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Location: TUCSON, Arizona, United States

Monday, January 29, 2007

Truth and punishment

Adam Liptak, in today's New York Times, writes about the McDermott case being tried before the 9th Court of Appeals in DC. Congressman McDermott made public (through the Times) the Newt Gingrich `phone call (accidentally intercepted by a FL couple) to John Boehner (currently House Republican whip & the one suing Rep. McDermott) about how to evade ethics charges. The law holds it a felony to tap `phone calls (or intercept them) as well as to publicize what's heard. The law was obviously made before video existed. Also before cellphones. Consider the publicity (via YouTube video) given former VA senator Allen's casual racism & bigotry during the last campaign. Most people in Virginia evidently agreed he deserved to lose re-election based upon that truth about him. I certainly did. Of course, Allen was speaking in public. But we all know cellphones are little radios. Their signals are broadcast, not sent to the recipient on landlines. So aren't cellphone signals more like video? Gingrich, like Prince Charles, was apparently too stupid to realize he was broadcasting his criminal intentions. I don't think the law should protect stupidity. I like the ability--the right--to know the truth about public officials. And everyone else, for that matter. Language began with gossip, after all...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Smiling in the face of death...

Scott Simon this morning (on NPR's Weekend Saturday) interviewed Pauline Chen--Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality--who remarked on her experience during a dissection when she was in training. Her cadaver was a woman who died of pelvic cancer, so her body's muscle groups were severely atrophied. But the cadaver's facial muscles were not. Dr. Chen concluded that the woman had continued to engage in her life--talking, weeping, smiling, laughing--right up to its close. Perhaps we all do. It's a suggestive point. Richard Ford makes a similar one when he has his Frank Bascombe (narrator of The Lay of the Land) describe the feeling of relaxation or liberation that accompanies learning you actually have a potentially terminal condition--prostate cancer, in Frank's case--in contrast to the anxiety and constant tension induced by one's fears of suffering and death.

Friday, January 26, 2007


I've been working over a distinction I've long emphasized between making plans and setting goals. What I want to show is that plans are useful but goals are worse than useless; goals are obstacles. Humans are both blessed and burdened by memory and imagination. They are what distinguish us from other animals: we have evolved the capacity to preserve a version of the past and picture futures. What we've achieved through these powers obviously includes law and literature, stories and theories, indeed most of human culture. The ways in which memory and imagination serve to create obstacles are less obvious, yet critical. The crucial point is that a plan focuses upon doing something now. I planned a swim workout for this morning and cross country ski training for this afternoon. My swim workout went well, but was shortened by coaching some of my students who showed up for instruction. Now, had I pictured a goal--say, my usual 2000 yard distance set--I would have been disappointed. Perhaps you see the point: goals focus upon outcomes, not actions, and outcomes are always uncertain. Indeed, to the extent that I imagine some outcome, I'm distracted from doing what I'm always certain to be able to do: namely the action before me now. That's how goals become obstacles. In aiming at an outcome, I neglect the task at hand, which is to do this next thing as well as I can. And when I do so, I'm never disappointed, for I don't suffer the frustrated expectations that accompany projecting a wish for some particular state of affairs. I'm looking forward to my afternoon workout. We'll see how it goes...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Another escalation...

If the new Democratic House and Senate can prevent Bush escalating troop levels--remember this phrase from the Vietnam war years?--it will be a first in U.S. history. The majority of politicians, as now, have evidently assumed a majority always support military spending; hence the fear of "voting against appropriations for the troops" effectively eliminates the only power reserved to
Congress: appropriations. Even Ted Kennedy acknowledges defeat in the current contest, since Congress will not get to consider the funding until it gets the bill--figuratively and literally--next month, by which time the escalation will be underway. One factor may disrupt the escalation. The army has 39 combat brigades--3500 men each--and EVERY ONE of them has already done from 1 to 4 years of combat duty in Iraq! In addition, the army's general rule is that a combat brigade requires TWO YEARS, for each year in combat, to replace personnel, repair equipment, retrain, etc. Talk about being "stretched thin!" I hope somebody mentions this tomorrow...