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Pennsylvania Update

(I'm still officially on hiatus, which is why I'm posting this story two days late -- so unfortunately any Pennsylvanians reading this who have an opinion to express have probably missed their chance.)

Governor Asks For Input

... "The [Pennsylvania] Senate and House of Representatives have sent a bill to the governor that would prevent local communities from passing ordinances to regulate the land application of sewer sludge for agricultural purposes," said ACE founder Dr. Dante Picciano, Esq., Tamaqua.

"Fortunately for us, the bill does not regulate the dumping of sewer sludge in mine reclamation. The governor has indicated that he would veto the bill if enough people call his office. He has until Jan.1, 2004 in which to act. "

... The language in the bill is written so that the bill would prohibit the enactment or enforcement of any local ordinances governing "normal agricultural operations." Factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and the land application of biosolids are considered "normal agricultural operations" in PA.


Social Solidarity And Wildfires

I'm still officially on hiatus for the next week, but I found time to pop in and link two interesting tidbits that are somewhat relevant to my dissertation. First, in Western Australia, which is catastrophic wildfire central at the moment, residents are conducting a fodder drive to help out people whose range has been burned. It makes perfect sense that in a rural situation people would need help maintaining and rebuilding the basis of their livelihoods in addition to keeping themselves alive and rebuilding their homes, but it's not something that pops to mind when the paradigm case of wildfire is a suburban and wilderness fire like the ones in California a few months ago.

Speaking of California, I wrote a paper for my political ecology class on the contrasting strategies that George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger used for dealing with the fires this year. In it, I focussed on the use of public resources -- the land that Bush opened up to logging via the Healthy Forests Initiative, and the disaster aid funds that Schwarzenegger (who called himself "the Collectinator") wanted to get for California. I left out consideration of the role of the private sector. The obvious way to go would have been to talk about Bush and Scwarzenegger's generous praise of private donations to the relief effort as a way to shift the burden from the government onto the people -- a sort of standard leftist complaint about charity. But I thought that was too overdone, too cynical, and not clearly integrated with the remainder of my analysis. I would also have to take into account the performative aspect of the praise of charity, in addition to the functional -- the role it plays in shaping a politician's image and creating a feeling of connection from the people by drawing on, and reinforcing, shared moral values (something that Bush proved very good at after September 11*).

Another aspect of private sector support for fire recovery is described in this article describing the large amounts of money that businesses have contributed to relief efforts. This one is even tougher to work into my paper, since officials made no public statements (as far as I remember) regarding business, as opposed to individual, charity. Indeed, it would seem to undermine my overall thesis -- stated simplisticly, it's that in different ways the governor and president were aiming at advancing and securing the interests of business. One way around it is to say that businesses can afford a short-term financial loss in order to secure a long-term favorable structural situation (they'd rather cut a one-time check than risk having their taxes raised or their activity regulated). Or it could be explained as a failure of the pro-business agenda -- Bush and Schwarzenegger didn't do good enough to keep businesses from having to shell out money for their own. There are also other purposes that the act of giving to charity could serve, which apply to any charitable need (not just wildfire). The obvious and cynical one is that the capitalist system produces an impersonal, alienated society, and that business charity aims at papering over that fact by playing up an image of being involved in the welfare of the community and building bonds that go beyond the coldly economic. Then there's the fact that business owners are people, too, and are just using their greater financial power to do what ordinary folks do.

*Thought for a future post: It's this performative aspect of politics that Howard Dean doesn't get, and which is behind his frequent "gaffes" in which he says things that are probably true but sound really bad.


Habermas And Gay Marriage

As usual, after I post my "I'll be gone for a while" message, I think of a good post to make.

I'm starting to read Jürgen Habermas's Theory of Communicative Action, and it's suggesting a new set of terms in which to put some of the ideas I've been tossing around about what the gay marriage debate means.

Basically, it seems that the gay marriage struggle can be looked at as a problem of what Habermas calls "the colonization of the lifeworld." He divides society into two parts: the system and the lifeworld. The system -- made up mostly of what we call the economy and politics -- is a rationalized, functional setup. The lifeworld -- culture and social interaction -- is the site of values and social solidarity. Modernity is characterized by the separation of lifeworld and system into semi-autonomous spheres, through the rise of administrative politics and market economics. For example, whereas economic relations were once deeply embedded in lifeworld institutions such as kinship (people lay claim to goods by asserting a kin relation), they're now characterized by relations mediated through the abstract medium of money. At the same time, however, the system is at work "colonizing" the lifeworld, drawing off more elements of the lifeworld and subjecting them to the system's rationality. This process is what has also been described as commodification when the colonizing agent is the market.

Marriage, as an institution rooted in kinship, affection, and socialization, was originally a part of the lifeworld. As the system broke away from the lifeworld, it adopted the concept of marriage as a constitutive institution. Though it was initially parasitic on the lifeworld for the idea and its definition, it eventually became necessary to "write down" marriage in the language of system -- to formalize the institution in legal terms. This shared institution formed a basis for interaction between system and lifeworld.

The dual nature of marriage went unremarked so long as both lifeworld and system defined it in compatible ways. This unremarkability provided an avenue for the system to colonize the lifeworld, expanding its involvement in the shared institution. But there comes a problem when the definitions diverge.

The fight for gay marriage is currently focused on making a change in the system definition of marriage -- the legal recognition of the institution, with all the benefits that come with it. As I see it, changes in the system can be more acute issues because bureaucratic rules are more static, as they're literally written down with formalized processes for changing them. Rules in the lifeworld, on the other hand, can happen more gradually and smoothly because the lifeworld is as described in Anthony Giddens' theory of structuration) being constantly reproduced in social action, and is thus constantly subject to renegotiation rather than being presumed fixed until change is officially undertaken. Within the system, political rules seem likely to be more bureaucratically static, as evidenced by the fact that corporations have moved more quickly than states to change their definitions of marriage to treat gay and straight relationships as equal (to the extent that they're independent of, rather than parasitic on, the political definition of marriage).

The degree of colonization of the lifeworld that has already been carried out makes the system level a crucial struggle for those who would open marriage to homosexual couples. These activists use the logic of the system -- for example, by appealing to constitutional principles of equality -- to effect a change in the system. Yet this systemic activity is percieved as threatening to the lifeworld, a threat expressed in the fear of the commodification and individualism of homosexual marriage (as well as of heterosexual marriage under the influence of the new marital paradigm). Changing the system definition exposes the degree of colonization of the lifeworld that has already occurred by making the two definitions jar against each other. And it reveals the weakness of the lifeworld to resist a new definition of marriage that is sedimented in law. For example, take the fear that churches (religion is a quintessential lifeworld issue) may be forced to recognize homosexual unions, in practice if not in theology, because ministers have been colonized through being given the authority to formalize system-sanctioned marriages. (Apropos of my earlier comments on conspiracy theories, note the frequent references to the "gay agenda" that is said to be engineering this change.)

The analysis presented thus far seems rather favorable to the anti-gay-marriage position. Indeed, the idea of colonization of the lifeworld seems to parallel a common procedural complaint -- that judges, representatives of a highly rationalistic system, are foisting gay marriage on a culturally unwilling society*.

