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I probably won't be posting for the next week. Hopefully when I come back I can figure out what's wrong with my comments.


I'm getting tired of hearing from Ben Franklin. Every time a debate over civil liberties restrictions in the war on terrorism starts, it's only a matter of time before someone will haul out this quote: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

I'm not saying the quote is necessarily wrong, or that I disagree with the point people are making by using it (attentive readers will have noticed a bit of a civil libertarian streak in this blog). What annoys me is the way people say this as if it's an argument in itself. Just because Ben Franklin had a pithy summation of your view doesn't make your view any more right.
Calpundit has an in-depth post about classifying political ideologies, spinning off from a Matthew Yglesias post on the same topic. They're both concerned about the limitations of the two salient ways of classifying politics these days -- either the popular (especially in the media) single liberal/left-conservative axis, or the two-axis scheme proposed most forcefully by the libertarians.

A brief summary of the libertarian two-axis scheme: people are divided into four groups based on how much freedom from the government people should have in social or economic issues. So you get conservatives advocating government involvement in social but not economic issues, liberals/leftists advocating government involvement in economic but not social issues, authoritarians advocating government control of everything, and libertarians wanting no government involvement. It's become the standard criticism of this model that it's designed to make libertarianism attractive to fence-sitters by using loaded terms like "freedom" and "authoritarian." But I think this scheme is a good way of understanding the political ideology of libertarians, because it reflects how the world looks from their standpoint (I used the diagram for just that purpose in my feminist geography class). Dividing people according to their views on government control reflects libertarians' preoccupation with the issue of freedom from government coercion. To others of us (the reason you don't see liberals arguing that bigger government is necessarily better is not because they're trying to hide their authoritarian side, it's because size of government isn't in an of itself important), however, the libertarian scheme creates some absurdities. For example, it puts advocates of politically correct speech codes in the same basket as people who want to legislate conservative Christian morality. To me, a person's vision for how society ought to be constructed is at least as important as their view on whether the government is an appropriate tool to get there.

In general I tend to be skeptical about neat master-classifications of ideologies (which extends beyond politics to things like the hierarchy-fatalism-egalitarianism-individualism scheme for attitudes toward the environment, or various ways of classifying schools of thought in geography). They can be useful devices for capturing where people stand with reference to certain salient issues, but when looking for a sort of general-purpose classification they run up against the fact that the real world is not so orderly. The terms in which a faction or party defines itself are rarely the same as those on which other factions define themselves -- or the terms the second faction uses to define the first. This point has been impressed upon me just in reading a general history of the United States. The political ideologies and preoccupations of the various pre-Civil War parties and factions defy categorization into any simple scheme I could devise.

So to some degree I think Matthew Yglesias is on the right track by rejecting a deductive approach in favor of an inductive one, and simply asking which party (and I'd add "which faction within the party") a person supports in practice. The parties that exist today are a disorderly reflection of the major pools of political thought. And Matt's scheme is a good way to understand how people's political ideologies will have practical consequences in the world. But at the same time, the party power structure distorts people's political views. I don't mean to suggest that people's ideologies are somehow fully independent of the political power context they operate in. But it seems that, for most purposes that you'd be interested in defining a person's political ideology, there would be a meaningful difference between, say, someone who agrees with all of the Green party's policies but votes Democratic because the Greens don't have a chance, and someone who genuinely agrees with the Democrats' policies. The first person's willingness to vote strategically (or "sell out," from a hardcore Green perspective) in the current environment is important as well, though. It's a difficult situation all around.

I also think Calpundit is doing something worthwhile in challenging readers to come up with their own political classifications. But I think the key is not to treat the exercise as making up an objective, universally applicable model of politics. Rather, it's an issue of defining what the political field looks like from the modeler's perspective. What issues define your position? Where do you see other major factions falling in relation to those issues? I may return and give this problem a shot next year (though this may turn out to be a Josh Marshall promise).


So the Raelians say they've cloned a human. Honestly, I'm not all that worried. I don't see that cloning as such -- meaning the creation of genetic duplicates of other people -- is much to be concerned about.

Let's look at some of the anti-cloning arguments. Right off the bat we can dismiss a sort of Star Wars scenario where someone creates an evil clone army. Cloning doesn't let you mass-produce adults, it just gives you an embryo in a different manner than the normal process or IVF (and we still can't synthesize eggs from scratch, so it's actually tougher). All told it would be much easier to recruit an army than to create one. The only real advantage of a clone army would probably be the spookiness of all the soldiers being identical.

Turning to a much more legitimate argument, there's the concern that clones will experience a variety of developmental problems. This is based on analogy with the other animals we've cloned, which suffered from a variety of health issues. I agree that it's dangerous to risk this kind of thing on humans at our current state of expertise. But this argument doesn't rule out cloning in the future if a solution to those problems is developed. And it's not an argument against cloning per se. The problem arises from the techniques used to implant dna in an embryo and get it to grow up, not in the dna being identical to another organism's. And it's not an argument specific to cloning -- we should be concerned about any medical procedure that presents serious health risks to patients (especially unconsenting patients -- though every pregnancy involves risks, and it ultimately has to be the mother's responsibility to roll the dice for her as-yet-nonexistent child).

Some people would say it's unnatural. I never accept naturalness on its own as a criterion for anything. It's nearly impossible to define, and in a sense either everything people do is unnatural -- since the opposite of "natural" is "man-made" -- or everything we do is natural -- since if nature hadn't given us the capacity for something, we would be physically incapable of doing it. There may be good reasons why the biological process of sexual reproduction is the best way to determine the genetic makeup of a child (on the level of the whole society I can think of a few, such as genetic diversity and convenience, but "allowing some cloning" and "using only cloning for all reproduction" are two very different proposals). But to argue that means leaving the idea of "naturalness" behind and arguing the specifics of a particular process.

