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Protests And Comments

With the protests at the RNC in full swing, there's been a lot of talk -- typically disparaging -- about the diversity of messages within a single protest. The modern paradigm of mass protests, drawing on the dispersed-cell organizational model of the anti-globalization movement, are especially prone to this diversity (contrast them with candidates' rallies, where unofficial signs are prohibited and troublemakers are escorted out by the organizers).

In some ways, I think modern protests are like comments sections of major blogs. There's an overall theme of each thread set by the blogger (protest organizer), and commenters (protesters) generally stay on-message enough that the length of the thread (size of the protest) can be a rough guage of the importance of the theme. But commenters and protesters are often less polished and cool-headed than the blogger or organizers, both because the formats draw out extremists and because being shocking is necessary to get your voice heard in a crowd. Then along come the people with different issues to promote, who in a sense exploit the attention generated by the main event. Only a handful of people will read this post here. But if I were to go put it in the comment section of a post at Political Animal, I could take advantage of that blog's traffic to draw more attention to my message. Likewise, few people would notice if I were to go out on the corner by myself with a "free Tibet" sign, but if I take my sign to New York City, I can get it seen by all the people that come to watch the protest.

I wouldn't necessarily say that this openness to attention-hijacking is all bad. Certainly it can dilute the message, and leave moderates open to being tarred with guilt by association. But there's something to be said for the way that comments sections allow successful bloggers (disproportionately successful, due to the power law) to share the wealth, and similarly for effective protest organizers.

Protecting Children

Rivka has an interesting post up describing the pregnancy advice industry, and the way it preys on mothers' anxieties about their children to lay down a host of rules, violation of which is threatened with miscarriage or birth defects. As I read it, I felt an echo of the "think of the children" argument that's deployed against same-sex marriage. Anti-SSM pundits threaten dire consequences if a child is raised outside of their ideal two-heterosexual-parent model. People who would decline to comply are portrayed as selfish, putting their own lifestyle and desires above the well-being of the children.

Parents are naturally protective of their children. In part this is a useful instinct, and in part it serves to respect the child's rights (as children aren't able to make informed consent to risky parenting choices). But this protectiveness can go to seemingly irrational extremes -- for example, I know some people who have been arguing that they wouldn't allow their child to sit on an HIV-positive person's lap because of the miniscule risk of the kid catching the disease. And it can be exploited, on the one hand by parenting "experts" looking to sell books, and on the other by culture warriors looking to enforce their moral ideals.


Environmentalist Animism

(This post has been sitting on my desktop for a few weeks as I try to make it really work well. I don't think that's going to happen, so I'm going to get it onto the blog for now.)

Thinking about how to integrate environmentalism into her lifestyle, Lauren wonders:

There seems to be a goddess-worship or animism that is emphasized in environmental theory, a rhetoric I don't understand considering that science backs this issue to the fullest degree. Considering the scientific support that environmentalists have, and considering that far more Americans would be likely to listen to science and not the gentle thrum of frogs and geese, it seems to me that a scientifically-based argument would be far more convincing to induce a change in behavior.

I'm not an animist, but I've encountered enough deep ecology/ecofeminism/nature worship to have a few outsider's observations on the topic. My first response is that there is an awful lot of science-based environmental theory. You won't see the Sierra Club or NRDC, or even Greenpeace, talking about "mother earth" in any way other than metaphorical. The second point is that science alone is not enough -- there must be a moral component, which can come from transcendental religion or secular moral philosophy as well as from animism.

But there is a strong tradition of animist environmental theory. The idea that we ought to think of nature as sacred is a popular one. In some cases there's a cynical functionalism at the root of it. Some environmentalists don't believe that the sacred nature thesis is actually true, but they believe it's a useful way to get people to do the right thing. It's easy enough to rationalize away the weakening of the food web and damage to the watershed caused by cutting down a tree, but it's harder to rationalize killing a being with a soul -- or so the thinking goes. This way of thinking fits nicely with functionalist theories in anthropology. Functionalists look at the religion of more environmentally sustainable societies not in terms of its truth or epistemology, but as an adaptive mechanism that, unbeknownst to the faithful, keeps their actions in line with what would be required for ecosystem maintenance.

The "noble lie" tactic of functionalism is not a particularly attractive one (or an anthropologically well-justified one). Most animist environmentalists are not noble liars. Yet there are echoes of it that crop up, for example in the oft-repeated contention that in order to save the world, we must reconceptualize it as sacred.

The biggest root of animist environmentalism, however, is a sense that science has failed, that it would not "back this issue to the fullest degree." One dimension of science's failure is causal. It's a straightforward fact that we wouldn't be doing so much damage to the environment without the technology that science enabled. The bison can be thankful not just to the plains Indians' religion, but also to their lack of guns and manpower -- they believed that providence would supply them with unlimited herds, and they had a bit of a rude awakening once the fur trade allowed them to test that theory. And if science is part of the problem, how can it be part of the solution? Animists are skeptical that science can be reclaimed for sufficiently radical environmental protection. There's a yearning for a knowledge base that explicitly welds together "is" and "ought" in order to keep knowledge from being used for evil.

The other dimension of science's failure is conceptual. Science, say the animists, is cold and demistifying. In one sense this is true -- science won't allow things to remain as mysteries to be meditated upon and wondered at. Scientists like to answer questions. Science is often written in a dry fashion. That rhetorical convention of dryness is not the only way science can be, though -- just read anything by Carl Zimmer to disabuse yourself of any simplistic ideas of how dull scientific explanation is. What science does lack, though, is personal experience. At its root, animism consists in treating non-human entities as if they were human, posessing that very human capacity for communication and mutual understanding. What drives many environmentalists' concern for nature is personal experience of communion with the land and its inhabitants, which is not felt in the "artificial" environment*. It's a natural outgrowth of our tendency to indentify with places and things. This experience can be described with the vocabulary of animism, but not that of science -- not because science believes that it doesn't exist, but because scientific reductionism breaks the and estranges the experience, so that a reader's sympathetic response to the scientific explanation is not evoked in the way it is when the experience is related in animist terms.

*Some environmentalists make the mistake of assuming that all other people find nature easier to commune with than artificial environments.


An Interesting Tidbit

Today I learned that medieval European peasants deliberately made use of "initial composition floristics"* succession. When they prepared a new farm field, they would sow acorns along with their wheat. That way, the oak trees would get a start during the few years that the farm was used, and be well on their way to producing forage for pigs once the field was left fallow.

