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A surprising number of people on the left are trying to push the idea that the Republicans will bring back the draft. Never mind that Bush has clearly disavowed the idea. Never mind that the only people to have actually formally proposed reinstating the draft were antiwar Democrats making a publicity stunt. Never mind that if Karl Rove is the kind of evil genius he's reputed to be, he knows the draft would be political suicide.

The rationale for why Bush will being back the draft goes something like this. The American military is overstretched and low on recruits, but victory in Iraq is nowhere in sight. Within the next few years, the administration will be forced to make a choice between either giving up on the war, or using the draft. So while Bush may say he won't bring back the draft, he'll wind up with no other choice.

Looking at the president's handling of a parallel issue makes me skeptical taht events would force him to reinstate the draft. The nation's budget is overstretched and low on funds. The administration seems to be faced with a choice: either give up on government spending, or "draft" new funds by raising taxes. Yet Bush has shown little inclination to do either. Rather he's forging on ahead, even creating new spending programs.

If this were George H.W. Bush, who saw the writing on the budgetary wall and reneged on his "no new taxes" pledge, a case could be made that in similar fashion we'd see the draft come back. But not W. He's likely to continue to try to get one soldier to do the job of three rather than either reduce the workload or find more soldiers*.

Then there's the emotional side of things. One of the left's main critiques of Bush is that he's a neocon warmonger. It would fit this storyline perfectly if he were to start the draft. So there's a subconscious longing for the draft to confirm and prove Bush's warmongery, particularly since it's a move that could easily be used against him.

*Not that a draft would necessarily help. My understanding is that the military's need for poorly trained and unmotivated cannon fodder is rather low.

Today's Comics Today

And now here's the stuff by yours truly from this week's Scarlet:

Drawing-wise I really like this one. I just wish there was an alternative to making the whip handle so huge so as to fit the word "Guantanamo" in it (note to any postmodern literary theorists reading this: no, it's not a phallic symbol).

As promised, my column (and its comic) deals -- in a rather intemperate tone -- with the question of homosexual Republicans. I wound up using "gay" as a synonym for "homosexual" a lot, even though it's not technically correct, because it's awkward to keep saying "homosexual" and it didn't occur to me to use the "LGBT" acronym.

Last Week's Comics Today

So I've finally got my commentary and comics from last week's Scarlet. You'll note the venting of some cynicism that built up over the summer.

My column, as mentioned before, deals with the National Museum of the American Indian, and comes with its own comic.


More On Outing

There will be yet even more on outing when I post my column from this week's Scarlet. For the time being, Will Baude offers an interesting and unusual explanation for non-consensual outing:

When a given group of people are widely and inaccurately stereotyped, and especially when membership in that group of people is relatively invisible, some folks make the choice (be it bold or foolish) to stand up and say, "no, I am part of the group, and I am not what you would expect."

The next step, and while it is a very dubious step, it is hopefully an understandable step, is to say, "and that man over there-- he is part of the group too! Bet you didn't expect that." It is unsavory to draft other people as unwilling martyrs in a campaign for social acceptance. But when people perceive themselves as leading a social or political fight for their rights, they sometimes act impatiently, and they sometimes tread or try to tread on the rights of others to acheive what they see to be a greater good.

There's some plausibility to this as a rationale for outing, and perhaps it's happened at times during the struggle for gay rights. But I have yet to hear it offered by any of the out-ers whose actions have sparked the most recent discussion of the tactic (though perhaps Baude knows of sources I haven't seen). The message intended by outing is not "look, we're everywhere." It's "this individual* is a hypocrite and a traitor." The aim is not to change people's thinking about homosexuality, but to engineer legislative victories by cowing or destroying some members of the opposition.

*Or in some cases, such as Alan Keyes's allegedly lesbian daughter, "this individual's relative."


Perhaps We Should Call Them "Unitedstatesian Indians" To Avoid Confusion

While researching my column for last week's Scarlet*, on the new National Museum of the American Indian, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't find any statements critical of it to argue against. I wound up having to invent a plausible-sounding counterargument that highlighted my own point. But now Front Page comes to the rescue with this delightfully unhinged anti-NMAI screed. It starts off with a feint in the direction of "boo for cultural relativism, huzzah for Western civilization," then gets down to business. Apparently the museum is a global Communist plot to make us think that the native people of non-USA countries in the Western Hemisphere are "American Indians." I hadn't realized that your tribe had to have waged war against the United States government in order for you to call yourself "American Indian."

*I'll post it next week, as I forgot to grab an electronic version before I left the office.

I Never Stop Working

I may not have been posting here this weekend, but don't think I was just slacking off, playing Balderdash and making animal noises. I was also engaged in serious philosophical discussions. Here I am explaining postmodernism and structuralism to my friends' landlord Ted.

Dog Bites Man, Candidates Continue Posturing

Mark down another pointless campaign cliche that John Kerry has trotted out (via Redstate). Now he's whining about attack ads and trying to pretend he has the moral high ground by calling for an end to them. Here's a mirror, Mr. Kerry. It might help you understand why half of Americans don't bother to vote*.

*Of course, stupid campaign-trail grandstanding really has little to do with whether someone would be a good president. Yet the causal power of these kind of stunts is such that even I'm tempted to give up on the whole mess.

The Market Vs. SUVs

Climbing Down From The S.U.V., And Liking The View

While there has not been a stampede of consumers out of S.U.V.'s - one of the auto industry's most popular and profitable segments - there are signs that their popularity is weakening. The market share of some popular S.U.V. models has declined even as that for some new station wagons, which have some S.U.V.-like features, has climbed.

... Several factors are at work. Although gasoline prices are down from their peak in May of $2.07 a gallon, on average, for self-serve unleaded regular, they still averaged $1.86 a gallon on Sept. 10, according to the Lundberg Survey. In many places, the price remains above $2.

And new safety warnings about the stability of truck-based sport utilities, especially in rollover ratings, have some people reassessing their belief that S.U.V.'s are safer. Such safety issues are starting to outweigh what many people say drew them to S.U.V.'s: the bad-weather traction of four-wheel drive and the ability to drive on rough terrain.

