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Archive for April, 2008

Did Obama Do the Wright Thing?

Reactions to Obama’s press conference from Ann Althouse, who reads closely and brings out aspects you won’t have thought about; Michelle Malkin, who isn’t buying a bit of it; and Wretchard, who observes that Wright’s theology makes hash of the communion of the saints.

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when it sounds as if it should be the other way around. “Worst professor ever”—well confirmed. What on earth is going on at Dartmouth? Consider her qualifications for a position at Dartmouth Medical School:

After obtaining a BA from Dartmouth College, I have an MS in Genetics from UC Davis and a PhD in Literature from UC San Diego.

Literature!  And the sentence is only marginally grammatical.

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That’s what Bart Simpson told his family in “Homer v. the Eighteenth Amendment.” “I’ll go with you!” said Homer. Marge put a stop to it, and that was that—except, of course, that Bart’s drinking started a temperance campaign that led to prohibition. As the episode illustrates, things get complicated when the government gets involved.

That’s perhaps the moral of this story of a University of Michigan professor who takes his son to a Tigers game and buys him a lemonade—which, unknown to him, was hard lemonade. After a trip to the hospital, a couple of days in foster care, and a week during which dad was banned from his own house, things are back to normal.

That led me to wonder what the law is in my state about parents giving their own minor children alcohol. Here it is. Most states are not so lenient.

106.04 – Consumption of Alcohol by a Minor
(a–b) A minor commits an offense if they consume alcohol unless they are in the visible presence of, and have the consent of their adult parent, legal guardian, or spouse.
§ 106.05 Possession of Alcohol by a Minor
(a) A minor commits an offense if they posses an alcoholic beverage.

(b) A minor may possess an alcoholic beverage:
• while in the course and scope of the minor’s employment if the minor is an employee of a licensee or permitted and the employment is not prohibited by this code
• if the minor is in the visible presence of his adult parent, guardian, or spouse, or other adult to whom the minor has been committed by a court
• if the minor is under the immediate supervision of a commissioned peace officer engaged in enforcing the provisions of this code.

(Notice, by the way, the failure of anaphoric agreement and the gender confusion in the above: “a minor… they” as well as “a minor… his.” Thank you, gender-neutral language police.)

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Seminar Bingo!

How can one make those dull academic colloquies fun?  Brian Hollar has a suggestion.

I just wish he had come up with this at the beginning of the semester; I’ve had to go to an average of two a week.

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Free Trade

Larry Summers makes the case for free trade.  (HT: Greg Mankiw)

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Lydia McGrew writes compellingly about pressure in companies to advance, to develop one’s career by changing jobs frequently:

there is intense pressure constantly to be changing one’s role in the company. This is billed as “developing,” “advancing.” “Move up or move out,” is the basic message. Even if, as does sometimes happen, you do well at your job and would prefer to keep doing it, and even if your immediate superior likes you and would like to keep you in your present position, the superior himself comes under pressure for not “developing his people.” Ambition is treated as worthwhile in itself, and its absence as a sign that there is something wrong with you as an employee. Not even a sign, really–as definitionally something wrong with you as an employee. Finding something you like and trying to keep doing it well, perhaps even learning to do it better and better? How passe! How quaint! How regressive!

I was thus confronted with an image of some previously unknown circle in Dante’s Inferno, a place of ceaseless, meaningless motion for the sake of motion….

In fact, this “move up or move out” imperative makes the old idea of being a cog in a machine look rather pleasant by comparison. Do you want the cogs in your car to keep randomly evolving into something different? Not at all. You might end up with a car that didn’t run at all, or that ran much worse than before. If the employees were cogs in a machine, their employers would be grateful that they keep on playing their coggish roles efficiently and well and that they do so indefinitely, making the company like a machine that just keeps on forever running sweetly on well-oiled wheels. If the model of employees as cogs in a machine is modern, it seems to me that the corporate world of “move up or move out” is post-modern, a world where everything must morph for the sake of morphing and where this grotesque and pointless movement is called “growth.”

Zippy Catholic argues that this is intrinsic to capitalism.  I don’t think so.  First, the “move up or move out” dogma works in favor of breadth of vision, but also works against expertise.  Doing a variety of jobs, seeing a variety of aspects of the organization, is good training for top managers.  But not everyone is a candidate for top management.  Most people will not become a vice-president.  For the vast majority, developing expertise in doing their jobs well beats developing breadth of vision.  Second, expertise yields growth.  Someone with thirty years’ experience can often solve a problem in minutes that would take an inexperienced person weeks, if it could be solved by them at all.  People with expertise, moreover, can train others to do what they do, multiplying their effectiveness greatly.  Replacing those with expertise with those without can conversely lead to a tremendous loss of effectiveness.

