Saturday, 22 December 2007

Twenty Years Ago

12-22-87 Tuesday. I rarely mention it, but I read a newspaper every day. In Michigan, I read the Detroit News; here, I read the Arizona Republic. On a typical day, I scan the front page, reading those articles that seem interesting. Then I flip through the lively arts section to see what’s playing at the movies and to read the comics. After that I read the sports section, paying attention to the [Arizona] Wildcats, the polls, and, in the summertime, baseball box scores. But my favorite part of the paper, by far, is the editorial page. On the left I get editorial opinion and letters to the editor; on the right I get columnists. Here are some of my favorite columnists. George Will is easily the smartest and the one I most respect, though I almost never agree with his conclusions. He knows how to argue and has a witty, engaging writing style. William F. Buckley is a jerk. His conclusions mirror those of Will, but he has an irritating and ostentatious writing style. I read his columns to learn how not to write. James J. Kilpatrick is an example of a nonintellectual at work. His columns are filled with down-home homilies and political mythology. Sometimes he strikes me as rigidly ideological, while at other times he seems overly pragmatic. At the far right on the political spectrum are Patrick Buchanan and Joseph Sobran (the latter a newcomer to the Republic). These two columnists scare me.

Still, I much prefer reading conservative columnists to reading liberal columnists. Why? Two reasons. First, the liberals who write for the Republic are stupid. Second, I’m inclined to liberalism, and who wants to read what one tends to believe already? On the liberal side, I read Mary McGrory, who is about as nonintellectual as James Kilpatrick. She gives liberalism a bad name. Garry Wills is better, certainly smarter, but he tends to be dogmatic and shrill. Other liberal columnists include William Raspberry, who almost never has anything interesting or important to say; David Broder, who writes only on political candidates; Ellen Goodman, who’s softheaded; and Neil Pierce, who specializes in urban affairs. Actually, Raspberry, Broder, and Pierce aren’t liberals, but they’re not conservatives, either. That’s why I find them bland and uninteresting. Finally, the Republic publishes columns by Russell Baker, Andy Rooney, and William Safire. I rarely read these. I need a conservative challenge first thing every morning. George Will is the one to give it to me.


Here is a New York Times op-ed column about performance-enhancing substances. Two comments:

1. The study is fatally flawed in its assumption (which the authors come close to noticing) that the only benefit of drugs is to increase performance. No. It’s to prevent fall-off in performance. Suppose that, without drugs, my home-run totals would be 40, 38, 42, 34, 29, and 24. Suppose I begin taking drugs during the fourth year, giving me totals of 40, 38, 42, 37, 40, and 37. No increase, right? My totals stayed between 37 and 42. Wrong! I hit 27 more home runs as a result of the drugs. You don’t compare the drug home runs with the home runs hit previously (without drugs); you compare the drug home runs with the home runs that would have been hit without drugs. See the difference?

2. When the authors tell kids, at the end of the column, that drugs don’t work, they’re implying that if drugs did work, it would be acceptable to use them. The message should be categorical rather than hypothetical: “Don’t use drugs, even if they work.” Imagine telling your child not to cheat, because he or she might get caught, or not to lie, because it might get him or her a bad reputation. Sometimes what’s important is not what you prohibit but why you prohibit it.

What do you think?

Santa Fe

Here is a New York Times story about Santa Fe, New Mexico, which I visited in 1992 and 1993. It was part of the Pedal the Peaks bike tour in 1993. I rode 96 miles from Albuquerque to Santa Fe in 90º heat, only to get drenched in a downpour just as I reached the campground. My friend Don Tennant and I sat under a plastic sheet until the rain stopped, after which we pitched our tent, showered, and joined our friend Kevin Dortch for dinner in town. I climbed 8,040 feet that day, which is a mile and a half. Here I am in the Santa Fe National Forest (Black Canyon) in 1992. I still wear that jacket, by the way. In fact, I wore it this morning after the footrace. I’ve been wearing it since 1989. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with it, so why replace it?