Abiola Lapite suggests that this is a case of the market succeeding where "years of harangues by environmentalists" haven't. In the sense that the market is creating an outcome (fewer SUVs) that environmentalists desired but failed at getting, he's right. But that's a basically coincidental fact. The market is reducing SUV purchases for two reasons -- gas supply is tight, raising the price of maintaining an SUV, and safety concerns have reduced people's desire to own an SUV. Neither of these are particularly related to the environmentalist anti-SUV rationale, which is that they generate a lot of pollution. The market has manifestly failed to translate the harms caused by pollution into reduced SUV ownership.

Environmentalist anti-SUV-ism is actually rather market-friendly in two of ist three avenues of attack (the exception being the push for better gas mileage requirements). A higher gas tax is meant to internalize the externalities of pollution, thus making the market responsive to environmental issues. And the "harangues" Lapite refers to are aimed at the same mechanism that has caused safety concerns to cut into the SUV market -- alter people's perceptions of the product, which in turn changes the demand.


Flip-Flopping Or CYA?

I just don't buy Kerry supporters' explanation that he voted for the war resolution in order to strengthen Bush's hand in negotiating non-war measures to deal with Saddam. Certainly that's one thing a war resolution could be used for. And as the above-linked story points out, Bush claimed at the time that that's what he'd use it for. But it's also pretty clear -- and it was pretty clear at the time -- that Bush's claims were disingenuous. Kerry had to know that if you vote "yes," you get a war. No amount of speechifying about how Bush should use his authority would prevent him from using it as he pleased, and it was obvious how he pleased to use it.

There are three theories I can think of as to why Kerry missed this point. One is that he just doesn't know what's going on. This doesn't match up with his overall character. But if it's true, it doesn't reflect well on his suitability for office. Second is the idea that he was duped by Bush. Back in the primaries a lot of his supporters were pushing this line. The theory was that lots of voters had initially bought Bush's claims, then changed their minds later, so they'd like a candidate that went through the same thought process. As an electoral strategy this may be right, since Americans want a president who is like themselves -- witness the success of Bush's faux populism. But it doesn't seem like a recipe for a good commander-in-chief.

I prefer the CYA theory -- Kerry really did want war (either because he genuinely thought Saddam was a threat or because he figured it would be electorally advantageous). But he knew that anti-war people were disproportionately on the left, and there was a decent chance the war would go poorly. So he built in a political out for himself, by being pro-war in substance but anti-war in style so that come October he'd be able to plausibly emphasize whichever side would get him more votes (as we see now with all the liberal bloggers excitedly pointing out his claims to see war as a last resort back in his war resolution Senate speech).


The Lesser Evil

Grist points to this handy chart ranking gas companies according to their environmental and human rights records. As expected, Exxon/Mobil and Chevron/Texaco are at the bottom. I'd been avoiding them for some time now based on some less systematic research (though I did fill up at Mobil today, because I was nearly out of gas and had no idea what other stations I would encounter in rural Vermont. So of course a few miles down the road there was a Sunoco.). It was a bit of a surprise to find Sunoco so clearly at the top of the list (I'd heard nothing either good or bad about them), beating even BP/Amoco, though perhaps something has changed since 2001. Unfortunately there are some companies missing -- notably Hess, where I usually fill up in Worcester, and Gulf, which is my main option in Bridgewater.


Field Camp

No posting until Monday.


Putting Slurs In Their Place

(Warning: This post will mention, but not use, some coarse language.)

There's been a good deal of discussion going around about the use of bigoted insults, in particular anti-woman ones like "bitch" and "pussy." Hugo Schwyzer brings homophobic insults into the mix as well:

You'd be amazed how few [of my students] understand that "suck" is derived from "cocksucker", and thus to say something or someone "sucks" is to use anti-gay/anti-woman language. They are also stunned that "asshole" is also anti-gay, misogynistic speak; "asshole" is invariably only used for men, despite the fact that women also possess this part of the anatomy -- it is used to refer to men who allow themselves to be penetrated like women.[*]

I think Schwyzer misses the mark a bit by going for the argument from etymology. What he's giving is a causal explanation of why "suck" and "asshole" have anti-gay baggage. But that's not the same as a moral argument for not using the words.

The decision factor is really how the words are recieved. Numerous female bloggers have testified to feeling targeted and excluded when they read a male blogger calling someone else a "pussy." That, not the origins of the use of "pussy as an insult, is why you shouldn't say it.

Schwyzer gets back on the right track later in the post, saying:

I do think, however, that if one is going to use these words, one has to save them for "safe places." In environments where you can be certain as to how these words will be received, I think it's sometimes acceptable to cuss with abandon.

If "asshole" were inherently homophobic, then it would never be acceptable to say it in any context. But if the problem is that it carries homophobic meanings to certain people, then the key is to avoid using it in situations where the word will carry those meanings to, and hence offend and exclude, part of your audience. Indeed, even sexist-insult-purveyor extrordinaire Atrios seems to get this on some level, since one of his excuses for using "pussy" is that he knows it would bother Republicans to be called that. His problem is that he doesn't realize the collateral damage he's doing (both by offending female readers and by validating the insultees' view that being a "pussy" is a bad thing).

* I had always understood "asshole" to connote a sort of bullying or boorishness that is stereotypically associated with men -- i.e., an overdose of machismo, rather than the overdose of femininity that underlies typical anti-gay slurs.


The Pristine Myth On The Mall

Covering A Lot Of Ground In A Little Space

The building that is the National Museum of the American Indian is refreshingly shocking for button-down Washington, suggesting some Western butte in its honeyed and chiseled Kasota limestone. But over its five years of construction, we have had time to get used to it. Wait till you see the landscape around it.

... Bringing rude nature to the hallowed ground of the Mall takes guts, of course. But this is not rude nature. No wilderness actually looked like this. It is as calculated a built artifact in its own way as is Tomorrowland. It is nature to which human intelligence and imagination have been applied. It is an Indian's image of Eden.

... Twelve years in design and construction, the landscape consists of four environments -- wetlands, an upland hardwood forest, meadowlands and traditional crops. These are meant to recall vast and different ecosystems, an entire Native American paradise shoehorned into a city block off Independence Avenue.

