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Today's Quechua lesson:

Wasiikitataq lloqlla aparunman.
It seems that the flood is going to wash away your home.


I just ran accross the most succinct refutation of Jack Chick that I've ever seen. First recall that Chick's modus operandi is to make people fear eternal damnation if they don't accept Jesus. Then turn to 1 John chapter 4 verse 18:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

One could say that the point is that, once you accept Jesus, you no longer have to fear hell. But I wonder how real love can be if it's born and maintained out of fear.

The whole chapter (which I saw in a non-Chick context on Notes of a Left-Wing Cub Scout) is nice. This also supports my interpretation that Jesus' message was basically "stop worrying about the afterlife."
Theme Park Investigates Mysteries Of The World

Best-selling author Erich von Däniken has opened a theme park in Interlaken, enabling mere mortals to have close encounters with his fantastic theories.

Housed in replica pyramids, Indian temples and golden planets, “Mysteries of the World” showcases past cultures and their possible contact with extraterrestrials.

Von Däniken’s books, including “Chariots of the Gods”, argue that knowledge gained through contact with aliens enabled the ancient Egyptians, for example, to construct their giant pyramids.

However, the author told swissinfo: “This is not a UFO park.”

-- via Ghost of a Flea

No comment necessary.


Since Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom came out, there's been renewed talk about the pitfalls of democracy. Specifically, the problem of concern is that democracy and liberalism (in the broad sense) don't always go together. The obvious cases are the election of Hitler and the feared Islamist victory in a democratizing Middle Eastern nation.

I haven't read Zakaria's book (though I'd like to, as I enjoy his columns), but the general idea seems rather obvious, and applicable in some degree to any political system. The issue at hand is that liberalism is an end, whereas democracy is a means. Liberalism is a way of organizing society, whereas democracy is a way of making decisions about how to organize society (the distinction is a bit fuzzy because democratic institutions like voter registration and electoral districts are ends required to be able to exercise democratic means). No means guarantees a certain end, though it can make some more or less likely.

Thus, if you focus on the means, you may find them producing ends you don't like (as I mentioned before). And conversely, if you focus strictly on the ends (narrowly defined, as participation in a certain type of decisionmaking process can be as important an outcome as the decision reached), you could wind up using some pretty unsavory means if others fail to produce the right ends. Which is why liberal democracy is such a balancing act (as is, say, a dictatorial theocracy -- you have to make sure the despot makes doctrinally correct decisions while retaining power).
School Censors Senior's Graduation Song; Court Case Ensues

A graduating senior's plan to sing a religious song at commencement ceremonies for her public high school has stirred a court fight over the separation of church and state.

Rachel Honer was told by administrators at Winneconne High School that she would have to use the words ``He,'' ``Him'' and ``His'' in place of three mentions of God in the lyrics.

-- via WitchVox

On the question of constitutionality I tend to side with Honer (because the song is something she's doing on her own individual initiative), though on the question of what would be the best course of action I lean toward the school. But the real reason I'm posting this is because it's so different from the kind of thing that would happen at my (public) high school. The chorus and band unabashedly perform hymns in the Christmas concert, with nobody thinking twice about it.


Hunting Helps Expand U.K. Wildlands, Study Says

In a study published this week in the science journal Nature, scientists from the University of Kent in southeast England say farmers who hunt and shoot can help restore Britain's lost wildlife.

Government agencies have already been trying to encourage environmentally sustainable farming practices through habitat improvement grants. So far, however, success has been limited, according to the University of Kent's professor of biodiversity management, Nigel Leader-Williams.

... "According to our research, it's people involved with country sports who take up these subsidy schemes," Leader-Williams explained. "They plant new woodland because they want foxes and pheasants to live in it."

Hunters are an interesting bit of the environmentalist picture. They do a lot for the environment, as the story quoted above is not the first time I've heard that type of result. But there's an uneasy relationship with the rest of the environmental movement. The conflict with the animal rights movement should be obvious. Hunters tend to favor private, local control, in contrast to the focus of much of the environmental discourse on global governmental actions like the Kyoto Protocol (though there's an interesting, and underexploited, parallel with indigenous sovereignty movements). Perhaps because hunting is a traditional masculine activity, hunters tend to be conservative, in contrast to the leftist leanings of the environmental movement's leadership. Most interestingly (to me. at least) is the way hunter-conservationists show the virtues of practical involvement with the environment as a way to foster stewardship. This contrasts with the "wilderness" ideology (which, I hasten to add, is hardly the consensus of non-hunter environmentalists, though it is a widely-held view) that sees human involvement with nature as inherently degrading.
(follow-up to the previous post)

There are plenty of examples of the Mr. Jordan strategy in politics. The trade sanctions on Cuba and Iraq were in part justified by Mr. Jordan -- if we hurt the people enough, they'll rise up against their dictator. "Divest from Israel" campaigns at colleges are a sort of double-Mr. Jordan -- the activists pressure the school to withdraw its investments in certain companies, which in turn pressures those companies to cease operations in Israel, thus pressuring Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank. Note that a characterization of "Mr. Jordan" does not apply when the immediate target is a body with a clear responsibility to the activist group. So, for example, for Americans to pressure the US government to pressure Ariel Sharon would not constitute a Mr. Jordan because the US government is supposed to represent and be the agent of Americans' wishes regarding Middle East policy.

By giving it a goofy name, I've probably tipped you off to the fact that I'm skeptical of the Mr. Jordan strategy, though the justice of it varies (the software company is more complicit in HLS's doings than the Iraqi people are in the Hussein regime), as does the potential effectiveness. The Mr. Jordan strategy also seems like it wouldn't be very effective in general, as it seems more likely to provoke a backlash against the instigators than to result in passing along the pressure to the real target. To be justified, a Mr. Jordan strategy would have to be used when the need to pressure the real target is very high, direct pressure on the real target is practically impossible, and the passing on of the pressure is likely.
Eco-Activists Taking On Company Workers

At 3 a.m. one recent morning, animal rights activists enraged by a company that tests products on animals gathered outside the home of an executive.

... "We'll be back," the group, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, later warned the executive on its Web site. "We know where you live, we know where you work, and we'll make your life hell until you pull out of HLS."

What made the noisy protest unusual was that its target wasn't an executive with Huntingdon Life Sciences: It was a manager of a Los Angeles company that just sells software to Huntingdon.

... On Sunday, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty announced it would begin a week of similar demonstrations nationwide outside homes of people with often tenuous ties to animal research. The group says such tactics have "broken new ground in the struggle for animal liberation."

I think of this tactic -- pressuring a target by proxy -- as the "Mr. Jordan strategy." Mr. Jordan was my 6th grade math teacher. When someone in the class didn't do his homework, Mr. Jordan would assign extra homework to the entire class. This was no punishment for the offender, because he would just skip the new assignment as well. Mr. Jordan's explanation was that if the good kids in the class didn't want to get extra homework, we'd go after the offender and make him start doing his work. The assumption was that his peers would have more influence than his teacher.


(Part 2: my response)

A charitable reading of this article would be that it's a restatement of the old saying "the perfect is the enemy of the good." So something must be done about the forces of perfection, so that their second-guessing doesn't undermine the good. What that something is is never revealed, suggesting that it's something most readers wouldn't like to hear -- perhaps a revival of the Sedition Act, or maybe just a repeat of the public scorn that brought down the Dixie Chicks. I'll be charitable and assume Naim was short on space, but it comes off sounding like a sort of veiled threat that could be averted if the lite anti-Americans get the message.

The problem with this article is that it places the blame on the lite anti-Americans. American policy is taken as given, so the question is whether the public will make the most of it by supporting it, or undermine it by criticizing it. But the lite anti-American position is based on the idea that American policy is not a given. It could get worse -- slipping away from that on-the-balance-good status -- if it isn't constantly urged to be better. And that it could feasibly be better than it is.

Naim grants the assumption that both pro-Americans and lite anti-Americans ultimately share the same ideals and differ only in their degree of idealism/pragmatism. So here's a way that America could defuse the threat of lite anti-Americanism: live up to those ideals. Instead of telling people to stop complaining, stop giving them something to complain about.

