correct direction.

The title, however, more aptly refers to a night in which Mitchum's demonic character is trying to wrest the children from the protection of Gish's shotgun-toting embodiment of faith and moral courage. She shoots Mitchum. As he flees to her barn, he emits a hellish demon-screech which is quite unlike anything previously heard from his character. She instructs the town's telephone operator:

Send the state troopers. I've got something trapped in my barn.

She says it as a matter-of-fact declaration. Mitchum stays obediently in her unlocked barn. He knows he is beaten. Gish displays little concern that he may come out and harm her or the children. She knows he may not - in the true sense of "may I?" - for he does not have her permission. She has vanquished a demon.

I've got something trapped in my barn.

Gish hasn't entrapped it via physical constriction, but rather with faith and moral courage. That is the way you vanquish a demon. Lillian Gish is the hunter of the movie title, and the night belongs to her. Her prey was threatening two innocent children (who represent all mankind). Her faith and moral courage entrapped it just as surely as a jungle pit entraps a tiger. After, Gish tells the boy(summarizing from memory):

You are more capable and resilient than you know.

The state troopers are on the way. Yet, after Mitchum is carted to prison, the film goes on. The children(representing mankind) are threatened by less obvious yet still dangerous forces, and they are not yet grown up enough to handle those forces on their own. The point of the final scenes is that Gish's job is not finished, and will not be finished while she remains on this earth. The children, who will follow her example as adults, will need to always be on guard. Through her example of direct and forthright action, she is showing them the way.

Robert Mitchum is greatly under-appreciated as an actor. He progresses the story via his physicality and sexuality. Mitchum must be the stuff of down and dirty sexual fantasy for many women. Here, he is menacing, and revolting, yet - I surmise - also subconciously thrilling. The duality reminds of the way Grace Kelly was cool and composed in the Hitchcock movies, yet I subconciously sensed she was hot, hot, hot - and yearned for her. Mitchum reeks of testosterone and danger, in the way a tall and powerful stallion reeks of testosterone and danger. A talented horseman can generally control and ride a stallion, yet he never forgets that proximity to a stallion is proximity to true danger. Stallions bite with bad temper, and can turn hooves on you in an instant. Brain damage or death are a real possibility. It tends to focus one's attention. One may wonder why the horseman goes near the stallion. Yet he does.

Thumbs up. 5 Stars. Way to go Turner Classic Movies.

Although one of the greatest American films of all time, the imaginatively-chilling, experimental, sophisticated work was idiosyncratic, film noirish, avante garde, dream-like expressionistic and strange, and it was both ignored and misunderstood at the time of its release. Originally, it was a critical and commercial failure.

Robert Mitchum gave what some consider his finest performance in a precedent-setting, unpopular, and truly terrifying role as the sleepy-eyed, diabolical, self-appointed serial killer/Preacher with psychotic, murderous tendencies while in pursuit of $10,000 in cash. Lillian Gish played his opposite - a saintly good woman who provided refuge for the victimized children.

The high-contrast, melodramatic-horror film with macabre humor deliberately pays tribute to its silent film heritage, and to pioneering director D. W. Griffith in its style (the use of stark, expressionistic black and white cinematography, archaic camera devices such as iris down) and in its casting of Griffith's principal protegé/silent star, the legendary Lillian Gish (in her first film since Portrait of Jennie (1948)). [...] In Laughton's words, it was

"a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale."

From its start, the film is designed to have the special feeling of a child's nightmare, including the difficult keeping of a secret, and a magical journey to safety - all told from a child's point of view.

Dirks mentions this as a horror film. Roger Ebert says many horror films have copied bits of The Night of the Hunter - especially a scene where Mitchum calls down the cellar stairs to the children hiding below: "Chilll..dren?". It's good I didn't know this in advance, as I don't watch horror films! Might give me nightmares....

Addendum I:
In searching out photos, I notice this movie has been colorized. This is a desecration. This film came out when color was becoming widely popular - which may have partly accounted for its commercial failure. The movie is a children's nightmare put onto the screen. Filming in black and white was a conscious artistic choice.

Addendum II:
Roger Ebert:
"But does this familiarity give The Night of the Hunter the recognition it deserves? I don't think so because those famous trademarks distract from its real accomplishment. It is one of the most frightening of movies, with one of the most unforgettable of villains....
It is risky to combine horror and humor, and foolhardy to approach them through expressionism. For his first film, Laughton made a film like no other before or since, and with such confidence it seemed to draw on a lifetime of work. Critics were baffled by it, the public rejected it...."

