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(warning: another post about the Pledge)

I've talked to my boss about the Pledge issue, and he tends to make the de minimus argument -- that is, the unconstitutionality of the words "under God" is so small as to be negligible. Basically, those words aren't important enough to be worth going through the violent backlash that the decision has created.

This is essentially a pragmatist (as opposed to idealist) perspective. The difference, as I see it, is in what you take as given. An idealist looks at the whole situation -- a sort of outsider's, or bird's eye, view -- and considers how it ought to be arranged. A pragmatist considers only his or her own actions as variables, and asks what he or she personally should to to create the best outcome, given the likely actions of everyone else. When an idealist hears about people being robbed in a dark alley, she thinks "people shouldn't rob others. I should be able to walk through dark alleys in safety." When a pragmatist considers the same situation, she thinks "given that there are robbers in the alley, I should probably stay out, or maybe carry a gun to defend myself." Both perspectives are necessary -- thee problem of crime would never be addressed without idealists, but without pragmatists we'd all stroll into dark alleys with $50 bills hanging out of our pockets because we know we're not the ones at fault.

The reason I bring this up is because I consider myself a strong pragmatist. My initial reaction to a situation is usually "ok, how can I deal with this," not "this situation should be different." So why am I taking a clearly idealist position on this particular issue (the Pledge), and looking at the pragmatist argument as dodging the question?
Colgate Gets Frat House In Auction

"Colgate University's only local fraternity, Phi Tau, lost its house at a public auction last month.

Colgate submitted the only bid on the 94 Broad St. property, putting in an offer of under $200,000, said Peter Dunn, a lawyer who refereed the auction."

The griping from Phi Tau alums in the Maroon-News next semester will be painful. And I hadn't known Sarmad was president of Phi Tau as well. Hooray for being at Phi-Tau-free Clark next year.


The internet connection at the house was borked today, so I eventually gave up and went downtown and paid $6 for half an hour at an internet cafe. Then I walked back and found people using the newly-fixed internet at the house.


Fun with Finnish:

"Minä tapaan sinut huomenna means 'I'll see you tomorrow' whereas Minä tapan sinut huomenna 'I'll kill you tomorrow'."
21 And they asked him [Jesus], saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly: 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no? 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me? 24 Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar's.

25 And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.

26 And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.

- The Gospel According to Luke, King James Version

And yet people can say "but if we take 'under God' out of the pledge, we'll have to take 'In God We Trust' off our money!" as if it's an argument for having both these phrases.

Although I'd probably consider leaving the country if our money said "In Caesar Bushicus We Trust."
When we were fighting the godless commies, we put more God into our government. Now that we're fighting religious fanatics that kill people in the name of God, we put more God in our government.

I keep having these fantasies where I'm a powerful Senator and I propose a Constitutional amendment making Protestantism our state religion, just to create a violent backlash in favor of separation of church and state.


"For they that keep holiness holily shall be judged holy..."

- apocryphal book of Wisdom, 6:10. This is what you get from reading leftover Bible books.
"Can" is a weird verb. It works in the present tense (I can, you can, they can) and the past (I could, you could ...). But in the future tense it doesn't work -- I will can? (Unless you're talking about putting things in aluminum containers, which is a totally different verb.) There's no infinitive either -- to can. Or a gerund -- I am canning. Aside from those two specific tenses where it works, you have to fall back on "to be able." Today I can, yesterday I could, tomorrow I will be able. "May" is the same way, although it doesn't even have a past tense. Weird.
New item in the sidebar -- my summer reading list, with brief reviews.
It's kind of scary how nobody seems to support the court ruling yesterday declaring the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. And all the major newspapers' editorials (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Portland Oregonian, San Fransisco Chronicle, San Diego Union-Tribune, Arizona Republic ... I'm forced, for lack of a better option, to applaud the Detroit Free Press for almost opposing it) seem to be using the same logic -- "what's the big deal? The government invokes God all the time." If the government jumped off a bridge all the time, would it be ok?


I'll keep calling PM names, vows Latham

"Federal Labor frontbencher Mark Latham said today he would continue to describe Prime Minister John Howard as an arse-licker if he failed to protect Australia's interests.

Mr Latham, who in today's Bulletin magazine described Mr Howard as an arse-licker on his recent visit to the United States, said he was merely using old-fashioned Australian vernacular.

