Saturday, December 30, 2006

Two more major books on the problems in radical Islam

There are two major books in circulation about Islam by “gay” authors. Irshad Manji appeared on CNN’s “Welcome to the Future” Christmas weekend to present her book The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith,

From St. Martin’s Griffin, ISBN 0-312-32700-5, 2003, 234 pages, paper. She discussed putting a lot of it online at her website Muslin Refuseniks. A major theme of her book is the collapse of intellectual honesty and open speech a few centuries ago as the Sunni Caliphate tried to consolidate political power. This translates into a patriarchal society with fundamentalist mentality today, that includes the oppression of women, and she calls for an ijtihad.

Bruce Bawer, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within. New York: Doubleday, 2006. ISBN 0-385-51472-7. 244 pages, hardcover, indexed, discusses the paradigm problems with Muslim immigration into Europe in the past twenty years, and his book is in three long chapters, with a central section on 9/11. Compared to immigrants, poorer Muslims retain a social and religious loyalty to extended families in Muslim countries, with resulting oppression of women and other human rights that European governments are too timid to challenge. The demographics of Muslim population growth, compared to the failure of European populations (including, of course, gays) to replace themselves sets up a future political disaster. Bawer is well known for his books in the 90s: A Place at the Table, and Beyond Queer, an anthology which he edited.

I have a more detailed review of these two books at this link.

Photo (unrelated). Field near the Mt. Carmel site near Waco, Texas (Branch Davidian raid of 1993).

Friday, November 24, 2006

Smaller book chains into online ordering

The Thanksgiving Day Business Section of The Washington Post Nov 23 2006 featured an article by Yuki Noguchi, “Mom-and-Pops, All Grwon Up: To Survive, Online Sellers Evolve Into Full-Time, High-Stress Businesses.”

One area we hear a lot about this is booksellers. Small, independent stores or smaller chains with specialized customer audiences are having trouble competing with the large chain booksellers (Barnes and Noble, Borders) which can often offer huge discounts. I have discount/membership cards with Barnes and Noble and Books*A*Million. Typically, these pay the sales tax or shipping and a little more. In the past year or so, Amazon has been offering much larger discounts on many books than previously.

Lambda Rising, as noted earlier in this blog, has long catered to the interests of LGBT consumers. Like many smaller chains or stores, they would have to feel the competition from large chains and online ordering. So, like many small companies, they have gone into the online catalogue selling like the large companies.

One advantage of smaller bookstores is the frequency of booksigning parties and the chance to meet and talk to the authors. I missed a chance to go to the signing for Andrew Sullivan’s The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (Harper Collins, ISBN 0060188774, 294 pages, indexed, hardbound, blocked red white and blue dust jacket. So I tried ordering this by the Lambda website, and followed with Geoffrey R. Stone: Title: Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, Norton, ISBN 0393058808. I did not price compare this time. (I will the next time.) I found that Lambda was offering pretty much the same mainstream selection of books as everyone else.

These two books (that I ordered) are relevant to my involvement in the COPA case, described on another blog. The most interesting part of Sullivan’s book is his explanation of religious fundamentalism, as a belief system that protects the believer by being immune from challenge, either by openness to other speakers, and by not tolerating personal behavior anywhere that contradicts the religious belief system.

The Stone book traces suppression of free speech through six national crises: the “half war” with France that resulted in the Sedition Act of 1798, the Civil War, World War I, which resulted in the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918 (a lot of it motivated by draft resistance), World War II and Japanese internment, the Cold War with “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy and the blacklists, and the Vietnam War, with the draft card burning, protests, and Watergate. Stone relentlessly examines the subjectivity of laws that control free speech because of perceived indirect threats to security, with problems like “fact or opinion” in assessing “malicious libel”, and the “heckler’s veto” in assessing indirect threats to free speech.

The Lambda Rising search site is this.

When you search by author, you use the last name and notice the search box in the middle of the page (use this one, not the one below the ISBN).

The Lambda Rising blog is this.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Roth-Douquet and Schaeffer: AWOL; indeed a moral debate

Authors: Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer; Foreword by General Tommy Franks
Title: AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service ** and How It Hurts Our Country
Publisher: Collins, 2006
ISBN: 0-06-088859-8
238 pages, hardbound

This book was mentioned in a Washington Times syndicated column by Suzanne Fields, Nov. 6, 2006, the column titled “Not-so-smart college boys: The military teaches what universities don’t”.

I think you can tell the tone of the book from the title, and indeed that is the case. This book deals with the unequal burden of the risks and sacrifices it takes to protect freedom and democracy. At the end, not surprisingly, the authors discuss ideas for national service, with Mr. Schaeffer particularly willing to make it rather compulsory and rather tough. There is a bit of “rite of passage” mentality here, perhaps, though for both men and women. Compulsory service could become the great equalizer.

All of this sounds anti-libertarian, because it smacks of involuntary servitude. Actually, it gets into another area of morality that we used to understand, but have somehow forgotten in the past few decades of increasing individualism and demands for narrowing of the law. That is, you don’t take what you have for granted, and you share burdens.

We have cast this, software-like, as personal responsibility, except that for purposes of factoring it into libertarian or objectivistic terms, you could call proving that you can take care of other people and share in common efforts (“pay your dues”) as part of personal responsibility.

The authors mention the military don’t ask don’t tell policy for gays early (particularly in discussing the refusal of some universities to admit recruiters because of the Solomon Amendment). But the real place that I wonder about it is what would happen if the draft really came back (the reserve retention policy for Iraq amounts to a “back door draft”), or if military service was a preferred option in national service (which it probably would be).

In the early 1990s I took a computer programming job with a company that specialized in selling life insurance to the military. Now when President Clinton proposed lifting the ban on gays in the military, I decided to become involved in the debate. I had been thrown out of a civilian college (William and Mary) in 1961 for telling the Dean of Men that I was gay, but I served in the Army 1968-1970 without incident, although I did not go to Vietnam and share the sacrifice with my own body. I decided to do my own book, well documented elsewhere, and that presented a conflict of interest. Fortunately, the company was bought by a larger company, and I made a corporate transfer to avoid the conflict and moved to another city. When my mother ran into problems, my absence could have threatened her care. I don’t want to go into too much personal detail here about that, but a sensitive point was that I did not feel that I should derive income directly or indirectly from the military if it could say publicly that I was not morally worthy of service were it to be necessary. That would have been true ultimately even if I had not written the book.

Social issues have been presented with surrogate problems narrow in scope (abortion, gay marriage, etc) that cover up the debate on deeper problems about how burdens and sacrifices are to be shared. Indeed, that debate must connect to our respect to human life. In the meantime, our individualism can be carried to such an extreme that with, one mistake, a person is through. (Indeed, in drawing our laws into narrow focus, we sometimes throw people who cross certain legal lines to the wolves – see the previous book in this blog.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Elizabeth Price Foley presents Liberty for All book at Cato Forum

Author: Elizabeth Price Foley
Title: Liberty for All: Reclaiming Individual Privacy in a New Era of Public Morality
Date: 2006
Publisher: Yale University Press

Dr. Foley, law professor at Florida International University, presented her basic thesis at the Cato Institute, "the Fortress of Solitude" or "Ice Box" building on Massachusetts Ave. in Washington DC, near the new Convention Center, on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006, followed by a sandwich luncheon.

Conventional wisdom has it that the Bill of Rights did not prohibit the states from making laws infringing on what we see today as individual liberties, until the "incorporation doctrine" came into being with the 14th Amendment. But Foley argues that the Ninth Amendment actually contains a legal basis for protecting individuals from encroachment by states. However, the courts tended to refuse to rule this way in the first half of the Nineteenth Century because of fear of driving southern states into secession. She discussed the "Harm Principle" as the moral basis for the law.

A counter speaker, of sorts, was William A. Galston, Senior Fellow from the Brookings Institution. Mr. Galston pointed out that at least six of the original thirteen colonies had religion integrated with the state, and had their "bill of rights" set up to enforce religious morality. He cited Massachusetts (today seen as a liberal state, despite or perhaps because of its heavily Roman Catholic heritage, with its progress in gay issues) as having constitutional provisions giving the government the power and mandate to promote public worship of God as a way of promoting public morality.

The two speakers debate the fine points of interpretation of the Ninth Amendment.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Congrats to Lambda Rising

Lambda Rising is a well-known independent bookstore serving the GLBT community in the mid-Atlantic area. It has stores in Washington, Baltimore, Rehoboth Beach, and Norfolk. Like all independent bookstores, it has had to deal with the tremendous powers and economies of scale of the big chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders (Amazon), even Booksamillion.

In 2006, Lambda Rising was voted "Best Bookstore in DC" in the W*USA 9 2006 A-List Contest. You can check the details by visiting the store's homepage and blogs.

Today, Lambda Rising discusses "Banned Books Week 2006" and mentions Choke, by Chuck Palnhiuk, in which the protagonist sets up a real-world scam to pay for eldercare for his mother. To find the book discussed on Lambda Rising's site is interesting. As I have noted on other blogs, filial responsibility laws in many states could become a not so hidden iceberg for GLBT people. You have to have equal rights to take care of other people. Equal rights can affect and support personal freedom in this paradoxical way.

