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Conservative and pro-refugee

I really enjoyed this piece at Arc of the Universe, which may be a happy new find. It describes itself as a blog “where secular and religious meet in conversation about global justice.”

In any case, from the piece by contributor Michael Griffin:

“…the policies of this week, in particular the executive order of Friday, deserve robust condemnation—especially from Catholics.  We are the tradition of faith and reason. Not only is this order unchristian but it is also irrational. Of the terror attacks that have occurred in the U.S. since September, 11, the number of perpetrators from the list of banned countries is precisely zero.  Why was Saudi Arabia not on this list, or Russia, both of whom have been home to terror perpetrators in the U.S.?

While there are more eloquent ways to state the opposition to this ban, I think that the faith and reason test is simple and clear.  Indeed, if our Thomistic tradition teaches us that grace perfects nature, then what we are seeing is how irrationality perverts faith.  And indeed, I dare say that some outside of our Catholic, pro-life fold are waiting to hear from more of us about why our faith—faith in the person and teachings of Jesus—is not quite as offended by the present actions as it was by the previous administration.”

Please go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time.

I’m interested in the fact that conservatives (whatever that means any more) are so willing to defend this action. Partisanship isn’t surprising, of course, but I don’t think this is a conservative solution.

I consider myself a conservative because I resist throwing out things that work; I think it’s quite proper to acknowledge the value in tradition, in something that developed for a reason and has stuck around for a reason (see: Electoral College). I’m concerned, always, with unintended consequences of big changes. For example, while I argued against Obamacare and thought it was a terrible idea, I’m also deeply worried about the consequences of a reckless repeal. And, American conservatism tends toward small-government, federalist, subsidiarity-based solutions that I will almost always prefer to big-government bureaucracies.

I’m instinctively skeptical when someone tries to sell me on some Big Thing that will Fix All My Problems. So, I’m as skeptical when President Trump tells me that keeping out all the Iraqis will keep me safe, as I am when the cashier at Best Buy tells me about the extended service plan for my printer.

It’s absolutely true that there have been no recent fatal attacks in the U.S. by people from these countries. Every fatal act of terrorism in the U.S. recently has been committed by a U.S. citizen or legal resident. While there have been three attacks in recent years by immigrants from these countries, none were fatal–and in two of the three examples, the attacker was brought over legally at the age of two. Now, that’s not nothing. And this list of countries is, in fact, totally defensible for other reasons. But the facts call for a serious process of vetting visa applicants and refugees. The facts do not automatically justify a total shutdown of travel from these countries. The difficulty must be weighed against our moral obligations, which are also not nothing–both to refugees in need of help in places like Syria, and to already-vetted travelers who may now be separated from their families and lives.

What stuck out for me in the above quote was, “if our Thomistic tradition teaches us that grace perfects nature, then what we are seeing is how irrationality perverts faith.” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “grace does not destroy nature but perfects it,” that is, God does not have to change who we are or violate our will in order to save us; rather, he invites us to allow him to restore what is lost and broken in us. We remain always free, always ourselves, while pursuing what is good. It’s an interesting observation that, conversely, one must ignore the rational case for welcoming refugees in order to ignore the religious case. If we choose to turn away from what is good, we are no longer fully free to consider the matter from the standpoint of reason, either.

None of this is to say that reasonable people can’t disagree. If one’s priority is protecting America *at any cost*, then you can make a case for these restrictions. But real people are harmed by this action, like the example given in the article; and if you include that fact, the case starts to get real shaky real fast.

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Overstating the case for AND against Trump’s travel ban

There’s an important principle to follow in rhetoric. If you overstate your case, you can be right, but you still lose the argument. Arguing beyond the facts allows your audience to assume the facts aren’t actually on your side, otherwise, you wouldn’t need to push them. This happens all the time in politics, and it’s part of why we all get so mad. We ignore the real points and focus on the overblown ones.

There’s a lot of that going on, on both sides, when it comes to this immigration executive order. I want to talk to both sides here.