In any case, the dogma has spread far beyond corporate life.  My church, like many under the influence of the church growth movement, is in its grips.  The pastor constantly urges people to “step outside their comfort zones.”  Teams of people with great experience and expertise in doing various tasks are cast aside in favor of those with no experience at all, and are not even consulted.  The result: frequent attempts to reinvent the wheel, which consume lots of time and energy and generally result in something less effective than the original design.  Maybe this promotes the growth of individual Christians (though I doubt it—most of us past a certain age had already grown and learned what we were good at), but it can be disastrous for an organization.

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Voter ID Requirement Upheld

The Supreme Court has upheld Indiana’s requirement that voters show a valid photo ID.  I count this a major victory for democracy.  A fraudulent vote cancels a legitimate one, and ought to be viewed just as seriously, therefore, as a denial of someone’s right to vote.

Besides, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light.

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The Gore Effect

Today’s minute for mission at church: an announcement of a special presentation Tuesday on “An Inconvenient Truth” and the global warming crisis.  Meanwhile, it’s 59°, in central Texas, on a late April afternoon.

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Israel bombed the nuclear reactor under construction in Syria to prevent the Syrians and the terrorist groups they sponsor from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Will anyone do the same to Iran?  Alisdair Palmer argues in favor of such a course:

When the governments trying to acquire the technology for making nuclear bombs are known to train and supply Islamist terrorist groups – as Syria and Iran, for example, certainly do – the importance of preventing them obtaining the capacity to make such bombs is overwhelming.

That is why the Israelis destroyed Syria’s “not for peaceful means” nuclear facility last September, and why the rest of the world acquiesced in the destruction, which broke international law and had no United Nations resolution.

It is also why the US continues to send signals to Iran that it will not oppose, indeed might even join in, any attempt by Israel to hit Iran’s fledgling nuclear facilities: sending precisely that signal must have been at least part of the point of last week’s very public announcement that the Israeli raid on Syria’s putative nuclear bomb factory had been successful.

Governments can perhaps be deterred from leaking nuclear weapons to terrorist groups by the thought of what the Americans would do to them if there were a nuclear explosion in an American city and the construction of the fatal bomb could be traced back to, say, Iran or Syria.

The Americans have not been shy about letting those governments know what would happen. As one US official put it to me: “We would totally obliterate the country responsible” – a phrase echoed by Hillary Clinton when she said the US would “totally obliterate” Iran if that country was responsible for a nuclear attack even on Israel, never mind America.

Governments, however, are not always able to control all their members. Some members of the Iranian administration might not be deterred by the prospect of nuclear armageddon (indeed, some seem to welcome it). Which means that the only way to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists it to keep them out of the hands of national governments who might give them to terrorists.

If Iran builds a nuclear bomb factory, you can be sure that Israel will try to destroy it. You can also be sure that, when it happens, the rest of the world will not object.

I’m sympathetic with much of this.  But, first, I’m not sure I find the “total annihilation” threat believable.  Would we really obliterate millions of innocent Iranians, many of whom hate the regime that rules them, in response to an act of nuclear terrorism that we suspect used material of Iranian origin?  Second, isn’t the Iranian nuclear facility already more advanced than the Syrian reactor?  And yet we’ve done nothing.  Third, “the rest of the world will not object”?  The antiwar left in this country and in Europe would, if I may be forgiven a cheap pun, go ballistic.

Meanwhile, Austin Bay points to signs of impending aggression from North Korea and arrangements between North Korea and Syria, and becomes sardonic:

Feudal tyrants armed with weapons of mass destruction.

Anyone sane, honest, and cherishing the lives of loved ones still want to bitch about pre-emptive strikes by democracies?

Trust that Barack Obama will talk with these feudal tyrannies. As Glenn Reynolds would say, “Heh.”

It’s a dangerous world.  A lot of politicians seem not to know that.  Or maybe they simply know that lots of voters don’t want to hear it.  I’m hoping for the latter.

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What Not to Think

Ann Althouse critiques an episode of “What Not to Wear,” and suggests an alternative starring philosophers:

The show ends with everyone celebrating the amazing changes in the woman’s appearance. You have scenes where everyone claps and cheers and the makeover target twirls around in her new clothes — which look ugly to me — and professes to be transformed. We’re assured — typical woman’s TV pap — that the young woman was always a wonderful person and now her exterior matches her wonderful interior. Blah! I’d rather see a show where philosophers descend on a woman with a perfect exterior and rip into her for her intellectual and spiritual failings, put her on some kind of internally transformative regime, and turn her into a human being of substance. Can we get that?

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