Day By Day

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Dubya as Robin Hood -- In the NYT!!!

It is finally beginning to dawn on some liberals that the much despised Dubya has done more to further traditional liberal goals than have Democrats. The latest to make that discovery is John Tierney, who writes in the NYT:

Democrats like to portray Mr. Bush as King George or Marie Antoinette. But on Thursday night, when he promised to improve benefits for the poor while limiting them for everyone else, he sounded more like Robin Hood, especially when he rhapsodized about poor people getting a chance to build up assets that they could pass along to their children.

It was the kind of talk you might expect to hear from a Democrat, except that Democrats don't talk about much these days except the glories of the New Deal. They know that Social Security doesn't even have the money to sustain a program that leaves millions of elderly people in poverty. But it's their system, and they're sticking to it.

Read the whole thing here:

Of course, the converse is also true. A significant number of conservatives, especially the Reagan remnant, are beginning to realize that Bush is not really one of them. Bush cannot comfortably be contained within any of the categories we customarily use to describe the contours of American politics, yet he shows a strong affinity with many of them. He has burst the bounds of conventional political discourse and is charting new paths and is dragging the rest of us along with him. He is redefining the content of our political culture. That is what makes him, perhaps even more than Reagan, one of our great transformational presidents.


Friday, April 29, 2005

Maryland Politics -- Mfume Responds to Sleaze

The Baltimore Sun reports:
Kweisi Mfume denied Thursday that he was forced to resign as president of the NAACP amid allegations of nepotism and sexual harassment, saying someone is trying to derail his campaign for U.S. Senate.

Speaking in Clinton at a rally of African-American Democrats Thursday night, the former congressman insisted the claims are "unproven and unsubstantiated allegations levied against me by some person or people trying to disrupt my campaign."
Read the article here.

Dave Wissing over at Hedgehog Report thinks that all of this -- the leaks from the NAACP, the aggressive newspaper coverage, negative statements from Democratic politicians, etc. -- is being coordinated by supporters of Ben Cardin, who recently announced his candidacy. The calculation is that Cardin would run stronger against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the presumptive Republican candidate. This may well be, but as Wissing notes, other prominent Maryland Democrats are also itching to get into the race if Mfume is seriously damaged.

Let the games begin....

Read Wissing's comments here.


Trekkies and pedophilia -- Say it ain't so, Jim!

The LA Times published an article titled "Sifting Clues to an Unsmiling Girl" [here] about pedophiles that included the following description of the Toronto sex crimes detail:
On one wall [of the Toronto sex crimes unit] is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: All but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie. [emphasis mine]
What's going on here?

Ernest Miller over at Corante decided to find out.

He contacted the Toronto police and found out that the quote was inaccurate. But he also learned this:
They've arrested well over one hundred people over the past four years and [the detective he interviewed] claims they can gauge this interest in Star Trek by the arrestees' "paraphenalia, books, videotapes and DVDs." I asked if this wasn't simply a general interest in science fiction and fantasy, such as Star Wars or Harry Potter or similar. Paraphrasing his answer, he said, while there was sometimes other science fiction and fantasy paraphenalia, Star Trek was the most consistent and when he referred to a majority of the arrestees being Star Trek fans, it was Star Trek specific.
I wonder -- does the gang at NRO's Corner know about this?

Read Millers posting here. Also check Mickey Kaus's take on it at Slate here.

I just checked the Corner. They, Jonah included, seem to be studiously ignoring this pressing issue.

China Rising -- The nationalist threat

H.D.S. Greenway has a nice piece in the Boston Globe on the recent anti-Japanese demonstrations in China. He puts the long-term rivalry between China and Japan in a historical context and concludes:

The excuse was that the Japanese have never properly apologized for World War II atrocities, that Japanese textbooks offer only a white wash, and that Japanese politicians regularly visit Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine for war dead, which also honors convicted war criminals.

Perhaps the Chinese leaders felt that digging up the past could serve the future, for Beijing has no desire to see Japan succeed in its campaign to become one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

But the deeper reason is that China is hell bent to become the alpha male of the Pacific pack, and seeks to redress its loss of status in the humiliations that followed its defeats of the last century.

He's right, of course. China is indeed "hell bent" on achieving regional hegemony. And doing so involves the exclusion of American interests from Asia. This is the great coming conflict and already its contours are beginning to emerge.

Read it here.


There is another excellent article in the Weekly Standard by Tom Donnelly on the rise of Chinese nationalism. He notes that its anti-Japanese form is a natural outgrowth of the history of the past century -- humiliation in the Sino-Japanese war, atrocities during WWII etc.; and serves as a useful outlet for China's internal tensions, but there's more involved here.

Chinese nationalism sees many devils other than the Japanese. Indeed, beginning with the Opium War of the 1840, there began what Sinologists call a "victimization narrative," essentially a chronicle of Western exploitation of--and contribution to--Chinese military and political weakness. Naturally, this victimization narrative contrasts Chinese nationalism with Western imperialism, and often--with the Boxer Uprising of 1900 taken as the mythic prototype--calls forth a peasant movement in response. This also serves to link the narrative of modern Chinese history with the dynastic cycles of the more distant past. Thus the late Qing period is described as China's "century of humiliations," with the strong implication being that this pattern has been broken by the rise of the Communist party to power and now, with China's emergence as a regional and global power.

To today's Chinese nationalists, the United States stands as the ultimate Western hegemon and practitioner of, in the government's favorite phrase, "power politics" aimed at blocking Beijing's rightful place in the international order. However, in this view, the narrative of the 21st century will have quite a different outcome than that of the 19th century: In their 1996 screed Surpassing the USA, authors Xi Yongjun and Ma Zaithun declare that "China's rise is the sign for America's fall." This is the strong belief of the so-called "fourth generation" of Chinese Communist party leaders, the generation of Hu Jintao, who, "because of the education they have received, in their subconscious the West, and the U.S. in particular, has always been our enemy, oppressing us, invading our motherland; and even killing our countrymen."

The article goes on to trace the viciously racist elements in mainland Chinese nationalism, and contrasts it with other, less virulent forms that have emerged from time to time within Chinese communities.

Read it here.

Donnelly's piece, like the earlier article, is in the form of a warning -- one that Americans cannot afford to dismiss. The US media and business communities seem to be "hell bent" on exploiting Chinese markets and are willing to ignore the dangers to be found there. Similarly, much of Europe and the previous administration in Washington viewed China through rose-colored lenses. Fortunately, though, there is every evidence that the Bush administration is quite aware of the danger represented by Chinese resurgence and is beginning to organize a proper response to it.

Scientists Say Everyone Can Read Minds

That's what the headline says. Actually, the story is about conflicting theories regarding how the mind operates in social interactions. One of these , titled the "Theory Theory" says that people learn t0 anticipate how others will react by observing them and building up a theory of human behavior in their own minds [therefore the "theory theory," cute!]. Sometimes it is called the "Vulcan theory." [Aren't these guys cute with their pop culture references? On Star Trek Mr. Spock was constantly trying to logically figure out human interactions and failing.]
Theory theory describes children as budding social scientists. The idea is that children collect evidence -- in the form of gestures and expressions -- and use their everyday understanding of people to develop theories that explain and predict the mental state of people they come in contact with.

The alternative explanation, called the "simulation theory," posits

that we are natural mind readers. We place ourselves in another person's "mental shoes," and use our own mind as a model for theirs.

[A researcher] contends that when we interact with someone, we do more than just observe the other person's behavior. He believes we create internal representations of their actions, sensations and emotions within ourselves, as if we are the ones that are moving, sensing and feeling.

There seems to be some physical basis for this second theory -- clusters of "mirror neurons" that simulate in observers the reactions of neurons in people who are being observed.

I'm not sure what to make of this? It seems to me to be fairly obvious that people in social environments can both analyze others and empathize with them and that both capabilities can be invoked situationally. That there are neural structures associated with these mental processes is not surprising. So, other than a sexy headline, what do we have here? Not much!

Read the whole thing here.


