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I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling for the next week, so posting is unlikely.

Cultural Theory Reinvented

Someone needs to introduce Virginia Postrel to Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky*. It appears that she's reinventing their wheel. Here's Sebastian Holsclaw's nutshell summary of Postrel's book The Future and Its Enemies:

Virginia has a key idea which clarifies some of the difficulties we have in analyzing polticial cleavages along a left-right split. She speaks of dynamists and stasists. In her description, dynamists are willing to embrace the messy nature of unguided social and technological change, while stasists do not. In her terminology stasists come in two major varieties--reactionaries and technocrats. Reactionaries wish to control change by reversing it and returning to a previous (and quite possibly mythical) golden age. Patrick Buchanan is used throughout the book to give examples of reactionary thinking. I think the choice of 'stasist' is revealed to be a bit poor when Virginia goes on to describe technocrats. Technocrats attempt to tightly control change, often with the idea that an elite number of top-down experts can efficiently control and direct the important changes in society.

My own summary of Cultural Theory is here. Comparing the two, it's pretty simple to map them onto each other -- dynamists are individualists, reactionaries are egalitarians, and technocrats are hierarchists. Like the early formulations of Cultural Theory, Postrel's scheme leaves out the fatalists. She also sees something like the "group" dimension -- expressed as an attitude toward change -- as more fundamental, since she groups reactionaries and technocrats as subspecies of stasists. She sees this stasist axis as dominant in modern America, while Cultural Theory at least initially claimed that individualist-hierarchist was the dominant coalition and that egalitarians could only maintain themselves as outsiders.

It's interesting, in a meta-theoretical way, that Postrel and Douglas/Wildavsky would both come up with such similar theories. Postrel is an unabashed dynamist, while Wildavsky was clearly an individualist (Douglas I'm not entirely sure about). So perhaps there's something in the dynamist/individualist outlook that makes this theory appealing. There's also another parallel between Postrel's formulation and the early version of Cultural Theory. Postrel is bent on advocating the dynamist view. Wildavsky started out as a strong partisan for the individualist cause -- he wrote one book making many of the same arguments that Holsclaw quotes from Postrel, and his initial formulation of Cultural Theory was couched as an attack on egalitarianism (which at the time he called by the more disparaging name "sectarianism"). Later on, though, Cultural Theory adopted a more pluralistic outlook arguing that some balance between the four worldviews is necessary. There's a hint of this in Postrel's admission that for a dynamist system to flourish, there needs to be an underlying stasis of basic rules.

*It's possible that she's quite familiar with them and just decided for whatever reason that she wanted to make up new terminology. Bear in mind that the sum of my knowledge of her theory comes from the Sebastian Holsclaw post I'm referring to.


Assisted Suicide

I don't think I've ever seen anything in Spiked that I agreed with (though I don't read it regularly). The latest article to come to my attention is a list of arguments against assisted suicide. The author even flubs what should be an easy refutation -- it should be enough to point out that pro-suiciders' claims that classical societies allowed suicide is irrelevant to the question of whether we should allow it. Instead, he decides to go the Godwin route by pointing out that the only historic society that allowed suicide was Nazi Germany.

One of his better -- though still, I think, wrong -- points is to argue that allowing assisted suicide* will lead to a devaluing of human life, particularly the life of people with terminal illnesses or severe disabilities:

Even Mary Warnock pointed out, what sort of society tells its members that it values their right to starve to death, especially if they are a burden on society? Surely a mark of civilisation would be to offer people in despair some sort of argument that their lives are valuable, that they do have some worth. Instead, right-to-die advocates project their own gloomy estimation of the worth of human life on to these poor souls.

In support of this sentiment he offers the story of a disabled woman whose doctors assumed incorrectly that she wouldn't want to be resuscitated. I recognize that there's a danger of slippage between "it can be rational to want to die, for example in X situation" and "people in X situation ought to die." But we must remember that the former does not logically entail the latter. Indeed, to the extent that this slippage occurs, it undermines the basis of the pro-suicide argument. The pro-suicide argument is about the autonomy of the patient to define what constitutes a meaningful and worthwhile life for him or herself. Assuming that a person ought to want to die takes that autonomy away.

The article's point of view is that we ought to take that autonomy away in the other direction: "Every death is ugly and undignified, as life is wrenched away, leaving an inanimate, waxen corpse." In other words, the opinion of the patient about what his or her life is worth is irrelevant, because we know a priori that every additional breath is infinitely valuable.

