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Myth And History At Thanksgiving

Since I didn't have much internet access over the holiday weekend, you're getting a late Thanksgiving post.

Celebrating Genocide!

There are many reasons to celebrate and Americans have a lot to be thankful for. Genocide should not be one of those things. What are we doing on Thanksgiving Day? We would be appropriately appalled if Germany or Austria were celebrating a Holocaust Memorial Day, where Germans and Austrians got together with their families for dinner on their official day off, joyously remembering the things that are important to them, just as American families get together for Thanksgiving Day and think of things to be thankful for. (Similar scenarios, just as ugly, could be constructed for white supremacists, rapists, and murderers.) Some activities and events are inappropriate just because of the context in which they occur and the history of suffering they represent. Thanksgiving Day is clearly part of that history. Are Americans thankful for forgetting their own history, for having collective cultural and political amnesia?

Every Thanksgiving sees a number of articles of this type, reminding us that, contraray to the rosy picture of the First Thanksgiving, our nation has treated its indigenous people quite poorly. I've even taken a stab at the genre. This is an important part of our history, and something that we too often overlook. Nevertheless, I think these stories are no reason to discard the traditional Thanksgiving story.

We need to understand the distinction between myth and history. We tend to think of myth as being simply bad history, a version skewed by falsehoods that should be thrown out or corrected as soon as possible. From an anthropological standpoint, that's not quite right. While a myth shares the narrative form of a history, its function is not to relate the events of the past in a straightforward manner. Its function is to express the values of the culture that tells it. Myth evokes what the Dreaming, a quasi-past in which the order of the world is set in place, a period that contrasts to the messiness and failings of the present world.

I think the traditional Thanksgiving story expresses certain admirable ideals. On the one hand, it's a story about relations between races or cultures. The Pilgrims and Indians come together in fellowship, sharing the best of their respective cultures without losing their own identities. On the other hand, it's a story about immigration, about how America (represented here by the Indians) welcomes those who are persecuted in other places. The fact that what actually happened was genocide does not mean that the myth glorifies genocide, or that positive feelings toward the myth translate into approval for the real events that the myth (inaccurately) represents.

The "real story of Thanksgiving" histories play off of, and affirm, the ideals in the traditional myth. They point out that we haven't lived up to the morals encoded in the traditional Thanksgiving myth. It's important to know that, but not at the expense of having a positive statement of our ideals.


testing again ...

Darn you,

testing ...

Human, Animal, Machine

My previous post dealing with the line between animals and humans reminded me of a discussion we had in Political Ecology about the relationship of humans to animals on the one hand, and to machines on the other. Prof. Rocheleau pointed out that we (at least within Western culture) distinguish ourselves from animals on the basis of our capacity for rational thought, disparaging the emotional and un-articulatable portions of our being as "bestial." But we then turn around and distinguish ourselves from machines -- the paragons of explicit rationality -- by our organicness, disparaging machines as "cold and calculating" and unable to feel.

My response was to note that, in addition to seeing ourselves as the best of both worlds between animals and machines, the uniqueness of humans vis-a-vis both animals and machines is dependent on an idea of free will. Basically, we have it and they don't. Machines, we think, are ruled by deterministic logic (I've been told that even a computer's random number generator is deterministic, but in a way that satisfies the statistical profile of randomness). The same thing predictably happens when you push the same button. Animals, meanwhile, are said to be ruled by instinct. They don't think consciously the way we do; they just respond automatically to stimuli. Descartes, the great bogeyman of "critical" theory, went so far as to say that animals are basically the same as machines for this reason.

Free will seems to be closely tied to being a morally relevant entity. Only those beings capable of ethical action (which, to most philosophical systems, requires free will) have interests worthy of moral consideration. The link, I think, is consciousness -- free will requires consciousness to operate, and consciousness makes apprehension of benefits (in a consequentialist system) or rights (in a deontological one) possible. Of course, there are some conceptual delinkages that operate -- for example, humans as a class are considered to possess consciousness and therefore rights, so rights are conferred on any human, even one who individually happens to lack consciousness.

These sharp contrasts between animals, machines, and humans are easiest to make in the abstract, theorietical mode. Close interaction (at least of a certain type) with an animal or a machine tends to blur the line. We're all familiar with people who treat their pets as family members. We typically laugh at the situation because it's conceptually absurd (animals are not, according to prevailing philosophy, actually conscious and thus equivalent to humans), yet we know that in practice it has at least the appearance of reality. We successfully deal with our pets as if they were conscious moral entities. The blurring acquires a pragmatic, if not a "real," truth. A similar process can happen with a machine. I'm certain I'm not the only person to have named their computer (mine is "Abraham," incidentally). The name allows me to talk about him as an entity posessing a personality and a consciousness (and a gender). I've been annoyed recently because I don't have a name for my car, and thus can't easily treat it the same way.

The inclination to think of a machine as having consciousness is most apparent when it is giving you problems, behaving in an apparently irrational fashion inconsistent with the idea of the deterministic machine (and one purportedly identical with all others of that make) but consistent with the idea of an uncooperative person. This is a situation when the cyborg nature of the computer user -- in which the machine functions as an extension of the user -- breaks down. The machine then confronts the person as not just a thing or object (as Heidegger argued) but as another person. Individual personality becomes apparent as soon as the smooth functioning of the system breaks down. This works in social systems, too -- a cashier is just a cashier, functionally no more a person than the register or scanner, until they act "out of character" by, say, dropping your eggs or offering to grab some change for you from the "take a penny, leave a penny" cup.


Vegetarian Hyperbole

A quick post before I head off to Thanksgiving:

Meet Bernard Goetz, New York City's Veggie Vigilante

PETA: [Vegetarianism would solve] A quarter of the world’s problems?
Goetz: A general move to vegetarianism would change the soul of mankind. There would be less fear, cruelty, craziness, grief, and struggle in the world if most people were vegetarians. There would be more gentleness, love, and health. That seems like a good trade. I just don’t see violence abating generally until we move, as a society and a world, toward vegetarianism. It’s a crucial step if our species is going to become truly civilized.

PETA: This may seem odd, in light of what you’ve just said, but can you share a bit more about why you, personally, feel called to advocate vegetarianism?
Goetz: I’d like to see the world a kinder and more rational place. If we’re going to do that, we have to start from the ground up. A vegetarian menu in public schools is the key to change. Of course, everyone supports kindness for animals, and everyone is opposed to gratuitous violence, even as most of them eat animals. I’m just trying to show people that their belief in kindness for animals and their opposition to violence, both of which are very noble, must ultimately entail a switch to a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian society will be a better society, with better values in general.

-- via The Volokh Conspiracy

Let me begin by stating that I have nothing against vegetarianism. Indeed, I quite admire people who make that choice. I'm essentially vegetarian in my cooking for myself, though I don't go out of my way to avoid meat when I'm at someone else's house or a restaurant.

This article got me thinking about the intersection of two common vegetarian arguments. Goetz's assertion that vegetarianism would solve a quarter of the world's problems seems to be based in the notion that cruelty to animals leads to cruelty to people. I frequently hear that children who torture animals go on to be cruel toward people in their adult life. I wonder, however whether these factors don't really share a common cause (a cruel disposition), rather than the one causing the other.

Further, there's the question of what kind of line exists between humans and animals, and between wanton and necessary cruelty. For a person concerned with animal rights, these two lines are extremely fuzzy. People like Goetz have trouble seeing animals as morally distinct from humans, and trouble seeing any cruelty as necessary or justifiable. This may or may not be the correct view. Nevertheless, many people do make such distinctions. Drawing a line that allows you to think of animals and people as totally different sorts of things can seriously restrict the bleeding-through of practices used with regard to one group into the other. Given how much effort animal rights proponents have to expend in arguing against making this distinction, I find it hard to believe that the distinction is psychologically meaningless to the person making it. The line between wanton and necessary cruelty works similarly. The thing to note about the kids who torture cats is that they do it for the purpose of being cruel. This is different from the hunter who works to minimize the cruelty of his shot, or the butcher who has to kill the cow to get the steaks. Whether this cruelty is necessary or not, the key is that it's conceptualized as such by the perpetrators, and that conceptualization creates a barrier between categories.

At best, we could reframe the "cruelty to animals leads to cruelty to humans" argument this way: the ability to draw a distinction between animals and humans, and between necessary and wanton cruelty, gives a person the conceptual resources to draw a distinction between "people you can be cruel to" and "people you can't be cruel to," and to define some cruelty to humans as necessary.

Goetz seems to argue, in the second response I quoted, that our desire for nonviolence is already sufficiently strong. Here he's arguing that nonviolence should lead to vegetarianism, rather than the other way around. The link that's missing, he says, is recognizing that meat production is violent. This echoes another common vegetarian argument: "You wouldn't eat it if you had to kill it yourself."

