Monday, 18 February 2008

Twenty Years Ago

2-18-88 Thursday. I gave my [Introduction to Logic] students their first exam of the [spring] semester, then came home to grade it. My practice for the past few semesters has been to give the students a “free” two points in the multiple-choice section. I ask something like “Who is the best guitarist?” or “Who would make the best president?”. Today I asked: “If you could be any one of these people for a single day, whom would it be?” The choices were John C. Fremont (western explorer), Wilma Rudolph (track and field athlete), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (composer), and Nancy Landon Kassebaum (U.S. Senator from Kansas). I deliberately included two males and two females, as well as one black person. Their occupations are varied. Tonight, when I tabulated the results, my expectations were borne out.

Overall, 41% of the thirty-nine students (twenty-two males and seventeen females) chose Fremont. Thirty percent chose Mozart, 15% Rudolph, and 12% Kassebaum. But look how they broke down by sex. Forty-five percent of the males in the class (but only 35% of the females) chose Fremont. Forty-five percent of the males (but only 11% of the females) chose Mozart. On the other side, 29% of the females (but only 4% of the males) chose Rudolph, while 23% of the females (but only 4% of the males) chose Kassebaum. Collapsing the males and females on the list, I find that 71% of all students chose a male; the remaining 27% chose a female. That might be explicable in terms of the occupations, so I’m not troubled by it. But 90% of the males in the class (and only 46% of the females) chose a male. Fifty-two percent of the females (but only 8% of the males) chose a female. This indicates that my students have a strong sense of sexual identity. Males find it hard to imagine being a female (even an athlete or a politician), while females find it hard to imagine being a male (even an explorer or a composer). This is hardly a representative sample, but I find it revealing nonetheless.

Two presidential candidates dropped out of the race today. Bruce Babbitt, Democrat and former governor of Arizona, called it quits after dismal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, while Pierre (Pete) DuPont, Republican and former governor of Delaware, threw in the towel after similar poor showings. The fields are now as follows. For the Democrats, the candidates are Michael Dukakis, Richard Gephardt, Paul Simon, Albert Gore, Jesse Jackson, and Gary Hart. For the Republicans, the candidates are Robert Dole, George Bush, Pat Robertson, and Jack Kemp. Alexander Haig dropped out a few days ago, throwing his support to Robert Dole in the process. Assuming that no other candidate enters the field, here’s how things look. First, I expect Hart and Kemp to drop out shortly. Neither has much support or money. Jackson and Robertson have a core of solid support, so each will probably stay in the race to the end. But neither can win because of the religious and racial factor. Simon and Gore are probably also in trouble. So that leaves Dukakis and Gephardt on the Democratic side and Dole and Bush on the Republican side. Dukakis and Bush are New Englanders, while Gephardt and Dole are midwesterners. If nothing else, it’s a nice balance.


I nominate this as the best scene in film history. If you think you have something better, submit it.

Here is my runner-up.

Here is my third choice.


Bang your head.


One more time.

Yet again.

Yet another time. (At 1:41, the rope snaps.)

And this will do it for tonight. You’re welcome.


Here is Carlin Romano’s essay about Socrates.


Here are two predictions for the 2008 baseball season:

1. Brandon McCarthy of the Texas Rangers wins the American League Cy Young Award.

2. Mark Teixeira of the Atlanta Braves wins the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

Go ahead, make some predictions of your own.

Addendum: Read this. Show it to your children. Andy Pettitte is a better man than Roger Clemens.

Samuel Scheffler on Terrorism

Although terrorism is a political phenomenon, the resources of contemporary political philosophy are of limited assistance in trying to understand it. In recent years, a valuable new philosophical literature on terrorism has begun to emerge, and philosophical interest in the subject has, of course, intensified since the September, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But, with one or two exceptions, the major political philosophies of the past several decades have been little concerned with the political uses of terror or with political violence more generally. On the whole, they have been philosophies of prosperity, preoccupied with the development of norms for regulating stable and affluent societies. To a great extent, for example, they have concerned themselves with issues of distributive justice, and they have implicitly addressed this topic from the perspective of a secure and well-established society with significant wealth to distribute among its citizens. Even when philosophers have looked beyond the boundaries of their own societies and have addressed issues of global justice, as they have increasingly begun to do, they have generally done so from the perspective of affluent, western societies whose responsibilities to the rest of the world are in question precisely because their own power and prosperity are so great. Contemporary political philosophers have not in general needed to concern themselves with threats to the survival or stability of their societies or with the conditions necessary for sustaining a viable social order at all. None of this is intended as criticism. It is entirely appropriate that political philosophers should address themselves to the questions that actually vex the societies in which they live. But it does suggest that the recent political philosophy of the affluent, liberal west may not afford the most useful point of entry for an investigation into problems of terror and terrorism.

