Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thou shalt not dispense!

Joseph Ratzinger has issued commands to Catholic pharmacists not to dispense prescriptions that conflict with their religious beliefs stating:

"Pharmacists must seek to raise people's awareness so that all human beings are protected from conception to natural death, and so that medicines truly play a therapeutic role," Benedict said.

Benedict said conscientious objector status would "enable them not to collaborate directly or indirectly in supplying products that have clearly immoral purposes such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia."

and continuing:

"We cannot anesthetize consciences as regards, for example, the effect of certain molecules that have the goal of preventing the implantation of the embryo or shortening a person's life,"

The Daily show did a bit on this a while ago when they interviewed a Christian (the particular sect escapes me) pharmacist who would not dispense birth control. What was startling was how confident the man was in asserting his right to not perform his job and how righteous he felt he was in claiming he could not be fired for it. I would be hard pressed to think of any other reason that a person can neglect their job and not be fired for it other than religious ones. It seems if you can simply dignify your neglect of civic, legal, social, and professional duties with faith you get a pass. Unfortunately the man was on pretty sound legal ground. The Civil Rights Act specifies that a person cannot be denied employment on religious grounds. What was intended as an effort prevent discrimination has now turned into a regulation inimical to free enterprise. I wonder if a Muslim could claim discrimination because a liquor store fired him when he refused to touch alcohol. I wonder if a Catholic doctor would escape legal culpability if he refused to perform an abortion to save a woman's life and it resulted in her death. I wonder if a Hindu could sue for being fired from McDonald's because as we all know he would object to the beef extract they put in French fries.

That the Civil Rights Act has unintentionally not only prevented a business from freely hiring who it deems fit, has not only created a legal shelter for the professionally negligent, has now made it impossible for a business to operate in pursuit of its own self interest, but has also had consequences with which its liberal authors would not have been pleased is no surprise to those who don't think the government should be delineate good from bad thought to its citizens. Vague legislation like this does not protect minority rights but rather creates micro rights. I can claim any set of religious beliefs I like and to escape punishment for almost any violation of the law I need only to convince a court that these beliefs are honestly held. The locus of determination over how laws are applied has now shifted from a written constitution to an individual's mental state. And I am confident enough in the existence of similar cases that I will assert their existence and let readers do their own research.

Instead of being duly fired for not filling a prescription (his job) a pharmacy must now waste time and resources to accommodate a person with beliefs it could not have asked them to reveal.

This will cheer you up

Max Blumenthal at the Values Voters conference. Why is it that these people never like to be filmed?


Monday, October 29, 2007

O'Reilly as postmodern linguistic perspectivist

I came across this video at Reason after clicking on a link to the "Drew Carey Project." Apparently Carey is a libertarian, though as a fan of his show when I was a young'un I suppose it makes sense. The interview is between O'Reilly and Jacob Sullum where Sullum advocates treating all drugs much in the same vein as alcohol. The piece takes its normal course 1) The pretense of a rational discussion is presented at the beginning. 2) O'Reilly makes a gross mischaracterization of the guest's position. 3) O'Reilly dismisses evidence that could counter his point. 4) O'Reilly calls guest a puerile and safe-for-TV name. 5) Full pitch hysteria with images of dead bodies and chaos if the world doesn't listen to Bill O'.

This is all pretty standard fr O'Reilly but notice the gross misuses of language and violations of all rules of argumentative good faith:

"You can spin data any way you want."

Okay, so lets just not use it then. Rather that collect evidence and facts to support our opinions and give our arguments a basis in reality we should rely instead on blind assertion of apriori intuition.

BO: You got[sic] 20 million alcoholics in this country, you got 0 million who are drug dependent either illegally or on prescriptions. That's 37 million Americans who have trouble because of drug dependence. Now why would you an intelligent guy want to put forth a theory that intoxicating oneself is beneficial.

