Monday, 24 September 2007


I leave you this fine evening with an essay by Nicholas Frankovich.

Freedom of Speech

I support Columbia University’s decision to provide a forum for the president of Iran. I just wish the university would show the same solicitude for conservatives. By the way, those who disagree with me might want to read (or reread) John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859). See here for the pertinent chapter.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Mike Males refutes the claim that adolescents are neurologically prone to risky behavior by showing that in fact, adults today take more risks than their children.

This approach applies nicely to another of the claims lobbed at teenagers: the “neuroscientific” assertion that teenagers lack the capacity to plan for the future.

Today’s adults save less than any generation since the Depression. They have failed to mount a serious response to global warming. They have raided the Social Security trust fund and have run up a $9 trillion national debt to finance their spending and tax cuts.

The hasty decision to invade Iraq and the subprime mortgage debacle also constitute failures of long-term planning.

Today’s teenagers are going to have to clean up after the boomers’ oil and spending binges. Let’s hope they act more mature than their parents.

Stephen Serene
Washington, Sept. 17, 2007

Note from KBJ: Ouch.

Yankee Watch

The Boston Red Sox didn’t play today, but the New York Yankees lost, so Boston’s magic number to eliminate New York is down to five. (Wasn’t it just in the 50s?) If the Red Sox go 3-3 the rest of the way, the Yankees will have to go 5-1 to tie. If the Red Sox go 4-2, the Yankees will have to win out. It’s a great time to be a Yankee hater.

John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Paragraph 5

The only thing besides Greek, that I learnt as a lesson in this part of my childhood, was arithmetic: this also my father taught me: it was the task of the evenings, and I well remember its disagreeableness. But the lessons were only a part of the daily instruction I received. Much of it consisted in the books I read by myself, and my father’s discourses to me, chiefly during our walks. From 1810 to the end of 1813 we were living in Newington Green, then an almost rustic neighbourhood. My father’s health required considerable and constant exercise, and he walked habitually before breakfast, generally in the green lanes towards Hornsey. In these walks I always accompanied him, and with my earliest recollections of green fields and wild flowers, is mingled that of the account I gave him daily of what I had read the day before. To the best of my remembrance, this was a voluntary rather than a prescribed exercise. I made notes on slips of paper while reading, and from these, in the morning walks, I told the story to him; for the books were chiefly histories, of which I read in this manner a great number: Robertson’s histories, Hume, Gibbon; but my greatest delight, then and for long afterwards, was Watson’s Philip the Second and Third. The heroic defence of the Knights of Malta against the Turks, and of the revolted provinces of the Netherlands against Spain, excited in me an intense and lasting interest. Next to Watson, my favourite historical reading was Hooke’s History of Rome. Of Greece I had seen at that time no regular history, except school abridgments and the last two or three volumes of a translation of Rollin’s Ancient History, beginning with Philip of Macedon. But I read with great delight Langhorne’s translation of Plutarch. In English history, beyond the time at which Hume leaves off, I remember reading Burnet’s History of his Own Time, though I cared little for anything in it except the wars and battles; and the historical part of the Annual Register, from the beginning to about 1788, when the volumes my father borrowed for me from Mr. Bentham left off. I felt a lively interest in Frederic of Prussia during his difficulties, and in Paoli, the Corsican patriot; but when I came to the American war, I took my part, like a child as I was (until set right by my father) on the wrong side, because it was called the English side. In these frequent talks about the books I read, he used, as opportunity offered, to give me explanations and ideas respecting civilization, government, morality, mental cultivation, which he required me afterwards to restate to him in my own words. He also made me read, and give him a verbal account of, many books which would not have interested me sufficiently to induce me to read them of myself: among others, Millar’s Historical View of the English Government, a book of great merit for its time, and which he highly valued; Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History, McCrie’s Life of John Knox, and even Sewel’s and Rutty’s Histories of the Quakers. He was fond of putting into my hands books which exhibited men of energy and resource in unusual circumstances, struggling against difficulties and overcoming them: of such works I remember Beaver’s African Memoranda, and Collins’s account of the first settlement of New South Wales. Two books which I never wearied of reading were Anson’s Voyage, so delightful to most young persons, and a Collection (Hawkesworth’s, I believe) of Voyages round the World, in four volumes, beginning with Drake and ending with Cook and Bougainville. Of children’s books, any more than of playthings, I had scarcely any, except an occasional gift from a relation or acquaintance: among those I had, Robinson Crusoe was pre-eminent, and continued to delight me through all my boyhood. It was no part however of my father’s system to exclude books of amusement, though he allowed them very sparingly. Of such books he possessed at that time next to none, but he borrowed several for me; those which I remember are the Arabian Nights, Cazotte’s Arabian Tales, Don Quixote, Miss Edgeworth’s “Popular Tales,” and a book of some reputation in its day, Brooke’s Fool of Quality.

Note from KBJ: Mill’s childhood reading list puts my Ph.D. reading list to shame! (My only consolation is that it puts everyone else’s Ph.D. reading list to shame as well.) He must have spent many hours each day reading. Either that or he was a speed reader. I, by contrast, am a slow, painstaking reader. There’s nothing wrong with me; I just trained myself, long ago, to read everything slowly and carefully, with pen in hand. I never have the experience (do you?) of having just read several paragraphs (or pages) without knowing what I read. It will not surprise you to learn that I’ve read only a handful of novels in my life, and almost no science fiction. I’ve always been interested in the actual world, as opposed to merely possible worlds. I love the image of young John Stuart tagging along with his father, eagerly telling stories about the historical events and figures he’d read about the previous day. Why do you suppose Mill’s father put books into his son’s hands “which exhibited men of energy and resource in unusual circumstances, struggling against difficulties and overcoming them”? If Mill enjoyed such books, he would have loved the journals of Lewis and Clark, the first authorized version of which appeared in 1814, when Mill was eight. (Strictly speaking, what appeared in 1814 was a narrative of the expedition, based on the journals. The journals themselves weren’t published until 1904-1905, a full century after the expedition began and more than three decades after Mill died. See here for details.)

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