An "artificial" ecosystem strikes me as rather appropriate for the National Museum of the American Indian. To some degree the whole American landscape was an artifact of Indian inhabitation when Europeans first arrived. Perhaps the NMAI grounds can serve as a reminder to people that "natural" lands can't be taken for granted or simply left to their own devices.


Genes Can Vary

Lauryn points to an article discussing the possible roots of men's shameful refusal to take on their fair share of unpaid labor. While generally good, the first argument offered is quite odd:

The animal kingdom is too full of bizarre exceptions to suggest that the roots [of gender differences in work] are chromosomal. Lionesses bring home the bacon, seahorse dads tote their young in pouches.

By this logic, size isn't genetically determined -- after all, some animals (like humans) are big, while others (like seahorses) are small. I have no doubt that seahorse parenting is entirely genetic, though I would imagine there's at least some small proto-cultural/learned element to lions' gender roles.

What's going on here is, I think, a confusion between the old moral idea of naturalness and the newer scientific idea of genetics. To justify something as "natural" is to give it the imprimatur of universality, a principle woven into the very structure of the universe. But while the basic principles of genetics (e.g. how DNA replicates) may be universal, the outcomes are not. (This is what makes the "there are gay chimpanzees and giraffes" argument so strange. It does counter the claim that animals provide evidence that homosexuality is "unnatural." But that claim is wrong independent of any empirical evidence about animals' mating habits. Homosexuality among chimpanzees does not logically tell us anything one way or the other about the origins or appropriateness of the practice among humans.)

Justice And Decisionmaking

Ampersand points to a series of posts by Jason Kuznicki proposing a typology of political arguments:

Almost invariably, we justify our political thoughts based either on the will of the majority [argument from democracy]; or on some theory of justice, understood as a proper apportionment of reward and punishment; or on pluralism, the idea that life is somehow better (though not necessarily more just) when a country permits many different modes of life to exist simultaneously.

Kuznicki claims that the argument from democracy is the weakest of the three. As an argument for the rightness or wrongness of a policy, he's correct. Argumentum ad popularum is a logical fallacy. But the argument from democracy is not often used in this fashion.

The argument from democracy is a decision procedure. Justice and pluralism can't put themselves into practice. Given the obvious disagreements about justice and pluralism, some person or group must act as arbiter of what justice and pluralism require. The argument from democracy is typically parasitic on arguments from justice and pluralism, as it's on the basis of those arguments that the majority make their decision. The argument from democracy is based on the idea that we're more likely to realize the requirements of justice into practice if we let the majority decide.

For example, Kuznicki opens his series by proposing that the argument from democracy would lead us to mandate that all radio stations play rock music, since rock fans outnumber fans of all other types of music. But if you were to actually implement democracy as a decision procedure -- say, hold a binding referendum on what people think we should do about the airwaves -- I'm confident that country and jazz would stay on the air, because most people agree with Kuznicki's argument from pluralism. Thus, the argument from pluralism would be put into action by the decision procedure of democracy.

Democracy can be wrong, of course -- I agree with Kuznicki that censorship by the FCC is unwarranted, but I suspect most Americans would vote in favor of banning on-air obscenities. This fact lies behind the argument that we need anti-majoritarian measures in our system of government, to correct for tyranny of the majority. In some cases this means some form of super-majoritarian measure -- for example, the requirement of a two-thirds vote to override a veto or the need to get half of the Senate and half of the House, rather than simply half of Congress, to approve a bill. Super-majoritarianism is simply a more stringent form of majoritarianism, requiring a broader consensus. The real issue is when the proposed anti-majoritarian measure is truly unrelated to the will of the people. In this case it's not enough to invoke the threat of the tyranny of the majority as a justification. What's needed is a further argument that the particular form of anti-majoritarianism in question is more likely to approximate the demands of justice. For example, one might argue that by virtue of their training, judges are able to make consistent and valid deductions from constitutional and legal principles, whereas the masses can be sloppy and self-serving in their thinking.

Children Are The Future

Deaf Kids In Nicaragua Give Birth To New Language

Deaf children thrown together in a school in Nicaragua without any type of formal instruction invented their own sign language -- a sophisticated system that has evolved and grown, researchers reported on Friday.

Their observations show that children, not adults, are key to the evolution and development of language, the researchers report in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

No real comment; I just thought this was really cool -- or perhaps, given that children drive the development of language, I should get out ahead of the curve and say that "OMG th1s r0xx0rz LOL!!!!11!"



Avast! Yo ho ho and a bottle of fire* management policy! There be no timbers left to shiver after that scurvy Healthy Forests Initiative be done with it. Aye, and how many pieces of eight have the logging companies gotten with the help of their matey Bush?



More Google Slander

I'm the #10 result for "in defense of cheney".

Vengeance By Outing

I think both Hugo Schwyzer and Abiola Lapite (make sure to see their further remarks in comments) have basically the right take on the tactic of outing closeted politicians who support anti-gay measures. Here's Lapite's take in his comment section:

I do think it acceptable to "out" people who go about crusading against homosexuality, but I don't see how the case of someone like Dreier could ever be rationalized to fit that schema. His refusal to oppose the FMA isn't what I'd call wise, but it is no more a sign of hypocrisy or self-hatred in my eyes than is some black person's opposition to affirmative-action. ...

I suppose what really gets me about this "outing" campaign is the underlying assumption that there is only one right way that a gay politician is supposed to think and vote, and that any wavering from that line makes one fair game for harrassment.

In other words, it's justifiable (though not necessarily pragmatically effective) to point out that a politician's personal life is at odds with his or her public pronouncements when the person engages in activity that he or she wishes to make illegal. It's not justifiable when the person's private life makes him or her part of a group that the accuser believes would be hurt by his or her policies. In other words, having gay sex while advocating a ban on sodomy is grounds for outing. Having gay sex while advocating a ban on gay marriage is not. If the latter were the case, then John Kerry would be a huge hypocrite for advocating higher taxes for millionaires.

