The economics of guard labor

In a recent working paper, Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev look at the economics of guard labor.

“We explore the economic importance of the private and public exercise of power in the execution of contracts and defense of property rights. We define power and represent it in a model of growth in a modern capitalist economy, borrowing themes from the classical economists (unproductive labor, product-driven investment), Marx (the labor disciplining effect of unemployment), and the contemporary theory of incomplete contracts (the role of monitoring and enforcement rents). We use this model to identify the resources devoted to the exercise of power, which we term guard labor as we measure these in labor units. Data from the United States indicate a significant increase in its extent in the U.S. over the period 1890 to the present. Cross national comparisons show a significant statistical association between income inequality and the fraction of the labor force that is constituted by guard labor, as well as with measures of political legitimacy (inversely) and political conflict. Some observations on the welfare implications of guard labor conclude the paper.”

Giving Content to ‘Social Europe’

In the recent New Left Review, Robin Blackburn tries to provide some content to ‘social Europe’ and resurrects the Swedish labor economst Rudolph Meidner’s ambitious, ill-fated, and now forgotten wage-earner’s fund.

“Anticipating the new social expenditures that would be entailed by an ageing and learning society, Meidner came to believe in the need for strategic social funds—‘wage-earner funds’—to be financed by a share levy. This levy did not work like traditional corporate taxation, which subtracts from cashflow and, potentially, investment. Instead Meidner’s levy falls on wealthy shareholders, the value of whose holdings is diluted, not on the resources of the corporation as a productive concern. According to the original plan, every company with more than fifty employees was obliged to issue new shares every year, equivalent to 20 per cent of its profits. The newly issued shares—which could not be sold—were to be given to a network of ‘wage-earner funds’, representing trade unions and local authorities. The latter would hold the shares, and reinvest the income they yielded from dividends, in order to finance future social expenditure. As the wage-earner funds grew they would be able to play an increasing part in directing policy in the corporations which they owned. . .

If an eu-wide Meidner-style corporate levy—set initially at 10 per cent of corporate profits—was introduced, the resources raised could be put in the hands of regional networks of democratically-administered social funds. This should be conceived of as an addition to—not replacement of—national welfare policies which, where necessary, might also be able to draw on emergency help from the Europe-wide fund. Levied on a continent-wide basis the arrangements would contribute towards ‘tax harmonization’ and help to deter social dumping. The new member states have low corporate taxes—Estonia’s are to be zero on reinvested profits—while their income taxes are broadly similar to those in many parts of Western Europe.”

The case against rebuilding the sunken city of New Orleans

From Slate:No_3

Nobody can deny New Orleans’ cultural primacy or its historical importance. But before we refloat the sunken city, before we think of spending billions of dollars rebuilding levees that may not hold back the next storm, before we contemplate reconstructing the thousands of homes now disintegrating in the toxic tang of the flood, let’s investigate what sort of place Katrina destroyed.

The city’s romance is not the reality for most who live there. It’s a poor place, with about 27 percent of the population of 484,000 living under the poverty line, and it’s a black place, where 67 percent are African-American. In 65 percent of families living in poverty, no husband is present. When you overlap this New York Times map, which illustrates how the hurricane’s floodwaters inundated 80 percent of the city, with this demographic map from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, which shows where the black population lives, and this one that shows where the poverty cases live, it’s transparent whom Katrina hit the hardest.

More here.

‘Proof’ our brains are evolving

From BBC News:Brain_4

By comparing modern man with our ancestors of 37,000 years ago, the Chicago team discovered big changes in two genes linked to brain size. One of the new variants emerged only 5,800 years ago yet is present in 30% of today’s humans, they believe. This is very short in evolutionary terms, suggesting intense selection pressures, they told Science. Each gene variant emerged around the same time as the advent of so called “cultural” behaviours. The microcephalin variant appeared along with the emergence of traits such as art and music, religious practices and sophisticated tool-making techniques, which date back to about 50,000 years ago. It is now present in about 70% of humans alive today.

