Sunday, 18 November 2007


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


Pretty Boy Edwards
$400 haircuts
Two Americas


Here are the latest college-football rankings. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my mind around 11-0 Kansas. The Jayhawks could finish 14-0. If they do, they’ll be national champions.

Twenty Years Ago

11-18-87 . . . I’ve long wondered about the ethics of holding doors open for people. Today, at long last, I have the answer. It depends on how one conceives of what one is doing. Suppose I open a door for a female. There are at least two ways of conceiving it: as opening a door for a woman or as opening a door for a person. If I conceive it as opening a door for a woman, I’m being sexist, because, as I once wrote in a column on sexist writing, there’s no connection between sex or gender on the one hand and courtesy on the other (I assume that the door-opening is an act of courtesy). But there is a connection between personhood and courtesy, so if I conceive it as opening a door for a person, I’m not being sexist. This meshes with something I’ve long believed: that the act itself isn’t as important as the motive behind it. It’s not what you do that counts, but why you do it, and why you do it connects with how you conceive it. Unfortunately, there are people (males, mostly) who find it the height of chivalry and honor to open doors for women—as women. This is why we live in such a two-tiered, sexist society.

I had lunch with Howard Klepper this afternoon. He’s a law graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and now, like me, seeks a Ph.D. [degree] in philosophy. I understand that he passed a bar exam (California’s?) and practiced law for a while, but didn’t enjoy it. We walked to the lower level of the Student Union Building and had black bean soup and cornbread. (It was good, but there wasn’t enough of it. Since I eat only twice a day, at most, I usually eat a lot at one sitting.) Howard, like me, is interested in adjudication, but neither of us had a philosophy of law course in law school. We also agreed that in order to fully understand the issues raised by law, one must study metaphysics, epistemology, and language. In fact, that’s a good way to organize a dissertation on constitutional theory. One chapter could set out the metaphysical or ontological presuppositions of legal theory, another could discuss epistemological problems that arise in adjudication, and yet another could cover issues in language (for example, the meaning of legal sentences). I enjoyed the discussion. Howard is polite, intelligent, and well read. We hope to get together soon for further discussions. [Howard received his Ph.D. degree in 1994. His dissertation, “Liberalism and the Rights of Children,” was supervised by Joel Feinberg. Howard taught philosophy for a few years at Loyola University Chicago before returning to the Bay Area to make guitars.]

I paused during my office hours to attend a graduate student meeting. The matter at hand was selecting a speaker for the spring semester. The main constraint is monetary; we have only $450 with which to lure someone, and most of that will go for airplane fare. So for all intents and purposes, we had to invite someone who lives and works on the west coast. After putting together and narrowing the list, we settled on Barbara Herman. I don’t know much about her, but David Schmidtz said that she does work in ethics and is quite sharp. It’s about time we got someone in ethics, or at least value theory. Richard Arneson is also on the list. If Herman can’t or doesn’t want to come, we’ll move down the list. Arneson, David says, is a Marxist, so that would be interesting. If I had my druthers, I’d have invited William Parent of Santa Clara [University], who published a fine article on privacy a couple of years ago. Heck, I might be his colleague next year. I think highly of the Santa Clara area, and am not at all concerned that it’s a Jesuit institution. If they (theists in general, Jesuits in particular) can live with me, I can live with them.

The [Arizona] Wildcat basketball team got off to a good start this evening by beating the Russian national team, 78-68. It was an exhibition game, so the victory doesn’t stay on the team’s record. My former student, Brian David, was seriously injured early in the game. I understand that he’s out for the year. That’s too bad.

“Witless Monsters”

I can’t remember whether I linked to this insightful essay by Greg Gutfeld. If I did, I apologize.

Gregory S. Kavka (1947-1994) on Hobbes’s Conservatism

Hobbes’s political conservatism is well known. It will be argued that many of his extreme conservative conclusions are derived from faulty empirical assumptions, so the Hobbesian theory that emerges here is considerably more liberal than Hobbes on such issues as revolution and the rights of individuals against the State. Yet it retains, in modified form, some of the more defensible aspects of the conservative view on these questions.

(Gregory S. Kavka, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986], 4)

Race and Poverty

Here is a New York Times op-ed column by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Key paragraph:

The sad truth is that the civil rights movement cannot be reborn until we identify the causes of black suffering, some of them self-inflicted. Why can’t black leaders organize rallies around responsible sexuality, birth within marriage, parents reading to their children and students staying in school and doing homework? Imagine Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson distributing free copies of Virginia Hamilton’s collection of folktales “The People Could Fly” or Dr. Seuss, and demanding that black parents sign pledges to read to their children. What would it take to make inner-city schools havens of learning?