Paris Hilton Bumps Dubya

Paris Hilton waves to the crowd with her enormous hand.
NEW YORK (AP) - A quick schedule shift by the White House enabled President George W. Bush to get considerably wider television exposure than he would have otherwise gotten for Thursday's prime-time news conference.

Three of the country's four biggest broadcasters gave the president a quick hook, however, by cutting away to entertainment programming before his session was finished....

Fox anchor Shepard Smith abruptly cut into Bush's answer of the final question to shift away to Paris Hilton and A Simple Life: The Interns.

Read it here.

This is not the first time Hilton has come out on top of Bush.

Back in December, 2003, when Bush gave an exclusive interview to Diane Sawyer, Paris Hilton beat him decisively in the ratings with her "Simple" show. [here]

Attention Karl Rove: learn from your mistakes. Don't ever schedule the President opposite the sex heiress again. She'll just keep beating him to a pulp.

Posted by Hello

Sex Differences -- The Biological Basis

Scientific American has a terrific article on recent research into sex differences.

Larry Summers may have backed off his call for consideration of the biological bases of male and female personalities and preferences but researchers at a number of institutions here and abroad are finding intriguing and important differences in mental structures and capacities between men and women.
Not so long ago neuroscientists believed that sex differences in the brain were limited mainly to those regions responsible for mating behavior.... A generation of neuroscientists came to maturity believing that "sex differences in the brain" referred primarily to mating behaviors, sex hormones and the hypothalamus.

That view, however, has now been knocked aside by a surge of findings that highlight the influence of sex on many areas of cognition and behavior, including memory, emotion, vision, hearing, the processing of faces and the brain's response to stress hormones. This progress has been accelerated in the past five to 10 years by the growing use of sophisticated noninvasive imaging techniques such as positron-emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which can peer into the brains of living subjects.

Researchers, including some at Harvard Medical School, have found significant differences in brain structure between men and women, even at the cellular level. Behavioral studies have also suggested that differences between men and women are innate over a wide spectrum of behavior rather than culturally determined. For instance, look at this work with vervet monkeys:

Through the years, many researchers have demonstrated that when selecting toys, young boys and girls part ways. Boys tend to gravitate toward balls or toy cars, whereas girls more typically reach for a doll. But no one could really say whether those preferences are dictated by culture or by innate brain biology.

To address this question, Melissa Hines of City University London and Gerianne M. Alexander of Texas A&M University turned to monkeys, one of our closest animal cousins. The researchers presented a group of vervet monkeys with a selection of toys, including rag dolls, trucks and some gender-neutral items such as picture books. They found that male monkeys spent more time playing with the "masculine" toys than their female counterparts did, and female monkeys spent more time interacting with the playthings typically preferred by girls....

Other research shows that infants as early as one day old show distinct patterns of behavior and attention according to their sex. Girl infants prefer to look at people's faces while boy infants are attracted to mechanical objects.

Read the whole article here.

This is a perfect illustration of why scientific research, the conclusions of which are constantly being revised, is an inadequate guide for the formulation of social policy. When the best scientific research showed that differences in brain structure and function between men and women were minimal, we concluded that gender was a social construct and shaped our public policies and institutions to reflect that belief. Then a few years later science turned on a dime and did an Emily Litella, collectively saying "never mind what we told you last year" we now believe that there are deep physical differences in brain structure and function between men and women that affect a wide range of behaviors.

Poor Larry Summers -- he got caught in the transition. The old beliefs had become institutionalized, well funded, and had developed articulate and lethal constituencies. When he raised the possibility that the new "devo-evo" approaches had some basis in truth, he got run over by an institutional imperative that, while still powerful, was increasingly divorced from scientific opinion.

I'm not saying that we should not listen to scientists. Just that their input must be balanced against a number of other considerations, including the moral implications of their findings.


Palindrome, the Review -- Lileks shoots, he scores

James Lileks in today's "Bleat" does a nice review of a review of "Palindrome". That's right -- he doesn't review the movie -- just the review of the movie. And in doing so he finds some pithy things to say about our media culture and the journalistic templates it uses and how these keep us from engaging in the things being written about. Read it here.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Japan Hits Back at China

After weeks of government organized anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, Japan has begun to hit back.

The Taipei Times reports:
The mass-circulation Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun urged China yesterday not to use Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) visit as a "political tool to divide Taiwan."

The editorial said that Taiwan by no means has the capability to attack China and that it is China's "Anti-Secession" Law, which authorizes Beijing to use non- peaceful means to settle disputes with Taiwan, that has created tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

It is undeniable that China's "non-peaceful law" has invited world-wide condemnation, and so the best way to settle cross-strait disputes is for China to resume talks with Taiwan's ruling party, the editorial said....

Read it here.


Maryland Politics -- The Sleaze Keeps Coming

Maryland politicians never disappoint -- given the slightest opportunity they head straight for the bottom and begin feeding.

No sooner had former Congressman and President of the NAACP Kweisi Mfume announced that he would be running for Senator in 2006 than the allegations began to fly. The WaPo reports:
Allegations detailed in a confidential NAACP report claim that Kweisi Mfume gave raises and promotions to women with whom he had close personal relationships while he was president of the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

The 22-page memorandum, prepared last summer by an outside lawyer, did not accept as true the claims lodged against Mfume by a female employee but determined that they could be "very difficult to defend persuasively" if she filed a lawsuit.

Mfume, 56, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Maryland, has denied the allegations. In an interview yesterday, he said the allegations in no way influenced his Nov. 30 announcement that he would leave the NAACP after nine years.

"I don't engage in inappropriate behavior," he said in the interview. "And if I did, I'm sure after nine years there, 10 years in the Congress and seven years on the [Baltimore] City Council, it would have been an issue long before your telephone call to me."
Read the whole thing here.

What this amounts to is unsubstantiated allegations made by a woman seeking hush money from the NAACP, which has been plagued by these sorts of things in the past. Already we have seen this year in Maryland unsubstantiated charges leveled against Baltimore Mayor O'Malley and Governor Ehrlich. Now it's Mfume's turn. This will not be the end of it. Rest assured that between now and the 2006 elections similar unsubstantiated allegations and rumors will have been circulated about nearly every major candidate for office. Sad, but that's the way the game is played in Maryland.

Dave Wissing over at Hedgehog Report thinks that it is the WaPo that is pulling the strings, no Maryland politicos. He writes:
Apparently The Washington Post feels the same way I do, that Ben Cardin [who just announced his candidacy a few days ago] is the stronger candidate for the Democrats, and is going to whatever it can to make sure Kweisi Mfume does not get the nomination. That is the most likely reason for this early hit piece on Mfume, to try and damage his campaign before it can even get started…..
Read him here.

It certainly is a hit piece, but I doubt that the WaPo is doing anything more than simply printing what came in over the transom. The most likely sources are people in the Cardin campaign or people at the NAACP with a grudge against Mfume. I do agree that Cardin would be a stronger candidate than Mfume, especially if the Republicans run Steele.


Lebanon Update -- The Light at the End of the Tunnel?

The Lebanese situation seems finally to be heading toward a peaceful and positive conclusion. Syrian forces have completed their pullout from Lebanese soil and a new government has been formally established, thus clearing the way for elections on May 29th. What is more, the new Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, has pledged to hold the elections on time. [For daily reports on the latest in Lebanon check out Ya Libnan here.] This pledge is important because there was some concern that the new regime would bow to Hizbullah demands for changes in the election procedures that would entail significant delays in the whole process [see Publius Pundit here].

There are still some potential problems looming.

1) Hizbullah, as always, remains a wild card, capable of thowing a wrench into the whole process; it still refuses to disarm, citing a fear of Israeli aggression. Hizbullah is usually portrayed as a pro-Syrian bloc within Lebanon, and so it is, but it also has strong ties to the Iranian leadership and there are fears that Iran's mullahs might decide to interfere in Lebanon through Hizbullah. That apparently was the reason for opposition leader Walid Jumblatt's surprise visit to Tehran last weekend [see here]. The results of that visit were unsatisfactory as Iran issued an ominous statement to the effect that the situation in Lebanon could easily deteriorate into civil war [a clear warning not to interfere with Hizbullah, which has been under pressure to disarm].