Researcher Dr Bruce Lahn said the big question was whether the genetic evolution seen had actually caused the cultural evolution of humans or was merely chance. Their hunch is that it might have something to do with the important role that these genes play in brain size, but stressed that did not necessarily mean better intelligence.

More here.

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Macabre Reminder: The Corpse on Union Street

From The New York Times:Orleans184

That a corpse lies on Union Street may not shock; in the wake of last week’s hurricane, there are surely hundreds, probably thousands. What is remarkable is that on a downtown street in a major American city, a corpse can decompose for days, like carrion, and that is acceptable. Welcome to New Orleans in the post-apocalypse, half baked and half deluged: pestilent, eerie, unnaturally quiet.

Scraggly residents emerge from waterlogged wood to say strange things, and then return into the rot. Cars drive the wrong way on the Interstate and no one cares. Fires burn, dogs scavenge, and old signs from les bons temps have been replaced with hand-scrawled threats that looters will be shot dead. The incomprehensible has become so routine here that it tends to lull you into acceptance.

More here.

Ornithology: A wing and a prayer

From Nature:

Woodpecker_1 The Big Woods in Arkansas is not a good place to be on a hot summer day. The swampy forest is thick with mud, poison ivy and snakes. Yet early last month, a dozen scientists slogged their way through these bottomlands towards a mesh tent abuzz with insects — the heart of an unusual US environmental project. The group’s goal is to save the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), a magnificent bird thought to have died off at least 50 years ago as its forest habitat was chopped down. In April, a team led by ornithologists at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, stunned the birding world by saying they had evidence that the woodpecker still lived in the Big Woods (J. W. Fitzpatrick et al. Science 308, 1460−1462; 2005). Now more scientists are braving the wilderness as part of a federally sanctioned ‘recovery team’, charged with plotting a course to produce a healthy population of the birds. Near the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, where the ivory-billed was reportedly rediscovered in February 2004, the team has cut the trunks of trees to create deadwood. The deadwood, in turn, should become home to insect larvae, which are the woodpecker’s favourite food. If the elusive ivory-billed shows up to snack, the scientists can use the insects in the tent to identify the larvae and better understand the bird’s eating habits. (Picture from birdingamerica).

More here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Mining the Bilbao Effect

From the Kentucky Post:

Guggenheimbilbaogehry1The movement has been dubbed the Bilbao Effect, named for the city in Spain where architect Frank O. Gehry designed a Guggenheim Museum of swirling metal and where, since the museum opened in 1997, the building has become a mecca for people interested in architecture and art.

Cincinnati pursued the same effect two years ago, when world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid’s unique design for the Contemporary Arts Center created what a New York Times critic called “the most important American building to be completed since the end of the Cold War.”

Now it’s Covington’s and Louisville’s turn.

The two Kentucky cities are the latest in a growing number of American cities tapping what some call celebrity designers, or “starchitects,” to spice up their skylines with signature buildings that bring attention – and tourists – to their communities.

More here.

September 11: The View from the West

Jonathan Raban in the New York Review of Books:

20050922flagOn September 11, 2001, the United States reflexively contracted around the wound inflicted on its eastern seaboard, and for a short spell the country felt as small as Switzerland. Two thousand eight hundred miles west of the World Trade Center, roused by the phone ringing at 5:55 AM, I switched on the TV in time to see the second jetliner, flying at a tilt, aimed at the south tower like a barbed harpoon arrowing through the blue. It seemed at that moment as if the entire city around me were holding its breath. The bedroom window was open, but the usual white noise of a weekday waking morning was eerily absent. Somehow, in the eighteen minutes since the first strike on the north tower, everybody knew, and everybody was watching CNN. Unlike any news I can remember, news of September 11 was almost exactly simultaneous with the events themselves.

