Monday, 10 March 2008


Here is a scene from today’s stage of Paris-Nice.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Playing by Clinton Rules” (column, March 7):

David Brooks contends that Senator Barack Obama cannot go negative or he “will betray the core theory of his campaign” and lose everything.

I agree, but there is a difference between going negative and leveling reasoned attacks against one’s opponent, attacks that focus not on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton herself, but on her arguments and recent campaign tactics.

In conventional politics, going negative tends to involve tactics like vicious personal attacks or a distortion of an opponent’s actual position. Sometimes going negative means manipulating voters’ emotions.

But none of these techniques are required for Mr. Obama to “get tough.” Instead, he can level tougher but reasoned impersonal criticisms of Mrs. Clinton’s policy proposals and campaign.

“Conventional” politics is more than the deplorable, manipulative aspects that are too often its focus. Mr. Obama can “get tough” without going negative.

Vincent Picciuto
Washington, March 7, 2008

Note from KBJ: The letter writer makes an important distinction. One can criticize person P’s argument without attacking P. But I wonder whether Democrats want criticism. They may want each candidate to state his or her own values, principles, and policies, leaving it to voters to compare what each candidate says and make a choice. In other words, Democrats want each candidate to ignore the other. Another way to look at it is that the expression “going negative” is ambiguous. It can mean (1) attacking the person (as opposed to the person’s arguments or policies) or it can mean (2) talking about the other person’s policies instead of one’s own policies. The letter writer thinks Democrats are opposed to 1. I think many Democrats are opposed to both 1 and 2.

Samuel Scheffler on Standard Cases of Terrorism

In “the standard cases,” terrorists undertake to kill or injure a more or less random group of civilians or noncombatants; in so doing, they aim to produce fear within some much larger group of people, and they hope that this fear will in turn erode or threaten to erode the quality or stability of an existing social order. I do not mean that they aim to reduce the social order to a Hobbesian state of nature, but only that they seek to degrade or destabilize it, or to provide a credible threat of its degradation or destabilization, by using fear to compromise the institutional structures and disrupt the patterns of social activity that help to constitute and sustain that order. The fear that terrorism produces may, for example, erode confidence in the government, depress the economy, distort the political process, reduce associational activity and provoke destructive changes in the legal system. Its ability to achieve these effects derives in part from the fact that, in addition to being intrinsically unpleasant to experience, the fear that terrorism produces may inhibit individuals’ participation in a wide range of mundane activities on which a polity’s social and economic health depends. In some cases people may become mistrustful of the other participants in the activity (one of the other passengers may be a hijacker or suicide bomber), while in other cases they may fear that the activity will be targeted by terrorists who are not participants (someone may toss a hand grenade into the night club or movie theater). In the various ways I have mentioned and others that I will describe, the fear that is generated by terrorism can lead to significant changes in the character of society and the quality of daily life, and at the extremes these changes can destabilize a government or even the social order as a whole. In the standard cases, then, terrorists use violence against some people to create fear in others, with the aim of degrading the social order and reducing its capacity to support a flourishing social life—or at least with the aim of credibly threatening to produce these effects.

Terrorist violence may, of course, have many other aims as well, even in the standard cases. The terrorists may hope that their violent acts will attract publicity for their cause, or promote their personal ambitions, or provoke a response that will widen the conflict, or enhance their prestige among those they claim to represent, or undermine their political rivals, or help them to achieve a kind of psychological or metaphysical liberation. Nor need they conceive of their actions exclusively in instrumental terms. They may also be seeking to express their rage. Or they may believe that their victims are not in the relevant sense innocent, despite being civilians or noncombatants, and they may think of themselves as administering forms of deserved punishment or retribution.

There are many other respects in which what I am calling standard cases of terrorism can differ from one another. But they all have the following minimum features: 1) the use of violence against civilians or noncombatants, 2) the intention that this use of violence should create fear in others, including other civilians and noncombatants, and 3) the further intention that this fear should destabilize or degrade an existing social order, or at any rate that it should raise the specter of such destabilization or degradation. The destabilization or degradation of the social order may itself have many different aims. Among other things, it may be intended a) as a prelude to the imposition of a different social order or the reconstitution of the existing order on different terms, b) as a way of effecting some change in the policy of an existing state or society, c) as a form of deserved punishment, and hence as an end in itself, or d) as some combination of these.

(Samuel Scheffler, “Is Terrorism Morally Distinctive?The Journal of Political Philosophy 14 [March 2006]: 1-17, at 5-6 [footnotes omitted])

Animal Ethics

Here is Mylan Engel’s latest post.


John Hawkins of Right Wing News gives the top 10 reasons bloggers don’t succeed.