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Suit Challenges Right To Report Political Slurs

... One council member, William T. Glenn Sr., called the council president and the mayor "liars," "criminals," "draft dodgers" and "child molesters." Mr. Glenn did not then or later produce evidence for any of his charges.

The lawsuit that followed [filed against the reporter who covered the council meeting], legal experts said, illuminates one of the hardest questions in libel law: May the news media report, without endorsement on the one hand or skepticism on the other, wild charges made by one politician against another?

Maybe it's because I'm such a fierce freedom of the press advocate, but I don't think that question is hard at all. If someone says something in a public or "on the record" situation, the media is well within its rights to report that they said it. Any libel charge should fall on the shoulders of Glenn, who made the remarks, not the newspaper that reported that he made them. Indeed, I would say the paper is failing in its durty to give an accurate picture of the council meeting if it omitted Glenn's accusations.

Journalists have a responsibility, whenever possible, to verify the accuracy of statements made by public officials -- that's what investigative journalism is all about. At the very least, the reporter ought to have checked to see if the council president had a criminal record and mentioned the result. Nevertheless, this responsibility is a matter of journalistic ethics, not law.
East Versus West: One Sees Big Picture, Other Is Focused

Like many scholars of human thought since at least Hume and Locke, today's cognitive psychologists tend to be "universalists," assuming that everyone perceives, thinks and reasons the same way.

"There has long been a widespread belief among philosophers and, later, cognitive scientists that thinking the world over is basically the same," says psychologist Howard Gardner of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Although there have always been dissenters, the prevailing wisdom held that a Masai hunter, a corporate raider and a milkmaid all see, remember, infer and think the same way.

But an ever-growing number of studies challenge this assumption. "Human cognition is not everywhere the same," concludes psychologist Richard E. Nisbett of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in his new book, "The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently ... and Why." Instead, he says, "the characteristic thought processes of Asians and Westerners differ greatly."

I certainly agree with the general conclusion here -- that different brains work differently, and we should be skeptical of generalizing how our own cultural group thinks. However, I worry about the way the study is set up as a contrast between Euro-Americans and East Asians. There is an implication (not necessarily intended by the author) that there are two diametrically opposed ways of thinking, one used by "us," and the other used by whatever "them" is being considered (East Asians being a popular choice). The strangeness of this paradigm is apparent when you think of the diversity of "them"s that have been used. Taking into account the whole body of literature about how Euro-American forms of thought are not universal, we would be led to the conclusion that East Asians, hunter-gatherers, women, African Americans, and Indians (to name the most popular) all think alike, in contrast to some uniquely unusual Western consciousness. I'd like to see someone trying to contrast the thinking of, say, Chinese and Navajos.


I have managed to overload Microsoft Word's spell-checker. 281 pages into this document, I got a message saying "There are too many spelling and grammar errors for Microsoft Word to continue displaying them." It's not that I'm a bad speller (or a prolific writer), though. The document was a compilation of news stories copy-pasted out of Lexis-Nexis for a project. Since they were news stories, I must assume they were all spell-checked extensively, which means the errors that Word was getting overloaded with were just unusual last names.
I think the editorial coordination at Newsweek is breaking down. This week the Conventional Wisdom watch is premised on the idea that the administration is taking a hit for predicting that the war would go much more smoothly than it has. But the cover story is about a poll that shows Americans are rallying behind the Commander-in-Chief.


The Christian Science Monitor has an update of Justice Thurgood Marshall's 1978 report card on the state of black America. Marshall wrote the report card as part of his dissenting opinion in the Bakke case that outlawed quota-based affirmative action. The updated report card is pretty depressing:

  • In 1978, the life expectancy of a black child was five years shorter than that of a white child. Today it is six years shorter.

  • Twenty-five years ago, a black child's mother was three times as likely to die of complications during childbirth as a white mother. Today she is 3-1/2 times as likely to die during childbirth.

  • The infant mortality rate for blacks was twice that for whites. Today it is slightly more than twice.

