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John Derbyshire writes something that's both offensive and true:
The Santorum business brought to the fore an outfit called "The Human Rights Campaign." You would never know from its name that this is a homosexualist lobbying organization. I have no problem with HRC's existence — homosexuals have as much right to organize and lobby as the rest of us — but I do have a problem with that name — viz., it's dishonest. The name of an organization ought to give some clue as to what the organization is for. Why don't they call themselves "The Homosexual Rights Campaign," or "The Campaign for Tolerance of Alternative Sexuality," or something like that? If they want to be a little more in-your-face, they could go for something with a defiant or humorous twist: "The Sodomite Sodality," perhaps. Don't they understand that this straining at bland respectability just makes them look shifty?

Readers, I have decided to launch a movement for the legalization of dog meat as a marketable foodstuff. My movement will be named: "The Campaign for Truth, Justice, Harmony and Peace." Everyone OK with that?

On the one hand, I can understand why you would pick a broad name like "Human Rights Campaign" for a group that focuses on one particular human right. To call your group the "Homosexual Rights Campaign" makes it easy to think of gay rights as some special consideration that gays want, when what they're really after is equal rights for everyone -- eliminating the special rights that heterosexuals currently enjoy.

On the other hand, I share his frustration with uninformative names. But rather than single out a gay rights organization, why don't we start with the very organization that published Derbyshire's work: The National Review. I'm just starting to read the major political magazines, all of which have nice innocuous names like The Nation and The Weekly Standard and The American Prospect. All of them are decidedly partisan, but none of them contain any proclamation of their allegiance, which is quite confusing to the new reader trying to keep them all straight. Contrast that with the major libertarian publication, Reason. Now, "reason" sounds like a similarly uninformative name. But if you start reading libertarian stuff, you'll notice that they talk about reason all the time, treating it as the highest virtue (similar to the way social conservatives are always on about "values"). So if you know a bit about politics, you'll recognize that "reason" is a sort of libertarian linguistic tic and thus it serves as a code word for the publication's bias. So maybe Derbyshire can take some time off from complaining about the Human Rights Campaign and ask his editors to change their magazine's name to The National Conservative Review.
Rejecting Bad Company

... But recently, they [Argentine victims of anti-union repression] found an unexpected ally in their bid to uncover the truth: German shareholder activists who forced DaimlerChrysler, owner of Mercedes-Benz, to begin investigating whether plant managers had collaborated with the military in the disappearance of Reimer and 13 other workers.

Pressure has intensified in recent years for corporate boards to weigh the human rights consequences of their business practices. Activists have put such titans as Nike and Wal-Mart in the spotlight for using sweatshop labor, while Unocal is currently being sued in US courts by 13 Burmese villagers, who charge that the firm knew about the Burmese military's use of forced labor on a $1.2 billion pipeline project.

But the DaimlerChrysler case appears to take these efforts one step further, targeting not just bad labor practices but possible corporate collaboration with a repressive government. DaimlerChrysler is the first firm to open a public investigation into what role, if any, it played in disappearances that occurred at its factory during the dirty war.

... "If you look at the charter of any corporation in the United States," says the Rev. Séamus Finn of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, "the right was always there for a shareholder to bring a resolution." What's new, he says, is that socially responsible investors are "expanding the universe that corporations are concerned about: not just the financial bottom line, but the social bottom line, the human bottom line, the environmental bottom line."

The movement has grown far beyond its religious roots. Today, according to the Social Investment Forum, an industry trade group, $2.3 trillion is invested in the US under guidelines that take into account the human and environmental consequences of company policies.

Good news from the corporate world.


People like to complain about how partisan Republicans wind up blaming everything on Bill Clinton. But if you listen to a partisan Democrat long enough, they'll blame everything on Republicans' investigation of Clinton.
The Dean Blog has a Howard Dean Techno Remix. Maybe that's how Dean should have proposed to deal with Saddam Hussein: challenge him to a "battle of the bands."


The idea of sustainability is one of the more popular concepts in environmentalism (perhaps because it is anthropocentric -- i.e., it doesn't make any unpopular claims about the inherent moral worth of non-human beings and systems -- while justifying wide-ranging environmental protection). In essence, it states that we should leave sufficient resources for future generations to live. The first question this raises is how much future generations need. Should we make sure they have just enough to survive? That doesn't seem very kind, and it leaves us with a fairly anemic form of sustainability. What about leaving them as much as possible? This is an unpalatable sort of call to self-sacrifice. And it's self-sacrifice for a group that will not benefit from it -- if the next generation maintains this strong sustainability principle, it too will sacrifice its use of nature for the following generation's potential benefit. At best we can enjoy non-consumptive values, such as aesthetic pleasure or clean air for breathing (but not clean air as a pollution sink). What's necessary is a commitment to some form of minimum quality of life standard that future generations are entitled to, and thus to providing sufficient resources to attain that standard of living.

This leads us to another problem: we don't know what resources future generations will need. A resource is socially constructed -- it is only a resource if people want to use it for something. If future generations' uses of the environment were to stay constant, we could more easily ascertain what resources they will need. While this may be a reasonable assumption for a society that changes fairly slowly -- such as pre-contact Aboriginal Australians (though even Aboriginal society changed over time, incuding some potentially quite rapid changes) -- it does not work so well for our modern dynamic society. We can't be certain what inputs and sinks our progeny's preferred productive and consumptive activities will require. The form of society matters as well. It takes fewer resources to maintain a given standard of living if they are distributed equitably than if most of them are monopolized by a few members of society.

There's yet another complication: the availability of resources affects the shape of society. Had (to pull out a bizarre hypothetical) the Mongols torched the world's oil reserves, assuming oil was not a resource, we wouldn't have developed into an oil-dependent economy that's really in trouble because there's no oil. We would have developed a different technology. We should be careful of being too adaptational in our thinking, lest we wind up assuming that future generations will be able to make do with whatever we leave to them. But it does suggest that perhaps the solution lies in our ability to adjust both sides of the equation. This possibility is bolstered by the fact that the next generation is not some separate phase of human activity. One generation does not pass from the stage before the next comes along. It's a rolling process. This opens the door to short-term resource management and adjustment. However, I've now set myself up for yet another problem: without some sort of long-range view, we can't tell if we're carefully walking into a dead end.