However, it is incorrect to place lifeworld unproblematically on the anti-gay-marriage side. Certainly that is the historical position, and it remains true for many people. But the gay rights movement came out of the lifeworld, as a sort of cultural politics. In many gay-friendly areas, homosexual couples can already acquire most of the purely lifeworld trappings of marriage, from being recognized by their friends to having their union sanctified by a (Unitarian or Episcopalian) church. It's the colonization of the lifeworld by the system, making so many aspects of married life dependent on meeting the system's definition of marriage, that has spurred the legal fight over gay marriage. The incongruence of a pro-gay lifeworld with an anti-gay system motivates the progressive side as surely as the threatened incongruence of an anti-gay lifeworld and a pro-gay system motivates the conservative side.

Further, conservatives are willing to make use of the system to defend their side. The prime example is the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, an attempt to very thoroughly solidify in the system a certain definition of marriage. This movement goes beyond an attempt to keep the system from interfering with the lifeworld to an attempt to use the system to shape the lifeworld. Eugene Volokh has written of his concern that, in moving the scene of struggle from the lifeworld to the system too soon, the pro-gay will provoke a backlash that puts the system definition of marriage permanently out of reach (and thus cramps the lifeworld definition to the extent that it has been colonized).

Habermas urges decolonization of the lifeworld. The simple interpretation of decolonization would lead us to the view (popular among libertarians, who have a tendency to merge the economic system with the lifeworld in opposition to the political system) that marriage should be privatized. The goal here would be to take away marriage as a point of articulation between lifeworld and system by reorganizing the system so as not to use the marriage concept. The effect of this would be to place all authority for regulating marriage back with the lifeworld (though it says nothing about whether the functions served by system-marriage would devolve to the lifeworld along with marriage, or would be retained by the system but served in a different way, thus weakening the overall institution of marriage). This idea is not popular among social conservatives, who believe a degree of colonization is needed to save the lifeworld from its own liberal tendencies. This is perhaps connected to a view that marriage is defined on a moral level by an immutable natural law, which leads to an affinity for whatever social mechanism -- in this case, the constitutional system -- can best make that permanence materially real.

Pro-gay people have reason to be skeptical of such separatist decolonization as well. The system can be a powerful tool when wielded properly by the lifeworld, as evidenced by the way the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas was able to take the national majority feeling that sodomy should not be a crime and extend it to places like Texas where the lifeworld (and the democratic politics that feeds off of it) is of a different opinion. But perhaps this view of the system as a tool of the lifeworld is a form of decolonization. This partakes of Max Weber's view of the system. He thought that the system's rationality was purely instrumental, enabling you to get what you want but offering no clues as to what you should want. Colonization involves a sort of idolatry, subordinating the user to the tool.

*Yet conservatives are unable to fully make this argument because it requires assenting to the idea that the judges' decision is the result of legal rationality. They would rather keep all rhetorical options open by maintaining that the derivation of a right to gay marriage from existing law is an incorrect -- irrational -- deduction, and hence illegitimate by the standards both of lifeworld and of system.

Hauskaa Joulu!

At long last, I have fixed my reading list. The quality of the entries is pretty poor, since for at least year now I couldn't publish (though I kept a log in Blogger), and thus I had little incentive to write anything interesting about the books I'd read. There's also a link to it on my contact page, if you ever find yourself wondering what I've read lately.

I'm heading off for a couple weeks of visiting tomorrow, so there will probably be no new posts until January 7. Check out my sidebar for a list of other blogs that are more interesting than mine and updating regularly over the next few weeks.

Now Wait Just A Minute

Court Blocks Changes To Clean Air Act

A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked new Bush administration changes to the Clean Air Act from going into effect, in a challenge from state attorneys general and cities that argued they would harm the environment and public health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) rule would have made it easier for utilities, refineries and other industrial facilities to make repairs in the name of routine maintenance without installing additional pollution controls.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (news - web sites) for the District of Columbia issued an order that blocks the rules from going into effect until the legal challenge from the states and cities is heard, a process likely to last months.

... "When it comes to environmental policy, this court decision is as big a success as we've had in stopping the Bush administration from undercutting the Clean Air Act," [New York attorney general Elliot Spitzer] said.

Environmentalists are all excited about this, and it is good news (though I wonder whether the stay will have much effect -- I would imagine most power plants would just postpone upgrades until after the decision in the hope that the EPA will win, rather than going ahead with making them, and the accompanying pollution reductions, now). But it says something about the quality of environmental protection under Bush that a court postponing a rule change while it reviews a challenge can be described as "as big a success as we've had."


Conspiracy Theory

The capture of Saddam Hussein set off the latest round of conspiracy theories among some opponents of the administration. Some people wondered whether it was really Saddam, and others speculated about whether he had been located some time before and only officially captured now, when it was politically useful. There has been concern, offered in all seriousness, about whether we will "just happen" to catch Osama bin Laden this coming October. This builds on a longstanding perspective that explains every move of the administration as a political calculation, engineered by the shadowy tendrils of Karl Rove.

I think this sort of conspiratorial thinking has a particular appeal for people who feel their power threatened or lost. Liberals in America today are understandably frustrated when they see conservatism ascendant. Seeing conservatives' rule as devious and Machiavellian provides a tempting explanation for our lack of power. If the other guys work in such crafty ways, it's no wonder they've managed to get and stay in control. Further, it gives a sheen of illegitimacy to conservative power, as they're seen to hold it through less-than-forthright means despite their claims to be serving the nation's interests. This reassures liberals that their powerlessness is unfair, and hence that there's something righteous in fixing the situation.

My sense is that liberals are currently more prone to conspiratorial types of thinking than conservatives due to their lack of power. But what of the conservative conspiracy theorists? We got a good dose of such thinking when Wesley Clark's entry into the presidential race was described as a secret plot of the Clintons, and again when commentators on the right deconstructed Al Gore's complex political calculations in deciding to endorse Howard Dean. What we see here is, I think, evidence of insecurity about the power they have. Bill Clinton is a guru to the left and a bane to the right because he so effectively captured federal power. The possibility of a return to a Clintonian situation -- particularly if engineered by Slick Willy himself -- is a threatening prospect. Conventional wisdom held that Clark's entry into the race and Gore's endorsement of Dean were big victories for (parts of) the left, just as Saddam's capture was supposed to be a major coup for Bush. Such moments of victory for the other side heighten the motivation for taking a conspiratorial view. Conspiracy theories are a good indication that the theorist feels vulnerable.

My use of the term "conspiracy theory" should be read in a value-neutral way. It seems obvious that you don't get to be a politician of national note without some ability to scheme and subtly play things to your advantage. Anti-conspiratorial forms of explanation can work to mystify the real process of securing political advantage. On the other hand, too much focus on conspiracy theorizing reduces politics to a power struggle.


Jesus Is The Question

Philocrites has an inspiring post up in which he argues that Jesus is not the Answer, but the Question -- a paradoxical figure that refuses to sit still in any of our doctrinal boxes but invites us to chase after him in how we live our lives.

The connection between uncertainty and practice got me thinking about what I see as an important contrast between liberal and conservative religion*, in terms of their outreach. Conservative religion, as I've experienced it, emphasizes evangelism over stewardship, spreading the truth over doing good. It's a self-confident mission driven by that very theological certainty that they're pushing to unbelievers.