Sullum doesn't actually say that. He says that other substances should be treated the way alcohol is, where personal and responsible use should be tolerated. His assertion that most people who use currently illegal substances was summarily dismissed because O'reilly doesn't like data, and when Sullum brings the work of a UCLA pharmacologist's work on the history of human search for altered consciousness O'Reilly claims that it is invalid because biologists don't agree (a statement we have to take on O'Reilly's authority apparently). This all leaves aside the fact that what Sullum is arguing for is not a theory at all but a conclusion based on evidence rather than an overarching explanation of data.

Sullum: The war on Drugs has tremendous consequences but people are reluctant to consider alternatives...

Bill O': And the alternative is do your own thing?

Gross and hysterical mischaracterization.

S: The fact that alcohol can be abused does not mean it should be illegal.


How nuanced! Again over looking the fact that of his supposed 37 million people with substance problems 27 million have problems with a substance that is legal. Yet he doesn't advocate making that illegal, just blindly persisting in the same useless course of proscribing use of these substances regardless of its efficacy for no reason other than the fact that it sends what Bill and his over 70 demographic think is the right message. A socialist couldn't think up such a futile show of solidarity.

BO: (yet angrier) Pinheads like you are encouraging intoxication when its one of the worst things in our society!

Sullum: [but responsible] people are going to jail for crimes that don't hurt anyone...

BO: I don't care about that. I care about the dead guy in the street who got run over by a drunk driver!

When did Sullum ever say that drunk driving should be treated leniently? He stressed nothing more than the need to eliminate penalties for responsible users, which drunk drivers are not. But as O'Reilly says, "ITS ALL THE SAME THING" so this distinction hardly matters. This all mixed with some apocalyptic hysteria and images of death and O'Reilly has successfully administered to himself and his audience the perfect panacea to reasoned argument from the opposition.

BO: You irresponsible libertines cause such damage to this society you should be ashamed of yourself.

If one were feeling generous this might be attributed to a harmless, Bushian malapropism rather than grotesque ignorance of the difference between a libertine and a libertarian, but my spider sense tells me he knows the definition of neither and has only a vague notion of the former while being wholly oblivious to the existence of the latter. This accusation leveled by the way after Sullum went to pains to make a distinction between responsible and irresponsible use. This was entirely ignored obviously.

BO: Let me break it to you this way. Getting intoxicated is not responsible. You want to get stoned have fun. But don't get in a car and don't come near my family.

Am I taking fucking crazy pills or did O'Reilly just make Sullum's point for him after doing nothing but ignoring everything he said and screeching fatuous, platitudes. "Have fun getting stoned but don't get in a car" is exactly what Sullum was saying, but O'Reilly gets so flustered by the presence of a cogent argument that he is totally unaware that in trying to obnoxiously take up cudgels against him he took his side. The whole confrontation was apparently not over a difference of opinion. Words surely could not have meant what they were intended to mean. In one breath O'Reilly says that getting intoxicated in never responsible but then gives his sanction to private, responsible use. By what he said it is impossible to believe that he actually understood what the words coming out of his mouth meant. Either that or he is engaging in some kind of postmodern technique of discursive and multi-perspectival argumentation. If you don't know what that means, well neither do I, but it seems to make as much sense as O'Reilly's diatribe does to me, namely none. I am led only to believe that Bill O' is so flustered by the presence of vocalized, coherent thought that his cognitive abilities (limited though they be) were suppressed by some kind of animalistic fight or flight response. Now what kinds of people start lynch mobs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Its getting old but not the least bit less hilarious

Another preacher has plead guilty to public indecency and DUI. Oh the catch is he was caught wearing a miniskirt and offered to have sex with the arresting officers. But of course the problem isn't that Christian beliefs breed sexual anxiety, repression, and self loathing. The problem isn't that people like this man who may not have felt quite at home in their church had to overcompensate to defeat the inner demons by becoming a preacher and radio evangelist. And the problem certainly isn't that his community made him feel so tortured about his impulses that booze was the only way he could quell the fear of hellfire while pathetically and perplexedly seeking some kind of outlet. No no, the problem is that we're fallen and need God's grace. Yes.

