Saturday, 27 January 2007


Here is a New York Times story about spam. I’m dumbfounded by the number of advertisements I receive for penis enlargement. What kind of man would try to enlarge his penis? But here’s the kicker. The sales pitch mentions being “bigger” than other men, including one’s friends. Now let’s see what this presupposes. First, it presupposes that friends see each other’s penises. I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen any of my friends’ penises, and they sure as hell haven’t seen mine. Second, it presupposes that men compete with one another for largest penis. Ha! Men compete with one another in a lot of areas, such as pickup size, length of golf drive, number of power tools, income, and computer speed, but penis size? Come on! Maybe the idea is to get men who don’t already do so to think competitively about penis size. In other words, it’s an attempt to manufacture a want. Can’t you just see it: The Penis Bowl! The World Series of Penises! Penis Night on ESPN! The Winter Penis Games! And then, of course, we would have to list Viagra and Levitra as performance-enhancing drugs. But I digress. Which spam messages or techniques do you find bizarre?

Twenty Years Ago

1-27-87 I needed some miles before the end of the month, so I jumped on my bike this afternoon and rode 11.4 miles. I went down Speedway Boulevard to Houghton [Road], then climbed for a mile to Broadway [Boulevard], then rode to Kolb [Road], and then came home. When added to the mileage that I already accumulated this month, the 11.4 miles puts me ahead of last [sic; should be “the previous”] January’s pace. I’ve now broken the previous year’s monthly mileage record for eighteen straight months. A year ago, in February, I rode 221.3 miles, so I’ve got my work cut out for me if I intend to make it nineteen in a row. Here’s my plan. I’ll do four regular [Colossal] cave rides, then, on the last day of the month (28 February), I’ll ride to Picacho Peak and back (roughly seventy miles). That should do it. Actually, any of the five rides can be a Picacho Peak ride. I just need the extra thirty miles. [I carried out this plan to the letter, finishing the month with 231.4 miles.] Today, incidentally, the official high temperature was eighty-six degrees [Fahrenheit]. This was not only the all-time high for this date in Tucson (at least since records have been kept), but it tied Los Angeles for the high temperature in the nation. It’s rare that we get that honor. I enjoyed the warmth.

I recently printed my thousandth page of journal entries. This got me to thinking, so I did some calculations. I began the computerized journal on 8 March 1984, nearly three years ago. In that period, 1055 days, I drafted 1000 single-spaced pages of entries. That’s an average of .94 single-spaced or 1.89 double-spaced pages per day. I also estimated the number of words that I wrote in that period. Choosing a page at random and counting the words (615), I calculate that I’ve written 615,000 words in my journal in the past 1055 days. When added to the words written in letters, term papers, and elsewhere, I’ve probably written over a million words in less than three years. If I’m a good writer, that’s why: I write. A million words. I like the sound of it. [I hate to think how many millions of words I’ve written since I wrote this journal entry. A person can do a lot of damage in 20 years. I hope I have at least another 20 years in which to do even more damage.]

Tonight’s [Philosophy of Law] seminar was interesting. The subject matter was harm, and in particular whether (1) a person can be harmed without knowing it, and (2) there is any sense in which a dead person can be harmed. David Cortner was called on to read his paper on topic (1). He did a good job. The discussion was heated at times and raised interesting issues about the nature of philosophical analysis, counterexamples, and concepts. On David’s view, one cannot harm another without the other person knowing or at least being aware of it. I’m with Joel [Feinberg] in rejecting this view. To me, intuitively, the person whose house has been burgled has been harmed at the moment of entry. Only later does the person find out about it. But David resisted this, and I’m not sure that there’s anything we can do at that point to persuade him. He just conceives of harm differently than we do. [In other words, he had different intuitions.]