Liberal religion lacks that certainty. At its worst, it descends into inward-looking concerns, unwilling to exhort others to believe things that it isn't righteously convinced of. In doing so, it aspires to conservatism, awaiting that sort of certainty before bothering anyone else. At best, however, liberal religion turns to a focus on stewardship. This isn't stewardship in the mode that conservative religion practices it -- service to others as an expression or epiphenomenon or proof of their doctrine. It's service as an exploration, as a test of whatever the participant provisionally takes to be true and an opportunity to engage others in figuring it out.

Last year around this time I came across a moving story about being a recipient of charity (unfortunately I don't have the first clue what blog it was on -- if anybody knows, I'd love to link it, although perhaps the actual story doesn't suit my point here as well as my recollected version does*). The writer described how, when she was a child living in poverty, a charity-giver came to her apartment and left them a box of canned goods, filled with self-confidence about what a good deed he was doing. The writer and her mother were insulted by the way the man barged into their lives, gave them a miscellany of unwanted foods, and expected their gratitude (which the mother faked to get him to leave so that she could go to work). This man is a sort of caricature of conservative stewardship, convinced it has the answers and doing good deeds as an expression of its (presumed -- and perhaps in some cases correct) righteousness. My reaction at the time was of the wimpy liberal variety. I became self-conscious about the unsupported assumptions in any good deeds I might try, embarassed into feeling that I ought to just leave well enough alone until I was sure that my good deeds were actually good, rather than bothersome and condescending. But on further reflection, I think I see a better liberal response. Certainly, I don't want to disparage thinking ahead and trying to figure things out. But rather than being paralyzed by uncertainty, a liberal distributing charity might still have gone to the door with the box of canned goods, thinking there was a good deed in the making. But he would have seen the frustration of the author's mother, and perhaps made some realizations about their life and needs. Maybe his openness would have prompted a more honest dialogue. He would have gone away with a changed view of what it means to help the poor.

*I don't want to make any assumption that the contrast necessarily has anything to do with the inherent nature of conservatism and liberalism. It's a matter of epistemological stance, which is probably at most contingently related to the actual content of the theology.

*UPDATE: Via mattH in the comments, here is the original post I was thinking of.


More On Land Trusts

Developers Find Payoff in Preservation

Easements are permanent deed restrictions that limit some types of intrusive development -- such as dense subdivisions or strip mines -- while often permitting limited construction. Landowners "donate" the easements to a nonprofit land trust or a government agency that, in effect, certifies that the restrictions are meaningful and provide some public benefit, such as preserving open space or protecting wildlife. That allows the donor to seek federal income tax deductions for the reduction in the land's market value.

By taking such steps to limit construction, the owners of vacation resorts, country manors and dude ranches can seek big write-offs, too. Pennsylvania developer Kenneth C. Hellings says he restricted building on "unusable" portions of his new subdivision and took "a shocker" of a tax deduction. Luxury-home builders in North Carolina paid $10 million for a tract in the mountains, developed a third of the land, then claimed a $20 million deduction. Such tax bonanzas have become a little-noticed byproduct of the maturing environmental movement, which increasingly entwines preservation of land with preservation of wealth.

This article is long, but it goes into a lot of the problems faced by the land trust system. It treats it more as a compliance problem -- poor enforcement of the rules and agreements -- rather than a structural problem -- whether it makes sense to give monitoring authority to local, private groups while the benefits come out of the federal budget.

The paragraphs I quoted come near the beginning, and are presented in a way that suggests they're examples of the typical operation of a land trust. We learn later that the incidents described are examples of abuses, in which minimal gain for conservation led to mega-gain in profit for the owner. But the impression that this initial presentation leaves you with -- or at least this is how it struck me -- is that there's something disingenous about the whole land trust idea, and that there's something wrong with it because rich people can gain from it, as opposed to it being a pure act of charity. But that's exactly the point of the trust system -- rather than coercive regulation (as in the case of zoning), land trusts allow a mutually beneficial agreement to be made.


Ecuadorian Oil

Battle Rages With Ecuador Indians Over Jungle Oil

In the northern Amazon, Indians are suing a U.S. oil company over environmental damage they say ruined their land and made people sick. Further south, indigenous demonstrators have led violent protests to keep firms off their property.

... Analysts say it could be tough for Ecuador to attract investment unless tensions are eased with indigenous communities, who make up nearly half the people in the Amazon and are backed by a powerful national left-wing Indian movement.

They talk about scaring off oil investment like it's a bad thing. The environmental problems that surround most oil production, and the consequent problems for the humans who depend most directly on that environment, are enough to make me very skeptical of further drilling (though some companies, like BP, have been demonstrating that environmentally benign oil production is not impossible -- the question is how to create incentives for using this kind of best practice). But I would also be very concerned about overdependence of an economy on one industry, especially one that has links to local prosperity only through government appropriation and redistribution/spending of profits. Rather than pinning its hopes on a black gold windfall, Ecuador ought to be diversifying, and Indian activism out of environmental self-interest may have an unintended consequence of keeping the country from taking the easy, but ultimately unfulfilling, way out.

At the end of the article, we hear this:

"All the oil and gold that's in the earth should be exploited," said [Santiago] Alomoto, who is not Indian but a long-time jungle dweller. "But the wealth should stay right here."

My first reaction was to sympathize with Alomoto's perspective. Many of the problems of oil-based development stem from the fact that it's carried out by outside capital. This leads to an export of profits, as well as an easy indifference to environmental impacts on the part of those calling the shots -- after all, the sludge isn't being dumped in their backyards. My second response was skepticism. How could Amazonians put together the funds and knowledge to effectively exploit their oil reserves, especially if they were committed to a presumably high-tech standard of environmental best practice.

Then it occurred to me that, in the case of natural resource exploitation, it's not entirely clear who owns the "means of production," so to speak, and who is just a hireling. The dominant setup is for owners of oil resources to essentially sell themselves to the oil companies, just like owners of labor-power sell themselves to a company they want to work for. But what if they reversed the situation and the owners of oil production technology and equipment sold themselves to oil owners? Texaco or whoever would be hired to drill for the Amazonians. This would also go along with a changed property system, in which ownership of the oil would be shifted from the state to the local people. This kind of shift could undermine the power of the oil owners, since presumably the state is in a better position to get its way in negotiations with an oil company than a group of Indians would be. But this may be mitigated in a condition of oil scarcity -- the less oil there is to be had around the world, the stronger the position of the people who do have some.


Love And Contract

After reading a few recent attempts to justify heterosexuals-only marriage, I'm starting to get what some of the secular opposition to gay marriage is all about. I never bought the idea that secular arguments were just lame rationalizations for religiously-based opposition to homosexuality (though certainly many people accept both sets of reasons).

At first sight, the arguments put forth seem bizarre. No reason is given why the stable, loving family that anti-gay-marriage arguments idealize can't be composed of members of the same sex. Indeed, it would seem that such an arrangement is exactly what homosexual couples who want to get married are aiming at. The thing is, though, that keeping gays from marrying isn't the point. The point is to preserve loving, socially rich family relationships against the percieved encroachment of distanced, individualized, contractarian interactions. To put it in Marxist terms, they fear the commodification of social interaction. Gay marriage is simply a symbol of this cold and lonely world. We can't make a law that says spouses have to love each other (rather than simply making a convenient deal), so the struggle is fought out on the symbolic terrain of gay rights.

