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Archaeology is in my soul. Today as we were driving across Worcester to give the paper to the printer, I found myself contemplating the use-wear patterns on the yellow lines on the road, and what they reveal about people's driving habits -- where people cut corners, where they make left-hand turns, and so on.


There have been a lot of complaints circulating about the media's coverage -- or lack thereof -- of recent anti-war protests. Stories are brief, report low estimates of attendance (or none at all), and are buried toward the back of the paper. The explanation is generally based on some sort of "ruling class conspiracy" theory -- that the media, like the government, wants war to seem inevitable.

The media's self-appointed role in a free society is to be a sort of Socratic gadfly -- questioning everything, particularly the doings of those in power. Don't just take anyone's word for it; press for better explanations and more information. The lack of coverage of the protests is seen as an abdiaction of that role. But I think much of the problem can be explained by the media's desire to be the gadfly.

The master-narrative of war coverage so far has been its inevitability. Those in power are moving steadily toward confrontation with Saddam Hussein, and only distant nations like France are raising any questions. But this isn't being told in a "foregone conclusion" sort of way -- it's being told in an alarmist way. The media is setting up the "inevitability" storyline as a backdrop for its own questioning of the war. And the media has questioned the war -- every day, columnists, editorial pages, and investigative reports denounce the administration's course. The effect of all this is to enlarge the media's role, as the seeker of truth exposing the machinations of the powerful. Recognizing a strong anti-war movement would disrupt this storyline.

Of course, the same could be said for the anti-war movement. Recognizing the media's role would disrupt their storyline of a hegemonic powerful class heading for war that's being resisted by "the people" (though most of "the people" are turned off from the antiwar movement by its radical leftist leadership).
I had a desire to listen to "El Capitan," probably due to all the people in band tonight whingeing about marches, particularly those of the Sousa persuasion. So I hopped on over to and put "Sousa" into the search box, to see if anyone was offering any of John Philip's tunes. Several of the classics came up, of course, but it turns out he's got a new song out: "So U's a Gangsta."
Atheist Scout Fights Decision To Boot Him

The Chief Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts has given Eagle Scout Darrell Lambert about a week to decide "in his heart" if he's truly an atheist. If he insists on sticking to his belief that there is no God, the Council will terminate his membership.

"No way" is he going to change his beliefs, says Lambert, who has been in scouting since he was 9 years old. "It'd be like me asking them to change their belief. It's not going to happen."

His beliefs, if unchanged, give the Scouts no choice, says Brad Farmer, council's Scout executive in Seattle.

- via Witchvox

This hurts. It almost makes me want to get more involved with Scouting again, so that I can drag the organization kicking and screaming into the 21st century (or back to the earlier 20th, since the religious intolerance in the BSA has been increasing in the last few decades).

I don't want to sanitize Scouting to remove references to God for fear that it might offend someone. Scouting's program has a religious element, and anyone who joins has to be prepared to deal with that. But Lambert clearly did just that. He was able to accept and respect the religious exercises of his fellow Scouts, because he found the remainder of the experience rewarding. And that ability to respect others' religion, to maintain the ties of brotherhood despite a difference in belief, is a crucial part of what the Scout Law means when it says "A Scout is ... reverent." The Council, apparently, is not able to do the same. For all Farmer's claims of righteousness, on this point Lambert is the better Scout.


A Baptist minister explains why posting the Ten Commandments is a pointless exercise:

State Faith Trial Seeks Quick FIx As Answer

But like so much in American culture, we want a quick and easy fix. We don't want to spend hours in prayer and spiritual formation. We don't want to spend days and weeks rebuilding broken families and impoverished communities — these are the very seed beds of evil.

We want something we can do in a hurry, or better yet, something someone else can do.

If people of faith really understood the purpose of Scripture, and the power of worship, the monument would be seen for what it really is -- a futile attempt to get God in our lives without much effort on our part.

This has not been the way of God in the past, and we can be sure this is not the best way for us now.

- via Votelaw, cited by Ignatz

Can I get an amen from the congregation?
The sermon and readings in church today focussed on the "love thy neighbor" passage in the Sermon on the Mount (starting at Matthew 5:43). The point being made was the importance of seeing the humanity of even your most dreaded adversaries. It reminded me of my favorite Henry Lawson quote: "The more you listen to a bad character, the more you lose your dislike for him."

