Friday, 12 October 2007

Twenty Years Ago

10-12-87 A week ago yesterday I began a journal entry as follows: “This is one of the happiest days of my life. . . .” If there is any symmetry in this world, then today is one of the saddest days of my life. You see, eight days ago the Detroit Tigers clinched the divisional title with a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Today, the Tigers lost to the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs. The Twins won the [best-of-seven] series in five games. Frankly, I’m in a state of shock. Everything went poorly for the Tigers. Their starting pitchers got bombed, their relief pitchers couldn’t hold leads, their hitters pressed and left runners on base, and their fielders made mental and physical errors. For the Twins, on the other hand, everything seemed to go right. They got clutch hits, made brilliant defensive plays, and staved off Tiger rallies with tough pitching. It was a short, frustrating series for a Tiger fan like me. In fact, of the forty-five innings played, the Tigers led in only eight innings—six in game three (which they won) and two in game four. The Twins led in twenty-nine innings and the teams were tied in the remaining eight.

Mom was right. When I talked to her last [sic; should be “this past”] week, following the Toronto series, she asked me how the Tigers could possibly win the playoffs and World Series after playing so many close, emotional games with the Blue Jays. “But Mom,” I said, “somebody’s got to win the Series. The Tigers have just as good a chance—if not better—than anyone else.” [This is bad grammar.] Now I know what she was talking about. The Tigers were drained, mentally and emotionally. For them, the World Series took place last [sic] week, against the Blue Jays. It’s too much to expect them to get psyched up more than a few days in a row. Even when I played softball, I noticed that the players have only so much mental energy to expend. When it’s gone, they simply go through the motions. In this case, going through the motions wasn’t good enough, because the Twins were fired up. I’ll always remember the 1987 Tigers as the team that pulled off a miracle during the regular season, but choked during the playoffs. If we had had a week off between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the playoffs, things might have been different. Alas, there was no such week.

The game started at noon, so I went to school shortly after it ended. Many people, including my students, know that I’m a die-hard Tiger fan, so I prepared myself for some lighthearted ribbing. That’s exactly what I got. As I told the students before class, I’ve seldom been more frustrated by a baseball series. In fact, it’s more frustrating to watch than to play, because I have absolutely no control over the outcome as I sit in front of the television set. If I were playing, at least I could make a difference. It’s this lack of control that’s so frustrating—and ultimately infuriating, if you’re sufficiently committed to a particular outcome.


Here is Peggy Noonan’s latest column. Here is Peg Kaplan’s latest post.

Best of the Web Today


The People’s Cube

In case you’re unaware of this website, I thought I’d mention it. I will add it to the blogroll forthwith.


According to the editorial board of the New York Times, the leading Republican presidential candidates are living in “an alternate universe.” I laughed when I read that, because I feel the same way every day when I read the Times. The differences between progressives and conservatives are so many, and so profound, that it really does feel as though we inhabit different worlds. Perhaps one day humans will discover a new, habitable planet. Either all conservatives or all progressives should migrate. The universe will then be a happy place.


Was Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) a misogynist? See here.

You’re Full of Beans!

Beans, beans, the wonderful fruit;
The more you eat, the more you toot.
The more you toot, the better you feel;
So eat your beans with every meal.

God and Sport

Read this. Two things came to mind as I read it. First, is it possible for God to intervene in an athletic competition? If so, would God ever do it? Second, what do athletes mean when they thank God for their victory?

Regarding the first question, there is no doubt that God, being omnipotent, could intervene. The question is whether God would intervene. I don’t see why God wouldn’t. If God ever answers prayers, why would God not answer the prayer of someone who petitions for athletic success? Why would that be ruled out? God may also wish to reward one of the participants (or teams) for good behavior, or to punish a participant (or team) for bad behavior. In short, there is no reason to think that God would be above intervening in an athletic competition. Only someone who presumes to know God’s purposes could think that such a thing is preposterous.

Regarding the second question, there are many things that an athlete might mean by “Thank God for this victory.” First of all, it might not be meant to be taken literally. Thomas Hobbes (and later Ludwig Wittgenstein) viewed statements about God as figurative or emotive. They express awe, wonder, respect, admiration, and other emotions. They do not ascribe properties to objects (and hence are neither true nor false). But even if the statements are meant literally, there’s a plausible explanation of their meaning. The athlete isn’t saying, “God made me win,” but “I thank God for making it possible for me to win, i.e., for giving me life, health, and spirit.” The latter does not imply that God took sides in the contest.