Another random thought on the Santorum thing: Until recently I had the appearances of Pennsylvania's senators reversed. When I started seeing pictures of Santorum, I recognized his face -- except that I thought it was Arlen Specter. It's all very disorienting.
As Kevin Drum has pointed out, you find something new in the Rick Santorum interview every time you look at it. What has occurred to me recently is the contradictory position he seems to have on social engineering.

The essence of Santorum's rejection of the right to privacy is that it prevents the government from regulating something that is harmful to society. Santorum advocates anti-gay measures (as well as condemning adultery, incest, polygamy, etc.) because these deviant practices undermine the traditional family. Because, according to him, the traditional family is the necessary building block of society, the government has a duty to step in to foster and maintain traditional family structures. In essence, he is calling for social engineering.

During the 2000 campaign, Al Gore's budgetary policies were attacked by Republicans as "social engineering." Gore advocated targeted tax cuts and subsidies to encourage certain behaviors, such as using environmentally friendly products and getting an education. Republicans charged that such attempts by the government to manipulate people's behavior were illegitimate. Now, I can't prove that Santorum ever made or even agreed with this line of argument, but it seems likely that he would have, and even more likely that there are Republicans out there that agree with both arguments. This is an obvious contradiction, which reveals that objections to Gore's plan were not really about "social engineering". Social engineering was just a convenient excuse for opposing a policy they didn't like.

This feeds into my general suspicion of any argument against something based on tactics or method of implementation -- that is, criticisms of the means rather than the end. I'm certain plenty of people make honest and consistent means-based arguments. But so often people from all over the political spectrum are vociferous in their denunciation of the other side's tactics, then turn around and use those same tactics in pursuit of their own ends (see, for example, the way Senators' positions on the process for approving federal judges swapped sides when the presidency, and hence the ideology of judicial nominees, changed parties).

So aren't I just as bad as Santorum on this count, given that I support gay rights and favored Gore? Not quite, because my opposition to anti-gay measures is not based on the popular libertarian "don't impose your morals on people" and "government shouldn't interfere in people's private behavior" arguments. What I reject is the crux of Santorum's argument: that gay relationships are harmful to society and that the traditional family is the best way to organize it. Indeed, I think that full legal and social recognition of gay relationships would be a positive good for society, which the government should "engineer" by removing its perverse restrictions on equality for gays (though I have deep pragmatic reservations about the possibility of any government action to directly address social recognition). So my problem is not that anti-gay measures are social engineering, my problem is that anti-gay measures are bad social engineering.


Bush Praises Santorum As 'Inclusive Man'

The White House said GOP Sen. Rick Santorum is doing a good job as party leader and is "an inclusive man," despite his controversial remarks on homosexuality.

... "The president believes the senator is an inclusive man. And that's what he believes," [White House spokesman Ari] Fleischer said.

In other news, Bush praised Michael A. Newdow for his deep Christian faith, complimented Jacques Chirac for his willingness to use all possible military force against Iraq, and lauded Karl Marx for his principled defense of capitalism.


Jane Goodall Gives Chimpanzee Cry

"Whoo whoo whoo oogh oogh oogh oogh oogh oogh oogh oogh ooh ooh oooh oooh," Goodall bellowed in the State Department's Dean Acheson Auditorium, drawing laughter and applause from the diplomats and environmentalists gathered to mark Earth Day and to discuss the issue of deforestation.

"That may be the first time that the voice of the chimpanzee has been heard in the State Department," she added.

-- via Anthroblogology

Insert your own "Bush=Chimp" joke here.
Why must archaeology be so expensive?
I worry that this Rick Santorum issue will backfire on the Democrats. People seem to be seeing this as a parallel to the Trent Lott affair. But there is one big difference: the vast majority of Americans believe racism is wrong. None of the defenses of Lott were defenses of segregation, they were claims that Lott hadn't said that he supported segregation. But the view that Santorum expressed is, shamefully, a very popular one today. Santorum gave a clear statement of the "love the sinner, hate the sin" arguement. This will be an appealing message to a public that for the most part is against bigotry, but is also against homosexuality. And I think that it is certainly possible to differentiate between the inclination or desire to commit an act, and the act itself.

Right now the Democrats have the rhetorical advantage, because they (Howard Dean and John Kerry, at least) have taken the initiative to frame it as radical bigotry versus sensible respect for equal rights. But it's possible for Republicans to spin it as moderate "love the sinner hate the sin" versus a radical gay rights agenda. This slippage is more likely if the debate turns into one about gay marriage, which most Americans see as a pretty far out proposal. It's especially dangerous for Dean, who is already seen as the gay marriage candidate (even though his actual position is that it should be up to the states, so the feds should neither prohibit (a la the Defense of Marriage Act) nor impose gay marriage (or "marriage")).


Interior Dept. Sanitized Reports To Judge

A judge was kept in the dark about failures in a computer system created to help track royalty payments that were owed to American Indians, a court-appointed investigator reported Monday.

Last September, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said Interior Secretary Gale Norton had defrauded the court by making misleading statements about the department's efforts to fix management problems of oil, gas, mining, timber and other royalties from Indian lands. That included covering up failures of the Trust Asset and Accounting Management System.

On Monday, Alan Balaran, a court-appointed special master in the case, said the Interior Department made a concerted effort to sanitize its report on the computer system to make it appear to be working well. He said the department ignored advice from its own experts, who said the report as presented to the court was misleading and inaccurate.

The thing about the trust fund scandal (if you can call it a scandal, since nobody outside the BIA and the tribes seems to care about it) that's hard to comprehend is not how the BIA has screwed over the Native Americans. That's certainly an outrage, but it's also a longstanding American tradition, so it's hardly surprising. What's sometimes more amazing is that the BIA has no qualms about screwing over the court that's trying to resolve the issue. Maybe they're just frustrated that someone's trying to throw out a longstanding American tradition.


