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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pastor Ted, Family Man

Everything we need to know about the character of Ted Haggard is revealed by the mode of his denials ("No sex") and the medium of his admission ("Bought meth, didn't use it"). Haggard rolls down his car window and conducts a fricking news conference, discussing the details of what he did, didn't do, shouldn't have done, ought to have known. He does this with his wife and son sitting in the car, clearly mortified while the guy they call husband and dad — smilingly, chattily, smarmily — prattles on for reporters gathered in familiar locust-swarm formation. James Dobson says Pastor Ted's friends need to pray for him. No. His friends need to take Haggard to the edge of town and give him a very good beating — head, neck, you know the drill. Make that a good stoning. If we don't start using the Old Testament again, people will begin thinking of it as second-rate fiction rather than as a bountiful source of remarkably useful guidelines (I think of them as "tips") when nothing less than smiting will do. My proposed punishment is for the family news briefing from the car, not specifically what he did or didn't do involving sex and drugs. That stuff is conventional hypocrisy. He can go to a "treatment" center for that. Let him bunk up with Foley. I trust that they can put their heads together and remember the name of the childhood priest who's responsible. Is there a parent reading these words who doesn't believe that Haggard's use of his family in this way puts him beyond the pale of sympathy? But I'm a reasonable guy, open to compromise. Maybe Hillary was right — perhaps it really does take a village. Ted Haggard for village idiot. Let's start there and commence stoning only if he makes his family sit through another session of narcissistic self-justification. And the smile. Dude, wipe that sickening grin off your face or the gathering of rocks begins.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

When the Smoke Clears, I'll Be Doing Science

I get asked, "What do you when you're not writing." Answer: I work as an independent high-level social scientist doing high-level research on Human Nature. This is a broad field, so I specialize. I study actual Human Beings. Is that thinking outside the box, or what? My super-specialized research field is Human Stupidity. I began with this hypothesis: People who behave stupidly on a regular basis are Stupid People. Nutshell version: Stupid people do stupid things. Straightforward? I thought so. But I began to notice certain anomalies — patterns in the data that didn't fit my hypothesis. Stupid things were being said and done by smart people! Including well educated persons, high-IQ persons, articulate persons, well trained persons, professional persons, professor persons, politican persons, right on down the line. What makes smart people say and do such utterly stupid things, and so predictably? This key question led me to a tentative conclusion:
Smart Persons (SP) who regularly do and say Really Stupid Things (RSP) tend to be totally lacking in Common Sense (CS), which is to say they suffer from Common Sense Impairment Syndrome (CSIS).
Take smoking — please. Let's use smoking, and anti-smoking efforts, as a case study. California Proposition 86 would add a $2.60-per-pack tax on cigarettes, giving California the highest tobacco tax in the country. An average pack of cigarettes would be $6.55 each. Disclosure: I don't smoke. I don't intend to start. I don't like cigarette smoking. And I would prefer that people who smoke, stop. Especially my friends and relatives. If it pleases you, I'll even say I hate smoking. Smoking gave my Mom the cancer that killed her. Clear about where that puts my loyalties? Not with companies that sell the stuff, OK? For the sake of discussion, let's accept the premise stated by a particular group of Smart People, namely that increasing taxes on tobacco products will reduce their sale and use. Now, some people disagree with this premise, arguing that smokers will simply buy their tobacco out of state. But we're talking hypothetically here, so for the sake of the argument let's stipulate this: Increasing taxes on cigarettes will reduce the sale and use of cigarettes. Excellent! Now take up jogging. (Kidding! One cause at a time.) So let's take a closer look at Proposition 86. Lo and behold, the Smart People who wrote the proposition provided that the increased tax revenue will dedicated to fund anti-smoking programs, along with emergency room care, health care for children, and cancer and other disease research. Okay, but... If we accept the Smart People's logic that the anti-smoking education campaigns will further reduce the use of tobacco, fewer people will buy tobacco, hence fewer tax revenues, thus we can expect a shortfall of revenue to fund emergency room care, health care for children, and cancer and other disease research. Because even if fewer people get sick from tabacco related diseases (because they have been persuaded to stop smoking or never start), there will still be a need for emergency rooms, health care for children, cancer and disease research. Let's see where things stand. We dedicate ourselves to eradicating the use of addictive tobacco, thus reducing tax revenue, while at the same time expanding budgetary costs for health care, which requires tax revenue? Oops. See that 16-wheeler semi that just crossed over the meridian into our lane? It's a whole new round of unpaid costs that will required future budget cuts or tax increases. And guess who's driving? People with no common sense! Gee. It's almost addictive. Just when we had stopped smoking, look what happened to the addiction. It found a new activity to attach itself to: spending. Actually, two activities. Taxing and spending. But you had already figured that out, right? Yep, you saw it coming when I started talking. That's cuz you've got yourself a heap-a common sense. Okay. If that's true of you and true of a whole lot of us on this bus, then how come there are still so many really smart people out there with no common sense whatever? Not just California — a whole slew of states (Arizona, Missouri, South Dakota, Nevada, Ohio) are working hard to increase taxes on smoking to raise taxes to spend on useful things that will run out of money when the taxes dry up because people are smoking less. Whence this astonishing epidemic of Common Sense Impairment Syndrome? As a social scientist, I have the correct answer. When you put a big tax on something, the people will produce less of it. Politics and government routinely tax our common sense, therefore we're running low. What we need is to find a way to tax the absence of common sense, which should diminish its lack, its dearth, its widespread current unavailability, as a first step toward increasing the presence of common sense. Eventually we might even end up with a surplus. Especially if people start getting the message. Tricky stuff. Almost philosophical. That's why I do science. I'm heading for the lab right now.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John Kerry's Epitaph: "It's Over"

