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.)


John Fund of The Wall Street Journal joins the call for civility in our political discourse. See here. In my opinion, Bush hatred is far more intense and widespread than Clinton hatred. Remember: I voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, so I would have noticed. (Thanks to James Taranto of Best of the Web Today for the link.) Sullivan’s Misfortune I feel sorry for Andrew Sullivan. I really do. He thinks a law that allows homosexuals to “marry” will validate their relationships, enhance their self-esteem (which he admits is “low”), and integrate them into society. No law can do these things. All law can do--tautologously--is change people’s legal status. It can force agents of the state to do this or that; it can confer legal rights and responsibilities; it can redistribute tangible burdens and benefits. It cannot alter morality, sensibility, religious practice, or custom. Sullivan writes in today’s New York Times (see here) that, as of today in Massachusetts, homosexual couples’ “love and commitment and responsibility” will be “fully cherished for the first time by the society they belong to.” How does legal marriage accomplish that? Is Sullivan suggesting that love without marriage is impossible? That will come as a surprise to the thousands of heterosexual couples who love each other but are not married. And if one’s commitment to and responsibility for another are affected by legal status, then, with all due respect, something was wrong with the relationship to begin with. Law constrains action. It is external. It cannot control how people think or feel. It cannot make A love B or destroy A’s love for B. It can neither generate nor undermine commitment. These things are internal (and extralegal). Sullivan must be incredibly insecure if he needs the imprimatur of the state on his relationship. Is love not love without legal recognition? Is a commitment that is not enforced by the state through law not really commitment? Is legal responsibility the only sort of responsibility? Sullivan invests entirely too much in law. He may be rudely surprised when he finds that altered legal status changes nothing about his love, commitment, or responsibility. Allowing homosexuals to “marry” is not equality, as Sullivan says. It is injustice. Justice requires that likes be treated alike and unlikes differently. Sullivan has never made the case that heterosexuals and homosexuals are similarly situated with respect to marriage, so insisting that extending marriage rights to homosexuals constitutes “equality” begs the question. It is irresponsible, grandstanding rhetoric. Does equality require that humans be able to marry their dogs, cats, birds, or horses? Does equality require that groups of humans be able to marry? Does equality require marriage for children? Sullivan cheapens the concept of equality by applying it so mindlessly and promiscuously. He seems not to have read Aristotle. Law cannot change attitudes. Law cannot mandate respect, esteem, or admiration. Law can enforce tolerance, but it cannot mandate acceptance. Does Sullivan really think that someone who believes that homosexual “marriage” is an abomination will change his or her mind about it simply because the law has changed? Sullivan says the “marriages” about to be effected in Massachusetts are not “gay marriages.” They are, he says, “marriages.” But that’s not something that can be legislated or decreed from the bench. Imagine saying that Joe and Bob are not male nurses; they’re nurses. You can’t make people think and speak a certain way. Joe and Bob had best get used to being called male nurses. The adjective “male” indicates deviation from the norm. But at least they’re really nurses. Homosexual “marriages” will never be marriages. They won’t even be homosexual marriages. They will be homosexual “marriages.” Sullivan had best get used to it.

Canadian Brainlock

This essay shows how effeminate Canadians have become. A hardy people has become thoroughly feminized. How could Canadian men allow this to happen? Have they no self-respect? Americans must not--and will not--follow their lead. (Thanks to Dan Gifford for the link.) Ambrose Bierce Rebel, n. A proponent of a new misrule who has failed to establish it. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911) From Today's New York Times To the Editor: It was with dismay and horror that I viewed the photo of a cowering Iraqi prisoner menaced by vicious military guard dogs at Abu Ghraib prison (front page, May 10). As an Austrian Jew imprisoned in Dachau and Buchenwald in 1938 and 1939, I was an eyewitness to similar inhumane behavior by sadistic Nazi SS guards. OTTO PERL Teaneck, N.J., May 12, 2004

Robert Paul Wolff on Anarchism

The myth of legitimate authority is the secular reincarnation of that religious superstition which has finally ceased to play a significant role in the affairs of men. Like Christianity, the worship of the state has its fundamentalists, its revisionists, its ecumenicists (or world-Federalists), and its theological rationale. The philosophical anarchist is the atheist of politics. . . . [T]he slow extinction of religious faith over the past two centuries may encourage us to hope that in time anarchism, like atheism, will become the accepted conviction of enlightened and rational men. (Robert Paul Wolff, "On Violence," The Journal of Philosophy 66 [2 October 1969]: 601-16, at 616) About Me You may have noticed a new link directly to the left of this entry. If you click "About Me," you'll see personal information, a photograph of me in action, a link to my university homepage (which shows, inter alia, my scholarly publications), summaries of recent posts, and blogging data. This last is especially welcome to an anal-retentive person like me. I can't believe Blogger is free. There must be a catch, but in over half a year I haven't figured out what it is. From the Mailbag William Saletan of Slate magazine has an interesting article on why the Stanford Prison Experiment doesn't explain Abu Ghraib. See here. Conclusion: If we blame the situation, the perpetrators are absolved. Matthew

Sunday, May 16, 2004


Here is an interesting new blog by a South Carolinian named Steve. Welcome to the blogosphere, Steve! I put a permanent link on the left side of this blog. Peeve #5 What’s the difference between ethics and morality? You don’t know, do you? Join the crowd. Even philosophers don’t use the terms consistently. I’ve heard “ethics” defined as the philosophical study of morality and “morality” defined as the philosophical study of ethics. Some philosophers, such as Bernard Williams, use the term “morality” to refer to a proper subset of ethics. Morality, they say, has to do with obligation (“ligare” = tie or bind, as in “ligament”), whereas ethics concerns what sort of people we should be as well as how we should conduct ourselves (i.e., character as well as action). Very often I see the expression “ethical and moral,” as in “Cloning has ethical and moral implications” or “Torture is unethical, immoral, and illegal.” I doubt very seriously that the author of these sentences has a clear idea of the distinction. In fact, I suspect the author throws both words in just in case there is a difference between ethics and morality (or between the ethical and the moral). It’s cover-your-ass writing. It's disingenuous. Let me lay down the law. Unless you have a clear distinction in mind between ethics and morality, as Williams does (and in which case you’re obliged to share it with your interlocutor), don’t use both terms in a single expression, for that implies (1) that there is a difference and (2) that you know the difference. Pick a term and use it consistently. Don’t fudge. Don’t weasel. Don’t put on airs.


As so often happens, something that began as a post for this blog turned into a column for Tech Central Station. If the editor, Nick Schulz, chooses not to publish it, I'll post it here. Either way, you'll get to read it soon. The title is "Expiating Liberal Guilt." I think you'll enjoy it. The Stanford Prison Experiment A couple of years ago, I came across a reference to the Stanford Prison Experiment, so I read up on it. Today, John Ray reminded me of the experiment in his blog, Dissecting Leftism. Here is a site devoted to the experiment. It will help you understand how good people can do bad things. (It's easy to understand how bad people can do bad things.) Please don't confuse explanation with justification. Explaining why X was done doesn't justify the doing of X. Explanation is factual; justification is normative. They are as different as night and day. Ally One of my favorite bands, Judas Priest, has a song entitled "Don't Have to Be Old to Be Wise" (from British Steel [1980]). This is ambiguous. If it means that there is no correlation between age and wisdom, I disagree. If it means the correlation isn't perfect, I agree. Ally Eskin proves that you don't have to be old to be wise. See here.