Matt Yglesias has a post about the perils of blogging while seeking tenure at a university. He says that blogging can easily be seen by tenure committees as a distraction from real academic writing. So maintaining a blog puts junior faculty at risk, because people can point to their blog as evidence they're not being as productive academically as they could. I think this sort of thing (which I think is a real concern, especially if blogging continues to grow) is a symptom of academia's bias toward academic writing. One of the best sessions I went to at the AAG conference was on writing for the public. It's a subject near and dear to my heart as a blogger and journalist. The participants in the session agreed that writing for the public gets no respect from your academic peers. This is an especially big problem for research paradigms such as feminism that stress the involvement of the people you're researching in the process. Any writing that you do for them -- such as to communicate your results in a language and format they understand -- has to be in addition to your quota of articles and books for academic audiences. But why should, say, a column in the New York Times -- which reaches thousands of people -- count for nothing compared to a report in the Journal of Arid Lands Management, which reaches a few hundred people? In my mind, academia derives its legitimacy from public support. In some fields, like the hard sciences, it's understandable that researchers would engage in conversation mostly among themselves. Quantum physics isn't something most lay people can understand, and so the public is right to allow a sort of elitist technocratic approach to research. But in the social sciences, the reflexivity of the research -- we're researching ourselves -- and the social and political implications of our findings seem to indicate a good case for public communication. Archaeologists working with Native Americans, and environmental hazard managers, have both found that their work is better on its own merits, more accepted by the public, and more effective in helping the world, when they communicate openly with lay people. So why should the academy give less credit to, say, talking to a community group than to an article in Risk Analysis saying that we should talk to community groups?


And more language fun: 16 ways to say "shut up" in Finnish.


If you're looking for some good linguistics fun, here are some Sámi (Lapp) crossword puzzles.


Insects Thrive On GM "Pest-Killing" Crops

Genetically modified crops specially engineered to kill pests in fact nourish them, startling new research has revealed.

The research – which has taken even the most ardent opponents of GM crops by surprise – radically undermines one of the key benefits claimed for them. And it suggests that they may be an even greater threat to organic farming than has been envisaged.

This research is doubtless going to be snapped up by the anti-GM folks (in fact, I heard about it from our local anti-globalization group). Assuming it's true, it's certainly bad news. Bad news for the particular GM crops that are currently popular. The kind of problem this study found is based on a specific application of GM, and can't necessarily be extrapolated to all possible uses of the technology (including the ones I see as more promising, such as drought-resistant and nutritionally enhanced crops. Pest and herbicide resistant crops are largely an easy application that brings in big bucks for further research). I'm inclined to cut GM some slack given that as a technology it's still in its infancy. On the other hand, this story serves as a caution about the big promises made on behalf of current GM applications.


Destruction of statues has provided the two most important symbols of the American victory in Iraq. Pro-war folks got the image of the year when American soldiers helped an Iraqi crowd pull down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. There have been attempts to criticize this symbol, of course -- pointing out that wide-angled shots showed the crowd around the statue was fairly small, and pointing to large anti-occupation demonstrations that started almost as soon as victory was declared. Yet the Saddam statue remains a powerful symbol of Iraqis' joy at being liberated from Saddam's regime.

Several days later, anti-war folks began to play up the fact that statues (among other artifacts -- work with me here) had been destroyed and stolen from the Iraqi National Museum. There's been no shortage of commentary on the scope of the cultural tragedy wrought by the looters who cleaned out the Museum. Though it lacks the powerful visual imagery of the Saddam statue, it has become a symbol of the nihilistic chaos that has come to Iraq as Saddam was ousted, chaos the US was unable or unwilling to stop. Unfortunately, this symbol has more serious shortcomings than the Saddam statue. Foremost is that the tragedy is the loss of material objects. While I don't want to minimize the value of the items in the Museum, the fact is that people make more effective symbols. The focus on the Museum opens antiwar people to the charge of caring more about Iraq's antiquities than its people. That's not a good position to be in, considering that doves have been accused of not caring about the suffering of Iraqis under Saddam (who, nevertheless, was a good custodian of historical objects). I'm not making that criticism myself, as I know many people think this is such a tragedy because the Iraqi people are losing their history and because it's symbolic of the wider post-Saddam chaos. But it's worrying to watch this concern over the Museum snowball.
A long chain of bloggers point to this article, in which Simon Baron-Cohen says:
Are there essential differences between the male and female brain? My theory is that the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, and that the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems. I call it the empathising-systemising (E-S) theory.

Empathising is the drive to identify another person's emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. The empathiser intuitively figures out how people are feeling, and how to treat people with care and sensitivity. Systemising is the drive to analyse and explore a system, to extract underlying rules that govern the behaviour of a system; and the drive to construct systems. The systemiser intuitively figures out how things work, or what the underlying rules are controlling a system. Systems can be as varied as a pond, a vehicle, a computer, a maths equation, or even an army unit. They all operate on inputs and deliver outputs, using rules.

The descriptions of empathy and systematizing strike me as nearly the same thing. Both involve "intuitively" grasping the workings of some process. At best it seems like empathy is about social processes and systematizing is about physical processes. This interpretation would accord with the (similar but different) theory that men tend toward seeing the world in a distanced and (supposedly) objective way, whereas women are subjective.

So I took the test, and got an 18 out of 80 for my EQ. The description says "most people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism score about 20." Now, I'd hardly rank "empathy" as one of my strongest traits, but I didn't think it was pathological. Incidentally, the test says that men score an average of 42 and women an average of 47. This seems to call into question the study's finding of a clear gender division. Unless the standard deviation on those scores is incredibly low -- meaning nearly all men hit the 40-44 or so range, and nearly all women are 45 to 49 -- the correlation is probably not statistically significant. On the SQ test I didn't hit autistic range, falling just a point above the male average of 30. The gender difference here was a bit wider, with women averaging 24.

The brain type page includes this observation:
The central claim of this new theory is only that on average, more males than females have a brain of type S, and more females than males have a brain of type E.

