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I finally read Malthus's "Essay on Population" last semester, and it struck me that there's a definite difference between Malthus's classic presentation of the theory, and neo-Malthusian ideas today (e.g. "The Population Bomb" and "The Limits to Growth"). Neo-Malthusians see the outpacing of food by population as a scenario looming in our future which we may be able to avoid if we take action. Malthus, on the other hand, saw it as a condition already existing in most places, and unsolvable except by temporary means. I think the differences have to do with the social context in which they were writing.

Malthus's essay was addressed to social reformers who had high hopes of being able to eliminate poverty and usher in an age of plenty. Malthus's response was that the only thing that keeps population in check is the fear that one would not be able to feed one's children. The sexual urge was so strong, in his view, that only very grim and immediate prospects could convince people to keep their pants on. The upshot is that the poor will always be with us, and it's futile to try to help them.

Neo-Malthusians, on the other hand, are writing to a society experiencing affluence, confident in its ability to keep wealth expanding faster than population. Thus, the ill effects of running out of resources are something in the future. By calling attention to the coming crisis, neo-Malthusians hope that we will be more competent than Malthus's paupers and put the brakes on population now, before our children gobble up our surplus.

Ibex Clone

In Bid To Save Siberian Ibex, China Clones One

China announced yesterday that its scientists had cloned a Siberian ibex, a threatened mammal that dwells in the crags of central Asia, in a feat sure to heighten debate over whether cloning can help save endangered species.

... Siberian ibex, which resemble mountain goats, were described by state television as "one of the most endangered animals in China." This ibex was born after cloned cells were placed in a common goat in western China.

China is seeking to rescue endangered and threatened species - such as the giant panda and the rare freshwater white-flag dolphin - through cloning, forestalling the threat of extinction, despite arguments from some experts that the high costs of cloning would be better spent on protecting animals in their native habitats.

Cloning is appropriate when the species has gone extinct, or when the genetic diversity in the live population is dangerously low compared to the genetic diversity available from dead DNA samples. But even in this case, cloning is only the first step. It does little good -- beyond providing entertainment to the public -- to keep a species alive through cloning and life in captivity. If a population can't survive in the wild without continual restocking, we have a problem. Cloning also perpetuates the myth that high-tech fixes will solve our environmental problems.


Clark-Dean '04 -- Maybe

One interesting outcome of the collapse of Howard Dean's campaign is that the fabled Clark-Dean ticket has become more likely. A few months ago, my view was that the only way that Clark could win the nomination would be to become the anti-Dean, slugging it out with the Doctor in a bitter primary fight. This would make it quite difficult for the two men to make up at the convention and run together. But now, Clark's road to Boston lies through John Edwards and John Kerry. If he pulls it out (his chances are slim, but bigger than Dean's), there will be no bad blood preventing him from choosing Dean for the #2 spot. A Kerry-Dean or Edwards-Dean ticket, on the other hand, is unlikely due to Dean's constant attacks on "Washington insiders." The critical stories in the press about Dean selling out his principles to support one of the very people his candidacy was premised on beating would outweigh any positive benefits of the choice.

In The Biblical Sense

One More Article Explaining That The Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

... In the United States it did not become illegal for a man to rape his wife until 1993, when marital rape became a crime in all 50 states. Even now, certain exemptions are provided to a husband in the rape of his wife. How much less likely is it that a man was allowed to force himself upon his wife in the time Leviticus was written? Except for shakab there isn't a word in the First Testament used to describe what we think of as rape today. Rape is viewed as a property crime?property is defiled. The perpetrator and the property may be destroyed. Another remedy was that the rapist had to marry his victim. This remedy doesn't consider the damage to the victim, only the reputation of "the property" and the family that owned it (her).

I argue that shekab in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 means that a man shall not force, or in any way coerce, another man to have sex, in the way that a man is allowed to force sex upon his wife. In other words, man is not allowed to rape a man, it is an abomination. The story of Sodom supports this interpretation. Remember that the attempted rape of the "men" in Lot's house is seen as a horrible crime, whereas the attempted rape of his daughters, or the rape of the concubine of Gibeah in Judges 19, passes without comment. Though the verses in Leviticus condemn the rape of a man, they say nothing about healthy, mutual, consensual relations between members of the same sex.

-- via boy in the bands

This is an interesting argument. However, the idea of wives as property seems to cast doubt on the author's subsequent claim that homosexuality is found in approving contexts in the Bible, such as David and his good friend Jonathan:

The First Testament does describe loving relationships between members of the same sex. The author seems to respect the privacy of the subjects of these stories by describing the loving relationships and not the blow-by-blow accounts of hot male-on-male action desired as proof by the lurid conservative Christian. Even "heterosexual" relationships are not described this way, sex being alluded to in terms of the marriage contract, the births of children, and various rapes.

In Deuteronomy 13:6 it is written,

"If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers ..."

This verse lists a man's relations in order of closeness, descending to ascending: brother, son or daughter, wife, friend which is as thine own soul. This suggests that the man in this society maintains a relationship with another man that is closer than that of his wife, a relationship which is as close "as thine own soul."

I'm not convinced that talk about close relationships between men in the Bible is a wink-wink indication of homosexuality (though there's also no evidence that it definitely isn't). Human beings generally have a need for emotional closeness to others. In our society, that need is usually paired with the need for sex, so that one's lover is also supposed to be one's closest confidante and source of emotional support. A good argument can be made that sex needs closeness, but there's no reason why closeness must be accompanied by sex. I imagine most people have had very close friendships with people they would not want to have sex with, even people of the appropriate gender.

In a society where a woman is treated as the property of her husband, it seems likely that this sort of emotional bond would be more often made with a member of one's own gender. Perhaps I'm unusual, but I would find it exceedingly hard to form a close bond of respect and emotional support with someone who I viewed as my property. This is amplified by two sociological factors. First, marriage in premodern societies was often done for reasons having little to do with the love and friendship that we take as the basis of marriage today. Marriage was about establishing kinship ties that paid off economically and politically. It would be no surprise in this situation that husbands and wives wouldn't be each other's closest friend, and wouldn't be expected to be. Second, men and women inhabited separate domains. This would result in less time together, and fewer shared experiences (such as the emotional intensity of battle that David and Jonathan shared) that would form the foundation of a close bond.

Which God Is Allah?

tacitus takes issue with this article arguing that the use of "Allah" in referring to the god worshipped by Muslims incorrectly perpetuates the idea that Christians and Jews worship a different god. I agree with tacitus that the sameness of the gods is an unprovable either way (indeed, I think it's nearly meaningless*), and that therefore there should be no opprobrium attached to believing that you worship a different god.

However, I agree that it would make sense to talk about Muslims worshipping God rather than worshipping Allah. For one, it's an issue of translation -- we wouldn't talk about monotheists in Latin American "worshipping Dios," or Finns "worshipping Jumala." Second, it reflects what the majority of people who use the word "Allah" for their god believe. The problem with saying "Allah" is that it's misleading about what Muslims believe and are saying by their use of the word, not that it's misleading about the actual facts of God.

*If I had to take a side I'd probably say they're the same, similar to the assertion that Copernicus and Ptolemy were talking about the same sun despite the "behavioral differences" it had in their respective astronomical systems.


St. Paul The Non-Revolutionary

Wives Submit To Your Husbands: Yeah Right

Paul is creating a model for leadership as Christians. It is a given for him that wives submit to their husbands, and that a husband is the head of the wife. What is not a given is how the husband should exercise this headship. The answer: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Christ’s model of leadership was not dominance it was servitude. He did not wear a crown. He gave no orders under pain of arrest or execution. He did not visit his wrath upon wrongdoers with violence. Instead he served. He washed feet. He healed the sick. He ate with sinners. He died for our sins. Any man who thinks he has, in this passage, a scriptural warrant to be the ruler of his wife/slave is sorely wrong. In fact, the husband in this passage gets a far harder charge than just to submit. He is charged to be Christ-like.

-- via kysandra

This more or less captures my interpretation of Ephesians 5:21-33. St. Paul was not out to change the world on a social level. You can also see this in his direction to submit to whomever happens to be the human ruler. One reason, of course, is that he expected the Second Coming to be just around the corner. There was no time for humans to work toward realizing God's kingdom in the physical world. The task was to get our spiritual lives in order in anticipation of God doing that work. Rev. Page asserts that this passage is in part an affirmation of marriage (in response to Gnosticism), but I'm a bit skeptical. Elsewhere Paul's attitude toward marriage is something along the lines of "there's no need, but go ahead if you can't keep it in your pants" -- probably a combination of his own success in subordinating his libido to his zeal for Christ, and his expectation that Jesus was about to return and thus fooling around with Earthly institutions is a waste of time.

