Ben Stein off the rails again

October 10, 2012

Ben Stein is nominally a smart guy, with a degree in economics and a law degree and enough moxie to wangle his way into the movies . . . lives a sort of a charmed life.

Ben Stein

Ben Stein

Which may be good on one hand, because he runs off the rails sometimes.  Bad on the other hand if others follow him off the rails, assuming he’s smart and knows where he’s going.

Stein’s latest droppings at American Spectator include this gross misunderstanding of the drive for justice and equality (all links added here):

But right now, which is Sunday, I am looking in my favorite book, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, for a quote by Hayek about how you cannot clearly associate economic effects with economic causes because so many different circumstances are at work each time.

I cannot find that quote in this edition — maybe a 1976 edition — but I did find a better one from Hayek which I paraphrase here: the attempt at social justice causes more misery than almost any other factor in human life (again, a paraphrase).

Yes. The Communists. The Jacobins. The Communards. The Maoists. The Khmer Rouge. They all caused untold suffering in the phony and vain attempt to make everyone equal… phony because it was just a fig leaf for terrible people to seize power.

We are not supposed to be all equal. Let’s just forget that. We are supposed to have equal rights under law. If we do that, we have done enough. If we try to engineer outcomes, if we overturn tradition to make everyone the same, we ruin society. If we upset tradition to allow for an equal shot at the starting gate, everyone wins, except for the charlatans and would be dictators.

Yet another reason to be a Republican. Give everyone an equal shot — but do not require equal outcomes or even roughly equal outcomes by law. That way lies catastrophe.

Every soul deserves a shot at a Cadillac, but not everyone should be guaranteed a Cadillac… that way lie the tumbrels and the guillotine.

Other groups in history caused untold suffering in the phony and vain attempt to keep everyone from having equal rights.  What’s his point, that he’s forgotten history and has so far avoided a visit from Santayana’s Ghost?

Consider the anti-Jacobins, the monarchy and strict class system against which the French revolted — better?  The Jacobins themselves were mostly upper-class, including a future King of France among them, and the club being composed almost completely of wealthy people or merchants on the rise, quite like a modern Republican-leaning country club.  Does Stein really know this history?

Communards organized and rebelled against a patrician government (think Occupy Wall Street with real venom, tired of eating cats and rats, and with the support of hungry front-line soldiers who sympathized with them).  They did not perpetrate misery in support of social justice, not so much as 18,000 Communards were murdered to put down the rebellion and  continue the social injustice, several thousands more were executed, and a few thousands were “deported” to prison colonies in New Caledonia.  Stein seems to have this history exactly backwards — it was the GOP-style Bismarck-Farve alliance that delivered misery to perpetuate inequality.

One might make a claim that the Maoists in China worked for a degree of a classless society, but not on the scale and not with the success of George Washington — which is probably a clear view into why Mao’s successors beat such a hasty retreat to more capitalistic-bent programs, but still leaving the peasants in the countryside and especially coal miners on the short end of the rights stick.  It’s simply fatuous to claim the Khmer Rouge worked to make people equal under the madman dictator Pol Pot.  It’s  a good, short debate line, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny of history — and remember, it was the communist North Vietnamese Army who chased Pol Pot out of power and restored order to Cambodia.

Consider the Roman Empire (which oddly is more akin to modern U.S. Republicans than the Roman Republic), or Czarist Russia before the Bolsheviks.  It’s not like the failed attempts by so-called communists brought down societies that honored equality for citizens.  Stein has the telescope of history by the wrong end, which means he really can’t see what he’s claiming to describe.

Did Hayek really say that working for social justice is error?  I doubt it.  He wrote about wrong-headed attempts to impose social justice, like keeping everyone from having a Cadillac, through formal legal means, or through informal, economic and class means such as closing off opportunities for the poor and middle class to rise.  Stein, a Jew with an Ivy League education, should be sensitive to the closing of opportunities, and appreciative that opportunities are generally open in this nation.  Religion once operated as keys the doors to Ivy League schools, to the detriment of Jews; once recast, those keys provided a door to economic and intellectual achievement for many Jews.