When I came home, I started reading Charlene Spretnak's The Politics Of Women's Spirituality. Spretnak is part of the school of thought that proposes that the earliest agricultural civilizations were idyllic Goddess-worshipping matriarchies, who were destroyed by patriarchal invaders. And I came across this revelation in a footnote to her introduction:

However, even with the current conditioning that men receive, many of them, although seemingly a minority, exhibit considerable empathy and gentleness, do love women, and report that they do not resent and/or hate their mothers; in fact, the mother-son bond expressed by such men appears to be genuinely deep and loving."

I think it's a clear sign that you've become too wrapped up in your caricature of the Enemy, too willing to dehumanize them and ascribe to them everything evil in the world, and too disconnected from how they actually think, when it comes as a surprise to you that some among your enemies might actually love their mothers.
Mondale Likely To Yield To Pleas To Run For Senate

Former vice president Walter F. Mondale is likely to yield to pleas from Democratic leaders and step in for the late Sen. Paul D. Wellstone in Minnesota's critical Senate race, several party officials said today.

Gov. Jesse Ventura, an independent, threw a possible monkey wrench into that prospect by suggesting that whoever he appoints to fill Wellstone's seat in the current Congress could serve until a special election in November 2003.

Ventura said he had been told his appointee might serve for a full year, until a special election in 2003 that he said would offer "a fairer test" to both parties.

I don't really know anything about Minnesota election law, but I suspect the Democrats' plan -- switch the ticket to Mondale and hold the election as scheduled -- is the correct legal procedure. It seems logical that Ventura's appointee would only be able to serve until the end of Wellstone's current term. But at the same time, I can see the merit in appointing someone who would serve a full year before a special election. The election results are likely to be skewed by a sympathy vote in the Democrats' favor, especially considering that the press is eulogizing Wellstone in glowing terms. Mondale will be able to run on his mythic stature (Minnesota was the only state to vote for him when he challenged Reagan in 1984) and his apolitical image, without being subjected to the political trials of months of campaigning. And Norm Coleman, the Republican candidate, is in an unenviable spot. He needs to fight hard to come out on top. But the harder he fights, the worse he will look, as voters will see him playing politics so soon after Wellstone's death and insulting the memory of the deceased.


Well, I suppose I can thank the Pueschel family for my recent increase in hits, seeing as 9 out of the last 40 visitors came here on a search containing "Pueschel."
Sen. Wellstone Dies In Plane Crash
Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, one of the foremost liberals in Congress, was killed in a plane crash in northern Minnesota on Friday along with his wife, daughter and five others, campaign officials said.

Wellstone had pledged to stay for no more than two terms, but last year, he announced he would be running again.

via Thomas speaking to me in person

At the risk of trivializing a real tragedy, it looks like God has taken to enforcing term limits.

This opens the question of whether the Democrats will be able to substitute someone like they did when Mel Carnahan died. I'm sure they'll try, considering how crucial every Senate seat is this year. And if they do, that will raise the question of whether Republican polemics against the candidate-swapping Democrats will be vitriolic, or simply enraged.


It's kind of unsettling to sarcastically suggest a Marxist uprising of the proletariat, and then have a couple of your classmates agree in all seriousness.


Kim's Biggest Gamble

The nuclear revelations will also buffet South Korea's December presidential election. Conservative challenger Lee Hoi Chang, who has always been suspicious of Kim Dae Jung's rapprochement policy, could get a boost.

An interesting wrinkle in the North Korean nukes story.
Gun control advocates like to take advantage of the fact that the Second Ammendment states a rationale for establishing the right to bear arms. In contrast to the First Amendment -- which simply asserts freedom of the press, etc. -- the Second explains why it exists. Bearing arms is not a right that exists in some absolute or a priori sense, it's a right that has been instituted to serve a particular purpose -- the maintenance of a "well-regulated militia." The implication is that the right to bear arms is a means to a certain end -- and thus when that end is not being served, the means does not apply. Asserting a right to bear arms in situations that do not support a well-regulated militia is like chewing all the time, because it's important to chew when you have food in your mouth.

