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U.S. vs. Them

But the final reason has to do with America's unique national experience and the sense of exceptionalism that has arisen from it. Americans believe in the special legitimacy of their democratic institutions and indeed believe that they are the embodiment of universal values that have a significance for all of mankind. This leads to an idealistic involvement in world affairs, but also to a tendency for Americans to confuse their national interests with universal ones. Europeans, by contrast, regard the violent history of the first half of the 20th century as the direct outcome of the unbridled exercise of national sovereignty. The house that they have been building for themselves since the 1950s called the European Union was deliberately intended to embed those sovereignties in multiple layers of rules, norms and regulations to prevent those sovereignties from ever spinning out of control again.

I ran across this old column by Francis Fukuyama today, and I think the point I quoted highlights something interesting about the way Americans and Europeans view World War II, and the impact that has on how they think about the current war with Iraq. The two continents drew very different moral lessons from the conflict.

Americans tend to see World War II as the archetype of the just war. It was a case of people willing to die in the name of freedom and justice, in the face of all-consuming tyranny. Hitler has become our new Satan, an enemy that cannot be reasoned with or appeased, but only fought and destroyed. In Europe, however, the war is seen as a clear example of the problems of nationalism. The very real sense that "it could happen here, again" drives Europeans toward union and peace.

There are a number of reasons that these differing narratives came about. First is how the nations got involved in the war. Europe saw the war spring out of its own self, generated by social conditions like poverty, anti-Semitism, and fierce nationalism. Americans, on the other hand, came into the war from outside. To Europeans, Hitler was fearsome because he was one of their own, a product of Western civilization. But to Americans he was fearsome because he was an alien Other, sweeping down on the civilized world like the Huns. The Nazis were already in Europe, but America (after an attempt at isolation) had to cross the Atlantic to fight (it's interesting to note how the Pacific theater is downplayed in the popular conception of the war, except when talking about the atomic bomb -- and that story is generally used for very different purposes than the evil-Hitler narrative). For Europe the war was a pragmatic necessity, whereas for Americans it was a moral necessity. The element of the failed appeasement of Hitler fits nicely into the American narrative -- when faced with Evil, all you can do is try to destroy it. Europeans, meanwhile, would see the story of the failure of the Treaty of Versailles as more significant, drawing from it lessons about how enemies are created by treating others as irredeemable sworn adversaries.

Second, America and Europe had very different postwar experiences. America emerged triumphant, the premier power and dominant economy in the world (largely because it got involved late and never had to fight on home turf). This, combined with the success of the Marshall Plan, fed Americans' messianic sense. The war confirmed that the United States was the bringer of freedom and justice to the world, a model for civilization. And we soon embarked on the road of "development" of third-world countries, casting ourselves as the savior of the oppressed. Europe, on the other hand, was devastated. The horror of the war crippled Europeans' confidence in the rightness of Western civilization. The post-war period saw the final dismantling of Europe's colonial empires, ending their long project of civilizing the world and remaking it in a European image.

So today we see America, buoyed by its victory over Hitler, taking a thoroughly modernist approach to foreign policy. Modernism assumes that there is a universal moral order that can be dictated from on high by a supreme power, a power trusted to act for the common good. Europe's policy, meanwhile, is colored by postmodernism -- the idea that all truths are partial because nobody has a God's eye view of the world, and that the world is better run through negotiation between parties than by fiat because no power can be trusted to determine what's right.

America was founded in a deep distrust for absolute power, as the colonists saw the negative consequences of allowing the King to make decisions on behalf of his people. The founders did such a good job of constructing a system that prevents tyranny (or at least tyranny widespread enough to impact the national consciousness, as plenty of groups have been oppressed over the years) that Americans have come to think of tyrants as alien, incomprehensible monsters that can only be destroyed. So we don't notice when we buy into the principle that one power can be trusted to enforce right and wrong.
Unasked Questions

Williams, a career Marine who insists that his thoughts are his and not to be linked to George Washington University, says he learned in Beirut and South Vietnam that his government didn't always have better information than he had -- not because officials lied but because critical details were filtered out as communiques made their way up the chain of command. "That experience," he said, "convinced me that the most senior leadership does not always have the best counsel."