Stein’s column is titled “A Reason to Be Republican.”  Instead he outlines reasons to question the current Republican platform and candidates for the presidency, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.  Somehow he confuses Republican policy with the phrase “Equal Justice Under Law,” the words engraved on the West Portico of the U.S. Supreme Court.  It’s useful at such times to remember the building was completed in 1935, and that its design and construction was supervised by Chief Justice William Howard Taft, the former Democrat.  It’s also useful to remember that the GOP has fought against those words ever since, but especially after Richard Nixon determined to jettison GOP dedication to civil rights for African Americans, women and Hispanics, in pursuit of electoral success with the votes of bigots from the South angry at the Democratic Party for having successfully pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Stein wrote speeches for Nixon.  He should remember that history better, or study it more if he can’t recall.

Especially not the rich should be guaranteed a Cadillac by the government.  They already have the money to get what they need; but having money should not confer rights to take everything while walking on the heads of the middle class and poor.  Everyone deserves a shot, Stein said.  I wish he’d support that claim with his actions, his political contributions, and his endorsement of candidates.


Ben Stein in a nutshell (appropriately)

July 8, 2011

Ben Stein is too easy to kick around anymore.  His views on politics, science, and general public policy have inflated so much above the troposphere that he really cannot speak about life on the ground at all.  The movie mockumentary “Expelled!” provided the early signs of pundit dementia.

Graphic for Ben Stein's American Spectator column

Graphic for Ben Stein's American Spectator column: Even in the art, Stein's out of it; his column is titled, "Nation's Pulse," but the graphic shows Uncle Sam hooked up to a machine measuring everything but his pulse. Even Sam's genitals get wired, but the nurse isn't counting heartbeats, nor does it appear any other monitor is.

At the same time, he’s a friend of dogs.  One of his tributes to his old dog literally brought tears to my eyes, and reminded me much of the old saying that heaven has no room for those who don’t like dogs.  That also raised the horrible vision of spending eternity in a heaven with dog-lovers who also happen to be political idiots.

Stein won’t kick dogs, but he’ll kick scientists, and poor people, and anyone in the middle class.  Maybe heavens don’t take people solely on the basis of their affection for dogs.

I digress.

At the remains of the American Spectator — a once-great, nearly revolutionary and smart journal of conservatism slipped on the slime to twitchy, bumper-sticker politics — Stein’s every-issue column turned to his vacation in an exclusive and expensive home in Sandpoint, Idaho, his distaste for undeveloped land and and outright fear of wilderness, friends, and the birth of his granddaughter, nicknamed Coco:

I feel so worried about Coco, She is only a tiny infant with eyes barely open. What do I want Coco to know? To do her best. To love her parents. To forgive. To be a lot more prudent about money than I am. To be grateful for this, our America, the best place in the universe. To turn her will and her life over to God and turn to Him for help in every situation.

But I wish my parents and Alex’s parents were here to help. And I wish my sister lived closer so she could help. And that Mr Nixon were still alive to give the leaders of this nation some clue about how to lead a nation. I am excited about Coco, but I am scared.

Right emotions, wrong thoughts.  We need Lyndon Johnson, with a concern for eliminating poverty among the aged (something he did!), not Richard Nixon.  With the possible exception of his trip to China, nothing Nixon did couldn’t have been done better by Johnson with another four years, or Humphrey, had we had the sense.

But that’s Stein.  He’s human on the family front, full of emotion, loving dogs, getting a cold treat for his ill wife, worrying about the future his granddaughter faces, especially from his privileged palace in Sandpoint, a nice nearly-wild area unfortunately become home of right-wing militias, Aryan-loving neo-Nazis and Keystone Kops-style militias — then switching to his brain-driven mode from emotion-driven, and doing everything he can to make sure anyone who lacks a few million dollars in the bank courtesy of the Old Man will be unable to rise above the fears.  Stein luckily led a charmed life, dependent on the kindness of family, friends and strangers, and he cannot understand why others don’t do the same.  Stein’s solutions stand magnificently out of reason:  Out of work?  Take a tax cut.  Need money to go to college?  Your father needs a tax cut, if he’s rich.  Health care tough to find because you can’t pay for it?  Tax cuts for the owner of the company you wish to work for.  And stop your arguing for more practical or workable solutions whining.