The second reason, I think, might be an overreaction to Jesus' upsetting of expectations regarding the Messiah. First century Jews generally expected a political messiah, paralleling the way God's will is carried out politically (via conquests and captivity and escape from slavery) in the Old Testament. But Jesus framed himself as a spiritual messiah, challenging the Roman overlords not by driving them out, but by acquescing to their punishment but not letting it get him down. Paul recognizes this the paradox of the Cross. But he may have taken it too far, refusing to challenge the order of this world and separating it off from the spiritual world.


So ...

This isn't an apology, exactly, or trolling for pity. I'm not sure what it is.

You'll notice I haven't posted anything of substance in a while. I've been following the news and all (perhaps too much, given the other things I should be working on), but I haven't had anything very original to say (or perhaps I should say I haven't been able to convince myself that my banal-as-always thoughts are original enough to write down).

This could change any moment. I could wake up in a blogging mood tomorrow. Heck, there's a 50/50 chance this post will jinx me into thinking of something subtantive to post. But for the moment, academically as well as blogically, my critical thinking skills don't feel up to the task.


New Hampshire Results

With 97% of precincts reporting, Ed O'Donnell has 80 votes. Sadly, Lyndon LaRouche -- who had been trailing O'Donnell all night -- has jumped into the lead with 86.

I didn't write my predictions down anywhere, so you'll just have to trust me that the results are fairly close to what I was expecting, though I thought Clark would do a few percent better and Lieberman and Kerry a few percent worse. The actual results look fairly inconclusive for the race as a whole. Lieberman didn't do badly enough to get forced out of the race the way everyone except his supporters were hoping. Dean did well enough that he won't drop out or bleed support the way he did after Iowa, but not well enough to provide a basis for a comeback, especially considering his weakness in the next round of primaries. Neither Clark nor Edwards can claim advantage or momentum going into their battle for the south.

An Inadvertant Clarkie

The topic of the New Hampshire primary came up at the end of my meeting with a professor today (specifically, the fact that having to wait for him was no big deal because it kept me away from the internet so I couldn't be constantly checking for updates). He said something about how he thought "your man Wesley Clark" was going to do well. Have I been praising Clark without realizing it?

I don't actually have a strong preference between Clark, Kerry, and Edwards. Clark has some provocative ideas, but I get the impression he's not as interested in and knowledgeable about domestic issues as the others, and we need someone sharp enough to point out how Bush's policies are fooling us by sounding like they solve problems. But my main complaint against Clark is that he has the same name as my university. If he wins, it will create confusion in my editorial cartoons. Of course, if I was voting strictly on cartoonability, I'd vote for Bush -- I'm getting pretty good at caricaturing him, and that "W" is really handy for labeling metaphors.


Ed O'Donnell Hits The Big Time

Our favorite member of the Colgate class of '70 and Maroon-News correspondent got a mention on Daily Kos:

The ballot lists not only the name, but also where they live. Gephardt and Braun are still listed. There's 23 names listed. The strangest is "Randy" Crow, from Wilmington North Carolina. The only local running is Edward Thomas O'Donnell, Jr. from Lebanon, NH. There are 14 persons on the Republican ticket, including a very local, Michael Callis, from Conway, NH.

Materialism, Marx, Sauron*, and a Monk

PCs Killed The Mix-Tape Star

I miss the way I used to make mixes. I'd sit in front of my tape deck, with a stack of CDs or records on one side of me, and a beverage (adult or otherwise) on the other, and spend a couple of hours or more finding just the right combination of songs to put on the tape. The levels would all match; loud songs got softened and soft songs got a boost. I would attempt to take the mix right to the end of the tape; I'd spend over an hour finding that perfect minute-and-a-half song or snippet that would fit musically with the rest of the mix.

... Compare the way I used to do my tape mixes with the way I do things now: I sit in front of my PC and either rip an entire CD to disk or download files from any of the legal services like iTunes or Musicmatch (in pre-litigation days, I will admit I downloaded the occasional song via Kazaa). I drag the song titles from my song list to the playlist window; I check to see if there are any abrupt endings or bad transitions, but I rarely listen to the songs all the way through. Once I'm satisfied, I pop in a CD-R, hit "record" and go to sleep. No muss, no fuss. And not nearly as much fun.

... That's a shame. The process of making a mix tape gave people a connection with music that the electronic version simply can't replace. Because it is so easy to drag and click a mix into existence, the sense of satisfaction with making what many feel is a work of art gets diminished.

I found this article via John Quiggin, who treats Joel Keller's lament as an instance of the general argument that something is lost when a highly skilled activity is replaced by an easy-to-use machine. Quiggin sees the core of the Keller argument as being that if something is hard to do, people will invest the effort to do a good job of it, so quality will be (at least on average) higher than if you could just slap something together. That's an important point (though see the comments section of his cross-post at Crooked Timber for some scorn heaped on Keller), but I was struck by another side to the Keller argument.

Regardless of the quality of the final product, the attachment of the maker to it suffers. A mix tape we labored over for hours means more to us than a WinAmp playlist we threw together, even if from an objective musical standpoint the playlist is better.

This is related to Karl Marx's idea of alienation. Marx's main point was to show how workers are alienated from their products because the boss or factory owner gets to keep the product and sell it. In the process the workers are alienated from themselves, because they put part of themselves -- their labor, which according to Marx is the source of all value -- into the product which is then taken from them. What Keller is pointing out is that with new technology, the amount of labor that goes into making a mix -- the amount of one's self that is tied up in it -- is reduced.

Unless we work for the company that puts out those "Greatest Country Hits of the 60s" compilations you see advertised on TV, no capitalist is appropriating our mixes. But we can still be alienated from our product -- for example, Keller mentions a tape deck that destroyed some of his creations. When this happens, there's an advantage to having less invested in the product. If we spent hours and hours working on a mix and lost it, it would be a big blow to us, whereas we'd hardly care if we lost a WinAmp playlist we slapped together in a few minutes. It's like Sauron in The Lord of The Rings, who invested so much in the creation of the One Ring that when the Ring was destroyed, he was too.

This is a sort of paradox of modern materialism. We have more things, and probably depend more on things in general, than we used to. But because our things are so easily produced, so interchangeable, so easily replaced, we're far less attached to particular ones. I'm reminded of a parable I read a while ago -- I believe it was from India -- on the subject. A monk who had taken a vow of poverty was staying at the house of a wealthy man. During the night, the house caught on fire, and the two men ran out. The wealthy man calmly watched his riches burn to the ground. But the monk dashed back inside to rescue his sleeping mat, the one possession he had.

The big question is whether the increased attachment to things in general that technology makes possible is balanced by the decreased attachment to particular things. One could also expand the argument to ask about the side effects of either form of materialism (for example, to the environment). Attachment to particular things can be a good check on waste, but it can also slow the transition to better ways of doing things.

*You know, if Tolkien had kept Melkor as his villain instead of turning things over to Sauron at the end of the First Age, I could have had an alliterating title.


Modern Day Alchemy

Killing Germs, Reducing Waste, Making Oil: TDP Might Be The Next Big Thing

... TDP [thermal depolymerization] turns just about anything into oil and fertilizer. And when I say "anything," I mean that: animal waste, medical waste, human waste. Used diapers, used computers, used tires. Anything that's not radioactive can be tossed into the hopper.

... Dioxins and PCBs are two particularly nasty kinds of chemical. Right now, we don't really dispose of what we make; we burn or bury it, which means it ends up forgotten but not gone. More specifically, it ends up in the grass and water, and thus back in the food chain.

... But thermal depolymerization is good news. It breaks down industrial and medical wastes and poisons. So instead of burning that stuff and introducing nasties like PCBs and dioxins into the environment, you can run them through a TDP system where they get broken down into their components, which include — lest we forget — oil.

The industrial waste destruction part is what really struck me, since I've been reading a lot of summaries of Superfund cleanup plans. The most depressing part was the fact that the contaminants usually couldn't really be fixed -- they could just be sealed away or hauled off-site. I'm sure there's a downside (given my general skepticism about technical fixes), but I haven't been able to figure out exactly what it would be. This is one of those times when I wish I had more than a handful of readers, so that I could hope for a lively comment section with input from someone who knows more about this than I do after reading a couple of popular press articles.

