Sunday, 30 September 2007


I leave you this fine evening with a column by Harvey Mansfield.


Yesterday, in beautiful Waco, Texas, home of Baylor University, I did my 21st bike rally of the year and my 417th overall. I’ve been going to Waco since 1989. One year, I went to Forney instead (because it was closer to my house), and three years ago, when Hurricane Rita caused the cancellation of the Wild West Century, I went to Crowley instead. (Truth be told, I was going to Crowley anyway.) So I’ve been to 17 of the past 19 Waco rallies. It’s a long drive (93.9 miles, one way), and I have to rise at five o’clock to make it in time, but it’s well worth it. The routes are scenic; the support is excellent; and the turnout is impressive. I have always thought of the Waco rally as second only to Wichita Falls in terms of how well it’s organized. Waco is one of the few remaining rallies with a 100-mile course.

Thinking that my friend Joe and his son Jason would line up with the tandems at the front, I situated myself behind the tandems but slightly in front of the fast 100-milers. I never did see Joe and Jason. This was odd, since (1) Joe always goes to Waco and (2) he hadn’t told me that he wasn’t going. I was worried that something had happened to him. But there was the command to start, so off I went. I figured I’d wait at a rest stop somewhere along the line, in case Joe and Jason decided to line up in the back. The weather at the start was gorgeous. It’s officially fall, but summer is still in the air. The temperature was probably in the low 70s when we rolled out of town.

I had no desire to go fast, like I did the two previous weeks (in Greenville and Bonham). Many people rode past me during the first few miles, even though I was cruising along at a good speed. I eventually fell in with a number of other riders, which kept my speed up. I had 20.3 miles after the first hour. I was surprised. I would have guessed that I had no more than 19 miles. My heart rate barely broke 120 during this time. A few minutes later, I came to the rest stop where I planned to stop. The route goes out and back at this point. While I was standing near the tables, eating a muffin, my friend James rolled up. James and I rode together in Greenville two weeks ago. I asked James whether he had seen Joe. “You mean the guy with black hair—and the boy on a tandem?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. James said he saw them at the start. That was wonderful news! A few minutes later, as I stood near my bike, checking the computer, there came Joe and Jason, around the corner. I heard Jason shout, “There’s Keith!” Joe indicated that he wasn’t going to stop yet, so I jumped on my bike and caught them.

I was delighted to be riding with my friends, just like old times. (We used to do the 100-mile course together, before Jason was born.) I gave them high fives as we rode side by side, and we quickly informed each other of what had happened at the start. I was shocked to hear that our friend Randy was at the rally, for Randy had told me by e-mail the day before that he wasn’t going. Something about a bike problem. I sent my standard reply: “Wimp.” Joe said Randy was doing the 100-mile course, which had already split off. I’ll be damned. Randy, who rode like a sack of potatoes at the Hotter ’n Hell Hundred a month ago, was going to give it another try. I told Joe that he must have gotten tired of being called a wimp. What better way to turn the tables on the old professor than to ride more miles than he was? I haven’t heard from Randy about his ride (he’s barely literate), but I assume he rode the entire 100-mile course. Then again, he may have wimped out and taken a sag wagon in. Randy is a great big sack of potatoes. I call him Mr Potato Head.

The out-and-back course was slow going, not least because we rode side by side, talking, most of the way. This meant no drafting. The road surface was rough, and, while the course was scenic, there were many turns. We also picked up a little wind on the way back, which slowed our pace. I rode 16.7 miles the second hour. When we got back to the corner, we stopped for refreshments. The muffins were gone by then, unfortunately. Also, there had been no water when I arrived the first time, only Gatorade and pickle juice. I asked the girls who were working the rest stop whether they had run out of water already. One said they had never received any. That’s not good. But there was water on hand by the time we got back. It was starting to get hot.

By this point, we were more than halfway through the 65-mile course. Next stop: the Mars factory. But first we had to get over a series of hills along a highway (on the frontage road). It’s hard to climb hills on a tandem, so I got ahead of Joe and Jason during this stretch. I figured I’d wait for them at the Mars factory. I passed quite a few people on the hills. Whenever I passed someone, I would turn and say, “M&Ms ahead!” This invariably elicited a chuckle or a laugh. One man passed me like a bat out of hell. When I caught him, a minute later, I said, “I had to catch you; I didn’t want you to eat all the Snickers bars.” If you can’t be goofy during a bike ride, when can you be goofy?

