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Lots of posting today. This one also comes out of the reading for my environmental hazards class. Joni Seager is making the common feminist observation of the masculinity of corporate culture. The implication of most discussion of this point is that masculine corporate culture is the outcome of general male culture and male power. That is, the fact that most people in positions of power are men means that masculinity will exert a disproportionate impact on the formation of the institutional culture of powerful groups. The general male culture comes from somewhere else -- some would argue male biology and psychology, others would say social structure. But I wonder if the causality might not run the opposite way. Corporate culture has certain features (derived from the demands of how the institution works). These features are transferred disproportionately to men because men have the possibility of advancing to positions of power, so it behooves them to adopt this culture, and others exert socializing influences on them because of expectations about where a man's career path can or should lead him.
It's sometimes interesting how thoughts get from my head to my blog. Many of the ideas in that last post were coalesced into bloggable form by conversations with Amanda about the unresponsiveness of ResLife to student concerns and needs. But for whatever reason -- lack of time, lack of clarity, uncertainty of how to introduce the issue -- I didn't blog then. But today, as I was reading about risk management policy for class, these ideas came back in the context of the reading and I felt like I could frame them in terms of political philosophy. More often, a good idea sits in my head until I find a newspaper article to quote as my starting point.
One of the major divisions on the left these days seems to be over the issue of how trust in institutions is developed. This creates a divide between hierarchists and communitarians. Perhaps one of the most enduring legacies of classical liberal thought is the idea that the legitimacy of a social system (particularly governments) derives from the consent of the members. These days both sides of any debate can be expected to appeal to some form of freedom and accuse their opponents of coercion.

Trust is the attitude that breeds consent. People will consent to a system that they believe will act in accordance with what they value -- either their interests, their moral principles, or some combination thereof. Trust goes beyond consent, however. People may grudgingly consent to an undesirable situation out of lack of alternatives or lack of energy to go on fighting. But these people do not therefore trust the system.

There are two major bases for trust advocated by the modern left (I'm focusing on the left because I know it better, and because I want to emphasize that the two schools of thought cannot be labled one liberal, the other conservative): ability and participation. Ability is the criterion for New Deal-style leftism. Its guiding principle is the division of labor, allocating tasks to people who have greater skills or expertise in certain areas. For example, consumers can't be expected to research the possible risks, side effects, and degree of effectiveness of every drug. So they rely on a combination of FDA standards and recommendations from trained doctors (whose expertise is itself certified by state licensing). People allow their decisions to be in part made for them by others because they have confidence in the ability of others with more skills and qualifications. In many ways this is a necessary side-effect of the complexity of modern society.

Critiques of an ability basis for trust have grown up in response to the shortcomings of that framework (and perhaps also due to the obvious failure of strongly statist [and at least nominally communist] countries such as the Soviet Union, which threw ability-hierarchical schemes into question and made it politically unwelcome, particularly in conversations with the center and right, to espouse them). Among academics, communitarian participation-based regimes of trust are in fashion, coming out of studies of social movements (epitomized today by the antiglobalization movement) and radical democracy. Proponents of participation see the relinquishment of power to another, essential to ability-based trust, to open the door to abuses. For many, ability-hierarchical schemes are no more than a false consciousness designed to dupe people and allow an elite to sieze control. Where hierarchy was once seen as "being taken care of," it was now derided as (at best) paternalism. As an alternative, these critics argue that trust can only be generated by the ability of the governed to participate, and exercise power, in the making of decisions. A system in which people can do little more than pick which set of bureaucrats to trust undermines any sort of trust by alienating people. One of the central themes of this perspective is that process is as important as outcome -- a policy chosen by a scientist at the EPA is not as good as the same policy developed by a cooperative community consultation.

While communitarianism and participation-based trust are currently in vogue among the cutting edge, eventually things will swing back toward ability (barring the development of a new alternative or a new basis for institutional legitimacy other than trust/consent) as the dominant paradigm. I have hinted already at some critiques of radical participatory schemes. Most people cannot invest the energy necessary to participate effectively in every decision, so participation can begin to seem like a burden. This leads people to be more easily manipulated by those who are selling simple answers that advance their own interests. In this sense social movements are a poor model for social organization, as they are a self-selected sample of the people most inclined and able to make a strongly participatory model work, and they are motivated by a specific goal rather than a general desire for a well-run society. As is my wont, I think the proper course lies somewhere in the middle. Ability-based delegation of some sort is necessary for most day-to-day social functioning, while open channels of participation should be available and pursued when necessary and for certain crucial decisions (such as major policy changes).
Commentary and cartoons from this week are up.
Bread Price Controversy

Minsk's decision to deregulate the price of bread has met with a mixed reaction from the Belarusian public and economic analysts.

Bread is a staple food of the impoverished population and its price has always been kept artificially low by Minsk, but burgeoning losses in the baking industry have prompted the government to drop it from the list of "socially significant" goods.

While some critics fear that prices will more than double, causing further hardship for the former Soviet republic's very poorest citizens, the move has been hailed by economists who argued that the previous policy had brought Belarus' baking industry to its knees.

Other analysts have argued that freeing the prices will put further pressure on the domestic industry. As bread bought just over the border in Russia is up to a third cheaper, this may lead to unfair competition that bakers are ill-equipped to deal with.