Story: http://www.volunteertv.com/home/headlines/10816901.html

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'm sure the religious would love to be with the red dots

From this study the Pew Research Center.

This is not a free country

A man's family was threatened with torture to get him to confess to a crime he didn't commit. The alleged crime was using a radio transmitter in a hotel room to converse with terrorists on the 9/11 planes. Well the pilot who had stayed in his hotel room before him later claimed the radio as his but it didn't stop the FBI from threatening to finger his family to Egyptian police (formerly mentors to Saddam's secret police) as terrorists. He confessed, he now been exonerated, and all information about this crime committed by the FBI has been yanked from the internet. Not before bloggers got to it though.

Story here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

James Watson juggling dynamite

This will test the boundaries of academic freedom.

Haven't heard this in a while

M.J. Rosenberg, whoever that is, has claimed that if Rudy wins he will leave the country. He even goes so far as to concede that it is a juvenile sentiment usually the domain of students, but he doesn't give up the joke. I doubt the country will lose much from his departure so does anyone want to start a pool on whether he actually does it?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

S-CHIP/ Krugman is the worst

Paul Krugman recently opined that the reason Republicans oppose S-CHIP expansion isn't because it is ineffective "but because it works." I can't help but think of how Tucker Carlson asked him whether he thought it was helpful that he not only thought his opponents were wrong but also evil. He pretty much epitomize what is meant by bad faith argument. Cato has some goof reason why the program is a bad idea. I am as of now not fully enough versed for sustained comment but the post is worth a look.

More Cato...

The July discussion at Cato Unbound is also worth a look. Titled The Politics of Abundance it contends that since the 60's America has undergone a shift toward a more libertarian society. At once the governing economic philosophies have assumed a more classically liberal character, and traditional cultural values have ceased to command as much respect.

Both of these are good, and I would argue inevitable. Cultural norms can never remain static amidst a dynamic economy that allows for personal choice and freedom in the labor market. The Soviet Union had some of the most draconian morality laws imaginable, of which the most famous is the treatment of gays.But that is another discussion.

The title of the article reminded me of a piece I read while writing a paper in college that provided the most elegantly simple example of why central planning does not work I have read. It had to do with the Soviet planners attempt to predict the demand for ball point pens. A trivial enough matter but it elegantly illustrated how demand can assume a rational and predictable character only in economies of abundance (where production is responsive to changing market conditions) as opposed to economies of shortage (where a fixed amount of goods must sustain the population for a given time regardless of changes in the market).

My synopsis will be a bit crude but what happened was that the planners predicted the entire country's demand for ball point pens for an entire year and produced just that number. The surplus of pens on the shelves caused the Russians, accustomed to waiting in bread lines and general scarcity, to begin hoarding the now abundant pens in anticipation of a coming shortage. As a result the entire supply of ball point pens was concentrated among the few who had been lucky to find them early, while the rest of the country was left without a quill and loudly demanding the now scarce pens. The Soviets, through their history of unresponsiveness to changing market conditions, had created demand where it needn't have been, and had no way of easily meeting it. The lesson taken being that the only way to ensure predictable patterns of demand is in an economy where production is continually responsive to demand and an excess is can be expected. A free, decentralized, market economy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Great Separation endures even here... barely

Mark Lilla's essay at Cato Unbound serves as a starting point for the interpundit sniping of internet discourse at Cato Unbound. Andrew Sullivan and others have offered reactions. I will focus on one important passage:

What we seem to have forgotten is how unique the circumstances were that made possible the establishment of the American compact on religion and politics. Perhaps now is the time to restore the much needed concept of American exceptionalism and remind ourselves of some basic facts. The most important one that set our experience apart from that of Europe was the absence of a strong Roman Catholic Church as a redoubt of intellectual and political opposition to the liberal-democratic ideas hatched by the Enlightenment – and thus also, the absence of a radical, atheist Enlightenment convinced that l’infâme must be écrasé. For over two centuries France, Italy, and Spain were rent by what can only be called existential struggles over the legitimacy of Catholic political theology and the revolutionary heritage of 1789. (Though the term “liberalism” is of Spanish coinage, as a political force it was weak in the whole of Catholic Europe until after the Second World War.) Neither side in this epic struggle was remotely interested in “toleration”; they wanted victory.

