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One More Hobbit Note

The Times may have chosen a skull photo for its Homo floresiensis story, but amazingly it uses "Man" to refer to humanity.

The article goes on to speculate a lot about whether Homo floresiensis and other as-yet-undiscovered small human species could be the inspiration for legends about elves, dwarves, leprechauns, etc. I'm skeptical of that, except in certain very local situations. For starters, I'm skeptical that there were too many diminutive human species in other parts of the world, but nearly every culture has stories about little people. Furthermore, Occam's razor suggests that the variation in heights among Homo sapiens should be plenty to inspire the idea of even smaller creatures (not to mention that it's beyond the realm of possibility to find a species of Homo the size of a brownie or leprechaun, so we know there's at least some extrapolation going on in myth-making). To really have a basis for saying that Homo floresiensis was the inspiration for "little people" legends, there would have to be more parallels between the two than just their stature and the fact that they live in remote places.


Dead Wood

Life-giving Dead Wood "At Risk"

Many forest species are in deep trouble because of the removal of the dead and dying trees they need, campaigners say.
WWF, the global environment group, says insects, plants, birds and mammals are all suffering because of an increasing tendency to remove decaying timber.

It says old and dead trees mean forests are often in much better shape and more able to resist pests and other perils.

... A WWF report, Deadwood - Living Forests, says a third of forest-dwelling species rely on dead or dying trees, logs, and branches for their survival.

-- via SciTech Daily Review

This is among the reasons to be leery of post-wildfire logging. It's true that areas that have recently burned are often especially fire-prone. Not all biomass in an area is actually available as fuel, due to moisture or size. But a fire passing through can make available to the next fire what it leaves behind, by killing and drying the snags. So it seems logical to want to remove them. But a just-burned ecosystem is at its most vulnerable (the α phase of the adaptive cycle), so intrusions can easily cause damage -- for example, by provoking erosion. The presence of dead wood can be critical for the recovery and maintenance of some species (after all, they've evolved for thousands of years with no high-tech logging to take away the snags).


It's Thursday, And You Know What That Means

I'm not real happy with the quality of the drawing on either of my comics for this week, particularly the one that goes with the column. My column -- the last thing I'll have to write about this election for the Scarlet -- goes by the long but accurate title Candidates Get Real About Terrorism, Get Blasted By Critics.

Hobbit Update

The New York Times did a better job with the Homo floresiensis story, using the side-by-side skulls photo for the front page and drawing females for both the "hobbit" and the normal human in the graphic on the jump. I do have one small nit to pick, though. The story says "They were a downsized version of Homo erectus, the eastern cousin of the Neanderthals of Europe." From what I understand, Neanderthals are more closely related to modern humans than to Homo erectus -- some people even classify them as a subspecies of Homo sapiens.


Hobbit Women

"Hobbit" Discovered: Tiny Human Ancestor Found In Asia

Scientists have found fossil skeletons of a hobbit-like species of human that grew no larger than a three-year-old modern child. The tiny humans, who had skulls about the size of grapefruits, lived with pygmy elephants and Komodo dragons on a remote island in Indonesia as recently as 13,000 years ago.

Australian and Indonesian researchers discovered bones of the miniature humans in a cave on Flores, an island midway between Asia and Australia.

Scientists have determined that the first skeleton they found belongs to a species of human completely new to science. Named Homo floresiensis, after the island on which it was found, the tiny human has also been dubbed by dig workers as the "hobbit," after the tiny creatures from the Lord of the Rings books.

This is pretty neat (though I'm disappointed that they didn't go all the way and name it Homo hobbitus or Homo Tolkieni). But I find it odd that, while the stories in National Geographic (above) as well as the Sydney Morning Herald focus on the original female skeleton, and talk about H. floresiensis as "she", both sites used an illustration of a male "hobbit." I don't know if an illustration was made of a female, but there are at least photos of the skull (next to a H. sapiens skull, thus bringing out the "whoa, they're tiny" angle) available. Count this as another data point in the bias toward illustrating ancient homonids as male.