I rode 16.2 miles the third hour, which knocked my average speed down to 17.73 miles per hour. The wind was out of the southeast, so it hurt us for many miles during this part of the course. Finally, with less than 10 miles to go, we turned north, which meant tailwind. Ahh! It felt great. I averaged 17.27 miles per hour for the final 43:04, which gave me an overall average speed of 17.64 miles per hour for 65.6 miles. I’ll take it. I’d gladly trade speed for Joe and Jason’s company, especially after having ridden hard and fast the previous two weeks. We finished strong, shook hands, and headed for our respective vehicles. I told Jason to enjoy the baseball playoff games—and, like any decent human being, to root against the New York Yankees.

Here comes the statistical orgy. My maximum heart rate for the day was 156. My average heart rate was 124. I burned 2,198 calories. My maximum speed was only 28.3 miles per hour. What that means is that there were no big hills, just lots of small ones. The official high temperature for the day, in Waco, was 90° Fahrenheit. That came several hours after we finished. It was probably in the low eighties by noon, when we completed the course. I’m looking forward to cooler weather during the remaining rallies of the year. It gives the riding an entirely different feel.

How was your ride, Mr Potato Head?

Addendum: I did my first bike rally on 30 September 1989, in Seagoville, Texas. I’ve done 417 rallies in 18 years. That’s an average of 23.1 rallies per year. At that rate, it will be 25.2 years before I do my 1,000th rally. I will be 75.7 years old.


Here is information about the Human Life Amendment (HLA). Some conservatives support the HLA, which would (in effect) make abortion illegal everywhere in the United States. Other conservatives—federalists—merely want to overrule Roe v. Wade, which would return abortion to the states. It is a grave mistake, rooted in ignorance, to think that there is only one conservative position on abortion. In case you’re wondering, I’m a federalist; but if I had to choose between our current abortion regime and a regime in which abortion is illegal everywhere, I’d choose the latter.


People who support Rudy Giuliani for president (that’s you, Peg) should think again. He is alienating the Republican base, which will take its votes elsewhere should he be the party’s nominee. Here, courtesy of yours truly, is Fred Thompson’s new campaign slogan:

Nominate Rudy
Elect Hillary

Catchy, eh?

Baseball Notes

1. This makes my day. What is it with the New York Mets? They haven’t won the World Series since 1986, but they reek of arrogance and entitlement. This year, they thought the divisional title was theirs for the taking. Ha! The Philadelphia Phillies won the East Division title the old-fashioned way: They earned it. Down the stretch, the Mets played lackadaisically, while the Phillies played hard. Congratulations to the Phillies and their fans. The Mets will have to go home for the winter and wonder what happened. Maybe next year they’ll play hard, every day, on every play. By the way, that Met fans “mercilessly booed” future Hall of Famer (and good guy) Tom Glavine, who has done so much for the team, says everything you need to know about them. They are morons and thugs. They don’t deserve a title.

2. Magglio Ordonez of the Detroit Tigers is the American League Most Valuable Player. He finished the season today with a batting average of .363, which is by far the highest in all of Major League Baseball. He has 54 doubles and 139 runs batted in, among other gaudy statistics. Matt Holliday of the Colorado Rockies is the National league Most Valuable Player.

3. I can’t wait to see Alex Rodriguez choke in the postseason. Remember: He has never played in a World Series, much less won one. He is in his 14th Major League season. There is no reason to think his streak of futility will end this year.

4. The regular season is not over! The San Diego Padres, who lost today to the Milwaukee Brewers, will fly to Denver for a one-game playoff with the Colorado Rockies tomorrow afternoon. The Rockies beat the Arizona Diamondbacks today to force a playoff. The winner of tomorrow’s game plays the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Division Series; the loser goes home for the winter. I want the Rockies to win, if only so I can watch Matt Holliday and his exciting teammates during the playoffs. It appears that the game will be televised by TBS at 6:37 Central Time. Luckily, I will be home from my Hobbes seminar by then. May the game be a war of all against all! May life for the Padres be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short!

5. Someone (probably jokingly) suggested that Prince Fielder is the National League Most Valuable Player. Compare his statistics with those of Matt Holliday. It’s not even close. You might also compare Magglio Ordonez’s statistics with those of Alex Rodriguez. Ordonez wins. His power numbers are equal to those of A-Rod, he struck out far fewer times, and his batting average is much higher.

6. Here is the playoff schedule, so far as it is now known. Once the teams are set, I will let you know how things are going to unfold. The rest of you can make your educated guesses.

Curro Ergo Sum

He did it! Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie broke the world marathon record of 2:04:55 today in Berlin, with a time of 2:04:26. He announced almost two months ago that he would try to break the record, and now he has done it. Gebrselassie is the greatest runner I have ever seen, and I’ve been following track and field since I was a teenager.