I haven't gotten the book yet, but I'll have to look into it.

Note: Please visit this blog's archives, links to the left. All of the postings are there. They drop off the main display page after about ten entries.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Two Cato books on health care

Title: Medicare Meets Mehpistopheles
Author: David A. Hyman
Publisher: Cato Institute, Washington DC, 2006
ISBN 1-930865-92-9
138 pages, paper.

The author presented this book at a forum on Sept. 21, 2006 in the "Ice Palace" Building owned by Cato in Washington. The book is a bit of a spoof on the Medicare program, recalling the last movement perhaps of Liszt's "A Faust Symphony." The author organizes the book around The Seven Deadly Sins (like the 1995 movie Se7en). He points out that Medicare might confound attempts to have universal health insurance because doing so could reduce benefits of those now favored. There is the point that Medicare was intended to be a pay-as-you-go program, but is effectively a Ponzi scheme where a younger generation pays for the elderly. He also points out that the anti-fraud regulations are so draconian and pose such risk of strict liability that potential providers are driven away. He does discuss potential reforms.

Title: Healthy Competition: What's Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.
Authors: Michael F. Cannon, Michael D. Tanner, Foreword by George P. Schultz.
Publisher: Cato Institute, 2005
ISBN 1-930865-81-3
182 pages, paper

The authors describe the technical superiority of American health care, which is able to deliver cutting edge treatments to the very ill with little rationing. Most other western countries have essentially single payer system and have waiting lists, although that situation may be improving. His books is in three parts: "The State of the American Health Care System", "Misdiagnosis" "Underlying Diseases, Strong Medicine." He favors health savings accounts and analyzes many current fads and proposals such as employer mandates and managed competition. He accepts the idea of moral hazard and personal responsibility (although many other economists claim that moral hazard does not really exist with a service whose need people cannot predict). Philosophically, he believes that it is wrong for one person's or one group's needs to restrict another's freedom.

What kind of books sell -- a question of culture

We see a lot of books and memoirs by celebrities and politicians. It always seems like they are hitting moving targets. Some of them, like Bill Clinton's My Life or Colin Powell's My American Dream, do provide sharp insights into the debates that went on regarding policy issues, such as homosexuals in the military as vetted in 1993. A lot of them seem to be hitting a moving target. Carolyn Kennedy's (and Ellen Aldermans') "The Right to Privacy" comes to mind.

The general rule seems to be you have to make the name for yourself in something else first, then you can produce best sellers.

It takes real originality for an unknown to come up with a breakout idea, as with Donald Maass and Writing the Breakout Novel. Yet Stephen King started it off in 1973.

And college age Christopher Paolini has started it out with his fanatasy novels Eragon (to be followed by Eldest, as part of The Inheritance Trilogy), with the first novel to become a movie late in 2006, from 20th Century Fox.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

James Frey's A Million Little Pieces

Title: A Million Little Pieces
Author: James Frey
Publisher: Anchor
ISBN 1-4000-3108-7

I bought this book from an Amazon reseller, at it has the orange and red "Oprah's Book Club" sticker on it. It looks like something out of James Joyce, without paragraph indentation. It's pretty avant garde and existential and all that. And it depicts chemical dependency (to use a mild word) in graphic terms. It became a bestseller.

We all heard the story that Frey fabricated some of this, kind of creating himself as an inverted fabulist. This led to litigation, "unpublication," a consumer recall and offer or refund as a publisher's settlement. Here are the details according to CNN.

What's interesting here is not just the idea that the publication purports to be a history and it did not happen. If the book is fiction, it is a form of self-defamation or self-libel. That is, if someone else wrote this as fiction and made Frey an indentifuable character and the story was false, the author could be liable for libel. In some cases, as I have noted in other blogs, self-defamation can raise serious legal issues of their own.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Opposing Viewpoints Series

Greenhaven Press, (Thomson Gale) in Michigan, offers a series of books and papers called The Opposing Viewpoints Series. The link given here is a pretty complete list. The series slogan is "Those who do not know their opponent's arguments do not completely understand their own." Elsewhere, I have suggested that this approach to presenting arguments ought to be developed into a database and offered as educational software.

In 2006, I had a contribution published in Teenage Sexuality: Opposing Viewpoints, edited by Ken R. Wells. My contribution is "Homosexuality Should Be Discussed in High School," on p. 183. This is the first publication of something by me in a book that was published by an independent third party. The opposing viewpoint has a "not" in the title and is by Linda P. Harvey. Various other essays concern the effect of the Internet on teens, age of consent, and whether unwed teens with kids should marry.

The Library of Congress Table of Contents is at this link.
The Amazon link for purchase is this.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Nancy Flynn: Blog Rules

Title: Blog Rules: A Business Guide to Managing Policy, Public Relations and Legal Issues
Author: Nancy Flynn
Publisher: American Management Association (AMACOM), New York, 2006
ISBN 0-8144-7355-5
226 pages, paper

This new book, being offered also by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) at this link,
is a sobering discussion of the legal and business risks that come both with corporate blogging, and with personal blogs done at home by employees, even with their own time and resources. Much of the "risk" and "opportunity" both come with the same territory, because of the pervasiveness and mathematical effectiveness of search engines.

The book is in six main parts. Major attention is given to employee personal blogging, personal sites, and social networking profiles, as posing possible risks. The most obvious risk is disclosure of confidential information or trade secrets. Other risks could include contributing to a hostile workplace or embarassment in front of customers or clients who could find offending material through search engines.

The author reports that several hundred people are known to have been fired ("dooced") or have resigned from positions because of offending material (usually compromising discussions about the employer or other people at work, sometimes because of disclosure of secrets or securities law violations, sometimes because of pornography). In a few unusual cases there have been lawsuits, as blogs have to follow the same intellectual property law (as with defamation, even self-defamation) as do other media.

The author recommends that all employers adopt and publish employee blogging policies, and she proposes several. My own feeling is that blogging policies should be tailored to the specific job responsibilities, even within one organization, and should be posted on a corporate web site and acknowledged whenever anyone applies for a job online.

This book is a quick and sobering turnaround from earlier books like Rebecca Blood's The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Weblog (2002, Perseus), and David Kline and Dan Burstein, Blog! How the Newest Media Revolution Is Changing Business, Politics, and Culture (2005, Squibnocket Partners).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

David A. Rich: 7 Biblical Truths

Title: 7 Biblical Truths You Won't Hear in Church But Might Change Your Life
Author: David A. Rich
Publisher: Harvest House, Eugene Origin
Date: 2006

I saw this book on a spindle rack at a service plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the plaza near Sideling Hill, as I recall. The book is by a man from Allentown, PA whose original name was Matalico.

The seven truths bring a bit of objectivism to Christianity, to concepts that are usually seen as matters of faith. In a sense this sounds a bit like mixing concepts of faith -- the reassurances of a Rick Warren ("The Purpose-Driven Life") with the merciless logic of an Ayn Rand. I won't repeat all the principles here, but he does start out by saying that God doesn't grade on a curve, doesn't give part-credit.

He stays away from polarizing social issues (so does Warren) to focus on his principles. Right and wrong in the real world are often mixed with social prejudcies and the political climate, but not in God's view, where the moral playing field is a carpenter's level.

One point that seems like a corollary. Any one can be subject to temptation. That is not sin. Giving in to temptation, however, is sin and has consequences. Yet sometimes our society and legal system can confuse temptation with "intent" and "propensity." But one sin is not worse than another just because of public reaction or emotion.

This blog is not necessarily focused upon religion, but I wanted to provide some balance against the last review, since religious ideology is driving so many world events (and horrible ones) right now.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam; Islam at the Crossroads

Title: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Islam
Author: Yahiya Emerick
Publisher: Alpha: Complete Idiot's Guides series, 2002
ISBN 0-02-864233-3
LOC: 2001095921

I usually don't review entries in "how-to" series. The Idiot's Guide is a series similar in concept to "for Dummies" from IDG. As such, it is a brand name and strongly trademarked as a book series. It may not be as familiar to casual bookstore customers as IDG.

But this book is particularly relevant to the sometimes contentious debate in the media, especially conservative newspapers, about the meaning of Islam and its ideology, as in the recent film "Islam: What the West Needs to Know" at another of my blogs.

The book explains Islam in simple terms, and makes it look like a mainstream religion with reasonable beliefs from both theological and moral terms. There are obvious differences with Christianity, such as denial of original sin (Islam maintains that we are born pure -- Pakistan is, after all, "The Land of the Pure.")

There is ample discussion of Muslim theology, history, and social and legal practice. For the afterlife there is a diagram of a bridge called the Sirat, which must be traversed at Judgment Day. The author claims that Islam does not have a problem with the existence of Israel, but that it does with "injustice" (the taking of land by force) and Jerusalem. The author provides the Muslim account of Jesus, who allegedly did not die (taken to Paradise) but someone was crucified in his place.