Of course, it's also possible that I'm interpreting his category of "lite anti-American" too broadly. The only concrete clue he gives for identifying what level of dissent constitutes anti-Americanism is a reference to a French book about how Republicans staged September 11 as part of some evil plot. While the book's sales were high, I suspect that a large proportion of people who bought it were motivated more by fascination with weird theories and curiosity due to the book's hype than by inclination to actually believe it.
(Part 1: the article)
The Perils Of Lite Anti-Americanism

There is murderous anti-Americanism, and then there is anti-Americanism lite. The first is the anti-Americanism of fanatical terrorists who hate the United States—its power, its values, and its policies—and are willing to kill and to die in order to hurt the United States and its citizens. The second is the anti-Americanism of those in the United States and abroad who take to the streets and the media to rant against the country but do not seek its destruction.

Both lite anti-Americans and U.S. policymakers share the illusion that anti-Americanism that falls short of terrorism carries few concrete costs. Lite anti-Americans will tell you that they love the United States but despise its policies and that criticizing its government is indeed healthy.

... Those who partake and spread lite anti-Americanism, even while sharing the principles and values the United States stands for, undermine the country’s ability to defend such principles abroad. After all, international influence requires power, but it also depends on legitimacy. Such legitimacy flows from the acceptance of others who not only allow but even welcome the use of that influence. Maybe U.S. legitimacy abroad was undermined by Bush’s threats to act alone in Iraq and to impose the will of his administration on others. But such actions were interpreted by much of the world through the lens of deep suspicions about the United States that predate Bush’s presidency. Ultimately, the automatic rejection by lite anti-Americans of U.S. international actions may be as bad for the world as giving the superpower a blank check to exert its power without the constraints imposed by the international community.
Fading Species And Dying Tongues: When The Two Part Ways

So if the study of languages is a scientific enterprise, the effort to preserve them is not. It is a political question: which voices represent the communities whose languages are fading?

Hearing how his ancestors were punished for speaking their own language at school, a young speaker might be persuaded by an elder to learn the ancestral tongue. That is a reason to preserve that language in the archives. Suppose, though, that the tales of days long gone do not resonate with this hypothetical child. Is it science's job to help the elder preserve his sense of importance at the expense of the younger?

Language bullies who try to shame a child into learning his grandfather's language are not morally different from the language bullies who tried to shame the grandfather into learning English. The elucidation of language in all its complexity is an enthralling scientific enterprise. But "saving endangered languages" is not a part of it.

This is an important issue. There is no shortage of instances in which language loss is the result of clear injustices, such as Turkey's ban on teaching and broadcasting in Kurdish and assimilationist boarding schools for Native American and Aboriginal Australian children. But most language loss seems to come as a result of less clear-cut forces. Some languages lose their usefulness -- if you need to use Spanish to conduct business and deal with the government, why bother retaining Quechua? Some also get labeled "old-fashioned" or "rural" in contrast to progressive urban tongues.

Languages tend to disappear because they lose their critical mass of functionality (both utilitarian functionality, in terms of who it allows you to communicate with, and prestige functionality, in terms of what it says about you that you can speak a certain language, and the joy of knowing a language). People are lazy, and beyond a small population of language geeks most people will not retain an unneccessary language.

It seems that language loss is in part due to an individual-vs-the system dynamic, meaning that we can't assume a dying tongue has simply lost out fair and square in the marketplace of languages. When confronted with the larger society that speaks a different language, individual speakers of a minority language will tend to lose out. Forcibly altering the larger system -- for example, through government bilingualism or subsidies to minority-language publications and broadcasts -- can help a little. On one hand, there's something uncomfortable about this approach. It resembles subsidizing producers of Betamax videos so that they aren't driven out of business by VHS. But of course few people's identity and sense of self-worth is tied up in watching Beta videos, whereas that is true of language. It seems that the real way for a language to remain viable is community cooperation among people with a shared interest in preserving the language, creating a sort of local home for the language. That's what we see in the revival of Native American languages. The problem is that -- in part due to a history of clearly unjust language loss -- minority language communities are disempowered, lacking the social, economic, and political resources to establish a viable language community. And outside aid can easily fall into a top-down language preservation approach like that criticized in the article I quoted.
"New Democrats" Fraudulent Phonies

Secondly, new Democrats generally support gay rights, abortion rights, gun control and military interventions. A lot of old Democrats are pro-family, antiabortion, pro-gun, and believe we should pay attention to our problems here at home.

... Most Republicans are honest conservatives; most Democrats are honest progressives. Most ''new Democrats'' are fraudulent phonies.

We usually think of the New Democrats as the right wing of the party (hence centrists overall), a group that gave up the old left's socialist-sounding goals (especially on economic issues) to appeal to the center of the electorate. So they take a lot of flak from the left wing of the party. This is the first I've heard them attacked by a Democrat for being too far to the left (granted, the paragraph before the one I quoted criticized them for being too far to the right on trade). I think this writer (Mark Calafati) represents an important faction of the Democratic party that's often lost between characterizing the Old Democrats as Wellstone-esque progressives and attacking the social conservatives of the right.

This letter also highlights the problems of characterizing political parties according to whether they favor change or not (the progressive-conservative axis). Calafati implicitly describes himself as a progressive. Yet his opinions on social issues -- pro-gun, pro-life, pro-family -- are clear markers of social conservatism today, a far cry from the agenda of the modern left wing. The overall platform that he advocates sounds much like that proposed by the progressive faction in the early part of the 20th century and largely enacted in the New Deal. The name became simply a label for a package of policy ideals, rather than a description.


UFO theories are more than just alternative descriptions of how the world is. They often come with ethical guidelines, explaining how we ought to relate to aliens. For example, ZetaTalk makes much of the distinction between "Service-to-Others," the philosophy of the Zeta race that has come to help us survive the passage of Planet X, and "Service-to-Self," the philosophy of other aliens who have won over the world's leaders. The Luciferian Liberation Front, on the other hand, draws on Ayn Rand's Objectivsm to come to the opposite conclusion -- don't trust aliens who advocate altruism. And Alien Resistance claims that aliens are agents of Satan (and that aliens are actually angels or other divinities -- a reversal of the von Däniken/Sitchin thesis that angels and other divinities are actually aliens).

There are a few things screwed up in this template. I'd fix them, but Blogger won't let me edit my template anymore. Grrrr ... I'd put Blogger in the Kiosk, if I could change the Kiosk.


New Evidence Suggests Ideas About Early Farmers May Miss the Mark

An abundance of charred corncobs and kernels indicate that corn was the agricultural mainstay here. Based on this find, Mr. Simms and his colleagues at Utah State Univeristy in Logan believe that the Anasazi maintained several small farmsteads and moved among them, to increase the tribe's chances of survival in the parched desert. "What they have is a series of these little houses and depending on where their corn is producing, those are the ones they will live in," he says. "They're moving people to the production. That is very different from the way our culture does it. We load things into trucks, trains, and we move the production to the people."

Anthropologists have known for years that the Ansazi thrived as farmers in this fragile desert ecosystem. They've wondered how. Archeologist and crew member Buck Benson says this site strengthens the now-accepted theory that the Anasazi were farmers who did not simply settle down. "They have to be able to pick up and move when either the arable land is used up beyond growing capability or, if situations change like climate, or other factors like another group moving in and there is possible confrontation. The Anasazi were able to leave the area, let it regenerate itself and then come back," he says.

I've known about inter-year mobility on the part of small-scale farmers before -- it's the essence of the swidden (slash-and-burn) system. But this is the first I've heard of intra-year mobility. This combines interestingly with an offline mention I came across today of southwestern Native Americans using temporal spreading out of agriculture -- planting an early crop, a mid-summer one, and a late crop -- to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket. It's undoubtedly a lot of work, and a far cry from the agriculture-enabled leisure concept that we used to have. But it's also an intelligent way to survive in an environment that has incredible and unpredictable variation in rainfall from place to place and month to month. And it also reminds me that the more I learn, the fuzzier the boundary between hunter-gatherer and farming lifestyles becomes.
A while back Tacitus praised Ecclesiastes, which also happens to be my favorite book of the Bible. So when I ran across the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (via a link on index to common creationist claims, which I found via Morat), I figured I'd see what kind of a fisking they gave Ecclesiastes.