The blatant symbolism of the attacks —transcontinental American passenger jets destroying American skyscrapers—left no room to doubt their intended target. If you happened to live in Seattle, or Portland, or San Francisco, you were not excluded: the plane-bombs were squarely directed at the great abstraction of “America,” its daily economic life, its government, its military power; and every resident of the United States had reason to feel that he or she was under assault by the terrorists. September 11 was unique in this: other shocking and violent events in the American past were relatively specialized and local—the assassinations of presidents, the destruction of a naval fleet, the mass murder of children at a school, the fiery annihilation of an eccentric cult, the blowing-up of a federal building. Except when they occurred in your neighborhood or line of work, they were about other people. September 11 was different because it was so clearly and insistently about ourselves.

More here.

The Chromosome Shuffle

Carl Zimmer in his blog, The Loom:

ChromosomeOur genes are arrayed along 23 pairs of chromosomes. On rare occasion, a mutation can change their order. If we picture the genes on a chromosome as

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

a mutation might flip a segment of the chromosome, so that it now reads

ABCDEFGHISRQPONMLKJTUVWXYZ

or it might move one segment somewhere else like this:

ABCDLMNOPQRSTUEFGHIJKVWXYZ

In some cases, these changes can spread into the genome of an entire species, and be passed down to its descendant species. By comparing the genomes of other mammals to our own, scientists have discovered how the order of our genes has been shuffled over the past 100 million years. In tomorrow’s New York Times I have an article on some of the latest research on this puzzle, focusing mainly on two recent papers you can read here and here.

One of the most interesting features of our chromosomes, which I mention briefly in the article, is that we’re one pair short. In other words, we humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, while other apes have 24. Creationists bring this discrepancy up a lot. They claim that it represents a fatal blow to evolution.

More here.

Michiko Kakutani on Rushdie’s New Novel

Kakutani reviews Shalimar the Clown in the New York Times:

Rushdie184In his most powerful novels, Salman Rushdie has dexterously spun his characters’ surreal experiences into resonant historical allegories. “Midnight’s Children” (1981) transformed its hero’s tortured coming of age into a parable about India’s own journey into independence. “The Moor’s Last Sigh” (1995) used the dramatic reversals of fortune sustained by one eccentric family as a kind of metaphor for India’s recent ups and downs. And in recounting the interlinked stories of two powerful men, “Shame” (1983) became a sort of modern-day fairy tale about a country that was “not quite Pakistan.”

Mr. Rushdie’s latest book, “Shalimar the Clown,” aspires to turn the story of a toxic love triangle into a fable about the fate of Kashmir and the worldwide proliferation of terrorism. But this time, the author’s allegory-making machinery clanks and wheezes. Although the novel is considerably more substantial than his perfunctory 2001 book, “Fury,” it lacks the fecund narrative magic, ebullient language and intimate historical emotion found in “Midnight’s Children” and “The Moor’s Last Sigh.”

Worse, “Shalimar the Clown” is hobbled by Mr. Rushdie’s determination to graft huge political and cultural issues onto a flimsy soap opera plot – a narrative strategy that not only overwhelms his characters’ stories but also trivializes the larger issues the author is trying to address.

More here.

Barenboim has no regrets over interview snub

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Daniel Barenboim has defended his decision to deny an interview to an Israel Army Radio reporter, saying she was insensitive to have worn a military uniform at a literary function attended by Palestinians.

The incident took place Thursday at the Jerusalem launch of a book on music Barenboim wrote with the late Edward Said, a Palestinian intellectual.

Barenboim, a Jew raised in Israel, dismissed as ”nonsense” the suggestion that he dishonored Israeli pride, the Israeli army or the Israeli people by refusing the interview.

More here.

Charles Murray on Larry Summers

From Commentary:

When the late Richard Herrnstein and I published The Bell Curve eleven years ago, the furor over its discussion of ethnic differences in IQ was so intense that most people who have not read the book still think it was about race. Since then, I have deliberately not published anything about group differences in IQ, mostly to give the real topic of The Bell Curve—the role of intelligence in reshaping America’s class structure—a chance to surface.