*The British bill he's responding to actually goes further, requiring doctors to assist the suicide of patients who request it. I'm uncertain at the moment whether that goes too far, but luckily the distinction doesn't bear on the arguments in this post.


Nativity Scenes

Ah, Christmastime. I just love the way that the cries about the persection of Christianity in the US get loudest at exactly the time that the nation is at its most overtly Christian. I guess some people get a taste of a national religion and are reminded of how much they like it.

I won't address the "happy holidays" outrage -- now that Mouse Words has weighed in, I have nothing to add. Slightly more significant is the "nativity scenes on public property" issue. Despite what you've heard about the allpervading hand of the ACLU, they're still pretty common -- I've seen plenty even in Massachusetts, the blue state par excellance.

Here's what I don't get about this insistence that nativity scenes be allowed on public property: it's not like there's a lack of places to put them. The US is a predominantly Christian country, so churches own large amounts of real estate in prominent locations in pretty much every town in the union. If you put a nativity scene there, everyone will see it. In fact, the ACLU would defend you if someone objected.

Given that, I find it hard to believe people who say that nativity scenes on public property aren't church-state entanglement, because church-state entanglement is the only thing a public-property nativity scene has to recommend it over a church-property nativity scene. For defenders of public nativity scences, it's not enough that individuals voluntarily come together to celebrate a holiday that has a shared significance for them. They want an official stamp of approval. They want something that says "we all must recognize the significance of this day."

The weakness of much of modern Christianity is illustrated not by the ACLU's attempts to hold the line between church and state, but by the hysterical backlash against them. It seems to express a fear that Christianity will not be able to hold its own in a voluntary and pluralistic world. I think (and hope) that this is true for some variants of the faith, but I also have confidence in the appeal of the core message and tradition to a substantial segment of the population. Just as one begins to wonder about homophobes who warn that if exciting gay sex is allowed nobody will want to have boring straight sex, one wonders about Christians who fear that everyone will leave the church in the absence of social and governmental pressure.


Wildfire Update

Wildfire committee Says Promises Not Kept

Three years after Western governors and the Bush administration agreed on a plan to reduce wildfire danger, money is still lacking and the partnership between the federal government and state and local agencies isn't working well.

A report by the Western Governors' Association advisory committee was sent to the secretaries of agriculture and interior Thursday outlining how the 10-year wildfire plan is going.

``The central message of the report is that the federal government talks the talk on collaboration, but doesn't walk the walk,'' said Niel Lawrence, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's forestry project and a member of the panel that wrote the report.

The plan, approved in 2001, called for improved fire prevention and suppression, fuels reduction, a long-term strategy for restoring wildlife habitat and community involvement.

While 75 percent of the plan's goals have been met or are close to it, emphasis on fuels reduction and fire prevention has come at the expense of restoration and getting help from communities, the report said.

I've been busy with non-blog things for the past week, and at the moment I'm too tired to say much, but I thought this story was worth noting.


The Argument From Design

Matthew Yglesias makes the same sort of reply to the argument from design that I made to the cosmological argument in the previous post -- simply proving that God did something in the distant past tells you nothing of much relevance to life today. Commenter Dan Duffy disagrees, claiming that the argument from design is at least able to refute nihilism:

While I can easily conceive of a universe without a Creator, my first argument is that such a universe would be nothing more than a meaningless (if fortuitous) accident. Accidents by definition have no meaning or purpose. Only a universe fashioned by a Creator with a particular purpose in mind has meaning. This is grand nihilism of an absurd universe that occurs unavoidably if there were no God. And yes, a Creator is necessary to give the universe meaning since a "meaningful accident" is an oxymoron.

I'll leave aside for the moment whether it's possible to have meaning in the absence of God. I don't think Duffy's reasoning for the presence of meaning in the presence of God works. It draws on a common fallacy that the meaning of something is determined by the intent of creating it. On the one hand, we see this in the claim that authorial intent is the arbiter of what a poem or story "really" means, and that anything else one might get out of it is somehow false or illusory. On the other hand, we see it in conservative arguments that modern marriage is bound by the purposes for which our ancestors originally created the institution.

(Note that Duffy's argument would not apply to the cosmological argument -- the argument from design is a subset of the cosmological argument that posits a specifically conscious and intentional first cause.)