The author also claims that Islam itself preaches equality for women, and that the oppression of women is either based on stereotypes or corruption in various Muslim world societies. The author, on p. 250, cites an episode of TheWB's Seventh Heaven and the film Not Without My Daughter as giving misleading impressions about the role of women in Islam. I will rent the film and comment later.
For 7th Heaven see my TV blog.

A related book is Islam at the Crossroads: Understanding Its Beliefs, History and Customs, by Paul Marshall, Roberta Greem, and Lela Glibert, from Baker Books, 2002, 121 pages, paper, ISBN 0-8010-6416-3.
I purchased this at a reception at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC in early 2006 at a Wednesday night program about ethics in journalism, in view of the controversy over religion. The book provides a level summary is Islamic beliefs and history before going on to discuss radical Islam, especially Wahhabism, The Muslim Brotherhood, and Radical Shiites.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Irwin Redlener: Americans at Risk

Full title: Americans at Risk: Why We Are Not Prepared for Megadisasters and What We Can Do Now.
Publisher: Alred A. Knopf, New York
Date: 2006

ISBN: 0-307-26526-9

The author is director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and is president of the Children’s Health Fund. He has promoted the book on network television in the summer of 2006.

Cable television subscribers know that the History Channel has recently used the term “mega disasters” for its series on a number of terrible possibilities, like huge earthquakes, monster hurricanes (like Katrina), and tsunamis (a much greater danger, even on the East Coast than a lot of people realize, from a possible landslide near a volcano in the Azores), as well as the obvious concern about terrorist attacks with WMD’s (Weapons of Mass Destruction)

The book is in four parts, and it covers some of the well known natural disaster (and terror) scenarios in some detail, with simulations (such as a monstrous earthquake in Seattle) in boldface font. The discusses avian influenza and points out that the greatest danger could come from biological combination of "pandemic" H5N1 with more conventional seasonal influenza – an argument for ordinary immunization as a critical public health measure. The author criticizes the disorganization of our vaccine industry, and our lack of ability to protect manufacturers from contingent liability.

Redlener makes a couple of really salient points. One is that the WMD threat today is qualitatively different from MAD (mutually assured destruction) of the Cold War era. In the struggle with the Soviets, the risk was total destruction of civilization, with nuclear winter. With Al Qeada, the risk is more that there could mass destruction in one city, or a sequence of threats over cities, one at a time.

Redlener also talks about the importance of government coordination of citizen preparation. Still, he calls for "family resiliency." This is a difficult concept for some people in these individualistic times, when many people are single and want to live so independently. But "resiliency" could occur within a neighborbood or city block, and within a same-sex couple as well as within a conventional nuclear or extended family.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code. 2004, Doubleday 0-385-51375-5
Physical description: hardbound, 467 pgs, large pages, illustrated (many other versions including paperback are available now); Amazon link.

Leonardo Da Vinci certainly fits our idea of the ideal Renaissance Man. Curious, inventive, practical, brilliant, and apparently charismatic to be around as a young man. Gifted. Yet, curiously sometimes careless and inattentive, unable to complete things. He was many things. On page 50 of this edition, Brown writes that Da Vinci was a “flamboyant homosexual” and fought “a perpetual state of sin against God” despite the public success of his life in historical terms. In fact, he was a member of secret orders, most notably the Priory of Sion, a secret fraternal organization founded in 1099. Da Vinci’s homosexuality is probably difficult to prove factually, but it certainly sounds likely from the historical “circumstantial evidence.”

Of course, we have all heard about the basic premise of this novel, that Jesus married prostitute Mary Magdalene, that she carried his child when he was crucified, and that his descendents live today. So it is pretty reasonable to construct a novel based on what could happen to one of those descendents.

That is one problem. The whole novel presents a fascinating treasure hunt through all the not-so-secret religious enclaves and space in France and later England and Scotland, tracking down the clues. It is set up with a prologue, epilogue, and 105 relatively short chapters as nuggets, each leading to the next point. The plot seems a bit of an afterthought, a vehicle to develop Brown’s theory. It starts when Jacques Sauniere meets a violent and spectacular demise in a secure area of the Louvre in Paris. Professor Robert Langdon is called in and for two thirds of the novel he is a major suspect by the police, so he “must” save himself. It seems a bit of a setup. There is granddaughter Sophie whom he runs around with, and a British aristocrat Leigh Teabing, owning a chateau in France (not an uncommon situation in real life) who can provide a lot of the clues.

Now, this novel does represent “English literature” as we learn the concept in high school. Literature, we learn, relates to the deep-seated issues in any culture. In Britain, authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh of the 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, from Random House, sued Dan Brown and Random House for publishing Dan Brown's novel; which the original authors claim unfairly expropriates detailed research presented in the earlier non-fiction book. Ideas cannot be copyrighted, but in Britain, at least, there is legitimate controversy about detailed factual research. A judge in Britain (Peter Smith) turned down the plaintiffs on April 7, 2006 and since Britain has loser pays in these circumstances, the plaintiffs could have to pay up to $1.75 million in attorneys fees for both sides. (In the US, "loser pays" applies only in some cases; check with your attorney; there is a movement in general tort reform to encourage its use in the US to stop SLAPP and frivolous lawsuits.)

What of the entire theory? It has several big ideas that lead up to the blood line. One is the equating of Mary Magdalene with the concept of the Holy Grail. Another is the “eternal feminine,” an idea common in the Faust legends developed in operas by Gounod and Boito and in choral symphonies by Liszt and Mahler. That is a bit of a paradox, that Da Vinci himself was so embroiled in a philosophical ploy involving the deepest notions of heterosexuality, the sexual union where one becomes mindless, and yet could have lived the charismatic homosexual male, someone who as a young man would have been the star on today’s disco floor. And even the book’s authorship adds to the controversy, as the novel seems to have been a joint effort between Dan Brown and his own wife. In his discussions about the eternal feminine, he almost seems to predicting Masters and Johnson’s modern book “Heterosexuality,” as a joyous thing, but for 90% of people.

Then you have the Vatican, its ultraconservative organization Opus Dei, and the whole paradox of Catholic thought with a celibate priesthood (which seems to have added so much to today’s scandals – effectively a ban against straights, and now it is trying to ban gays, too). While we all know that there are religious reasons for celibacy and abstinence, the real dichotomy is psychological. Family values and blood loyalty drive the lives of supposedly “normal” people, but at some point the individual breaks away from sexual or even social communion with others and focuses on himself or herself, upon an individual reconciliation with his own potentiality, and with God. But I don't see a contradiction between Jesus's being married and his Friday death, soul and body together, and complete resurrection Sunday, by God. Since he would ascend in the Pentecost, however, it seems unlikely he would have continued to function as a husband in a conventional way of this theory is true.

The illustrated version reminds one of a reading text in grade school in that one looks forward to the pictures on many pages. The photographs cover most of the controversial religious places in France and England, leading to the Rosslyn Chapel in Edinburgh, Scotland (a major business area in Arlington, VA gets its name from that). Somehow the presentation style reminds me of Hendrik Van Loon and The Story of the Bible (1928), which has many well spaced drawings – though here we have glossy photographs. In a way, the illustrated edition becomes a kind of filmstrip, like what we used to watch in grade school in addition to movies. We don’t see those often any more. (My cousin and I used to actually make them with drawings back in the mid 1950s and show them to family and friends as “movies.”)

That brings me to the real movie, which Sony Pictures/Columbia is due to release May 19. There will be a review here then.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mark Pietrzyk: International Order and Individual Liberty

Mark Pietrzyk: International Order and Individual Liberty: Effects of War and Peace on the Development of Governments

University Press of America, 2002,
ISBN: 0-7618-2293-3; Amazon link.

On a snowy day before John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration I (as a high school senior) wrote an essay midterm exam in a Virginia and U.S. Government class at Arlington’s Washington-Lee high school on the question “Compare communism and democracy.” The World Book Encyclopedia has a three-column comparative government study comparing democracy, communism, and fascism.

Reviewing a social studies dissertation is a bit different from reviewing movies, but I always like to start with a value-adding personal context for the political theories that will follow.

In the war on terror, conservative columnists have been drawn away somewhat from the usual bickering over social mores and even resistance to public funding of social programs to enunciation of what is missing from the Arab world as well as much of the Third World: something like “liberal capitalist democracy.” (Okay, I adopt the tone for this review of a columnist for The Washington Times.) And, yes, this form of society is the most successful. It incorporates, besides the United States, all of the British Commonwealth, western Europe, some of the Pacific rim, and a few other bright spots like Turkey and even India. It is much weaker in much of South America, Africa, and the rest of Asia. It can produce the best in people. How many gifted younger adults (including at least three with dual citizenship) have I met from (besides the U.S.) Canada, Britain, Germany, Spain. I once met (in the Connection Disco in Berlin) a graduate student who had been born in East Germany but had been lucky enough to grow up in Britain. None of my friends could have lived their lives had they been brought up in places like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, even Pakistan.

