Wednesday, 27 February 2008


Linda Greenhouse is the legal correspondent for the New York Times. In today’s report about a recent United States Supreme Court ruling, she describes Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinion as “somewhat cryptic.” I just read the opinion. I have read thousands of judicial opinions in my lifetime. There is nothing the least bit cryptic about it. In fact, it’s admirably clear and impeccably reasoned. (If it weren’t well reasoned, you can be sure there would have been concurring opinions.) Why am I making a big deal about this? Because the progressive narrative about Justice Thomas is that he’s intellectually deficient. Remember when Senator Harry Reid said that Justice Thomas’s “opinions are poorly written”? When asked about his comment later, he couldn’t cite an example; he just knew that they are poorly written. Greenhouse is perpetuating this bigoted stereotype.

Best of the Web Today


Health Care

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want everyone in this country to have health insurance. They differ in how to achieve it. Clinton wants to mandate that everyone purchase health insurance. Those who can’t afford it would presumably be given subsidies. Obama wants to make health insurance affordable for everyone. Those who don’t want it can go without it. During yesterday’s Ohio debate, Clinton and Obama went at each other for 17 minutes on this issue. Clinton kept saying that Obama’s plan would leave 15,000,000 people uninsured. Obama kept saying that Clinton hasn’t explained how her mandate will be enforced. Clinton’s argument is that, without a mandate, there will be free riders on the system. People who refuse to purchase health insurance will show up at emergency rooms for treatment, the cost of which will be passed on to everyone else. Obama, to my knowledge, hasn’t addressed the free-rider argument. Obama’s argument is that it’s acceptable for some individuals not to have health insurance provided it’s affordable for them. He thinks the reason people lack health insurance is not that they don’t want it, but that they can’t afford it. What he should say is that there are other values at stake besides individual welfare. Individual liberty is also important. Nobody should be coerced into purchasing health insurance. That’s how totalitarian societies operate. It’s an interesting debate, at least to those of us who have a background in economics.

Addendum: For what it’s worth, I’m with Clinton and Obama on free trade. It has been a disaster for many Americans and, I would argue, a bad thing for the country as a whole.

Addendum 2: Clinton said during the debate (with a triumphant air) that Obama’s health-care plan mandates that parents purchase health insurance for their children. She implied that this was an inconsistency in his plan. It’s not. There’s a morally relevant difference between coercing S into doing X for S’s good and coercing S into doing X for the good of S’s dependents. The former is paternalism, which is morally obnoxious. If Obama were as smart as people say he is, he would have pointed this out.


Here is the latest on Roger Clemens, who should have kept his fat mouth shut. I hereby call upon Major League Baseball to wipe the New York Yankees’ 1999 and 2000 World Series victories off the record. The Yankees won by cheating. Anyone who doesn’t see this is blind.


It won’t be long now
Before baseball commences
And Yankees implode

Twenty Years Ago

2-27-88 . . . The winter Olympic games are almost over. Tonight was the big showdown between East German and defending gold medalist Katarina Witt and American Debi Thomas in the women’s figure skating competition. The media built it up so much and for so long that the pressure must have been enormous. As portrayed by the media, it was Witt, the beautiful but mysterious East German, the star of the communist firmament, against Thomas, the bright (pre-med at Stanford [University]), athletic, black American. Traditionally, the gold medalist in figure skating goes on to a lucrative career with Ice Capades and product endorsements, so that added to the pressure. When all was said and done, Witt prevailed. Thomas slipped three times during her routine and fell to third. Local favorite Elizabeth Manley of Canada moved into second. Thomas, obviously disappointed with herself and with her performance, could be heard to say “At least it’s over” as she waited for the results. She also whispered “Back to school” to her coach.

What bothered me about the women’s figure-skating competition was the emphasis on appearance, and particularly on sex appeal. Witt made no secret of her success: She said that she flirts with the fans and judges. She wears lots of makeup and tight, revealing outfits. She has claimed at press conferences that men “like full-figured women”. More than one commentator has called her “beautiful”, “elegant”, “attractive”, and “pretty”. Thomas, who is not beautiful by conventional standards, is usually described as “tall”, “athletic”, and “bright”. These latter comments are fine, since they tie in with the competitive nature of the event, but the remarks about Witt trouble me. Is this a beauty pageant? Why should a skater’s appearance matter? Perhaps it shouldn’t, but does, in which case we should reeducate the judges and fans about what counts. In any event, I began to root against Witt because of her comments. Not only does she admit to flirting, but she plans to embark on a career as an actor. What a silly, useless occupation! Thomas will do much better for herself as a doctor. [Thomas is a medical doctor in Illinois. Witt is involved in a number of activities.]

