Sunday, August 1, 2004

“The World’s Fastest Man”

Justin Gatlin of the United States won the men’s 100-meter Olympic final last night with a time of 9.85 seconds. If you watched the race, you heard him described as “the world’s fastest man.” Someone needs to break it to the announcers: He’s not. The world record in the 100-meter dash is 9.78 seconds, set by Tim Montgomery in 2002. His average speed was 22.87 miles per hour. The world record in the 200-meter dash is 19.32 seconds, set by Michael Johnson in 1996. His average speed was 23.15 miles per hour. If we go by average speed, therefore, the fastest man in the world is Michael Johnson, not Tim Montgomery or Justin Gatlin. Perhaps the announcers are talking about top speed rather than average speed. Carl Lewis was clocked at 26.95 miles per hour during one of his 100-meter races at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. I doubt that Michael Johnson reached that speed at any point during his record-breaking 200-meter dash at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. So perhaps the announcers are referring to top speed rather than average speed when they use the expression “world’s fastest man.” But since top speed isn’t routinely recorded, they’re only guessing. I think they simply assume that the best 100-meter runner has a higher average speed than the best 200-meter runner. If so, they’re wrong. For my money, Michael Johnson is the world’s fastest man.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


Bertrand Arthur William Russell was born on this date in 1872. Incredibly, he lived until 1970. Not many people know that John Stuart Mill, who died in 1873, was Russell's godfather. Mill and Russell are two of the greatest philosophers who ever lived. Humane Eggs See here for Smallholder's letter about "humane eggs." I found it extremely interesting, and, given my consumption of eggs from "free-roaming" hens, disturbing. The Big Perfect Unit News flash! Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks, a.k.a. The Big Unit (because of his size), just pitched a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves. This is one of the rarest events in baseball. For those of you who don't know baseball (may God have mercy on your souls), this means he retired all twenty-seven batters he faced. Nobody, in other words, reached base, by hit, walk, or otherwise. A fortiori, nobody scored. Congratulations, Randy! Moosewood Here are some recipes from the world-famous Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York (home of Cornell University). I'm hungry just looking at them. Now if only I could cook. . . . Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 6 Anyone who has been reading this blog for more than a few days knows that I care deeply about nonhuman animals. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about humans. It means I don’t care only about humans. Care is not a zero-sum game. Yes, there are conflicts between humans and nonhumans; but there are conflicts between humans and humans. Caring for nonhuman animals means taking them into account in one’s deliberations. It means, at a minimum, not treating them as resources for human use and consumption. It may puzzle some people that I’m conservative. Isn’t concern for animals a trendy liberal idea? How can this Burgess-Jackson guy be both a conservative and a respecter of animals? He must be confused. This must be a vestige of his liberal days. I’m not confused. If you think conservatism is incompatible with concern or respect for animals, you don’t understand conservatism. Conservatism is a political morality. Like any political morality, it is concerned with the relation of individuals to the state. This explains the adjective “political.” Political morality is a subset of morality. Animals, of course, are not moral agents, so they’re not political agents, either. But this just means they fall outside the scope of political morality. It doesn’t mean they fall outside the scope of morality. There are moral patients as well as moral agents. Ah, you say; but isn’t conservatism committed to conserving traditions, and isn’t using and consuming animals traditional? This goes too fast. Yes, conservatism, unlike liberalism, is committed to conserving traditions, but not just any old traditions. Some traditions are worth conserving; others are not. Slavery is traditional in Western culture, but no self-respecting conservative defends slavery. I maintain that using and consuming animals is analogous to slavery. Conservatives should reject both. You might think this is cheating. “How convenient! You pick and choose traditions in accordance with their worthiness.” But this is no different from liberalism. The central value of liberalism is liberty, understood as the absence of constraint. Liberals aren’t anarchists; they believe there are moral limits on the exercise of individual liberty. As the old saying goes, your liberty stops at the tip of my nose. Liberty, to the liberal, is intrinsically good, but it’s not the only intrinsically good thing. Liberals aren’t absolutists about the value of liberty. Nor are conservatives absolutists about the value of tradition. Liberals accord a presumption to liberty. Liberty, it might be said, is innocent until proven guilty. Conservatives accord a presumption to tradition. Tradition is innocent until proven guilty. Just as the presumption in favor of liberty can be rebutted or overridden, the presumption in favor of tradition can be rebutted or overridden. Bullfighting, fox hunting, meat-eating, and rodeos, like human chattel slavery, are traditional. This creates a presumption in their favor to the conservative. But I would argue that the presumption is rebutted or overridden in each case. When is the presumption in favor of tradition rebutted or overridden? When the tradition inflicts harm on others. Conservatives are just as concerned with harm prevention as liberals are. Ah, you say, but animals can’t be harmed. Why not? To harm another is to set back his or her interests. Animals have interests. The main interest any sentient being has is not suffering. Animals also have an interest in life, just as humans do. Life is the precondition for all else of value to the individual: enjoyments, activities, experiences, and, in the case of humans, projects. Animals also have an interest in liberty. Confining animals sets this interest back. Humans harm animals in myriad ways. Please don’t equate conservatism with the views actually held by conservatives. The views of a conservative fall into two categories: essential and accidental. The essential views are those that cannot be subtracted from conservatism without making it a different political morality. The accidental views are those that can be subtracted from conservatism without making it a different political morality. I maintain that lack of concern for animals is an accidental property of conservatism. In some cases, it derives from the religious beliefs of the conservative. But religion is not essential to conservatism. I’m an atheist. I’m also conservative. Logically speaking, I can be both. Please be good to animals. First, do no harm to them. Primum non nocere. Second, do what you can to prevent harm to them. Third, if you have it in you, work to improve their lives. Let’s start a new tradition of compassion, concern, care, and respect for other species. That will be a tradition worth conserving.