“Muslim ban”

Nope. It’s really, really, not, and everybody needs to stop using that phrase, because it’s arguing beyond the facts. It’s a temporary ban on travel from 7 countries. Countries, not religions. It’s not a list of all or even most Muslim-majority countries, and–this is important–the list of 7 countries is based on national-intelligence threats as determined and already established by the Dept of Homeland Security under President Obama around a year ago. These are the 7 countries that President Obama’s national security team thought most constituted a “threat of foreign fighters.” This order does not ban any members of any religion, nor, again, does it ban travel from all Muslim-majority countries. Neither did the Obama administration base this list on Donald Trump’s business interests. This is all public record.

However, restricting travel and halting refugee resettlement on these countries while leaving the option to allow exceptions and publicly stating that Christians will get first dibs? It’s hard to argue that that doesn’t present an image of keeping Muslims out, especially after Trump’s history of fantastically irresponsible rhetoric about, yes, banning Muslim travel.

“Obama did the same thing!”

Well, sort of. In 2011, we stopped processing refugees from Iraq for six months, in order to overhaul the vetting process after finding that some terrorists had slipped through. This is precisely the same justification being given today. ABC even reported that “One Iraqi who had aided American troops was assassinated before his refugee application could be processed, because of the immigration delays, two U.S. officials said.”

But this also argues beyond the facts. The difference today is, that was just refugees, not all travel–and we weren’t detaining green-card-holding U.S. residents. It seems that the rules as they pertain to permanent residents and dual-citizenship holders are still being determined, several days after the order was signed, and that is a yuge problem. The Justice Dept and DHS were apparently not included in the drafting of the order, something that could have avoided the chaos.

This is a stupid idea

I’ve long argued that refugees are not the enemy, and that despite a legitimate danger, we have a moral responsibility on the matter. This new policy feels very reactionary, as if the Paris attack had just taken place and everyone was spooked. But we’re not reacting to anything here, and as I argued at the time, being reactionary isn’t the best idea anyway. What’s happening here is that the people who thought we should have reacted a certain way, a year and a half ago, are finally getting their way. It’s delayed-reactionism. And maybe this just rubs my detail-oriented, six-sigma personality the wrong way, but it comes across as a sign of massive process issues if this idea can percolate for over a year and somehow still be a reckless, slapdash embarrassment upon rollout.

These are the questions I would ask concerning such a policy. Will it prevent terrorism? (Nope.) Will it reduce the risk of terrorism? (Probably not much.) Will it harm people? (Yep.)

The best I’ve seen Trump apologists argue for this is that it’s temporary, and necessary. Temporary just means it’s only bad for a while. And necessary? Not so fast. How many terror attacks have come from these countries? I can see taking a very good look at people immigrating from these places, but a total ban on travel, one that immediately upon enforcement harmed innocent people?

The worst argument I’ve seen is that it’s actually not nearly as bad as people thought it might be. Should we breathe a sigh of relief over a truly bad policy because the president argued for something even worse in the past? Bluntly, that justifies any bad thing you can think of, as long as you can also think of something worse. No, that’s not a reason to like this order.

Should we take a hard look at our vetting process? Yes. Should we just throw open the borders and allow anyone in? No, and we never have. We can continue to cap the number of refugees we accept, just like every other country. Even Canada. We can vet those we let in. But we figure it out, and we do it, and we do it because it’s right. This is a part of American greatness. Doing the right thing, because it’s right.

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Why an electoral revolt is a really bad idea

How are we all supposed to get along at this point?

In a few days, the electoral college will cast its vote for President, and everyone is freaking out that they might follow the rules. I’m spooked that so many people think they shouldn’t. Because this is bigger than 2016, and bigger than Donald Trump. Our electoral process is the common ground we all agree to meet on. It may be the only common ground left at the end of this year, and that makes it pretty dang important. I don’t want Donald Trump to be president either, you guys, but in a more bigly way, I don’t want our whole system to fall apart, and that seems to be the endgame of these petitions and letter-writing campaigns and death threats going to the electors.

Put any other name in, and imagine your honest reaction to what’s going on right now. Hillary Clinton wins the election, but Republican voters are now harassing the electors to try to convince them not to elect her. Imagine the outrage. Seriously put yourself in the scene reading stories of Clinton electors getting death threats in the midst of a coordinated campaign to keep her from reaching the office she had won.