There are two things that bother me about the outing campaigns. One is emotional. When I read pro-outing posts, I can imagine the writer waving their arms and yelling "oh yeah! Snap!" That kind of gloating schadenfreude is very disturbing to me -- perhaps because in general vengeance isn't an emotion that resonates with me, or perhaps just because I haven't been exposed to enough homophobia to develop a taste for sweet revenge against gay rights opponents.

The second thing is that it places this special burden on members of an oppressed group to act in ways approved by the critic's view of their interests -- something we also see, for example, in the agonizing about "why do those stupid rednecks vote for Republicans, who favor the wealthy?" I can understand the expectation that members of a group would have a special motivation to hold a certain view, but that doesn't mean they have a greater responsibility to do so. Same sex marriage would be just as banned regardless of whether the people who voted for it were straight or gay. If the cause of gay rights is just, then heterosexuals are morally bound to support it.

Responsible Mining

Extension Of Mine Fund Tax Added To Budget Bill

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., took the first step Tuesday to stave off the end of the federal program that cleans up abandoned coal mines.

Byrd won Senate Appropriations Committee approval to extend a tax that funds the cleanup program for another nine months.

... Without congressional action, the coal tax that funds mine cleanups would expire Sept. 30.

If that happens, thousands of abandoned mine sites — mostly in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky — would go unreclaimed.

-- via Daily Scoop

I have to give Byrd some credit. I've had a pretty harsh view (warning: really old and poorly-written column) of him because of his willingness to back environmentally destructive mining practices. But if you're going to mine, this is the responsible way to do it -- force the company to pay in advance so that there's money there to fix the problems left behind. Now, this coal tax is more of a Social Security-style pay-as-you-go than a true cleanup savings account, but it amounts to the same thing. Contrast Byrd's responsible approach with the Bush administration, which supports opening land to mining but has cut back on the cleanup tax and diverted what money it did collect into other accounts.

We Can Put A Man On Mars, But We Can't Build A New Landsat

Via Chris Mooney, I see that Science has asked the Bush and Kerry campaigns a series of questions about science and environmental policy. What got my attention was the question about the space program. Both Science's question and the campaigns' responses essentially equated the space program with explorations of outer space. They talked about things like the space station and manned missions to Mars. I don't dispute that those things are important. But I think one of the really critical parts of our space program -- though not a charismatic and vote-getting issue -- is its contribution to exploring the Earth. A critical component of any effective program to manage global environmental issues is satellite-based monitoring. A continuous record of remote sensing data is vital, yet neither campaign mentioned it.

Take, for example, the Landsat program. Landsat is one of the most important remote sensing satellites we have. Yet its equipment is staring obsolescene in the face. Landsat 7, our most up-to-date satellite in the program, had a 5-year projected lifespan when it was launched in 1999. Since last year, its sensors have been malfunctioning, compromising the quality of the data it provides. Yet there are no plans to launch Landsat 8 yet. As a geographer, I'd like to hear the candidates commit a fraction of the energy they're putting into medical advances to keeping our environmental monitoring system up to date.

And on an additional personal pet peeve note, both campaigns implicitly defined "science" as "natural science." Given the salience of the role of human activity in climate change (both causation and mitigation), and both campaigns' stated commitment to enhancing the role of citizens and communities in environmental management, you'd think some support for basic social science research would be in order.


Hey Mathematicians: We're Way Ahead Of You

I have a tendency to get kind of defensive about the social sciences' turf. So often natural scientists decide that they can barge on in and use their discipline to explain society, as if nobody had ever thought to really sit down and look at society before. So I was not necessarily the most openminded reader of this article about a new book on how mathematicians can explain romantic interaction. Here's how the book's author explains her approach:

A mathematician would choose a subject -- like love -- and would start thinking, "I think there may be patterns that arise from this subject of love." We would then ask ourselves, "What are the key factors that go into love?" That's where we start by making an abstract move: We have to write the problem into abstract mathematical notations. For love, we might have two people. We might call these people X and Y. Then we would ask, "How are these two people going to interact?" We'd create sample equations with X and Y. For example, we might create one equation predicting that X and Y would fall in love, and then suddenly hate each other the next day. There are obvious patterns to human interaction, so we'd test equations to see what looks right what doesn't look right, what matches what we've observed in the real world and what doesn't. We might prepare an equation, plug in variables, and then say, "Hmmm, that equation may be mathematically correct, but the chance of that happening in the real world is highly unlikely." So we'd pick another equation.

We'd play with different equations and different mathematical analyses to tell us what people are doing in real relationships. In picking equations we'd come across patterns. We may start to see patterns that we may not have noticed otherwise. These patterns may show us things about relationships that we may not have seen or expected.

This is not some special insight that mathematicians bring to the table. This is essentially bog-standard positivistic social science, of the type that has been done for 50 years. But "run of the mill social science" doesn't sound as exciting as "the mathematics of sex."

Utilitarian Stem Cells

Philocrites has a post up expressing concern about cloning and destroying embryos for stem cell research. He objects to the practice as being "utilitarian" and a "commodification" of human life. I agree that utilitarianism* would tend to support stem cell research, but I think Philocrites is wrong in explaining why.

His argument has two main premises. First is the idea that the embryos used in stem cell research are human life (albeit of a lesser category than that of adults). I'll accept this premise for the sake of argument, since without it the question is uninteresting. He is concerned to reconcile that with the Unitarian Universalist "covenant to affirm and promote the inherent dignity and worth of every person." As he sees it, stem cell research denies the second premise, at least with respect to embryos -- stem cell research is centrally concerned with the dignity and worth of people who suffer from Alzheimer's, etc. That may be commodification, if the incentive is financial. But it's not utilitarian.

I'm no expert in UU exegesis, and I suspect it's standard to take a deontological view of the "dignity and worth" principle. But something like "affirming and promoting the inherent dignity and worth of every person" is also the central axiom of utilitarian reasoning. Behind all the debate over happiness versus preference satisfaction is the idea that some metric of human well-being -- perhaps "dignity and worth" -- is the fundamental goal, and all action should be instrumental toward that goal. The real point at which Philocrites' view and that of a utilitarian would diverge is not whether to affirm the human dignity of the embryo, but how to deal with conflicts between affirming the dignities of different people.