All of this pertains now to the current Bush administration’s “nation building” in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and the determination of enemies to retain local chaos. One comment made over and over again is why the Muslim world fell into social and political despair after the glories of its civilization 1000 years ago, and so much of it has to do with basic corruption of political processes. It seems like an underlying concept is nihilism, a desire by some people to maintain a religious definition (“from Allah”) of the pecking order, of who is better than who.

This book is based on a Ph. D. dissertation written by the author at The George Washington University and the Brookings Institution. I know the author, but I will defer here to his own presentation of himself at

The point of the book is the degree of nexus between democracy and peace. The book is in two parts: “The Theoretical Controversy” and “Case Studies.” On the political theory, the author disputes conventional wisdom that democracies are always by nature inclined to make “a separate peace” (perhaps a pun on the John Knowles novel and 1972 movie). Some of this has to do with the way we characterize democracy itself. The author provides a key chapter “How Peace Facilitates Democracy.” The case studies are the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Transformation of Germany (from the Versailles treaty through Nazism to the post World War II democracy in the west and finally in a unified Germany), and especially “Israel, A Militarized Democracy.” The particulars of his analysis get interesting. For example, on page 45 he talks about the various city-states in ancient Greece (the Peloponnesian Wars, as in the upcoming movie Troy) and takes a more critical view of Athenian democracy than did the PBS documentary series The Greeks. Israel is particularly critical: it has maintained a viable democracy because of its intense cultural and religious cohesion, and strong socialization. It has recognized some fundamental rights for resident Palestinians and non Jews but it has flagrantly violated what we see as property rights with its takings. (Ironically, Muslim Spain around 1000 AD had somewhat similar relationships with non Muslims living there.)

What is more controversial for me is the double-edge attitude that libertarianism takes towards democracy. Many libertarian commentators point out that the founding fathers really did not intend democracy as we know it today, but rather wanted to protect their property rights from the British (and the slaves). Democracy seems to invite “tyranny of the majority,” except that is why we have separation of powers and a strong judiciary. An associated concept is “market fundamentalism.” The underlying ideology is freedom to direct one’s life and choose how to deploy one’s property, assuming no aggression against others and a rather narrow view of personal accountability. But society has to deal with unfairness on a macro-scale, some of which comes from external events (interaction with other countries) or may be inherited from the past, so democracies give governments the prerogative to tax or regulate citizens to meet the needs of various groups. The objection to seeking social justice this way is that it invites corruption, and intellectual shallowness and constituents give money to politicians to get their way. A free society has to figure out how to get individuals to balance meeting their own ends with a collective need for productive socialization.

Dr. Pietrzyk also provides online an essay “The Idea of a Democratic Zone of Peace: Origins in the Enlightenment” Particularly interesting is the pertinence of the ideas of German philosopher Immanuel Kant and the 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace.”

George Gilder: Men and Marriage

George Gilder: Men and Marriage (1986); Sexual Suicide (1973)
Publishers: Pelican (New Orleans); Quadrangle; Amazon link.

Gilder has an interesting hypothesis, the subtlety of which is not always obvious. He believes that the greatest danger to our prosperous civilization is not simply "immoral behavior" as we usually perceive it (sexual promiscuity, drugs, etc.) but the actual denial of sexuality as a civilizing force.

Most men of average talents, he believes, need families to support and wives to civilize them, to give them a purpose for an adult life and for any sense of individuality at all. The blurring of gender roles is harmful to many men. It' s not so hurtful to women who, because of their biological ability to bear children, are "sexually superior" and able to develop self-concepts without external socialization.

But underneath this is the underlying reluctance of modern young adults to couple sexuality and real human emotion with adaptive needs (child-rearing and priority family personal support). Instead, sexuality has become a vehicle of very personal self-expression (compare with the views of Rosenfels. This amounts to "sexual suicide."

There is also the "sexual princess" problem ¾ the tendency for people to choose partners for purely narcissistic reasons. The best example is the young, nubile woman who busts up a prosperous older man's marriage and alienates his affections from his wife.

Gilder minces no words on homosexuality ("the Perils of Androgyny"). He views male homosexuality as a caving in to enjoyment of a sense of abasement, something potentially tempting to any man. The "upward affiliation" of homosexuality makes it more "rational" to many men than heterosexuality. Male courtship of women (and not "going Dutch") is, after all, somewhat "irrational." He also believes that the tendency for some men to have many female partners tends to encourage homosexuality among the remaining males with no girl friends. At one point, he also maintains that most “mature” homosexuals prefer to remain rather private and have no desire to publicize the values of their lifestyles to others! He really sounds like a don’t-ask-don’t-tell proponent.

Gilder incorrectly assumes that the narcissism present in the male homosexual world precludes long-term relationships. Men need the taming influence of women to have stable marriages and even to discover true "individuality," he believes. Gilder is getting at some moral problems but he seems too focused upon conventional sexuality to really understand the implications of the debate he is trying to start. There is, after all, this constant tug-of-war in our culture between the narrowest way to interpret individual rights and responsibilities (consequentialism) and the idea that some inclinations and behaviors (however well they may work out in some individual circumstances) become morally and communally unacceptable when set up as examples for most people. Why doesn't he focus upon the appropriateness of the way people set their own priorities, and the problems that happen when people lose sight of caring about others while they seek their own ends? The ultimate implication of his line of thought is a moral imperative that any adult needs to know how to take care of others besides himself in order to be credible as an independent person at all.

Gilder is indeed the ultimate aesthetic realist, and spokesperson for the socially conservative side of the cultural war. Indeed, he is one of the few conservative writers who is willing to speak of a near moral obligation for adults to get and stay married. Ironically, gay conservative author Jonathan Rauch (contributor to Bruce Bawer's anthology Beyond Queer) has said similar things in the context of same-sex marriage.

Gilder’s ideas are reinforced by the article, “The Emperor’s New Woes,” by Dean Elder, in the April 2005 Psychology Today. Elder argues that most men need the socialization that lineage, fatherhood and therefore marriage provide (they become more stable and earn more when they are providers) but may be uncomfortable with modern wives who expect more emotional subtlety. (Gay men, perhaps, are wired differently, not to need this kind of complementarity.)

Paul Rosenfels: Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process

Author: Paul Rosenfels

Titles: "Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process" (Introduction by Dean Hannotte).
also: "Subjectivity and Objectivity: Further Aspects of Psychological Growth"; "We Knew Paul: Conversations with Friends and Students of Paul Rosenfels"; "Psychic Exhaustion and the Growth Process (Rosenfels, Paul. Ninth Street Center Monograph".

Publication: Libra Publications/Ninth Street Center, 1972, 1980, 1990;  ISBN 0-932961-08-8; paper (monographs are full-notebook size); Amazon link.

Paul Rosenfels is known as a psychological freedom fighter among his inner circle, much of it associated with the Ninth Street Center in New York. Others view him as a "guru." Paul's particular contribution is a very precise articulation of the paradigm of psychological polarity, or yin and yang, as it had been known in ancient Greece.

Paul sees human beings as, regardless of biological gender, essentially feminine or masculine. A feminine personality finds greatest fulfillment in yielding to and nurturing another person. A masculine personality finds corresponding fulfillment in possessing and motivating another person. This is the basic love vs. action duality. At the deepest level, a person is "turned on" by living out according to his polarity.

A perpendicular axis to all this is formed by the subjective vs. objective duality. Subjective feminines and objective masculines are "unbalanced" and the other two combinations are "balanced." Unbalanced persons tend to insist on following goals chosen by them regardless of the support of others. Balanced persons tend to find satisfaction by following more conventional goals (and maybe limited ones) as determined by the needs and support of others.

The other great concept in Paul's writing is the notion of psychological surplus. This comprises a person's opportunities remaining after adaptive needs are met. Creativity means exploring this surplus. Yet creativity has what many people see as a "downside": people become creative when they mal-adapt in conventional pursuits.

A goal of psychological growth is to reconcile achieving of balance (meeting the real needs of others) with surplus, being able to expand in areas where one has something unique to give. Growth is very difficult, and generally is forestalled by use of psychological defenses, where one erects false power or false surrender mechanisms in a kind of sour-grapes or sweet-lemons mechanism to avoid rejection and pain. Ultimately, one is led back, in a most personal way, to moral issues of determining appropriate personal priorities given the needs of others in one's immediate and more distant environments. Morality, to Paul, is simply what is right in human terms.

The path to growth leads Paul to make some startling observations. For example, to experience full psychological growth, everyone must pass through homosexual territory. In fact, one must choose to experience homosexual potential. A "masculine" man may find being loved by another man more affirming to his masculinity than being "loved" in a conventional fashion by a woman in conventional marriage. A "feminine" man may actually feel fulfilled by surrendering (even sexually) to another person. These possibilities occur in heterosexual marriage and gender roles can be reversed.

Lifelong psychological growth comports with a concept of lifelong adolescence, something that reminds one of the “tweens” tom Tolkien’s hobbits. One is to have the political and social freedom to pursue one’s own psychological well-being, which at least means partly one’s own goals. This is a libertarian idea. Of course, this “adolescent spirit” challenges the idea of religious faith as a determinant of the course or station of one’s life, or even socially conservative ideas of adulthood founded upon committed marriage and parenting (“baby-making”) to meet a larger society’s purposes.