He said Mr Howard should have used similar language when talking to US President George W Bush about American farm subsidies and the damage they would do to Australian farmers."

I can think of some American vernacular that we should call Bush (and the rest of Congress) because of the farm subsidies, but I'll try to keep this blog PG-13.
China scientists to probe 'ET relics' tower

"A team of Chinese scientists is to head out to the far west of the country to investigate a mystery pyramid that local legend says is a launch tower left by aliens from space, Xinhua news agency said.

Nine scientists would probe origins of the 165 to 198-foot tall structure -- dubbed "the ET relics" -- in the western province of Qinghai this month, the agency said last week."

So first a Chinese paper bases a story on The Onion, and now they apparently base one on Erich von Däniken. Next week's headline: "Bat Boy Found in Shanghai."


Protecting liberty in a permanent war

"Civil libertarians are justifiably alarmed at such an ominous shadow over the constitutional rights of all Americans. But there is another aspect that has received less attention even though it is equally alarming. It is a truism that civil liberties have suffered in most of U.S. wars. But in all of those earlier episodes, there was a certainty that the conflict would end someday. A peace treaty would be signed, or the enemy country would either surrender or be conquered. In other words, the United States would someday return to normal and civil liberties would be restored and repaired.

The war against terrorism is different. Because the struggle is against a shadowy network of adversaries rather than a nation state, it is virtually impossible even to speculate when it might end. Mr. Bush's initial comment that it might last "a year or two" was long ago consigned to the discard pile."

For once, a column in the Washington Times that's right on the mark.
An interesting bit from 2 Esdras, Chapter 4:

12 Then said I unto him, It were better that we were not at all, than that we should live still in wickedness, and to suffer, and not to know wherefore.
13 He answered me, and said, I went into a forest into a plain, and the trees took counsel,
14 And said, Come, let us go and make war against the sea that it may depart away before us, and that we may make us more woods.
15 The floods of the sea also in like manner took counsel, and said, Come, let us go up and subdue the woods of the plain, that there also we may make us another country.
16 The thought of the wood was in vain, for the fire came and consumed it.
17 The thought of the floods of the sea came likewise to nought, for the sand stood up and stopped them.
18 If thou wert judge now betwixt these two, whom wouldest thou begin to justify? or whom wouldest thou condemn?
19 I answered and said, Verily it is a foolish thought that they both have devised, for the ground is given unto the wood, and the sea also hath his place to bear his floods.
20 Then answered he me, and said, Thou hast given a right judgment, but why judgest thou not thyself also?
21 For like as the ground is given unto the wood, and the sea to his floods: even so they that dwell upon the earth may understand nothing but that which is upon the earth: and he that dwelleth above the heavens may only understand the things that are above the height of the heavens.
There's a copy of FourFourTwo, a soccer magazine, on the floor of the bathroom in my suite. Every kicker headline on the cover ends in an exclamation point. Emphasis is kind of pointless when you emphasize everything.


One thing I've noticed about DC is its conspicuous lack of lewd publications. When I was in LA, on every streetcorner there was a series of newspaper machines. There was the LA Times, USA Today, some free real estate and job market fliers, and then at least one publication with a scantily clad woman on the cover and more than one X in the name. But in DC I haven't seen any such thing. The typical lineup is the Washington Post, Washington Times, Washington Blade, and CityPaper. Maybe the Times has a centerfold I don't know about...
I think Nietzsche is just Jesus with an Oedipus complex.


It seems somehow very wrong that I just had to explain some basic HTML to two of my bosses in (specifically the font color tag).


I realised today, while working on a story about an Ojibway sacred site that's being threatened by logging, how badly I needed to learn a third language. Knowing some Spanish has conditioned me to prounounce all foriegn words as if they were in Spanish. I've known this for some time, considering that my brain insits on pronouncing the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah's name "hez-BOY-ya," but it really came home while talking to people about the Oibway site. I had trouble in some cases even recognizing the names they said because the spelling suggested such a different pronunciation to my Spanish-trained brain.
I wish CNN would get a new map of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The one they keep showing is hideous.