The existence of advanced medical science forces us to answer a question about the conflicting interests of embryos and people suffering from disease. In simple terms, we can create and kill embryos to save sick people, or we can let sick people suffer in order to avoid creating and killing embryos. A deontological perspective on affirming dignity places a high importance on the do/let distinction -- it's more immoral to do something than to let it happen. We're morally prohibited from killing anyone no matter how many people we have to let die as a result. A utilitarian, on the other hand, would say that doing and letting amount to the same thing -- we have the power to cause either outcome, and the embryos or sick people are just as dead at the end. Without the strict lexical ordering of principles implied by the let/do distinction (ie, one side taking total precedence), the utilitarian has to make a tradeoff. My intuition is that the dignity and worth of the sick people would outweigh the dignity and worth of the embryos, but I haven't done any sort of detailed analysis on it. The basic point here, though, is that in a utilitarian system the dignity and worth of the embryos are not ignored, they're outweighed.

*Of course, he may be using "utilitarian" in a casual commonsense way, rather than in specific reference to the philosophical position of Bentham, Mill, Singer, etc., in which case this post has no dispute with Philocrites's.


I'm Coming Down With A Case Of Roup

This election is turning me into one of those disgruntled "a pox on both your houses" types -- and I'm not even a libertarian!


New At OSP: Poetic Justice As Fairness

My first, and hopefully only, comment on National Guard Dome is posted at Open Source Politics. Given my view of Swift Boat Dome, I'm sure you can guess my outlook on the issue.

The title comes from this Crooked Timber post. But looking back at it, I think I'm somewhat misapplying the term. We've got the element of position-swapping, but neither side has drawn the parallel between the two situations and accused its opponent of flip-flopping. Then again, specific political terminology is quickly diluted (consider, for example, Matt Yglesias' pedantic rearguard action against misuse of "scorched earth", or the claim by a person I was talking to the other night that "carpetbagging" is commonly used to refer to political opportunism of any sort, not just that involving moving to a different state).


I Am Such A Geography Dork

I came across this, and not only did I think "wow, this is really cool," I also thought "hey, I remember making a series of maps like that one time based on some sketchy information in some booklet."


Thomas Covenant Returns

Why must this happen just as I have to buckle down and focus on reading things for my dissertation? Maybe Lord Foul has created dangerously high fuel loads in the Andelanian Hills, and Linden Avery will have to design a community-based management system to prevent catastrophic fires from overrunning the Woodhelvens. Then I could read it.

The Aussies Were Here First?

Who discovered the Americas?

The first colonizers of the Americas came from Australia, according to archaeologists who have analysed skulls from 12,000-year-old skeletons found in California. The finding contradicts the traditional view that the first immigrants were the ancestors of modern Native Americans.

The skulls, taken from skeletal remains found in the desert of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico, are long and narrow. "This is completely different to the Native Americans' rounder skull shape," explains lead researcher Silvia Gonzalez from the Liverpool John Moores University, UK.

... Traditional colonization theories hold that the first wave of humans to migrate to the Americas came from Siberia at the end of the last ice age. Skeletons of these migrants are dated at about 9,000 years old. So Gonzalez says the new evidence means that the Siberians, who are related to modern day Native Americans, did not get there first after all.

I would not be at all surprised if the closest living relatives of the very first Americans are Australian Aborigines. My knowledge of the American colonization debate is rather slim, but it doesn't seem inconsistent with any evidence I know of that there was a first wave of migrants early on, followed by a second stronger wave of people related to modern Siberians. Indeed, this would explain the sudden explosion of sites at the appearance of the Clovis culture, and the relative lack of very early Native American-like sites in Siberia.

But I see no reason to think that the first Americans came from Australia. While many sites were drowned by rising seas at the end of the last ice age, we have no evidence of major indigenous seafaring cultures in Australia. Aborigines made it to the Solomon Islands, but never got to Indonesia on their own. It seems much more likely that an early wave of humans leaving Africa got to China and then split -- some moving south to Australia, and others heading north along the coast and eventually winding up in America. Later arrivals killed or absorbed most of the Aborigines' Asian and American cousins.

In Defense Of Cheney

I'm finding it hard to get outraged about Dick Cheney's remark that if John Kerry is elected, another major terrorist attack is likely. He seems to be just making explicit the implicit presupposition of the whole use of terrorism as an election issue.

The basic premise of any political campaign with respect to issue X (at least where X is agreed upon as a goal) is "you'll be better off with respect to X if you vote for me than if you vote for my opponent." So Kerry and Bush each claim that the economy will do worse under the other's leadership, that health care will be worse under the other's plan, etc. So why is it strange that one of them would claim that terrorism prevention would be worse under the other's leadership? Certainly one of the reasons I'll vote for Kerry is my view that Bush's conduct of the war on terrorism has been shoddy, and thus terrorist attacks would be more likely during a second Bush term than a first Kerry term.

It's hardly beyond the pale to make a factually incorrect statement about which party's policies are more effective, or to exaggerate the difference between them. Do Cheney's critics mean to suggest that there's nothing that we can do to affect the rate of terrorism -- that attacks are a force of nature like earthquakes or hurricanes?


CNN Is Useless

Staying at a hotel with no internet is a good way for me to remind myself why I don't watch TV. For example, CNN has taken to parodying* the whole "he said, she said" style of reporting -- they report on spin that hasn't even been spun yet. A typical story goes something like this: "A report came out today that says blah blah blah. And I'm sure both parties will each have their own view of it to promote."

Then they did a segment with Bill Allen that was basically an ad for National Geographic. If you want to do a story about climate change, interview a climatologist. If you want to do a story about NG's conterversial decision to push an environmentalist viewpoint, then ask Allen about that. But don't repeat the points the magazine made, let Allen elaborate, then declare the issue "chilling."

*At least I hope it's parody. It's too depressing to imagine they think it's real journalism.


Off To New Jersey Again

Hopefully the last round. No posting for a couple days.

