Sunday, 1 June 2008


I leave you this fine evening with a column by Paul Harris. I still think Hillary Clinton will be the Democrat nominee. See here for my prediction of five and a half weeks ago.


Which vacation would you choose, and why? I choose #29.

Homosexual “Marriage”

Richard John Neuhaus weighs in on the recent California Supreme Court ruling about homosexual “marriage.” The people of the state of California will get the final word, as they should. I expect them (via constitutional amendment) to limit marriage to heterosexual couples, but if they choose not to, so be it. States, no less than individuals, have a right to be foolish. By the way, supporters of homosexual “marriage” sometimes say (or imply) that there is no burden of persuasion on the matter. This is as absurd as saying (or implying) that there is no burden of persuasion on the prosecutor in a criminal trial. There is and should be. The burden of persuasion is on those who would alter a longstanding legal institution. Another way to put it is that there is a strong presumption against redefining “marriage.” I have heard no argument that comes close to rebutting this presumption.

Addendum: This column by Anna Quindlen is almost too silly to comment on. First, she confuses marriages with weddings. Marriage is a legal institution that confers rights and responsibilities on participants; a wedding, like a funeral, is a ceremony. Homosexual couples have always been able to cohabit, have sex, commit to each other (even publicly, even in a religious ceremony), and buy appliances together. What does that have to do with legal marriage? Second, she thinks people’s views about homosexual “marriage,” once formed, are unchanging. Young people are notoriously shallow, naive, and short-sighted. As they age, they come to understand the meaning and value of institutions such as marriage. Have your values changed? Have your beliefs changed? Do you know more now than you did 10, 20, or 30 years ago?

Addendum 2: Quindlen says the issue of homosexual “marriage” is “over and done with.” She’s right, although not in the way she thinks. See here. Quindlen must be a member of the “reality-based community.”


The three best features
Of being a professor:
June, July, August


Here is a scene from today’s final stage of the Giro d’Italia. Italian cyclist Marco Pinotti won the stage (an individual time trial) with an average speed of 32.4 miles per hour. (I’ve done entire rallies without reaching that speed!) Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador was the overall winner. I hope the cycling union allows Contador’s team (Astana) into the Tour de France. He’s almost certainly riding clean these days, and he deserves a chance to defend his 2007 title. Has anyone ever won the Giro and the Tour in the same year? Yes. Miguel Indurain (Contador’s compatriot) did it twice, in 1992 and 1993. Italian cyclist Marco Pantani did it in 1998.


Anna Holmes urges Hillary Clinton to give a big talk on sexism. It would be funny if it weren’t so preposterous. Hillary Clinton has had as privileged a life as can be imagined. If she has suffered from sexism, then may we all so suffer! For the record, Hillary Clinton was rejected by Democrats not because she’s a woman, but because she has bad values and questionable character. If anything, her sex helped her.


If you get a chance to watch Josh Hamilton of my adopted Texas Rangers, either on television or in person, do so. As I said the other day, he is the real deal. Each day, when I wake up, I can’t wait for the game to start so I can watch him hit, run, field, and throw. He is a five-tool player. I don’t remember Mickey Mantle, but those who do say that Hamilton is Mantle reincarnated. Here is a Sports Illustrated story about Hamilton.

Addendum: Through 58 games (the Rangers are 29-29 after a poor start), Hamilton has 15 home runs and 63 runs batted in. He is hitting .328. A few minutes ago, in the bottom of the ninth inning of a blowout, he hit the first pitch from Oakland closer Huston Street over the centerfield wall. It appeared to be effortless.

Addendum 2: Hamilton is on pace for 42 home runs and 176 runs batted in.


Physicist Brian Greene explains why science matters. Please keep in mind, as you read his op-ed column, that the most science can do is provide naturalistic explanations of phenomena. For some people, that is enough. For others, there are more fundamental questions, such as why we have just the natural laws we do. Were they created by a supernatural being? If so, what are the properties of that being? Science, by its own terms, has nothing to say about these questions.

A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Why not choose the proven, more efficient way to manage most everything? Let the market decide which vehicles we wish to drive, and how much we are willing to pay for fuel.

I realize that this is counter to the liberal way, but it will work. Try it.

Rick Millman
Fort Lauderdale, Fla., May 28, 2008

Twenty Years Ago Yesterday

5-31-88 . . . Speaking of Jonathan [Kandell], he teaches his Philosophy of Popular Culture class at one o’clock in the same room. I heard that he had a guest lecturer today and that the subject was Elvis Presley [1935-1977], so I stayed around to attend. The speaker, a dean and professor of classics, attempted to show that Elvis has become a god to many Americans. He began the lecture by explaining basic features of Greek and Roman mythology. Then he applied the concepts to Elvis, with striking results. Elvis was male and female, rich and poor, sophisticated and raffish, old and young, masculine and feminine. He was whatever the viewer or listener wanted him to be. And in his death, he crossed the line between hero and god. He became a god, in effect, by dying. The worship continues. Elvis impersonators are in demand, Elvis memorabilia sells like hotcakes, and his estate in Graceland, Tennessee has been opened to the public. Elvis has never meant a thing to me, but I’m interested in his effect on popular culture.

