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April 28, 2007

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Carlos

I was going to ask. His added "Central American" comment especially had me going Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Like, is it a DC fetish? Code for transsexuals? They play nun and Contra?

OK, Packers are up for their draft pick. Gotta go.

Syd Webb

Thanks for posting, Doug. A timely reminder that while Australia is the country most like the USA there are still cultural differences.

Firstly I take it that prostitution is still illegal in Washington DC, that Randall Tobias was implicated in a criminal act rather than making a legal payment for the services of a sex worker.

Secondly
It was generally believed that he was just carrying out administration policy without having strong feelings about it one way or the other.
A civil servant carrying out the wishes of a conservative government without letting his own political views intrude? In my particular culture this would be seen as commendable.

Nevertheless you make a good point:
So, having the head of USAID spending his spare time boinking Guatemalan girls at $300 per hour just looks so incredibly bad. You can be completely libertarian on the sex-for-hire issue and still see that.

What if Randall had different responsibilities? Say, administering the Administration's global warming initiatives? Is the boinking still a bad look from a US perspective?

Doug M.

Second point first: Obviously this is subjective, but I would say yes. If Tobias had been in charge of international wildlife conservation, this wouldn't have had quite the same resonance.

Prostitution is illegal almost everywhere in the US except for some counties in Nevada. Enforcement does vary from place to place.

The thing about Tobias not being a social conservative is that most informed observers who are not social conservatives consider these policies useless if not actively destructive. And if this is indeed the case, then you have to ask which is worse -- know and don't care, or don't care to know.


Doug M.

James Angove

Syd Webb:

Also, Tobias wasn't a civil servant, not in US parlance and I don't think in Australian either. He was a political appointee.

Doug (not Muir)

One nice thing about reading the Globe article is mentally adding "former" before the phrase "Senator Rick Santorum." I think I'll do it again, just because it feels so nice.

And here's the Globe again on what pushing abstinence means in real terms:

"And USAID required groups to sign an anti-prostitution pledge despite concerns over its constitutionality. The pledge required all organizations receiving USAID money overseas to renounce prostitution, which some groups interpreted as abandoning efforts to prevent prostitutes from spreading AIDS.
The Brazilian government, which has had success in decreasing AIDS by working with prostitutes, refused to sign the pledge and lost a $40 million grant.
In an affidavit for a lawsuit over the matter, Pedro Chequer , director of Brazil's AIDS program, said his country strived to adhere to 'the established principles of the scientific method and not allow theological beliefs and dogma to interfere.' "

So yeah, I can imagine the professionals at USAID being glad to see Tobias go. Sorta like the NASA folks were glad to see the back of the guy who made sure references to the Big Bang were always accompanied by the word "theory."

I can also imagine a serious case of CEO syndrome, coupled with a mandate to ride roughshod over actual facts, made an unappealing combination.

Only 630 days to go. (On the bright side, my kids will have no recollection whatsoever of GWB as President. Yay!)

Bernard Guerrero

Doug (not Muir),

This last bit seems unfair. Not being a social conservative or a moralist, I can't muster up much feeling of any sort over who is f*ing whom or if there's any accompanying monetary transaction (so long as all humans involved are consenting adults.)

That said, "renouncing prostitution" does strike me as a not unreasonable request that a so-inclined moralist might make on another party in return for the moralist's money. I suppose it depends on whether you interpret "renounce" as "deplore" or as "pretend it doesn't exist despite your feelings on the matter", with the former being a simple statement of feeling while the latter is a potentially dangerous action.

Again, I'm not much of a moralist. To turn the argument around, I can imagine actions or steps that a regime overseas might take that I'd be in favor of on purely practical grounds (such as repressing folks that I find undesirable or unpleasant) that you might find reprehensible based on your own personal moral outlook. Surely you wouldn't argue that your money should be spent assisting such a regime despite your personal objections? So while I tend to agree with where you're coming down on the abstinence issue, I don't see that it boils down to anything other than varying moral codes.

Syd Webb

Doug Muir wrote:

The thing about Tobias not being a social conservative is that most informed observers who are not social conservatives consider these policies useless if not actively destructive. And if this is indeed the case, then you have to ask which is worse -- know and don't care, or don't care to know

OK, Doug, I think I see where you're coming from.