This argument is based on the idea that we're separated from the production process of our food. We know in the abstract that meat comes from dead animals, but steaks could grow on trees for all the difference it makes to someone picking one up at the grocery store. The fact that people don't think about the cruelty involved in making their dinner means that that cruelty has no effect on them. Eating meat is not an acceptance or endorsement of cruelty, at least on the psychological level that would translate that into cruelty toward non-livestock, if one is as distant from the production process as the average American omnivore.

Further, humans are in general quite able to come to terms with the cruelty involved in getting meat. A slaughterhouse may be quite shocking at first to people who have always thought meat came from a plastic package and interacted with animals only as pets. Nevertheless, for thousands of years people were able to deal with killing animals for food. You (as an individual and as a society) get used to it -- a process that often involves setting up the kind of psychological distinctions I described above.



Posting will be light for the next few days as I do the Thanksgiving thing.

Sense Of Place

Doug Merrill has a post over at A Fistful of Euros asking about whether Americans have less sense of place than Europeans. It's an question that plays off the idea that America is a land of immigrants, with a shallow history (like the old joke "What's the difference between a European and an American? The European thinks 100 miles is a long way, and the American thinks 100 years is a long time.").

This is a familiar idea, but we white residents of postcolonial nations more often hear ourselves contrasted in this way with our own indigenous populations than with Europe. White Americans* are said to lack the deep roots in the land that Natives have evolved over thousands of years of living with a patch of country.

One response to this is to valorize a lack of connection to place. Place-connected people can even be portrayed as parochial stuck-in-the-muds. This is popular, and I think there's something to be said for mobility as a lifestyle choice for some people.

Another response is to question the empirical basis of the contrast between white and Native (or American and European). On the one hand, there has been work done that shows that Native Americans were not quite so eternally and holistically connected to their land as the extreme binary would claim. This argument can be politically dangerous, as it threatens a discourse that many Native and pro-Native people have a lot invested in. These people are right to fear that such debunking can be misused to support the claim that Natives' status vis a vis the land is no different from that of other populations (and hence it's no big deal that it was stolen from them). Middle grounds can be tough to hold.

The other side of this response is to hold that, despite the relatively short time that white culture and society have been in America, whites are still able to develop a strong sense of place. Social relations of relatively recent origin are so easily naturalized and made to seem as if they came from time immemmorial that it's very concievable for a reasonable sense of place to have developed in a recent-immigrant culture. The official stance of the Oneida Nation toward non-Oneidas living in the area of their land claim is interesting in this regard. The Nation reassures residents that they will not be kicked out if the land claim succeeds, because the Oneidas know how awful it is to lose one's home. This recognizes that, though the land may have become available for white settlement illegitimately, that doesn't change the fact that the whites who have lived there have developed a connection to that land, made it their home.

Over time, there seems to be a shift in explanation with regard to how Americans teach themselves the nation's history. The classic view of American history is of America as a sort of blank slate, a wilderness to be claimed and a fresh start free of the persecutions and entrenched political interests of ancient England. But more and more it seems that Americans of all races are seeking to adopt Native history (at least pre-1492) as their history. History books are more likely now than before to start with the Paleoindians in Beringia rather than Christopher Columbus in Genoa. This seems to indicate a desire to find deep roots in the land, to look for one's forebears through the lens of place rather than of culture or genes.

*And presumably other non-Native races as well, but when you're talking in binaries the racial picture tends to get simplified to just two groups.


Members Out, Casino In

Quest For Federal Recognition Pits Nipmuc Against Nipmuc

... Identical letters [to the one telling Ginger Wood she was no longer a member of the Nipmuc tribe] went out during the summer to 1,073 others who, like Wood, say they are Nipmuc. In one stroke, the tribal government lopped off two-thirds of the tribe's family. The purged members, leaders say, could not prove they are who they say they are, genealogically speaking.

... The purge is rooted in the Nipmuc Nation's long quest for recognition by the federal government as a sovereign tribe. To secure that status, members must show the Bureau of Indian Affairs that all are descendents of the historical tribe, and that they continue to operate politically as a tribe.

Federal recognition is the most important hurdle the Nipmuc must clear en route to their goal of opening a large casino in central Massachusetts or northeast Connecticut. Such a designation is required before the government will allow gaming on tribal lands.

My first reaction to this story was that it was an illustration of the dirty politics that surrounds casinos. It reminded me of accusations that the Oneidas cut members who opposed Turning Stone from their rolls. Then I caught on to two key elements: first, the tribe seemingly has nothing personal against the people who were rejected, it's just that they don't have adequate documentation of their ancestry. Second, the immediate concern is not the casino, but federal recognition. True, the push for federal recognition is driven by the desire for a casino. If the Nipmuc leadership didn't want a casino, it would likely have been content to remain recognized only by the state, and people like Wood would be able to remain in.

A portion of the blame must, however, go to the BIA and its rules for tribal recognition. It's those standards against which Wood failed to measure up, and which presented the tribe with the choice of cutting members or giving up on a casino. Yet federal recognition is more than just a stepping stone to a casino. It's a crucial marker of tribal status and sovereignty.

It's problematic to demand formal paperwork from marginalized segments of society. Even when they are not overtly shut out of the official system, their lives are often of necessity organized in ways that aren't documented or documentable in the terms accepted by the wider society. This seems especially difficult for eastern tribes. Because the east was colonized sooner and more thickly, there has been a longer period of cultural and social forces tearing at the integrity of tribes. Some, like the Haudenosaunee, got lucky -- their political power allowed them to gain recognition from the fledgling USA at a time when their status was closer to what Indians in the west had in the late 19th century. Others -- like the Nipmuc, whose land was the site of one of the first white population booms -- weren't so lucky. This makes it more difficult to reconstitute a tribal organization and get the paperwork together to get recognized.

On the other hand, relaxing the formal standards for membership in a tribe brings its own problems. Particularly as advantages to tribal membership grow, there will be people who unfairly want in, and those people are less easily deterred when standards are lax. Further, the tribe may have incentives to inflate its membership.

Simply handing the decision over to the tribe has a certain appeal. One big hangup for these sort of inter-cultural relations is that you generally find the more powerful side able to define the terms of the relationship. The tribe has to prove its validity by the Euro-American standards of the federal government. There have been great intra-tribal conflicts when the federal government insisted on working through a Euro-American style tribal government despite the existence of a traditional indigenous governance structure. It's tempting to say that it should be the tribe's own standards that apply, or some combination of the two that would prevent unscrupulous tribes or pseudo-tribes from scamming the government. This would help with the inter-cultural question, but it has the possibility of simply reproducing the power assymetry on an intra-tribal scale. Any organization, including a tribe, will have an elite holding power. The lack of structural incentives (such as the promise of a casino plus the stringent geneology requirements) may alter the shape and degree of abuse of that power. But it can't eliminate it. So long as there are advantages to be gained from official status, it is necessary to remain vigilant against those who decide on that status.

I wrote a paper for my Aboriginal Studies class a few years ago that had some slightly more developed thoughts on this general topic.


Apology To Netscape

For a long time I've had a sidebar section labeled "Field Manual," which said "This site uses stylesheets. Therefore you shouldn't use Netscape." This was due to the fact that my stylesheets didn't render properly in Netscape. I assumed this was because Netscape wasn't fully standards-compliant. But I have discovered that the problem was on my end -- a little syntax error that IE overlooked but which Netscape, being a CSS perfectionist, got hung up on. That problem is now fixed, so Netscape users (at least users of the newest version, which is all I have on my computer to check it with) should now see the page as it's intended to be.


Kennedy Ad Absurdum

I've shrugged and put up with the volume of "news" that has been published today to commemmorate the anniversary of JFK's assassination. But I find it difficult to believe that the Morning Call had to run a story pointing out that there's hardly anything in the Lehigh Valley named after the former president.


Healthy Forests Passes

Congress OKs Bill To Cut Wildfire Threat

The Senate passed the bill [Healthy Forests Initiative] by a voice vote less than an hour after the House approved it 286-140. The rapid-fire votes came after a three-year impasse on wildfire legislation.

... The measure would authorize $760 million a year for thinning projects on 20 million acres of federal land — a $340 million increase. At least half of all money spent on those projects must be near homes and communities.

... Judges would have to weigh the environmental consequences of inaction and the risk of fire in cases involving thinning projects. Any court order blocking such projects would have to be reconsidered every 60 days.

I'm not thrilled that it passed, but it looks to be about as good a version of Healthy Forests as we were going to get. It kept some of the key Senate provisions, such as the increased funding and requirement to focus on intermix areas. Now let's hope that we get a new president and a changed Congress in 2004 and that they can do a better job -- though if the amount of time it took a Republican-dominated Congress to get Healthy Forests going is any indication, this policy may be in place for quite some time.