Women CEOs And The Adaptive Cycle

I just finished reading Lance Gunderson and C.S. Holling's book Panarchy, in which they elaborate on their "adaptive cycle" model for human and natural systems. They express some concern that it's so easy to see adaptive cycles everywhere that the theory risks explaining everything -- and therefore nothing*.

So perhaps it's no surprise that the adaptive cycle was the first thing to spring to mind when I encountered this story (via Echidne):

Alex Haslam and Michelle Ryan of Exeter University found large British companies that put a woman on their boards experienced consistently worse share price performance in the run-up to the appointment than those appointing only male board memers, the Financial Times reported Tuesday.

... By contrast, when things are going well, "there is no need to change the usual practice of jobs for the boys."

Haslam also said: "The appointment of a woman director was not associated with a subsequent drop in company performance. Indeed companies that appointed a woman actually experienced a marked increase in share price after the appointment."

In brief, Gunderson and Holling say that traditional ecology was right to point out that systems move from a phase of identifying opportunity and moving to exploit it (r-phase), to a phase of increasing connectedness and complexity (K-phase). However, the K-phase is not a stable climax. The increasing connectedness also creates rigidity. The system becomes an accident waiting to happen -- and eventually one does (Ω-phase). Following the breakup and release of the accumulated "capital," the system enters a phase of unpredictability and experimentation (α-phase), from which a new r-phase is selected.

An adaptive cycle interpretation of the article would go something like this: companies start out with a certain way of doing things in the r-phase -- hiring mostly men for top jobs. That strategy seems to work all right, so it gets locked in as they move into the K-phase. But their old-boys' network becomes a sort of a rut, decreasing the company's resilience to changes in the market. As they tip over into the Ω-phase, they're forced to think outside the box -- for example, seriously considering women for top-level positions. And it seems like an advantageous bit of novelty to introduce into the system, as companies start to recover (move into a new r-phase) once they try appointing a woman**. The danger, of course, is that once the backloop (Ω-α) is past, companies will revert to the old r-phase of relying on men.

The adaptive cycle idea also suggests an argument for a degree of affirmative action. Gunderson and Holling point out that, since things look so good during theK-phase, we have a tendency to want to stay there forever. But efforts to lock in a K state tend to exacerbate the size of the inevitable Ω. Rather, we should deliberately introduce small backloops to keep our K phases fresh and avoid a hard fall. The classic example is fire management -- frequent small fires allow us to avoid the huge conflagrations that follow total fire suppression. So perhaps companies ought to consider shaking things up by hiring women during their K-phase, rather than waiting for a big Ω.

The whole situation might not be a good example of an adaptive cycle, however. I've painted a relatively optimistic view of forward-thinking managers taking a risk on hiring women during the backloop. But it may be that they expect the company to go under, or to recover on its own, regardless of their hiring decisions. In this case, hiring a woman is just a way to shift the responsibility (though considering the beneficial effects of hiring a woman, this may be classified as an inadvertant α).

*They do manage to find a few ecosystems, such as pelagic ocean environments, that don't seem to follow the adaptive cycle.

**The articles aren't clear on why. I'm skeptical about how much of it is due to women having an intrinsically different management style. It may be that, by being willing to seriously consider women, companies can tap into a better pool of candidates, since the good women haven't been snapped up by other companies. Or it may be that thinking outside the old-boys' network box leads them to use a different and better set of criteria for hiring, which happens to include "may be a woman."


Why Oz?

It's amazing how backwards the process of doing research is when compared to the process of presenting and justifying your conclusions. I've decided I want to do my dissertation on Australia, so now I have to come up with a good intellectual justification for it.


This may be the first time I've ever heard anyone say this:

Clearly, today's is not an age of transition, and there is no substantial movement towards a new society.

The stock-in-trade of commentators is to delcare that there are major changes afoot, or that we're on the cusp of something big. Of course, this article doesn't really escape that conceit -- despite the above-quoted sentence, it focuses on the current transition from real radicalism to mere griping.

Log It To Save It

Judge Halts Plan To Log Burn Area Near Tahoe

Plans to log a remote and fire-damaged stretch of forest west of Lake Tahoe were blocked by a federal judge who ruled the U.S. Forest Service failed to show the project would not actually increase risk of another major wildfire.

... In his ruling England noted the Forest Service estimated as much as 85 tons per acre of wooden debris would be left on the ground in most of the logged area after profitable timber was removed and that the government failed to show that would not make fire danger worse.

... [District Ranger Rich] Johnson acknowledged limbs and other debris left on the ground would temporarily increase fire danger but said the danger would be outweighed by long-term benefits.

"There would be a short-term increase but in the long run we would be able to better provide for regeneration of the forest," Johnson said. "Our feeling was we needed to treat the full spectrum of fuels and we were willing to make some trade-off."

The kind of big dead snags that the logging operation would remove serve important ecological functions. I know forests in Sweden have suffered greatly because of efforts to "protect" them by removing dead wood, and it seems likely that a similar situation pertains here. So I'm skeptical that logging would aid in the forest's regeneration.


Just Say No To Cars

Will Baude links to this story about cutbacks in Greyhound's schedule, declaring it "a stern reminder to those bloggers who advocate the abandonment of cars." Presumably he means that giving up one's car is a risky decision, as it puts you at the mercy of Greyhound's schedule, and would therefore be an bad choice to make for yourself, or to recommend to others, in certain circumstances (such as people in very rural areas). As a matter of personal prudence, Baude has a point. I'm not certain which anti-car bloggers he's referring to, but my own anti-car feelings prompt me to make a few points. First, people like the now-stranded Elva Link in the article are the people that are the least in need of giving up cars -- she seems like she'd only use it for occasional long-distance trips, which are both more justifiable and less harmful than stop-and-go traffic on a 5-minute drive to the store on roads frequented by pedestrians. Second, the anti-car push can't be looked at as strictly a matter of individual choices. The reason Link wound up stranded was not because she gave up her car, but because she was the only person in Ritzville who gave up her car. If everyone in Ritzville had decided they need to take the bus, Greyhound would never have had to close the stop. Creating a more efficient transportation system requires collective action -- an organized and mutually supportive campaign, rather than individually virtuous decisions (though the latter can spur the former). Ultimately, yes, this should motivate changes in settlement patterns that create a more transportation-friendly geography.