So gun control advocates have focussed on the idea of a "militia," claiming that the practices that would be limited by the gun control measure in question are not part of maintaining a militia. Gun rights advocates, having seen this argument for years, have a ready answer. They broaden the definition of "militia" to include pretty much anyone. An armed citizenry constitutes a (potential) militia that could resist tyranny, just like the minutemen and others did.

But it seems like it would make more sense to focus on "well-regulated." Gun regulation appears to be right there in the Constitution. And it's not just that Congress is permitted to regulate, but rather that regulation is part of the premise on which the right to bear arms rests. Of course, what constitutes "well-regulated" is nebulous (as is much of the Constitution -- how cruel is "cruel and unusual punishment"?), and the argument could be made that any particular measure goes too far. But it would at least move the debate away from the idea of infringing upon sacred rights, and into the balancing of two opposed but constitutional interests -- the interest in regulation and the interest in resisting tyranny -- much like the courts currently have to balance the "free exercise" and "establishment" clauses of the First Amendment.


Stone Box May Be Oldest Link To Jesus

A nondescript limestone box, looted from a Jerusalem cave and held secretly in a private collection in Israel, carries an inscription that could be the earliest known archaeological reference to Jesus, according to new research released yesterday.

The box, an ossuary used at the time of Jesus to hold bones of the deceased that dates to about 60 A.D., has almost no ornamentation except for a simple Aramaic inscription: Ya 'a kov bar Yosef a khui Yeshua -- "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

I'm a bit skeptical about this find, which has been trumpeted as The Real Thing all over the media. James, Joseph, and Jesus were fairly common names in first-century Judea. And the possibility of a 2000-year-old forgery can't be ruled out. This is an example of antiquarian archaeology -- collecting neat artifacts, rather than systematically examining the remains of a site that can give a fuller picture of how ancient people lived.


More and more its seems like all the world's major problems could be solved by using less oil. There's the obvious ones of avoiding global warming and oil spill pollution, of course, plus the environmental damage caused by drilling. It would be a blow to giant corporations because many alternative energy sources and conservation strategies are more decentralized than oil production. It would eliminate the incentives for the US to pursue corrupt foreign policy in the name of oil. And that would in turn deprive left-wingers of a knee-jerk criticism of the government, perhaps causing them to have, if not an open mind, at least more insightful rhetoric. And Tom Friedman points out it would also create peace in the Middle East.
Countries Need Protection From U.S. Culture, Quebec Says

Warning that too much "Dallas and Dynasty" is dangerous, Quebec Premier Bernard Landry says all nations should be able to exclude culture from free trade negotiations.

"If the entire world wants to look only at Dallas and Dynasty in Texan English, that won't be a plus for mankind, in spite of the quality of those products," the premier argued.

Quebec and many other Francophonie [summit of French-speaking countries] members want a special instrument to allow them to set up barriers around cultural industries without being accused of breaking international treaties.

- via Witchvox

My initial reaction to this was a fairly libertarian one. If American cultural products are becoming prevalent in another country, it means that people there must want them. Because corporations are driven by profit, they won't sell their stuff in places there's no market for it. If people object to American culture, they should turn off Saturday Night Live and turn on Kids in the Hall. Saying that governments should be able to set limits on cultural importation sounds like a combination of cultural paternalism (we know what's best for you) and the use of the state to force the preferences and values of one group on a population whose purchasing record demonstrates that it likes American culture.

However, it's not quite that simple. People can only make economic choices between the options that are actually available to them. And what options are available is shaped by the preferences of those around you. I'm a big fan of certain Australian music, but I'll never find Yothu Yindi on the racks at Best Buy, because there aren't enough other Americans interested in buying to to make offering that choice worthwhile. Which leaves me two options, if I want to make sure I can get Aussie music and I can't travel -- either convince enough other people to ask for it at Best Buy (and purchase it when they get it in stock) to create a viable market, or legislate that music stores must carry certain options. There's a tension between the different elements of choice -- freedom at the level of the individual transaction versus giving people viable alternatives.