An "on average" isn't all that helpful. On average men are taller than women, but nobody would say that's the basis of a fundamental difference between them. Systematizing and empathizing are important aspects of psychology, and one good thing about this theory is that it considers them as separate axes, rather than opposites (so you could be both highly empathizing and highly systematizing). But aligning them fundamentally with men and women is asking for stereotypes no matter how many disclaimers about overlap in individual cases you have. If the "essential difference" between men and women is the E-S dimensions, that automatically puts empathetic men and systematic women on the defensive about their abnormality.

Here's the thing that bugs me the most about this theory: it's not new. The idea that women are empathetic and men are systematic dates back at least to Aristotle, and was a central piece of Enlightenment theories of gender. A large proportion of feminist writing has been devoted to exploring this idea. The basis of Enligtenment sexism can be summarized by the following syllogism:
1) Men are more rational (i.e., systematizing but not empathetic) than women.
2) Rationality is better than other forms of understanding.
3) Therefore men are better than women.
Feminism has taken two tacks at breaking down this logic. Liberal feminism has attacked the first premise, arguing that women can be just as rational as men. Radical feminism has tended to attack the second premise, claiming that empathetic understanding is just as valid (or even more so) than rationality, which they see as a vestige of the Enlightenment. Many radical feminists have proudly affirmed the first premise, arguing for the superiority of women's understanding on that basis. This has led them to be criticized by liberal feminists, who accuse them of essentializing.

E-S theory is simply slapping a new name on a set of ideas that have been around for a long time.


Charles Murtaugh points to an interesting Science article (reprinted on a creationist website) that quotes E.O. Wilson's On Human Nature as follows:
the final decisive edge enjoyed by scientific naturalism will come from its capacity to explain traditional religion, its chief competition, as a wholly material phenomenon. Theology is not likely to survive as an independent intellectual discipline.

On the other hand, creationism (at least of the hard-core kind) is quite able to explain evolution as a wholly spiritual phenomenon. It's the work of the devil, planting misleading evidence and whispering ideas in unfaithful biologists' ears.


This quiz (via Rabi) told me I should speak German. As I went through I noticed a lot of options about alcohol, so I assumed there would be an "Irish" option based on that stereotype. So I tried picking all the alcohol ones to test, and I got ... Finnish. I guess I'm not cut out for that language after all, since I'm not so into the olut ja viini ja votka ja koskenkorva. But I can nitpick the fake Finnish that comes with the result. Finnish words never end with a double consonant.
The cause of the budget defecit: reckless tax cuts? a stagnating economy? a Congress unable to rein in unnecessary spending? or people cheating on their taxes? The growing anti-tax mentality documented in the linked article seems to be a counterweight against the neocon ideology's undermining of the rationale for tax cuts.
Fewest Complaints in Four Decades That Taxes Are "Too High"

A new Gallup Poll, conducted about a week before income tax returns are due, finds Americans are less likely to say that the taxes they pay are too high than they have been at any tax filing season in the past four decades. A substantial majority of Americans also say their taxes are "fair." But fair or not, more than 6 in 10 Americans say upper income people pay too little taxes, and the public estimates that more than a third of Americans cheat on their returns ...

The latest Gallup Poll, conducted April 7-9, finds half of all Americans saying their taxes are too high, about the same as in January, but considerably below the 65% who expressed that view two years ago. The current reading and the January reading constitute the lowest measures of discontent about taxes in 41 years.

The jump in positive feelings about taxes since April 2001 could well be part of the more general pro-government shift in public opinion that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as the public's "rallying around the flag" in the war against Iraq. Some evidence for this interpretation is that in 1949, in the midst of the Berlin Blockade by the Soviet Union, only 43% of Americans -- the lowest number recorded by Gallup in the past half century -- said their taxes were too high, while 53% said they were about right.

This poll points to the contradictoriness of the coalition that forms the modern American right. I'm increasingly convinced that neoconservatism -- the Rumsfeld-Perle-Wolfowitz ideology that America should project its military might around the world to fix other countries -- is better described as a form of radical nationalism than a form of conservatism. It gets its foot in the door because it appeals to the conservative desire for conformity with a particular moral code (though a more liberal moral code than absolutist [religious] conservatives often profess), and hence a desire for enforcement power. But it's compromised by that alliance, because of conservatism's small government platform. Full-blown radical nationalism, a la Fascism, involves faith in the state and a willingness to grant it power. Neocons have had to argue for a cheap war because they can't ask Americans to make sacrifices to support their American Greatness agenda (can you imagine today's Congress passing a tax hike to pay for war?).

Because of these internal conflicts, it becomes harder to translate political capital from one issue to another. The PR victory of the neocons in Iraq, coupled with the post-9/11 national security fears that helped get the neocons traction in the GOP (remember, the official Republican line as recently as the 2000 campaign was withdrawing troops from overseas commitments and quasi-isolationism) creates pro-government feelings. That's great for boosting further neocon programs, such as the Patriot II act and threats against Syria. But it's not so good for the traditional conservative small-government agenda. The impetus for tax cuts has rested on a dislike for government, a feeling that it's inefficient and oppressive and that money would be better off in the hands of the hardworking little guy. The only way that support would transfer between these two ideologies is partisanship -- when support accrues to the organization (the GOP) rather than the ideology. Partisanship is alive and well in America (as evidenced by the persistence of the one-dimensional left-right axis in political discourse), but it has been on the wane of late. The Republicans have been able to hold on better than the Democrats because of party discipline, but I wouldn't be surprised if continuing neocon ascendancy provoked a split with the small-government/social conservative base.


Paige's Values Are America's Values

Today it's called conflict resolution, anger management and school discipline. Not so long ago it was called loving your enemy, turning the other cheek and respecting your elders.

Whatever terms are used to describe them, Christian values -- that is, values that were born of or nurtured by the Christian faith -- form a strong basis for good citizenship in school and beyond. Public schools would do well to teach them. That is the case Paige made in a recent interview that appeared in the Baptist Press. But Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State would like to portray these basic Christian principles -- and anyone who, like Paige, publicly esteems them -- as a menace to society.

So what was the education secretary's great offense? He said, "All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith. Where a child is taught that there is a great source of strength greater than themselves." Note: He did not say "teaching Christian doctrine or theology," only the values associated with the Christian community.