He's finished. John Kerry will never recover politically from his elitist Freudian-slip/slap at America's military as a dumping ground for "uneducated" young men and women. Nor will Kerry's slapdash "botched joke" cover story work, because the setup makes no sense. If Bush's alleged failed Iraq policy reflects his lack of education, Senator, please explain how that squares with Bush's earning a master's degree from Harvard. Kerry's comment is obviously a political field day for the Republicans as they try to drive their base to the polls next week. But it's also a bonanza for Democrats eager to see Kerry's ongoing presidential locomotive get derailed. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, Barak Obama: none wants to go into 2008's primaries against Kerry, who's got plenty of money left over from 2004, along with a belief that he won Ohio but got cheated by the state's secretary of state. Hence the other contenders are only too happy to let Kerry twist in the wind until his national irrelevance is beyond dispute. Meanwhile, don't be surprised to hear 2006 Democratic congressional candidates around the nation take issue with Kerry's snide remark, and in no uncertain terms. Expressing shock at Kerry's remarks is an easy way to score points with voting veterans, and besides: there aren't many Democratic congressional candidates out there eager to see the fumbling, bumbling Bay State narcissist take another shot at their party's presidential nomination. Kerry is one of the least admired members of the Democrat's Senate caucus. No, that's too generous. He's one of the most disliked senators among fellow Democrats. He's cold, aloof, and imperious; and if there's showboating to be done on an issue, Kerry is known for his willingness to elbow his way toward the microphone and TV camera, past colleagues who actually do their homework. Trust me, having worked as a staffer for one of his former colleagues (Howard Metzenbaum), there's a lot of behind-the-scenes glee among his Democratic Senate today. Pay attention to how few actively come to his defense. Notice how many of them won't be anywhere to be seen on this issue, and when they're asked about Kerry's comment most Democratic senators will wink and walk away. They all want the Massachusetts senator to go away, like that state's former governor, Michael Dukakis, did after his miserable 1988 presidential campaign. No need to put the fork in Mr. Kerry. The dude is so done.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Proof? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Proof

Wouldn't you know. The usual suspects in the due-process crowd are raising the roof about the the Durham district attorney's admission that his office didn't bother to actually interview the alleged victim before filing rape charges against the three lacrosse players. What these critics don't understand is that there's a different standard of proof involved in cases involving gender and race. The critics need to realize that district attorney Mike Nifong did in fact meet the crucial electoral threshold in this case, by declaring his sympathy with the alleged victim's claims during his recent tough primary election campaign. He did so to help create common ground among feminists who believe males as such are the source of all evil in the worlds, and African Americans who believe white people per se are the source of all evil in the world. Surely there is no good reason why these two permanently aggrieved constituencies cannot stand together against white male lacrosse players as prima facie agents of oppression — and by "prima facie" we mean to indicate "at first sight" or "just by showing up." Mary Frances Berry, former head of U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, put the matter thus: "Civil rights laws were not passed to protect the rights of white men and do not apply to them." My friends, we would do well in cases like the Duke matter to recall the compassionate words of former Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, speaking in defense of the system of state-sanctioned reverse racism known as affirmative action: "You guys (white males) have been practicing discrimination for years. Now it is our turn." If the alleged Duke victim says she was victimized, the very act of questioning her claim can only serve to revictimize her, irrespective of the so-called "empirical facts" involved in the disputed claim. Along with Thurgood Marshall, let's keep the big picture in mind. Throughout American history, many blacks were lynched by angry mobs of white racists. Regardless whether the Duke lacrosse players are guilty, is it "bad" or "wrong" simply to accuse white males and ask them to stand in for what was done to blacks in years past? True, this kind of categorical thinking may seem "unjust" to the lacrosse players, but that only shows the limits of literal thinking. Try taking a symbolic perspective. Think of history not as an ongoing process of individuation but as an endless power struggle where personal identity is trumped by loyalty to the group: race, gender, ethnicity, tribe, clan, clique, sect, dynasty, and so on. Think: politically correct feudalism. OK, I can already hear the due-process crowd beginning to murmur. "How long before the scales are even?" It's a fair question. I would suggest that a quarter century of retributive justice would do nicely. That dovetails with Sandra Day O'Connor's assertion in Grutter v. Bollinger: "We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today." Meanwhile, let's cut Mike Nifong some slack. He won last spring's primary, but now he's facing a grueling general election campaign. Criticizing him at this time could depress voter turnout. Speaking of right and wrong, does anyone think that would be right, or more to the point, fair?