And yet we're supposed to just trust that the Bush administration has good but secret reasons to attack Iraq. More and more it seems like the military is the peace movement's best friend.


Al Gore's speech the other day lambasting the Bush administration's preparations for war seems to have given everyone what they wanted. It was a manifestly political move, which took on the tough task of justifying his hawkish side (he was one of the few Democrats to vote for Desert Storm, and he doesn't regret the Clinton administration's bombing of Qaida camps after the African embassy bombings) while taking the current government to task for its handling of the coming confrontation with Iraq. In the twisting required to do this, he provided both hawks and doves with confirmation of what they believe.

Those who question the war were overjoyed to have a major political figure, not to mention the guy they would rather have in the Oval Office, taking a strong anti-Bush stance. The message lately from most congressmen (Democrats and Republicans alike) has been "sure you can attack Iraq, we just want you to ask us first." The debate has been over the government's checks and balances, not its foreign policy. Gore successfully reflected many of the concerns of the nation's unrepresented "peace wing." But because he was careful to say that he supported holding Saddam to account in principle, he avoided alienating those who don't like what the government is doing, but aren't willing to go so far as to outright oppose the war.

The hawks, meanwhile, saw Gore's speech as a confirmation of lefty peacenik lunacy. Gore's continued forthright criticism of the government has confirmed his image as a sore loser to those inclined to see him that way. There was ample weaseliness in his speech (accusing Bush of using the war debate to further Republicans' electoral prospects, then claiming that others -- not him -- had made that accusation) to prove that the anti-war case was logically weak. The conclusion: If Al Gore is the best spokesman that the left can find, then we can't bomb Baghdad soon enough.

About the only people disappointed by Gore were Democratic candidates who have been trying to claim the pro-war plank in the face of Republican accusations of being soft on Saddam. If the Democrats don't reclaim the House in November, we may see Gore accused of losing his party this election as well.


Zen Garden's Calming Effect Due to Subliminal Image?
[The Zen rock garden of the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan] after all, has no plants—no flowers, no trees, not even any weeds.

Visual-imaging scientists in Japan say they've figured out what it is about the garden that engenders this serenity. The secret: The more than 500-year-old garden is harboring a subliminal message in the form of a tree.

So the calming effect of a completely plantless garden is due to its resemblance to a tree.
Dick Armey's words of wisdom: "If you were a southern Anglo Baptist liberal, I promise you I would say you were not well educated and probably not a very deep thinker, because that's what liberals are," he said. "Liberals are, in my estimation, just not bright people. They don't think deeply, they don't comprehend, they don't understand a partial derivative, they have a narrow educational base as opposed to the hard scientists."
Australian Aborigines Win Back Huge Area Of Desert

An Australian state has agreed to hand back a slice of desert more than four times the size of Belgium to its traditional Aboriginal owners 50 years after they were driven out.

The sprawling state of Western Australia expected a court to ratify this week a deal to return 53,000 square miles of land to the 2,000-strong Martu people, a spokesman for deputy state premier Eric Ripper said on Wednesday.

"They have demonstrated that they are the traditional owners of the area and have maintained those ties since the colonization of Western Australia in 1829," Ripper told the state parliament.

Every now and then, there's some good news.


When I was thinking about my commentary for this week's Scarlet, one idea that occurred to me was to compare the way the US wants to lay the smackdown on Iraq for breaking UN resolutions, while we're happy to let Israel break them left and right. I shied away from it, as I try to stay out of the Israel-Palestine mess, and I didn't want to start off my Scarlet career with an anti-Israel sounding piece. But it seems that the PLO's negotiations affairs department has no such qualms, as they issued a report today making that very argument. It also seems that The Guardian has no qualms about simply restating the report's claims, rather than reporting on the fact that it was issued and the reaction to it.

(via Democratic Underground)
Hawks are saying that the war on Iraq is as just as World War II but will be as easy as Desert Storm. Others are warning that it will be a counterproductive quagmire like Vietnam. But some of the most interesting analyses lately have drawn the parallel with World War I.
They say that having something in writing makes it more official and authoritative. But I'm finding the opposite to be true in my History of Geographic Thought class. Prof. Turner has written a number of articles on the topic, and several of them are on our reading list. I've found that his ideas about the history of geography are easier to question when I read them than when he says them.