For one thing, it would confirm in the minds of many the picture they have of backwards, violent right-wingers. Keep that picture in your head, but now realize that every political stripe has backwards, violent asshats, and we all ignore the ones in our own house. Please remember that for the future. Your hats are showing.

But I digress. Because my concern isn’t the violent crazies on the fringe, it’s the millions in the middle that think an electoral revolt would be just fine. Somehow the same people have gone, in a matter of weeks, from fainting at the thought that Trump would not accept the results of the election (tearing down the foundation of our democracy!), to advocating a total rejection of the results of the election. With a pit stop mid-week to scream in protest that Trump suggested without evidence that there was voter fraud, while literally at the same time signing Jill Stein’s recount petition which suggested without evidence that there was voter fraud. On neither issue can one be standing on principle both ways. If you find yourself there, you are no longer standing on principle.

But if you’ll stick with me while I wind my way to a conclusion, a cornerstone of this blog and of my philosophy is that principle really, really matters. And this principle on this day matters a whole lot, because as I said, I fear it may be one of the last remaining bits of common ground, and if we tear it up too, I literally don’t see a future for America. A week ago we were arguing over whether or not the electoral college was a good idea any more, because it’s possible for someone to win the popular vote and lose the electoral vote. What are we going to do when we all go cast our votes and end up electing someone that wasn’t even on the ballot? You can think the electoral college is a bad idea, but it at least follows rules, and we all know them. What future is there for democratic elections when we throw out the rules (and the votes!) just because people say “I don’t like the results!”?

The President of the United States isn’t King. Trump can’t do all the crazy he says, and we all know it. If you hate his policies, you have a voice, and at least three other people in the federal government that literally answer to you and will take your call. Trump didn’t make friends in this campaign, and I don’t see the Republicans giving him a lot of room to crazy, much less the Democrats (who I believe will have always been in favor of a stalwart opposition, a “party of no”, perhaps. Four legs good…). There’s also the Constitution, which despite the efforts of the last few administrations, still restricts the power of the government. I look forward to liberals remembering why that’s a good thing.

Now, the argument goes that the electoral system was designed so that chosen representatives would deliberate and select someone worthy, someone unlike Donald Trump, to keep the unruly mob from choosing a populist demagogue, someone like Donald Trump. Well, yes, frankly, that’s true. But the electoral system today has evolved and been modified. The system was also designed to keep actual people from voting for their senators, and in many cases, simply to keep actual people from voting. If you like women’s suffrage and no longer counting some people as 3/5 of a person, you should be ok with the system evolving. None of us voted for an elector based on the idea that that person was capable of wisely choosing the president. None of us even voted for an elector by name. We voted according to the rules as they stand today, having developed over time, and having been modified in response to problems that arose in the original plan.

These rules are our common ground, and having common ground is our way forward. I know, I make my jokes, I like to point out when liberals are being hypocritical and all. But my desire really is for us to move forward together. This is important. This is bigger than 2016, bigger than the next four years. This isn’t about Trump or Clinton or Kasich or What Would Alexander Hamilton Do. This is the foundation. This is where we come together, even angrily, and where we know we can angrily stomp back to in four years, but we do it together. But if we tear up this remaining common ground, we’ll have nowhere left to meet.

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Syrian Refugees Are Not The Enemy

And keeping them out will not make us safer.

The GOP is wrong on this one. The president (and much of the left) is being his usual smug, patronizing self about it, but that’s nothing new. What’s new here is that he’s right on this and we need to be big enough to admit it.

This is not a time for fear-based populism. This is a time for American strength and courage. This is a time to recognize a risk, mitigate it, and then do the right damn thing anyway.

So far, to the best of our knowledge, all the identified Paris attackers have been EU nationals. Not refugees, but French and Belgian citizens. ISIS doesn’t need to sneak people in through a long, complicated vetting process. People that want to do harm have an easy enough time just looking like tourists. And, most importantly, let me repeat that most of the Paris attackers identified so far have been French citizens. The people planning attacks in the US are already here, and we can’t afford to pretend otherwise. That’s important. We know where the greatest danger lies, and focusing our energy and attention somewhere else is not only counterproductive, but it’s exactly what ISIS wants us to do.