A Defense of PETA

Here is a short essay in support of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Letters on Bush-Hating Almost seven months ago, I published a long column on Tech Central Station entitled "The Natural History of Bush-Hating." See here. It generated lots of feedback, both on the site and in the form of e-mail to me. Here are the ninety e-mail messages I received. Some of them, as you'll see, are supportive. Others are hostile. I appreciate both types. Liberalism's Double Standard (Author Unknown) A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself a liberal and favored redistribution of wealth in America. She felt deeply ashamed that her father was a staunch conservative. One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich (the proceeds to be used for welfare programs). In the middle of her diatribe (which was based on lectures she had heard from her leftist professors), she was stopped by her father, who asked how she was doing in school. She replied that she had a 4.0 GPA and let him know that it was tough to maintain. She had to study all the time and could not attend parties like the other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend. She didn't have many college friends because she spent all her time studying. She was taking a more difficult curriculum than they were. Her father listened and then asked, "How is your friend Mary?" She replied, "Mary is barely getting by. All she has is a 2.0 GPA, and all she takes are easy classes; she never studies." She continued: "But Mary is popular on campus. College, for her, is a blast; she goes to all the parties and often doesn't show up for classes because she is too hung over." Her father then asked his daughter, "Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct 1.0 from your 4.0 GPA and give it to your friend who has only a 2.0?" He continued: "That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA, and certainly that would be a fair, equal distribution of GPA." The daughter, visibly shocked by the father's suggestion, stammered, "That's not fair! I worked hard for my GPA. I did without, and Mary has done little or nothing; she played while I worked!" The father smiled and said, "Welcome to conservatism." Ambrose Bierce Reverence, n. The spiritual attitude of a man to a god and a dog to a man. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Saturday, May 15, 2004


Yesterday was a light blogging day, as you may have noticed. I did a bike rally in Flower Mound in the morning (my fifth of the year), graded Ethics examinations in the afternoon, and attended a commencement ceremony in the evening. I didn’t spend a lot of time at the computer. The weather here in Fort Worth is gorgeous. It’s warm and sunny, but we haven’t experienced high relative humidity yet. I need to mow my front yard this afternoon. I’ll be done grading by Tuesday morning, at which time my fourteen-week summer break begins. (Usually I have fifteen weeks, but I had an extra week during winter break this year.) I’m looking forward to blogging this summer, as well as doing scholarly research and writing. I’m writing an essay entitled “Taking Egoism Seriously.” I hope you visit my blogs regularly and keep those letters coming. Bear in mind that I’m always open to questions. If you have a philosophical question, ask away. I may or may not be able to answer it, but I’ll try. Think of me as Mr Philosophy Person. From Today's New York Times To the Editor: Re "U.S. Training African Forces to Uproot Terrorists" (front page, May 11): Do we learn nothing? We are now fighting in Afghanistan the warriors we trained there two decades ago. How long will it be before the ones we are training in the Sahara turn against us? Why do we go around the globe training our future enemies how better to fight us? MARK GARRETT Maitland, Fla., May 11, 2004 Harlan B. Miller on Philosophical Paralysis The ethical incoherence of our customary treatment of nonhumans has been demonstrated time and again by [Peter] Singer, [Tom] Regan, [S. F.] Sapontzis, [David] DeGrazia, [Evelyn] Pluhar, and others. Almost every member of the American Philosophical Association would agree that all mammals are conscious, and that all conscious experience is of some moral significance. But somehow this has no connection with one’s choice of food. Like the undergraduate who listens to, and actually understands, the refutation of naive relativism, and still writes in the final exam that “no one can judge another person’s morality,” many philosophers suffer from a sort of inferential paralysis. (Harlan B. Miller, review of Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement, by Peter Singer, Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy 110 [January 2000]: 441-3, at 443 [italics in original]) From the Mailbag Hey, your article isn't a philosophical argument, and it doesn't explain or refute liberalism at all--it's a bunch of invective in which the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' are interchangeable (I've seen the same exact things written of conservatives by liberals, except for 'desert' and the extremely simplistic part about greed). Somebody who teaches philosophy really ought to do better than this. If I were a conservative I'd ask you to get off my team--go back to the liberals! With all due respect - JF

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor: Re "U.S. Training African Forces to Uproot Terrorists" (front page, May 11): Do we learn nothing? We are now fighting in Afghanistan the warriors we trained there two decades ago. How long will it be before the ones we are training in the Sahara turn against us? Why do we go around the globe training our future enemies how better to fight us? MARK GARRETT Maitland, Fla., May 11, 2004 Harlan B. Miller on Philosophical Paralysis The ethical incoherence of our customary treatment of nonhumans has been demonstrated time and again by [Peter] Singer, [Tom] Regan, [S. F.] Sapontzis, [David] DeGrazia, [Evelyn] Pluhar, and others. Almost every member of the American Philosophical Association would agree that all mammals are conscious, and that all conscious experience is of some moral significance. But somehow this has no connection with one’s choice of food. Like the undergraduate who listens to, and actually understands, the refutation of naive relativism, and still writes in the final exam that “no one can judge another person’s morality,” many philosophers suffer from a sort of inferential paralysis. (Harlan B. Miller, review of Ethics into Action: Henry Spira and the Animal Rights Movement, by Peter Singer, Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy 110 [January 2000]: 441-3, at 443 [italics in original]) From the Mailbag Hey, your article isn't a philosophical argument, and it doesn't explain or refute liberalism at all--it's a bunch of invective in which the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' are interchangeable (I've seen the same exact things written of conservatives by liberals, except for 'desert' and the extremely simplistic part about greed). Somebody who teaches philosophy really ought to do better than this. If I were a conservative I'd ask you to get off my team--go back to the liberals! With all due respect - JF

Friday, May 14, 2004

Who Says Scholars Are Humorless?

Dennis R. Delaney, "Federal Guidance: A Middle of the River Approach to Water Conservation," Boston University Law Review 76 (February 1996): 375. Scott R. Sweir, "The Tenuous Tale of the Terrible Termites: The Federal Arbitration Act and the Court's Decision to Interpret Section Two in the Broadest Possible Manner: Allied-Bruce Terminix Companies, Inc. v. Dobson," South Dakota Law Review 41 (1996): 131. Robert Almeder, "Dretske's Dreadful Question," Philosophia 24 (December 1995): 449; Fred Dretske, "Dretske's Awful Answer," Philosophia 24 (December 1995): 459. Jeanette Kennett and Michael Smith, "Frog and Toad Lose Control," Analysis 56 (April 1996): 63. Mark Heller, "The Mad Scientist Meets the Robot Cats: Compatibilism, Kinds and Counterexamples," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56 (June 1996): 333.

Congratulations, Bill!

I just made my daily visit to Bill Keezer's aptly named blog, Bill's Comments. His posts for the day are, as usual, thoughtful and interesting. Here is Bill's reflection on capital punishment. By the way, Bill just hit 1,000 on his site counter. Congratulations, Bill! You're doing great. You are becoming an important voice in the blogosphere. The word will spread. Keep it up. Mr Mollo Some people have feline companions. I have canine companions. Peg Kaplan has avian companions. Look at Mr Mollo! What a beautiful bird! Thanks for the show and tell, Peg. PETA People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is both loved and hated, both celebrated and excoriated, both supported and opposed. It might be said that those who love PETA do so because they accept its ends, while those who hate it do so because they reject its ends. PETA has a stake in promoting this view, for it diverts attention from the organization’s strategies and tactics. I think the view being promoted is mistaken. There are many people who accept PETA’s ends but reject its means. There are many people who genuinely care about animals and would gladly throw their support behind a reputable organization, but who believe that PETA adopts reprehensible and counterproductive tactics. How do I know this? I teach. I receive letters. I read newspapers. I watch television. I’ve had over twenty years of experience with this issue. I know whereof I speak. Can we agree that it’s wrong to degrade women (or any other group) in order to promote a goal? If so, then we can ask whether PETA’s campaigns degrade women. I believe they do. Can we agree that rational persuasion is superior to manipulation? If so, then we can ask whether PETA prefers the latter to the former. I believe it does. Can we agree that commercialization is bad? If so, then we can ask whether PETA is commercialized. I believe it is. Can we agree that a serious organization, devoted to long-lasting social change, should not rely on celebrity? If so, then we can ask whether PETA relies on celebrity. I believe it does. I’m trying to reach agreement on moral principles so that we can discuss facts. Sometimes I get the feeling that, to PETA, the end justifies the means. If manipulation works better than rational persuasion, then by all means manipulate! If tactic A gets more attention than tactic B, thus getting PETA into the news, then tactic A is preferable to B. If degrading women or cozying up to powerful commercial interests helps animals, then it must be done. I despise this sort of result-oriented thinking. It appalls me. Animals do not benefit, in the long run, from anything but rational persuasion. It particularly galls me to find philosophers supporting PETA. No self-respecting philosopher would manipulate an audience, however important the end. Philosophers are concerned with knowledge, not mere belief. Their objective isn’t to change people’s beliefs but to provide good grounds for belief. This rules out appeals to emotion, for example. It rules out buckets of blood, paint-throwing, rudeness, and other vile, self-defeating tactics. PETA turns off more people than it recruits. I’m convinced of it. Is this good for animals? With friends like PETA, animals don’t need enemies. Philosophers must remain independent. They must avoid affiliation, association, and membership. Philosophers (think Socrates) are devoted single-mindedly to the acquisition of knowledge, which means, among other things, having rational grounds for belief. Nothing must interfere with this objective. The philosopher, as such, would rather not change beliefs at all than change them through disreputable means. Philosophers are deontologists, not consequentialists. Philosophical argumentation is constrained, not free. I call upon my philosophical friends (they know who they are) to sever ties with PETA. Immediately. Regain your lost independence and self-respect. Come home to philosophy. Come back to what attracted you to philosophy in the first place: its integrity, its honesty, and its methodological purity. You can’t be both a philosopher and a shill. You can try to be both, but you can’t succeed at it.