  • In 1978, four times as many black families lived with incomes below the poverty line as white families. Today, that ratio remains unchanged.

  • For black adults, the unemployment rate was twice that of whites, and for black teens it was three times. Today, both statistics remain unchanged.

  • The median income of a black family in 1978 was 60 percent of the median income of a white family. Today, it is 66 percent of white-family income.

  • In 1978, blacks represented 11.5 percent of the population, but they were only 1.2 percent of the lawyers and judges, 2 percent of the physicians, 2.3 percent of the dentists, 1.1 percent of the engineers, and 2.6 percent of college and university professors. Today, blacks represent 12.3 percent of the population, and are 5.1 percent of the lawyers and judges, 5.6 percent of physicians, 4.1 percent of dentists, 5.5 percent of engineers, and 6.1 percent of college and university professors.

The subtext of the story seems to be pro-Marshall, as the updated report card shows that anti-quota arguments claiming that racial equality could be achieved without quotas haven't worked out (though no report card could challenge the additional argument that, effective or not, quotas are morally wrong). But I find that there's an interesting pattern among the items on the report card. The two areas where there has been noticeable progress -- income and representation in selected professions -- are the two areas that affirmative action of any stripe would impact. But progress in those areas has not translated into progress in areas like infant mortality or life expectancy. So failure in those areas does not necessarily say anything about the failure of non-quota strategies for achieving racial equality.
Scott points out The Lemon, a blatant rip-off of The Onion. While The Lemon's first issue sets out to do for the pro-war side what The Onion's latest did for the anti-war side, it does manage to be somewhat more amusing.
Eat Whale ... And Save The Planet

"What people fail to realise is that the Cetacea (the group to which whales and dolphins belong) is an extraordinarily diverse group of mammals," Dr Flannery writes. "It includes relatively large-brained hunters like dolphins and killer whales (which have the demonstrable intelligence of land-based hunters such as dogs) and tiny-brained filter feeders such as the blue whale. These leviathans are aquatic vacuum-cleaners, whose need for intellectual power is slight indeed."

Dr Flannery says it is the filter feeders rather than the hunters that the Japanese and Norwegian target. "If these animals are closer in intelligence to the sheep than the dog, is it morally wrong to eat them if they can be harvested sustainably? My view is that at present the anti-whaling lobby is frustrating the attempt to develop a sustainable industry based on these creatures, and is therefore frustrating good management of marine resources."

This seems like an odd argument, because I don't recall whales' intelligence being used as an argument for their preservation. A quick search of a few anti-whaling sites bears this out. At most, whales' intelligence is cited along with their majestic beauty and their age as part of an emotional appeal to win sympathy for the whales. The substantive claims of the anti-whaling movement are 1) whaling has caused whale populations to decrease dramatically (with the implication that the extinction of whales would be bad), and 2) whaling is cruel to the whales. Either of those points could be argued against, by saying that 1) a total ban on whaling is not necessary to maintaining whale populations, and 2) there's nothing morally wrong with causing pain to a non-human creature. But neither of those arguments seem to rest on whales' intelligence. At best, then, his argument is a counter to part of the emotional framing of anti-whalers (though not all of it, as people quite happily identify with brainless trees) with an appeal of his own -- the image of the "aquatic vacuum cleaner."


I'm sometimes surprised to discover that professors here who use a positivist (scientific or quantitative) methodology are politically quite liberal. I'm so used to reading Marxist or postmodernist literature that attacks postivists as complicit with the status quo of global dominating capitalism that I get used to thinking of positivists as being some sort of Jerry Falwell (or at least George Bush) figures.
Richard Rorty

Consider maps. Does a landscape tell us how it is to be mapped? In one sense, clearly not. Your purposes may dictate that you map on any of many scales, depicting topography, population, rainfall, geology, or many other things. Here you can choose whatever turns out useful. You can stress what you like and be as vague or precise as you like. Sometimes a brief sketch will do, and sometimes only an admiralty chart. Pragmatism and Darwin and multiple perspectives are all in order. There is no competition between a geological map and a rainfall map.

