Tuesday, 31 July 2007


I leave you this fine evening with a review essay by Russell Baker. Note that I said “fine evening” and not “fine review essay.” Baker’s diagnosis of journalism’s ailment is laughable. He thinks journalism is in a bad way because journalists are not hard enough on the powers that be. Ha! It’s in a bad way because journalists, at about the time of Watergate, stopped informing and started directing. It took a while, but ordinary people finally caught on. Remember Keith’s Law: Authoritativeness is inversely proportional to partisanship. The good news for journalism is that all is not lost. If journalists reverse course and start informing rather than directing, they’ll regain their authority. What do I mean by “informing” and “directing”? I mean using language to tell people how things are rather than how they should be. I mean getting their words to match the world rather than getting the world to match their words. I mean being disinterested rather than interested. I mean not interjecting opinions in news stories. I mean being forthright rather than manipulative. I mean being a reporter and not an advocate. I mean being an observer and not a participant.

Sidney Hook (1902-1989) on Philosophy and Public Policy

This first answer was unnecessarily strong. For there is a second and less controversial answer that justifies concern with issues of public policy not as the philosopher’s task but as one of them. It makes problems of social and public policy a legitimate field of interest among others. This is a relatively humble view. It does not impose a duty or obligation on all philosophers to busy themselves with questions of this sort, but defends their right to do so against certain methodological purists, and against those whose conception of the subject matter of philosophical inquiry would exclude questions of public policy as improper themes of professional exploration and inquiry. Such purism is simply a form of intolerance, which would outlaw from the scope and sphere of philosophy important contributions to the discussion of human affairs by thinkers as disparate as Plato, Hegel, and John Stuart Mill. Such taboos are captious and arbitrary. But just as captious and arbitrary are those who would impose on all philosophers the necessity of taking a position as philosophers on those questions which as citizens they cannot escape. Questions of public policy should be the primary concern of those philosophers only who have a strong bent and special capacity for them.

(Sidney Hook, “Philosophy and Public Policy,” chap. 3 in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, ed. Charles J. Bontempo and S. Jack Odell [New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975], 73-87, at 81 [italics in original] [essay first published in 1970])


The Boston Red Sox have acquired relief pitcher Eric Gagné from the Texas Rangers. See here. Boston now has the best bullpen in baseball, with the dominating Gagné joining the unhittable Jonathan Papelbon. Fans of the New York Yankees are crying in their beer. It’s over, Yankee fans. The best thing to do is admit it.

Addendum: Here is a Wall Street Journal column about metal bats, which should be used only in softball.

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Should President Bush and Vice President Cheney be impeached? Ernest Partridge says yes. I’m inclined to impeach them for supporting the immigration bill.

Sexual Psychology

Here is a New York Times story about people’s reasons for having sex.

Academic Ideology

Dr John J. Ray applies his critical skills to a “study” that purports to debunk the “myth” of liberal hegemony in academia. Good work, John!

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “G.O.P. Leaders Fight Expansion of Children’s Health Insurance” (news article, July 25):

Expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program seems like a no-brainer.

It succeeds at getting health care to children who otherwise would not have it. It is a good investment, too, because taking care of children now pays dividends when they are adults. So at a time when the administration can point to few successes, why not grow it and make a big deal of the accomplishments?

If Republicans would pay more attention to facts and less to ideology, they might do themselves—and us—some good for a change.

Stephen M. Davidson
Boston, July 26, 2007
The writer is a professor of health care management at Boston U.

Note from KBJ: (1) Here is the letter writer’s logic: Doing X would benefit others; therefore, we should do X. The question is not whether expanding CHIP does good (all would agree that it does) but whether it is worth the cost. Perhaps more good could be done by spending the money elsewhere. Perhaps it’s unjust to take money from some and give it to others. Perhaps expanding CHIP is the first step on a slippery slope to socialized medicine. (2) The writer implies that only Republicans are in the grip of ideology. Why would only one side of a debate be in the grip of ideology? (3) Facts don’t dictate actions. Just knowing the facts of a situation doesn’t tell you what to do. You need a norm or a value, conjoined with the facts, to tell you what to do. So the letter writer is being deceptive. He is trying to make it seem as though his position is fact-based, while that of his opponents is ideological. In fact, both positions are ideological.

A Year Ago


From the Mailbag


My name is Chad and I am working with the easy-to-understand explanations web site HowStuffWorks.com. The site recently posted a section called “How Dog Fighting Works” in response to the Michael Vick court case. “How Dog Fighting Works” is a look into the illegal sport of dog fighting and gives readers information on the issues and its effects. Also readers can find other information on the history of the sport, dog fighting laws, and links to other articles about dogs and pet care. You can find the article here. I think it would be great if you could link this website on your blog so that your readers can get more information on this topic.

Chad Davis

Monday, 30 July 2007


I leave you this fine evening with a column by Mark Bauerlein.

W. D. Ross (1877-1971) on Animal Rights

A general discussion of right or duty would hardly be com­plete without some discussion, even if only a brief one, of the closely related subject of rights. It is commonly said that rights and duties are correlative, and it is worth while to inquire whether and, if at all, in what sense this is true. The statement may stand for any one, or any combination, of the following logically independent statements:

(1) A right of A against B implies a duty of B to A.
(2) A duty of B to A implies a right of A against B.
(3) A right of A against B implies a duty of A to B.
(4) A duty of A to B implies a right of A against B.

