Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Twenty Years Ago

4-3-87 For many years now the maximum legal speed on any highway in this country has been fifty-five miles per hour. But yesterday the [United States] Senate overrode President [Ronald] Reagan’s veto of a highway bill, one part of which permits state legislatures to raise the speed limit to sixty-five miles per hour on rural portions of interstate highways. Here in Arizona, there’s not much doubt that the legislature will increase the speed limit. People in western states have been complaining for many years that the lower speed limit keeps them from getting around quickly without having much of an effect on safety. In the west, it’s possible to drive all day without seeing more than a dozen vehicles. Incidentally, President Reagan favors the higher speed limit; he vetoed the bill because it provides for over eighty million dollars of highway funding. Now we’ve got the funding and the possibility of higher speed limits.

Although I sympathize with those who drive for a living, such as truckers, I oppose raising the speed limit. Before, we had a uniform limit: fifty-five miles per hour. Now the limit will change as one drives from city to city on the interstate system. I’ve also seen studies which show that the lower speed limit saves lives. These are statistical deaths, to be sure, so many people tend to ignore them, but it’s as certain as statistics can be: If we raise the speed limit, more people will die. Finally, the argument that since people have been violating the fifty-five mile per hour speed limit anyway, we ought to raise it in order to make their behavior legal, is poor. People violate the law because they believe (quite reasonably, it seems) that they will not be ticketed. But there are limits. With a speed limit of fifty-five miles per hour, few people drive faster than sixty-five. Now, if the limit increases, we can expect speeds in excess of seventy miles per hour. That’s dangerous. Fortunately for me, I spend little time on interstate highways.

I collected term papers from my nine students this morning. Rather than begin lecturing on [Joel] Feinberg’s Social Philosophy [1973], as I had planned, I put Peter Singer’s famine argument on the board and spent the fifty-minute period discussing it. We’ve spent the entire semester on theoretical normative ethics, so I thought the students might appreciate some practical or applied normative ethics. They did. The discussion was lively. We examined each premise of Singer’s argument and concluded that, good or bad, it raises all manner of interesting issues, such as whether mere spatial or temporal proximity is a morally relevant consideration. I threw in my usual line about Singer having published this article at the age of twenty-five. “That should be a crime,” I chuckled. The students laughed.


I hope this doesn’t ruin your evening. (Thanks to Michelle Malkin for the link.)

Ross Douthat on Stephen King

[T]here’s a sense in which he invented the modern horror novel, doing for the form what Agatha Christie did for the murder mystery: taking a genre that was defined by the short story and pulling it off at novel length—not once or twice, a Dracula here and a Frankenstein there, but over and over again.

(Ross Douthat, “Stephen King’s American Apocalypse,” First Things [February 2007]: 14-9, at 15)


I have good news and bad news from the prognostication front. The good news is that, before the NCAA tournament began, I predicted that Florida would defeat Ohio State in the title game. That’s exactly what happened. You are not worthy. The bad news is that, a few days ago, I made fresh predictions. I said that Georgetown would beat Ohio State (handily) and that UCLA would beat Florida. I was wrong on both counts. I should have stayed with my original predictions.

Addendum: Only one person—JJS—took me up on my offer to make predictions. Here is the tally: KBJ 41, JJS 40. How much did we wager, JJS? Was it $50?

Stalin’s Heirs

This blog post by Dr John J. Ray is worth your time.

Global Warmism

Someone—was it James Taranto?—used the expression “global warmism” the other day. It’s perfect. When you append “ism” to a word, you create a doctrine or ideology, as in “feminism,” “Marxism,” and “libertarianism.” The “ism” signifies that one is in the realm of value rather than fact. (Compare “scientism,” which is the ideology of science.) Read this editorial opinion by The New York Times. I find two aspects of it risible. Here is the penultimate paragraph:

The decision was unnervingly close, and some of the arguments in the dissent, written by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., were cause for concern—especially his comments about the “complexities” of the science of climate change, which is too close for comfort to the administration’s party line.

Does the editorial board believe that the science of climate change is simple, as opposed to complex? Does the board believe that no reasonable person can doubt (1) that climate change is taking place or (2) that, if it is, human beings are responsible for it? That sounds like ideology to me. It’s certainly not science, which demands intellectual modesty. Scientists are to embrace their hypotheses only tentatively. Dogmatism is strictly prohibited.

Here is the ultimate paragraph:

Still, the Supreme Court, for the first time, has said that global warming is a real and present danger. This can only encourage those on Capitol Hill and in the states who are growing increasingly impatient for aggressive action.

This is ludicrous. Since when is the Supreme Court an expert in global warming or any other scientific topic? Suppose the Court had ruled otherwise than as it did. Can you imagine the Times saying that the Court “has said that global warming is not a real and present danger”? The Times would say what I just said, namely, that the Court has no scientific expertise. The justices are expert in law, not science. I realize that this is an editorial opinion rather than a news story, but that doesn’t mean it’s cogently reasoned. In fact, it’s quite sloppy and silly. Sadly, one has come to expect this from the Times.

Addendum: Mark Spahn sent a link to Michael Crichton’s web page. Click “Our Environmental Future” and read it, if you have the time.

Animal Being and Time

Here is a New York Times story about animal cognition.

Best of the Web Today


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Stanley Fish has less faith in the powers of liberal education than those who designed curriculums at American universities during the cold war. In that era, thousands of students were introduced to the thought of Marx through original texts. Perhaps some became Communists, but the overwhelming majority did not.

If one can study Marx without becoming a Marxist, can one not study the Bible without becoming “Judeo-Christian”?

John Connelly
Kensington, Calif., March 31, 2007

Note from KBJ: Does anyone besides me object to “curriculums”? It should be “curricula,” and “stadiums” should be “stadia.” Note that “agenda” is used as a singular noun. It should be “agendum.” Ain’t English grand?


My Honda Accord has a larger gas tank than my Pontiac Grand Am. Today I filled the tank for the first time. It came to $40. That’s serious money. Isn’t there some small Middle Eastern country we can invade for purposes of obtaining its oil?

A Year Ago