Thursday, 29 March 2007

Good Night

I leave you this fine evening with an essay by Peter Berkowitz, of whom I think highly.

Twenty Years Ago

3-29-87 Sunday. For as long as I can remember there have been religious programs, including prayer and other services, on television. I rarely watch them, but I’m aware of their existence through reading the television guide and newspaper stories. Just the other day there was a huge scandal involving one of the top television evangelists, Jim Bakker. It transpires that several years ago, Jim had a brief sexual liaison with a female secretary. This, of course, had extortion potential, so he ended up paying the secretary huge sums of money to keep her quiet. Public knowledge of the incident would have ruined his ministry, which is built, after all, on faith, trust, honesty, and the absence of sin. The other day, Jim and his wife, Tammy, made several announcements. First, they said that Tammy had a drug problem. Second, they announced that Jim had had an affair with the secretary and paid extortion money. And third, they said that they were turning over their ministry to a fundamentalist, Jerry Falwell.  Bakker’s television show, The PTL Club (where “PTL” stands for “Praise the Lord”), is one of the more successful in the country at attracting viewers and generating income.

For an agnostic like me, the downfall of the Bakkers is hilarious. [Schadenfreude!] Here we have a righteous Christian minister who has been preaching the virtues of monogamy, self-control, and fidelity for many years, and he goes out and has an affair. His wife, moreover, succumbs to drug addiction. There have also been charges that another television evangelist, Jimmy Swaggart, has attempted a corporate “takeover” of The PTL Club. This has led to considerable infighting among television evangelists, and also to reports of just how wealthy some of these ministers are. Jim and Tammy, for example, live in rich opulence, and defend their “right” to do so. They wear designer fashions on their show and at the same time plead for money from viewers. Perhaps the most outrageous charge, to date, was made by Jim. He said that the secretary, Jessica Hahn, “seduced” him. Big fucking deal! Does this make him any less hypocritical? Does it excuse [sic; should be “absolve”] him from sin? Actually, in the eyes of many, it does. Males are thought to be captives, to some extent, of their sexual urges. Females exist to tempt them, and some succeed. In this case Jim just fell victim to his masculine urges; he did what any red-blooded American would have done. He went for the pussy. Is that so bad? There you have it: an American comedy. As I say, we agnostics and atheists are having a field day.

There was a bit of drama on my bike ride this afternoon. I was on my way to Mission San Xavier, about fifteen miles from the apartment with thirty-five to go, when I passed a rider struggling to get up a slight incline. I noticed that he was in a high gear, because his legs were moving slowly. His head was down, so I concluded that he was out of shape and tired. But when I got fifty yards ahead of him and settled into a pace of about twenty-two miles per hour (the wind was with me), I noticed in my rearview mirror that he was gaining on me, slowly but surely. He must have perked up when I passed. So I waited.  I maintained my pace and kept a close eye on his progress. When he got to within ten yards of me, I saw him stand up. That did it. The son of a bitch was trying to pass me. I stood up, sprinted like a madman for a hundred yards, crouched into a racing position, and shot ahead. Looking back, I noticed that he had come to almost a full stop. The feeling, inexplicably, was that I had killed him. Just when he thought that he would burst past me, that I was easy prey, I destroyed him psychologically. I chuckled to myself at this little game, and felt a bit ashamed of myself for trouncing him; but that’s biking. I’ve had other riders humiliate me in the same way. Perhaps next time he’ll be in better shape.

Human Rights

I hope you’re enjoying my links to First Things, which is a wonderful publication. Here is Joseph Bottum’s essay on human rights. By the way, if you haven’t read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, you should. Here is my favorite provision:

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Does that mean I can surf all day, every day, and demand food, clothing, housing, medical care, and social services? Who would work if there were such a right, except a masochist?

R. M. Hare (1919-2002) on Philosophical Interest

Here, as in so many other places in philosophy, it is very important to distinguish between things which it would be ridiculous, inapposite, inappropriate, or even misleading to say, and things which would be false or incomprehensible or inconsistent. It is only when it would be false or incomprehensible or inconsistent to say something that philosophers should be professionally interested.

(R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963], 58)


Look at these goofballs pretending to perform Squeeze‘s “Annie Get Your Gun.” This is one of my favorite songs of all time. Here is another: “Give My Compliments to the Chef,” by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.


Read this. Why should we care at all about equality of income or wealth? What matters is not how big the gap is between those who have the most and those who have the least, but whether those with the least have enough to provide for their needs. In other words, we should care about welfare, not equality. Note that the reporter did not mention who pays the bulk of taxes in this country. I wonder why he omitted that. Oh wait, I know. It would complicate the progressive storyline of wealthy people bad, poor people good. See here for data about who pays what.

Addendum: I hope I didn’t leave the impression that equality is unimportant. It’s very important, but we must understand it properly. The sort of equality that’s important, in a free society, is equality of opportunity. Progressives want equality of outcomes. To get it, they are willing to sacrifice liberty and other goods.