Ambrose Bierce

Scribbler, n. A professional writer whose views are antagonistic to one's own. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911) Reverse Discrimination A reader objected to my use (here) of the term “reverse discrimination.” I explained that the word “reverse” indicates that groups once discriminated against are now being discriminated in favor of. He wrote back testily, saying he wasn’t asking for an explanation. He said it’s discrimination, period. There’s no need to modify the noun. But while there may be no need to modify the noun, there’s no harm in doing so, as far as I can see. Ronald Dworkin entitled one of his essays “Reverse Discrimination.” (See chap. 9 in Taking Rights Seriously [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978], 223-39.) The term appears routinely both in speech and in print. What’s wrong with taking note of the fact that the tables have been turned on those who once benefited from discrimination? What’s wrong with indicating the direction of discrimination? Perhaps the reader thinks the term “reverse discrimination” implies that it’s not really discrimination. But that’s not how modifiers work. A modified X is still an X. Male nurses are nurses, but not all nurses are male. Young dogs are dogs, but not all dogs are young. Reverse discrimination is discrimination, but not all discrimination is reverse. I actually prefer the term “reverse discrimination” to various euphemisms, such as “preferential treatment” and “affirmative action,” for it makes clear that one group of individuals is benefiting at the expense of another. Whether this is justified is another matter (Dworkin says yes; I say no); but let’s be clear about what we’re doing.

"Europa and the Pirate Twins" By Thomas Dolby From The Golden Age of Wireless (1982)

I was fourteen she was twelve father travelled--hers as well--Europa . . . down the beaches hand in hand twelfth of never on the sand then war took her away we swore a vow that day: we'll be the Pirate Twins again, Europa oh my country I'll stand beside you in the rain, Europa ta république . . . nine years after who'd I see on the cover of a magazine? Europa . . . buy her singles and see all her films paste her pictures on my windowsill but that's not quite the same--it isn't, is it? Europa my old friend . . . blew in from the hoverport she was back in London I pushed past the papermen calling her name she smiled for the cameras as a bodyguard grabbed me then her eyes were gone for ever as they drove her away. Preliminary Report on Vegemite The other day (see here), I mentioned that I had purchased a small bottle of Vegemite at Whole Foods Market. Dr John J. Ray, my polymathic friend Down Under, has been warning me by e-mail that I probably won't like it. Why, I'll show him! But seriously, I like it. I've tried it on saltine crackers and straight from the bottle on the tip of a butter knife. It's powerful but tasty. I may have some Aussie blood in me. What else could explain my love for AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil, Icehouse, The Angels from Angel City, Men at Work, and Crocodile Dundee?

