Nothing can stop The Duke of Earl

Tea partiers tend to revere the U.S. Constitution in much the same way that many American evangelicals revere the Bible, which is to say they read it without comprehension, looking only for ammunition that can be used against their enemies. And since neither text was written for such a purpose, this so-called reverence is an exercise in illiteracy.

Tea party candidate Christine O'Donnell provided a classic example of this obtuse proof-texting illiteracy recently, accusing President Barack Obama of violating the Constitution through the century-old American convention of nicknaming ad hoc executive branch appointments "czars."

Article I, Section 9 says no title of nobility should be granted by the United States, there you go. I would say to President Obama that czar is a title of nobility and therefore unconstitutional.

Words fail me, so let's go with pictures:


For the record, that's five "czars" (all but the first appointed by Republican presidents), six kings, five queens, four princes, two counts, Lord Charles, Sir Charles and the Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke and Earl, Duke, Duke …

Once again Christine O'Donnell provides us with an assertion that limits our possible interpretation to two and only two possibilities: Stupid or evil.

"Stupid or evil?" is really just a way of exploring whether or not someone has provided sufficient evidence for us to conclude that they are not acting in good faith. The distinction may not seem to matter much, practically. A responsible citizen does not need to know precisely whether O'Donnell is really so astonishingly stupid as to believe what she's saying here or so mendacious that she does not care that it is ridiculously false. Either way, she is clearly unfit for office.

But the distinction matters with regard to how we respond to O'Donnell and her followers. If they are acting in good faith out of sincere, if staggeringly vast, stupidity, then we must attempt to correct them, committing ourselves with all the patience we can muster to teach them true things to replace the monumentally false things they have come to believe.

But if they are not acting in good faith — if O'Donnell and her angry faction realize that what they are saying is untrue yet insist on saying it anyway — then we are free to condemn them. Not just free to, but obliged to — we have a duty to do so.

Christine O'Donnell has made dozens of contradictory statements about her personal finances, her history, her foreclosure, her suspected personal use of campaign funds. Those contradictory statements have earned her a measure of distrust. Whether we want to or not, it is not possible to believe everything she says because it is not possible to reconcile everything she says.

Yet still that doesn't prove conclusively that she is acting in bad faith. Perhaps she is profoundly confused about reality. She may be, as the chairman of Delaware's Republican Party described her, "delusional" — yet sincerely delusional, deluded in good faith.

But here, with this claim that President Obama has been conferring "titles of nobility," I think we have convincing evidence that she simply cannot be this stupid. No one is. No one could be. It is not conceivable that she believes what she is saying. It is not conceivable that she is acting in good faith.

The presidency of George W. Bush is not such a distant memory that she can have forgotten his appointment of more than 30 such "czars." Christine O'Donnell has shared platforms with former "drug czar" Bill Bennett and has heard him introduced as such. It beggars belief that she really took this to mean that Bennett had been conferred a "title of nobility" — that his eldest son would one day inherit the chairmanship of the Office on National Drug Policy, perhaps arranging an alliance though marriage with some daughter of former homeland security "czar" Tom Ridge and uniting their kingdoms.

No one is that stupid. And that leaves only one other possible explanation.

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  • I forsee a thriving new industry of corporate sexers, trained experts who can determine your corporation’s gender, and by extension, who it’s allowed to marry.
    In bad yaoi fanfic the taller of any pair has to take the “male” role (or so I gather from fanficrants). So, bigger corporation, or should we use building size?
    Or better still, the Louisiana Purchase. “In a year and a half, the entire Deep South will become French again.”
    I have seen “we rented Alaska from the Russians the way Britain rented Hong Kong, and when the lease is up they’re going to want it back”.

  • Raj
  • Will Wildman

    Oddly enough, I’ve been meaning to buy some land on the moon. That looks like a good link – thanks, Raj.

  • Try not to get too excited there. There are significant legal obstacles to enforcing such a claim.

  • I’m not a fan of a lot of corporate policy and even I don’t have a problem with the life insurance policies. They’re only taken out on people who would be difficult to replace, especially on short notice–generally upper level executives and people with highly specialized technical knowledge (for example, the head of R&D on your next big thing). The policies aren’t large enough for the company to profit from the death, they’re intended to pay the costs associated with covering the person’s sudden absence and hiring a replacement.

    The dead peasant’s insurance thing is just one in a long line of examples of egregious corporate behavior that’s gotten to the point where I automatically refuse to believe any statement made by a corporate representative unless it’s backed up by a third party.
    Forex, any time a company rep insists that an industry association has come up with standards that the industry will self-enforce, I nod cynically and wait for how fast someone will figure out how to create the appearance of compliance while evading any real consequences for noncompliance.
    As an example, the only reason, as yet, that automotive oil actually meets or exceeds the standards set by the API is because mass car engine failures from oil that doesn’t meet the specs would mean instant class-action lawsuits from car owners as well as the auto companies all ganging up with their high-priced lawyers to sue the hell out of the oil companies for the expense of the warranty claims.
    So basically, unless there is a countervailing power as big as the company in question, don’t expect the company to do anything but the bare minimum required by law, and less if they can get away with it.