I think one of the most wonderful things about our world is the way that existing objects and systems can be repurposed -- either blindly, as in the case of a leg evolving into a wing, or purposefully through the application of creativity. Indeed, I find the idea of a God who wants to see what free-willed beings make of his creation to be a much more appealing one than a God who demands strict adherence to his own vision.

One possible response is that "meaning" is some sort of objective fact that God created in the same way that he created matter and the physical constants. That would explain how we can be bound by God's intentions in creating the world. But the argument from design offers no support for the existence of objective meaning. It's perfectly consistent with the idea of a designer who subjectively attributes meaning in the way that humans do.

Supermarket Sin

Supermarkets Still Feel Pain Of Long Strike And Lockout

Nearly 10 months after the end of the bitter Southern California grocery strike and lockout, the three companies and the union that waged the longest labor standoff in U.S. supermarket history are still in turmoil.

Profits at Albertsons Inc., Safeway Inc.'s Vons and Pavilions stores and Kroger Co.'s Ralphs are being pinched by the price cuts they've made to woo shoppers alienated by the 4 1/2 -month dispute.

The stocks of all three companies have fallen since a new contract was signed in February.

The chains maintain that they'll rebound, largely because the two-tier contract allows them to give new hires significantly lower wages and benefits than veteran workers.

-- via Kevin Drum

I find the second paragraph encouraging. Consumers are apparently realizing that when they shop at a particular store they're buying not just Oreos and instant rice, but also a set of employment policies. Unfortunately, it looks like the stores are not getting the message -- in fact, they're trying to save themselves by digging in even deeper.


The Cosmological Argument

Abiola Lapite disputes the "cosmological argument" for the existence of God -- the claim that there must have been a first, uncaused, cause for the existence of the universe. Lapite's argument is that there's no reason to suppose that there must be a cause for the origin of the universe but that God needs no cause.

Another problem with the cosmological argument is that it doesn't prove very much. Even if we accept it as valid, all we know is that there was a first cause. The argument doesn't tell us what that cause was, whether it's still around, whether it ever caused anything else, whether it has intentions for humanity. Need the first cause even have been conscious of what it was doing? As an apologetic for a particular religious doctrine, or even for religion against atheism, the cosmological argument is exceptionally weak even if it's successful.


Site Maintenance

1. I've stepped down from Open Source Politics. I did so for two reasons: first, because I simply didn't have the time to write for both OSP and debitage. Second, OSP is being reformulated as more of an activism-centered site. There's nothing wrong with that focus, but it's not where my strengths as a blogger lie.

2. I'm adding a link to my wishlist to the sidebar. Note that this is not an attempt to get people to buy me things. I've been using the wishlist not so much as a wishlist per se, but as a record of all the books that people have recommended to me over the years. Since it's primarily for my own benefit, I remove books from it once I've read them. But I figured it couldn't hurt to share the aggregated wisdom of people whose opinions on reading material I find worth listening to. (There is a mix of actual wishlisting in there as well -- any item marked with a "1" is something that I actually want to own, as opposed to getting from the library.)


Cultural Theory And The American Parties

I haven't posted anything of substance for a while because I've been reading stuff for my dissertation. One major topic has been the cultural theory of risk, most famously championed by Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky. In brief, they propose that there are four "ways of life" or "cultural biases" that compete to run society their way. One of their examples is early American history, when (they say) an alliance between individualists and egalitarians during the Revolution gave way to an alliance between individualists and hierarchists when the egalitarian-inspired Articles of Confederation proved unworkable. So I've been thinking about how the proposed cultural biases would map onto modern American politics -- can we describe the Democrats and Republicans as coalitions of these biases?

First, a quick overview of the theory. Cultural theory proposes that there are two dimensions of social life: group and grid. Group refers to solidarity and communalism among people. Grid refers to restrictions imposed on a person's behavior. If each of those dimensions has a high and low manifestation, we get a typology of four biases: hierarchical (high group, high grid), egalitarian (high group, low grid), individualist (low group, low grid), and fatalist (low group, high grid).

Hierarchists prefer bureaucratic structures that define a place and a duty for each person. Individualists like the free-wheeling contracts of a market-based system. Egalitarians form close-knit consensus-based sects. Fatalists figure that nothing they do really matters and just hope for a lucky break. So which of these attitudes is found in each party?