Monday, January 09, 2006

e.e. cummings: what Got him was Nothing

what Got him was Noth
e. e. cummings
poem #30 from 95 poems. 1958

what Got him was Noth
ing & nothing's exAct

ly what any one Living
(or some
Dead like even a Poet)could
hardly express what
i Mean is
what knocked him over Wasn't
(for instance)the Knowing your

whole(yes god

damned)life is a Flop or even

Feel how
& hoped &
prayed for
months & weeks & days & years
& nights &
forever)is Less Than
Nothing(which would have been

Something)what got him was nothing

e.e. cummings wrote poetry like a jazz musician plays scat - jumping from here to there, improvising, who knows where he would go next. Some detested it:

So far as I am concerned, Mr. Cummings may do anything he likes with the alphabet, the English grammar, and the multiplication table, provided only the result of his activities be something interesting, and after a reasonable period of application, comprehensible, to a reader of culture and brains. Mr. Cummings may not, however, I say, write poetry in English which is more difficult for me to translate than poetry written in Latin. He may, of course, write it. But if he publishes it, if he prints and offers for sale poetry which he is quite content should be, after hours of sweating concentration, inexplicable from any point of view to a person as intelligent as myself, then he does so with a motive which is frivolous from the point of view of art, and should not be helped or encouraged by any serious person of group of persons...

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Savage Beauty
pg. 370

I generally dislike "Modern Art". However, on reflection, I think I dislike it not so much because it is modern, as because I perceive the artists "works" as being shallow and mediocre. Not that I know zhizhi about art. I don't. But, sometimes, from the end zone, shallow and mediocre is very clear. I think I would like interesting and significant modern art - which, of course, is really just: "art".

I like scat. I'm coming to like jazz more and more, and to appreciate music more and more, and I like scat.

And I like e.e. cummings. I think he is interesting and significant. For all I know, cummings was an atheist - yet I see this particular poem as quite theological. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon gives voice to the same sense of futility as cummings, saying "All is vanity, and striving after wind." The bigger theme, I think, of cummings and Solomon, is that whenever one is stripped of all artifice, and all fantasy, one comes face to face, finally, with truth. And God.

That moment will getcha.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

New Evidence: Saddam Trained Thousands of Int'l Terrorists

From Powerlineblog:

We spoke with Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard earlier this week; he told us that he was about to publish a bombshell: documents and photographs discovered in Iraq show that in the years leading up to the war, Saddam's regime trained thousands of international terrorists at several camps in Iraq. Here is Steve's story:

THE FORMER IRAQI REGIME OF Saddam Hussein trained thousands of radical Islamic terrorists from the region at camps in Iraq over the four years immediately preceding the U.S. invasion, according to documents and photographs recovered by the U.S. military in postwar Iraq. The existence and character of these documents has been confirmed to THE WEEKLY STANDARD by eleven U.S. government officials.

The secret training took place primarily at three camps--in Samarra, Ramadi, and Salman Pak--and was directed by elite Iraqi military units. Interviews by U.S. government interrogators with Iraqi regime officials and military leaders corroborate the documentary evidence. Many of the fighters were drawn from terrorist groups in northern Africa with close ties to al Qaeda, chief among them Algeria's GSPC and the Sudanese Islamic Army. Some 2,000 terrorists were trained at these Iraqi camps each year from 1999 to 2002, putting the total number at or above 8,000. Intelligence officials believe that some of these terrorists returned to Iraq and are responsible for attacks against Americans and Iraqis.


The discovery of the information on jihadist training camps in Iraq would seem to have two major consequences: It exposes the flawed assumptions of the experts and U.S. intelligence officials who told us for years that a secularist like Saddam Hussein would never work with Islamic radicals, any more than such jihadists would work with an infidel like the Iraqi dictator. It also reminds us that valuable information remains buried in the mountain of documents recovered in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past four years.

Only a tiny fraction--between two and three percent--of the 2,000,000 "exploitable items" recovered in Iraq have been translated. Only in the last few weeks has the Bush administration finally made a commitment to devoting the necessary resources to reviewing and translating the Iraqi documents. Until now, the administration has been reluctant to allow access even to the handful of unclassified documents that have been translated. Thankfully, that posture is changing.

While we have barely scratched the surface of Iraq's intelligence records, it is already obvious that Saddam was a major supporter and enabler of Islamic terrorism:

"As much as we overestimated WMD, it appears we underestimated [Saddam Hussein's] support for transregional terrorists," says one intelligence official.

Apparently there are boxes full of photographs of jihadists training in Saddam's camps. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

Posted by John at 05:33 PM

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Longhorns Are 2005 National Champions!

1970 to 2005 = 35 years

Longhorn fans will be insufferable for another 35 years
- but I'm still thrilled it happened!

Reggie got the Heisman, but Vince got the championship.

What a ballgame. Congratulations, Longhorns.
Historic Perspective:

Texas defeats Michigan and USC in back to back Rose Bowls. That's three storied institutions; in College Football's most storied venue; wearing three classic uniforms and three classic helmets - including two helmets: Texas and Michigan, which are in the conversation for best helmets in the nation.