Part of it may be his personality. He's got that self-assured Texan attitude that makes it hard to disagree with him when he says things in class. Whereas reading his ideas gives you time to sit back and think, and formulate a critique. But I think there's more to it than that -- Prof. Peletz had a very different, much less forceful, persona and yet I found myself implicitly agreeing with his in-class assessments of the topic while being intensely critical of his book. Academia (particularly at higher levels) trains us to look at the scholarly literature as parts of a debate, open to question and playing off against one another. Reduced to paper, Prof. Turner is just another voice in the conversation, another viewpoint to look at. But in class, a professor takes on some of the role of a mentor. He comes with an agenda of what students should learn from the class, and students look to him to provide that expertise.

It goes beyond the difference between "teacher" and "researcher" roles, though. I think the internet may have gotten us used to investing less authority in the written word. Things that are written seem sort of shouted into the abyss, put up for readers to look at and choose from. But speaking is more personal. The message is targeted at a particular person, and the connection that establishes -- the trust implied in the act of exchange, rather than leaving something to be picked up by someone else -- invests the message with a kind of authority that writing has lost.


J.R.R. Tolkien is acknowledged as a master of fantasy world-building, and I'd hardly argue with the assessment. There's a huge depth to the mythology and history he created for Middle Earth, not to mention the skill he has in evoking the various landscapes his characters encounter. And I'll admit to now and then getting out The Fellowship of the Ring just to stare at the map. It's part of what got me interested in geography.

But reading the Silmarillion last month, there was one thing that nagged at me about the world Tolkien created. It was almost all mythology and history. The lanscape was a backdrop for kings and heroes and great adventures, not a land where people lived from day to day. Aside from a few spots, such as the Shire and Beorn's house, there isn't a clear sense of the land as supporting its population. Where are the people hoeing their farms and hawking their wares? The dwarves are almost a mockery of my point -- a whole race devoted to one occupation, pursued for the sake of artisanry rather than sustenance.

Much of the land can be excused as wilderness. But in cities like Lothlorien and Minas Tirith, where people are congregated, you get no sense of what they do all day. They exist as agglomerations of subjects around the great halls and castles, not hubs on trade networks and sites of manufacture. Where are the fields and pastures that must support the elves of Lorien? Sam and Frodo ran into Faramir's patrol, but no Gondorian farmers awaiting the spring flood of the Anduin. The wolf riders burned the trees to flush out the Dwarves, but not to open up the forest for game or planting.

The population map in the Atlas of Middle Earth is telling. The only place where the land seems filled, where there is a full society rather than just dabs of people at the places that the mythic perspective takes notice of, are in Harad and Dorwinon -- lands far from the course of action in any of Tolkien's stories.
Why is it that 95% of the political blogs out there seem to use this template? Maybe that's why I'm not a first-tier commentary site -- it's this blue background dragging me down.
Invade and Unleash?

The question no one in the administration wants to ask -- or answer -- is whether an invasion would guarantee the elimination of Iraq's biological weapons arsenal. An even more delicate question that has not been addressed publicly is whether an invasion might actually increase the likelihood of terrorist access to and acquisition of Iraq's deadly biological weapons assets.

This article addresses the possibility that an attack would make Saddam more likely to use weapons of mass destruction against the US. It makes sense -- his weapons program is very likely based on prestige and asserting control. He wants to be able to wave them around to prove nobody can mess with him (much like the US). So he'd be likely to use them only when he's got nothing left to lose.

What the article raises, but doesn't address, is the possibility of Iraq selling WMDs to terrorists. At the moment, that possibility, though a favorite of the Bush administration, is unlikely. Saddam wants WMDs so that he can show them off, not so that he can sell them for a quick buck. And it's highly unlikely he'd do any sort of deal with al Qaida, since Osama is as likely to nuke Iraq (he hates Saddam's Baath party for being secular and for oppressing its Muslim citizens) as nuke the US. But if the Iraqi regime collapses -- and it's certain to collapse before US troops have rooted out every cache of weapons -- we could easily wind up with a situation like post-Soviet Russia. With the Soviet regime gone and the new one too poor to support the weapons scattered around the republics, they started getting sold off to whoever could pay enough to keep bread on the weapons-holders' tables. Most of the guns used by the Chechen rebels, for example, were bought from Russia. It's clear from the example of Afghanistan that the US can't and won't set itself up as the government of Iraq. Therefore, there will be a dangerous period (which could last indefinitely) when there will be no authority in Iraq powerful enough to secure the WMD caches. This means that nuclear scientists could sell their goods and services to the highest (terrorist or warlord) bidder, not as part of any grand geopolitical strategy, but just to pay the rent.