Looking beyond Europe, we note other things missing from the American landscape, quite literally. For example, there were no religious shrines to fight over, no holy cities, no temples, no sacred burial grounds (except those of the Native Americans, which were shamefully ignored). There also was a complete absence of what we would today call diversity: America was racially and culturally homogeneous in the early years of the republic, even if there were differences – in retrospect, incredibly minor – in Protestant affiliation. Yes, there were a few Catholics and Jews among the early immigrants, but the tone was set by Protestants of dissenting tendencies from the British Isles. The theological differences among them were swamped by the fact that everyone spoke the same language, cooked the same food, and looked to a shared history of persecution and emigration. It was a homogeneous country, and what comes with homogeneity, along with some troubling things, is trust.

I am forever amazed by the claim, or rather unsubstantiated assertion, that the values of 20th century democracy can somehow be traced to Christian principles. If anything, it can be traced to Christians existing in fear of each other. The separation was possible only because the similarities between these different groups were substantial enough to give hope that coexistence was possible if they simply relegated the differences to the private sphere. This homogeneity is no longer the case. Forgetting the racial, economic, cultural, and historical differences it is patently obvious that the mere theological differences are large enough that the kind of trust necessary to believe that one's fellow citizen will exemplify the kind good faith that will prevent grabs for power, is no longer possible. We are no longer talking about differences between Anglican and Presbyterians or Catholics and Lutherans. It might be said that these groups have histories of acquitting themselves murderously towards each other. This chastened them though. The groups vying for power now have greater theological differences and no history of violence to make them reticent to attempt coercion. The only proper response is not the provincial (in Lilla's terms) reassertion of the classic separation of church and state, a bourgeois secularism, but in the destruction of their intellectual pretenses and the removal of the mantle of respect they claim in our discourse.

To the highlighted selection, I am baffled by the claims I have read on Catholic blogs that the Catholic Church somehow bears responsibility for the emergence of the values of the contemporary West. After developing a theology to inculcate servility and submission to the Holy See in Europe, they have the audacity to claim that the story of the emergence of modernity is not the story of our wresting the reins of temporal authority from the Church but instead its full ideological realization. This is absurd on its face, and even a scanty survey of philosophy and literature after 1300 will confirm this. I won't go into the history of it but would simply put one question to the believers: Can you name any example of the Church, in an official, sanctioned capacity, acting in belhalf of a democratic movement and against a theocratic/monarchical/autocratic one before 1917? I don't think it can be done.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Getting high to feel good... Medically

There doesn't seem to be much reason to maintain the ban on medical marijuana anymore. The senselessness of the prohibition of this substance which has no known lethal dosage, is less harmful in the long run than alcohol, and has never been linked to domestic violence and other types of social decay is apparent when considering the medical benefits. But why keep it illegal? Because it has a bad image. It was originally associated with black jazz musicians and later those horribly dirty hippies. And of course it causes pleasure, which the government cannot allow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Who to toss overboard?

The Catholic Church has to pay over $600 million to families of victims of its molestation racket. And if you needed any more confirmation of their contempt for women then observe who they throw overboard first to pay for it. The nuns. Sometimes its a pity there is no hell.

More here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Quote for the Day

"What influence have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority, in many instances they have seen the upholding of the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberty of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, needs them not." -James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

The religious were much more openly hostile to democratic movements in Madison's time than now. The rise of Marxism accounts for this. If democracy was hostile to religion in consequence then Marxism was hostile to it in practice, and the Catholic church tentatively cast its lot with the less pernicious enemy. The ease with which they can abandon any alliance with democracy or affable relations with open societies, and take up a cosy stance with totalitarians, is easily seen in with the Lateran Treaties with Mussolini, the Concordat with Hitler, (which included adulations given on his birthday) and its endorsement of Franco's invasion of Spain.