(To put my own situation on the table, I'm not exactly an anti-car purist. I own a Buick Century, though I avoid driving it whenever I can -- including sometimes walking half an hour to take the bus. Unlike Baude, I have lived most of my life in areas where there wasn't Greyhound service (or any bus service in some cases) in the first place. But I didn't get my car until I moved for the first time to a city -- not because I need the car more in the city, but because it happened to coincide with a car-needing phase of my life.)

Also, my first ever use of trackback: success!


"Classical" vs. "Tradtional"

I'm reading about efforts to incorporate Aboriginal knowledge into fire management. Some of the authors have taken to talking about "classical" Aboriginal knowledge, rather than the more common phrasing of "traditional" Aboriginal knowledge. The intent is to evoke a parallel with the way we respect the heritage of "classical" Greece and Rome, and escape the connotation of "traditional" as suggesting old-fashionedness.

But to me, "classical" is even more problematic. It suggests that we're looking back to an idealized golden age. This devalues what came after -- the "Dark Ages" in Rome, or Aboriginal knowledge that has been compromised by colonialism. That's a common view with respect to Aboriginal culture -- that the Aborigines had a perfectly functioning system in 1787, and to truly take advantage of what they have to offer, we have to try to get back to the "real" pre-European version. This tempts some people to say that "classical" Aboriginal knowledge is useless today, as it pertained to a different environment and society.

"Tradition," on the other hand, is subject to constant reiteration. In good structurationist fashion, traditions are maintained by being re-enacted in the present. So while tradition looks to the past, it's constantly engaging with the present. It isn't frozen in time the way a "classical" situation is.


Women Have Bones, Right?

Men From Early Middle Ages Were Nearly As Tall As Modern People

Northern European men living during the early Middle Ages were nearly as tall as their modern-day American descendants, a finding that defies conventional wisdom about progress in living standards during the last millennium.

Steckel analyzed height data from thousands of skeletons excavated from burial sites in northern Europe and dating from the ninth to the 19th centuries. Average height declined slightly during the 12th through 16th centuries, and hit an all-time low during the 17th and 18th centuries.

... Reasons for such tall heights during the early Middle Ages may have to do with climate. Steckel points out that agriculture from 900 to 1300 benefited from a warm period – temperatures were as much as 2 to 3 degrees warmer than subsequent centuries. Theoretically, smaller populations had more land to choose from when producing crops and raising livestock.

-- via Quark Soup

This is interesting, but I wonder why the study dealt only with men. It could be that Steckel just wanted to cut down on his data load, and decided that men's heights were more important. Or it could be a bias on the part of the people compiling his data, if the excavators whose work he relied on were more interested in the likely-better-provisioned male graves, so the data set on women is less complete.

Blood Of The Pyramids

French Egyptologists Defend Pyramid Theory

A pair of French Egyptologists who suspect they have found a previously unknown chamber in the Great Pyramid urged Egypt's antiquities chief to reconsider letting them test their theory by drilling new holes in the 4,600-year-old structure.

... "There are 300 theories concerning hidden rooms and other things inside the pyramid, but if I let them all test their theories they will do untold damage to the pyramid, which was built with the blood of Egyptians," said [director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi] Hawass. "I will not let Egyptian blood be damaged by amateurs."

I don't know the first thing about Egyptology, so I have no idea who's right in this. But I found it interesting how Hawass framed his objection. To me, the idea of drilling 300 holes in the pyramid would seem problematic because it would damage an important relic, which has value as a source of data and tourist revenue. But Hawass is concerned that it would disrespect the sacrifices of the people who built the pyramids. We tend to think of the ancient Egyptians as a distinct people from modern Egyptians, since the culture of the region has changed so dramatically since the pyramids were built -- much as I wouldn't feel much of a personal connection to the Vikings, since they lived so long ago and so differently than me. But Hawass's invocation of "Egyptian blood" seems like a claim to continuity with the pyramid builders, similar to Native Americans charging that archaeologists here disrespect their ancestors, and by extension them.

Give Biomass Burning A Break

Forest Burning Is A Net Contributor To Global Warming, Scientist Says

Of forest burning, about 80 percent results in permanent deforestation - meaning the land is now used for some other use, such as grazing, agriculture or buildings. The remaining 20 percent of trees are regrown. When forests are permanently replaced by other plant types - shrubs, grasses, crops, all of which contain less carbon than do trees - the carbon difference accumulates in the atmosphere. "The total carbon dioxide emission from permanent deforestation is on the order of 7 to 10 percent of global fossil-fuel-carbon-dioxide emission," Jacobson says.

... Eliminating all biomass burning would reduce the global average temperature by 0 to 0.2 degrees F over 100 years, which is comparable to the increase in global temperature of 0.6 to 0.7 degrees F since pre-industrial times, Jacobson says. Reducing permanent deforestation, especially in tropical regions of Africa and South America, would be the most effective means of reducing the effects of biomass burning.

... "With this information, policymakers are on firmer ground when they consider control of biomass burning," he says. "Such control is also beneficial from a public health point of view, since the particles from biomass burning are health hazards."

I think this article draws the wrong conclusion from the finding about the impact of biomass burning, lending support to the longstanding demonization of all fire. Widespread permanent deforestation is problematic (for climatic and other reasons), but ceasing to burn is not the only solution -- in many cases, enabling regrowth is a better policy (a la a swidden system). Certain forms of burning are extremely beneficial to most ecological and agricultural systems, and so restricting them in order to shave .2 degrees off the climate is likely to be a net loss from both environmental and human wellbeing standpoints.

What we need is better discrimination between good and bad fires. Wildfires in tropical rainforests provoked by irresponsible logging practices are bad, contributing to global warming without any offsetting benefits (except perhaps to the logging companies' bottom lines). Pasture-improvement fires in the Sahel -- such as those highlighted in the illustration accompanying the above article -- are sustainable and useful.

