Friday, 4 July 2008


I leave you this fine evening with a tribute to our great country by the musical group Yes.


Here is your entertainment for this Friday evening. This song (here are the disturbing lyrics) would be on my list of ten favorite songs of all time. At 8:08, the rope snaps.

Bush-Hatin’ Paul

Paul Krugman¹ says that “Howard Dean didn’t scream.” He’s referring to this. Who cares whether it’s describable as a scream? It’s revolting.


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).


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

A Year Ago


Yankee Watch

The Tampa Bay Rays won today, and the hated New York Yankees lost. Tampa Bay’s magic number to eliminate the Yankees is down to 68, and we’re still 11 days from the All-Star game. The Yankees could be eliminated from contention for the American League East Division title by the end of August. Right now, they’re struggling to stay out of last place.


The other day, when my adopted Texas Rangers played the hated New York Yankees, there was an interesting play. A Ranger player slid into third base. Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez caught the ball and swiped his glove at the runner. Replays showed that A-Rod missed the runner by at least six inches, but he pretended to have tagged the runner, and since the third-base umpire had a bad angle, the runner was called out. He protested, but to no avail.

A-Rod lied. He said (via his actions) that he tagged the runner, but he knew he hadn’t. His intention in uttering this falsehood was to deceive the umpire. I hope nobody disagrees with me that A-Rod lied. What I want to know is what else to say (if anything). Do we say that he lied, but that it’s excused? Do we say that he lied, but that it’s justified? Do we say that the concept of a lie has no place in competitive sport? Perhaps it will help if you imagine talking about this play with your son or daughter. What would you say to him or her?

Addendum: If you say that the concept of a lie has no place in competitive sport, explain why. Does the concept of a lie have a place in the business world, which is just as competitive as sport? Does the concept of a lie have a place in science, which is just as competitive as sport? Does the concept of a lie have a place in academia, which is just as competitive as sport? Why should sport be exempt from moral rules that apply in most other contexts? Don’t say that everyone does it. Suppose everyone in the business world lied. Would that make it all right to lie?


The Tour de France begins tomorrow and ends on 27 July. Here is a scene from today’s training ride by the team of Cadel Evans, who finished second a year ago to Alberto Contador. (Note that they are not wearing helmets.) Evans would be the first Australian to win the Tour. Here is a Tour preview. Here is the start list. Here are the stages. My pick to win the Tour is Spaniard Alejandro Valverde. He would be the third consecutive Spanish winner. If you want to make a prediction, do so now.

Addendum: Here is tomorrow’s stage. There is no prologue this year. For those who don’t know what that means, a prologue is the first “stage” of a stage race. The riders go out one at a time and race against the clock. It is short, sometimes only three or four miles, and the speeds therefore are very high. The idea is to separate the riders from one another, time-wise, with the fastest rider wearing the yellow jersey the next day. Sometimes the winner of the prologue wears the yellow jersey for a week or more.

J. J. C. Smart on Rules of Thumb

I conclude that in every case if there is a rule R the keeping of which is in general optimific, but such that in a special sort of circumstances the optimific behaviour is to break R, then in these circumstances we should break R. Of course we must consider all the less obvious effects of breaking R, such as reducing people’s faith in the moral order, before coming to the conclusion that to break R is right: in fact we shall rarely come to such a conclusion. Moral rules, on the extreme utilitarian view, are rules of thumb only, but they are not bad rules of thumb. But if we do come to the conclusion that we should break the rule and if we have weighed in the balance our own fallibility and liability to personal bias, what good reason remains for keeping the rule? I can understand ‘it is optimific’ as a reason for action, but why should ‘it is a member of a class of actions which are usually optimific’ or ‘it is a member of a class of actions which as a class are more optimific than any alternative general class’ be a good reason? You might as well say that a person ought to be picked to play for Australia just because all his brothers have been, or that the Australian team should be composed entirely of the Harvey family because this would be better than composing it entirely of some other family. The extreme utilitarian does not appeal to artificial feelings, but only to our feelings of benevolence, and what better feelings can there be to appeal to? Admittedly we can have a pro-attitude to anything, even to rules, but such artificially begotten pro-attitudes smack of superstition. Let us get down to realities, human happiness and misery, and make these the objects of our pro-attitudes and anti-attitudes.

(J. J. C. Smart, “Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism,” The Philosophical Quarterly 6 [October 1956]: 344-54, at 353 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: The difference between act-utilitarians and rule-utilitarians (Smart calls them extreme and restricted utilitarians, respectively) is not that only the latter make use of rules. It is that they view rules differently. Act-utilitarians view rules as rules of thumb, i.e., as handy devices. Rule-utilitarians view rules as more than rules of thumb. Both types of utilitarian can endorse a rule against breaking promises, for example. In the rare case in which breaking a promise maximizes utility (i.e., is “optimific”), the act-utilitarian dispenses with the rule and breaks the promise. The rule-utilitarian sticks with the rule and does not break the promise. Smart considers rule-utilitarianism a form of rule-worship or superstition, the implication being that it is irrational.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

I found it hard to read the words of William Kristol about Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, which offer no hint whatsoever that Jefferson and other signers of the Declaration were slave owners who denied millions of people in this country the very freedoms the signers were demanding for themselves.

Failure to address that issue is what forced Frederick Douglass to say on July 4, 1852, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” Douglass was reminding us, 76 years later, of the unfinished business of the American Revolution. In some respects that work remains unfinished to this day.

I do not deny the brilliance and boldness of the words of Jefferson. I only wish that those who reflect on the Fourth of July would acknowledge one of the greatest ironies in history: an American Declaration of Independence that looked past the issue of African slavery.

Marvin A. McMickle
Cleveland, June 30, 2008

Note from KBJ: I found it hard to read the words of Marvin A. McMickle about Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, which offer no hint whatsoever that slavery was abolished in this country in 1865.

From the Mailbag


This is probably irrelevant to you (you have recordings of the shows), but the Sci-Fi channel is running a Fourth-of-July “Twilight Zone” marathon.

Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

Note from KBJ: Thanks, Mark. I need to get going on my viewing. As you know, I’m watching the 156 episodes in order. I’ve watched only 17.