Stein stands in such sharp contrast to the Nepali prince Siddhartha, whose views of real life led him to forsake his princely heritage and seek spiritual enlightenment.  One hopes for a Stein-like character with the conscience of Siddhartha, but the practicality of Ross Perot who once noted that what America really needs is a political leader who will fill some potholes, and then, instead of holding a press conference about it, fill some more potholes.

Ben Stein’s road of life has been stripped of most potholes.  It’s so smooth, he can’t understand why everyone doesn’t drive that way, going to fancy school’s on Dad’s big money, hobnobbing with Republicans at the country club and occasionally taking the opportunities they toss your way.  Wouldn’t such a life be divine?

The very secret Darwin letter you never hoped to see

August 11, 2008

You can see it here, at the Sneer Review.

What do you think? Is Darwin outed forever?

Gotta run. Someone is knocking at the door — Mencken’s Ghost, probably.

Could be Ben Stein, I suppose.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Kevin Fisher, Texas Citizens for Science.

Moral corruption of Joe Carter and ID advocates

June 1, 2008

I’m often struck at how creationists, including advocates of intelligent design, cannot maintain an argument in favor of their perverse beliefs against science for more than about five minutes without descending into erroneous descriptions of science, or outright lies.

Joe Carter pens the very well-read Evangelical Outpost. He attends church regularly, I gather, considers himself a good Christian, and for all I know studies the Bible regularly and tithes. But he’s also an advocate of intelligent design. In 2007 he provoked a bit of a storm claiming that scientists were making the case for ID by advocating evolution (no, it doesn’t make much more sense in the longer argument). (See “The moral imperative against intelligent design,” and “. . . in which I defend the judiciary against barbaric assault.“)

I missed it earlier, but he followed up in April of this year with a repeat performance upon the release of Ben Stein’s mockumentary movie “Expelled!” — another three part epic. Carter cast away his virtue in the third paragraph of the first post:

Had the critics remained silent over the past decade, ID might possibly have moldered in obscurity. If they had given the theory the respect accorded to supernatural explanations like the “multiverse theory” it might even have faded from lack of support.

But instead the theory’s critics launched a irrational counter-offensive, forcing people into choosing sides. The problem with this approach is that the more the public learn about modern evolutionary theory, the more skeptical they become about it being an adequately robust explanation for the diversity of life on earth. For instance in Expelled, Michael Ruse and Richard Dawkins provide two explanations for how life probably began. Ruse says that we moved from the inorganic world to the world of the cell on the backs of crystals while Dawkins says that life on earth was most likely seeded by aliens from outer space.

When even Dawkins admits that intelligent agency is involved in creation of life on earth it isn’t difficult to see why other people think it is plausible.

Is there a claim in there that is not completely false? Is there one claim that is not demonstrably in error — or an outright lie?

What virus causes this rabid departure from truth-telling among creationists? For if it’s not a virus, it’s a moral failing of the faith, isn’t it? And knowing that, wouldn’t advocates of Christianity’s growth, like Joe Carter, take steps to hide their prevarications?

If you have an idea what the cause is, comments are open.

The Wrong Stuff, on purpose: Weikart misquotes Darwin

May 10, 2008

Richard Weikart is an arm of the Discovery Institute’s disinformation brigade. A couple of years ago he published a book attempting to link Darwin to the Holocaust in a blame-sharing arrangement. This book and some of its arguments appear to be the foundation of the text used to write the script for the mockumentary movie “Expelled!” featuring Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein.