*There are two major theories about ecological succession, i.e., the change in what organisms live in an area as it recovers from a disturbance. The classic view is called "relay floristics." Under this model, each generation of plants prepares the way for the next -- for example, sun-loving conifers rapidly grow up in sunny disturbed sites, but then are unable to reproduce in their own shade, so shade-tolerant deciduous trees take over. This theory was developed based on observations of farms that had been abandoned and allowed to regrow forest. In contrast, "initial composition floristics" theory claims that all of the plants that will live at a site are present from the beginning. Later successional stages are just plants that take longer to mature. So it seems that when farmers plan a short-term abandonment of a site, they establish an initial composition that will create a favorable succession.

Standing Behind Your Pseudonym

Taking on the perennial topic of pseudonymous blogging, Scott Whitlock says:

To me, and I don’t pretend to speak for everyone, by not attaching a real person to those ideas, it is much like throwing a grenade in a theater and then running. In short, it is not fair to the idea, to the reader, or to the act of writing itself. But more than anything, it wreaks of fear. Although this might sound idealistic, we are in a profession of idealism. Because if we in the academe cannot stand behind our writing, our creations, and our rants, the obvious question then is this: Who can? Followed perhaps by a less obvious question: In a space where I’ve told my students a thousand times that their ideas were important and should be “stood up for,” are we hypocrites if we do not do so ourselves?

To deal with this issue, I think we need to make a distinction between anonymity and pseudonymity. Anonymity means that there is no "person" attached to the post, no connections to any life larger than that one statement. While you can post anonymously on a comment thread or a message board, you can't blog anonymously. The blog format is defined by the succession of posts gathered together, so that each enriches and vouches for the others. Even if you don't sign your posts with anything, the very act of putting them all in the same place creates an identity as "the person who blogs at [URL]." A pseudonym is a handle that allows you to invoke that online identity in other contexts.

Because pseudonymy brings with it an identity, the author is forced to stand behind what he or she says. You can perhaps run from a tarnished identity (nymous or pseudonymous) more easily if switching to a new pseudonym is an option, but when that happens you're starting over from scratch. You have to rebuild the identity that will make your posts worth listening to.

By using your "real" name, you do extend that blogging identity, giving a marker by which interested parties can link your online presence to your offline one (or to other online enterprises in which you use the same moniker). That may be significant in cases where someone wants to persecute you offline for something you did online or vice versa. Whitlock seems especially concerned about this sort of thing, as he has in mind the case of a faculty member being fired for blogging unflattering to one's institution. It's concern about this very sort of spillover that drives many people to choose pseudonymy (though there are other reasons for the choice as well). I'm not convinced that, if an idea is worth blogging, it should be worth enduring real-life persecution for -- that seems to put up too high a barrier on honest and creative expression. It forces those who face such persecution to think in a secret and monological fashion until their idea is polished enough that they're ready to face the consequences for it, depriving both writer and readers of the benefits of dialogue and expression.

In situations where online/offline spillover is not an issue, the line between pseudonymy and nymy rapidly blurs. To anyone who doesn't bother to put my name into Google -- which I imagine is most of my readers -- I'm a relatively pseudonymous blogger despite having my real name on each post. Beyond a few locational and life-stage facts, this blog is unlikely to give you much information about what I'm like beyond my blog. The past couple years of this blog would be little different if I had used a pseudonym. We constantly partition our lives. My family, my professors, my blog readers, and people who know me from the Brunching board all know different versions of me, despite the fact that my free use of the name "Stentor Danielson" in all contexts would make it possible for them to link those various identities.

In comments Whitlock also mentions that, while he can't articulate precisely why, he feels that when he can get a sense of a blogger's offline identity, such as being able to put a picture to a name, he finds their words have more "oomph" to him. (These details are precisely the ones largely missing from my technically nymous blog.) My sense is that this feeling is an artifact of the newness of the internet. For millions of years of cultural development as well as most of our own lives (past and present), face-to-face presence has been the model of social interaction. So it's understandable that we're somewhat disoriented when we interact with people online in the absence of some of the information that's most obvious in face-to-face interaction, such a the person's physical appearance. I suspect that as society gets more used to online interaction, we'll develop a secondary paradigm of online identity that makes it cease to be merely a pale reflection of offline identity. I know I felt Whitlock's "oomph" concern much more strongly when I first ventured online than I do now -- there are even online friends who I'm reluctant to meet offline because their identity to me is so tied up in the online format that it's disorienting to imagine them as physical people. It's a bit like the kid who finds it weird to see his teacher at the grocery store. An intuitive partition grows up despite the superficial use of the same name across contexts.

Bad Protest Messages

I find the "Republican convention in a blue state" theme in coverage of the RNC a little strange. Yes, there are a lot more liberals than conservatives in New York City. But it's not like there are no conservatives -- heck, their last two mayors have been Bush-backing Republicans. Yet there's this view that somehow liberals own New York, that for Republicans to come to town is tantamount to trespassing. It's well-illustrated by the rhetoric of the RNC Not Welcome group (link via Matthew Yglesias), who want to "remind them [Republicans] that these are our theaters, our streets, and OUR CITY."

It's great if protesters use the forum to point out that Republican actions have and will hurt Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular. And I can understand concern about the convention exploiting Ground Zero for political gain (though at this point it's not clear how much of that will happen). What I don't agree with is the idea that it's especially inappropriate for Republicans to come to, and praise their bad policies and wrap themselves in 9/11 in, a city that happens to have a larger number of liberals than conservatives.



Google is totally unfair. I'm part of the perhaps 2% of all political blogs that aren't obsessing over Swiftboatgate. Yet I make one post referring to it, and suddenly I'm the 23rd result for "Swift Boat Blog. Watch this post send me to #3 or something.



I'll be gone until Friday night, doing some research in New Jersey.

Fire Safety Or Else

Law Requires Homeowners Defend Against Wildfires

Deschutes County is poised to become the first county in the state to implement a new law requiring property owners to secure their homes against wildfires, if they live in fire-prone areas.

State and county officials are expected to approve a map Monday categorizing the wildfire risk for homes within the so-called wildland-urban interface, or developed areas adjacent to forests, in Deschutes County.

... Department staff have received very few complaints from homeowners, Andrade told The Bulletin newspaper.

"We're getting a tremendous response from the public," he said. "People aren't calling asking 'why?' They're calling asking 'what do we need to do?'"

I'm sticking this here for future reference. A few years down the road, this could be the basis for an interesting comparative study of how well legal measures like this work in changing the fire danger.


