Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Academic Freedom

James Drake brought the following case to my attention. I don’t know the facts, so do your own investigation before forming a belief. Remember Hume’s dictum (from “Of Miracles”): “A wise man . . . proportions his belief to the evidence.”

Elvis Presley

I’m not gettin’ this Elvis thing. Somebody explain it to me. By the way, I’ll never forget where I was when I heard that Elvis died. I worked for two summers in a small factory (Huron Metal Products) in North Branch, Michigan, while I was in college. It was mind-numbing work in stifling heat. I hated every minute of it, but needed the money. One day, someone announced that Elvis had died. The place was positively funereal the rest of the day and for several days afterward. It was like a king had died.


Although I was born and reared in Michigan and attended the University of Michigan-Flint, I have never had the slightest affection for any of the University of Michigan sports teams. I bleed Arizona Wildcat red. Tonight, the Wildcat softball team won its second consecutive national title (and eighth overall), defeating the Tennessee Volunteers, 5-0. The Cats lost the first game of the three-game series (3-0), but won yesterday (1-0) and today. Taryne Mowatt pitched every inning of the Wildcats’ postseason games, throwing over 1,000 pitches. She is tough as nails—and beautiful to boot. Congratulations to both the Wildcats and the Volunteers. I enjoyed watching them play.

The Clash of Civilizations

Will the next generation of Americans be able and willing to defend itself (and the rest of us) from Jihadists? Not if current trends continue. See here.

Best of the Web Today


Addendum: Does anyone find it interesting that on the biggest issue of the day—immigration—James Taranto is silent? Why is this? I think it’s because he doesn’t want to antagonize his bosses at The Wall Street Journal. The bosses want unrestricted immigration. See here. Summon a little courage, James.

Addendum 2: I hope nobody thinks it’s unfair of me to say that The Wall Street Journal wants unrestricted immigration. What term does the editorial board use to refer to its opponents? That’s right: “restrictionists.” The opponents want to restrict (i.e., control) immigration; the board does not. And while we’re on the topic of terminology, I often see the term “open borders,” as in “open-borders crowd.” An open border is no border at all. Yes, Virginia, there are people who don’t want national borders, i.e., nations. They’re called cosmopolitans. They think carving the world up into nations is bad, and that we should all forget (or renounce) our national identity.

H. A. Prichard (1871-1947) on Moral Philosophy

[S]uppose we come genuinely to doubt whether, e.g., 7 x 4 = 28 owing to a genuine doubt whether we were right in believing yesterday that 7 x 4 = 28, a doubt which can in fact only arise if we have lost our hold of, i.e. no longer remember, the real nature of our consciousness of yesterday, and so think of it as consisting in believing. Plainly, the only remedy is to do the sum again. Or, to put the matter generally, if we do come to doubt whether it is true that A is B, as we once thought, the remedy lies not in any process of reflexion but in such a reconsideration of the nature of A and B as leads to the knowledge that A is B.

With these considerations in mind, consider the parallel which, as it seems to me, is presented—though with certain differences—by Moral Philosophy. The sense that we ought to do certain things arises in our unreflective consciousness, being an activity of moral thinking occasioned by the various situations in which we find ourselves. At this stage our attitude to these obligations is one of unquestioning confidence. But inevitably the appreciation of the degree to which the execution of these obligations is contrary to our interest raises the doubt whether after all these obligations are really obligatory, i.e., whether our sense that we ought not to do certain things is not illusion. We then want to have it proved to us that we ought to do so, i.e., to be convinced of this by a process which, as an argument, is different in kind from our original and unreflective appreciation of it. This demand is, as I have argued, illegitimate.

Hence in the first place, if, as is almost universally the case, by Moral Philosophy is meant the knowledge which would satisfy this demand, there is no such knowledge, and all attempts to attain it are doomed to failure because they rest on a mistake, the mistake of supposing the possibility of proving what can only be apprehended directly by an act of moral thinking. Nevertheless the demand, though illegitimate, is inevitable until we have carried the process of reflexion far enough to realise the self-evidence of our obligations, i.e., the immediacy of our apprehension of them. This realisation of their self-evidence is positive knowledge, and so far, and so far only, as the term Moral Philosophy is confined to this knowledge and to the knowledge of the parallel immediacy of the apprehension of the goodness of the various virtues and of good dispositions generally, is there such a thing as Moral Philosophy. But since this knowledge may allay doubts which often affect the whole conduct of life, it is, though not extensive, important and even vitally important.

In the second place, suppose we come genuinely to doubt whether we ought, for example, to pay our debts owing to a genuine doubt whether our previous conviction that we ought to do so is true, a doubt which can, in fact, only arise if we fail to remember the real nature of what we now call our past conviction. The only remedy lies in actual [sic] getting into a situation which occasions the obligation, or—if our imagination be strong enough—in imagining ourselves in that situation, and then letting our moral capacities of thinking do their work. Or, to put the matter generally, if we do doubt whether there is really an obligation to originate A in a situation B, the remedy lies not in any process of general thinking, but in getting face to face with a particular instance of the situation B, and then directly appreciating the obligation to originate A in that situation.

(H. A. Prichard, “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” Mind, n.s., 21 [January 1912]: 21-37, at 35-7 [italics in original])


Not to belittle the tragedy, but this is a classic example of irony. The example I always give is of a nonsmoker being run over and killed by a cigarette truck. Give me some other examples of irony, real or hypothetical.


