Friday, 30 November 2007

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Creating a pejorative like “Dobbsianism,” with its implication of rabble-rousing, and saying that “elite opinion” does not support Lou Dobbs’s campaign to end illegal immigration is insulting, not only to Mr. Dobbs but also to people like me. I am neither rabble nor a nincompoop, but a highly educated, real liberal—a fervent lifelong union member and a believer that America should take care of its own citizens first.

The people of this country have demonstrated again and again that they are overwhelmingly against illegal immigration and want something done about it. Lou Dobbs, for a long time, was the only public person who recognized this and supported it. He didn’t create it; the selfish corporate interests and bought politicians who acted against the will of American citizens managed to do that very nicely all by themselves.

Gail Chapman
Forest Hills, Queens, Nov. 29, 2007

Note from KBJ: As this letter shows, attitudes toward illegal immigration cut across party lines. Libertarian Republicans are allied with open-borders Democrats in supporting the immigration bill, while conservative Republicans are allied with working-class Democrats in opposing it. Politics makes strange bedfellows. As for which alliance is strongest, I have to believe it’s the latter. The 2008 presidential election is going to hinge on illegal immigration. Mark my words.

Health Care

Paul Krugman* wants everyone to be required by law to purchase health insurance, and it burns his ass that not all the Democrat presidential candidates agree with him. Let it never be said that there are no totalitarians in our midst.

* “Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults” (Daniel Okrent, “13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did,” The New York Times, 22 May 2005).

From the Mailbag

Keith, thank you for your very informative article regarding torture on TCS Daily. It has been quite awhile since we have corresponded, but my own training has been a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Divinity, and I have just defended a Doctor of Ministry dissertation successfully in October and hope to have my revisions complete in the very near term. I make my living as an engineer at a nuclear power plant and practice my Christian vocation as a Presbyterian minister as well. All that to say that my training in ethics has been in Christian ethics by nature of my training. The framework I learned considered deontological and teleological ethics primarily, and because I studied H. Richard Niebuhr in more detail, I also picked up what he termed “responsibilist” ethics in his book, The Responsible Self. He proposed that for the Christian, “the good” came from seeking to discern God’s action in the world and then seeking to “respond” to that action.

As such, that scheme is not particularly useful on a practical level to the discussion of torture other than to suggest that as one who was himself tortured and then executed in a  torturous manner, Jesus might have some opinion on the matter, presupposing, of course, the resurrection. However, in a secular context, it is by no means clear how that is helpful in having a discussion of the ethics of torture.

For those purposes, your framework is much more helpful to me. I can, with this framework, identify myself as a moderate deontologist, albeit closer to the absolute deontologist than to the consequentialist in varying degrees depending on the issue at hand. With regard to the morality of torture, as a consequence of my starting with the concept of humanity created in the image of God, torture, like most of the consequences of that flawed image, is injurious to the being of the person who bears that image. In that statement I have already presupposed that most of what we encounter in life is injurious to that image by degree, so why would torture be any more or less so?

That’s where I think your framework is helpful, first, by acknowledging as you did that in order for a productive discussion to occur, we have to agree on at least some premises. Second, your argument that the moderate deontologist might say that torture is intrinsically wrong, but that there might be justifying circumstances resonates with my own gut reaction that generally speaking, torture should always be wrong, but to the extent that we find ourselves with the less than perfect, morally ambiguous “ticking bomb” scenario so often cited these days, should one choose the option of torture, then one should also be prepared to bear the legal consequences of that act, stoically so, I would suggest. Let the justice system sort that out.

Obviously, I have only scratched the surface here, but nonetheless, I found your article very helpful in validating the elements I have been considering regardless of what I end up concluding. Again, thank you for your contribution to the discussion.

Michael L. Murdock, P.E.
Catawba Nuclear Station
York, SC

Note from KBJ: Thanks for writing, Michael, and thanks for the kind words. If you’re a moderate deontologist (as I am), then you should enjoy reading W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good (1930), especially chapters 1 and 2. Ross is a wonderfully clear and precise writer. I have learned much from him over the years.

Thursday, 29 November 2007


Will Nehs sent a link to this column about Rudy Giuliani. I could vote for Rudy, and may yet do so, especially if he’s running against Hillary, but I’d prefer to vote for Fred Thompson. I have a question for you. If you could single-handedly elect one of the announced candidates, Republican or Democrat, which one would you put in the White House, and why?

Overdrawn at the Caloric Bank

Body weight is a function of three things: metabolism, caloric intake, and caloric expenditure. There is little that one can do about the first of these, but the second and third are well within one’s control. I like my weight where it is (154 pounds). To stay there, I must expend as many calories as I take in (or, conversely, take in no more calories than I expend). Yesterday’s 6.6-mile run, for example, burned off 726 calories, which allowed me to eat a piece of cake in addition to my regular food. If I began taking in more calories than I expended, I’d gain weight. Today, I thought of an analogy. If you spend more money than you earn, you go into debt. Many people are deep in debt to credit-card companies. They lack discipline. Many people are obese. They lack discipline. In both cases, the trick is to live within one’s means. If you want to spend more, earn more. If you want to eat more, exercise more. Then again, maybe you don’t mind being in debt (which means paying interest) or overweight (which means risking various diseases). That’s fine. Each of us must make choices. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Addendum: Here is the Caloric Needs Calculator that I use.