Don't Upset The Homophobes

Matthew Yglesias proposes the following as a potentially significant utilitarian argument against gay rights:

For whatever reason, the thought of gay people, gay sex, and gay stuff in general just strikes me as icky. Contemplating it makes me uncomfortable, as does seeing it in real life or on TV. I find the thought of discussing a gay co-worker's marital problems intolerable. This may be irrational on my part, but there it is. The more closeted gay people are, the happy I'll be. Obviously, gay people will be less happy, but homophobes outnumber homosexuals by a sufficiently large number that our preferences, though less intense, should take priority.

Yglesias suggests three common ways out of the problem: discard utilitarianism for a rights-based ethical system, declare that such "other-regarding preferences" are not to be taken account of in utilitarian calculation, or challenge the setup on empirical grounds. The first is a type of intuition-based argument frequently used against utilitarianism, and which I find pretty weak -- the clash of the ends prescribed by utilitarianism and those prescribed by moral intution seems as likely to prove intuition wrong (indeed, moral arguments are made for that reason as often as they're made in order to give direction for situations that intuition doesn't give an answer to) as the other way around. The second argument seems to be an arbitrary restriction on the utilitarian scheme, especially since other-rgearding can be a powerful way to protect the interests of the minority (for example, the widespread feeling that, as offensive as the KKK is, it ought not to have its speech curtailed). The third I would agree with, especially when you consider that the other-regarding preferences that gay-friendly heterosexuals such as myself and Mr. Yglesias have outweigh some of the preferences of the homophobes.

However, I think that even if we concede the empirical issue, the situation described above is not an effective argument against gay rights. The situation can be summarized as a clash of interests -- gay people and homophiles have an interest in gays being able to do gay stuff, and homophobes have an interest in that not happening. One or the other has to give (or some combination of the two). The way Yglesias presented it presumes that the greater interest has a claim to being preserved, so the weaker interest -- in this case, gays' and homophiles' interest in gay rights -- must give way. But I don't think that's necessarily the operative consideration. The situation may favor the homophobes if our intention is to take both interests as fixed and ask one side to suck it up and deal with having their interests thwarted for the greater good.

However, utilitarianism should prompt us to ask whether either interest could be altered, so that the clash is eliminated and a higher overall utility can be achieved. In this case we should take into account the difficulty of making a proposed change. Regardless of the origin of one's sexuality, once it's there it's fairly resistant to change. While homophiles may be convinced that homosexuality is bad, it's unfeasible for homoseuxals to be made heterosexual. On the other hand, most homophobes can be convinced to accept homosexuality. Further, the relative benefits of changing the homophobes increase when you look at a long timescale. There will be homosexuals in every generation, requiring society to constantly expend effort in "fixing" them (presuming this can be done) in order to retain the optimal utility. On the other hand, social attitudes toward sexuality reproduce themselves, meaning that once homophilia is widespread, it will become engrained in the culture. (One counter-situation might be if homoseuxality is entirely genetic and can thus be removed once and for all, but the implications of eugenics on that scale would require a far longer post.) Forcing homophobes to endure a loss of utility can serve as a motivation to take that responsibility, just as condemnation of homosexuality is meant to motivate homoseuxals to fix the problem by acting heterosexual. This is similar to the way we might be reluctant to bail out the losses of people who choose to live in flood- or fire-prone areas -- giving them disaster relief is better than not, but withholding it can motivate them to choose the best course of action, which is to not put themselves in the situation of needing aid in the first place.


The Mayhem-flower

I was going to do a cartoon about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling, but I couldn't think of anything good. It worked out for the best, since the Opinions section of The Scarlet was awash in pro-SJC commentary. Instead, I did a cynical Thanksgiving cartoon:

My column this week was "Energy Bill: Pro Capitalism Or Pro Capitalist?," and has its very own cartoon. I had been meaning to write something for this space about the energy bill, but this commentary will do instead. I'm curious in a way what my fellow grad students would make of my implicit approval of capitalism in this piece. Granted, I'm not taking a libertarian or neoliberal stance -- indeed, some of my arguments depend on the reader accepting my brief case that things like environmental regulation are a necessary part of well-functioning capitalism. But I still decline to point to capitalism as the problem, and instead hold it up as a standard that Congressional policymakers fail to meet. I imagine one response would be that the cronyism that I decry is an essential feature of the inner logic of the capitalist system. Such a view would be consistent with the often-expressed opinion that what people usually call Communism -- a system that institutionalized corruption and cronyism -- was in fact capitalism taken to its logical conclusion.


Philocrites has a post up asking for readers' favorite Unitarian-Universalist hymns. I'm not terribly familiar with what hymns made it into the standard UU hymnals, but I was lucky enough to remember that we sang my favorite hymn of all time, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," at Miami Valley UU this summer, and thus I could vote for it. The question got me thinking about some of the other hymns I really like. Most hymns are not very exciting -- the same few "churchy" chords, and made up of only quarter notes (did people used to think rhythm was sinful?). But there are some that are really powerful musically. Anyway, since I was puttering around the web looking for sound files, I figured I'd blog my short list of favorite hymns. I don't know which of these are in UU hymnals, but this is my blog, and I'll do as I please. Ones that I've found sounds and lyrics for are linked, but be warned that the sites start playing the midi automatically when you go to the page.

"Lift Every Voice and Sing" This was written for Abraham Lincoln's birthday, and is sometimes known as the Black National Anthem. There's a tendency for people to play it slower than I'd like (the midi I linked to is all right, tempo-wise).

"I The Lord of Sea and Sky"

"Earth and All Stars"

"Battle Hymn of the Republic" This used to be my favorite song, way back before I started listening to popular music. Unfortunately, a lot of arrangers tend to want to make it a slow, soulful, "Amazing Grace" type of song. I much prefer a version that keeps to the military march character of the original.

"O Come O Come Emmanuel" I left Christmas songs off the list, but this one sneaks on because it's technically an Advent song, and it's quite underrated (as compared to most Christmas hymns -- I mean, does anybody need to be told that "O Holy Night" is a good song?).

"God of Grace and God of Glory" This was popular at Colgate's University Church (I think Harry Emerson Fosdick, the author, had some connection to Colgate). There's apparently an alternate tune, so when we sang it to that tune at Universalist Memorial in DC I was quite disconcerted.

Fuel For China-Bashers

China Set To Act On Fuel Economy

The Chinese government is preparing to impose minimum fuel economy standards on new cars for the first time, and the rules will be significantly more stringent than those in the United States, according to Chinese experts involved in drafting them.

The new standards are intended both to save energy and to force automakers to introduce the latest hybrid engines and other technology in China, in hopes of easing the nation's swiftly rising dependence on oil imports from volatile countries in the Middle East.

... Some popular vehicles now built in China by Western automakers, including the Chevrolet Blazer, do not measure up to the standards the government has drafted, and may have to be modified to get better gas mileage before the first phase of the new rules becomes effective in July 2005.

The Chinese initiative comes at a time when Congress is close to completing work on a major energy bill that would make no significant changes in America's fuel economy rules for vehicles. The Chinese standards, in general, call for new cars, vans and sport utility vehicles to get as much as two miles a gallon of fuel more in 2005 than the average required in the United States, and about five miles more in 2008.

I can think of at least three ways that this fact will be adopted into American political discourse. The most common will be its use by environmentalists -- "even China has better fuel efficiency standards than we do!" Granted, Chinese officials deny that environmental protection was a rationale for the change, but fuel efficiency improvements should help the environment just as much regardless of why they were implemented. Fixed bureaucratic rules are like that -- they have a sort of life of their own independent of the reason they were implemented and are maintained, unlike rules or habits of action or policymaking, which are sensitive to motivation.

I can also see this fact being brought up by some anti-environmentalists -- "environmental regulations are oppressive and unjust, as demonstrated by the fact that Red China likes them." This is a parallel construction to the Nazi fallacy ("The Nazis did X, therefore X is bad," an argument I've seen most often with respect to gun control).

What will be most interesting, I think, is how this fact is incorporated into considerations of US-China trade. Environmentalists are optimistic that the lure of the Chinese market plus the new regulations will spur American car makers into developing more fuel-efficient models. This may be the case. But the pessimist in me wonders if there won't be a second line of attack by American car makers: they may lean on the US government to pressure China into reducing its regulations. This kind of cronyism is par for the course in trade negotiations, and may be cheaper for Detroit than the R&D necessary to make more fuel-efficient cars. The US government could frame China's regulations as unfair to American companies, and hold out prizes like Most Favored Nation status and membership in the WTO as enticements. Beyond its effects on car sales, this strategy would have the added benefit of reducing the pressure on the US to raise its standards, something many in our government don't want to do.