The SAB throws out any pretense at being a more objective, accurate version and instead proclaims itself an anti-Christian text set up to counterbalance the wealth of pro-Christian Bibles out there. The editors have tried their hardest to find something wrong with every verse they could. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the SAB more or less approves of Ecclesiastes. Many verses were given the "thumbs up" symbol, which marks the few passages the editors say are actually worthwhile -- the sum total of which they say could fit into a small brochure. The few negatives they find are contradictions, most of which are minor or stretched.

So, Ecclesiastes: approved by atheists and fundamentalists alike.
Explorer On Initiative To Document Cultures On The Edge

The ultimate tragedy is not that archaic societies are disappearing but rather that vibrant, dynamic, living cultures and languages are being forced out of existence. At risk is a vast archive of knowledge and expertise, a catalogue of the imagination, an oral and written literature composed of the memories of countless elders and healers, warriors, farmers, fishermen, midwives, poets and saints. In short, the artistic, intellectual, and spiritual expression of the full complexity and diversity of the human experience. Every view of the world that fades away, every culture that disappears, diminishes a possibility of life and reduces the human repertoire of adaptive responses to the common problems that confront us all. Knowledge is lost, not only of the natural world but of realms of the spirit, intuitions about the meaning of the cosmos, insights into the very nature of existence.

Our goal at the National Geographic Cultures Initiative is to focus global attention on the plight of the ethnosphere. To do so, we will be launching a series of journeys that will take our readers and viewers to places where the cultural beliefs, practices, and adaptations are so inherently wondrous that one cannot help but come away dazzled by the full range of the human imagination.

I hope that the National Geographic Cultures Initiative is more scientifically astute in its execution, and that Wade Davis's introduction to it is just dressed up in this kind of language for public appeal. The attitude he describes is reminiscent of late 19th century white attitudes toward Native Americans. Though official policy remained extermination or assimilation, that era saw an upwelling of nostalgia for the fading Native peoples. Early anthropologists went out to document dying cultures, ways of life inevitably giving way to modernity but whose passing should be lamented. Yet today we see a revival of Native culture among many tribes, a desire to fight for and affirm their identity rather than being pitied. Davis's description takes on the earlier nostalgic mantle, evoking a mystical sense of cultural diversity. He gives no hint of what type of socio-cultural-political struggles are involved in the demise of the cultures he's interested in (a complete dodge of the question of blame), leaving the impression that they're simply fading away for mysterious reasons. With no sense of causality or struggle, Davis can't offer any possibility of change, of adaptation to modernity and fighting cultural loss. The best he can do is document these cultures before they disappear, so that we in the educated West can appreciate what elders have failed to hand down to their children.


Morat points to a nice Slacktivist post that elaborates the title of Chris Hedges' book War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. He describes how knee-jerk support for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was an attempt to find meaning in our otherwise banal turn-of-the-century lives, to make this what a letter to Josh Marshall called "the most critical time in the history of the modern world."

But I think the post is made unnecessarily narrow by Slacktivist's use of the concept to bash hawks. In addition to the knee-jerkers, I think the war gives meaning to many who have well-thought-out reasons for supporting the war, adding an emotional level to the intellectual. More importantly, he misses that the war gave meaning to many opponents. War draggged many people out of their apolitical postmodern malaise and into a political program charged with emotion -- horror at the deaths that would come, fear of the specter of an American Empire, excitement at identifying with the popular revolution trying to stop it. It reawakened that sense of righteous protest that we associated with the 60s. What better proof that we're in "the most critical time in the history of the modern world" than the carrying out of an unprecedented preemptive attack, the stirrings of fascism in the Patriot Act, and the near-demise of international institutions like the UN? And that goes as much for the knee-jerk "Bush sucks" crowd as for the most well-informed and reasonable dove.
Brunching may be dead, but it seems Kieran Healy has temporarily stepped into the breach. In the spirit of "Porn Star or My Little Pony?" and "Italian Sports Car or Impotence Drug?", he asks:
Nineteenth Century Feminist or Large Comfortable Hotel?


The obvious interpretation for skeptics of Bush's Healthy Forests plan (discussed in the previous post) is that he's using the threat of wildfires as an excuse to give a bonus to logging companies, allowing them to get around environmental regulations that protect our forests. Then I ran across this interesting bit of information, via Earth Blog:

Probe: Most Forest Projects Not Delayed

Few projects to reduce wildfire threats were long delayed because of environmental challenges, congressional auditors say. The conclusion runs counter to the case the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress have made for scaling back studies and appeals.

The General Accounting Office (news - web sites) found that three-fourths of the 762 Forest Service projects to cut wildfire risk in the past two years went ahead without any challenge. That allowed treatment such as logging or controlled burning on 3.8 million acres of national forests.

Projects that were challenged by environmental groups or other parties generally move ahead within 90 days, according to the report by the investigative arm of Congress.

So the problem that Bush is trying to solve for logging companies doesn't really exist. The rules he wants to weaken don't pose much of a barrier to logging (and hence the bill won't have much impact on the health of our forests, either). But if nobody gains much from the plan, why is he pushing it? My suspicion is that this is -- like ANWR drilling, which is only a tiny drop in the bucket for oil companies because of the size of the reserves and the expense of extracting them -- a symbolic victory. It goes over well with those small-government and pro-business voters who think environmental regulation has gone too far but don't know enough about the particular situation of the logging industry (which certainly isn't going to be complaining about the change) to realize how little the bill actually accomplishes. And it gives Congress momentum in the direction of rolling back environmental regulations.
Bush Pushes Forest Bill, Green Groups Balk

The Bush administration on Tuesday rallied behind a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives [passed later in the day] that aims to reduce the risk of wildfires in U.S. forests, but green groups said the proposal promoted logging at the expense of environmental protection.

Introduced by Rep. Scott McInnis, a Colorado Republican, the bill would ease procedural requirements needed to remove underbrush and trees on 20 million acres of U.S. forest land susceptible to wildfires. In 2002 more than 7 million acres of forest were burned.

... "One reason for these deadly fires is found in decades of well-intentioned, but misguided, forest policy which has allowed dangerous undergrowth to build up on the forest floor," Bush told reporters at the White House.

Bush has the right diagnosis. Fire suppression is not a sustainable practice, and the longer we adhere to it the more disastrous will be the fires that slip through and the greater will be the ecological damage. Opponents of the Healthy Forests bill need to acknowledge that point so that the debate can center on the real issue: whether Bush's prescription is appropriate to the problem. I'll grant that the long history of fire suppression, and the attendant buildup of fuels, require some sort of "unnatural" intervention in the short term to reach a point where stopping fire suppression is no longer disastrous, and may be required for some areas (those immediately surrounding towns, for example), where even controlled (preemptive) burns are too much of a risk to people and property, in the long term. But for most areas in the long term, switching from fire suppression to brush clearance is not the healthiest path for forests. Fires do more than simply remove dead wood. The heat is necessary for the reproductive cycles of many plants in fire-prone areas. And ash recycles important nutrients. I also wonder about the long-term prospects of a system that would require loggers to remove small trees, debris, and brush, which are the most significant fuels but are economically useless.
I'm really on an environment-blogging kick recently. That's a semi-conscious decision, as I've decided that blogtopia hardly needs another mediocre center-left politics blog. So I'm going to focus a bit more on some of the issues I have a bit more expertise in -- particularly the environment and archaeology. Which is not to say I won't still post about general political issues if I feel like I have something especially interesting to say, or about philosophy or religion, or random weird stuff (I've got a post in the works about UFOs). As always, my mission statement remains very loose.