This article, by William J. Bennett, tries to make two contradictory points. In the bit quoted above, his argument is that "Christian values" are not exclusive to Christianity, so Paige wasn't advocating any particular doctrine. Later in the piece, he goes on to make the claim that these values were invented by Christianity, decrying the secularism that is causing people to deny that their moral system is Christian.

The first argument doesn't match what Paige's comments actually say. Paige didn't praise nonviolence and neighborly love that Christians and non-Christians alike practice. He advocated teaching children to have faith in a higher power -- i.e., to believe in God. It seems Bennett really agrees with this interpretation -- though he denies it to make his first point -- as it forms the basis of his second argument. He claims that a shared Christianity is necessary to education, blaming secularism for trying to "eliminate any vestige of religious influence in teaching reliable standards of right and wrong." And he goes on to make the tired claim that since the founders were religious, we should be too.
Party People

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's crowd pleaser of the evening needs to be repeated loudly and often, and especially by him: "I want to tell you why I know we can beat George W. Bush," he said. "Because Al Gore and I did it in 2000."

-- via Howard Dean Blog

That slogan is one of the reasons I hope Lieberman doesn't win. Bitterness about how Gore really won in 2000 is very comforting to those who already believe it, so it will probably play well in the primaries. But I can't see it being a message that reaches out to anyone who doesn't already think of Bush as "the pResident" or complain about how he was "selected" every time his name comes up. ("Remember 2000!" wasn't a particularly effective rallying cry for trying to defeat Jeb last year.) Any candidate who tries to boost himself by rehashing the messiness of 2000 is going to turn off more voters than he turns on.
blueheron (link via Ampersand) on the ideological uses of prehistory:

Using mythic and completely unproven (and unprovable, since nothing remains of paleolithic [or even neolithic] cultures except a few enigmatic artifacts) theories about how humanity used to live and worship is far too common in modern occultism. The problem with any theories created about this time is that they are no more and no less likely than hundreds or thousands of other theories that are often radically different. The preliterate past is lost to us and unless and until someone invents time travel, it will remain forever lost.

However, it is important to note that occultists are far from the only people to create unprovable theories about the distant past. While many archaeologists have more sense, one of the hallmarks of the various sociobiologists who are attempting to prove their theories about human nature is the creation a wide variety of foolish fables about how this or that behavioral trait found in modern Western culture can be traced to some supposedly evolutionarily advantageous (and therefore in their limited thinking obviously genetically determined) behavior first found in our paleolithic ancestors.

...In any sort of debate on culture, magick, or (that most elusive of qualities) human nature stone age is invoked for two purposes – it serves as a useful tabula rasa for an author to create whatever vision of the humanity that best supports their theories and (more importantly) it is used to define what is supposedly natural and therefore innate about humanity. I find this use of prehistory interesting, because it implies something that I have rarely seen explicitly addressed - the existence of a single culture.
Matt Yglesias points to a William Saletan post arguing that, since the war will, on balance, save more lives than not going to war, opposition to the war is based on keeping our hands clean. Matt agrees with this assessment (though not with the categorical suspicion of "clean hands" arguments that Saletan and I for the most part share), pointing out the "Not In Our Name" slogan as a classic example of clean hands rhetoric. I think they're right that there's a fair bit of clean hands thinking in the antiwar movement. That kind of thinking is the essence of idealism -- doing what you think is right, regardless of the consequences.

However, it's important not to caricature the whole antiwar movement as clean hands idealists. There are a fair number of us who disagree with Saletan's cost-benefit analysis about which course of action saves more lives in the long run (an analysis strongly affected by concern over the nature of the regime that will replace Saddam, and chalking up many of the deaths over the last ten years to misapplied sanctions that could be fixed without war).
Don't Bury The Bones

Museums backed by government have sent back vital collections and remains, most of which have been covered in soil. It is estimated that the Smithsonian alone has transferred more than 3,335 sets of human remains. In 1999 the Peabody Museum based at Harvard University returned remains of nearly two thousand individuals to the Pecos and Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico.

The Pecos were at their peak between 1300 and 1600 and ruled over a trade path between the Pueblo farmers of the Rio Grande and tribes of the buffalo plains. The bones have been studied since their discovery in 1915. The collection was the largest available skeletal population from a single community and was large enough to be statistically significant. As a result we have learned about the influence of diet and disease on populations. We know more about osteoporosis, head injuries, and the development of dental cavities. This was brought to an end upon return of the collection when the bones were covered in earth. We can learn nothing further from these bones.

If a large sample of a single community is what you're after, go to any white cemetary. Not only will you have plenty of skeletons, but you'll have the advantage of knowing who they all are. That way you can link the individuals to any medical or historical records that may be available. If nothing else the tombstones will tell you the person's age and give clues to who is related to who.


I think my brain is pretty deeply linguized (languageified?). A few minutes ago I happened to think back to an incident in my Quantitative Methods course last year. We were giving presentations about proposed research topics, and Prof. Elgie had warned us not to use filler words -- "like," "um," "you know," etc. One student was giving his presentation and, after being scrupulous in adherence to the rule, accidentally used one. Realizing what he had done, he shouted "dammit!" and smacked himself loudly in the cheek.

The content of the incident isn't as important as how I remembered it. As I thought back, I realized that I couldn't picture what the student's face looked like (not expression-wise, but features -- like did he have a big nose?). This led me to think more about how well-preserved my image of the scene was, and it occurred to me that the image of the scene is not my primary memory of it. My primary memory is a story of what happened. When I want to imagine the scene, I use that story as a framework and construct an image out of the details in the story and images of the room, people, etc. from other memories. So rather than recalling the scene and re-describing it whenever I tell the story, I recall a description and reconstruct and image from it. The danger is if I then describe any of these reconstructed details that are actually spurious, and by being described they get lodged as permanent parts of the story.

This fits well with an observation I had made earlier, that I remember things best when I can tell myself a story about them. This is especially apparent in dreams -- if I can go over in my head the plot of what happened as soon as I wake up, I can remember much more than if I focus on certain images and scenes.