But in another sense the landscape indeed dictates something. It dictates how it is to be mapped, given a set of conventions determining the meanings of the signs and shapes on the map, and the meanings of their presence or absence. That is why, once a set of conventions has been put in place, a map can be correct or incorrect, or in other words, how it can represent the landscape as it is, or represent the landscape as it is not. It can show cliffs where there are none, and fail to show cliffs where they lurk. These platitudes should be distinguished from the ludicrous idea that the only true map would map the landscape an sich, somehow embodying a "final vocabulary" or "nature's own vocabulary" dictating how it is to be mapped, as if human selections and purposes had nothing to do with it.


To make up for my tardiness last week, here's last week's commentary and cartoons online before they appear in the paper Scarlet. Also included is my article from this semester's Different Voices.


We were talking about Foucault's ideas about power yesterday. Jonathan said that, while he liked Foucault in general, he felt that he didn't make a distinction between dominating power and resisting power. He gave the example of a US soldier who's ordered to shoot at some Iraqis. Johnathan said that, in Foucault's conception of power, there's no difference between the dominating power that forces the soldier to shoot, and the power of resistance that the soldier would use to defy the order. Either use of power is as good.

Sarah's response in defense of Foucault (which I tend to agree with) was that he does in fact draw a distinction between domination and resistance in some of his work (in response, I think, to the sort of criticisms that Jonathan made). But I think that response overlooks a more important problem with Jonathan's comment, and of the whole domination and resistance paradigm that's so popular among radicals these days.

Consider a situation in which Tommy Franks gave the order for the military to pack up and get back on the boats. The soldiers would be in a situation of either being dominated by the military, or resisting by staying behind to shoot some more Iraqis. Granting for the sake of argument that in both cases shooting Iraqis is bad, we have quite a different situation. If we grant the moral distinction between domination and resistance promoted by Jonathan and the later Foucault, for the soldiers to resist Franks's order must be valued, even though it clearly undermines the progressive/radical cause. The only way out is to claim that non-progressive resistance is actually domination by a higher anti-progressive power (some sort of godlike world racist-capitalist-patriarchal system), based on the axiom that resistance must always be progressive.

The solution I see is to recognize -- and to a certain degree I believe Foucault does point us in this direction -- that power is an instrument, not a goal. The form power takes is not significant in and of itself; it's the entire suite of its effects that is important.
Chechnya referendum update:
Official Calls For Chechnya Rebuilding

Russia's foreign minister on Tuesday called on international organizations to help rebuild war-shattered Chechnya following a referendum on a new Moscow-backed constitution in the republic.

...With results counted from 347 of Chechnya's 418 polling stations, 96 percent of the votes were in favor of the constitution and only 2.6 percent against, according to Russia's Central Election Commission web site. The constitution firmly binds Chechnya to the Russian Federation.

I'm surprised at how high support for remaining in the Russian Federation was (assuming the vote was fair, and if there were egregious problems I think they would have been mentioned in the Guardian article), considering that the Russian army hasn't exactly taken pains to minimize the casualties and socioeconomic disruption visited on the Chechen population. No wonder the rebels weren't keen on letting democracy run its course. For now, I'm cautiously optimistic that this referendum will lead to the Russians not making such a mess of the place.


The Onion did such an outstanding job with its first issue after September 11 and its Election 2000 non-verdict issue, so I had high hopes for its first Iraq war issue. Unfortunately, it turned out to be just bitterly anti-war. Not that it's surprising, given some of the stories they've run in the past few months, but I had hoped they'd pull through and make with the funny instead of using the opportunity to take a bunch of political cheap shots. Note that I say this as someone who generally agrees with the sentiments The Onion is trying to express.


My comics and commentary from last week are (belatedly) online.
Chechens Vote, In First Step Toward Greater Autonomy

Chechnya's voters turned out en masse on Sunday to vote on a contentious new constitution, putting a first stamp of legitimacy on a proposal to bind their republic to Russia forever - and, the Kremlin says, to hasten peace after 3 years of brutal war.