Perhaps the best anti-cloning argument is the psychological expectations that would be put on the child. The experience of test-tube babies should assuage concerns that clones would be stigmatized as "that cloned kid." But there remains a definite concern that the parent of a clones would treat the clone as a sort of duplicate self. So the parent would have unrealistic expectations of how closely the child would resemble the parent, stifling the child's development of individuality and subjecting it to the backlash of the parent's frustration at not getting a full-sized Mini-Me. However much genetics may determine our personalities, it remains true that our sense of who we are is always couched largely in terms of our experiences, which would necessarily be quite different between clone and parent. Further, having the same personality wouldn't mean that the clone would be compliant with the parent's wishes. A person with a genetic predisposition to rebelliousness would be in for quite a surprise. The thing is, though, plenty of normal parents see their children as extensions of themselves and try to live vicariously through them. Cloning wouldn't create a new problem, it just ups the risk of encountering an old one (and ups it by how much we can't say yet). You can still legitimately say that we shouldn't go upping that risk if we can avoid it, but the point here is that the risk is not that big, so it can be outweighed by other considerations.

All in all, though, I don't think we'd ever see much reproductive cloning. After the initial novelty wears off (and that stage will have few enough clones because of the expense associated with a new technique), it's really only something that would be considered by people who are infertile and have a strong attachment to their dna -- barring any major cultural changes, not a huge segment of the population.


People Of Color Who Never Felt They Were Black

"But you are black."

That came as news to Martins, a Brazilian who, for 30 years before immigrating to the United States, looked in the mirror and saw a morena -- a woman with caramel-colored skin that is nearly equated with whiteness in Brazil and some other Latin American countries. "I didn't realize I was black until I came here," she said.

That realization has come to hundreds of thousands of dark-complexioned immigrants to the United States from Brazil, Colombia, Panama and other Latin nations with sizable populations of African descent. Although most do not identify themselves as black, they are seen that way as soon as they set foot in North America.

Their reluctance to embrace this definition has left them feeling particularly isolated -- shunned by African Americans who believe they are denying their blackness; by white Americans who profile them in stores or on highways; and by lighter-skinned Latinos whose images dominate Spanish-language television all over the world, even though a majority of Latin people have some African or Indian ancestry.

This is a good example of what makes me skeptical about affirmative action. How can a simple entry under "race" really capture the differences in life experience that affirmative action is meant to address. A person's racial identity is a combination of their self-identification and their identification by others. Those two things are influenced by a host of factors -- physical appearance, geneology, family and social environment, home region, class, gender, interests, personal style, etc. What basis is the definitive one on which we assign a person to a race? In part that depends on the rationale for affirmative action -- if we're looking for cultural diversity, self-identification is a better measure, but if we're rectifying racial injustices some external criterion like skin color will more accurately reflect the basis on which those injustices have been imposed.

It's possible that cases like the ones in the Post article are fringe cases, and that the construction of race in this country has homogenized the experience of each race to a workable degree. Social policies have to make a simplification of society to be effective -- for example, the atomistic and voluntaristic model of the individual has proven quite successful in promoting beneficial social arrangements such as freedom of speech, even though it's far from an accurate portrayal of how humans work. So maybe racial categorizations for the purpose of affirmative action would be effective in promoting racial equality in a way that makes up for the crudeness of the standard in borderline cases. But I have a suspicion that race's social manifestations may turn out to be much like its genetic ones -- there's more variability within the group than between groups.

I'd also like to make a note of the fact that it amuses me that Cuba's white supremacists call themselves the "Ku Klux Klan Kubano."


John Quiggin makes an interesting argument that war with Iraq is becoming less likely:

Suppose that this [UN inspectors not finding anything] continues until 26 January. By then, hundreds of sites will have been investigated, the best US intelligence will have been tested out, and the key Iraqi scientists will have been interviewed. If nothing has turned up, I can't see how Blix's report can possibly provide Bush with a casus belli. And by then, it will be too late to go back to the omissions in the declaration.

I think he's made a couple of unreliable assumptions. Regarding the last sentence I've quoted, I don't think going back to a report that was only a few months old is such an impossibility. Bush went back a decade to find evidence that Saddam was willing to use weapons of mass destruction. If anyone questions the delay, he can point to the claims that have already been made about the inadequacy of the Iraqi declaration, say he wanted to let the UN process run its course before making any moves, and if worse comes to worst point out that there's no point in launching the war before deployment to the Gulf (which is still in progress) was complete (implying support for Powell's "when you pick a fight, make sure you'll win" doctrine rather than Rumsfeld's "assume the best-case scenario" doctrine).

Second, I think the very fact that Blix's report doesn't provide any evidence (and I'm cynically inclined to say it won't regardless of what weapons Saddam actually has) could be made into a causus belli, with the added bonus of showing that the UN (and by extension world opinion) is irrelevant and need not be coddled. Bush has been so unequivocal in asserting that the US has ironclad intelligence on Saddam's weapons that he won't be able to back down from it, and the aspersions he's been casting on the inspectors' integrity and skill will further tip the balance. If Blix doesn't find anything, that just shows how sneaky Saddam is (and hence how much he's in breach of the inspections agreement) and/or how incompetent and yellow-bellied the UN is. Tony Blair will vouch for the US's secret intelligence, and the Anglo-American forces will roll.
Rauhallista Joulua!!