Adultery And Responsibility

One thing that has baffled me for a while is how my conception of adultery diverges from that held by people whose views on relationships and sex I otherwise agree with. Today Amanda states a view that I've heard numerous times (especially on the Brunching board):

... the cheater is the one with a S.O. to cheat on. Again, women are not obligated to force men to be faithful by taking a universal oath not to sleep with married men. It's common sense not to do it. However, the husbands in question stood up before their families, communities, and a god they presumably believed in and vowed fidelity.

To me, on the other hand, it seems obvious that it's wrong to sleep with someone who's committed to someone else*. Perhaps the difference is in part simply an instance of the larger question of when one's contribution to a harm is indirect enough that you're no longer responsible for it. My utilitarian leanings are strong enough to feel that responsibility maps pretty closely to causality (i.e., you're responsible for anything that you could have made happen differently -- except in situations where there's positive motivational effects from apportioning blame differently). For example, we might differ on whether it's OK to offer a vegetarian a dish with meat in it -- after all, I never promised that that person would abstain from meat.

But I think there disagreement on the adultery question is also rooted in differing concepts of marriage. The "not responsible" case is based on a very contractarian model of marriage. Marriage, including the fidelity clause, is a private agreement between the husband and wife. Thus nobody who wasn't part of that contract has any obligation to respect it or avoid facilitating the breach of it.

There are, however, certain private transactions that we do expect to be honored as a society. Take buying and selling property. If my parents sell their house, I can't go ahead and waltz into the new owners' living room on the rationale that I never agreed to the transfer of property. Private property transactions are expected to be honored by the rest of society.

What makes the institution of marriage really work is its social embeddedness. It's not merely a contract. It's a social role that the rest of society is expected to recognize, and in recognizing it implicitly support it. Some people don't feel that such an institution is necessary, and thus they advocate abolishing marriage in favor of individually-tailored contracts. While I'm sensitive to the need for flexibility and diversity in the types of relationships people form, I also see the utility of a limmited number of widely understood templates that allow (and expect) the people around you to adjust to, so that privately conceived relationships aren't continually bumping and scraping against a wider society that's indifferent to their existence.

*I shouldn't have to say this, but keep in mind that I'm not at all diminishing the responsibility held by the married cheater.


Postmodern Tribes

Life Without Numbers

1+1=2. Mathematics doesn't get any more basic than this, but even 1+1 would stump the brightest minds among the Piraha tribe of the Amazon. A study appearing today in the journal Science reports that the hunter-gatherers seem to be the only group of humans known to have no concept of numbering and counting.

Not only that, but adult Piraha apparently can't learn to count or understand the concept of numbers or numerals, even when they asked anthropologists to teach them and have been given basic math lessons for months at a time.

...Prof. [Daniel] Everett argues that what the Piraha case demonstrates is a fundamental cultural principle working itself out in language and behaviour.

The principle is that the Piraha see themselves as intrinsically different from, and better than, the people around them; everything they do is to prevent them from being like anyone else or being absorbed into the wider world. One of the ways they do this is by not abstracting anything: numbers, colours, or future events.

Reading the list of things that the Piraha lack -- numbers, colors, mythology, art, stable personal identity -- gives me flashbacks to the eighteenth century. Anthropology got its start as an apologetic for European supremacy by documenting primitive tribes' lack of things, such as religion and grammar, that seemed indispensible to normal human life. Of course, the problem turned out to be with the anthropologists and the ethnocentrically narrow concepts of culture that they were measuring other societies by. Whether a similar situation holds with the Piraha is hard to say. Those that have studied the Piraha explicitly deny the eighteenth-century conclusion about the intrinsic inferiority of foreigners, even when their data sounds like the same litany of cultural absences. And anthropology is rightfully embarassed by that period of its past, and so is far more careful with making such declarations -- suggesting that the evidence for Piraha innumeracy is fairly strong.

The most interesting bit about this, though, is Everett's hypothesis quoted above (which, sadly, did not appear in any of the other articles on the Piraha that I encountered). On the one hand, the Piraha as he describes them are the ultimate postmodernists, rejecting the making of categories and positing of universals. They even delve into hermeneutics, denying that outsiders can understand their language -- a claim that seems aimed at rejecting outsiders' attempts to "speak for" them, in a way even more radical than the usual statements of members of oppressed groups attacking dominant-group social scientists.

On the other hand, they represent a sort of weird inverse of the ethnocentric 18th century anthropologists. Everett is suggesting that they manufacture their "lack" in order to prove that they are the superior group.


I guess I'm supposed to be outraged about the prevalence of astroturf letter writing coming from the Bush and Kerry campaigns -- that is, form letters provided by the campaign that supporters sign off on and submit to the letters page of their local newspaper. Certainly my editorial instinct would be to reject an astroturf letter if one was submitted to the Scarlet. But in a way I'm not sure what's so bad about them. The philosophy behind the letters page is to select letters that are clear, representative, and interesting. Providing an outlet for the personal creativity of readers is not (for commercial papers, at least -- I would say it is a function of college papers). Being written and polished by professional PR people, astroturf letters are as clear as anything a regular citizen is likely to write. Not everyone has the gift of elegant prose, so why should less articulate people be silenced by prohibiting them from getting help with expressing their views? This brings us to the question of representativeness. There's no reason to think that people who send astroturf letters don't fervently believe the campaign talking points that they're attaching their name to. Nothing will be changed about the ideas they're trying to communicate if we make them sit down and rephrase the letter in their own words. As far as being interesting, that's something of a toss-up -- there are loads of really stupid non-atroturf letters out there.

One argument that comes to mind against astroturf, though, is the exact reason campaigns go for it: it's easy. Writing a good letter to the editor is hard and time-consuming. It's far easier to get a bunch of letters published if people have a ready-made submission. This gives members of organized groups a decided advantage over other citizens.


New At OSP

My first, and hopefully only, comment on the Swift Boat nonsense.

Well, I'm actually mulling over an expanded version of this as a column for the Scarlet or OSP. Although the hypothetical column would be less about "this Swift Boat controversy is stupid," and more about how it would have been better for Kerry to frame his campaign around his investigative projects as a Senator, since that would link in well with the storyline that the Bush administration is corrupt. Instead, he was petrified of being labeled "weak on defense," and so he decided to spend his time strutting around in his Purple Hearts. The war hero thing has been both a distraction from issues that matter and a failure on its own merits (Republicans still think he's weak on defense).