Back to your original post. You wrote:

One, USAID people tend Democrat, by about 2-1. Not too surprising if you think about what they do. So, there is that.

...and...

It was generally believed that he was just carrying out administration policy without having strong feelings about it one way or the other. Some people think this makes him a bigger hypocrite than if he'd been a devout conservative.

So the most senior official in USAID is carrying out policies in which he doesn't believe. And all the other officials in USAID are also carrying out policies that (presumably) they don't believe. So how many hypocrites are there working for USAID?

OTOH James Angove notes:

Also, Tobias wasn't a civil servant, not in US parlance and I don't think in Australian either. He was a political appointee.

We're having an increasing number of political appointees to the top ranks of the Australian Public Service. It has been going on since 1972 and has accelerated these last 11 years. Still not quite up to 'spoils system' we hear about in the USA.

But back to James' point. Because Randall was a political appointee by the current Administration he knew what sort of policies he had to push and - if these policies clashed with his own moral agenda - he put himself in a position of hypocrisy.

Whereas the career USAID officials, many of whom would have joined the agency prior to the present administration, and most of whom have families to feed, are in a different moral position when they Just Follow Orders?

Despite my clumsy wording have I basically captured the Doug/James position?

Carlos

Syd, I'm shocked. Surely in Crikeystan they can distinguish between the type of hypocrisy which willingly serves the Führerprinzip, and the type of hypocrisy which seeks to subvert it?

I think of the role of the insurance agent Parr in the Kafkaesque recent thriller, The Incredibles. His superior, Huph, is employed in the service of a never-seen yet malign [1] higher power. But Huph, whatever his internal convictions might be, serves this power willingly, while Parr is an unwilling servant of Huph's. Both serve the power: but who is more just?

[1] Or perhaps this higher power is merely testing us.

Doug M.

"are in a different moral position when they Just Follow Orders?"

Hum. It's such a fine line, between being arch/twee/amusing and invoking the Spirit That Mocks.

But anyway. Yes, I'd say they're in a different position. See Carlos' well-crafted response; and also, as you correctly point out, people do have families to feed. Randall Tobias, a former CEO of Eli Lilly with a pension, a mansion, and millions in the bank, is in a somewhat different position.

Also, there is a certain amount of voting with feet going on. Understand that USAID is a large organization, and does many different sorts of things. The administration's ideology has much impact in the area of family planning and AIDS, rather less in the area of building roads. So you wouldn't expect to see a mass exodus.

What we do see is a tendency of people to drift out of the most heavily affected sectors of USAID. To be specific, people with administrative and managerial backgrounds tend to move to other areas of USAID, while people with certain technical skills are more likely to move out of AID altogether.

They are, of course, replaced; Patrick Henry College and Regents University produce fresh crops of graduates every year. Some might suggest this will have a long-term effect on the organization. Some might suggest it has already.

To some extent this is a normal part of the life-cycle of American bureacracies. A new administration comes in with new policies; people who favor those policies are appointed; career bureacrats who don't like it get marginalized and eventually quit. There are people who say the current situation is more extreme, though. These people say that (1) the politicization is more overt than ever before (2) the ideology is more rigid, and (3) the policies being advanced have less connection to reality, and so are more likely to be useless or even destructive.

On the other hand, things could be worse. Unlike some federal agencies -- the Justice Department, say -- USAID is not central to the current administration's agenda. So while certain ideological tendencies have dominated, there has not been a strong and concerted drive to flush out the uncooperative, pack the ranks with ardent supporters, and turn the agency into a purely political instrument.

Anyway. A new administration would presumably go in a different direction, with a new ideology and new policies. However, there's a turning-the-aircraft-carrier aspect. So the effects of Tobias (and his predecessor, Natsios) will be felt for a long time to come.


Doug M.

Syd Wbb

Carlos wrote:

Syd, I'm shocked. Surely in Crikeystan they can distinguish between the type of hypocrisy which willingly serves the Führerprinzip, and the type of hypocrisy which seeks to subvert it?

