Past Quotes of the Week
2002: July - September

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September 29 | 22 | 15 | 8 | 3
August 18 | 11 | 4
July 28 | 21 | 14 | 7

  September 29, 2002:
"Every language has its anomalies, which, though inconvenient, and in themselves once unnecessary, must be tolerated among the imperfections of human things, and which require only to be registered; that they may not be increased, and ascertained, that they may not be confounded: but every language has likewise its improprieties and absurdities, which it is the duty of the lexicographer to correct or proscribe."
— Samuel Johnson: Preface to the Dictionary

He did it again. While speaking about Iraq to a crowd this past week, President Bush talked about the nuke-you-ler threat. Not the new-klee-er threat, but the nuke-you-ler threat. This, of course, wasn't the first time - - dig up a video of practically any speech where he's used the word. Our President, of course, mangles sentences and pronunciations all the time. Sometimes he even mangles the sense of what he means: a recent occurrence was in Tennessee, where he couldn't deliver the proverb "Trick me once, shame on you; trick me twice, shame on me." Honest!! (Scroll to the paragraph that starts, "There's a lot of talk about Iraq...") Even if you want to be generous, and say the President was trying to turn it around to something like the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," (which would have been a nice turn), you'd have to say he fumbled the ball on the one yard line.

Some of the President's defenders wave it all off, saying that's just the way he talks. But if you tolerate this from the President, ask yourself this. If an African-American leader continually mispronounced "ask" as "aks," would you be so tolerant? (Personally, I bet you the harpies at Free Republic would be merciless.) (Note: this is just a hypothetical. I do not know of any African-American leaders who say "aks.")

Conversely, if you could accept "aks" from an African-American leader, I do hope you would accept "nuke-you-ler" from the President.

But that's not the total rub. If we accept it in either case, aren't we lowering our standards? I do hope that when our President promised that "no child will be left behind," he wasn't thinking of lowering standards. But it is about time he learned to pronounce words properly.

Update, September 30: A reader has emailed me to point out that "aks" could actually be more acceptable than "nucular." He points out that in Old English, two early forms of ask co-existed, "ascian" and "acsian", and the form that led to "aks" may have predominated for a time. We agree however, that nucular has never predominated over nuclear, even if Eisenhower also continually made the same gaffe.

He also reminds me that President Bush's mangling of nuclear is fairly unique within his family — if Bush the First had done it, I certainly would have noticed it. But the Senior Bush, he pointed out, was no slouch when it came to mangling. There was the September 7 speech he gave to a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars, a US veterans group), reminding them that September 7 was that day which still lives in infamy. And who could forget the way he referred to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as something like the "Nitty Ditty Nitty Gritty Great Bird." Maybe not that bad, but it was close!

I think that Dad probably has a better sense of humor about his own failings in this regard, though. In the documentary Feed, there is a segment where Bush is on camera in the White House, waiting to go on the air in New Hampshire. As kind of a thumb-twiddling, time-killing exercise, he does a hilarious imitation of Dana Carvey imitating George Bush. Clearly a man who can laugh at himself.

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  September 22, 2002:
"To proportion the eagerness of contest to its importance seems too hard a task for human wisdom. The pride of wit has kept ages busy in the discussion of useless questions, and the pride of power has destroyed armies, to gain or to keep unprofitable possessions."
— Samuel Johnson: Thoughts on the Late Transactions Respecting Falkland's Islands

While a country's national security is of considerably greater importance than what happens to a distant, desolate island colony, it looks as if the Bush administration is prepared to engage in a military build-up like we haven't seen in decades. On Friday, September 20, the Bush White House released a document (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader; download for free here if you need it) detailing the National Security Strategy. In it (page 32 of the electronic copy, the printed page will say page 29) we learn that "we must build and maintain our defenses beyond challenge." Quite honorable, I guess, except for a few issues...