The Chechen separatist leader, Aslan Maskhadov, pledged to disrupt the process. One polling station was apparently destroyed in an attack, a pro-separatist news agency said.

Those Chechen rebels are doing a great job of wining the moral high ground here. If they're determined to disrupt the election, I wonder whether a "yes" outcome would really solve any problems, since Maskhadov doesn't seem inclined to accept such a verdict. It might just give the Russians a stamp of legitimacy for their hardline actions in the region, because they can then claim that stamping out the separatists is in the Chechens' interests as well.

It also appears that British newspapers can vote in Chechnya:
But checks at polling stations appeared almost non-existent. The Guardian was able to cast an illegitimate vote at polling station No 272, with not one official making any objections when a blue ballot paper was dropped into the "yes" vote box. It is unlikely the vote will alter the widely expected endorsement of Kremlin plans.


After considering the possibilities of businessman, governor, senator, general, and agency head, Jane Galt concludes that I'm not sure that any job really prepares you to be president of the US. I generally agree with her assessments of the professions she mentions. So perhaps the US can take a cue from the business world and look into horizontal hiring. Corporations today tend to get their top-level guys by stealing them from similar positions in other companies (which as I understand it is part of the reason executives are paid so much), rather than the old-fashioned system of having people work their way up from mail clerk to vice president. All we'd have to do is get rid of that pesky "natural born citizen" requirement, and we could start electing people who had actual experience as the leader of a nation. I mean, what else are Ehud Barak or Nelson Mandela doing these days? And maybe other countries could do likewise. I can definitely see Jimmy Carter stepping into the presidential palace of Botswana, or Bill Clinton in the Dominican Republic.
Iraqi Exiles Oppose US Plans

Non-aligned Iraqi exiles opposed to American plans to occupy their country are stepping up their efforts to gather support for a UN-supervised interim administration that would pave the way for a new, Iraqi democracy free of American control.

...The group wants a transitional administration that would work "in cooperation with the UN" - not under the US. Pachachi has said he favours a collective leadership to minimise the possibility of ethnic conflict or argument. They call for an immediate lifting of sanctions against Iraq in the post-Saddam period. They also seek the development of an oil policy to help rebuild Iraq and - coordination with other producing countries - "to achieve stability in international oil markets".

This proposal was probably primarily an attempt to avert war (the story is a few weeks old, but I've been behind on reading the IWPR reports). But the rationale that the group gives highlights what is probably the most important reason that UN support was needed for the war. It's not for legalistic procedural reasons; it's because the participation of the UN -- which has far more legitimacy in the eyes of the Arab world than the US does -- could be instrumental in making sure we win the peace.


"Lost City" Yielding Its Secrets

Working with new evidence and a trove of re-examined relics, many of them recovered from the basement of a Yale museum here, archaeologists have revised their thinking about the significance of Machu Picchu, the most famous "lost city" of the Incas.

... [Contrary to previous theories,] Machu Picchu was one of many private estates of the emperor and, in particular, the favored country retreat for the royal family and Inca nobility. It was, archaeologists say, the Inca equivalent of Camp David, albeit on a much grander scale.

This story is an example of teasers run amok. The second paragraph I quoted is the first mention of what the new interpretation of Machu Picchu actually is. It's the eighth paragraph of the story. The other seven paragraphs build the archaeologists' interpretation up to be a new revelation, even though (as the article later admits) it's only a confirmation of a longstanding hypothesis. Either way, I'm glad to see the "royal palace" theory getting some more backing, as that's the explanation that's always struck me as the most plausible.
CalPundit has just proved that he is a member of the liberal elite that's out of touch with the way real Americans in the heartland live their lives: He puts butter/margarine on his popcorn. Someone needs to tell him real Americans eat microwave popcorn that comes with the "butter" already on it. (Or that prepackaged stovetop stuff, for those -- like my family when I was younger -- who can't afford microwaves.)