Divorce used to be the proxy battle for the love-versus-contract struggle. Though divorce could easily be seen as helping the cause of love -- by allowing people to get out of marriages that could never be loving -- it was seen as the opposite, as an affirmation that marriage was a contract that could be cancelled rather than a social obligation. Today, gay rights make the most convenient avatar for fears about the dissolution of loving marriage because this is the biggest public question about marriage being asked today, and because the libertarian justifications often given for the right to marriage evoke the kind of depersonalized society that social conservatives fear.

The argument that the purpose of marriage is having kids -- a surprisingly and ironically recent introduction to the "traditional marriage" discourse -- is shoehorned in to bolster the idea that traditional marriage is the only arrangement that works. Reproduction is natural in the sense of "biological," so there's an intuitive slide across the is/ought gap to reproduction (and relationships that encourage it) being natural in the sense of "the way things are supposed to be."

The children argument also serves the crucial function of solidifying the link between tradition and heterosexuality. Having a child biologizes the parents' relationship, making it appear less reversible and more socially permanent than the most intimate relationship between two adults. And rearing a child brings with it a host of obligation-based interactions that can't be accommodated within the self-interest and exchange based paradigm that social conservatives fear is taking over.

My response to these fears is twofold. First, I think that, while "thick" relationships are very important (especially within a family), creeping commodification is not quite as prevalent or as undesirable as social conservatives fear. The capitalist marketplace, taken by both supporters and detractors as the archetype of self-interested contractarian interaction, has proven to depend heavily (in some cases too heavily) on "thick" social relations or trust and obligation. Second, I think fighting gay marriage is a counterproductive symbolic struggle for defending loving and non-commodified relationships. Heterosexuals-only marriage undermines the development of such relationships because it denies to some people the opportunity to integrate their relationships into the wider social structure.

The Garbage Cans Of Pennsylvania

... is the title of my newest post on Open Source Politics.


Noble Savages

Today is the day of finding good* novelists writing bad political analysis. I'll direct you to Philosoraptor for a takedown of Orson Scott Card's attempt to become the next Zell Miller. What I'm interested in is this anti-environmentalist screed given by Michael Crichton a few months back and only recently brought to my attention (I forget where I saw it first, so I'll credit this post in The Corner). Crichton, who's apparently an authority on primitive culture because he took anthropology in college, says:

And what about indigenous peoples, living in a state of harmony with the Eden-like environment [one of the chief tenets of the religion of environmentalism that he's identifying and condemning]? Well, they never did. On this continent, the newly arrived people who crossed the land bridge almost immediately set about wiping out hundreds of species of large animals, and they did this several thousand years before the white man showed up, to accelerate the process. And what was the condition of life? Loving, peaceful, harmonious? Hardly: the early peoples of the New World lived in a state of constant warfare. Generations of hatred, tribal hatreds, constant battles. The warlike tribes of this continent are famous: the Comanche, Sioux, Apache, Mohawk, Aztecs, Toltec, Incas. Some of them practiced infanticide, and human sacrifice. And those tribes that were not fiercely warlike were exterminated, or learned to build their villages high in the cliffs to attain some measure of safety.

How about the human condition in the rest of the world? The Maori of New Zealand committed massacres regularly. The dyaks of Borneo were headhunters. The Polynesians, living in an environment as close to paradise as one can imagine, fought constantly, and created a society so hideously restrictive that you could lose your life if you stepped in the footprint of a chief. It was the Polynesians who gave us the very concept of taboo, as well as the word itself. The noble savage is a fantasy, and it was never true. That anyone still believes it, 200 years after Rousseau, shows the tenacity of religious myths, their ability to hang on in the face of centuries of factual contradiction.

Having been an anthropology major myself, I beg to differ. While the idea of the noble savage has been popular, the dominant opinion for the last few hundred years has been the opposite -- that primitive life was just as awful as Crichton claims. The effect of anthropologists' gathering of real facts (the kind of science that he asserts we need instead of environmentalist ideology**) has been to push us away from the Crichton view. Studies of the Ju\hoan'si in the Kalahari Desert have been particularly influential in demonstrating that hunter-gatherers were reasonably healthy and no more violent than modern "civilized" folks. They were certainly better off than most early agricultural societies.

This is not to say that they were noble savages. Both the noble savage and the savage savage views are less about giving a full picture of primitive society and more about proving a point about modern society -- either that we're the pinnacle of human achievement, or that we're ruining everything. They caricature both primitive and modern society in order to show the contrast in the sharpest light. Unfortunately, saying "primitive people had their problems, but they were sometimes different problems or handled in different ways from ours, so perhaps the comparison could help us not take certain aspects of modern society for granted" doesn't have much rhetorical oomph.

*Not great, though. I don't get the love some people have for the Ender series. Sure, it was above-average, but it was no Dune or Asimov. Seventh Son was my favorite of his books, but the sequels made it increasingly clear that he had bitten off way more than he could chew and hadn't planned where it was all going very well. The thing about Card for me, though, is that the stuff he writes sounds like something I could write -- not in the dismissive "even I could write that" way, but in the sense that stylistically I think my best fiction work resembles his more than it resembles any other author I'm familiar with.

**It might be interesting to see Card and Crichton go at it, since Crichton is so intent on denouncing religious ideology whereas Card is a devout Mormon.

Fringe Candidates

The DC ballot posted on Daily Kos leads me to wonder -- how does the media decide where to draw the line between "fringe, but real" candidates like Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley-Braun, and "so fringe we pretend they don't exist" candidates like Lyndon LaRouche and Vermin Supreme? The line is pretty undisputed, as I've yet to see anyone using a different list than the canonical 9/10 (the number shifted as Clark joined the race and Graham dropped out, but at any point in time it was consistent).

All in all, I'm sad to see that Edward T. O'Donnell, Colgate class of '70, hasn't made another run. He got something like 12 votes last time (1988? I'd have to go to the Maroon-News office to check), and he sounded pretty satisfied with his contribution to the race. Maybe he figured Supreme was doing enough to draw attention to the epidemic of Satanic wife-swapping cults.

UPDATE: Aha! It looks like Ed O'Donnell ran in '84, '92, and 2000 as well. It's a failure in our editorial duty that the Maroon-News didn't cover his candidacy in 2000, when I was on staff. His campaign emphasis on mental health is quite appropriate.

FURTHER IMPORTANT UPDATE: Ed O'Donnell is in fact running! Go here and scroll down to November 21.


Guilt By Association

Political discourse seems full of calls for one side to denounce its extremists. Liberals are told they must condemn Dennis Kucinich's "these soldiers died for Haliburton" ad, Muslims are told they must denounce al-Qaida, and George Bush is taken to task for not criticizing the religious far right. Two functions spring to mind that these calls serve.

First, they serve to define the boundaries of legitimate discourse. The other side is asked to agree that certain ideas or expressions are beyond the pale. This may be a deliberate attempt to define certain ideas off the table. Or it may represent shock at the transgression of previously existing boundaries. There's a sense in which ideas that cannot be grappled with through the form of rationality one understands are psychologically disturbing. One way to deal with such an idea is to rule it irrational, a ruling best confirmed by those whose rationality puts them closest to the dangerous idea.