Even if the US isn't successful in getting China to change its policy, opposing the standards would play well at home. The effect on the American automobile industry fits nicely into the ritual China-bashing that goes on before elections.



Apparently Wesley Clark, Denis Kucinich, Dick Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman also spoke (live or electronically) to the NCAI meeting. Unfortunately Native Times requires a subscription to look at most of its content, so I wasn't able to find anything there, and none of the mainstream newspapers seem to have covered the event in any detail. I went over to Indian Country Today, but so far as I can tell they don't have anything about the meeting. What ICT did have was this article about a commemmoration of the 1794 signing of the Treaty of Canandaigua between the federal government and the Oneida Nation. The article emphasizes that the treaty is the basis of relations between the US and the Oneidas and has not been broken by the federal government -- indeed, it quotes Michael R. Smith as pointing out "a federal court ruling last summer recognizing that 'the treaty is in effect.'" What the article doesn't mention at all, beyond identifying Smith as the Oneidas' land claim lawyer, is the reason a court had to issue a decision upholding the Treaty. The treaty has been violated in practice by the state of New York, leading to a long and thus far unproductive lawsuit by the Nation. This omission makes the article rather surreal.

Dean Stands Up For Native Americans

Dean Appearance Draws Large Crowd To NCAI

Surrounded by some high profile Native Americans past and present, Dr. Howard Dean addressed several groups of Native Americans at the 60th Annual convention of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Wednesday morning in Albuquerque, NM.

... Dean also appointed to [sic] disparties in health care and said Indian Health Service (IHS) spends 1/3 of what is spent on medicare recipients. He said Indian people need better facilites to meet those needs.

He told the main convention he would settle the Cobell trust fund lawsuit within the first two years of this administration.

"The facts are not in dispute, this country did not take care of Native American peoples' resources," Dean told the audience.

Obviously you're not going to go in front of a Native American audience and tell them you don't think the trust fund case should be settled, but it sounds here like there were a lot of noncommittal weasel words he didn't use, and he made a concrete promise. Contrast this with John Kerry's statement, which was big on nice-sounding rhetoric but lacked specifics. Good on Dean, if he has the skill and commitment to accomplish it. My sense is that Dean's more likely than anyone else running to be able to whip agencies like the BIA and Forest Service into shape.

The rest of the article deals with yet another example of people dredging up past statements that Dean made -- this time, a comment opposing casinos. Dean's response paralleled his handling of his past support of the Yucca Mountain waste facility, NAFTA, and assault weapons. He pleaded federalism, saying that opposition to casinos was what was good for Vermont, but that he supports other places taking a different approach.

I think Dean's shift indicates something about how democratic politics works: voters are parochial. Elected officials face a demand to do what's best for the entity they represent, not what's best for the world. That's why pork barrel projects are so common -- Congresspeople know that the way to get reelected is to do things for their district, not to do things for the country. These past statements reveal that Dean's populist side has tended to get the better of his straight-talking idealism. The two sides sit uneasily together, as he tells supporters "you are the campaign," then insists that he doesn't care if his stances are popular. Hopefully Dean's lack of connections with entrenched Washington bureaucratic interests (who are the most important players in resisting a settlement of the trust fund suit) will mean that he continues to see doing right by Native Americans as the best course of action for America.


God Says You Don't Need Kids To Have A Family

The most popular argument against gay marriage at the moment is that marriage exists for the purpose of raising children, and a homosexual couple is incapable of producing children the usual way. The Massachusetts Supreme Court dealt with this objection from a legal standpoint. I'd like to take a stab at it from a Biblical standpoint.

To start off, let's clarify the basic framework of the question. Marriage is an institution that formalizes the union of two people into a single social unit, a family. The question is whether that family exists for the purpose of adding a third member. Our text is the Bible's description of the creation of the first family, commonly used to prove that God didn't intend for there to be gay marriage:

Genesis 2: 20-25, NIV

20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,

"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

The description of marriage is consistent with my statement about forming a new social unit -- the man and his wife become "one flesh," one thing, a family. Note the rationale given for the union: Adam needed a helper, and none of the animals would cut it. It had to be a helper of his own kind. The purpose of marriage, then, would seem to be the support that the spouses offer each other.

There's no mention of children here. The first child (as well as the first explicitly mentioned sex) doesn't show up until chapter 4. The bit I quoted ends with the observation that Adam and Eve were naked but felt no shame. This seems to imply that they were as yet asexual. They discovered their nakedness, and became ashamed of it, only after they ate the forbidden fruit. It seems reasonable to conclude that the reason they became ashamed was that part of the knowledge that the fruit gave them was knowledge of sex. Thus, not only was the first message originally childless, it was originally sexless.

There's clearly heterosexism in this passage that isn't easy to explain away. But what's not in it is the idea that marriage is about children.

It's That Time Of The Semester

Posting may be more sporadic over the next few weeks, as I have other work to do.

Finally, Some Good News

Mass. Court Rules Gay Marriage Ban Illegal

The highest court in Massachusetts ruled on Tuesday that the state cannot bar gays and lesbians from marrying, but it stopped short of ordering the state to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In a 4-3 ruling that could make Massachusetts the first state to legalize gay marriage, the Supreme Judicial Court said the state may not deny the rights conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.

"We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution," the court said in its ruling.

This makes me proud to be a temporary Massachusettite. Now, we have to brace for the backlash.


Goddess And Wildfire

I'm going through a whole bunch of news stories about the California fires for a paper analyzing the event from a political ecology standpoint. That's where I found the column I linked to in the last post. And just a couple stories later, I came upon another old column that links the subject of my big paper from last fall (Goddess religion) with my big paper from this fall: "Some Say We Should Look At The Fire Inside."

The Other View Of Fire

I recently ran across a column taking essentially the opposite view from the John Krist article on the California fires that I commented on a few posts ago. Tim Rutten says that halting suburban development is unthinkable, and that fires like the recent ones are the price we pay for freedom. My own sympathies lay more toward the Krist side, but Rutten's column is an excellent exposition of the pro-suburbia-despite-fires attitude that I said Krist was forgetting existed.

Retroactive Legislation

There have been a couple cases recently of what I'll call "retroactive legislation" with regard to the environment. That is, cases in which new, lower environmental standards were applied retroactively to violations committed when the standards were still higher, thus exonerating the violators. The one that's gotten the most press has been the EPA's decision to stop pursuing companies who violated air quality standards because the companies' actions wouldn't be violations of the newly implemented standards. Today Bill at The Agonist points to a story describing how retroactivity is built in to the easing of MTBE restrictions that's part of the energy bill that Congress is working on.

On the surface of it, this retroactive legislation sounds like a dirty trick. After all, we wouldn't punish someone for doing something that was outlawed after they did it, because at the time they were essentially told by the government that that act was OK. However, this principle is not symmetrical. Most laws -- and pollution standards fall into this category -- have a sort of universality to them, coming with the presumption that the thing they outlaw is a bad thing in general, not just a bad thing after the law is passed. To pass a law lowering MTBE standards, for example, implies that in the government's judgement there was, from a public health standpoint, never anything wrong with pollution in the newly legalized range. If the old law was unjust, why perpetuate that injustice by taking violators to court? The one reason I can think of that the violators should still be prosecuted is the idea that, independent of a law's content, obedience to the law is a good thing, and thus people should be punished for willfully breaking the law even if the law is stupid. Certainly many corporations could use a lesson in the importance of following the law. Nevertheless, I think (not being a lawyer, all I have is an opinion) the "no harm, no foul" criterion can reasonably be said to outweigh the "respect for the law" one.

This is not to say these bits of retroactive legislation are not bad. But declining to prosecute people who violated the old standard when it was in effect is no worse than declining to prosecute people who would have violated the old standard if it had remained in effect in the future. Retroactive legislation is bad because the new rules are wrong and because not upholding the old standard hurts the environment, not because it's a sneaky and illegitimate trick.

Elections According To Google

Scott Timmreck points out that Googling "don't elect Bush" gets you a mere 10 hits (11 now, counting only the ones that show up on the initial results page). That sounds sad on its own, but consider that a similar search for Lieberman, Sharpton, Edwards, Moseley-Braun, Kucinich, or Clark turns up nothing. Meanwhile, the only person saying "don't elect Kerry" is Kerry's own blog.


Subsidizing What?

Subsidizing Catastrophe: Aid Programs Sow The Seeds Of Future Disasters

Typically, this phase is referred to as "disaster recovery." What it ought to be called is "disaster facilitation," for in seeking to soothe the pain of one catastrophe, institutions of public aid all but guarantee its repetition by rewarding the bad decisions that helped make it possible in the first place.

