Friday, 13 June 2008

Twenty Years Ago

6-13-88 Monday. In recent years there has been a spate of lawsuits against tobacco companies. Years ago, when it was still legally permissible to advertise tobacco products on television, tobacco companies claimed not only that cigarettes were not harmful to smokers, but that they were positively good for you. Now, of course, we know otherwise. Smoking is strongly correlated with lung cancer, which suggests a causal connection. As for the lawsuits, well, there are many legal bases for them. The one in the news today was based on an express warranty. The estate of a deceased woman claimed that the defendant tobacco company warranted the safety of its product. She died of lung cancer, and her attorney established that it was caused by smoking. In perhaps the first verdict of its kind, her estate was awarded over $400,000 by a jury. For years, the tobacco industry has fought off such lawsuits energetically, knowing that a single verdict against them would stimulate plaintiffs’ lawyers all over the country to file suit.

Should tobacco companies be liable to smokers? This is a controversial question of morality that happens to be about law. It asks what the law should be, not what it is. On one side are those who claim that tobacco companies should not be liable. People do, or should, know that smoking has adverse physical consequences. If they choose to run those risks and come down with cancer or some other disease, they should not look to the tobacco companies or anyone else for compensation. On the other side are those who favor liability. The most common argument is that there is rarely if ever a voluntary choice to smoke; most smokers are addicted, and before they start they are ignorant of the risks. So, in effect, the tobacco companies tricked them into getting started and should have to bear part of the cost of their physical ailments. Both arguments are persuasive. As a philosopher, my job is not to take sides but to understand the arguments, clarify the issues, and bring out hidden assumptions. As a citizen, I’m inclined to hold the tobacco companies liable, if only to make them bear part of the costs that they inflict.

Americans, who are among the most sexist people in the world, have long joked about Soviet women. The stereotype is that Soviet women are fat, unattractive, hairy, and muscular. They’re all shotputters or tractor drivers. As part of his new policy of openness, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has permitted a “Moscow Beauty ’88” pageant. The winner was a sixteen-year old student. In television and newspaper pictures that I’ve seen, she comes across like any American teenager. She’s slim (almost anemic), wears makeup, has long hair, and has shaven legs and underarms. The contest, which, according to a newspaper report, “emphasized bathing suit competition”, was for “a wealth of prizes”. Stop to think about the implications of this pageant. Rather than portray Soviet women as the engineers, doctors, and astronauts that they are, Gorbachev permits their portrayal as sex objects. His goal is pretty clearly to get on the good side of Americans, and what better way to do so than to show us that they (Russians) treat their women the same way “we” do: as objects for male sexual gratification and amusement.

The irony of this pageant is that Soviet women are and have been treated better (that is, with more respect) than American women. In Russia, women are viewed as equals, as common participants in a national project, as workers with a job to do. Here, women are ornaments, pretty things, mere appendages of men. But because Gorbachev wants to link the Soviet and American people, he changes the portrayal. Rather than urge Americans to treat women with greater respect, he permits Russians to treat women with less respect. “Look”, he is in effect saying, “we, too, have feminine, attractive women. We, too, ogle our women, reduce them to objects, and encourage them to wear makeup, perfume, and nonutilitarian apparel. We’re just like you!” The whole thing disgusts me. Now there will be Russian girls as well as American girls desiring to be soft and dainty. The Soviets have put their imprimatur on sexual objectification. What’s next: a Russian version of Playboy?

Tim Russert, R.I.P.

It’s 8:32 in the evening and I just learned of Tim Russert’s death. My mother told me via telephone from her home in Michigan. I can’t think of anyone who loved his or her job more than Tim loved his—or who was as good at it. He will be missed. For what it’s worth, Tim was a lawyer.


Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Dauphiné Libéré. Here is tomorrow’s penultimate stage (144.7 miles). If Levi Leipheimer is to win the weeklong race (he lies third, 1:29 behind the leader), he must drop his rivals—Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and Australian Cadel Evans—on the final climb.

