Monday, March 24, 2008

Idiot Parents Refuse to Vaccinate Their Children

Megan McArdle links to this New York Times article about what Megan calls "twee Bobo sociopaths" who refuse to vaccinate their children, either due to religious beliefs or woo-woo personal antipathy toward vaccination. As the article points out, kids who aren't vaccinated expose other kids to possible infection, not to mention adults whose immunity has faded. They think vaccines are dangerous -- which they are to some small extent -- and so they expose their own children, and other children, to the much greater risk of the underlying diseases, effectivley free-riding off the parents who have had their children immunized.

But some parents go beyond leaving their children unvaccinated. They actually expose their children to the actual diseases the vaccines are intended to protect them from:

Some parents of unvaccinated children go to great lengths to expose their children to childhood diseases to help them build natural immunities.

In the wake of last month’s outbreak, Linda Palmer considered sending her son to a measles party to contract the virus. Several years ago, the boy, now 12, contracted chicken pox when Ms. Palmer had him attend a gathering of children with that virus.

“It is a very common thing in the natural-health oriented world,” Ms. Palmer said of the parties.

Oh, well, then it's OK then. If it's common in the "natural health" world, then it's fine and dandy.

Megan thinks that the unvaccinated ought to be barred from exposing members of the public to risk of disease:

Of course, I recognize that people have a right to abide by their conscience, and I would not want public health officials to force children to be vaccinated. I just think that people who are unvaccinated, unless they have a legitimate medical reason for same, should not be allowed to use public roads, public sidewalks, or public services. They have a right not to vaccinate their children. But they do not have a right to risk my health.

I suppose we could have "Natural Health Colonies," along the lines of leper colonies, for those who forego vaccination. They might get wiped out by diseases from time to time, but I suppose that there would always be a new crop of natural health nuts to fill them back up. And yet administering this system seems a bit difficult. What are we going to do, tattoo a "U" on the forehead of the unvaccinated?

I prefer the option she rejects: have public health officials force children to be vaccinated, even if the parents object on religious or other grounds. In general, I believe in personal freedom, and if people want to risk their own health, so be it. Jump out of airplanes, smoke cigarettes, drink raw milk, go to an acupuncturist when you have cancer -- I really don't give a damn. Your body, your life.

But we all agree that children are a special case, because they are not yet mature enough to make decisions about their own lives. (Some adults aren't either, but that's another post.) So somebody has to decide things for children. But who?

Well, one answer is that the state could do it. The problem with that is that the state tends to do a pretty bad job at that sort of thing. Most parents love their children and in general are motivated to do a good job of taking care of them. That doesn't mean they don't screw up at times, but they do a better job than the goverment would if it tried to raise all children en masse.

But we recognize exceptions to that general principle. Parents are required to give their children basic nutrition, clothing, and shelter. If Jewish or Muslim parents don't want to feed their kids pork, that's fine, but they have to feed them something. Spanking is still legal, but severe beatings are not allowed. Nor does it matter if parents are motivated by religion as they abuse their kids. Christian Reconstructionist parents are allowed to believe whatever they want, but they can't stone their children for talking back. If parents lock their kids in the attic, as in that awful Flowers in the Attic book, then social workers are supposed to come and take them away to a nice foster family, where, one hopes, the children won't be locked in the attic or sodomized by the kid in the next bunk. Granted, that's not always a given, which is why children are only taken away for good reason. But abuse or neglect is a good reason.

Failure to vaccinate your child ought to be considered a form of neglect, just like denying that child any form of medical care. Now, some kids have legitimate medical reasons to not be vaccinated, and of course they should be exempt. But "personal beliefs" or "relgious objections" Give me a break. Somebody might have a religion that requires him to sodomize his kid every Tuesday night, but we don't let people do that.