... Yet despite the evident risk of fire in the areas that recently have burned — and the statistical certainty that they will burn again — vast sums of money soon will be poured into reconstruction of homes in the danger zone. Although well-meaning, this assistance amounts to public subsidy of recurring disaster.

And subsidy it is. The difference in price between FEMA's low-interest loans and the commercial lending rate represents a cost borne by U.S. taxpayers. Building and permit fees waived to expedite reconstruction of fire-ruined homes are a financial drain on local government and, by extension, all the local residents who rely on its services.

There are certainly nits to be picked in this article. For starters, there's Krist's (the author) assumption that the "event" side of the fire hazard is entirely natural, overlooking the way human management of the landscape shapes the size and intensity of a fire, in addition to determining whether anyone will be in harm's way. His belief that people can simply not live in fire-prone areas is also questionable -- after all, nearly every part of the Earth burns eventually. Further, residents of the damaged areas are not all millionaires with their suburban "testosterhomes" and thus the ability to live anywhere they choose -- they may be people driven out of the city by astronomical land and rent prices, and attracted by the good deals that developers' political and economic power allow them to offer. Ceasing aid to these people would have to be accompanied by structural changes that would make relocating realistic for them.

A response might be that people can live in fire-prone areas, but they must bear the risks of it themselves. This is a sort of community autarky model, in which the activities at a place must be supported by local resources. The alternative, according to Krist (and this is where I want to go with this post), is "subsidizing disaster." A "spatial insurance" model of society* -- in which multiple areas are linked, allowing ones not hit by disaster to help out those that are -- prevents disasters from driving people out of disaster-prone areas. (A similar argument could be made with reference to vulnerability-enhancing behaviors.) Generous aid decreases the motivation to avoid future disaster, thus setting society up to bear the burden of aid again. Krist's complaint is that this is an avoidable cost.

The thing is, we're not just subsidizing disaster. We're subsidizing a certain lifestyle and method of interacting with the environment. There's an ideology of private property, of the right to live wherever one wants and do with one's land as one pleases. These rights are threatened by fire, which doesn't get along with certain residential and landscaping choices. Disaster aid promotes not only the recurrence of the disaster, but also the continuance of this freedom, which our society values. Krist probably does not value this (and I'm somewhat sympathetic to that position), but it's important to recognize that the subsidy is more than just a shortsighted waste of money.

*The alternatives are a "temporal insurance" model, in which you save during the good times to tide you over in the bad, and a "low needs" model, in which your resource demands are so low that bad periods aren't bad enough to hurt you.


Trust Fund Stalling

Appeals Court Temporarily Halts Court-Ordered Accounting of Money Owed To Indians

An accounting of money owed to hundreds of thousands of American Indians was put on hold Thursday as an appeals court considers whether recent action by Congress can overturn a federal judge's order.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued the stay so attorneys for the government and American Indians suing the Interior Department can file briefs on the effect of the congressional action.

... But Congress, at the urging of the White House, added language to an Interior Department spending bill that prevented an accounting from going forward until Congress defines the scope and methods to be used.

... The Senate's legal counsel and House members from both parties said the provision is likely unconstitutional because the administration cannot dictate to courts how to interpret the law.

-- via WitchVox

If the implication of that last sentence -- that the provision is well-known to be unconstitutional -- is right, that's both good news (because it will be overturned) and bad news (because of what it says about our legislators). The Department of the Interior complains about how expensive doing the required audit would be, but stupid delaying stunts like this only make things more expensive. The most cost-effective remedy (and coincidentally the most just, both from the perspective of the affected Native Americans and from the perspective of Americans who think the government ought to be able to balance a checkbook) would be to stop fighting and just do the audit already.

A Liberal Solution To A Marxist Problem

Wednesday night I went to a debate that pitted John Williamson -- one of the foremost defenders of the IMF's policies -- against Robert Poland and Dick Peet -- two of its prominent critics. I found Peet's comments on selfishness interesting.

Both Peet and Poland agreed with the basic insight of Adam Smith that capitalism and the market function based on people's selfishness. That is, instead of using an appeal to someone's altruism, or coercive force, a buyer in a market appeals to a seller's selfishness. "I'll give you this money (which you covet) if you'll bake me some bread/build me a car/etc." Poland seemed to further agree with Smith's view -- shared by most classical liberals -- that this selfishness is part of human nature. The classical liberal position in favor of the market is that it effectively channels this innate selfishness into benefitting society (though Poland's agreement does not extend that far, since in his opinion the market suffers from "the Marx problem" (downward pressure on wages), "the Keynes problem" (business cycles), and "the Polanyi problem" (loss of social solidarity)).

Peet, on the other hand, took a typically Marxist line -- while capitalism requires selfishness, it does not find that selfishness ready-made. Capitalism produces selfishness, propagandizing us with advertising to condition us to think we deserve more and more products for ourselves.

One audience member asked Peet how he thought we could combat this advertising. He offered two answers. The first was to broadcast counter-ads, using the power of advertising to push for the goals of socialism rather than the goals of capitalists. This answer is consistent with the view in Marxism, strengthened by some postmodernists like Foucault, that truth is a product of ideology and power.

His second answer was that we need to teach children reading, writing, arithmetic, and deconstruction. If everyone learns to see through the ploys of advertisers, they wouldn't be able to manipulate us and condition us in ways that make us better customers for them. This struck me as a classical liberal solution. The classical liberal view of truth is that the objective use of reason operating on good information will necessarily lead to apprehension of the truth. Indeed, the perfect working of the market's invisible hand depends on this ability to objectively assess things, so as to make deals that are the most beneficial to oneself. If advertising is as persuasive as Peet suggests, then a true defender of the market would dislike it, on the grounds that it enriches the advertiser by subverting the ability of the customer to think rationally about his or her choices. Peet's second prescription for dealing with advertising, then, seems founded on the idea that this kind of clear sight (achieved by deconstructing advertisers' manipulations) is both possible and beneficial.


Race And Greed In Dixie

The uproar over Howard Dean's comment that he wants to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks has largely blown over for the moment, but I want to raise the topic again, and make a more straightforwardly political post than I have been doing of late.

My initial reaction when I heard of the incident was to defend Dean. And I still think that the initial line of criticism -- that Dean was endorsing the flag and the racism that it stands for (in the minds of Northerners and blacks, at least) -- was off base. It's the second line of criticism -- that Dean was stereotyping white southerners by using the image of a guy with a Confederate flag on his pickup truck to represent them -- that made me think.

The thrust of Dean's argument, which has garnered a lot of approval, is this: working-class white southerners would benefit from Democratic programs like progressive taxation, universal health care, strong public education, etc. But the Republican "southern strategy" has won them over to the GOP by playing to these people's racism.

I don't deny that racism is a major problem in this country, south and north. And there is certainly a segment of the southern white population that is driven away from the Democrats due to their stand on racial issues. But I'm skeptical that racism alone is sufficient to explain southerners' allegiance to the Republican party. The equation has to be expanded to include a multitude of cultural issues -- religion in public life, abortion, gay rights (or the lack thereof), etc. Curing southern whites of their racism won't do the Democrats any good if the number one concern of the voters in question is that their candidate be pro-life.

At this point I still accepted that working class southern whites would benefit from Democratic policies (indeed, that would be part of the reason I support those policies, in addition to the way they benefit working class whites in the north and west, and working class non-whites everywhere). But I realized there was an unstated corollary to this point: people ought to vote in their economic self-interest. The Dean analysis assumed that people would vote for their economic self-interest unless distracted by something else (such as race). This "class interest" model fits with Democrats' (accurate) perception of the workings of crony capitalism, in which tycoons bounce back and forth between free market rhetoric and asking the government for favors, depending on which strategy will make them the most money. ("Class interest" is a Marxist term, but there are roots here in classical liberalism. Much like Adam Smith argued that the market allows people's pursuit of their self-interest to result in the good of society, in a perfect democracy the outcome that's best for the most people will be selected if each person votes for what benefits them personally.)

I don't know that we can presume that class interest operates this way for working class Republicans from any region. I recall a conversation I had once with my dad, who's a lifelong Republican of moderate means. We were discussing some people we know who had far more money than they needed, and who spent it on things like extravagant vacations. My reaction was that there were so many more productive things for society that they could be doing with that money. My dad, on the other hand, said something to the effect of "well, they worked hard for that money, so I guess they can do what they want with it." His sense of justice (a particular quasi-libertarian sort of justice) was paramount. The relevance to the Dean issue is this: while Republican policies may not be in working class people's self-interest, those policies do have appeal to those voters independent of any cultural policies that they may come packaged with. White southerners think it's proper that the government tax less and spend less, and vote based on that. Thus, it's not enough (or even necessary) for the Democrats to point out that white southerners would be better off with a Democrat in office, they have to make the case that Democratic policies are just.

