Quick Roundup 247

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Demagogues and the People Who Elect Them

This Newsweek article on attempts by the Democrats to curry favor with fundamentalists comes as no surprise, but its first paragraph strikes me as quite interesting:

Richard Land had never met one-on-one with a chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The Tennessee evangelist, an influential force in the Southern Baptist Convention, generally views such people as adversaries, if not enemies. So consider his surprise when, at a nonpartisan leadership conference over the New Year's holiday, Howard Dean leaned in and said he'd love to get together for a private chat. Land agreed to meet for coffee at a downtown Washington hotel. He was wary: "I brought a witness," he jokes now. Dean was there to chip away at Land's loyalty to the GOP, and strangely, Land found himself warming to the liberal Democrat. Among other things, he admired Dean's frugality. "He hauled his own suitcase around, and the Capitol Hill Suites isn't exactly fancy," Land tells NEWSWEEK. "I was impressed." More important, the two men had something to talk about, and did so cordially. "Dean told me how the Democrats were pro-life in that they wanted a country in which abortion was rare. I said, 'I agree, but we disagree how to get there.' Still, it was certainly a change in tone." [bold added]
My first reaction to this was something like, "God. This Land is an idiot. So Dean carries his own stinking suitcase. What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

It makes sense on one level that their meeting would succeed on this touchy-feely level given how emotionalistic evangelicals are. And certainly, being well-educated, I understand the temptation to regard people like Land as amiable dunces. Heck, this article all but makes Land sound like a character straight out of Andy Griffith.

But remember: People compartmentalize all the time, running some parts of their lives foolishly and others almost rationally. Evangelicals have been working hard (and successfully) for the past three decades to increase their political power in America. Just because Land feels that Dean is a good guy or that God exists and loves him doesn't mean he can't be shrewd in other ways -- like coming up with a way to help pressure Dean into honoring his word on abortion.

The Democrats' attempts to curry favor with fundamentalists are cynical, to be sure. But they also strike me as having a strong element of carelessness. This is rooted partly in a complacent attitude towards religious Southerners, but more importantly, it is a symptom of the more general phenomenon of a greater concern with power than with principle.

More Bird Research

Via Arts and letters Daily, I have encountered yet another interesting article from the popular press on avian intelligence:
The New Caledonian Crow is surprisingly smart about its food. Its favorite insects live in tiny crevices that are too narrow for its beak. So the crow takes a barbed leaf and, using its beak and claws, fashions a primitive hook. It then lowers the hook down into the cracks, almost like a man fishing, and draws up a rich meal. Some scientists even suggest that crows are more sophisticated tool builders than chimps, since they can transmit their knowledge on to successive generations and improve the tools over time. These birds have a culture.

... [C]rows in Japan have learned how to get people to crack walnuts for them: They drop them near busy intersections, then retrieve the smashed nuts when the traffic light turns red. [bold added]
The article goes on to note that "For most of the 20th century, 'bird brain' has been used as an insult." This will doubtless call to mind among my Objectivist readers (as it did the last time I posted on avian intelligence) the phrase, "crow epistemology" (search "crow"). The meaning and use of that phrase, at least, remain intact!

Cancer Treatment Pricing Awareness Month

Over at ReasonPharm is a good discussion of the various factors that contribute to the high prices for cancer-treating drugs and what ought to be done about some of them.
One thing that can be changed is the enormous cost to bring a drug to market that comes from governmental regulation. It has been estimated that the cost of developing a drug from test tube to animal trials to human clinical trials is about $800 million. A huge fraction of this cost comes from the need to meet FDA requirements before a drug can be sold. Huge clinical trials must be conducted, massive amounts of paperwork must be filed, and companies must wait, the time on their patents ticking away, while the FDA reviews their submissions. Might a cancer patient prefer to pay less money for a drug with less data than the FDA requires? Too bad; he won't be allowed to purchase it until the nanny state says it's okay.
Reducing government regulation will not necessarily makes such drugs cheap, for reasons explained elsewhere in the post. But capitalism, as the only system that rewards their development, is tampered with at the potential cost of having no new drugs at all.

World Beard and Moustache Championships

This gallery of world-class beard-growing contestants is well worth a peek!

-- CAV


: Fixed some typos.


Monica said...

You can see the New Caledonian crow in action in David Attenborough's "Life of Birds." It's quite something!

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for the tip, Monica! I've just added Disk 1 of the series to my Netflix queue....