Recycling Buildings

Demolished Buildings Getting A New Story

... Officials at PNC Financial Services, for example, plan to recycle more than 70 percent of the downtown Pittsburgh building they recently began deconstructing, a trend being seen at more demolition sites nationwide.

... "Rather than knocking it down and carting it off to a landfill, if you deconstruct a building and reuse its parts elsewhere, you're saving labor, materials," said Alan Traugott, a founding member of the US Green Building Council.

"You are trying to avoid going for new virgin materials and all the embodied energy and associated environmental impact that reflects," he said.

The practice has become more common, Traugott said, as a distribution network for used building materials has sprung up. Pittsburgh-based Construction Junction, a nonprofit retail store for used and surplus building materials, saves thousands of doors, windows, and cabinets for reuse every year, according to its website.

This is a nice bit of quiet environmental progress. What's especially interesting is that construction material recycling has an array of non-environmental savings. I wonder how much those factors alone are sufficient to push companies toward more recycling, and how much the environmental concern is necessary either to sustain the practice or just to jolt them out of their inertia. I would suspect that the initial development of the distribution network -- which has some big upfront costs and risks -- required a bit of idealism.


Bush Sox

Everybody's dying to make analogies between the World Series and the presidential election. Usually they pick a Disney storyline in which the big money and historic dominance of the Yankees/Republicans is defeated by the scrappy and good-hearted Red Sox/Democrats. But I think there may be room for the reverse analogy. If Bush wins the election, he will be like the Sox.

Whoa, hey, where are you taking me? Aaaaah ....

UPDATE: OK, now that I've fled to my secret bunker far from Massachusetts, I can explain the analogy. In the first two games of the Series, the Sox made eight errors and yet still managed to win both times. Similarly, if Bush wins it will be despite a series of errors -- on Iraq, homeland security, the budget, etc. -- that ought to have handed this election to Kerry.



Today my absentee ballot went in the mail. The big races were easy -- John Kerry for President and Joe Hoeffel for Senate. My Representative is a Democrat and his only opponent was from the Constitution Party, so that was a no-brainer as well. The state government races were trickier. The Attorney General race looked close, so I stuck with the Democrat. For Auditor General and Treasurer, I could find so little information to go on that I figured I might as well vote Green. For State Senate, I actually voted for the Republican. I was influenced by the Morning Call's praise of his environmental record, and the Democrat's pro-life comments (I don't take a stance on abortion, but given the small amount of material I had to work with, I took his comments as signalling a larger conservative outlook).

My ballot stands as another data point for the argument that voting is as much about expressing your ideals as it is about getting your preferred policies enacted. Pragmatically speaking, I ought to have voted for the Democrat in every race. But I hate to think of myself as a straight-ticket voter, so I made a point of finding some races where I could support another party.


Science In A Simulation

Fantastic Planet links to this article suggesting that we may all be living in a simulation being run by computers of the future with infinite computing ability. Prof. David Deutsche is concerned about what that prospect means for science:

From the point of view of science it's a catastrophic idea, the purpose of science is to understand reality. If we're living in a virtual reality we are forever barred from understanding nature.

I think Deutsche is making a mistake in assuming that the only worthy task for science is to understand the deep nature of the "real reality" in which the computer is simulating us. But I think we need to ask why science is concerned with understanding reality. I think the answer is because we have to interact with reality -- quarks and rocks and plants affect our lives in some fashion. If we're in a simulator, then the "virtual" reality around us is as real as anything can be for us. It's what affects our lives. So as long as the outside reality of the computer's world doesn't affect us, it's irrelevant. And if it does affect us, then the barrier has opened a bit and we have an opportunity to learn about it.

Selfish Firefighters

Ever wonder what the Objectivist take on wildfires was?


Scarlet Goodness

Hey, for once I have my Scarlet stuff ready to post right away. And my comic was round, so it won't distort the size of the columns for those of us with small screens.