My point may be clearer if we consider the case of the rich Democrat. The class interest idea effectively approves of rich people voting Republican -- after all, to vote for the party of progressive taxation and regulation of business is against their economic self-interest. And it's doubtful that Democrats have simply duped some rich people into supporting them through appeals to cultural issues. Democrats think it's perfectly understandable for a rich person to support a liberal economic policy out of a sense of justice toward the less-well-off (as do rich conservatives -- it's conceivable that for many people there can be a coincidental, rather than causal, relationship between "policies I think are just" and "policies that benefit me").

People do vote with their pocketbooks, and may use their own prosperity to judge whether the incumbent has been successful in managing the economy. But in considering which policy is desirable, a person's sense of justice can easily take precendence. The problem with the Dean analysis is less that it assumes southerners are racists and more that it assumes that they're greedy.

Bombing The Hand That Feeds You

My comic this week turned out to be not that original, although I hadn't seen the other, similar ones when I drew mine. My commentary was "State Of The Union: The New Face Of Labor," which comes with its own comic.

If You Can't Take The Heat, Stay Out Of The Woods

Experts Say California Wildfires Could Worsen With Global Warming

... State lawmakers are requiring the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to begin charging rural homeowners for the cost of fire protection, as the state battles its massive budget deficit.

Nichols suggested the state should consider additional "user fees" on development in fire-prone areas. As it is, taxpayers across the nation pay to fight California's wildfires and to reimburse homeowners for their losses.

"If the true cost of fire protection were built into the cost of construction, it would not be as easy or as cheap as it has been to build in the foothills," Nichols said. "I think that would be a good thing."

The quoted bit doesn't match the headline because it came from the very end of the article, but it's the part that interested me more. The impact of a natural hazard is the result of the intersection of two elements: the event and the exposure. We could have the biggest wildfire in history and it would be no big deal if there was nobody there to get burned by it. In dealing with fire our society has a tendency to fixate on the event. Most of our strategies for reducing the fire hazard center on reducing fire events -- thinning forests, controlled burns, fire suppression, etc. This bias is more pronounced with regard to fire than is the case for some other natural hazards. For example, though we may dream about ways to reduce the occurrence of earthquakes, we mostly look to solutions like earthquake-proof buildings and not moving to California that reduce exposure. It's the percieved controllability of fire that's at issue here. For thousands of years people have built fires, so we're conditioned to think of them as things that are done, not things that just happen. This is reinforced by the fact that there are many things that we can do to affect the incidence of fire. Another component is that exposure reduction seems to involve lifestyle changes. We want the freedom to live however we want, and we hope that we can neutralize the exposure risk by eliminating the event. There's a strong tendency to take our lifestyle as given.


The White Man's Museum

Is A Museum Obligated To Tell The Whole Truth?

Australia's new national museum, charged with depicting the story of this young nation, has roused the ire of those in power and prompted calls for wholesale changes to the permanent exhibitions.

... Among its recommendations, the review [by the government] said that a major permanent exhibition titled "Horizons," which shows immigrants from the 19th and 20th centuries, should be scrapped in favor of a focus on arrivals in the 19th century only - in other words, the British were in, and the Asians out.

... The review stated that the rotating theater [at the beginning of the museum] with its "potpourri of one-line opinions" should be replaced with the audience "recast as sailors on Captain Cook's longboat approaching the shore for the first time."

But the exhibits, as they stand now, have been a phenomenal success with visitors. In the first year alone, the museum attracted 1 million visitors, 600,000 more than initially envisioned.

I'm probably a bit out of my depth defending a museum display I've never seen, but I have some reactions to the story as reported here. The current display seems very poststructural, disrupting any unified grand narratives of history and pointing to unresolved complexity in what Australia is about. I'll admit to poststructuralist sympathies, but even those without such academic theoretical orientations -- as I presume most of the visitors are -- seem to find the museum appealing. One reason it may work so well is that a focus on the confusing fragmentation of everyday life resonates with people's own experience. Most of us don't feel too much like we're part of some great historical movement, so while such portrayals of the past can be useful in understanding what was going on, they're necessarily artificial.

The changes advocated by the government are a bit worrying. I wouldn't dismiss out of hand the idea that a display could be characterized by anti-white bias, or go too far in ignoring significant events in favor of portraying ordinary life. But the proposed changes indicate a desire to go too far in the opposite direction. They would reinforce a story of Australian history as Anglo history, a history that begins with Captain Cook (who the Aborigines of the time couldn't have cared less about, to judge from their reactions to him as recorded in his journal) and refuses to recognize the shared immigrant experience of the British and Asians. (I'm curious how the museum deals with Anglo Australia's long-standing racism against Asians, which seems to have come from a fear that the Chinese would do to whites what the whites did to the Aborigines. This is not to suggest that the proposed change is based on racism -- it's better explained by an adherence to a linear presentation of history that, due to the differing time periods of the two races' immigration, serves to set whites up as the original founding immigrants.) The "Captain Cook's longboat" device casts the visitor as a white person, and as a human arriving at a preexisting thing. The perspective is not centered on a continent recieving new arrivals (as it no doubt would be in a government-approved treatment of recent Asian immigration) and incorporating them somehow into its cultural-natural matrix, but on a group of people finding, claiming, and remaking a continent. But shouldn't Australia be at the center of a museum of Australian history?


Longest Run-On Sentence In A Photo Caption Award

Via Dave Barry:

A Vodou believer pours hot pepper-spiced homemade alcohol on her genital area, one of the key rituals during Gede, a Vodou holiday dedicated to Baron Samdi and the Gede family of spirits of the dead, while other believers, one clutching a miniature coffin, look on in the National Cemetery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on November 1, 2003, which is All Saints Day and is also the first of two days devoted to the Gede, who are feted for most of the month of November.

Mining And Casinos

It seems to me that the problems with casinos as an economic development strategy for Native American tribes are similar in many ways to the problems of mining as a development strategy for rural areas and developing countries.

The basic premise of most such development schemes is the idea of creating what is sometimes called a "growth pole." This is based on the finding of economic geography that firms benefit from proximity to other successful firms. Economically successful regions arise because firms generate beneficial externalities that other nearby firms can take advantage of -- they foster a pro-business political climate, they produce a trained pool of labor, they share the costs of infrastructure improvements, and so forth. One of the most important of these effects is economic linkages. The most commonly described type of linkages are based on product flows. For example, a successful steel plant will foster the growth of "downstream" industries like car manufacturers that use the steel, as well as "upstream" industries like steelmaking equipment manufacturers that produce things the steel company needs. Another type of linkage is a "fiscal" linkage. A fiscal linkage occurs when some entity -- often a government -- takes a portion of the company's profits and reinvests it in another enterprise.

Mining linkages are predominantly fiscal. Mining companies have been generally unsuccessful at generating upstream and downstream linkages, for a variety of reasons I won't go into at the moment. Casinos work likewise. Generally a casino is a self-contained resort complex, meaning there's little opening for additional related enterprises to accrete around it. Instead, tribes take their casino revenues and reinvest them in things like community services, other enterprises, and payouts to tribe members.

The artificiality of fiscal linkages is one problem. Because there's no economic interrelatedness to dictate what other enterprises will benefit from the linkage (as is the case in upstream and downstream linkages), fiscal linkages are more susceptible to manipulation. Corrupt and nepotistic use of mining revenues is a widespread problem in developing countries. Compounding this problem is the centralization of the money. Mines and casinos are typically single large enterprises, meaning the profts are concentrated in a few hands. This centralization continues when the government takes its cut. This centralization of money leads to a centralization, and hence focused use, of power. This is what has led tribes with casinos to gain more political clout. But it has also led to tribal leaders abusing their power within the tribe, since tribe members are at the mercy of those who control the casino's revenue stream. As I understand it, this kind of problem has plagued the Oneida Nation since the opening of Turning Stone Casino, as many of the out-of-power traditionalist faction feel that they have been greatly wronged by the Nation's leaders.

A second problem is the need for political involvement for casinos and mines. Both kinds of enterprises generally require special dispensation from the government to open - casinos need exemptions from laws, and mines need grants of land as well as the easing of tax and regulatory burdens. This encourages the growth within casino and mining operations of a skill at and inclination for special-pleading politics. These interests are used to getting special favors and case-by-case consideration from the government rather than following explicit and universal rules, and the concentration of economic power that the enterprises enjoy allows them to demand such consideration. The result is often cronyism. On the other hand, things go bad if the government ever turns on the casino enterprise, as we're seeing with many cash-strapped states. The economic concentration of these enterprises makes them appealing targets. And the history of relations based on special favors makes the government inclined to think that the tribe owes them, and that they can get away with demanding some special favors of their own. This results in an erosion of general principles of tribal sovereignty in favor of relationships worked out on the basis of the particular power relations in individual cases. The erosion of such general principles gives the tribes less of what the pretentious social scientist in me would call a "discursive resource," that is, a social structure or principle that can be drawn on to win an argument or struggle.