And to continue my excessively prolific blogging upon subjects not pertaining to my personal life, a snippet from Thomas More's Utopia:

Raphael, a traveler who has been to Utopia, says this in a discussion of the English judicial system: "If you do not find a remedy to these evils [poverty and social disruption caused by enclosure of pastures] it is a vain thing to boast of your severity in punishing theft, which, though it may have the appearance of justice, yet in itself is neither just nor convenient; for if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this but that you first make thieves and then punish them?"
I've started reading Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah (which is so far not as much of a screed as I had anticipated), and I came across a reference that set me thinking in the short walk from my room to the computer room, tying together a bunch of things I had been thinking.

Bork is criticizing modern liberalism, and laments (for the moment as a passing reference in a long list of signs of moral decay) the decreasing importance of self-restraint to Americans. My first reaction, seeing as I'm a liberal (a radical, if Prof. Figueroa is to be believed), was to ask why self-restraint was inherently good. Self-restraint means denying yourself happiness, and as a utilitarian I propose that happiness is the highest goal. But then I realized that I do in fact consider self-restraint to be a virtue. One of the highest virtues, in fact. I admire people who keep kosher not because I think there's anything inherently good in never mixing meat and cheese, but because of the self-discipline it requires.

You've probably guessed the resolution -- self-restraint is good because it allows us to deny a little happiness now in order to obtain more happiness later. I quickly saw it too, but then I started to think about what it meant. Self-restraint is not a virtue because it's a good situation. It's a virtue because it leads to a good situation. The nature of self-restraint, wih its clear separation of means and ends (a separation that's often more rhetorical device than reality) makes explicit the theme of the concept of virtue. Virtues are skills.

That idea resonated with me because of an observation I had made about my aspirations in life. When I look back at what I'm most proud of, it's not the things I did, it's the things I was able to do. My set of commentaries is not as important as the fact that I can write a reasonably well-argued assessment of an issue. The Potato God Worship Center, My Apology, and debitage are not as important as the knowledge of HTML I gained in building them. The same holds true when I look forward at what I'd like to do with my life. My list of goals doesn't have entries like "go skydiving" or "own a nice house." It has entries like "speak Uzbek" and "play jazz piano."

Which leads to the conclusion that virtues aren't everything. You (you plural, as utilitarianism teaches us that one's own happiness is no more valuable than another's) need to balance being virtuous with benefitting from virtue.
Do you believe the Taliban will defeat Army of disbelievers by the Grace of Mighty Allah ?

Vote now on the Taliban website. It's not a bad website design-wise, although they could use a tutorial in the <title> tag.


We Won't Deny Our Consciences

"We believe that people of conscience must take responsibility for what their own governments do - we must first of all oppose the injustice that is done in our own name. Thus we call on all Americans to resist the war and repression that has been loosed on the world by the Bush administration. It is unjust, immoral and illegitimate. We choose to make common cause with the people of the world.

In our name, the government has brought down a pall of repression over society. The president's spokesperson warns people to "watch what they say". Dissident artists, intellectuals, and professors find their views distorted, attacked, and suppressed. The so-called Patriot Act - along with a host of similar measures on the state level - gives police sweeping new powers of search and seizure, supervised, if at all, by secret proceedings before secret courts."

This article highlights the difficulty of questioning the government's tactics since September 11. The administration has been very shrewd in walking the line where what it does isn't blatantly wrong (as far as public opinion is concerned), but pushes us to places that we ordinarily wouldn't go. The military tribunals are a great example. When they were first announced, the details were vague, with ominous portents about the rights that could be denied to prisoners. The administration left the plan vague long enough for civil libertarians to solidify their arguments about the potential abuses that could occur. Then details were released that indicated that many of the rights that could have been taken away were not. Opponents were left looking like paranoid overreactors, and those on the fence said "ah, it's not so bad" and allowed the plan to go forward.

Then you read something like this:

They Heard It All Here, And That's The Trouble

"I accuse the media in the United States of treason.

I do not understand the media's agenda here. This country is at war. Do you honestly believe that such stories and headlines, pointing out our vulnerabilities for Japanese and Nazi saboteurs and fifth columnists, would have been published during World War II? Terrorists gather targeting information from open sources and field surveillance. What other sources do they have? Do they have a multibillion-dollar intelligence community with thousands of employees? Do they have telecommunications satellites to intercept communications?"

The writer is a member of the Department of State and, while there is a disclaimer at the bottom, I find it hard to believe that nobody else in the department shares his zeal for censorship.