What Has Marx Done For Us Lately?

I'm no Marxist, but I'm surrounded by them here at Clark. It's always interesting to see politically center/left criticisms of Marxism (as opposed to the positivist and postmodernist ones), because they seem to be addressing a theory with such different emphases than the Marxism I usually encounter. Take this article, linked to by Abiola Lapite. It goes through Marx's main predictions (in more detail than the usual "there hasn't been a revolution, and Marx didn't forsee the Nazis" summary judgement) and finds them all more or less wanting.

Modern-day Marxists, on the other hand, put little emphasis on Marxism as a predictive tool. A cynic would say that's because the evidence is rather embarassing. Marx himself seems to have generally been in agreement with the school of thought promoted today by the functionalists that society can be studied as an object in the same way that the natural sciences study their respective objects. You simply observe and derive predictive laws about your field. What the article refers to as the "strong" version of historical materialism (which modern Marxists would label "vulgar Marxism") is well-suited to this type of view. Social change is driven by the development of the forces of production, and society's knowledge of itself is a mere ideological superstructure with no causal power against the economic base.

The opposing view points out that social science is a reflexive enterprise, because its results become part of the object of study (i.e., society learns the results of social science and bases future action on that knowledge). This makes a society a slippery object of study, and social science becomes as much about critique as it is about explanation. Perhaps because of functionalism's affinities with bourgeois liberal thought, modern Marxists have signed on to the reflexivist project. It's not a move without textual support, given Marx's pithy statement in his early Theses on Fuerbach that "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." The stronger your reflexivism -- and Marxists often hold a very strong version, in order to more adequately highlight the ideological failings of bourgeois functionalists and positivists -- the less possible it is to make any useful predictions about the future. What Marxists do instead is focus on finding points of attack for oppressed people and social movements.

Whatever the merits of Marxism as such (and I'm sometimes hard-pressed to identify what is uniquely Marxist in a lot of modern self-labeled Marxism, besides a tendency to blame capitalism for all our ills and to claim Marx as the source of whatever fuzzy and irrelevant ontological claims one is making), there are some interesting things that have come out of some of the Marxist writing that I've read. Take for example my reaction to this bit in the aforementioned article:

Capitalism developed spontaneously and organically from the spread of commerce. Nobody planned it and it did not need an all-embracing ideology, whereas socialism was an ideological construction. Ultimately, capitalism is human nature at work—that is, man's greediness allowed to follow its course—whereas socialism is an attempt to institutionalize and enforce fraternity.

It has been Marxist writers who have pointed out to me the way that capitalism* was planned -- not in the kind of detail that the Soviet bureaucrats aimed at, but planned nonetheless. To get off the ground, capitalism required the forcible and premeditated enclosure of private property, carried out in England at the behest of the incipient sheep barons. The integration of colonial posessions into the capitalist system was likewise a deliberate installation of capitalism. For example, Britain imposed cash-only taxes on its African posessions in order to break down traditional economic systems and force people into the wage labor market, while in India they implemented a selective mix of protectionism and free trade in order to goose enterprises based back home. The ideology driving this was not as doctrinaire as Leninism, but it existed, rooted in the classical liberalism of Locke, Smith, and Mill. As for capitalism being human nature at work, Marxists have made much of the fact that the behavior of capitalist entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers is historically specific and learned. To describe it as simply humans' greedy nature unleashed is a bit of ideological apologetic that ignores the complicated set of norms of trust and proper behavior that allow capitalism to function.

*Though it should be noted that Marxists and libertarians tend to speak past each other when they use the words "capitalism" and "socialism." To Marxists, whatever system we have in place now is the essence of capitalism -- any government interference, no matter how extensive, is regarded as part and parcel of what the system requires. Libertarians, on the other hand, would reserve unqualified use of the label "capitalism" for a Hayekian utopia. Socialism, meanwhile, is to a modern Marxist a sort of nebulous something else. It's certainly not what the Soviets had, which Marxists describe as a sort of ultra-capitalism (on the theory that if capitalism is oppressive, then the oppressiveness of the Soviet regime is evidence that it must be capitalistic). Libertarians, of course, are only too happy to agree with the USSR that it was a socialist country.



If you've been wondering why I have a Haloscan logo under "Acknowledgements," it's because a month or so ago I tried to implement trackback using their service, but couldn't get it to work and wound up just giving up. Now it seems to be all ready to go. I'm debating switching my comments over as well, since Yaccs goes down rather more frequently than I'd like. So now the one person a month who links to me can send a trackback ping as well.

Nader Haters

I can't think of any real way to measure this, but my subjective observation is that many Democrats hate Ralph Nader more than they hate George W. Bush. The volume of Bush hatred is far greater, of course, because W has given us more to work with. But with regard to intensity of hate, I think Nader comes out on top. It's sort of an irrational sounding situation, since Nader hate is derivative of Bush hate -- Democrats only hate Ralph because his candidacy helped Bush win in 2000 and makes it more likely that he will win again in 2004.

One reason, I think, is a sense of betrayal. Democrats knew all along that Bush wasn't going to do what they wanted. Nader, on the other hand, seems like he ought to be an ally -- yet he stabbed the Democrats in the back. In the worst cases this feeling manifests as an air of entitlement -- Nader's votes rightfully belong to the Democrats yet have been stolen from them. Bush's votes, meanwhile, are either lost causes (true conservatives) or won fairly on the field of battle (swing voters).

Because Nader and his supporters are (at least from the Democrats' perspective) fellow travelers in the realm of policy, they seem like more rational beings than hardcore Bush voters. There's little point in hating people so brainwashed with conservative ideology that they would support Bush -- it's like hating an earthquake or a crocodile. But Nader supporters seem like they ought to know better. Hence the desperate rehashing of the same strategic voting argument, in the hopes that its logic (it convinced the Democrats in question, after all) will sink in. Bush hatred, on the other hand, gives up on argument and skips straight to ridicule and snark. (Some of the same desperate persuasion-by-repetition comes out in the head-shaking over why libertarians vote Republican. But it's muted by a lack of a sense of entitlement to libertarian votes, and libertarians' lack of a figurehead personality for hate to crystallize around.)

Climate Suffering

Europe 'Must Adapt On Climate'

Europeans must learn how to live with a changing climate as well as seeking to limit its effects by cutting emissions, the European Environment Agency says.

... The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests the global average temperature could on present trends be from 1.4 to 5.8C warmer in 2100 than in 1990.

The EEA says the comparable temperature increase for Europe is between 2 and 6.3C.