2) And there is this discouraging news. Robin Wright reports in the WaPo that,

Syria has not withdrawn a significant part of its intelligence presence in Lebanon, undermining its claim yesterday to have ended its 29-year intervention in its western neighbor, U.S., European and U.N. officials said.

The international community yesterday welcomed the pullout of the last of 14,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon. But the continuing presence of covert Syrian intelligence operatives would violate the promise President Bashar Assad made to the United Nations last month to withdraw all Syrian personnel. It would also contradict a letter the Syrian government wrote to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday saying that the withdrawal was complete.

Read the whole thing here.

This deception and deceit at a crucial stage in the independence process is, to say the least, ominous, especially since Kofi Annan seems to be obstructing attempts by France and the US to put pressure on Syria to complete the withdrawal.

Despite these potential problems many in the American media are celebrating the situation as a fait accompli and, especially among the more reactionary elements of the press, as a refutation of the Bush policy in the region. One of the most obnoxious of these reactionaries is David Ignatius who couldn't resist taking a dig at the President. He wrote:

The final withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon yesterday marks a victory for what is known as "soft power." The Syrians were driven from Lebanon not by force of arms but by a nonviolent Lebanese independence movement, a United Nations diplomatic effort and a broad coalition of allies organized by the United States and . . . yes, France.

The amazing denouement in Lebanon suggests that the Bush administration may have learned some lessons from the turmoil of postwar Iraq, however loath the president might be to admit it....

Read it here.

This amazingly obtuse statement ignores the fact that the US played a major role in promoting earlier peaceful regime changes in Georgia and Ukraine, both of which were a major inspiration to the Lebanese democracy protesters, and that the presence of a big honkin' American army next door in Iraq effectively immobilized the Syrian military and severely limited Assad's choices. What is more, US pressure, which was given weight by its military presence in the region, had a great deal to do with the Arab League's refusal to support Assad. What I am saying is 1) the Bush administration has shown in a number of instances that it is quite capable of sophisticated deployment of "soft power" and has done so to great effect; and 2) that the American military presence was a necessary precondition to a successful opposition to Syrian control of Lebanon.


Black Beauties

Black Vultures at Hawk Mountain's North Lookout. I don't care what you think -- to me they're gorgeous.

Posted by Hello

Nuclear -- it's the New Green

So says Leslie Kemeny in The Age [Australia] here.

He asks us to,
Consider the immense contribution to greenhouse gas emission minimisation made by nuclear energy in 2001. In that year, the global electricity produced by the world's 435 nuclear power stations was 2398 terrawatt hours or 16 per cent of total electricity generation or 5 per cent of total primary energy production. The amount of avoided carbon dioxide emission because of the use of nuclear energy in 2001 was 2.4 billion tonnes. This is 10 per cent of total emissions. Japan's 54 nuclear power stations alone save the equivalent of Australia's total greenhouse emissions. And the secret of this success is uranium fuel imported from Australia.

In the United States last year, its 103 nuclear power stations maintained their position as lowest-cost producers of electricity, at US1.71 cents/kilowatt-hour for fuel, operation and maintenance. This includes a US0.45 cent fuel cost, of which about US0.1 cents would be the ex-mine uranium before manufacture into fuel. Coal came in at US1.83c/kWh (US1.36 cents of this for fuel), and gas was US4.06c/kWh (US3.44 cents of this being fuel). The implications of increased fossil fuel costs stand out. Reactor capacity factors reached an average of 91.5 per cent - a record. Compare this with an average capacity factor of 20 per cent for wind farms. All nuclear costs include waste management and plant decommissioning.

A conference held in Marrakech, Morocco, in October 2002 came to the conclusion that nuclear energy presented the technical, economical and environmental optimum for electricity generation and potable water production, confirmed by the pioneering work of Japan, Russia, India and China.

These countries have already operated nuclear desalination plants producing from 6000 cubic metres to 80,000 cubic metres of potable water a day at costs below $US1 a cubic metre....

You see, nuclear energy contributes not only to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, it is also cheaper than the alternative energy sources trumpeted by the Greens, and it helps to address another of their big scare stories -- the availability of potable water. And in the case of the United States it also helps to reduce dependence on oil which is both an environmental and a national security concern.

Put them all together, and they make a compelling argument for at least a serious consideration of dramatically expanding our nuclear generating capacity. The scare tactics of the left can no longer keep nuclear power off the table.

Speaking at a Small Business Administration conference yesterday, President Bush said:

"Nuclear power is one of the safest, cleanest sources of power in the world, and we need more of it here in America...."

And the way to get more of it, he said, is to wire around "regulatory uncertainty which discourages new plant production." Since the 1970s, Bush noted, more than 35 proposed plants hit dead ends because of "bureaucratic obstacles."

The Bush solution: legislation to cut down on uncertainty in the licensing process and federal risk insurance to mitigate financial damage caused by regulatory delay. The insurance would be available only for the first four new nuclear plants.

"A secure energy future for America must include more nuclear power," he said.

Read the story here.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Back in the mountains, the dogwood is blooming. Next come the red azaleas Posted by Hello


Now this is really disgusting....,

CARROLL, Iowa (AP) - City officials are perplexed over the discovery of mysterious chunks of flesh that have been clogging up city water lines. A month ago, city officials sent a hunk of meaty-fatty tissue to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for identification.

As they wait for those results, three similar chunks of fleshy material were found on Thursday in another water main during routine flushing, Public Works Director Randy Krauel said.
A city worker discovered the blockage when a diffuser on a fire hydrant became clogged, Krauel said.
Additional flushing removed two other chunks from water mains, he said.

Read the whole thing here.

I repeat, yuck!!

German toads, of the explosive variety, cross a highway. The one on top is male, the female is doing all the work. Naturally. Posted by Hello

Exploding Toads Update -- Batrachians Still Going Bang

I previously blogged a story about the mysterious case of exploding toads in Germany [here]. Well, here's the update -- the scientists called in to study the phenomenon are still baffled. Test of the toads and of the water show nothing unusual, except of course, that they are exploding!!!

Residents of the area have been cautioned to stay away from the "pond of death" where the toads explode. Makes sense to me.

Read about it here.


There seems to be an explanation. AP reports:

BERLIN - Why are toads puffing up and spontaneously exploding in northern Europe? It began in a posh German neighborhood and has spread across the border into Denmark. It's left onlookers baffled, but one German scientist studying the splattered amphibian remains now has a theory: Hungry crows may be pecking out their livers.


Based on the wounds, Mutschmann said, it appears that a bird pecks into the toad with its beak between the amphibian's chest and abdominal cavity, and the toad puffs itself up as a natural defense mechanism.

But, because the liver is missing and there's a hole in the toad's body, the blood vessels and lungs burst and the other organs ooze out, he said.

As gruesome as it sounds, it isn't actually that unusual, he said.

"It's not unique — it's in a city area, and that makes it spectacular," Mutschmann said. "Of course, it's something very dramatic."

There have also been reports of exploded toads in a pond near Laasby in central Jutland in Denmark....

Read about it here.

I guess that's why they call it a "murder of crows."


Walter E. Williams -- The productive vs. the unproductive

Walter E. Williams makes a prosaic, but all too often ignored, observation:

The productive people who made... progress possible are often painted as villains. I'm talking about the innovators and the risk-takers, in a word -- entrepreneurs. Today's heroes are often seen as the people who attack entrepreneurs -- among them lawyers, politicians, media people, leftist organizations, college professors and others who often contribute little or nothing to human progress....

Read the whole thing here.

Williams is right, of course. We do take progress for granted, and are far too willing to glorify the critics and undervalue the people and the institutions who have brought significant improvements to our lives. In fact, as Gregg Easterbrook has shown in his marvelous book, The Progress Paradox : How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, we are all too willing to believe, despite all contrary evidence, that progress has taken place.