I thought Texas was lucky to defeat Michigan last year, because I thought Vince Young was fortunate to find running room at some key moments of the game. It looks like I was wrong. Vince makes his own luck.

Vince's burning competitive leadership is reminscent, really, of Roger Staubach. He would not let Texas lose.

2005 Texas, with a tough and fast defense, a massively talented offensive line, and Vince Young, deserves to be remembered as a fine championship team. They are not flukes. Rather, they deserve status in the upper tier of championship teams.

Quirky tableaux:

Matt Leinart, interviewed on the field, after the final gun:

It's tough. It was a great win, uh, los... uh, we fought hard. It was a tough game.

You can tell its been two years since Leinart lost a game. Dan Fouts, attempting serious comment after Texas recovered their 33rd fumble of the season:

Texas puts it on the ground so much, they've become good at going after it.

Fouts put that commentary on the ground, and never went after it. Keith Jackson, after a Vince Young run:

He runs better to his right.

Riiiiight. From Annika's Journal:

That game was as good as the ABC announcers were biased.

Misc. Commentary:

No one has ever made 4th and 5 look so easy. From the 9. With 25 seconds remaining. Cake.

Reggie Bush is the love child of Tony Dorsett and O.J. I thought Reggie's failed lateral was an excellent idea, which only lacked execution. I thought he took a measured and reasonable risk. I was surprised it didn't work. I love everything about Reggie Bush, except, maybe, his father.

USC RB LenDale White was spectacular, right up to the moment he was stopped on the final fourth and two with two minutes to go. Bill Parcells would salivate at the chance to draft White.

Vince Young's physical strength was amazing - pushing through tackles, and forcing a fall forward for extra yards, time and time again. Vince obviously enjoys the weight room. If he declared himself a RB, he might be the first pick in the NFL Draft.

What do the Texans do if Vince declares for the NFL draft - as he gives every indication of intending to do? It will take years of losing before Vince can read defenses well enough to be a competent NFL QB. Jehosaphat! What a dilemma for the Texans! If Vince declares, I would hate to be the Houston GM. I guess I would take him. What else can you do? If you're gonna go down - go down in flames! That's entertainment!

Vince's NFL decision: On one hand, no one has ever needed another season of reading college defenses worse than Vince does. Texas coaches still have him reading only half the field on most plays(another tidbit picked up in pregame hype!). OTOH, Vince has an improbable chance to play for his hometown team. I think he should take it. It's better than ending up with Bill Bidwell. Or Al Davis.

Oddly, if there was one critical play in a game filled with big plays, I think it was Leinart's careless interception toss on the Texas goal line, with USC leading 7 to 3, and storming downfield towards a second touchdown.

Texas still hasn't stopped USC's waggle pass. If USC had only run White plus the waggle on their next to last drive, they would've still been driving when the clock ran out.

Both TE's were spectacular.

Texas' offense looks hully-gully, but its not. It's a showcase offense for Vince Young - the strength of the Longhorn team.

Vince didn't get the Heisman, but keep your eye on speedy Longhorn RB Jamaal Charles, #25, for the 2008 Heisman Trophy.

I thought the incompete pass call on Jamaal Charles was the right call, but damn, it was close!

I liked Pete Carroll's decision to go for it on 4th and 2, with 2 minutes remaining. Don't play not to lose - play to win. As much as anything, its an attitude you want to infuse in your team. In addition, if you can't stop Texas from going 60 yards to win the game, you're not that good a bet to stop them from going 85 yards to win the game.

Texas defense gave up 38 points, yet I thought they were outstanding. Speed, baby. They got hellacious speed. The defense is run by a former Auburn assistant, and uses defensive principles popularized by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers(a factoid I learned during the unavoidable pregame hype).

Mac Brown. Vindication. He's had his nose publicly rubbed in it by Gary Barnett, and after the OU losses (including a dogpile by me!). How sweet for Mac. Does a coach have to be a tactician to be an outstanding coach? Heck no! Leave that stuff to the assistants. A coach has to recruit, and coach his players' attitudes. Mac has done that so well, the entire Longhorn team is now convinced they have been coaching him! That's coaching! Salute, Mac. Couldn't happen to a classier guy.

And salute, Big 12. After the bowl victories by Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Missouri, you guys are suddenly looking better. Too bad Iowa State ran into the buzzsaw that was the TCU Fightin' Horned Toads!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The lamp of the body is the eye

The lamp of the body is the eye;
if therefore your eye is clear,
your whole body will be full of light.

But if your eye is bad,
your whole body will be full of darkness.
If therefore the light that is in you is darkness,
how great is the darkness!

Jesus, quoted in Matthew 6: 22-23
New American Standard Bible