Paul writes with the precision of a mathematicians giving a formal proof. Often a paragraph describing a concept for feminine personalities is followed by a paragraph describing the same concept for masculines, with the appropriate substitution of analogue concepts.

There are economics applications for some of Paul’s ideas. In an economy that is outsourcing more “content-based” work overseas, there is a tendency to grow jobs based mainly on selling or sales culture—manipulation of others, good jobs for masculines. The sales person or negotiator (be it a trial lawyer or even a bill collector) makes the customer or client respect him or even like him for his persuasiveness or charisma. The objection to this comes when manipulative exercise is not ethically justified by the content of what is to be sold, or respect for the sales person is not justified by that person’s being or performance.

My own “polarity complex” is feminine subjective, and that has some moral consequences. I “tick” by idealizing certain other people, based on values chosen by me. This gives me the opportunity to become “the power behind the throne.” There is a danger that this “upward affiliation” lapses into self-indulgence or parasitism. If I am able to get away with it, then I set a disturbing example for a rather oppressive political and social meritocracy. I justify this by saying that I, like anyone, must be held accountable for my own choices, and this accountability might include proving the capability to support others with their real needs. There is a political advantage to this approach in that it reinforces individual rights (and responsibilities). On the other hand, many people believe that social justice must be approached as a communal good, negotiated politically at the group level, and removed from the area of individual rights for their own sake, but this risks freedom because it invites corruption.

For more details, see my DADT book account (at xchap3.htm reference given above), of the Ninth Street Center site given on this site's index page. See also discussions of personal responsibility and of same-sex marriage.

The Ninth Street Center has produced a black-and-white video (available only through the Center at this time), The Paul Rosenfels Video Anthology, of some of the talk groups that seem to come from the 1980’s, in the Center’s basement East Village studio. The quite discussion has the soothing effect of My Dinner With Andre, perhaps, and Paul is at his best here as a teacher, discussing his psychological concepts, especially about the way social conventionality suppresses awareness of depression, in the simplest possible language. There is one participant who seems to be dealing with his restlessness, after an experience in the military (apparently Vietnam) in which he felt compelled to repress his intimate feelings, and Paul chuckles about the military’s naivete (as he sees it) over homosexuality as almost unavoidable in a military social setting. Paul also discusses his philosophy of writing (and even film and video) and the need for a scientific, disciplined approach to presentation rather than just an inductive one.

There is another book from the Ninth Street Center, We Knew Paul (1990), edited by Dean Hannotte (after Paul’s death in 1985) that gives interviews with a number of the participants.

The “Ninth Street Center Handbook” is available here.  The main link for the "Paul Rosenfels Community" today is here

Monday, April 10, 2006

Denish D'Souza: "What's So Great About America"

Denish D'Souza: What's So Great About America"
Washington: Regnery, 2002 ISBN 0-89526-153-7 hardbound, 218 pages incl. index

Well, this is a good one for a book report in, say, a civics class.

Dinesh D’Souza is a former White House domestic policy analyst and currently the Rishwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Mr. D’Souza immigrated to the United States from India and some of his book gains credibility by his own account of the improvement of his life by immigrating.

I would summarize his argument as a kind of moral and political history of individual freedom. He is particularly concerned about how our culture reconciles or “authenticates” freedom with virtue and with the apparent criticism from other cultures that individualism and freedom imply a breakdown of moral order. He believes that western civilization and particularly America, with democratic liberal capitalism, has indeed moved in the direction of this authentication, despite all of the criticisms.

Since the 9-11 tragedy, discussion of freedom has centered often upon balancing it with the need for security. But D’Souza is more concerned with clarifying the principles of freedom and seeing how they play across the record of history. But a major part of the discussion concerns the challenge from radical Islam.

Commentators give different accounts on whether Islamic theology implies violence against the West. A more optimistic assessment can be found in books like The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam, by Vahiya Emerick, or Islam and the Discovery of Freedom by Rosw Wilder Lane and Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. The Qur’an and other scriptures might lead to multiple interpretations just as does the Bible. Historians often speak of Islamic societies a millennium or so ago that lived in peace with Jews and Christians, as in Spain. And much of the hatred of some of Islam against the west can be attributed to very wrong things done to the Palestinians when Israel was recreated, as well as American and western support for corrupt regimes. Nevertheless, Islam seems to be conspicuously concerned with not just ritual observance but with the idea that religion should answer all questions for the individual, whereas Christianity (with Judaism) has over the centuries become more sophisticated in the way it deals with the rights of the individual to make his or her own choices.

Militant Islam apparently derives some intellectual rationalization in the writings of scribes like Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, who maintains that external virtue, through strict observance of religious order, is the only object of governance, and that democracy therefore contradicts the idea of virtue. Indeed, European history traces the gradual discrediting of the idea that some people are divinely entitled to be superior to others and to rule others. Militant Islam (as a part of Islam), at least, maintains that superiority and even patriarchy are ordained by Allah. So American public culture, through movies, the Internet (including this web site) remain an infectious threat (literally to its idea of male potency) even if Israel disappears and American presence in places like Saudi Arabia goes away. Militant Islam, which certainly has the loyalty of younger males in a large part of the Islamic world, holds that Islam must either conquer all and bring it under its pre-ordained order, or else the Islamic world must become like another planet, separated from the West by parsecs. Perhaps it could take over Titan or Europa.

By contrast with Islam, there are many historical reasons for the gradual growth of individualism in the West. The complexity of European political history, in conjunction with the growth of science and technology after the Renaissance, gradually led to an increase in notions of individual freedom, not only among the colonist in the New World but in other places like France during its revolution (and the Netherlands with the worlds first stock market). The printing press would make possible the private practice of religion and prayer with a hardcopy of the Bible, with private thought and without the requirement of public celebration requiring approval of priests. It would be Rousseau (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality), as D’Souza points out, who would be particularly articulate with the notion that “each of us has an original way of being human.” Western civilization was generally and continuously open to the idea that things can get better, even for the “average person.” It is this openness to change, especially through science as well as the growth of intellectual culture (especially music, from the Baroque and classical eras through Romanticism) that makes it possible to talk about freedoms in societies that still show a lot of residual oppression.

How can you say this, the left maintains, when it argues that modern capitalists are tainted by their parasitic behaviors. Workers are enslaved and exploited, the races remain segregated even after slavery formally ends. But freedom and democracy are a growth and changing process. Democracy, in the early days of a constitutional republic, was indeed challenged by the paradox of slavery. It required consensus even as it had to respect the rights of every individual. Therefore awkward, if temporary, compromises had to be accepted, like counting 3/5 of the slaves for representation, and banning slave trade after 1808.

D’Souza points out that disadvantaged peoples were generally better off in America than their ancestors or relatives in third world countries. A Ted Koppel Nightline broadcast where a mother in the Congo earns 9 cents a day by working as a porter—enough to feed her children piga’ feet or snails—comes to mind. Milton Friedman has often made similar comments about how the process of free enterprise can gradually increase living standards anywhere, even if individuals make “sacrifices” along the way. So freedom at any point in time contains a large prospective element—a belief that with further learning and openness to new ideas and opportunities, things can get better for anyone. This is not true in closed societies like those of the Taliban.

As a gay man, I still perceived myself as “free” even in the worst days after my William and Mary expulsion and reparative therapy at N.I.H. about the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It seems like an irony now that it was probably the combination of the Civil Rights movement, Cold War brain race, Vietnam, and the military draft in my adolescent and early adult years that brought young men together in a changing social environment and made the idea of gay liberation possible – ironic inasmuch as I would be drawn into the fight to lift the military ban in 1993. But even in my own life, freedom was an evolution, first into privacy and fantasy and then self-expression and only now do the costs and obligations of freedom come back into focus.

When I wrote Do Ask Do Tell in 1997 and introduced my last chapter early on with the question, “Is it safe?” I was concerned with threats to freedom, all right. I had proposed a paradigm where individualism is “authenticated” when every person can account for his own acts. But freedom for our culture as a whole had global, collective threats. Even then I saw epidemics, global warming, asteroids, and maybe even extraterrestrials (don’t expect them to be as “gentle” as gifted teenager Clark Kent—Pie ‘O’ Pah is more typical) as conceivable threats. More seriously, and closer to terra, I suspected military threats from Iraq or Iran, North Korea, China, and a collapse of Russia back towards communism or super-nationalism. I knew about Osama bin Laden but saw him as only one of many threats, and a minor one in the scheme of things, and I was wrong there. But I was concerned about how one rebuilds a set of principles and firewalls to contain individual freedoms in view of the inevitable threats – moral and external – that would some day come.