The Lawrence Summers affair last January made me rethink my silence. The president of Harvard University offered a few mild, speculative, off-the-record remarks about innate differences between men and women in their aptitude for high-level science and mathematics, and was treated by Harvard’s faculty as if he were a crank. The typical news story portrayed the idea of innate sex differences as a renegade position that reputable scholars rejected…

The Orwellian disinformation about innate group differences is not wholly the media’s fault. Many academics who are familiar with the state of knowledge are afraid to go on the record. Talking publicly can dry up research funding for senior professors and can cost assistant professors their jobs. But while the public’s misconception is understandable, it is also getting in the way of clear thinking about American social policy.

More here.

ONE SIDE CAN BE WRONG: The case against intelligent design

From The Edge:

Dawkins150_1 The seductive “let’s teach the controversy” language still conveys the false, and highly pernicious, idea that there really are two sides. This would distract students from the genuinely important and interesting controversies that enliven evolutionary discourse. Worse, it would hand creationism the only victory it realistically aspires to. Without needing to make a single good point in any argument, it would have won the right for a form of supernaturalism to be recognised as an authentic part of science. And that would be the end of science education in America.

(RICHARD DAWKINS & JERRY COYNE:) It sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? Such a modest proposal. Why not teach “both sides” and let the children decide for themselves? As President Bush said, “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.” At first hearing, everything about the phrase “both sides” warms the hearts of educators like ourselves.

One of us spent years as an Oxford tutor and it was his habit to choose controversial topics for the students’ weekly essays. They were required to go to the library, read about both sides of an argument, give a fair account of both, and then come to a balanced judgment in their essay. The call for balance, by the way, was always tempered by the maxim, “When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong.”

More here.

Coffee Buzz: Drink Is Top Antioxidant Source in U.S.

From The National Geographic:Coffee

Java drinkers will surely get a jolt from the news that coffee is the top source of disease-fighting antioxidants in the U.S. diet, according to a new study. The popular beverage beat out black tea, bananas, dry beans, and corn—all common sources of antioxidants. But don’t get too juiced up about the health benefits of coffee just yet. Study authors and other experts warn that people get the most disease protection when they consume a wide variety of antioxidants, and coffee only carries a few specific types. They recommend eating more foods that contain a host of vital minerals and nutrients in addition to a high concentration of antioxidants—such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains.

Picture: A handful of red (ripe) and green (unripe) coffee cherries. Coffee beans—the seeds inside these cherries—are removed, dried, roasted, and ground to create the popular beverage.

More here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Black Flyism

From Now or Never:

Roshi here.

I’m perplexed.  No matter how many times I encounter what seems like a flaw in nature –like black flies, for instance– I get this way.  Reading a report of the president’s parents touring hurricane relief facilities in Houston, I was struck by the black-flyism of George’s mama and understood as I never had before why they say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

What the 1st Mamacita said:

“What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is that they all want to stay in Texas.  Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this –this (slight chuckle) is working well for them.”

I understand how she feels about hearing something scary.

I seem to recall a verse I once stumbled on in the Tao Te Ching , or maybe it wasThe Sayings of Dr. Phil.  It went something like this:

”Rivers may be shallow and there is no blame.
Shallow lakes and ponds exist and there is no shame.
Even seas, and the bays of seas may not be deep, and no one sheds a tear.
But shallow men and women mock the god who put them here.”

An Essay on Katrina, the Hurricane that Made History

Sheherzad Preisler in Sheher’s Weblog:

I am eleven years old, and I live in Massachusetts with my mother. I am writing this essay about the Hurricane Katrina because I feel the need to stand up and say something about this catastrophe that may help us do better in future emergencies such as this one. I have been deeply affected by the amount of destruction the hurricane has done. I remember about two years ago, my mom and I went to New Orleans for a visit. It was such a beautiful city, and we wanted to visit much more often. I remember my mom and I walked into a beautiful boutique not too far from the Canal Street shops, and we made sort of friends with the shopkeeper from that boutique. She was very nice to us, and I remember buying a little glass frog from there. I was looking at my somewhat large collection of marble and glass figurines a couple of days ago, and I came across that small glass frog. The moment I saw it, I became overcome with emotion. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that that nice woman might be dead right now.