I was thinking very much of Crickeystan in my previous posts which why I was so reluctant to criticise Randall Tobias for the mote in his eye.

It's true that there are many Crikeystani 'public servants', as we call them, who implement the policies of the government of the day without being führertrau. OTOH even the two most senior public servants - Dr Peter Shergold, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Dr Ken Henry, Secretary of the Department of the Treasury - have given recent speeches stressing their impartiality.

Here's Peter from a speech late last year:

The establishment of trust between Ministers and senior public officials is equally vital. It needs to be based upon the willingness of both sides to engage in confidential public policy discussions robustly, but on the clear understanding that it is the responsibility of government – not the civil service – to make the decisions. It is entirely appropriate, too, that the official is responsive to the broad policy directions set by elected government.

The public servant may, on occasion, believe that the policies decided upon are wrong-headed (and should, in private, have conveyed such reservations) but it remains a matter for elected government to choose whether to proceed with them. And, no matter what one’s personal feelings, the role of the public servant is then to implement those decisions as efficiently, effectively and ethically as possible.

There is no place for self-serving obstructionism. A professional public servant needs to exhibit the energy necessary to give the government of the day every opportunity to achieve its political mandate and agenda before its performance is judged at the ballot box.

Nevertheless the public servant requires integrity, even courage, in speaking truth to power. A relationship of trust cannot be based upon subservience. If not on matters of policy, then on other occasions the public administrator must be willing to say ‘no Minister’. Our leadership needs to be premised upon an unequivocal proposition that one key role of professional public administration is to protect the individual from the arbitrary exercise of executive authority.

The limits of government power are set out in our constitution, legal systems, processes of administrative review and well-established political conventions. We share a responsibility to ensure that government wields its powers in accord with those standards. Although it is entirely appropriate, indeed necessary, to focus on the achievement of outcomes and results, we need also to recognise that public servants are the guardians of legality, due process, just means and respect for the rights of the individual citizen. It is a role we share with the legislature and the judiciary.

Ken also gave a recent speech, a secret one which some subversive saw fit to leak to the gutter press, which covered the same ground:

"At this time, there is a greater than usual risk of the development of policy proposals that are, frankly, bad,"

Carlos also wrote:

I think of the role of the insurance agent Parr in the Kafkaesque recent thriller, The Incredibles.

Thanks! I watched The Incredibles with Beatrix and Becky. The parallel between Parr's insurance company and the IRS escaped me at the time but now you mention it...

In fairness my colleagues in the IRS aren't just implementing the fiscal policies of the Higher Power. The are also administering laws passed by legislators from both sides of the political fence over past decades. And delivering services to the public - through consultation, collaboration and co-design with citizens - to make peoples experience easier, cheaper and more personalised.

As our Lord and Saviour reminds us, "By their fruits ye shall know them." I wonder whether a hypothetical impartial observer - let us call him Cob Bolker as a placeholder - would be able to distinguish between a Mr Incredible and a Huph.

Shorter Syd: We are all of us guilty. But Hell has many circles.

* * * *

Doug wrote:

USAID is not central to the current administration's agenda

No kidding?

[Sometimes it is hard to know whether Doug is a wide-eyed naif or a very dry cynic.]

Carlos

Patrick Henry College and Regents University produce fresh crops of graduates every year.

Speaking entirely dispassionately, the administration's policy of hiring graduates from an alternate educational universe is fascinating. I think information technologies will provide an appropriate feedback filter, much as it has for the NFL draft. (David Horowitz, although not quite right in the head -- honest, a friend of mine interviewed him, and his jaw dropped -- figured this out years ago.)

In large part I'm fascinated by this because there's no shortage of solid conservative schools, like Baylor or Brigham Young, or (in a different way) the University of Chicago. Instead, they chose people from a short list of diploma mills. Those places are going to raise red flags from now until 2050. Might as well claim you graduated from the Che Guevara Communal Learning Institute and Center for Interpretive Dance.

Bernard Guerrero

Those places are going to raise red flags from now until 2050.

Can't argue with that. I would have tossed the Patrice Lumumba Peoples' Friendship University into the mix. The links between PHC and the GOP don't bother me much, obviously, but in my eyes the required ideological pledges certainly devalue what is available there.