Grist bills the EEA report as showing that "Europe will suffer worse, and sooner, than other parts of the world from climate change." I found that a surprising claim, given that the standard view is that climate change will hurt people in the developing world most. But as it turns out, Grist's phrasing was not quite right. The report shows that Europe will experience greater warming. We already knew that climate change will be greatest in temperate zones (though some secondary effects, such as rising sea levels, would be more evenly distributed). But greater climate change does not necessarily mean greater suffering. Suffering is a combination of exposure and vulnerability. By a stroke of luck, countries in the temperate zone not only contribute the most to causing climate change and experience the most climate change, but are also the richest and therefore the most able to adapt to climate change. It's a lack of adaptability that leaves the largely tropical developing world at a disadvantage in the suffering department.


Keyes Vs. God

I've made my first, and probably only, comment on the Illinios Senate race over at OSP.

Lock Your Doors

J. Puma asks why people lock their doors:

Okay, so, when you're locking your doors, you are acting under the assumption that *at least* 51% of the individuals who might pass your house will attempt to enter. You're locking the doors because you're pretty sure that more people would try to break in and steal stuff or harm you than not. You're assuming bad intentions in at least 51% of the population of your neighborhood, town, city.

... Wanna know what the actual rate is? According to Bureau of Justice statistics, the actual chance (as of 2002) that someone would break into your house and steal your stuff is . . . 2.77%.

Where is he getting this 51% figure? To do risk calculations, you multiply the chance of each outcome by its magnitude. So let's say I would experience 10,000 units of harm if someone did come into my house and steal my stuff. At about a 3% chance of that happening, that's an expected value of -300 units if I leave my door unlocked. The other option is locking the door. Let's say I experience 10 units of harm from locking my door due to the hassle of having to get my keys out every time I come or go. Since I'll get that harm every time, the chance of it happening is 100%, making the expected value -10. So it's -300 versus -10 -- clearly locking the door is the smart choice, given even that small chance of robbery. Of course, the numbers I plugged in are ex recta, but they're in the right ballpark (being robbed is far worse than having to lock your door), and they illustrate the right way to do these calculations.

But really, the expected value of locking your door is -310, because the 3% statistic that Puma offers is the chance of being robbed in a society where door-locking is common. It doesn't tell us how much higher the rate would be if people routinely left their doors unlocked. It seems quite plausible that locked doors deter people from burglary by making it not worth their while to try to break in (there's at least one guy who's been seen walking around the Union Station parking lot testing car doors, looking for ones that are unlocked). They probably deter a good deal of crime just in the planning stages -- people don't seriously consider stealing because they figure the doors will be locked. So if you leave your own door unlocked and have no problems, you may just be free-riding on the door-locking of your neighbors, which creates the impression in potential burglars' minds that all doors are likely to be locked. Puma seems to suggest that there aren't many people in this middle group who would be deterred by a lock -- either you're a hardened criminal who will smash the window, or you're a law-abiding citizen who wouldn't take anything even if the door was wide open. I find it hard to believe that the increase in burglary due to widespread door-unlocking would be so small as to make the expected value of being robbed after not locking your door less than the expected value of locking your door plus the expected value of being robbed anyway. The BJS statistics seem to back me up on this, as rates of theft (taking stuff when you have a legal right to be in the house) are four times higher than those of burglary (when you have to enter illegally). I find it hard to believe that moral qualms about trespassing, rather than the physical barriers to entry presented by things like locks, explain all of that difference.

Puma also suggests that the expected outcome of door-locking is really much higher than the small allowance I made for the hassle of getting your keys out. He argues that it cultivates a culture of distrust that is extremely damaging to ourselves and others. There is something to that. But in my mind there's not as much there as Puma thinks. Part of the reason is the habitual nature of door-locking. If anywhere, then here in Main South Worcester, the pragmatic calculation of door-locking weighs in favor of it. So I always lock my house and car. But the other weekend I was visiting a friend in rural Vermont, and I still locked my car. Was I terrified that her family might take my car, or that there was some burglar prowling the woods? Of course not. Reaching for the lock was automatic, a habit divorced from all feelings of distrust. Even here in Worcester, locking is largely habitual. I never see a neighbor or passerby (an adult one, at any rate) and wonder whether they might want to make off with my car or computer.

It's not merely the increased distrust (however justified it may be) of modern society that's the issue here. It's also the increased importance of private property. On the one hand, the negative utility of losing our stuff is higher than it would have been for people in the past, because we're more attached to it. On the other hand, we draw a strong line between the private and public spheres. Locking the door is not just a pragmatic precaution. It's also a ritual of sorts, signalling and reinforcing the demarcation between the home and the outside world.



For weird commentary on gay marriage, it's hard to beat this:

The Tragedy Of The McGreevey Marriage

... There are two kinds of gay men, those who, amid strong homosexual inclination, still harbor an attraction to women, and those who harbor none. Studies show that the overwhelming number of gay men are, like James McGreevey, in the former category. They are capable of having sex with a woman, and indeed 90 percent of gay men admit to having done so. It is for this reason that society should not legalize gay marriage and elevate it to the same plane as heterosexual marriages, because there is then no incentive for these men, who are in essence bisexual, to make an effort to direct their erotic focus toward women and raise their heterosexual attraction above their same-sex one.

... there is nothing cruel in encouraging men who have an attraction to both sexes to try and focus their sexual desire on women rather than on men. Indeed, gay men who are attracted to women usually make much better husbands and fathers since they are usually softer, gentler, more domesticated and more nurturing than their heterosexual counterparts. Indeed, if men with attraction to both sexes are not encouraged to explore their heterosexual attraction, we are condemning millions of women to lives of loneliness without husbands since the much higher proportion of gay men to lesbians creates a strong numerical imbalance between the sexes.

... But then there are men who find the idea of sex with a woman positively repulsive. Religious individuals and moralists who encourage gay men with absolutely no attraction to women to enter into the heterosexual institution of marriage are not only unrealistic, they are cruel, cold and heartless. The practice is immoral and deeply destructive to the marriage's participants, as well as to the children who follow. For these men, civil unions should be legally available as a viable alternative, and I find it absurd that it is religious conservatives who are the main obstacles to gay civil unions.

-- via Mouse Words

So we should inhibit and stigmatize homosexuality enough that men who have even a little opposite-sex attraction go the heterosexual route, but not so much that they have to hide their un-acted-on feelings, and we should have civil unions only for people who are 100% gay.

