Monday, 8 January 2007


Remember the bowl picks I made? See here for the results. Be sure to read the addenda.

An Unintended Pun

One of my former students just wrote to ask whether I’ve tried any Burt’s Bees products. I wrote back: “What is it, honey?” As soon as I sent it, I realized that he might take it the wrong way.

A Pet Peeve

Why is Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn referred to as “Ted Ginn Jr”? The “Jr” signifies that he is named after his father. That’s fine, but unless the context is such that it’s not clear which of them is being referred to, the “Jr” is unnecessary. It’s clear, for example, that only the son is playing in tonight’s game; so there’s no need to use the “Jr.” Compare: If I were at a gathering in which both Ginns were in attendance, I would use “Sr” or “Jr” to indicate which of them I was referring to. I might say, for instance, “Ted Ginn Jr told me a funny story this afternoon.” While I’m at it, it’s unnecessary for Major League box scores to show “Griffey Jr.” Ken Griffey’s father hasn’t played in many years. There is no chance that anyone will see “Griffey” in a box score and wonder which Griffey it is, father or son.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, back to the game.

Lincoln Allison on Theories of Justice

An ordinary sense of justice is often based on sentiments which cannot be elevated into theories. Theories of justice are based on different and even opposing criteria which are themselves subject to widely varying interpretation. Justice means everything and nothing in the context of the distribution of social and material goods. Suppose somebody demands ‘Is it fair or just that some people are starving and some unemployed while others have large private incomes?’ The only reasonable answer can be, ‘According to some well-established standards, yes. According to rival and alternative standards, no.’ There are standards by which it is quite unfair that the state should prevent a man from giving his wealth to his children and hand out money to those who have done nothing to deserve it and standards which imply the opposite of both these propositions.

(Lincoln Allison, Right Principles: A Conservative Philosophy of Politics [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984], 86)


There is bittersweet news from the music world. Van Halen is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. See here. The sweet part is that David Lee Roth is being inducted along with Eddie and Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony. The bitter part is that Sammy Hagar is being inducted along with them. Hagar should be indicted, not inducted. He ruined a great band.

A Moral Dilemma

A few minutes ago, with the BCS title game between Florida and Ohio State less than an hour away, I ran out to the grocery store for bananas, coffee, and a few other things. A woman and a boy (probably her son) were ahead of me in line. I watched them empty their cart. There were two cardboard soft-drink containers on the bottom of the cart—the kind that contain about a dozen cans. The boy took one of them out and put it on the counter. The woman pulled the cart ahead before he could get the other one out. The clerk never saw it. It’s obvious that they intended to steal the soft drinks. What should I have done? I’m not a police officer. It’s not my job to enforce the law. Do I have a moral obligation to prevent theft? Things would be easier if the question were whether I should steal, for surely I shouldn’t. But in this case it’s about whether I should do something to prevent someone else from stealing. I won’t tell you what I did until I get some feedback about what I should have done.

Addendum: In addition to saying what I should have done, please say what I did, based on what you know about me through reading this blog.

Addendum 2: There have been many comments, so let me say what I did. Not only didn’t I inform the clerk; I ran interference for the woman. It was a Wal-Mart Market, after all!

Addendum 3: I was teasing about Wal-Mart. Progressives hate the place, so I thought I’d play along. As for what I did in the store, I did nothing. I’m not paid by Wal-Mart to keep other customers from stealing. I have no legal or moral obligation to prevent theft. I’m a deontological egoist, remember. I have no moral obligation to benefit anyone. My only obligation is to refrain from harming others.


As you know, Texas A&M University’s president, Robert Gates, left to become secretary of defense in the Bush administration. The university is conducting a search for his replacement. Dr Michael McKinney, chancellor of the A&M system, has appointed a search committee. He is quoted as follows in Saturday’s Dallas Morning News:

This seasoned group of Texas A&M faculty, staff, students and supporters will do its due diligence to identify the right leader for the university during this time of phenomenal growth and development.

“Do its due diligence”? What the hell does that mean? Any of the following would have been acceptable:

The group will work diligently to identify the right leader.

The group will be diligent in identifying the right leader.

The group will exercise diligence in identifying the right leader.

How can Texas A&M claim to be an institution of higher education if its chancellor can’t speak properly? (By the way, these words of his appear in a prepared—i.e., a written—statement.)

Twenty Years Ago

1-8-87 Thursday. Brrr! The high temperature in Tucson was fifty-six degrees [Fahrenheit], and at Seven Falls, where I hiked with Terry Mallory this afternoon, it must have been even cooler. The temperature drops consistently as one gains altitude, and we gained several hundred feet at least. But the sun shone brightly all day, so I never felt cold. I wore a light sweatshirt under a flannel shirt, long pants, and tennis shoes. I carried a water bottle and my [Pentax K1000] camera. Terry brought a couple of oranges and a water jug. The views near Seven Falls are spectacular. This was my second hike to that area, but when Terry and I went there before, at least two years ago, we veered off toward Sycamore Canyon. Today we went directly to Seven Falls.

