Sunday, 1 April 2007

Good Night

I leave you this fine evening—an evening in which baseball resumed—with a column by George Will, who loves baseball as much as he loves politics.

Boys and Girls

Boys learn two things early in life: first, that you can’t have it all; and second, that, to be expert in one thing, you must forgo expertise in other things. Why do girls not learn these things—and whose fault is it but their own if they don’t? See here.


It took me a long time to realize that this is an April Fool’s joke.

Richard Swinburne on Life After Death

Other theistic religions have often depicted a Heaven somewhat similar to the Christian one. Such a Heaven is only available if there is a God, for its activity is centered on the development of friendship with him. As I noted earlier, the non-theistic form of Buddhism also claims that there is a kind of after-life; yet there is to my mind considerable plausibility in maintaining that an after-life without God would not be as happy as the theistic Heaven. For friendship is with persons. If there is no God, the only friendship to be attained is with persons with limited ability to satisfy our needs, limited natures to reveal to us, limited abilities to do things for us and satisfy our curiosity.

(Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981], 135)

Twenty Years Ago

4-1-87 . . . A few days ago there was an important legal ruling. An infertile middle-class couple [William and Elizabeth Stern] in New Jersey hired a working-class woman [Mary Beth Whitehead] to bear a child for them. The surrogate mother was artificially inseminated with the male’s sperm and carried the child to term. But after giving birth, she told the couple that she intended to keep the child as her own. Legal proceedings began and the other day the trial-court judge ruled that the child [“Baby M”] belonged to the couple. From what I heard, the judge’s ruling could be rationalized as either a contract case (in which the surrogate mother contracted to give up the child) or a custody case (the surrogate mother and the male being the child’s natural parents). This leaves room for argument in future cases. What interests me, however, are the various arguments for and against this type of legal arrangement. There seem to be three basic positions: liberal, conservative, and radical. The liberal position is that contracts of this sort ought to be treated just like any other. The surrogate mother is simply providing a service for a fee. The conservative position is that bearing a child creates a special relationship between the surrogate and the child, and that relinquishing the child is a form of child-selling. The radical position is that this is an exploitative arrangement. Given the existing class structure, it is likely that working-class women will end up bearing children for the wealthy. For this reason we should ban surrogacy.

I had an interesting discussion of these issues with Bob Schopp and George Smith this afternoon. (George, like Bob, is a graduate student in philosophy.) Bob, the classical liberal, took what I call the liberal position. George, to my surprise, took something like the conservative position (although he called it the “romantic” position). He argued that there is something special about the mother-child relationship that is violated by surrogacy contracts. At a minimum, he argued, the surrogate mother should be permitted to retain the child as her own if she chooses, at least for a certain amount of time after birth. I, meanwhile, explored the radical position, to which Bob had many objections. The point wasn’t to solve any of the problems, at least as far as I was concerned, but to get clear on the issues and arguments. What a delightful discussion! The sun was slowly setting as we sat under the palm trees. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle would have felt right at home, I’m sure—if not with the subject matter, at least with the setting.

Tonight’s [Philosophy of Law] seminar topic was free-floating evils, the subject of Joel Feinberg’s fourth volume, Harmless Wrongdoing [1988]. Before class, Joel told me that my revised [preliminary-exam] reading list was fine, and afterward he gave me permission, at my request, to use the introduction to Harm to Others [1984] in my summer course (Sex, Ethics, and the Law). Joel has a good sense of humor. When I asked to use the introduction, he looked at me in all seriousness and said “The going rate is ten dollars a page.” I didn’t quite know how to take this, but it didn’t matter. Almost immediately he smiled and said “Sure, you have my permission, and don’t bother writing to the publisher. My permission is enough.” See? Joel is not only one of the most brilliant philosophers of our day, he’s also a wordsmith, a wit, and a nice man. I think the world of him.


Here is information about cholesterol (from the American Heart Association). If your cholesterol levels are unhealthy (meaning dangerous to your health), you should cut back on the amount of animal products you consume. This page explains why. I’ve had no dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream, butter, yogurt) in 35 years (since I was 15). I’ve had no animal products other than chicken, fish, and eggs (in small quantities) in more than a quarter of a century (since 1981). Here are the results of my latest physical examination:

Total cholesterol: 110 (desirable is less than 200)
HDL cholesterol: 47 (desirable is more than 40)
LDL cholesterol: 54 (optimal is less than 100)
Triglycerides: 47 (normal is less than 150)

These figures are off the charts, which prompted my doctor to write “great!” It’s my diet. I want to live a long time, so I control what’s controllable. You can do the same. The animals who benefit from your decision will be grateful, even if it’s not made for their benefit.

Addendum: I should point out that (1) I have never smoked or used any other form of tobacco, (2) I have had no alcohol since 1978, and (3) I’m an athlete. Obviously, there is more to good cholesterol numbers than diet; but diet is important.

Addendum 2: Here is a fact sheet from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.


Mark Spahn sent a link to this interesting essay.

March Statistics

This blog had 38,996 visitors during March, which is an average of 1,257.9 visitors per day. It’s not a record month, but I’ll take it. This is the 29th consecutive month in which there were more visitors than the same month the previous year. As long as that continues, I’ll be happy. Y’all come back now, y’hear?