Based on my admittedly limited knowledge of economics, I would tend to side with those who are against price controls. If bakers are forced to sell at a loss, they'll eventually go out of business, barring further government intervention or extreme charity on the part of bakers with other sources of income. And expensive bread is better than no bread at all. I understand the concerns of the poor who would immediately face food-buying harships (rather than down the road as bakeries go under). It seems that some form of purchase subsidization (a la food stamps) would be more effective than price controls. It would be able to target the truly needy (rather than reducing everyone's prices) while allowing bakers to generate income. The problem with this is that Belarus doesn't seem to have the efficient, financially solvent, and uncorrupted bureaucracy needed to make such a scheme work well.

What baffles me is the concern with being undercut by Russian bakers. Nobody is stopping Belarussian bakers from continuing to sell their product at low prices. It seems likely that those facing the strongest competition from Russians (presumably those in the east near the border and in major cities with good transportation links) would not raise their prices as much as those that are more geographically sheltered from competition.


Today is organizing a "virtual march on Washington," in which people flood the phone lines of Congress and the White House to express their opposition to the war. Which leads me to speculate about how effective this campaign will be. On the one hand, the act of organizing an event like this can help to solidify antiwar sentiment among participants. I think more people are willing to call their representatives when it's part of an organized group effort than on their own. And once you've crossed that threshold of taking action on a controversy, it becomes harder to go back.

On the other hand, it seems that a call today is less effective than a call some other day. Based on talking to a friend who worked as a Congressional staffer (and her story sounds completely plausible), officials tend to discount calls, letters, faxes, etc. that are part of an organized campaign. A letter-writing drive by some interest group gets consigned to the circular file, whereas an individual letter might actually get read. So antiwar calls today would get dismissed as "just another one of those MoveOn people."

Back on the first hand, there's the media coverage. The media is much better at covering events than trends (and wouldn't really have access to information on how many phone calls officials get anyway). As I understand it, the virtual march is getting much more media coverage than the organizers had expected. The media coverage may be even more significant than the direct impact of the calls themselves. The recent real marches have contributed to a "broad public opposition to the war" storyline which we may see beginning to influence the terms of the debate.
Matt Yglesias points to an Oxblog post about the people who have volunteered to go to Iraq to serve as human shields. David Adesnik says:
While, on ethical grounds, I believe that the US should not attack sites "protected" by human shields unless absolutely necessary, I don't understand how doing so could be a crime. If deploying human shields is a crime, then doesn't the government responsible for their deployment bear all legal (if not moral) responsibility for the shields' welfare? Perhaps some of you lawyers out there can help me out on this one.

Reading this made me realize how deeply a consequentialist morality has settled in my head. My initial reaction was horror at the idea of saying "it's OK if people die, since I can't be blamed for it."


It looks like France and the UN are coming around to supporting the war. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that they're staking their hopes on Iraq dismantling its Al-Samoud missiles (which somewhat exceed the range of attack permitted by UN resolutions). The French say dismantling the missiles will prove that inspections are working. Kofi Annan said "I am confident they will destroy the weapons."

However, there is little chance that Iraq will disarm. Saddam may make a strategic concession on the Al-Samouds, since they've become so high-profile as to possibly unite the rest of the world against him, but deeper disarmament will run into walls. It's that very ability to unite the world that the French and UN are counting on. By stating a clear demand, peacenik governments will be able to transition to warmongers by saying that they gave inspections a chance. This is the kind of out that they need, so that they aren't completely marginalized in the geopolitical order that emerges from the war.

John Quiggin says that if Iraq fails to disarm, that will prove that Saddam is irrational. But as I've argued before, it's entirely rational for him to hang on to all of the weapons he can, if he believes that war is inevitable. If the US will attack no matter what, it makes sense to be as well-armed as possible, so as to go down fighting. Disarmament's benefits are only in splitting the opposition (which are limited given that the US's hands aren't tied by the UN and the US would be contributing the vast bulk of the forces for the war anyway).

All this points to a different interpretation of Saddam's statements that he is encouraged by peace marches abroad. The usual argument is that by making the world look divided, they lead Saddam to see the threat of war as unserious. Thus he feels like he can get away with more defiance, confident that the conflict-ridden West won't punish him. But if Saddam is starting from a conviction that war is inevitable, the protests could have the opposite effect. By showing that anti-war sentiment runs deep, they could encourage him to think that there is a possibility of ending the current crisis without war. The more Saddam thinks there's a possibility of appeasing the US, the more likely he is to calculate that disarmament will secure that outcome.
Greenspan's Fed Future In Doubt

When he publicly undercut President Bush's proposals to stimulate the economy, Alan Greenspan opened the door to widespread speculation that his career as chairman of the Federal Reserve may be drawing to a close.

I think Bush will be reluctant to let Greenspan get out of the fold. While confidence in his abilities has been (perhaps unfairly, since the Fed doesn't have total control of the economy) eroded by the recession, he is still widely held to be one of the wisest gurus of American economics. If Bush lets on that he wants Greenspan gone, he will only confirm the strengthening conventional wisdom about the administration's fiscal irresponsibility. This danger is increased by Greenspan's recent repudiation of Bush's tax cut plan. Standing up to the president won the Fed chief a place in the hearts of Democrats -- the very people who will be making the "Bush can't manage the economy" claim.