The author's website includes a pdf of a photocopy of a recent Discover magazine article on TDP, which goes into more detail about how the process works. A box at the end of the article discusses the question of global warming. According to TDP's proponents, the box says, the technology could reduce global warming. The main contributor to global warming is carbon dioxide, and the main source of carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels. Thus, we're taking a stock of carbon that was taken out of circulation millions of years ago and putting it back into circulation. But wide use of TDP would allow us to stop drawing on that underground reserve of carbon, instead only recycling the carbon that's already at the surface. This prognosis misses two things. One is that fossil fuel extraction probably won't halt for a while. TDP looks like the elusive coal-to-oil process that has been pursued so long, since less efficient fossil fuels like coal and oil shale are far more abundant than petroleum and natural gas. So in the search for feedstocks, coal seems like an obvious choice -- though perhaps the economics of it will alter things. Second, there's the issue of the carbon getting "stuck" in the atmosphere. If we take things like sewage sludge and garbage, which at present keep carbon sitting here on the surface, and convert them into oil, that oil will be burned and the carbon will wind up in the atmosphere. The crucial question is whether we can take that carbon back out of the atmosphere as fast, or faster, than it's put in. Even without the re-introduction of fossil carbon, global warming could be caused by an increase in the proportion of available carbon that exists as atmospheric carbon dioxide at any given moment.

Dean Vs. Deanism

For those of you who can't get enough of my opinions about Howard Dean, I offer my latest Open Source Politics post.

The post is pretty pessimistic about Dean's chances, yet fairly positive toward the man himself. As noted there, my gut has long been barracking for Dean. But the intensity of my interest has waxed and waned. When he was the insurgent, I rather liked him. Then this fall, as he became the front runner, I got disillusioned. Clark started to look pretty good, while I piled up misgivings about Dean. Then, after he lost Iowa, I suddenly found myself back in the Dean camp, perhaps more strongly than before. I wept for him, and prayed for a revival in New Hampshire, even as I wrote his obituary.

I wonder if there's a eulogizing impulse taking over. When Carol Moseley-Braun dropped out of the race, everyone had something good to say about her and the classy campaign she ran (though none of us had been willing to say that to the pollsters or our check books while she was still running). Similarly, when Dick Gephardt called it quits, the topic of conversation was his long record of respect-worthy service to the country and the liberal cause (though we'd all said "good riddance!" when he stepped down as Minority Leader in the House). So perhaps it's the very fact that I think Dean is toast that makes me look so favorably on him. If he were still the frontrunner, I'd be second-guessing myself about whether he was really the candidate or the president we wanted.


PR Firefighting

Cedar Fire Water Drops Used Just To Calm Critics

Ineffective and cosmetic air drops of water were made over San Diego County during the biggest wildfire in state history in response to extreme pressure from critics, the director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said yesterday.

"Unfortunately, due to public pressure, some examples can be cited where cosmetic, expensive and ineffective flights were made," CDF director Andrea Tuttle told a blue ribbon panel dissecting the response to California's deadly fall wildfires. She did not provide specifics.

... During the fire, Republican politicians criticized state forestry officials for dragging their feet on seeking approval to use military planes to help fight the region's wildfires. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, who lost his home in the fire, had contacted Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to have military C-130s in other states flown to California to help fight the fires.

It's hard to judge Tuttle's assertion without more evidence, but I don't know of any good reason to say it's not true. The debate over the use of aircraft, which was quite heated while the fires were burning, illustrates something problematic about the public's view of fire. There's a reliance on technical fixes -- like heavy-duty firefighting airplanes -- that we hope can allow us to control nature. To not use the fanciest equipment looks like sitting on our hands.

The subtext of the article seems to be that it would be better if the public, and their elected representatives, would just butt out and let the firefighting experts do their jobs. There's something to be said for not micromanaging and second-guessing people who have been hired and trained to perform a certain function, especially during the height of crisis. But there's also something to be said for the democratic ideal of public oversight to keep the bureaucracy responsive to the needs and interests of those it's supposed to be serving. For the public to just butt out would be to hide the deeper issue. We need a cultural change of attitude to find a way to live with fire, rather than depending on an agency to implement a "fix" for the problem. This requires a broad consensus and a broad sharing of responsibility.


I juts hit upon some proof that my classes this semester are going to be less politically radical than last semester: the reading for my Environmental Decision Making class just cited Monsanto as an example of an environmentally responsible company.

Dictionary-Powered Howard

Since I'm still getting hits like crazy from people searching for "Howard Dean remix," I thought I'd do one of my own. Perhaps if Dean had given his speech like this he wouldn't have gotten so much bad press. Thank you to the pronouncers at Merriam-Webster Online.


Kerry's An Environmentalist -- Trust Me

Veteran Environmental Leader Gives Kerry The Green Light

... Any Democratic candidate will be better than George Bush on all these issues [renewable energy, healthy environment, biodiversity, civil liberties]. But only Kerry can stand up and discuss each in depth without notes -- with a nuanced understanding of science and economics and diplomacy and philosophy -- and explain his decisions to the public in simple words that make sense.

I guess Grist is in the habit of running uninformative endorsements. I mentioned before that the endorsement of Dean they highlighted said nothing in particular about what Dean would do better for the environment, instead relying on the changes in process under Dean that would allow citizen environmentalism a larger voice. Now, in this long article on Kerry, endorser Dennis Hayes appears to offer only two actual facts to support his assertion that Kerry deserves the support of environmentalists (he has a 96% environmental voting record and he's the only candidate who mentions the environment in every speech). While the only other candidate's environmental record that I've looked at in any detail is Dean's, I see no reason to dispute the conclusion that Kerry is one of, if not the, best candidate for the environment. But the endorsement article doesn't really make the case.

A Visual Remix

I haven't done any cartoons in a while, since The Scarlet hasn't been publishing. I had an idea for one the other day, but I don't have access to a scanner and I wasn't sure if I could draw it convincingly. I don't usually do photoshopped comics, but today I've decided to bring you my artist's rendition of the sentiment expressed here:

(source, source)

Dean Remix Revisited

For the legions of people still arriving here searching for "Howard Dean remix," I offer a link to Some of the dozens of remixes there are pretty bad -- just a song with "yeeaargh!" spliced over it. Others are well-done.


it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a sapm are

We're going to cteplmoe this peroscs! Oh yeah!


Howard Dean Remix

It looks like I've been inadvertantly doing Howard Dean a favor. I've suddenly gotten a whole pile of hits from people searching for "Howard Dean remix." I assume they're looking for this file, which is a remix of the post-Iowa speech that has been billed as his "Waterloo" because he got so caught up in his hardcore supporters' energy that he came off looking more like a pro wrestler than a president. But until this post, my only mention of a Howard Dean remix (ranked quite high -- perhaps because search engines haven't yet indexed mentions of the new remix) was to this file, which is a remix of his stump speech. Optimistic Deaniacs can now imagine hordes of people coming to debitage and downloading a file with the intent of laughing at Dean's insanity, but instead hearing his case against his opponents and being convinced that he's the man.

UPDATE: Turns out there are at least two remixes of the Iowa speech floating around. I found this one via the Dean Nation blog.

Sagan Versus Habermas

Scientists Look For The Physics Behind A Miracle

The study, published in the Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences and reported upon today in The Moscow Times, concluded that a reef running to the north side of the Red Sea could have been the "dry land" upon which the Jews crossed the sea, provided that a 30-meter-per-second wind blew across the sea all night. The cessation of the wind would then lead to the drowning of the pursuing Egyptian forces, trapped on the reef as the waters returned, as recorded in the Bible.

-- via The Right Christians

These kinds of stories (see also the theory that Noah's Flood is based on the bursting of the Black Sea, or that Atlantis is a misremembered version of the explosion of Thera and the fall of the Minoan civilization) have an understandable appeal today. For the believer, they can validate the myth and lift the burden of believing in a major supernatural intervention. For the nonbeliever, they can eliminate the need to bring in God to explain things. Both views, however, seem to partake of what I would call Saganism* -- the idea that myth is a primitive form of science, attempting the same objective rendering of the facts but without the techniques of modern verification. So we can look back at the marvels recorded by prescientific people and see that they were just guesses at explaining things that we now understand better.

Jürgen Habermas's thoughts (yeah, I know you're all getting tired of hearing about Habermas) on the structure of communication shed some light on what makes me uncomfortable with Saganism. Habermas states that every act of communication makes claims about three worlds -- the objective (regarding facts in the world we share), the intersubjective (regarding norms of social interaction), and the subjective (regarding personal experience). While those three elements are present in every utterance, in modern cultures they've been somewhat separated out so that each statement explicitly addresses one of the worlds. Along with that, we've developed three forms of reasoning, each corresponding to the characteristic perspective of one of the worlds (though it can be applied to any subject matter) -- science, ethics, and aesthetics. The boundaries between these subject areas, and the definition of what topics are amenable to what kind of reasoning, are open to negotiation within society.