A Year Ago



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

Addendum: As much as I enjoy Noonan’s columns, I am appalled by her unruly punctuation. She also needs to learn the difference between a podium and a lectern.


Laugh at me if you must, but this song, which was released when I was seven years old, still excites me. The multi-layered harmonies are exquisite, and the guitar, primitive as it is by contemporary standards, is superb. The song is at once simple and complex. It’s also lyrically innocent. How did we get from this to the F-word, “hos,” and “bling bling”?

Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) on Tradition

Now, a tradition of behaviour is a tricky thing to get to know. Indeed, it may even appear to be essentially unintelligible. It is neither fixed nor furnished; it has no changeless centre to which understanding can anchor itself; there is no sovereign purpose to be perceived or invariable direction to be detected; there is no model to be copied, idea to be realized, or rule to be followed. Some parts of it may change more slowly than others, but none is immune from change. Everything is temporary. Nevertheless, though a tradition of behaviour is flimsy and elusive, is it not without identity, and what makes it a possible object of knowledge is the fact that all its parts do not change at the same time and that the changes it undergoes are potential within it. Its principle is a principle of continuity: authority is diffused between past, present, and future; between the old, the new, and what is to come. It is steady because, though it moves, it is never wholly in motion; and though it is tranquil, it is never wholly at rest. Nothing that ever belonged to it is completely lost; we are always swerving back to recover and make something topical out of even its remotest moments: and nothing for long remains unmodified. Everything is temporary, but nothing is arbitrary. Everything figures by comparison, not with what stands next to it, but with the whole. And since a tradition of behaviour is not susceptible of the distinction between essence and accident, knowledge of it is unavoidably knowledge of its detail: to know only the gist is to know nothing. What has to be learned is not an abstract idea, or a set of tricks, not even a ritual, but a concrete, coherent manner of living in all its intricateness.

(Michael Oakeshott, “Political Education,” in his Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, new and expanded ed. [Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991], 43-69, at 61-2 [italics in original; footnote omitted] [essay first published in 1951])

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

I wish I could see the evidence to support Paul Krugman’s feelings of less racial polarization in America. But it has been shown in study after study that America’s public schools are resegregating to levels of the late 1960s.

This huge public school resegregation reflects hostility and resistance to “forced” integration and also mirrors America’s entrenched racial residential patterns.

Whites by and large still live in Whitelandia, and even as many blacks escaped the urban ghettos, they were resegregated in mostly black suburbs because of racial steering, outright discrimination and white flight.

The prospects of ever achieving meaningful and systemic public school integration is further reduced and complicated by societal-based hostility to affirmative action and such court-ordered remedies as busing.

Indeed, the courts have largely abandoned once effective judicial decrees that forced integration of the schools and that might have overcome exclusionary zoning and other causes of residential segregation.

Unfortunately, intense skin-color discrimination, casual stereotyping, intense fear of blacks, and black and white isolation are still very prevalent in America.

Michael Meyers
Executive Director
New York Civil Rights Coalition
New York, June 9, 2008

Note from KBJ: How much do you want to bet that the letter writer sends his children to private school?


How many of you stayed in bed today on account of it being Friday the 13th? How many besides me, I mean? But seriously, are you superstitious? If so, in what ways? I find myself saying “Knock on wood” quite often, and my friends hate it when I say to them, while riding alongside, “You haven’t had a flat tire in a long time.” I think it’s funny that anyone would think black cats to be bad luck. All cats are bad luck.

Temperature Check

John Hawkins of Right Wing News polled 240 right-of-center bloggers on a number of political questions. Here are the results. My answers (a.k.a. the correct answers) are as follows:

1. A
2. B
3. B
4. B
5. B
6. B
7. A
8. No
9. B

Feel free to provide your own answers as a comment. Please do not cheat by simply copying mine.

Curro Ergo Sum

3.1 miles. Hot. Humid. Hence hard.