Until I got to Texas in 1988, I never said “Yeehaa!” Now I say it every now and then, usually while riding my bike. I can’t find an entry for “Yeehaa” in any of my dictionaries. It’s an exclamation. It’s boisterous. It means something like “Yeah!” or “Yowzer!” I might say it, for example, while roaring down the main street of a Texas town, hoping locals will absorb some of my energy and excitement (or at least notice me and wonder about my mental condition). I’ve said it while flying down a hill at forty miles an hour. You don’t say “Yeehaa”; you scream it. It’s visceral. Guttural. It's designed to frighten the dead. Some people pronounce the word “Yeehaw.” There’s a television advertisement for a local window company in which the salesperson says “Yeehaw!” before breaking a pane of glass with a crowbar. It seems inauthentic to me. I probably hear “Yeehaa” two or three times as often as “Yeehaw.” I like the “y” words. I say “Yikes,” “Yowzer,” “Yeehaa,” and “Yastrzemski” all the time. Okay, I made that last one up. I’m in a baseball frame of mind this evening. My adopted Texas Rangers and my home-state Detroit Tigers just started their televised game. All is well in the world. Yeeeeeeehaa! “Buying a World Series Title” It has become fashionable--indeed, all but obligatory--to complain about Major League Baseball’s hierarchical salary structure. Teams such as the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves spend significantly more in player salaries than do teams such as the Florida Marlins and Minnesota Twins. It is said that this hurts the game. Some teams are “out of it” before the season begins. Titles should be won on the field, not purchased by the likes of George Steinbrenner. But having a high-salaried team is neither necessary nor sufficient for winning a World Series title. The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2000, even though they spent more money than any other team during each of the past three seasons. The most recent winners--the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, the Anaheim Angels in 2002, and the Florida Marlins in 2003--were not among the biggest spenders. Florida was among the smallest. This isn’t to suggest that money plays no role in how things turn out. Of course it does. There’s probably a correlation, historically, between how much a team spends on salaries and how it fares on the field. I, however, think this is good for the game, not bad. For one thing, it creates underdogs. Everyone outside of New York wants the big, bad Yankees to fall on their faces, and recently they have done so. This is delightful. It’s great to know that a team of young, comparatively underpaid players can topple giants. It's great to see the presumption rebutted, the rule excepted, the norm transgressed. Imposing a salary cap, as the National Football League has done, will damage the game of baseball. It will turn the hated Yankees into just another team. America needs both Goliaths and Davids. It’s part of the morality play that is baseball.

George P. Fletcher on Loyalty

In acting loyally, the self acts in harmony with its personal history. One recognizes who one is. Actions of standing by one's friends, family, nation, or people reveal that identity. The self sees in its action precisely what history requires it to do. (George P. Fletcher, Loyalty: An Essay on the Morality of Relationships [New York: Oxford University Press, 1993], 25) Another Take on The New York Times Here is another take on the bias of The New York Times. Don't take my word or John Podhoretz's word for it; read the stories and editorial opinions of the Times yourself. You'll see what we mean. What's frightening is that there isn't much difference between the stories and the editorial opinions. Both are relentlessly anti-American. Both exhibit hatred of President Bush and of ordinary hard-working, God-fearing, patriotic Americans. From the Mailbag Hi, I recently began reading your blog and really enjoy it. After reading some of your opinions, I wondered if you have ever listened to or read Neal Boortz. You share a lot of the same ideas and beliefs as he does. Coincidentally, so do I. Maybe that’s why I enjoy your blogs so much. I have a blog at I’m just starting it, and it’s not nearly as good as yours. It’s mostly just random thoughts at the moment, but you never know where it might end up. Good luck and keep up the good posting.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor: "The President and Women" (editorial, May 9) attributes thoughts to me that I do not believe. The Americans who marched in Washington recently to advocate pro-choice policies have every right to do so, just as I have the right to advocate my pro-life position. My remarks on CNN were an effort to find common ground on this divisive issue. I said, and believe, that after Sept. 11 we have been reminded of the precious nature of human life, especially as Americans of all political philosophies and beliefs fight a common enemy in the terror network that assaults the founding conviction of our country, that all individuals were endowed by our Creator with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I suggested that surely reasonable people on both sides of the abortion issue, including a number of my pro-choice friends who also work for President Bush, could agree that we should work to reduce the number of abortions in America through policies like promoting adoption. KAREN HUGHES Austin, Tex., May 10, 2004 Ambrose Bierce Eloquence, n. The art of orally persuading fools that white is the color that it appears to be. It includes the gift of making any color appear white. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911) A Sport of Nature I've seen Kiss in concert seven times. I own most of the band's albums. Now I have an additional reason to appreciate the band. Its bass guitarist, Gene Simmons, has a brain. Most celebrities, alas, do not. See here. (Thanks to Dan Gifford for the link.)

They’re Not Like You and Me

Did you read the New York Times editorial I posted? (See immediately below.) What’s the point of describing Nicholas Berg as “an adventurous and naïve young man”? Why the emphasis on his “defiance” of danger? Is the Times suggesting that he is responsible for his own death? I don’t know why else this would have been included in an editorial opinion, especially one as short as this. Would the Times make a similar suggestion about a young woman who, knowing of the dangerousness of a particular part of town, went there alone, at night, to do business, only to be raped and murdered? You know the answer to this question. The Times is trying to make it seem as though Nicholas Berg deserved to die. He shouldn’t have been where he was, doing what he was, with the motives he had. That he was there on “business” makes him seem rapacious as well as naïve. The Times seems discomfited by the attention being paid to Berg’s death. It diverts attention from what the Times considers the real story, which is the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. But why is one of these stories more important than the other? Oops! I forgot. One story undermines the war effort; the other bolsters it. The Times has been an implacable opponent of the war. The editors of the Times aren’t like you and me. They don’t think the way you and I do. They don’t have the values we (or most Americans) have. They are aliens in our midst. Beware.

From Today's New York Times (Editorial)

Nicholas Berg's Death It's easy to say he should not have been in Iraq, but Nicholas Berg was a type familiar to all danger zones: an adventurous and naïve young man who was perhaps keen to do a bit of business, but keener yet to test himself; old enough to understand the danger, but young enough to defy it. It is impossible not to feel grief, and horror, at his terrible end. The claim of this young American's murderers that they were retaliating for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners is a cruel ruse. They killed him out of the same madness that drove their comrades in Al Qaeda to slaughter thousands on Sept. 11, 2001. But this manipulative attempt to establish a moral equivalence between the gruesome execution of Mr. Berg and the torture of Iraqi prisoners is now being mimicked by some hard-core supporters of the American war in Iraq. They are cynically trying to use the images of Mr. Berg to wipe away the images of Abu Ghraib, turning the abhorrence for the murderers into an excuse for demonizing Arabs and Muslims, or for sanctioning their torture. Mr. Berg's parents have legitimate questions for the United States government about how he came to be in Iraqi police custody immediately before his kidnapping, what happened to him there and what knowledge American officials had about his situation. The occupation authority needs to stop passing off those questions to the Iraqi police force, which does not exist other than as an agent of American power. The Berg family deserves answers so they can grieve for their son's death in peace.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Clichés and Mixed Metaphors

A cliché, according to the Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide (1999), is “a hackneyed phrase or opinion.” That won’t tell you much unless you know what “hackneyed” means. A phrase is hackneyed when it is “made commonplace or trite by overuse.” “Trite” means “hackneyed; worn out by constant repetition.” So a cliché is a phrase (or opinion) that is worn out by overuse or constant repetition. Here is today’s cliché: “hindsight is twenty-twenty.” You’ve heard it a lot, haven’t you? It’s worn out, isn’t it? The idea, I suppose, is that events that have already occurred are clear, whereas those that have not already occurred are not clear. When we look back, temporally, we see what happened. When we look forward, we don’t know what will happen. Things aren’t as stark as all this. We often have a clear idea of what will happen if we act one way rather than another, and sometimes we have no clear idea of what in fact happened. Is it clear what caused the Civil War? Is it clear who killed President John F. Kennedy? If things were always clear, we would not need historians, whose job it is to make sense of the past. If things were always clear, historians would never disagree, which of course they do. Sometimes the expression “hindsight is twenty-twenty” is meant to stifle criticism. For example, suppose a baseball manager walks the other team’s star player (think Barry Bonds) to load the bases in the ninth inning of a tie game. It’s a risky move, since a walk will end the game. Suppose the next batter walks, ending the game. If someone criticizes the manager, it might be said in response that “hindsight is twenty-twenty.” We know, now, what happened; but we didn’t know at the time what would happen. This is confused. We criticize decisions, not outcomes. The manager’s decision to walk the star player is independent of what actually happens. If the move backfires, i.e., if the pitcher walks in the winning run, it doesn’t make the decision wrong; and if it works out, i.e., if the pitcher retires the batter, it doesn’t make it right. Lazy sportswriters and fans ignore this. They shouldn’t. Hindsight may tell us what happened, but it doesn’t mean that decisions are beyond criticism. Dog Lore Like Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), I would not want to live in a world without dogs. With all due respect to my fellow humans, dogs are superior beings. We should strive not for godliness, but for dogliness. Here are some letters written by dogs to God. (Thanks to Jean Robart for the link.)