I seem to make these changes around the time I change templates. Last summer I shifted (somewhat unintentionally) from a mostly personal blog to a mostly political one at about the time I introduced the blue template.
Posting like crazy this morning. Languagehat points out this article:

Rebirth Of Dialects Mirrors New Regionalism

France spent much of the 20th century trying to eliminate the minority languages that were spoken by half its population 100 years ago. But now, France is experiencing a renaissance of interest in its regions and their languages, foods and customs. Not just Breton, but also Alsatian, Basque, Catalan, Corsican, Flemish and Provençal.

... Many observers attribute this change, paradoxically enough, to the European Union, which has all but eliminated national borders in its ever-expanding drive to create a single political entity. While the EU is a homogenizing force, putting Heineken in every café and the euro in every wallet, its universal identity seems to have taken the pressure off countries to impose their culture and language on all their people.Here in Brittany, there is a sense of a culture coming alive after decades in the dark. In the towns along the craggy Breton coast, many buildings fly the Gwenn ha Du, a Breton nationalist flag. The stores sell Breizh-Cola -- a Breton-language copy of Coca-Cola.

... Under the shadow of the EU, highly centralized nations such as France and Germany have begun to cede real power to regions such as Brittany, in much the same way that decentralized powers such as the United Kingdom have given legislative independence to their regions. In March, the two houses of the French Parliament passed a constitutional amendment that describes the French state as "decentralized" -- a seismic shift in France, where Parisian authority has always been taken for granted.The French seem to have discovered what other European nations have come to realize: that regional independence can actually strengthen national identity, and effectively defuse potential separatist tensions.

The first parallel that came to my mind is the revival of Native American languages in the US (which I've blogged about before, but I'm too lazy to find the link). There hasn't been a decentralization in this country in the way that the article describes for Britain, Germany, and France, but Native tribes have been gaining more power than they held previously. The idea of the EU leading to increased regional identity also parallels predictions made by many postmodern theorists, who claim that the coming era will see a shift in power away from the nation-state -- both upward to international and global institutions as well as downward to local organizations and groups.
Grist magazine has a good interview with Howard Dean about his stance on the environment. There's nothing terribly surprising in it. He supports all the standard moderate environmental items like renewable energy and reducing environment-related human health impacts, and mentions that environmental protection can be good for the economy (a crucial point to emphasize given that the bad economy will be issue #2 in the election and will probably make or break the Democratic candidate). On the other hand, he takes a few stands likely to anger the hardcore green voters -- he doesn't repudiate his support as governor for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump (and mentions the annoying terrorism argument), and while he is in favor of labeling genetically modified food, he seems fairly sanguine with respect to the potential health and ecological impacts of GMOs. The first sentence of his response quoted below pretty well sums up how the environment issue will probably play in the campaign:

Grist: How do you distinguish your environmental agenda from those of the other candidates?

Dean: The big difference between the Democratic candidates is not our intentions. I'd say most of us have strong records on the environment and that we generally have similar environmental positions. But what you see with me is that as governor, I've actually been able to carry out policies rather than just vote for them. ...
I'm a bit late to point it out, but it seems Brunching is no more. Luckily my favorite feature, the Ratings, will continue.

Announcing this on his blog, Lore stated "I'll keep everyone up to date on this very weblog. Also, I've typed this about six times so far today, but thanks for reading." When I read that, it struck me as sounding like something Dave (Wininger, not Nielson) would say. And Dave's computer-deprived period has coincided more or less with Brunching's recent lack of updates. Interesting ...


I know my current template looks pretty hideous on some monitors -- the links, in particular, are hard to read. I had given up on fiddling with it a long time ago, because I couldn't get it to look good on all monitors, and it looked fine on the ones I used most often. But now that I'm at home and stuck using a computer that makes my blog look like crap, I've become motivated to fix it. I decided that, since I'll be in Dayton and without access to a computer of my own on which to do layout on this site's 2nd birthday, I could jump the gun on moving to a new template. So here's what I've come up with. If you have comments, complaints, or suggestions, send me an e-mail. I'm having a heck of a time reading any comments left via the comments feature. I'm debating switching to Haloscan or another such service if this persists.
Humble Humans

If Simon Winchester is correct in his new book -- Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883' -- the current trial in Indonesia of accused perpetrators of last year's terrorist bombing in Bali may be part of the lingering reverberation of the volcanic eruption--the loudest sound in modern human experience, heard 3,000 miles away -- that made an island disappear.

Billions of tons of material -- six cubic miles of it -- were hurled 120,000 to 160,000 feet in the air. They filtered sunlight, lowering the Earth's temperature and creating spectacular sunsets that for months inspired painters and poets.

And in the East Indies outpost of the Dutch empire, where a notably relaxed and tolerant Islamic faith had long flourished, Krakatoa, by terrifying and dispossessing people, may have catalyzed the much fiercer form of Islam that fused with anticolonialism. It is alive and dealing death today.

There's an interesting twist on Environmental Determinism.


(Part 2)

The basic problem lies in what is being privatized. Classical liberal/libertarian ideas about private property and individual rights assume an atomizable world -- a world in which each person and his activities have no impact on any other’s unless the person chooses to reach out into another’s domain. In the sheep raising model of the TOC paradigm, it is possible to approximate that atomized situation -- grass doesn’t go anywhere, and fences can easily keep flocks from interacting with each other. But the seas are much less privatizable. We can’t build fences to stop fish and water from moving all around ay fishery (and in some cases the whole world). So instead of privatizing resources (i.e., inputs) as in the original TOC, ITQs privatize the product (i.e., outputs).

Since fishery resources are not privatized, ITQs do not solve the problem of dispersed benefits. Any action taken by a fisherman to improve the fishery -- working to reduce pollution, for example -- creates benefits that accrue to all fishermen equally. This is quite unlike the TOC shepherd who can reap all of the benefits of taking care of his pasture because his efforts can be confined to the pasture that he and only he uses. Dispersed benefits create the problem of free riders, reducing the incentive to put forth individual effort at conservation. Thus, ITQs do not properly accomplish the main goal of privatization according to TOC doctrine: encouraging stewardship of resources. They have an impact because the cap on total fish catch deals with the largest threat to aquatic ecosystems -- overfishing. And even the stop to overfishing is accomplished by fiat, not by creating an incentive for fishermen to voluntarily moderate their catch by making it in their economic self-interest to do so unilaterally, as would be the case with a shepherd keeping his flock at a long-term sustainable size. There is likewise little incentive, beyond regulatory requirements (imposed from outside or established by collective agreement among all fishermen) to do anything else to improve the sustainability of fishing and aquatic ecosystems.

It seems like the real market and private property answer to overfishing would be aquaculture, aka fish farms (incidentally, I find it interesting that, to the degree that we eat wild fish, even our modern society is partially hunter-gatherer). If aquaculture can be made profitable enough, it would drive wild fishing out of business, much like agriculture and ranching have replaced gathering and hunting. This would enable a split between private, managed, productive sea and ocean wilderness where ecosystems, freed from commercial fishing pressures, can operate in a more natural way. Of course, we've seen the kind of problems this sort of system brings to land ecosystems -- fragmentation of biomes, the expansion of humanized landscapes, the "untouched wilderness" question, etc.
(Part 1. Hopefully the new version they're upgrading Blogger to shortly will fix this request-too-long problem)

Too Few Fish In The Sea
The new study, while alarming, told environmental analysts little they did not already know. Approximately 70 percent of fish stocks worldwide are either fully or overexploited. The state of fish in U.S. waters is not much better. The National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledges that dozens of federally managed fish stocks are overfished. Worse, it cannot account for the status of two thirds of the fish species under its "protection." Although the number of healthy fish species has increased in recent years, such gains have come at tremendous costs to local fishing communities faced with fishery closings and other stringent conservation measures. Green activists may exaggerate many environmental fears, but, if anything, they have been too quiet on the fate of ocean fisheries.

Conservation of marine fisheries presents the archetypal "commons" problem, most famously detailed by ecologist Garrett Hardin in his 1968 essay "The Tragedy of the Commons." ...

