Sunday, 20 April 2008

Public Intellectuals

I leave you this fine evening with an essay by Jacob Heilbrunn.


Here is a New York Times story about Bill and Hillary Clinton. It would be a mistake to conclude from it that loyalty has no place in politics. It does, but it’s not the only important thing. Politics is about power. It is filled with ambitious people, some of whom would throw their mother under the bus if it would promote their electoral prospects. The Clintons have been among the worst in this respect, and now they are getting their comeuppance. Notice the comments about the Clintons from their erstwhile supporters. The Clintons are said to be ruthless, selfish, and vindictive. They feel a sense of entitlement to public office, including, incredibly, the highest office in the land. Even their daughter is getting into the act. One can only hope that the American people remember this when she runs for office, for surely she will. It’s in her blood.

Addendum: Nobody knows who runs this site, but it’s Clintonesque.

Addendum 2: Here is the latest from the campaign trail. Key paragraph:

The Clinton campaign released an ad accused [sic] Senator Barack Obama of taking money from lobbyists over the last 10 years, while the Obama campaign fired back in its own commercial, describing the Clinton ad as misleading and complaining of “11th-hour smears.” The back and forth came as Mr. Obama on Saturday called Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton a “slash-and-burn” game player who will do anything to win.

The end justifies the means. By the way, why is it “Hillary Rodham Clinton” but not “Barack Hussein Obama”?


Here is a scene from today’s Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands. The race was won by Italian Damiano Cunego, who won the Tour of Italy in 2004 at the tender age of 22.

Baseball Notes

1. As badly as my beloved Detroit Tigers (6-12) have been playing, and as bad as that makes me feel, they’re only one game behind their chief rivals for the Central Division title, the Cleveland Indians (7-11). They’re only two games (in the loss column) behind the New York Yankees (9-10), who are mired in fourth place in the five-team East Division. Boston’s magic number to eliminate the Yankees is 141. (This is not a taunt; I’m simply stating facts.)

2. Frank Thomas has been benched, and he is furious, probably because he needs 376 plate appearances this season in order for his $10,000,000 option to vest. Thomas has always been about Frank Thomas. His nickname should be “Big Pain in the Ass” instead of “Big Hurt.” Given how he has treated the media during his career, he’s unlikely to be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, at least for a few years after he becomes eligible. What do you think?

3. I wasn’t aware of it until yesterday, but the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres in 22 innings Thursday night. Both teams’ catchers, Yorvit Torrealba and Josh Bard, caught all 22 innings. I’ll bet they slept well that night.

4. Surprises so far (besides Detroit and Cleveland) include Seattle (9-10), Baltimore (11-7), Florida (10-7), Atlanta (8-9), and Arizona (13-4). The National League Central Division is going to be a dogfight between St Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee. I don’t expect Houston to be in the mix.

5. The Yankees suck. I’m sorry! The devil made me do it.


This is risible. For more than seven years, the mainstream media have been relentless in their opposition to everything President Bush has done, including prosecuting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What is he supposed to do, let his critics have the field? Thank goodness there are military experts with the integrity and courage to speak their minds.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

A Midlife Crisis Doesn’t Have to Be One,” by Kate Stone Lombardi (Generations column, regional sections, April 13), really resonated.

Like Ms. Lombardi’s husband, I have gone back to school to pursue my studies in science. It’s always been my true love. In 1976, I got my degree in business with an accounting major, an expediency so that I could start a professional career as a business and systems project manager. In doing so, I put aside my love of science, specifically physics and electronics. I succeeded in my career.

In 2005, I was laid off and retired. I went through the emotional transition and explored a few different activities. Science lectures for retired people weren’t enough, but they got me headed in the right direction.

In late 2007, I registered at the local college and started my first year of biology—and loved it. It has invigorated me. When I read about the efforts of Ms. Lombardi’s husband to graduate from a meteorology program after a career as a chief financial officer, I understood.

My focus has sharpened. I’ve already registered for algebra and precalculus this summer, and for more calculus and chemistry next fall. I’m working on the 30 to 40 credits of science I’ll need to enter graduate school at Rutgers in a couple of years. A graduate degree in biology or physics is in the future.

So many things promote life, but pursuing knowledge and your dreams cannot be surpassed for rich rewards.

Herb Hirsch
Kendall Park, N.J., April 15, 2008

Note from KBJ: Good for you, Herb.

