Sunday, 10 June 2007

The Old Gray Lady

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Ed Koch.

The Usefulness of the Death Penalty

Does the prospect of capital punishment deter would-be murderers? If it does, then, by refusing to allow it, we sentence innocent people to death. Recent studies show, or at least suggest, that each administration of the death penalty prevents three to 18 murders. See here for a news report. There are two issues regarding capital punishment. First, is it useful? Second, is it just? There are four possibilities: (1) It can be both useful (as a deterrent) and just; (2) it can be neither useful nor just; (3) it can be useful but unjust; and (4) it can be just but not useful. I hope the renewed debate about deterrence doesn’t cause us to lose sight of justice. Murderers deserve to die, even if no good would come of their punishment. If good comes of it, in the form of fewer innocent lives being lost, then so much the better.

Addendum: This remains the best thing I’ve ever read on capital punishment.


Should the United States use force against Iran, which is training and equipping Iraqis to attack Americans? Joe Lieberman says yes. What do you say?


Daisuke Matsuzaka, a.k.a. Dice-K, is turning out to be Dud-K. He was beaten today by Randy Johnson and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Matsuzaka is now 7-5 on the year, with a 4.52 earned-run average. To put this in perspective, Bob Gibson finished his 17-year career with an earned-run average of 2.91. In 1968, Gibson’s earned-run average (for more than 300 innings pitched) was a ridiculous 1.12.

Mesquite and McKinney

Eight days ago, in Mesquite, Texas, I did my seventh bike rally of the year and 403d overall. The course was short, as rallies go, so I knew that I could ride harder than usual. (If you go out hard on a long ride, you pay for it at the end.) I had a great day. I rode 19.0 miles the first hour and 20.5 the second. I averaged 16.96 miles per hour for the final 58 minutes. This gave me an average speed of 18.84 miles per hour for 55.9 miles, which is by far my fastest rally of the year. (The previous high was 17.29.) Indeed, it was my fastest ride in a year: since the 2006 Mesquite rally.

I attribute the greater speed to (1) light wind, (2) a flat course, and (3) the insane riding of Julius Bejsovec, my longtime bicycling friend. Julius pulled a pack of riders for miles. Ordinarily, I would have gone to the front to help him (i.e., to share the work), but it was all I could do to stay on his wheel. I thought I was the only one who was suffering, but Joe Culotta admitted at the finish that Julius was hurting him as well. (Joe rode his tandem with his 12-year-old son Jason, who is getting stronger by the year.) I demanded to know what drugs Julius was taking, so that I could take some myself, but he denied taking any. A likely story. Julius is 60 years old. I hope I’m riding close to his level in 10 years.

Yesterday, in McKinney, Texas, I did my eighth bike rally of the year and 404th overall. Once again, the course was short, this time only 53.0 miles. I went out even harder this week, covering 20.4 miles the first hour and 18.7 the second. This gave me an average speed of 19.55 miles per hour with 16 miles to go. The rally organizer listed the long course as 55 miles. I calculated that if I finished in 2:53, I’d hold on to 19 miles per hour as my overall average speed. I rode like a madman through the cornfields and forests, hammering up every hill and keeping my heart rate high. I know it’s silly, but I wanted 19 miles per hour. When I got to within a mile of the finish, I knew I had it. I reached the finish line, turned off the computer, and checked the mileage. To my horror, I had 53.0 miles instead of 55. Damn! The rally organizer provided false information on the brochure. Although I averaged a respectable 17.34 miles per hour for the final 48:05, I ended up with 18.91 miles per hour for the day. Oh well, I went faster than a week ago with less pack riding, so I feel as though I’m improving.

