Sunday, 15 June 2008

“The Edward R. Murrow of the Angry Left”

I leave you this fine evening with an essay by Peter J. Boyer. It appears that NBC is running out of adults.

John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Paragraph 47

Mr. Austin, who was four or five years older than Mr. Grote, was the eldest son of a retired miller in Suffolk, who had made money by contracts during the war, and who must have been a man of remarkable qualities, as I infer from the fact that all his sons were of more than common ability and all eminently gentlemen. The one with whom we are now concerned, and whose writings on jurisprudence have made him celebrated, was for some time in the army, and served in Sicily under Lord William Bentinck. After the peace he sold his commission and studied for the bar, to which he had been called for some time before my father knew him. He was not, like Mr. Grote, to any extent a pupil of my father, but he had attained, by reading and thought, a considerable number of the same opinions, modified by his own very decided individuality of character. He was a man of great intellectual powers which in conversation appeared at their very best; from the vigour and richness of expression with which, under the excitement of discussion, he was accustomed to maintain some view or other of most general subjects; and from an appearance of not only strong, but deliberate and collected will; mixed with a certain bitterness, partly derived from temperament, and partly from the general cast of his feelings and reflexions. The dissatisfaction with life and the world, felt more or less in the present state of society and intellect by every discerning and highly conscientious mind, gave in his case a rather melancholy tinge to the character, very natural to those whose passive moral susceptibilities are more than proportioned to their active energies. For it must be said, that the strength of will of which his manner seemed to give such strong assurance, expended itself principally in manner. With great zeal for human improvement, a strong sense of duty, and capacities and acquirements the extent of which is proved by the writings he has left, he hardly ever completed any intellectual task of magnitude. He had so high a standard of what ought to be done, so exaggerated a sense of deficiencies in his own performances, and was so unable to content himself with the amount of elaboration sufficient for the occasion and the purpose, that he not only spoilt much of his work for ordinary use by overlabouring it, but spent so much time and exertion in superfluous study and thought, that when his task ought to have been completed, he had generally worked himself into an illness, without having half finished what he undertook. From this mental infirmity (of which he is not the sole example among the accomplished and able men whom I have known), combined with liability to frequent attacks of disabling though not dangerous ill-health, he accomplished, through life, little in comparison with what he seemed capable of; but what he did produce is held in the very highest estimation by the most competent judges; and, like Coleridge, he might plead as a set-off that he had been to many persons, through his conversation, a source not only of much instruction but of great elevation of character. On me his influence was most salutary. It was moral in the best sense. He took a sincere and kind interest in me, far beyond what could have been expected towards a mere youth from a man of his age, standing, and what seemed austerity of character. There was in his conversation and demeanour a tone of highmindedness which did not show itself so much, if the quality existed as much, in any of the other persons with whom at that time I associated. My intercourse with him was the more beneficial, owing to his being of a different mental type from all other intellectual men whom I frequented, and he from the first set himself decidedly against the prejudices and narrownesses which are almost sure to be found in a young man formed by a particular mode of thought or a particular social circle.

Note from KBJ: Judging from Mill’s description, Austin was a perfectionist. This led to writer’s block.


Here is your entertainment for this Sunday evening.


Here is a scene from yesterday’s stage of the Dauphiné Libéré. Here is a scene from today’s final stage. Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde was the overall winner, which makes him the favorite for the Tour de France. American Levi Leipheimer finished third, but his team, Astana, has been banished from this year’s Tour. It’s not so much wrong as stupid, since no member of the team has been found to have used banned substances.


This is how I keep track of the games.

Twenty Years Ago

6-15-88 Wednesday. I neglected to mention the other day that Andy Hampsten, an American citizen, won the Tour of Italy bicycle race. It had over twenty stages. I followed it each day in the newspaper, such as I could. All I got was a list of the top finishers in each stage and a second list showing the overall standings. Hampsten, who was on last year’s Seven-Eleven Team in the Tour de France, apparently took the lead after the halfway point and held it against all comers the rest of the way. He’s the first American to win the Tour of Italy. So now we’re left with the big one: the Tour de France. I’d give anything to be there, to watch the riders zip through the French countryside, climb the Alps, take those hairpin turns, and race against the clock. These tours test a rider’s abilities under many different conditions. Sometimes it’s hot; sometimes it’s cool or rainy. Sometimes it’s flat; sometimes it’s hilly or mountainous. Sometimes they ride in packs; sometimes they’re alone, against the clock. The final stage of the Tour of Italy was a race against the clock. The winner, by my calculations, averaged over thirty miles per hour for the twenty-seven mile course. Amazing. I could hold that pace for at most two miles, even on sloping, downhill terrain. [No American has won the Giro d’Italia since Hampsten.]