I hesitate to condemn casinos (or mines) outright, since without them many more Native Americans would be destitute and powerless. And I think some of the problems are more in the regulatory structure than in the nature of the casino business. Nevertheless, they present some serious problems and point to the difficulties of using a single industry to spur growth, and to the danger of the entanglement of favor-seeking that turns a well-regulated market into crony capitalism.

It's Working So Well We Can Stop

At Meetings, U.S. To Seek Support For Broad Ozone Exemptions

The two-decade effort to eliminate chemicals that harm the ozone layer faces its most serious test in recent years this week as the Bush administration seeks international support for broad exemptions to a 2005 ban on a popular pesticide.

Many American farmers say the pesticide, methyl bromide, is vital as they try to compete with farm production in countries where fields are tended by low-paid laborers. Critics of the proposed exemptions, led by the European Union, say that substitute chemicals are already in wide use and that the American request threatens progress toward repairing the ozone layer, which shields the earth from radiation that causes cancers and other problems.

... [California Rep. George P.] Radanovich replied, "The intent of the legislation is to preserve the use of the only effective and affordable pesticide available for certain crops until an alternative is developed."

The dynamics of this proposal bring together a number of issues about how the current administration, and the crony capitalists it represents, think about the environment.

The most obvious comparison is to the Kyoto Protocol. In Kyoto and the ozone rules (the Montreal Protocol), developing countries are given exemptions to environmental standards. The theory is that forcing them to play by the same rules would hamper their achievement of economic success (since they don't have the resources, built up over decades of the early "dirty" phase of development, to invest in clean technology). And in both cases, this element of the rules is at the center of the administration's stated objections. I doubt Bush would go for any effective climate change measures, but he (along with the Senate) says one of the biggest problems with Kyoto is that it doesn't require developing countries to make emissions reductions. Likewise on the ozone front, we're seeing a complaint that developing countries are allowed to continue using methyl bromide, thus giving them an unfair advantage. Given how heavily subsidized -- to the detriment of the competitiveness of developing-world agriculture -- US farming is, I'm not inclined to be too sympathetic. Perhaps the situation is different for the specific crops that most benefit from methyl bromide, but I'm still skeptical, given that fruit and vegetable farming in Florida -- one of the key crops in contention -- has been both politically corrupt and damaging to the environment for reasons that go far beyond methyl bromide. Further, I'm resistant to the idea of sacrificing the environment (particularly since the worst effects will be felt not by the American famers using the chemicals but by people in far-away places like Australia) in order to maintain a level playing field for the most advanced countries.

Second, the contention that there are no good alternatives and that the US wants to continue using methyl bromide only until they're discovered is contrary to the history of international ozone protection treaties. We'll assume for the moment that the farmers, rather than the opponents who argue that there are substitutes already available, are correct here. There were similar concerns raised when the first aspects of the Montreal Protocol went into effect and restricted chemicals like freon and aerosol propellants. Yet as it turned out, the loss of those chemicals spurred research and innovation leading to the development of new chemicals that were all-around better than the old ones. Allowing the US to get out of methyl bromide restrictions will reduce the impetus for the very R&D that the farmers say they're waiting for.

This brings us to an important point about how capitalism as we know it works: it gets stuck in ruts. The costs of entry to many markets allow large companies to dominate them. These companies don't like innovation, because it shakes things up. They'd rather keep producing the products they know how to produce with the equipment and political concessions that they've already got set up. A prime example is the energy industry. The industry is, at present, geared mostly toward fossil fuel production. Innovative ideas that could replace fossil fuels are bought out by the big companies, then put on the back burner where they won't threaten present operations. The pesticide industry would like to stay in its rut, continuing to prodce methyl bromide rather than investing the effort in developing new, more environmentally friendly, formulas (and certainly rather than adopting techniques that would reduce the need for chemical pesticides). Likewise with the farmers who use methyl bromide.

A final point relates to an issue brought up in John Quiggin's criticism of "skeptical environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg. One of Quiggin's complaints is that Lomborg "tries to argue against environmental policies by pointing to improvements generated by those very policies." This strategy has been used by the Bush administration before, in pointing to improvements in air quality since the passage of the Clean Air Act as evidence that we can weaken the Act. We see it surface in the push for exemptions from Montreal, as the administration points to improvements in the ozone situation since the implementation of Montreal as proof that they should be able to get out of their Montreal obligations. There's an added twist here, though: the improvements they point to haven't actually begun yet. Ozone-depleting chemicals have long lifespans, so it will be some time before we really start to see the effects. That means there's even less reason to allow loopholes in the rules.


Rotting In The Grave

Burial: Rest In Green Peace

SO-CALLED GREEN cemeteries, hundreds of which exist in Europe and Africa, are catching on in the United States. Marketed as an alternative to burial in traditional wooden caskets (which remain intact for centuries) and cremation (which wastes energy and causes air pollution), these cemeteries have an environmentally correct solution: bodies are buried in biodegradable shrouds like a blanket or cardboard; individual headstones aren't permitted. This month Texas environmentalist and Universal Ethician Church Bishop George Russell is opening the country’s third, and largest, natural cemetery on an 81-acre lot on the shores of Lake Livingston in east Texas. "A pickled body in a case" is not only bad for the environment, Russell argues, but it doesn’t follow the Biblical concept of "dust to dust."

Hopefully these are widespread enough by the time I die that I can get in on it. Back when I worked at the funeral home, it always seemed strange to me that the caskets in the showroom made a selling point out of how long the casket, and presumably hence the body in it, would last. It's not like anybody's going to be able to tell whether you're still there somewhere under the ground. Assuming that you don't believe that the soul remains in some way tied to the body -- which I don't -- about the only purpose this information seems to serve is to weird out Barbara by discussing how they test the lifespan of the caskets.

On the other hand, the very fact that I don't believe it matters to my fate what people do with my body after I'm done with it suggests that the choice of burial shouldn't be entirely mine. The ritual of the funeral and burial is for the benefit of the survivors and how they need to grieve. A part of that process, though, is facilitated by the knowledge that they're doing what the deceased would have wanted, so maybe that's my way to bring in the green cemetary idea.

One If By Land, Two If By Sea

Did First Americans Arrive By Land And Sea?

A growing number of experts are radically rethinking how the Americas were first populated. Scientists say an emerging picture suggests that the earliest people to reach the New World may have arrived by both land and coastal routes.

For the last several decades, prevailing theory held that a small group of big game hunters in Siberia followed the Pleistocene megafauna—mammoth, mastodon, and extinct bison—across a land bridge that formed during the last Ice Age. Known as Beringia, it connected Asia to Alaska and northwestern Canada. As the glaciers began to retreat, an ice-free corridor opened up around 12,000 years ago, allowing people to make their way south to populate North and South America.

... For decades it was simply assumed that the coast of Beringia was an inhospitable place to live, said Erlandson. New evidence suggests that instead of a straight-line coast, the southern coastline of Beringia was comprised of hundreds of islands, shallow bays, and inlets. Such coastal topography would have facilitated coastal living and migration.

One issue this article doesn't follow up on is the question of megafauna. The prevailing image of the first Americans is of big-game hunters following the mastodons from Siberia. But a coastal route would suggest a much greater emphasis on smaller animals and plants. The Clovis culture would then be an indigenous adaptation, developed as people left their maritime environments and moved inland to where the big game was.

I wonder what the shift from thinking about the first Americans as generalists rather than big game specialists says about how rapidly the continent was populated. Many people believe that the megafauna were wiped out in part by a rapid population expansion of hunters -- the "blitzkreig" hypothesis. I have a preconceived skepticism about this theory based on closer investigations of the cases of South America and Australia. This is bolstered by the historical evidence from hunting of the most mega of the fauna left after the ice ages, the bison. We hear a lot about how conservation-minded the Indians of the plains were in contrast to the wasteful whites who nearly wiped the bison out. But as Shepard Krech points out, another important factor was that the plains Indians simply weren't capable of putting that much hunting pressure on the bison. To do so would have required many more mouths to feed than the plains Indians had (clearly the Lakota never read Malthus). This makes me wonder why the Paleoindians would have been different (though they certainly could have been -- one could argue that other factors, such as climate, reduced the megafauna's numbers so that they were extinct-able whereas the bison remained too numerous).