However, Habermas stresses that this separation is distinctively modern. For premodern peoples, whose worldview he refers to as "mythic," the three worlds run together. They aren't thematized separately the way they are for us. Thus, when we hear a myth that tells a story about the past, our modern impulse is to treat it as part of the world where we would locate it -- the objective, dealt with by science (including history). We thus treat the myth as scientific/historical reasoning, and when it comes up short on that count, we arrive at Saganism. Studies like the one quoted above are attempts to validate the myth on scientific grounds.

Certainly myths did serve to represent the objective world for their tellers. Saganism's mistake is to forget that they also served to represent the intersubjective and subjective worlds, to express truths of how people should interact and how they experience their world. It is on these dimensions that myths retain most of their significance today. In its focus on the historical fact of Jesus' life (and consequently that of the rest of the Bible), Christianity has abetted Saganism (both with regard to Christian myths and, by extension, with regard to other religions' myths in the minds of people from Christian and post-Christian cultures). But when religion decides to step onto the objective playing field and go up against scientific reasoning, it has a history of either losing (as in the Copernican revolution) or of stunting our knowledge (as in creationism). And even if our modern ethical and aesthetic reasoning beats myths in the intersubjective and subjective worlds, recognizing that they must be confronted there enriches our understanding of myths.

*I haven't read Carl Sagan's books yet, but this theory aligns with what I've heard of his ideas.

An Endangered Act

You can head over to Open Source Politics to read my latest contribution, a defense of the Endangered Species Act.

Every Time You Hold A Door, God Kills A Kitten

This is kind of a frivolous example, but it highlights some interesting things about utilitarian cost-benefit analysis:

Chivalry's Genocide

Yes, the practice of holding doors open is equivalent to mass murder. As I have explained, your average door holding transaction destroys a few net seconds of productive life. The average male lifespan in America is 77.2 years. This is equivalent to 2,434,579,200 seconds. If we estimate that every door holding destroys 3 seconds, we need only have a little over 800 million door holding transactions to destroy one modern American male's life. Let's suppose the average American woman has 500 doors held inefficiently for her in her life, although I suspect the true number is far higher. That means for every 1.6 million American women one man has been killed. The female population of the United States is a little over 143 million, so America's women are or will be collectively responsible for the deaths of about 90 men.

Not terribly significant, but now add in Western Europe and any other cultures that condone this barbarous practice. Add all of the women who have lived and died since this traditional began. Factor in the reduced lifespands of men before modern times. Whatever the numbers you use, you're sure to reach thousands of men murdered by holding doors open.

This is an amusing application of cost-benefit analysis to everyday life. Will Baude's response (where I found the link) builds on the traditional utilitarian reasoning about money -- a dollar is worth a different amount to different people -- to say that in this case time isn't worth the same to everyone. Baude isn't usually in much of a hurry, so given the chances that the person behind him is in a hurry, it isn't necessarily inefficient to hold the door.

I think a more complete response would have to challenge the assumption, made by Slithery D and accepted by Baude, that the costs and benefits should be measured in time or time-quality. There are significant other benefits to door-holding that need to be taken into consideration. Most important, I think, is the effect on sociability. The positive benefits of interacting with another person, even if just through the brief contact of door-holding, have value beyond the time saved. The closing of the door behind the person in front of you symbolically reflects the social atomism that is shown in failing to hold the door when dictated either by calculation of the benefits of communal feeling or by commonly accepted standards of politeness.

UPDATE: Upon further thought, I have to question the conversation about the issue that Slithery D posted on his blog. It seems like quite an inefficient use of his time. He must have known that his explanation was quite unlikely to convince them, and thus the tradeoff against the utility of letting them think he was a jerk is questionable. And even if they were convinced, he seems to believe that door-holding is something nearly always done by men for women, and thus his arguments wouldn't have led his hearers to improve their door use efficiency, since they were women. It could perhaps be justified by the sociability criterion, but as I noted above, that would also destroy his argument against holding doors.


More Water Problems In Central Asia

Kazakh Lake 'Could Dry Up'

The UN has warned that Lake Balkhash, the second largest lake in Central Asia after the Aral Sea, could dry up, creating another major environmental crisis in the region.

... "Just like the Aral Sea, there is less and less water coming to the lake," he [UN representative Fikret Akcura] said when presenting a UNDP report on Kazakhstan's water resources.

The Kazakh newspaper Megapolis reported late last year that, according to the latest data, the lake has already shrunk by over 2,000 square kilometres (770 square miles).

The lack of progress being made on saving the Aral Sea doesn't give me a lot of hope for Lake Balkhash. One of the most important steps -- and one of the hardest, especially in the context of corrupt governments and strong pressure for economic development -- is to treat the lake itself as a water user. Declining water levels in the lake aren't just a symptom of poor water use upstream, or even a purely ecological problem. Between the saltiness of the lake and the pollutants that are in it, the dry lakebed will expose some pretty awful stuff to the wind -- and hence to anybody who farms or breathes near it. Allocating a big share of water to the lake can also be a good way of creating a safety net for water shortfalls. It's tempting, when there is a string of good years, to increase water use. But it's much harder to decrease water use in bad years, if the infrastructure has been put in place for stepped up farming or industry and people have become dependent on it. The lake's share would be a safety margin that could be partially tapped in bad years -- though there is the risk that "bad year" would be declared too easily in order to get at "unused" water, undermining the point of it.

France Vs. Logic

France Debates Head Scarf Ban In Schools

As France debates a plan to ban Islamic head scarves in public schools, the education minister said Tuesday that even some bandannas and beards should be barred from the classroom.

... The bandanna "will be banned, if young girls present it as a religious sign,'' said [Education Minister Luc] Ferry, who was presenting the proposal to lawmakers.

Responding to a question, Ferry also said that beards would be banned, if they are worn for religious reasons, according to a report on France Info radio.

... President Jacques Chirac says the bill's goal is to protect France's secular underpinnings. However, it also is seen as a way to hold back the swell of Islamic fundamentalism in France's Muslim community--the largest in Western Europe.

So you're going to protect yourself from Islamic fundamentalism by making Muslims angry at you and confirming the fundamentalist belief that Islam and modern culture are incompatible. Next, Chirac will propose to keep French people safe from beestings by poking beehives with a stick.

The theory, as I understand it, is sort of like an English immersion program for immigrants to the US. If you force them to act as if they're secular, you'll break the hold of their old culture and teach them to assimilate. Instead, I would imagine the result will be to drive observant conservative Muslims out of the state school system. This would create a cultural divide as Muslim and non-Muslim students aren't exposed to each other, exacerbating the very problem the policy is designed to fix.


Media Stereotyping

The media likes to pick a storyline for each candidate and run with it. As another data point: for their story about union-supported Dick Gephardt dropping out of the presidential race, the sidebar on Yahoo! News offers more stories about not the election, but about "Labor & Workplace."

The Four Cs

Bush Administration Takes Aggressive Forest Thinning Measures

Calling it the "new environmentalism," the U.S. Interior Department Thursday issued guidelines for stewardship contracts that allow private companies and communities to keep forest and rangeland products in exchange for services such as thinning trees and brush and removing wood.

... the Bush administration last week moved to streamline the logging of national forests for fuel reduction. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman issued an interim final rule for a special administrative review process for hazardous fuel reduction projects in national forests.

The interim final rule is effective immediately, before the U.S. Forest Service has heard public comments, but the Service says it will accept comments from the public on the rule for 90 days.

Implementing the rule before the public has commented does not bother Secretary Veneman. "I am very proud of this quick response to implement the Healthy Forests legislation," she said. "A pre-decisional administrative review process will assist federal land managers in reducing hazardous fuels in high priority areas. We are implementing this legislation aggressively to lessen the impacts of wildland fires on communities and our natural resources."

... Interior Department Assistant Secretary Rebecca Watson, said Thursday, "Stewardship contracting will demonstrate a 'new environmentalism' - land stewardship based on partnerships and common ground rather than litigation and confrontation. It is part of a new culture of communication, cooperation, and consultation, in the service of conservation - a culture that Secretary Norton calls the 'Four C's.'"

Those four Cs are very interesting. They represent an appealing ideal of more democratic environmental stewardship. But none of them seem to be implemented very well in the Healthy Forests initiative -- in fact, they were cited as by proponents of the Healthy Forests bill as being exactly the problem they were trying to solve.

Communication: The article above notes that the stewardship contract system is being implemented before they've heard public comments on it. This sort of desire for haste was part of the rationale for Healthy Forests. President Bush said in an appearance this summer: "If somebody has got a different point of view, we need to hear it. This is America. We expect to hear people's different points of view in this country. But we want people to understand that we're talking about the health of our forests, and if there's a high priority, we need to get after it before the forests burn and people lose life." In other words, communication is nice, but with these fires threatening there's no time to sit around talking. (This same point could be extended to cooperation and consultation, as it's not entirely clear how to draw the line between the first three Cs).

