Thursday, 19 July 2007

Yankee Watch

Both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees lost today. Boston’s magic number to eliminate New York is down to 62.


According to this New York Times story, Hillary Clinton’s main problem, as far as being elected president is concerned, is that people don’t trust her. She strikes many people as insincere and phony. (I can’t resist pointing out that her husband—Slick Willie—suffered from the same problem. Is phoniness contagious? Do phonies attract?) What would you advise her to say or do to get people to trust her? It’s said that trust has to be earned. How can she earn it? Is there enough time for her to earn it?


Paul Krugman won’t like this. Please don’t say that President Bush is not responsible for the Dow’s performance. Since when has Krugman cared about such niceties? If something in the economy is bad, it’s President Bush’s fault. Well, then, if something goes well, he gets credit for it. You can’t have it both ways.

Addendum: Suppose the Dow were at an all-time low. Do you think for a moment that Krugman wouldn’t be blaming President Bush for it?


Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Tour de France, won by Robert Hunter. The South African rider averaged 29.86 miles per hour on the 113.4-mile course. Here is the story. Here is the New York Times report. Here is tomorrow’s stage.

Addendum: Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Tour of Qinghai Lake (in China).

W. D. Ross (1877-1971) on Moral Conservatism

In what has preceded, a good deal of use has been made of ‘what we really think’ about moral questions; a certain theory has been rejected because it does not agree with what we really think. It might be said that this is in principle wrong; that we should not be content to expound what our present moral consciousness tells us but should aim at a criticism of our existing moral consciousness in the light of theory. Now I do not doubt that the moral consciousness of men has in detail undergone a good deal of modification as regards the things we think right, at the hands of moral theory. But if we are told, for instance, that we should give up our view that there is a special obligatoriness attaching to the keeping of promises because it is self-evident that the only duty is to produce as much good as possible, we have to ask ourselves whether we really, when we reflect, are convinced that this is self-evident, and whether we really can get rid of our view that promise-keeping has a bindingness independent of productiveness of maximum good. In my own experience I find that I cannot, in spite of a very genuine attempt to do so; and I venture to think that most people will find the same, and that just because they cannot lose the sense of special obligation, they cannot accept as self-evident, or even as true, the theory which would require them to do so. In fact it seems, on reflection, self-evident that a promise, simply as such, is something that prima facie ought to be kept, and it does not, on reflection, seem self-evident that production of maximum good is the only thing that makes an act obligatory. And to ask us to give up at the bidding of a theory our actual apprehension of what is right and what is wrong seems like asking people to repudiate their actual experience of beauty, at the bidding of a theory which says ‘only that which satisfies such and such conditions can be beautiful’. If what I have called our actual apprehension is (as I would maintain that it is) truly an apprehension, i.e. an instance of knowledge, the request is nothing less than absurd.

I would maintain, in fact, that what we are apt to describe as ‘what we think’ about moral questions contains a considerable amount that we do not think but know, and that this forms the standard by reference to which the truth of any moral theory has to be tested, instead of having itself to be tested by reference to any theory. I hope that I have in what precedes indicated what in my view these elements of knowledge are that are involved in our ordinary moral consciousness.

It would be a mistake to found a natural science on ‘what we really think’, i.e. on what reasonably thoughtful and well-educated people think about the subjects of the science before they have studied them scientifically. For such opinions are interpretations, and often misinterpretations, of sense-experience; and the man of science must appeal from these to sense-experience itself, which furnishes his real data. In ethics no such appeal is possible. We have no more direct way of access to the facts about rightness and goodness and about what things are right or good, than by thinking about them; the moral convictions of thoughtful and well-educated people are the data of ethics just as sense-perceptions are the data of a natural science. Just as some of the latter have to be rejected as illusory, so have some of the former; but as the latter are rejected only when they are in conflict with other more accurate sense-perceptions, the former are rejected only when they are in conflict with other convictions which stand better the test of reflection. The existing body of moral convictions of the best people is the cumulative product of the moral reflection of many generations, which has developed an extremely delicate power of appreciation of moral distinctions; and this the theorist cannot afford to treat with anything other than the greatest respect. The verdicts of the moral consciousness of the best people are the foundation on which he must build; though he must first compare them with one another and eliminate any contradictions they may contain.

(W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good [1930; repr., Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1988], 39-41 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: It may surprise you that there are progressives and conservatives in normative ethical theory as well as in normative political theory. Suppose a normative ethical theory produces results that go against the common moral consciousness. One must choose between (1) the theory (thus abandoning the judgment) and (2) the judgment (thus abandoning the theory). Progressives assign less weight than conservatives to the common moral consciousness. (At the limit, they assign no weight at all to it.) To a progressive, the aim of normative ethical theory is to revise (and improve) our moral judgments. To a conservative, it is to support (and systematize) our moral judgments. The distinction between progressive and conservative cuts across the distinction between consequentialist and deontologist. There are progressive consequentialists (such as Jeremy Bentham, J. J. C. Smart, and Peter Singer); there are progressive deontologists (such as John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin); there are conservative consequentialists (such as David Hume and Henry Sidgwick); and there are conservative deontologists (such as H. A. Prichard and W. D. Ross). For what it’s worth, I’m a conservative deontologist. I don’t mean “conservative” in the political sense, although I’m conservative in that sense, too. I mean conservative in the moral sense. My next graduate course will be a study of Sidgwick, Ross, Smart, and Rawls.