More, including recommendations on what to do from young Sheher, and pictures, here.

Art is Everywhere

According to Marjorie Kehe of The Christian Science Monitor, Michael Kimmelman’s new book The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa will have the following effects:

Your backyard will look like a museum and the subway platform will seem oddly inspirational. What you will find is that art is everywhere. And what could be bad about a discovery like that?

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the conceptual work of Robert McCarren, an artist who simply builds platforms all over the world for people to enjoy views – his work turns the world into a museum, basically, and his platforms are like benches in a gallery. I am writing an essay about McCarren for an upcoming show called “Almost Something” which opens on Sept 17th. Timothy Don, whose work has been influential on McCarren, wrote about a series of broken-down barns in Kentucky as if they were art for 3QD in “Down the Rabbit Hole.” Mr. Don’s term for such work is “Found Installation.” McCarren, on the other hand, calls his work “Invisible Art”; he also insists that he’s not an artist at all. I think the general idea is similar to Kafka’s “Nature Theater of Oklahoma” and Coleridge’s description of “the secret ministry of frost.” The implications of intentionality in nature are of course problematic.

Shame for my city, shame for my country

Anya Kamenetz in The Village Voice:

Shame_1 Along with the rest of the nation, the rest of my hometown’s residents, and my friends and family, I’ve flown through a lot of emotions in the past week since Hurricane Katrina wrecked my city of New Orleans: fear, rage, anxiety, and grief. While the bodies are still being counted, I’ve currently settled on shame. I am ashamed to be an American. We are a people who constantly avow belief in various gods, in liberty and justice, and yet our fellow American citizens, ancient ladies and four-day-old infants, were left to die in the streets for lack of food and water as though they were born in the slums of Mumbai or the favelas of Brazil. We tell ourselves and the world we can do anything, be it grow crops in the desert or bring democracy to Iraq, yet we can’t land a helicopter on Interstate 10 or get buses to a convention center.

I extend that shame to those trapped who turned to violence.

More here.

Cadaver Exhibition Draws Crowds, Controversy in Florida

From The National Geographic:Human_bodies

An exhibition starring real, skinned human corpses arranged in poses—a soccer player in mid-kick, for example—is drawing record- breaking crowds and controversy to a Florida museum. Fetuses and a cigarette smoker’s tarred lungs are among the 20 corpses and 260 body parts on display. “Bodies: The Exhibition” opened August 18 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. The bodies in question are unclaimed or unidentified individuals from China. As such, neither the deceased nor their families consented to the use of the corpses in the exhibit.

More here.

Monday, September 5, 2005

Milestones: Ratzinger and Qutb

When Cardinal Ratzinger was elevated to Pope, my standard joke to relieve the tension in liberal company involved pointing out the fact that the title of Ratzinger’s memoirs, Milestones, was exactly the same as the title of the terrorist primer of the Egyptian radical Islamist Sayyid Qutb, who Paul Berman has called “the philosopher of Al Qaeda.” I was indulging in gallows humor, of course, not because I thought that Ratzinger was planning to unleash new Crusades against the infidels, but instead because I’ve grown tired of hearing the sweeping and ignorant claims about the “sickness” or “rot” at the heart of Muslim society from pundits who seem unaware that their own fundamentalist worldview overlaps at many points with that of their declared enemies.

