Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Twenty Years Ago

9-18-87 One of the Democratic presidential candidates is Joseph Biden, a United States Senator from Delaware. He’s currently chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is grilling Robert Bork this week. Biden is an outspoken opponent of Bork and will undoubtedly vote against his confirmation. But Biden is in political trouble. It was disclosed the other day that he used large passages of speeches of other politicians, including Robert Kennedy and Briton Neil Kinnock. Also, we learned that Biden was nearly thrown out of law school (at Syracuse University) for plagiarism. He was permitted to stay in school and finished seventy-fifth in a class of eighty-six. I have no doubt that one of Biden’s opponents uncovered these items, but that’s irrelevant. The fact is, he’s been making speeches with other people’s ideas and words. Ironically, Biden has long been known as an orator and as an original thinker, when in reality he’s a two-bit plagiarizer. In my humble opinion, this is his death knell as a presidential candidate. He may spend a long career in the Senate, but that’s as high as he will (or should) get. [Biden—whom many consider a blowhard—is still in the Senate. As in 1987, he’s running for president.]

All Fred, All the Time

James Carney explains why Robert Novak and George Will don’t like Fred Thompson. If I were Novak or Will, I’d be careful, because Fred Thompson can easily kill them by frowning in the general direction of their newspaper columns.

“The Cognitive Philosopher of Our Generation”

Here is a review of Steven Pinker‘s latest book. (Thanks to Bob Hessen for the link.)


Are you concerned about speech codes on campus? If so, you may want to support this organization. Philosophers John Searle and Christina Hoff Sommers are members of the Board of Advisors.

Health Care

Karl Rove thinks health care is a winning issue for Republicans. So do I.

Addendum: Neal Boortz tells you what to expect from Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan.

Best of the Web Today



Here is a New York Times story about how scientists view morality. Scientists view morality differently from the way ordinary people and philosophers view it. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as we remember the following: Everything that exists, including human institutions such as law, morality, religion, commerce, medicine, etiquette, and art—even science itself—has a naturalistic explanation. Unless you are prepared to say that all of these institutions are thereby discredited, you should not say that any one of them (such as religion) is. We might call this “Dennett‘s Mistake.”

John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Paragraph 3

In this period of my father’s life there are two things which it is impossible not to be struck with: one of them unfortunately a very common circumstance, the other a most uncommon one. The first is, that in his position, with no resource but the precarious one of writing in periodicals, he married and had a large family; conduct than which nothing could be more opposed, both as a matter of good sense and of duty, to the opinions which, at least at a later period of life, he strenuously upheld. The other circumstance is the extraordinary energy which was required to lead the life he led, with the disadvantages under which he laboured from the first, and with those which he brought upon himself by his marriage. It would have been no small thing, had he done no more than to support himself and his family during so many years by writing, without ever being in debt, or in any pecuniary difficulty; holding, as he did, opinions, both in politics and in religion, which were more odious to all persons of influence, and to the common run of prosperous Englishmen in that generation than either before or since; and being not only a man whom nothing would have induced to write against his convictions, but one who invariably threw into everything he wrote, as much of his convictions as he thought the circumstances would in any way permit: being, it must also be said, one who never did anything negligently; never undertook any task, literary or other, on which he did not conscientiously bestow all the labour necessary for performing it adequately. But he, with these burthens on him, planned, commenced, and completed, the History of India; and this in the course of about ten years, a shorter time than has been occupied (even by writers who had no other employment) in the production of almost any other historical work of equal bulk, and of anything approaching to the same amount of reading and research. And to this is to be added, that during the whole period, a considerable part of almost every day was employed in the instruction of his children: in the case of one of whom, myself, he exerted an amount of labour, care, and perseverance rarely, if ever, employed for a similar purpose, in endeavouring to give, according to his own conception, the highest order of intellectual education.

Note from KBJ: It’s interesting that John Stuart Mill produced no children (so far as we know). He married only once, late in life. Was this a reaction to what he perceived to be the oppressiveness of his father’s life? I’ve known a number of people who grew up in large families but had few (if any) children themselves. Can anyone out there speak to this? What’s it like to grow up in a family with, say, eight children? I grew up with three brothers, one older and two younger. I consider that a good family size.

A Year Ago

Here. Happy 73d birthday, Mom! When you were my age (50), you had five grandchildren (coincidentally, the same five you have now). Where are my grandchildren? Oh, wait. You have to have children first.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Both Thomas L. Friedman and Frank Rich (“Will the Democrats Betray Us?,” column, Sept. 16) agree that President Bush “kicks the can down the road,” as Mr. Rich put it, refusing to declare an end to the madness that drove him into Iraq in the first place.

Mr. Bush’s linking Iraq to Vietnam, however, figures brightly in what the president sees as his future: when his successor removes troops from Iraq and the inevitable chaos there takes place, the former president can give $100,000 speeches about what bloodshed the withdrawal caused, passing along the blame for the whole sordid mess, along with the cleanup, to his successor. Not even Machiavelli could have devised a better scenario for a failed president to follow.

Stephen E. Phillips
Brooklyn, Sept. 16, 2007

Note from KBJ: Some degree of cynicism is normal and healthy. Too much of it, as in the case of this letter, borders on derangement.

Industrial Agriculture

The wrongness of factory farming is overdetermined. See here for one sufficient ground. By the way, the editorial board of the New York Times is progressive (as opposed to conservative). Why does it not call for the abolition of factory farming? Instead, it seeks to reform it. Animal rights is neither progressive nor conservative. Think of all the progressives—Michael Moore, for example—who either eat meat or go out of their way to ridicule vegetarians. (Moore looks like he has eaten one too many hamburgers.) Many progressives care only about human beings. Many conservatives care about animals as well as human beings. Why animal rights is considered a progressive cause is mind-boggling.

Yankee Watch

It’s pretty bad when our old friend Will Nehs, who doesn’t have a dog in the Yankee/Red Sox fight, starts taunting me. He sent this. I know it will seem disingenuous of me to say this, but it will be tremendously pleasing to me if the Yankees overhaul the Red Sox to win the American League East Division title. No, I haven’t suddenly become a Yankee fan. I hate the Yankees. But I hate the Red Sox almost as much, and what could be better than seeing Red Sox fans suffer? What a horrible fate, to have led the East Division for so long, only to be caught at the end by the reviled Yankees! No matter what happens, I’m going to be happy. If the Red Sox win, I’ll be happy that the smug Yankees (and their arrogant fans) lost. If the Yankees win, I’ll be happy that the Red Sox (and their tightly wound, politically correct fans) lost.

On another note, it occurs to me that I don’t want my beloved Detroit Tigers to win the wild card. This shows, I think, that I don’t like the wild-card format. I’m old-fashioned. Either you win your division or you go home for the winter. I realize that wild-card teams have won the World Series. Indeed, my Tigers came close to doing so a year ago. But it would have been tainted. It would not have meant as much to me as the World Series victories in 1968 and 1984. Now that my Tigers have lost the Central Division race to the Cleveland Indians, I want them to go home for the winter and prepare for next year. If you can’t win your division, you have no business continuing.

Addendum: The Yankees won tonight, while the Red Sox lost. The Yankees (87-64) have pulled to within two games of the suddenly impotent Red Sox (90-62) in the all-important loss column. There is much teeth-gnashing in Beantown. Some Red Sox fans will not sleep tonight. A few, I am sure, are contemplating suicide.