Yesterday evening, Katherine and I watched We're the Millers (2013), which Katherine checked out of the local library. The movie was funny in places, but the word "fuck" (and variants) was overused. What is the point of this? The word has power only when, and only because, it is used sparingly. My guess is that the movie is pitched to teenagers, who find the (over)use of the word transgressive and entertaining.
“Thank you for your service”: Having served in Europe during World War II, I cringe when I hear this empty statement. It was about duty.
We had enemies destroying the freedom of America and other countries and murdering millions of innocent people. It was our duty to respond and serve, to preserve our freedom and future. The statement “thank you for your service” is as empty and feel-good as “support our troops.”
Note from KBJ: With all due respect, the letter writer is confused. Admittedly, we don't thank people for doing their duty. Imagine my telling everyone I encounter: "Thank you for not murdering me." But reasonable people can (and do) differ about what duty requires. If you think you've done your duty and nothing more, then you will think my gratitude to you is inappropriate. If I think you've done more than duty requires, then I will think my gratitude to you is appropriate. Bottom line: If you're a veteran and someone says, "Thank you for your service," be charitable and assume that your interlocutor believes (as you may not) that you went above and beyond the call of duty.
Nozick initially gives the impression that the issue of justice in rectification is a relatively minor matter of making a few adjustments here and there to remedy past wrongs. However, if Nozick's view is that we should remedy all wrongs which, according to entitlement theory, have occurred, then the prospect is mind-boggling. All state transfer payments are, on Nozick's view, illegitimate. The only legitimate forms of taxation are, according to Nozick, to fund defence, the police, and the administration of justice. Anyone who has ever received state health benefits, grants, bursaries, welfare payments, child benefit, rent support, and so on, has, according to libertarianism, received money which rightfully belongs to others. Furthermore, many present holdings can ultimately be traced back to conquest by force or fraud. Lyons takes these speculations further and even considers the question of whether, on Nozick's view, much of the United States should be returned to the American Indians.
Note from KBJ: I don't know that Nozick thinks rectification of injustice requires only "making a few adjustments here and there." I think he wanted to discuss the principles of justice in acquisition and justice in transfer and didn't have space in his book for the principle of rectification of injustice. It's always been clear to me (if not to Nozick) that the principle of rectification of injustice requires vast transfers of wealth, for the existing distribution of wealth is a function of a great many injustices, great and small. Think of human chattel slavery, for example. Think of the broken treaties with American Indian tribes. Think of the many instances of force and fraud between individuals. When I abandoned libertarianism in the early 1980s, it was for this reason. How can one defend the existing distribution of wealth when it came about so unjustly? Also, how can one defend the existing distribution of wealth when it came about (in large part) through the actions of government—the very government libertarians despise? Libertarianism, to be consistent and acceptable, must be preceded by egalitarianism. Only when resources are equally distributed and all injustices have been rectified is it fair to put people on the starting line of the race and say, "Go!"
“Cyclists’ helmet defiance hard to navigate” (Feb. 24) is missing the point. We cannot accept any regulation on bicycling. Regulation is a slippery slope. Today it may be something that sounds beneficial, like wearing safety helmets. But tomorrow, it could be requiring bicycles to be licensed like other vehicles. From there, it is only a small step to requiring cyclists to obey traffic laws or be cited and required to pay fines.
We will not be further marginalized into having to observe the same kinds of regulations that apply to motorists and pedestrians. We represent a higher and better means of transportation and must be free to use public streets and roads and the many millions of dollars of bicycle infrastructure that have been built for us as we see fit.
Patricia Gelb, Oakland
Note from KBJ: The second time I read this letter, I realized that it's sarcastic.
The New York Times has done a hit job on Bill O'Reilly and, indirectly, the Fox News Channel. It is filled with gossip, innuendos, jabs, and outright misrepresentations. The Times is losing readership; O'Reilly's viewership is expanding. Can you say "envy"? O'Reilly will defend himself in three minutes.
First, let me say what I will not be arguing. Some say that spanked children are more likely to be aggressive or antisocial as adults. Extensive research, however, has not decided whether corporal punishment is any more likely than nonphysical punishments to cause such a long-term outcome. So I shall not rely on a claim that spanking has such effects. Of course, if it does turn out to have such effects, my argument will be strengthened.
Instead of the effect of spanking on the child's behavior, I shall focus on its effect on the behavior of parents and other adults. Spanking's wrongness, I shall argue, arises primarily (if not exclusively) from the fact that by encouraging the corporal punishment of children, spanking raises the likelihood of severe physical punishment—punishment of a kind that even spanking's defenders admit is harmful. While spanking in itself may not be substantially harmful to the child, if it can lead caregivers to escalate their punishments, then that ought to be given weight in a moral evaluation. The spanking parent himself or herself is at the greatest risk of escalation, but the effect might also occur across individuals. Spanking fosters an environment in which corporal punishment is normal and accepted. Seeing other parents spanking their children may suggest spanking as an option to parents who are not otherwise inclined to spank—and it may reinforce the legitimacy of spanking to parents who already use it, giving them a sense of self-assurance that may lead them to escalate their punishment beyond mere spanking.
(Gary Bartlett, "An Argument Against Spanking," Public Affairs Quarterly 24 [January 2010]: 65-77, at 66-7 [italics in original; endnotes omitted])
Note from KBJ: This is an odd argument. Ordinarily, one argues that X should not be allowed (by law, for example) because of what X, if allowed, will lead to or bring about. Bartlett argues that spanking is wrong because of what it might lead to. I think he misunderstands the nature of a slippery-slope argument. If this essay had been sent to me for review, I would have recommended rejection, with the possibility of revision and resubmission. By the way, the world needs more spanking, not less.
“It numbs the heart, dulls the reflexes of graciousness and gratitude as people’s behavior on sidewalks and train platforms shifts to self-preservation.”
This winter has indeed been bitter, but I’m generally a fan of the season. I find the chill air invigorating, especially when out for a morning jog, and my mind is sharper and more agile (though, I hope, no less gracious) than in summer, when the heat brings on lethargy.
Winter undoubtedly has its drawbacks, but no one who walks through the park on a sunny winter afternoon can say it has no charm. The effort, and extra clothing, are worth it.