He seems to dimly realise the real function of reporting on the nation's vulnerabilities -- to inform the people of our weaknesses, so that we can address them. But he waves it away by proposing a sort of secret hotline to report security holes that the media uncovers (as if any reporter is going to put in the effort on a story that will only be read by a few bureaucrats), with reporters to be rewarded with Soviet-style honor desgnations like "Homeland Security Gold Stars". And really, there's something incredibly Soviet about the whole thing. The philosophical basis of the Soviet system was the idea that the people should trust the state to act in their best interests. The philosophical basis of democracy is that the people themselves monitor the condition of the nation. Censorship gives the nation an incentive to hide its weaknesses from its enemies and from the people at risk if the enemies find out about them anyway. Freedom of information gives the nation an incentive to face up to its problems. The Soviet Union lost the Cold War (and left its successor states with a mess to clean up) by pretending to be stronger than it was.
What's So New In A Newfangled Science?

"In the long tradition of the scientific loner, Dr. Wolfram, a freelance physicist known among his colleagues for his abrasive and self-aggrandizing ways, has yanked the spotlight onto a strikingly counterintuitive idea — that the universe is really just a big computer, something that can best be described not by analyzing equations but by trying to figure out what kind of software it runs."

I'm nowhere near qualified to judge the scientific merit of the idea, especially based on one New York Times report. What I find interesting is how clearly this idea demonstrates that the hypotheses of science are tied to the sociocultural setting they arise in. Darwin is the best example -- evolution, particularly the strictly competitive version that he proposed, parallels the prevailing philosophical ideas about the sovereignty of the individual, and the beneficial effects of allowing individuals the freedom to pursue their own interests. The fact that other researchers have proposed ideas similar to Wolfram's only makes it clearer that new models and forms of explanation are often imported from other realms of life, not created out of pure induction (or inspired by Quality).


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance update:

The next few chapters of the book basically invalidated everything I was saying in my earlier post. Pirsig's refusal to define Quality leads him to lose his grasp on what exactly it is. At the moment there are three "definitions" floating around. First is, as I mentioned before, "goodness." This keeps popping up even though he's made arguments that in some ways parallel much of what I said earlier.

The second idea as to what Quality is is presented as a third thing in the subject-object duality. But when you look more closely at how he constructs his "new" metaphysics, he is essentially just name-swapping. Quality is a new name for external reality, and objective reality is made to mean our internal models of how Quality works.

Then he switches back to the "goodness" idea to talk about how we discriminate among facts. His point of entry is the question of where hypotheses come from. His conclusion is that there's a moment between when we sense something and when we understand it, and in that moment we are directly experiencing Quality (as reality). So why do some aspects of Quality suggest themselves as likely hypotheses? He rejects, without explanation beyond that it seems to lead to people seeing only what they want to see, the idea that it has anything to do with our understanding of the world. Rather, he says we notice them because of Quality (as goodness). He then offers (on the basis of the appeal of elegant theories to mathematicians) harmony as a third idea of what Quality is. It seems at the moment that he's in some way implicitly equating harmony with goodness. And because Quality also refers to everything that actually exists, he seems to be saying that reality is good and harmonious.

Pirsig seems to be advancing the weird notion that we notice certain bits of Quality because they have Quality -- which is akin to saying we notice certain dogs instead of others because the ones we notice are dogs. A universal cannot be used to discriminate. An analogy with the idea of size can perhaps make some sense of this. We notice some things because (among other reasons) of their size. But this does not mean that we notice things because they have size, since everything has a size. We notice them because they're big -- that is, because they have a certain type of size.

Based on this theory (which is subject to change when Pirsig takes Quality on a new tangent), he is essentially saying that we select the raw material for thought from reality on the basis of its harmoniousness. Which seems an awfully restrictive and non-universal explanation. It remains a much more likely proposal that it's not something about reality itself that makes us notice it, but rather the relationship between the facts and our understanding. Different people notice different things.
You Must Be A Fag

"I am a typical SF liberal jackass no one listens to because I live in San Francisco and everyone knows San Francisco is a totally useless noncity full of weirdo snobby leftist tree-hugging pro-choice intellectual wine-drinking peacenik tofu-suckers who practice yoga and smoke a lot of legal pot and are all just mad because Gore lost and Bush hasn't spontaneously combusted just yet and everybody seems to have a nice shiny new gun except us.