Of course this is not so paradoxical if you consider how many people in the media, in law, and in the academy have built their careers on incessant criticism.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Syrian Occupation of Lebanon Has Ended

Syrian soldiers march to trucks that will carry them out of Lebanon. The ceremonies held today mark the end of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Posted by Hello

Extremely Long Posting -- but it has a point -- several in fact. Novak, Goldberg and Sullivan discuss moral relativism

This is the blogosphere at its best. Check this out!

Michael Novak wrote an article in NRO [here] in which he argued, in part,

Relativism means this: Power trumps....

In today’s liberal democracies, [Pope Benedict XVI] has observed, the move to atheism is not, as it was in the 19th century, a move toward the objective world of the scientific rationalist. That was the “modern” way, and it is now being rejected, in favor of a new “post-modern” way. The new way is not toward objectivity, but toward subjectivism; not toward truth as its criterion, but toward power. This, Ratzinger fears, is a move back toward the justification of murder in the name of “tolerance” and subjective choice.

Along with that move, he has observed (haven’t we all?), comes a dictatorial impulse, to treat anyone who has a different view as “intolerant.” For instance, those (on the “religious right”) who hold that there are truths worth dying for, and objective goods to be pursued and objective evils to be avoided, are now held to be “intolerant” fundamentalists, guilty of “discrimination.”

In other words, the new dictatorial impulse declares that the only view permissible among reasonable people is the view that all subjective choices are equally valid. It declares, further, that anyone who claims that there are objective truths and objective goods and evils is “intolerant.” Such persons are to be expelled from the community, or at a minimum re-educated....

Most of the commentators, however, even those who support him, are misinterpreting Ratzinger’s point. They are getting him wrong.

What Ratzinger defends is not dogmatism against relativism. What he defends is not absolutism against relativism. These are false alternatives.

What Ratzinger attacks as relativism is the regulative principle that all thought is and must remain subjective. What he defends against such relativism is the contrary regulative principle, namely, that each human subject must continue to inquire incessantly, and to bow to the evidence of fact and reason.

This brought a response from Andrew Sullivan over at his blog [here]. Sullivan argued that Novak was wrong to see relativism as the organizing principle of a dictatorial impulse. He points out that the greatest evils of the modern world, Nazism and Communism, were both grounded in moral absolutism based on a naive faith in science. He writes:

The philosophical appeal of Marxism was and is, for the handful of fools who still cling to it, its claim to absolute, scientific truth. Similarly, Nazism asserted as a scientific fact the superiority or inferiority of certain races. These totalitarian ideologies allowed for no dissent because the truth had been proven.

You see precious little relativism in Communist or fascist regimes. They created absolute leaders to embody and enforce the maintenance of their truths. And they believed in the conflation of such truths with all political life, the abolition of autonomy and conscience.

In structure, they were and are very close to the structure of a decayed version of Catholicism that asserts one version of the truth, suppresses any and all open discussion of such truths within its power, and elevates a cult-like leader and mass demonstrations to reinforce its propaganda. Querulous, brave and ornery dissent - dissent designed not to obscure the truth but to understand it better - is quashed.
[T]he structure of a blind, authoritarian and rigid Ratzingerian faith is very close to the blind, authoritarian and rigid secular totalitarianisms of the recent past. Which is why some former communists have now become the firmest supporters of a Ratzingerian-style faith. They have swapped public political totalitarianism for a private religious one. And like their totalist fellows, their inability to persuade others merely convinces them further of their own truth.

Their references are never outside their own thought-system, and all fall conveniently back on the pronouncements of the supreme leader, who alone controls truth and thought. When pressed, they assert that history and nature will prove them right. "We will out-breed you!" they proclaim, in a horrifying echo of a eugenic mandate.

Novak, I think, therefore gets things exactly the wrong way round. The alternative to relativism is the difficult process of reason, informed by faith. But that process cannot take place in Ratzinger's Catholic church, because free thought is forbidden....

This, in turn, brought a response from Jonah Goldberg [here].

Of course the notion that morality is contingent on context is central to Nazi philosophy. Johann Gottfried Herder, the intellectual father of Volkish nationalism (but a decent guy), argued that morality is geopgraphically and ethnically specific. When Alfred Baeumler adpated Nietzsche to the Nazi cause much of his argument hinged on the notion that Christianity wasn't a "universal" faith but a "Mediterreanean religion of salvation" which was entirely "alien to and far removed from [Nietzsche's] Nordic attitude."

This is a point, by the way, I think Andrew Sullivan got wrong in his recent criticism of Michael Novak. And since it's been bugging me, I'll tell you why.
Sullivan argues that the appeal of Nazism and Marxism weren't relativistic. But relativism doesn't solely mean the individual defines his own truths. It also means that individuals and groups can disregard external notions of authority and universality -- moral or legal -- to further their own conceptions of good and evil.

This is what Julien Benda was referring to in his Treason of The Clerks when he complained that for the first time in memory, philosophers had sided with Socrates' killers.

The Communists believed that killing inconvenient peoples for the good of the party was entirely justified. The Nazis believed killing inconvenient peoples in the name of the volk was entirely justified. Both movements argued that morality for Communists and Nazis ("workers," "the proletariat," Aryans whatever) was different than morality for outsiders and therefore lying, cheating and stealing were justified by their group defined morality. How Andrew can call it a "big stretch" for Novak to suggest Marxism and Nazism were a product of the moral relativism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is beyond me.

Which occasioned this response from Novak, agreeing with and expanding on Goldberg:
Nazism and Communism may have had their own metaphysical pretenses, but they both treated the human being as a thing, as a means, as an instrument, and in important ways as a non-moral (and certainly non-spirited) material agent. In the human and moral sphere, in other words, they required the surrender of any "objective" moral compass, "natural law," or allegiance to "God's law"–all those bourgeois illusions–and in this task they were greatly aided in their preparatory work by the cult of "the absurd" among the intellectuals, the literary set, and students of the time.

Albert Camus found this out, for one, when (in a literary trope) he tried to persuade "a German friend" that he could not join the Nazis, and his friend sharply retorted: "And in a world where everything has lost its meaning, those who, like us young Germans, are lucky enough to find a meaning in the destiny of our nation must sacrifice everything else." In a world in which everything has lost its meaning.

Camus, despite his own teaching on the absurd, had suddenly to find and to defend a meaning. This he did, in his Second Letter to this friend–but not very satisfactorily. It took partial explorations in a series of book until he found his way out of the nihilism he had described in The Stranger and in arguing the logic of suicide in The Myth of Sisyphus.

But the most vivid example I had in mind is from real life. A Communist authority I met in Switzerland told me what had led him to break, at least inwardly, from Communism (for he was a Party member and government official still) had been a crisis for him in Africa. On his posting there, he was ordered to take part in some killings of a number of rivals of the Communist Party in that nation. He experienced deep revulsion and managed to slip out of the task. That was the first time he had come to a clear insight that there are some things he could not, morally, do. He had thought he had lost all such primitive sentiments. They now seemed to him more than sentiments, and more than primitive, and overriding. He was still looking for a way out.

A second example was not unlike it. Another friend of mind had a father high in the Party in another East Bloc state, who after one of Pope John Paul II's visits to a neighboring country, would shut off the television in anger if he heard the word "God." My friend explained that his father had felt highly compromised by many actions he had taken in his career–treatment of dissidents, "traitors," dangers to the state–and could not bear the thought that there was a more humanistic standard of ethics than the needs of the Party. He had surrendered his personal moral code to the judgment of the Party. Nothing else counted morally. He had to keep things that way in the peace (or un-peace) of his own soul. What helps the Party is moral; what hurts it is immoral; any other moral principle is an illusion. Metaphysically, this is not nihilism, for at least the Party has ontological status as the dynamo of history and measure of moral progress. But for the participating individual it requires a relativizing of every other moral code. An emptying out of the moral individual, so that the Lie may occupy that place.

"If God is dead," a brother Karamazov said, "everything is permitted." Well, obviously there are atheists who have a strongly reasoned, and as they see it "objective" moral code based upon reason. They are not relativists. But there is now again, as there was in the 1930s, a spreading invisible gas of relativism, even among such atheists, not to mention among former believers in God. For growing numbers, it seems, ours is becoming again "a world in which everything has lost its meaning." The academic fashion of Post-Modernism puts an ideology to this, and its roots seem to me much too like those that led up to the fashion for Fascism and Communism among "the Clerks."