Palestinians Move To Curb Arafat's Powers Over PM

In a debate on the powers of the newly created post of prime minister, the 88-member Palestinian legislative council rejected Mr Arafat's proposal that he, as the authority chairman, should be given the right to approve the prime minister's choice of cabinet.

Last week the council voted overwhelmingly in favour of setting up the new post, under strong pressure from the international community to sideline the 73-year-old Mr Arafat.

Last week's constitutional amendment setting up the post left security matters and peace talks with Israel in the hands of the chairman.

The recent stirrings of democracy in Palestine are a good sign. But the effectiveness of the reforms will be limited until peace talks can be taken out of Arafat's hands. Arafat seems committed to neither peace nor war, opportunistically taking up whichever cause seems to boost his own fortunes. Further (and perhaps more importantly), his reputation is permanently compromised in the minds of most Israelis (and certainly in the minds of the hard-liners who will be the toughest to sell on any two-state solution). He has come to symbolize the duplicity, corruption, and terrorism that Israeli hardliners see as characteristic of the Palestinian position. And while Jimmy Carter thinks the 1996 referendum still gives Arafat legitimacy, a fresh(er) face on the Palestinian side of the table, with a more recent democratic stamp of approval, will be necessary to get any talks moving again. As long as Arafat is the go-to man for the Palestinians, Sharon will be able to dismiss his overtures as superficial. A Palestinian leader with clean(er) hands will be able to reclaim some moral high ground and force the Israelis to take him seriously.


Puhdas ... likainen. No song yet, though.


Did Ney and Jones really imagine that their "freedom fries" stunt wouldn't backfire quite viciously? I'm sure that private restaurant owner who first changed the name came out ahead, with all the free publicity drawing in enough France-haters to more than make up for any locals put off by his posturing. And maybe those two's districts are sufficiently jingoistic to make the move politically worthwhile. But in the wider court of public opinion, they've done their side no favors.


Directly and indirectly via Jane Galt, I've come across two articles making the "slippery slope" argument against gay marriage. The argument is essentially that if we legalize gay marriage, then we'll soon be allowing polygamy, bestiality, pedophilia, and whatever other types of undesirable relationships the author can think of. Because these more unconventional relationships are either undesirable in and of themselves, or because (as Stanley Kurtz argues in the second link) allowing so many relationships would make marriage meaningless, we don't dare loosen the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

What I find interesting about this argument is that it implies that there's nothing inherently wrong with gay marriage, and nothing particularly special about heterosexual monogamy. The only thing wrong with gay marriage is that legalizing it would be a change, and the only thing that heterosexual monogamy has going for it is that it's the current status quo. This is a conservative argument in the classical sense. (Conservatism as I'm using it here is not synonymous with right-wing philosophies -- for example, the argument that homosexuality is a sin is a moralist argument used by the right. Classical conservatism can be found on the left as well, for example in the "precautionary principle" with regard to the environment. I should also point out that this definition, while applicable to the case at hand, is more strict than the definition offered by John Quiggin, who characterizes conservatism as a preference for gradual or bottom-up change over sudden or imposed change.) Classical conservatism is risk-averse with respect to new practices. It assumes that, in the absence of substantial proof, changing society is too risky and brings with it too many potential catastrophes to be desirable.

In the case of gay marriage, one could make an equivalent slippery slope argument against a (hypothetical) tightening of the definition of marriage. If we outlaw interracial marriage, it opens the door to outlawing marriages between the rich and poor, and between people whose parents don't approve, and pretty soon nobody will be able to meet the requirements for getting married. When we put the two slippery slopes together, what we get is a view of society precariously balanced on the status quo. A little movement could send things spiralling off into destruction. In this way, conservatism offers little hope for the future, as it postulates that the best we can do is to stay where we are (or perhaps backtrack a bit on the most recent social changes). This involves the assumption that social stability is achievable (doubtful), present in the status quo (wrong), and desirable (questionable, depending on the context).

