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.

Best of the Web Today



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