An informal poll of the Internet:

invade Iraq now -- 38,100 hits
leave Saddam alone -- 40,800 hits

George Bush is a doody-head -- 51 hits
Saddam Hussein is a doody-head -- 6 hits

The internet is not on the President's side.


Monsignor Says Gays Shouldn't Be Priests

Monsignor Baker also said that a vow of celibacy by a homosexual man is "superfluous" because it is a promise to abstain from homosexual acts that are already sinful and must be abstained from.

The homosexual priest, moreover, cannot be "genuinely a sign of Christ's spousal love for the church," which implies a male-female relationship, he said.

I'm setting aside all the problems with the opening and middle of the article -- I'm not here to tell the Catholics how to read their Bibles or understand human biology, sociology, and psychology. What I found interesting was the bit I quoted above, from the end of the article. I had always understood the rationale behind celibacy to be that having a romantic relationship interfered with priestly duty. It diverted the priest's energy from the work of serving God, and made him somehow impure. Which to me suggested that the priesthood would be a good option for gay Catholics (and it's no doubt attracted a few on these grounds) -- if your religion says you have to be celibate either way, you might as well take advantage of it.

But what Baker is suggesting here is that the act of abstaining from something desirable and (in general) permissible is inherently virtuous, and priests must exercise extraordinary virtue. Abstaining from gay sex doesn't count toward this, as it's a sunk cost -- you'd have to abstain anyway. (To step into the realm of the frivolous for a moment, perhaps gay priests could even the score by keeping kosher.)

The second paragraph I quoted I can't make any sense out of. In what way do straight priests symbolize Jesus' "spousal love" for the Church by remaining single?
I was going to deconstruct the President's proposed Iraq resolution or his new American Imperialism Manifesto. But there's just too much there. Too much internal contradiction, too much hypocrisy, too many falsehoods, too many statements that could incriminate the US as easily as Iraq. Maybe I should have gone to McGill after all.
This is impressive. Despite the media's fixation on Iraq, a major mainstream cartoonist found the time to address an issue as (undeservedly) low-profile as corrupt mismanagement of Native American trust funds. The problem is, a candidate's position on reforming the BIA is never going to be a decisive issue in any election for a federal office, so Carlson's efforts won't accomplish as much as if he had drawn about Iraq.

Addendum: The Christian Science Monitor weighed in today as well.


Our Secularist Democratic Party

Anyone who has followed American politics over the past decade cannot help but feel some concern about the supposed fundamentalist Christian threat to democratic civility, pluralism, and tolerance. At the very least, the attentive citizen would find it hard not to regard the cultural and political positions of fundamentalists as outside the mainstream, given the volume of media stories that have conveyed this point. At the same time, the media's obsession with politicized fundamentalism distracts public attention from the changing role of religion in political life today. ... The media mistakenly frames cultural conflict since the 1970s as entirely the result of fundamentalist revanchism. In so doing, the media ignores the growing influence of secularists in the Democratic party and obfuscates how their worldview is just as powerful a determinant of social attitudes and voting behavior as is a religiously traditionalist outlook.

This is a very long, but interesting article pointing out the importance of secularism as a cultural and political force in America today. In some ways it rings true as as point worth making. In many places I notice that there's a strong current of antagonism toward "fundamentalists," a sort of stereotype of a Bible-thumping Christian conservative. In circles that have few people of strong Christian faith, fundamentalists are seen as the premier threat to their preferred way of life in the same way that those fundamentalists raise the specter of the secular threat to traditional culture (and there's truth in both sides' assessments of the situation, as well as in each of their assumptions that they defend the views of the middle while the other is a fringe group). But this trend gets little attention as a social phenomenon. Just like white is not a race and male is not a gender, secular is not seen as a religio-cultural position.