On the second topic, the consensus was that the dead cannot be harmed—that is, that the interests of the dead cannot be set back or defeated. Why? Because death obliterates the subject, and interests require a subject. But this strikes me as too crude. First, let’s distinguish between death as a state of affairs and death as an event. If death is a state of affairs, then it is true that death cannot be a harm. For death to be a harm, there would have to be a subject, with interests, whose interests are set back or defeated. But if death is an event, then things are otherwise. A kills B. A’s action causes B’s death. A’s action in killing B is an event. In this case, it seems plausible to say that A’s act of killing B harms B, for it sets back or defeats B’s interests in having food, shelter, clothing, fuel, and the other necessities of life. It also thwarts B’s plans (in Feinberg’s terms, B’s “focal aims”). So, depending on how one conceives of death—as an event or as a state of affairs—it may or may not constitute a harm. Joel seemed intrigued by this line of reasoning, but others in the class thought that it was cheating—letting a metaphysical distinction do the work of substantive argument. [I think I was saying that while killing (the act) harms, death (the state) is not a harm.]

I increased the number of daily situps from fifty to seventy. There is pressure in both directions. I want to do a lot of situps in order to strengthen my abdominal muscles, but that takes time, and I have other things to do. So I have to compromise. Seventy seems to be a nice compromise right now. [Twenty sit-ups takes no more than two minutes. Was I that pressed for time?]

The Commander in Chief

Someone needs to say it, so I will: Garry Wills is senile. Read this. Never in my nearly 50 years have I heard anyone say or imply—nor do I think anyone has ever believed—that the president of the United States is commander in chief of civilians. Yet, Wills devotes an entire New York Times op-ed column to denying the proposition. Unbelievable. He seems unaware that the expression “our commander in chief” is elliptical for “the commander in chief of our Army and Navy.” Why would the Times publish such a stupid column? I believe it’s because the column is an exercise in Bush-bashing. You can’t just allow someone to bash President Bush for 750 words. There has to be at least a pretense of substance.

Richard John Neuhaus on Bigotry

It is frequently the case that bigots are most vocal in talking about bigotry.

(Richard John Neuhaus, “The Public Square,” First Things [December 2006]: 59-80, at 77)

Identity and Migration

Here, courtesy of Mark Spahn, is an essay by Francis Fukuyama.


Read this. According to the New York Times, President Bush and Vice President Cheney “have done grievous harm to the credibility of the Oval Office and the country.” Perhaps so, but by being so blatantly partisan in its political coverage, the Times has done grievous harm to its own credibility and to the profession of journalism. Does the Times not see this?

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

In “Breaking the Clinch” (column, Jan. 25), David Brooks recognizes what most commentators still do not: that the source of civil disorder in Iraq is not religion, politics or ethnicity. It is psychology.

When social order breaks down, the most brutal elements in society emerge and can be exploited by “charismatic” leaders to turn neighbor against neighbor in a seemingly endless cycle of atrocity and revenge.

But Mr. Brooks doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion from his insight: that our staying in Iraq, surge or no surge, is never going to ameliorate the violence. The best we can do is get out. And after withdrawal, concentrate on confining the violence within Iraq by diplomatic means.

Eventually, the death squads and suicide bombers will exhaust themselves, and then we should support the emergence of social order by providing aid for reconstruction.

Alfred B. Lewis, M.D.
New York, Jan. 26, 2007
The writer is emeritus professor of clinical psychiatry, Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Note from KBJ: I’ve been saying much the same for almost three years. See here.

The Blink-Off

This is hilarious. (Thanks to Mr Big for the link.)

A Year Ago


Wants and Needs

Mylan Engel sent a link to this Newsweek story. Somebody explain to me why President Bush should care about how popular he is. I don’t care one whit about how popular I am with my students. In fact, if I’m popular, I’m probably doing something wrong! My job is to give the students what they need, not what they want. The same is true of the president, whether it’s Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. We elected George W. Bush to lead us. He is leading us. He should neither care about nor pay attention to how popular he is. He should do what’s best for the country and let the historical chips fall where they may.