(Samuel Scheffler, “Is Terrorism Morally Distinctive?The Journal of Political Philosophy 14 [March 2006]: 1-17, at 3 [footnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: For what it’s worth, Scheffler is one of the best moral philosophers in the world (in my opinion).

Bush-Hatin’ Paul

Only a progressive such as Paul Krugman¹ could write a column about poverty without mentioning (1) desert, (2) personal responsibility, (3) dependency, (4) self-respect, or (5) charity. I repeat something I have said many times in this blog: You have to work hard to be poor in this land of opportunity.


¹“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).

Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom

The following four propositions, according to William Rowe, are inconsistent:

1. God knows before we are born everything we will do.

2. If God knows before we are born everything we will do, then it is never in our power to do otherwise.

3. If it is never in our power to do otherwise, then there is no human freedom.

4. There is human freedom.

Which proposition do you reject?

(See William L. Rowe, Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction, 4th ed. [Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education, 2007], 166.)

“Beaten Like a Drum”

One of my former students sent a link to this column about the “angry white man.” Yes, folks, that’s identity politics. Perhaps, on 4 November, the Democrat presidential candidate will be hoist with his (or her) own petar.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Delegate Lead by Obama Shifts Campaign Focus” (front page, Feb. 14):

My message to the Clinton campaign is this: If your campaign meddles with the nomination process, and somehow manages to assign the delegates from Michigan and Florida to Hillary Rodham Clinton, I, a lifelong Democrat, will vote for John McCain in the general election.

I have had enough of stolen elections. It was bad enough when the Supreme Court awarded the 2000 election to George W. Bush, even though a recount in the entire state of Florida was clearly called for.

Significant questions remain about discrepancies between the exit polls and the voting machine counts in Ohio, the critical state in the 2004 election. It’s bad enough to have the election stolen by the other side, but I will not abide it from my own party.

Hillary Clinton is not entitled to the nomination because of her stature within the Democratic National Committee. If she wins the nomination honestly through the nominating process, then I will support her in the general election.

But if her campaign tries to change the rules in the middle of the game with regard to the Florida and Michigan delegates—delegates who, according to D.N.C. rules, were supposed to have been off limits to both candidates—then I will no longer support her as the Democratic nominee, and I suspect that I will not be alone.

Alexandra Olins
Winooski, Vt., Feb. 15, 2008

Note from KBJ: In what sense of “award” did the Supreme Court award the 2000 election to George W. Bush? Did the Court award abortion rights to women in Roe v. Wade (1973)? Did the Court award sodomy rights to homosexuals in Lawrence v. Texas (2003)?

Note 2 from KBJ: In case you haven’t read it, here is Bush v. Gore (2000).

From the Mailbag


You posted a NYTimes letter by a guy named Robert Epstein (from Feb 6). You let it go with a bit of snark about how if there was a test for competence, Democrats would never win an election. No doubt.

But you let the guy off easy. Try to conceive of a system which would only let people vote who met some competence criterion of the sort he is dreaming of. Who would run it? Who would define the criteria? The government. Right, we really want bureaucrats deciding who gets to vote. What would happen if people from ethnic/racial group X were excluded by higher percentages than people of ethnic/racial group Y. What if more women or men were excluded? Etc. etc. In short, the idea is breathtakingly stupid and would only be a make work project for lawyers and functionaries. I fear Dr. Epstein doesn’t meet my criteria for being allowed to vote.

Maybe check out the guy’s web site . . . it is revealing. He refers to himself as Dr., but all he is is a Ph. D. in psychology who seems to never have had a permanent academic job. But he has lots of business ventures, telling people stuff like how to create love, etc. etc. In my limited experience, people who call themselves ‘Dr.’ but aren’t licensed physicians do not tend to be drawn from the world’s mental elite.

I think you might find some stuff to make fun of there.


Note from KBJ: Me? Make fun of people? (Yankee fans do not count as people.)