Monday, 26 November 2007

The Second Amendment

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Jed Babbin.

Twenty Years Ago

11-26-87 Thursday. For most people, today is the start of a four-day holiday. It’s a time to forget about work and obligations, have fun, and relax. But for me, it’s just the opposite. I’ve been unable to focus on my dissertation for weeks because of other obligations. These include teaching the LSAT and GRE preparation courses, teaching my own course, and drafting and grading an exam. Now, finally, I can devote myself to my dissertation. Don’t get me wrong; it won’t be intense. I plan to intersperse my studies with other activities, such as watching football games, reading light material, and riding my bike. But the goal is to work all weekend. Today, for instance, I read an article by G. E. M. Anscombe [1919-2001] on contraception and chastity [G. E. M. Anscombe, “Contraception and Chastity,” The Human World (March 1972): 9-30], began reading a lengthy article on constitutional interpretation by Joseph Grano [Joseph D. Grano, “Judicial Review and a Written Constitution in a Democratic Society,” Wayne Law Review 28 (fall 1981): 1-75], and wrote letters to three journals. Having slept ten hours last night, my work day was shorter than usual. But I deserved the rest. [Little did I know that I would write the entry on Anscombe for Alan Soble’s two-volume work Sex from Plato to Paglia: A Philosophical Encyclopedia.]

The article by Anscombe is interesting, but at the same time infuriating. I understand that she’s a Catholic philosopher. She defends the Pope’s teaching on contraception, and I suspect that she’s sexist as well, because she often celebrates the institutions of marriage, pregnancy, and childrearing. (This proves that females, as well as males, can be sexist.) Whereas most people see good in women taking jobs, Anscombe sees bad. The desire to work ties in with the desire to use contraception, for pregnancy can disrupt a person’s work. But if we follow Anscombe’s advice, women would be subject to pregnancy at all times, thus throwing their working life into doubt and disarray. This, I suppose, is at the heart of women’s liberation. If women are to achieve financial stability and employment opportunity, they must gain control of their reproductive cycles. That’s why the fighting over abortion is so heated. But Anscombe is pushing things back a step; she’s arguing about contraception. And if contraception is wrong, then surely abortion is wrong.

The most interesting part of Anscombe’s article is her discussion of intention, or what I call the “mental state” of those engaged in intercourse. Anscombe claims that sex must be confined to a marriage relationship, and not only that, but it must be performed with an eye toward procreation. That is, there must be a standing possibility of conception during every act of intercourse. If the parties use birth control, they undermine this standing possibility, and that makes their action wrong. For Anscombe, an act of sex while using birth control is a different kind of act than an act of sex without birth control. The difference lies in the intention. But curiously, she defends the so-called rhythm method of birth control, whereby the parties engage in sex only during the woman’s infertile period. I find this an indefensible distinction—a distinction without a difference. In both cases—birth-control and rhythm—the parties intend to avoid pregnancy. And in both cases there’s a possibility, if only logical, of pregnancy. So if the intention is the same and the odds are the same, what could possibly ground the moral difference? I intend to discuss this article with my students in my 1988 presession course.


This guy—who used to be a reporter for the New York Times—says he will not pay his income tax if the United States goes to war with Iran. I like the idea. Since nobody approves of everything the federal government does, nobody has to pay income tax!


If Hillary wins
Bill is back in the White House
Playboy Mansion East


The sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has just been published. Here is Edward Rothstein’s review. I have the second edition of the (Longer) Oxford English Dictionary on my computer. I did some reviewing for Oxford University Press a few years ago. Instead of accepting an honorarium, I asked for and received the OED2e on CD-ROM. By the way, Rothstein needs to use quotation marks, italics, or boldface when mentioning words. It is extremely disconcerting to read sentences such as this: “Similarly, the word smile is illustrated by a quotation from The Japan Times. . . .” What’s a word smile? The sentence should read as follows: “Similarly, the word ‘smile’ is illustrated by a quotation from The Japan Times. . . .”