Which is to say, the basis for the movie is dubious. Weikart’s scholarship creating links between Darwin, science and Hitler is quite creative. It is also based on arguments created from Darwin’s writings that mislead the innocent about evolution, science and history, or which get Darwin and evolution exactly wrong.

Michael Ruse published an op-ed in a Florida paper in February — a piece which is no longer available there (anybody got a copy? Nebraska Citizens for Science preserved a copy) — and Weikart responded, restating his creative claims. Alas for the truth, Weikart’s canards are still available at the Discovery Institute website, putting an interesting twist on Twain’s old line: The truth will go to bed at night while a falsehood will travel twice around the world as the truth kicks off its slippers.

Looking for Ruse’s piece, I found Weikart’s response here and here. I composed a quick response pointing out the problems, which I would like to posit here for the record — partly because I doubt Darwiniana gets much traffic, partly because the censor-happy folks at Discovery Institute don’t allow free discussion at their site, and partly so I can control it to make sure it’s not butchered as Weikart butchers Darwin’s text.

At Darwiniana I said:

Weikart’s strip quoting of Darwin is most disappointing. [Weikart wrote:]

Darwin claimed in chapter two of The Descent of Man that there were great differences in moral disposition and intellect between the “highest races” and the “lowest savages.” Later in Descent he declared, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.” Racial inegalitarianism was built into Darwin’s analysis from the start.

Darwin argued the differences in intellect and manners between the “highest” of men and the “lowest” of men did NOT change the fact that we are are all related — legally, Darwin’s argument would evidence a claim absolutely the opposite of what Weikart claims. Here are Darwin’s words from Chapter II of Descent of Man, as Darwin wrote them, without Weikart’s creative editing:

Nor is the difference slight in moral disposition between a barbarian, such as the man described by the old navigator Byron, who dashed his child on the rocks for dropping a basket of sea-urchins, and a Howard or Clarkson; and in intellect, between a savage who uses hardly any abstract terms, and a Newton or Shakespeare. Differences of this kind between the highest men of the highest races and the lowest savages, are connected by the finest gradations. Therefore it is possible that they might pass and be developed into each other. [emphasis added]

That’s not inegalitarianism at all — Darwin’s saying they are the same species, related closer than the poets allow. If we stick to the evidence, and [do] not wander off into poetic philosophy, we must acknowledge that Darwin’s own egalitarian spirit shows here in the science, too. It would be an odd kettle of fish indeed that a crabby guy like Hitler, who shared the antiscience bias of Weikart’s organization, would suddenly accept the science of a hated Englishman that ran contrary to his other philosophies. Who makes the error here, Hitler or Weikart? If they both think Darwin endorsed racism, they both do — but there is not an iota of evidence that Hitler based his patent racism on science, let alone the science of an Englishman.

As to the second quote, Weikart leaves the context out, and the context is everything. Darwin is not arguing that “savages” (the 19th century word for “aboriginals”) were less human, nor that they are a different species. He was arguing that in some future time there would appear creationists like Dr. Weikart’s colleagues at the Discovery Institute who will deny evolution because, once Europeans and others with guns conduct an unholy genocide (which Darwin writes against in the next chapter), and once humans wipe out chimpanzees, orangs and gorillas, the other great apes, the creationists can [then] dishonestly look around, blink their eyes and say, “Where are the links? There cannot be evolution between (Animal X) and humans!”

Darwin wrote:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked (18. ‘Anthropological Review,’ April 1867, p. 236.), will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, [emphasis added] and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

In the end, Darwin wrote against genocide, against racism, and in favor of the higher thinking abilities of all dark-skinned people. He wrote in favor of Christian morality. Darwin himself remained a faithful, tithing Christian to the end of his life.

Such a man, and such amazing science, deserve accurate history, not the fantastic, cowardly and scurrilous inventions Dr. Weikart has given them. We should rise to be “man in a more civilized state” as Darwin had hoped.

