Dennis Prager is a Deeply Stupid Man

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one of them is the almost daily "American Conservative University." Not to be confused with any actual institution of higher learning, it usually consists of a one hour block of c-list wingnut radio hosts like Dennis Prager or Michael Medved.

Anyway, Dennis Prager is perhaps most hilariously known for his boorish moralizing about Judeo-Christian values. However, after listening to a number of these Prager podcasts, I was struck by how astonishingly stupid he is. I know, I know, I shouldn't be that surprised. But take these two examples, and see what I mean.

First, Prager had wingnut comrade Hugh Hewitt on his show to discuss the "Fair Tax," the highly regressive and foolishly impractical nationwide consumption tax. Hewitt is not a fan of the Fair Tax, while Prager is. Well enough; people disagree. However, I was truly astonished at the level of Prager's misunderstanding of the tax. I mean, you would think that a nationally syndicated radio show host who advocates for a policy has given policy details at least a modicum of thought. But you would be wrong. Behold my transcript of this exchange (starting at the 20:55 mark).

Hewitt: One other thing about the Fair Tax is that they've done a very good job of selling the idea of 23%, and that's misleading. A good friend of mine once said that he preferred clarity to agreement.

Prager: Who was that? Who was that?

Hewitt: It was a guy named Prager.

Prager: Oh, Prager.

Hewitt: Let's cover this 23, 30% divide Dennis. If we can. If I want a dollar for a pencil at the end of the transaction, I make a pencil I want to have a dollar in my pocket, I'm going to have to charge $1.30 under the Fair Tax plan. Do you call that a 23% tax or a 30$ tax?

Prager: Ok. I have mulled this thing over, and over, and over, and I don't know of much in life where truly the way one phrases the question gives you a different response. That's one way of stating the statement. The other is I charge a dollar for a pencil and you pay me 23%, therefore you are in fact going to pay $1.23 for the pencil. That is 23%.

Hewitt: But the Fair Tax would operate this way. They would charge you $1.30 for that pencil. Under both my approach and their approach it's $1.30. They say that 30 cents is 23% of $1.30, and therefore it's a 23% tax. I say that America and the 45 states that apply sales taxes all calculate and find sales tax based upon the percent applied to get to the final number.

Therefore, if we're looking for clarity in the public space, if we want the public to understand what is being proposed, we should call it a 30% sales tax because that's how American's talk about sales taxes.

So if we take Prager at his word, and he has indeed "mulled this over, and over, and over," then he's just helplessly stupid. He explicitly demonstrated that he doesn't understand the difference between inclusive and exclusive tax rates. He genuinely thought that the cost of a pencil under the Fair Tax is a paradox, changing depending on how you phrased the question. He's either an idiot, or a pioneer in the field of quantum economics.

My second example comes from today's podcast, an interview with Tom Zoellner about his book Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock that Shaped the World. This interview was astonishing not just because Prager decided to rectify his admitted ignorance about uranium by consulting with a decided non-expert, but because of Prager's ignorance about general, high school (hell, middle school) level science. Behold this exchange, starting at the 5:50 mark.

Prager: In light of what you just said, could an atom bomb been made (sic) if we didn't find uranium?

Zoellner: Yes, but, you know, uranium is an indispensable link in the periodic table. so in order to get to plutonium, for example, you need to go through Uranium. In order to get to radium, uranium must decay. So really, the starting point for all of this is this really common substance.

Prager: Alright, so without uranium, we couldn't have an atomic bomb.

Zoellner: Well, if you want to put it that way, yeah. If there was a blank spot in the periodic table, which I think would be physically impossible, but if there was a blank spot

Prager: Oh I see, I see, I got ya now. So, ah is gold, gold is on the periodic table?

Zoellner: That's correct.

Prager: And ah, I got it now. And what about diamonds [ed. note: lol wtf!?]

Zoellner: Diamonds are a ah, compressed form of carbon. It's ah, an essentially a rearrangement of some of those atoms in the carbon nucleus [ed. note: This is also quite wrong, but we'll forgive him as he was no doubt dumbstruck by Prager's idiocy]

Prager: So that would not be on the periodic table. That's manmade. [ed. note: lol wtf again! Because diamonds didn't exist until man made them?]

Zoellner: No, well it would be in the form of carbon, yes.

Prager: Obviously, yeah. Ok, but not in the form of diamond. Alright, I just wanted to make clear in my mind what is and what isn't.

Despite Prager's insistence that he get's it now, it's quite obvious that he doesn't understand what elements are, how they combine to make compounds, and how or why they are represented in the periodic table.

This would be just a funny example of Prager's general scientific ignorance, except that Prager is a very vocal advocate of nuclear power. It's a complicated issue, but one of the important subjects of the policy debate in the United States is how to handle the radioactive waste, and specifically whether to reprocess it.

Reprocessing was been banned in the US in 1976 by President Ford, on non-proliferation grounds. From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

From the perspective of terrorists seeking a nuclear weapon, reprocessing changes plutonium from a form in which it is highly radioactive and nearly impossible to steal to one in which it is not radioactive and could be stolen surreptitiously by an insider, or taken by force during its routine transportation.

This situation is made worse by the fact that the theft of enough plutonium to build several nuclear weapons could remain undetected for many years at a reprocessing facility. In particular, at commercial scale "bulk-handling" reprocessing facilities and fuel fabrication plants, which annually handle from several tons to many tens of tons of separated plutonium in solution or powder form, it is essentially impossible to account for the plutonium throughput to within tens or even hundreds of kilograms in a timely manner, making it feasible that the theft of this quantity of plutonium could go undetected for many years. Since a relatively simple implosion nuclear weapon can be made with roughly six kilograms of plutonium, the uncertainty in the annual amount of plutonium processed is quite significant, and could lead to undetected acquisition of weapon-usable materials by states or terrorists.

How could Prager have the gall to be a vocal advocate for something about which he is deeply, deeply ignorant?

I'm not saying you need be a nuclear physicist to weigh into America's nuclear energy debate. However, Prager's ignorance evidences not just technical ignorance, but an ignorance of the arguments made by the other side. That a dramatic increase in American nuclear power would require either a serious waste storage solution or reprocessing, and that reprocessing is opposed by some because of concerns about nuclear proliferation, are standard elements in this debate. That Prager doesn't understand this reveals a deep intellectual incuriosity.

In conclusion, Dennis Prager is a deeply stupid man. Also, diamonds are carbon atoms arranged in a face centered cubic crystal structure of the Fd3m space group, easily visualized as a network of tetrahedrons with carbon atoms at their vertices.