  • Will Wildman

    Pius – I am aware of that; it’s why I specifically said it looked like a good link. The organisation in question takes a pretty reasonable perspective on the matter, given that this is probably the most appropriate possible use of the phrase ‘lunatic scheme’. It’s an amusement – some people buy lottery tickets, others lay claim to portions of astronomical objects.

  • Will Wildman

    Hmm. A third round of loking around leaves me somewhat less interested. Ah well, back to complementing my savage critiques of writers with charitable donations in their name.

  • Umm…uh…I hope I don’t *have* to clarify this – especially here, of all places – but my 1:40PM post was, in fact, a joke (as the Villain Laughter should suffice to indicate). Having been an astronomy geek since my age was in the single digits, I have been aware since then of the legal position of such businesses as the one to which I linked.

  • Umm…uh…I hope I don’t *have* to clarify this – especially here, of all places – but my 1:40PM post was, in fact, a joke (as the Villain Laughter should suffice to indicate). Having been an astronomy geek since my age was in the single digits, I have been aware since then of the legal position of such businesses as the one to which I linked.

  • It’s just a but of a sore spot with me, because if Outer Space Treaty hadn’t been ratified in 1967 creating a partial legal basis for the common ownership of all extraterrestrial objects, the strongly pro-corporate grab-everything-you-can attitude would likely mean no such treaty could even be contemplated today (as it is, only thirteen countries have ratified an even more stringent treaty than the 1967 one) and there’d be a free-for-all in which the most flush companies would probably be scrambling for mining concessions on the Moon which would make the Scramble for Africa look like tic-tac-toes.
    It’s not personal.

  • Sorry, a small clarification: It’s about the fact that 1960s-era attitudes about ensuring common and collective solutions to humanity’s future have given way to the 1980s and 1990s-style smash-and-grab take-the-money-and-run attitudes are the only bulwark against untrammelled plutocracy – at least that’s how it feels sometimes.

  • Oddly enough, I’ve been meaning to buy some land on the moon. That looks like a good link – thanks, Raj.

    Er, you should be advised that any and all sites/people/companies/talking sloths that offer to sell you land, naming, or any other rights to any non-terrestrial object or location are scams. International treaties are pretty clear on the “no one may own any of these” thing.

  • And just to clarify: That includes offers to let you name a star. None of those companies are in any way affiliated with the official star registries, and the official ones don’t take public suggestions.

  • Wait a second. I’m not sure I exactly understand what the problem is with Dead Peasant Insurance. I mean, it sounds a bit unsavory — especially with that name — but why is it especially evil? I mean, unless you’re proposing that it gives companies an incentive to murder their employees — making sure to engage in a clever cover-up that prevents them from ending up in jail.

  • @Ross: It’s because the companies doing this do two things:
    1. They’re gambling on the odds that a worker will die while in their employ. If you don’t mind casino gambling with human lives on statistical oddities like car accidents in the Wal-Mart parking lot, pallets of stuff falling on people, etc – typical workplace accidents – you can make a pretty pile of change for paying $100 a month in premiums. This is essentially unethical behavior because it’s a way to make money off employees who have no business being insured by their companies without their knowledge.
    2. Families often don’t even think their working members are eligible for life insurance and/or when they do try to get life insurance the existing policy triggers an overinsurance warning and the company issuing the policy will then refuse to issue it. The refusal may or may not have an explanation.
    So tails the company wins, heads the survivors lose.

  • Ah, okay. That second one is a logically compelling reason (The first one doesn’t pick my pocket. The overwhelming likelihood is that they’re *not* going to make any money off of insuring me, and if they do, they’re down one, um, *me*, so it’s not like it’s pure profit.)
    So does that mean that if I, a private individual and not a company, wanted to screw over someone’s family, I could just take out a big insurance policy on them thereby making them ineligible for one of their own?

  • Ross: I’d assume so, so long as you’re fine with paying the premiums on it.

  • To be fair I’m not quite sure if being overinsured relates to ALL policies taken out on one person at a given time, or just to that one person for which the beneficiary is the same individual.
    It seems reasonable to me that overinsurance would be on ALL policies because otherwise a way to evade being overinsured would be to name different family members your beneficiary on different policies and send them a whole pot of gold when you kick the bucket.
    So yeah, I suspect that such corporate habits are definitely detrimental to families trying to make ends meet.
    I swear, if I ever die I’m going to make sure my body can be gotten rid of with the least expense possible, even if it means being dumped overboard into the middle of the ocean.

  • 3. It sounds like an effective disincentive for the employing company to give a damn about workplace safety. Right? Because if they stand to make bank if their employee dies while in their employ…?
    In similar news, much as I love my family, I am pleased to be back in my own home where the TV is not tuned to The Money Channel (CNN Money? Something like that) all day, everyday. You know those posts Fred’s written about adverse drug effects being in reported in the Money section, so stockholders would know what stock was going to tank, rather than in the main section where it would be more likely to inform patients actually taking those drugs? Like that. All the talking heads whose interest in companies is exclusively in how it moves stockholders’ money, to whom the idea of actual people (who aren’t stockholders) living and dying and eking out a living is an afterthought, if it is thought at all–ergh. It’s corrosive.

  • @Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little: The distortions of treating a gambling casino (the stock market) as the fount of all wealth never cease to amaze and surprise me, and I should damn well cease by now.
    It’s over ten years old, but the analysis in that link is as true today as it was then.