Friday, 2 May 2008

Twenty Years Ago

5-2-88 . . . Former White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan has just published a book. In it, he says that Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer regularly and used the advice to alter her husband’s (the president’s) schedule. The timing of one of the arms-control signings, for example, was changed so that it occurred during one of the president’s “safe” times. Ron [i.e., Ronald Reagan] denies that he made any decisions on the basis of astrology, but still, I’m troubled. The mere fact that his wife believes in astrology shows that she’s irrational, and we all know how influential she is with her husband. Regan, to be sure, has a bad motive in making this public. According to the pundits, he was drummed out of the White House by Nancy, who thought he mishandled the Iran-Contra affair. It looks like he’s getting sweet revenge against her. Only time will tell how this affects the public impression of the Reagans. It won’t change my impression, because I’ve long thought that both of them are idiots. This simply confirms my belief.


I recently completed my collection of remastered albums by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, which may be the most underrated band of all time. Here is “Rock Drill,” from the 1977 album of the same name. Someone used it as the soundtrack to a series of images.

Addendum: Here is another SAHB masterpiece.

Twenty Years Ago Yesterday

5-1-88 . . . The Detroit Tigers are winning ugly. (This phrase was coined a few years ago by Tony LaRussa, manager of the Oakland Athletics, as I recall. It describes a team that manages to win despite flawed play.) Today the Tigers beat Seattle [the Mariners] for the third time in a row, giving them four straight victories, seven of nine, and improving their record to 14-8. Three of the past four victories have been by one run. But that’s not all. People like Alan Trammell, Matt Nokes, Gary Pettis, and Darrell Evans haven’t begun to hit, and the starting pitchers have been awful. I honestly don’t know how they won so many games. The exciting thing is that, when the pitching and hitting do come around, the Tigers will be awesome. They should be in contention all year.


Here is Peggy Noonan’s latest column. Here is Peg Kaplan’s latest post.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Thomas L. Friedman is critical of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s proposal of a suspended gas tax from Memorial Day to Labor Day, saying, “Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering.” I must differ.

This suspension of the gas tax is no cure, and was not presented as such. This is relief. For people who must use their vehicles to go to and from work, their costs have doubled, but their incomes have not. This savings can put food on the table, pay for a prescription or a visit to the doctor.

For those who do not live in ivory towers, and opine on theory, life is very real and very hard. Let’s see this for what it is: a much-needed helping hand.

Judith Lacher
New York, April 30, 2008

Bush-Hatin’ Paul

In Paul Krugman’s¹ warped world, Republicans have never had a good idea. It must kill him that nine of our past 14 presidents (and seven of our past 10) have been Republicans. Evidently, the American people don’t share Krugman’s values. Good totalitarian that he is, he would probably say that they have a false consciousness. Heh.


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).


Suppose it’s the third inning of a scoreless baseball game and the team at bat has runners on first and second. There are two outs and the batter has a full count. Do you send the runners? Yes, because nothing bad can happen and something good can happen. If the pitch is a ball, the runners advance anyway. If the pitch is a strike, or if the batter makes an out, the inning is over. But suppose the batter hits a ball into the gap between outfielders. If the runners aren’t moving, it’s possible that only one of them scores. If they are moving, it’s possible that both of them score. Since the objective of the game is to outscore one’s opponent, and since it’s always possible that moving the runners will score at least one additional run, there is always a reason to move the runners.

Or is there? This past Tuesday, at the Ballpark in Arlington, my friend Hawk and I got into a vociferous (but friendly) argument. The Texas Rangers (our adopted team) trailed the Kansas City Royals, 9-5, in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Rangers had runners on first and second. There were two outs and the batter had a full count. Hawk said the runners should be moving, and they were. I said they had no reason to be moving. Hawk was aghast. Back and forth we went, all the way out of the ballpark, all the way to my car, and all the way to Hawk’s car in the UTA parking lot a few miles away. By the time we parted, each of us was hoarse from insulting the other. “You don’t know a damn thing about baseball!” one of us would roar. The other would retort: “I lost all respect for you as a baseball man this evening.”

Funny stuff, eh? But there’s a serious issue here. Who’s right?