A person can ride a bicycle throughout the year in North Texas. I used to do so. For about the past decade, however, I’ve put the bike away in mid-November (after the Denton Turkey Roll) and stayed off it until late March or early April. During the winter, I focus on running. It staves off burnout. By the time March rolls around, I’m ready to ride again.

The problem with this schedule is that the first few bike rallies are difficult. Aerobically, I’m in great shape (from running), but I have no cycling legs. This makes every hill a struggle. You would not want to experience the burning that I felt yesterday in Aledo (during my 397th rally). But burning is a sign that new muscle is being created. This muscle will help me do longer, faster rallies in late summer and autumn. I view the early rallies the way I view marathon training: as preparation for what’s to come.

The average high temperature at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport during March was 73.4° Fahrenheit. That’s the highest I’ve seen since moving to DFW in August 1989. What’s funny is that January was the coldest month I’ve seen (50.3°). So much for global warming. The warm weather the past month, combined with lots of rain, has made everything green. We usually don’t get this much verdure until May. I even saw a field of bluebonnets the other day. It’s rare to see these before mid-April.

It rained hard in North Texas Thursday and Friday. Luckily for me and for the other cyclists, the rain stopped Friday evening. When I awoke yesterday morning at 6:05, the ground was dry and the sky clear. It turned out to be a gorgeous day. Okay, it was chilly at the start by Texas standards, but within 30 minutes of the start I felt fine. About the only thing I would have changed is the wind. It made about half the rally difficult. The other half was easy. Parts of the course were treacherous as a result of the previous day’s storms. We had to ride through water a few times, and there were branches on the road in various places.

I had three new pieces of technology to test. The first is my car, a 2007 Honda Accord. It ran well. It was nice to have good air conditioning on the way home, and what can I say about the CD player? Swing Out Sister never sounded so good. The second is my Microsoft Zune portable music player. It’s loaded with 7,134 songs from my CD collection. I listened to several dozen of them during the rally. The sound quality of the Zune is excellent. The best song of the day was “Take a Look Around,” by The James Gang. There were, of course, many other good songs. They wouldn’t be in my collection if they weren’t good. The third is my Polar bike computer, which has both a heart-rate monitor and a calorie counter. It worked perfectly, despite my fear that I would accidentally erase data. My maximum heart rate for the day (over 51.3 miles) was 151 beats per minute. My average heart rate (for nearly three and a half hours of riding) was 118. I burned 1,888 calories during the rally. That’s an average of 545.6 per hour and 36.8 per mile. For purposes of comparison, I burn 90 calories per mile while running. That shows you how much more difficult running is than bicycling. I love both sports, but running is harder. You see a lot of people go from running to bicycling. You don’t see many go from bicycling to running, as I did in 1996.

All in all, it was a great day. I saw friends, got a workout, built muscle, listened to music, tried out my new technology, enjoyed the beautiful Texas countryside, and, most importantly, had fun. If you’re not already a bicyclist, you might want to give it a try. What do you have to lose, except a few pounds?

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

As the article pointed out, the researchers who did the day care study “could not randomly assign children to one kind of care or another; parents chose the kind of care that suited them.” Because there was no control group, “determining cause and effect was not possible.” Yet the word “effect” was used in reporting the outcome.

In fact, there is no good evidence of any “effect.” Parents not only chose the kind of care that suited them, they also chose the kind that suited their child. Parents are less likely to leave their child in a busy, noisy day care center if the child happens to be timid and quiet.

The underrepresentation of such children in the day care center population means that this population is biased slightly toward children with a bold, outgoing temperament. This bias alone can account for the small day care “effect” reported by the researchers.

Judith Rich Harris
Middleton, N.J., March 26, 2007
The writer is the author of two books about children’s development.


The local bar was so sure that its bartender was the strongest man around that it offered a standing $1,000 bet. The bartender would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and then hand the lemon to a patron. Anyone who could squeeze one more drop of juice out would win the money. Many people had tried over time (weightlifters, longshoremen, etc.) but nobody could do it. One day, a scrawny little man came into the bar, wearing thick glasses and a polyester suit, and said in a tiny squeaky voice, “I’d like to try the bet.” After the laughter died down, the bartender said OK, grabbed a lemon, and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains of the rind to the little man. The crowd’s laughter turned to total silence as the little man clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the bartender paid the $1,000, and asked the little man, “What do you do for a living? Are you a lumberjack, a weightlifter, or what?” The man replied, “I work for the IRS.”

A Year Ago



When I was in law school in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was a card-carrying member of the Libertarian Party. I voted for the Libertarian candidate, Ed Clark, in 1980. By the time I got to graduate school in August 1983, I had drifted away from the party. My reasoning was simple. The state itself, it seemed to me, was responsible for disparities in wealth and power, so how could it be fair to restrict the power of the state to minimize inequality? Wouldn’t that just entrench those disparities? I was perfectly willing to endorse a minimal government, but only after equality had been achieved. There would need to be a period of socialism to bring about equality; then libertarianism would be implemented. I wanted everyone to have a fair opportunity to become wealthy. I’ve now come much of the way back to libertarianism, although I would never again join the Libertarian Party. (I’m not the joining type.) Here is a review of a new book on the libertarian movement.

Safire on Language