I feel the need to point out that my Finnish book describes Finnish holiday parties (in English) as "jollifications."
Israeli Rabbi Warns Jews Of Christmas

Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau on Tuesday urged Jews in Israel not to celebrate Christmas or New Year's Day, warning that such observances threaten the identity of the Jewish state.

Lau encouraged Christian Israeli Arabs, foreign workers and immigrants to mark the holidays. But he said Jewish families should not "be swept into keeping a way of life that is not their own, while obliterating and losing their self-respect."

In recent years, small numbers of Israeli Jews have begun celebrating Christmas, putting up lights in shops and even trees in homes. The trend began with the influx of thousands of Christians — many of them married to Jews — in the early 1990s as part of a wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union.

Lau warned that such habits could bring about assimilation between Jews and Christians.

This sounds delightfully Pat Buchanan-esque. I've never been entirely comfortable with the idea of Israel as a "Jewish state," even though that was the whole basis for creating the country in the first place. It reminds me too much of the insistence from certain quarters that America is a "Christian nation" (though I should point out that in the example I'm quoting, Rabbi Lau isn't asking the government to get involved). The historical argument on that count is irrelevant -- whatever the actual status of the country was, I don't want the country now to have a government that is religiously aligned. So I wonder how Israel can remain true to its mission to be a homeland for the Jewish people and still be a modern liberal democracy, with the religious nonpartisanism that requires.


Ampersand over on Alas, A Blog has a good (and oft-linked) post about the Venezuelan crisis. Her first point cuts straight to the chase:

But as non-Venezuelans, our priority ought to be strongly supporting Constitutional, representative democracy. If Venezuelans object to the course the government is taking, do they create change through the elections described in the Constitution, or through non-Constitutional means?

This is pretty much the point I made several months ago about the efforts to force Askar Akaev to step down from the presidency of Kyrgyzstan (and a better example, as Venezuela's democratic institutions are more democratic than Kyrgyzstan's). Upholding the rule of law on principle is essential, and exceptions should only be made in the most extreme cases -- those in which the end sought is of extreme importance, and the normal functioning of the system offers no reasonable means of achieving the goal. Venezuela's oil industry leaders are essentially holding the nation hostage.


So now Trent Lott has stepped down. I can only assume he did it specifically to spite me. Nevertheless, I think my comments hold for any further attempts to pressure the Republicans on the race issue.
The more I hear about Howard Dean, the more I'd like to see him get the Democratic nomination in '04. He signed the civil unions law in Vermont. He and his wife are both doctors, so I tend to trust him more on health care (until such time as I understand the situation well enough to make my own judgement). He thinks we've got about the right amount of gun control in this contry. He wants to repeal most of Bush's tax cut. He's against the war (though that position alone may make him unelectable).

But he'd also make it possible to re-use a gag from a comic I saw (I think it was in The Australian) during the 2000 race. A guy was surveying a bunch of signs that said "Gore" and "Bush," and he remarked, "No matter who wins, Americans will still call their president a four-letter word."


Clinton Calls GOP "Hypocritical" On Lott

Former President Clinton said Wednesday it is "pretty hypocritical" of Republicans to criticize incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for stating publicly what he said the GOP does "on the back roads every day."

"How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?" Clinton told CNN outside a business luncheon he was attending. "I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy."

He added: "They try to suppress black voting, they ran on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina, and from top to bottom the Republicans supported it."

Now I think we can pretty much guarantee that Lott will hold onto his post.

I haven't said anything about Lottgate yet, but since I've put up that one-off observation, I'll delve a little deeper.

My first reaction was that it wasn't a big deal. He was just trying to suck up to Strom, and made a comment that implied things that were not acceptable in political discourse. Then I learned about Lott's history of segregationist sympathies (and, we're learning now, those of John Ashcroft and even John McCain, which wrecks my little fantasy that McCain could be voted majority leader by a coalition of anti-Lott Republicans and all the Democrats). So what is still (in the grand scheme of things) a minor comment has become an entry-point for exposing a lot of skeletons in the party's closet. This is important stuff to get out, but it seems like there has been an awfully exclusive focus on the Republicans. Sure, the Repblicans made a specific strategy of appealing to neo-Confederate voters, but there's no reason why and individual racist couldn't be in favor of abortion and labor unions and the environment. It's mentioned in passing -- if at all -- that Robert Byrd, a Democratic elder in the Senate (who I never did like, anyway), was a member of the KKK.

Conventional wisdom these days is that Lott's career is over. Liberals are getting excited about bringing Lott down -- especially if a Lott resignation and a Lincoln Chafee switch make Tom Daschle (who I don't care for either, though as far as I know he's not a racist) majority leader, while conservatives are hoping to make Lott the scapegoat for the party's image of racism. Meanwhile, some cynical-strategic types on the left are bemoaning Lott's doom, on the grounds that a wounded Lott would be a much more ineffective leader, as well as a constant embarassment to the party, than a self-righteous Don Nickles (who seems to have channeled all of his bigotry into homophobia). But I don't think Lott will be getting the pink slip any time soon.

The GOP conference to decide Lott's fate is scheduled for January 6. This gives Lottgate ample time to blow over. Especially given the holidays coming up, it's questionable whether the "racist GOP" storyline will hold for the next three weeks. Once it leaves the headlines and the pens of nearly every commentator, people will feel they have more perspective and that, in the heat of the media frenzy, Lott's comments were blown out of proportion. I mean, he never outright said "I hate black people," right? So public opinion will be behind giving him a strong scolding, but not removing him from office.