In a recent blog on the website of US News and World Report, an unimaginative professor at the University of Notre Dame failed to grasp that on certain occasions, in certain eras, arguing with Fascists or Communists involved one in a sort of lie. And one had to desist from it. For Fascist and Communist protagonists of violence did not believe in the same reason based upon evidence that, say, Albert Camus did. They believed, finally, in violence, and everything else was simply means to the moment of their triumph of will. As Albert Camus concluded early, at some crucial point those committed to liberty and justice and the very idea of truth must recognize that such enemies must be stopped, and combated to the death. For theirs is only a pretense of argument; they intend the systematic dehumanization of man.

It was just here that Camus drew the line of "resistance" and "rebellion," even at the cost of "death."

As Camus confesses, he and his fellows drew that line much too late, after much too much bloodshed and strutting violence. It had been better to nip the cult of the absurd far earlier. That is, to make some crucial distinctions.

This is great stuff -- intellectual disputation as good as you will find in any salon, or university course, or specialized journal -- and it's all free on the web for anyone to read and/or join in. Critics of the blogosphere like to point out the trollish rantings that emanate from some sites, or the silly partisan squabblings found on others, but there is quality stuff out there -- you've just gotta look for it. NRO and Andrew Sullivan's sites are a good place to start.


Ain't she a beauty? You're damn right she is! Posted by Hello

Anti SUV Bigots -- In their own words

ABC News has been running a series or pieces on how much ordinary people hate SUV drivers. Here's a sample from their April 25th report:

"I am less than secretly glad when I hear the agony of the SUV people paying $60 to $70 a week to fill their tank," wrote Bernard K. Addison of Los Angeles. "We do not need the size, we do not need the inefficiency, and we do not need the attitude of road ownership and invincibility that reflects in the driving patterns of the majority of SUV owners."

"It's good to see all these arrogant drivers of gas guzzling road machines end up paying half a week's pay to fill up their monstrous machines," wrote Brian Silver Fox of Hammonton, N.J. "I am far from an environmental activist, but there is no reason why anyone needs these vehicles, ESPECIALLY Hummers (which, like assault weapons, should be reserved for the military). I truly enjoy seeing all of them driving around with their jingoistic little magnets on the back, supporting our troops, who are dying simply for their 'right' to own these stupid machines."

"Why, yes, I do gloat at the SUVs paying higher gas prices!" wrote Maureen North of Syracuse, N.Y. "The last car accident I was in was due in part to SUVs blocking my vision of the oncoming small car that totaled my Honda Accord. But now I have another Accord, and am considering a Prius."

"I admit I do like to listen to the woes of SUV drivers filling up their tanks," wrote Carolyn Busch of Trenton, Ga. "Their explanations of why they need their gas guzzling barges aren't quite as 'convincing' now."

"I think that it's hilarious that SUVs are getting in the shorts for a change," wrote Mike Nielsen of Salt Lake City. "Never forget that the road is theirs. Those of us that drive economical-type cars are but the peasant trash — villagers that have no right to use their roads. After all isn't ostentatiousness the rule of the road? … Although I must agree that I don't like higher fuel prices either, it is somewhat psychologically reassuring to know that the 'fat cats' are in fact paying lots and lots and lots more money at the pump. Hooray for some justice!"

"Much as I hate to pay the higher prices, I do (I have to admit) secretly gloat at the money it takes to fill up an SUV tank," wrote Gail Walpole of Tallula, Ill. "I drive a VW diesel Beetle, which when new, got 50+ miles per gallon. It now needs tuning up because it is only getting about 45 or so miles per gallon. … Yes, I admit, people made fun of me when I used to drive my little [Geo] Metro and to a certain extent, my Beetle — but now, I am the one laughing! :)"

"I have hated SUVs and the mentality that gave birth to them since the early '90s when I was in high school, and will continue to hate them and the people that drive them with a righteous anger for as long as I draw breath," wrote Andy Bliss of Los Angeles. "On a daily basis, I let these people know my feelings with my car or a few fingers/choice words. I despise their selfishness, avarice and soul-less need to endanger others for their own comfort. I laugh as I fill my economy car for a fraction of what they do, watching them wallow like the pigs they are in their putrid opulent consumerism."

"Although [it is] somewhat painful to pay more than double the price for gas than I did a few years ago, high prices definitely have a silver lining!" wrote Grant Comer of Indianapolis. "In fact, nothing seems to encourage talk of alternative fuel research more than high energy costs. … My gloating lies in the fact that persons who have the political and economic power to finance and approve alternative fuel research are feeling the pinch of high gas prices personally and from their constituents. If they happen to drive SUVs or other poorly fuel efficient vehicles, then that pain is just magnified."

"I love it that the Hummer owners (and other SUVs) are paying out their noses," wrote Wade of Los Angeles. "I was at the pump the other day and saw a guy shaking his head after filling up his Hummer. I walked over to the pump after he left and he had paid $92.00! I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day!"

"My friends and I laugh at these women who are driving these chariots to get a Starbucks or groceries," wrote Cherie Celeste of Spring Valley, Calif. "No-interest new car loans that are paid for by cash-out home-equity loans don't buy gas or common sense. Someone should tell them that."

Joe Hernandez of Riverside, Calif., said he had a chuckle during the recent heavy rains in Southern California when he saw the driver of a large SUV turn back as cars of all sizes ripped through mud and water on a roadway. "She literally made a U-turn, stopped all traffic because she didn't want to get her shiny, big wheels dirty," Hernandez wrote. "People, if you are not going to use them right don't buy them at all."

"The SUV I hate the most is the Hummer H2," wrote Scott Cohen of Melvindale, Mich. "Every chance I get, I will flip them off, regardless of whether the driver sees me or not. Hummers are the most obnoxious and rude vehicles for people to use to show off how much money they are making, and that they stick their noses up at the rest of us while driving their $65,000 SUV that is a gas hog and is no good for the environment. I do smile when I see them pulling up at a gas station and spending over $60 on one tank of gas, though."

"What I don't like about SUV drivers is their reckless and negligent way they drive," wrote Judith A. Gill of Baltimore, "as if to say 'I do whatever I want on the highway because you can't hurt me but I can demolish you, so get out of my way.' They don't care about gas prices. They think they are superior to everyone else on the highways and roads of this country."

"What many SUV drivers may fail to realize is that the reason for high gas prices now is the massive demand for gasoline, spurred in part by people like them," wrote Daniel Smith-Weiss of Bedford, N.H. "SUV drivers have in part brought these high prices on all of us. So I do get a small sense of satisfaction seeing them pay so much more."

"I hate SUV owners," wrote Donna Bijas, a Nissan Altima driver from Middletown, N.J. "Not only are they the leading contributors to air pollution and acid rain, but try to back out of a space in any shopping center and it is near impossible. Small family style SUVs are reasonable, but do they need to be the biggest vehicle on the block? I hope gas prices send them to the poor house. I pay $25 to fill up and it lasts all week. I can't imagine having to pay $100+ per week. Good for them."

"I don't feel sorry for drivers of SUVs paying huge sums to fill up their gas guzzlers," wrote Peter Bowler of Dallas. "They are half the reason the gas prices are so high and our air is so polluted. I hope the high prices will keep these enormous pieces of crap off the roads."

Dave Conna of Stow, Mass., said he can get as much as 50 mpg in his 1993 Honda Civic VX, and objects to SUVs for environmental and safety reasons, and because they "fill the coffers of terrorists with funds." "If the owners say that they are not experiencing any more hardship than car owners [as a recent ABC News poll suggests], then the price of gas isn't high enough yet," Conna wrote. "High gas prices are one of the best things that could happen to this country: that we might finally get our energy house in order and stop acting like we are entitled to abundant energy at absurdly low prices. In fact, it is the ONLY thing that will save us from environmental and economic destruction, since appealing to people's logical and ethical side does not work enough."