The [Arizona] Wildcats won again, this time over intrastate rival Arizona State [the Sun Devils]. The score was 101-73. Arizona is now 27-2 on the year. There are two regular-season games left, followed by three in the Pac-10 tournament (assuming we reach the finals). So if all goes well, we should enter the NCAA tournament with a phenomenal 32-2 record.

A Year Ago


Hall of Fame?

Matt Williams. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

C. D. Broad (1887-1971) on Motives and Consequences

The opinion that the rightness of an act is in some way connected with the goodness or badness of its consequences is, I suppose, held by everyone in practice and by most moralists in theory. If we only listen to what people say instead of also noticing how they act and judge, we might be inclined to underrate the amount of agreement on this point. Nothing is commoner than such phrases as ‘you must never do evil that good may come,’ which, if they mean anything, imply that some acts are wrong, however good their consequences. Yet, in practice, people who quote this maxim and also believe that pain is an evil do not, as they ought to do, shun their dentists as moral lepers. Again, there is no doubt that commonsense thinks motives important as well as consequences, but it would reject the Kantian view that they are all-important, and that only one kind of motive is morally valuable.

(C. D. Broad, “The Doctrine of Consequences in Ethics,” International Journal of Ethics 24 [April 1914]: 293-320, at 293 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: There are three logically exclusive and exhaustive types of normative ethical theory: (1) consequentialism; (2) absolutist deontology; and (3) moderate deontology. Consequentialism says that as far as the rightness of acts is concerned, nothing matters except their consequences. (“Consequences are everything.”) Absolutist deontology says that as far as the rightness of acts is concerned, consequences don’t matter at all. (“Consequences are nothing.”) Moderate deontology says that as far as the rightness of acts is concerned, consequences matter, but not exclusively. (“Consequences are something.”) Broad is saying (correctly, in my opinion) that commonsense morality exemplifies moderate deontology. In other words, most people—all but a few nutty philosophers—are moderate deontologists.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Geraldine A. Ferraro’s thinking confirms, as conservatives have been saying for years, the Democrats’ belief that the people of this country cannot be trusted to know what is best for them. Such knowledge, they believe, is the sole province of the liberal elite.

Joseph Fink
Bronx, Feb. 25, 2008

Note from KBJ: It’s called paternalism. It’s as natural to progressives as breathing.

“Not Waiting His Turn”

You have to believe me when I say that I don’t read Maureen Dowd. Until a few minutes ago, I hadn’t read a Dowd column in over a year. Today, however, I couldn’t resist the temptation to click the link to her column, because I was intrigued by the blurb. It said something about Hillary Clinton being upset with Barack Obama for not waiting his turn. That’s exactly right. Hillary’s entire life has been programmed. From Wellesley commencement speaker to Yale Law School to marrying Bill Clinton (I read somewhere that she knew he’d be president from the moment she met him) to working on his campaigns to practicing law to serving as First Lady to running for the United States Senate to insisting on serving on the Armed Services Committee to sitting out the 2004 election—every step has been planned, choreographed, and orchestrated. This was supposed to be Her Time. She paid her dues; she schmoozed with the right people (including the Hollywood crowd); she figured out how to have it both ways on every issue; she worked on her appearance; she padded her résumé.

What happens? An upstart challenges her. The sheer effrontery! How dare this young man, who has many election cycles ahead of him, deny her the prize she has long sought! How dare he not realize the historic nature of her candidacy! How dare he suggest that he is as capable of leading this country as she is! How dare he not defer to her superior experience and expertise! To add insult to injury, Obama seems to be winning on the basis of airy rhetoric. By contrast, she comes across as dour, whiny, and old. Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but I’m enjoying the hell out of Hillary’s demise. Her dreams, plans, and hopes are disintegrating before her eyes. What was supposed to be a coronation has become a nightmare. Hillary is experiencing what Ted Kennedy experienced 28 years ago. He, too, thought that he was fated to become president. The American people took a good long look at him and said no. At some point, he must have come to grips with the fact that he would be nothing more than a senator for the rest of his life. (Not a bad consolation prize, is it?) Hillary will have to come to grips with the same fact. She is the Ted Kennedy of the current generation.

By the way, I loved yesterday’s debate from Ohio. During the first intermission, I called my mother in Michigan to make sure she was watching. She’s become quite the political junkie. I told her that as much as I love baseball, I’d rather watch Hillary and Barack debate than watch a baseball game. It was riveting. Did anyone else get into it as much as I did?

From the Mailbag

Hi Keith

This was good, and important. Human beings, not cultures and religions, have human rights. Indeed.

Cheers, Torsten