If a person't religious or personal beliefs cause them to forego medical care, fine. But their children aren't capable, yet, of making an informed and rational choice. Since the parents obviously aren't either, the state should require vaccination. And anybody who takes their kid to a "measles party" to intentionally infect them ought to lose all parental rights and have some serious time in the slammer.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mr. Intellectual Honesty Is At It Again

A few months ago, I chided "Reality-Based" blogger Mark Kleiman for a post in which he simultaneously claimed that his side -- however defined -- had the edge in intellectual honesty while at the same time urging his allies to refrain from criticizing General Ricardo Sanchez, apparently even if such criticisms were true. I argued at the time -- and it still seems to me to be true -- that it's self-contradictory to trumpet your own intellectual honesty while at the same time urging your political allies to refrain from advancing what they believe to be

Well, he's at it again. A couple of weeks ago, he declared a "Cease-Fire" on Hillary Clinton, saying that "anyone looking for criticism of Hillary Rodham Clinton or her campaign will have to look elsewhere from now on" Why? Because, in his estimation, Obama had it won and Obama supporters should "aim their fire at John McCain."

Today he threatened to revoke his unilateral cease-fire, in a short post:

Yes, we've been observing a unilateral cease-fire.

But if you keep lying about our candidate, we might just have to start telling the truth about yours.

And that wouldn't be fun for anyone, would it?

To begin with, I am not at all sure that his fellow Obama supporters have been observing the cease-fire. Or maybe Kleimain means "I" here, and he's using the "Royal We." Nor am I sure he has the authority to declare cease-fires or the resumption of hostilities on behalf of the Obama campaign.

But leave that aside. Kleiman seems to be saying that there are true bad things about Hillary Clinton that Barack Obama supporters haven't been saying? And, as of a week ago, when he though it was in the bag, that he thought they shouldn't say. Where is the intellectual honesty in that? Shouldn't Kleiman just say what he thinks the truth is, rather than refraining out of short-term political expediency? And if we know that Kleiman will lie by omission, by refraining from saying bad things about Hillary, and if he urges others to do the same, why should we believe him when he says (or fails to say) stuff about other candidates? He's already admitted that political maneuvering takes precedence over telling the truth as he sees it.

His attitude makes perfect sense for Senator Obama himself, or for people officially-connected with his campaign. If he wins the nomination, he's going to need the support of Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton. At some point, it makes sense for him to ease off if he's got it won. Running up the score doesn't do him a lot of good.

But so far as I know, Professor Kleiman isn't officially connected with the Obama campaign. He's a Professor who happens to support Barack Obama. Which is, you know, perfectly fine. Call me an idealist if you want, though, but I think that Professors ought to think of themselves as Priests in the Temple of Truth. They might believe in a particular political candidate, and they should certainly feel free to advance arguments in favor of the person they support. But figuring out the truth and stating it ought to be Job One.

Heck, even if he supports Obama, he ought to be willing to criticize Obama if and when he thinks the Senator is wrong. And the same is true of supporters of Senator McCain, of course. Recently, McCain stated that "there's strong evidence" that thimerosal causes autism. "Nonsense on stilts," as Megan McArdle put it. So what should a McCain supporter do? And intellectually honest McCain supporter, I mean, and one not deluded into thinking that thimerosal causes autism.

An intellectually honest McCain supporter should say "I support Senator McCain for these four reasons, but he's spouting crap on this." Given his statements, there's absolutely no reason to believe that Professor Kleiman would take such an intellectually honest position were Obama to make a similarly nonsensical statement. He may think himself "reality based," but his statements about the "Cease Fire" make it clear that he values political outcomes ahead of telling the truth as he sees it.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Being Obama

If Barack Obama does win the Democratic nomination, we are undoubtedly going to be treated to a tiresome parade of complaints about imagined racial slights. Here's one: Saturday Night Live had Fred Armisen (who?) play Barack Obama in a recent skit. Ann Althouse links to this Washington Post piece about the ensuing outrage.

Why the outrage? According to the WaPo article, Armison is of white and Asian heritage. Oh gosh, can't have that, can we? Well, the sort of people likely to take umbrage at this sort of thng have taken umbrage:

Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune put the question bluntly: "Call me crazy, but shouldn't 'Saturday Night Live's' fictional Sen. Barack Obama be played by an African-American?" Ryan went on to conclude: "I find 'SNL's' choice inexplicable. Obama's candidacy gives us solid proof of the progress that African-Americans have made in this country. I guess 'SNL' still has further to go on that front."

