Tuesday, 11 December 2007


Grades are now posted electronically. I like this, since it means I don’t have to make a special trip to campus. But the software for posting grades is ludicrous. Check this out. When I log in to MyMav, I go to the Faculty Center, which has my courses listed. There are three columns for each course. The first is Class Roster. You’d think that’s where I post grades, right? Wrong. It’s simply a list of students, with their majors. The second is Gradebook. That’s it, right? Wrong. When I click it, I get a message informing me that I’m not authorized to enter. The third is Grade Roster. That has to be it, right? But when I click it, all I see is a list of at-risk students who received tentative grades from me earlier in the semester. At this point, I don’t know what to do; but I’m a man, so I’ll figure it out. In the Grade Roster, there’s a drop-down box entitled Grade Roster Type. When I click it, I see Final Grade. Yeehaa! I click it and up comes a screen that lets me post final grades. Can you imagine anything more absurd? How could something so simple be made so complex and confusing? There should be a column on the first screen headed Post Final Grades Here—Right Here, Stupid.

Foreign Policy

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Arianna Huffington, who is outraged that Democrats in Washington haven’t disrupted President Bush’s foreign policy. What she fails to grasp is that Democrats want to be reelected. If they thought disrupting President Bush’s foreign policy was a political winner, they’d be doing it. Huffington, who has no constituency, has no need to be responsible; she can be as shrill, partisan, and unreasonable as she likes. Elected Democrats have no such luxury.


Say goodbye to Les Miles, LSU. He’ll be leaving the SEC for the Big 10 11 as soon as the BCS championship game is over.


No self-respecting male would own (or use) one of these. That a man would even consider using one of these gadgets shows how far our society has been feminized.


Led Zeppelin is back, with John Bonham’s son Jason on drums. Which Zep song best describes this comeback? Here are some possibilities:

I Can’t Quit You Baby
How Many More Times
What Is and What Should Never Be
Ramble On
Bring It on Home
The Song Remains the Same
Ten Years Gone
Achilles Last Stand

I saw Led Zeppelin in the Pontiac Silverdome in 1976. Jimmy Page (a.k.a. God) played his guitar with a violin bow.

Addendum: This video sends chills down my spine. Listen to John Bonham’s drum playing at the start of this song. There’s an urgency to it.

Capital Punishment

New Jersey is on the verge of sentencing many innocent people to death. See here. If you’d like to read something on capital punishment, read this. It’s the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject.


One of my students sent a link to this column about the progressive takeover of academia. Here’s what I don’t understand. Why would an intellectual—someone with a life of the mind—prefer solidarity to open-minded, free-wheeling inquiry? I love ideas. I want my ideas to be challenged, and I want to challenge other people’s ideas. How else is anyone going to learn, grow, or become a better person? If all of my colleagues shared my beliefs and values, how could I do this? What it shows, I think, is that academia is filled with herd animals rather than true intellectuals. When it comes time to hire, they prefer those who think as they do. They put comfort and uniformity ahead of challenge and diversity. Is there any reason for hope? Yes. Students are dimly aware that they’re being indoctrinated rather than educated, and they’re coming to resent it. If students demand intellectual diversity, they will get it. After all, they pay the bills.


Here is an interesting column about the Clintons. My sense is that many Americans who would otherwise vote for Hillary Clinton will refuse to do so on the ground that it would put Bill Clinton back in the White House.

Best of the Web Today


John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Paragraph 27

I was brought up from the first without any religious belief, in the ordinary acceptation of the term. My father, educated in the creed of Scotch presbyterianism, had by his own studies and reflections been early led to reject not only the belief in revelation, but the foundations of what is commonly called Natural Religion. I have heard him say, that the turning point of his mind on the subject was reading Butler’s Analogy. That work, of which he always continued to speak with respect, kept him, as he said, for some considerable time, a believer in the divine authority of Christianity; by proving to him, that whatever are the difficulties in believing that the Old and New Testaments proceed from, or record the acts of, a perfectly wise and good being, the same and still greater difficulties stand in the way of the belief, that a being of such a character can have been the Maker of the universe. He considered Butler’s argument as conclusive against the only opponents for whom it was intended. Those who admit an omnipotent as well as perfectly just and benevolent maker and ruler of such a world as this, can say little against Christianity but what can, with at least equal force, be retorted against themselves. Finding, therefore, no halting place in Deism, he remained in a state of perplexity, until, doubtless after many struggles, he yielded to the conviction, that, concerning the origin of things nothing whatever can be known. This is the only correct statement of his opinion; for dogmatic atheism he looked upon as absurd; as most of those, whom the world has considered Atheists, have always done. These particulars are important, because they show that my father’s rejection of all that is called religious belief, was not, as many might suppose, primarily a matter of logic and evidence: the grounds of it were moral, still more than intellectual. He found it impossible to believe that a world so full of evil was the work of an Author combining infinite power with perfect goodness and righteousness. His intellect spurned the subtleties by which men attempt to blind themselves to this open contradiction. The Sabæan, or Manichæan theory of a Good and Evil Principle, struggling against each other for the government of the universe, he would not have equally condemned; and I have heard him express surprise, that no one revived it in our time. He would have regarded it as a mere hypothesis; but he would have ascribed to it no depraving influence. As it was, his aversion to religion, in the sense usually attached to the term, was of the same kind with that of Lucretius: he regarded it with the feelings due not to a mere mental delusion, but to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest enemy of morality: first, by setting up factitious excellencies,—belief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected with the good of human kind,—and causing these to be accepted as substitutes for genuine virtues: but above all, by radically vitiating the standard of morals; making it consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful. I have a hundred times heard him say, that all ages and nations have represented their gods as wicked, in a constantly increasing progression, that mankind have gone on adding trait after trait till they reached the most perfect conception of wickedness which the human mind can devise, and have called this God, and prostrated themselves before it. This ne plus ultra of wickedness he considered to be embodied in what is commonly presented to mankind as the creed of Christianity. Think (he used to say) of a being who would make a Hell—who would create the human race with the infallible foreknowledge, and therefore with the intention, that the great majority of them were to be consigned to horrible and everlasting torment. The time, I believe, is drawing near when this dreadful conception of an object of worship will be no longer identified with Christianity; and when all persons, with any sense of moral good and evil, will look upon it with the same indignation with which my father regarded it. My father was as well aware as anyone that Christians do not, in general, undergo the demoralizing consequences which seem inherent in such a creed, in the manner or to the extent which might have been expected from it. The same slovenliness of thought, and subjection of the reason to fears, wishes, and affections, which enable them to accept a theory involving a contradiction in terms, prevents them from perceiving the logical consequences of the theory. Such is the facility with which mankind believe at one and the same time things inconsistent with one another, and so few are those who draw from what they receive as truths, any consequences but those recommended to them by their feelings, that multitudes have held the undoubting belief in an Omnipotent Author of Hell, and have nevertheless identified that being with the best conception they were able to form of perfect goodness. Their worship was not paid to the demon which such a being as they imagined would really be, but to their own idea of excellence. The evil is, that such a belief keeps the ideal wretchedly low; and opposes the most obstinate resistance to all thought which has a tendency to raise it higher. Believers shrink from every train of ideas which would lead the mind to a clear conception and an elevated standard of excellence, because they feel (even when they do not distinctly see) that such a standard would conflict with many of the dispensations of nature, and with much of what they are accustomed to consider as the Christian creed. And thus morality continues a matter of blind tradition, with no consistent principle, nor even any consistent feeling, to guide it.