I used to think like Gary West. Now I know why. I was being uncharitable.

Dog Update

This past Monday, I wrote about my attempt to help an overheated dog. Two days later, during my next run, I noticed that both dogs, instead of just one, were moving about freely in the fenced yard. It made my day. Today, things were the same. It would be a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy to infer that my talking to the owner caused him to untie his dog, but it’s possible that my intervention made a difference. Next time I see the man, I’m going to thank him. Or maybe I should leave well enough alone. What do you advise?

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Generation Q,” by Thomas L. Friedman (column, Oct. 10):

I agree with Mr. Friedman’s perception of today’s college students as both optimistic and idealistic, but quiet? Not in the least.

Today’s college students may not be as outwardly radical as their 1960s counterparts, but their passion to change “the system” is still alive. What has altered is their approach. Protests, sit-ins and boycotts brought much-needed attention to the hot-button issues of the 60s and 70s, but these measures fell short of achieving their intended goal: change.

Students have learned from these shortcomings and recognize that paradigm-shifting change does not result from outside pressure. It must be pragmatic and must come from within.

That is why students today who desire to make a difference in the world are pursuing engineering, law and business instead of—or in addition to—philosophy, religion and political science.

They are going to work in pinstripes, presenting to boards of directors the business case for sustainability. They view environmental and social problems as entrepreneurial opportunities and are forming companies to show Wall Street that people and profits are not mutually exclusive.

They are staking their professional reputations on their desire to prove that a triple-bottom-line business model (people, profits and planet) enhances a company’s brand, market position and financial future. And that takes courage.

Shannon Cox Baker
Boulder, Colo., Oct. 10, 2007
The writer is a sustainable-building consultant.

Note from KBJ: As I have said many times in this blog, conservatives are not opposed to change. They are opposed to abrupt, exogenous change. They welcome gradual, endogenous change of the sort the letter writer describes—change that comes from within an institution, as a result of the felt needs of its participants. What the author is saying, in effect, is that today’s young people are more conservative than their predecessors. In the long run, conservatives accomplish more than progressives.

Curro Ergo Sum

Marathon running is serious business. See here for Frank Shorter’s op-ed column.

A Year Ago



Yesterday, during a meeting of about 20 people chaired by the dean of my College of Liberal Arts, someone’s cellphone began playing music. Everyone turned to look at him. He stood up, fished the cellphone out of his pocket, fumbled with it until the music stopped playing, and then proceeded to look at it while pushing buttons. The more I think about this, the angrier I get. What was this idiot thinking? Did he think his cellphone wouldn’t ring during the meeting? But why? Was he careless? Did he forget that he had the cellphone in his pocket? That’s inexcusable. Perhaps he knew that it might ring but didn’t think it would disrupt the meeting, in which case he’s stupid as well as thoughtless. I can’t think of a single explanation that reflects well on him. Cellphones are the bane of civilization. When I walk across campus, every other person I see has an arm to his or her ear. What are these people talking about? To whom are they talking? Which thoughts are they not thinking because they’re yakking? How much money are they spending on the calls? How many people do they inconvenience because they’re not paying attention to what they’re doing?

My Robot

Will Nehs, who rises early so as to plague as many people as possible, sent a link to this, with the subject line, “There’s hope for you yet.” Smart aleck. But seriously, if we allow two men or two women to marry, what, logically, allows us to prevent people from marrying robots? Or dogs? Or groups of people? Or precocious children?

Brand Blanshard (1892-1987) on Philosophy and Conflict

Philosophy is the interdepartmental conciliation agency, the National Labor Relations Board, or if you prefer, the World Court, of the intellectual community. Like these other agencies, it has no means of enforcing its verdicts. Its reliance is on the reasonableness of its decisions.

(Brand Blanshard, “The Philosophic Enterprise,” chap. 10 in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, ed. Charles J. Bontempo and S. Jack Odell [New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1975], 163-77, at 176)