  • Do other countries have any reason whatsoever to fear us, and feel the need to do a similar build-up? It could be argued that the U.S. has been behaving a bit unpredictably of late. First Bush makes a major speech at the United Nations on Iraq, but fails to be explicit that if Iraq accepts inspectors under current resolutions it won't be sufficient, that the U.S. requires additional resolutions first. So, the Secretary General obtains a major concession from Iraq, it's touted in the press, and the Bush Administration says, "no, not good enough." How come no one told the U.N. first? How's this make the Secretary General and the U.N. look?
  • Last time I checked, weren't all good Republicans proud of how Reagan and Bush (Sr.) brought down the Soviet Union and achieved the famous "peace dividend"? Well, let's look at how that happened. If I recall correctly, it was because the Soviet Union imploded after years of over-spending militarily: both it and the U.S. were deterring each other through mutually-assured mass destruction. (Racking up the big bucks... The defense contractors were very happy.) If we intend to maintain a defense that's "beyond challenge", isn't that sending us down the same path we were on years ago? And, if, for it's own self- preservation, Russia and other allied countries band together against us? Whose economy will implode first? As Scott Rosenberg put it succinctly, "This is how empires are unmade."
  • As it is, we can't even afford the bucks it would take to go in against Iraq without allies. How will we scare off the rest of the world? (Uhh, I hope it's not by increased deficit spending...)

Now let's return to the Johnson quotation, and ask ourselves just how profitable it would be to be three or four rungs higher on the military ladder than everyone else. Let's even imagine that we can afford it.

Remember the Production Possibility Curve, that curve that shows diminishing returns as you shift more dollars away from butter into guns?

  • Well, if countries don't follow our lead, that means that more of their money is being invested into non-military sectors of their economies. And that usually leads to greater production and efficiencies, meaning our economic advantages are diminished. (So not only are we spending more of our money on guns, we could wind up losing further on the balance of trade at the same time. Hmmm. Promising!)
  • And if those other countries do decide to arm themselves? Well, we spend even more! So, the money in our federal budget that was dedicated to social services and education and such, which already decreased because we wanted to start a military build up, diminished even further because we want to build up even more! So, if we thought we were stinting our children's future before, let's stint them some more.

Under the circumstances you can see how one could question whether or not military dominance is such a special goal to pursue. Why not simple parity, like we had under Reagan? (I mean, isn't Reagan held up as a saint still? Did I not get the memo?)

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  September 15, 2002:
"Let us not imagine evils which we do not feel, nor injure life by misrepresentations. I cannot bear that querulous eloquence which threatens every city with a siege like Jerusalem, that makes famine attend on every flight of locusts, and suspends pestilence on the wing of every blast that issues from the south."
— Samuel Johnson: Rasselas

Is Saddam Hussein planning to use weapons of mass destruction against the rest of the world? I certainly hope not. But I'm not in a position to know, and it's clear that even our leaders aren't either. A meeting between US President Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair led to a joint expression that Iraq needs to be considered a threat, but the conclusions Bush presented Blair seem to be a misinterpretation of the available evidence.

Evidence seems to be in rather short supply here. Harold Meyerson complained that unlike the way the Kennedy administration handled the Cuban Missile Crisis — share evidence with the U.N. before raising the issue — the Bush administration wants to discuss the issue without offering evidence. (You may also have read that former UN inspector Scott Ritter feels there is no way that Iraq represents a threat.)

And this past Friday, Bush called on leaders in the US Senate to agree to pursue Iraq, with or without UN approval. Apparently, Bush has problems with Senators who take so broad a view of foreign policy that they think it meaningful to build a coalition first. (Of course, we know from Bush's treatment of NBC reporter David Gregory that he really hates it when someone seems more international than he is.) Is it unfair to say that Bush is basically offering the world an ultimatum, on scanty evidence?

Is it me, or did our President get overly inspired by this summer's movie Minority Report? On the one hand, we have the "preventive arrest" of Jose Padillo, who is accused of plotting to plant a dirty bomb (but yet, whose plans were too vague and unformed to merit description), and now we have these arguments about a preventive strike against Iraq. Just what are the standards that trigger action? And how can we be confident that other countries won't also become targets after unsupported speculation?