Greenspan seems to be in the same position, in terms of job security, as Colin Powell. Both men have too large a constituency for Bush to mess with them too blatantly. The only way either man will go is if a lot of backroom pressure gets them to resign in a way that exonerates Bush -- a tricky task to pull off, since the rumors that Bush forced them out are inevitable.


My commentary and comics from this week are now online.
CalPundit asks today whether there is such a thing as athletic ability. He lists a number of factors that contribute to athletic ability, to which I'd add body shape/size, stamina, and a set of mental attributes like agressiveness and competitiveness.

Athletic ability is, by definition, the ability to perform athletic feats. A brief consideration will show that ability in one athletic feat does not necessarily translate to ability at another athletic feat. You can be a great cross-country runner but a terrible football player, and vice versa. Different athletic feats require different muscles, different body types (think sumo wrestler vs jockey), and so forth. This applies within sports as well as between them -- it takes different qualities to be able to hit home runs vs to be able to pitch a no-hitter. Yet this does not mean that everyone is equally athletically talented, though. There are complementarities among athletic training and genetic proclivities for various sports.

The question that arises, then, is whether we can aggregate abilities at different athletic feats into a single scale of ability, and (crucially) whether that aggregation is useful for anything. Aggregating abilities would require us to be able to put ability within each athletic task on a common scale. Since sports commentators argue for ages about which players are better than others, I have doubts of our ability to do that. But let's say we could, through a series of laboratory tests, establish a person's ability to throw, and to block pucks, and to run, and so forth. We'd still face the problem of how to combine them. Is each element equally valuable? Or should they be weighted somehow? And on what basis would you assign weights -- maybe the prevalence of each activity within the sports that are currently played around the world? It seems an impossible task.

Thus, athletic ability is not a universally operational concept -- it's not a thing, but rather a vague and informal aggregate of things. However, it becomes more operational as the context and goals become more specific -- because you're trying to combine fewer things. It's easier to say how good a runner John is than to say how good an athlete he is.


There's a lot of talk going around now about the possibility that Turkey could refuse to let the US use its military bases as the starting point for opening up a northern front in the war on Iraq. Turkey is demanding a hefty sum of money from the US, and US officials are publicizing plans for an attack that can work without Turkish cooperation. But I think that Turkey will come around in the end.

It makes sense for Turkey to drag its feet. The current government got to power and derives its legitimacy from popular support, which would be undermined by seeming too eager to side with the US (in Turkey, as in most nations outside the Anglophone world, popular opinion is decidedly dovish). Further, Turkey's number one foreign policy goal is to join the EU, and Turkey must be well aware that France -- which dominates the EU along with fellow dove Germany -- doesn't plan to look kindly on EU hopefuls who help the US in the war.

But Turkey also has to know that it can't stop the war. The demands for aid and military involvement that Turkey has made are meant to offset the costs the war will impose on the nation. The biggest cost, in the minds of Turkish leaders, is the potential for instability among the Kurds. Turkey is paranoid about the prospects of an independent or autonomous Kurdistan, as well as a repeat of the influx of refugees (many of them militant) that followed the Gulf War. Turkey will bear that cost whether or not American troops march through Turkish territory. Indeed, the cost will be greater if Turkey doesn't cooperate with the US, because Turkey won't have permission to take control of Iraqi Kurdish areas (as has been promised in cooperation deals) to prevent Kurdish uprisings. Further, if the US is freed from the need to make concessions to Turkey, it can more easily side with the Kurds, granting them greater autonomy than it would have otherwise, and doing less to control the refugee problem.

So Turkey's choice is essentially to face the consequences of war with, or without, American aid. While it's understandable that Turkey would hold out for the best deal it can get, ultimately it will take America's best offer over no offer.
Folks at The Scarlet want to repaint our walls. The office is filled with graffiti from past editors, who signed their names, jotted their favorite phrases or bragged about great issues (such as a 4000-word sports story), and even drew little cartoons. Most of them are people nobody on staff now remembers. Their slogans don't mean much to us -- though there is a strong consensus to keep the message written in gold paint at eye level in one room, which says "This is the price you pay for the life you choose."

I can sympathize with the desire to clear out all the clutter. I remember many times looking at the random stuff tacked to the Maroon-News bulletin boards -- Chris Pingpank's editor application, a brochure from Beta with glasses and moustaches drawn on the guys, a top ten list from Holy Cross's paper -- and wondering if I should get rid of it, since it didn't mean anything to anyone anymore. We could keep the few things whose meaning was independant of personal associations, like the crank letters from Ed O'Donnell and the printouts from ancient websites about parallel structure, and perhaps begin to fill the boards with things that reflected my class. The old stuff was nice when I first arrived, because it felt like I was entering an organization that had a history and a thick attachment to the place. But after a while I wanted to make the office more our place, something that I made meaningful for myself rather than just inheriting from past people who had some deeper connection to it (though of course that deeper connection could be largely an illusion, an effect of our tendency to collapse the past into a single time period, not realizing the years that separated the class of '92 from the class of '97).