But this begs the question of which alternatives ought to be made available. Nobody would think that the US ought to legislate the availability of Australian or Canadian culture. There's an assumption that citizens of a country ought to have access to "their own" culture, in addition to whatever imports happen to be commerically viable. But despite centuries of nationalistic rhetoric, people's culture -- the things that have real meaning for them -- is not primarily determined by nationality. Culturally speaking, people in Vancouver often have more in common with people from Seattle than with people from Edmonton or Toronto. But because it's the state that's being looked to to enforce cultural integrity, it's state-based cultural divisions that will be enforced. The Pacific Northwest, on the other hand, has no power vis a vis the High Plains or Great Lakes.


Escher's "Ascending and Descending" in Legos

It shouldn't be possible to do that ...
A lot of exasperated anti-war folks like to bring up the idea that going to war with Iraq is a ploy to distract attention from the failing economy -- a sort of Wag the Dog scenario. But I don't buy that. Bush has wanted to take care of Saddam since before the economy tanked. He just never made concrete plans. The plans are coming out now because of two factors unrelated to the economy. First, September 11 made Americans feel vulnerable to attacks. Even when Bush isn't ecxplicitly linking Saddam to al-Qaida, he depends on this sense of vulnerability to undergird his warnings about the possibility of Iraqi agression. He then had to wait until the immediate vengeance for September 11 was over (the destruction of the Taliban), before the public would allow him to move on to dealing with another threat.

Bush has certainly taken advantage of the coincidence between the timing of the fruition of his war agenda and the recent corporate scandals. And he's been playing to the media in such a way as to keep attention off the economy (though the public doesn't seem to blame the administration for the economy as much as Democrats would like). But he didn't plan the whole Iraq attack specifically for this purpose.


On Trial In Illinois: The Death Penalty

On a chaotic day filled with drama, anger and sorrow, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board today launched an unprecedented and controversial series of back-to-back clemency hearings for most of the state's 159 death row inmates in a system that has been described as so flawed that it risks executing an innocent man.

A half-dozen members of the Pueschel family emotionally pleaded with the board not to recommend clemency for brothers Reginald and Jerry Mahaffey, who were convicted of murdering Dean and Jo Ellen Pueschel in 1983, and leaving their 11-year-old son for dead.

"I am that little boy Ricky. I saw them killing my parents. I saw them," Richard Dean Pueschel told the packed room, his voice cracking with emotion. "Let Governor Ryan know [the Mahaffeys] do not deserve mercy."

I think death penalty opponents' cheering of Gov. Ryan's investigation has distorted the issue. The review of death sentences that he ordered, which is culminating in these hearings, is not about whether it is acceptable to execute criminals. It's about whether Illinois has been executing innocent people by accident. The unreliability of death sentences has been widely used as an argument for abolishing it, which explains why death penalty opponents are so interested in this review. But Gov. Ryan supports the death penalty in principle -- so this review is more about eliminating corruption of the penalty than about working toward abolition.

The quote from Pueschel illustrates the misunderstanding that death penalty opponents' involvement has created (though this misunderstanding tends to crop up whenever someone is put on trial for a horriffic crime, and is presumed guilty by the public). His emotional appeal is not germane to the question that the hearing is concerning itself with. The hearing isn't to decide whether the people who killed Pueschel's parents ought to be executed -- all the laws on the books say that they ought to be. The hearing is to decide whether the Mahaffeys are the killers. Unless Pueschel wants his desire for revenge to outweigh the justice system's interest in identifying the actual guilty party (the crime is so bad that somebody ought to die for it), he should focus on establishing the Mahaffeys' guilt.


I wish there was a point to voting in this year's election. There seems to be quite a bit riding on it -- control of both houses of Congress, and all that means for the future of the war, the judiciary, our civil liberties, and so forth. But neither of my senators is up for reelection. My representative is running unopposed (and he's a pro-war Democrat, so it's not like you could find a challenger with a shot at winning who would be better). There's a race for Governor, since Bush swiped Ridge to run Homeland Security. But the Democratic candidate was basically chosen by Republicans who switched their registration so they could vote in the Democratic primary, so the amount of difference that vote makes is fairly small. Not enough to bother with the rigamarole of getting an absentee ballot.