If the story doesn't blow over on its own, Republican spinmeisters will unveil a new talking point. "The Democrats," they'll say, "are taking one little comment and blowing it out of proportion as a divisive political tactic. Racism is bad, but we need to put this little fiasco aside and move forward." The media, eager for a fresh angle on the story, will lap it up. Liberal commentators will be put on the defensive. Conservatives will reconcile themselves to the idea that punishing Lott isn't worth jeapordizing the strength of the party, and he's been humiliated and forced to apologize enough, and besides, he's not currently proposing policies any more racist than opposing affirmative action (noting correctly that opposing affirmative action is not necessarily racist).

Wow. I think that's more footnotes and parenthetical statements than I've ever used in a post before.
I was excited to see that I'm the internet's #3 resource for "Strom Thurmond joke". But then I noticed that only 9 sites come up in Google. How can there be such a dearth of Strom Thurmond jokes on the internet?


Harvard Advertises For People Abducted By Aliens

"The whole notion of repressed memories has done a great disservice to the field," Dr. Clancy said. "Some people are prone to forget how, where or when a memory was acquired. They see a movie as a kid and remember the events, but don't remember whether they saw it or it actually happened to them."

- via Matthew Yglesias

The idea of Harvard studying alien abductions is cool, but I was struck by the quote I pulled out, halfway through the article. It reminds me of how I remember my early childhood. I have a few scenes in my head, pictures of what it was like living in Tionesta. But as I think about many of these memories more, I realize that I'm remembering myself in the third person. I can see my hair (it was just about white then) and the expression on my face. I have a vivid recollection of my dog coming back to the house with the headless body of one of our rabbits (it was attacked by an owl), who had escaped a few days before. The only problem is that I never saw Shane holding Ralph's body. The memories -- at least some of them, and who knows how many others -- are constructed based on stories I've been told, events whose structure I recall or can figure out, or photographs I've seen. I can't tell you what my first real memory is.

Maybe that's normal, or maybe I've just repressed the memories of alien abductions.
The prospect of effective fire management is daunting. These days most people have accepted that total fire suppression in forests and other environments is neither possible (catastrophic and uncontrollable wildfires will eventually happen) nor desirable (for example, the health of the giant sequoia forests is declining because of fire suppression). But this leaves us with the question of how we ought to burn wild areas. Different management goals require different types of burning. Hazard reduction burning isn't ideal for logging or grazing, for example.

Now, let's say we're a national park, so we can agree our foremost goal in managing the environment is to preserve biodiversity. This still doesn't extricate us from the problem. Different species need different fire regimes. Some would be killed by intense fires, others need that heat to crack open their seed pods. Some need patchiness in order to recolonize burned areas, but unburned patches provide refuges for herbivores that can decimate seedlings. Some prefer to be burned every 3 years, some every 20 years.

The usual tactic is to try to imitate the "natural" fire regime. In some places it has been recognized that "natural" fire regimes haven't existed since the Ice Ages (when the environment was quite different), so there's an effort to resurrect premodern (often indigenous) fire practices. Yet how can any fire practice, no matter how authentic, meet the conflicting requirements I mentioned in the last paragraph?

Part of the answer is, I think, spatial variability. It was possible to favor one species in one area and another in another area -- and shift those favors over time --, and over the long run and the wide extent of the biome, it would all even out. You could burn one area every year and another area every 50 years. You could have giant fires some places and patchy ones other places.

In most areas, that strategy is no longer as viable. Wild areas are chopped up into little chunks, and we're trying to preserve a full cross-section of a biome in each little piece. Different fire regimes can't support each other. We're forced to look for a modernist truth -- one correct answer -- instead of a postmodernist one -- lots of decent answers making up for each others' shortcomings.


Bush Orders Deployment Of Missile Defense By '04

President Bush said today his administration will begin deploying a limited system to defend the nation against ballistic missiles by 2004.

As a candidate, Bush promised to build an anti-missile shield, and earlier this year he pulled out of an anti-ballistic missile treaty to advance the plan. Today, he cited the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America as evidence that the country faces "unprecedented threats" and needs the anti-missile shield.

Let me get this straight. We're spending huge amounts of money that we don't have*, to build a system that doesn't work**, to protect us from a threat we don't face***.

* Thanks to the recession and in future years Bush's own tax cuts.
** Well, it works if the enemy shoots one missile and phones ahead of time to let us know where it's coming.
*** Terrorists don't use intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The story I did about the shark photo hoax turned out to be National Geographic News's top story of the year.


This Xmas, Keep Your Religion To Yourself

Religion is private. It no longer has a place in the common life. This is why I cannot complain any longer about being pressured to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

- via WitchVox

Normally I would never complain about people wanting to ban religion from the public sphere. Usually that argument is made as a weak and scurrilous accusation against people who oppose things like school prayer and posting the Ten Commandments in government buildings. But this article (as well as some of the comments at WitchVox) reminds us that there are people out there who really would prefer if everyone kept their religion in the closet.

To a certain degree I can sympathize. The public expressions of religion that we hear (and think) the most about come in two varieties -- proselytizing and theocracy. I don't have much patience for people haranguing others about how they need to be saved, and certainly there's no room for making strict shari'a the law of the land. But it's problematic to jump to the conclusion that we ought to act in a purely secular way whenever we're around others. If someone doesn't like another's public affirmation of religion (the writer seemed to have a real issue with religious headgear, for example), that's not the religious person's problem. In some ways it resembles the "keep it in your bedroom" attitude of people who don't like homosexuality, but can't think of any rational arguments against it.
At The Corner Of Free Speech And Hate

The year Abe was born, I was attending a Midwest boarding school where I suffered overt anti-Semitism from some of my classmates. But I also suspected that the school itself was complicit. I felt unwelcome and inadequate. For years, I wondered whether I was just paranoid. Then, two decades after graduation, I was invited to return as a "distinguished" guest-lecturer. That was when I got a glimpse of my student file. There, on the outside jacket, was a Star of David and a tiny notation that suggested that perhaps in the future, local fathers might screen out such applicants.