It seems pretty likely that the Syrian passport found on one of the Paris attackers is a fake. But it gives us a great justification for cracking down on the refugees, doesn’t it? Isn’t it apparent that the terrorists are leading the West’s reaction exactly where they want it to go? Have we forgotten that that’s the purpose of terrorism? You don’t win a war by shooting civilians in a theater and a soccer field. But you can sure accomplish a lot if you can goad entire nations into acting the way you want them to.

There are literally millions of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. I’m not going to go in to the horrific conditions in Syria for the past few years, but it’s been described as the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, and a very small amount of research makes that an easy claim to believe. We have a moral obligation to help the people fleeing it.

Is there a risk? Yes. Of course there is! Acknowledging the danger of terrorists slipping in with the refugees is just plain common sense. There is nothing racist or Islamophobic to recognize that risk, and the people on the left pretending there is nothing but racism behind the hesitation are being just as ridiculous as Trump. There is a real danger. We must do whatever we can to minimize that. But that is not reason enough to refuse to do the right thing.

No, we don’t restrict refugee status to Christians. The Christians are not the only ones starving in camps and being murdered for not supporting one side or the other. We certainly don’t start closing mosques. What an irresponsible, outrageous statement.

So we do the right thing. We have the biggest house on the block and the kids from down the street need a place to stay tonight because their parents are beating each other up.

We protect ourselves as best we can, but we don’t let fear stop us from doing what’s right.

We don’t do it to make nice with ISIS so they like us, we do it because it’s right.

We don’t do it to keep the Syrians from becoming angry and radicalized, we do it because it’s right.

The danger exists no matter what we do. The danger is here already. Keeping refugees out will not prevent an attack. This is much more a question of moral imperative than national security. So we take courage, and we do what’s right. And whether an attack comes or it doesn’t, those fleeing totalitarianism around the world will know that America is either a safe haven of liberty, or she is not.

Republicans. We are better than this. We must do what’s right.

UPDATE:

Both sides need to stop the political BS here. The Republicans are supporting the wrong course of action, and that’s what I wanted to address. But as ridiculous as it is to make a demagogical, populist “Obama wants to let the bad guys in!” argument, it is equally ridiculous for President Obama to make a demagogical, populist “racist republicans are scared of widows and orphans!” argument. Pretending there is no risk is blind. But both sides are looking at millions of people forced from their homes by terrorists and thinking, “how can I use this to make people vote for me/my party?” America! We are better than this!

UPDATE:

Alex Nowrasteh at Cato agrees with me, and has put together a detailed overview of the process a refugee goes through and why it’s not a likely avenue for ne’er-do-wells to sneak in. It has math.

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Bill Nye completely misunderstands life

You might have seen this:

I have always had a certain amount of respect for Bill Nye in the past, even when I disagree with him. I just appreciate his calm, rational approach. This video disturbs that greatly, because it demonstrates a truly shocking level of irrationality and ignorance on the topic he’s arguing about. Let’s look at some of the claims he makes.

The first sentence in the video states that “many, many, many, many more eggs are fertilized than become humans,” but that after conception, the embryo must attach to the uterine wall (presumably, before it becomes human–though he leaves the statement unfinished).

Right off the bat, we run in to trouble. First off, Nye is equivocating on the word “human,” or else the statement is total nonsense. If you’re going to stand on science, then from a biological, scientific point of view, the zygote (newly fertilized egg) is a human at the moment of conception. Every egg that is fertilized is, at that moment, human. It’s not anything else. Conception is the textbook beginning of the human life cycle. Scientifically speaking, that’s the moment a new human comes into being. That’s just biology, baby. Or, baby biology, as the case may be.

So again, if Nye is resting his argument on science, he must not actually mean that a human embryo is not human. Rather, he’s playing a little loose with the technical meaning of the word–presumably when he says “human” here, he means something closer to “person” or implies “human-with-rights” or something along those lines. This is the only meaning I can find in this sentence without it being self-contradictory. But doing that means he’s not talking about science. Defining “personhood” or assigning rights to one or another class of humans isn’t a scientific question, it’s an ethical, philosophical one. So immediately, the idea that this is a scientific argument is missing its foundation. Let’s move on.

