Linus

When I met Danielle five years ago, I was never much of a cat person, preferring dogs instead. Since she had two cats, Linus and Ariel, the decision on pets was already over. I would become a cat person.

Thankfully, Linus and Ariel were perfect for making that transition. They both became friendly and affectionate with me immediately. Where before they were indifferent to strangers, they curled up in my lap whenever possible. I’d become their buddy.

Linus and Ariel couldn’t be more different. Linus was always petite and skittish, while Ariel used her size and attitude to get what she wanted. But when we added two more cats, Emmett and The Smoosh, Ariel always defended Linus when necessary. They’d been together long enough that they were as friendly as they could be given Ariel’s loner facade. Because they entered my life together, and because of the way the interacted, I’ve always viewed them as a pair. Laurel and Hardy, perhaps, but they made sense.

Linus died this morning.

I’ll spare the details because I don’t want to relive them. He’d always had a genetic risk because he died the same way his brother died years ago. But it was unexpected because he’d only rarely shown any signs that he might be prone.

I knew it would be difficult when it happened. I didn’t know it would be this difficult. Putting out three plates of cat food after we got home from the vet this morning was devastating. I will miss being able to call his name and have him come prancing into the room, but only if you called his name in a high-pitched, rapid-fire voice. I will miss the games and having Linus playfully bite my hand. I will even miss the times where he soiled himself and we had to cut the hair off his tail.

I’ll end with my favorite picture of him:

Peehinus.jpg

R.I.P. Linus

This should be comedy gold. Instead, it’s just scary.

Sen. McCain selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his VP nominee. Interesting.

So now that the election’s outcome is now longer in doubt, I’m looking for the partisan nonsense suggesting otherwise. I found it at The Corner. Every piece reminds me why I don’t bother to read NRO, not for mockery and certainly not for information. A few winners from today, in no particular order…

First:

A Little Dubya Love [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Readers heard Palin say “nucular” and wonder …

Given his track record, let’s imitate Bush’s shortcomings. Brilliant.

Next:

Hope and Change—for McCain [Victor Davis Hanson]

The brilliant timing of the post-Obama speech/kick off Labor Day weekend in the appointment of the anti-pork, middle-America charismatic Palin … The 72-year old McCain is still running behind the Messiah, and who knows whether the sudden 3.3 GDP good news on the economy, the stability in Iraq, and cooling off of gas price spikes will hold or play a role. …

Alaska is middle America? But poor geography skills are minor in the face of clear delusion.

Next:

Why Sarah Palin is No Dan Quayle [Peter Robinson]

… But whereas Dan Quayle never actually did anything for Bush, Sarah Palin has helped McCain in two important ways: She has cut short the attention the press would otherwise have lavished on Obama all weekend, limiting Obama’s bounce. This has solved McCain’s most immediate tactical problem.

Forgive me for thinking a candidate should choose a running mate on credentials rather than political (mis)calculation.

Continuing:

… And she has thrilled the GOP’s conservative base, which can now in good conscience give itself to the McCain candidacy with enthusiasm—not feigned enthusiasm, real enthusiasm—for the first time since the senator entered the race. This has solved McCain’s worst strategic problem.

Give itself? That’s just icky. But thank God only the Democrats are looking for a messiah.

Finally, my favorite:

Jubilation, Cont’d [Peter Robinson]

A reader:

The surest sign Palin has fired up the base is the high volume of Corner posts on the Friday afternoon before Labor Day—and the fact that I am deliriously hitting refresh every 5 minutes.

This is why the “Stupidity” tag had to beat down the “Propaganda” tag for primary category honors on this post.

When is a poor tactic a crime?

I’m curious about the facts behind this arrest, because I can assume several different scenarios:

On 8/26/08 at 6:50 p.m., Victoria Marmontello, 37, of 4224 Aurora Path, Liverpool, NY, was arrested for Endangering the Welfare of a Child, a class A misdemeanor. Released on an appearance ticket, Ms. Marmontello is scheduled to answer the charge before Town of Parish Court on 9/09/08. She is accused of talking about sex and circumcision to minors on 8/07/08 and demonstrating what a circumcision looked like by showing the circumcised penis of another minor to the children while at a campsite located in the Town of Parish.

Hmmmm, what to make of this? There are necessary details missing from this report to get an accurate understanding, so I’ll fill those with assumptions. I’ll try to make those clear while speculating with my experience-influenced guess.