Let's start with how each party would define itself. A typical Republican view, I think, would be that the GOP is composed of individualists -- self-made men and women who rise and fall by their personal merits in the free market -- and egalitarians -- close-knit religious communities. The Democrats, they would say, are the party of hierarchists -- those who want big government to solve our problems -- and fatalists -- welfare queens and others who have adopted a victim mentality and given up on bettering themselves.

Democrats, on the other hand, would arrange things somewhat differently. They would agree that free-market-loving individualists are part of the GOP, but they would say that their coalition partners are the hierarchists -- religious conservatives who want the government to impose tightly prescribed gender roles, religious observance, etc. The Democrats would see their own party as made up of civic-minded egalitarians, fighting on behalf of the great masses pushed into fatalism by the poverty and discrimination that individualists overlook. (Douglas and Wildavsky initially proposed that these diagonal coalitions were the most common and most stable).

But things are a bit more complex than that. Many conservatives would agree with the need for well-defined roles of the type that indicate hierarchical bias -- though they generally insist on framing their argument as if they were egalitarians (look, for example, at the attempts to claim that wives submitting to husbands are not in an unequal position). Republicans also often charge the Democrats with harboring radical egalitarians (the environmental movement) as well as radical individualists (the ACLU and sexual libertarians). The Democrats would lay claim to the latter group. They would also charge that the GOP has (unjustly) gained the support of many fatalists -- the famous poor whites duped into voting against their interests.

It seems, then, that in some way each bias can be found in each party. In part this is a result of each party wanting to frame itself in a similar way. Whatever one's actual disposition, everyone seems to want to say and think that they're egalitarian or individualist, because of the resonance those lines of thought have in the overall political culture. On the other hand, nobody wants to claim the mantle of hierarchy, even though both parties make extensive use of it.

Cultural theory dwells at length on the conflict between the four cultural biases. But this overlooks the extensive competition between factions within each bias. Just because two egalitarian groups both feel intre-group solidarity doesn't mean they'll make common cause with each other against the individualists and hierarchists. Similarly, there can be competing hierarchies whose hierarchization is based on different principles and goals. The split position of the individualists is the old libertarian dilemma -- disagreement over which ally will best serve individualist ends.


Good News From New Zealand

Civil Unions Bill Passed

The Civil Unions Bill has been passed by Parliament.

From April 26 next year couples can commit themselves to the new civil union.

Parliament voted 65-55 to pass the controversial legislation which has polarised opinion and split political parties.

-- via Hugo Schwyzer


Galt's Wildfire

I came across another Objectivist editorial about wildfires. The blaming of government regulation is to be expected. What wasn't expected was the description of firefighters as heroes. Firefighters hardly fit the Objectivist view of human merit. They're government employees, not entrepreneurs. They're unhestitatingly obedient to orders from their commanders, not independent people making use of their own reason. They're dedicated to serving the common good, not making a private profit. About the only similarity is aesthetic -- the strength, courage, and activeness of a firefighter evoke the Randian ideal of the powerful conqueror -- more so, even, than the nerds and schmoozers who are more likely to actually fit the criteria of an objectivist hero.


Climate Change And Fire Change

Climate Change Altering Fire Season

Fire seasons were changing, he [Rural Fire Service Commissioner Phil Koperberg] said, delivering a sobering assessment of the coming season. He likened conditions to those of 1994, when 800 fires ringed Sydney for three weeks after Christmas, killing four people, destroying 300 homes and reducing 800,000 hectares to ash.

... "Once upon a time fire seasons were October and November. The big-ticket fires, apart from Hobart in 1967 and Ash Wednesday in 1983, were all early.

"Twenty years ago November was the fire month and things would slow down by Christmas as the humid air came through. Now it's the other way around. If you take the drought out of the equation, where we were getting grass fires in July, then fire seasons begin to impact later.

"There is a fair chance that the whole season just shifts along, and the weather we normally get in November moves to January. The weather we get in January, we might get in March."

If Koperberg's observations are accurate, this could be very bad news. Late-season fires are typically more destructive and harder to control, because they can feed off the build-up of vegetation that grew during the summer. It also poses an ecological threat. Plants can be very sensitive to the way the seasonality of fires intersects with their seasonal reproductive cycle. It's too simple to say that later fires are bad or good for the ecology of NSW, because different plants have different optimal seasonalities. But it could definitely change the ecological balance, favoring a different mix of species.