The note didn't upset me as much as it brought a sense of relief that my suspicions were being confirmed. If only I and others of my generation had had the opportunity to confront the authors of such notes. If only they had spoken their objections and aired their biases publicly. Why in the world would we now, in the name of speech codes, want to drive them back into the safety of their secret lairs?

Speech codes threaten to take us back to the old days when prejudice was vented only in whispers between like minds. My own history has convinced me that a silenced bigot can do far more mischief than one who airs his hatred publicly.

Even the most reviled of hate symbols, the burning cross and the swastika, are just that -- emblems of unspeakable evil. But their sporadic resurfacing has produced not waves of terror but waves of public revulsion, not Kristallnachts and lynchings but community rallies against racism. Hate speech need not be a precursor to violence. On the contrary, it can defuse tensions that could turn explosive. Hate speech can discredit nascent movements that might otherwise draw strength from authoritarian efforts to snuff them out. Intimidation invites intimidation.

This is an excellent article on why the right to free speech ought to trump protection from offensive speech. It's an argument I've made before, and it's what makes me concerned that Justice Thomas seems to have convinced the Supreme Court to uphold anti-cross-burning laws.


Uzbekistan: Crop Crisis In Karakalpakstan

Uzbekistan's autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan is facing an agricultural crisis caused by the authorities' practise of planting large amounts of crops on unsuitable stretches of land.

Experts fear that government planners are refusing to take the region's ecological crisis, caused by the drying up of the Aral Sea, into account in their eagerness to fulfil the largest quotas possible.

Authorities demand that as much rice and cotton as possible are planted on the autonomous republic's land, which is fast losing its fertility due to increasingly saline irrigation water from the evaporating sea.

It boggles the mind how these people could live for decades under Soviet rule and still think that Soviet-style agricultural policy is a good idea. The people who call the shots are so ensconced in their own little political world that they don't notice the devastating consequences their decisions have on everyone else.


Is Christianity The Only Way?

The conclusion I want to draw from all of the Biblical evidence is that Jesus is truly the only way to salvation. However, since Jesus is the preincarnate logos who enlightens every person, it is possible that everyone has at least the possibility of being saved through Jesus, even if they do not say the name of Jesus. Maybe (and this is a huge "maybe") John 1:9 implies that what is important is how people respond to the "Light" they do have available to them,2 although Jesus as revealed in the Bible is the supreme revelation of the "Light." Therefore, it is not implausible that someone could find salvation through Jesus without even knowing the name of Jesus because they have responded to the Light which has been revealed to them. None of this seems to contradict teaching in Scripture.


No human is able to undo the stain of sin that separates all people from God. Jesus is the only way to salvation simply because He is the only adequate solution for our sin. Since humans were unable to come to God due to sin, God graciously came to humans and offered a way to redeem their relationship with Him.

This is the catch - What was Jesus doing on the cross? Orthodox Christians believe that He was making just payment for our sin. If the answer to that question is anything else, then there is no salvation through Jesus. Since this is the answer indicated by Jesus, Scripture, the church, and reason, then taking this answer to its logical end means that all who do not accept the saving work of Jesus are unable to account for the sin that separates them from God. Therefore, they remain separated from God. Jesus is the only way to salvation because He is the only possible way reconcile humanity's sin which separates all humankind from God.

The conclusion here doesn't seem to follow from the explanation of the nature of Jesus' death. If it truly is Jesus' death that saves us, then whether we believe or not is not important. He said "no one comes to the Father but through me," not "no one comes to the Father but through believing in me." Refer also to John 3:16: "for God so loved the world* that He gave His only son, that we may not perish, but have eternal life." Not "for God so loved those who loved Him back..." Evangelism, then, can't be about saving the heathens -- they're already saved. It would be about sharing the good news -- letting people know something great you found out.

* Note also that God loves the world, not just the people who inhabit it. The anti-worldliness of much of Christian philosophy bothers me. It makes no more sense for the Creator to want people to turn away from Creation in order to get closer to Him, than for a painter to tell people not to look at his or her paintings. Granted, there are anti-worldly statements in the Bible. But I think in those cases it makes more sense to take "world" as referring to the popular idea of a material universe that is somehow separate from the divine, a corrupted expression of eternal principles. A God who loves His Creation would certainly want people to reject the idea that Creation is a separate, ungodly realm.


I'm starting to read William James' Pragmatism. He introduces the philosophical place of pragmatism by discussing the rationalist/empiricist divide. Rationalist philosophies are based on schemas of grand cosmic order. Principles and concepts are more real than the physical world (Plato's idea of the Forms is a good example). Empiricist philosophies, on the other hand, are preoccupied with the particular evidences we have about the physical world. James will apparently argue (I haven't gotten that far yet) that pragmatism can bring together the best of both sides -- grounding in the material world and grand concepts.

It occurred to me that, in this way of dividing philosophies, postmodernism would be combining the worst (in James's view) of both sides. Postmodernism's central focus is on rejecting metanarratives. So it can't incorporate the idea of an ordered universe (which James seems to treat as synonymous with religion) from rationalism. Postmodernism likewise rejects materialism, holding that "reality" is socially constructed and that our perceptions of it are political acts. So it can't claim the groundedness of empiricism.