If the point of encouraging bisexual men to marry women is the fear that so many straight women will be left single, then it seems like the Rabbi ought to encourage women to meet them halfway -- any woman with some same-sex attraction ought to get involved in a lesbian relationship, so as not to take men away from the straight women who need them.


Money's Not Enough

Indigenous Tribe Takes On Big Oil

This community of 2,000 Quichua Indians is mounting a groundbreaking and -- so far -- successful campaign to prevent oil exploitation on their ancestral lands in the southern Amazon region of Ecuador.

Unlike most other indigenous groups, Sarayacu has been able to keep an Argentine oil firm called Compania General de Combustibles, or CGC, from drilling on their land even though the company has had a government contract since 1996.

Offers of money haven't swayed them. Sarayacu leaders say CGC officials have offered them cash payments. When that didn't work, they say, the company went to the village's governing council with a proposal of $60,000, which was also rejected.

... But Sarayacu is also unusual for its organizational savvy. It has developed its own system of education, ranging from preschool to university coursework, and has developed a micro-loan program to help women begin small development projects. The community is also looking at ways to commercialize ecotourism and medicinal plants.

-- via Howling At A Waning Moon

That the company is offering more and more money shows they don't really understand what's going on here. When governments and corporations think about local environmental decisions, they tend to look at it through the lens of economic considerations. The oil is only worth drilling for because it can be converted into money. So they assume that people who are opposing the project are doing their own cost-benefit calculation and deciding it doesn't add up for them. The solution, then, is to sweeten the deal by offering money.

But what's really at stake for Sarayacu is not the typically-alluded-to spiritual or "intrinsic" values that can't be commodified. It's about trust and autonomy. Given what has happened to so many other indigenous communities living near oil wells, Sarayacu has good reason to be suspicious of the company's commitment to doing things right. So all the environmental impact statements in the world won't assuage them. And money can't buy trust -- indeed, offers of payment erode trust.

Having pulled itself up by its own bootstraps, Sarayacu is acutely aware of the value of autonomy. Oil drilling, however, represents a severe loss of autonomy -- an imposition on them by the external powers of the state and the company. The payments being offered can't fix that, because they're being paid specifically to renounce having a say, to acquiesce to the government's decision that the oil under their land, and the right-of-way necessary to access it, are out of their hands.

It's quite possible that there are no circumstances under which the Sarayacu would allow drilling (aside from falling so deeply into poverty that that $60,000 looks good). But if there's any way they would, it would start by giving them a say in how it's to be done, a shift from "let us work" to "we'll work with you."


Interesting Factoid

Interesting to me, at any rate. It seems that northeastern PA is the state's hotbed of Naderism. Last time around, people in what are now congressional districts 10 (northeastern corner), 11 (the Poconos -- my district), and 15 (the Lehigh valley) had the highest percentages of people voting for Ralph. They're relatively small percentages (I imagine being a swing state suppresses third-party voting) and they take the lead by just a little bit, but still.

Nature's Blank Slate

Reading this article on transhumanism, I began to wonder whether the role of the "natural" in moral reasoning may be in for a major shift. The "natural" is opposed to the "social" or "artificial." In pre-modern thought, the natural provided a basis for morality. What inescapably is was taken as a blueprint for what humans ought to do, modeling contingent human choice after the necessities laid down by God. Modern thought established a boundary between ought and is, so that to describe the world no longer dictated human choices within it. Yet it still established constraints, captured in the maxim that ought implies can -- moral rules that go against what nature allows are invalid. On the other hand, to declare something to be social is to imply it can be changed. These ideas have been frequently used to make the case for ethical or policy choices -- gender roles are just social constructions, homosexuals can't help being that way, etc.

There's reason to doubt how much social factors are open to (deliberate) change. Viewed as a technological project parallel to the natural sciences, the social sciences have largely failed. There are reasons to continue to doubt the malleability of natural conditions as well, as the environmental movement has made clear. Yet in many respects, such as the medical advances touted by the transhumanists, natural technology has left social technology in the dust. It may not be too long before we'll say of some aspect of the world "oh, that's just natural, so we can fix it in a jiffy if you want."

All He Knows Is: Don't Put It At Yucca Mountain

Bush accuses Kerry of changing stance on nuclear waste repository

But Bush said Kerry's opposition to Yucca Mountain is less ironclad than it might appear because he cast several votes favoring it in the past.

"Now, my opponent's trying to turn Yucca Mountain into a political poker chip," Bush said to a hand-picked audience at a union hall of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. "He says he's strongly against Yucca here in Nevada, but he voted for it several times. And so did his running mate."

The Kerry campaign said any such votes were procedural, but could be interpreted as support for the site. In fact, on the key Senate procedural vote to move toward approval of Bush's Feb. 15, 2002, decision to make Yucca Mountain the nation's permanent nuclear-waste repository, Kerry voted no, according to Congressional Quarterly.

... "My point to you is that, if they're going to change one day, they may change again," Bush said. "I think you need straight talk on this issue. I think you need somebody who's going to do what he says he's going to do."

The Kerry campaign has answered the "flip-flopping" side of the charge, by pointing out that Kerry's votes for Yucca Mountain were votes on procedural measures and multi-part bills that happened to include provisions on Yucca Mountain, and that he's been consistently opposed when given a clear chance to make an up-or-down vote on the site. Yet none of that answers the "political poker chip" charge. Given how consistently environmentalists have opposed Yucca Mountain*, and given that environmentalists are a key part of Kerry's base whereas the nuclear industry (which is struggling to figure out where to put all its spent fuel) is not, it's a no-brainer for Kerry to oppose the repository.

Looking deeper into Kerry's views on the issue seems to support the "political poker chip" analysis. Prominently featured on Kerry's site is "The Truth on Yucca Mountain," dedicated to shifting the "flip-flopper" charge onto Bush. Aside from warning about the dangers of "mobile Chernobyls" (which suggests that he opposes the idea of a centralized waste repository regardless of its location) and a promise to have an international panel of scientists study the issue, specifics on what Kerry would do about nuclear waste are scant. So his condemnation of Yucca Mountain seems to be part of a longstanding strategy of tapping into opposition to that particular plan.

*I personally haven't done enough research to have a strong feeling. On the one hand, there's certainly at least the appearance of impropriety in how politics pushed the science on Yucca Mountain, but on the other hand I'm unconvinced by the "mobile Chernobyls" argument and concerned about the need to find a permanent home for the waste being stored at sites all across the country.