Note 2 from KBJ: I wish some enterprising reader with graphics proficiency would make a diagram for me (preferably as a JPEG file). It would be a two-by-two box diagram entitled “Normative Ethical Theorists.” Across the top, it would read “Progressive” and “Conservative.” Down the left side, it would read “Consequentialist” and “Deontologist.” The names of the philosophers who exemplify each category (see above) would appear in the appropriate boxes. If someone does this for me, I’ll post it here. Thanks in advance.

Note 3 from KBJ: It might be thought that I have nothing in common with progressive consequentialists, since I’m a conservative deontologist. Not so. I share Smart’s noncognitivism and atheism. I share Singer’s concern for nonhuman animals. No two people agree or disagree about everything.

Best of the Web Today


All Fred, All the Time

Here is a New York Times story about the Republican presidential candidates. (I include Fred Thompson in that category, even though he hasn’t announced his candidacy.) I have a question for those of you who follow politics. What will progressives do if a Republican is elected president in 2008? We saw what happened in 2000, when George W. Bush narrowly defeated Al Gore. Progressives still haven’t gotten over it. Then, in 2004, they had their hopes dashed again. Twice in four years they had their asses kicked by a man they consider stupid, immoral, and illiterate. If a Republican wins in 2008, will they resort to violence? Will states such as Vermont secede from the union? Will there be a rash of suicides? Will there be an exodus to Canada? I’m serious. A Republican victory in 2008 would create the possibility of 16 consecutive years of impotence for progressives. That’s a lot of powerlessness for those for whom power is everything.


I know this will sound dogmatic, and maybe it is dogmatic, but it’s true, just, and beautiful all the same. Each person gets one baseball team. Not two, not three, not more than three. You will have noticed that I use the expressions “my beloved Detroit Tigers” and “my adopted Texas Rangers.” The Tigers are my team. I was born in Michigan. I like the Rangers simply because they’re near me and I get to watch and read about them every day. I have a friend who was born in Arkansas. He has liked the Kansas City Royals, the Oakland Athletics, the St Louis Cardinals, the New York Yankees, the Texas Rangers, and now, I discover, the Chicago Cubs. He’s all over the map. He has no sense of loyalty. You don’t pick your team; you’re stuck with the team nearest to where you’re born. You live and die with it; you defend it to the death; you learn to hate the teams that go hard on it. In this friend’s case, he’s stuck with either the Royals or the Cardinals. Baseball teams are like parents: you’re stuck with what you get.

Addendum: Not to gloat, but my beloved Detroit Tigers completed a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins today—in Minnesota. The scores were 1-0, 3-2, and 4-3. This redeems the Tigers for the ignominious loss of the Central Division title in 2006. Oh, hell. Who am I kidding? I’m gloating.

Dog Fighting

Is there anything creepier than dog fighting? How could someone support, much less organize, such a vile practice? Dogs evolved with humans. They are our trusted friends and companions. To train them to fight one another, and then to kill the losers of these fights, is barbaric beyond words. Michael Vick should be punished to the full extent of the law if he is convicted of the charges filed against him. I also hope that the National Football League banishes him. I’m tempted to say that the man is sick, but that would exculpate him. He’s vicious.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

The Politics of Fear” (editorial, July 18) exposes the way the Bush administration has used fear of terrorism to justify its continued war in Iraq. But the administration has been using the politics of fear since 9/11 to justify all manner of actions that have eroded our freedoms and rights.

The attacks of 9/11 were dramatic and tragic, but they were not part of a war that the perpetrators can actually win. The Bush administration has used the fear that somehow the terrorists will defeat our nation and way of life to justify its own actions that may indeed threaten our democracy.

It is safe to say that the American nation will survive a few thousand fanatics with primitive ideologies and methods, and we should scale our responses to a level appropriate to the real threat and stop doing more damage to ourselves than is being done to us.

Donald Zeigler
Pleasanton, Calif., July 18, 2007

Note from KBJ: There are two possible mistakes, not just one. The first is not fearing what one has reason to fear. The second is fearing what one has no reason to fear. To paraphrase David Hume (1711-1776), a wise person proportions his or her fear to the evidence. President Bush, who has privileged access to information, believes that the terrorist threat is real, and that Americans have reason to be afraid. He would be derelict in his presidential duties if he did not induce the proper degree of fear in us. The letter writer obviously believes that President Bush has overdone it. Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? In other words, isn’t the first mistake worse than the second? (Compare criminal justice. The two possible mistakes are punishing the innocent and not punishing the guilty. The first mistake is worse than the second.)

From the Mailbag

Dear Keith

I hope I speak for a number of other readers who share your passion for and interest in bicycles and cycling in general when I ask you to provide some information about your current ride. What kind of bike do you have? What made you choose that one? Do you do your own repairs?

Thanks, T. Kehler
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Note from KBJ: Thanks for writing, T. I have a six-year-old Douglas titanium bike, which I purchased from Colorado Cyclist. I bought it there because it was the cheapest titanium bike I could find. (I wanted titanium.) Although it cost over $2,000, it’s a piece of crap. From the very beginning, the brake levers rattled. Then, in the space of two rides, I broke several spokes on one of the wheels. I complained, naturally, and Colorado Cyclist sent me (by overnight mail) Shimano Dura-Ace levers (an upgrade from Ultegra) and Mavic wheels. The brake levers still rattle. They have never not rattled. I’ve simply gotten used to it. Repairs? What’s that? I’ve done no maintenance on the bike; nor has anyone else. It shifts by itself several times during a typical rally. This past Saturday, the chain came off twice, both times causing me to get dropped from the pack I was in. Both wheels need to be trued. The bike is filthy. I hope this answer doesn’t disappoint you.

Note 2 from KBJ: Do they have bikes in Canada? I didn’t know you could ride a bike on snow.