Top Museums Unite To Fight Aboriginal Claims

Several museums in Europe and the United States have issued a landmark declaration opposing the wholesale repatriation of cultural artefacts seized during imperial rule or by means now considered unethical.

The museums say the universal value of collections of archaeological, artistic and ethnic objects in promoting culture outweighs the desire by individual countries or racial groups for their return.

The declaration is the most significant attempt by the world's leading museums to protect treasures, often seized during colonial rule, from governments or descendants of original owners.

Both sides are looking at this as a win-lose situation. If the museums give the artefacts back to the natives, then they lose their ability to teach their visitors about the societies in question, while the natives gain their cultural heritage. And vice versa. The same arguments were aired when NAGPRA -- requiring US museums to return Native American remains -- was passed.

But a funny thing happened when museums started complying with NAGPRA. They found that an open and cooperative approach improved their relations with Native Americans and ultimately made them more able to learn and teach about Native culture. Native Americans, meanwhile, discovered that they weren't simply gaining at the expense of their (often misunderstood) enemies. A partnership between the teachers and the subject matter turned out to be, on the balance, beneficial for both of them as well as the students (the public). Colgate's Longyear Museum is a good example. Complying with NAGPRA -- including the return of five Oneida skeletons -- helped Colgate and the Oneida Nation foster closer relations.


Flynn (who posted just as I logged on to Blogger, giving me the weird experience of seeing a familiar blog name in the "recently updated" list) has some provocative observations that are worth a read -- especially point 2 and his footnote. My thoughts are in his comments section.
Algeria Wooed With Weapons

The United States has agreed to sell arms to Algeria to help it put down the Islamic rebellion that has cost more than 100,000 lives in the past 10 years.

Announcing the agreement as he ended a visit to Algiers on Monday, the US assistant secretary of state William Burns said: "Washington has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism."

Learning about how to more effectively fight terrorism is good. But what kind of lessons will the US be learning from Algeria (and what kind of lessons will we be supporting with the arms sales)? The article gives some indications, which are confirmed by Amnesty International:

Human rights violations in Algeria have become institutionalized. In the last year alone, more than 80 civilians were unlawfully killed by the security forces and dozens more tortured or held for varying periods of time in secret detention. Some 200 people continue to die every month as a result of the continuing decade-long armed conflict. The level of killing has remained largely unchanged since early 1999. Many are civilians, including women and children, killed in targeted and indiscriminate attacks by armed groups.

"Reported cases of human rights abuses may represent only the tip of the iceberg," the organization said, as it is extremely difficult to obtain information about violations due to widespread fear among victims and their families that reporting violations will only exacerbate their predicament. An official commission of inquiry, set up by the authorities to look into the killing of dozens of unarmed demonstrators in the region of Kabylia last year, reported in December 2001 that it was unable to complete its mission because many witnesses were too afraid to speak to them.

The authorities have also taken some measures to ensure that the continuing human rights crisis goes largely unnoticed within the international community. These include recently passed legislation further curbing freedom of expression and severe restrictions on access to foreign observers.

Ideally, the lesson the US would take away from the Algerian situation would be "here's how to mess things up." Faced with a growing Islamic movement, Algeria threw democracy and freedom out the window, hoping brutal repression could end the threat. Ten years later, they seem to have demonstrated that "kill off your enemies and make your populace afraid to oppose you" is not a terribly good strategy, either morally or pragmatically. The US, however, seems to be thinking "hmm, maybe if they had bigger guns..." (Though I'm not surprised, given how "successful" the US has been with the parallel situation in Colombia.)
I'm kind of sad that Strom Thurmond is retiring. I mean, there's nothing like a good Strom Thurmond joke to brighten up your day.


Was Maya Pyramid Designed To Chirp Like A Bird?

Clap your hands in front of the 1,100-year-old Temple of Kukulcan, in the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, and, to some researchers' ears, the pyramid answers in the voice of the sacred quetzal bird.

A handclap at the base of Kukulcan's staircase generates what [acoustical engineer David] Lubman calls a "chirped echo"—a "chir-roop" sound that first ascends and then falls, like the cry of the native quetzal.

To Lubman, the dimensions of Kukulcan's steps suggest that the builders intended just such an acoustical mimicry. The lower steps have a short tread length and high riser—tough to climb but perfect for producing a high-pitched "chir" sound. The steps higher up make a lower-pitched "roop."

unmedia points out "Wrestling With Islam," an interesting article on the origins of Islamism. I was particularly interested in this bit:

Most often, they [the postcolonial elite in the third world] became socialists of one kind or another, for in the world of only a few decades ago, that very Western ideology of "socialism" could still be presented as the coming thing, as a "scientific" thing, the cutting edge of progress. Most came to believe that the best way to modernize their societies was through central planning, and that their own class was in effect the socialist vanguard, the people who had the education and ability to deliver their peoples into the modern world. They looked forward to a world that would be, if anything, post-Muslim and post-Christian -- to the triumph of a kind of universal civil order, that would be socialist in its economy, both East and West.

And naturally, they also bought into another Western idea, another idea which had no place in any traditional Muslim order. They became nationalists as well as socialists, for how can you advance socialism except within a coherent national order? Hence the ideological currents running through the Muslim world in the generation before Iran's Ayatollahs -- Nasserism, pan-Arabism, the Baathist parties of Syria and Iraq, the Bhutto faction in Pakistan, Sukarno in Indonesia, Algerian radicalism in the Maghreb. It was all so clear to all of them, that this was the way forward.