A Year Ago



Do you drink coffee? If so, what kind and how much? I’ve been drinking basic black coffee since I was 17 years old. One summer in the early 1990s, I went 100 days without coffee or tea to prove to myself that I wasn’t addicted to caffeine. For many years, I drank a pot of coffee per day, plus a cup of instant in the afternoon to perk me up for the evening hours. A few years ago, I stopped drinking coffee after noon and reduced my morning intake to two cups per day. (I’ve been drinking Folgers for many years.) The other day, I reduced my intake to one cup per day. It’s a compromise. I like the jolt of energy that coffee gives me first thing in the morning, but I don’t like the dehydrating effect. (Caffeine is a diuretic.)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Another Failure on Climate Change” (editorial, June 11):

First, we had the failure of the Senate to pass a bill, supported by Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, that would have helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Then, the Senate blocked the extension of tax incentives designed to promote renewable energy development.

These actions come at a time when oil prices are headed toward $150 a barrel, when extreme weather events and climate instability are escalating all over the world, and when the national scientific academies of 13 countries, including that of the United States, have issued a joint urgent call to the Group of 8 industrialized countries that they must immediately adopt highly aggressive policies to reduce the threat of global warming.

And so, led by President Bush and those in Congress who clearly do not understand the increasingly dire warnings from the world’s scientific community, who act as if they were living on some planet other than our own, we march in silent assent, like the Light Brigade in the Crimean battle of Balaklava, like the children of Hamelin blindly following the Pied Piper, like people under a spell, into the rising and rapidly warming waters of the sea.

Eric Chivian
Boston, June 12, 2008
The writer is the director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

Note from KBJ: Scientists wouldn’t like it if politicians made scientific judgments. Why do they think they’re qualified to make political judgments? The aim of science is to describe the world. It is not to prescribe policy. Who elected them? Scientists think of themselves as intelligent people. Do they not grasp that, by entering the realm of public policy, they undermine their authoritativeness? It’s an instance of Keith’s Law.


Yesterday, in McKinney, Texas (a northern suburb of Dallas), I did my 10th bike rally of the year and my 431st overall. What a difference a week makes! Seven days earlier, in Mesquite (an eastern suburb of Dallas), I truncated my ride because of sickness. I recovered during the week, did my usual running (in fact, more than usual), and hoped for the best in McKinney. You guessed it: I did my fastest bike ride in almost 11 years!

The forecast was for morning rain. The high temperature has been in the 90s (degrees Fahrenheit) all month and had been 98º the previous three days. I expected hot, humid riding conditions, and that’s what we got. But at least the sun wasn’t beating down on us. About halfway into the rally, while riding in a fast-moving pack, I noticed that the air had cooled. The sky had gotten dark. That didn’t mean we were going to get wet, but it certainly increased the probability. I made my only stop of the day (about 10 minutes) and headed out on my own. Less than five minutes later, the rain was beating down on me. I got soaked to the skin. It was chilly! But I rode through it, and eventually the rain stopped. By the time I finished the rally, at 10:45, I was almost dry. Just another June day in North Texas.

The McKinney course is short: 53 miles instead of the typical 62 (100 kilometers). It’s also flat, as rally courses go. I averaged 18.91 miles per hour a year ago and would have been happy with anything over 18, given my late sickness. After one hour of riding, I had 21.0 miles and was still in a remnant of the lead pack. I felt good. I had brought my Zune music player, thinking I’d be alone for long stretches; but there I was, cruising along with several other riders. I never did listen to music.

I rode 20.0 miles the second hour, which gave me an average speed of 20.5 miles per hour for two hours. I knew I had only 12 miles remaining, and I’ll be damned if I was going to fall under 20 miles per hour. But I was soaking wet and riding alone. Luckily, I had some help from the wind. I checked my bike computer every five minutes to see what I needed to do to stay over 20 miles per hour. With five minutes to go, I knew I had it. I averaged 19.69 miles per hour for the final 36:15 and ended up with 20.31 miles per hour for 52.9 miles. (That doesn’t include my 10-minute stop.)

As I say, this is my fastest ride since Hotter ’n Hell in 1997. I was 40 years old then; now I’m 51. It’s my 40th-fastest rally of 431. Truth be told, I was wearing down at the end. Had the course been 62 miles instead of 52.9, I almost certainly would have fallen below 20 miles per hour. But hey: I’ll take it! You’re probably wondering why I didn’t mention my home boys. They weren’t there. See how much they slow me down? Riding with them is always a sacrifice, but I do it for the sake of friendship.

Addendum: While riding in a fast-moving pack, I asked the man next to me what his heart rate was. He said 155. Mine was 127. I asked how old he was. He said 40. My heart is more efficient than his. My maximum heart rate for the day was 155. My average was 129. I burned 1,660 calories and reached a top speed of 35.8 miles per hour.

From the Mailbag

I tried to leave the following comment on your “Pegs” post.

The Old America: Religion is good. The New America: Religion is problematic.

She should have replaced “Religion” with “Protestant Christianity.” Jews and Catholics were traditionally considered outsiders and I don’t hear today’s conservatives chanting the praises of Islam.

The Old America had big families. You married and had children. Life happened to you. You didn’t decide, it decided.

What in the world does that mean?

Old America: Tradition is a guide in human affairs.

Shouldn’t it depend on the particular tradition we’re talking about?

Note from KBJ: The comment function doesn’t always work properly, judging from feedback I receive from readers such as David Fryman (the author of this item). I’m sorry. WordPress regularly upgrades its software, so perhaps it’ll be fixed at some point.

Safire on Language