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  September 8, 2002:
"None of the desires dictated by vanity is more general, or less blamable, than that of being distinguished for the arts of conversation."
— Samuel Johnson: Rambler #188

I will give humanity the benefit of the doubt, and say that I don't think everyone is always conscious of how often their actions are the result of pretense and vanity. I don't think Johnson would disagree with that, either. His hilarious essay about the stagecoach, and the pointless impostures of passengers to fellow passengers, is a prime example of how he makes us aware of our foibles.

As the anniversary of September 11 approaches, television networks are doing everything they can to find the right words and footage to help us through our awareness of the date, and naturally they want to outperform the competition.

But at the end, what do we really expect will be said, that couldn't have been said before, and needed to wait for the anniversary? Do we really need to revisit the events, join together again to hear old thoughts re-hashed in new words? (I'd like to stress, I am not speaking here for the families of the deceased; I wouldn't dream of imagining what they need to do to observe the day.)

Do the television journalists see themselves as fulfilling a special social role here, and imagine greater importance for themselves as a result? I just don't see it.

And another thing... Much mention has been made about how coverage will be all day, and there will be practically no advertising, leading to considerable economic loss. The respect being shown by not selling advertising is laudatory. I just wonder... Did anyone in any network, at any point, take a humble view of themselves, and say, "you know, we can't add anything, and better than distract anyone, why don't we just go dark for the whole day and not show anything?" My guess is, no. The temptation to talk, and talk better than the competition, is just too strong.

By the way, Tom Tomorrow has written eloquently about why he doesn't need the anniversary coverage. (See "It begins", and take note of his link to the Onion.) As a Brooklynite, I smelled the same stenches he smelled, and had the same reminders. (In addition, a morning or two after the attacks, there was a pre- dawn thunderstorm in my neighborhood, with a loud thunderclap near our window that woke me, fearing a further attack.) And as someone who worked in the Financial District, I also saw a lot firsthand. So, no, no really compelling need here to revisit the events, either.

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  September 3, 2002:
"It is not very easy to fix the principles upon which mankind have agreed to eat some animals, and reject others; and as the principle is not evident, it is not uniform. That which is selected as delicate in one country, is by its neighbours abhorred as loathsome."
— Samuel Johnson: Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland

I'm very happy to say, as an experimenting cook and eater, that I finally had a chance to try haggis a week or so ago in Edinburgh. Haggis is one of those dishes whose list of ingredients seems to have a chip on its shoulder, a challenge to you: "eat me if you dare." (The traditional ingredients consist of various forms of sheep offal, plus suet, oatmeal, salt and pepper, etc. If you want to make some, here's a recipe.)

A former colleague of Scottish heritage used to sing its praises continually, but for some reason I was always skeptical (this, in spite of the fact that I have occasionally stuffed sausage and should know that parts can taste just fine). There was something about the ingredient list... But it actually tasted very, very good.

We were lucky to be able to eat anything at all — we know from past experience that if you don't have a restaurant reservation in Edinburgh on a Saturday night, you can wind up with really inferior food. And this was during the August Festival! But a cancellation at Flaming Red Dining Room (and a kind waitress from Manchester) gave us the opportunity to eat some very fine food. A couple nights later my wife tried a haggis appetizer at Stac Polly, and from the two restaurants we were able to get the basic taste. The taste is kind of like a mixture of kasha and liver. I know the recipes generally call for oatmeal (not kasha), but in describing the taste, I think kasha comes closer to it.

But I don't really know... Did I really taste genuine, traditional haggis, or do the restaurants serve something more appropriate for the tourist's palate? I know this happens with American Chinese restaurants all the time, and someone I spoke to said that the haggis which butchers deliver to the restaurants does not come in a sheep's stomach, but is closer to "ready to scoop" and serve with the turnips and potatoes.

Further, the haggis appetizer at Stac Polly puts haggis in little filo pastry pockets (kind of like a dumpling) and serves them with a fruit sauce. Now, I don't even like a fruit sauce with duck (if you order something, plan on tasting it!! Eat your duck like a man, to paraphrase Charles Ives). I was not overly thrilled by the concept of hiding haggis in little pastry wraps — a bit too effete for me, I'm afraid.

So the skeptic in me has a new goal, to find some offal and make my own. But whatever I tasted did taste good.