Friends And Organs

Online Organ Linkups Spur Debate, Alarm

... Patients and [organ] donors are incredulous that doctors might refuse them simply because they met on a website. They point out that family members and friends are permitted to donate.

Doctors acknowledge that defining what is meant by friends can be difficult. For example, Dr. Douglas Hanto, chairman of the transplant surgeon society's ethics committee and chief of the division of transplantation at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says he would probably perform a transplant on a patient taking an organ donation from a member of his or her church, if they fit other medical criteria for donations. But if the patient approached him with a donor he met on the tennis court a few weeks ago? "Probably not," Hanto said.

... Critics have objected that public solicitation of organs is easier for those who have money or who are computer-savvy.

... "People who contact us say, if it weren't for Cynthia's story, they wouldn't have considered donation at all," said Irma Woodard, speaking on behalf of her niece, Cynthia Gallardo. "Everyone assumes we're taking from someone else, but the fact is that a lot of these people wouldn't donate if they didn't feel a personal connection."

I can understand the modernist viewpoint that underlies defense of the waiting list system. It's hard to argue that certain people deserve an organ more than others, and to the extent that they do (e.g. if they lost their liver due to irresponsible drinking), that desert doesn't align with differences in ability to locate a willing donor. The solution, then, is to create a universal and formally fair system to allocate organs. If people are less willing to donate to the waiting list than to a particular person they have some connection to, that's just a sign of moral weakness -- after all, saving a life is saving a life -- and a price we must be willing to pay to make the system fairer.

But allowing donations by family and close friends undermines the modernist argument. It seems bizarre that one would be allowed to donate a kidney to a stranger or to a parent, but not to an acquaintance. It may perhaps be justifiable as a compromise, since people affected by severe illness are notoriously unwilling to accept the dictates of a system that is unable to validate and respond to their personal anguish. But there's a real philosophical inconsistency.

The inequality argument raises some issues as well. In our current health care system, there are countless advantages that the rich can get. But economic inequality is not the only form of equality that's relevant to health care. Social inequality -- differences in the amount, breadth, and strength of one's social network -- can be critical as well. Social connections can facilitate finding treatment, as in the case of getting a friend to donate a kidney. They also provide emotional support to people dealing with illness or recovery. I would suspect that there are real benefits to both parties when the donor and recipient know each other and can share the experience, rather than simply interacting individually with a bureaucracy.

As it happens, economic inequality is relatively easy to deal with (at least from a technical standpoint). The government can give poor people vouchers for donation websites, or even set up its own free Social inequality is more difficult, because you can't give someone welfare friendships. However, the internet offers the promise of leveling the playing field somewhat. My own anecdotal experiece suggests that people who would otherwise have the thinnest social networks -- introverts, members of geographically dispersed subcultures, those who are stuck at home -- benefit disproportionately from the social networking that the internet makes possible.


Delawares Lose

Posting like a maniac today. I don't have time to comment on this now, but I thought I'd throw it out there since I wrote about this case when it was first filed:

Judge Rules Against Tribe On Claim That Could Have Led To Casino

An American Indian tribe that says it was swindled out of land in Pennsylvania by William Penn's son isn't legally entitled to get 315 acres of it back, even if its claims are true, a federal judge ruled.

The tribe filed its claim for the land near Easton as part of a plan to open a casino in Pennsylvania.

In an unusual opinion based on colonial-era records and legal standards, U.S. District Judge James McGirr Kelly ruled Wednesday that Thomas Penn had king-like powers that had been granted to his father, the state's founder, by the English crown. Whether he was a crook or not, Thomas Penn was free to take Indian land any way he saw fit.


Here we go with my last contributions to the Scarlet for the semester.

My column was a (not particularly cogent) restatement of the things I've already said here about the proposed North Woods National Park: Maine Debates Over North Woods. I think the comic turned out decently, though.

Bride Price

I thought I might be going a little over the top in my previous post about abstinence-only education when I described its take on gender roles as "feudal" -- after all, the stereotype they're promoting is all too common even today. But reading through the whole report (pdf) (via TAPPED), I see that I wasn't too far off the mark. At least one abstinence curriculum appears to endorse the idea that women are the property of their fathers and husbands:

In a discussion of wedding traditions, one curriculum writes: "Tell the class that the Bride price is actually an honor to the bride. It says she is valuable to the groom and he is willing to give something valuable for her."