Last year, though, my attitude started to shift. Marty put up some posters explaining how to properly process photos for the paper so that they would look nice in print. I added a sample photo to each one -- Steve Marsi saying "I'm not going to lie to you -- I'm printed properly." And it struck me that within a few years, nobody would be around who remembered Marsi and could hear him saying "I'm not going to lie to you" all night. The photo directions might last because of their utilitarian value, but they would be as meaningless to future editors as the soul records tacked to the board are to me. It was frightening in a way to think of my connections to the place -- embodied in the marks they left on the built environment -- expunged by the next wave of people wanting to make their own fresh connections to the place. At best, the marks I leave would be reinterpreted by new classes. They may come to know and love the back room as "The Stentor Danielson Room of Doom" (as proclaimed by a sign Joe posted above the door), but they're more likely to love it for the mystery of the name than for the memories of Joe Brazauskas proclaiming the room's identity. Even if the Maroon-News had a strong enough culture to really pass down traditions (like I imagine fraternities have), it would be hard for the meaning to remain the same with the high rate of turnover that colleges experience.

Which brings us back to the Scarlet and its graffiti. It seems wrong somehow to erase the record of experience left by past editors. I think it's partly the archaeologist in me, who revels in the hints of the past carried by the markings left, purposefully or inadvertantly, on people's material surroundings. Though I can't know what experience of the office was behind Ty Poe's signature on the ceiling, I can see enough to know that there was something there. And it's nice to feel that I'm in a place with a past, that my feelings about the place are building on what others have seen before me and inscribed as they passed through.


Flashback For The Kurds

But the Bush administration may have gotten the power calculus wrong. The Kurds have established a real state within a state, with an administration that performs all governmental responsibilities, from education to law enforcement. Their militias number 70,000 to 130,000, and there is a real risk of clashes with any Turkish "humanitarian" force. The democratically elected Kurdistan assembly has already completed work on a constitution for the region that would delegate minimal powers to a central government in Baghdad, and could submit it for a popular vote. Short of arresting Kurdish leaders and the assembly, an American occupation force may have no practical way of preventing the Kurds from going ahead with their federalist project.

And now it seems Turkey's financial demands may exceed what Washington is willing to pay, and Turkey will sit out the war. That could weaken Turkey's influence in creating a postwar Iraq, and improve the Kurds' prospects for self-rule.

Finally, some good news about Kurdish prospects -- though it's buried in a pretty grim article.
I seem to be subconsciously treating electronic equipment as if it were an organism. My strategy for fixing my digital camera has been to leave it alone, and turn it on every now and then to see if it has healed itself.


It's good to know this country's academics aren't above political cheap shots. An article by Rob Krueger and Jody Emel in Local Environments, which was assigned for my environmental hazards class, starts off "The anointing of George W. Bush as the 43rd official inhabitant of the White house..." and later in the paragraph refers to W as "King George."

The thing is, the article isn't even about the Bush administration's environmental policy. It's about gold mine licensing in Montana. "King George" is just part of the context-setting introduction. Now, I understand the desire to locate an article within the larger context, but is it really necessary for every environmental studies article to begin with a couple paragraphs about how our environment is in crisis before getting to the specific substance at hand? You're just supporting the market for needlessly broad generalizations.
Matthew Yglesias thinks that William Raspberry's latest column is arguing that Charles Pickering isn't a racist. But I don't quite think that's what Raspberry is saying. He claims up front that the column is inconclusive, and says he is "intrigued ... though perhaps not in the way the congressman might have hoped." The congressman in question is Pickering's son, who called Raspberry to argue his dad isn't a racist. Most of the column is reporting -- with neither comment nor clear endorsement -- Pickering Jr.'s claims.

I think this column is an example of what makes Raspberry an interesting writer. He is more than willing to think out loud, in print. Unlike most columnists (including myself) who come to you with seemingly finalized conclusions, he can brainstorm on paper. It's pseudo-bloggerish, in a way, especially since he often comes back to talk about previous columns in the context of mail he's gotten about them. So this column is just describing something he's been pondering lately, without forcing it to a premature conclusion. In a sense it's more honest than claiming false certainty on an issue. The process of writing commentary on a deadline can teach you to convince yourself of a position on an issue much faster than you would have otherwise. Slowing down keeps you from being boxed in to a hasty conclusion -- for example, I've found it more difficult to moderate my views on GM food after committing myself to an extremely pro-GM stance in a commentary a few years ago. But at the same time it's frustrating, because we look to columnists to tell us what we ought to think and thereby engage us in a strong debate.


The Washington Post's story about yesterday's protests is sympathetic to a fault. It uses phrasings like "a vast wave of protest" and "the breadth of popular opposition to U.S. policies" and "an extraordinary display of global coordination." You don't get anything remotely critical until halfway down, when there are a couple paragraphs from Tony Blair, and near the end a comment about a small counter-demonstration. The second half has a bunch of stuff that's indirectly critical -- coverage of protests by folks like Saddam-supporting Iraqis that most doves wouldn't like to be linked to. But most people don't read that far. It makes me wonder how much flak the Post has gotten from people claiming the media is pro-war, and whether they're overcompensating.
It turns out Brown's pre-national-anthem patriotic spiel is even longer and more melodramatic than Colgate's. The kind of gushing these announcers do about the people valiantly protecting our freedoms makes a mockery of their attempt to be patriotic.