In a sane world this all might have shamed them and reduced them to ignominy but people who believe they have a tin can on a string to the creator of the universe are rarely so self-conscious. I was reminded of this gem from Madison upon reading an article in Reason about the Danish cartoon controversy and was given to pondering Joseph Ratzinger's reaction to the deluge of rioting and violence enjoined upon the foreign embassies and citizens of Denmark:

In response to several requests on the Holy See's position vis-à-vis recent offensive representations of the religious sentiments of individuals and entire communities, the Vatican press office can state:

1. The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers. This principle applies obviously for any religion.

2. In addition, coexistence calls for a climate of mutual respect to favor peace among men and nations. Moreover, these forms of exasperated criticism or derision of others manifest a lack of human sensitivity and may constitute in some cases an inadmissible provocation. A reading of history shows that wounds that exist in the life of peoples are not cured this way.

3. However, it must be said immediately that the offenses caused by an individual or an organ of the press cannot be imputed to the public institutions of the corresponding country, whose authorities might and should intervene eventually according to the principles of national legislation. Therefore, violent actions of protest are equally deplorable. Reaction in the face of offense cannot fail the true spirit of all religion. Real or verbal intolerance, no matter where it comes from, as action or reaction, is always a serious threat to peace.

So the problem is not rioting, arson, and murder. The problem is blasphemy. And so bereft is he of any appreciation for the importance of free speech that he thinks not only should blasphemy be shunned, it should be banned. I know of no other way to read the statement, "The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers" as anything other than approval for the destruction of free speech. For there is no such thing as limited free speech. The problem is not that Muslims cannot conduct themselves within the bounds of civil society when offended. The problem is not that every expression of Muslim outrage is underwritten with either a threat or an act of violence. And the problem is not that a peaceful country had its security threatened. The problem is that in a free society people have the audacity to treat religion as they treat any other set of ideas, and mock it. The problem is that blasphemy is not a crime. I don't see how they can be confused as allies when they seek to subject our freedoms to the selective reactions of the faithful.

Not to beat it into the ground...

but my point about abortion is getting even further airing. Alas, not yet one citation. I should pursue plagarism charges. The fact that I keep seeing this argument turning up thogh is a good sign. Maybe the hysteria and demagoguery that once surrounded it is giving way to sane discussion.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


Ann Coulter apparently disapproves of torture as long as some one else is doing it. An odd reversal of American opinion towards the practice. She goes thusly:

Our bombers couldn't know with precision where the enemy was holding (and torturing) our troops. McCain and the rest of those POWs could easily have been hit and killed by an American bomb

I take that "and torturing" to mean she thinks torture is a bad thing. I really doubt if she were to write a column about American interrogation techniques in this war she would include such a moral caveat.

I was so ahead of the curve on this

Matt Yglesias notes the results of polling by Third Way. The results were presaged here. The findings indicate that while many people think abortion constitutes taking a human life very few would want to send women to jail. In my post I speculated that if people truly believe that a fetus is a human being, then the penalty for abortion should be commensurate with that for murder. I hazarded a guess that most people would be unwilling to do this and lo' I am right.

If one thinks of the convicts who have been sympathetic figures it is not hard to imagine that the popularity of the pro-life movement would evaporate when film makers and journalists started chronicling the travails of women imprisoned for having abortions. That only 18 percent would be more than neutral to this is shocking when you consider the fact that 30 percent of the country classifies itself as evangelical Christians. And a commenter on Yglesias' post brings up a good point:

There's an easier way of avoiding the contradiction. I would guess that many people think abortion should be enforced with prison time only on the supply side, much the way locking up drug dealers or prostitutes is more popular than locking up their customers, who are more to be pitied than blamed.

So the support for putting the women in jail may be even lower. This is a common thing when people base beliefs on religious dogma rather than sober thought.