I don't mean to suggest that slippery slope arguments are always bad, though I don't find the one about gay marriage particularly convincing. But I am skeptical about a philosophy whose basis is slippery slopes.


For those who wish the media would come out and say it when someone (by which they usually mean "President Bush") lies, a story from the Christian Science Monitor:

The Impact Of Bush Linking 9/11 And Iraq

Bush never pinned blame for the attacks directly on the Iraqi president. Still, the overall effect was to reinforce an impression that persists among much of the American public: that the Iraqi dictator did play a direct role in the attacks. A New York Times/CBS poll this week shows that 45 percent of Americans believe Mr. Hussein was "personally involved" in Sept. 11, about the same figure as a month ago.

Sources knowledgeable about US intelligence say there is no evidence that Hussein played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks, nor that he has been or is currently aiding Al Qaeda. Yet the White House appears to be encouraging this false impression, as it seeks to maintain American support for a possible war against Iraq and demonstrate seriousness of purpose to Hussein's regime.

For the most part I agree with the obvious implication of this story, that it's wrong to support the war because you think Saddam was behind September 11, and wrong to encourage that belief in order to rally support. It gets irritating to hear about September 11 all the time from some hawks, and I sympathize with a protest sign I saw somewhere that said "don't hijack our grief." But at the same time I can't entirely blame Bush for bringing up the attacks. While there may be no connection between Saddam and September 11, the attack on the World Trade Center is the type of scenario that hawks motivated by national security concerns fear. It provides a poignant reminder of the sort of devastation that can be wrought by an attack on America. While I'm skeptical of the claim that the war will reduce the threat of a future September 11-like event that is carried out by Iraq, I can accept that it's a plausible argument given the levels of uncertainty surrounding nearly everything we know about the situation. And if we grant the legitimacy of the argument, there's nothing any more disingenuous about invoking September 11 than there is in doves' invocation of the horrors of war. The problem comes when the argument slips into blaming Iraq for September 11.
Two houses down from where I live is the Massachusetts headquarters of Eckankar, which Ethan describes as "like Scientology, only not as successful." From my brief online acquaintance with it, it seems like a fairly typical New Age religion. One of the defining features of New Age religion seems to be its radical syncretism. This is often encapsulated in its leader's spiritual heritage, as New Age leaders claim that they are the latest (and greatest) of a line of prophets that includes most of the major religious leaders of history -- Abraham, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, etc. The idea is that all these religions, at least in their true form, share the same underlying spiritual truth.

It seems that we can classify religions' attitudes toward other faiths into four main types -- absolutist, relativist, syncretist, and situationist. Absolutist is the best known (due to Christianity's long history of rigid and strict absolutism), and often when we describe a belief as "religious" we are accusing it of being absolutist. Absolutist religion asserts that there is One True Faith, which is the same for all people, and all other belief systems are at best mistaken and at worst pernicious. Note that absolutist religion need not be intolerant. America's founders formulated the idea of religious freedom based on a form of absolutism that said that, while there is One True Faith, it is inappropriate to coerce others into following it.

Relativist religion says that all faiths are equally valid. Few people take a fully relativist approach, though the accusation of relativism is often thrown against syncretists, situationists, and tolerant absolutists. Relativism is most often promoted by religions that find themselves on the outs in society, and therefore turn to relativism to shield themselves from criticism.

The third type, syncretism, is where New Age religion falls. Syncretism denies the differences between religions, arguing that they are all valid because they share a spiritual core. In essence, syncretism claims that there is one true religion, but everyone already practices it.

Situationist religion is where I would place myself. Situationism says that there is a true religion (or at least that some religions are more true than others), but that the true religion may be different for different people. The correctness of a religion is not an absolute quality, but rather a function of the particular personal characteristics and context of the believer.It differs from syncretism because it maintains that there are meaningful differences between religions, and from relativism because it's possible to make a wrong choice.