You're crazy Maureen. But you aren't the only one. My favorite comment comes from Todd Boyd, a "Professor of Critical Studies" at USC:

Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California, says viewers might have a different reaction if the roles were reversed. What if, he says, "SNL" had cast a black woman to portray Hillary Clinton? "Do you think there's ever going to be a day when we start casting Queen Latifah to portray Princess Diana?" he asks. "We just don't have the same representations going in other direction.

You know, if I were a professor in a politically-driven pseudo-discipline, I would avoid being quoted in the newspaper, if only to avoid having people ask what a "Professor of Critical Studies" actually you know, studies. I suppose, though, that if you're going to pretend that being a community organizer is a real job, you might as well pretend that a Professor of Critical Studies is a real Professor. (Unlike Barack Obama, who is not, contrary to some claims, a Professor of Constitutional Law.)

But I digress. This gripe is so stupid on so many levels that it's hard to know where to start.

Well, start with the obvious: as the WaPo and Professor Althouse both observe, SNL has a long history of having blacks play whites, and vice versa. Eddie Murphy played white characters, and Billy Crystal played Sammy Davis, Jr. Heck, SNL did some skits where men impesonated women: Dan Akroyd as Julia Child, and Will Ferrell as Janet Reno.

As Professor Althouse says, the question for Saturday Night Live isn't whether a particular actor is the same race or gender as the person he or she is impersonating -- the question is whether the impersonation is funny. And you know, by the standards of modern-day SNL, I think that Armison's impersonation really is kind of funny. Not Dan-Akroyd-as-Julia-Child funny, but SNL hasn't been that funny in a long time.

But in Obama's case it is particularly dumb. As Paddy O, one of Professor Althouse's commenters put it: "How is Obama any more black than white? Is there some kind of one drop rule in effect?" Sure, Obama may choose to identify himself as "black," and he may have joined an Afrocentric church, but none of this alters the fact that his mom was white. In terms of pure ethnic background, it's no more inappropriate to have a white guy impersonate him than to have a "pure" black Obama imitator. If you are insisting on racial verisimilitude, why not go all the way and demand he be impersonated by a man of mixed race whose dad was Kenyan and mom was a white chick from the midwest? Fred Armisen is of mixed race, if not quite the same mix as Obama. In that sense, he is more appropriate than either an all-black or all-white actor.

Look, if somebody of importance actually says something racist about Obama, I'll jump on them with both feet. But this crap is just nonsense.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Patriotism Gap

Megan McArdle thinks this anti-Berkeley ad is weird:

She thinks it's stupid to run the ad on Fox News in D.C., because the Berkeley City Council is unlikely to be affected by the actions of Washingtonians. Well, sure.

But that isn't the point. It's a culture war thing. The whole point is to make people riled up about the fact that there are still "blame America First" leftists out there.

And if you want to tie it to the election, well, it's pretty obvious that the sort of people who boo National Guard ads in movie theaters are, in general, the sort of people who vote for Democrats. And of course Mrs. Obama played right into that when she made her unfortunate but revealing remarks about being proud of her country for the first time. Personally, I don't give a shit whether Barack Obama wears a flag in his lapel bin. But the Patriotism Gap is a serious problem for the Democrats. And stuff like the antics of the City Council of Berkeley only make it worse.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dhimmi Watch: Harvard Edition

Via Instapundit, this article about an effort to make Muslim Harvard students more "comfortable" in the gym. By instituting women-only gym hours. They're being instituted at the insistence of -- you guessed it -- the Harvard Islamic Society:

Harvard Islamic Society's Islamic Knowledge Committee officer Ola Aljawhary, a junior, said the women-only hours are being tested on a trial basis. The special gym hours will be analyzed over Spring Break to determine if they will continue, she said.

Aljawhary said that she does not believe that the women-only gym hours discriminate against men.

"These hours are necessary because there is a segment of the Harvard female population that is not found in gyms not because they don't want to work out, but because for them working out in a co-ed gym is uncomfortable, awkward or problematic in some way," she said.

Will we never stop giving in to Muslim demands? Gender integration in places like the gym is a part of Western Civilization's acceptence of gender equality. It's a good thing, damnit, something that makes us better than the Muslim world where they keep women wrapped up in "modest" attire, lest men be driven into a sexual frenzy at the sight of an exposed ankle. Our culture is better than theirs -- that's why we make the airplanes that they have to hijack. And it's worth fighting for, inch by inch if we must.