Matthew Yglesias has a good post on the distinction between libertarianism and liberalism:

One way that I think liberals tend to go wrong is to adopt libertarian-style arguments in favor of the liberal position on issues where there's overlap between the liberal and libertarian policy positions. Take the example of gay rights. You could take a libertarian position on this issue and say that irrespective of what you think of gay people, their conduct, and the social consequences of toleration for homosexuality that it's simply not the role of the state to be trying to influence human behavior in this regard. Alternatively, you could take what I would consider to be a more forthrightly liberal position and say that people who think there's something morally wrong with homosexual conduct are simply mistaken, and that the reason it would be wrong for the government to discourage gay sex isn't that it would be wrong for the government to do that, but rather simply that it would be wrong to discourage conduct that is no better or worse, morally speaking, than heterosexual conduct.

But I think he misses a crucial point of difference, which if missed leads into the problem of "big government" and planned societies. Liberalism is a social philosophy, whereas libertarianism is a strictly governmental philosophy. Libertarianism is concerned only with what the government may or may not make laws about. Liberalism is concerned not only with what governments should do, but also with what should happen in the socio-cultural sphere. When Matt points out that liberals want homosexuality to be not just permitted but accepted, it does not follow that government legislation should be the method of attaining that end. One of the more encouraging developments in recent years on the left is a shift away from assuming that government was the appropriate tool to achieve whatever ends were deemed desirable, and the greater development of non-coercive institutions and cultural forces. So there are really two traps for liberals thinking like libertarians: 1) That libertarian rationale will not sustain the fight once the legal battles (often the easiest ones, since the target is so clear) are won -- this is in part the reason so many people consider feminism passe now that women by and large have equality before the law. 2) That libertarian preoccupation with government will be carried over into liberal cultural territory -- leading to things such as hate crime laws and speech codes.
1) My latest commentary and cartoons are up.

2) Hauskaa syntymäpäivää, Thomas Robert Malthus!!!


For reasons I can't fathom without losing respect for the man, Colin Powell claimed that the most recent message from Osama bin Laden proves that al-Qaida is in league with Iraq. But of course, the tape doesn't show any complicity on Iraq's part (and thus can't be evidence to boost a case for war). Just because Osama loves Saddam doesn't mean Saddam loves Osama back.

But in fact the tape doesn't even show that Osama loves Saddam. As has been pointed out by many people, Osama describes Iraq's rulers as "socialist" and "infidel." We've known this about al-Qaida's attitudes to the Baath Party (which is in fact socialist and infidel [i.e. non-Muslim]) for some time. What remained in question was whether there would be a marriage of convenience, since (as Osama pointed out in his latest release) America is the greater enemy.

But Osama's message doesn't even say he's interested in a "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" sort of deal (of the sort the US has gotten quite good at, in allying with such worthies as Uzbekistan and Pakistan). Osama says "there will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders." In other words, Osama is making the quite small concession that Muslims will be forgiven if, in their zeal to destroy the Great Satan, they inadvertantly help Iraq. That's quite an alliance they've got there.


The fact-value distinction is one of those bits of modern philosophical thought that is often maligned by the cutting edge today. In its time, it was seen as an important advance over religious and mystical ways of looking at the world, which assumed that a sort of natural morality existed -- that you could discover a code of behavior grounded on the way the world is. But the fact-value distinction showed that, short of a direct command from God, such a project was impossible. You can't derive an "ought" from an "is." This has remained a powerful analytic tool. But it has come under fire from thinkers who challenge the ability to separate objective, innocent facts from our values.

On the surface, this seems like a retreat, back to the days when there was no fact-value distinction. But in a sense it is also another step forward. In premodern thought, both facts and values were considered factual -- characteristics of the world. Modern thinkers realized that values aren't factual -- they are meanings that people bring to the world. Postmodern thought seems to be saying that facts aren't factual, either. Thus the break with one aspect of premodern thought is made complete by restoring another.
I often have problems keeping what an author actually said straight, especially when reading more philosophical texts. The ideas I associate with a book or article are the most significant or insightful thoughts that came to my mind as I was reading it. But these aren't necessarily the arguments that the author was intending to convey. They can be suggestions that come to me from looking in a direction that the author only pointed, or by reshaping the author's concepts in the context of my other thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. Today we were discussing the concept of authentic and inauthentic places in Edward Relph's Place and Placelessness. I talked about how I saw authentic places working out in the world, and was frustrated when people countered with "but that's not what Relph said about place." While I understand the importance of having a firm grasp of what influential thinkers and schools actually said, I'm more comfortable working out the lines of thought that a theory suggests. A preoccupation with what a theorist really meant seems to imply that the theorist has a unique claim to genius.


Turkey Calls For Emergency NATO Consultations

Early today, France, Germany and Belgium blocked the automatic start of NATO procedures for the military planning to protect Turkey, arguing it would force the crisis into a "logic of war" when some peaceful diplomatic alternatives still stood a chance of success.

"It would signify that we have already entered into the logic of war, that ... any chance, any initiative to still resolve the conflict in a peaceful way was gone," Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said.