It’s here that D’Souza’s term “authentication”—something that sounds like a step in a computer security protocol for single sign-on—comes into play. One is authentic as an individual if his or her self-expression is valid and rewards (whether monetary of psychic, as with public or local recognition from others) therefrom deserved. We can speak of “karma” here. But one’s just desserts will invariably call for readiness to care for others besides oneself, and that’s where issues like national, community or military service as well as family values come into play. There is a call not just to “pay one’s dues” but sometimes to suspend one’s own motives and opportunities to defend the freedoms of others, and that is where morality itself becomes open-ended. We come to make fine distinctions between concepts like honor and integrity. One can be honest or courageous, but for the wrong, self-serving motives. Integrity requires fidelity to one’s obligations to others, from which honesty can provide a convenient escape. But integrity requires the individual to discover truth and right, including interpretation of these obligations, for himself and act on it. When may we have to accept situational ethics?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Clive Barker: Imajica and The Thief of Always

Clive Barker. Imajica. San Francisco: Harper Prism, 1991. ISBN: 0-06-195371-6; Amazon link.
There are various reprints. Best is this one.

This is the monumental fantasy work that presents Earth as one of five parallel Dominions. It's quite a cult classic among the initiated!

The other four Dominions are already "reconciled" and the novel presents the journey made by one art dealer, Gentle, who comes to understand that he is somewhat of a Christ figure whose mission is to "reconcile" Earth with the other Dominions.

What happens when a world is "reconciled?" That's a good question. For one thing, people (and creatures - Barker is quite an admirer of evolutionary fecundity) and pass freely (using "magic") between Dominions at specific points. More important, the Dominion comes under one political and religious system (something like a Gaia). Nation states disappear, and personal lives seem to settle down into a minaturist fashion.

Early in the story, the bisexual Gentle is carrying on a love affair with androgynous (but at the beginning male) alien assassin Pie'oh'Pah. During the story Pie turns into a woman on him, but he doesn't care. He stays in love. Then Pie transforms into an alien something else. Barker's "intimate" scenes - both between species and "normal" heterosexual ones (also between Gentle and heroine Judith Odell) are among the steamiest and most passionate I've every read. Another gay male character dies of AIDS but comes back to life - quite redemptively and charismatically - during the Reconciliation.

About one third the way into the novel, Gentle and Pie start their adventure across the Dominions (in reverse order). They are fascinating to read, but after a while I began to feel they were somewhat artificial places. The 4th, 3rd, and 2nd all have a variety of landscapes expected say in California. Climates tend to be warm and dry. There are deserts, savannahs, waterways, islands, cities built like temples on mountaintops, an holy places built as towers. Skies are oddly colored and may have multiple suns. The smaller villages are interesting, as the people seem to live countrified, simplified lives as if ordered to do so by higher authority. In fact, the people (who can vary enormously in appearance, as women as well as men sometimes look like apes) seem stuck in time. In fact, the Dominions all seem stuck in time while the ruling Angels (for want of a better word) fight for control with God himself. There are battles and fights that would befit a computer game. Yet, one comes away with the feeling that the Reconciled Dominions are rather limited, fixed places, something like what a child might construct for a model railroad. One wonders if there are really whole planets and solar systems (somewhere in some universe) to support them.

There are many memorable and vivid descriptive narrative sequences, such as when Gentle stands on the platform of a train station in the Third Dominion and suddenly becomes ill, vomiting on the rails, after contemplating his meal of a fish within a fish within a fish. The writing makes the reader really experience what the characters feel. Barker is one of the world’s greatest fiction writers in his ability to metaphorize narrative.

The final showdown with God in the 1st Dominion, however, is a tour de force.

Done well, Imajica could make a terrific, visionary movie (the MPAA rating could be an issue). Imagine Di Caprio as Pie'oh'Pah and Jack Nicholson (or maybe Patrick Stewart or Michael Rosenbaum) as Gentle. I can see it as a compelling two-part serial or franchise (“The Fifth Dominion”; “The Reconciliation”) for New Line Cinema to follow “The Lord of the Rings” and it wouldn’t be a problem to recover the $150 million it would cost to make. The final showdown with Hapexamendios (who plays him?) in the crystalline "City of the Unbeheld" (putrefying under “rococo rains”) would outdo the ending of 2001. (Heaven apparently looks like a Hong Kong of high rise condominiums, however fingerpainted.) But Barker should have provided some bookmarks for his readers. Helpful would be a list of characters (there are so many of them), titles for the chapters and a table of contents, and particularly some drawings (Barker, after all, is a painter as well as author and movie director) and maps of the Imajica. (At one point Barker even says nobody has ever mapped Imajica, but that sounds like a copout. Barker must do this himself.) Harper could publish a revised edition with these materials. Or developers could build a resort in Las Vegas based on the Reconciled Dominions, and outdo the Bellagio; think of the Nsync shows.

Barker's “Chinese Puzzle” fantasy, though, still comes across as "tempting." Imagine, if you will, a journey through the other Dominions with a loved one, or with somebody you can't "have" in real life. And maybe, just maybe, Barker's theology will turn out to be "right." Indeed, as the book’s cover brags, our way of looking at reality changes forever, as well as at the afterlife. Yup, Man beats God. Get used to it. Real life matters.

There’s a particularly relevant cultural interpretation to Clive Barker’s concept of “Reconciliation” – that is, that cultures existing separately come into contact and have great effect on one another. Since this book was published in 1991 and probably written in 1989 and 1990, it certainly looks forward to the modern idea of globalization, particularly abetted by the broadband Internet. Sexual cultures are reconciled, too. Sex is no longer just a “private choice” when its meaning can be broadcast so quickly across all Dominions.

The idea of separate dominions becoming reconciled comports well with the modern physics string theory “of everything” as documented on the PBS/Nova documentary Elegant Universe, narrated by a youthful Brian Green. Bridging the gay from the physics of the large (Einstein’s general relativity) to the tiny led eventually to theories that apparently demand parallel universes, and one can “reconcile” them (cross into unseen dimensions) by contact with the “branes.”

A separate two-volume edition by Harper contains an essay by Barker explaining the “absurd ambition” of his Mahlerian masterpiece. Barker is given to diversions into philosophy, as the very first paragraph gives a philosophy of drama that seems to set up Shakespeare.

The Thief of Always (1993, Harper Collins, paper, ISBN 0061091464) is a well-known “children’s” novel. Ten year old Harvey is bored to death and fears he will die if he doesn’t have more fun. So a stranger invites him to the Holiday House, where he can celebrate every holiday (most of all Christmas) and experience all the seasons every single day. Pretty soon, he has to run for his life. Reports are that some kids consider this book “too scary.” There are rumors of an animated movie of this, but I haven’t seen it yet. It ought to get funded and made.

Phillip Longman: The Empty Cradle; Bortelo: Fertility; Santorum: It Takes a Family

Phillip Longman. The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What We Can Do About It. New York: Basic, 2004. ISBN: 0-465-0505-6

Referral website:; Amazon link.

Longmen here presents analysis that really is not new at all, but he provides a fresh interpretation and perspective on it. That is, that the falling birthrate (below “replacement levels”) in many countries is a threat to economic prosperity and social stability. But he is trying to argue from a liberal, progressive position rather than from a moralistic one that condemns childlessness as “selfish.”

We used to hear a lot about the “world population problem” as overpopulation, but concern for underfertility has been common in the past. Conservative Christians have only occasionally bragged a pronatalist program to increase the relative numbers of the faithful. He quotes Mary Pride as saying, “All we’d have to do is to raise children and raise them for Christ.” And Longman is right, there is a long term threat that cultures or countries that have many children at the expense of immediate standard of living will become politically and maybe militarily powerful. The people who don’t “get it” (the new self-directed culture) or who feel religiously or politically motivated will procreate more than those with higher standards of living, but the evidence that this is really happening in various regions of the world is rather ambiguous.

The fertility issue affects not just western countries, but many Asian cultures as well (such as Japan).

But the dirty little secret that still relatively few authors delve into, is how much it costs to raise children in our culture, and the new economic incentive not to have children.

“Instead, the problem is that the value created by the ‘nurturing sector’ of the economy is, in effect, being taxed away to the point that it makes less and less sense for individuals to invest or participate in it, so increasingly they don’t. (p. 138)

“…parents are expected to potty train their children, keep them quiet and well-behaved, and let the joys of parenting be their own reward… A corollary of this view is that people who decide not to have children hurt no one, or even benefit society, and so cannot be criticized…The problem with these attitudes is that they fail to account for the deepening dependency all people have on both the quantity and quality of other people’s children.” (pp. 139-140)

A bit socialistic, to be sure. And a rebuttal to my own concept of meritocratic “responsibility for the self.”

Anecdotally, when I look around I see a lot of people still having kids and being dedicated to them, and I think the problem is more than just economics. It is psychology, aesthetics, and culture. People want relationships to satisfy themselves, not just to propagate their bloodlines. Aesthetics exists in many areas with only a remote connection to children, and can add a lot to a modern culture. The modern gay community provides an example. Gradually, people have come to define themselves apart from family responsibilities, and this may become a particular problem with eldcercare, as the number of longer-living elderly increases with fewer children to support them.

Here, I must say, I have lived most of my adult gay life as one of the selfishly, unsocialized childless. Perhaps I have gotten away with something that will not be possible in the next generation.