... Under an ITQ [individual transferable quota] system, the government sets the total allowable catch for a given season, and then allocates shares of the catch -- quotas -- to individuals, boats, or firms as a form of transferable right. By allocating portions of the fish catch, ITQ systems eliminate the "race to fish" and encourage less wasteful fishing techniques. In several countries, ITQ programs have met with substantial success in increasing fishing efficiency, reducing over-capitalization, and lessening the ecological impact of fishing operations. What's more, ITQs have encouraged fishers to exercise greater stewardship. "It's the first group of fishers I've ever encountered who turned down the chance to take more fish," noted Philip Major of New Zealand's ministry of agriculture after the implementation of ITQs there. There have also been private initiatives to allocate annual harvests among firms in catch-limited fisheries so as to create quasi-property rights and capture the economic and ecological benefits that result.

Adler picks up on the fact that fisheries are a classic example of the "tragedy of the commons" (actually the tragedy of the open-access resource -- commons are another beast entirely), and finds what seems to be the classic tragedy of the commons (TOC) solution: private property. ITQs sound potentially promising -- though other sources indicate that they have plenty of problems, especially for small fishermen. But Adler's attempt to squish fish and ITQs into the TOC paradigm leaves something to be desired.
It's pretty common to see -- and be annoyed about -- people using Greek letters in logos with little regard for what sound the letter actually represents. Using a sigma for an E (instead of its proper "s" sound) is the most popular, but I've also seen a lambda used as an A instead of an "l." I just came across an example of this kind of adulteration being done to Cyrillic, in the logo for a new History Channel documentary:

So tune in on Memorial Day at 9 EDT for "Yats-ssia, Land of the Tsars."
EPA chief Whitman Submits Resignation Letter

Christie Whitman, who has often been at odds with the White House over environmental issues, submitted her resignation Wednesday as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Whitman said in a letter to President Bush that she was leaving to spend time with family.

While the Bush administration's environmental record is hardly admirable, the blame rests more on the White House than on the EPA. With all the fear about ultraconservative Bush appointees and being in the pocket of industry, I've been pleasantly surprised by Whitman's handling of things, and she's done as well as I could expect any Republican to do. Which means I'm a bit concerned about who will be named to replace her -- there are few people in the GOP who would be better, and many who would be worse.


Glaxo's "Fat Cat" Pay Deal Rejected

The boss of one of Britain's biggest companies last night became the first senior director to have his pay package rejected by shareholders who were appalled by a potential £22 million payout if he lost his job.

... Although not binding on the company, it is likely to send shock waves through many boardrooms and could be the first of many votes against company "fat cats" and what shareholders see as corporate greed.

-- via Junius

A little good news. As Perry de Havilland points out in the comments over at Junius, this isn't so much about the stockholders standing up for some egalitarian principle as it is reining in a bad business move. And I think this is good news for precisely that reason. It shows that market forces can be used against the formation of a cronyish quasi-capitalist class. And I think it's this sort of cronyism, which exploits the capitalist system, that is at the root of much of the recent Enron-type problems.

There seem to be three general perspectives on capitalism these days. There's the socialist-egalitarian perspective, which claims that capitalism is in need of much guidance (through regulations and such) to prevent it from abusing the public. People of this perspective tend to see corporate corruption as an inevitable outgrowth of the logic of capitalism. On the other side are the libertarians, who praise capitalism as it is supposed to work in theory. Allied with the libertarians in the modern Republican Party are what we might call the "capitalist class," people who are in favor of capitalism not on principle but out of self-interest as business owners and executives, and who hence have no problem with corruption or government favors, if it benefits them. The libertarians and capitalist class wind up on the same side most of the time because the capitalist class hides behind libertarian rhetoric (about free markets and small government), and because the political discourse tends to lump the existing economic situation and the theory of free markets into a single "capitalism" entity (much like we fuse the writings of Marx, Kropotkin, etc. with the empirical reality of the Soviet Union). The story I quoted above shows how there's room for socialist-egalitarians and libertarians to work together against the capitalist class.


I'll be gone until Wednesday.
"Goddess" Translation In Motto Raises A Flag

It's all in how one translates the city's motto "Benigno Numine," which is written in the mother of all flexibly decipherable languages, Latin.

Three St. Mark Middle School students who created four designs for an official city flag have translated "Benigno Numine," the motto on the city seal, as "Under Protection of the Goddess."

... "It's strange that they picked goddess instead of God," [Latin teacher John] McCormick said. "A lot of state mottos are under the protection of God, having it masculine. So I thought it was strange that they chose [goddess], unless they have a specific deity in mind."

-- via WitchVox

One would assume those who translate it "God" have a specific deity in mind as well. All in all, while I don't know enough Latin (any at all, really) to say which is the most accurate translation, I'd prefer one of the suggested non-specific translations like McCormick's "By Divine Favor." Then again, I'd rather have an agnostic motto.

There are a few weird things about this story. One is that nobody is up in arms about it. Usually when you hear stories like this, it's because some evangelical Christian faction is denouncing the pagan practices. But McCormick's fairly mild comment -- which is more confusion resulting from his assumptions being challenged rather than condemnation -- is the most critical comment in the article. Second is the weird speculation of the author that "Goddess" is supposed to refer to the city's mayor (as well as the feeling on WitchVox that this was some pagan coup). As far as the story lets on, the "Goddess" translation was just a quirky version handed down between teachers, not a declaration of faith in a female deity.


(Part 2: The Answer)

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette version adds an angle that helps to make sense of it:
Two Oklahoma Indian tribes that claim ancestral roots in Pennsylvania say they will file suit in federal court to get their lands back unless Gov. Ed Rendell and the state Legislature agree to give them other suitable property where they can start gambling operations.

... Kahrahrah said because the Legislature was gearing up for a debate on expanding legalized gambling in Pennsylvania, it was time for the Indians to make a play for property. He said the Indians are researching ancestral properties elsewhere in the eastern portion of the state, including near Philadelphia.

According to this, the land claim is more of a threat, intended to cow the state into granting the tribe land for a casino. The bad PR of saying they want a casino could hurt the land claim case, but it could also make the land claim case more fearsome (especially given the courts' tendency to side with Native Americans), thus motivating the state to settle out of court.
(Part 1: The Question)

Indians Lay Claim To Land In Forks [Township]

Two American Indian tribes with historic ties to the Lehigh Valley returned to Pennsylvania on Wednesday to lay claim to their ancestral lands in an effort to bring expanded gambling to the state.

Leaders of the Delaware Nation of Anadarko, Okla., and the Delaware Tribe of Bartlesville, Okla., have initially set their sights on a 315-acre parcel called Tatamy's Place in Forks Township in Northampton County that is now home to Binney & Smith Inc. and 25 private residences.

... ''Today we are gathered to announce that the Delawares intend to reclaim their land rights in Pennsylvania,'' said Bernard Kahrahrah, tribal planner for the 1,200-member Delaware Nation. ''From this day forward will insist that any discussion about the future of gaming in Pennsylvania must include Indian gaming.''

What's surprising about this claim is the brazenness of the economic motive. Land claims that I've seen generally frame themselves as first and foremost an issue of justice -- fixing past disposession. But the Delawares seem to be saying essentially that the only reason they care is that they want to build a casino. WHile that may be honest, it seems like an odd strategy to take. Gambling is one of the most divisive issues between Native Americans and their non-Native neighbors. And it seems likely to be even more divisive given that the Delawares have been living in Oklahoma for over a century, and thus this land claim comes as a total surprise to the current residents of the area.


Looks like the iLoo was probably a hoax. I hope that doesn't invalidate the article's observations about reading in the bathroom.
A follow up to that last post: I notice the following defense of its methodology in the JBHE report:
Unlike other ranking efforts in the field of higher education, our statistics, without exception, are highly quantitative. This is in sharp contrast to highly impressionistic institutional rankings such as those compiled by U.S. News & World Report in which 25 percent or more of the total ranking score is derived from subjective surveys of university reputations as determined by presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions at other institutions.

There's a definite confusion here between quantitative and objective. I imagine the reputation survey was in fact quantitative -- they probably asked something like "on a scale of 1-10, how prestigious is Eemeet Meeker's School of Paving?" At the same time, that's clearly a subjective quantification. The key, of course, is that the subjectivity is on the part of the respondent, not of the researcher.