But more than anything else, the absolute worst thing that can apparently be said about me among the spurts of hate mail I invariably receive whenever one of my more politically charged columns pokes at the oozing sores of rage over at some right-wing Web site, is this: I must be gay. Really, really gay."

An amusing article about hate mail, in which Morford at times gives as good as he gets. I think the proliferation of "fag" as an insult probably reflects the readers' lack of creativity as much as it reflects their "virulent homophobia."


I've been reading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and just now I reached the center of the book, where he finally lays out his central concept: "Quality." I can tell that there's something seriously amiss with how he presents it, but its not something I can fashion a comprehensive argument against. In part this is because he says, over and over, that Quality isn't something that can be defined, and arguing against something that he won't let you define is like trying to eat something he won't let you put in your mouth. My negative reaction is probably due to how close the idea of Quality treads to the idea of inherent or absolute value. Value isn't a characteristic a thing has, it's a judgement made about the thing. Things have values to a person, and for a purpose, not a one-size-fits-all value that's independent of context.

I can start picking at the notion of Quality through Pirsig's demonstration of its existence. He states that, while we can't define what Quality is, we all know it when we see it. The point is made through the story of the narrator's time as a writing teacher. To demonstrate to the members of his class that they already know what Quality is, he reads them selections from several essays and asks them which one has more Quality (essentially, which is better). Since one example is incoherent while the other is clearly reasoned, the class is nearly unanimous in its assessment of Quality. Through this empirical demonstration, he says he has shown that Quality exists and we can tell when it's there. But literary quality is perhaps the best demonstration that value judgement is subjective. It is a plainly verifiable fact that, even within a single culture, you'll have a tough time getting an agreement as to which works of literature are the highest quality. This fact leads us to one of two conclusions. Either some people are wrong about what Quality some works possess -- which disproves the idea that we know Quality when we see it -- or Quality is a subjective notion. I can't prove the latter at the moment, but either conclusion weakens Pirsig's argument.

Further, he asserts that Quality is best left undefined. He sees it as a huge breakthrough when he gets his students to stop trying to follow rules on how to write, and simply asking them to do whatever seems to lead to the most Quality in their work. I don't dispute this result, but I don't think it says anything about the definability of Quality. Shifting focus from following the correct means to securing the best ends will certainly lead to better ends. The difference he sees between defined means and vague ends is due to the means/ends distinction, not the defined/vague distinction. Defining those ends will make them more attainable. I've written enough articles to know that the best results occur when you can say explicitly what you mean to accomplish with your writing. Take my seahorses story for National Geographic, for example. I significantly improved the quality of my work when I stopped trying to work in anything interesting I had learned about seahorses, and focussed on discussing their mating habits. I got more quality when I clearly laid out what the criteria for a quality seahorses article. Brainstorming -- writing without a clearly defined purpose -- can be invaluable in generating ideas as to where to go (indeed, the vaguer first draft of the seahorses story brought up a second direction I could have gone with it, which I reworked into a separate sidebar), but you can't write a whole piece that way.
So I've been working my way through Teach Yourself Finnish the past few weeks. It's been slow, because I can only devote so much time to it before I either get sick of repetition or overwhelmed with too many new words. And it's tough to remember words when my only sense of their pronunciation is a makeshift approximation I've devised that may or may not resemble the real thing. This house needs to trade in some of its Canadians or Germans for a few Finns.

But I only really figured out today what the real problem is. The book is designed for people who are traveling to Finland and need to be able to speak a bit to the locals, so it's very much dialogue based. It builds up the language from polite chitchat -- Chapter One was greetings, Chapter Two was "where are you from?," Chapter Three will be telling the time. I'm filling my head with idioms, but what I'm really thirsting for is the basic structure of the language. I turn each page hoping to see a table of pronouns and the conjugations for a regular verb. I'm not so interested in "Hi, how are you? I'm fine, and you? Pleased to meet you." when I haven't learned "I speak. He eats. You walk." Maybe the problem is the reason I want to learn a new language. I don't plan on going to Finland anytime soon, and I have no illusions about ever being able to speak the language (especially given how poor my Spanish still is). What I want to see is the structure of the language, how people working in a totally different language family put things together.

