Sunday, 17 February 2008


I leave you this fine evening with a column by Susan Jacoby.


If you eat beef, why not use the latest beef recall to disavow it? It will be good for you; it will be good for your children (if any); it will be good for the environment; it will be good for other human beings; and, most importantly, it will be good for the cows.

Addendum: This book by Peter Singer and Jim Mason should inspire you as you change your diet.

Twenty Years Ago

2-17-88 While watching the Olympics this evening, I came across this subtle bit of sexism. The announcer for the skiing events (a male) described one of the female skiers (a European, as I recall) as “pretty”, indicating that she models in the off-season. The emphasis was on her appearance rather than on her performance, though she was there for the latter and not for the former. Rarely if ever does one hear comments on a male’s appearance. Indeed, the very idea is laughable. Imagine, during a baseball game, the announcer saying “Here comes Lou Whitaker to the plate. Lou’s a cutie, a handsome guy. In the off-season, he models shorts for Company C”. It just wouldn’t happen, and the reason it won’t is sexism. Announcers, like the rest of us, live in a society in which women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are objects of attraction, not agents in their own right. They exist to be seen and admired, not emulated. So even if the skier in question were attractive in some conventional sense (I’m sure this one was), it was inappropriate for the announcers or for anyone else to make note of it during a skiing competition. It was irrelevant and derogatory. The sad thing is, some women actually enjoy being thought of in this way. They, like the men who do the thinking, are victims of our sexist society.

Speaking of skiers, they have to be the most daring of all athletes at the Olympic games. In the men’s downhill competition, for instance, the winner (Pirmin Zurbriggen of Switzerland) averaged fifty-nine miles per hour for the two-mile course. He reached speeds of over eighty miles per hour with only a helmet for protection. The suits are sleek and lightweight, designed to minimize wind resistance, and the skis themselves offer no protection from falls or objects. I admire these people for being so fearless, though their actions border on lunacy or recklessness. Other events, to date, include hockey, the luge, and speedskating. One of the American speedskaters, Dan Jansen, suffered a family tragedy when his sister died of leukemia. Of course, ABC has deified him already, turning him into some sort of saint for competing despite the tragedy. I despise the way the television cameras play upon people’s grief. Other than that and the rampant sexism and nationalism, I’ve enjoyed the competition.

Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) on the Myth of Rationalist Politics

The conduct of affairs, for the Rationalist, is a matter of solving problems, and in this no man can hope to be successful whose reason has become inflexible by surrender to habit or is clouded by the fumes of tradition. In this activity the character which the Rationalist claims for himself is the character of the engineer, whose mind (it is supposed) is controlled throughout by the appropriate technique and whose first step is to dismiss from his attention everything not directly related to his specific intentions. This assimilation of politics to engineering is, indeed, what may be called the myth of rationalist politics. And it is, of course, a recurring theme in the literature of Rationalism. The politics it inspires may be called the politics of the felt need; for the Rationalist, politics are always charged with the feeling of the moment. He waits upon circumstance to provide him with his problems, but rejects its aid in their solution. That anything should be allowed to stand between a society and the satisfaction of the felt needs of each moment in its history must appear to the Rationalist a piece of mysticism and nonsense. And his politics are, in fact, the rational solution of those practical conundrums which the recognition of the sovereignty of the felt need perpetually creates in the life of a society. Thus, political life is resolved into a succession of crises, each to be surmounted by the application of ‘reason’. Each generation, indeed, each administration, should see unrolled before it the blank sheet of infinite possibility. And if by chance this tabula rasa has been defaced by the irrational scribblings of tradition-ridden ancestors, then the first task of the Rationalist must be to scrub it clean; as Voltaire remarked, the only way to have good laws is to burn all existing laws and to start afresh.

(Michael Oakeshott, “Rationalism in Politics,” in his Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, new and expanded ed. [Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991], 5-42, at 9 [footnote omitted] [essay first published in 1947])

Note from KBJ: It’s hard to read this paragraph without thinking of the Democrat Party.


You heard it here first: John McCain will choose Jeb Bush as his running mate.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Under a Scarf, a Turkish Lawyer Fighting to Wear It” (The Saturday Profile, Feb. 9):

While I fully understand the concern of some Turkish women who feel that the ban against wearing the head scarf discriminates against them, the issue is about more than individual rights or personal devotion.

The Koran does not require women’s heads to be covered or veiled, but more important, if these women delved into the erotic and gendered meanings that women’s hair symbolizes, they might come to understand where the real discrimination lies.

There are other ways one can demonstrate one’s religiousness and spiritual commitments.

Carol Delaney
Providence, R.I., Feb. 12, 2008
The writer, an anthropologist, is the author of a book about gender and cosmology in Turkish village society.

Note from KBJ: What this shows is that even feminists can be cultural imperialists.

From the Mailbag


I am not a follower of religion. I was raised in a Roman Catholic family, spent some time as an altar boy, attended a Catholic Parochial school through seventh grade, and so on. I ceased going to church in my mid-teens and have only returned for the occasional wedding, baptism, and funeral. I ceased believing in Catholic doctrine about the same time—I discovered it was meaningless in my life. If asked, I am hard-pressed to declare whether I am agnostic or atheistic on the question of the existence of god. But I have been thinking about god lately and have been puzzling over these traits, attributed to the Christian god:

A. God is omniscient.
B. God is omnipotent.
C. God is omnipresent.
D. God is omnibenevolent.

Given that evil is often committed against innocent people, then these cannot all be true because that God will know of the evil and he possesses the power to prevent it. To me this means that this particular deity simply cannot exist. What do you think?


Note from KBJ: God’s existence is compatible with the existence of evil, Steve. God can do anything that is logically possible, but nothing that is logically impossible. It is impossible for God to have created freely willing beings who cannot do evil, so God’s choice was between (1) not creating freely willing beings at all and (2) creating freely willing beings who can do evil. The second world is arguably better, morally, than the first. If this is what happened, then the evil that exists is attributable to bad human choices (or, in the case of natural calamities, the bad choices of angels).

Safire on Language