Addendum: You’re wondering what I was reading, aren’t you? It was Barry Lopez, Crossing Open Ground (New York: Vintage Books, 1989). What else would you read in such an idyllic setting?

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) on Lying

If one is asked whether he intends to speak truthfully in a statement that he is about to make and does not receive the question with indignation at the suspicion it expressed that he might be a liar, but rather asks permissions to consider possible exceptions, that person is already potentially a liar. That is because he shows that he does not acknowledge truthfulness as an intrinsic duty but makes reservations with respect to a rule which does not permit any exception, inasmuch as any exception would directly contradict itself.

(Immanuel Kant, “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives,” chap. 1 in Absolutism and Its Consequentialist Critics, ed. Joram Graf Haber [Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1994], 15-9, at 19 [essay first published in 1797])

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Blazing Arizona” (editorial, Dec. 18):

Arizona’s punitive immigration legislation might be the exact experiment the rest of the country needs to witness to decide how best to handle the illegal immigration problem.

Currently, a large faction of the country seems to think that we can simply force undocumented immigrants to go away and that the country will not experience any serious consequences.

If the Arizona experiment demonstrates that businesses close, labor dries up and the local economy takes a plunge, the rest of America will wake up to the fact that these undocumented people are integral to our economy and our daily lives.

In the short term, the Arizona immigrant community will suffer severely, but I believe that if the rest of the country sees that undocumented immigrants are vital to our society, we will see a very quick consensus develop for comprehensive immigration reform.

It is quite possible that the unintended consequences of this legislation will surprise its boosters.

Don George
Atlanta, Dec. 18, 2007

Note from KBJ: I hope that 10 people sneak into Don George’s house the next time he is on vacation and start washing dishes, vacuuming the carpet, dusting the shelves, cleaning the toilets, mowing the lawn, brushing the dogs, waxing his vehicles, and doing laundry. When he discovers them and tries to kick them out, they can hold this letter in his face. Maybe then he’ll get it.

Curro Ergo Sum

There’s no better feeling than having run a footrace and taken a hot, cleansing shower, especially on a day like this, when the temperature is falling and the wind is stiff. (A cold front is moving in.) I did the Just for the Heck of It 5K in Arlington, Texas, at beautiful River Legacy Parks. I’ve been to this park several times over the years, and even did some five-mile races there in the late 1990s; but I hadn’t been there in a while. Much of the course was on a trail through the woods. I had to resist the temptation to yell “We’re not out of the woods yet!” in the final mile, when everyone, including me, was gasping for air. My goal, as usual, was to break seven minutes for an overall pace. I did the first mile in 6:54, which was good, but slowed to 7:12 in the second mile. That meant I had to make up six seconds in the final 1.1 miles. I kept the same pace for a while, then turned it on in the final tenth of a mile. I did the final 1.1 miles at a 6:53.30 pace and finished just under seven minutes, at 6:59.54. (Elapsed time = 21:43.53.) I made it by 1.41 seconds!

I didn’t go as fast today as I did a week ago (6:56.70), but I’ll take it. Now, having exerted and suffered, I can consume a few extra calories without guilt. I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday season. Today is the solstice, which means days will start getting longer for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. I’ll be blogging through the holidays, so stop in every now and then to see what’s going on. I’m working on a number of projects during my winter break. First, I’m in the final stages of a scholarly essay on animal rights (a critique of David Oderberg’s 2000 essay “The Illusion of Animal Rights”); second, I’ll be criticizing Philip Kitcher’s recent essay “Does ‘Race’ Have a Future?”; third, I’ll be writing a column on torture for TCS Daily; fourth, I’ll be wrapping up an egoism essay that should have been done months ago; and fifth, I’ll be finishing a book proposal. There is no rest for the wicked.

Addendum: I forgot to mention that I got first place in my age group (50-54). That gives me seven awards in 10 races since Labor Day: two firsts and five seconds. I hope to continue racing through the winter and early spring. Bike rallies begin in late March.

Addendum 2: The average wind speed for the day was 19.8 miles per hour. Gusts reached 35. The temperature at the finish (about 10:00) was 56º Fahrenheit.