I have in my ~/.emacs
(remove-hook 'prog-mode-hook 'esk-turn-on-hl-line-mode)
(remove-hook 'prog-mode-hook 'esk-turn-on-idle-highlight-mode)
Still, both modes are loaded even after ~/.emacs has been loaded--both by total restart of emacs and selective kill of pre reload buffers. I am using emacs 22.214.171.124.
My guess is that your ~/.emacs file is being loaded before the hook is set.
I think that using ~/.emacs.d is preferred, so try to add these lines in ~/.emacs.d/$USER.el
(I have them and they work)
I have the second remove-hook call in init.el, and it works as expected.
You can either call (package-initialize) above that code, or wrap it in (eval-after-load 'starter-kit-defuns ...).
(eval-after-load 'starter-kit-defuns ...)