Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Another anti-war vigil in Austin

War protest
About 300 people gathered late yesterday afternoon on both sides of the Congress Avenue bridge in opposition to the Iraq War. The people driving by overwhelmingly honked in support. I didn't see any expressions of disagreement, but I don't have psychic powers to intuit the motives of the honksters who did not wave or cheer. Certainly there was no overt hostility.

All in all, it was very peaceful, and a nice afternoon to be out on the bridge, but as far as I can tell the efforts of the Austin Statesman photographer, who was busy with several cameras, went in vain--I could find nothing this morning in the Austin newspaper about the event. He certainly took more photos than I, and I took 20 or 30. But the online Statesman sometimes buries or does not run things that are in the print edition, so perhaps I missed it (I unsubscribed to the print version a year ago, for political reasons.)

Clearly though, it was not a significant news event on a day when local news included a congratulatory piece on an Austin Statesman reporter winning third prize for an outstanding food-reporting story.

War protest

War protest

War protest

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Torture once again

Here we have Megan McArdle, a conservative columnist at, suggesting that those of us who oppose torture, possibly not including the columnist, should not use pragmatic arguments against torture by claiming, for example, that it does not work. She suggests that perhaps it does. Instead, she advises liberals, of whom she is clearly not one, to take the harder approach, and stand against torture on moral grounds.

McArdle, who previously wrote a blog under the pen name of Jane Galt, may perhaps be a fan of the the harder approach and the heroic pose on principle, if her taste in political literature can be admitted in evidence (she enjoys the novels of Ayn Rand, though she insists she is not, herself, an "objectivist," Rand's name for her socialist-realism stood on its head.) I find myself unfairly perhaps suspecting that if McArdle does in fact oppose torture on principle, it is because so many liberals oppose it for inferior and pragmatic reasons.

But, in any case, I agree with her that if we oppose torture, we should do so on principle, even as at the same time I have my doubts as to her bona fides as an advice-giver to liberals.

But is the legitimacy of torture something that is even a morally defensible thing to talk about? Is it a discussion we should actually have? Why do liberals find themselves invited--by right-wingers whom we are assured are earnest,philosophically-minded truth-seekers--to even talk about such a thing? Does the invitation to this intellectual soiree have another consequence, not to mention another purpose, than the unveiling of the Truth?

I am not suggesting a conspiracy, by the right. I am suggesting a fundamental flaw in the way these guys look at the world.

Let's take something similar. Suppose a right-winger proposes--and not in a Jonathan Swiftian way--that we seriously examine the case for murdering our children, and eating them, in times of hardship.

After all, 9/11 changed everything. And sometimes it works. Protein is protein.

Immediately we see the problem.

Now McArdle here in effect inserts in her by-the-way manner that really, if we _really_ oppose such cannibalism, we should do so because it is a bad thing, not because it doesn't provide calories.

Now, in the first amendment sense at least, I am not in favor of actually, legally, suppressing such a discussion. I suppose I am more in favor of a Mennonite-like shunning of people who wish to carry on that conversation with us. The only philosophical argument here, that I can see, is the case for rejecting such talk altogether, not the case for boiling and eating our children.

I suppose I would make a sort of slippery-slope argument, that the very consideration of that behavior--or for that matter, of torture--takes us closer to very bad things indeed.

At this point, someone wishing to be helpful, suggests that we should define our terms (we actually see this in comments to McArdle's blog.) What do we mean by killing and eating our children? Perhaps eating our children without killing them should be an acceptable thing to talk about. And so forth. Or to paraphrase some of the real comments, "Torture is a bad thing, agreed, but how about waterboarding?"

We see the slippery slope, here, already getting slid down.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Tlakaelel at Hueco Tanks

Tlakaelel at Hueco Tanks--1
Tlakaelel is important in the Mexica movement, an indigenist religious revival movement which began in Mexico City in the 1960s. It is organized, if that is the word, into highly independent local groups called kalpullis. Partly traditional, but tending towards syncretism, this movement tapped into Chicano identity issues in the American southwest, where the kalpullis have adopted a lot of US Native American religious ceremonies and beliefs. Over the years Tlakaelel, whose real name is Francisco Jimenez, has evolved a sort of pan-Indian ideology which has a Nahuatl mythological core, but a lot of ceremonial practices gotten from North American Indians.

A few years before her death, my wife Kay Sutherland, an anthropologist whose specialties included Native American rock art and meso-American religions, had concluded that a lot of elements of southwest rock art represented a fusion of Meso-American and native pre-Puebloan concepts. Through a complex series of events, this led some kalpulli members in El Paso to seek out her assistance in getting the Texas parks system to give their kalpulli the same status to conduct religious ceremonies at Hueco Tanks State Park as some US Native American groups had.

So she spent some time interviewing Tlakaelel, who is revered as an elder by most US kalpulli groups, and she took him to important rock art sites like Hueco Tanks. She came to feel that the kalpulli understanding of these sites was certainly as valid as that of the official Native American groups. Now, the parks department wanted only groups with historical cultural continuity with Hueco Tanks. Their concept of cultural continuity was simplistic, but hey, these people are highly politicized bureaucrats, and simplistic is all they know. Kay gave it a shot, but their basic prejudice (literally) was that these people are Mexicans reinventing themselves as Indians, a viewpoint completely at odds with Kay's anthropological training, not to mention her Jungian personal views of religion.

Anyway, Kay was sympathetic to the kalpulli, and presented a perhaps overly sophisticated argument to the parks people that all religions reinvent themselves all the time, and moreover that there was in fact a greater continuity of myth between the religious symbols found at Hueco Tanks and the contemporary belief system of the kalpulli than with the contemporary belief systems of some of the allowed groups. But no dice. The kalpulli lost.

So they conduct ceremonies in the desert outside Hueco Tanks.

I think these photos were taken in 2001. Tlakaelel would have been about 80 years old here. He has a certain personal presence, as you may be able to see from the pictures.

Update: Tlakaelel died on July 26, 2012.

Tlakaelel at Hueco Tanks--2