My column and its comic aren't the most creative things in the world, but I was short of ideas. Or rather, I was short of ideas that didn't wind up echoing things from my advisor's political pontification from last week. The underlying theme -- that voting is an expression of the voter's ideals more than a calculated attempt to get his or her preferred set of policies enacted -- is one I want to come back to. But I didn't feel right writing it up so soon, since I know Billie reads the Scarlet.

Not Disenfranchised After All

At least not yet. My absentee ballot finally arrived in the mail. I seem to remember it coming quicker last time around, and I was all the way down in Australia then.

So now I can figure out what the candidates for state senate and auditor general and so forth stand for. I'm tempted to vote Green in some of the down-ticket races, for party-building reasons (if my parents are reading this, I can hear them gasping and saying "I knew he was a commie all this time!").


Reflexive Rankings

New Ranking System Based On Choice

... They lay out a system that ranks colleges on how they perform in one kind of head-to-head competition they contend says a lot about a school and can be measured: the battle for students who are admitted to several colleges.

... In their proposal, the economists sidestep the tricky question of what makes a good college. Instead, they assume top high school students know best, and they simply report their choices. Of the students admitted to, say, both Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania, how many choose each place? It is the same principle in the Zagat restaurant guides: Don't try to grade the food, just say whether a lot of people like it or not.

Using student preferences is a bit trickier than this article makes it out to be. One of the main functions served by college rankings is to act as input to the very choices that this new ranking is based on. That's why colleges care about their rank -- being ranked high influences incoming students and their parents, making good students more likely to enroll. A good set of indicators of the type U.S. News compiles has additional utility for prospectives as well. Now, this may not be the best way to pick a school (I looked at the rankings, but wound up going to the third-ranked of the four schools I got into). But it certainly adds a complication to the use of revealed preferences to create rankings.


Yes, Environmentalists Are Usually Liberals

Standoff In Congress Blocks Action On Environmental Bills

For another year, the confluence of partisan tensions, ideological differences, regional conflicts and interest group politics has blocked action on key environmental legislation including reducing air pollution and protecting endangered species, according to lawmakers, advocates and academics.

... "We are in a stalemate," said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (R-Calif.). He said that although he resents the executive branch's growing influence on environmental issues, "we've allowed it to happen. We never should have."

... Emblematic of the congressional standoff is the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where the top two senators have been unable to agree to meet in the same room to approve minor bills. The political and ideological chasm is evident in how they discuss environmental issues: Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) describes environmentalists this way: "They are really liberals. They're all strong pro-abortionists, they're all pro-gun control people, flying under the flag of environmentalism." Ranking minority member James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) says President Bush is "killing people" because he won't crack down on pollution from power plants.

Inhofe's statement is kind of bizarre. I have no reason to doubt that it's true -- despite the importance of the more conservative hunting and fishing crowd, a majority of environmentalists are pro-choice and anti-gun. I just don't understand the relevance of bringing that up. One could construct ostensibly environmental legislation that smuggles in other liberal causes -- say, a population-control measure that depends on improved access to abortion, or limits on certain guns due to concerns about overhunting or cruelty to prey. But those types of arguments don't apply to the major environmental issues currently on Congress's plate, like greenhouse gas emissions and Superfund. I can think of two explanations. One is that Inhofe is revealing how deep the antagonism between the sides is by attacking environmentalists, rather than environmentalism. The other is that he's trying to work in the new anti-Kerry talking point that we should be worried about liberal extremists.



Yeah, so that "back in full form by the end of the week" promise didn't pan out too well, did it? I'm handling the personal life stuff all right, it's just that it coincided with a period of lack of inspiration.


Obligatory Debate Thoughts

Kerry's handling of the environment question last time around may have been lame, but at least there was an environment question. This time, I figure if they could have gotten rid of all the tangenting into talking about foreign policy (hey guys, this was the domestic debate, remember?), there would have been room to squeeze in an exchange on, say, climate change.

This time around Bush seemed a bit exasperated -- he had a tone of "duh, don't you people understand?" He also seemed to be deliberately undermining the column I planned to write for the Scarlet next week (about how this campaign is being fought over competence rather than ideology). Out of nowhere he drops the "flip-flopper" charge, and starts trying to call Kerry a left-winger. There have been references to Kerry's liberalism all through the campaign, but it was never a major theme until tonight.