Luke

Well, the problem with the UChicago Graduates, presuming we mean undergrads, is that on the one hand they tend to be at best "culturally" Jewish or Christian, and on the other, that they're....lacking in people skills. The professional schools tend to be more conservative than the college, but not the right kind of conservative to go over to this administration--what with the rationalism and critical thinking...

I think BYU would throw up red flags for the Admin as it draws on the magic underpants crowd, but I'm surprised that there aren't more representatives from, for example, Wheaton or Earlham Colleges, as both are Christian and conservative.

One plausible argument is that the administration was not looking for good conservatives so much as good drones to be controlled by the hive mind. Ah, well, it's a direct assault on constitutional order. Clearly, the party needs a time out until 2040 or so...

Carlos

Bernard, Patrick Henry College reflects our USAID discussion.

Tangent: Doug and I have had a few discussions on why a certain sort of American conservative feels drawn to Orthodox Christianity. One factor, I think, is a rejection of movement Protestantism's radical demotion of theology, which the linked article makes clear. They can't go to mainline Protestant sects, whose political goals they don't share, and Catholicism's internal culture wars are difficult for an outsider to negotiate. But in Orthodoxy, ah. All the tradition, none of the liberal guilt. (Plus a helping of mysticism &/or anti-Muslim resentment, if one is so inclined.)

Of course it's exactly parallel to some moonbat sandal type really getting into Zen in 1978, annoying the hell out of his Japanese neighbors. Hey, didja read this Gary Snyder book? Deeeep.

Michael Barry

Carlos,

Orthodox Christianity. Really? I would imagine that the Orthodox church in its myriad of forms would be as un-negotiable to an outsider as Catholicism. Although I can see that the media doesn't focus on the ins-and-outs of Orthodox politics the way it does Catholic; not here in Ireland anyway, nor in any easily accessible western country. I suppose that if you see only the local branch of the Greek/Armenian/Russian church then Orthodoxy may look a lot more together and coherent than it is in reality.

And wouldn't the use of icons and ceremony be off putting for committed protestants, even if it does
have tradition (and then some) and theology (and then some more) and all the other good stuff.

Andrew R.

Carlos,

I don't know if the opacity of the Catholicism's disputes is any reason that people would instead turn to Orthodoxy. Hell, the Russian Orthodox Church had a mini-schism over how many fingers to use in making the Sign of the Cross. I think the bigger factor is that the Orthodox Churches offer tradition *and* anti-Catholicism. It's like having your cake and eating it too.

One of the more interesting aspects of Orthodoxy is the way that it often serves as a theological Rorschach test for Anglos of all stripes. I know that your discussion is about American conservatives, but I think that it's telling that the Archdruid of Canterbury would also be so drawn to a Church whose ideas on gender role*, sexual orientation, etc. are somewhat different from his own.

And on the discussion of annoying Anglos who show up on the doorstep, ISTR reading that the Antiochian Orthodox Church has been the best at dealing with these wayward children. I wonder how the Russians or Greeks deal with them (my guess would be with confusion, but them I really don't know).

--------------------
*Though the Orthodox Churches do, theologically at least, allow for female ordination up to the rank deacon.

Carlos

Michael Barry: I suppose that if you see only the local branch of the Greek/Armenian/Russian church then Orthodoxy may look a lot more together and coherent than it is in reality.

Yeah, I think that's it. When I look at the history of the Orthodox Church -- when I look at the history of the Orthodox Church in America -- I see a maze of twisty little passages, fractally complex. They see Door Number Three.

MB: And wouldn't the use of icons and ceremony be off putting for committed protestants, even if it does have tradition (and then some) and theology (and then some more) and all the other good stuff.

and

Andrew R: I don't know if the opacity of the Catholicism's disputes is any reason that people would instead turn to Orthodoxy.

I think Dreher and Watson are interesting starting points.

Bernard Guerrero

Carlos,

Many's the time I've regretted how high-handed I was with my friend the Religion Reporter, who was leaving Evangelicalism for either Orthodoxy or Catholicism, he couldn't decide which.