Correction: Hazleton mayor Lou Barletta is running againt Kanjorski for the House. Kanjorski's still strongly favored, though. Now I'm wondering where I got the idea he was unopposed.


House Affirms "Under God" In Pledge

Spurred by a recent court ruling, the House passed a bill Tuesday that would reinforce support for references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and the national motto.

The measure passed in a 401-5 vote. Those members voting against the bill were Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Michael Honda, D-Calif., Jim McDermott, D-Wash., Bobby Scott, D-Va. and Pete Stark, D-Calif.

So 1.25% of the House has read the Constitution.


This has got to be the saddest form of procrastination ever. I'm using the Prior-Art-O-Matic to find out about famous geographers. Apparently B L Turner II is like a normal fizzy drink, but [he] can be used as a metal detector. And Ellen Semple is a rubber fish that has been featured in Star Trek! And Karl Ritter is a bathtub that records memos!

Addendum: It looks like John Mars is going to protect us from the terrible secret of space.


Poll Finds Arabs Dislike U.S. Based On Policies It Pursues

A comprehensive survey of attitudes and opinions in the Arab world has found that Arabs look favorably on American freedoms and political values, but have a strongly negative overall view of the United States based largely on their disapproval of U.S.policy toward the region.

What's that you said about them just hating our freedom, Mr. Bush?


Attack May Spark Coup In Iraq, U.S. Analysts Say

Senior intelligence experts inside and outside government have reached a consensus that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would likely be ousted in a coup led by members of his inner circle in the final days or hours before U.S. forces launch a major ground attack.

Faced with an imminent, overwhelming U.S. assault and the choice of either being Hussein's successors or being imprisoned or killed in the fighting, top-ranking officers or a group of military and other senior officials would take the chance to eliminate the Iraqi leader, several senior administration officials and intelligence experts said in recent interviews.

On the surface, this sounds nice. If we rattle our saber loud enough, Saddam's lieutenants will overthrow him, we won't have to actually launch any missiles, and everybody will be happy (except Saddam, of course). But there are a few problems with this scenario, beyond the question of how likely this type of coup really is (since there have been plenty of reports lately suggesting Saddam wouldn't go easily). First, would this type of coup really constitute effective "regime change" of the type the administration wants? There are few guarantees that Saddam's top officials would be much less evil than their former master. Following the coup the American military would back off, as would UN arms inspectors, in order to let the "new" regime get settled in and to avoid making it look like a Western puppet government. But then they could go ahead and be as recalcitrant as Saddam, and we'd be back in the same situation.

Second, it would be dangerous for the military to plan on a coup, because that would be disastrous if it failed. Counting on Iraqis to overthrow Saddam could lead military planners to not commit sufficient forces to the operation, and to avoid serious planning of how to run Iraq after Saddam's fall. Neither of those things are needed if Iraqis do all the dirty work and have a government already set up. But they're vital if Saddam proves resilient and the US has to take matters into its own hands.


"I Am An Enemy Of Your Country"

[Shoe bomber Richard] Reid's father, Robin Reid, told the BBC in London that he loved his son and would support him "any way I can." He said his he did not blame his son for the crime. "I blame myself for not being there when he was growing up. I was in prison when I should have been there."

There are some interesting similarities between Robin Reid's view of his son and John Walker Lindh's parents' statements about their son. People jumped on Lindh's parents, taking their naive view of their son as proof that they were dangerously out of touch with reality, and extrapolated that their ultra-liberal attitude had prevented them from instilling any moral compass in their son. But Mr. Reid's statement suggests that the Lindhs' responses had less to do with their left-wing view of things and more with the psychological consequences of learning a family member was involved in an incomprehensibly heinous act.

For Americans and Brits, used to our relatively safe societies, the violence committed by al-Qaida is almost incomprehensible. The only way most of us can deal with it is to see the perpetrators as completely alien, outsiders to our entire civilization. Others with a capital O, to use anthropological terminology. It was shocking to see one of our own consorting with the enemy, suggesting that the barrier that separated Us and Them could be crossed somehow (which may explain the haste to blame his liberal upbringing -- it fit well with the charge that the left's way of thinking is dangerously alien, and removed Lindh from the "us" side of the divide). That shock must be exponentially greater when it's your own child. So the Lindhs and Mr. Reid retreat into denial, insisting that their sons are the people their parents want them to be.
Chesterfield Gives Witch The Broom

Eager to share her recognized faith with others, [Wiccan priestess Cyndi] Simpson recently asked Chesterfield to add her name to the list of ministers and priests who give invocations at county meetings.