Even the article recognizes that biomass burning contributes only 7-10 percent as much greenhouse gas as fossil fuel burning. It's fossil fuels -- which introduce huge formerly-sequestered masses of carbon into the atmosphere -- that we really need to focus our attention on.


Top-Down Organizations And Their Blogs

In addition to "can men be feminists," there's been a second big conversation going around the feminist blogosphere. This one is about reactions to a post by Matt Stoller revisiting the question of "where are all the women bloggers?"* After observing the last few go-arounds on this question, I know better than to get involved. But my interest was piqued by the fact that he drew a parallel to environmentalist blogs:

That said, there's a top-down style to the feminist movement that leaves little room for flat hierarchies that blogging needs to flourish. This is a cultural issue, and can be reflected in a lot of the strategic missteps of these groups. It's very similar to the lack of blogs in the environmental movement, which is also somewhat identity-oriented, top-down, and reactionary. This is not a slight to these organizations - there are very good reasons why message control was critical and direct mail was a lifeblood, but the era of the atomized organization is coming to and end. And these groups know it, and are changing already. Still, the residual culture is still antithetical to blogging.

Based on my admittedly unsystematic knowledge of the blogosphere, Stoller is simply wrong about the health of the feminist blogosphere. Yet he's right to point out that the environmentalist blogosphere is relatively anemic. There are environmentalist blogs out there, but they don't form the same kind of community with the same kind of cross-blog discussion that you see in the feminist blogosphere or the "partisan talking points about the latest CNN headlines" blogosphere**,***. Stoller is also right that the major environmental organizations are hierarchical and top-down.

But I don't think the latter explains the former. Consider the case of the CNN-headlines blogosphere, which is the standard for comparison in Stoller's post. Where the feminist blogosphere has NOW and Planned Parenthood and the environmentalist blogosphere has the NRDC and the Sierra Club, the CNN-headlines blogosphere has the Republican and Democratic Parties. Now, short of the Roman Catholic Church, I have trouble thinking of an organization more top-down than the major parties. If having top-down offline organizations is a barrier to a vibrant blogosphere, Kos would have been DOA.

But in the case of the major parties and their supporters in the CNN-headlines blogs, having top-down offline organizations was a factor encouraging the growth of the blogosphere. Top-down organizations tend to stifle the formation of social capital -- the social networks of trust that help society function. It doesn't really connect me to anyone else to write a check to the Kerry of Hoeffel campaign. I don't have the feeling that anyone that matters really hears what I think, or even knows who I am. That deficit of social capital has become a festering sore in American democracy. What we saw very acutely with the Dean campaign was the way that blogging can help to fill that gap. A bottom-up network of people built itself, energized by the idea of having an alternative forum to the old party hierarchy. I have no idea whether the feeling of being just a number on NOW's mailing list has done anything to inspire the feminist blogosphere -- indeed, I know next to nothing about the institutional affiliations of the feminist blogs I read -- but the example of the CNN-headlines blogosphere should be enough to falsify Stoller's contention.

So the management style of the Sierra Club is not the problem. Unfortunately, I don't know what is -- I'm hoping for "you just weren't looking hard enough."

*Answer: Not in the "Advisory Committee" section of my blogroll -- I was actually a bit surprised when I counted it up, since for whatever reason my much-larger "Favorites" list on my computer is much better gender-balanced.

**I'd be thrilled if someone can prove me wrong on this.

***I forget where I heard the "CNN headlines" characterization -- I think one of the feminsts discussing Stoller's post -- but it's an apt one, and helps get away from treating people like Kevin Drum and Glenn Reynolds as if they're the archetype of "political" blogging.

Male Feminists And Straight LGBTrightsists

There's been a bunch of talk recently about the longstanding question of whether men can be feminists. The consensus, among both female and male bloggers, seems to be "no." They have some weighty arguments behind them. A couple years ago, when I first really engaged with feminism as such, I came across such arguments early enough that I never made the mistake of trying to label myself a feminist -- or of labeling myself "not a feminist," since the latter would require the same problematic declaration by a man of what feminism is or should be. Given the dispute among feminists about the nature of their own movement, agnosticism seems to be the only consistent choice for a man.

But it has occurred to me recently that I never extended that careful agnosticism to other issues of identity politics. Most notably, I never really questioned the legitimacy of being so outspoken (in print, at least) about gay rights despite being as heterosexual as they come. If I knew of a word parallel to "feminist" for this issue, I would have gladly applied it to myself. But really, who am I to make declarations about the struggles of a group I'm not part of? If anything, we in the dominant group need to be even more careful about appropriating voice and power with respect to LGBT people than women, since LGBTs suffer from a numerical disadvantage (they're less than 10% of the population, while women are half).

There's always what we might call the ampersand clause -- it's quite possible that, if I didn't say certain things about LGBT rights, my readers would never hear them. But even if everything I said was exactly what a gay version of me would say, there's more to it than simply getting the ideas out there to be considered on their own merits. The point of the "men can't be feminists" argument is that, independent of the message, oppressed groups need to be able to speak for themselves. It's problematic for me to get in the habit of pontificating about this issue, and for my readers to get in the habit of listening to a straight guy tell them about LGBT rights.

Then there's the About page clause. Under the "about" link above, I state that my purpose here is not so much pontification -- declaring "this is how it is, and you'd better agree with me" -- but a sort of public brainstorming. (Indeed, this very post skirts being self-contradictory if it's taken as pontification, for the same reason that declaring myself not a feminist would be.) Public brainstorming is about getting my own thoughts in order, so it's not as problematic as far as trying to claim control of the debate over LGBT issues. But of course my motives are not always so pure, particularly on an issue like this where I feel so strongly (I'd be far more likely to make a tentative musing on, say, tax policy, where my voice isn't confronted with any identity issues). And we have to keep in mind not only how we mean something, but how it's likely to be read. The dominant type of post for "political" blogs like mine is one of pontification, so readers are likely to take my writing that way. And the fact that I'm a straight white middle-class male doesn't help, as society is used to treating us as authority figures.

I guess it's appropriate that I don't really have a conclusion here. This is just something that's been on my mind, and as the About page says, it can be helpful for me to write it down.