Curro Ergo Sum

Usain Bolt of Jamaica, whom I had never heard of until this morning, broke the world record yesterday (in New York City) in the 100-meter dash. His time of 9.72 seconds is two-hundredths of a second faster than that of his compatriot Asafa Powell, who ran a 9.74 this past September. There must be a limit to how fast a human being can run 100 meters. What do you think it is?

Addendum: Here is Bolt running 9.76 a month ago. Look how tall he is!

Addendum 2: Here is Bolt running 9.72 yesterday. Is the 200-meter world record next for him? Michael Johnson ran 19.32 in 1996 (at the Atlanta Olympics). Bolt’s personal record is 19.75.

Addendum 3: The Associated Press story calls Bolt “the world’s fastest man.” That’s not true if we’re talking about average speed. Michael Johnson’s average speed when he ran 19.32 in the 200 meters was 23.15 miles per hour. Bolt’s average speed yesterday was 23.01 miles per hour. I concede, however, that Bolt had a higher maximum speed. But if that’s what we’re going by, who knows whether the highest speed was achieved by someone in the 60-meter dash?

Addendum 4: Do you suppose Bolt can catch a football? If so, look for him in a Dallas Cowboys uniform two or three years from now.

Addendum 5: Here is the New York Times story.


Dr John J. Ray, my polymathic friend Down Under, has an interesting post about the corruption of science.

Safire on Language


L. E. J. Brouwer (1881-1966) on the Organization of Human Society

But now the same sensations which in 1915 unloosened the signific movement, have returned even in a more vehement form. The second worldwar [sic] was more devastating than the first, and the abuse of false slogans for the satisfying of dark instincts was more appalling and fatal than ever. More than ever the world worries about its organization, and more than ever all men capable of independent and unprejudiced thinking are bound to investigate the primordial desiderata that organization of human society has to fulfil, the conditions allowing this fulfilment, and the fallacious slogans apt to disturb them.

To me it seems that first of all the dismemberment of the earth into different domains with separate centres of military power will have to be abolished, and that for the further organization of human society serving self-realization of the individual, the following desiderata will prevail: public safety, public welfare, mental freedom and as much freedom of action as possible for the individual.

For all these desiderata I consider the following conditions to be essential: 1. the utmost moderation of the domination of the state over the individual and the utmost reduction of the possibility of domination of the individuals over each other (domination exerted either directly or through the medium of the state); 2. the existence of a relatively harmless and innocuous mode of diverting ineradicable dark and frivolous instincts such as lust of power, sadism, and gambling.

A condition for public welfare in particular is the existence of a spur to incite voluntary and strenuous participation in the process of production and distribution.

Now the functions of a stimulus to work on one hand and of a means of diverting dark and frivolous instincts on the other hand can be performed simultaneously by the institution of private property protected by the state, in particular by enabling people to earn private property by labour and to take part in unbloody tournaments with private property at stake. But to fulfil this task, private property (which may be combined with a far reaching socialization of means of production and heavy taxes for public welfare) must be free to be bartered and as an intermediary for this barter a homogeneous and inalterable precious standard material which is easily dividable and transportable, and over which the proprietor can dispose anywhere and at any time, must be available.

During the 19th century the latter conditions were highly satisfied by the free circulation of gold, which probably was essential for the exceptional rise of mental and material prosperity during that century. So today the liberation of gold seems to me a cry full of sense. I even fear that between a world worshipping the golden calf as an evil-absorbing idol and a world of constraint and terror, the tertium is, if not exclusum, at least penitus abditum.

But be it as it may, it is my opinion that in a happy humanity in any case state intervention will have to be prudently handled and the state will have to use a language strictly indicative. If it deviates from this duty and admits into its language vaguely spiritually tinged terms such as principles, attitude, character moulding, firmness of character, resoluteness, leader qualities, heroism (for continuation of the list see Göbbels), then inquisition, denunciation and man hunting will still have their chance, man will oppress man and man will mistrust man.

The fight against the abuse of hysterical devices, the fight for unmasking them in private and for removing them from public life will in future remain a preponderant part of the business of significs.

(L. E. J. Brouwer, “Synopsis of the Signific Movement in the Netherlands: Prospects of the Signific Movement,” Synthese 5 [September/October 1946]: 201-8, at 207-8 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: Brouwer, the great mathematician, was interested in reforming natural language so as to minimize conflict. He thought that many or most conflicts (including wars) were rooted in emotion, which is conveyed by language. (Note his reference to Göbbels, the Nazi propagandist.) If the language could be changed, then so could people’s emotional states, and that could lead to peaceful coexistence.