Note from KBJ: There are good reasons and bad reasons to be an atheist. It sounds as though Mill’s father had three bad reasons. First, he thought theism in general, or Christianity in particular, is incoherent. Few contemporary atheistic philosophers believe this. What atheists say is that God could exist, but doesn’t. Second, he thought God and evil are logically incompatible. Almost no contemporary atheist believes this. What atheists say is that the existence of evil makes the existence of God improbable. Third, he thought Christianity is immoral. This is odd, because many contemporary utilitarians say that Christianity and utilitarianism are compatible. Indeed, there have been Christian utilitarians. Some atheists (Thomas Jefferson and R. M. Hare come to mind) think so highly of Christian morality that they endorse the morality but reject the supernatural parts. As for Christianity having a low moral standard, this is risible. Mill’s father must never have heard the expression, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” which appears many times in the New Testament (as well as twice in the Old Testament). No moral principle could be more demanding, at least if “neighbor” is interpreted as “stranger.” Whether any Christian has ever lived up to it is a separate question. Has any utilitarian, including Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, or Peter Singer, lived up to the principle of utility?

The Presidency

Quick: Who was our youngest president? See here for the answer. Our Constitution specifies that the president must be 35 years of age. That never bothered me until recently. Yesterday, while I was talking to my 73-year-old mother (not to be confused with my 70-year-old mother) via telephone, she mentioned that nobody under 60 should be president. I agree! John F. Kennedy seemed old to me when I was a kid, but now he seems scandalously young. When I was 30, I thought I knew everything. Little did I know that it would take me until 50 to know everything.

Addendum: Here is a kicker quiz. Which of our presidents wore a mullet? When you’re ready, click here.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “In Arrogant Defense of Torture” (editorial, Dec. 9):

In a little over a year this administration will hand over the reins to another. We as a country, meanwhile, must grapple with the change in political discourse that it has wrought.

I do not understand what officials were trying to accomplish when they introduced torture as an acceptable method of interrogation, pre-emptively invaded a country, superseded international law by building the Guantánamo Bay detention center, suspended the rule of law by denying prisoners the right of habeas corpus, and institutionalized fearmongering and chest pounding as new American values.

Unfortunately, these policies that for most of our 200-plus-year history would have been anathema to the vast majority have gained a toehold. Today, coffeehouse political debate is polarized, with moderate positions a rarity.

My fear is that this administration and its apologists have pushed the ball much farther down the field than we average Americans realize. They have changed the political discourse for many years to come. I long for the return to civility and common sense.

E. L. McKenzie
Arlington, Tex., Dec. 9, 2007

Note from KBJ: You first.

Celebrity Politics

I just received my first issue of The New Criterion. It’s the art issue, unfortunately. But this essay by James Bowman made it worthwhile. I particularly enjoyed this passage:

In the celebrity culture there is no way to demonstrate humanity except through human vices and weaknesses. That’s why rock stars take drugs, behave promiscuously, or trash hotel rooms. They may do it because they enjoy it, but they must do it, or something like it, because that is how they keep up their certification as rock stars.

I have never understood why my rock-star heroes, such as Keith Moon, were so destructive (including self-destructive). Bowman’s passage explains it, or at least gestures toward an explanation.

Addendum: Here is a segment of the Notes & Comments section, which I assume is written by the editors (Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball). I read it while proctoring a Logic exam this morning. The temptation to laugh was overwhelming, but, because of the solemnity of the occasion, I stifled it.