Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Man in Black

My parents love country-and-western music, so I heard a lot of it growing up. My friend Carlos just sent a link to this video by Johnny Cash (1932-2003), whom I remember from my childhood. I had never seen it (or heard the song, for that matter). Powerful stuff, wouldn’t you say?

Addendum: This is a classic.


Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Tour of Switzerland. Here is tomorrow’s stage. Note the mountaintop finish. When a climb comes in the middle of a stage, riders who get dropped can usually catch back on. When a climb comes at the end of a stage, the stronger riders take time out of their rivals.


If the wives of the presidential candidates want to be left alone, they should shut up.


I nap nearly every day, usually for one hour but sometimes for as long as 90 minutes. It refreshes me. See here for an informative chart about napping. I must take exception to the first paragraph, in which the author says that the expression “Caught napping” shows that napping is frowned upon. What it shows, obviously, is that there are times and places in which napping is inappropriate. If you’re supposed to be guarding something, for example, you shouldn’t be napping. Students shouldn’t nap during class and employees shouldn’t nap during meetings. Napping is like drunkenness in this respect.


I keep thinking it’s a joke, or that I’m dreaming. Nope. Canada has gone totalitarian. You’d think they’d have learned something from the horrors of the 20th century.


Here is your entertainment for this Wednesday evening.

John Kekes on Egalitarianism

It is natural to wonder what reasons Rawls and Dworkin have offered in defense of these absurd egalitarian claims. The scarcely believable answer is that they have offered none. Dworkin says that “my arguments are constructed against the background of assumptions about what equality requires in principle. . . . My arguments enforce rather than construct a basic design of justice, and that design must find support, if at all, elsewhere than in these arguments.” And Rawls concludes his discussion of the section of his book called “The Basis of Equality” by saying that “of course none of this is literally an argument. I have not set out the premises from which this conclusion follows.” Their very long books certainly present the appearance of giving arguments in defense of their views, but the appearance is deceptive. What they do in great and tedious detail is to work out some of the consequences of assumptions for which they offer no reasons, while they ignore the consequences whose absurdity I have been pointing out.

Dworkin, for instance, offers what he himself calls an egalitarian fantasy concerning the ideal distribution of resources. Such distribution must meet “the envy test,” which asks whether people are satisfied with the resources they have and do not prefer someone else’s resources instead of their own. It should not escape notice how extraordinary it is to make envy the test of ideal distribution. Envy is the vice of resenting the advantages of another person. It is a vice because it tends to lead to action that deprives people of advantages they have earned by legal and moral means. The envy test does not ask whether people are entitled to their advantages; it asks whether those who lack them would like to have them. And of course the answer will be, given the human propensity for envy, that they would like to have them, that they are not satisfied with what they have. Dworkin, counting on this, claims that the ideal distribution would be one that removes this dissatisfaction. It would distribute advantages so evenly that no one could be envious of anyone else’s. Instead of recognizing that envy is wrong, Dworkin elevates it into a moral standard.

(John Kekes, “Assault on a Fine Ideal,” The New Criterion 26 [February 2008]: 25-31, at 27 [ellipsis in original])

A Year Ago


A Man of Character

My friend Jeff sent a link to Thomas Sowell’s latest column.

Twenty Years Ago

6-18-88 I was thinking about the connection between literality and sincerity today. To me, literality consists in meaning what one says. Sincerity consists in believing what one says. Thus, there are three items that get linked: (1) what one believes, (2) what one intends to say (put differently: what one means), and (3) what one says. The first and third are connected by the concept of sincerity and the second and third by the concept of literality. There seems to be no word to express the relation between (1) and (2). When you think about it, there’s a nice symmetry among these items. What we say is a function of the meaning of the expressions that we use. Natural languages are out there, so to speak; we latch onto them in order to express ourselves. But this doesn’t always work. Sometimes we say one thing and mean another. For example, I may intend to say that the sky is blue, but instead say that the grass is green. The recipient of my utterance may think me strange. I can also communicate nonliterally, as when I say “That’s a pretty hat” and intend to say “That’s an ugly hat”. In this case, if I’ve communicated my intentions properly, the recipient ignores what I said and fastens upon what I meant. What we believe, of course, is private, though there is evidence of it. So the continuum runs from belief (the most private) to intention to what is actually said (the most public).