But until then: Olen amerikkalainen. Puhun englantia, espanjaa, ja vähän suomea. Olen Palmertonista, mutta nyt asun Washingtonissa. Olen työssa National Geographic.


An entertaining bit from Vril, the power of the coming race, a book published in 1871 that describes a superior race called the An that live beneath the surface of the earth:

"They say that in ancient times there was a great number of books written upon speculations as to the nature of the Deity, and upon the forms of belief or worship supposed to be most agreeable to Him. But these were found to lead to such heated and angry disputations as not only to shake the peace of the community and divide families before the most united, but in the course of discussing the attributes of the Deity, the existence of the Deity Himself became argued away, or, what was worse, became invested with the passions and infirmities of the human disputants. "For," said my host, "since a finite being like an An cannot possibly define the Infinite, so, when he endeavours to realise an idea of the Divinity, he only reduces the Divinity into an An like himself." During the later ages, therefore, all theological speculations, though not forbidden, have been so discouraged as to have fallen utterly into disuse."
Dirty bomb warning was over the top, White House admits
"Faced with accusations that the dirty bomb plot announced this week was exaggerated for political purposes, the White House is now acknowledging that the threat was minimal.

An alarmed Bush Administration has reprimanded the Attorney-General, John Ashcroft, over his remarks, according to a leak to the USA Today newspaper."

I think this article speaks for itself.


Apparently Unitarians are trying to take over. Mua ha ha.
'Dirty Bomb' Plot Uncovered, U.S. Says
"U.S. authorities announced yesterday that they had broken up a terrorist plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States, saying they had arrested a U.S.-born al Qaeda associate who was allegedly scouting targets after learning how to build such a device in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"There was not an actual plan," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said at a news conference yesterday. "We stopped this man in the initial planning stages."

Administration officials have come under considerable criticism in recent weeks for mishandling clues to the Sept. 11 attacks. They stressed yesterday that foiling the alleged plot involved substantial cooperation between the FBI, the CIA and other agencies.

"He [al-Qaida leader Abu Zubaida, currently in US custody] described this guy only generically, probably in a way he didn't expect would lead us to him," one senior official said. "But based on other information we had developed, we were able to track him down.""

They've had al Muhajir in custody since early May, so it's quite obvious that the timing of this announcement was politically motivated. The administration has been taking a lot of flak for not putting together the clues about September 11, and for trying to keep us in gung-ho September 12 mode by issuing uselessly vague warnings about future attacks. So they announce that they foiled a specific plot, to make us feel like the threat is real and they're successfully defending us.

But if you read deeper into the coverage of what happened, the dirty bomb suspect arrest undermines the defense the government has used against critics of its handling of September 11. Their mantra has been "the information we had was too vague." The problem is, the information they had about al Muhajir was pretty vague, too -- Wolfowitz even said there wasn't an actual plan yet, so there were no specifics to be had. Yet we still caught this guy. How? Coordination among agencies and piecing together different strands of evidence.

On a slightly different topic, the Post reports this tidbit:

"After concluding that building a case would be difficult, prosecutors believed they were running out of time. They faced a secret hearing Tuesday before a judge, officials said, and turned in recent days to another option: transferring him to military custody."

So they didn't think they could convict him in a regular court, the way the Constitution says they have to (which sort of undermines the validity of the arrest and makes the announcement look even more obviously political posturing). So they forget the fact that he's an American citizen and hand him over to the military. Lovely.


CNN has been using the kicker "World Cupdate" on its soccer scores at the bottom of the screen. And I just made a horrible pun without meaning to. Darn you World Cup!
Cardinal Accuses U.S. Media of Nazi Tactics
"A leading Latin American cardinal, considered a possible successor to Pope John Paul II, has attacked the US media for what he called Stalinist and Nazi tactics against the Catholic Church in their coverage of child sex scandals.

In an interview with the Roman Catholic monthly magazine 30 Giorni (30 Days), Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga accused much of the US media of being anti-Catholic and of persecuting the Church in their cover of the pedophilia scandals."

This doesn't seem like the best thing to be saying if you're a possible successor to the Pope. I'm sure I'm not the only person who is getting his first impression of Cardinal Maradiaga from this story, and it's not a good impression. Being an effective world leader -- especially in the single most respected office in the world -- requires diplomacy that's distinctly lacking here.