I’m not proposing a knee-jerk argument of “moral equivalence,” as Tariq Ali did in The Clash of Fundamentalisms, which suggests that both sides of this equation are equally pernicious. The unique aims and methods of Al Qaeda, with its emphasis on maximum civilian deaths, open season on Americans and Jews as a blanket ethnic license to kill, and willingness to pursue catastrophic terrorist attacks, tend to make any such comparison trivial. Even the likes of abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, whose vile beliefs share an equally vicious fundamentalism and similar murderous tactics, do not, of course, represent the same scale of threat to the state as bin Laden. When Timothy McVeigh indulged himself in a death-bed turn to religion by taking the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which involves a confession and the absolution of sins, it showed the humanity of the Catholic faith, in the person of an unidentified prison chaplain, more than anything else. Even the Branch Davidians at Waco seemed content to wait for the apocalypse rather than bringing down the government. That said, as House Democrats complained in April, internal Homeland Security Department documents indicate a mystifying lack of interest in the potential terrorist threat of right-wing hate groups, while oddly listing the Animal Liberation Front as a group that might potentially support Al Qaeda. It was these right-wing extremists, of course, in addition to some well-known Christian fundamentalists, who welcomed September 11.

If there is a real comparison to be drawn, however, it is not between Muslim and Christian terror groups, or “who to worry about more.” It’s about the nature of the ideas underlying fundamentalism, which in their radical forms are worrisome to opponents of theocracy everywhere. When it comes to ideas, the splinter in our eye is curious; the United States is prosecuting what it perceives to be an ideological war of ideas with fundamentalist Islam abroad, while the ruling party largely turns a blind eye to religious fanaticism at home. Christopher Hitchens, for example, referred to the election of 2004 as “Bush’s Secularist Triumph” in Slate, mocking the Catholic writer Garry Wills for worrying over Bush’s Armageddonism. (Wills compares Ratzinger to Ashcroft.) Hitchens stretched contrarianism to new levels by declaring that the left was “making excuses for religious fanaticism” by sympathizing with suicide bombers and Iraqi insurgents. As it happens, there remains a large legion of committed liberals who understand the necessity of fighting terrorism. They shouldn’t be intellectually bullied into ignoring the entirety of the domestic political scene, where rampant theocons are giddy with power.

When Andrew Sullivan, in a New Republic essay “Crisis of Faith,” calls America’s homegrown theocrats a “milder” form of fundamentalism, he seems to de-emphasize the fact that in the wake of the Schiavo case, prominent Republicans were making highly emotive attacks on Federal judges that seemed to question the Rule of Law or threaten to overturn it. Similarly, one of the first proclamations made by the new Pope was a threat against Catholic clergy who helped enforce Spain’s new and more liberal marriage act, which allow legal rights for homosexual couples. Here it was again: a sense that the Rule of Law was subordinate to religious dictates (a notion which, incidentally, flies in the face of Christian doctrine). Since then, the new Pope has backed down and tried to present a more inclusive face.

When I went back to the experts, I found that I was not mistaken to wonder whether radical Islam and fundamentalism Christianity shared similar worldviews. Extrapolating from the work of Karen Armstrong, in The Battle for God, and Gilles Kepel, in The Revenge of God, it’s plausible to draw connections, though not identities, between the thought of Ratzinger and Qutb. Kepel, in fact, mentions them both in his book. The reason is that both thinkers had their intellectual life-worlds formed in basic opposition to liberal, pluralist, capitalist modernity, in an era dominated by Western secular humanism and the expansion of American culture. Armstrong and Kepel agree that contemporary fundamentalism, while deploying the rhetoric of returning to a simpler past of traditional faith, in fact is modern through and through. Yes, it’s a kind of modernism that rejects and despises modernity itself, but while it cries out for humanity to turn back the clock to a time before birth control, AIDs, working women, and biological theories of homosexuality – though not, interestingly enough, a time before the discovery of germs or antibiotics – in reality its aims are modern, a highly politicized form of authoritarian control over personal morality and privacy.

A comparative investigation of Ratzinger and Qutb must focus upon their shared horror of modern life and its putative ethical decay. For Qutb this involved the “hideous schizophrenia” he saw at the core of modernity, which broke apart the sacred and secular realms of existence, disrupting a meaningful view of creation, the individual’s role in life, and his or her relationship with God. Thus Islam, which in Qutb’s native Egypt had begun rapid modernization under Nasser, must radically reject “the European mentality,” because it cannot provide salvation. Thus Islamists are encouraged to get free of freedom, at least the pernicious model of freedom offered by the tempting but vacuous illusions of consumer capitalism. Ratzinger’s views strike a similar chord. “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism,” he warned fellow cardinals before they elected him in conclave, “which does not recognize anything as certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” In fact, either man could have written these lines. Qutb’s own remarks are: “This religion is really a universal declaration of the freedom of man from servitude to other men and from servitude to his own desires.”