By restricting themselves to those factors that are both objective and quantifiable, the JBHE researchers are making the implicit assumption that those features happen to be sufficient to establish the quality of the school. This is a common foible of social scientists who want to make their research "scientific" like the heavily mathematized natural sciences. It's like the man who dropped his keys in a dark parking lot, and searched for them only under the street lamp because that's the only place he can see.
I got the latest issue of the Scene today, and it had a blurb on this news:

The Journal Of Blacks In Higher Education Ranks Colgate University Among Top Liberal Arts Colleges

Colgate University was ranked third by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in a survey of the nation’s 25 top liberal arts colleges measuring success in integrating black students and faculty. The ranking appears in the publication’s winter 2002-2003 issue.

On the one hand, that's a heartening statistic. It's good to see Colgate doing well and being talked about as a top school. On the other hand, it's a bit depressing (in terms of the overall situation of blacks in American academia) if you consider how poorly Colgate's current black students thought of the school during the racial discussions last year, and consider that by this ranking most schools are worse.

The reason for the discrepancy may be the same as the reason often offered for why Colgate is actually better than the U.S. News rankings imply: the ranking methodology doesn't capture the intangibles. Looking at the actual JBHE report, I see that the rankings were entirely based on statistics like the number of blacks admitted and the black graduation rate. These are certainly important factors. But what aren't taken into account are the things that were so often cited by students as reasons Colgate isn't black-friendly: racial attitudes on campus, social group segregation, diversity of offerings like speakers and bands, etc.

The ratings may nevertheless be inadvertantly accurate, since those same factors may apply just as well to all the other schools. We should be careful not to infer an absolute ("Colgate is a good school for blacks") from a relative ("Colgate is a better school for blacks than most schools").


(Part 2 of what's below. Blogger is not winning my friendship today.)

I included the last paragraph because it's an interesting observation, but what I really want to talk about is somewhat broader. I'm quite interested in pseudoarchaeology/pseudohistory (less pejoratively known as alternative archaeology), from a skeptical point of view. But skeptics' articles about the phenomenon -- and the one linked above is no exception -- often strike me as unduly strident. They decry alternative archaeologists' poor approaches to the truth, and agonize over how the public gets taken in by such things (though they do properly blame the deceptive scholarship of the alternative archaeologists instead of the gullibility of the archaeologically-uneducated public).

Yet I wonder if such a debunking approach is the best weapon. In some ways this response plays right into the alternative archaeological worldview -- specifically the claim that there's a scientific orthodoxy bent on eradicating alternative archaeology (though the alternatives posit an orthodoxy of content while skeptics base their claims in an orthodoxy of methodology). This would be fine if what was at issue was simply a search for an accurate depiction of the past. But I think there may be some deeper needs that alternative archaeology fills, an issue that goes beyond the simple diagnosis that real archaeology isn't as sexy as aliens building the pyramids.

Having not interviewed alternative archaeological believers, I can only speculate on what those needs may be. There may be a sort of Galileo Complex -- the desire to be the lone holder of the truth that others' dogmatic blinkers won’t let them see. There may be the appeal of the mystical -- while alternative archaeology offers an explanation of the past, it also reinvigorates and plays upon a sense of wonder and even spirituality about it that contrasts to mainstream archaeology's apparent methodical rational scientific disenchantment. But whatever the reasons, it seems likely that if mainstream archaeology can't find a way to compete on those grounds, it will be plagued by Zechariah Sitchins and Eirich von Dänikens forever, no matter how strident our denunciations of their scientific worth.
(More 2-part posting due to Blogger ineptitude. Here's Part 1)

The New Atlantis And The Dangers Of Pseudohistory
The New Atlantis belief system can be defined by five key features:
1. There was a highly sophisticated civilization that appeared at least 15,000 years ago and is now lost to history.
2. This civilization was destroyed, almost without trace, in a catastrophe at the end of the last Ice Age.
3. Its elite survivors were able navigators who spread across the globe bringing the spark of civilization to benighted primitive populations.
4. The evidence for the existence of this Lost Civilization is indirect and circumstantial, such as inexplicable cultural similarities between supposedly separate ancient civilizations (such as pyramids on both sides of the Atlantic or a fascination with the stars) or the mysterious achievements of some ancient cultures (for example, the Nazca lines in Peru or the statues on Easter Island).
5. More familiar ancient cultures are alleged to allude to the arrival of these elite "Atlantean" visitors in legends and art (such as the Olmec Heads in Mexico, widespread myths about the flood, or tales of civilizing gods arriving from across the sea).

… Notice that the imperialist Atlantis of Plato's political homily has little similarity with the civilization-granting Atlantis of modern alternative historians. Despite the bloody testimony of recorded history as to what actually happens when technologically advanced human cultures encounter less complex ones, the notion of Atlantis as a benign agent of civilization was widely promoted by Ignatius Donnelly's 1882 Atlantis: The Antediluvian World

(Part 2, Part 1 directly below)

The left's version of the anti-American regime elected in Iraq could be sodomy laws (and similar sexual morality statutes). While there has been a trend toward repealing anti-sodomy laws in the nation, there's no guarantee that they may never be removed in certain more conservative areas. And the backlash against the loosening of sexual mores in the latter half of last century led to the successful passage of numerous "defense of marriage" acts and amendments at the state level. This fact -- that in many places the will of the voters is to deny homosexual relationships the same status as heterosexual ones -- has been a boon to social conservatives. They can point to liberal social/cultural policies as unpopular and hence anti-democratic. It plays nicely into the criticism of liberal judges "legislating from the bench," and allows such social conservatives to position themselves as the real guardians of democracy. Indeed, conservative doves may have the best position here, as they can side with democracy on both Iraq's leadership and sodomy laws.

I don't mean to claim any ideological purity on this issue. As a classical conservative with a liberal morality, I tend to err on the side of respecting the will of the people while endeavoring to change that will. Yet I also recognize that liberal democracy is a two-word term for a reason, and democracy can't be allowed to radically undermine certain liberal principles such as freedom of speech. I don't have any clear rule to follow for balancing the two, but I realize that without one I risk committing, or being accused of, hypocrisy.
(Part 1 of this post, part 2 will be posted above)

A popular criticism of the war is made by asking what we would do if the people of Iraq elected an anti-American regime, possibly even an Islamist theocracy. Based on America's past dealings with socialist democracies and anti-communist dictators, these critics presume that the Bush administration would value a pro-American orientation over democracy. The predicted result is used to point out the hypocrisy of the pro-war camp's claim to be bringing democracy to the world. The implication is that doves, if they found themselves in the position of an occupying power, would respect the true will of the Iraqis even if it conflicted with America's interests.

This argument is, however, somewhat problematic because of the antiwar left's relationship to democratic rhetoric and potential adverse outcomes. I don’t mean here to tar the left as apologists for Stalinist dictatorial practices. The most thriving sector of today’s left is resolutely pro-democratic, employing devices such as decentralized organization and rotating “facilitator” positions in order to forestall the accumulation by one person of disproportionate power. The popular critique of capitalism has shifted from a focus on ends ("it's exploitative an harmful to workers" -- though that point remains) to a focus on means ("the market is undemocratic" -- contrary to the assertions of libertarians) and the development of democratic production institutions like participatory economics.

Yet some on the left seem to suffer from the same sort of mistaken assumption made by optimistic hawks, who assumed that Iraqi gratitude toward the US and the destruction of Saddam's anti-American agitations would make a democratic Iraq necessarily elect a pro-American administration. Many on the left too easily assume that, because "socialism" (however that's defined) is in the interests of the oppressed, the oppressed will necessarily express progressive views once the power of the oppressor is removed. I noticed this when I attended a meeting about establishing a Worcester chapter of IndyMedia. In formulating a mission statement, participants seemed to see no problems with claiming both to represent the voice of those who aren't heard in the mainstream media, and to advance the progressive goals that are stifled by the corporate media.