I spent the past weekend with a bunch of my closest Colgate friends (minus Marty and plus Alan) -- the first time I'd seen them since graduation. It was amazing how comfortable I felt around them. I drove a few places with Mikey, and we didn't talk the whole time, but the silences weren't awkward, because we didn't need to talk. Friendship was something we had, not something we were trying to build. It was an interesting contrast with ISH. The people here are all nice, but I don't have a social group here. I'll pass Nadia in the hall, or say hi to Laurent in the computer room, and wonder whether this is a person that I can be friends with and how I could get to know them better. I have the beginnings of a group of friends -- Alan, Melissa, Lily, Christian -- but even with them I'm reminded of Carl Christman -- he was my best friend for the first couple months after I moved to Palmerton, but once I settled in I found better friends and soon never talked to Carl at all. At the same time, it's hard to find the motivation to do things right this summer. I know that in less than three months I'll have to do it all over again at Clark, and that time it will really count, since I'll be there for several years.


I probably should have mentioned this before, but the computers at the house are rigged so that you can't use AIM Express or Quickbuddy. I can, however, use MSN Messenger, so you may see me on there as


Bush: U.S. Will Strike First
"President Bush told future Army officers today that the United States can no longer deter attacks from other nations by threatening massive retaliation, but instead must strike looming enemies first.
He said that not only will the United States impose preemptive, unilateral military force when and where it chooses, but the nation will also punish those who engage in terror and aggression and will work to impose a universal moral clarity between good and evil."

So basically, you don't have to actually do anything before America will fight back. We can attack on the premise that you might eventually threaten us. I think we need to impeach Bush now -- he might abuse his power eventually, and we need to be preemptive.
I've been going to the Universalist church for the past few weeks here in DC. This morning, while I was chatting with some people during coffee hour after the service, I got into an interesting conversation with a guy who had been coming to that church off and on for 10 years. I'll call him Paul, because I can't at the moment recall his real name.

Paul was telling me why he had never officially joined the church. He said he had never really found a religious institution that suited his beliefs and practices. The Universalists were the closest he'd encountered, but they were still a fair way off. The thing that attracted him to this church was its lack of a creed -- they have no requirements as to what you are supposed to believe in order to be a member, the way most churches do. But being in the church teaches you to learn to be tolerant and be able to see value in other people's beliefs. This was all well and good, and it's what attracted me to the church in the first place.

But then he pointed out that he had known a lot of people who had grown up in Unitarian and Universalist churches who left the church later. They were looking for something that had more structure, more grounding in something real instead of a "whatever you want to believe is OK" philosophy. Which was the opposite trajectory of Paul's religious history and mine. He said it seemed like Unitarian and Universalist churches filled a certain niche in the religious world, a second pole to oscillate to and from, complementing religions that are more confident in asserting a claim to a universal and absolute truth.

I've been thinking about this conversation a lot since this morning because it seems to fit with a lot of what I've been thinking about how people and societies work. It seems to me that there's never a perfect philosophy, or a perfect economic system, or a perfect government, or a perfect fashion or musical style or anything. Societies thrive on pluralism, when varying perspectives alternate and coexist, making up for each other's shortcomings. Any system, if left too long, will begin to break down through an accumulation of its own faults. So it needs to shift to some other form for a while, until that form is also ready to break, when it can return to the first form or seek a new one. One of the best books of anthropology I've read was by three authors building on the work of Mary Douglas, a structural anthropologist. They proposed four types of philosophies about the environment -- "nature benevolent," "nature ephemeral," "nature manageable," and "nature capricious." They proposed that none of these philosophies had the whole truth, and none could exist on its own. Rather, each depended on the others to balance its weaknesses and to define itself against. Throughout history, the balance of power shifts back and forth between the four philosophies.

My conversation with Paul began when he pointed out that high heels originated as a men's fashion, and then suggested that every hundred years or so clothing styles reverse genders. It's an awfully simplistic and inaccurate observation, but it kind of pointed out where we were going.


I don't know how exactly the system works, but all the webpages on Colgate's site that are and have a sort of alternate address on some other server (I think the names are all from the founders) --, or, or something. Today I was looking at my sitemeter, and saw this referral from my old index page:

Clark! It's prophetic or something.