France and Germany aren't helping anyone here. I'm assuming their languages have a word for "contingency plan." If a war looks likely, no matter how undesirable it is, you should plan what to do in case it happens. Having a plan B does not prevent you from pursuing plan A -- it gives you a recourse if plan A fails. How is it acceptable to ignore the potential needs of an ally in order to score political points?
Idrisi has been in the kiosk for an awfully long time. And since I'm no longer the TA for the Intro GIS class, I don't have any pressing reason to hate it anymore. So I'm putting my heating system in the kiosk. I've been all right lately, but there's something wrong when you set your thermostat to 85 and the temperature only reaches 45.
CalPundit thinks that "the French are acting strangely" in proposing their new plan for handling Iraq. On the surface of it, it does seem strange. The French proposal is for increased inspections backed by a deployment of UN soldiers. Like most people, I can't imagine how the plan would work (for starters, why would Saddam allow UN soldiers to occupy his country?), and so it's providing fodder for the people who like to describe every French action as "not serious."

But I think the French plan makes sense taken in context of French motivations and the corner they've painted themselves into. French leaders (who are the ones I mean when I say "the French" here) oppose the war for three reasons: oil, votes, and power. They have oil interests in Iraq that they fear they'd lose if the US took over (a fear that becomes more and more justified the worse Franco-American relations get). The French public is anti-war for a variety of reasons, so their elected officials can't go gung-ho for a war without risking their jobs. And France doesn't like the idea of US hegemony, so they fancy themselves (alone or as part of a French-German-led EU) as a counterbalancing power now that the Soviet Union is gone.

Nevertheless, opposition to war is becoming more costly. The US has made it quite clear that we don't need France, but France still needs us if it wants to remain relevant in the world. And the evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs has entered the gray area I talked about before. They can no longer credibly claim that Iraq is clean, and the subtle argument that he's bad, but not bad enough to go to war over, is tough to make in a political mileu that rewards clear, unambiguous statements. And there's the possibility that they may have genuinely been convinced by Colin Powell's arguments at the UN.

So the French need to do something about Iraq, but they can't simply sign on to the American invasion. They'd lose credibility in the eyes of a dovish electorate, and acquiesce to American power. So they've come up with this new plan to steer between the poles of peace and American war. It's couched in the language of police-style enforcement, so it's less likely to scare off people who don't want war. Yet it's tough enough to satisfy anyone worried about giving Saddam a free pass. Most importantly, it puts the UN and the French in the driver's seat.


Guielines On School Prayer Issued

Schools that don't allow students to pray outside the classroom or teachers to hold religious meetings among themselves could face the loss of federal money, the Education Department said Friday. The guidelines reflect the Bush administration's push to ensure that schools give teachers and students as much freedom to pray as court rulings have allowed.

The department makes clear that teachers may not pray with students or attempt to shape their religious views.

With all the (often justified) concern about Bush's blurring of the line between church and state, it's nice to see a reasonable and balanced policy come out of the administration. It's a good reminder that the president is a person with a set of often unpalatable views and the power to enforce them, not a nutcase hell-bent on becoming an American ayatollah. But it's a measure of my own skepticism that my first thought was to figure out where the catch in this policy is, and to wonder how it could be abused if school prayer became a politically important issue (and in fact the reasonableness of the policy may reflect its low profile in today's political landscape, as church-state concerns are focussed on the faith-based charities issue).
University of Michigan is a racist and anti-white institution - offering 20 points for registration, if you are not white. It is already evil in that they suppress student free speech for discussing and debating Nature's Harmonic Time Cube Principle. Integration equates unnatural racial slop. Does black mentality need the 20 points to equate the mentality of the white race, or is it an evil ploy to subdue the white race? What anti-white force is behind this evil? I will not receive one educator reaction, as their power is in ignoring ineffable Truth. How can such an evil school exist in USA.

Time Cube goes political. Saddam Hussein is educated stupid.


You'll notice some posts from yesterday have suddenly shown up. I was having some FTP issues that came about due to moving to a new server. But Djelibeybi did some fiddling and poking and account-reconstructing and so forth, and got things flowing again.


Avast! That scurvy Google is correcting my spelling! Arrrrrrrr!!!
1) I was on updating my wishlist, which I use as a sort of running tally of all the books anyone ever tells me I should read. I had just added the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman, which Amazon classifies as young adult fantasy. I glanced over at the list of "customers who bought this item also bought..." recommendations. The top video recommendation was Lesbian Lovers Caught On Tape. I guess they got the "adult" and "fantasy" parts right.

2) My commentaries and cartoons from the past few weeks are now online.
Scholars Hand Out A Hiding To The Not So Intelligent

Academics have debunked the British intelligence report on Iraq which the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, relied on in his address to the United Nations Security Council.

But the British Government says it is standing by the intelligence dossier, even after scholars revealed that entire passages had been lifted from magazine articles, complete with spelling mistakes.

Large parts of the dossier - which claims to have drawn on "intelligence material" - were plagiarised from published academic articles.