These calls for denunciation of extremists often do not elicit sufficient compliance, but this failure serves a function as well. It allows people on the other side to be treated as if they too were irrational, since they failed to disassociate themselves with an irrational idea. Again, there is a cynical implementation in which failed calls for denunciation are used to legitimize what would otherwise be straw-man arguments. There's also a psychological implementation. There's a bit of doublethink required in holding both that your views are fully supported by reason, and that reasonable people can disagree within certain boundaries. It's useful to be able to rest more securely on the former premise by seeing irrationality on the part of one's opponents undermine the latter. This function also serves as a sort of threat in order to gain compliance in the boundary-setting function -- if you don't denounce them, I'll treat you as if you're as bad as them.


Saddam, Immigration, Emotion

J. Collins Fisher has a good post up describing her reaction to hearing that Saddam was captured. My reaction was much the same. I know on an intellectual level that it's a good thing that we captured him, and I'd defend that position against any wing nut who said otherwise. But my emotional reaction was "Dang. This is good for Bush, and the gloating from the hawks will be intolerable*." My personal investment in the chatter of the blogosphere and domestic presidential politics is greater than my investment in Iraqi freedom from tyranny.

This raises the larger question of the role of personal investment in a situation in shaping one's view of it. To throw in another example, in the comments to a recent post advocating a more open immigration policy, Unadorned charged that my view would be different if my job were threatened by immigrant labor. There's certainly something to that on the factual level (i.e., I would be more likely to believe that immigration would be bad if I thought it hurt me personally), but the interesting question is about which viewpoint is correct. Does my distance from the problem make it too easy to dismiss the sufferings of American workers and sacrifice them to my own project of open borders? Or, if I were in an immigrant-threatened job, would that threat occupy my mind so much as to distort my perception so as to favor my personal benefit over the wider goal of justice? And even if I get the question right despite my emotional disjuncture (as in the case of Saddam), does my lack of investment subtly change how I respond, how much I work on the issue and how I weigh it against other concerns?

The philosophy and science of the Enlightenment tended to take the first view, stressing the benefits of a detached, "objective" view unhindered by selfish concerns. (I've used an argument of this type to defend the use of the language of rights and moral rules in a consequentialist system -- having a hard and fast rule makes it harder to overemphasize your own personal gains and losses when deciding whether an act is moral.) Recent "critical" social science has moved in the opposite direction, stressing the insight held by people who are in the system (typically as its victims) and urging researchers to get personally involved in the situation they're studying. It seems that the real solution lies somewhere in the middle. The researcher gains from the researched's involved perspective, while the researched benefit from the researcher's distance and outsider's perspective.

The problem with saying that is that it tells us little about where that middle sweet spot is. Should the worker allow more threat to her job for the greater good, or should I recognize the worker's hardship by accepting stricter immigration controls? And once we agree on a correct policy (as I agree with Iraqis about getting rid of Saddam), can or should those who gave ground realign their personal investment so that their emotional reactions push them toward the right answers in the future?

*It wasn't half as bad as I feared, actually.

The Precautionary Principle Strikes Back

How Do You Fix A Wild Bear?

State wildlife officials, however, are skeptical of the Neutersol approach [to sterilizing bears, an alternative to hunting pushed by animal rights activists]. They've pointed out that the drug has yet to be tested on bears, so the correct dosage is unknown, and no one even knows whether it can effectively shrink ursine testicles. "I fail to see how injecting an untested chemical, at speculative doses, into the testes of our majestic black bear population could possibly be considered humane," said Bradley M. Campbell, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, in a September statement.

-- via Obsidian Wings

The role of the precautionary principle -- "'we're not sure what will happen' is not a good excuse" -- is rather muddled in environmentalism. It's quite popular when talking about global warming, as it counters the constant anti-global-warming* complaint that we just aren't certain enough of what will happen to go making the huge changes that pro-warming people call for. Yet environmentalists use the inverse precautionary principle when talking about technological innovations like new chemicals or GM crops -- they argue that we shouldn't use them unless we're absolutely certain they won't do any damage. Perhaps one could reconcile them by redefining pollution as a change or innovation (rather than the status quo) and demanding that industry prove that its emissions are benign before we let them emit them. In the story I quoted we see the inverse precautionary principle being used against a segment of the environmental movement's favored chemical.

I'm intrigued by the second chemical mentioned in the article, porcine zona pellucida. It's been used successfully in the past, and it can be shot into the bear from a distance. The drawback is that it only lasts for a year. I wonder, though, whether hunters could be successfully enlisted in the PZP program (perhaps offering them some sort of incentive in terms of being able to "shoot" more bears and having a reduced license fee). This could help foster hunting (which longtime readers will have noticed I'm rather favorably disposed toward for a lefty environmentalist). It could also exert selective pressure on bears. The ones most likely to be PZP'ed are the ones who are least afraid of humans, so the problem bears' genes would be weeded out. Of course, this would happen with regular hunting, too.

* Well, anti-doing-something-about-global-warming, or anti-belief-that-global-warming-is-happening. Some of these people are actually pro-global-warming in the sense that they think it might be good if the earth got warmer and we could farm in Siberia.


Technical Problems

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate the fact that Blogger no longer allows you to selectively republish individual archive files?


Wrong Order

Also see my commentary from this week, "Colonial Legacy Is Mugabe's Excuse," and its comic


Reflexive Googlebombing

The concept of Googlebombing is, I think, an interesting illustration of Anthony Giddens' idea of reflexivity. Googlebombing is when, in order to promote an association between two ideas, you get lots of people to use one as the text of a link to another. Google uses links to determine what a page is about and how important it is (there was an interesting Straits Times article about how Google works). The latest attempt is to associate "George W. Bush" with "unelectable," so you may have noticed a lot of liberal bloggers putting up links like so: unelectable. (I find this petty, and it's to their credit that I haven't seen a counter-Googlebomb effort on any of the conservative blogs I read. I hope the thrill of such things wears off, though you'll notice I'm not above doing it once as an illustration.) When and if this succeeds, the #1 result in Google for "unelectable" will be Bush's bio.

Reflexivity is the idea that sociology becomes part of society. In the natural sciences, atoms and chemicals and planets do their thing regardless of whether anyone understands them or not. Natural scientific results can help us to manipulate nature based on its laws, but they don't change the laws themselves. Social science, on the other hand, is not so cut off from its object of study. People don't follow social laws automatically. They rely on conceptions of how society works in order to plan their actions. A sociological theory can become one such conception for a person.

In making links to other pages, most people on the web haven't really thought about their link's impact on Google's ranking. The ranking is an unintended consequence of their activity that is based on other frameworks (such as "ease of reading"). Then someone popularized the idea that one's link text affects Google. This new theoretical framework for thinking about one's linking behavior then became an explicit basis for action (at least some of the time). This in turn changes the nature of Google's ranking process. It's possible that, if the thrill of doing deliberate Googlebombs wears off but the practice makes people more aware on a day-to-day level of the effect of their links, that it could improve Google's operation. I certainly wasn't helping Google by habitually using "this article" or "a post" as my link text (which is not to say I'll stop -- the stylistic criterion will probably override the Google criterion for making my decisions). At the very least it would change Google, since the algorithm was designed based on the assumption of a non-reflexive internet that didn't think about how its brainpower was being mined by search engines. It's possible that the people at Google could then update their "sociology" based on changes in web society and thus change their algorithm to account for Googlebombing. Then that information would get out and be reflexively applied to people's linking practices, and on and on. Sociology can never be cumulative in the way that the natural sciences are, because the explanation changes the phenomenon.