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith, Really enjoy your blog. Bought a couple of the books you recommended and am trying to claw my way through the infinite varieties and flavors of utilitarianism. I CAN say that I now see the structures of arguments rather than simply the points being made. Thank you. I'm writing today to let you know of a serious situation with the Boston Globe. They published a picture showing a picture of US soldiers apparently gang-raping Iraqi women. Well, the rape picture was a phony from a US-based porno site and has since been taken down. There is a mea culpa (not for the fakery but rather because the sex act could be seen) on the Globe's website dated 5/13/04. Additionally, worldnetdaily has the story which is still developing. So what? A porno picture that is upsetting some soccer moms in Boston? Not quite. The Arab world is up in arms over these pictures, coming as they do on the heels of the Abu Ghraib ones. The US has demanded that Arab media outlets publish retractions regarding this story but few, if any, have done so. The consequences to our troops in the region can be imagined. What I'm particularly interested in is the way this story got into the Globe in the first place. It seems that some Arab radical took this story (and pictures) and pumped it to a couple of black radical activists in Boston. One, Chuck Taylor, is a city councilman and the other, Sadiki Kambon, seems to be some sort of Al Sharpton clone. They are both associated with various lefty organizations (e.g., ANSWER) from way back when. Now how could a "dynamic duo" like these two have a direct line into the Globe such that a story of such consequence would not be checked prior to publication? It was 10-second google to find the porn site and discredit the pictures. Where exactly is this country going and how the hell did we ever get on this road? Are there really people that hate this country so much they would suspend belief in their neighbors and friends and bring to the public "evidence" that our soldiers are gang-banging Iraqi women? In a time of war? I'm shocked and I'm angry but most of all I'm hurting. I feel like a fool for doing my job, raising my family, paying my taxes while all the time there've been these people burrowing into my world intent on destroying it. That hurts. Just thought you should know. Best of luck and keep on blogging. Detroit, Michigan Ambrose Bierce Pain, n. An uncomfortable frame of mind that may have a physical basis in something that is being done to the body, or may be purely mental, caused by the good fortune of another. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)


I get lots of e-mail, for which I'm grateful. Unfortunately, I can't reply to all or even most of it. If I did, I wouldn't get anything else done, including posting items on my blogs! Right now I have 138 messages in my inbox, many of them in response to my penultimate Tech Central Station column, "Explaining Liberal Anger." My plan is to copy these column-related letters to a Word document, clean it up, and upload it. Then I'll provide a link to it on this blog. The letters, as you'll see, are heartwarming. I've already posted the handful of negative letters I received. Ninety-five percent of the mail I received about the column was favorable. Which brings me to the second letter-related item. I've decided to follow Andrew Sullivan's lead in omitting names from the letters I publish. See here. There's no reason to post names. Recently, two people who sent insulting e-mail to me complained (gallingly) that I posted their letters without permission. If I leave the names off, nobody can complain. Does that sound like a sound policy? Back to grading. From Today's New York Times To the Editor: Re "An A for Effort to Restore Meaning to the Grade" (Public Lives, May 6): I have been a professor of architecture at Pratt Institute for more than 30 years. While architecture students' portfolios are more important than their grades, my colleagues on the Academic Senate often complain about grade inflation. Every year, I make a simple proposal: An A should be defined as "truly outstanding," and truly outstanding should mean that we pin up the work and invite our colleagues to come and see it. If our colleagues say "You asked me to come all the way out to Brooklyn to see this?," that means the work should not have gotten an A. (The process would most obviously apply to graphic projects, but written papers could also be pinned up.) Each year my colleagues on the Senate pause, look at me, and then go back to complaining about grade inflation. JOHN LOBELL New York, May 6, 2004

Economic Dishonesty

It may not be fair, but presidents get credit for good economies and blame for bad ones, even if they’re not responsible. This is the political equivalent of strict liability in the law. Suppose your goal is to defeat a president. Knowing that we have a strict-liability system, you will do everything you can to make the economy seem bad. This turns out to be remarkably easy to do, especially for the unscrupulous. First, there are many economic indicators: inflation, unemployment, interest rates, budget deficits, trade deficits, &c. Pick the one that’s doing least well. Harp on it. Make it seem the most important indicator. Ignore or downgrade the others. Second, no indicator is ever perfect. We have never had, and never will have, zero unemployment, for example. So you can always plausibly say that things could be better, the implication being that, without the current president, things would be better. Third, there are different methods of measuring things like unemployment and different interpretations of raw unemployment data. You can pick the measurement or interpretation that serves your purposes. If you’ve been reading Paul Krugman’s New York Times columns, as I have, you know that he plays this dishonest game. His objective, which is transparent, is to defeat President Bush. Nothing else matters, not even intellectual honesty. He harps on the worst-performing economic indicators; he emphasizes how far things are from perfection rather than how much worse things could be (in other words, he’s maximally pessimistic); and he cherry-picks his data sources and interpretations. Economics is politics masquerading as science. Paul Krugman trades on public respect for scientists, but he’s as ruthless a political operative as I’ve seen. Don’t trust him. If you read his columns at all, go immediately thereafter to Donald Luskin’s site (see here) for the necessary corrective. David Kelley on Libertarianism The words “liberty” and “liberalism” have a common root, reflecting the commitment of the original or classical liberals to a free society. Over the last century, the latter term has come to represent a political position that is willing to sacrifice liberty in the economic realm for the sake of equality and/or collective welfare. As a consequence, those who wish to reaffirm the classical version of liberalism--those who advocate liberty in economic as well as personal and intellectual matters--have invented a new word from the old root; they call themselves libertarians. Both in doctrine and in etymology, then, partisans of this view define themselves by their allegiance to liberty. Yet they spend most of their day-to-day polemical energies defending property rights and the economic system of laissez-faire capitalism that is based upon such rights. Evidently there is a strong link between liberty and property at work here. (David Kelley, “Life, Liberty, and Property,” in Human Rights, ed. Ellen Frankel Paul, Jeffrey Paul, and Fred D. Miller, Jr. [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986 (1984)], 108-18, at 108)

From the Mailbag

Professor Burgess-Jackson: It’s nice to see that someone takes pains to point out the more agreeable aspects of life (unlike, say, The New York Times in particular, the mainstream media in general). So, though I agree with the more positive spirit of your post, I find the content of #1 wanting. In the spirit of Dennis Miller, I don’t mean to go off on a rant here, but. . . . In fact, I find the United States Postal Service both despicable and disgusting. Casting aside the broad scope of their utter unreliability, think for a moment on the God-awful incompetence of most of their individual employees. Don’t these guys get Columbus Day off? I mean, come on. COLUMBUS DAY??? And the jingo: “through rain or sleet or snow” or what-the-hell ever? Give me a break. These guys might see “rain or sleet or snow” on the Weather Channel, and that’s about it--but WORK in it? Come on. What do you have to do to become a postal worker anyway? Herd one hundred fools into a room, give them an exam equivalent to the FLE, and then hire all those who fail??? Then too, how many times have you, in the busiest portion of the day, stood in line at the Post Office behind ten or twelve other miserable souls who, like you, wonder why only one of six windows is functioning? Furthermore, there is the private-sector aspect that just bugs the utter hell out of me (and meets, I think, your mention of the thirty-seven cent stamp head-on). Did you realize that UPS and Airborne Express (among others) cannot charge below a certain amount to ship a letter/package because they are not allowed to undercut the USPS? So much for competition. Whew! That felt nice. Take care, and keep up the good work!