Cooperation: One of the key provisions of the Healthy Forests law is to reduce the scope for public challenges to fuel reduction projects. Certainly it will reduce the amount of overt conflict over management decisions. But cutting one party out of a decision is not the same as cooperating. Indeed, it reduces the cooperativeness of the final outcome because the Forest Service doesn't have to take citizens' views into account to as great a degree in drawing up the plan because unsatisfied citizens can't effectively complain through the courts.

Consultation: The opposition to consultation is a bit subtle. The Healthy Forests act directs judges hearing challenges to take into account the long-term health of the forest. Phrased that way it sounds fairly benign, but what it does is to 1) give the benefit of the doubt to the party proposing fuel reduction, and 2) establish by fiat what the management priorities will be. This sort of move isn't in and of itself bad -- it's at the heart of many environmental regulations -- but it is anti-consultative. It takes us away from what Habermas calls the "ideal speech situation," in which all parties have an equal opportunity to participate in setting the agenda.

Conservation: Environmentalists recieved substantial blame for the poor condition of the nation's forests. An irrational dedication to preserving the environment (particularly endangered species), they said, was at the root of the barriers placed in the way of fuel reduction, and hence was responsible for out-of-control fires that threatened lives and property. Granted, some people made the case (erroneous, in my view, given the actual extent of environmentalist obstructionism and the impacts of mechanical fuel reduction) that fuel reduction is in the long-term best interests of nature. But the dominant framing drew on the idea that environmentalists care more about nature than about people.



I'm not sure how much sense the previous post will make to anyone who doesn't have some background in Habermas's theories, although maybe if you know something about evangelical Christianity or Howard Dean's campaign then the Habermasian framework will make sense.

I'd try to explain Habermas more clearly, but 1) I've already spent too much time blogging today, and 2) I'm not certain I understand him well enough to quickly, clearly, and accurately describe it.

Colonization Of The Dean-world

In the concluding section of his Theory of Communicative Action, Jürgen Habermas briefly takes up the question of the new social movements that have arisen in the late 20th and early 21st century, movements with a stronger cultural basis than the classic economic (labor) or political (suffrage) movements. He describes them as a reaction to the colonization of the lifeworld by the system (which I've written about before), a reaction by the lifeworld against its own impoverishment by the encroachment and exploitation of the system. Habermas touches only briefly on this issue, but I'd like to try to work out its ramifications by comparing two important American instances of lifestyle politics -- evangelical Christianity and the rise of Howard Dean.

The evangelical movement strikes me as more typical of lifeworld politics, of the left or right. It began as a strictly lifeworld phenomenon, ministering to the needs of its members along the three lifeworld dimensions of cultural meaning (derived from fundamentalist Christian cosmology and eschatology), social integration (both in the immediate sense of the Durkheimian effervescence of religious practice as a congregation, and in the larger sense of being part of the "church universal" of all Christians), and personal identity (defining who one is and what one's existential life-project is in terms of salvation and following Jesus). Indeed, the evangelical movement was originally apolitical, preferring to more or less leave the system to run itself -- a viewpoint that could be justified through the "otherworldly" aspect of Christian theology, in which Jesus rejects the economic subsystem ("render unto Caesar ...") and St. Paul rejects the political subsystem (). This intra-lifeworld mission remains strong in evangelical Christianity, a fact easily overlooked by liberals who see the "fundies" only when they vote and write laws.

But the system is not content to live within its means, according to Habermas. It steadily attempts to colonize the lifeworld, absorbing lifeworld situations into itself through the expansion of the domains of monetary exchange and bureaucratic administration. And so, like Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple, evangelical Christianity found that it had to actively defend against colonization by the system. Consider, for example, creationism. It's not sufficient for evangelicals to teach the Genesis story through communicative action in the lifeworld. The duty of educating and socializing children has been appropriated by the political subsystem through the public school system. Some evangelicals flee this colonization by retreating into homeschooling and private religious schools. They may even attempt to cripple the colonization process and bolster alternative institutions through school vouchers. But the main reaction has been to try to twist the internal logic of the political subsystem so that it no longer threatens their lifeworld form, mobilizing politically to make use of the system. Their goal is to neutralize the teaching of evolution by requiring the discussion of "alternatives." The outcome of this teaching model would be to leave the origin of species an open question, a question that can then be answered in the lifeworld by family and church.

In the case of abortion, evangelicals propose to go farther, from the neutral status quo to a situation in which the system actively supports the conclusions of their lifeworld. If victorious, the question of having an abortion would no longer be answered by communicatively achieved agreement within the pregnant woman's lifeworld, but instead dictated by the logic of the political subsystem. In this, they are inviting colonization of the lifeworld -- a somewhat paradoxical outcome for a movement rooted in resistance by the lifeworld to colonization. This is the persistent failure of resistance movements. Too often we find that resistance is based not on a principle of the rejection of power, but simply on a disagreement about how that power is being used.

The Dean campaign illustrates a different side of lifeworld politics. Deaniacs seek to reinvigorate lifeworld through recapturing the system -- subversion rather than resistance or appropriation. Deaniacs, too, felt the pressures of the colonization of the lifeworld. The nature of the system is to run on its own logic, a process which both relieves participants of the burden of communicative reasonin, but also to that extent impoverishes their systematized relations. The archetypal Deaniacs began from a position in which they were disillusioned by the failure of the political and economic subsystems (particularly the former) to respond to their needs. They could have, like the evangelicals, sought fulfilment in the lifeworld. But once made aware of the problem of colonization (though not in those terms, obviously), it wouldn't go away. Howard Dean himself describes the thought process:
I was reading the paper one day and saw something the president did that I felt was really bad for the country and I just said, "Are you going to do something about it or are you going to complain about it?"

Do something about it they did. In one sense, the Dean campaign -- as well as all the other campaigns -- is, like evangelical politics, a strategic use of the political subsystem in order to reshape those elements of the system that the voters find most inimical to their lifeworlds. It's the process of trading a vote for system services that the political subsystem is built on.

But the crucial thing that made the Dean campaign take off and form into a movement is that Deaniacs' involvement went beyond the strategic into the communicative. The campaign itself becomes a stage for action in the lifeworld. Through their involvement, Deaniacs develop cultural meaning, social solidarity (hence the importance of MeetUp), and personal identity. It's this lifeworld dimension that makes the campaign so captivating, and which is why Dean's success can't be explained simply by the strategic goals (i.e. policy promises -- Dean's are fairly mainstream within the Democratic Party) his candidacy aims at.

The blog medium is significant to the amplification of the normal mini-movement that surrounds any successful candidate. The central feature of a modern lifeworld is the process of rational communication. Because of their interactivity, blogs allow the extension of communicative action over larger distances and to greater numbers of people. They also create (at worst the illusion and at best the reality of) a de-systematizing of the campaign. Real-time feedback from voters becomes prominent, weakening the role of systemic logic (the calculus of winning over voters with appeals and promises) in favor of the role of communicative action oriented toward achieving rational agreement about what's best for the country and for the campaign. While the Deaniacs' hopes for a more thorough lifeworld politics can often run ahead of Dean's responsiveness (he was, after all, a classically-trained politician until a year and a half or so ago), the campaign organization makes those hopes plausible.

I wouldn't say the Dean movement is necessarily more effective as a form of response to the colonization of the lifeworld. I've briefly mentioned a few concerns about the fate of the movement before, chief among which is the way it's currently tied to the political figurehead of Howard Dean, a man who may be unemployed before the year is out. It's hard to judge clearly because this manifestation is so new, and I have much less familiarity with any comparable campaigns in the past.

Kiosk Update

Is complaining about how you hate the word "meme" whenever you talk about one popular enough to count as a meme in its own right?

Regardless, people who do so are now in the Kiosk. It's not that I'm a defender of the word "meme," but I get tired of the apparently obligatory complaints about it.

You-know-who And The You-know-what

Another data point, courtesy of (of all places) People magazine:

17 Things You Don't Know About Howard Dean

4. He always turns off the lights when he walks out of a room. He used to get into fights with his wife about turning up the heat in the winter, so now she pays the bill so he doesn't have to see it.

... 6. He is compulsive about recycling. Once he picked up every newspaper off an airplane at the end of a flight and hauled them to a recycling center. He also does recycling inspections of his staffer's bins.

7. He insists that paper in his office be printed on both sides.

-- via

In reality, this probably says more about his penny-pinching ways (as do many of the other entries) than about his environmental ethos. As anyone who's seen my franken-socks can probably guess, he sounds like my kind of guy (the jury is still out about whether he's my kind of President).


Delawares In Pennsylvania

I'd forgotten about this story, but it looks like the case is officially filed now.