Poststructural Subversion

An important element of social change which poststructural theory seems better positioned than structuralist theory to emphasize is subversion. Structuralism tends to look at social change as arising from two processes: the development of the logic of the system, and from agents standing "outside," detached from that hegemonic logic in some way. Sometimes the two can work together -- for example, capitalism produces a proletarian class due to its basic structure, but proletarians are by their nature outside the halls of power and thus able to attack them. This can create a suspicion of anyone among the powerful who claims to be working for change -- such a person is compromised by being caught up in the logic of the system.

Subversion, on the other hand, is change from within, the use of power against the system that conferred it. There's simple subversion, in which one structure is used against another (a professor using her status to call for the university to stop buying stuff from sweatshops), and reflexive subversion, in which power is made to nullify itself (voting to abolish democratic government). Poststructuralism suggests a picture of agents confronted with an array of contingently articulated (which is not to say independent) structural elements, which are potential sources of power and may be used in various ways.

Dare I Compliment Tom Ridge?

Colorado Luis points, with justified approval, to this story:

Ridge: Give Illegals Some Legal Status

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has called for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States to be given some sort of legal status short of citizenship.

... Ridge, who became the government's chief spokesman on immigration issues after his new department took control over immigration policy this year, said the government might consider legalizing the status of illegal immigrants already in the country on a one-time basis.

"Then, as a country, you make a decision that from this day forward, this is the process of entry, and if you violate that process of entry, we have resources to cope with it," he said in response to a question from the audience at Miami-Dade Community College about his support for changes in immigration policy.

Assuming the plan goes through (there's nothing formally in the works yet), this is a big step forward. It's a shame that it needs to be justified on the basis of anti-terrorism, though -- the injustice of barring the movement of labor while lowering the barriers for capital, and the expoitation of immigrant labor that is enabled by the fear of being deported, should be justification enough. And I'm not sure how much this would even help -- if they want to be here illegally (and hence out of sight), they won't volunteer to be documented. If they want to be here legally, they already can be -- the September 11 hijackers had visas, after all (though perhaps recent tightening of security means that the authors of a repeat performance would be driven into the illegal stream).

I also wish this were more than a one-time amnesty with no changes in the immigration laws, and I think changing immigration laws would help with the terrorism rationale as well as the social justice ones. Border enforcement is notoriously ineffective, so keeping entry requirements strict only feeds a black market in people-smuggling and allows for a re-establishment of a pool of undocumented people. Making it easier for people to enter would sap the customer base of this black market (who wouldn't want an easy and legal status instead of paying your life savings to get in illegally?). With less of a black market infrastructure, it would be harder for terrorists who are not yet in the country to enter without being documented.

Estoy el ejemplo de qué es un blog

I did a vanity search and discovered some interesting things, such as that John Quiggin has linked to me more times than I had known about, and that my article about Jason Carter ranks higher than my one about the shark photo (though about half of the results are shark photo results). But what was most interesting is that I'm used as an example of how to blog (specifically regarding putting things in reverse chronological order) on this Spanish syllabus.


Ideology And Objectivity

Critical theory in the social sciences has devoted a lot of energy to criticizing both objectivity and ideology. As I see it, those are the two poles of the same continuum. All social theory has two components -- explanation and politics. Explanation is the picture you give of how the world works, while politics is how you propose to change the world, or at least the value judgements you make about it.

Objectivity is the subordination of politics to explanation. An objective person stands back from the situation, setting aside his or her opinions in order to find out how the world really works. Only once a valid explanation has been constructed can you consider what political consequences it entails. I won't go into the arguments about why objectivity is impossible, except to say that my conclusion is that even the most well-meaning "objective" social research necessarily smuggles in some unacknowledged political commmitments.

The opposite stance is ideology. Ideology is when explanation is entirely subordinated to politics, so that the way you portray the world is nothing more than a tactic for advancing your cause. Standpoint epistemology -- in which the first step of understanding a situation is to side with the oppressed -- is a self-conscious attempt to be ideological. Pure ideology is impossible, however (though I think you can get closer than to objectivity). Even the standpoint epistemologist must start with an explanation that identifies who are the parties to be potentially sided with. We always find ourselves "thrown" into the world, possessed of some amount of both explanation and politics as a starting point.

What's needed, then, is a productive middle ground in which the political bases of your approach to understanding society are acknowledged, but the resulting explanation is able to challenge those political stances. In a sense this partakes of a higher political commitment, a commitment to something like "improving society" rather than to a specific goal like "defeating the biotechnology industry."

Snarky Post About European Fishing

EU Fishermen Protest Quotas On Fish

Angry fishermen handed out free fish in Belgium, blocked ports across France and kept British ferries from crossing the English Channel on Wednesday to protest proposed EU cuts on commercial catches of cod, hake and other dwindling varieties.

... "Europe's fishing industry is going to collapse," Pierre-George Dachicourt, president of France's national fishermen's committee, known as CPMEM, said on Europe-1 radio.

Speaking from Antwerp, he said the proposed quotas would "ruin the rich tradition of fishing all along Europe's coasts."

... Scientists have pressed the European Union's head office to enforce bans on over-fishing, warning that some species could face extinction. The European Commission backed away from a total catch ban on cod fishing, for example. Instead, it proposed beefing up checks on fishermen to ensure that quotas are not exceeded.

I imagine this is winning a lot of friends among the ferry passengers, who as we all know are the people who set EU fisheries policy. I also wonder what they think will happen to the fishing industry when the ocean runs out of fish. Assuming the science behind them is reliable, the quotas are actually, in the long run, saving Europe's "rich tradition of fishing" and many of the jobs it provides.


Dean Knows Geography

After praising Howard Dean's statements about Native American policy in past posts, it's only fair that I link to this post from Wampum. It continues to amaze me how Dean's Vermont record can be both the major selling point of his campaign and a source of so many embarassments.


Marriage: What Is It Good For?

It occurred to me that my desire in the previous post to emphasize my agreement with the conservative position that marriage is more than a private, individual decision may lead to some misunderstanding of my view on the benefits of marriage.

I don't subscribe to the "marriage at all costs" idea, in which having people wed is of overriding importance. People like Maggie Gallagher are, I think, too quick to see divorces as iinstances in which people fell out of love and lacked the pressure (internal and external) to stick it out and make things work. There are many bad marriages, just like there are bad parents (a fact that calls into question the presumption that biological parents are always the best ones). Any sort of interpersonal relationship involves a tradeoff between the need to pick the best situation and the need to make the most of the situation you've picked. We don't think much of people who chronically get tired of their job a week after being hired and go looking for something else, but we're also skeptical of the idea that someone can or should commit irrevocably to a single career. The rate of divorce, and the reluctance of some people to get into a marriage, in and of themselves tell us nothing about whether we've hit the optimal balance between "make it work" and "find a better situation." They also tell us little about whether and what structural changes we can make so that people can more easily find good situations and more easily make them work.

I don't presume that marriage is for everyone (indeed, most of my discussions of marriage include the unstated assumption that I'm talking about people who want to be married). Marriage is a useful institutional structure that can meet a lot of the needs and desires many people have. It's convenient for both the spouses and for people around them to be able to refer to a generalized, pre-constructed template as a rough model for their relationship. It's quite difficult to have a unique conception of each couple's relationship, particularly in the case of people you don't know well. Of course, there's also a danger in slavish devotion to the template that leads one to ignore, or squash, a couple's unique variation on the general model.