Maybe working out in a co-ed gym is "uncomfortable, awkward, or problematic" for some Harvard students. But that can be a useful part of getting an education, or adopting a new culture. If these women are so "modest" that they can't don a pair of sweatpants (no rules says that have to wear leotards) and work out, well maybe they ought to move to Saudi Arabia.

Where they will be more "comfortable."

Paging Doctor Mengele

Megan McArdle links to this article by Graeme Wood arguing in favor of harvesting the organs of executed convicts. But wait! It turns out that most methods of execution ruin the organs. How do you get around that? Wood argues in favor of the "Mayan Protocal" -- executing people by removing their organs:

But by using what the bioethicist Arthur Caplan calls “the Mayan Protocol”—a term derived from the ancient Mayan practice of vivisecting their human sacrifices—the removal of organs would itself be the method of execution. If this sounds inhumane, compare it to current practices: botched hangings, painfully long gassings, and messy electrocutions. Removal of the heart, lungs, and kidneys (under anesthesia, of course) would kill every time, without an instant of pain.

I suppose you might find doctors willing to go along and ignore that "First Do No Harm" thing. And if you did, well, think of the lives you could save!

Given the overlap between libertarians and science ficiton fans, it's hardly surprising that "Lou," Megan's first commenter, brought up the Larry Niven short story, "The Jigsaw Man." To give away the punch line: in that futuristic society, they required that death row inmates have their organs harvested. As a result, legislatures expanded the death penalty to include more and more offenses, until the defendant in the story faces the death penalty for being a recidivist traffic offender.

I don't think that it would go that far -- but there are ample reasons why the citizenry ought not receive collateral benefits from criminal punishments. (Following this theory, David Friedman has trumpted the virtues of inefficient punishments.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Disaffected Convservatives

Andrew Sullivan points to this article by Jonah Goldberg. Goldberg's point? Well, as Sully succintly puts it, "McCain = Bush." As Goldberg points out, "most of the criticisms aimed at McCain can be directed at President Bush himself. " Bush signed McCain-Feingold, after all, and backed amnesty for illegal immigration, both supposedly reasons conservatives have a problem with McCain. If you wanted to add to the list, you could observe that Bush expanded the federal role in education through No Child Left Behind and not only supported by actively pushed for the creation of a new entitlement program.

Goldberg thinks that a lot of the animosity toward McCain is really anti-Bush animosity:

According to many pundits, McCain won the Republican Party's "anti-Bush" wing, made up of moderates and independents. But this is largely a media-driven narrative imposed on a somewhat different reality. There is, in fact, a much broader anti-Bush sentiment in the party. The "right wing" of the GOP is suffering from a deep buyer's remorse of its own.

All I can say is: about goddamn time. Seriously, I understand why many conservatives thought that Bush was a real conservative back in 2000 -- I thought the "compassionate conservative" crap was election-year hooey. Well, I was wrong, much to my regret. Jonah is wrong when he implies that conservatives haven't jumped ship -- in fact, quite a few conservatives have turned on Bush. (As a libertarian, I don't really count, but I've certainly turned on him.) By any objective measure, George W. Bush is not a conservative, and his presidency has erased nearly all the gains of the conservative movement for the last thirty or so years. Democrats are going to be running against George W. Bush for the rest of my lifetime. Conservative should be attacking George W. Bush at every opportunity, not backing the guy up.

So why haven't conservatives jumped ship in greater numbers? Well, I think that there are a number of overlapping reasons.

First, many conservatives remained honestly convinced that the Iraq war, while possibly mishandled, was a necessary step in the War on Terror. Now, I think, in retrospect, that the war was a huge mistake which has cost both lives and treasure, and which has been tactically counterproductive. Now, if you believe that the war wasn't a mistake, you are far more likely to see Bush as a source of steadfast leadership.

Second, there is the issue of judges. While the Harriet Miers nomination garnered a lot of conservative pushback, most conservatives are pretty happy with Roberts and Allito, as well as the bulk of the lower court judges. This is important to conservatives, because they fear -- with some validity -- that lunatic far left judges will attempt to advance the leftist agenda through the courts if allowed to do so.