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  August 18, 2002:
"Man is a transitory being, and his designs must partake of the imperfections their author. To confer duration is not always in our power. We must snatch the present moment, and employ it well, without too much solicitude for the future, and content ourselves with reflecting that our part is performed. He that waits for an opportunity to do much at once, may breathe out his life in idle wishes, and regret, in the last hour, his useless intentions and barren zeal."
—Samuel Johnson: Idler #4

I find I'm being pulled in a lot of directions at once, and it's difficult to bring as much to completion as I'd like.

Let's start with this web site...

  • Already this summer, I completed a face lift, changing fonts and page structures to achieve a cleaner look. The pages also load more quickly as a result. I don't use web development software, I use WordPerfect, so all the coding was done through cut and paste and judicious "find and replace." There are over 500 pages on this site, and it required considerable effort.
  • Then somewhere I got the idea that I should try and put a "link" code after every quotation. This would make it easier for visitors to refer to specific quotations in an email or as a link on a web page. (That is, you would be able to send someone directly to "Sir, you are giving a reason for it..." rather than just the page that it's on.) Doing this requires changing thousands of lines of code, a very slow process, and it's still in progress.
  • On top of that, I realized I might be able to help those users who get to a page through a search engine (but not through my Topical Guide — and make them realize that there are other topic pages with related material. Take a look at Accuracy, for example. This goes more quickly than adding the links to every single quotation, but it's still time consuming. And still in progress...

These refinements, of course, are in addition to this weekly page, as well as actually reading Johnson and adding new quotations to the web site. Since I am basically donating my time here, I'm trying to find a hat store that carries a model more or less in a block shape.

All I've talked about here is the web site itself. I haven't even mentioned the demands of a real life... I'm not going to stop anything, but I do need to concentrate on some other aspects of my life. So, there won't be a "Quote of the Week" next week. In fact, I think I'm going to forget about this web site for a couple weeks, and give it a rest till Labor Day.

Enjoy the rest of your August!

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  August 11, 2002:
"Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance; yonder palace was raised by single stones, yet you see its height and spaciousness. He that shall walk with vigor three hours a day, will pass in seven years a space equal to the circumference of the globe."
—Samuel Johnson: Rasselas [the character Imlac]

The parental units (me being one of them, and I guess the primary driver here) decided it would make sense to return to the perseverance lesson with the kid unit. While out on an errand to pick up a child's birthday present, I spotted a few shelves of jigsaw puzzles. A 500 piece puzzle seemed about right if we all worked together, and the picture itself looked attractive and challenging. The intent, of course, would be to demonstrate that if you keep working on small pieces you can achieve a larger goal. Sorry to be obvious, but I am trying to deal with the Johnson quote on just that.

The picture showed Bishop's Bay in Scotland, near Glencoe. The linked image isn't quite the puzzle image, but you can get a sense that it's beautiful. The puzzle itself offers challenges in deciding whether you're building something in the reflection in the waters, or a more primary image. Is there a word for describing the non-reflected image in this context? Or do people just go with the word "original"? "Original" feels funny since a jigsaw puzzle is clearly a reproduction...

It actually was a pretty good lesson not just in perseverance, but also in teamwork. And I was the recipient of the teamwork lesson, not just the kid unit.

You see, we all agreed we could sacrifice the dining room table for a half week. (Good lesson: get agreement.)

And while we all got briefly distracted in looking for Bishop's Bay on our UK roadmap, we recognized that it was hindering our primary goal of solving the puzzle. The geography lesson was fine, but it was not why we were there. (Good lesson: remember the goals!)

And we all worked well in gathering the edge pieces and the four corners. (Teamwork!)

And when it looked, first go round, that we were missing a couple pieces of the edge, we had a lesson in not losing faith (they were there).

But my lesson in teamwork came later, as we were filling in the center (or maybe we were still looking for the last pieces of edge). The kid unit got bored, and decided it would help the parental units to hover around with a light so close as to be distracting. This was the role which the kid unit found fulfilling, and this was my lesson in teamwork: make sure the objectives are the same and everyone understands their role.

But you know? This is way too serious thinking. It's only a jigsaw puzzle. The kid helped. I'm not going to overthink it.

