Saturday, 21 July 2007

Yankee Watch

The Boston Red Sox won today, while the New York Yankees swept a doubleheader. Boston’s magic number to eliminate New York is down to 59.


Steve Sailer has some thoughts about Barry Bonds, who has 753 home runs (and counting).


Eric Alterman thinks John Edwards is the most electable Democrat. It’s not clear why, although he suggests that general-election voters may be reluctant to vote for a woman (Hillary Clinton) or an African-American (Barack Obama). If Edwards is the most electable Democrat, then Republicans can sleep easily, for he has no chance. Americans are sick to death of the class warfare that he’s waging. They want someone to bring us together, not divide us (snicker, snicker).

They Think; Therefore, They Are

Is it possible to think too much? See here. Bernard Williams once accused utilitarians of having “one thought too many.” It’s often said of athletes that they think too much (for their own good). Don’t progressives, in general, think too much, in the sense of trying to plan, arrange, and order society? Conservatives are much more comfortable with habits, practices, and institutions, which embody the thinking of many generations of individuals. You might say that progressives have faith in reason, while conservatives are leery of reason. How often in human history has some well-reasoned plan made things worse rather than better? It’s an instance of the law of unintended consequences. Progressives think the world is unjust because not enough thinking is going on. If we would only think more, both individually and collectively, we would improve it. Conservatives think the world is unjust because too much thinking (planning, scheming, organizing, theorizing) is going on. If we think more, we’re liable to make it worse.

Primum Non Nocere

A few weeks ago, part of one of my molars broke off as I was eating an energy bar. I was in no pain, but obviously it needed to be repaired. My dentist ground off the top of the tooth and put a ceramic cap on it. Now the tooth hurts when I eat or drink. (Maybe “hurts” is too strong. It’s sensitive.) Have you heard the Latin expression “primum non nocere”? It means (literally) first do no harm. The word “first” might be misunderstood. It has logical rather than temporal significance. The expression is best translated as “Whatever you do, don’t make things worse” or “The most important thing is not to make things worse.” Making things better is important (that’s why the patient came to see you, after all), but it’s of less importance than not making things worse. Note the baseline. It’s the situation as it exists when the patient presents for treatment. The doctor’s job is to elevate you above the baseline and never to cause you to fall below it. My dentist made things worse—and got paid for it.

Addendum: The dictum can be cashed out in terms of principles. It says that the principle of nonmaleficence (not doing harm) is weightier than the principle of beneficence (doing good). This is the position of W. D. Ross, although (1) he speaks of prima facie duties rather than principles and (2) he speaks of stringency rather than weightiness. Ross says that the prima facie duty of nonmaleficence is more stringent than the prima facie duty of beneficence. Note that these are prima facie duties, not ultima facie duties. Ross is not saying that one may never harm others. He is not even saying that one may never harm another in order to benefit someone else. He’s saying that harming others must be justified, i.e., that there is a (strong) presumption against it. It might be permissible to inflict a minor harm on one person in order to produce a major benefit to another. Contemporary moral philosophers refer to the rule against harming others as an agent-centered restriction. Deontologists such as Ross accept, while consequentialists reject, agent-centered restrictions.

Addendum 2: Time to get back to my yard work. I took a break from sawing boards to write this post. (I’m tearing down the wooden fence around my property as preparation for having a new one put in. The sawed boards will keep me warm this winter.)


Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Tour de France, won by Alexander Vinokourov. The Kazakh rider averaged 30.23 miles per hour on the 33.5-mile course. Here is the story. Here is the New York Times report. My pick to win the stage, German Andreas Klöden, finished third, 1:39 behind Vinokourov. To put Vinokourov’s victory in perspective, consider that the rider who finished last (166th), Frenchman Nicolas Jalabert, averaged 25.07 miles per hour. Here is tomorrow’s stage. Let me explain something to those of you who aren’t cyclists. See the mountaintop finish on the course profile? If there were a descent to the finish, as there often is, riders who got dropped on the final climb could catch up. When the stage finishes at the top of a mountain, as it will tomorrow and Wednesday, only the very best riders have a chance to win. This is where Lance Armstrong crushed his rivals. He overpowered them on the final climb. I predict that Alberto Contador, a rising star on the Discovery Channel team, will win the stage.

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

Sidney Hook (1902-1989) on the Profession of Philosophy

It is true that John Dewey as a citizen was a great social reformer. And it is true that he believed that the central and continuing concern of philosophy involved problems of moral choice and policy on which all reflective human beings must act. But this does not entail the view that philosophy is social-reformist or revolutionary or counterrevolutionary. And still less does it justify any demand that philosophers, organized as a professional association to further the interests of philosophic study and the teaching of philosophy, take stands on specific political issues or programs except those that bear on their freedom to pursue their professional activity.

(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 76 [italics in original] [essay first published in 1970])

Note from KBJ: See here (final item on the page), here, and here (in that order).


There are many good reasons to oppose Rudy Giuliani. That he swears is not one of them. If anything, it counts in favor of a candidate that he or she swears—as long as it’s at the right things. Rudy should be swearing at illegal immigrants.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

In “A Battle Between the Bottle and the Faucet” (Week in Review, July 15), you tapped into the growing skepticism over the bottled water industry. But while the article rightly addressed the environmental and consumer implications of Big Water, it did not ask: Should corporations be bottling and selling our drinking water in the first place?

The more the public accepts bottled water, the more it accepts that corporations, not local governments, should provide people with a shared common resource like water.

Bottled water has already turned tap water into a commodity, and corporations are stepping up their efforts to privatize public water systems. Water is precious and sustains all life on earth. It should be a fundamental human right, not a money machine for corporations that are unaccountable to the public.

Consumers should take control back from corporations. Turn down bottled water, and turn on the tap.

Gigi Kellett
Boston, July 17, 2007
The writer is campaigns director, “Think Outside the Bottle,” Corporate Accountability International.

Note from KBJ: Why not let people choose?

From the Mailbag


Here is an interesting way to interactively present information. It takes a while to load, but when it is finished, you can see information about the 30 richest Americans ever, inflation-adjusted for their historical period. I had never heard of #4, who was born in 1750.

Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

Note from KBJ: All but two of the men on the list are dead, and the two who are alive (Bill Gates and Warren Buffett) will die eventually. Death is the great leveler.