Related to that, marriage is also not an all-or-nothing proposition. The legal ramifications generally are, but the social factors -- commitment to one's partner, recognition of and support for the relationship by others, etc. -- can be more fluid. Society can accomodate some variability in how people relate to one another.

Marriage, Family, And Government

Maggie Gallagher makes the most coherent case I've yet heard for why someone committed to smaller government would also support intrusive government regulation of sex. To support her claim that marriage is more important than federalism (against conservatives like George Will who have, admirably, preferred letting some states try out gay marriage to see how well it works, rather than amending the Constitution), she writes:

The practical result of the retreat from marriage as a social norm has been a vast expansion of the welfare state. What conservatives call welfare is only a drop in the bucket: High rates of divorce and unmarried childbearing are a driving force behind virtually every category of social spending. As more than 100 scholars and civic reformers noted in their 2000 Marriage Movement Statement:

Divorce and unwed childbearing create substantial public costs, paid by taxpayers. Higher rates of crime, drug abuse, education failure, chronic illness, child abuse, domestic violence, and poverty among both adults and children bring with them higher taxpayer costs in diverse forms. . . . While no study has yet attempted precisely to measure these sweeping and diverse taxpayer costs stemming from the decline of marriage, current research suggests that these costs are likely to be quite extensive.

This argument works if you assume that gay marriage goes along with an overall decline in marriage. I can see where she gets that idea. Gay marriage is typically justified on individualist and private love grounds. Being open to the idea of challenging the traditional definition of marriage makes a person more likely to be open to the idea of challenging marriage altogether. Yet I think the individualist justification for gay marriage has been overplayed (not that I'll complain too much, since it's harder for the anti-gay-marriage side to win if the debate is framed in individualist terms). But I think that most gay people who want to get married, as well as the people who support them*, want marriage because of the social benefits of marriage. We see the exclusion of a segment of society from those benefits as having a negative impact on society, just as a breakdown in the health of heterosexual marriage would have a negative impact on society. There are very few who want marriage as a stage in a plan to bring the institution down from the inside.

Gallagher herself is apparently confused about this question, as she later states that:

After redefining marriage, the next act is to redefine parenthood to accommodate two-mother families, two-father families, and whatever else people's yearnings for connection may produce.

So will gay marriage result in fewer families, or more families? The latter opens up the possibility of a quite different kind of argument -- that a society composed of gay families and straight families is worse than one composed of single gay people and straight families. The assertion that one mother and one father is the only legitimate parenting arrangement is implicit, but never supported, throughout this piece. Perhaps she could tie it back to her original point by claiming that gay families require more public services than gay singles**, even though the relationship is reversed for heterosexuals (given the economic benefits of sharing one's life -- even something as simple as finding a roommate to split the rent -- I'm skeptical).

Yet she forges on with the "traditional marriage or no marriage" false choice, presuming that the only kind of marriage that could be sanctioned and strengthened by society is heterosexual marriage.

*The tendency for people against gay marriage to ignore the large number of straight people who support gay marriage is perhaps indicative of the presumption that gay marriage is just about private individual behavior. It's this very kind of network of social support that makes marriage as a social institution work.

**One possible line of argument might be that, with the advent of socialized health care, gay couples will demand public subsidies for reproductive techniques like IVF, whereas straight sex is a cheap way of making babies. Of course, this presumes that somehow this service would or could only be used by married gay couples, and that the costs of such interventions are greater than the costs of forgoing having more children in society that would stave off the impending demographic collapse that Gallagher fears.


Sewage Sludge Progress

Argall's Proposal Lets Voters Decide On Dumping Issues

A bill announced Thursday would allow residents of municipalities across Pennsylvania the chance to regulate or even prohibit dredge material within their towns.

... Specifically, Argall's bill would require a referendum, or ballot question, in municipalities affected by proposed dredge disposal before any such materials could be brought into a community. It also would give communities the ability to adopt, enforce and strictly regulate the disposal of dredge. On top of that, it would give residents the opportunity to comment and ask questions on any dredge application prior to the referendum.

... Argall and Picciano emphasized that the bill would impact any permits issued after Nov. 1, 2003, including the current Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co. application. The firm has submitted an application to dispose of dredge at Springdale Pit. The dredge, often from industrial-lane rivers and shipping harbors, has been found to contain heavy metals and other potentially threatening substances

Im' Teh Tpo Bolg!

I noticed I was the #2 result in a Google search for "lassiez faire," which struck me as odd given how many libertarians are out there on this internet. Then I thought "oh, right, libertarians can actually spell laissez-faire."

"Lassiez Faire Books" is the top result from both the mispelled and correctly spelled searches, as they aparently were kind enough to include the misspelling in their meta tags just in case.


Great Literature

It looks like Bill Watterson is as reclusive as Jack Chick (I know the post on Chick looks screwy -- Blogger published over my archives with the new green template). If only their careers had been reversed, so that Chick tracts were no longer being produced but you could find Calvin and Hobbes laying around train stations and grocery stores.

If the rumor that Watterson has taken up landscape painting is true, I'm excited for his eventual return to the public sphere. The alien landscapes were always one of my favorite parts of Calvin and Hobbes.

Teddy Roosevelt Republicans

Why Some Gun Owners Are Unhappy With Bush

In particular, Rosenbruch and a groundswell of other gun owners from the lower 48 are challenging the Bush administration's plan to undo protection of Alaska's Tongass and Chugach national forests by opening both to increased logging and road construction.

... Many analysts think most of these people are Republican and supportive of President Bush. But now, a growing vocal minority is taking a stand on concerns they have - from weakening water protection standards in fishable waterways, to proposals to drill for oil in what have been off-limits areas. These people want a clean and healthy environment not only for hunters and anglers, but for all Americans - and they believe Bush is straying too far from this principle.

I was surprised by the hostility toward Teddy Roosevelt that I've heard expressed by some of my classmates and professors -- a criticism along the lines of "he just wanted to save nature so that he could shoot it." I don't think Roosevelt was the greatest environmentalist, but it strikes me as wrong to dismiss hunters' views on the environment (especially for people who would jump to defend "traditional" use of the environment, which often includes hunting). Hunting and recreational fishing tend to lack the overriding profit motive and competition that can drive other forms of resource extraction (such as logging or commercial fishing) to shortsighted and unsustainable exploitation of the environment. A hunter's aesthetic commitment to the environment can be just as powerful as that of your typical backpacker environmentalist.

I doubt we'll see a huge shift of conservative hunters and anglers into the Democratic party due to Bush's wrongdoing, since these people tend to agree with the Republicans on a host of other issues. And in a way that's good. Conservative hunters provide important internal criticism of the GOP on environmental issues. Nevertheless, Howard Dean may be especially well positioned to peel off enough of these voters to put him over the top in some key states if, in his messages targetted at them, he emphasizes his commitment to fiscal discipline and gun rights (as well as his environmental criticisms of Bush) while downplaying the issues like gay rights and abortion that would alienate them.

"Royce Lamberth Has Made His Decision. Now Let Him Enforce It."

My first post on Open Source Politics is up, dealing with the Indian trust fund case and how a Democratic candidate could turn it to his advantage.