I'm rather late in getting to this, as the question was last month's discussion topic at Coffee Hour, but I figured I ought to get my thoughts down on ... screen. Chris Walton asks: "What is the relationship between a person's Unitarian Universalism and his or her political ideas?"

I can't address the main thrust of Walton's inquiry (or most of the questions at Coffee Hour) because I'm not UU enough. I've described myself as a UU* for the past three or so years, but while I my theological beliefs may fit into UUism, and I've liked the UU congregations I've been to, I'm not part of the UU institution or community. Socially, I'm still pretty Lutheran (or mainline Protestant in general).

So I can't say much about to what degree the UU church can be accommodating of different political philosophies, either doctrinally or institutionally. But I can describe my own experience. In a certain sense my politics led me to the UUs.

One of the most significant things that happened to me in my college career was being encouraged to take up commentary writing. As embarassing as my early efforts were, it played a major part in getting me to think seriously and critically about issues I'd taken for granted or ignored previously. Having grown up in a conservative household, and feeling like my values derived from my Republican parents, the Boy Scouts, and the Lutheran church, I assumed the political opinions I was forming were conservative ones. Much to my surprise, my friends described me as a liberal. There followed a great deal of reflection about how I had managed to follow such conservative inputs to such an unexpected outcome, without ever experiencing any break from my past.

This political development contributed** to a similar rethinking of my religious viewpoint. So I was clearly primed for a seeker-friendly religion when a friend mentioned the UUs and curiosity drew me to the UUA website. But what really struck me about UUism could be described as political.

Perhaps the clearest political belief I've had is support for gay and lesbian rights. That homosexuality and heterosexuality should be treated equally seemed self-evident as soon as I actually considered the issue, and for all the thinking about it I've done since then I've never had reason to seriously question my basic stand. So I was quite excited by UUism's active embrace of homosexuality, and that stand still goes a long way toward making me feel good about associating with that church.

The second thing that struck me was the way that the UUs could remain active in working on social justice issues despite its lack of a unified doctrine -- or perhaps even because of it, as their efforts aren't divided by the need to also work on proselytizing. Even little things, like having fair trade coffee at coffee hour, served to signal what kind of an attitude th church held. As I see it, one of the major functions of a religious organization is to provide the infrastructure for developing and acting on one's values***, including broadly-defined political action (though I'd draw the line at things like electioneering). And it was the "social gospel" elements from my Lutheran background that continued to resonate with me even as I backed off from metaphysical commitments.

*Or as a "Unitarian" -- I'm new enough to this that I haven't got over my habit of thinking that "Unitarian" is an acceptable shorthand for "Unitarian Universalist," rather than referring to a specific doctrinal and historial community.

**Along with some good discussions on the Brunching board with a cast ranging from atheists to one of Jehovah's Witnesses

***Not that I've done a particularly good job of taking advantage of these opportunities through the church.

Paying Your Critics

Max Borders points out that the federal government gives grants to environmental groups, which use that money to attack the administration. Looking at his source, it seems I'm among the guilty parties -- my paycheck comes out of a grant from the EPA, and that money allows me to have internet access in order to maintain this blog, in which I post unfavorable things about the administration. I fail to see why the fact that these groups' message is anti-administration is of particular concern (though to be fair I think Borders opposes any government funding of any politically active group, regardless of the content of its message). I would be concerned if their message was pro-administration, as that could be evidence that they had been coopted. Borders describes the situation as a "vicious, vicious circle," but there seems to be a side missing -- taxpayers give money to the government, which gives it to environmental groups, which make anti-administration statements. Except insofar as anti-administration rhetoric of any sort makes higher taxes somewhat more likely, I don't see the last step reinforcing the first as a vicious cycle.

I can't vouch for all of the funding that Borders refers to (either their justifiability or the extent to which they're really cases of the administration funding its detractors). But I think there are cases in which the government ought to provide money to outside groups specifically in order to help them criticize it. The Technical Assistance Grant program for Superfund sites is a case in point. The idea is that the government can't be trusted to do the right thing. However, given the imbalance in resources and expertise between the EPA and people affected by its actions, the public can become dependent on the government for information. This imabalance creates distrust, as it would be quite easy for the EPA to abuse its position. TAGs give community groups a no-strings-attached source of money with which to improve their position (e.g. by hiring a technical consultant to do parallel studies). To be an effective watchdog, the TAG-funded group must remain critical of the EPA's actions, always looking for the downside and making that known to the rest of the public. Insofar as this process works, it keeps the EPA honest, and when the EPA is known to be honest, the goal of improving the community's wellbeing can be better met.



Yeah, I haven't been posting much lately. For whatever reason, I've got blogger's block. We'll see if this post jinxes me into having stuff to say.


Conditional Consent

Why is consent assumed to be binary -- you either consent completely to something, or you totally reject it? Will Baude asks:

What do you do when a nation wishes to enact a code of law based on Shari'a, but also wishes to consult with you-- an American criminal law professor or student with (presumably) more enlightened sensibilities-- about what that code should look like? Does the potential to liberalize and moderate the code, to find effective ways of bringing due process and other such stuff where it might not otherwise be, outweigh the necessity of affiliating oneself with dubious laws that one would not otherwise support?

Let's make up a concrete example. Say the Maldivians are inclined to interpret the Islamic requirement of female modesty to require a burqa (1), while the law professor is able to come up with a plausible interpretation of Shari'a that says only a headscarf is necessary (2), but allowing women to dress as they please (3) is clearly inconsistent with Shari'a*. The "don't do it" position is based on the idea that, in recommending the choice of (2), one implies that (2) is a good choice. But this is an incorrect implication. All choices -- and thus all consent -- are made within the context of certain constraints on the available menu of options. You can't simply decide whether each option is good in an independent sense, then select an unqualifiedly good option from the set of actually available choices. For the professor to choose the headscarf means nothing more than that, when a burqa is the only other option, the headscarf is better (and perhaps that the headscarf would beat anything that is worse than a burqa, though Amartya Sen makes a good case that transitivity of preferences doesn't always have to hold). Thus, to recommend headscarves to the Maldives is not "affiliating oneself with dubious laws." On a moral level, there is no support for Shari'a implied in considering questions whose premise is that Shari'a applies.

Now, even if one personally rejects the idea of non-contextual binary consent, there may be value in turning down the Maldives job because others will percieve your work through the binary lens. The Maldivians will focus on the fact that the professor recommended headscarves and treat that as an endorsement of the policy, ignoring the constraints under which that decision was made and the professor's stated objection to those constraints.

