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Three from the Boston Globe: Conflict, amusement, and maddening missing of the point

Part One

The big page two story of today’s Boston Globe is an article by Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post. It begins:

Two of the administration’s top economic officials defended President Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget plan yesterday, arguing that the proposal would finance a historic investment in critical economic priorities while restoring balance to a tax code tipped in favor of the wealthy.

The first nine paragraphs are about the fierce conflict. Only in paragraph ten do we get the most important news:

Despite those and a few other contentious issues, Obama’s budget request was generally well-received yesterday, as lawmakers took their first opportunity to comment on an agenda that many have described as the most ambitious and transformative since the dawn of the Reagan era. Democratic budget leaders said they are likely to endorse most of Obama’s proposals sometime in April in the form of a nonbinding budget resolution.

If it bleeds, it leads. Sigh.


Part Two

Because I generally disagree on policy with the Globe’s conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby, I try to give him the benefit of the doubt in his reasoning. But this morning, he’s driven me officially nuts. Well done, sir!

Jacoby devotes his column to the philosopher Peter Singer. First, he lauds Singer for “his commitment to charity.” But the bulk of the column is given over to Singer’s controversial — too mild a word — argument for permitting infanticide under careful legal conditions.

Actually, I’ve misspoken. Jacoby doesn’t mention Singer’s argument. He only gives the conclusion. Jacoby’s own conclusion is that Singer’s stance shows what happens “if morality is merely a matter of opinion and preference — if there is no overarching ethical code that supersedes any value system we can contrive for ourselves…”

In fact, Singer’s most objectionable conclusions come from rigorously applying standards of morality against opinion and preference. For example, if we say it’s our superior intelligence that gives us certain rights, then we should be willing to accord those rights to other creatures that turn out to have the same intelligence, even in preference to humans who lack that intelligence by accidents of birth or personal history. Or, as Singer says in the conclusion of the brief column in Foreign Policy that Jacoby cites:

…a new ethic will … recognize that the concept of a person is distinct from that of a member of the species Homo sapiens, and that it is personhood, not species membership, that is most significant in determining when it is wrong to end a life. We will understand that even if the life of a human organism begins at conception, the life of a person—that is, at a minimum, a being with some level of self-awareness—does not begin so early. And we will respect the right of autonomous, competent people to choose when to live and when to die.

There are lots of ways to argue with Singer’s conclusions. (I found him so convincing on animal rights in the 1970s that I’ve been a vegetarian ever since. I find him less convincing on infanticide.) But saying that Singer is merely expressing personal opinion is not to argue with him at all. In short, Jacoby is merely expressing his own opinions and preferences, and thus is guilty of exactly what he criticizes Singer for.


Part Three

The headline over the continuation of an article from the front page says:

Amid Maine’s extremes, teams of dogs and humans vie

It’s mildly disappointing to learn that the article is about dog sled racing in Maine, rather than about a dogs vs. humans sports event. [Tags: ]

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