Quicktime has redeemed itself after a reinstall, as it now allows me to use Finnish for Foreigners to work on my pronunciation. What is annoying me is luggage size restrictions. On one hand I'm mad at the fact that I can only bring a suitcase's worth of stuff on the bus home, and again on the plane to Dayton, which means I have a very small amount of my possessions at my disposal for the summer (and it probably means several important items -- I'm already missing my dress shoes -- are packed away in Alex's storage room). I'm also annoyed at the restructions imposed on my luggage by my own physical strength. My suitcase is medium-sized and has wheels, but it was still difficult to drag it down Main Street to the bus station. On the way back I'm definitely taking a cab. Given my usual commitment to non-materialism and packing light it seems weird to be complaining about this, but then again three months is hardly a weekend trip.

So, luggage size restrictions head for the kiosk.
(more Blogger issues. grr. This is again additional commentary on the link in the previous post.)

There are two spinoff directions that I can go with this. First, it emphasizes that when we talk about gender roles, we're not talking about a single male role and a single female role. Each gender has a (limited) plurality of possible roles to fill. Some of these -- like the independent and objective Descartes-like "man of reason" that feminists have written much about, or the woman as bearer of culture and civilizer of society -- are deemed desirable, while others -- like the rapacious man or the excessively emotional woman -- provide categories into which we can fit "deviants" (and on which deviants will draw in constructing their own identities).

The second ties in to some speculation I've done about homophobia. In reading commentary about the Rick Santorum flap, I noticed that many supporters of Santorum tended to assume that homosexuality means male homosexuality (even the famous passage in Leviticus talks only of men lying together, though St. Paul does later condemn both male and female homosexuality). The stereotype of the sex-crazed man, and its corrollary the uninterested-in-sex woman, may incline holders of traditional gender attitudes to discount lesbianism as both a reality and a problem. If sex is something predominantly sought by men, the concept of a lesbian is more difficult to make sense of. But it's also not a threat. The concept of the traditional family is to temper a man's sex drive with a woman's frigidity. This means that a relationship between two men lacks this element of balance -- it's two wild male sex drives. The implicit association in much of this commentary between homosexuality and promiscuity may be related. The archetype of the heterosexual relationship is the monogamous marriage, whose idealized regulation of sex is opposed to the uncontrollability -- and hence promiscuity -- of relationships with too much man and not enough woman. It's this imbalance and uncontrollability that makes homosexuality dangerous to the social order.
Ampersand points to an excellent Trish Wilson post about how traditional gender roles can be degrading to men -- a point that often gets lost in the focus on how they degrade women.

Aren't men insulted by such a derogatory view of fatherhood and maleness? Popenoe is saying what men have accused women of saying for aeons: that men think with their dicks. He is saying that men need to be corralled by social institutions such as marriage, otherwise they will act like sluts; they'll stick it into anything that moves, they'll drop babies left and right, and they'll make poor partners in relationships.

Amp is right that should feminism succeed that the resulting diminishment of sexism would be a victory for all victims of sexism, female and male. What he hasn't said -- and what I believe needs much more attention -- is that men have a responsibility to stand up to their own sexist attitudes that they have about themselves and each other. Some men's and father' rights attitudes are discriminatory against the men they claim to want to help.

You see the most extreme versions of this line of thinking in things like the explanation for the burqa -- women have to cover themselves because men can't be relied upon to control their sexual thoughts and actions should they happen to see female skin. What's interesting about this is the way that negative stereotypes of men wind up being used to justify oppression against women. Wilson points out that the conclusion drawn from the stereotype of the sex-crazed man is not that men are a lower form of human, but that women must bear the responsibility and burden of "civilizing" their husbands and sons, while implicitly excusing male wildness as natural.
(For some reason Blogger was giving me errors when I tried to post that last post, saying "Server Error: HTTP request too long." So here's my comments on the article I quoted in the last post)

This is a pretty standard way of framing the order versus freedom question these days. Any deviation from the traditional is seen (by both opponents and supporters) as the replacement of rules with chaos. But I think this framing is the result of two mistakes. First, it conflates moral order with the particular 1950s brand of American Christian morality. So it proposes a false choice of points along a one-dimensional scale from a specific form of Puritanism to total amorality. But why must this particular morality be the moral code, allowing only for degrees of greater or lesser adherence? Maybe it's just my conservative upbringing, but I think a strong moral code is important. I just don't think the traditional American one is the best one.

Linked to that is the mistake of seeing social liberalism as a form of anything-goes relativism or libertarianism. Certainly that's the image that's most often used to argue for it, as saying "freedom" is a powerful bit of rhetorical strategy in our culture. But just as nature abhors a vacuum, society -- even in the most radical groups -- abhors anarchy. Spend some time in a community with a strong socially liberal bent, and you'll find there's a powerful moral code regulating behavior. In fact, I would venture to say that to effectively combat one moral system, you must have some vision of an alternate moral system. One of the few worthwhile passages in Plato's Republic was, I think, his discussion of why injustice -- which in his formulation had similarities to the kind of chaotic libertarianism at issue here -- in unsustainable in its pure form. To put it in a concrete example, the Mafia is able to show such disdain for the wider society's moral and legal rules because it has a strong moral system operating in its internal affairs.

So our choice is not so much between order and chaos as between two forms of order. What chaos exists is due not to the simple absence of traditional morality but to the coexistence of two (probably more) alternative moralities, neither of which can exercise total hegemony. I'm glad for the degree of freedom that moral pluralism provides, while recognizing that it comes from pluralism, not the breakdown of absolutism.
That Other War
Why is there a culture war to begin with? Why did the old moral consensus break down? It's because we live differently now. Human beings can't live together in peaceful and stable social groups without moral rules. Yet the more we live as independent individuals, instead of as members of tightly knit communities, the less we want or need moral rules.

... Our relative independence of others is the key to the rise of the new social liberalism. Yet, no matter how independent we get, the ineradicable fact of childhood dependence creates demands for a stable family structure governed by certain moral rules. This is the root of our contemporary culture war. Our lived individualism continually pulls us toward a full-fledged libertarianism, while our childhood dependence exerts a countervailing pull toward moral traditionalism.

... There are many problems with the sort of middle-ground position I'm offering here. I think I've given some pretty clear and principled grounds for preferring some changes to others. Nonetheless, both religious traditionalism and strict libertarianism are more consistent — or at least more straightforward — than the middle ground position I'm discussing here. I can't claim to be more consistent than the two warring ends of the moral-cultural spectrum. But I do think my middle ground position is where most Americans live — and where our society is going to be staying for some time, like it or not.


MSN UK Tests Potty Surfing

MSN UK is creating what Microsoft calls the world's first Internet outhouse, or iLoo, complete with flat-screen plasma display, wireless keyboard and broadband access. MSN UK spokesman Matthew Whittingham described the portable toilet as the first "WWW.C," referring to the term W.C., or water closet.

... The portable lavatory is being tested and will debut at festivals around Great Britain this summer. Microsoft plans to build a single prototype MSN iLoo that will travel the festival circuit, and may build more if the response to the pioneering potty warrants it, Whittingham said.

-- via Scott

Wow. We truly live in the most advanced society on earth.

And farther down the article, vindication for me on an old argument:
"Reading in the loo, or the bog, is a traditional English pastime," said Jeremy Davies, an analyst with U.K.-based market researcher Context. "We've all seen the magazine racks, loo paper with jokes and cartoons on the walls in toilets up and down the land. You've got to hand it to the creative--and uniquely English--minds at Microsoft."


Finally, an answer to a question that has long puzzled me. When I wrote my flag burning commentary, I wondered how frequent flag burning actually was. I knew that it was extremely rare, but I couldn't find any numbers anywhere. But the ACLU has provided the answer:

Only 200 incidents of flag burning have been reported in the entire history of the United States. A person is more likely to be struck by lightning or win the lottery than to be exposed to a political flag burning. The proposed constitutional amendment is, therefore, the very definition of a solution in search of a problem.

The sad thing is that I got this information because a flag-burning amendment has once again been introduced in Congress. I like to think of this amendment as the Freddy Krueger Act -- it's evil, and it just won't stay dead.