“If you’re going to say when an egg is fertilized it therefore has the same rights as an individual, then whom are you going to sue? Whom are you going to imprison? Every woman who’s had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy whose sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human?”

So, it gets worse. This is total nonsense no matter how you look at it. When a woman miscarries, the embryo dies of what we would call natural causes. So, while we have laws against killing adult humans (presumably for some kind of bible-thumping reason), we don’t sue or imprison people every time a person dies of natural causes. This statement implies to me that Nye has, possibly, never given even a moment’s serious thought to the issue he’s arguing.

Further, different individuals have different “rights” at times. Affirming that a baby is a human doesn’t mean treating it like an adult any more than affirming my two-year-old’s humanity means we have to let him vote.

In a statement directly to those in the pro-life movement, Nye then says you “literally don’t know what you’re talking about.” Ironically, it’s followed by this:

“You have a lot of men of European descent passing these extraordinary laws based on ignorance… Your interpretation of a book written five thousand years ago, fifty centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse, they always have a baby, that’s wrong, and so to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature.”

This… I don’t even know where to begin with this. Nobody… ever… anywhere… has ever made anything resembling such a claim. For the record, nothing in the Bible implies anything like this. But also, for the record, I’ve been in a lot… a lot… of abortion debates, with a lot of different people, and I pretty much never, ever bring up the Bible. I knew to expect to disagree with Nye’s conclusions, but I never would have expected such a wild, irresponsible, and truly ignorant statement from him. I don’t even know where such a nonsensical claim comes from. If this kind of statement is why Bill Nye is pro-choice, his opinion is truly based in utter ignorance.

“You wouldn’t know how big a human egg was if it weren’t for microscopes, if it weren’t for scientists, for medical researchers looking diligently….”

Jumping from this to “therefore abortion is okay” is the definition of non sequitur….

“I know people are now critical of the expression ‘fact-based,’ but what’s wrong with that?”

Finally, we have some pretentious looking down at anyone who would disagree. I’ve never actually heard anyone criticize facts either, for that matter, but this is the point of the video, of course- not to persuade someone who holds pro-life beliefs, but to tell those who are pro-choice that there’s no reason to ever bother seriously thinking about the question, because science. You can continue to look down on the pro-life movement because they are dumb because science and science-y words and bow ties so don’t think about it. This is what the video boils down to.

This video is four minutes and thirty-six seconds of awful logic and ludicrously nonsensical assertions coated in a pretense of science and delivered by a man whom you can trust because he put the word “Science” in his name. If you watched the video and thought Nye made great points, you are not paying attention.

I knew there must have been a reason I was always a Beakman kid.

UPDATE:

Trent Horn over at Strange Notions has a much more thorough response.

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A Christian, a Muslim, and Ben Carson walk into a bar…

Well, sometimes it all feels like a joke.

Dr. Carson stepped in it last week. From Huffington:

Carson, who placed third in the CNN/ORC poll of the Republican presidential field released Sunday, said a president’s faith would matter to him depending on what that faith is.

“If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he said. “If it fits within the realm of America and is consistent with the Constitution, I have no problem.”

He said that Islam, as a religion, is incompatible with the Constitution.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” he said.

Commentary has followed two lines so far. One is just sort of flat out wrong. The other, I don’t know how to think about.

1. Everyone saying Ben Carson doesn’t understand the Constitution, doesn’t understand the Constitution.

I am actually surprised, in a disappointed way, that this comes up in every left-wing response. “The Constitution says there will be no religious test for public office!”

To those on the left, this apparently means that voters are legally required to ignore a candidate’s faith when deciding whether they support the candidate. I’ll remember that next time someone attacks a conservative for sounding too Christian.

In actuality, this simply means that the states can’t write a law saying “ONLY EPISCOPALIANS ALLOWED ON OUR BALLOTS”. But if Larry the Lutheran can’t abide voting for Episcopal Earl, that’s his vote and he can do with it what he wants. Individuals are still allowed their religious convictions and their own opinions in the US.