It was obvious to me during the game, and has been ever since, that the rule about moving runners didn’t apply in the situation. Why? Because it wasn’t important for either of the two runners to score, much less for both of them to score. For the Rangers to win, they had to tie, and to tie, they had to get the batter on base. That would bring up the tying run. As far as I could see, it didn’t matter where the runners were, as long as they weren’t out. I kept explaining this to Hawk, but all he would say is, “You always move the runners.” He was exasperated, and so was I.

I’ve been thinking and talking about this problem since the game ended. The other day, I asked readers of this blog for input. I now think Hawk was right: There was reason to move the runners, even in that situation. But he was right for the wrong reason. I, by contrast, was wrong for the right reason.

(One irony about this dispute is that Hawk kept telling me to stop being “logical” and to stop “analyzing” the situation. Obviously that’s impossible for me, a trained philosopher. It was logic and analysis that brought me to an understanding of what happened, which I am now trying to articulate.)

We know that there can be more than one rationale for a rule. The rule against torture, for example, can be grounded in either consequentialism or deontology. One rationale for the rule about moving the runners when there are two outs and a full count is that it increases the likelihood of scoring runs. Call this “the general rationale.” Another rationale is that it increases the likelihood of the batter reaching base. Call this “the special rationale.” In this particular situation, the general rationale didn’t apply. Getting the runners home wasn’t important; getting the batter on base was important.

So the question changes to this: Does the special rationale apply? That is, does moving the runners increase the likelihood that the batter will reach base? Notice that this has nothing to do with the runners scoring. Joshua Smart, a reader of this blog, correctly identified at least one case in which moving the runners does increase the likelihood of the batter reaching base. Suppose a ball is hit into the hole between the third baseman and the shortstop. The shortstop fields it in shallow left field. If the runners are not moving, there may be an easy play (or at least a play) at third base, ending the game. But if the runners are moving, the shortstop may have to throw to first base, and the throw might not make it in time. Result? The batter reaches base, which brings the tying run to the plate.

There may be other advantages to moving the runners in that situation. If there are, they are advantages because they increase the likelihood of the batter reaching base, not because they increase the likelihood of a run scoring. Do you see the difference?

So where does that leave us? Hawk was right that the rule is to move the runners when there are two outs and a full count. But, as we saw, this rule has different rationales, depending on the situation. Most of the time, the rationale is to score more runs. The other night, in that special situation, the rationale was to get the batter on base. Hawk didn’t grasp that the general rationale for the rule didn’t apply in that situation. (He kept yammering about the ball being hit into the gap, scoring both runners.) My mistake was thinking that, since the general rationale for the rule didn’t apply in that situation (I was right about that), no other rationale applied. Thanks to Joshua, I know that that’s wrong.

Ain’t baseball great?

D. C. Stove (1927-1994) on the Psychological Root of Communism

But even as to external causes of misery, Malthus‘s list omits one which, at any rate in our century, is at least as important as war, famine, or pestilence. This cause is, in addition, actually responsible for most of our wars and famines. I mean benevolence.

There are a million examples one could give, drawn from the effects of ‘welfare’ legislation on societies like ours, from the effects of western technology on primitive societies, and so on. But I will go at once to the biggest and most obvious example of all: 20th-century communism. This is an evil so appalling that some ignorant or superstitious people believe that its psychological roots can only lie in Satanism, or even in Satan himself. But in sober fact it is beyond question that the psychological root of 20th-century communism is benevolence. Lenin, Stalin, and the rest, would not have done what they did, but for the fact that they began by wishing the human race well. Communists differ, of course, from other Friends of Humanity, in certain beliefs that they have, about the conditions necessary for achieving human happiness. But the emotional fuel of communism has always been the same as the emotional fuel of all utopianisms: the passionate wish to abolish or alleviate human misery.

And yet everyone knows what the actual effects of communism are. They are, an unprecedented level and extent of misery, wherever the communists have triumphed; and wherever they are actively resisted, inextinguishable war, and in many cases famine as well.

(D. C. Stove, “Why You Should Be a Conservative,” Proceedings of the Russellian Society 13 [1988]: 1-13, at 8 [italics in original])