It was instead a catastrophe. Human nature is just what it is, and the laws of supply and demand operate to punish grand ideological schemes, just as the law of gravity operates against other forms of human flight. None of those five-year plans ever worked. And the only thing that did work was the elites clinging to power, trying to Westernize or modernize their societies with increasing frustration.

I wonder what the Left would say if someone told them that the "root causes" of terrorism are came about in part because third world leaders were Marxists.

I think I'm developing an anti-Marxist fixation. I used to bash Objectivists all the time because we had some outspoken ones on the Brunching Board. Now I go after Marxists every chance I get because there are so many of them here at Clark.


Read Bin Laden's Letter

My friends in the peace movement who dissent from this country's response to the Sept. 11 attacks have another take on what must be done to free us from terrorism and restore security. Look, they say, at what America is doing to make people fly planes into buildings. They cite our "miserly" $6 billion foreign aid budget to help the world's poor vs. more than $300 billion "for the power to kill." Rather than crusade against wickedness, America should halt the arms trade, lift sanctions against Iraq and curb the CIA, they argue. Correct, they demand, the 50-year imbalance in the U.S. stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ("the most important source of hatred for the U.S. throughout the Muslim world"). Embrace the United Nations, the Kyoto agreement on global warming, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Law of the Seas agreement and an international war-crimes court. To quote one author, "Until we take responsibility to try to lift up that which is good in us and cast out that which is bad, the scourge of terrorism will continue to torment us."

Sorry, but I don't think that's going to quite cut it with al Qaeda.

We are, I do believe, regarded by Osama as beyond the pale.

This highlights the problem with thinking of the war on terror as a fight against al-Qaida. Al-Qaida is a (relatively) small coordinating group, which links angry fundamentalists and lends them a catchy brand name (a la the Dread Pirate Roberts). Assuming we can take Osama's words at face value, that they're not propagandistic rhetoric or a high opening bid, they reflect the feelings of Osama and his close cohorts. They don't necessarily reflect the larger phenomenon of Islamic discontent that provides support and a friendly environment for al-Qaida and the less well known groups it works with. The sins of the West cited by the anti-war movement are part of what makes third-world Muslims turn to fundamentalism and al-Qaida for answers. Colbert King may be right that Osama and other leaders have a non-negotiable hatred of the West and won't be satisfied with anything less than a completion of the Holocaust. But what Osama thinks would be much less relevant to world affairs if millions of desperate people weren't looking to him for answers.

The anti-war movement makes the opposite mistake -- assuming that since some poor Palestinians hate the West because the Israeli Defense Force flattened their houses with an American bulldozer, then Osama's personal grievances are a list of legitimate complaints that the West can simply address. I'll admit to having been in this camp, as I wrote a commentary shortly after September 11 arguing that American foreign policy was the root of Osama's Islamist anti-Americanism. My point there should be revised to reflect that fact that American foreign policy is an important, not the only, factor in making a radical movement like Islamism appealing to third-world Muslims (though without saying that "they hate our freedom" is part of it). And that Osama is capitalizing on this, without saying that he is just like the "Arab street" that supports him.

Both schools of thought on Islamic anti-Americanism -- the "they hate us for what we did to them" and the "it's irrational hatred that we can't negotiate with" positions -- have elements of truth. But they both stumble over the assumption that Islamic terrorism is a unified phenomenon, rather than a process made up of diverse elements.
The Great Water Crisis

A social and ecological disaster is unfolding in Australia - not for want of water, but because we misuse it....

At its simplest - and Andrews's theories and methods are not simple - he wants the river system returned to its pre-European state. "Australia evolved a remarkable hydrology to move water, it was the opposite of the European system," he says. "Before the Aborigines arrived, this country hardly had a river running to the sea."...

..."In two recent state elections in Victoria and South Australia the result was determined on the basis of water issues," says Tim Fisher, the land and water co-ordinator of the Australian Conservation Foundation. "The independents won their seats on Snowy and Murray river issues respectively ... Water is now such a scarce commodity that every choice we face has a trade-off attached, involving winners and losers."

This is a very nice article about Australia's water problems. It's good to hear that there may be solutions in the works -- when I researched the salinity problem a couple years back, conventional wisdom was that the best we could do was keep things from getting worse.

But the thing I found most interesting was the impact on politics. We're used to thinking of the relationship running the other way -- political situations shape how we impact the environment (from changing logging policy to civil unrest causing changes in settlement and agriculture patterns). To the extent that the environment does affect politics, it's through a strong proxy in people's ideas about the environment -- global warming only motivates Green politics to the extent that people are convinced it's ocurring. Of course the environment will always have to work through the proxy of people's attitudes, barring cases where (for example) a natural disaster kills off a portion of the voting public and thus directly affects politics. But in Australia we're seeing an instance of the environment taking a more active role in driving people's attitudes and hence their politics. While it's only people's ideas about the environment that count, nobody is free to believe whatever they want about it. The environment makes certain ways of thinking about it easier than others. Mounting water problems are thus forcing people to alter their view of the environment and the way they make that view known at the ballot box.


On kuudes joulukuuta -- hauska Itsenäisyyspäivä!!!
Explaining Ethics Part 6

Kant illustrates the logic of his formulation of the categorical imperative with the example of promise keeping. Suppose I cannot get a loan without promising to repay it, but I know that I will never be able to do so. If I promise to repay and I take the loan, then could I reasonably determine a categorical imperative from my action? It would have to be, 'make promises to secure your wishes even if you cannot keep them'. Such an imperative would be self-defeating: promise-keeping would fall into disrepute and nobody would ever trust another's word. It would be contrary to what is meant by a promise.