Third, Bush has the right enemies. Goldberg discuses this particular point in contrasting Bush and McCain. As he puts it:

In terms of body language, the contrast with McCain couldn't be more stark. Bush has always been the sort of politician who relishes being loathed by The New York Times. McCain simply loves being loved by the Times and the national media generally. It's his base.

Add to that the folks over at DailyKos,, the 9/11 Truthers, the people from that town in Vermont who want Bush arrested. Whatever his other faults, Bush pisses off the right people. I think many conservative have a feeling that since the left hates Bush with such passion, he cannot possibly be all bad.

Fourth point -- related to the third -- is that support for Bush is part of being on "our team." Conservatives have historically found themselves at home in the Republican Party. They've come to identify with the Republican Team, they way some folks like the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees. Democrats, of course, have similar propensities: they identify with members of the Democratic Team, regardless of policy. If Bush had done all the same things but been a Democrat, lots of "convservatives" would hate his guts. Likewise, if Bill Clinton had been a Republican, many conservatives would love him.

Finally, I will add a factor I wouldn't have even considered before this primary season. Bush is an Evangelical Christian. I think the success of Huckabee shows that quite a few Evangelicals aren't "conservatives" in the William F. Buckley sense of the term -- they're not principled adherents to conservative ideology. They're cultural conservatives on things like the Ten Commandments, gays, porn, abortion, and other hot button cultural issues. But, they're not so big on limited government and free markets. For that kind of "conservative," well, Bush is great. He's an apostate on the stuff they don't care about, but he stands firm on the culture war issues. Evangelical Christians care a about a candidate's overt and stated faith. Because Bush claims to pray all the time and imbues his speeches with God Talk, they think he's doing the right thing. He's got faith, after all! He could do the opposite of what he's done on most issues, and if he talked about God enough, that would be enough for the Evangelicals. They support Huckabee for the same reason: he's one of them. He has faith.

McCain as the nominee will get the support of many conservatives, despite his apostasy on some issues, for some of the same reasons Bush has. Certainly many conservatives will back him on War-On-Terror issues, and he will probably appoint pretty good judges (from a conservative viewpoint). And as the election nears, the whole "our team" thing will kick in. Paradoxically, if his love affair with the media ends before the election rolls around, many conservatives will probably like him better, because he will have at least some of the right enemies.

What he will never get, though, are the solid core of Evangelicals who still support Bush and who now support Huckabee. They are identity politics voters, and McCain just isn't one of them.

Obama's Che Flag

A bit of a back-and-forth between John Cole over at Balloon Juice and Captain Ed. Captain Ed slammed Obama because -- get this -- his campaign office in Houston features a Cuban flag with a picture of Che superimposed on it hanging on the wall. Cole calls Ed a "loyal party hack" and talks about our Cuba policy. Which of course is quite beside the point -- a Cuban flag with a picture of Che on it isn't a critique of America's inane boycott of Cuba; it's an endorsement of a brutal communist despotism and a murdering thug.

In a later update, Cole clarifies that it was Obama volunteers, not staffers, who put up the flag. Well, call me unmoved. If any Republican candidate had volunteers who put up a Nazi or Fascist emblem, or even a Confederate Flag, this would be seen as emblematic of Republican racism and fascism. Surely it says something about Obama -- and the left wing of the Democratic Party -- that his volunteers think a communist emblem is just dandy.

But this shouldn't be a surprise -- it's all part of the double standard. Communism was every bit as evil as fascism -- more evil, by pure body count. And yet Che is chic. Disgusting.

Sorry About the Hiatus

Faithful readers, if you are still with me, I apologize for the long blog-break. Combination of travel and illness. However, I'm back, and I will try to update with more regularity these days.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

More Lefty Self-Congratulation

"What''s the matter with Kansas?" asks Mark Kleiman. His answer: witchcraft. Kleiman purports to think that Democrats need to stop treating Republican voters with contempt if they want to, you know, win elections. And so he commends a blog post from Tim Burke at Easily Distracted which does exactly that, at some length.