Indian Tribe Files Suit For Forks Land

... The Delaware Nation of Anadarko, Okla., claims a 315-acre parcel in Forks Township that is now home to 25 private residences and the maker of Crayola crayons.

The tribe's lawyers insisted they're not trying to force anyone off their land. Rather, they want to make sure their own rights are protected so they can pursue gaming in the state.

''Nobody in the Delaware Nation has any desire to dispossess anyone of their land,'' tribal lawyer Stephen A. Cozen of Philadelphia said during a midday conference call. The tribe's court filing, however, demands that all homes and businesses on the parcel be vacated immediately.

The lawsuit further demands that all 315 acres be turned into an Indian reservation.

I don't have anything enlightening to say; I'm just noting it for my own interest.

Environmentalists And The Dean Movement

Keen On Dean: Babbitt, Hawken, And Other Enviros Throw Their Weight Behind Dean

... And imagine what it would mean to have a president who offered real attention not to the high and mighty, but to normal people with normal problems. For environmentalists, it would mean that the natural tendency of people to support a healthy planet for the sake of their children might finally prevail. Poll after poll shows that our fellow citizens consider global warming a serious problem; that we want more wilderness and protected land; that we favor protecting small farmers, not corporate agribusiness giants; that we're sick and tired of acid rain and mercury pollution; that we can't stand the constantly growing epidemic of childhood asthma. We want windmills and solar panels; we want abundant, enduring fisheries and forests. And we want international cooperation to solve the truly global problems like climate change that threaten every town and every business.

This endorsement comes from Bruce Babbitt (the former Secretary of the Interior who I respect for trying to stand up to mining), Paul Hawken, Bill McKibben, and Terry Tempest Williams. What's interesting here is that their endorsement (like the part of me that's pro-Dean) is based on the campaign, not the candidate. Their concern isn't that Dean is personally committed to protecting the environment, that his record or his platform are greener than those of the other candidates. It's that they think Dean's populist movement will give the pro-environment views of citizens more clout.

The Dean movement is an important caution to reading too much into his record as governor of Vermont. As governor, Dean was not the populist we see today. He didn't create the movement, though he's nutured it. The movement -- the blogs, the meetups, the inspiration -- chose Dean sometime in 2002.

But it's still unclear what the role of the movement will be when and if Dean gets into office. Will he turn into a blog and pay attention to the comments? More importantly, will the movement stick with President Dean? Will they be willing and able to mobilize to push for his legislative priorities in the same way they did for his electoral priorities? Will they become disillusioned as a Republican Congress stymies Dean's plans and the president himself engages in pragmatic deal-cutting?

I would hope that after the inauguration, the Dean movement would unhitch itself from Dean and pursue the goals that it sees embodied in Dean, even if doing so puts them in conflict with the president (indeed, I'd hope this even if Dean loses -- and if the movement can survive Dean's death, it becomes less important to elect Dean in order to tap its strength). Come 2008, Dean would have to earn back their support or face a neo-Dean challenger backed by the very movement that he exploited in his first race.


Another Bad Article In Praise Of Conservatism

Turning Back The Clock: It's Not A Bad Thing

Liberals love to skewer conservatives by saying they're just interested in "turning back the clock" -- as if that's a bad thing.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was Republicans who ushered in the civil rights era, beginning with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in September 1862 and continuing through the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. It was also Republicans who introduced our national-park system under that horseback-riding president, Teddy Roosevelt, and strengthened it courtesy of our cowboy president, Ronald Reagan.

-- via WitchVox

Is it just me, or is he defending conservatism by pointing out that Republicans have passed some un-conservative laws?

Youth Culture Killed My Dog

Anyone who found my occasional posts about "this particular order or chaos" interesting might want to read a couple of recent posts by Will Wilkinson that state more or less the same idea.

Wilkinson is a bit more sympathetic to the conservative side of the case, as evidenced by the fact that his second post respectfully disagrees with an article on the decline of manly virtue. I first encountered the article in question through Diotima (who praises it) and found it so profoundly ignorant that I couldn't read past the first third or so. Maybe I shouldn't comment until I've slogged through the entire thing, but what the hey. It's revealing that Moore (the author) selects the hat as the defining characteristic of the "barbarians" that today's young men have become. On the one hand, hat-wearing ettiquette is a perfect example of a completely arbitrary social convention, the defense of which is the dark side of conservatism. On the other hand, the backwards baseball cap is not in fact so prevalent as Moore thinks among the kind of dissolute young men that he's trying to illustrate. Based on my own unsystematic observations, going bareheaded or wearing a stocking cap pulled down tight are just as popular. This mistake demonstrates two things. First, it's a lazy recycling of a cliched judgement that pretends to be a principled social critique (a phenomenon Wilkinson criticizes in his first post). Second, it sets the stage for Moore's overall attitude toward today's youth. Despite the wealth of sociological work that has been done on youth culture and the ample opportunities for first-hand ethnography, Moore prefers the perspective popular among 17th Century armchair anthropologists. These scholars looked at the "savage" societies of the newly discovered lands and made the mistake of confusing "different culture" with "no culture." So these non-European "barbarians" were said to have no religion, no government, no science, no morals, and a barely functional language. Moore likewise seems to think that young men's speech consists of little more than synonyms for "whazzaaap!" and that "heavy metal" (by which I think he means to include punk and rap as well) is not, properly speaking, music. There are trenchant critiques to be made of the various subcultures of modern young men, but to make them you first need to know something about the actual state of the people in question.

Wilkinson states that:
What we need is a rethinking of what it is to be a man when women don't need us economically, don't require our paternalistic care, don't conceive of themselves primarily as units for the production of babies, and thus look to relationships with men to meet human needs beyond economics, protection, and reproduction.

It's correct that we need a new model -- or rather, models -- of proper manhood. The first step, I would argue, is to reduce the scope of "manliness." Because the sexual division of society is less rigid (a trend that should be encouraged), gender becomes less necessarily central to a person's identity. For example, I find it awkward to say "I am a man," despite the fact that I've never really "questioned my manhood" or sexual identity. I take into account my Y chromosome and all it entails, but it's a minor part in how I construct my existential life-project compared to statements like "I am a geographer" or "I am politically liberal."

Coming back to Moore, in the part of the article I made it through, he said something that I can agree with if taken out of context:
Manhood is not simply a matter of being male and reaching a certain age. These are acts of nature; manhood is a sustained act of character. It is no easier to become a man than it is to become virtuous. In fact, the two are the same.

What Moore means by this is that when a boy finds out how to be a proper man, he will be virtuous. But I would put it the opposite way: when a boy finds out how to be virtuous, he will be a proper person, and because he happens to be a male person, he will be a proper man. Maleness need not be more than another empirical condition (like "good at math" or "lives in Chicago") that shapes the particular implementation of the general principles of virtue in a life. The question is then how that shaping should take place -- in what way does a person striving to be virtuous have to take into account the fact that he happens to be male.

Sludge Defeat

UMBT Quits Its Sludge Battle

Township officials conceded defeat Monday in their three-year attempt to regulate the use of processed sludge as fertilizer.

... Township Solicitor Ronold Karasek told township supervisors Monday that the township has lost before the state Supreme Court.

Initially Karasek said he thought the township had prevailed. But after re-examining the court's ruling, he changed his mind.

... The court has said it will not clarify its ruling, Karasek said.

Maybe it's just because I'm not a law expert, but it strikes me as strange that the court would refuse to clarify what's so obviously a confusing ruling. But I guess the township's concession settles it. It's a shame that lack of resources is a major barrier to appealing the decision to the US Supreme Court. Doubtless the time and money required to fight a court case help to weed out frivolous ones, but it puts money- and personnel-poor municipalities at a disadvantage.

The best hope, it looks like, will be either a federal rule that supersedes the state law (the EPA is aware of the biosolids issue and may push it next year if we get someone different in charge), or a court case by another township whose situation doesn't have the technicality that split the state supreme court decision.

Indian Endorsements

Via the comments to a Calpundit post, I found these two stories relating to Native Americans and the Democratic presidential candidates:

Native American Times
Endorses General Wesley K. Clark

A strong belief in tribes as sovereign governments must be first and foremost in the mind of our country's top leader to understand the complex relationship Indian Country has with our federal government. Treaty obligations with tribes are seldom understood by most political leaders, which can lead to a deterioration of this relationship and dire circumstances for Indian Country. There is one candidate running for President who not only understands it, he has enforced treaty agreements and sovereign rights of other nations around the world. As the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO) Supreme Commander, Wesley Clark put his own safety at risk while supporting treaty agreements between nations around the world. This is one of many reasons why the Native American Times endorses Wesley Clark for President of the United States.