Will there be any money in it for Sharpton and Jackson?

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Your article addresses the “socially fraught” possibility of genetic differences in intelligence from race to race, and asks whether society can handle the consequences of such findings. Yet the dilemma disappears if we follow one principle: if judgment be needed, judge people as individuals.

One thing we know: within any racial or ethnic group, there is a vast range of abilities, intellectual and otherwise. Individuals presenting themselves—whether for job, college, elected position or simply sociability—come not as points on a statistical curve, but as unique human beings.

The statistical findings are irrelevant. All that matters is this one person, with his or her unique configuration of strengths and weaknesses.

Miriam Hecht
New York, Nov. 12, 2007
The writer is assistant professor emerita of mathematics, Hunter College, CUNY.

Note from KBJ: Thank you, Dr Hecht, for explaining why affirmative-action programs are wrong.


Yesterday, in Denton, Texas, I did my 25th bike rally of the year and my 421st overall. The rally, known as the Turkey Roll, is the last of the year. Sometimes the weather is terrible; sometimes, like yesterday, it’s gorgeous. The forecast was for partly cloudy skies, but by the time we started rolling, at nine o’clock, it was gloriously sunny. The temperature was about 65º Fahrenheit. I wore a long-sleeved shirt under my jersey, but didn’t need it. The turnout for the rally was excellent—in part, I suspect, because of the weather. This was my 15th Turkey Roll in the past 19 years, and I’ve never seen anywhere close to this many people. Cycling is alive and well in North Texas.

I expected to see only one riding buddy (Randy), but Joe and Julius showed up as well. Everyone was in a good mood. The course changed this year, which disturbed many of the traditionalists (including Joe and me). Instead of the usual 58-mile course, the organizers created a 71-mile course and a 35-mile course. The former is too long for this time of year (many of us have eased up on riding); the latter is too short. Joe examined the route and decided to chop off one of its parts. This gave us 61.4 miles, which was about right for this time of year. Joe talked to the rally organizers afterward, who seemed receptive to adopting his route for next year. See? Traditionalists aren’t averse to change; they simply want change to come from within, in response to the felt needs of participants.

My goal for the day was simply to have fun (against a backdrop of staying safe). Three members of our group peeled off on the 35-mile course early on, which left Randy, Joe, and me to fight the southerly wind on our own. On one stretch, we took one-mile pulls. This meant working hard for a mile and then resting for two. I enjoyed it. The highlight of the ride was seeing Terrell and Nancy King at the rest stop in Era. Terrell and Nancy have been running a rest stop for many years. They make beef brisket for the riders and invite them into their motor home to use the restroom facility. During this time, Randy fixed his bike seat. We were at the rest stop for about 20 minutes. Finally, I said goodbye to Terrell and Nancy and rolled off.

Although this was my first time on the bike in four weeks (since the Mineral Wells rally), I felt strong. At one point, I rode with three others at 22 to 28 miles per hour for several miles—into the wind! I figured I’d wait at the next rest stop for Joe and Randy. It’s hard to explain how good it feels to be riding in a fast pack. Yes, it’s dangerous, but so are things like driving, mowing the lawn, playing softball, and cleaning the gutters. As the danger increases, one must be more attentive. Once I hooked up with Joe and Randy in downtown Krum, we rode in together. This was Randy’s first Turkey Roll. I think he had fun. Next year, we’ll do it again.

Statistically, I averaged 17.14 miles per hour for 61.4 miles. My maximum heart rate was 161 and my average heart rate 117. My maximum speed was 30.6 miles per hour. The official high temperature for the day was 81º and the average wind speed 8.8 miles per hour. I burned 1,898 calories, which meant I didn’t have to feel guilty later in the day when I ate tortilla chips and other goodies. If you can believe it, I have been on the bike only 25 times in 2007—all in rallies. In other words, I did no training rides. My fastest rally was in Cleburne, where I averaged 19.75 miles per hour. My slowest was in Lancaster, where I averaged 13.67 miles per hour. (That, I regret to say, is my slowest rally ever.) My average rally distance this year was 63.3 miles. I’m sure that if I trained properly, I could average over 20 miles per hour on a regular basis. But I’m happy with my exercise regimen. It’s now time to focus on running for a few months. The rally season begins in late March.

Addendum: Here is an image of (from the left) yours truly, Randy, and Joe (not to be confused with the Three Stooges). Here is the rest stop in Era. Here are Terrell and Nancy.

Safire on Language