Internet Resources for Philosophers

This week's link is to Aesthetics On-Line. From Today's New York Times To the Editor: In "A Crude Shock" (column, May 14), Paul Krugman describes how the market deals with scarce oil supplies and gives the economist's view of the relevance of statistics like oil consumption per dollar of real G.D.P. But faith in the market and statistics should not obscure the bottom line: this will be the last century of majority fossil fuel use because of the energy demands of an increasing population. Now is the time to make historic investments in efficiency and renewable energy research and development. For the sake of today's children, we need citizenship, self-control, common sense and community spirit to sustain humanity in a world of finite resources. ERNEST R. BEHRINGER Ann Arbor, Mich., May 15, 2004 The writer is an associate professor of physics at Eastern Michigan University. Conservatism Victorious Step back for a moment. Think about long-term social and intellectual movements. Liberalism has been routed. Conservatism occupies the field. Liberalism prevails in certain areas, such as the academy, journalism, and entertainment, but the American people are overwhelmingly conservative, as every survey shows. See here for an interesting column about this phenomenon. As long as liberals defend reverse discrimination, coercive redistribution of wealth, and sexual promiscuity, they will be a minority party in this country. These policies go against the American grain. They might be acceptable in places like Sweden, France, and Canada, but not here. Keep it up, liberals. You're digging your grave.

Samuel Scheffler on Cruelty and Brutality

As we know all too well, the world can be an unbearably sad place, and people’s astonishing capacity for deliberate cruelty and brutality is one of the most striking things about them. These facts are hardly news outside of philosophy, but on the whole it cannot be said that contemporary moral philosophy has displayed much interest in them. Its focus on questions about the relative motivational importance of reason as compared with sympathetic or benevolent feeling has made it easy for philosophers to neglect the importance of sheer human viciousness: to forget that the desire to harm other people [and animals!--kbj] is one of the most prominent and enduring forces in human social life. (Samuel Scheffler, Human Morality [New York: Oxford University Press, 1992], 136 [footnote omitted]) From the Mailbag The only point that I would disagree with in Mr. Saletan's article [see here] is where he says, "The guards didn't understand Iraq, hated being there, and were under constant assault from Iraqi mortars outside the prison walls. To them, the inmates seemed a foreign enemy." This is (in part anyway) factually incorrect, and it misses what I consider to be a very important point psychologically. The inmates do not "seem" to be a foreign enemy; they ARE the enemy. They are the very people who, before their capture, were firing those mortars and planting the IED's (like the one with sarin in it yesterday). The abuse, while very wrong, was not perpetrated on the innocent. It's very hard to be nice to someone today who was trying to kill you yesterday, and who perhaps succeeded in killing some of your buddies the day before. But to understand is not to condone, and I think a little time in Leavenworth is needed in addition to courts martial. The guilty soldiers need to see the other side of the coin.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Homosexual "Marriage"

Here is a case (made by United States Senators Orrin Hatch and Jim Talent) for a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual "marriage." As longtime readers of this blog know, I'm on record as supporting the federalist solution, which would allow states to decide for themselves whether to allow homosexual "marriage," but the choice may be between (1) banning homosexual "marriage" everywhere (by constitutional amendment) and (2) forcing it on every state (by judicial ruling). I prefer option 1 to 2 for federalist reasons, to wit: Far more states would disallow homosexual "marriage" than would allow it, so fewer states would be thwarted by 1 than by 2. From the Mailbag I have always used "morality" to refer to codes dictated by religious teachings and "ethics" to refer to that code of conduct that a nonreligious person substitutes for a religious morality. [See here.] Reading the dictionary definitions, I see that other people do not make this distinction. Oh well, personally I like mine better. I come to your site daily and enjoy your entries, especially the definitions by Ambrose Bierce. Though I have The Devil's Dictionary in my library, I don’t get it down very often. The definitions on your site offer just the right amount of constant exposure. America at War This column by David Gelernter of The Weekly Standard is worth your time. (Thanks again to James Taranto for the link.)