We had a lot of rain in May, but June has been dry thus far, and the temperature is increasing. The high temperature yesterday was 95° Fahrenheit—with high humidity. You don’t notice the humidity so much while pedaling, but when you stop, it feels as though you’ve entered a sauna. When you get going again, there’s a wonderful cooling sensation as the perspiration evaporates. I stopped only once yesterday, at about the two-hour mark. I ate a PowerBar (which I had carried in my jersey), sat in a lawn chair under an awning, used the Porta-Potty, sipped two cups of water, and looked at the course map. It felt good to get off the bike for a few minutes. None of my friends showed up to ride with me (they’re wimps), so I got to listen to music on my Zune for the first time in several weeks. I enjoyed it. The best song (of many good ones) was “Cruising Altitude,” by Frank Gambale, from The Great Explorers (1993). If you like guitar, as I do, you’ll love this album.

I wish there had been a longer course yesterday, because I’m trying to increase my endurance. I want to ride 100 miles in Wichita Falls instead of the 74 I’ve been doing for several years. There used to be a 75-mile course in McKinney. I wonder why it was dropped. Obviously, if I had gone an additional 22 miles, my overall average speed would have been lower; but that’s okay. I’d trade speed for endurance. My maximum heart rate yesterday was 155. My average was 128. I burned 1,729 calories. My maximum speed for the day was 35.1 miles per hour. I hope you had as enjoyable a weekend as I did. Remember: Living well is the best revenge.


May I make a film recommendation? Here. This film has haunted me for months.


This New York Times movie reviewer is upset that Hollywood doesn’t portray abortion as the routine medical procedure that it is. Key paragraph:

Though conservatives regularly accuse Hollywood of being overly liberal on social issues, abortion rarely comes up in film. Real-life women struggling with unwanted pregnancies might consider an abortion, have intense discussions with partners and friends about it and, in most cases, go through with it. But historically and to this day in television and film—historians, writers and those in the movie industry say—a character in such straits usually conveniently miscarries or decides to keep the baby.

I have a theory. Hollywood doesn’t depict abortion because (1) it supports abortion rights and (2) it knows that such depictions will increase opposition to abortion rights, as people see just how vain, frivolous, and irresponsible women can be.

Nude Cycling

For the love of God, people, keep your clothes on! I blame Queen. Twice.


Is it wrong of me, an atheist, to prefer Christian vendors? I look for the Christian fish symbol when I shop, and make my purchases accordingly. My reasoning is simple: I’m less likely to be screwed by a Christian than by a nonChristian. So far, every Christian with whom I’ve dealt commercially has done right by me.

Addendum: Most of my friends are Christians, some of them devoutly so. Is it wrong of me, an atheist, to prefer Christian friends? Am I exploiting them?

Richard Rorty (1931-2007)

The author of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), which, according to its publisher, “hit the philosophical world like a bombshell,” is dead. See here. For a summary of Rorty’s philosophical work, see here. For an essay by Rorty (on terrorism), see here.

W. D. Ross (1877-1971) on Rightness and Moral Goodness

It seems to me clear that ‘right’ does not mean the same as ‘morally good’; and we can test this by trying to substitute one for the other. If they meant the same thing we should be able to substitute, for instance, ‘he is a right man’ for ‘he is a morally good man’; nor is our inability to do this merely a matter of English idiom, for if we turn to the sort of moral judgement in which we do use the word ‘right’, such as ‘this is the right act’, it is clear that by this we mean ‘this act is the act that ought to be done’, ‘this act is morally obligatory’; and to substitute either of these phrases for ‘morally good’ in ‘he is a morally good man’ would obviously be not merely unidiomatic, but absurd.

(W. D. Ross, The Right and the Good [1930; repr., Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1988], 3 [italics in original])

A Year Ago



It’s been said by those who support the immigration plan that its opponents have no plan of their own. That’s bullshit. My plan is simple. First, apprehend, punish, and deport anyone who is in this country illegally. This vindicates the rule of law. Second, secure the borders. This vindicates national sovereignty. Third, decide how many and which immigrants we want and process them. This vindicates humanitarianism. See here for a New York Times story about the failed immigration plan.


Is religious knowledge necessary for being an educated person? See here.


Here is a review, by historian Robert Dallek, of a new book about Hillary Clinton.