On the one hand, it seems like generalists would be able to expand more rapidly, because they're less dependent on any particular resource. It seems like they could more quickly pick up new food sources as they moved across the continent, rather than being limited by the range of the megafauna. Then again, the "blitzkreig" hypothesis only requires rapid population expansion through the areas with megafauna. On the other hand, the archaeological evidence points in the other direction -- there are many Clovis sites, whereas there are no universally agreed-upon pre-Clovis sites (though I personally am pretty confident in Meadowcroft). So either the pre-Clovis generalists tread very lightly upon the land, or there was no population explosion until Clovis times.


A Manly W?

The praise of aggressive masculinity that I talked about in the previous post has been much talked about in the last few years with regard to the president. Many conservatives see Bush post-9/11 as the epitome of resurgent manliness, boldly laying the smackdown on our enemies (in contrast to the girly-man Democrats depicted in this odd cartoon). I agree that Bush has been able to project that image, and that it's a big part of his appeal to many people.

But I think he has also been able to project an image more in line with Bill Clinton, who was reviled for the effeminate declaration "I feel your pain." Immediately after September 11, it was his ability to play the comforting father, grieving along with us, that was responsible for his skyrocketing approval more than was his playing the role of the defiant soldier. The soldier has been on display much more in the past year, but Bush remembers how to play the father role. In California on Tuesday, Bush explained how he wasn't going to give any additional aid (as requested by Arnold Schwarzenegger):

"The best I can do is to listen and hug and empathize as best as I can empathize," the president said. "I suspect the citizens here, who are at the darkest moments, will find light when a fellow citizen loves them."

It's interesting that he went with the compassionate father role here, since firefighting is so steeped in the soldier model. I would have expected a statement of defiant resolution to battle the forces that lead to catastrophic fire (and he did shift into soldier mode when he got to the part of his speech that dealt with Iraq). Perhaps it's that very unexpectedness that makes Bush's statement come off as authentic to people.

A Manly Jesus?

Allen Brill has a good post up responding to Donald Sensing's post lamenting how society as a whole -- and Christianity in particular -- have become too feminized, leaving no room for aggressive dominating masculinity. Brill's answer is that Sensing's problem is with Jesus himself, who made a virtue of compassion and weakness: "Jesus does not come down from the cross and teach those mockers a lesson, he dies helpless and forsaken."

This exchange is part of the wide variety of commentary that has been spawned by Kim du Toit's self-parodic post about the threat to real manliness. (As an aside, why is it that some commenters take such glee in accusing homophobes of being secretly gay?)

Part of the problem is a confusion of steadfastness with domination. Sensing is right to point out that a real good shepherd would not be as clean and nice as Jesus is often shown in art -- he would be sweaty and dirty, and perhaps wounded from battling lions and wolves. However, I don't see this as necessarily masculine -- think of the archetype of the mother bear defending her cubs. The good shepherd does not go out looking for lions to battle, or try to eradicate wolves. The nature of God's love -- epitomized in the doctrine of turning the other cheek -- is to absorb whatever the world throws at us and remain uncowed, not to project power over the world and our fellow people.

This leads to what I think is a more important element of the problem: Christianity's persecution complex. As J. Colins Fisher writes in a comment to Brill's post: "If you look at Christianity's spread in the Roman Empire, it was those most likely at the receiving end of Roman muscle (pun intended!), who were likely to adopt the new faith (women, slaves, the lower classes, notorious outcasts)." Christianity is designed to appeal to the oppressed. This creates a problem when the faith becomes dominant, as it is in contemporary America. Much of the message of being steadfast in the face of adversity loses its relevance. So Christianity has a tendency to invent enemies, so that Christians can convince themselves that they're under attack. This is why you hear people implying that removing the ten commandments from a courthouse will be a death blow to the faith, and that a few gays getting married will destroy the institution. And it's why femininity, or even non-aggressive models of masculinity, is seen as such a threat.

Another element is the false dilemma of "this particular order, or chaos." I've blogged before about this false dilemma in the case of morality, and I think it applies here in the case of gender roles. Claude Levi-Strauss has written about this phenomenon in the case of sorcery, describing how people cling to the idea of sorcery even when it's proven wrong because they can't imagine any other way of ordering the world.

People in a dominant position are inclined to see their dominance as natural, and to have difficulty imagining another order for the world. One major theme in anti-feminization writing is that aggressive dominating masculinity is just the way that men are, and that if it's suppressed instead of being fostered, it will manifest itself in even more destructive ways down the line. The alternatives become the traditional "natural" order of things, or a warped and demented society. Those in subordinate positions, while they benefit from being able to construct alternate visions, can also suffer from this lack of imagination. When they do, despair sets in. Christianity appeals to people in this position because it helps people refuse to be dominated in their hearts.

I think this kind of thing may be what the Bible is getting at in declaring that Jesus' message would be foolishness as far as this world is concerned. Often when the Bible talks of worldliness, it is opposing not the physical and the spiritual, but the world that is with the world that could be. Jesus seems foolish because he denies the seemingly obvious truths about how society works, and invites us to look beyond these assumptions. The inability of a Christian as dedicated as St. Paul to get beyond his own sexist preconceptions demonstrates how difficult a task this is.


Vigilante Justice

Bushfire Victim Took Revenge On 1000 Park Trees

The passage of time had doused the initial rage that engulfed Victorian farmer John "Monty" Skehan when a bushfire destroyed his property in January. But even the cold rain outside Myrtleford court seemed only to dampen - not deaden - his anger.

Skehan, 46, pleaded guilty to charges arising from his post-bushfire chainsaw attack on about 1000 trees in a national park adjoining his property near Beechworth.

... He maintained that more than half the trees he cut down were dead or burnt sticks and that he did it "to protect my property the next time there's a fire".

Local Knowledge

Funding Threat Ahead Of Bushfire Report

The federal government will become more actively involved in bushfire management in response to the devastating fires that ripped through Australia last summer, parliament was told.

A seven-month inquiry into the bushfires found poor management practices and refusal by some fire control officers to listen to local knowledge hampered fire fighting efforts.

"Fire suppression efforts were hampered by the dismissal of local knowledge by some fire controllers," committee chairman Gary Nairn told parliament.

So the lack of attention to local knowledge will be fixed by centralization and a top-down approach. I'm not saying it's impossible that this will work, but it is counterintuitive.

Kiosk Update

Being at a university, I get lots of announcements about events. For some reason, people here at Clark have a strong tendency to send them as attachments. This means that 1) my mailbox fills up faster, and 2) I have to sit and open a whole Word file or pdf to see what the announcement is about. This would be ok if for some reason I needed a nicely formatted flier about the event. But I see no reason why the pertinent info can't be pasted into the body of the email. So, to the kiosk with people who send out event announcements as attachments!

Y'all Should Vote Democratic

My cartoon for this week, regarding the Confederate flag flap:

Originally I meant to portray Dean more favorably, as actually reaching out to southern whites in contrast to Kerry's (and Gephardt's) aversion. But then I read comment after comment from southerners offended at how Dean had stereotyped them. So I shifted Dean toward a "trying, awkwardly" sort of image with the poor attempt to speak in a southern accent, and made the southerner rolling his eyes at both candidates.

My commentary was "Senators Come Up Short On Air Quality," which unfortunately ended up being too much about the process of politics and a repeat (with fresh examples) of the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy, and not enough about the substance of the 9/11 air quality controversy. I did, however, take a very strong stance (perhaps too strong) in the accompanying cartoon.


Be Like The Aborigines

This letter was in today's Los Angeles Times:

When it comes to fires, we could take a cue from Australia's aborigines. They don't wait decades for brush and debris to build up and start a conflagration. They do an annual burn. This prevents the buildup of combustibles and stimulates the growth of the greens.

I'm glad to see indigenous knowledge get some credit. However, there are a couple of cautions to be made about the way this letter frames the issue.

First, annual burning is not always a good option. Some ecosystems, particularly grasslands, can handle very frequent burning. Others need fire at longer intervals, sometimes decades or centuries long. Burning too often can severely disrupt the ecology of an area. Indeed, some ecosystems prefer an occasional "catastrophic" fire, rather than the smaller and cooler fires that come from frequent prescribed burning.

Second, the Aborigines had one thing that we lack: mobility. While the Aborigines had close connections to their territory and the significant locations (sacred and utilitarian) within it, they were nomadic. Their houses never ammouted to anything more permanent than a bark "humpy" (similar to a wigwam). Thus, they could easily get out of the way when they needed to burn an area. Contemporary suburbanites, on the other hand, have a huge investment in a fixed, built landscape. San Jose couldn't just pack up and move away from the fire. Management strategies must take this issue into account.