Here we see a newspaper engaging in the fabled "taking a stand on an issue of fact" that so many bloggers wish the media would do instead of their more common "he said/he said" relativistic style. But the story goes too far. Demonstrating that the dossier was plagiarized is not the same as debunking it. Even setting aside the nine of 19 pages that were not shown to have been copied from other sources, all that has been shown is that the document is not original -- not that it is not correct. It's an embarrassing bit of dishonesty on the part of the British govenment, and thus encourages skepticism about their pronouncements. But the claims made in the dossier stand or fall on their own merits, not the source of their wording -- unless one wants to claim that the writers of Jane's Intelligence Review and Ibrahim al-Marashi (who wrote the original articles that were plagiarized from) are incompetent scholars.
Double posting about Iraq because I found an article via Flynn that helps to clarify my stance on the war (as requested in comments a few posts ago).
A Dove's Guide: How To Be An Honest Critic Of The War

Don’t, in summary, dress up moral doubt in the garb of wordlywise punditry. Give warning, by all means, of the huge gamble that allied plans represent, but if all you are talking is the probabilities, say so, and prepare to be vindicated or mocked by the outcomes. We are very quick to aver that Tony Blair will be discredited and humiliated if the war goes wrong. Will we be discredited and humiliated if the war goes right? If the basis of our objection was that the war would fail, that should follow.

My answer is yes. While I think the early steps of the war will succeed, I believe that in the long run an invasion of Iraq will have net negative consequences on the region. I'm no fan of the status quo, and like McDuff, I'd like to see hawks' predictions come true. Based on my best assessment of the situation in the middle east and our current leaders, however, I am more willing to place my bets on peace than on war. I'm prepared to swallow my pride if things turn out otherwise -- though I doubt the outcome will be so clear-cut, especially since we can't set up a "control group" parallel universe (until this war takes its place in myth alongside World War II and Vietnam). To put things in the language of the philosophy of science, my position on the war is falsifiable.

Matthew Parris, who wrote the above article, gives a powerful reminder about the implications of a realist objection to war and the need to be aware of whether that objection is a plausible facade for a different type of objection. The point could just as well be made to hawks -- are you prepared to admit the war was a bad idea if it fails? (The question is complicated, though, by the fact that both sides could agree on the facts of the post-war situation but disagree on whether the situation was a good one). But Parris lets his own certainty that the war will not fail lead him into urging doves to reject all appeals to things that might happen, conceding all of the "what if"s to the hawks. Instead, he holds a non-falsifiable position based on an even larger "maybe" than all the predictions of possible post-war chaos that he dismisses: the prospect of an American empire emerging to dominate the world. He undermines his own argument with his invocation of something that looks like a classic neo-Marxist world-system theory that is so nebulous that it's impossible to show it to be wrong.


Colin Powell's speech gave both sides of the debate over the war what they wanted to hear. Hawks can now point to Powell's speech as the definitive case for war, thus painting doves as willfully ignorant. Doves, meanwhile, can point to Powell's speech and claim that, if that's the best the US can muster, the case for war is hollow and hawks are therefore warmongers.

Hawks have been preparing for this speech for some time, preparing the storyline of Powell making the case for war in such a way that only a complete defection by the Secretary of State could have totally disrupted it. But Powell did not disappoint. He presented a cataloguing of evidence, sprinkled liberally with detail and bits of "raw data" (the samples of intercepted communications and satellite photos) that can foil attempts to brush aside the pro-war argument by forcing doves to refute a long list of items. The more times a person has to draw on various forms of epistemological doubt, the more they look like they're weaseling. Moreover, the content that the form shields is substantial. If you accept that Powell's bits of data are all accurate, they clearly add up to a picture of Iraq not being honest with the world and trying to hide something. Noncompliance of this sort is the standard that Bush agreed to when he gave in to demands to work through the UN first, and it forms the basis of Resolution 1441. On the balance, the hawks gained more from Powell's speech (at least in the US) than the doves.

Nevertheless, doves can also point to Powell's speech as supporting their talking point that the case for war has not been made, and they picked up a share of those who had remained undecided pending a clear statement of the administration's case. The fabled "smoking gun" -- a fully operational arsenal that can inflict serious damage on other nations -- was not part of Powell's dossier. Neither was there clear evidence that, supposing Saddam had a gun, he would use it on anyone. Further, the speech included a number of items -- such as a link between Iraq and al-Qaida, and photos of sites that inspectors have checked -- that doves consider to be already discredited. Powell's use of these questionable-at-best bits of evidence throws doubt on the face value of the facts that haven't been double-checked by dovish sources.

I don't think the ambivalence of the reaction to the speech is Powell's fault. Rather, it reflects the fine line Iraq has been able to tread. Saddam Hussein has certainly not volunteered full cooperation of the sort South Africa showed when it disarmed, and he has done his best to turn over as little of his weaponry as possible. On the other hand, he has cooperated "on process" (adhering to the letter, but not the spirit, of disarmament orders), and his arsenal is weak -- if for no other reason than that it's tough to hide full-blown weapons-making facilities from seven years of UNSCOM and a month of UNMOVIC inspectors. The problem is that there's a threshold of threat somewhere between groveling and defiance, and between cap guns and atom bombs. The disagreement between hawks and doves over how high that threshold is has influenced their respective assessments of where Iraq stands.


Senate Declares No Confidence Motion In PM

The [Australian] Senate today censured the federal government for deploying troops to a potential war against Iraq, declaring no confidence in Prime Minister John Howard.

The opposition and minor parties combined to censure the government and slam Mr Howard for his handling of the situation.

In a 33 to 31 vote, the Senate criticised the government for sending troops to a potential war without a proper explanation to the Australian people.