Given the rarity of flag burning, I don't understand what supporters of this amendment hope to gain. In fact, the rarity of flag burning is actually used as an argument for prohibiting it. The amendments don't contain all the Whereas'es that most bills have to explain the reasoning behind them, but I did manage to find this one opinion column written by amendment sponsor Diane Feinstein (the proprietor of the site claims it's the only explanation he's been able to get from Congressional supporters of the amendment). She says essentially that since it doesn't happen very often, it's no big deal if we ban it. Yet if it's no big deal, why go through all the trouble of passing a Constitutional amendment (which is a lot harder than passing a regular law)? Feinstein says that the flag is a very special and important symbol. I agree. That's what makes it so meaningful when a person chooses to demonstrate respect for the flag. Feinstein seems to think that the importance of the symbol is enough to justify banning its desecration, but she neglects to describe what possible harm is done by burning a flag, and what good is done by patriotism that is feigned out of fear of punishment. As conservatives like to say, you don't have a right not to be offended.
Fear Factor

[Jack Chick's] formula and drawing style have changed little in five decades. When an archivist at the Pasadena Playhouse began rooting through old boxes in the late '90s, she discovered drawings that he had done in 1948. The single-panel cartoons revealed the same perspiring characters, pop-eyed faces, and 1940s Sunday-comics sensibilities of his current tracts. "He's not worried about impressing other cartoonists, which is kind of what motivates a lot of cartoonists to pick up their chops a little bit," says Clowes. "There's something really interesting about seeing a cartoonist not develop at all." Art Spiegelman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Maus, a graphic novel about the Holocaust, is less kind. "It makes me despair about America," says Spiegelman, "that there are so many people who read these things."

-- via Hit & Run

The definitive biography of everyone's favorite cartoonist.


I just ran across a copy of Jonathan Sarfati's Refuting Evolution, buried in the bookshelves of the geography mezzanine. The cover proclaims "175,000 now in print!" (the title page says 100,000 now in print -- I guess they didn't get around to updating the inside pages when they redid the cover. Incidentally, the cover image on Amazon says 200,000 in print). I don't know what the normal print run for a book like this ought to be, but neither do most people; the point is that it sounds like a big number.

There's another message on the first page: someone stamped, in green ink, "Given freely in the love of God, our Creator, and in love for you, who He has created." That's a nice sentiment, but it also tips off what probably happened to a lot of those 175,000 copies. They were bought in bulk by people distributing them as pro-creationism propaganda (like 133-page Chick tracts), not purchased individually by 175,000 readers who were interested in what Sarfati had to say.
Kevin Drum points to a Jeff Cooper post in which he laments the state of political discourse these days. If Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds, two of the most prominent pro-war bloggers, get chewed out by readers for being insifficiently adoring of Bush's every word (though to be honest, Reynolds doesn't sound like it was the tone of the response that was a problem, just the one-sidedness of it), what hope is there for reasonable political debate?

I'll admit that things don't look nearly so partisan and degenerate from my perspective, but that may be because my political blog reading sticks to folks like tacitus and Matthew Yglesias who have reputations for reasonableness. But if Jeff is correct about the tone of discourse in blogtopia, there seem to be at least three hypotheses that could explain that based on structural features of the blog medium, rather than chalking it up to a change in the overall political climate that's simply reflected in blogs:

1) The echo chamber effect. The internet makes it really easy to find anything you want. That means it's also easy to avoid reading anything you don't want. When your sources of information are limited, it's likely that you'll run into a lot of stuff you disagree with. This can have a moderating effect. On the other hand, being able to seek out only information that confirms your views allows you to avoid the dissonance of falsifying data, while allowing you to be and feel much more informed -- you have a larger quantity of information, but it's more skewed as a sample of the whole universe of information. The effect is to entrench your own beliefs while making it easy for people with differing views to seem ignorant. This I think is the weakest hypothesis, because I'm not entirely convinced by its simplistic analysis of the media access system of the pre-internet era. It also ignores the way the offenders often seek out adversaries to lambast. In fact, the problem may be that the Internet allows us to come into contact with more different viewpoints. People seem less partisan when we agree with them. So a local culture can sit around happily reinforcing its own beliefs and never realizing that they are anything less than common sense. On the Internet, by contrast, these groups are thrown together. Shrill partisanship may be a defensive maneuver, attempting to cope with the shattering of your worldview -- the existence of people who deny common sense -- by browbeating them into conformity. The browbeating tactic is taken because there seem to be no shared social norms, no basis on which you can work out the disagreement (in the way that, say, two Catholic theologians could resolve a disagreement about the nature of God because they share the idea that everything in the Bible is true). All that's left then is pure power.

2) The ease of communication. The Internet makes it ludicrously easy to make a statement. If Sullivan or Reynolds made their comments in a newspaper or on TV, most people who disagreed would quietly fume. It takes a lot of effort to write an old-fasioned dead trees letter to the editor. But to shoot off an email is convenient and free. It's even easier for readers of those blogs with comment functions. The barriers to expressing your shrill partisanship are lowered. And there's the additional screen of quasi-anonymity that the Internet can give you, which means many social pressures that keep discourse in line -- like fear of embarassment or reputation damage -- are diluted, and can be deliberately diluted even more (e.g., by posting a comment anonymously).

3) The lack of gatekeepers. This applies more to public shrillness -- such as posts on blogs and comment threads -- than to private correspondence. Most offline public discourse has certain content-specific barriers to speaking out. The newspaper editor is the archetypal example. He or she has the role of filtering content, removing that which runs against community norms (recall the point about how partisans sound more partisan when their viewpoint is farther from yours). The whole point of blogs, on the other hand, is that anyone can say anything. The guys from Google aren't checking to make sure we play nice. Much has been made of the way bloggers fact-check each other, but nobody has the power to enforce their assessment of another's rhetoric the way an editor can refuse to publish something that's beyond the pale. So it's easy for this pluralism to degenerate into adversarial tactics.

Hmm. After all that, I don't think hypotheses 1a, 2, or 3 are all that original. Anyway, I wonder what the level of discourse in blogtopia says about the idea of civil discourse as the basis for society. Philosophers (most notably in my mind John Stuart Mill and Jürgen Habermas -- note that I'm talking about a wide and loose body of thought) have proposed different forms of open communicative democracy as a way of organizing civil society that would be fair and progressive, leading toward truth and away from repressive uses of power. Their followers in the social sciences tend to look to modern leftist movements, like the loose network of anti-globalization collectives, as potential models. But these groups' use of democratic discourse is facilitated by members' shared purpose and the existence of the kinds of social non-coercive disciplining described under hypothesis 3 due to members' greater investment in being a part of the group. Blogtopia (a term, by the way, coined by skippy), on the other hand, seems like a good test case for how a democratically communicative society might work. If Jeff's assessment of the tone of discourse is correct (and without a more rigorous investigation I won't say it is or isn't -- speaking of which, that sounds like an interesting research project. "Communicative Democracy and Strife in the Weblog Community: Implications for Habermas"), we may need some new theorizing.
A Quechua Lesson

¿Y qué es raiz o radical en quechua? Es como Dios definido en el catecismo: inmutable (no cambia) y está presente en todas partes (en todas las formas de la conjugación exactamente igual).

And what is the root [of a verb] in Quechua? It's like God, as defined in the catechism: immutable (it doesn't change) and it's everywhere (exactly the same in all forms of the conjugation).


Happy Loyalty Day (Hauskaa uskollisuus päivää)!

To be an American is not a matter of blood or birth. Our citizens are bound by ideals that represent the hope of all mankind: that all men are created equal, endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. On Loyalty Day, we reaffirm our allegiance to our country and resolve to uphold the vision of our Forefathers.

... NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2003, as Loyalty Day. I call upon all the people of the United States to join in support of this national observance. I also call upon government officials to display the flag of the United States on all government buildings on Loyalty Day.

-- via tacitus

The habitual Finnish translation of my holiday greetings is a bit pointless, since Loyalty Day is a distinctly American phenomenon. It seems to have arisen in response to the communist celebration of May Day. Now, communism has been responsible for some pretty horrible things, but fear of communism looks to have been going for the "pointlessly dumb" prize.