This sounds all well and good. But the question I have about the categorical imperative is this: Which features of your action should be put into the general rule? It's possible that, in the example given above, "make promises to secure your wishes even if you cannot keep them" would be the general rule. But why not "make promises to banks to secure your wishes even if you cannot keep them"? What about "make promises on Fridays to secure your wishes even if you cannot keep them"? What about "make promises only if you cannot keep them"? If you're only working from one data point, there are an infinite number of universal rules you could claim to be adhering to, some of such specificity that they would hardly create the social problems foreshadowed by making all promises meaningless. The categorical imperative becomes simply an injunction against hypocrisy -- that is, judge others' actions the same as your own unless there is a significant difference between them. That's not exactly a profound insight.
Violence and Islam

Is Islam an inherently violent religion? A debate on this subject has received much attention in the United States. The question is absurd. It is like asking whether Christianity is a religion of peace. Well, there is Francis of Assisi. And there is the Thirty Years' War. Which do you choose?

Religions are interpreted by the people of their time and thus change over time. Scripture can be invoked to support almost any position. Islam has its periods of violence and its periods of tolerance.

I'm not usually a big Charles Krauthammer fan, but here he makes what ought to be an obvious point.


I notice skippy linked to a post I did earlier about the Wall Street Journal's "tax the poor" plan. So I'll milk the issue for all it's worth ("find a winner and never deviate from it" works for Hollywood, right?).

Most people commenting on the plan have taken a pretty cynical view of the motivations behind it. And really, the WSJ set them up by declaring that part of the plan was to make the poor resent the government. But I think I can uncover a different cynical tack to take. I think the barrage of criticism is just what the WSJ wanted.

The "tax the poor" piece sounds like a decoy balloon. The decoy balloon strategy in politics is this: You mention an idea that's similar to the policy you favor, but much more extreme. You let your enemies fixate on this caricature, and exhaust themselves knocking it down. Then, when your real plan comes out, it looks moderate by comparison. People say "hey, that's not so bad. What were all those x-wing nutjobs so bent out of shape about?" It's basically the opposite of the "how to boil a frog" strategy, under which you slowly ratchet up toward your goal so that people don't realize you've drifted from the center.

The war on Iraq is a good example of a decoy balloon. Bush's opening gambit was to declare that we were going to invade now, and screw the rest of the world. He even released a policy manifesto that made real the anti-war movement's worst nighmares about American unilateral imperialism. The image of the war that Bush portrayed early on is still the focus of the anti-war movement's criticism. Yet look at his actual policy. He went to the UN and got permission -- even France agreed. He's building a coalition. And he's not talking about attacking anyone but Iraq, even though North Korea pretty much hand-delivered a causus belli under the Bush doctrine. I find it hard to believe that this shift was entirely due to pressure from the supine Democrats or the overrated Colin Powell. So the anti-war movement has become marginalized in the eyes of the large segment of the American public who support war but are uneasy about unilateralism.

It seems likely that the WSJ editorial was a similar decoy balloon. Conservative policymakers are likely preparing a new tax proposal that would shift the tax burden away from the rich. But it's not nearly so clear-cut a case of "soak the poor" as the WSJ plan. Once Paul Krugman and E.J. Dionne have locked themselves into assailing the decoy, the new plan can emerge as a reassuring comparatively moderate measure, and those who criticized the original will seem like crazy left-wingers. I think the language of the editorial hints that it isn't a serious policy recommendation -- I mean, "lucky duckies"? I guess the "make them hate the government" line wasn't self-parodying enough.


Calpundit has pointed out Kenneth Pollack's answer to my earlier question about what to call Iraq's president:
The correct shorthand is "Saddam." It is not "Hussein," which is merely Saddam's father's first name, not Saddam's family name....In Iraqi tribal society, most people do not have family names. Instead they are called by their own first name and their father's first name....Thus Saddam Hussein essentially means "Saddam, son of Hussein"....Saddam's sons' names are Udayy Saddam and Qusayy Saddam -- their own first names followed by their father's first name.

Glad to have that cleared up.
Positionality in action: It can be strange to pay attention to the dates when you're reading about things outside your field of expertise. I looked up some brief summaries of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and Schrödinger's cat today to make sure I understood them, because I'm giving a presentation tomorrow on postmodernism in geography. One of the things postmodernists like to do is to point out weird quantum physics stuff in order to challenge our usual assumption that, whatever problems the social sciences may face in determining truth, the hard sciences -- epitomized by physics -- can make concrete predictive laws. In the 80s, geographers started to cite these things to knock physics down off its pedestal (on which the social sciences' inferiority complex had placed it) and prove that the problem of observers messing with the observed isn't just a quirk of studying people.

Then I looked at the dates. Heisenberg was 1927. Schrödinger was 1935. This weird physics that challenges all our notions of how the world works and how science operates came out when geography was still mired in environmental determinism. And anthropology was proposing that matriarchies were a universal stage of social development because primitive people don't understand that pregnancy is caused by sex. My conception of the progress of human knowledge has been shaken up, because these developments in quantum physics don't fit the (low) level of scientific sophistication that I associate with the 20s and 30s due to my immersion in geography.

But then, my perception about Heisenberg and Schrödinger may be skewed by being a social scientist. Maybe their stuff is old hat to today's physicists, and people citing the original uncertainty principle paper would look as silly as a geographer backing up a piece of research with Ellen Churchill Semple's theories.