Technorati has inexplicably listed me as a conservative blog, so I guess I'll indulge in a little Kerry-bashing. Everybody's cheering Kerry's answer to the abortion question, since he gave the "I can't legislate my faith" line. But then -- trying to overcompensate for charges of insufficient religiosity -- he went and contradicted himself by saying that his faith motivates him to fight for other causes like reducing poverty. Why is it that religious beliefs about poverty are fair game for policymaking, but not religious beliefs about abortion? Overall Kerry seems unduly defensive -- worried about being painted as not religious enough, too pro-choice, willing to let the French overrule America. Bush, on the other hand, makes no bones about being very religious, very pro-life, and very unilateralist.


Chimps Are Smarter Than You Think

Chimps Shown Using Not Just A Tool But A "Tool Kit"

... The new video cameras revealed chimps using one short stick to penetrate the aboveground mounds and then a "fishing probe" to extract the termites.

For subterranean nests the chimps use their feet to force a larger "puncturing stick" into the earth, drilling holes into termite chambers, and then a separate fishing probe to harvest the insects. Often the chimps modified the fishing probe, pulling it through their teeth to fray the end like a paintbrush. The frayed edge was better for collecting the insects.

... The study reinforces the notion that tool use began long before humans walked the planet. Humans, chimps, and orangutans all used wood and bone tools, suggesting that tool use originated with a common ancestor more than 12 million years ago, Fuentes said.

I'm just generally fascinated with stories documenting instances of surprising intelligence among animals (though unfortunately a conflict between my wireless card and my sound card prevents me from watching the videos). The line marking humans off from animals gets blurrier every year. I wonder, though, about the assumption that commonalities in behavior can be chalked up to common heritage. Certainly humans and chimps share the genes that give us the capacity for complex tool use. But after reading about how the chimps interacted with the camera, I'm intrigued by the possibility that somewhere along the line, the chimps picked up some ideas from watching the local humans -- a cultural connection, rather than an inherited one.


Light Posting

There's been a bunch of personal life turmoil going on that has made me less inclined to post much over the last few days. It may be another few days until I'm fully recovered from the less-than-ideal denouement and back up to full form here.


Whomp Chop Whomp Chop

After all the creativity that attended Howard Dean's scream, I'm sorely disappointed that the internets have failed to produce a "need some wood" remix.


Scarlet Column -- Finally!

Here it is, with its comic. I don't really understand the headline they put on it, though.


Want Some Wood?

My biggest disappointment with the debate was the environment question. Bush said about what I would expect him to say -- he played up his one real accomplishment (off-road diesel standards) and his other supposed accomplishments (like Healthy Forests). He presented himself as an environmentalist and avoided criticizing environmental "extremists." Saying he was a "good steward of the land" was audaciously blunt.

Kerry's response should have been a slam dunk. But what does he do? After shoehorning in a prefabricated Red Sox joke, he spends the first half of his time making some strange point about labels. I think both campaigns are a bit confused that the issue of the Democrat being a liberal extremist hasn't been significant in this race. Bush threw out the "most liberal Senator" bit, but it was disconnected from his overall message. Kerry's "labels don't mean anything" line would be good in most campaigns, where the candidates are trying to paint each other as being too radical, but this race has been more about competence than ideology. Bush is a liar, not a right-winger. Kerry is a flip-flopper, not a left-winger.

When he finally got around to discussing the environment, Kerry was uncharacteristically inarticulate (similar to how he was really groping for words on stem cells, which should have been another slam dunk issue). He totally botched the explanation of how "Clear Skies" is Orwellian. There were some good points under what he said -- the contrast between Clear Skies and leaving the Clean Air Act alone, the resignations at the EPA, and Bush's poor record on climate change. If he hadn't veered off into the "labels" discussion, he could have effectively made an issue of the way Bush's environmental policies seem to turn into gifts for corporations. But he couldn't put his points together in a way that was forceful and comprehensible to voters unfamiliar with the issues.


