The Ben Carson crazy

Sure, in one sense it might seem rather pointless to catalog the breathtaking levels of inanity and craziness that seem to chracterize Ben Carson’s thinking about everything outside of neurosurgery, but this is the man more Republicans want to be president than anybody else at this moment.  Now that’s scary.  The Post’s James Downie on the crazy:

The political press is chortling at BuzzFeed’s story that Ben Carson believes Egypt’s pyramids were built for grain storage, not as burial chambers. “My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” he said in a 1998 commencement speech, referring to Genesis 41, which tells of Joseph storing Egypt’s grain during the “years of plenty” for the coming famine. Carson confirmed to CBS yesterday that he still believes this, but I’m not sure why this is such a big story. Before Wednesday, we knew that Ben Carson takes the Bible literally. After Wednesday, we knew the exact same thing. Frankly, I don’t care whether the president believes the pyramids were built by Joseph, aliens or the Egyptians themselves levitating the stones into place. What matters are the ideas — and that’s where the focus should be with Carson, since it’s clear he has no idea what he’s talking about.

In the same week, Carson also said that Medicare and Medicaid fraud is “huge — half a trillion dollars.” If true, that would be almost 50 percent of our total spending on the two programs. The real number is somewhere between 3 and 10 percent — still a problem, but handing the program to a Carson White House would be like handing the drug war over to someone who believes half the United States is hooked on heroin. In the same Miami Herald interview, Carson was completely stumped by basic questions on U.S.-Cuba policy, before having no qualms about holding forth on the president’s Cuba policy.

And on Wednesday night on Facebook, Carson defended his lack of experience by claiming, “Every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience.” That is utterly false…

As more and more debates have passed this fall, several commentators havesuggested moderators should retire more confrontational questions (such as “Is this a comic book campaign?” or “another candidate said something bad about you last week; please respond”) and ask more basic things like, “Should the Federal Reserve raise interest rates?” Carson’s lack of knowledge backs up this strategy: If you ask him a more confrontational question, he can just brush it off as an attack by the lamestream media. But give him a wide berth, and he’ll expose his own ignorance. Carson’s words clearly show he will trip up all by himself.

Transgender students and high school locker rooms

So, I heard this story on NPR yesterday about the US Department of Education coming down hard on an Illinois school district because rather than giving unfettered access to the girls locker room for a transgender female athlete, they had set up a separate space within the girls locker room.  Is that really so wrong?

DANIEL CATES: We have offered access to our transgender students in our locker rooms, and we have asked them to agree and commit to observing an individual measure of privacy when changing their clothes or showering.

CORLEY: The name of the student has not been released, but she identifies as female and plays on a girls’ sports team. She typically changes in a bathroom and, when using the girls locker room, is required to change clothes behind a privacy curtain. The ACLU helped the student file a federal complaint against the district two years ago asking for unrestricted access to the locker room. Her attorney, John Knight…

JOHN KNIGHT: No other students got this kind of rule that requires them to dress in private areas. It basically singles out my client. She knows that she’s being told that she should be particularly ashamed of who she is, and so it’s discrimination just in different packaging, is the bottom line.

Ummm, no other student is a “girl” who has a penis and testicles and desires to change in the girls locker room.  And today’s NYT:

This September, thousands of transgender students went to schools that treated them fairly and followed the law. But a handful of school districts refused to follow the law. Township High School District in Palatine, Ill., to their credit, did apparently work with a transgender girl and treated her equally in some respects. Like the other girls in the school, she uses the girls’ room and participates on the girls’ sports teams.

Unfortunately, they are requiring her to accept a “separate but equal” locker room situation that sets her apart from fellow students. Without question, the district is treating her differently than they are treating other students, and that is the very definition of discrimination. The school only argues that it is legal sex discrimination. The Department of Education disagrees.

And, no, she really is different.  This is not Plessy v. Ferguson.  Of course we should have compassion towards transgender individuals and not discriminate nor needlessly complicate their lives.  But transgender individuals really are different.  That doesn’t mean we should discriminate, but it does mean that some times the fairest solution for all (e.g., teenage girls who do not want to share a locker room with a person with a penis) means different, but reasonable, treatment for the transgender individual.  Changing in a bathroom?  Probably not so reasonable?  Changing in private area of the locker room?  Strikes me as a fair and reasonable compromise.  I’d like to see the Department of Education and ACLU put their efforts elsewhere.

Whither the conservative professors

Damon Linker wrote an interesting piece in The Hill Week speculating on the reasons for the lack of conservative college faculty.  I think he’s mostly wrong, but it’s an interesting argument:

When people describe universities as homogeneously left-wing, they’re mainly talking about the humanities, most of the social sciences, and many (though not all) law schools.