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The Rocket

My baseball friends may laugh at this, but I think Roger Clemens will win thirty games this year. With last night's victory, he's 7-0. His team, the Houston Astros, is flying high with a 21-11 record. At this pace, Clemens will win 35.4 games (okay, thirty-five). Why is thirty victories achievable? First, Clemens plays for a team with a superb offense, so he'll get lots of run support. Second, he's rarely hurt. He'll start every fifth day all season. Third, he's gritty. What do you expect? Like Nolan Ryan and Lance Armstrong, he's a Texan. This state produces men, not wimps. William H. Gass on Bibliophilia In the ideal logotopia, every person would possess his own library and add at least weekly if not daily to it. The walls of each home would seem made of books; wherever one looked one would only see spines; because every real book (as opposed to dictionaries, almanacs, and other compilations) is a mind, an imagination, a consciousness. Together they compose a civilization, or even several. (William H. Gass, “In Defense of the Book: On the Enduring Pleasures of Paper, Type, Page, and Ink,” Harper’s Magazine 299 [November 1999]: 45-51, at 47) Wimps and Barbarians I’m speechless. This essay by Terrence O. Moore gets to the heart of our difficulties. It may be the best thing I’ve ever read, and believe me, I’ve read some good stuff.

Religion and Animals

If you're religious (or even if you're not), please visit this site and read what it says. Think about the spirit as well as the letter of whatever religious text you deem authoritative. Ask yourself whether you're doing right by your fellow creatures in your god's eyes. Free-Range Eggs See here for my new source of free-range eggs. Gratification #1 This weekly feature, which I hereby inaugurate, is designed to offset the negativity (peevishness) of “Peeves” (see here for the latest peeve). Just as there are things that annoy me, there are things that please me. It would be imbalanced to write about the former without writing about the latter. I strive for balance in my life. Do you complain about postage rates? I don’t. I have always thought it a bargain--maybe the best bargain there is--to be able to mail something across the country for thirty-seven cents or less. (I remember five-cent stamps!) If you’ve studied history, as I have, you know how unreliable mail service was--and how long it took to get a letter to someone. History provides context. It’s mind-boggling to me how efficient the United States Postal Service is. I can put a letter in my mailbox in Fort Worth, Texas, on Monday morning and get it into my mother’s hands in rural Michigan by Thursday morning. Many people complain about postage rates. It’s a common refrain, one I’ve heard for years. I don’t get it. What’s their standard? How much is acceptable? A quarter? A dime? Should it be free? (There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.) Thirty-seven cents is nothing! Please keep things in perspective.

Uncommon Good Sense

Ally Eskin says here what no man could say without being labeled (by feminists) a misogynist. Feminists can't call Ally a misogynist (can a woman hate herself?), but they can and will call her a traitor to her sex. Note the implication: that all women think alike. Ally proves that feminists don't speak for all women. Thank you, Ally. I hope there are many more women like you and that they begin to speak out. Feminism has done a great deal of harm to women (some of which I've catalogued in this blog), not least of which is making them feel like victims. This is ironic, of course, for feminism claims to empower women. Ha! It turns them into whiny, dependent, vulnerable children. In my opinion, legally available abortion has given men more, not less, power over women. Think about it. Think like an economist. The Corps of Discovery On 14 May 1804, two hundred years ago this Friday, the Corps of Discovery, headed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, pushed off from Camp Dubois on the east side of the Mississippi River. It would be two years and four months before the Corps, minus one man (Charles Floyd), would return to St Louis, by which time many Americans had given them up for dead. I'll be reading the journals of Lewis and Clark in real time for the third time. If you'd like to join me, acquire the journals as soon as possible. See here or here for the paperback edition, which is cheaper than the cloth version. Here, to pique your curiosity, is a story about the expedition from yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Incidentally, I'll be teaching a course on Lewis and Clark this fall. See here for the publicity flier. By the time the course begins in late August, the Corps of Discovery will be well up the Missouri River. By the time it ends, in early December, the Corps will be settled in for the winter at Fort Mandan (near present-day Bismarck, North Dakota).

Bush-Hatin' Paul

Paul Krugman began yesterday's New York Times column with this sentence: "Didn't you know, in your gut, that something like Abu Ghraib would eventually come to light?" What he meant, of course, is "Didn't you hope, in your gut, that something like Abu Ghraib would eventually come to light?" To Krugman, everything bad that happens is President Bush's fault, and nothing good that happens is President Bush's doing. Princeton University must be very proud of its two Bush-hating "scholars," Paul Krugman and Peter Singer. James Madison, who attended Princeton (see here), is rolling over in his grave. posted by Keith Burgess-Jackson, J.D., Ph.D. 5/12/2004 01:55:48 PM Ambrose Bierce Pig, n. An animal (Porcus omnivorus) closely allied to the human race by the splendor and vivacity of its appetite, which, however, is inferior in scope, for it sticks at pig. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911) Peter Singer It's been almost five years since Peter Singer, a native Australian, began teaching at Princeton University. He is a polarizing figure in my discipline (philosophy). Here is a story about the controversy surrounding Singer's appointment at the staid Ivy League school. Here is a follow-up essay by Jeff Sharlet in the same publication. Here is the reader feedback. Enjoy! By the way, Singer's new book examines the ethics of President Bush. See here. I have not read the book, so I cannot comment on it one way or the other. I suspect I will not like it. While I share Singer's Darwinism, I reject his Leftist values. See here.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor: Re "The President and Women" (editorial, May 9): To shrink national women's issues to a morning-after pill or abortion rights offends many women. George W. Bush knows what women want, starting with his No Child Left Behind program. Move on to lower taxes for families to spend and save money as they see fit. Women want to improve life, liberty and equality for themselves and the families they love. Professional women are no less professional. I don't want Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, distracted from the war on terror to secure foreign women's reproductive rights. And I'm not offended that Karen Hughes, the president's adviser, said that particularly after 9/11, Americans value every single life. America's strong, capable, thoughtful adult women are insulted by notions that our political persuasions are monolithic. President Bush had the temerity to place women in influential government positions not to advance special interests but because they are "the best man for the job." Enough of this morning-after business. JULIE FAIRCHILD Dallas, May 11, 2004 From Today's New York Times To the Editor: It baffles me how "In Abuse, a Portrayal of Ill-Prepared, Overwhelmed G.I.'s" (front page, May 9) seems to suggest that the prisoner abuse stemmed from a lack of training and leadership. Do we really need to be taught not to commit such atrocities? As an American, I'm offended at the suggestion and quite honestly find it preposterous that without some particular military training or supervision my fellow citizens lack the moral intuition not to strip prisoners and pile them on each other for a good laugh. There is undoubtedly a need to find an explanation for these crimes, but to attribute them to overburdened and inexperienced G.I.'s is ludicrous and rich fodder for an ever-increasing hatred of America in the Arab world. MOHAMMED SHAHEEN Cambridge, Mass., May 9, 2004

Sunday, April 11, 2004

From Yesterday's Dallas Morning News

The "sin tax" is a great concept--raise money for something most people agree is good (say, schools) by taxing something most people agree is bad (say, tobacco). A "sin tax" being kicked around Austin right now involves, among other things, raising taxes on cigarettes, adult entertainment--and soft drinks. But why stop there? Aren't there other things that we'd all like to see taxed into oblivion? Here are some modest proposals: Cellphone use: A per-minute tax for people who talk while driving. And while we're at it--a fee for annoying ring tones that go off in public. Guys who peel rubber: Measure the tread mark, charge by the inch. Double after 9 p.m. Small children in R-rated movies: The rate increases 1 percent for each dirty word they learn. Cursing in public: Police could carry around a coffee can and collect a quarter per expletive, just like Mom used to do with Dad. Low-rise jeans: Because they make everyone look fat, even the skinny girls. Remember, the idea of a "sin tax" is supposed to be for your own good. Plastic grocery bags: Print the name of the store on them, tax the store for each one caught in a tree limb or fluttering across a vacant lot. Car salesmen: Forget raising taxes on cars--let's go after the guys who TALK THIS LOUD in their own commercials. (Additional fees may apply; title and license charges not included; your mileage from this idea may vary.) "Free" chips and salsa at restaurants: Actually, we like chips and salsa. So let's tax stale chips and tepid salsa. Probably cooked up by some Northerners--let's tax them, while we're at it, unless they know that when we ask for HOT sauce down here, we mean it. People who bring 13 items in the "12 items or less" checkout lane: Charge per excess item. Reality programs on TV: Stations that air more than one hour per night would have to make a donation to PBS. Silly ideas from politicians, and journalists who write endlessly about them: The rate rises depending on how much each report raised the average reader's blood pressure. Texas Living staff

Who Says Scholars Are Humorless?