This is all very alien to me, I really don't get it. It manages to sound casual ("either...or...he couldn't decide which") while at the same time carrying a pretense of deep soul-searching over what are presumably matters of faith. Which is it? Do people actually have conversations like this? If you don't have strongly held non-empirical priors, why would you bother saddling yourself with some? Seems like a lot of trouble for no gain.....

As to the previous point about PHC and USAID, I don't think much of PHC's founder's priors, any more than I care for the particular strictures that were being pushed at USAID (or at least the extent to which they appear to have been pushed.) That said, in both cases it appears to me that the formal behavior (as opposed to the visiting hookers part) is entirely in line with what somebody who sincerely carries the priors in question would be expected to do. How can a Biblical Literalist not have problems with the modern liberal arts? I'm surprised he even attempted this project. How would you react to somebody trying to push something you see as deeply & fundamentally immoral on a campus you were running? (Keep switching-in beliefs until you get the appropriate level of outrage in your gut; I've seen you on SHWI so I know it's in there under the sardonic shell, somewhere.)

Bernard Guerrero

Then again, maybe I'm too hasty in throwing around the word "alien". It is what it is, and they think what they think.

Carlos

Bernard, while I agree with that sentiment, I would be skeptical of anything Eliezer Yudkowsky says prima facie; he's an emotionally troubled Singularity booster who has had extreme difficulty distinguishing between his hopes and reality in the past.

The problem with Patrick Henry College's president is that he doesn't realize his view is the ultra-modern one, almost nihilist in its rejection of tradition. (His bizarre variety of Biblical literalism is a creation of the twentieth century American South.) The liberal arts go back to medieval times: the trivium and the quadrivium. The classroom technique the parent found offensive is classical dialectic. [1] The keepers of traditional Christianity's institutional memory are the ones who have left PHC.

In much the same way, the appointees at USAID are the ones rejecting institutional tradition, and the long-term employees there who maintain institutional tradition are disgusted and leaving.

Doug is a deep deep Burkean conservative. It rankles. If he had been born in 1900, perhaps the New Deal would strike him the same way. If he had been born in 1930, perhaps the Students for a Democratic Society would strike him the same way. But he's of Generation X, and right now it's the radical right that seems hell-bent on destroying good and decent institutional traditions.

(Before you make a flippant remark here -- it's your standard defense mechanism when confronted with uncomfortable facts -- remember that it's behavior at the margins which determine trends. Thus it's in your personal interest to minimize malign but marginal state behavior before it affects you directly. You'd do it for tax increases, so why not torture?)

Finally, and unfortunately, it's not a sardonic shell. I don't trust people's motives, least of all my own. Thank goodness I have a sense of humor about it.

[1] These things are already in Christian home-schooling curriculums! If an administrator signs off on the material without knowing its content, then they're incompetent.

Michael Barry

ha! it took a while for me to realise that the two articles Carlos pointed to were not illustrating reasons why some Protestants turn to Orthodoxy as much as they were illustrating the mindset of those people. Unless I am missing something.

It all seems very strange and personal and deficient, although I can't put my finger on why.

"I have been covering American religion for many years, and I know what life is like in most parishes. Over and over again, I have seen the magnificent teaching and witness of John Paul II and the Catholic tradition undermined and even rejected at the parish level. I honestly don't know if I could keep my kids Catholic in the American church -- or even Christian"

It did occur to me on the bus this morning that if the Catholic church ever internalises the intent of Vatican II such that it presents a different face to the world (a conservative church in a liberal world, as opposed to an authoritarian church in a liberal world exemplified by the selection of reactionary popes) then the choice for Protestants becomes very odd indeed.

Watson "I am a Western man. I have grown up in a Western society and imbibed a Western culture. I was nursed in an Evangelical community which, for better or for worse, has its roots in the Western church. It is no accident that Protestantism arose in Europe. Its heresies are typically Western, but so are its peculiar insights...

...In effect, as an Evangelical Protestant living in New Hampshire, I have always belonged to the Catholic Church. The Bishop of Manchester has always been my pastor"

I just couldn't get my head around this at all. West=good, East=strange. Pick West!