"Based upon our review of Wicca, it is neo-pagan and invokes polytheistic, pre-Christian deities," Steven L. Micas, the county's attorney, wrote in a letter addressed to Simpson. "Accordingly, we cannot honor your request."

"I believe that this shows bias not only against my faith but against Islam, Hindu, Buddhism, Native Americans and any faith outside the Judeo-Christian religion. In a public area, government sponsored, we should all be welcome," she said.

via WitchVox

The article is clearly slanted in favor of Simpson (we don't even hear the Board's rationale until halfway down), but given the quotes from board members I have sympathy for the journalist.

Simpson's probably wrong about Micas's statement discriminating against Islam -- Islam is not neo-pagan, it's vehemently monotheistic, and was established after Christianity (though Islam would be out according to Board Chairman Kelly E, Miller, who dismissed Wicca as being "not any religion I would subscribe to."). But based on Micas's own words, Christian and Jewish invocations are not permissible either, since the Judeo-Christian god was worshipped by the Jews for thousands of years before Christ.


Who Says We Never Strike First?

And the United States entered Vietnam not to avenge two attacks on American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin (one of which didn't occur) but because President Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to prevent the spread of Communism.

This is not to suggest that the United States was necessarily wrong to enter these wars; the Mexican War, Spanish-American War and Vietnam War all had large elements of moral purpose. The point is simply that we have often sought out battle, not waited for it to come to us. Many such interventions have been undertaken as part of America's long-standing commitment to act as a global policeman.

I think it says something about how different the premises of the pro- and anti-war factions are that someone could use Vietnam and sundry other US interventions during the Cold War as evidence of why preemptive strikes have been beneficial in the past.


Conventional wisdom holds that Ariel Sharon's recent attack on Yasser Arafat's compound was a failure. Sharon's stated goal was to marginalize Arafat and force the handover of some of his lackeys wanted by the Israelis on charges of terorrism. But the attack turned world opinion against Sharon, forcing him to withdraw without the prisoners he wanted. Further, it made Arafat more of a martyr, rallying the Palestinians behind him and squashing attempts by other moderate Palestinian leaders to force democratic reform of the Palestinian Authority.

But I wonder if Sharon's attack might not have been a success, from his point of view, for some of those same reasons. It seems clear that Sharon has little interest in negotiation with the Palestinians. Negotiation implies some degree of equality, of two aggreived parties coming together to work out a mutually beneficial solution. Rather, he wants to be able to dictate terms, a powerful victor laying down the law for his adversary. His proposals at the Camp David summit have been widely hailed as groundbreaking concessions (and they did go farther than previous Israeli proposals). But they were issued like ultimatums, and the rhetorical use of this story has subtly emphasised this fact by casting Arafat as merely reactive, faced with a simple option to take or leave Sharon's offer.

But to do this, Israel needs the moral high ground. The story hawks tell themselves says that Palestinian nationalism is inherently an illegitimate uprising pursued through unconscionable means. Therefore Israel -- as the defender of justice and right -- must be able to dictate the terms of the solution, lest their morality be compromised by the Palestinians. This story requires that a despotic terrorist sympathizer (Arafat) be the focus of Israel's struggle and Palestinian hopes for self-determination. An assertive Palestinian leadership not tainted by despotism or terrorism would complicate the issue, sapping the hawks' black-and-white vision of the conflict and leaving them uncertain how to proceed.

I don't mean to suggest that Israeli hawks would encourage terrorism in order to undermine Palestinian legitimacy -- that's far too cynical an accusation to make without evidence. What I am suggesting is that by seeing the situation through a certain prism, and acting accordingly, they prevent any alternative visions from gaining ground. Focussing on Arafat makes him the avatar of Palestinian nationalism, thus justifying their focus on him.