I wonder whether this is typical of memory functioning, except for those few blessed/cursed with photographic memories. It might explain some of the unreliabilities of eyewitness testimony. An explanation for this phenomenon might be storage capacity -- if the brain is anything like the web, text takes up much less space than an audio or video file (though that doesn't account for the ease with which we recall catchy tunes). That could also have implications for how the emergence of language (symbolic communication) made us human -- altering not only the way we're able to talk to others, but the way we talk to ourselves. Or perhaps certain people's brains are simply more predisposed to certain types of memory.
U.S. Asks Allies To Assist In Rebuilding

Amid civil collapse and mounting chaos in Iraq, the Bush administration moved yesterday to enlist allied support for postwar reconstruction and financing and announced details of meetings of Iraqis that U.S. officials plan to organize inside the country to consider Iraq's future governance.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon had given the State Department a list of urgent needs from other countries, including police officers. Officials said the administration also was seeking doctors and nurses as well as engineers to help rebuild bridges, roads and buildings.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in an interview with Dutch television, asked European countries to contribute peacekeeping forces, a prospect he also raised last week at NATO headquarters. U.S. diplomats have contacted more than 65 nations in recent weeks to ask for assistance and 58 have expressed support, a State Department spokesman said.

I should be cautious about accepting any reports on this issue, since there are so many rumors flying and so many different people with different ideas about how it will be handled. Nevertheless, if this article can be believed, the Pentagon and State Department have a much more realistic attitude toward rebuilding Iraq than some hawkish commentators. A popular line is that, since other countries didn't help with the war, they shouldn't get to help with the reconstruction. The implication in this argument is that rebuilding a country is a prize or bonus, and that getting to rebuild is something that has to be earned through the hard work of war. Other countries shouldn't be able to mooch off our military effort.

For corporations that stand to profit from providing post-war services and goods, there may be some truth to the hawkish commentators' view -- though that's balanced by the fact that it was the US Army and Marines, not Haliburton, who did the work of invading Iraq. But for nations, rebuilding is hard work. Harder than war, particularly war against a weak third-world state. It will cost lots of money and political capital to put Iraq right. It will be tempting for other countries, after having their opinions brushed aside in the decision to go to war, to say "You made this mess, so it's up to you to clean it up." Hopefully they won't. There's little to be gained by refusing to help (and in fact I expect the bigger hurdle to be the US not wanting as much help as the world wants to offer), and much to be gained by a broad cooperative effort. One of the big challenges facing the reconstruction is making sure it doesn't come off as America imposing a government on Iraq, a challenge that can be mitigated by a more multilateral approach.
I noticed today that The Age uses the same layout style as The Sydney Morning Herald. It's a bit unsettling. It makes me feel kind of lost while looking at the site. I've had the same feeling about the many US papers that are on the "Real Cities" network (like the Miami Herald).


Many people are worried that globalization is bringing about a homogenization of culture. They see things like McDonald's in every country as a sign that the great diversity of the world's cultures is being lost. At the same time, however, there seems to be a diversification. I have access to many more cultural options than I would without globalization. This is not just because of having access to the cultures of other places, but also because of the emergence of cultures -- such as the Brunching community -- that would never have reached the critical geographical concentration of people with the right interests and inclinations were it not for globalization. In a sense you could say that there are fewer cultures, but each individual has more choice among the ones that there are. In a crude mathematical analogy, instead of being given no choice about which of the 100 cultures you were part of, you can pick from the same 5 options as everyone else.


Flynn psychoanalyzes pro- and anti-war demonstrations, saying the following about antiwar protesters:
In my mind, I don't see how these actions work other than to make the participants feel better.

He contrasts that with this statement about patriotism at NASCAR races:
they are, I suspect, trying to wrap themselves up in the American mystique of being 'good,' and, more importantly, trying to feel as if they're doing something.

Hmmm ... It seems there's plenty of self-righteousness overshadowing strategy on both sides. Flynn laments the antiwar movement's ability to convince pro-war people (because they contest certain basic assumptions of pro-war people, such as the idea that Saddam is an unavoidable security threat to the US). But I don't think shows of patriotism are terribly convincing to antiwar people -- "Support Our Troops" isn't exactly an argument, and red, white, and blue paraphernalia comes off as jingoism to those not already inclined to agree. This emphasizes the theory that mass demonstrations are about validating the demonstrators' beliefs. To the extent that they influence people, they do it by creating a discursive climate that makes it difficult to take a certain stance. For example, here in the heartland of stereotypical leftist academia, I find it hard sometimes to even hold to the view that now that we're in the war and we've messed up Iraq's infrastructure pretty good, the least bad course of action is to follow through (as opposed to the immediate withdrawal that most Clark geographers feel is the self-evidently best strategy).


In the spirit of Matthew Yglesias's "Shorter Steven Den Beste" feature, I offer a "Shorter War Debate":

||: Dove: You hawks don't realize that people die in wars!
Hawk: You doves don't realize that Saddam kills people! :||


Aborigines Try To Ban The Tale Of The Teddy Bear On Ayers Rock

National park officials say the Uluru [aka Ayers Rock] book, which depicts the bear at the summit of the rock, sends the wrong message to impressionable children. They also claim it contravenes strict laws governing photography at sacred sites. They have warned the Campbells that they face a £20,000 fine unless they pulp a new edition or write a more culturally sensitive version. Brooke Watson, manager of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park, said: "This is a special place, with its traditional indigenous culture alive in it. We are charged with protecting that culture, and if we have to put a plastic bubble over it to preserve it we are prepared to do that."

-- via WitchVox

I find Watson's comment to be a bit hard to believe. Yes, the park does make efforts to protect the native culture. But there's also a chain railing to help people climb it. I would think if they're that committed to preserving the cultural significance of the rock, they would at least take the chain down (thus making it much more difficult to climb the rock) and change the sign at the bottom from "climb at your own risk, and remember the Aborigines don't want you to" to "don't climb."