You’ve got to see this place to believe it. The water is located in a steep canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains. At the bottom is a small lake, formed by waterfalls. As you look up from this lake, you can see a series of waterfalls. Some of them are fifty to seventy feet high, while others are closer to ten or twenty. Near the top, you can see a tremendous rock outcropping. I decided immediately to see how far I could get with just my bare hands and feet. I scrambled up the right side, found a winding trail, and made it to about the fourth waterfall. That was enough for me. I waved to Terry down below and headed back. This, incidentally, is the site of many accidents. Throughout the summer months one hears about people who fall from the rocks. Some die, while others suffer serious head and other injuries. I was as careful as I could be, but still, there’s a haunting fear of falling. “Don’t ever tell my Mom that I did this,” I said to Terry, knowing full well that he wouldn’t. “She’d kill me.”


Who says President Bush is beholden to the oil companies?  See here.


Steve Walsh sent a link to this interesting column by Jeff Jacoby, who is exactly right about the difference between conservatives and progressives. Conservatives evaluate actions (and policies) in terms of whether—and how well—they work. Progressives evaluate actions (and policies) in terms of what motivates them. A do-gooder, by definition, is someone who is well motivated but in fact makes things worse (or no better). Examples of well-meaning but wrong-headed progressive policies are affirmative action, the minimum wage, welfare, negotiation with enemies, and abortion. Remember: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Addendum: Let me put it another way. Benevolence is a character trait (a virtue, in fact). (Malevolence is the corresponding vice.) A benevolent person is someone who wishes to do good, is motivated to do good, and tries to do good. (A malevolent person, by contrast, is someone who wishes to do bad, is motivated to do bad, and tries to do bad.) Beneficence is the doing of good. (Maleficence is the doing of bad.) We value benevolence because—and only because—benevolent people are more likely to do good than to do bad. (We disvalue malevolence because—and only because—malevolent people are more likely to do bad than to do good.) But there is no guarantee that benevolence will issue in beneficence. It can (and sometimes does) issue in maleficence. In other words, well-meaning people can make things worse rather than better, just as badly motivated people can make things better rather than worse. Progressives conflate benevolence (the virtue) with beneficence (the doing of good). This has the cart before the horse, morally speaking.

Addendum 2: God is often said to be omnibenevolent.  Actually, God is both omnibenevolent (i.e., motivated to do all and only good) and omnibeneficent (i.e., a doer of all and only good). In God, benevolence always issues in beneficence. In humans, who have less than complete knowledge, it only sometimes issues in beneficence. Sometimes human benevolence issues in maleficence.

Best of the Web Today



Do you eat pork? Maybe you should read this before you eat any more. Have some tissues handy.

College Alcohol Study

Here are some publications that address the problem of alcohol consumption by college students. All of my drinking took place between the summer of 1974, when I was 17, and February 1978, when I was 20. That’s less than four years. It didn’t take me long to realize that drinking (indeed, ingesting any mind-altering substance) is for morons. I’ve been clean and sober for almost 29 years.


This made me chuckle, and who doesn’t need a chuckle on a lazy Monday afternoon?

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Middle Stance Emerges in Debate Over Climate” (news article, Jan. 1):

Do we know for certain when and how much Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will melt with global warming, and the exact amount the sea level will rise as a result? Or how intense heat waves, droughts, floods and storms will become?

The answer is no, it is not possible to make exact predictions about such complex systems.

But there is no uncertainty among the world’s leading scientists that if we do not significantly reduce our current levels of burning fossil fuels, our world will experience profound changes, many of them irreversible, in its physical, chemical and biological composition.

And there is absolutely no question that these changes will severely threaten life, including human life, on this planet. It would be shamefully ignorant and morally inexcusable if we did not do everything in our power to prevent these changes from occurring.

Political leaders, policy makers and the public should not be misled by the few scientists who persistently emphasize the uncertainties of climate science, as if these uncertainties guaranteed that global warming consequences would not be catastrophic.

Eric Chivian, M.D.
Boston, Jan. 2, 2007
The writer is director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School.

Note from KBJ: Scientists can inform us of how things are (including how they were and will be). They cannot direct our behavior. What we as a society do about climate change, if anything, is up to us. It is not up to scientists. Perhaps if science hadn’t gotten so politicized, scientists would have more credibility on this issue. These days, it’s hard to disentangle the science from the progressive politics.