To update this post, New Orleans was short on lewd publications as well. I guess they get enough of that kind of thing in real life.
On some level I think my Explanation in Geography professor wants to be persecuted. I don't mean that it's some big driving force for him, but it shows through sometimes that he would be invigorated by a little effort to silence him. After making particularly radical or controversial statements, he tends to turn to Dai or Mohammad and say "I bet I wouldn't be able to get away with saying that in China/Iran!" and he seems a bit disappointed when Mohammad says that the Iranian thought police have loosened up a bit in recent years. He also keeps telling us about how last semester he disparaged God, and some students in the class filed a formal complaint with the Dean.

I suspect it may be partly because he's a Marxist. Radical leftist theories tend to fit things into a paradigm of hegemony and resistance, and make a point of siding with resistance. So these theories work best when they're repressed, because repression validates their hegemony/resistance schema. Reading the chapter in this professor's book that describes the rise of Marxist geography, I got the distinct sense that in his opinion the worst thing that could befall Marxists is for them to be successful.


There must be something to Kabalarian name-analysis -- how else can you explain how they managed to give the exact opposite assessment of nearly every important aspect of my personality (and my weight)? If it were purely random, they'd have gotten at least half of them right.

As Stentor, you are spontaneous, happy-go-lucky, and you enjoy the company of others--the more the merrier. You make friends easily as people are attracted to your warm and generous nature. However, you have to watch that others do not take advantage of your generosity, for you are apt to be influenced by hard-luck stories and give when it might be more prudent not to. You are ever on the watch for ways and means of making some "easy money" because this name destroys initiative and ambition, producing an easy-going, come-what-may nature which attaches value to money only for the self-enjoyment it can offer. Misunderstandings could exist in your personal life because of this emotional power which you have difficulty controlling and also because of a difficulty in accepting a responsibility and seeing it through. You are apt to leave a project unfinished and go on to something else. Routine and system are foreign to your life, and, of course, these assets are an integral part of any successful undertaking. You are fond of sweets and rich foods and your tendency to eat heavily, causes overweight. You could be subject to skin disorders, swelling of the legs and ankles, fluid function disorders or weakness affecting the back.
I've always thought Flynn and I didn't really see eye-to-eye on the war, but maybe it's more of a glass half full/half empty kind of thing. He links approvingly to a column arguing that an intensified and competently and multilaterally run "little war" -- the sanctions and containment being used against Iraq -- is a viable option for avoiding a "big war" (i.e., invasion) now or in the future, as well as avoiding the problems of losing credibility and encouraging Saddam that would be encountered if we simply packed up and dropped the war question. I've been hearing this type of thing a lot lately from moderate and/or realist doves who are tired of hearing that the antiwar movement has no alternative strategy to offer. I think it makes a good deal of sense, though it won't appeal to the types who think the best way to deal with Iraq is to eliminate capitalism.
(politics post now, maybe some geography conference later)

The problem with public opinion is that it lacks subtlety. I don't mean that members of the public don't have nuanced views of things. I mean that the message our leaders recieve as "public opinion" is a caricature, a yes/no for/against response rather than an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to an issue. This is on my mind because I'm wondering how to describe myself once the war starts.

I can't call myself pro-war, because that would imply an endorsement of the Bush administration's conduct of the war, which -- and I hope he surprises me -- I don't expect to think very highly of. But I can't really call myself anti-war either, because that would imply that extricating ourselves from the war as soon as possible is better, which I don't believe. If we're going to do war, we ought to do it right. "the silent speaker" on the Brunching board said it well: "We can debate whether or not we should be throwing this punch, but the only thing throwing half a punch can result in is a broken wrist." In essence I have a dual-peaked preference -- I prefer no war over war, but I also prefer an effective war over a war compromised by misgivings and hesitation. The Afghanistan campaign would have gone better had we not been concerned that reports of American casualties would weaken domestic support, and thus held back on sending in ground troops. Then there's the issue of what goals I want the war to be effective in pursuing. I'd like to see Bush's stated goals -- the liberation of the Iraqi people, the encouragement of democracy in the Middle East, reducing our reliance on and stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia, the neutralization of whatever weapons Saddam has -- achieved. But there's no good way to communicate a message of "keep your word."