Burke starts with the classic telling but not necessarily representative anecdote: an NPR interview with a woman who works as an assistant manager at a store in Texas, a woman who (according to Burke) sounded "bone-weary about both politics and life." Apparently this particular woman has a bug up her ass about illegal immigration, and -- if the NPR interview accurately depicted her views, a possibly-dubious assumption -- she blames all her woes on illegal immigrants.

According to Burke, she is like the dirt-poor African peasant in Zimbabwe who believes that witchcraft is the cause of all his woes. Seriously, he says that -- I'm going to quote at length because my summary simply cannot capture the man's arrogance:

In the early 1990s in Zimbabwe, one part of my research concerned how the visible ownership of commodities performed or communicated wealth, and therefore aroused the dangerous jealousies of neighbors. This is a different kind of “mystery of capital” than what Hernando de Soto discusses. I am completely sympathetic to how southern Africans invoke ideas about witchcraft to explain how some people obtain wealth. Obviously it isn’t my own explanation, but there’s a sense in which it’s a completely reasonable attempt to connect the visible surface of material and economic life with the largely invisible mechanisms that move resources and capital around beneath the surface. How did your neighbor get a hold of bricks to complete one wall of his township house when you can’t get any? Where did the family next door get those new shoes, when you know that they don’t have any more access to wage earnings than you do? How did that man keep his job when you lost yours?

One story struck me as particularly potent. I was curious about zvidhoma, spirit beings who are basically the same as the tokoloshe that South Africans talk about. They’re said to be the tools of witches, able to exact invisible revenge on their victims by beating, wounding or causing illness in their targets. But on a number of occasions, I was also told cautionary tales about why you should never pick up what seems to be abandoned or unowned wealth or goods (like a bag of money or a wandering goat) because often these will have zvidhoma “stuck” to them who will then infest the unlucky soul who picks them up. Money and wealth circulate mysteriously, and carry hidden dangers. The people who get rich, in this worldview, are those who’ve learned to manage malevolent spiritual powers. If you’re not one of those people, you’ll just end up a victim if you chase after phantoms.

. . . .

That woman in Texas is probably not a Democratic voter regardless of whom the candidate is. Her key issue maybe ought to be health care reform, but she’s enmeshed in another kind of narrative, one where racial resentment, among other things, is lurking very powerfully just underneath the surface. But even that is a layer covering the real depths. What I heard listening to her was someone who basically thinks that she’s in a hopeless place because some great engine is churning mysteriously in the depths of history, that life is just bad now.

Right. That's the way to win over Red-State voters: tell them they're all a bunch of ignorant savages who believe in witchcraft. Condescend to them while claiming to do the opposite.

This post could only have been written by an intellectual. Ordinary people can believe dumb things, but this level of concentrated stupidity requires a very intelligent mind. Seriously, where to start?

To begin with, there's the blithe assumption that the typical "Red State" Republican voter is so badly off that the Zimbabwe analogy makes sense. Now, I don't deny that there are some people in the United States who struggle economically, or who are economically insecure in various ways. But still, the notion that this assistant manager's plight is analogous to the most destitute resident of Zimbabwe is a bit much. As is his assumption that she is typical.

As it happens, I live in a blue portion of a red state, but I do get out of the house from time to time -- attending state fairs and country music concerts and the like. Places where I meet and see likely Republican voters of the sort that Kleiman and Burke would like to attract. And you know, in the parking lot I see plenty of $40,000 SUVs and pickup trucks. Some of them even have indoor plumbing and electricity. Yes, there are people who have real economic problems. But there are plenty doing just fine, thank you.

Nor do I deny that there are plenty of people who believe screwy things. Not all of whom are Republicans -- I once had a conversation with a retired union member and lifelong Democrat who was utterly convinced that the oil companies had suppressed an engine which runs on sea water. Heck, John Edwards is trying to convince primary voters that a free trade agreement with tiny Peru will be an economic disaster for the United States. And he's one of these "competent" Democrats who presumably believes stuff based on evidence.