Probably the problem with talking about sex and circumcision to minors is more problematic to prosecutors because of the sex, not the circumcision. When I speak to minors, I keep the emphasis on circumcision because the kids don’t need discussion of sex to grok the angle I take. Sure there are sexual consequences, objective and subjective. Those aren’t necessary. Children have rights, and their healthy bodies don’t need surgery. Minors of a reasonable age – teen-ish? – will make the connection based on their own knowledge, so I leave it out until they ask questions. And, while I find it hard to pass judgment on discussing sex with minors without the specifics of this case, I err to more knowledge is better than less knowledge. If the allegation is factually correct, I doubt Ms. Marmontello used tawdry terms intending to titillate.

More likely the problem on this point was teaching children about circumcision. I’ve witnessed parents and chaperons pull children away after realizing that the protest they’ve stumbled upon is not “innocent”. I’ve heard the comments, usually some variation on “it’s your parents’ right to decide and they do it when you’re a baby”. The objection is always about the adults trying to continue their own willful ignorance and forcing the same on their children. Educate children properly and they tend to question. Parents who circumcise don’t like that. If our protests weren’t at the steps of the Capitol, with police support, I suspect some parents would challenge our rights with a bit more vigor.

None of that is to suggest it’s impossible to cross a line when discussing circumcision with minors. It is. But there needs to be more than being factual and anatomically correct.

The thornier question is the latter charge. Again, there are relevant facts left out here. “Showing the circumcised penis of another minor” is not enough to know what happened. I suspect she showed a picture rather than had a boy drop his pants. That’s what I’ll assume. Such pictures are certainly widely available on the Internet, many of them in the context of the numerous possible complications from circumcision. I don’t use them for the same reason I think anti-abortion advocates are stupid to throw around pictures of aborted fetuses. It’s counter-productive. And with children other than your own, it’s especially stupid. Probably more stupid than showing them pictures of a circumcised adult penis because of the obvious child porn implications.

In agitating against forced circumcision, it’s painfully clear that our society is insane about anything related to sex. Medicalized unnecessary genital cutting – male and female – began in America as a solution for masturbation. As much as it’s undeniable that I am not the one with flawed thinking on this topic, dancing around society’s insanity is just smart strategy. We can and must address it, but trampling on it is dumb. It’s possible to teach about circumcision with nearly the same efficacy with a long sleeve shirt.

To be clear, I’m not endorsing Ms. Marmontello’s alleged actions. I’ve assumed the most innocent explanation for the latter charge. There could be more. If there isn’t, I don’t think that scenario should be a crime. Thoughts?

Post Script: I made it all the way to here without making a remark about circumcision endangering the welfare of a child. So there it is. Cutting your male child’s healthy genitals: not a crime. Someone explaining to your children about cutting your male child’s healthy genitals: a crime. Yeah, that makes sense.

If you lie down with communists, you wake up without rights.

Now this is an issue, as we reach the closing ceremonies?

Ambassador Clark T. Randt Jr. pressed the Chinese government on Saturday to immediately release the Americans, the statement said. U.S. officials would continue to raise concerns about the detentions with senior Chinese officials, it said.

“We are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness,” the statement said.

It urged China to show respect for human rights, freedom of speech and religion.

It is a savage view that believes the best individuals should hope for is to be tolerated by a government.

The blunt criticism came just hours before the end of the Games, which have largely followed the plan of China’s leaders for a smooth-running event that would increase the country’s international prestige.

And the world played the willing dupe, despite the Communist government’s well-known lack of respect for human rights. Somehow, participating in the games would convince the rights-abridging propagandists to not be rights-abridging propagandists?

Under pressure to address human rights and free speech concerns, China said it would allow protests during the Games in three designated areas. But none of the more than 70 applications to demonstrate was approved, and some people were arrested as they sought the permits, rights groups and relatives said.

“We found it unusual that none of these applications have come through,” [IOC president Jacques] Rogge said at a news conference Sunday.

Unusual? What part of rights-abridging propagandist makes arresting people seeking permits to protest – an infringement on at least two rights – in any way unusual or unpredictable?

Similar thoughts at A Stitch in Haste.

Different Maps, Same Destination

Ed Brayton challenged readers to fisk If There Is No God, a column by Dennis Prager. It’s a worthy, if easy, goal. I won’t attempt a response to all 14 points, though. Dispensing with a few should be sufficient to demonstrate that a smidge more doubt should be permitted in Prager’s thesis, which is this:

For all the problems associated with belief in God, the death of God leads to far more of them.

We may all note that he has not listed the problems associated with belief in God. How many problems are associated? I’m supposed to accept on faith that it is 0 <= n < 14, where n is the number of problems associated with belief in God. I know we're talking about faith, but it is reasonable to explain what those problems are. At least identify the value of n.