However, the article overlooks several points in its attempt to present the Secular Left as a mirror image of the Religious Right. First is the question of leadership. It's clear that not only are fundamentalists a key voting bloc for the Republicans, but they also furnish much of its leadership and policy direction. However, secularists -- while voting consistently Democratic -- do not have a comparable position of leadership in the party. Most Democratic politicians profess religious faith, as evidenced by the reaction to the Pledge ruling. The rise of the Green Party further testifies to the frustration of secularists with their inability to drive the Democratic truck. Further, they don't frame their identity in terms of their secularness. The lack of God in their worldview does not define it the way the presence of God defines fundamentalism. Their shared cultural values brings them together, not their secularism.
Arrrr, that George W. Bush is a scurvy dog. I'll hoist him from the yardarm if he be talkin' about keelhauling Saddam again. Even Blackbeard respected my civil libarrrrrrrrrrrrrrties!


Maya Text Points to War Between Two Superpowers

Newly translated inscriptions at an ancient pyramid in Guatemala suggest that the Maya civilization, at its peak, was dominated by two powerful city-states that engaged in a protracted "superpower" struggle.

The east section of the staircase describes a "star war" attack on Dos Pilas by the king of Calakmul—so-called because the attack was influenced by astrological movements and the dominance of Venus.

This is a very interesting development in Maya archaeology, and so far as I can judge from the article it seems based on solid science. But the two elements I quoted -- the war between two great powers, and the astronomical influence on the timing of battle -- are going to provide encouragement to Erich von Däniken and his ilk. Obviously, these hieroglyphics must be referring to a battle between two alien races in the distant past.


The Incredible Shrinking Ozone Hole

The level of chlorine from chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere is falling, and the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica should close by 2050, Australian scientists have revealed.

A jubilant Paul Fraser, chief research scientist with the CSIRO's atmospheric research division, which made the discovery, said it was now clear that the pain Western nations, including Australia, had accepted after CFCs were banned in the mid-1990s had been worthwhile.

"This is big news ... we have been waiting for this," he said yesterday. "I think this shows global protocols can work."

Finally, some good news about the environment.


Upon further thought, it may be that Bush's UN speech isn't quite as paradoxical as I made it out to be. It could be said that if the UN doesn't enforce its principle with regard to Iraq, it loses its legitimacy, thus freeing the US to attack whoever it wants.
Iraq Briefings: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

With the windowless room swept for bugs and lawmakers sworn to deepest secrecy, Rumsfeld proceeded to disclose, well, absolutely nothing this group of lawmakers couldn't have read in the morning papers or watched on TV news channels, according to participants. Actually, they weren't told even that much. "It was a joke," said McCain (R-Ariz.), who soon rose and strode out the door.

This has become an increasingly familiar scene on Capitol Hill, especially since the Bush administration blamed senators this summer for leaking classified information about top-secret intercepts of communications among terrorists in the days leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Bush Administration motto: "Trust us, because we definitely don't trust you."


The President's speech to the UN about Iraq played some interesting logical games with the concept of multilateralism.

It seems he'd finally found a reasonable rationale for attacking Iraq (though one wonders about a decision-making process that picks a policy then goes looking for a rationale). "Saddam sponsored al Qaida," an early favorite, fell apart because of the complete lack of evidence for the connection beyond a scrap of hearsay about Mohammed Atta meeting with an Iraqi official, coupled with bin Laden's professed hatred for Hussein. "He's going to nuke us" played well at home, but there was still the nagging question of why, after a decade of not showing any agression beyond his borders, he was suddenly a pressing threat. Further, neither rationale explained why it was ok for the US to take care of the problem alone.

At the UN, Bush found a third rationale which he hoped would resonate with his multilateralist critics: Saddam has defied the UN. The UN must therefore assert its authority by enforcing its rule. He drew on the principle -- the key to international governance -- which states "members of the UN must do what the UN says." So far, so good.

Then, in a sneaky sort of move, Bush reverses the logic. He declared that, to defend the validity of its principle, the UN must allow the US to go after Hussein. He recognizes that "what UN members do" must match up with "what the UN says" in both the case of Iraq and the case of the US. However, in the case of Iraq, the logic runs in one direction -- IF the UN says to let weapons inspectors in, THEN the member must allow weapons inspectors in. The burden is on the member to make the two things match up. But in the case of US intervention, he reverses it -- IF the member invades, THEN the UN must say it can. He's putting the burden of reconciling UN resolutions and member actions on the UN, and threatening that the UN's principle will be weakened otherwise. This also puts Bush in the paradoxical situation that invading Iraq without UN approval would invalidate the very principle that furnished the rationale for invading in the first place.