Twenty Years Ago

4-20-88 . . . The hapless Baltimore Orioles are 0-14 this season. That’s right. They haven’t won a game. Atlanta [the Braves] was with them for a while, but accidentally won a game the other day (sorry, Braves fans). My [Detroit] Tigers, meanwhile, are hanging in there with a record of 7-5. [The Orioles finished 54-107, which was 34½ games behind the Boston Red Sox, who defeated my Tigers by one game in the American League East Division.]

A Year Ago


John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Paragraph 42

My previous education had been, in a certain sense, already a course of Benthamism. The Benthamic standard of “the greatest happiness” was that which I had always been taught to apply; I was even familiar with an abstract discussion of it, forming an episode in an unpublished dialogue on Government, written by my father on the Platonic model. Yet in the first pages of Bentham it burst upon me with all the force of novelty. What thus impressed me was the chapter in which Bentham passed judgment on the common modes of reasoning in morals and legislation, deduced from phrases like “law of nature,” “right reason,” “the moral sense,” “natural rectitude,” and the like, and characterized them as dogmatism in disguise, imposing its sentiments upon others under cover of sounding expressions which convey no reason for the sentiment, but set up the sentiment as its own reason. It had not struck me before, that Bentham’s principle put an end to all this. The feeling rushed upon me, that all previous moralists were superseded, and that here indeed was the commencement of a new era in thought. This impression was strengthened by the manner in which Bentham put into scientific form the application of the happiness principle to the morality of actions, by analysing the various classes and orders of their consequences. But what struck me at the time most of all, was the Classification of Offences, which is much more clear, compact and imposing in Dumont’s rédaction than in the original work of Bentham from which it was taken. Logic and the dialectics of Plato, which had formed so large a part of my previous training, had given me a strong relish for accurate classification. This taste had been strengthened and enlightened by the study of botany, on the principles of what is called the Natural Method, which I had taken up with great zeal, though only as an amusement, during my stay in France; and when I found scientific classification applied to the great and complex subject of Punishable Acts, under the guidance of the ethical principle of Pleasurable and Painful Consequences, followed out in the method of detail introduced into these subjects by Bentham, I felt taken up to an eminence from which I could survey a vast mental domain, and see stretching out into the distance intellectual results beyond all computation. As I proceeded further, there seemed to be added to this intellectual clearness, the most inspiring prospects of practical improvements in human affairs. To Bentham’s general view of the construction of a body of law I was not altogether a stranger, having read with attention that admirable compendium, my father’s article “Jurisprudence”: but I had read it with little profit and scarcely any interest, no doubt from its extremely general and abstract character, and also because it concerned the form more than the substance of the corpus juris, the logic rather than the ethics of law. But Bentham’s subject was Legislation, of which Jurisprudence is only the formal part: and at every page he seemed to open a clearer and broader conception of what human opinions and institutions ought to be, how they might be made what they ought to be, and how far removed from it they now are. When I laid down the last volume of the Traité, I had become a different being. The “principle of utility” understood as Bentham understood it, and applied in the manner in which he applied it through these three volumes, fell exactly into its place as the keystone which held together the detached and fragmentary component parts of my knowledge and beliefs. It gave unity to my conceptions of things. I now had opinions; a creed, a doctrine, a philosophy; in one among the best senses of the word, a religion; the inculcation and diffusion of which could be made the principal outward purpose of a life. And I had a grand conception laid before me of changes to be effected in the condition of mankind through that doctrine. The Traité de Législation wound up with what was to me a most impressive picture of human life as it would be made by such opinions and such laws as were recommended in the treatise. The anticipations of practicable improvement were studiously moderate, deprecating and discountenancing as reveries of vague enthusiasm many things which will one day seem so natural to human beings, that injustice will probably be done to those who once thought them chimerical. But, in my state of mind, this appearance of superiority to illusion added to the effect which Bentham’s doctrines produced on me, by heightening the impression of mental power, and the vista of improvement which he did open was sufficiently large and brilliant to light up my life, as well as to give a definite shape to my aspirations.

Note from KBJ: This is a remarkable paragraph, for it describes a secular religious experience. The only difference between Mill’s experience and that of, say, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is that Pascal’s god was a person (albeit a special one). Mill’s god was the principle of utility, as personified and prophesied by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). Later, we will read about Mill’s crisis of faith, his recovery, and his lifelong attempt to proselytize.

Safire on Language