I am glad that a federal judge barred unvaccinated students from public school, but the judge didn’t go far enough. Since an unvaccinated student can be contagious without knowing it, such students shouldn’t ever be allowed in class, since vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective.
Unvaccinated students are hazards to the health of other students, so they should not be allowed exemptions at any time or for any purpose.
JAY M. PASACHOFF Heraklion, Crete, June 23, 2014
The writer teaches a course on science and pseudoscience at Williams College.
Here is a New York Times op-ed column defending philosophy (the discipline) from attacks by scientists. Philosophers will earn the respect of scientists when, and only when, they stop being science groupies. For the umpteenth time: philosophy is not science; is it not "continuous" with science; it is not the handmaiden of science. It is an autonomous discipline, with its own concepts, methods, standards, and objectives. To put it bluntly, philosophy is the analysis of concepts. It is concerned with the necessary, the possible, and the impossible. It has nothing whatsoever to say about the contingent, which is the province of science and common sense. The job of a philosopher is to map conceptual space, leaving it to scientists to map physical space.
Katherine and I are watching the Academy Award-winning movies in chronological order, beginning with Midnight Cowboy in 1969. Yesterday evening, we completed our viewing of Shakespeare in Love (1998), which I had never seen. I wish I could still say that I have never seen it. The movie was awful. I can't think of a single good thing about it. I didn't understand a word of the dialogue; the acting was insipid; there was no scenery worth viewing; and, perhaps worst of all, the movie is fictional! If it were actually about William Shakespeare, the man and the playwright, I might have been interested, for historical reasons. Why should I care about something somebody made up? Katherine has joked to me about watching it again some time. I told her that it would have to be in my next life.
John Arquilla's "Obama's 3-part policy can ease bloodshed" (Insight, June 22) has glaring shortcomings. First, he claims President Bush rushed to war. On the contrary, Bush labored for more than a year prior to the start of the war to form a large coalition of nations to assist in that effort.
Second, intelligence reports from Israel, Germany, France and Great Britain (and possibly Russia) all confirmed Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, including atomic weapons. This information was heavily discussed prior to the war not only by the Bush administration but also by the likes of then-Sen. John Kerry (now secretary of state), Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada (now U.S. Senate majority leader), then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (later secretary of state) and then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco, later speaker of the House). As early as 1998, President Bill Clinton affirmed the belief that Iraq was developing WMDs. So, third, to try to change history is simply duplicitous.
These are the people Arquilla refers to as "gullible." As for the rest of his piece, which is not much more than palaver, the Sunnis and Shiite hate each other, and Obama hasn't a clue.
Rebel Yell (1983). Billy Idol scared and disgusted me when he emerged on the scene in the early 1980s. I now think that this is one of the best rock albums of all time. Five of its nine songs (including this one) are of exceptional quality, and even the other four are solid. My favorite part of this song is at 2:26, when Steve Stevens's guitar comes in.
Today's bike rally in Waxahachie (my 576th overall) gives me 2,006.3 miles for the year, which is half over (since I don't plan to ride again until Tuesday, 1 July). My goal, you may recall, is 4,000 miles (actually, 4,004.7), which would be my fourth-best mileage year ever (in 34 years of cycling). I now believe that I can reach 4,400 miles for the year, which would make 2014 my third-best year of 34, and my best since 1991, when I was 34 years old. (I'm now 57.) Wish me luck!
This is not a radical ruling; it’s actually quite pragmatic and sensible. And it isn’t about President Obama. It applies to all presidents.
The point of the original law on recess appointments was to enable the president to govern when Congress wasn’t around—not when it obstructed his agenda or failed to agree with him, but just when its members couldn’t quickly be gathered together.
The Senate’s every-three-day pro forma sessions may seem like a technicality, but on most of those mini-breaks you actually could get members of Congress together on short notice. It’s during the summer recess or major holidays, when they are all traveling, that you might need an emergency appointment. So in effect, the Supreme Court has said that an emergency can’t be defined as “I didn’t get my way.” Good call.
It is possible to distinguish, at least in principle, between the negative task of defending a thesis against objections (removing grounds for disbelief) and the positive task of providing a case for a thesis (providing reasons for belief). Of course, these positive and negative tasks are often difficult to separate. My defense of moral realism will partake of both. Much of my argument will pursue the negative task. Moral realism is thought by many to succumb to a variety of devastating objections. I shall try to show why moral realism does not fall to standard metaphysical and epistemological objections. If this defense is successful, I shall have shown that the standard reasons for resisting moral realism are unfounded. Although this negative claim about moral realism is both interesting and important, I shall try also to establish the case for moral realism.
(David O. Brink, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics, Cambridge Studies in Philosophy, ed. Sydney Shoemaker [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989], 12)
Note from KBJ: The same distinction (between defending a thesis and making a case for a thesis) applies in the case of theism (understood as belief in the existence of a personal deity). A theist can (1) remove grounds for disbelief in God and (2) provide reasons for belief in God. The first strategy is ineffective for those whose lack of belief is ungrounded. Take me, for example. I have no grounds for my lack of belief in God. I simply find myself without a belief in God. (I also find myself without a belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Abominable Snowman.) I'm in the same position with respect to moral realism as I am with respect to theism. I simply find myself without a belief in what Brink calls "moral facts." Since my lack of belief is ungrounded, there is nothing Brink or anyone else can say that can show my "grounds" to be inadequate. One cannot have inadequate grounds if one has no grounds. (And no, I don't for a moment think that there is a presumption in favor of moral realism that has the effect of placing a burden of proof or persuasion on those who aren't moral realists.) As for Brink's making a case for moral realism, the only way this can succeed is if he shows me that beliefs I already have commit me, logically, to believing in moral facts. But even if he could do this, it would still be up to me to decide whether to accept moral realism. Merely showing me that I have inconsistent beliefs doesn't force me to reject any particular belief. It just shows that something in my belief set has to give.
Your assessment of the Iraqi military’s weakness doesn’t ask the hard questions necessary to explain the realistic alternatives facing the Iraqi government and, presumably, the United States.
It seems most unlikely that the Iraqi military can be trained or equipped to take on ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in time to affect this crisis. But why should air power be necessary to defeat an enemy with no air force of its own? Why should a sophisticated military organization be necessary to defeat a group that largely mirrors the Shiite militias now forming, with the exception of their combat experience?
We should have learned from our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Vietnam, the limits to countering such forces with the kind of traditional military we’ve spent billions trying to create in Iraq since 2003.
By default, Shiite militias may be the only groups able to counter ISIS, in spite of the fact that their use may lead to a sectarian war. Better to let those who have a real stake in the outcome take on the challenge and let the chips fall where they may.
MICHAEL W. COTTER Pittsboro, N.C., June 23, 2014
The writer was United States ambassador to Turkmenistan, 1995-98.
When the editorial board of the New York Times disagrees with a Supreme Court ruling, as often happens, it does so by quoting from the dissenting opinion(s). The board's members have no legal expertise, so they bolster their political and moral views by "borrowing" from the dissent. This gives the editorial opinion a veneer of respectability as legal analysis. As you probably know, the Supreme Court just struck down, on First Amendment grounds, a statute that created a "buffer zone" at the entrances of abortion clinics. The ruling was unanimous. This, you can be sure, caused a great deal of consternation at the Times. The editorial board opposes the ruling, but doesn't have anyone to quote! What do you do in a case like that? You emote.