Addendum 2: Read this. Notice how the interviewee, an economist, conflates equality and welfare. Near the end of the interview, the economist provides an utterly lame and laughable justification for concern with equality. He says, among other things, that inequality is “divisive.” I’m inclined to think that what’s divisive is emphasizing, ad nauseam, the “gap” between rich and poor.


I’m not sure what to make of this video about Hillary Clinton. I’m pretty sure it’s against her rather than for her, but the allusions escape me. Can someone explain it?

Skeptical of Skepticism

Here is an interesting essay by Dr John J. Ray, my polymathic friend Down Under.

Best of the Web Today



I lectured today on the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who is said to have moved his students to tears while lecturing on ethics. I asked my students whether they had ever wept during my lectures. Only one student admitted to doing so. I admire his candor. My goal is to make everyone cry by the end of the semester, even if the tears are tears of boredom. But seriously, as I told the students about Kant’s personal life, which is fascinating, I got to wondering whether the university where he spent his adult life—the University of Königsberg, a.k.a. Albertina University—remains in existence. It does—sort of. The original campus was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II. A successor university, now known as Immanuel Kant State University of Russia, was created in 1948. Here is its website. Here is a photograph of the commemorative bronze tablet that was placed on the wall of the Königsberg castle (click to enlarge):

Roger Scruton translates it as follows: “Two things fill the heart with ever renewed and increasing awe and reverence, the more often and the more steadily we meditate upon them: the starry firmament above and the moral law within.” The words are Kant’s, from Critique of Practical Reason.

Wal-Mart Bashing

This New York Times story takes Wal-Mart bashing to new heights. Let’s begin with some basics. First, nobody has to work for Wal-Mart. If you choose to work for Wal-Mart, you must play by its rules. You have no right, legal or otherwise, to play by your own rules and still be paid. Second, Wal-Mart can do whatever it likes, within the bounds of the law. The editorial board of The New York Times may not like the way the business is run, but that’s too bad. The board members don’t run (or own) the business. Third, does the Times itself run a clean business? Can you say “Jayson Blair”? Just this past week, the Times ran a correction in which it admitted that nearly every salient “fact” about one of its stories—a story that, not coincidentally, made the Bush administration look bad—was wrong. If you want to talk about business ethics, what is the ethical status of putting yourself forward as a disinterested purveyor of truth, when in fact you are an advocate for progressive causes? I’m not talking about the opinion page; I’m talking about the news pages. Reading the Times is like reading a propaganda sheet. This story about Wal-Mart is nothing more (or less) than a hit piece, motivated by hatred or some other vile emotion.

Addendum: The Times reporter calls Wal-Mart “ruthless.” Why? Because Wal-Mart enforces its policies against wayward employees! Well, duh. What would be the point of having a policy if it’s not enforced, and what’s wrong with hiring highly trained people to do the enforcement? So what if their skills were acquired while working for the CIA or FBI? Would the Times refrain from hiring a reporter whose skills had been acquired while working for an intelligence agency? Why does it matter where one’s skills come from? Is the Times implying that these enforcement officers are breaking the law? If so, then it should back up that claim with evidence. Did you notice in the story that one of the Wal-Mart employees who got into trouble with the company had taped conversations between the reporter and Wal-Mart officials? Now the same reporter writes a hit piece. Hmm. How is that not ruthless? How is that not vengeful? The Times itself is more than happy to indulge this reporter’s obsession with retaliation, for the Times has been bashing Wal-Mart for years.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “No Sex, Please, We’re French,” by Stephen Clarke (Op-Ed, March 23):

I am getting so tired of Americans’ Francophobia, especially the tirades in which words like “change” (which the French supposedly fear) are poorly disguised stand-ins for unbounded capitalism.

Seeing the results of such unbounded capitalism in America, I would opt for France’s supposed backwardness any time.

Christine Levecq
East Lansing, Mich., March 23, 2007

Note from KBJ: Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. But seriously, what is stopping this woman from moving to France? She’d be happier; we’d be happier; everyone would be happier!


An elderly priest invited a young priest over for dinner. During the meal, the young priest couldn’t help noticing how attractive and shape­ly the housekeeper was. Over the course of the evening he start­ed to wonder whether there was more between the elderly priest and the housekeeper than met the eye. Reading the young priest’s thoughts, the elderly priest volunteered, “I know what you must be thinking, but I assure you, my relationship with my housekeeper is purely professional.” About a week later, the housekeeper came to the elderly priest and said, “Father, ever since the young Father came to dinner, I’ve been unable to find the beautiful sil­ver gravy ladle. You don’t suppose he took it, do you?” The priest said, “Well, I doubt it, but I’ll write him a letter just to be sure.” So he sat down and wrote: “Dear Father, I’m not saying you ‘did’ take a gravy ladle from my house, and I’m not saying you ‘did not’ take a gravy ladle. But the fact remains that one has been missing ever since you were here for dinner.” Several days later, the elderly priest received a letter from the young priest which read: “Dear Father, I’m not saying you ‘do’ sleep with your house­keeper, and I’m not saying you ‘do not’ sleep with your housekeeper. But the fact re­mains that if you were sleeping in your own bed, you would have found the gravy ladle by now.”

A Year Ago