I'm a little late getting around to posting a link to this -- luckily none of my readers are depending on me for remote sensing news, since the deadline to send in answers to the questions has passed. It concerns me that they seem to be seriously considering the possibility of a gap in Landsat data. On the other hand, they raise the possibility of 10 meter resolution data, which would be great. If I'm remembering correctly, the lowest resolution satellite data we can get now is 20 meters (from SPOT), so for any applications that require finer detail, we have to rely on less consistent non-satellite sources like aerial photos.

Scarlet This Week

Here's ye olde stand-alone comic:

Ye olde article will be coming later, as I don't have an electronic version around at the moment.

Kerry Flops

Kerry And Religion: Pressure Builds For Public Discussions

"I think you have to draw that line, so the answer is yes, they reached beyond that line, and in my judgment they're trying to exploit certain issues," he said. "The president and I have the same position, fundamentally, on gay marriage. We do. Same position. But they're out there misleading people and exploiting it."

-- via Balloon Juice

John, you're making me put an awful lot of weight on the environment in order to justify voting for you. It's amazing to me that we can have a Presidential campaign in which neither candidate really cares at all about gay rights. For all Bush's purported fundamentalism, I don't think it really matters to him what homosexuals do. The marriage amendment was never a crusade for him the way tax cuts or attacking Iraq were. He just pulls out the idea of banning same-sex marriage when he feels the need to whip up some energy from the cultural right. And here Kerry displays his lack of principle again. When he's talking to a gay-friendly audience, he makes it out as if he's a big supporter of gay rights. But when it's framed in terms of religion, his position is "me too."

Sun Sneeze

I'm not sure we should trust someone who admits to being skeptical of the very idea of sun sneezing to explain why the sun makes others of us sneeze. I can't dispute his explanation for why it happens, but I have to dispute his conclusion that it serves no purpose. We've all had those times when we felt like we really wanted to sneeze (from a cold, for example) but it just wouldn't happen. I can sometimes solve this problem by staring into a bright light, thereby using the photic reflex to finish the job that the regular sneeze reflex wasn't up to.


Draft Shenanigans

I'm not sure whether this is funny or just sad. Democrat Charles Rangel introduced a bill reinstating the draft as an anti-war publicity stunt. The presence of this bill has fed paranoid rumors about the return of the draft, which have hurt the Republicans. So the GOP decided to settle the issue by bringing the bill to the floor and voting it down. And yet Rangel has the gall to say:

"It is so darn hypocritical for the Congress to come forward and put a [controversial] bill on the suspension calendar," Rangel said. "It's a shame that ... this legislative body is being used as a political tool on the eve of elections."

The "suspension calendar" is a part of Congress's agenda where they vote on uncontroversial issues like renaming post offices. The draft bill seems to fit fine there, since it failed 402 to 2, including a "no" vote by Rangel himself. If you make a point of voting against your own bill, it's pretty clear that somebody is using the legislature as a political tool, but I don't think it's the GOP.


Rock Eating Surrender Monkey vs. Sausage-Eating Giant Monkey

Well, it wasn't quite as bad as this.

I should have saved some of my cynicism for this debate. Both men had a chronic inability to answer the question they were asked (no wonder the moderator got confused about whether Edwards had another rebuttal). Neither really distinguished himself, but I have to give the win to Cheney. Edwards seemed to recognize that he was coming up empty, as every statement he made referenced Thursday's debate -- trying to mooch off of that victory to prop himself up. On the other hand, Cheney was calm and used a lot of specifics.

Debate Expectations

It's interesting how the left's whole expectations management game has evaporated in the euphoria over John Kerry's performance at last week's debate. Before the first presidential debate, there was a self-conscious effort to play down Kerry's debate skills and emphasize the idea that as long as Bush didn't drool on himself, he would be declared the winner. But Democrats have been salivating for an Edwards-Cheney debate for months -- the expectation that John would crush Dick like a bug was a major driving force behind the push for a Kerry/Edwards ticket. They're treating the VP debate like a Star Wars movie -- it will be an exciting ride, but we know the good guys will have a spectacular triumph.