Longman finally gets to his policy proposals, and his main one is to reduce or eliminate social security taxes for married couples with dependent children. (Libertarians, remember, want to replace social security entirely with private retirement accounts, but that would not help homemakers or with paying to raise children.) As a sidebar he visits gay marriage:

“My personal view is that a good compromise would be to sanction gay marriage, but to insist that marriage be at least an initial requirement for receiving parental benefits.” (p. 175)

His other proposals regarding health care, family businesses (working from home), and reducing suburban sprawl seem less original and controversial. He does believe that better health care would extend the working career of most adults by ten years or so and reduce the burden of caring for the elderly, but this advice applies in a society that accepts a low birth rate.

Longman here sidesteps discussion of the symbolic importance to many people of the sex act itself and its connection to actually making children. It seems that he could have made a case here for gay adoption—if you encourage adoption, you encourage more people to take the chance of having children. You also provide another brake against abortion.

This whole discussion does call up our values—how important are people “as people” compared to the values people represent. That is an important part of gay psychology. Many people would want to be parents if they knew they would have Clark Kent to raise, but the lottery of having kids doesn’t work that way. Longman, again, sees this is a collective problem, not as a moral failure of individuals, who simply are designing personal goals in line with a culture with new rules. Other writers, such as Elinor Burkett (maybe even Elizabeth Warren), will disagree as to whether society is really penalizing having children to the extent that public policy must change. From my perspective, the competitive pressure a gay singleton like me can put on families with children seems very real, since often I can work “cheaper.” So I cannot avoid the possibility of looking at this as a personal moral matter, too. Any public policy change favoring having more children has to be seen in terms of penalizing persons (like me) who don’t, which is somewhat a different bag from encouraging parents to get and stay legally married. We can sit around and speculate “what if” and imagine, with some horror, a list of such changes (some might be unconstitutional). One in particular that comes to mind could be bringing back filial responsibility laws (or enforcing existing ones in some states). Such a development could indeed become catastrophic to the gay and lesbian community unless gay marriage (and not just civil union—Longman gets that point) and gay adoption were fully legal and expected everywhere.

Some conservative commentators have noted that illegal immigration, and President Bush’s plan to allow some illegals who do our “dirty jobs” to stay, relates to the lower birth rate among the affluent and the economic pressure perceived by many to delay having children. Immigrants will have more children, and their needs for social support and especially educational support in the schools will be much greater.

Readers may enjoy this commentary by Steven E. Landsburg, “Be Fruitful and Multiply: Do the world a favor: Have more children” at The Genesis verse is 1:28 (but see this commentary in Christianity Today from 2001, at The verse is viewed as a “blessing” and not as a commandment. Then there is also the Apostle Paul’s take on fecundity at 1 Corinthians 7:9, “it is better to marry than to burn”; for example, see

Suzanne Fields, in “Destined for the supper dish: How can our society survive an impulse for weakness,” The Washington Times, Jan. 16, 2005, reminds us that the comparative birthrates in Islamic countries is much higher, and that could eventually lead to the loss of liberty (through terrorism, war or gross political changes) of those who follow individualistic values that eschew giving a high priority to procreation and family responsibility. Radical Islam is seen as the “tiger.” Bring on the political cartoonists!

Again, Suzanne Fields writes, “Making babies in Berlin: Germany attempts to correct a dearth of births,” The Washington Times, March 27, 2005.

A related book is by Angelo Bertelo, Fertility: Power and Progress, Confidence in Life and Genius, Problems and Paradoxes, with forward by Prof. Bibek Debroy, Director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute For Contemporary Studies, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Jawahar Bhawan, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road, New Delhi – 110001. Bertelo writes: humanity progresses when the birth rate is high; it does not progress, but regresses, when the birth rate is low, devolving towards its decadence and extinction.

You can read this book free at

Ellen Nakashima, of the Washington Post Foreign Service, provides a story “With Birthrate Falling, Singapore Targets ‘Lifestyle Impotency,’ Singapore Increases Efforts to Increase Anemic Birthrate,” The Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2004, p. A13. The birthrate now is 1.25 babies per woman. The extreme work ethic, not sexual “morality”, is held to be part of the problem.

David R. Sands, “Europe’s ‘bay bust’ signals major change; Military, economic strength may falter,” The Washington Times, Nov. 24, 2005 (Thanksgiving Day) prints a chart of birthrates. The United States has a rate of 2.08 per woman, but most European countries range from 1.19 to 1.94. Paying “baby bounties” as do France and Italy and some countries seems to help minimally. The U.S. may have a high rate because of a lower population density. Psychological culture plays a role, as an urbanized culture offers many other opportunities besides family and kids. The riots in Muslim neighborhoods in France in Nov. 2005 are relevant. Kamai Daoudi, son of Algerian immigrants, was arrested for joining Al Qaeda and plotting an attack against the US Embassy in Paris; he told authorities that Muslim immigrants were regarded as cheap labor to support the “real French” when their “pyramid” gets thin as more and more turn elderly and no longer can support themselves.

Senator (R-PA) Richard Santorum has a new book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good ( 2005, ISI, ISBN 1932236295), which begs for a natural comparison to Hilary Clinton’s “It Takes a Village (1996). Actually, the book is somewhat intended as an attack on overzealous individualism as it competes with families under the guise of social programs, or as it takes undue advantage of unsupervised use of technology (as with pornography or adult content on the Internet). Indeed, it is hard for low and moderate income families to raise their children and stay together in today’s competitive culture. Santorum, however, cannot afford to list really specific hard-nosed remedies to deal with it. We will remember Santorum’s speech supporting sodomy laws before the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision as dangerous to the stability of the family as a societal common element, and his support from the Senate floor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which died on the floor on CSPAN in July 2004. But he makes a clever nexus between gay marriage and the falling birthrates in western countries, which is even more striking in Europe. He argues that people have lost a sense of common importance and bearing with the whole natural (and biological) process of marriage, childbearing and new family formation. He seems concerned that marginal males, especially, are lured into homosexuality and upward affiliation when they could, if not “corrupted,” become fathers and heads of new families after all, despite a person perception of a competitive disadvantage. So he wants to have it both ways: marriage and family life is based on “true love” or “real life” but that love requires social ratification and freedom from competitive denigration. He could have been even more specific about the demographics: will people who don’t have their own children be assigned an even greater share of the eldercare burden in the future? Marriage may be more susceptible to too much support than he realizes.

In the high school social studies text The American Pageant (2002), David Kennert and Lizabeth Cohen discuss, toward the very end, the break down of “shared purposes” in the 60s, the rise of individualism, and the fact that the decline of the family is more than just unwed mothers. In the 1990s, one-third of all women 25-29 have never married, and three times as many adults lived alone (myself included) in the 1990s as in the 1950s. One-fourth of all children do not have two live-a-home parents (1/3 for Hispanics, 2/3 for African Americans).

David Callahan's The Cheating Culture and Elliott Currie: The Road to Whatever

The film (The Perfect Score) from Tollin / Robbins hits the market the same time as the box jellyfish sting book on business ethics and personal character by David Callahan: The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead (New York: Harcourt, 2004, ISBN 0-15-101018-8). Callahan traces the evolution of our own kind of laissez-faire, bottom-line, winner-take-all individualism and the “Trickle Down Corruption” that it generates (“Everybody does it”) ranging from academic cheating, to illegal piracy and copyright infringement on the Internet, to tax cheating, to conflicts of interest, and frank cooking of books and insider trading. The most telling chapter is probably “A Question of Character.” Business and personal ethics and even family values have to get back to a notion of “principled conscience.” A few “fair use” quotes here set the tone. “Before the 1960s, individualism in the United States was largely confined to the political sphere. Freedom for individuals … did not mean freedom to operate outside the norms established by the community, family and religion… Powerful norms of self-sacrifice shaped people’s values in this environment. You existed for your family, and you worked hard to contribute.” Soon Dr. Callahan talks about Social Darwinism, maintaining that America is unique among advanced countries in its commitment to the belief “that individuals have so much control over their destiny,” and its willingness to sacrifice people who “fail” and kick them out of the system, as if they no longer belonged in a meritocracy. Our system, he argues, is especially sadistic in its treatment of “losers” at competition; our culture of personal contempt for “losers” or “the weak” in a meritocratic system is bound to lead to ethical breakdowns. He gives as an example Enron’s “rank and yank” (or “forced-ranking”) system. Mr. Callahan’s remarks have profound implications for the way we think through issues like the “laissez-faire family” (now in conjunction with same-sex marriage), the relative situations of people with kids and those without, the importance (or lack thereof) of measuring people according to their willing to “pay their dues” according to gender norms. Does ethical reform start at the top (the liberal position), or at the bottom (the conservative position)?