Certainly Bush is right that the UN's legitimacy will be weakened if it does not enforce its resolutions regarding Iraq (though its failure to enforce other resolutions, such as those regarding Israel and Palestine, call into question how strong that legitimacy was in the first place). But there are other, better ways than simply giving in to America's pressure to "authorize us or else."


An interesting addendum to an earlier post:

Sep11's Effect On Spirituality

Barna was stunned to find that, soon after Sept. 11, the percentage of Americans affirming that they believe in "moral truths or principles" that are eternal and unchanging actually declined - from 38 to 22 percent. Only 32 percent of born-again Christians still believe in the existence of absolute moral truth.

What happened to all those postmodernists and relativists, again?
It just occurred to me that not only do most people casually refer to Saddam Hussein by his first name, but so does the Washington Post, in direct contradiction to its usual style guide. Pretty soon he'll be like Cher or Madonna.


Securing Freedom's Triumph

If the President actually practices what he preached in his New York Times editorial, we'll see a complete reversal of American policy on a number of fronts. Allow me to deconstruct just one paragraph (W in italics):

America's greatest opportunity is to create a balance of world power balance is inherently multilateral that favors human freedom. We will use our position of unparalleled strength and influence to build an atmosphere of international order international order implies a working international system, which requires working with, rather than against, institutions like the UN, the WTO, the ICC, the Kyoto Protocol, and so forth and openness for example, by sharing evidence that would back up our insistence that we must go to war with Iraq, instead of keeping it -- like everything else the Bush administration touches -- top secret. in which progress and liberty can flourish in many nations. A peaceful world of growing freedom serves American long-term interests, reflects enduring American ideals and unites America's allies. We defend this peace by opposing and preventing violence by terrorists and outlaw regimes. key word: "prevent" -- that is, create conditions that will lead away from violence. Not "react to with violence," even if we react before we've been provoked (in the case of Iraq, for example). Also, for a regime to be an "outlaw," there must be some law higher than that which the regime writes -- another statement of support for the UN and the international community We preserve this peace by building good relations among the world's great powers which we're not doing currently, except to the extent that we're uniting them against us and we extend this peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent. free and open societies like our close friends Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

However, I suspect that this editorial is less "putting America on a new track" and more "lying."
The Great Refutation

The mind's eye holds a mixture of emotions, including anger, directed at primitive enemies from abroad, and at the faux sophistication of some homegrown thinking.

The thinking is as contemptible as, and more dangerous than, any foreign enemy, now or ever, because its agenda is to discredit ideas that make nobility intelligible and hence heroism possible. Last Sept. 11 was, among other things, the Great Refutation. And perhaps a catalyst of a sustained restoration.

Ideas have consequences -- indeed, only ideas have large and lasting consequences -- so history is, at bottom, the history of mind. The acts of war a year ago made up our nation's mind, as one restores order to an unmade bed. We made up our mind to fight, of course, but also to become virtuously intolerant of a certain kind of nonsense, including the notion that tolerance is everything because everything else is nothing -- nothing but opinion or chimera.

The postmodern plague of quotation marks -- the punctuation of disparagement that labels as superstitions "virtue" and "heroism" and most of the other things that make life worth living -- was erased by men running into burning buildings, men who had not been disabled by today's higher learning. The quotation marks remaining after the Great Refutation surround two words: "Let's roll!"

It's become one of the most popular cliches of the past year (and I'm sad to see a writer of George F. Will's caliber resorting to it) that September 11 somehow disproved postmodernism and cultural/moral relativism. But despite the popularity of the cliche, it's not true.