And nobody mentioned theology or philosophy much, as opposed to tradition demonstrated by apostolic succession. As was expected for an 8-10yr old at the time I was an altar server in the local parish. Except our local parish was administered by the Dominicans and the works of Thomas Aquinas were on prominent display. I can't say I learned a lot but I asked questions of the friendlier priests and you certainly came away with the idea that there is more to religion than services once a week or being part of a friendly parish.

Carlos

Michael Barry, I think you (and Bernard) are responding to the consumerist way these people are deciding to convert. They feel a spiritual need, but they're shopping around for the model with the right options. A rooted philosophical tradition is one of those options, like anti-lock brakes. They might never use it, but they want it to be there.

Rod Dreher, incidentally, is very big on consumer choice in other aspects of his life; he calls himself a "crunchy" conservative because he likes shopping at organic food markets. No joke.

Extending the car analogy a bit, Watson's statement makes more sense if you realize it's about brand loyalty: Ford versus Chevy, or domestic versus imports.

I'm not saying their impulses are shallow. Obviously they realize these decisions will change their lives, and hopefully for the better. But the method by which they make these decisions seems bewilderingly inappropriate. I mean, what do you say to someone who wants to convert to a new religion but has a checklist first?

[low APR tithing joke thankfully omitted]

Bernard Guerrero

Carlos,

Michael Barry, I think you (and Bernard) are responding to the consumerist way these people are deciding to convert.

Sort of. I have no problem with consumerism, of course. What I find odd is the application to a set of preferences that (I believe) the holders take to be anti-consumerist. Shopping around for cars or vegetables or tax-regimes I understand. Shopping around for spirituality seems like an oxymoron, if you'll allow me an overused term. Then again, I avoid spirituality like the plague, so I can't claim I'm qualified to tell.

Before you make a flippant remark here -- it's your standard defense mechanism when confronted with uncomfortable facts

No, no, Carlos. What it is, to use your formulation from a paragraph farther down, is that I try to have a sense of humor about it. I have my area of outrage, myself, but I try rather hard to limit the domain so as to keep the range manageable. Otherwise life gets intolerable. It's all well and good for Carrie (or whomever) to describe themselves as a "proud [x] with a temper", but to be frank, the stuff I'm willing to let my heart-rate climb over has to be near and dear to me. But for you, no flippancy.

remember that it's behavior at the margins which determine trends. Thus it's in your personal interest to minimize malign but marginal state behavior before it affects you directly. You'd do it for tax increases, so why not torture?

Good question. My answer rests two prongs. The first is that, to borrow from another literature, where you stand depends on where you sit. Let's look at the example of rent-seeking. It's generally accepted, I think, that political rent-seeking is a detriment to economic systems as a whole. While that's true, it is a general rule that people seek rents. I myself recently voted for the Democratic candidate in a local election, based on her position that the pace of local housing development needed to slow relative to demand, which would essentially help to put a political floor under my already-existent house's price. This is rent-seeking on my part (and, I suspect, on the part of most of the folks who voted for her.) Rents are bad, unless you happen to be the rentier.

The second prong of my argument is that the utility of a given behavior can depend a great deal on how much of it you engage in. To take a straightforward example, note that a perfectly competitive manufacturer should, in principle, produce items right up to the point where her marginal costs equal her marginal revenue and not beyond. As long as marginal costs are below marginal revenue, she gains by making one more. Beyond that point, she loses for each additional item. I think that principle is widely applicable. Policies can be positive along a given dimension of application up to an inflection point, beyond which additional applications of the policy become counter-productive.

In short, the effects of a given policy may vary in both sign and magnitude depending on the extent to which it's implemented, and the sign and magnitude may vary for you or me as opposed to a larger grouping. Remember, I'm not asking for zero taxes or regulation, either.

All this aside, I'm not defending or applauding either the PHC or USAID cases. I'm just noting to Doug (Not Muir) that if you hold those particular moral views, and you accept moral views as being deep, overriding preferences (which is my problem with your linked stories), then the expectation is that those deep preferences will override other considerations. He'd doubtless do the same given easily imaginable counter-factual situations where it's his oxen that are being gored. So would I, for that matter, I just try to keep my herd small.

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