Addendum: Here is Michael Dummett:

Unless (as here) some other device is being employed, a word or expression that is being referred to rather than used should always be enclosed in quotation marks. It is irritating to read She always avoided toilet, preferring almost any circumlocution, when what is meant is that she avoided using the word “toilet”; the sentence should read She always avoided “toilet”, . . .

Michael Dummett, Grammar & Style for Examination Candidates and Others (London: Duckworth, 1993), 84.


This op-ed columnist doesn’t grasp the point of marriage. Perhaps I can help. Marriage is a bundle of legal rights and responsibilities designed to promote and protect the interests of children. It’s the kids, stupid!

Bush-Hatin’ Paul

Sloppy thinkers produce sloppy prose. Here is the final paragraph of Paul Krugman’s* op-ed column of this date:

But Democrats shouldn’t kid themselves into believing that this will be easy. The next president won’t be able to deliver another era of good times unless he or she manages to tackle the longer-term trends that underlie today’s economic disappointment: a collapsing health care system and inexorably rising inequality.

The first image is of something (viz., inequality) rising. (Does inequality rise, or does it increase?) Juxtaposed to it is the image of something (viz., the health-care system) collapsing. So we have two things, one rising and one collapsing. Krugman calls them “trends.” These rising and collapsing trends are then said to “underlie” today’s economic disappointment. How does a trend underlie something? To make it worse, the next president will have to “tackle” these rising and collapsing trends that underlie today’s economic disappointment in order to “deliver” another era of good times. Rising, collapsing, trending, underlying, tackling, delivering. The metaphors clang together like bumper cars. Ugh. It’s bad enough that Krugman can’t make a cogent argument. He can’t write, either.

* “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).

Leslie Stevenson on Christianity and Marxism

How and why is it that a significant number of non-lunatics continue to believe in Christianity or Marxism? Firstly, the believers usually find some way of explaining away the standard objections. The Christian says that God does not always remove evil, or answer our prayers, for what may seem bad to us may ultimately be for the best. The Marxist may say that revolution has not occurred in the West because the workers have been ‘bought off’ by the concession of higher standards of living, and have not realized that their true interest is in the overthrow of capitalism. Disputes about the great metaphysical questions of determinism or free will, materialism or immortality, seem able to go on forever without dislodging any side from its position. To the doubts about the respective prescriptions, the believers can reply that the full regeneration of man is still to come, and that the terrible things in the history of Christianity or communism are due to perfection being not yet achieved. By thus explaining away difficulties in his theory and appealing to the future for vindication, the believer can maintain his belief with some show of plausibility. The theorists of Church and State become well practised at such justification of the ways of God, or of the Party.

Secondly, the believer can take the offensive against criticism, by attacking the motivations of the critic. The Christian can say that those who persist in raising intellectual objections to Christianity are being blinded by sin, that it is their own pride and unwillingness to receive the grace of God that prevents them from seeing the light. The Marxist can similarly say that those who will not recognize the truth of Marx’s analysis of history and society are being deluded by their ‘false consciousness,’ the ideas and attitudes which are due to their economic position: the capitalist mode of production naturally prevents those who benefit from it from consciously acknowledging the truth about their society. So in each case, a critic’s motivations can be analysed in terms of the theory he is criticizing, and the believer may therefore think he can dismiss the criticism as based on illusion.

(Leslie Stevenson, Seven Theories of Human Nature, 2d ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 1987], 14-5)


On a scale of one to 10, with one being anarchy and 10 being a police state, where are we?

Best of the Web Today


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

It is disappointing that our government plans to keep approximately 550 chimpanzees in the laboratories where they reside, rather than provide them a sanctuary they deserve (“After Hard Labor, a Soft Landing,” special Giving section, Nov. 12).

Many chimpanzees in American labs are simply being warehoused—some for more than 50 years—wasting taxpayer money that could be spent better to help alleviate and cure human diseases.

The use of chimpanzees for research has declined significantly in the last decade mostly because of high costs and growing public opposition to relying on these animals in invasive experiments.

It is time to retire chimpanzees in labs to sanctuaries like Chimp Haven.

Kathleen Conlee
Washington, Nov. 13, 2007
The writer is a program director at the Humane Society of the United States.

A Year Ago