What is asserted in (1) is that A‘s having a right to have a certain individual act done to him by B implies a duty for B to do that act to A; (2) asserts the converse implication; what is meant by (3) is that A‘s having a right to have a certain act done to him by B implies a duty for A to do another act to B, which act may be either a similar act (as where the right of having the truth told to one implies the duty of telling the truth) or a different sort of act (as where the right to obedience implies the duty of governing well); (4) asserts the converse implication.

Of these four propositions the first appears to be unquestion­ably true; a right in one being against another is a right to treat or be treated by that other in a certain way, and this plainly implies a duty for the other to behave in a certain way. But there is a certain consideration which throws doubt on the other three propositions. This arises from the fact that we have duties to animals and to infants. The latter case is complicated by the fact that infants, while they are not (so we commonly believe) actual moral agents, are potential moral agents, so that the duty of parents, for instance, to support them may be said to be counterbalanced by a duty which is not incumbent on the infants at the time but will be incumbent on them later, to obey and care for their parents. We had better therefore take the less complicated case of animals, which we commonly suppose not to be even potential moral agents.

It may of course be denied that we have duties to animals. The view held by some writers is that we have duties concerning animals but not to them, the theory being that we have a duty to behave humanely to our fellow men, and that we should behave humanely to animals simply for fear of creating a disposition in ourselves which will make us tend to be cruel to our fellow men. Professor D. G. Ritchie, for instance, implies that we have not a duty to animals except in a sense like that in which the owner of an historic house may be said to have a duty to the house. Now the latter sense is, I suppose, purely metaphorical. We may in a fanciful mood think of a noble house as if it were a conscious being having feelings which we are bound to respect. But we do not really think that it has them. I suppose that the duty of the owner of an historic house is essentially a duty to his contemporaries and to posterity; and he may also think it is a duty to his ancestors. On the other hand, if we think we ought to behave in a certain way to animals, it is out of consideration primarily for their feelings that we think we ought to behave so; we do not think of them merely as a practising-ground for virtue. It is because we think their pain a bad thing that we think we should not gratuitously cause it. And I suppose that to say we have a duty to so-and-so is the same thing as to say that we have a duty, grounded on facts relating to them, to behave in a certain way towards them.

Now if we have a duty to animals, and they have not a duty to us (which seems clear, since they are not moral agents), the first and last of our four propositions cannot both be true, since (4) implies that a duty of men to animals involves a right of men against animals, and (1) implies that this involves a duty of animals to men, and therefore (4) and (1) together imply that a duty of men to animals involves a duty of animals to men. And since the first proposition is clearly true, the fourth must be false; it cannot be true that a duty of A to B necessarily involves a right of A against B. Similarly, the second and third propositions cannot both be true; for (2) and (3) taken together imply that a duty of men to animals involves a duty of animals to men. But here it is not so clear which of the two propositions is true; for it is not clear whether we should say that though we have a duty to animals they have no right against us, or that though they have a right against us they have no duty to us. If we take the first view, we are implying that in order to have rights, just as much as in order to have duties, it is necessary to be a moral agent. If we take the second view, we are implying that while only moral agents have duties, the possession of a nature capable of feeling pleasure and pain is all that is needed in order to have rights. It is not at all clear which is the true view. On the whole, since we mean by a right something that can be justly claimed, we should probably say that animals have not rights, not because the claim to humane treatment would not be just if it were made, but because they cannot make it. But the doubt which we here find about the application of the term ‘rights’ is characteristic of the term. There are other ways too in which its application is doubtful. Even if we hold that it is our duty not merely to do what is just to others but to promote their welfare beyond what justice requires, it is not at all clear that we should say they have a right to beneficent treatment over and above what is just. We have a tendency to think that not every duty incumbent on one person involves a right in another.

(W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good [1930; repr., Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1988], 48-50 [italics in original; footnote omitted])


Do you see the emerging pattern? Barack Obama is being treated with kid gloves by the mainstream media. Here is the latest example. Do you recall puff pieces like this about George W. Bush when he was seeking the Republican nomination for president in 1999? What you had were reporters digging up dirt on him, trying to discredit his candidacy. Why do you suppose the media are going easy on Obama? I think it’s more than ideological compatibility. I think it’s racism. Racism means deploying a double standard, one for one race and another for others. We’re used to thinking of racism as treating people worse than they deserve on account of their race, but it’s also racist to treat people better than they deserve on account of their race. We know that progressives think it’s impossible to criticize affirmative-action programs without being a racist. This keeps them from criticizing black people such as Obama. If they do, they’ll be accused by their fellow progressives of racism. Was it George W. Bush who coined the term “soft bigotry of low expectations”? That’s what’s happening right now with the mainstream media in their coverage of Obama. If they truly respected the man, they’d treat him the same way they treat white presidential candidates.


My Bose Wave Music System just arrived. See here. It took all of two minutes to open the box and get it playing. I chose Ronnie Montrose’s Territory (1986) to inaugurate it. The sound quality is excellent. The notes are clear and crisp; it’s plenty loud; and the bass is full. I’m glad I bought it.

Addendum: Pay no attention to the review of Territory. It’s laughable. The album is superb, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with the production. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time—which is why I chose it as the first album to play on the Bose.

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