Sewage Sludge In Pennsylvania

As an update to the story two posts ago, it looks like the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has made an inconclusive ruling on the local sovereignty issue with respect to sewage sludge:

Sludge Ruling Leaves All Sides In A Muddle

Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in a case involving a township that wanted to limit the spreading of sludge on farmland. A New Jersey waste company sued the township, saying Pennsylvania state law preempts local ones.

... Three of the Supreme Court justices said the township may ban sludge application. Three justices said state law overrules local sewage ordinances. And one said the sludge company should not have been allowed to sue in the first place.

So, who won?

Environmental groups are calling the ruling a victory, saying it gives townships the power to oversee their own sludge rules. The state Department of Environmental Protection says just the opposite, reading the ruling as an affirmation of the state's preemptive power.

It looks to me like the township won this particular case, but that the ruling is inconclusive, or even pro-state, in terms of setting a precedent. I would imagine they'll have to hear another case on the same issue, and Justice Sandra Newman will have to take a stand on the sludge issue. The Times-News, on the other hand, is spinning the decision as a straight-up victory for anti-sludge forces in its news pages.

Bush Signs Healthy Forests Bill

Now it's a law.

PA Farmers Take Action

Consent Of The Governed

In 1997, the state of Pennsylvania began enforcing a weak waste-disposal law, passed at the urging of agribusiness lobbyists several years earlier, which explicitly barred townships from passing any more stringent law. It had the effect of repealing the waste-disposal regulations of more than one hundred townships, regulations that had prevented corporations from establishing factory farms in their communities. The supervisors, who had seen massive hog farms despoil the ecosystems and destroy the social and economic fabric of communities in nearby states, were desperate to find a way to protect their townships. ...

But factory hog farms weren't the only threat introduced by the state's industry-backed regulation. The law also served to preempt local control over the spreading of municipal sewage sludge on rural farmland. In Pittsburgh and other large cities, powerful municipal treatment agencies, seeking to avoid costly payments to landfills, began contracting with corporate sewage haulers. Haulers, in turn, relied on rural farmers willing to use the sludge as fertilizer -- a practice deemed "safe" by corporate-friendly government environmental agencies. ...

By 1999, with [the legal foundation] CELDF's help, five townships in two counties had adopted a straightforward ordinance that challenged state law by prohibiting corporations from farming or owning farmland. Five more townships in three more counties followed suit. Also in 1999, Rush Township of Centre County became the first in the nation to pass an ordinance to control sludge spreading. Haulers who wanted to apply sewage sludge to farmland would have to test every load at their own expense -- and for a wider array of toxic substances than required by the weaker state law. Three dozen townships in seven counties have unanimously passed similar sludge ordinances to date. Citing a township's mandate to protect its citizens, Licking Township Supervisor Mik Robertson declares, "If the state isn't going to do the job, we'll do it for them."

This is a very interesting article about the extent of corporate power and rights. I would disagree, however, with the author's angle of critique. He adopts a "local sovereignty" perspective (particularly in his section about international trade rules), arguing that the main problem with laws granting corporations power is that they infringe on local governments' ability to do things differently. I'm a bit leery of using this as a basis for critiquing the power of corporations because the same sort of logic has been used to defend local governments putting additional restrictions on the freedom of individuals, even to the point of denying their personhood (cf "states' rights"). We need a more sophisticated framework for deciding what policy decisions should be made at what levels of government, rather than just advocacy either of universal rights or of local sovereignty.

The real problem, as I see it, is not that there's a process violation in not allowing (for example) townships to restrict the use of toxic wastes, but that the state's lax environmental standards are bad in and of themselves. Similarly, corporate personhood is not bad because it limits local governments' ability to regulate corporations, but because it's bad for society at any level to treat corporations as persons.


Candidates Talk To Indians

I've just run across the story that Indian Country Today did on the National Congress of American Indians meeting (which I hadn't been able to find for a previous post). It's got a few encouraging quotes from Kerry, Lieberman, Clark, and Kucinich.

Claiming Labrador For Spain

Study Says Medieval New World Map Is Real

The latest scientific analysis of a disputed map of the medieval New World supports the theory that it was made 50 years before Christopher Columbus set sail.

... A study last summer said the ink on the parchment map was made in the 20th century.

But chemist Jacqueline Olin, a retired researcher with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, said Tuesday her analysis shows the ink was made in medieval times.

... Scholars have dated the map to around 1440. Some scholars have speculated that Columbus could have used the map to find the New World in 1492.

I don't have any strong feelings one way or the other about the authenticity of the Vinland map -- I still have a gut feeling it's probably a fake, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it's definitely real. Unlike, say, the Piri Reis map, it doesn't claim the cartographer had any more knowledge of the world than we already know the Vikings had.

What I do find hard to believe is the idea that Columbus based his journey on the Vinland map (presuming it's real). If he had reason to believe there was a "new world" out in the Atlantic, it seems like he would have tried to sell that idea to Ferdinand and Isabella, rather than -- or in addition to -- the "shortcut to India" idea. And he would have been less convinced that he had in fact reached India if he knew there were other lands out there. Further, the Vinland map shows nothing south of Canada. If Columbus had been looking to arrive in Vinland, he wouldn't have sailed so far south.


Procedural Justice

Nathan Newman has a post up that argues that:

Liberals in recent decades have worshipped at the altar of procedural justice-- the Miranda Rule, evidence excluded where legal rules are ignored, etc. -- of the idea that if the rules are followed, even if some incidental injustice is dealt, the overall average of results will be the greater good.

My first reaction was that this was just a more sophisticated version of the old whine that liberals are too nice and conservatives fight dirty.

I think there's a bipartisan tendency to make accusations of procedural injustice when one thinks the substantive outcome was unjust. How many Bush supporters think the Florida recounts were done incorrectly, and how many Gore supporters think Bush's victory was legitimate? How many pro-life people think Roe v. Wade is constitutionally sound, and how many pro-choice people think it's lacking? Both sides implore the other to accept noble defeat.

It's often easier to make a claim of procedural injustice than of substantive injustice. Sometimes the substantive claim is harder to defend -- it's much more socially acceptable to make the procedural states' rights argument, for example, than to defend the substantive outcome of institutionalized racism. Another advantage is that procedural injustice opens the way for a do-over, bringing down the substantive decision by arguing that it was improperly made. A good example here is the tendency among many conservatives to focus on the procedural question regarding gay marriage, concerning themselves with the alleged procedural injustice of "judicial activism" rather than the substantive issue of whether gays should be allowed to get married.

This is not to say that all claims of procedural injustice are excuse-making. There are plenty of instances of real procedural injustice, and those instances are more likely to be seen and pointed out by those who dislike the outcome. Indeed, there's even something to the argument that gay rights would be on a stronger footing if they were enacted by legislatures rather than judges. I think the tendency to cry procedural injustice makes perfect sense if we hold to the utilitarian justification for procedures that Newman describes. That is, that the means are justified by what kind of ends they produce. This is the same way we justify procedures for many practices other than policymaking -- a recipe is justified by the taste of the finished food, not some independent rules of cooking. So if an outcome is substantively unjust, that suggests that either the existing procedures were not followed correctly, or that some change in the procedures is necessary. The second conclusion is often couched in the first, due to our reverence for tradition -- for example, the civil rights movement overturned institutional racism by appealing to the unfulfilled promise of the Declaration of Independence ("all men are created equal").