"Japan was ready in 1974 with fuel-efficient cars," wrote Doug Ryan of San Gabriel, Calif. "Thirty years later, they have hybrids. Detroit has learned nothing in 30 years. Good riddance the makers of gas dinosaurs. The dinosaurs themselves, the SUVs, will stay around until gas prices rise so high the SUV driver, a brain-dead humanoid glutton of gas and asphalt, has to think twice about burning his money -- if he's capable. No resale value for that kind of dinosaur. They all get what they deserve for jacking up gas demand and gas prices. No tears for the SUV makers and their suckling gluttons."

"Although I don't like the high gas prices that I have to pay for my cars, I don't mind a bit that the SUVs, full-size vans and pickup trucks get hurt by the high prices," wrote Ed Caldwell of Bloomington, Ind. "Some of the drivers of those vehicles drive as though they are above the law. The police are afraid to stop them because they can't see their hands or glove compartment."

"I am gloating a little, but more importantly hope that this sends a message to Congress that they should have passed those laws that push automakers to make all vehicles more energy efficient, and a message to automakers that they should be more proactive about improving fuel efficiency for all vehicles," wrote Heidi Lovett of St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I would like to see gasoline prices rise to $4.50 a gallon or higher," wrote Richard Lane of Prescott, Ariz. "I would like to see a stiff tax levied to bring up the price to what people in Europe pay. This is the only way that Americans will change their gluttonous habits."

"It's amazing all the cars that I see with one person driving in a SUV on the freeway in Houston," wrote Debbie Mejstedt of Friendswood Texas. "I hope the price goes up to the same that it is in Europe. Maybe then people will think twice about their selfish gas guzzling tanks."

Read the whole article here. It does include some SUV drivers defending their choices.

There is something nasty going on here. Yes there are arguments that can be made against SUV's on the basis of fuel consumption and high centers of gravity, but placed in context they are rather weak. Rollovers are just one small subset of accidents and the risk incurred in them is more than offset by the protection afforded in other kinds of collisions; and SUV fuel consumption is only a tiny fraction of US total fuel consumption. Cutting it would have negligible effect on gas prices or national security concerns.

So why the horrible animus? Look at what these people are saying. First, they impute moral status to the drivers of SUV's [they are presumed to be arrogant, greedy, inconsiderate, selfish, gluttonous, dangerous, etc.] Then they argue that driving SUV's is in some way an anti-social act. But neither of these is justified -- in fact, from their own words these critics show themselves to be profoundly anti-social haters.

And, under this we see a whole lot of class antagonism. SUV haters assume that people who drive large vehicles are upper-middle-class snobs who think they are above the law, who are disdainful of the common herd, etc. But that is hardly an accurate vision of the SUV drivers I know, and several surveys have shown that the strongest market for SUVs is suburban housewives who are raising kids and appreciate the security and carrying capacity of the vehicles [they function today like the station wagons of old].

Why so many false impressions? Well, part of it is the result of a sustained effort by political operatives, environmental activists, and media types to demonize SUV owners. That has to have had some effect in ramping up these prejudices into full-blown bigotry. But these campaigns would not have been so effective if there wasn't an underlying cultural base upon which they could build.

Innacurate as it is, the anti-SUV bias defines a fault line in our society today -- it is not just a replay of the old cities against suburbs and rural populations antagonism that has characterized much of American history. It seems to be grounded in moral sensibilities. It bears more than passing resemblance to the old anti-yuppie animus of past years. It has blatant anti-capitalist overtones, and a generational component, and it plays off economic anxiety [however misplaced that is]. What more? I'm not sure.

This is something I am going to have to think about, because it has so many political, social, cultural, and economic dimensions, and seems to be so prominent a part of contemporary American culture.



Monday, April 25, 2005

Does anybody else find this disturbing? Posted by Hello

A Beautiful Day At the Harbor Posted by Hello

A joyful crowd greets Lebanese army troops after they took over a Syrian intelligence post in Chtaura, in the Bekaa valley April 25, 2005. Lebanon's most powerful pro-Syrian security chief resigned on Monday, hours before the last Syrian forces were due to leave their tiny neighbour and end Damascus' 29-year domination. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
 Posted by Hello

Asian Alliances -- the growing imbalance

Richard Halloran writes from Honolulu:

The line in the water that divides East Asia into rival alliances has been widened and deepened in the past few weeks, largely due to the eruption of anti-Japanese emotions in China and anti-American outbursts in South Korea.

This line runs from the sea between Japan and Korea south through the East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait into the South China Sea. To the east are the United States, Japan and Taiwan, which are allied by treaty or political commitment. To the west are China, North Korea and South Korea, with China seeking to turn the two Koreas into vassals like their ancient kingdom many centuries ago.

The fundamental issue is which alliance will prevail in East Asia: the autocratic coalition led by China that seeks to drive the United States from the region or the democratic grouping led by the United States that seeks a stable balance of political and military power in which trade and economic development flourishes.

At the moment, Beijing and its allies in Pyongyang and Seoul, which seems on the verge of dissolving its security ties with the United States in favor of sliding into an orbit around China, appear to have the upper hand....

Read the whole thing here. Much of the analysis I have seen in the press -- usually citing State Department sources -- simply does not address the fact that China's long term goal is to establish a hegemony over East Asia, and that this goal cannot be achieved until US influence has been driven from the area. This situation is looming as our next great security threat and we had better start paying attention, or as Halloran puts it: "the Chinese alliance will continue to overshadow the U.S.-Japan-Taiwan coalition unless Washington, Tokyo and Taipei get their act together."


There's a new China blog on the block [hat tip Wretchard] -- Check out Naruwan Formosa here.


Lebanon Update -- Last Syrian Troops Withdraw

The last Syrian troops are leaving Lebanon. Tomorrow the final withdrawal will be formalized.

The celebrations have already begun:

HAYY EL-RAMEL, Lebanon -- As soon as the truckloads of Syrian soldiers had left for home, Mariam Majzoub started dishing out paint to erase the last vestiges of their 29-year presence.
Her children, nephews, nieces and neighbors stuck Lebanese flags on top of the abandoned posts near her home in this tiny Bekaa Valley village, slapped whitewash on the walls and celebrated the departure date in green paint: "Independence 2005, Sunday, April 17."

"We started dancing in the street even before they turned the corner," said Majzoub, her plump face glowing with joy. "We could finally express ourselves, and there was nothing they could do about it."
"Freedom is beautiful," said Salim Rabah, 58, a retired merchant who lives 500 yards from an abandoned Syrian checkpoint.
"Good riddance," said Zakariyya Ghazzawi, 23, a baker.

Read the whole story here.

See also Ya Libnan, here and at Across the Bay, here.


Chrenkoff's Good News From Iraq

Chrenkoff's Good News From Iraq, vol. 26 is up here.

Lots of progress is being made on a number of fronts. Of bloggy interest are reports on the spread of bloggery and internet cafes throughout Iraq.

Check it out.

Blogging the Arab World

Kirk H. Sowell, one of the contributors to Publius Pundit has a new blogsite.

Window on the Arab World, and More!

In it he will be "blogging the Arab World, the Greater Middle East, U.S. Foreign Policy & the Future of the Free World. "

Quite a bit to chew on, but from what I've seen of his writings, he's up to it. Check him out!


John Hawks Paleoanthropology Site

The best site I have found so far dealing with paleoanthropology and evolution on a fairly technical/academic level is by John Hawks, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He has a knack for writing clearly and cogently about complex, even esoteric, subjects. I was particularly impressed recently by his discussion of the concept, allostasis [achieving stability through change], and its applicability to human evolution. He suggests in this regard that the supposedly egalitarian hunter/gatherer societies of the late Pleistocene were actually far more socially dynamic and stressful than is usually assumed.

Read it here.


Neolithic Mother Goddess Or Not? We report, you decide.