This principle applies more widely than writing codes of Shari'a. Consider the example of people who refuse to vote because that would imply their consent to what they see as a corrupt or oppressive political system. They're wrong if they take a "clean hands" view and believe that voting would be morally supportive of the system. But they have more ground to stand on if their concern is that voting is causally supportive of the system because it leads others to believe that they morally support the system in a non-contextual way. Refusing to consider which of two evils is the lesser is a message-sending act, not a position of moral purity. (In fact, rejecting the principle is guided by a meta-application of it -- given the constraint that "don't interpret my choice as unqualified consent" is not a realistic option, you choose "no choice" over implying unqualified consent to the lesser evil).

*I have no idea what Islamic law actually says on the topic. People more knowledgeable about it can come up with their own set of possible proposals that fit.

Bonny Atlantis

Ireland Is Lost Island Of Atlantis, Says Scientist

Atlantis, the legendary island nation over whose existence controversy has raged for thousands of years, was actually Ireland, according to a new theory by a Swedish scientist.

... Geographer Ulf Erlingsson, whose book explaining his theory will be published next month, says the measurements, geography, and landscape of Atlantis as described by Plato match Ireland almost exactly.

... His book, "Atlantis from a Geographer's Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land," calculates the probability Plato would have had access to geographical data about Ireland as 99.98 percent.

-- via Moe Lane

I used to be a fan of the Crete/Thera theory, and it still seems like the most plausible real-world location for Atlantis. But I also have to wonder whether the assumption that Atlantis is based on a real place is accurate. Schliemann's vindication of the stories about Troy seems to have pushed us too far toward the "myths are amateur history" side. For one, if Plato had such accurate geographical information about Ireland (or Crete), you'd think he'd also have heard the little factoid that Ireland has not in fact sunk under the ocean.

There's also the fact that we only have one ancient source for the Atlantis story -- Plato's Critias. I don't know how many sources attest most of the myths we know of from the Greeks, but it's telling that Atlantis isn't typically included in overviews of Greek mythology (at least the ones I've seen). And neither are the other myths that Plato uses in his dialogues, like the one about how people were once all siamese twins and love is the search for your lost half, from the Symposium. If Atlantis is a hazily remembered tale of Ireland or Crete, you'd expect to find it showing up, at least in reference, more often. It's quite possible that Plato used bits of real history and geography as inspiration, but in that case his Atlantis is to Crete or Ireland like Toilkien's Middle Earth is to the European middle ages.

The way that Atlantis has captured people's imaginations and made them want to believe in it demonstrates that Plato understood what makes myths work. Myths are not simply attempts to accurately remember history that get distorted by the telephone game of oral history. Neither are they pseudo-scientific hypotheses about the natural world. Both history and nature furnish raw material, of course, but myths grow and survive because of their ability to reflect on contemporary society and give people a sense of their proper place within the world.



I'll be in New Jersey for a few days doing research. Posting will resume this weekend.

Fire Priorities

Bright Sparks Rethink Wildfire Strategy

The United States needs to revise its approach to forest wildfires, a group of scientists declared on Monday. They are proposing an action plan for thwarting and controlling such fires, based on growing research.

... the team proposes the creation of zones with different levels of risk. Prevention money and efforts would be focused first on high-risk areas where people live, and would include measures such as using fire-resistant building materials.

In neighbouring zones, the group recommends restricting animal grazing, closing roads and carefully thinning out young, flammable trees. They propose leaving back-country forest intact, either allowing fires to burn out or deliberately torching certain areas. 'Salvage logging' of burned trees should be stopped, the researchers warn, because it damages soils and the ecosystem.

Those strike me as pretty obvious recommendations.

What Celibate Guys Don't Know

It looks like the Vatican has been reading Mary Douglas. In a recent letter on the perils of feminism, the Pope's top theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, explains the official Catholic view of gender, which is firmly rooted in preserving fundamental distinctions, such as that between male and female.

Introducing the first of her well-stated denunciations of Ratzinger's letter, Echidne says:

I'm very happy to be enlightened about these questions by a man who is a celibate, of course.

The sentiment is echoed in the comments by Bryan:

I have a real hard time accepting the opinion of someone who has foresworn normal relations with half the population of the planet and then presumes to lecture others on that group.

Now, to some degree Ratzinger brings this line of attack on himself. He argues that women's nature is tied up in motherhood, and talks about "the spousal character of the body, in which the masculinity or femininity of the person is expressed." Unless he's been doing something the Pope doesn't know about, Ratzinger has disclaimed any personal acquaintance with the subject matter at hand.

From the perspective of someone who thinks womanhood is about more than making babies, though, the comments from Echidne and Bryan seem strange. The only way to understand women is to have sex with them?

I agree with the general principle that a person's experience affects how likely they are to know about a topic and how justified their pronouncements on it are. What's I don't agree with is the idea that the basic relationship between men and women is a sexual one, and that knowledge about the other sex is contingent upon that kind of relationship.

I would say that relying on sexual relationships for information about the opposite sex is likely to give you quite a skewed view of what the other half is like. I don't exactly have a long sexual history at the moment, but even if I were to wind up sleeping with a lot of people, my lovers would hardly constitute a representative sample of women. There are lots of types of women -- conservatives, those substantially older or younger than myself, etc. -- who are no less women despite the fact that I would be unlikely to want to have sex with them. Likewise, if Ratzinger were to get married, it would likely be to a submissive woman who believed deeply in Catholic orthodoxy. For one to be able to discover the essence of a sex by being intimate with one of its members, sex differences would have to be consistent and obvious.

A variety of interactions with members of the opposite sex (as well as with your own sex, as a sort of control treatment) is necessary to build up an empirical picture of what characteristics (if any) pertain to them as a group. A similar process applies to making generalizations about your own sex as well -- I can say precious little about maleness based strictly on my own life, but things get better if I can compare notes with other men.

I'm no fan of the requirement of priestly celibacy, and it's certainly plausible that Ratzinger has little contact of any kind with women. But there's no necessary reason why a celibate person (or a strictly homosexual one) can't learn a good deal about the opposite sex.

OSP Ahoy

I've done two posts at Open Source Politics recently: one on how Tom Ridge just isn't rich enough, and one on third party candidates on the Pennsylvania ballot.


I Didn't Even Have To Googlebomb

Looks like I've finally made it to the big time with this politics and environmentalism blogging thing. I'm the number 1 result when you Google "Kerry Kyoto."