On the one hand, it's a refreshingly honest phenomenon. On the other hand, I think many people are so caught up in it that they'll be sorely disappointed. I expect Edwards to win on points, of course -- but that's obvious, since I already agree more with his campaign's positions. But Cheney is no snarling troglodyte. Just think back to the 2000 VP debate, when the CW was "this debate was so productive and civil. Why can't both of these men be at the top of their respective tickets?"


Mighty Mouse

The Mouse That Saved A Beach House

The endangered Alabama beach mouse, long the bane of beachfront developers, may have turned out to be their best friend.

Major developments on the Fort Morgan peninsula were spared the waves that washed through other beachfront properties. Developers there were compelled to build farther back from the surf and to take steps to preserve mouse habitat in the primary and secondary dunes.

"Thank God for the beach mouse," said University of South Alabama civil engineering Professor Scott Douglass. "The developers hate that thing but it saved their developments."

-- via Daily Scoop

This is a neat story, and it lends some support to my view on endangered species protection. Species protection is primarily valuable not because of the inherent worth of the species itself, but because it serves as a useful proxy for maintaining useful ecosystem functioning.


More On NMAI

I mentioned before that I'd had trouble finding articles critical of the National Museum of the American Indian to respond to. Now Timothy Sandefur has gone one up on the strange claims I linked to before, and actually offered the "NMAI displays should be vetted by science" criticism that I responded to at the end of my article (spinning off this provocatively titled article).

Understanding NMAI I think requires a bit of a frame shift. What you learn there is not "what are Indians like" -- facts about a detached object of study. What you learn is "what is being Indian like" -- a window into the experience of a group of people. (The latter can give you a glimpse of the former, of course.) That's captured in the fact that the displays don't reach into the deep past -- there are no exhibits on the various "moundbuilder" cultures, for example, since their connection to modern-day tribes is disputed even among Indians. From what I've read, it's a perspective that comes across as much in the presentation style as in the content of the exhibits.

My sense is that the museum's attitude toward science is at its nadir. NMAI symbolizes a triumph by Indians against the often-exploitative practices of archaeology and anthropology, a reclaiming of their right to tell their own story. So it's opening with a bold statement of the uniqueness of Indian experiences, focusing on the things that are untold by mainstream history and anthropology. But the fact is that many Indians are sympathetic toward science and the scientific account of their present and past. To stay true to its mission of representing the experience of all the continent's Natives, the museum will have to give that perspective a place. What's more, allowing the museum to present whatever unscientific perpsective it wants seems likely to increase the long-run rapprochement between Native cosmologies and science. One of the most consistent findings of the post-NAGPRA era is that when anthropologists give Indians the space and power to present their perspective, they are in turn more open-minded toward science. On the other hand, demanding that the superiority of science be recognized leads Indians to dig in their heels. Rejection of science can serve as an ideological defense mechanism on the part of those who feel they're victims of injustice.


Role Models And Privileged Pride

Hugo Schwyzer is once again venturing back into the question of "do men need male role models?" I've written before about my take on the issue, which boils down to agreeing that there's utility in a role model who has shared your experiences, but putting much stronger emphasis on the diversity of experiences within the genders, the blurriness of the line between them, and the importance of other axes of difference.

This time around, Schwyzer uses the example of male aggressiveness. He argues that men are, on average, more aggressive than women, and so women can't show men how to channel their testosterone. In comments, I suggest that we should be more specific and say that aggressive people need agressive role models, and that most people in both groups would happen to be men. Certainly I can name a number of women who would be much better role models for a testosterone-crazed boy than I would. (This is similar to my response to the argument that since women are usually too weak to be good soldiers, no women should be allowed on the front lines.)

But after I posted that, an idea occurred to me. I think there's a sense in which I agree with Schwyzer's conclusion about the need for same-sex (and same-race, and same-religion, etc.) role models. But it's built on a quite different foundation. Schwyzer's explanations rest on the idea of internal differences. There's something going on inside men's minds and bodies, whether due to Y chromosomes or early-childhood socialization, that makes men and women profoundly different. But I would say that men's greatest need for male role models (and likewise for any other socially marked group) arises from external conditions.