The “desires” that seem to bother both thinkers the most are the most sensual and private ones. Qutb argues in Milestones that “if the relationship between man and woman is based on lust, passion and impulse, and the division of work is not based on family responsibility and natural gifts; if woman’s role is merely to be attractive, sexy and flirtatious, and if woman is freed from her basic responsibility of bringing up children…then such a civilization is ‘backward’…” Ratzinger puts the same case in another fashion. “What is the woman to do when the roles inscribed in her biology have been denied and perhaps even ridiculed?” he asks. And what if “her wonderful capacity to give love, help, solace, warmth, solidarity has been replaced by the economistic and trade union mentality of the ‘profession,’ by this typical masculine concern?” Funny that Ratzinger should mention his opposition to women working in exactly this context, because the above passage from Qutb rails against those women who take jobs as airline hostesses. St. Paul, on the other hand, asked women preachers only to cover their heads when they were at work in the faith, so that the vision of women’s roles in the faith was more progressive 2000 years ago than it is today.

A troubling picture of resemblances emerges here that cannot be easily denied. Both thinkers are authoritarian fundamentalists operating against the grain of the same modern global culture of tolerance, pluralism, and relativism. Thus their critique of our world has mutual resonance – it sounds similar, it rings a bell. At the very least this ought to give us pause. Rightwing religious pundits busy themselves with vacuous assertions about the need to uproot the inherent sickness of Muslim society – and not just the real enemy, the sinister terrorist groups who take bin Laden as their inspiration, who are a much smaller, much more dangerous demographic that needs to be separated out from even conservative Islamism.

The great difference, of course, is that Qutb’s writings form a direct incitement to violence, although not, it must be said, against innocent American civilians. ”Those who risk their lives and go out to fight,” he says, “and who are prepared to lay down their lives for the cause of God are honorable people, pure of heart and blessed of soul. But the great surprise is that those among them who are killed in the struggle must not be considered or described as dead. They continue to live, as God Himself clearly states.” Qutb’s appeal for Qaedists is based upon this conception of martyrdom. Ratzinger, on the contrary, shifted toward a more conservative outlook at the result of his opposition to militancy. As a young professor at Tubingen University during the 1960s, Ratzinger recoiled from the student protest movement that wished to politicize the Church. Persistent rumors that hostile students once grabbed a microphone away from Ratzinger have been officially denied. But Ratzinger’s distress created a lasting impression of “instrumentalization by ideologies that were tyrannical, brutal, and cruel.” If there is violence encoded in the doctrine of Ratzinger, it involves acts of omission (the cover-up of the sex abuse scandal, for example, in which he directly participated), and the propagation of measures that lead to poverty and war, such as the denial of birth control. But the views are consistent with an absolute protection of life, part of the “seamless garment” of Catholic theology which opposes war and the death penalty as well as the right to choose.

If we found that the person who mailed anthrax to the U.S. Senate was a huge fan of The Passion of the Christ and an owner of The Ratzinger Report, we might blame Mel Gibson for being a propagandist of extremist Catholicism, and revisit his father’s remarks about the holocaust, as well as Ratzinger’s stint in the Hitler Youth. But nobody would advocate the invasion of Vatican City. That would be as silly as invading Iraq to defeat bin Ladenism, or trying to make Qutb, not Atta, the mastermind of September 11. But since such silliness is happening, and since we are going through the full immersion experience in nationalistic zealotry and the degradation of foreign cultures and entire regions of the globe, it’s worth remembering the motes and the splinters in the eyes of the theocrats on both sides who want to make this a clash of civilizations.