Saturday, 24 February 2007

Sanitizing the Past

Here is a provocative essay about the United States by an Ivy League professor, Andrew J. Bacevich.

“Going to California,” by Led Zeppelin, from Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

Spent my days with a woman unkind, Smoked my stuff and drank all my wine.
Made up my mind to make a new start, Going To California with an aching in my heart.
Someone told me there’s a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.
Took my chances on a big jet plane, never let them tell you that they’re all the same.
The sea was red and the sky was grey, wondered how tomorrow could ever follow today.
The mountains and the canyons started to tremble and shake
as the children of the sun began to awake.

Seems that the wrath of the Gods
Got a punch on the nose and it started to flow;
I think I might be sinking.
Throw me a line if I reach it in time
I’ll meet you up there where the path
Runs straight and high.

To find a queen without a king,
They say she plays guitar and cries and sings . . . la la la
Ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn
Tryin’ to find a woman who’s never, never, never been born.
Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it’s not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.

Richard Swinburne on the Obligation to Investigate the Truth of Religion

I suggest that some men have a moral obligation to find the way to true and lasting well-being for others.  If they have particular talents in this direction (philosophical, psychological, or literary, together with sensitivity to religious claims), I suggest that they have such a prima-facie obligation. To use my earlier example: when men are short of food, the man trained in agricultural biochemistry has some obligation to apply his talents to finding out how they can get more food out of the land. A similar argument applies when men are short of spiritual food. Further, I suggest that anyone who has a responsibility for the upbringing of others has a duty to ensure, if he can, that they know the way to true and lasting well-being, and so has a duty himself to investigate how that is to be attained. This means primarily parents and to a lesser extent teachers; and of course that means most of us. There is an obligation on most of us to investigate the truth of religion in order to teach our children about whether deep well-being can be obtained, and if so, how. Similarly, of course, if religion is false, the activity of prayer and worship is pointless and certain moral practices are also pointless. A parent’s obligations to ensure the well-being of his children will lead him to deter them from such activities if they are pointless, and so there is an obligation on him to find out if they are. With true religious beliefs we will be able to fulfil our moral obligations in the way of educating our children, and from this too it follows that we have an obligation to cultivate rational beliefs about religion.

(Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981], 78-9)


Here is William Kristol’s column about Hillary Clinton. Note that he calls Maureen Dowd of The New York Times a “gossip columnist.” That will infuriate her.

Twenty Years Ago

2-24-87 Several years ago (27 July 1981, to be exact), I read an article by Joel Feinberg [1926-2004] entitled “The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations.” [Joel Feinberg, “The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations,” in Philosophy and Environmental Crisis, ed. William T. Blackstone (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974), 43-68.] In one month I would be taking Bruce Russell’s course on twentieth-century analytic ethics at Wayne State University. I ended up writing a term paper on the rights of plants, drawing on the Feinberg article and many others. Today, nearly six years later, I reread Feinberg’s article. What a beautifully written and argued piece! And it’s philosophical in every sense of the word. Feinberg doesn’t argue that animals (and unborn generations) do have rights, only that they can have rights. In other words, given the concept of a right and given the nature of animals and other entities, there is no contradiction in saying that they have rights. This is what philosophy is all about: analyzing concepts, showing what is possible and what is not, and leaving [normative] argumentation to others. Of course, Feinberg may think that animals do have rights, and he may even write an article or book defending them, but if he were to do so, it would be nonphilosophical. It would be a philosopher doing something nonphilosophical. What’s wrong with that? It seems perfectly natural to describe things that way.

Feinberg’s paper was delivered at a conference at the University of Georgia in February 1971, sixteen years ago this month. At the time, Joel was forty-four or forty-five years old and a professor at the Rockefeller University. Now he’s either sixty or sixty-one and teaching philosophy at the University of Arizona. I’m always honored to be in his presence, whether in the departmental office, in his office, or in class. Tonight the subject of his [Philosophy of Law] seminar was aggregative and imitative harms. Specifically, we asked whether a suitably mediated harm principle would prohibit personal possession of handguns. As for imitative harms, we asked whether producers of violent films and other artworks should be criminally or civilly liable for harms caused by those who imitate the violence. David Cortner argued here that they should not be. He relied primarily on the value of a free artistic community.