To me, being a man is not mostly about having facial hair or being better at math. It's about finding myself treated a certain way by the world around me. Society extends a certain set of privileges, expectations, opportunities, and responsibilities to me on the basis of my gender. It's a basically existential proposition -- we find ourselves thrown into gendered/racialized/etc. social positions, and we have to decide, with guidance from others, how to deal with it. Becoming a "good man" on top of being a "good person" is mostly about learning to deal in a constructive and progressive way with all of this. Women, not being able to directly experience a life of male privilege, cannot be ideal role models for men in this respect (though I would add that 1. there's value in the outsider's perspective, 2. some elements of the female situation resemble the male and hence can be modeled across gender lines, and 3. insofar as various forms of privilege have similarities, women who are white or rich or what have you can be role models by analogy).

The seed of this perspective was laid back when OSP had its brouhaha over the question of racial pride. It seemed to me that there was a role for something that we could call "white pride." It would be a pride in, and a desire to emulate, whites who had done the right thing with their whiteness. Abraham Lincoln was the example that sprang to mind (though I'm sure if I knew more about the history of racial issues I could think of someone better). He experienced privilege -- no black person could have won the presidency in the 1860s -- but he worked to undercut it by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. (Whether this is a historically accurate picture -- and I'm cynical enough to suspect Lincoln's motives were not nearly as pure as they're made out to be -- is beside the point. The point is the archetype that the legend of Lincoln presents us with.)


Logging As Fireproofing

Forest Service Sued Over Sierra Logging Plan

Environmental groups sued the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday, claiming a 6-year-old federal law aimed at preventing wildfires has degenerated into a backdoor effort to eventually increase logging across 340,000 acres of national forests in the Sierra Nevada.

... The environmental groups say the plan allows the cutting of bigger, more fire-resistant trees in an area already cleared of smaller, more flammable material. They say it also would destroy 4,280 acres of old trees around 16 California spotted owl nesting sites.

Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes said the 6,400 acres are unique, because the agreement “specifically requires us to promote the economic health of that area, and part of that is helping the local timber industry.”

It would be nice if they told us the name of the law, since it looks like it has the potential to be used in the same way as Healthy Forests.

Reduce Vote Or Die!

Scott Wells points out WordCount, a neat toy that shows English words in the order of frequency of use. I think the structure of our language is trying to send us a message, though. Consider these two snippets of the list:

possibility, conservative, reduce, vote

historical, roman, liberal, die

Hmmm ...


I'm feeling positive about politics for the first time in months. And it's because of last night's presidential debate, of all things.

I had expected the debate to be a total farce, and to a certain extent it was -- but not as much as I expected. I hadn't planned on watching it, but I came home and Zach had it on, and I got sucked in. Both candidates had their canned talking points, but there seemed to be a bit of substance to them, and they tried to respond to each other and to the moderator.

Kerry missed some chances to defend himself -- I would have liked to hear a response on the thing about criticizing Allawi, and about the International Criminal Court. Hammering the fact that North Korea got nukes under Bush's watch was good, but he failed to really make the case for bilateral rather than multilateral talks, which he especially needed to do because it contrasts with his emphasis on internationalization of Iraq. But Bush flubbed as well. Kerry handed him a golden opportunity with the "global test" line, and I'm sure we'll hear the conservative pundits harping on it, since it plays right into the "Kerry wants the US to be at the mercy of the UN" storyline. Bush repeated the quote, as if he knew it was an opening, but he couldn't figure out where to go with it. He also seemed unable to really respond to the specifics of Kerry's current view on Iraq, because he was so wrapped up in repeating (without the kind of specific examples that could have embarrassed Kerry) the flip-flopper talking point. I also like that the moderator kept saying "OK, let me get this straight. You both have the same position on this issue?"

The media seems to agree with me that Kerry won both on style and substance. If his campaign can capitalize on this, it might start to pull me out of this funk.