This assistant manager's concerns about illegal immigrants are not analogous to the belief in zvidhoma because, unlike zvidhoma, illegal immigrants actually exist. Moreover, it's not irrational for a person with fewer job skills to think that his or her wages and benefits are driven down, at least to some small degree, by illegal immigrants. The assistant manager may well exaggerate the size of this effect, but her view that competition from illegal immigrants affects those, like herself, who are in a more precarious economic position isn't obviously superstitious or irrational.

But all this is just a warmup. Because after comparing ordinary red-state Americans to destitute African peasants who blame their bad fortune on evil spirits, Burke goes on to assert that "competence" is a cultural value of unique importance to blue state intellectuals. Competence is not something that the poor benighted folks in red states care about, you see.

He really said that. I'm not making it up. Here's the paragraph I skipped in the block quote above:

I’ve written before in my blog about how “blue state” elites in the United States continue to walk into the trap of blandly assuming that competency, skill and experience are sufficient and universally appealing attributes for a political candidate in national elections, as long as that candidate also has generally liberal views. Following the Iowa caucuses, I’m returning to this theme, because it’s one claim that seems to rub a lot of my readers the wrong way and I’m desperately hoping that this time, the message gets across to Democratic voters.

He is saying that "'blue state' elites" who assume that competency, skill, and experience are desirable attributes are wrong in so believing. He values competence, of course, because he can see its importance, unlike the red state rubes:

Competency is something I value. I believe in it, I vote for it. It is what makes a leader (institutional, national, local) both legitimate and charismatic in my eyes. But that’s significantly because I inhabit social and economic worlds where competency has a very immediate and obvious impact on whether those worlds function well or not.

Are there social and economic worlds where competency isn't important? Burke inhabits an academic world, a world of words and ideas, and so he sees "competency" as a function of one's ability to manipulate words and idea. I have no doubt that, if asked to research a historical topic and write an essay about it, he would exhibit competence.

People from working-class backgrounds may be competent at different things, but it's profoundly condescending and demeaning to suggest they don't value competence like he (and his fellow blue-state elites) do. For example, I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that if the pipe under his sink develops a leak, Burke, like me, would call a plumber. I'm guessing he takes his car to Jiffy Lube when the oil needs changing. Odds are he has no clue as to how to safely clean a gun. A man who changes his own oil, does his own home repairs, and hunts regularly might consider Professor Timothy Burke to be profoundly incompetent at a whole range of important activities.

I hate to tell Professor Burke this, (well, actually, I don't) but I cannot, offhand, think of any social or economic worlds in which competency isn't important. From the local dry cleaner to the farm, to the grocery store, smooth operations require competence.

Now, I am a frequent critic of President Bush, and I certainly believe he's been incompetent in executing his duties as President. But it's not as if he ran for President in 2000 on a platform of incompetence. In fact, hearkening back to his father and advisors such as Dick Cheney and Colin Powell, he depicted himself as the more competent candidate. Going back to 1980, Ronald Reagan sold himself as the antidote to the feckless and, yes, incompetent Jimmy Carter. If there's anything close to a universal American value, it is respect for competence -- the ability to do things well.

I have a thought: maybe "red state" voters don't vote against the preferred candidates of "blue state" intellectuals because they believe in witchcraft or don't care about competence. Maybe they vote against them because they believe that blue state intellectuals like Timothy Burke look down on them. And maybe they are right about that.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Break

Even atheists like to give (and get) presents, and also to go on vacation. This blog won't be updated for about two weeks, until early January. Best holiday wishes to all my loyal readers. Merry Christmas, even if I am not on board with the whole Christianity stuff.

And Happy Festivus!

Huckabee and the Theocrats

Usually, I tend to be skeptical about hysterical denunciations of the Christian Reconstructionists. As this 1998 Reason article makes clear, they are indeed batshit crazy -- they really do want to establish a theocracy in the United States. Sort of the Christian equivalent of Muslim Sharia Law, right here in the U.S. of A. Typically, the folks who try to drum up fear of the Christian Reconstructionists do a six-degrees-of-separation act to "prove" that a mainstream conservative really is under their sway.