This sounds like a big victory for the antiwar side. Even the country most likely to back the US in attacking Iraq (Britain is waffling) is divided. But in reality, most Australians want war. And on the domestic front, Americans are increasingly getting behind the President. Soon conventional wisdom will declare Colin Powell's UN testimony to be conclusive and denial of it to be willful ignorance. The sliding overall approval ratings that liberal bloggers pounce gleefully on say more about the decline in Americans' views of the economy than their dissatisfaction with Bush's foreign policy. Antiwar partisans may hope that, when reports of casualties start showing up, the public will snap out of its video-game view of war. But what nearly always happens is that going to war solidifies public opinion behind the cause of their country. And considering how tight a rein Bush has on the press, it's unlikely that we'l hear much beyond Tommy Franks' talking points for quite some time.


Some free advice for people writing academic journal articles: An abstract is not a teaser or a movie trailer. Your abstract should state your study's findings. For example, "this study will investigate what newspapers say about forest fires" is not helpful, whereas "this study found that the media over-hypes the risk of forest fires" is.


I out-thought myself in the grocery store yesterday. It all started when I wanted some bread. Normally I get a long loaf of generic wheat bread. But they were out of long loaves, forcing me to buy a short stumpy loaf. Then I figured, since I'm getting a short stumpy loaf anyway, I might as well take this opportunity to buy some of the tasty organic bread. Then I thought, if I'm spending the money on fancy bread, I might as well get something more interesting than plain old wheat bread.

So I got home with my organic 12-grain bread, and started to make dinner. Then I felt like it was some sort of sacrilege to be using fancy bread to make grilled cheese.
Mohegans Revive Heritage Through Language

It has been 95 years since Fidelia Hoscott Fielding, the last fluent Mohegan speaker died. Fielding, the granddaughter of Martha Uncas, called herself Dji'ts Bud dnaca, which means Flying Bird. For five years, Bozsum, Stephanie Fielding, the tribal linguist, and others have researched the state archives for documents and spent month upon month in local libraries compiling word lists. Slowly, they have begun teaching themselves how to speak and read Mohegan. They also have consulted with a linguist in California who works on language restoration with several other tribes.

- via WitchVox

That's cool.


The space shuttle disaster brought home again the way that tragedy stifles criticism. Upon hearing of the disaster, the first response of nearly everyone was to eulogize, to affirm the wonder and importance of the space program. Where the loss of the Mars lander provoked an immediate burst of criticism of NASA's purposes and methods, the loss of Columbia and its crew did not. Only those well outside the mainstream of our culture -- conspiracy-mongers and others who are less integrated into our cultural community -- had anything to express but a sense of loss at the shuttle's demise. Almost two days later, analytical types such as professional and self-proclaimed pundits have been able to reestablish enough emotional distance from the disaster and public opinion of it to dig into the details of what went wrong and start discussing them more frankly. It's all a repetition in miniature of the pattern we saw after September 11 -- the immediate expression of loss and solidarity, recoiling from those who would want to analyze the attacks in the context of global politics. We needed analyses, of course, to make sense of what had happened, but they had to be analyses that affirmed our shared values. The public was willing to hear "they hate our freedom," but not to hear "they hate our imperialist foreign policy and the McDonaldization of their culture." All else becomes insensitive at best when People Died. Locating the discussion in the mundane world of power struggles and human stupidity seems to spit in the face of the people who experienced the most profound tragedy that can happen to a person, the sudden and involuntary ending of a life.

I suspect (in the ex recta fashion of a person not trained in psychology) part of the reason we have this reaction to tragedy is its uncontrollable nature. Disasters seem to come from outside, not created by the internal workings of the system. And we want to see things that way, because an "act of God" absolves us of guilt that could compound the loss. Faced with tragedy, we feel a strong need to clarify the boundary between inside and outside, endogenous change and exogenous change. In eulogizing the dead, we knit them firmly into our society. This dampens criticism of the deceased in two ways. First is the "you're either with us or you're against us" mentality. Lest they be grouped with the causes of the tragedy, forces that come in to destroy a part of the system, even critics must -- to satisfy their own minds as well as public opinion -- make a point of identifying with the deceased, making their criticism nothing to show how small it is compared to the animosity of the tragedy. Republicans eulogized Paul Wellstone to show that, while they may have criticized his policies, they certainly didn't wish him dead. Second (and perhaps more importantly) it stakes a claim to the thing that was destroyed. It's a sort of social Monroe Doctrine, asserting that the deceased was part of our cultural system, and so only we have the right to determine their fate. The space program is uncontestably ours, so we will make the decisions on what to do about it, not some exogenous force.

The issues of setting social boundaries are amplified in the case of a tragedy because of the profundity of the deaths that accompany it. Whatever logic a person might offer when considering the possibility abstractly or at a distance, very few people have truly come to terms -- on a deep emotional level -- with the issue of death. We can get along fine because most of the time death doesn't intrude forcibly on our lives. Deaths happen to people at some social or physical or temporal distance from ourselves, allowing us to take a detached view of them and push the problem aside. But sometimes death becomes an existential issue. (And I suspect my own lack of emotion about death is more a result of my high threshold for existential experience than my reconciliation with death.) At that moment, the hollowness of our philosophical grappling with death elicits a kind of fear that our whole philosophical-cultural project is a sham. Thus we turn to solidarity with others to reaffirm our worldview, to contain the corroding implications of our lack of reconciliation with death.