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  August 4, 2002:
"Whoever commits a fraud is guilty not only of the particular injury to him who he deceives, but of the diminution of that confidence which constitutes not only the ease but the existence of society."
— Samuel Johnson (Rambler #79)

I'm feeling more and more friction in the world, and it's killing my aerodynamics.

Last week I mentioned here that some jerk stole eight bicycles out of our building's basement, three of them ours. In addition to the fact that we lost a thousand dollars worth of bikes, it meant that a weekly appointment we would normally have gone to on bikes through Prospect Park couldn't be done practically without resorting to car service. From where we live, and the destination, well, you can get there from here on subways, but we would have had to go into Manhattan, change lines, and then bounce back out to Brooklyn. The crow doesn't fly one twentieth that far. On our bikes it's a quick and pleasant ride through Prospect Park. Car service was $10 each way. Ouch. And I assure you, the trip by car service is not nearly as wonderful and peaceful.

And I'm getting regular emails that include attachments containing our good buddy the W32.Klez.H@mm virus (perhaps you are, too). This has added a unique wrinkle; even though my antivirus software successfully screens those out on download, this adds time to my life. So I've been screening my email through a web site that tells me the file sizes of attachments before they download (any email with a 150K attachment is a suspect!) On top of that, I feel it's getting necessary to update my virus files daily, which also adds time.

Because of one of the little tricks of the Klez virus, I spent time emailing Jack Lynch to tell him that he had the flu. See, Klez reads your address book and sends itself out to those in your address book, but it doesn't identify you as the sender, it picks someone else in your address book to identify as the sender. But I didn't know that at the time, and wasted time emailing Jack, who wasted time explaining the complete evilitude of Klez to me. None of this would be necessary, of course, if we lived in a world where deceit wasn't anyone's hobby.

So there's a lot of friction, but apparently we need more friction in our lives. That's the only conclusion I can draw when formerly responsible companies decide to add to it all. We must be working and living too efficiently, right?

So here's the news. Sony has decided that the best way to market their new phones is to hire actors to go into bars and such, acting as if they're real people, and sing the phones' praises. The actors will not have any haloes over their head indicating that they are a walking advertisement. I kid you not. Personally, I hate this idea. Word of mouth is so important to our understanding of the world, we really lose something when a company decides to hijack it. (And by the way, what does it say about a company's product that they think they need to buy word of mouth? Does this mean they don't think they'll get it otherwise, or that the spontaneous kind will be negative?)

This is not the first time this has been tried, of course. Harvey's did something similar in the early 90's to promote one of its brands. They hired actors to go into bars and ask for a martini made with their brand, and talk it up at the bar, and push it on people. Like the actors working for Sony, they didn't have a halo over their heads identifying them as advertisements. They also purchased tiny classified ads which appeared at the bottom of the front page of the New York Times and read like personal ads: "Remember me? You had the blue shirt and I was drinking the Harvey's martini. I changed my mind, let's get together."

Somebody I worked with at the time (I am sooo tempted to link to his face) defended them, saying something like, "It's not like they're forcing anyone at gunpoint to drink the martinis." If I recall correctly my retort was along the lines of "the fact that it's not as bad as your hypothetical extreme doesn't make it a good approach." (I can't bring myself to provide a link to his picture... I just... I just can't. But I did think about it. At one point I even hyperlinked the period of a sentence in this paragraph. But if you know me, his first name is Larry.)

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  July 28, 2002:
"I, Madam, who live at a variety of good tables, am a much better judge of cookery, than any person who has a very tolerable cook, but lives much at home; for his palate is gradually adapted to the taste of his cook: whereas, Madam, in trying by a wider range, I can more exquisitely judge."
— Samuel Johnson (Boswell: Life of Johnson)

I am amazed sometimes at the differences in my upbringing and our kid's. There are differences due to region (as well as family) and time, and it's difficult to say which has the greater influence. I grew up in Florida in the 60's and 70's, surrounded by brothers who were not interested in trying vegetables beyond corn, peas, and baked beans. When I went on the cafeteria meal ticket at the University of Florida, succotash was practically a revelation. I don't say this with hyperbole: exploration was not on the agenda at our dinner table. Not due to my mother, but due to the others. (Dad is a bit more adventurous than my brothers: he would eat spinach.)