It's interesting that the Times endorsement focuses mostly on Clark's military record, relating it to specifically Native American concerns through analogy and Natives' high rate of military service. One of the things that concerns me about Clark is the heavy emphasis put on his biography, by the campaign itself and by observers. He's come out with some smart and provocative proposals on other issues, so it's a shame -- and potentially a liability -- that so much attention is given to his military credentials.

The second article, while reflecting poorly on Howard Dean's treatment of the Abenaki in Vermont, does contain the first defense of his record on the issue that I've seen:

Abenaki Chief Slams Dean Record

"There have been differences of opinion between Gov. Dean and the Abenaki, but those were based on Gov. Dean's well known opposition to gaming in Vermont," said campaign spokesman Garrett Graff.

He said Dean helped provide funding for the first Abenaki cultural museum, worked on economic development issues with the tribe and established a class on Abenaki culture in Vermont's schools.

"Gov. Dean began his speech to the National Congress of American Indians by mentioning his personal opposition to gaming, but that as president would support it wherever it was legal," Graff said. "His directness was received by an enthusiastic and supportive audience of tribal leaders."

Gambling seems to be the biggest wedge between whites and Indians these days (though not all whites -- somebody's putting money in those slot machines). I'll have to think about it some more, but it seems that there's a feeling among a lot of whites that Indian casinos are somehow unfair, perhaps because the tribes have a special status that allows them to run casinos. The taxation issue (i.e., that Native Americans don't have to pay any to the state) is another side to it, which is doubtless amplified when the tribe is raking in the cash. I wonder, though, why -- if Dean's opposition to gambling is a state revenue issue, as has been suggested -- he couldn't negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement (of the type many other Native American enterprises have with their states) in return for dropping opposition to recognition of the tribe. That seems like a win-win situation, especially if the casino pulled in a lot of out-of-state gamblers. Perhaps he never thought of it, or was reluctant to court electoral backlash from strongly anti-tribal white voters (though that didn't stop him from signing the civil unions bill). Or perhaps the Abenaki rejected that kind of an arrangement, either on principle (since it resembles a threat) or because even putting the agreement in hypothetical form ("if the tribe ever builds a casino ...") would seem to presuppose the tribe's decision on gambling, and it wouldn't want to have that kind of PR. I guess I should find some actual information, huh?


Dean And The Environment

I haven't read Howard Dean: A Citizen's Guide to the Man Who Would Be President yet, but the quotes in this David Broder column reinforce my feeling that Dean is fairly unexceptional, as Democrats go, in terms of his environmentalism:

The chapter on his environmental record, titled "Green and Not Green," by Hamilton E. Davis, the former managing editor of the Burlington Free Press, is a model of balance. "A clear fault line runs down the center of Howard Dean's stewardship of Vermont's environment," Davis writes. "On one side is his strong support for the purchase of wild land that might otherwise be subject to development; during his 11 years as governor, the state bought more than 470,000 acres of such land. . . .

"On the other side of the fault, however, is Dean's record on the regulation of retail and industrial development. His critics charge that his preference for the interests of large business over environmental protection sapped the vitality from the state's regulatory apparatus, especially Act 250, Vermont's historic development-control law, and from regulations pertaining to storm water runoff and water pollution."

Dean's position here is likely to be appealing as a moderate-sounding stance that's far enough left that he has ground to call Bush on his atrocious environmental record (though the very political convenience of it makes me wonder how deep his principles run). Protected lands remain one of the more popular forms of environmentalism precisely because they don't intrude into the places people are already using. It's regulations like car emissions controls, that reach into a person's private property and lifestyle, that make people start really thinking the government is overreaching. Businesses don't like either form of environmentalism, but protecting land mostly impacts industries directly dependent on natural resource extraction, whereas regulating development has a broader shadow.

But I would prefer the emphasis in environmental policy to be just the opposite of what Dean has done. I think buying and preserving land is great (provided your successors don't give away the use rights to mining and logging companies), as people who have read my posts on land trusts will recall. But I'm wary of a model of environmental protection that sees nature as something "over there" that should be preserved as a separate entity unto itself. The major environmental challenge of the 21st century is learning to live with nature, not simply protecting nature from humans. Doing that means dealing with issues like sprawling development, industrial impacts on non-protected environments (human habitats), and urban impacts such as stormwater runoff.


Twice in 48 Hours ...

Help me, I'm agreeing with Bird Dog again. After his fellow tacitusian macallan posted a link to this article about Howard Dean's wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg, Bird Dog said:

I came out of it thinking better of Steinberg. There's kids at home and she's helping people in her practice. In fact, she's got her priorities pretty straight, since she's doing more good helping patients than traveling around helping her husband's political career.

My feeling exactly. I like that she's her own person with her own life and career, not an adjunct to Dean and his plan of life. Unfortunately I think a fair number of people will have trouble accepting that, so they'll read into the relationship insidious things about her commitment to her husband. Being president is, for many voters, not just a job that we hire the most qualified person to do (though that's not true of all voters, as demonstrated by Bill Clinton's ability to escape the Monica incident relatively unscathed). The president is a sort of avatar of the American public, so people can be reluctant to elect someone who isn't, in character and personal life as well as in political views, representative of what they are or think they should be. And for a substantial sector of the population, the ideal of marriage hasn't caught up to what I, or Dean and Steinberg, think about it.


Internet Stereotyping

How Real Are Internet Friendships?

... The significant point is that we make unwarranted inferences about people on the basis of our perception of their attractiveness. For example, as a consequence of what psychologists call a ‘positive halo effect’, attractive people are considered more intelligent, more moral, better adjusted, nicer, more sexually responsive and more competent than their less attractive fellows. And, of course, it isn’t only attractiveness that influences the judgements we make about people. We also take our cues from, amongst other things, age, sex, racial characteristics, style of dress, accent and social class.

The reason that these kinds of cues will often result in distorted judgements about people is because we make use of ‘implicit personality theories’ which rely on stereotyping. In other words, we tend to take our cue from these readily identifiable characteristics to place people into categories, and then we assume that they share the other attributes which we think are typical of the category.

... The significant point about internet relationships is that the characteristics we rely on to make judgements about people in the non-virtual world are largely invisible in the virtual world. The irony here is that it is precisely that facet of internet communication that makes gross deception possible – the absence of a face to face relationship - which undermines our tendency to stereotype.

But there is stereotyping that goes on on the internet. The simplest is the carryover of real-world stereotypes. The better you get to know an online friend, the more things you learn about them, including things -- like sex, age, appearance, and so forth -- that unfairly affect your assessment of them. Even if those things are more or less concealed, as they are by many privacy-conscious inhabitants of the internet, there are emerging cultural and self-presentation stereotypes. Consider, for example, the negative view someone like me could implicitly take of someone who had an AOL e-mail address, or who said things like "u r kewl." The same person could elicit very different reactions from us if they posted under the name "EminemLovr143," "ImpeachBush," "Heraclitus," or "Matt L." The importance of stereotypes to how we function in the real world means the principle is reproduced in the virtual world.

One big difference is in choice. In the real world, it's difficult if not impossible to exercise control over bases of stereotyping such as physical attractiveness, race, or accent. Online, however, we can much more easily choose our nickname, diction, and so forth in order to elicit a certain reaction. While this is useful on a pragmatic level, it raises questions in terms of the philosophy of tolerance. Tolerance of real-world difference has often been achieved through pointing to the uncontrollability of stereotyped features -- the "they can't help it" argument. But it's hard for me to accept "u r kewl" when I know the person is perfectly capable of typing "you are cool." The question, then, is whether tolerance is an accommodation to our imperfect world, or whether it's of value, at least with respect to a certain range of behavior, in and of itself -- and if the second, how to argue for it either in general or with regard to particular cases.

Boy Scouts

This may be a first, but Bird Dog at tacitus has a post up that I more or less agree with, summarizing recent court cases that have gone against the Boy Scouts due to their discriminatory policies against gays and atheists. He's right that the Scouts are being unfairly singled out, and that groups like the ACLU have bigger fish to fry, and that as a whole the Scouts are a worthy organization, though I'm not convinced of his view that this is a crucial proxy battle being waged by "the Left." Also, don't miss the observation early in the comment thread by seth.

Pod 6 Is Jerks

There's been a lot of talk lately about the recent Club for Growth ad in which an Iowa couple say that Howard Dean "should take his ... left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs." The left side of the blogosphere has pretty well ridiculed the ad as ineffectual name-calling. But there's a lesson in it to be learned by some of the less civil lefties -- the ones that use terminology like "BushCo" and "AWOL." Such names are expressive of such people's feelings about the current administration, just like the ad's litany of insults is expressive of the Club for Growth's feelings about Dean. But both are attempts to shift ideas out of the realm of rational discourse, a move at odds with the purpose of political debate.