Ninja-posting while I wait to get picked up to go to the airport. I just ran across a transcript of Howard Dean's interview on Face The Nation, and I had a couple observations.

1) I'm glad they called him on using "unilateral," and I hope he stops it. While Matt Yglesias (I'm too lazy to find the link to the post) may have a point that "unilateral" conveys some of the right sense -- that the war is the US's project and its international base of support is quite narrow -- in point of fact it's not correct. And it comes off as a little disingenous for Dean to be so loose with a definition when he makes an issue of Bush's misleading use of "quotas" to describe Michigan's affirmative action policy, and rejects the term "partial-birth abortion." Saying "unilateral" may win him more friends among the doves than it loses among the pedants, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

2) He sounded like a broken record talking about North Korea. They asked about Iran, and within a few sentences he was back on about how big a threat North Korea is. And it wasn't like he was adding detail to his stance on North Korea (until they specifically asked him about it). I know it's important to drive home campaign themes, but he came off sounding like he was trying to push a talking point rather than speaking from a sophisticated knowledge of the geopolitical situation. With foreign policy destined to be a top item in 2004, and Dean's reputation as a foreign policy lightweight already established, I feel like he can't get away with just talking points. And again, whatever the strategic value, I don't like it.


I'm gone for the rest of the week to the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in New Orleans. When I come back I'm sure to have all kinds of exciting geography observations to tell you about. Aren't you excited.


With the warmer weather, I'm feeling less angry about my heating system. And today I found a new target for my wrath: Quicktime. For a long time I had had problems with Quicktime. Any videos had this horrible gurgling underwater sound to them. This was somewhat annoying, since it prevented me from watching the Time Cube debate at MIT. I thought the problem might be that Quicktime hadn't installed properly. So I downloaded the newest version. Things weren't any better. And today I discovered that the site I use to practice Finnish -- which had worked beautifully before -- has been corrupted by the underwater sound. Quicktime: To the kiosk with you!
John Quiggin asks about the " the relationship between cleaning up litter and environmentalism." I've heard the kind of arguments that he references as reflecting negatively on the relationship -- far-left warnings that little steps like picking up litter and recycling reduce the pressure to bring down the whole corrupt capitalist system. But I think John's conclusion that "the impact has been to reinforce support for environmentalism" is correct, for two reasons:

1) Cleaning up litter is empowering. If we see environmental problems as the result of global political-economic structures, there seems to be little we can do short of dedicating ourselves to some sort of socialist solidarity movement. This is not an option available or appealing to most people. There would be a tendency to give up on caring about the environment, since it seems like there's little we can do. I'm not saying that cleaning up litter is itself going to fix much of the negative impacts we have on the environment, but it still gives the litter-cleaner something.

2) Taking action makes you feel more committed to the side you're acting on behalf of. I've argued this point before with reference to protesting the war, and I think it holds here. While other forms of environmentalist empowerment like buying organic food may create a stronger commitment to the movement (which could in a sense be a negative, since it's harder to get people to take such a big step), picking up litter has a few important advantages. First, it's hard to argue that less litter is a bad thing -- while picking it up may be seen as a waste of effort, few people wish there were more McDonald's cups along the side of the road. Second, it appeals to an important human value -- cleanliness. And it connects the litter-picker to the strongest emotional/philosophical basis for environmentalism -- an appreciation of the beauty of nature. Right or wrong, preserving natural beauty is the most important motivation for public environmentalism.


I'm looking at eBay's Everything Else > Weird Stuff > Totally Bizarre category. Certainly most of the stuff in here is at least rather bizarre -- the talking middle finger lighter, the fake bullet holes, or the haunted diet pill, for example. But I'm not seeing the bizarreness angle on the car vacuum or the backpack.