September 11 certainly discouraged a lot of people from being postmodernists. It put people in a position where they faced a choice between rejecting postmodernism (which argues that there's no objective standard of right and wrong) or accepting that the terrorist attacks are no more wrong than anything else. It's a tough choice for someone who is intellectually committed to postmodernism, because most people have, for lack of a better word, a conscience -- a deeply ingrained sense that certain actions are wrong. But the fact that this idea is in our brains doesn't make it right, any more than our deep-seated instinct to lash out angrily at the apparent perpetrators was right. To argue that September 11 disproves postmodernism, then, is to argue that instinct and emotion (which say the attacks were wrong) should triumph over reason (which, though it may have been used incorrectly in this case, is the source of postmodernism).

I'm no postmodernist. I agree that all manifestations of moral standards are socially constructed (truth has no more power than we give it). But I don't think that makes them all equally valid. And I remain skeptical about modernist claims to have found The Answer (as experience in social and environmental planning has shown that many of those claims were more hubris than substance). But I don't reject the ideas of good and bad, and I think the search for them is rewarding even if we never find The Answer. So my point is not to defend postmodernism, just to point out that the cliche about its death is not well-supported.


Yeah, still fussing with my template.


I think the Bush Doctrine is a self-fulfiling prophecy, at least with regard to Iraq.

The current justification for war on Iraq runs something like this: Saddam Hussein is manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, which he may use against the US. The probability of such a strike is great enough that we need to move first. But if a nation has the right to attack preemptively if it sees another nation as likely to attack it, then Saddam has a right to nuke the US. Indeed, he probably has more right than we have to attack him. The likelihood of a Iraqi strike on the US is still debated (despite the administration's best efforts to pin September 11 on Saddam), and even if there is an attack it would be several years away, most likely. But American military action against Iraq is pretty much guaranteed to happen, by early 2003 at the latest. Bush is essentially giving Saddam the ideological justification to attack the US in order to establish the preconditions for a US attack on Iraq.


World Summit Erred By Ignoring Tourism, Editor Says

This is a good example of how to ask loaded questions.

Moving on to address the substance of the article, I've never been convinced by the ecotourism argument -- that tourism is the answer to making areas economically productive without chopping down their forests or digging up their minerals or other unsustainable practices. Maybe it's because I'm not much of a traveler, but I think Bellows over-estimates the potential of tourism as a growth industry.


Sorry, Buyers, But Happiness Won't Last

I posted two big things already today, so I won't dilute their importance by giving you a big quote and commentary on this article. But I'm linking it because it has some interesting things to point out about the correlation between economic growth and happiness. Basically, it boils down to this: being rich is nice, but it's not all that much nicer than being moderately well-off.
Israel's Supreme Court Approves Deportations

In a landmark decision, Israel's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Israel can expel relatives of Palestinian terror suspects from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip, but only if it proves they pose a security threat.

The Israeli military argued that expulsions create an effective deterrent and help prevent suicide bombings and other terror attacks.

Human rights lawyers said the measure constitutes collective punishment and violates international law, specifically the Geneva Conventions, which forbids "individual or mass forcible transfers" from occupied territory.

The ruling written by Chief Justice Aharon Barak said that the military can only expel a relative of a militant if that person poses a real security threat.

"One cannot assign the residence of (expel) an innocent relative who does not present a danger, even if it is proved that assigning his residence may deter others from carrying out terrorist acts," Barak wrote.

This is kind of an odd ruling. I'm not a fan of deporting terror suspects' relatives, because it sounds like collective punishment -- guilt by proximity, punishing a person by hurting their relatives. The recent case of the Pakistani girl who was raped because her brother committed a crime is a particularly gruesome example of collective punishment. The theory behind this ruling, however, doesn't seem to constitute "collective punishment." This is because of the stipulation that the deportees be shown to be security risks themselves. This means that the deportation must be based on the characteristics of the deportees, not just who their relatives are. But this raises an important question, one that makes me wonder about how this ruling will be implemented. By making deportation contingent on the deportees' characteristics, it makes their status as suspects' relatives irrelevant. If they're to be deported on their own merits, why even consider that they're related to a suspect? One possibility is that family ties would be used as a sort of profiling -- suspects' relatives would be given extra scrutiny by the officials in charge of deciding who's too dangerous to remain in the West Bank. Or it come become more insidious. If the court establishes a low threshold of evidence for relatives' deportation, demonstrating that they pose a threat themselves would become just a formality and the collective punishment would go ahead as before. Alternately, "he's also related to a terrorist" could become a trump card to be drawn out when other evidence for deportation is flimsy.