So, what Dr. Carson said was, at least, fully in line with the Constitution. He didn’t say a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to be President. He just said he wouldn’t personally support a Muslim candidate. He’s allowed that opinion.

2. Islam and the Constitution.

Here’s where I confess ignorance. Rather than knee-jerking out a response on either side–either cheering the courageous stand, or condemning the blatant bigotry–I want to actually consider the question. Is Islam incompatible with the Constitution? Let’s back up in his statement.

Carson, who placed third in the CNN/ORC poll of the Republican presidential field released Sunday, said a president’s faith would matter to him depending on what that faith is.

“If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he said. “If it fits within the realm of America and is consistent with the Constitution, I have no problem.”

This, as a standard, ought to be uncontroversial. Someone’s faith is part of who they are. If a candidate’s religion dictates that he must act in a way that would violate his duties in office, Ima say maybe he shouldn’t hold that office. Yes, I’m looking at you, Kim Davis.

So where does Islam fit into this question?

I think it’s important to remember that we vote for individuals, not religions. That would have been a decent answer for Dr. Carson to give, by the way. What does this individual’s Muslim faith mean to him or her? Because, of course, ask ten experts on religion how Islam may or may not be compatible with the Constitution, and you’ll get ten contradictory answers. I imagine you could ask ten Muslim theologians and have the same result. Islam, like any major religion, has broken into denominations and factions, and different leaders seem to have different interpretations of some pretty significant points.

I’m sensitive to the idea that there is unfair mistrust and misunderstanding of Islam. I’m familiar with the phenomenon. Atheists accuse Christians of believing in a magic sky fairy and think they’re stuck in the dark ages. Protestants accuse Catholics of worshiping statues and think they’re stuck in the dark ages. Is the idea that Islamic sharia law would trump the Constitution for a Muslim President a similar mistake?

I honestly don’t know how to actually answer that. Many experts, including many Muslims, are of the opinion that the separation of Church and State doesn’t really fit within Islam. Many others disagree. In Muslim countries, wide majorities favor making sharia the law of the land. But then the people of Egypt–though 74% polled in favor of sharia at the above link–basically rioted to throw out Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after they started trying to implement sharia law. Given situations like that, I’m unwilling to accept a broad claim that authentic Islam automatically means taking the position that secular governments should be run according to sharia law.

I wouldn’t have said what Dr. Carson said. But whether or not the statement is justifiable depends on a greater understanding of Islam than I can claim, so it seems to remain an open question.

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Is it 2016 already?

Halloween displays are looking stale in the stores and Christmas decorations are already starting to appear. Time to decide who we’re going to vote for in November 2016 before it’s too late!

Having a couple of kids has made writing… and remaining fully informed… and, to be honest, caring about politics as much… more difficult. I’m planning to use this space to keep notes on my thoughts as they occur, and open them up for discussion.

First off, the driver of this clown car. I can’t. I just can’t. Donald Trump, really?

Polls show the top three GOP frontrunners are all three of the non-politicians in the race. Republicans nationwide have said, “Anyone, ANYONE but another politician!” Yesterday’s announcement by Speaker Boehner is encouraging to me. It implies that there is, maybe, finally, an awareness in the Republican party that GOP voters are fed up with the way Republican officials have behaved. Enough of politics as usual, right?

I get that. No more of this nonsense, let’s throw the bums out. Anyone but a politician. I’m sympathetic to that point of view.

But Trump!?

Here’s what I would #askTrump. If I hadn’t missed it. After two debates and a bunch of interviews, he’s made it clear that he isn’t deeply familiar with many of the potential issues facing our next President. His response has consistently been, I’ll be an expert by the time I sit in that chair, just you watch. And I’ll hire the best people.

Mr. Trump: would you, as a businessman, hire a CEO to run one of your companies, if the candidate demonstrated a lack of familiarity with the business and the industry, but insisted only that he’d become familiar after you agreed to give him the job? Would you be impressed by his confidence, or would you laugh at his arrogance as you show him the door?

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