Addendum 2: Here is a New York Times story about obese football players.

A Year Ago


“The Burkean Temperament”

Here is a review of Michael Gerson’s new book. Key paragraph:

For all its Christian urgency, there is not much humility on view in “Heroic Conservatism.” The book has a hectoring tone, blithely claiming the moral high ground and ignoring a great deal of chastening experience. Such self-satisfied thinking runs counter to the Burkean temperament, which is painfully aware of the limits, and potential flaws, of even well-intentioned men. For traditional conservatives, societies evolve in an almost geological way—formed by the immense weight of history and culture over vast stretches of time. Grand schemes, even grand religiously driven schemes, do not suddenly “direct” history or solve long-festering problems or, for that matter, remake the world.

The great divide in political philosophy is between conservatives and progressives. The former are skeptical of the power of abstract reason to improve society. They believe that abrupt (exogenous) change is likely to make things worse rather than better. Change should be gradual and endogenous. They have a pessimistic view of human nature. The latter are eager to engineer society in accordance with their utopian blueprints. They have little or no respect for the past and view resistance to change as mere dogmatism and prejudice. They have an optimistic view of human nature.

Another Dr Ray in the Offing

Proving that the apple never falls far from the tree, Dr John J. Ray’s son received perfect scores in his college mathematics courses and is off to work on a doctoral degree. See here. Congratulations to both of them!

Best of the Web Today


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Immigration Wilderness” (editorial, Nov. 23):

It’s sad that anti-immigrant sentiments are now fast escalating in the United States, a country where election-year politicians sing praises of its history of immigration, assimilation and diversity.

Since the Senate immigration bill fell apart in June, right-wing xenophobia has added fuel to government persecution of people whose only crime has been their desire to live and work with dignity.

From a moral point of view, separating a mother from her breast-feeding child, raiding a factory and severing parents from their wages, and denying a working family its all-important driver’s license are anything but American.

All of the above are gross violations of civil and human rights—rights that we earned through centuries of struggle and sacrifice. How can we be so oblivious to that precious history?

Partha Banerjee
Brooklyn, Nov. 23, 2007

Note from KBJ: (1) I don’t know anyone who’s anti-immigrant. I know lots of people who are anti-illegal alien. It’s a simple distinction, really. Why so many people fail to grasp it is beyond me. (2) If those who opposed the immigration bill are xenophobic, then those who supported it (such as the letter writer) are xenophilic. Why would only one side of a debate such as this be improperly motivated? Either both sides are, or neither side is. Incidentally, many supporters of the immigration bill, such as President Bush and John McCain, are right-wingers. They are closer to xenophilia than to xenophobia. Maybe this is too subtle a point for the letter writer to grasp, or maybe it upsets his or her simplistic categories of “conservatives bad” and “progressives good.” (3) Is it persecution to expect people to obey the law? Let’s hope not. (4) What’s immoral is cutting in line. Most of us learned in kindergarten that it’s unacceptable. (5) If you’re in this country without permission, you have no civil rights. We’re going to track you down and deport you.

Zip Skinny

Mark Spahn sent a link to this interesting site.

Arthur B. Robinson, Noah E. Robinson, and Willie Soon on Climate Change

There are no experimental data to support the hypothesis that increases in human hydrocarbon use or in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are causing or can be expected to cause unfavorable changes in global temperatures, weather, or landscape. There is no reason to limit human production of CO2, CH4, and other minor greenhouse gases as has been proposed.

We also need not worry about environmental calamities even if the current natural warming trend continues. The Earth has been much warmer during the past 3,000 years without catastrophic effects. Warmer weather extends growing seasons and generally improves the habitability of colder regions.

As coal, oil, and natural gas are used to feed and lift from poverty vast numbers of people across the globe, more CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. This will help to maintain and improve the health, longevity, prosperity, and productivity of all people.

The United States and other countries need to produce more energy, not less. The most practical, economical, and environmentally sound methods available are hydrocarbon and nuclear technologies.

Human use of coal, oil, and natural gas has not harmfully warmed the Earth, and the extrapolation of current trends shows that it will not do so in the foreseeable future. The CO2 produced does, however, accelerate the growth rates of plants and also permits plants to grow in drier regions. Animal life, which depends upon plants, also flourishes, and the diversity of plant and animal life is increased.

Human activities are producing part of the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere. Mankind is moving the carbon in coal, oil, and natural gas from below ground to the atmosphere, where it is available for conversion into living things. We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals as a result of this CO2 increase. Our children will therefore enjoy an Earth with far more plant and animal life than that with which we now are blessed.

(Arthur B. Robinson, Noah E. Robinson, and Willie Soon, “Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons 12 [2007]: 79-90, at 90 [parenthetical reference omitted])

The Logic of Torture

Here is my latest Tech Central Station column.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Choosing a Running Mate

I leave you this fine evening with a column by George Will.


If this isn’t the best album ever made, then baseball isn’t the sport of the gods.