Leslie A. Johnson, "Settled Insanity Is Not a Defense: Has the Colorado Supreme Court Gone Crazy?" University of Kansas Law Review 43 (October 1994): 259. Ian M. Rose, "Barring Foreigners from Our Airwaves: An Anachronistic Pothole on the Global Information Highway," Columbia Law Review 95 (June 1995): 1188. William Ewald, "Comparative Jurisprudence (I): What Was It Like to Try a Rat?" University of Pennsylvania Law Review 143 (June 1995): 1889. Grantland M. Clapacs, "'When in Nome . . .': Custom, Culture and the Objective Standard in Alaskan Adverse Possession Law," Alaska Law Review 11 (December 1994): 301. Kent D. Streseman, "Headshrinkers, Manmunghers, Moneygrubbers, Nuts and Sluts: Reexamining Compelled Mental Examinations in Sexual Harassment Actions Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991," Cornell Law Review 80 (May 1995): 1268. posted by Keith Burgess-Jackson 4/11/2004 07:21:21 PM The 1984 Detroit Tigers Steve Stone, who played Major League baseball for many years, is an announcer for the Chicago Cubs. During today’s game, which I watched on WGN, he perpetuated a myth about the 1984 Detroit Tigers that I want to destroy. Stone said that the 1984 Tigers were the only team to have won a divisional title in the first forty games of a season. (Teams play 162 games.) The Tigers began the 1984 season an incredible 35-5, which is a winning percentage of 87.5. It’s hard enough to win seven of eight games. The Tigers did that for five consecutive eight-game blocs! So far, I have no gripe. But Stone then added that the Tigers played “.500 ball the rest of the way.” In other words, they lost as many games as they won. This is not even close to being the case. The Tigers finished the 1984 season 104-58, which is a winning percentage of 64.1. If you do the subtraction, you find that the Tigers were 69-53 for the final 122 games of the season. That’s a winning percentage of 56.5. A team that won 56.5% of its games for an entire season would win 91.6 games. Sometimes that’s enough to win a divisional title! Contrary to Stone’s suggestion, the Tigers played superb baseball all season. Their season didn’t go from miraculous to mediocre; it went from miraculous to magnificent. And it didn’t end with the regular season, either. They swept the Kansas City Royals in three games in the American League Championship Series and defeated the San Diego Padres in five games in the World Series. Fittingly, they won seven of eight postseason games to match their early-season pace. Here’s a summary of the season: 35-5 (87.5%) (first forty games) 69-53 (56.5%) (remaining 122 games) 104-58 (64.1%) (regular-season total) 111-59 (65.2%) (regular season plus postseason) Don’t mess with my Tigers. It’s been twenty years since they won a World Series. Twenty years makes a man ornery. Ambrose Bierce Sheriff, n. In America the chief executive officer of a county, whose most characteristic duties, in some of the Western and Southern States, are the catching and hanging of rogues. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Texas Weather

Every year, between the months of March and November, I participate in bike rallies. I’ve done as many as thirty-one rallies in a year. For the past few years I’ve averaged about twenty-two. A bike rally is an event for bicyclists. For example, today there was a rally in Lancaster, a town south of Dallas. I’ve done it several times. I got up, drove 34.7 miles to Lancaster, walked to the registration area, picked up my packet, and returned to my car to prepare. By 8:50, ten minutes before the start, hundreds of bicyclists were lined up on a side street waiting to be loosed on the unsuspecting residents of Lancaster and surrounding towns. Rallies are not races, although some of them have a monetary prize for the first person to finish. Most people show up to ride, not race. They ride for health, for enjoyment, for the camaraderie, and because they want to get outside. You see every sort of person at bike rallies: old, middle-aged, and young; male and female; black, white, Asian, and Hispanic; tall and short; heavy and thin. You see tandems, recumbents, and ordinaries. A bike rally is a microcosm of society. I used to hammer at every rally. (I’ve done 326 of them--counting today’s--since 30 September 1989.) To hammer is to ride hard, all the time. Every hill is a personal challenge. You get out of the saddle to climb it, or, if you’re descending, get into your best tuck position to get your speed as high as possible. (I’ve gone as fast as fifty-two miles per hour.) Hammering gets old after a while, although I’ve never tired of riding in packs or pace lines. There came a point when I wanted to have fun rather than torture myself. It helped that I had taken up marathon running (in September 1996, at the age of thirty-nine). This served as an outlet for my competitiveness. Bicycling became a social event--a chance to see and talk to my friends, to enjoy the countryside, and to experience small-town Texas life. (Every rally goes through many small towns, often down their main streets.) Unlike some sports, bicycling takes place in all kinds of weather. I’ve ridden in oppressive heat (one hundred degrees Fahrenheit and more) and in frigid cold. I’ve ridden on calm days and in gale-force winds. I’ve ridden in sunshine and in rain. I’ve even ridden in hail. Only if the roads are ice-covered is the event canceled (for obvious reasons). Actually, no sooner did I type these words than I remembered the Fort Worth bike rally of May 1995. The night before, a devastating hailstorm struck the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Many cars and house roofs were destroyed. When I got to the rally site the next morning in my hail-damaged Grand Am, I learned that the rally had been canceled. Evidently, there was too much debris--including tree limbs--on the roads. I’m still driving the hail-damaged car, by the way. It’ll be fifteen years old in August. Today’s rally began under sunny skies. The forecast since at least Monday was for storms. Even today’s newspaper forecast storms. My friends and I laughed at the incompetence of the weather forecasters. But they were right. An hour or so into the ride, the sky clouded up. Then the wind picked up. It was a northerly wind, too, which meant cold, dry air. I grew increasingly cold as I pedaled. Rain began to fall, but only for a few minutes. I hadn’t expected the change in the weather or I would have worn a long-sleeved shirt under my jersey. The wind was the worst part. It was brutal. My pace slowed to a crawl. People were putting their bikes into “sag wagons,” which is an admission of defeat. I just concentrated on turning the pedals over. I knew from experience that all bad things must come to an end, and this one, mercifully, did. I didn’t bother partaking of the festivities on the town square. I rode straight to my car, packed up, and headed for home. The sky was dark and ominous. We went from spring to winter during the course of a four-hour ride. That’s Texas for you. Ordinarily, it’s so hot at the end of a rally that I turn the car’s air-conditioner on. Today I fired up the heater. It was good to get home and take a hot shower, followed by a long nap. Sad to say, but this may have been my slowest rally ever. It was a difficult sixty-one miles. But I had fun. I’ve already filtered out the pain. I’ll be back in Lancaster a year from now, ready for more of that strange admixture of suffering and joy that every bicyclist loves.

Friday, April 9, 2004

Hitchens on Burke

Here is a review, by the indefatigable Christopher Hitchens, of a new critical edition of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Enjoy! posted by Keith Burgess-Jackson 4/9/2004 07:44:44 PM Paul Weiss on Sport "Sport" has no clear, commonly acknowledged use. It is reasonable to suppose that it covers whatever is dealt with in the sports pages of newspapers and magazines. But these also contain reports on bridge and chess, which it would be odd to call "sports." * * * Hockey demands bodily exertion. Like every other sport, it tests what a rule-abiding man can bodily be and do. Though chess also has rules, and these have a history, and though a masterly game makes considerable demands on the stamina of the players, chess is not a sport because it does not test what a man is as a body. Mind and body more or less reverse their roles in these two cases. In hockey judgment and determination are subservient to bodily achievement, but in chess the body is used only to make possible a more effective judgment and determination. (Paul Weiss, Sport: A Philosophic Inquiry [Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971 (1969)], 132, 142-3) Ambrose Bierce Self-evident, adj. Evident to one's self and to nobody else. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Chess Is Not a Sport