We are constantly reminded about the destructive consequences of religion – intolerance, hatred, division, inquisitions, persecutions of “heretics,” holy wars. Though far from the whole story, they are, nevertheless, true. There have been many awful consequences of religion.

I guess that means we’re discussing 6 < n < 14. Is it worth noting that religion has a commanding jump in the creation of problems?

A momentary break: I am an agnostic rather than an atheist. My only goal is to show that a principled approach may arrive at the same destination. A better destination, since each is free to choose for himself, but that’s a quibble not necessary to advance my rebuttal.

So.

What one almost never hears described are the deleterious consequences of secularism – the terrible developments that have accompanied the breakdown of traditional religion and belief in God. For every thousand students who learn about the Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials, maybe two learn to associate Gulag, Auschwitz, the Cultural Revolution and the Cambodian genocide with secular regimes and ideologies.

One of those four is not quite like the others. That Prager includes this specific grouping reveals his attempt to be either blatant propaganda or wild ignorance. But I’ll just ignore it.

Instead, is the goal of American secularism a desire to convert every believer into an atheist? Or is it an approach to group rules that allows the individual to decide for himself, as long as he does not infringe on the legitimate rights of others? Giving offense is hardly the worst outcome possible, not that there is any right not to be offended. Nothing in the American experiment points to secularism being defined any broader than this. Prager’s 14 points will be ridiculous even in the most generous consideration.

1. Without God, there is no good and evil; there are only subjective opinions that we then label “good” and “evil.” This does not mean that an atheist cannot be a good person. Nor does it mean that all those who believe in God are good; there are good atheists and there are bad believers in God. It simply means that unless there is a moral authority that transcends humans from which emanates an objective right and wrong, “right” and “wrong” no more objectively exist than do “beautiful” and “ugly.”

Secularism seeks to establish principled rules for human interaction. Deriving the notion of a right to be free from harm does not require God, only that all humans are equal. That is objective. The goal is not to arrive at chaos, only at a structure that is as impervious to arbitrary whim as possible.

4. Human beings need instruction manuals. This is as true for acting morally and wisely as it is for properly flying an airplane. One’s heart is often no better a guide to what is right and wrong than it is to the right and wrong way to fly an airplane. The post-religious secular world claims to need no manual; the heart and reason are sufficient guides to leading a good life and to making a good world.

If we do not receive an “instruction manual” from our parents, we are provided with the undeniable reality of consequences. Where our upbringing lacks, others have a way of teaching. Unless Prager is suggesting that humans are incapable of learning, he’s just swirling extra drivel into a simple concept to darken the clarity.

5. If there is no God, the kindest and most innocent victims of torture and murder have no better a fate after death than do the most cruel torturers and mass murderers. Only if there is a good God do Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler have different fates.

The concept of God centers around the idea that He is unconditional love. Until man sins. Then He is a vengeful God. There are eternal consequences. But wait. These are mutually exclusive ideas, so rather than obsess over the correct doctrine, the secularist ignores the question as it pertains to anything other than this life. Each person may decide the importance of this to the rules he chooses for himself, but he may not use this as the guide for rules over others.

There are consequences for the behaviors of both Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler. We’re not perfect, but we seek to structure those as close to fair as possible using congruent principles. Institutionally we do not reward a Mother Teresa. She creates subjective good. Others will respond as they see fit. Institutionally we seek to prevent an Adolf Hitler. He engaged force against others and caused objective harm. That is the standard.

Life isn’t fair. Explain it how you want, but rationalizing it may not be possible. We do the best we can. Reconcile that how you want, but don’t expect me to respond the same way.

7. Without God, people in the West often become less, not more, rational. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed in the utterly irrational doctrine of Marxism. It was largely the secular, not the religious, who believed that men’s and women’s natures are basically the same, that perceived differences between the sexes are all socially induced. Religious people in Judeo-Christian countries largely confine their irrational beliefs to religious beliefs (theology), while the secular, without religion to enable the non-rational to express itself, end up applying their irrational beliefs to society, where such irrationalities do immense harm.

Genital modification on healthy infant males. Is this immense harm? And what of the perceived religious differences between the sexes, enshrined in law? Don’t preach to me about rational versus irrational.

Not that I am pointing a particular religion here. Religious indifference to the rights of another human being because your God instructs you to harm your child is not rational. Consider:

… But in recent years, they have increasingly catered to Christian families who eschew a hospital procedure in favor of a $300 to $800 house call, a trend Sherman has dubbed “holistic circumcision.”

“They want their babies circumcised in the comfort of their homes surrounded by family and friends, and they want it performed by someone highly experienced, who brings spirituality and meaning to the practice,” he said. “And it’s over in 30 seconds, compared to what hospitals do, which can be from 20 to 45 minutes, with the baby strapped down.” [ed. note: see footnote below]

Who derives meaning from this, the parents or the boy who loses a healthy, functioning part of his genitals? So, again, don’t preach to me about rational versus irrational.