I guess my own sin is more that of drawing attention to myself (through self-publishing) without credentials or reportable accountability, without “paying my dues” in a competitive, meritocratic game that places too much emphasis on the short term. Of course, the point of that game used to be to promote family. A bit of irony. Okay, my lifestyle, which neglects having wife and children, could be said to “cheat the system.” Family cuts both ways in the ethics game: within any one social class, it focuses individuals on meeting the needs of others and away from excessive attention to one’s own values, possessions, expression or other experience, but family and especially nepotism also tend to continue the disparities between groups of people—and this supports the author’s contention that many of these problems are collective and not personal. (Look at how wealthy parents “compete” by how they place their kids in private schools and indulge in expensive tutoring programs –“The Perfect Score”--that encourage richer kids to cheat.) The loss of “meaning” for the traditional gender-marriage-based family because of “competition” from the gay community then might have a bearing on excessive individualism. In my case, there is resentment from others around me because I maintain a certain secrecy and dispassionate detachment in my own affairs, and do things that others say I could not do if I were accountable to biological family. This is, it seems, another way to look at the cheating problem.

The long view that Dr. Callahan takes is instructive, however. At the personal level, he have a peculiar, zero-tolerance meritocracy (in the “Consciousness II” sense of Theodore Reich’s The Greening of America), that is willing to kick ordinary people (often in the ghetto) out of the system so they don’t matter. (Remember student deferments and the draft in the 60s?) Once people have “made it” in a quantitatively competitive world measured by numbers (earnings, television ratings, box office receipts, market share, or, yes, won-lost record) we cut them slack. Callahan’s argument is partly that rampant “slack” at the top is a much bigger cause of economic instability and social unrest (especially failure of traditional marriage) than most conservative commentators are willing to admit. Stringent codes of fairness and ethics (and maybe that includes proving you can take care of somebody besides yourself and that you have periods in your life to “pay your dues”) sound like a way to restore both economic stability and the social stability of the family (and elsewhere on this site I argue that gay marriage can fit into that well). But it is easier (especially with informal means) to instill these codes on “average” people than at the top. I’ve heard the idea of universal national service as a way of breaking the ethics lock all the way to the top. In any case, there will have to be real punishments for those caught cheating at the top, and a stint of “Cool Hand Luke” for some of these people is probably in order. Callahan’s argument is an interesting mixture of both conservative and liberal ideas. Now a system that encourages more discipline and “sacrifice” by ordinary people could well backfire, leading to an arrangement suggestive of fascism. Encouraging people to build meaningful ties to others (and probably not just in nuclear family) sounds like an important way to balance the personal pressures caused by such a competitive system well motivated by freedom.

A particularly atrocious example of cheating comes when retail managers, apparently feeling pressured, electronically alter time records of hourly employees to save money for the bottom lines of the individual stores at which they work. Steven Greenhouse of The New York Times reports about this practice on April 4, 2004, “Altering of Worker Time Cards Spurs Growing Number of Suits” at these companies: Kinko’s, Toys “R” Us, Family Dollar, Pep Boys, Wal-Mart, Rentway, and Taco Bell. These companies all say that their policies are to dismiss managers who alter employee records but admit that it is extremely difficult to get perfect legal compliance in large retail companies. Some of the illegal practices are called “shaving time” and “one-minute clock-out”.

What about The Kids? Elliott Currie provides a supplement to the cheating culture over-individualism thesis in The Road to Whatever: Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence (New York: Metropolitan, 2005 ISBN 10-0-8050-6763-9). Currie’s prevents an interleaved account of troubled teenagers, largely white and from middle class or better homes. His thesis is that teen troubles come not just from the breakdown of the family or lack of discipline in the usual sense, but from a hyper-individualized, Darwinian (or Spencerian) value system that encourages parents to throw their kids away when they don’t “make it.” He writes, “… not everybody can beat everybody else: only a few can win even most of the time. Thus, this value system sets up most of its adherents for failure.” (p/ 62). So, if you aren’t the super student or super athlete to make your parents proud, you slide away. Indeed, some parents kick their kids out. Kids caught in this fix may do anything to stand out (including the most outrageous risk taking or drug-related behaviors. Currie faults a fundamental change in our value system—a diminishing of both the importance of family and of an orderly system of social supports and stable jobs. Parents, he says, believe in the new individualism and extreme capitalism (with consumerism more important than production), and do not place the importance even on their own progeny that earlier generations did.

“The rejection of the idea of mutual responsibility, a righteous distaste for offering help, the acceptance or encouragement of a view of life in which a competitive scramble for individual preeminence and comfort is central, the insistence that even the most vulnerable must learn to handle life’s difficulties by themselves and that if they cannot it is no one’s fault but their own—those were not the idiosyncratic views of a few parents but pervasive themes in American society and culture during the past years in which these teenagers were growing up.” (p. 122)

Currie goes on to discuss this tough-it-out approach in the therapy business and especially the school systems, with their zero-tolerance policies of the 90s. Curiously, though, Currie ignores No Child Left Behind, and things are changing.

Currie’s solutions have a lot to do with keeping the social safety net and especially improving parental benefits and universal health care – and he conveniently ignores the balance with flexibility in creating new kinds of jobs quickly and encouraging small business, which can be burdened by “social responsibility.” You get back to thinking through what our virtues should be at the individual level. Caring for others is also an important responsibility for the individual (even if childless), not just “society.” So you have to balance individual merit and accomplishment with community and family virtues, and with the need for equal opportunities. There is some tension among these.

Katherine A. Kersten and Mitchell B. Pearlstein: Close to Home

Book Review of Close to Home: Celebrations and Critiques of America’s Experiment in Freedom, by Katherine A. Kersten and Mitchell B. Pearlstein; Introduction by Michael Novak; Minneapolis, MSP Books, 2000. ISBN 1-892834-02-4

This anthology presents 50 op-ed columns from each of the two authors. These pieces have appeared in various Twin Cities newspapers, such as the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minneapolis-St. Paul Business, and the Twin Cities Business Monthly. The brief essays are organized topically, such as by “culture and religion,” “families,” “education,” and “economic and social policy.” The book is offered by the American Experiment with larger gifts.

The point of view of these essays varies from traditional conservatism to libertarianism, with a touch of psychological aesthetic realism.

I’ll come to a main point. In the essay “Textbooks Push the Needs of ‘Self’ Over Marriage” (p. 51), Katherine Kersten presents the “paradox” that one needs to build a healthy self-image before approaching relationships and marriage, and that some people advocate spending time alone with the “self-date.” Then she writes:

“The problem with this approach to life is obvious. Everyone will be caught up in his or her own ‘lifelong romance’ with self to give much support to anyone else.”

Yes, the hammer-blow hit the nail on the head. You don’t often hear even conservative writers say this so bluntly (except perhaps George Gilder). Indeed, modern behavior codes centered on personal responsibility emphasize rational self-interest (that drug use and unprotected sex are potentially self-destructive, which they certainly are) and mute the idea of communal social standards which are not supposed to be questioned. There follows an essay “Aspiring to Perennial Adolescence,” which obliquely criticizes the “Oscar Wilde-Dorian Gray” worship of youth as an immutable value. There is another essay about a North Dakota couple that accepts marriage from the viewpoint that “this is the one that is given to me to love.”

Elsewhere on this site and in my own two books I have developed this idea myself (as in relation to psychological polarities and the balanced-unbalanced personality axis). But it is possible to encapsulate “supporting others” inside of “self-interest” (almost as if to be inherited in object-oriented fashion) if one builds into our social fabric the idea that taking care of others will be expected. This obviously leads to the gay marriage debate and gay parenting (but I didn’t see homosexuality mentioned in the book). One is left with the paradox of (heterosexual) marriage itself as an institution: it demands the passion of youth and idealism, yet requires that these passions be submitted to a kind of unquestioned realism, a willingness to give up some control of one’s own internal aesthetic choices (to “grow up”). You could say that marriage is the great “psychological equalizer”—until you have to argue about inherited wealth.

Many of the essays emphasize personal responsibility in a more conventional way, with a healthy disagreement with the left-wing attempts to settle issues with solidarity and political barter and to take both power and responsibility away from the individual and to leave it with the “professionals.” Kersten has a brief essay on Internet censorship (“Protect students from Internet porn”) and properly explains the danger that the most sadistic pornography can be “published” anonymously and made available to children with no supervision, but she focuses her main criticisms on the issue of allowing schools and libraries to filter Internet porn rather than on trying to stop people from publishing it. Pearlstein presents an interesting libertarian argument (“A Road to Weaker Families, Paved with Good Intentions”) that European style preferential treatment for families with children (over the childless and singles) may actually weaken families rather than strengthen them.

In August 2001 The American Experiment Quarterly published a special issue, Marriage and Children: A Symposium on Making Marriage More Child Centered. In “Are We Willing to Pay the Price?” William A. Galston questions our “more individualistic, choice-cenetered, gratification-oriented U.S. society of the past forty years” and notes “This cultural change has had a significant impact on institutions—such as marriage and child rearing—that require a high degree of stability, solidarity, and sacrifice.” Allan Carlson, in “Building Family-Centered Communities,” recounts the earlier “family wage regime” of the post-war period that “intentionally embraced gender discrimination in employment” until “the historically bizarre addition of the word sex to Ttitle VII of the Civil Rughts Act of 1964.” Again, there is the suggestion that “diversity” among lifestyles, while it may increase opportunities for otherwise disadvantaged individuals, can provide a serious anti-selection against the family as an institution that children, the elderly, and even most adults may need to depend upon.