But here’s my question: What’s behind the apparent bias? Is it merely a matter of leftists hiring the like-minded and excluding those who dissent from the party line? No doubt, that’s part of it. But I think the story is also far more complicated. And this complication makes it very unlikely that simple calls for hiring more conservatives on the grounds of fairness or diversity will make a meaningful difference in rectifying the ideological imbalance…

Professors in the humanities and social sciences engage in highly specialized research, attempting to push knowledge into new areas — and many view this effort as a project that involves and requires liberating individuals from the dead weight of received prejudices.

The result is that academics usually end up pursuing scholarly agendas that are the furthest thing from anything that could be described as “conservative.” The imperative to advance knowledge demands that research contributes something new. Meanwhile, the tendency to relegate all received truth claims to the category of prejudice leads to suspicion even of the established findings of the previous generation of scholars.

At least as much as ideological bias, it is this relentless drive to break from the past and push further in the pursuit of knowledge that fuels the radicalism of liberal arts scholarship, especially in the humanities.

Interesting idea.  And sure, while Business and Law school faculty may not be so overwhelming liberal, in my experience professors outside the Humanities– be it Botany, Chemistry, or nuclear engineering– are still a very liberal lot.

After a nice little FB post on the matter, I take credit for encouraging Bill Ayer’s subsequent blog post on the matter:

This is a plausible explanation, but only barely. I think there’s some element of truth here. It is the case that “boundary-pushing” research in the humanities and social sciences encourages questioning things that are political and normative in nature. Similar cutting-edge research in engineering or medicine doesn’t generally call into question preexisting social and political beliefs. Business is built on a set of assumptions which are fundamentally conservative (in the classic sense) to begin with, and so research within that paradigm is likewise unthreatening to conservative views. So it is reasonable to observe that there would be more political bias or impact in fields in which the subject is more inherently political and philosophical in nature. There is no such thing as “liberal engineering” or “conservative engineering” – there’s just engineering, because designing circuits or aircraft isn’t an ideological exercise. Interpreting Shakespeare, studying and analyzing history, and researching sociological phenomena all involve political & ideological issues.

All of this is only true if you understand “conservative” to mean what Edmund Burkemeant: a respect for tradition and the past and a desire for change that is evolutionary and measured rather than radical. In this regard, modern humanist scholarship is indeed “non-conservative” in that it tends to reject what has come before and want to start fresh, rather than preserving and respecting inherited wisdom. By this standard, many who call themselves “conservatives” today aren’t conservatives at all, which further muddies the waters.

I think the much better explanation for the original question – why so few conservative faculty in the liberal arts – is basic tribalism. People tend to sort themselves – where they live, what they do for a living, who they interact with – into groups that are comfortable. The fact that some (many?) humanities and social sciences departments ARE deeply liberal tends to drive conservatives away from those fields, because it’s just not comfortable to be there. This is a complex phenomenon with a number of different vectors, as my colleagues who study this stuff will undoubtedly point out. But I wonder whether it doesn’t have more to do with our social relations than with the nature of what we study as academics.

Yep.  Self selection.  I would also add that there’s something about being a professor that is disproportionately attractive to liberals, regardless of discipline.

Rubio to the right

Interesting article in the Post about how attacks from Donald Trump are forcing Rubio to the right on immigration:

Marco Rubio committed Wednesday to ending President Obama’s controversial program for child immigrants even if Congress doesn’t create an acceptable alternative, hardening his opposition in the wake of criticism by presidential rival Donald Trump…

Here in Manchester, Rubio went further than he has before in demonstrating his commitment to ending Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is loathed by many conservatives.

“If you’re president and Congress doesn’t pass immigration reform, would you keep DACA going?” a reporter asked Rubio.

“No,” Rubio responded. “It will have to end at some point.”

“Even if the Congress doesn’t pass legislation?” the reporter followed up.

“Yes, it will have to end,” he replied…

A hard-line posture on immigration could help Rubio in the primaries, but it also poses a risk in a general election by dampening support among Latinos and other minority groups. Rubio’s shifts on the issue — he ­co-sponsored and then disavowed comprehensive immigration legislation in the Senate — is also providing fodder for opponents. [emphasis mine]

Presumably, Rubio would have some general election benefit from actually being Hispanic, but the further right he goes on immigration, the less that benefit becomes.  Obviously, at this point he is intent on winning the primary, but if he does, I think he will necessarily be a noticeably weakened general election candidate.  And this seems especially problematic for Rubio as it so clearly demonstrates him as a political opportunist (of course they are all, but rarely is it so transparent).  Is there not one candidate willing to stand up to the base on this?  I guess not one who actually thinks he/she could get the nomination.

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