Female figurine found at Catal Huyuk this past season. Some have speculated that it represents a mother goddess. Others are unconvinced. Posted by Hello

New Digging at Catal Huyuk [Gatalhvy|k]

Scripps Howard runs a nice piece on recent excavations at Catal Huyuk in Anatolia. This was a sizeable community of approximately 8,000 individuals that dates from more than 9,000 years ago -- the first city in the world. [The official website of the excavations is here.]

Over the years the site has generated a lot of speculation. Much of this has centered on the role of women in this early society.
[B]ecause of the spectacular female clay figures that the archaeologists have found in the excavated layers over the years, Gatalhvyk has become a draw for modern believers who hold to the idea that the neolithic people were ruled by a matriarchy whose central figure was a mother goddess.

Travel agents offer "goddess tours" of the site; groups of women _ some feminist, some religious _ go there to dance, to sing together in spiritual community, and to draw inspiration from what they hold to be a place where mothers were paramount in benign peacekeeping.
This belief seems to be impervious to contrary evidence, such as that found by the recent excavators. Previous scholars had found a, "dramatic statuette of a majestic woman seated on what might have been a throne with her arms resting on the heads of two animals that appeared to be leopards." This was considered by some enthusiasts as proof of a mother goddess cult.
But that mother goddess was found in a grain bin, and the [current] team's 3-inch figurine [pictured above] was found amid trash left in a grave, suggesting they were something less than figures of worship or power.
What is more:
Most of the human figures _ or fragments of human figures _ that have been found at Gatalhvyk appear sexless, Hodder [director of the current excavations] said, although he agrees that female depictions do outnumber the males.

"I find it difficult to link all the figures and the wall paintings with the idea of a goddess," Hodder said. "I see them more as depictions of daily life, and our evidence so far doesn't suggest anything else."
As so often happens with archaeological finds, they reflect a prosaic reality, but are glamourized by their antiquity. Most people seem to prefer the glamour.


Sunday, April 24, 2005


Not all the tall ships are..., well, "tall". This is the schooner Sultana. She may be small, but she sure is pretty.

"Sultana is a reproduction of her 1768 namesake used by the British Royal Navy to enforce the notorious tea taxes in the years preceding the American Revolution." Check out her website here.

Posted by Hello

Stad Amsterdam

A chilly day at the harbor, but when the tall ships show up, so do the crowds. This is the Stad Amsterdam -- one of the most beautiful of the tall ships. Check out her website here. They advertise her as a "clipper" but to me she looks a little broad in the beam for that designation. Lovely ship though.

Posted by Hello


For some of the best humor writing on the net go to McSweeney's here.

You want a sample? I'll give you a sample:

- - - -

april (i think)

still getting my balance. these heels don't help! loads of hot outfits. already tired of sucking in my gut. got to do something with this hair. everybody says wait till i meet ken.
if it's still april. heard i'm getting a corvette. hope it's better than this crappy beach house. not allowed to get a tattoo. thinking of becoming a stewardess. met ken. what a zero.

no smoking. no hanging out. no corvette. think my ass is getting big. can't be a stewardess, but go-go dancer or doctor are ok. go figure. ohmigod. g.i. joe. hot!
joe joe joe joe joe joe joe joe joe joe joe
may or june
what kind of name is midge? she's had work done. ken says she looks like a hooker. i say except in the doctor's outfit we all look like hookers. ken says not me, girlfriend.
june, for sure
had it with transformers. too confusing—now it's a spaceship, now it's a scissors, now it's a hammer. like going out with a hardware store. got the corvette finally. pink.
had muppets over to penthouse. big mistake—too much history with kermit. midge still "borrowing" my clothes. she gets to be a stewardess. i get a princess phone. pink.
read midge's diary. calls me "barfbie." big fight, hair everywhere, tears (hers). calls me "cabbage patch." i say, "you'll never work in malibu again." more tears.
ken says g.i. joe really likes midge and can we still be friends. i say midge = trash. ken says how about pinocchio. i say pinocchio = freak.
kermie kermie kermie kermie kermie
med school.

Not enough? Try this:


- - - -
Dear Fake Boobs,

There you perch, two gargantuan, pointy soup bowls, ogling me from across the party. Damn. You guys are amazing, sitting up like that, all by yourselves in that little tank top, with no bra on or anything!

Before I knew the truth about you two, I assumed my husband's ex had maxed out all his credit cards underwriting her frequent bouts of unemployment, or on less dramatic fare, like her bar tabs, vintage lunchbox collection, and those fun trips she used to take you on—including that time y'all went to Athens and got felt up, a lot, by the indie kid she dumped my husband for and married only a few months later. (More proof of your magical powers, I guess!) Imagine my surprise when I learned that among the Visa wreckage we'll be paying off until we die are you guys: her fabulous, phony porno boobs!

Back before my husband's good friend slipped up and told me you guys were a present, back when I thought you were actual glands and all—not just gel and saltwater in a couple of Ziploc baggies—you used to make me cry. I'd think: Goddamn, you guys are mean! You're middle-aged, for Christ's sake; start sagging like it! Then I'd feel a tinge of guilt and tell myself: Hey, it's OK. Luck of the draw. Sure, she has you two in all your perky glory, but she also has that really greasy hair she can't seem to do anything with but put up in a slimy ponytail.

You two even had my girlfriends going for a while. One asked, "How do they do it? It's like she's never been pregnant, like she's never nursed even one baby, much less two!" Haw, haw! Good one! You guys don't even pay lip service (pardon the pun!) to any of that "breasts serve a functional purpose" hooey that seems to be all the rage among pissy La Leche Leaguers and cultures of the Third World.

Maybe it's just sour grapes on my part, but I can only wait with bated breath for the day I see you both again—sometime around 2028 or so—when we're all at an age where it's no longer realistic or, more importantly, appropriate to have such a pert and colossal bosom. Maybe on that day it will be the two of you who will eye my breasts with wonder and remark on the way they fall—so casually, so gracefully—to my midriff. Until then, I wish you much happiness and good fortune in the future. May you always be well fondled by the half-dozen or so men in this town who have not yet had the pleasure.

With warmest regards,

Milla Wicks
Jackson, Mississippi

There's a LOT more here. Check it out. You'll be glad you did.


The Postmodernism Generator

Ever want to write postmodernist BS? Issue exotic and impenetrable prose that will amaze your friends and confound your enemies? Now you can write just like a linguistics professor at Berkeley or Duke. Try the Postmodernism Generator here. Fun, easy to use, get tenure quick, try it now!

WARNING: excessive use may cause hemorrhoids, mental debility, and anal/glottal seepage. Use carefully and in small doses lest your brain explode like a German toad.

When you tire of that you can try the Chomskybot here.


Delusional Environmentalists

The Washington Times reports:
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- As the world marked the 35th anniversary of Earth Day on Friday, environmentalists debated the future of a movement that seems to be losing steam. President Bush's re-election, the failure to slow global warming and the large number of Americans who dismiss environmentalists as tree-hugging extremists has the movement's leaders looking for new approaches. And while polls show most Americans want clean air, clean water and wildlife protection, environmental issues rank low on their list of priorities -- behind jobs, health care, education and national security.

Do say!

And how do they explain this marginalization of their movement. Some would simply call it a "paradox," and indeed some do.

"There's this paradox where Americans hold these views, but when it comes time to take action, there are many, many issues that trump environmental concerns," said Peter Teague, environmental programs director at the Nathan Cummings Foundation.
Face it guys, there are more important things than the government regulations you are pushing.
Some take comfort in the idea that it's just a "message problem -- that environmental groups simply need to improve their communication with the voting public."
To win public support, leaders say they are trying to present the problems and potential solutions in language that connects to people's lives.

"We haven't done a good job communicating about the solutions," said Carl Pope, who heads the conservation-minded Sierra Club.
Others see dark forces at work:
George Lakoff, a University of California, Berkeley linguistics professor... argues that the entire public agenda has been seized by what he calls a "right-wing ideological political movement that's extremely powerful and well funded."
Of course what else would you expect from a Berkeley linguistics professor?

Read the whole thing here.