"But wait," you say, "the insults to Bush have substantive content. He really is beholden to corporations, and he skipped out on his National Guard duty during Vietnam." True, those are rationally debatable and relevant criticisms of the president. Likewise, the Club for Growth could say "Dean's proposals really are far to the left of what Iowans want, and he really does have values and culture that are out of touch with the average Iowan." Those points could also be rationally debated. The point, however, is in the way the claims are raised.

Jürgen Habermas argues that any statement made in rational discussion must carry with it several claims: an "objective" claim that the factual content is true, an "intersubjective" claim that the speaker has the right to say what she's saying, and a "subjective" claim that she's honestly expressing her views. Each of these claims is a promise to be willing to back up the statement on a certain dimension with additional reasons and demonstrations. I would add to that that there are two modes in which such claims can be raised: the discursive and the cultural. When a claim is raised discursively, it is acknowledged by the speaker to be at issue, and the hearer is invited to respond. When a claim is raised culturally, it remains implicit. In order to challenge it, the hearer must "make an issue" of it, ths opening himself up to the charge of "dodging the real question," that is, the question that the speaker raised discursively. And in fact this tactic can be used not just when the hearer feels that a culturally raised claim needs to be addressed, but also when the hearer simply doesn't want to have to discuss the discursive claim.

To give an example, take the sentence "George W. Bush went AWOL from the National Guard." In this sentence, the objective claim regarding Bush's military service is raised discursively, putting it at issue for the hearer to respond to. Now consider the sentence "AWOL Bush wants to send a mission to Mars." In this case, the objective claim regarding Bush's military service is raised culturally, as background to the discursively raised objective claim regarding the space program. The claim about his military service is placed outside of the framework of rational discourse.

I use the term "cultural" for non-discursive claims because this mode is an important way that cultural attitudes are passed on and reinforced. The nature of cultural tradition is to be presumed closed to rational discussion unless proven otherwise. The burden is placed on the one who would challenge the recieved wisdom to "make an issue of it," rather than the purveyor of recieved wisdom taking on the burden of opening it up to question. When the hearer is a minority, there can be considerable pressure to simply accept the culturally made claims. "Political correctness" was an attempt to address this by proscribing terminology that carried bad cultural claims, thus forcing people who wanted to advance sexism or racism to do so discursively, where they would invite challenge (including challenge by their own conscience, as people are often not fully aware what cultural claims they're assuming in their language). What about when the hearer is an outsider, with her own set of cultural and discursive ideas framing the issue in a different way? Then there can arise the feeling that the other culture is simply irrational, because its members are not used to or skilled in defending it discursively, and because their exposition does not invite rational discussion leading to understanding. Such is the situation created when a liberal reads about the Democratic debate between the "seven dwarfs," or a conservative reads about the latest exploits of "$hrub."

This is not to say that culturally raised claims are necessarily bad. Some sort of culturally implied background is necessary to any rational discussion, and I'd hesitate to say that the opinion that, for example, racism is bad, need not be always raised discursively. The dividing line depends on the context. If one's aim is to have a rational discussion, it seems that any claims that could be at issue between the parties should be raised discursively. Thus "racism is bad" can be raised culturally within typical American political discourse, but a particular conclusion about the utility or properness of affirmative action should remain discursive. Certainly one's opinion on affirmative action may be based on the idea that racism is bad -- indeed, rational discourse works by using acceptable reasons to link a claim back to shared assumptions. But the two should not be conflated such that an opinion on affirmative action is advanced culturally, because doing so attempts to shut down the possibility of rational discussion of the issue. (As a side note, phrases like "given that ..." or "if we assume ..." can be used to acknowledge the speaker's use of culturally raised claims in order to "cut to the chase" of the point of interest. Such phrases stand as explicit requests to the hearer to not challenge a cultural claim at the present time.)

On the basis of the previous two paragraphs, one can conclude that insulting terminology is an acknowledgement of a limited audience. Someone who calls the president "the Chimp-in-Chief" is not speaking rationally to Americans in general, but only to the group who would accept the cultural claim as to Bush's simian nature, or who are willing to "mis-read" the statement as using the fairly neutral name "George W. Bush" in order to deal with the discursively raised claims (assuming that, unlike the Club for Growth ad, there actually are some) without either accepting the cultural claim or getting sidetracked into challenging it.


Dean Forgets His Religion

Dean Criticizes Bush On Stem-Cell Ban

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean criticized President Bush on Friday for restricting stem-cell research based on religious beliefs, even though he now says his own faith affected his decision to extend legal rights to gay couples.

The difference, Dean said, was that Bush's decision could deprive people of the ability to recover from serious illness, while his was an issue of morality or ethics.

... "I think we ought to make scientific decisions, not theological and theoretical decisions," Dean told voters at a town-hall meeting. "I think that what the president did on stem-cell research was based on his religious beliefs, and I think that is wrong."

I would say that to "deprive people of the ability to recover from serious illness" is manifestly a moral or ethical issue. I agree with Dean that Bush made the wrong call on stem cells, but I'm not happy with his technocratic rhetoric. Too often, politicians of both sides try to hide their moral choices behind the veneer of scientific objectivity. I'm starting to tune out any claims that we need to base policy on "sound science," because in the mouths of politicians it seems to mean so little. Yes, we need science to help us understand the consequences of our actions, and Bush did misunderstand, or misrepresent, the science of stem cell research in overestimating the number and utility of stem cell lines currently available. But in the end there's always a moral decision to be made. Politicians need to honestly take responsibility for their ethical vision, rather than dodging it with the claim that science will tell us what to do.

We Must Away Ere Break Of Day ...

Anyone who reads the Brunching board has probably already seen this, but I recently added a copy to my own website: My Iraq-related parody of the Dwarves' song from The Hobbit.


Via Matthew Yglesias, I see that the top boys' names in 2003 was the trio of Aidan, Jaden, and Caden. Sadly Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur didn't make the cut. What really surprised me, though, was how many of the names are ones I would have associated with the opposite gender. Morgan*, Cameron, and Addison are now boys, while Riley, Mackenzie, and Taylor are girls. I don't have any philosophical principle about gender-shifting names (though there's the practical consideration that our antiquated title and pronoun system requires us to know the subject's gender), but it was surprising that my instincts would differ from those of so many parents.

*It took me a while to get used to the fact that Morgan Leah in The Sword of Shannara was male.


Da Rolling Mills Of New Joisey

New Jersey To Recognize Gay Couples

The debate was expected to be volatile, but members of the New Jersey Senate instead showed broad support on Thursday for a measure to give the state's recognition to same-sex domestic partnerships. The measure, passed by a 23-to-9 vote, goes to Gov. James E. McGreevey, who has said he is eager to sign it.

... The legislation, which also applies to heterosexual couples over age 62, permits those registered as domestic partners to make critical medical decisions for each other. It requires insurance companies to offer health care coverage to domestic partners equivalent to that for spouses.

... Steven Goldstein, who has directed lobbying for the bill for Lambda Legal, a gay-rights organization, said: "I'm on Cloud 27. It's not just that we won. It's that we won without rancor."

... The bill received scant public attention until the Legislature returned from recess this week, and there were no hearings. The Assembly approved it by a single vote in December. The bill's opponents had protested that public debate was stymied.

... The measure was also opposed by the Catholic Conference of New Jersey, which in a letter to senators on Wednesday said that "it attempts to cast aside marriage as our legal standard of legitimate cohabitation."

If the Catholic Conference of New Jersey is worried that marriage is being cast aside, perhaps they ought to support letting homosexual couples participate in marriage. That way creating other types of legally recognized cohabitation wouldn't be necessary.

Turning to the other criticism, "scant public attention" is right. I'd heard nary a word about this decision, despite a heavy dose of blog-reading, until I ran across a link on Prometheus 6 a day and a half later. Granted, the gain is fairly small -- far short of civil unions -- but the Human Rights Campaign seems to fire off mass emailings at the drop of a hat, so you'd think I'd have gotten some triumphant message from them by now.

I wouldn't dismiss out of hand the complaint that the bill was rushed through without public debate. My guess is that such publicity would have been to the opponents' advantage, giving them the opportunity to frame it as the first step on the road to destruction of the family and thus frighten off culturally moderate legislators. However, the margin of victory is wide enough that I think it still would have passed. And it's instances like this -- in which the legislature firmly backs progress of its own accord -- that need more publicity. Anti-gay-marriage folks have made a lot of rhetorical hay out of the idea that gay rights are being foisted undemocratically on us by culturally liberal elite judges. A robust public debate would also help to reinforce the idea that gay rights are not something desired by only a few gay activists, but are something that is rooted in the sense of justice that a large swath of the populace has.