Now, via Andrew Sullivan and Brink Lindsay, this Robert Novak column which mentions in passing that Huckabee held a fundraiser in the home of Dr. Steven Hotze, a Christian Reconstructionist of some note. Brink Lindsay has the lowdown on this guy, and he's one scary dude. He's associated with the Coalition on Revival, which really and truly does want to establish a no-kidding Christian theocratic state. Here's one of their statements, dug up by Lindsay:

We affirm that the Bible is not only God’s statements to us regarding religion, salvation, eternity, and righteousness, but also the final measurement and depository of certain fundamental facts of reality and basic principles that God wants all mankind to know in the sphere of law, government, economics, business, education, arts and communication, medicine, psychology, and science. All theories and practices of these spheres of life are only true, right, and realistic to the degree that they agree with the Bible.

Yeah, that's right. They want a Magisterium-style totalitarian theocracy, based on their interpretation of an inerrant Bible.

And Huckabee didn't accidentally accept a campaign contribution from this guy. He went to the man's home and held a fundraiser there. Andrew Sullivan throws around the term "Christianist" with far too much abandon. But in Huckabee's case, it fits.

Department of Unintentional Humor

From Ann Althouse: "Of course, Bill Clinton can't be saying of Hillary, 'She sucks less.'"

No, but all know it's true, don't we?

Apple Threatens Nine-Year-Old

One of Fortune's 101 Dumbest Moments in business last year was what seems like a bonehead move by Apple Computer:

Nine-year-old Shea O'Gorman sends a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs suggesting ideas for improving her beloved iPod Nano, including adding onscreen lyrics so people can sing along. She gets back a letter from Apple's legal counsel stating that the company doesn't accept unsolicited ideas and telling her not to send in any more suggestions.

Might I suggest that, while this may have made her feel badly, there's a simple reason why Apple sent her the letter: Next year, after Apple introduces, say, the sing-along iPod, it doesn't want everybody to be reading the story of how it stole the idea from now-ten-year-old Shea O'Gorman and she's suing them.

Seriously, in our litigious society, does Apple have any choice about not accepting unsolicited ideas from people?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Competitive Grovelling

I have remarked before that one aspect of religion that I find most puzzling is the apparent need that God has to be worshiped. This is part of the reason I find it difficult to believe: the notion that an entity capable of creating this entire universe gives a rat's ass about being worshiped strikes me as being inherently implausible. Think about it: what kind of entity creates sentient beings and then demands ritual grovelling at periodic intervals? In my experience with people, those who demand the most obsequious displays from others are the least worthy of them. If God really cares whether people worship a golden calf, he's a megalomaniac. As I said before, if I were God, I'd think it was funny. (Or I would take the golden calf to be a crude representation of Me, made by primitives incapable of understanding My true glory. It's the thought that counts, right?)

I realize that religious people seem to be happy, but honestly, it makes me wonder about people. Why, outside of a kinky sex scenario, would anybody find this sort of ritual self-abasement to be fulfilling? Kneeling, bowing, singing songs that say "I suck and you, invisible being, are great." What's the fun in that? I certainly can't prove this, but it strikes me that religious denominations that require less grovelling have to psychologically more healthy than those which tend to require more. So churches that don't do the whole kneeling thing are better than those that do. At least from this perspective.

Anyhow, as religions go, Islam is certainly very high on the we-require-grovelling scale. As Christopher Hitchens observed, Islam "invokes prostrate submission or 'surrender' as a maxim to its adherents, and demands deference and respect from nonbelievers into the bargain." Like Hitch, I want to push back, hard, against the deference and respect that Muslims demand -- which is why I support recreational Koran desecration.

In any case, those looking to explain how screwed-up and backward most of the Islamic world is might consider that the abnormally-high level of abject surrender demanded by Islam might be a part of the picture. P.Z. Myers recently linked to a story illustrating just how screwy Islam is. You know what a "zebibah" is? Well, I didn't, before reading this story. It's Arabic for "raisin," but it refers to a mark on the head caused by bashing one's head on the ground five times a day in prayer, as Muslims are wont to do. Having such a mark is now a status symbol among Egyptian Muslims -- "I'm more pious than you, because I bash my head harder."

Seriously, is it any wonder that Muslims blow themselves up for Allah and whip women for showing some ankle? They think God wants them to bash their heads on the ground five times a day. If you live in a universe run by such a sick deity, it is hardly surprising that you do sick things.