The ruling as issued upholds the deportation of terorrists' relatives by making their relative status irrelevant. But whether that will hold true in practice is a very different question.
You can find some neat things when you use the "most recently updated blogs" list. For example, the archetypally frightening blog linked in the last post. But sometimes you run across something genuinely interesting. Like this post. The content isn't so interesting (to me at least, since I know little about "energy medicine"). And she has fairly dismissive words for "occult" traditions. Yet instead of rejecting anything associated with chi or prana or what have you, she is translating their substantive, useful content -- the medical observations that connect them to the real world -- into her own Christian metaphysical framework. This sort of points out some ideas I've had recently about the nature of knowledge. By knowledge I mean any sort of explanation of some aspect of existence. Knowledge, it seems, must be verified in some way -- that is, shown to be useful. There are two main types of verification. External verification means that knowledge is tested against data from your senses. Internal verification means that knowledge is tested against the requirements of your own brain -- is it comprehensible, does it make meaningful sense out of the world, is it intellectually satisfying, etc. In a very crude way, you could say that science is a system of external verification, while religion (and to some extent all the humanities) is a system of internal verification. The two systems -- physics and metaphysics, so to speak -- are linked, so a change in one may require adaptation in another. At the moment I'm tempted to see metaphysics as a sort of spuerstructure, integrating and making sense of externally verified data. It provides a kind of language in which to express externally verified propositions, which can thus be translated back and forth between different metaphysical systems.


Wow. This is probably the scariest blog I've ever come across. I don't think it's possible to do that without trying.

Also, apparently a posse consists of exactly 20 people. Or so section LXVI of the Skáldskaparmal, in the Prose Edda, tells me.
Also, why do authors always need to point out that Karl Ritter and Alexander von Humboldt, the founders of modern geography, both died the year Origin of Species was published?


Why do authors not feel a need to translate when they quote passages written by French scholars?
Claude Lévi-Strauss talked at one point about a Navajo trial. A young man was charged with casting a spell on a girl, a charge which, however sincerely believed by the accusers, we are to assume must be false. The defendant, however, does not deny the charge against him for very long, even though he of all people should know that he is innocent. He constructs a story about how he did it, revising his explanation to match the expectations of the judges. Once he has thoroughly implicated himself and laid out all the gory details of how he (supposedly) committed the crime, the judges accept the story and decline to punish him.

The explanation, Lévi-Strauss says, is that the more serious issue at stake was not the ensorcelling of the girl, but rather the blow to the social system caused by someone rejecting its tenets. By breaking the rules, a sorcerer calls them into question. A sorcerer, or someone accused of being one, is thus separated from the community by virtue of these broken social values. But by constructing the story, the accused integrated the threatening crime back into the Navajo worldview. And in doing so, he brings himself back into the tribe. The interrogation was not so much a means of establishing the truth as it is a means of affirming the social system.

When we read this passage, it tends to strike us as alien. We're used to trials as means of establishing facts of guilt and innocence, not as social rituals that act out our values and integrate the community. But it seems we're not so different from the Navajo after all:

The Truth About Confessions

How many people over the centuries have been executed or spent life in prison on the basis of a false confession? Eddie Joe Lloyd of Detroit, who in 1984 confessed to the gruesome rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, was freed from prison last week because DNA testing proved that he was innocent. He had spent 17 years behind bars.

The idea that one can confess to a crime one didn't commit seems bizarre. Confession is the most personal of statements. It is supposed to express the intimate truth of the individual, to reveal his lived experience and "inner dispositions," as Rousseau put it in his "Confessions." This truth, these dispositions, are obscure, shifting, illusive; most confessions are laden with unintended meanings.

As the psychoanalyst Theodore Reik noted in "The Compulsion to Confess," confession is often not an end in itself, but rather the means of an appeal to parents or authority figures for absolution and affection.

Police interrogators are authority figures with a vengeance. They can use the consolatory model of religious confession, implying that absolution will come from making a clean breast of things, leading to a reintegration with the community from which the suspect is now wholly severed. Courts have played along, permitting them to use all sorts of ruses, including outright lies — claiming "proof" of guilt from fabricated polygraph tests, false eyewitness reports, false findings of fingerprints, hair, blood or semen at the crime scene.