Nowhere in all of this is a sense that these people understand that the problem might possibly be with their message and values. Until they begin to question those, they will continue to drift farther and farther from the mainstream of society, finding bleak comfort in their paranoid delusions of vast right wing conspiracies, and nostalgia for the salad days of their youth.

The Bush administration, building upon initiatives by his two predecessors in office, has made a good start toward instituting a sane and reasonable approach to environmental issues, but that's not good enough for these folk. They're just plain pathetic, and that's not a good thing. We do need reasoned discourse on the environment, but we will not find it issuing from this crowd.


Batrachians go Bang: Exploding Toads at the "Pond of Death"

ABC [Australia] reports:
Exploding toads baffle experts

Hundreds of toads have met an unexplained, explosive demise in Germany in recent days, it was reported on Saturday.

According to reports from animal welfare workers and veterinarians as many as a thousand of the amphibians have perished after their bodies swelled to bursting point and their entrails were propelled for up to a metre.

It is like "a science fiction film", according to Werner Smolnik of a nature protection society in the northern city of Hamburg, where the phenomenon of the exploding toad has been observed. "You see the animals crawling on the ground, swelling and then exploding," he said.

He said the bodies of the toads expanded to three-and-a-half times their normal size. "I have never seen such a thing," said veterinarian Otto

So bad has the death toll been that the lake in the Altona district of Hamburg has been dubbed "the pond of death".

Access to it has been sealed off and every night a biologist visits it between 2:00am and 3:00am, which appears to be peak time for batrachians to go bang.

Explanations include an unknown virus, a fungus that has infected the water, or crows, which in an echo of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds, attack the toads, literally scaring them to death.

Or maybe it has something to do with that mysterious "biologist" who seems to show up every night around the time that the toads go boom. Whatever the cause, I'm sure that once all the facts are in we will find that Karl Rove is behind it.

Read the original here.

War and Civilization

Ira Meistrich has a nice overview of 10,000 years of warfare in the Middle East over at The History Net. It's pretty conventional stuff -- the first appearance in the historical record of such and such tactic or technology, but interesting nevertheless.

The article was originally published in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.

Check it out here.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Limits of Democratic Reform -- Kyrgyzstan

The initial giddy days of the democratic revolution, when all things seemed possible, have passed. Nathan over at reflects the new mood of pessimism that has emerged as people begin to realize that the new leadership is not much different from the old. There will be no great "democratic leap forward." He writes:
Maybe I’m not finding the right news sources, but it seems opposition elites have more problems with the state of the nation than do Kazakh citizens.

I’m actually fairly optimistic about Kazakhstan itself. I expect that its political system will eventually become more transparent (the sooner the better in my book) but that it will come through a brokered agreement rather than a popular uprising.

Read him here. [scroll down to "Pessimism on Kyrgyzstan"]

Maybe it's just my age, but I am not at all disturbed at the prospect of orderly, gradual change. The reform imperative could not be sustained at a revolutionary pace for long and is reaching its limits in places like Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, and elsewhere.


Photobloggery in Egypt

Here's an engaging site, with lots of pictures, by a young woman participating in an archaeological study in Egypt. She seems to be having a ball, despite occasional reports of bombings and whatnot. Ah, to be young and in a foreign land.

Check it out here.


Another Neanderthal Update

Using digital technology researchers have reexamined the remains of several Neanderthals excavated in Croatia a century ago and have found traces of butchery on many of the bones.
[Some of the] skull remains exhibit marks made by slicing away the ears, removing the tongue, detaching the lower jaw, and skinning the head. Lower-body fossils contain incisions created by removing muscle from bones as well as abrasions caused by scrubbing fat and gristle off bones. Cuts on pelvic and leg bones indicate that bodies lay facedown during dismemberment....

Many limb bones at the site were smashed open, perhaps to extract protein-rich marrow...

It is clear that bodies were dismembered, but there is much speculation as to why. Study director, Jill Cook of the British Museum, feels that
"the Krapina Neandertals ritually dismembered corpses in ways that must have held symbolic meaning for the group-whether or not Neandertals ate those remains."

This, she argues, shows that,
"Neandertals apparently possessed a facility for abstract thought that has often been regarded as unique to modern Homo sapiens...."

"Some kind of mortuary practice that had symbolic significance was going on at Krapina," Cook suggests. Although cannibalism might also have occurred, the bodies were systematically sliced up rather than quickly butchered, in her view. "Even eating people is a complex behavior" that likely would have included ritual of some kind, the British anthropologist notes.

The argument for ritual dismemberment was strengthened by discovery of an intricately incised skull.
a partial skull... revealed a sequence of stone-tool incisions, one of which is clearly visible... atop the head.... [I]t contains a pattern of regularly spaced, parallel grooves across the top of the head. "Someone sat with this skull in their lap and produced this extraordinary pattern with a stone tool," Cook says.

Others are less confident that ritualistic behavior was involved.
"We can't rule out some type of ritual activity at Krapina, or even cannibalism," says Fred Smith of Loyola University in Chicago. "But we can't tell for sure why these bones were processed."

Of stone-tool marks that can be seen with digital microscopy, many resemble those on butchered-animal remains at later Stone Age sites, says Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder. In her view, that raises the possibility that cannibalism, devoid of ritual, occurred at Krapina.

Milford Wolpoff of the University of Michigan cautions that a preservative coating of shellac obscures the tool marks and makes them difficult to interpret.

Read the whole thing here.

The question of when and where and to what extent modern consciousness emerged within the human species is the focus of many studies. Most scholars today would assign Neandertal to a different species from ourselves. The markings on one of these skulls would suggest that ritual practice, long considered an important element of modern consciousness, may have predated the emergence of homo sapiens.



Are You Going to Hell? Find out Here.

The kindly folks at will be glad to tell you.

Take the Dante's Inferno Test and find out what awaits you in the nether regions.

Take the test here.

Good luck Wiffenpoofs.

And when you are done, you can figure out just why you are doomed. Take the Personality Disorder Test here.


A return to Sanity -- Rachel Carson, Meet Adam Smith

A number of analysts, including important figures within the environmental movement, have recently been predicting its demise. The most important statement of this position is a paper by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, released at an October 2004 meeting of the Environmental Grantmakers Association. You can read it here.

Building upon Shellenberger and Nordhaus' argument The Economist considers the future of environmentalism. The increasing weakness and intellectual incoherence of the Green movement throughout the West, the article argues, derives from the fact that modern environmentalism has embraced an essentially Socialist ethic of command and control and hostility to markets and corporations.
“Mandate, regulate, litigate.” That has been the green mantra. And it explains the world's top-down, command-and-control approach to environmental policymaking. Slowly, this is changing. Yesterday's failed hopes, today's heavy costs and tomorrow's demanding ambitions have been driving public policy quietly towards market-based approaches.
What do they mean by market-based approaches?

If this new green revolution is to succeed... three things must happen. The most important is that prices must be set correctly. The best way to do this is through liquid markets, as in the case of emissions trading. Here, politics merely sets the goal. How that goal is achieved is up to the traders.

A proper price, however, requires proper information. So the second goal must be to provide it. The tendency to regard the environment as a “free good” must be tempered with an understanding of what it does for humanity and how....

Which leads naturally to the third goal, the embrace of cost-benefit analysis. ... The marginal cost of removing the last 5% of a given pollutant is often far higher than removing the first 5% or even 50%: for public policy to ignore such facts would be inexcusable.
The political and economic benefits of such an approach will be considerable.

[By] advocating data-based, analytically rigorous policies rather than pious appeals to “save the planet”, the green movement could overcome the scepticism of the ordinary voter. It might even move from the fringes of politics to the middle ground where most voters reside.
Such a sensible approach to environmental matters is not new. Trading schemes and rigorous cost-benefit analysis have been embraced by both Bush administrations as well as by Bill Clinton, and to some extent they have been implemented. They stand at the core of the current president's environmental policy. But cultlike extremists and partisan obstructionists have so far limited the extent of their implementation. The quality of the environment is an important issue, it deserves far more serious consideration than the Green movement has so far accorded it. Perhaps the recent spate of critiques will have some beneficial effect.

Read the whole thing here.