Addendum: Gebrselassie averaged 12.64 miles per hour. The previous recordholder, Kenyan Paul Tergat, averaged 12.59. Gebrselassie’s mile pace was 4:44.75, compared to Tergat’s 4:45.86. How many people in the world can run a mile in 4:44.75, much less 26.21875 of them? I have chills.

Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

One of the things I did for money when I was a graduate student is teach the University of Arizona’s LSAT and GRE preparation courses. The lecture materials contained the following advice, which I was expected to pass on to the students: “Do not look at your neighbor’s test booklet during the exam. He or she could be working another section.” I found this appalling. What it should have said is, “Do not look at your neighbor’s test booklet during the exam. It’s wrong.” What message was being conveyed to prospective lawyers and professors by citing self-interest but not morality? Was it simply assumed that moral considerations would have no weight in the students’ deliberations?

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “U.S. Rule Limits Emergency Care for Immigrants” (front page, Sept. 22):

The Bush administration’s near simultaneous demolition of immigrants’ and children’s rights to health care is no coincidence. The same brand of denial is responsible—the denial of the fact that health is a basic human right.

The next presidential election will allow our country to make a clear statement on this matter. Will we continue to allow the most vulnerable members of our society to be cared for by the whim of the market? Or will we stand up for a basic human right?

Nicholas Gavin
New York, Sept. 22, 2007
The writer is president of the New York University School of Medicine chapter of Physicians for Human Rights.

Note from KBJ: This letter is one bold assertion piled on another. It begins by asserting that health is a “human right.” But this isn’t enough, apparently. The right is said to be “basic.” And it’s not enough for there to be a basic human right to health; it’s a “fact” that health is a basic human right. Notice the sly rhetoric: “right,” “basic,” “fact.” This rhetoric may move the unthinking, but it doesn’t constitute a reason to believe. By the way, the letter writer says nothing about (1) responsibility, (2) cost, or (3) duty. Can people forfeit this “basic human right” through irresponsible conduct, such as overeating? Even the right to life can be forfeited. How much will the right cost, and how will the cost be distributed? If every human (why just humans? isn’t that speciesist?) has a “right to health,” who has the correlative duty? Do I have a duty to provide for the health of someone on the other side of the world?

A Year Ago


A. P. Martinich on Great Thinkers

The thoughts of great thinkers are almost always distorted or misunderstood by their contemporaries. The explanation is almost axiomatic. In large part their greatness is a combination of novelty and depth, and most ordinary people, even intelligent, ordinary people, find it very difficult to assimilate new thoughts and especially those that are profound.

(A. P. Martinich, Hobbes: A Biography [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999], 346)

Safire on Language


Saturday, 29 September 2007

All Fred, All the Time

Here is a New York Times story about Fred Thompson. Jo Becker should be careful, because Fred can kill a reporter just by spitting on his or her byline.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Hired Gun Fetish,” by Paul Krugman (column, Sept. 28):

I am writing to express my grave concern with the use of private security contractors in Iraq. This Bush administration move to privatize the military is a grievous and immoral mistake. It has serious implications for the future of both foreign and domestic policy.

If the United States is pursuing legitimate national security goals in a foreign country, in actions in which people risk death and are being authorized to kill for the sake of our nation, our military must take responsibility for and be in complete charge of all the forces involved. The president must be the commander in chief, not the contractor in chief.

And Congress must step up to openly authorize payment and include the expenses in the budget, not defer the financial burden to the next generation through weak-willed acquiescence to an executive out of control.

Congress is abdicating its constitutional and moral authority in this matter. If the employees of organizations like Blackwater USA want to serve their country, let them sign on with the armed forces.

John Varner
Amherst, Mass., Sept. 28, 2007

The Ethics of Driving

I have decided to dedicate the remaining years of my life to a cause: that of inspiring people to use their turn signals. It’s appalling how many people switch lanes without signalling their intent to do so. For the record, the purpose of turn signals is to let those around you know of your plans. This will help them adjust their own plans. For example, if you plan to move into my lane at 70 miles per hour, I will plan to (1) move over, (2) reduce my speed, or (3) increase my speed. See how it works? It’s really quite an ingenious system, when you think about it.

Maybe it’s no longer cool to use turn signals. If this is the reason so few people use them, then the solution may be to Make It Cool, and how better to do that than to come up with catchy slogans, which could be placed along highways? I thought of a few on the way home from Waco this afternoon:

I blink; therefore I am.

He who fails to blink is lost.

Blink now or forever hold your peace.

A nonblinker and his life are soon parted.

A blink in time saves nine.

Where’s the blink? (Apologies to Wendy’s and Walter Mondale.)

Blink unto others as you would have them blink unto you.

Feel free to add others.