On the one hand, I would tend to lean toward measures to protect Aboriginal culture. The Pitjantjatjara people do, after all, nominally own the land that the park is on (it was given back to them in 1985, with the stipulation that it would be used as a national park). And emphasising the sanctity of Aboriginal culture at a site as important as Uluru is an important symbolic victory for a culture that has gotten the short end of the stick countless times. On the other hand, total indigenous sovereignty ignores the fact that the rock has attained important cultural significance for non-Aboriginal Australians, as an important symbol of their country. The situation requires some form of accomodation between the cultures. Book banning, however, tends not to make you any friends.
Rabi has a nicely existential post over on wockerjabby. The interesting bit for me is the first paragraph:
I've been having trouble with reality lately, even more than usual. there's always a seedling of doubt burrowed in the back of my consciousness that tells me that nothing beyond my reach exists at all, that it's all a great spherical projection or hallucination or mirage, and if I were to shake my head too hard or trick the world into thinking my eyes were closed, everything beyond the stretch of my fingertips would disappear into static.

In a sense, her suspicion is right. The world out there is just a jumble of stuff. It becomes meaningful -- resolves into objects and forces and so forth -- because we interact with it, either by sensing it or thinking about it or acting on it. The world can't interpret itself.


A few weeks ago I read an article (I don't recall where or who the author was) about the Sokal Hoax. Some years ago physicist Alan Sokal submitted an article to the postmodern journal Social Text arguing that gravity is a social construct. After the article was published, Sokal revealed that it was a hoax -- he didn't believe what he had said, and the "argument" was just a jumble of postmodern jargon. This hoax proved quite embarrassing to the editors of Social Text, and is often referred to as an expose of postmodernism, revealing that it has no standards of intellectual rigor because nobody saw that Sokal's article was entirely BS. While I have certain sympathies with postmodernism, I'll admit to a desire to perform a similar hoax when reading some of the more infuriatingly relativist authors.

The author of the article I read was critical of Sokal for surrendering his scientific standards by using a trick to "disprove" postmodernism. The author is correct to point out that the hoax proves nothing when judged by the rules of objective positivist science that Sokal champions. His conclusion was that the hoax was an instance of stooping to his enemies' level in order to score PR points. But I think there is a sense in which Sokal's hoax was on the right track. The issue here is the framing of a discourse. Every school of thought operates in a certain frame (roughly the same as a paradigm for Kuhn or an episteme for Foucault) that sets out what the rules for making valid statements are. This frame allows members of the school to critique each other and evaluate competing theories. Philosophical disagreements -- such as the positivism versus postmodernism issue -- are often quite intractable because the combatants share no overarching frame that would help them adjudicate between their arguments. In most cases, a person uses the rules of her own frame to construct an argument demolishing other frames (for example, by showing that postmodernism violates the rules of scientific reason). But these sorts of arguments don't do much to convince the holders of other frames. It's as if the person is speaking a different language. What Sokal attempted to do is to construct an argument against postmodernism using postmodernism's own rules -- particularly its love of word play and irony as discursive strategies. (Postmodernism, incidentally, began as an attempt to create a critique-from-within of the modernist frame.) To avoid criticisms that he doesn't understand the postmodern frame, Sokal enacted his hoax through a peer-reviewed journal, on the assumption that any article that was not valid by postmodernist standards would be rejected (though this argument is complicated by the fact that it was not just Sokal's article, but the whole hoax apparatus -- not all of which was peer reviewed -- that constitutes his critique of postmodernism).

Without knowing more about the hoax, I can't say whether Sokal was successful in disproving postmodernism on its own terms. But I think it's too narrow a view to say that he gave up his scientific rigor in the process of criticising people for having no scientific rigor. Rather, he became frustrated with arguing against postmodernists on positvist terms and decided to take the argument to the enemy's turf.
Dean over at Dean's World posts that the newly discovered cannibal dinosaur isn't really all that unexpected a thing, since lots of creatures eat their own, but it does make it easy for the media to write sensational "Cannibal Dinosaurs!" headlines. The headline for the story in the Sydney Morning Herald -- In twilight of dinosaurs, some turned their jaws on own kind -- goes even further, implying that dinosaur cannibalism was some sort of desperate or degenerate act carried out as world dominance slipped from dinosaurs' grasp. The SMH article does, however, go on to talk about cannibalism in other animals and how dinosaurs compare on that front.

On a related note, if the asteroid impact theory is correct (I can't say for certain, as I gather there has been a lot of research done on the issue in the years since I was obsessed with dinosaurs), there was no "twilight of the dinosaurs." "Twilight" implies a waning, a preparation for the end. But being killed off by a rock from outer space gives no twilight. The end of the dinosaurs is not the extension of their developmental trajectory, but an exogenous disturbance.


Here's an Afghan proverb that I like: "Some people use a glass for water, some for milk, and others use it for wine -- so should we break all the glasses, or only punish the one who drank wine in it?" The problem is that it doesn't work so well in a culture that doesn't consider drinking alcohol a sin.

The expression was quoted as a defense of cable TV, which has been banned by the Afghan Supreme Court because Indian programs featuring scantily-clad women.
My commentary and cartoons for the week are up.
John Quiggin points to a post by Stephen Kirchner in which Kirchner alleges that Quiggin wouldn't be so upset about the projected US budget defecits if the president causing them were a Democrat. This sort of thing -- "you wouldn't say that if it were the other party proposing it" -- is one of my least favorite rhetorical strategies. It takes the focus away from the actual issue, and it's usually nearly impossible to prove one way or the other. There are, however, two situations in which this type of argument is valid: 1) the person's argument is explicitly based on their feelings for the person proposing the policy ("I support the war because I trust President Bush to do the right thing") or 2) you can cite an actual example of the person taking a different stance in a similar situation under a different administration ("You supported Clinton's attack on Serbia, which is no different from the situation with Iraq"). Note that in number 2 the person may validly counter by saying either that there is some important difference between the two situations, or that they were mistaken in the earlier situation.
(I seem to blog in waves -- several posts one day, then a couple days with nothing. Anyway, here's part 3 of the current wave.)
On Rewarding Friends

Latvia was one of the Soviet "captive nations," ultimately freed by the U.S. victory in the cold war. Recently, as some of us had long urged, Latvia gained greater security when the U.S. lobbied for the Baltic nations to be brought under NATO's umbrella, despite Russian disapproval.