The World Is Stupid

I don't know if it's just that I'm especially irritable today, but I seem to be running into a disproportionate number of things that make me feel angry (rather than just recognizing intellectually that they're outrageous). The post below is one example, although I tried to intellectualize it. Here's a few more:

  • Via Kevin Drum, it seems that in Washington DC, "A majority of Metro directors, who set policy for the region's subway and bus system, say they have never ridden a Metrobus or can't recall the last time they did." What's being violated here is the basic utilitarian moral/empirical claim that underlies democracy and socialism: the people most affected by something have the greatest moral right (since their interests are at stake), as well as the greatest ability (since they have practical and ongoing familiarity with it), to make decisions about it. I happen to think that in many cases the converse empirical claim -- "the experts know best" -- is valid, particularly in instances like medicine where the choice of goals is unambiguous and there is a body of highly specialized knowledge about the means. But our society too often supposes that the empirical validity of expertism brings with it a moral validity, or assumes that the consent that could be given by affected people to the experts has been given. In the Metro case, though, the directors aren't even countering with a claim of expertism. They're defending their own privileged positions by claiming that social position (i.e. whether you ride the Metro) has no bearing on one's decisionmaking ability or authority.

  • Via Morat, it looks like Christianity really is under siege in this country. Jesus' message of inclusion is apparently unwelcome on CBS or NBC because it might conflict with the policy proposals of Head Pharisee George W. Bush.

No Sex, All Patriarchy

Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens, Report Says

Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals "can result in pregnancy," a congressional staff analysis [led by Rep. Henry Waxman] has found.

... Some course materials cited in Waxman's report present as scientific fact notions about a man's need for "admiration" and "sexual fulfillment" compared with a woman's need for "financial support." One book in the "Choosing Best" series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. "Moral of the story," notes the popular text: "Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess."

More evidence for why Henry Waxman is my hero.

The misinformation about disease and contraceptive failure rates isn't surprising. The ideology of abstinence-only sees premarital sex as a bad thing in and of itself. Concerns about pregnancy and disease are just tools to appeal to the self-interest of people who won't sign onto their moral code. If those purely self-interested reasons aren't sufficient to motivate people -- which, given the advances in contraceptive technology, they usually aren't -- then exaggeration is a logical step. This is why, instead of trying to justify their misinformation, the abstinence-only advocates always retreat to the slippery slope argument that presenting a less alarming picture of safe sex would lead to kids having sex.

What is surprising is contained in the last paragraph -- such outright teaching of conservative gender roles (literally feudal, in this case, since we've got a knight marrying one of his obsequious serfs rather than the uppity woman who outranks him). I tend to be a bit skeptical of those who see all conservative sexual opinions as part of a deliberate patriarchy promotion agenda, but sometimes it hits you over the head.


NSF Suffers

Congress Trims Money For Science Agency

Congress has cut the budget for the National Science Foundation, an engine for research in science and technology, just two years after endorsing a plan to double the amount given to the agency.

Supporters of scientific research, in government and at universities, noted that the cut came as lawmakers earmarked more money for local projects like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Punxsutawney Weather Museum in Pennsylvania.

... The $388 billion spending bill for the current fiscal year, approved by both houses of Congress on Nov. 20, provides $5.473 billion for the National Science Foundation, which is $105 million less than it got last year and $272 million less than President Bush requested.

-- via TAPPED

Maybe I won't be able to go to Australia after all.

Nick Confessore wonders whether this is just a bit of belt-tightening or whether it's rooted in the GOP's distaste for science. I suspect a little of both. Cutting the NSF budget by a few million dollars doesn't seem like a very productive battle in the war against science, so it doesn't seem like a policy that would be pursued on its own merits. But if you're looking to cut money somewhere, it's no surprise that creationists and climate change skeptics would not place high priority on making sure the NSF is flush with cash.

Confessore also speculates that, if the Democrats are able to get their act together, the various outrages contained in the spending bill would provide good fodder for discrediting the Republicans. In general, I would agree. But it's hard to see how the case of the NSF would contribute much to that rhetorical strategy. Shaving a few million dollars from an agency most Americans have never heard of isn't really going to make the public's blood boil. It would be more likely to reinforce the Al Gore image of Democrats as elite, cold wonkish types.