Maybe the pro-lifer crowd wants abortion to be punished with a small fine then. A better thing to do would be to simply mandate a price increase on the procedure. After all a fine could only be instituted if the offender were caught, while a price increase would be a net of finer mesh. This would put them in an ironic position. Undoubtedly as many of them are Republicans, the pro-lifers would be forced to shed their supposed aversion (as advocates of a free market) to government intervention not only in health care but also to the concept of price controls. But there isn't going to be a penalty then what is the point of making it illegal. And if the punishments aren't equivalent to those given for murder then how can someone be convinced that a human life was taken?

A YouTube painfully illustrates this. They haven't given it much thought.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Doom and Gloom, No More!

I have never been one to believe that humans beings are rational animals, and though I have no formal training in their field, I think economists would agree with me. Bryan Caplan has a column at Reason that unpacks 4 ingrained human prejudices about the economy. The column is excellent though will require a bit more thought to discuss at length, but I will point to one section for the purposes of ego padding:

The danger of the make-work bias is easiest to see in Europe, where labor market regulation to “save jobs” has produced decades of high unemployment. But we can see it in the U.S. as well, especially in our massive employment lawsuit industry. The hard lesson to learn is that giving people “rights to their jobs” is a drain on productivity—and makes employers think twice about hiring people in the first place.

I'm sure I had a post mentioning this.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Waste of Time and Resources redux

If I had to speculate I would guess that the priorities of a federal prosecutor who took office only six days before September 11th would be oriented toward something slightly more important than say people selling glass bongs to each other over the Internet. But alas United States attorney from Western PA, Mary Beth Buchanan, thinks not. In fact she also seems to have made it her specialty to bring obscenity indictments against porn producers, novelists, and bloggers. As a result of this millions of dollars have been wasted in a quest which has accomplished nothing more than to saddle Tommy Chong with a hefty fine.

This is after all the Bush administration and when a person believes, as many of them do, that their prudish local pastor has a pipeline to god we might expect such opinions to permeate their professional life. It would be another tolerably risible misadventure in moralizing if not for the glaring contravention of good sense that at about the same time Gonzalez was firing eight competent and sane prosecutors, Ms. Buchanan was being promoted.

The fact that Ms. Buchanan wants to bring society's sensibilities into consonance with something like those of her Wednesday car pool to after-school soccer, does not surprise me but the fact that she has been allowed to spend 12 million dollars doing it and been promoted, should I think stand as quite a testament to the fact that religious conservatives have an affinity for government's ability to engineer society that even a Bolshevik could be proud of. And as such I will rename them Christian Bolsheviks (my own slight to Chris Hedge's misnamed book).

It is not hard to understand why the religious right has so destroyed the Republican Party if you ask yourself a few hypothetical questions. One I would start with might go something like this: If we must spend 12 million dollars of tax revenue on something would I rather it be used to take Tommy Chong's bong away or to subsidize health care? I doubt even Ron Paul would object to spending it on health care given this choice.

Monday, October 1, 2007

America Exhibits Dutch Courage

While the US House of Representatives is debating about the convoluted ramblings of a total moron, an eloquent critic of Islamic fascism and advocate for liberal democracy against the forces of theocracy has left the country. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been forced to leave the US because she can't afford her security detail and the government is unwilling to help.

Forget the PR value she has as a woman who suffered terribly in life because of Islamic barbarity. Forget the fact that a death threat to her was pined into the lifeless body of Theo Van Gogh. And forget that she has become one of the most vocal advocates for our way of life against its antithesis and against that which seeks to destroy it. We might ponder that this was an opportunity for the United States to make a public display of solidarity with a famous dissident from the ideology we are supposedly fighting. Why would we not protect one of our own against very real threats on her life. Threats which have been enjoined on her for the crime of agreeing with us.

If something happens to her we will have it on our heads that abandoned one of our own to the forces of the ideology we re fighting in Iraq, and while we can spend billions each day on this war we have the audacity to deny the relatively inexpensive luxury of a bodyguard and some surveillance equipment to a woman who was our advocate, at her peril, when she didn't have to be. Our courage is truly Dutch. The truly disgraceful aspect of this is that while there existed some people who felt it necessary to start a fund to defend the servile functionary Scooter Libby, but as yet no one has started a fund to help Ali.