Monday, 16 June 2008

“The Gospel of Envy”

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Ralph Reiland.

From the Mailbag

We’ve seen this map before, but the comments are interesting: e.g. the anomalous “soda” around the University of Iowa, in the midst of “pop” country, the east-west divide in New York, the “soda” enclave around St. Louis, the weird coloring of northern Alaska (probably too few data points).

Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

Note from KBJ: The correct term is “pop,” and frankly, it pisses me off that anyone would call it anything else.

Twenty Years Ago

6-16-88 There was a protest during Monday’s Miss California beauty pageant. The contestant from Santa Cruz, Michelle Anderson, pulled a sign from her gown just as the winner was announced. The sign read “Pageants Hurt All Women”. According to a newspaper account, Anderson, a student at the University of California-Santa Cruz, planned the protest years in advance. She “spent $5,000, lost 15 pounds, bleached her hair, exercised and took voice lessons”. I love it. Beauty pageants are such a part of our culture that we no longer even consider what they represent. Let me take the three main components of a typical competition: evening gown, talent, and swimsuit. The evening gown component shows women at their most feminine: wearing soft, frilly, dainty clothing. Their hair is puffed and styled, they wear makeup and (one suspects) perfume, and they walk suggestively, as if enticing men to bed. The talent component is least objectionable, in principle, but the talents most often represented are also the most traditionally feminine: singing, dancing, and playing a musical instrument. The emphasis is on entertainment, not productivity, assertiveness, or social utility. Finally, there is the most sexist component of all: the modelling [sic; should be “modeling”] of swimsuits. This component portrays women as the objects men take them to be. They are (to men) slabs of meat, on display to all. The most delectable slab gets sold.

Is there any circumstance under which beauty pageants are not objectionable? Suppose there were as many male pageants as female pageants. If the components of the pageants were different (for example, if women, but not men, had a swimsuit component), the pageants would be sexist and hence objectionable. If the components were the same (for example, if both had a swimsuit component), I would still find them objectionable, not because they differentiate on lines of sex, but because women are being objectified. The problem with pageants is that they occur in a sexist culture, a culture that needs vast revision. Men have not traditionally been identified with their bodies and have not been made into objects of female sexual gratification, so no amount of male objectification will harm males. In fact, the likely reaction to male beauty pageants would be laughter and ridicule. “It must be a put-on”, the audience would say. Why? Because that’s not what men are for; that’s not what they’re all about. Men are much more than appearances. In the case of women, the attitude is just the opposite. What more natural way to portray women than as objects of male amusement and attraction? That’s what women are for.

Will Jesse Jackson be the vice-presidential nominee of the Democratic party? Should he? These questions are on the minds of political observers these days. The consensus seems to be that in order to win this fall, the Democratic candidate (Michael Dukakis, by all indications) must carry several southern states. That in turn requires that he appease southern white voters. By putting Jackson on the ticket, though, he [Dukakis] effectively loses those votes. Fine, you say; then don’t put Jesse on the ticket. But Jackson has a small band of rabid and vocal supporters, and he has expressed interest in the vice presidency. How can Dukakis both keep him off the ticket and keep him happy? He must do both. If he appears to be rude or unfair to Jackson, he loses the Jackson supporters and hence the election; if he gives Jackson what he wants, he loses the election straightaway. That, at least, is the consensus of the pundits. In my view, the safest thing for Dukakis to do is to keep Jackson off the ticket. What are his supporters going to do: vote for George [Herbert Walker] Bush? Some of them, no doubt, would fail to vote, but many others would vote for Dukakis as the lesser of two evils. I’m betting that Jesse stays off the ticket. [Dukakis chose Lloyd Bentsen of Texas as his running mate. They were defeated by Bush and his running mate, Dan Quayle.]

Odds and ends: (1) The Detroit Pistons did it again! They beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 104-94, to take a three-games-to-two lead in the championship series. The series now shifts to Los Angeles, where the Lakers are tough. They’ve already won two seventh games there in this year’s playoffs. The best strategy for Detroit is to come out shooting in game six. Don’t even take a chance on letting it go to seven games. Game six is scheduled for Sunday afternoon. (2) Former Arizona governor Evan Mecham and his brother, Willard, have been acquitted on all charges in their criminal trial. I assume that the trial was fair, so I have no complaints about the verdict. But I worry about the future of Arizona politics. Mecham carries a grudge against dozens of high-ranking officials and citizens in this state, and he has a core of strong support. With an acquittal under his belt, he may very likely go on the rampage, seeking to throw opponents out of office and running for office again himself. There is talk that he will run for Dennis DeConcini’s United States Senate seat this fall. (3) The high temperature was 109 degrees [Fahrenheit], highest in 1988. Our low temperature was a record eighty-three degrees.


Long live rock and roll.


Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Tour of Switzerland. Here is tomorrow’s stage.


If Barack Obama keeps giving speeches like this, I may have to vote for him. Key paragraph:

“Too many fathers are M.I.A., too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” Mr. Obama said to a chorus of approving murmurs from the audience. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

No white person could have said this.

Tim Russert

William Kristol pays his respects to Tim Russert. I almost never watched Meet the Press, but I saw Russert on NBC many times during the network’s political coverage. He was particularly prominent during the contested election of 2000, when he used the whiteboard to show the electoral count. He struck me as fair-minded, pleasant, and enthusiastic. If he had strong political convictions, they never came through in his coverage. I was dismayed recently to see Russert on MSNBC with zealots Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann. That sullied Russert’s reputation. As for why he did it, I don’t know. Perhaps he felt that he had to, to keep his bosses happy.

Bush-Hatin’ Paul

Paul Krugman¹ likes Barack Obama’s plan to increase taxes on those who earn more than $250,000 per year, but doesn’t like Obama’s plan to cut taxes on “lower- and middle-income families.” Note Krugman’s rhetoric: “The Obama plan is also far more progressive [than John McCain’s plan], sharply reducing after-tax incomes for the richest 1 percent of Americans while raising incomes for the bottom 80 percent.” Not raising taxes; “reducing after-tax incomes.” Don’t you love it?


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).

A Year Ago


D. C. Stove (1927-1994) on Utilitarianism

That our primary obligation is to increase human happiness, or decrease misery, is an idea only of the last ten minutes, historically-speaking. The human race in general has always supposed that its primary moral obligation lies elsewhere: in being holy, or in being virtuous, or in practising some specific virtue, (loyalty, or courage, for example). An obligation to increase the general happiness has occupied little if any place in most moral systems, whether of the learned or of the ignorant. But for the contemporaries of whom I am speaking, anything morally more important than human happiness is simply inconceivable. You can easily tell that this is so, by asking any of them to mention an example of something which they regard as extremely morally bad. You will find that what they give, in every case, is an example which turns essentially on pain.

(D. C. Stove, “Why You Should Be a Conservative,” Proceedings of the Russellian Society 13 [1988]: 1-13, at 9 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: Stove’s observation is interesting in light of the progressive obsession with torture. People such as law professor Jeremy Waldron are absolutists. They say that it is wrong to torture, whatever the consequences. Better, in their view, to let 100,000,000 innocent people (including Waldron and his family) die than to torture one suspected terrorist.

Note 2 from KBJ: Here is Waldron (see here, pp. 1714-5):

Might we be willing to allow the authorization of torture at least in a “ticking bomb” case—make it a ticking nuclear bomb in your hometown, if you like—where we are sure that the detainee we are proposing to torture has information that will save thousands of lives and will give it up only if subjected to excruciating pain?

For what it is worth, my own answer to this question is a simple “No.” I draw the line at torture.

Fiat justitia, ruat cœlum.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Great Seduction” (column, June 10):

While David Brooks makes some good points about debt and thrift, he paints with a broad brush an unwarranted negative picture of recent financial innovation.

Mr. Brooks states that “Bill Gates built a socially useful product to make his fortune,” but then writes, “But what message do the compensation packages that hedge fund managers get send across the country?”

But hedge fund managers perform many “socially useful” functions for shareholders, consumers and the economy. They play a vital role in channeling capital to its most efficient uses.

Managers like Carl C. Icahn, William A. Ackman, and Phillip Goldstein have held many a chief executive’s feet to the fire, forcing these executives to create value for all shareholders.

Turnarounds at companies from the McDonald’s Corporation to Marvel Entertainment have been instigated by the activism of hedge funds.

Today, hedge funds are also playing roles similar to venture capital in the 1980s in providing seed capital to the Microsofts of tomorrow.

It’s also worth noting that hedge funds were some of the first to blow the whistle on subprime securities, short selling them for the benefit of their investors.

John Berlau
Washington, June 12, 2008
The writer is director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.


An ugly trend is developing. The mainstream media—both print and electronic—are defending Barack Obama. How many times have you seen a journalist reply to the “slur” that Obama is a Muslim? I’ve seen journalists come right out and say, “That’s false; he’s a Christian.” How does the journalist know? The most the journalist could say is, “Obama claims to be a Christian” or “Obama has been seen in a Christian church.” Surely there is more to being a Christian than claiming to be one or attending a Christian church! There are other examples of journalistic bias, but I’ll stop with this one. It’s going to be Obama and the mainstream media against John McCain this fall. You will not find journalists defending McCain from scurrilous charges, just as you didn’t see journalists defending George W. Bush from scurrilous charges. If anything, journalists made scurrilous charges (think Dan Rather).

Addendum: On whether Obama ever was, and now is, a Muslim, see here.