Arizonans were recently asked which disease they fear the most. As expected, AIDS [Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome] topped the list. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents said that they fear AIDS more than any other disease. Cancer was second (twenty-one percent), heart disease or stroke third (four percent), and Alzheimer’s disease fourth (two percent). Alongside the column of percentages is a column showing the number of deaths from each disease. In 1986, in Arizona, there were 111 deaths caused by AIDS. Some 6,126 died of cancer, 10,045 of heart disease or stroke, and 192 of Alzheimer’s disease. The story line was roughly as follows: Why are people so worried about AIDS, when it ranks fourth in terms of number of deaths? The implication is that people are irrational in their attitudes toward AIDS.

I’ll tell you why people are so worried about AIDS. First, unlike the other diseases on the list, it’s contagious. You don’t catch cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s disease. With AIDS, you never know whether you’ve contracted the disease in casual contact. Second, there’s no known cure for AIDS. Cancer and the other diseases have been around for many years, so health professionals have developed techniques for dealing with them. With AIDS, about all they can do is alleviate pain. Third, there’s a social stigma attached to AIDS that doesn’t attach to the other diseases. If you have AIDS, you must be either a drug user or a practicing homosexual, neither of which is looked upon with favor in our society. Ironically, this is one basis for fear that we can do something about. If we change our attitudes toward drug users and practicing homosexuals, there will be no need to worry about the social stigma of having AIDS. These are just some of the reasons why people fear AIDS, and not all of them are irrational. If any fear is rational (and I think that many fears are), then fear of AIDS is.

I took a four-mile walk this evening. Rain threatened, but I covered my [Sony] Walkman with a plastic bag and went anyway. It was fun. Although I was enveloped in mist for much of the walk, I saw a glorious sunset when I turned westward on Broadway [Boulevard] at Pantano [Road]. The sun, a massive orange ball, was just disappearing beyond the horizon. The entire western sky was ablaze, as if there were a tremendous forest fire miles away. It didn’t take long to disappear, after which the sky remained orange and yellow for twenty minutes. The rain accelerated with about a mile to go, but by then I was warm and it didn’t bother me. A man pulled his pickup to the side of the road, leaned over, opened the door, and asked if [sic; should be “whether”] I wanted a ride. “No, thanks”, I shouted; “I just live over there.” What a nice gesture! Speaking of rain, we’ve gone so long without it that the desert plants must have opened up immediately. I couldn’t help but notice the smell. It smelled like manure. But what better smell could there be? Rather than dry, desert air, we had moist, cool air for a change. The place was sensuous, alive.

Hall of Fame?

Vladimir Guerrero. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Among the “welter” of emotions revealed in John McCain’s 1974 thesis was “a sharp impatience with the American government” during the war in Vietnam “for failing to ‘explain to its people, young and old, some basic facts of its foreign policy.’”

I welcome these words, and I only hope that the nominee still harbors the same feelings. For the Bush administration has failed much more grievously to explain the basis of the foreign policy that led to the invasion of Iraq.

During the last presidential campaign, President Bush got away with hiding from the public his true motives for starting the pre-emptive war. Senator McCain can be expected to embark on a wholly different course.

Now we have good reason to assume, on the basis of his own words, that he will at last provide the electorate with a full and clear account of just how and why this country got bogged down and remains in the mess in Iraq.

Joseph Pequigney
New York, June 15, 2008

Note from KBJ: The rightness of an act is distinct from the motive with which it is performed. A right act can be poorly motivated and a wrong act well motivated. But suppose, for the sake of argument, that motivation bears on rightness. There can be more than one motive for a given act. One or more of these motives can be reputable and one or more disreputable. The letter writer imputes only disreputable motives to President Bush (although he fails to specify what they are). How’s that for cynicism?

Note 2 from KBJ: The letter writer implies that pre-emptive military action is categorically wrong. Suppose you had reason to believe that your neighbor is stockpiling weapons with the aim of killing you and your family. Must you wait until the neighbor attacks before defending yourself? The law doesn’t require this, and neither does morality. The question is not who acts first, but who is in the right.


Here is the latest All-Star tally for the American League. Here is the latest tally for the National League. It is not good for Major League Baseball that seven of the nine American League starters will come from two teams: the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Many baseball fans across the country will watch something else. The system needs to be changed, and soon.