My own view is that there should be at least civil liability for producing suggestive works. One reason for this is that it spreads the cost to those who benefit: consumers. If film producers, for example, are forced to compensate those who were harmed as a result of the showing, they will have to internalize costs. One way to make up for this is to charge film customers more money, and this seems appropriate. The customers are demanding violent movies, so they should bear the full social costs of those movies. As for criminal liability, the case is much weaker. Perhaps I would reserve criminal liability for extreme cases, where the producer either intended to cause harm or was reckless with respect to the causation of harm. It’s an interesting question, not only theoretically (for Feinberg’s harm principle, for example) but practically. Rock stars have been sued for allegedly causing young people to kill themselves. Ozzy Osbourne was sued when a boy killed himself while listening to the song “Suicide Solution.” [The song is from Blizzard of Ozz (1981), which I now have on compact disc.] I had a good time this evening.


Does anyone besides me find this New York Times story revolting? Here is the key paragraph:

Some Democrats acknowledge that they are in a sticky situation as they try to map out a strategy that will appease the antiwar left, which is pushing for conditions on war financing, without alienating moderate Democrats and Republicans who fear being painted as unsupportive of the troops.

Instead of doing what they believe to be right, and letting the electoral chips fall where they may, Democrats are triangulating. We’re at war, and they’re triangulating. Whatever happened to statesmanship? It has been replaced by gamesmanship. Whatever happened to leadership? It has been replaced by pandering. Whatever happened to doing the right thing, whatever the consequences to one’s political career? It has been replaced by self-interested calculation. Let us hope that the American people punish these cretins in 2008.

Addendum: This sentence says it all:

Democrats concede that the plan to revise the authorization, backed by Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware and one of the presidential candidates, is unlikely to garner enough votes to pass, but they hope to pick up enough Republican votes to embarrass Mr. Bush.

We’re at war, and Democrats are trying to “embarrass” the commander in chief.

Moroccan Red Pearl

Of all the colors I could have chosen for my new car, I chose Moroccan Red Pearl. It occurred to me while running just now (in a brutal wind, I might add) that this color has special significance. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark carried “red morocco-bound books” (the term is Gary E. Moulton’s) for purposes of copying their field notes. Here is an image of one of the books. Here is a Honda Accord in Moroccan Red Pearl. Neat! For as long as I drive this car, I will be linked to Lewis and Clark.


Here is the New York Times story about Stage 5 of the Tour of California. If you read the story, you’ll see that Johan Bruyneel, the manager of The Discovery Channel, lied to Levi Leipheimer by telling him during the time trial that he was only two seconds ahead of Jens Voigt, when in fact he was 10 seconds ahead. Bruyneel’s aim, obviously, was to motivate Leipheimer to ride harder. Is such a lie justified? If so, on what ground(s)?

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

What are we supposed to do? I spent a lot of time paying attention to all the “real news” of the world. I got angry, and I acted on that anger. I engaged in intense debates with family and friends, I signed petitions, I marched in protests. And we still went to war, there is still little support for mothers and children, the minimum wage still isn’t a living wage, Americans still produce 25 percent of the world’s pollution.

And then I decided I didn’t want to live my life angry all the time if it wasn’t going to do any good, if no one would listen. I still pay attention to the “real news,” but then I turn to entertainment to forget it all, because I feel helpless to make a difference.

M. Keck
Tucson, Feb. 22, 2007

Note from KBJ: This person needs a lesson on democracy. Sometimes you get your way; sometimes you don’t.


Two guys are sweating their buns off digging a ditch in the open under the hot sun. They stop for a break. They see the foreman sitting under a tree some distance away, seemingly doing nothing. One guy asks the other, “How come he gets to do that, while we have to do all the hard work?” The other guy says, “I don’t know; I’ll go ask him.” The guy goes over to the foreman and asks him that question. The foreman replies, “You wanna know why? I’ll show you why.” The foreman holds his hand up in front of the tree. “Hit my hand as hard as you can,” he says. The guy makes a fist and winds up, and just before he hits the open hand, the foreman pulls his own hand away, and the guy crunches his fist into the tree trunk. “That’s why I’m the foreman and you’re digging that ditch.” The guy nurses his broken knuckles and shuffles back to his partner, in great pain. His partner says, “What’d he say?” The guy replies, “I’ll show you why.” He puts his good hand up in front of his face and says, “Hit my hand as hard as you can.”

A Year Ago