Under President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Latvia has been an outspoken U.S. ally in the campaign to liberate Iraq. But polls show a possible switch: Latvians, swept up in a wave of European pacifism, may send Americans a message by turning her out of office in June. Democracy gives Latvians the freedom to ride that anti-U.S. wave — but should the Russian bear growl, Americans would be free to remember that message.

I think it's important to remember that there are limits to gratitude. If you do a favor for someone without any prior agreement about recompense, you have no moral claim to your choice of payback. In particular, one cannot demand that someone else perform an immoral act (or, I would argue somewhat less definitively, an act that offends their morality even if you don't share it) as a return favor. Thus, even if I save your life, I can't expect you to kill an innocent person for me (and for my parenthetical addition, if I save an Orthodox Jew's life I can't ask him to repay me by eating pork). If supporting the US war were simply an unwanted burden -- Latvia just chafes at spending the money to send a few troops, or expending the political capital to stand by our side at the UN -- Safire's gratitude case would carry weight. But if the action requested is considered immoral (as I imagine most of the antiwar public thinks), then Latvia is within its rights to refuse that particular show of gratitude.

Such are the perils of doing a favor (or, in the Latvia case, a self-interested action with incidental consequences that are beneficial to another) without agreeing in advance on a repayment.
Indians Who Sought Billions Owed $60.94, Report Finds

Four Native Americans went to court in 1996 to demand that the government pay them and many others like them billions of dollars in royalties from a trust fund established in 1887 to manage mineral and timber development on lands apportioned to individual Indians.
Now a $20-million study ordered by the government has produced a different accounting of the shortfall in the government's payments, at least to the four named plaintiffs and their predecessors. Its finding: $60.94.

This is an interesting development. I'm a bit skeptical, given the inherent inefficiencies of bureaucracy, the nation's not-quite-stellar history of dealings with Native Americans, and the fact that the BIA's profile is fairly low (so it's subject to less pressure by people with real power to make sure it's doing things right). And it's not as if a number of inaccuracies over the years have averaged out to $60.94. The study found one single instance of mistaken accounting, amounting to $60.94. On the other hand, I don't have much beyond my suspicions to go on, since I haven't seen the report. Either way, the study is certainly a huge victory for the government. Unless there's some embarrassing expose of flawed methodology in the study, the plaintffs' case has become far more difficult,

It's also interesting that, based on Yahoo! News's archive, the LA Times was the only major news outlet to cover this story (there isn't even an AP wire about it).
In his latest post, presidential-candidate-with-a-blog Gary Hart offers a popular criticism of the desire to democratize Iraq:
But serious foreign policy thinkers have pointed out that "democracy" is not necessarily liberality. What if, for example, the first "free" Iraqi elections produce President Mullah Omar? Do we then overthrow a democratically elected theocracy? Has Dick Cheney thought this far ahead?

The remainder of Hart's post suggests he hasn't come up with a great answer either. His feeling seems to be that he wants to avoid getting in the situation of installing a democracy that becomes anti-American. I can sympathize with that sentiment. Nevertheless, by the time Hart would be in the White House he may be forced to make such a choice. Dick Cheney has another two years to make the US responsible for an anti-American democracy, and then it will be up to Hart (if he wins) to decide what to do about it.

This is an instance of a problem that the Democratic candidates are all going to have to deal with. It's all well and good to criticize Bush for how he ought to have handled the war. But come 2004, we'll be occupying Iraq, and whoever wins the election will have to make the most of the situation we're in.

My solution? It's hard to say without a specific case before me, but I think the general guiding principle can be taken from the philosophy behind the Bill of Rights. The presumption of legitimacy must rest on democracy, even when democracy produces results we don't like. A functional liberal order is built on a respect for the process over the results -- so, for example, dissatisfied Democrats didn't start riots when they lost the midterm Congressional election. This is necessary both for the fostering of real Iraqi civil society, and for redeeming the US's claim to the moral highground in international politics. But there must be established certain bedrock principles -- things like freedom of speech and ethnic and gender equality before the law -- that are so fundamental to the liberal order that they cannot be democratically overturned. Electing an Iraqi Mullah Omar would be a case of going too far, using the democratic process against the principles that make democracy legitimate.


Kevin Drum has had a series of posts about not wanting to be associated with the extremism of the left. The consensus among Drum and those who have responded to him seems to be that, while the extremists of the right are more numerous and more powerful (they run the GOP in a way the Democrats' left wing can only dream of), moderate liberals get tarred with the sins of their neighbors to the left. (This may in fact be a result of the power of the right's extremists, who have the media apparatus to suggest that John Kerry and Joe Lieberman are only a step away from participating in the latest "vomit-in" or spiking some timber.) Drum's solution is for Democrats to repudiate the left wing and set themselves up as the representatives of the middle.

It seems to me that the Green Party could have a role in making this happen. Many people look at the Greens as a way of forcing the Democrats to listen to their left wing by threatening those votes -- exactly the opposite of the Clinton-DLC moderation Drum wants. But it's possible that a strong Green Party could help the Democrats slide to the center. The Dems would give up on the far left as a lost cause, and cease to pander to it. Meanwhile, it would make it easier to deflect accusations of extremism -- it's hard to call moderate liberals "communists" when there's an honest-to-goodness socialist party with national political clout. This disassociation with accusations of leftism would, I think, help to encourage moderate Republicans to jump ship, particularly those with a libertarian bent (assuming the reformed Democrats take up Dean-esque fiscal conservatism and Clintonian free trade).

The result would be a hard-left Green Party, a hard-right Republican Party, and a thoroughly centrist Democratic Party. This three-way split would probably necessitate using a sort of governing-coalition model in Congress (similar to the situation in most parliaments), in which the Democrats would ally with one of the wing parties to get the majority. This would provide the added benefit of ensuring project-continuity and moderation (because the Democrats would always be part of the leadership) while allowing voters to shake things up by shifting power alternately toward the Greens or Republicans.