A few days ago (see here), I described Bart Giamatti’s taxonomy of play. Giamatti defined “contest” as a competitive game. There are, he said, two types of contest: intellectual and physical. Physical contests are sports. I wrote that chess and checkers exemplify the category of intellectual contests and that baseball and bicycle racing exemplify the category of physical contests (sports). To my surprise, three or four people wrote to say that chess is a sport. (See here, for example.) They said that it requires endurance and that it causes an elevated heart rate and perspiration. I assume they would say the same about marathon Monopoly, Scrabble, checkers, or card-playing sessions. Is high-stakes poker a sport? I’m sure it gets the players’ hearts racing. Monopoly and card-playing are not sports, and, with all due respect to my correspondents, chess isn’t, either. The tone of the letters suggests that classifying chess as an intellectual contest rather than as a sport is insulting. But why? What’s wrong with intellectual contests? Dividing contests into those that are intellectual and those that are physical isn’t to rank them in a hierarchy, any more than to divide humanity into male and female is to rank them in a hierarchy. Two things can be different but equal. Baseball is better than chess, but not because it’s a sport. What I actually said in my post, as Matthew S. Mullins of Ektopos pointed out in my defense, is that there are two types of contest: those that are purely intellectual and those that are both intellectual and physical. Every physical contest has an intellectual component or dimension, so defining a category of purely physical contests would create an empty category. I suppose it’s also true that any intellectual contest has a physical component or dimension. We’re embodied beings, after all. Any competition is going to affect one’s body. Playing cards all night requires endurance. Tense moments in Scrabble, checkers, or bridge make one sweat and cause one’s heart rate to increase. So where do we draw the line? How physical does a contest have to be to count as a sport? Different people will draw the line in different places, depending, perhaps, on which physical attributes they think are most important. Is it strength? Speed? Quickness? Endurance? Agility? It’s an abuse of language to call chess a sport. It’s not an abuse of language to call golf a sport, although I consider golf a borderline case and am inclined to classify it as an intellectual contest. Chess is not even borderline. It’s a paradigmatic nonsport. Indeed, I would consider it a defect in any taxonomy that it classifies chess as a sport, just as I would consider it a defect in any taxonomy that it classifies bicycle racing as a nonsport. Bill's Comments Bill Keezer is discovering his inner blogger. See here for his latest provocative posts. I hope you're visiting his blog on a regular basis. The best blogs, like the best teachers, both edify and entertain. Thanks I'd like to thank all the people who sent birthday greetings. I wasn't fishing for greetings, but I'll take 'em.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor: I applaud Princeton University for trying to rein in grade inflation (news article, April 8). But its proposed quota for A's (35 percent of all grades, down from 47 percent) will not address the underlying problem. Where college grades used to be critical only for those going on to graduate or professional schools, now students applying for jobs send transcripts to potential employers. The result is students badgering instructors to raise their grades, and faculty and graduate assistants trying to help their students' prospects. If college career offices stopped encouraging students to make their grades part of the job-hunting process, perhaps students would stop credentialing themselves and get back to the business of learning. AMANDA I. SELIGMAN Glendale, Wis., April 8, 2004 The writer is an assistant professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Intellectual Dishonesty Paul Krugman is trying to have it both ways. He wants to blame President Bush when economic indicators are down, but not praise him when they're up. See here. But then, liberals have never been known for their honesty, have they? The thing you must remember about liberals is that, for all their talk of principle, they're result-oriented. The end justifies the means. To achieve their social-engineering goals, they must have power; and they will do whatever it takes, including lie, to get that power. Take my word for it: I used to be one of them. I know how they think.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

John E. Hare on Ethics and Christianity

Writing from the perspective of traditional Christianity will already make [my] project suspect to much of the audience I would like to reach. I intend the book for two groups and their intersection: both for those who call themselves Christians, or at least take the claims of Christianity seriously, and for those interested in the academic study of ethics. This makes the project problematic, since many of those who fall into the second group find the attitudes and commitments of the first group incomprehensible or, if comprehensible, entirely unattractive. From the perspective of the academic study of ethics, it can seem that belief in traditional Christianity is possible for the uneducated, perhaps even desirable; but that for those who are fully alive to the movement of thought over the last two hundred years, it is no longer a serious option. I believe, however, that a strong case can be made that this attitude within academic philosophy has led to a bad misreading of the great philosophical texts on which academic philosophy depends. I have an advantage here from an accident of my education. I did Greats at Oxford, in which the syllabus took a leap from Aristotle to Frege; and then a Ph.D. in the Classical Philosophy programme at Princeton, in which I read nothing between Aristotle’s medieval commentators and Bradley. ‘Modern’ philosophy is therefore something I have read on my own, directly from the primary sources. I have been constantly struck by how often the Christian content of these sources has been ignored by the standard interpretations in the secondary literature. This is notably true of Kant, as I shall try to show. His system does not work unless he is seen as genuinely trying to ‘make room for faith’. Failure to see this has led to heroic measures, either excising portions of text as not properly ‘critical’, or attributing his views to a desire to appease the pious sentiments of his faithful manservant. What is true of Kant is also true of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz, and even Hume. We are given a reading of modern philosophy that leads from its birth in the new science of the sixteenth century to its maturation in the death of God and the death of metaphysics. Descartes is seen as an incipient atheist, bringing in God not because of personal faith but to appease the Church. Large sections of Leviathan, where Hobbes talks about the will of God, are ignored as though they were inessential to the project of the whole. In Bertrand Russell’s critical exposition of the philosophy of Leibniz, God appears in none of the five original axioms. Hume is seen at the end of the Dialogues as insincere in portraying Philo’s change of heart. It is no doubt tempting, if you cannot take Christianity seriously yourself, to interpret your favourite philosophers as sharing this distaste; but it leads to a distortion of the texts. Those engaged in the academic study of ethics ought to try the experiment of seeing what the world looks like from the perspective of traditional Christianity, even if merely to understand their own tradition. This book can be seen as such an experiment. (John E. Hare, The Moral Gap: Kantian Ethics, Human Limits, and God’s Assistance, Oxford Studies in Theological Ethics [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996], 2-3)

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

I’m forty-seven years old today. Every year, when my birthday comes around, I whine about not wanting to get older. It’s not fair, I say. I refuse to get older. Who set things up this way? But life is not fair. It’s not unfair, either. It just is. We’re born; we plod along; we die. If we’re lucky, we have fun along the way. If we’re really lucky, as I am, we get to spend our days doing exactly as we please. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to ensure that I’m not dreaming. You mean they pay me to read, write, think, and teach? I would do all but the teaching part for free. (Don’t tell the dean!) When I was twenty, I would have thought someone forty-seven years of age old. But now that I’m forty-seven, I think twenty-year olds are children. They know nothing; they’ve experienced nothing; they have no perspective on even their own small region of spacetime. And yet they think they know everything. It’s funny, really. As you age, you realize how little you know and how little you’ll ever know. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to learn, only that you should be humble about it. Learn what you can; accept your limitations. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another thirty years in this vale of tears (to use Jeremy Bentham’s term). The first thirty years of my life seemed to take forever, probably because there were so many big events along the way. High-school graduation, the first job, the first car, college, graduation from college, law school, the bar exam, graduate school, the Ph.D. dissertation, the first job. Once I got tenure, the temporal slide began. The past ten years have gone by in a flash. My life, like Immanuel Kant’s, is filled with pleasant routines. Every day is full. I have never been bored for a minute in my life. But now that all the big events are over, there’s nothing to stop the flow of time. If twenty years ago seems like yesterday, then tomorrow is 2024 and the day after that 2044. I envy theists, for they believe that life is eternal. I’ve never believed that and couldn’t if I tried. I have a finite amount of days. I believe I value each of them more than any theist does for the simple reason that they’re finite. If you have an infinite amount of something, how valuable can it be? Water is more valuable in Arizona than in Michigan. Nor do I believe that this mundane life is preparation for something greater. It’s all I have. But it’s enough. More than enough. I’ve had a wonderful life. If I die tonight, do not mourn for me. Celebrate. Celebrate my demise if you must, but celebrate.

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor: Re "Tracking Terrorist Bankrolls" (editorial, April 4): Ending terrorist financing is a top priority for President Bush. The president's budget includes a more than 16 percent increase for the Treasury Department and a 5 percent increase for Internal Revenue Service criminal investigation activities. In fact, more than 400 special agents and more than 200 investigative analysts will be added for I.R.S. criminal investigations in 2005 alone. The global campaign to find and seize terrorists' blood money uses the strengths of multiple agencies strategically. The interagency team, which includes the Treasury, State, Justice, Defense and Homeland Security Departments, the intelligence community, the F.B.I., federal regulators, and state and local authorities, has achieved many successes. President Bush has made the battle against terror financing a front-burner issue worldwide and has led a global coalition in the identification and disruption of terrorist financing networks around the world. As a result, America is safer and more secure from those who would harm us. ROBERT NICHOLS Asst. Secretary for Public Affairs Department of the Treasury Washington, April 5, 2004