Or we can look
back at what Prager had to say about circumcision on his radio show, from January 19, 2007:

It is only in a very affluent, bored society that people walk around wondering “boy, what I have I lost by not having fore….?”. I… It, it… It’s beyond, it’s beyond narcissistic, it’s actually somewhat pathologic.

There is more, including references to San Francisco in exactly the way you’d think a bigot would use San Francisco as an example. Note, too, the ad hominem attacks from the allegedly rational side. So, again, don’t preach to me about rational versus irrational.

Moving on.

14. “Without God,” Dostoevsky famously wrote, “all is permitted.” There has been plenty of evil committed by believers in God, but the widespread cruelties and the sheer number of innocents murdered by secular regimes – specifically Nazi, Fascist and Communist regimes – dwarfs the evil done in the name of religion.

Religion: less evil than secularism! Still evil! But less so! Maybe pay the marketing department a little more? And hire from better universities.

Seriously, though, how much of that disparity in scope is timing? With 20th century technology, the Crusades would’ve been the same level of “tame”? I can think of many actions that are wrong, despite the existence of other related actions that are more severe. Despite relying on principles of equality and political philosophy and not directly on religious teaching, I still arrive at the truth that those actions are wrong.

I understand a set of rights, open to expansion through reason. Dennis Prager understands a different set. Including the idea of profane versus holy speech suggests that his is merely a subset of mine. That’s acceptable, but only when chosen through free will. Even if that free will exists only because of God, as Prager argues. Restricting my choices does not compute with my robot brain. One man’s God has no legitimate veto over my rights.

¹ More from the article:

As Christopher Watson held his screaming baby’s legs still on the tabletop pillow, Kushner snipped the foreskin. The process took less than a minute.

The infant’s wails soon surrendered to a wine-dipped cotton swab, then his mother’s breast, while Kushner relayed a list of instructions about how to care for the child over the next three days.

Forgive me for thinking that causing unnecessary pain and reducing his genitals are more important than how long those take.

State property or parental property is still property.

In the sense that the term is used to imply a moral obligation and chosen desire to provide and care for children, I have no objections to discussing parental rights. To some extent that’s what I read as the goal in this editorial by Thomas Bowden of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. I just wish the correct use was the basis of the discussion rather than the caveat. Mr. Bowden introduces the topic in response to the recent ruling in California affirming the legality of homeschooling.

But where’s the real victory for parents’ rights? Rights identify actions you can take without permission. A true victory would have been a judicial declaration that parents have an absolute right to control their children’s upbringing–and that they therefore don’t need government permission to educate their children as they see fit.

There’s much more verbiage in the essay taking that same lazy approach. But absolute should not be accepted as a stand-in for nuance. Is this particularly libertarian?

To give parents a permanent victory, California would need to make its law consistent with America’s founding principles. Parents are sovereign individuals whose right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness includes the right to control their child’s upbringing. Other citizens, however numerous or politically powerful, have no moral right to substitute their views on child-raising for those of the father and mother who created that child.

We know that rights are ignored far too often, but that doesn’t provide us justification to fling the word about as if expanding its definition and application are all that matter. That justification doesn’t exist, nor is that approach to rights correct. Where the individual is concerned, yes, but children are also individuals. Sharing DNA is not a contract capable of converting an obligation into a right. Creating the child is the parents’ right as individuals. Raising that child is better approached as an obligation with important qualifications. (I use obligation as an objective term not meant to imply a burden.)

Mr. Bowden gets closer later in his essay:

Of course, there are certain situations in which government must step in to protect the rights of a child, as in cases of physical abuse or neglect. …

Education, like nutrition, should be recognized as the exclusive domain of a child’s parents, within legal limits objectively defining child abuse and neglect. …

The qualification is key to advancing liberty first, for each individual. How best to do that, and on which principles, is next. Parents are the correct answer. But setting limits using objective standards should never be lost in the issue. Parents must be free to homeschool their children because they are best positioned to respond to the child’s positive right to an education. That is not a concession that the child may be held in a perpetual state of ignorance that will inhibit or prevent her from becoming a functioning, independent adult. Bowden succeeds where he makes that point. I wish he’d gotten there earlier so he’d have more time to defend this proper view of liberty instead of retreating on exaggerated claims.

———-

For discussion: How likely is it that children will respect liberty when they become adults if they’re only granted their basic, fundamental liberties at the discretion of their parents? Where liberty is denied, is it really better if parents deny it rather than the state?