Jonah Goldberg strikes just the right note in this column, which was brought to my attention by Will Nehs. It’s sad that President Bush resorts to name-calling when he’s met with opposition to his policies. Conservatives are used to this, of course. When they oppose affirmative-action programs, it can only be because they’re racist. When they oppose permissive abortion policies, it can only be because they’re sexist. When they support war, it can only be because they’re warmongers or imperialists. When they insist that religious organizations be eligible for federal programs on the same terms as nonreligious organizations, it can only be because they’re theocrats. When they support tax cuts or oppose tax increases, it can only be because they’re greedy. When they stress the importance of law and order, it can only be because they’re fascists or authoritarians. When they insist that criticisms of Darwinian natural selection be addressed in high-school biology courses, it can only be because they’re anti-science. When they oppose redefining “marriage,” it can only be because they’re homophobic. When they oppose amnesty for illegal aliens, it can only be because they’re xenophobic. Sometimes I think cynicism has replaced argumentation as the progressive’s modus operandi. Instead of finding fault with the beliefs or reasoning of one’s opponent, one questions the opponent’s motives.

Hall of Fame?

Eddie Murray. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

A Year Ago



Suppose you had two children who play tennis at a high level. One of them has a chance to earn a college scholarship by winning an important match. Unfortunately, the match is against the other one. Do you root for one of them? Would it be a betrayal of the other to do so? I don’t think it would. You love your children equally and want each of them to do well, but, given the circumstances, it’s more important for the college-bound child to win the match than it is for the noncollege-bound child to win. You console yourself with the thought that if the roles were reversed, you’d root for the other child to win. In other words, it’s nothing personal.

I experienced this situation yesterday when I went to the Ballpark in Arlington with my friend Wendell Hawkins and his son Brett. My beloved Detroit Tigers are in town to play my adopted Texas Rangers. The Tigers went to the World Series a year ago and have a good chance of returning. They’re in second place, not far behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians. The Rangers are mired in last place with the worst record in baseball. It was a no-brainer. I rooted for the Tigers. It’s more important for them to win than it is for the Rangers to win, given the circumstances.

Alas, the Rangers won, 7-4. They scored six runs in the first inning, four of them on a grand slam by Victor Diaz. The Tigers fought back to within 6-4, but then petered out. The weather was gorgeous. As usual, we sat at the very top of the stadium, directly behind home plate. Although the high temperature for the day was 93º Fahrenheit, it was never uncomfortably hot, and once the sun went down, we had a glorious breeze in our faces. Hawk did best in the prediction competition (I thought Detroit would win, 12-2), while Brett won the all-important dot race. I lied to Brett, telling him that I have never not won the dot race. In case you’re wondering what this is, there’s an animated “race” on the scoreboard between three colored dots. They go around in a circle three times, with one of them crossing the finish line first. The crowd loves it. There’s a new twist this year. The first two laps were on the screen. When the dots reached the finish line for the second time, three human beings dressed up like dots emerged from the outfield fence on the third-base side. They ran toward home plate, bumping into each other along the way. It was hilarious. I think the Rangers stole the idea from the Milwaukee Brewers, who have bratwurst races.

Addendum: The story to which I linked says the final score was 6-4. That’s incorrect. It was 7-4.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Our Green Bubble,” by Thomas L. Friedman (column, June 3):

Mr. Friedman is correct in his advocacy of a gasoline tax to provide incentive for conservation and alternative fuels development. But the regressive nature of such a tax, which might cost an average driver $500 to $1,000 a year, would place an additional burden on lower-income individuals, and it would hardly slow down higher-income individuals in pursuit of high-power automobiles.

A solution for low- to middle-income individuals might be to let the gas tax offset another regressive assessment, like Social Security, basically having the government pay, say, the first $600 of Social Security assessment for lower-income taxpayers out of the revenue generated by the gasoline tax.

This would make the tax essentially revenue-neutral for lower-income people, but it would give them the incentive for added savings through conservation (car pooling, public transportation and so on).

The financial incentives to go green for upper-income individuals will have to be greater than the return on investment generated by a gas tax. This might mean adding a fairly stiff gas-guzzler tax, assessed yearly on new autos bought after the legislation is enacted that get less than, say, 35 miles per gallon.

James W. Pretz
Cincinnati, June 5, 2007
The writer is chief executive of a consulting engineering firm.

Note from KBJ: The purpose of the proposed increase in the gas tax is to discourage consumption by increasing cost. If we turn around and give “lower-income people” money to make up for the increased gas tax they pay, how are we discouraging them from driving? Am I missing something?


It’s funny, but I don’t remember the editorial board of The New York Times being this hard on another perjurer and obstructor of justice: Bill Clinton.


Yesterday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram carried a story about Bill France Jr, the longtime president of NASCAR who died the other day. The columnist wrote:

He was, of course, NASCAR’s Benevolent Dictator—a contradiction in terms that neatly fits the entire NASCAR/International Speedway Corp. “business model.”

Contradiction in terms? The columnist must think that dictators are necessarily malevolent, or at least nonbenevolent. Many—perhaps most—dictators are malevolent, but that’s an accident. The word “dictator,” like “diction,” “dictionary,” “dictate,” and “predict,” comes from the Latin word for say or speak. A dictator is a ruler whose word is law (so to speak). But whether he or she rules benevolently or malevolently is a separate question.

Addendum: Here is the American Heritage definition of “dictator.” Note that the second entry defines the term as “tyrant” or “despot.” A tyrant or despot is a malevolent dictator. It’s a shame that some people use “dictator” to refer to that subset of dictators who rule malevolently. We’re in danger of losing a perfectly good term.