From Today's Dallas Morning News

France and Germany are the big cheeses of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has described as "Old Europe." An undiplomatic phrase? Perhaps. But judging by the current state of affairs in both countries, the designation "old"--as in crabby, feeble and resistant to change--is apt. The governments of President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are dealing with widespread public discontent, stemming in large part from persistently high unemployment and sluggish economic growth. Yet the public remains stubbornly defiant in the face of attempts to rein in generous social spending by the vast welfare state bureaucracies. The French and the Germans no longer can afford their welfare states, yet they can't bring themselves to abandon them. There's a French word for what grips both nations: malaise. It's a word commentators used to describe the speech that Jimmy Carter delivered to a national TV audience in July 1979--an address that recognized the crisis of confidence then paralyzing America. There's a straight line from the malaise speech to the election of Ronald Reagan 16 months later, which restored America's self-confidence and brought about painful but necessary reforms (as Britain had embraced earlier with the election of Margaret Thatcher). We will see if there are any Reagans or Thatchers in France and Germany. In the meantime, we Americans should learn the lessons of our allies' crises. In an era of globalization, reality will wash away economic and social structures that seemed permanent. If France and Germany don't find ways to embrace reform and arrest decline, they will write one more lesson into the history books: Old nations never die; they just fade away. Ambrose Bierce Friendship, n. A ship big enough to carry two in fair weather, but only one in foul. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, c. 1911)

Morality and Self-Interest

Most of us experience morality as a burden. It constrains our actions. It tells us either not to do what we’d like to do or to do what we don’t want to do. Morality is like a parent, a boss, or a drill sergeant: stern, demanding, unforgiving. For better or for worse, we cannot escape it. Making moral judgments is in our nature, and having moral judgments made about one--or one’s actions--is inescapable. We are hard-wired to think in terms of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust. We are moral animals. Every now and then, however, morality and self-interest converge. It’s wonderful--and remarkable--when they do, as this snippet from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn shows: By and by it was getting-up time. So I come down the ladder and started for down-stairs; but as I come to the girls’ room the door was open, and I see Mary Jane setting by her old hair trunk, which was open and she’d been packing things in it--getting ready to go to England. But she had stopped now with a folded gown in her lap, and had her face in her hands, crying. I felt awful bad to see it; of course anybody would. I went in there and says: “Miss Mary Jane, you can’t a-bear to see people in trouble, and I can’t--most always. Tell me about it.” So she done it. And it was the niggers--I just expected it. She said the beautiful trip to England was most about spoiled for her; she didn’t know how she was ever going to be happy there, knowing the mother and the children warn’t ever going to see each other no more--and then busted out bitterer than ever, and flung up her hands, and says: “Oh, dear, dear, to think they ain’t ever going to see each other any more!” “But they will--and inside of two weeks--and I know it!” says I. Laws, it was out before I could think! And before I could budge she throws her arms around my neck and told me to say it again, say it again, say it again! I see I had spoke too sudden and said too much, and was in a close place. I asked her to let me think a minute; and she set there, very impatient and excited and handsome, but looking kind of happy and eased-up, like a person that’s had a tooth pulled out. So I went to studying it out. I says to myself, I reckon a body that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place is taking considerable many resks, though I ain’t had no experience, and can’t say for certain; but it looks so to me, anyway; and yet here’s a case where I’m blest if it don’t look to me like the truth is better and actuly safer than a lie. I must lay it by in my mind, and think it over some time or other, it’s so kind of strange and unregular. I never see nothing like it. Well, I says to myself at last, I’m a-going to chance it; I’ll up and tell the truth this time, though it does seem most like setting down on a kag of powder and touching it off just to see where you’ll go to. (Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [Toronto: Bantam Books, 1981], chap. XXVIII, pp. 179-80 [italics in original] [originally published in 1884]) Huck could not believe that doing the right thing and doing what was in his interest converged in this case. It was “strange and unregular.” Well, here’s another case. Becoming a vegetarian (or moving in that direction by eliminating certain animal products from your diet) is both the right thing to do and the prudent thing to do. By ceasing to eat meat, you both refuse to participate in an oppressive institution and improve your health. You can become a vegetarian both for the sake of the animals (the moral reason) and for your sake (the prudential reason). I hope nobody thinks meat-eating is healthy. If you do, then you have not been keeping up with the science of nutrition. Not only is meat-eating not healthy; it’s unhealthy. It sets back your interest in health, and therefore your ulterior interest in a long, happy life. See here for a statement by the American Dietetic Association, which is a nonpartisan organization. Live clean. Do right. Vegetarianism accomplishes both.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Still Learning

This is a test. Until tonight, I was unable to get curved quotation marks, accents, and other special symbols in my blog entries. I have two ways to compose: (1) in a Microsoft Word document, using the copy-and-paste function to transfer the text to Blogger; and (2) in Blogger. I know how to insert accents in a Word document, but when I pasted the text to Blogger, the accented letters appeared as trash. The same happened with the curved quotation marks that I use in Word documents. What I ended up doing is turning off the curved-quotation-marks function in every blog entry I composed, then turning it back on afterward. Needless to say, this was annoying and time-consuming. Tonight I decided to do something about it. I began by asking John Ray, who has been so helpful to me during the past five months. John mentioned tinkering with the settings in Blogger. When I went in, I saw that my encoding was set to “Universal (Unicode UTF-8).” There were many other choices, but only one looked promising: Western (Windows-1252). To make a long story short, I changed the setting and tried copying accents and curved quotation marks to Blogger. It worked! Thanks, John. Here, as a further test, are some special symbols: cliché raison d’être vis-à-vis 10° Fahrenheit 89¢ 7¾ feet I hope they come through! Richard Rorty on Philosophy To drop the notion of the philosopher as knowing something about knowing which nobody else knows so well would be to drop the notion that his voice always has an overriding claim on the attention of the other participants in the conversation. It would also be to drop the notion that there is something called "philosophical method" or "philosophical technique" or "the philosophical point of view" which enables the professional philosopher, ex officio, to have interesting views about, say, the respectability of psychoanalysis, the legitimacy of certain dubious laws, the resolution of moral dilemmas, the "soundness" of schools of historiography or literary criticism, and the like. Philosophers often do have interesting views upon such questions, and their professional training as philosophers is often a necessary condition for their having the views they do. But this is not to say that philosophers have a special kind of knowledge about knowledge (or anything else) from which they draw relevant corollaries. The useful kibitzing they can provide on the various topics I just mentioned is made possible by their familiarity with the historical background of arguments on similar topics, and, most importantly, by the fact that arguments on such topics are punctuated by stale philosophical cliches which the other participants have stumbled across in their reading, but about which professional philosophers know the pros and cons by heart. (Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979], 392-3 [italics in original])

Struggling with SpamBlocker

I thought I had my spam problem solved. The other day I downloaded and installed the newest version of EarthLink's SpamBlocker, which has a challenge-response feature. But it doesn't work just as I want it to, so I've disabled it. Here's the problem. I have twelve names in my Outlook Express "contacts" list. I like to keep this list simple. It has the names of people to whom I write often, such as my mother and my bicycling friends. Anyone on the "contacts" list who writes to me gets through without having to do the challenge-response thing. If you're not on the "contacts" list, your e-mail to me gets stored in the "suspect email" folder on EarthLink's server. I can see how many messages are in this folder by clicking the SpamBlocker logo in Outlook Express. Suppose I see that there's a message and go to EarthLink's server to see what it is. It's from X, one of my blog correspondents. What I'd like to do is say, "Let this person's mail get through to me." But all I can do is say, "Let it get through to me and add the person to my 'contacts' list." I don't want to add everyone to my "contacts" list! I want to keep it simple. My only alternative is to click "Send message to inbox without adding person to 'contacts' list." You guessed it. The next time X writes to me, he or she has to do the challenge-response thing again. Do you see my predicament? I want to let certain people's messages get through to me, but not by adding them to my 'contacts' list. Maybe I'll write to EarthLink. It seems like a simple thing to change, and I'll bet I'm not the only person who dislikes this feature. By the way, I apologize to those of you who had to respond to a challenge more than once. It's my fault, since I didn't add you to my "contacts" list. To make things worse, I lost several e-mail messages this afternoon. I thought I sent them to my inbox, but they disappeared. If you sent something to me, please resend it. Tax Cuts Steve Headley has an interesting post on tax cuts over at Texas Conservative. I agree with Steve that tax cuts stimulate economic growth. It's common sense. But we must not lose sight of an important principle, to wit: People are entitled to the fruits of their labor. So there are two arguments for tax cuts: the consequentialist argument, which says that tax cuts have good consequences, and the deontological argument, which says that people have a right to retain the fruits of their labor even if this does not have good consequences, indeed, even if it has bad consequences. Suppose it is shown that tax cuts do not stimulate economic growth. This undercuts only the consequentialist argument. I wish the Bush administration would articulate the deontological argument. It's important. The Bush administration has done a poor job in general of articulating its principles, explaining its policies, and justifying its decisions. The case for war in Iraq, for example, is manifold. There are at least five good reasons to have gone to war, no one of which is necessary but any one of which is sufficient. The administration made far too much of the so-called weapons of mass destruction. Now it's paying the price for that single-mindedness. The lesson is simple: Don't put all your justificatory eggs in one basket.