Update, July 24, 2008, nota bene:  To anyone venturing here from the Blogcatalog discussion on intelligent design: Get over to the site of Donald Johanson’s Institute for Human Origins, and especially look at the presentation “On Becoming Human.”  Also check out the Evolution Gateway site at Berkeley, especially this page which explains what evolution is, and this page which offers some introduction for what the evidence for evolution really is.  One quick answer to a question someone asked there:  Between H. erectus and modern humans, H. sapiens, in the time sequence we have fossils of H. heidelbergensis and H. neanderthalensis.  It’s pretty clear that Neandertal is not ancestral to modern humans, but instead lived alongside modern humans for 50,000 years or so from the Middle East through Southern Europe.  To the question of actual transitional fossils, you’d need to hit the paleontology journals — there are a lot.  You may also benefit from taking a look at the articles at this special Nature site.

FBI raids office of Sternberg defender; files and computers “Expelled!”

May 6, 2008

One of the affairs Ben Stein’s mockumentary covers is the Sternberg affair, in which a creationist bent the rules of the biology society whose journal he was editing to sneak into publication an article purporting to promote intelligent design. Stein claims the guy suffered persecution, though under cross examination in the Dover trial, no ID advocate could remember just what that persecution might be (creationists go quiet under oath . . . hmmm).

The mackarel by moonlight in that story (both shining and stinking at the same time) was a letter from the Office of Special Counsel which, while claiming to have found unspecified evidence of wrongdoing, said that OSC was the wrong agency to prosecute wrong-doers (OSC had an obligation to turn over any evidence of wrongdoing to the right agency, but Stein doesn’t mention that; there never was any evidence turned over to anyone).

Um, don’t look now, but the FBI raided the office of the OSC today, looking for evidence of wrongdoing. FBI and inspector general investigators appear to be looking into charges that the head of the office, Scott Bloch, retaliated against certain employees who, he suspected, had leaked information about political moves he had made in the legally non-political agency.

  • Jim Mitchell, communications director for the Office of the Special Counsel, in Washington on Tuesday. (New York Times caption). AP Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Will Ben Stein do an update?


Dangers of creationism: Synapse shutdown

May 3, 2008

One of the ultimate defenses of creationism, once you’ve demonstrated that there is no science and no good theology in it, is the creationist claim “it doesn’t hurt anyone.”

Well, yes, it does. Over the years I’ve noticed that creationism appears to suck the intelligence right out of otherwise smart or educated people. I also note that it tends to make otherwise good and honest people defend academic debauchery and dishonesty.

It’s as if claiming to be creationist hogs all the available RAM in their brains and forces a near-total synapse shutdown.

Cases in point: Creationists are scrambling to the defense of the mockumentary movie “Expelled!” in which Ben Stein trots out almost every creationist canard known to Hollywood in defending some of the greater misdeeds of the intelligent design hoaxers. Otherwise sane, good people, claiming to be Christian, make atrocious defenses of the movie.

I cannot make this up: Go see Mere Orthodoxy and Thinking Christian. Bad enough they defend the movie — but to defend it because, they claim, Darwin and Hitler were brothers in thought? Because evolution urges immoral behavior? I stepped in something over at Thinking Christian, and when I called it to the attention of Tom Gilson in the comments, he deleted the comment. (I’ve reposted, but I wager he’ll delete that one, too, while letting other comments of mine stand; he’s got no answer to any of my complaints.)

The stupid goes past 11, proudly, defiantly. The Constitution specifically protects the right of people to believe any fool claptrap they choose. These defenses of a silly movie come awfully close to abuse of the privilege.

Other useful things:

Update: Holy mother of ostriches! Tom Gilson at “Thinking Christian” has a nifty device that bans people from viewing his blog. Paranoia sticks its head into a whole new depth of sand!  Here’s a truism:  Creationists who like to claim Darwin was the cause of Stalin and Hitler, which is by itself an extremely insulting and repugnant claim, almost never fail to resort to Stalinist and Hitlerian tactics when their claims are questioned.  Call it Darrell’s Law of Evolution History Revisionism.

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