The catalyst for this discussion is because tonight we had an ostrich steak for dinner. (If you're not a vegetarian, I highly recommend you try ostrich. It has a good meaty taste, and it's very low in fat. Way cool for those of you on the Zone diet. It wasn't that expensive, either: a 1 lb. steak cut from the thigh cost $6 and fed three.) (Update: my grocery store woke up, and the steaks now cost about $15 per pound.)

Now, where I didn't even try Chinese food until I'd gone away to college, our kid had sampled eel at age 4 in a town in the Netherlands (and liked it), and has also sampled such out of the way foods as escargot, buffalo, octopus, and sea urchin. (No haggis yet.) This is not to say our kid is not a picky eater (other parents should not get jealous; Hamburger Helper still happens here, and burritos are made with a sweet Sloppy Joe filling rather than something more Tex-Mex). There are favorite foods and favorite recipes, and if I deviate from them you should look for my obituary. It's only to say that there is greater willingness to explore.

I can't speak for all parents, but when I discuss this with some parents there is considerable envy. And I can understand that: some kids are not just picky, they are not willing to explore. (A child we know — who has since become a bit more flexible — once told us he only liked his hot dogs when they were peeled.)

But there are definitely disadvantages, too. A child who tries a lot of foods can get jaded. Here's an example... Subways near us take us quickly to Chinatown, where it's easy to get a few live lobsters for $20. With the convenience and low cost, I guess we have lobsters 2-3 times a year. I recognize our blessings from this convergence of commerce and transportation. But last December, when we were talking about what to have Christmas Eve, and my wife brought up lobster, the kid said, "Can we have something more special than lobster?" (Of course we were shocked, and it was a lesson for us parents. The kid has also learned from our reactions...)

I didn't want to write about a kid who is growing snobby (and this one isn't); I only wanted to write about the impact of environment and culture on what a child pursues.

So now I have to change gears back and talk again about the ostrich (remember the ostrich?). These kinds of foods don't fall on our plates frequently, and the kid had only had ostrich once, some years ago in a restaurant in Germany, on a trip visiting a friend. This was the first time in a couple years. Tonight there was actually a little trepidation on the kid's part. The memory of the ostrich steak in Koln was strong, and feelings were enthusiastic... But the kid knew that tastes change, and what if the steak wasn't as good as the memory? The kid asked, what if my tastes have changed and I don't like it? This, in itself, was a huge moment for me, seeing the kid recognize that memories sometimes play false, a "know thyself" moment and all. I think this may have been one of my better moments of flexibility: I said, "That's OK, if you don't like it, you can have ants on a log." (Ants on a log is a celery stalk topped with peanut butter and raisins.) I'd like to say I was just being a nice guy, but I also knew that meant more ostrich for my wife and me.

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In other news, if you're still reading, some bastard stole seven bicycles out of our building's basement, three of them ours. A pox upon the perpetrator. I will not spend time finding an appropriate Johnson quotation, because the scum isn't worth my time. The bicycles are all missed; the perp will be lucky to have a similar impact on humanity.

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  July 21, 2002:
"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
— Samuel Johnson (James Boswell: Life of Johnson)

Man oh man, what kind of a precipice are we staring at with the stock market these days? I'm young enough to feel this is something new, but I have enough of a sense of history to know that the world has experienced worse. That doesn't always make it better, of course: life is not lived in the tail ends of the normal distribution, the bulk of life is lived within milder deviations, and no matter how bad it's been before, something like this is riveting.

When I feel philosophical, I remind myself that much of this might only be the erasure of gains experienced under that period which Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan characterized as having "irrational exuberance." A poster on a Yahoo! message board suggested that we have to understand the price increases as well as the decreases, and suggested that a 1990's influx of 401(k) moneys meant inflated stock prices, dishonest analysts competing for those moneys with questionable evaluations, and so on — that the declines are real, but the increases were silly anyway.

That could well be true, but the drops in the market, no matter the philosophical approach, sure are sobering, ain't they?

I have never done any surveys on this site, and don't know the ages of this page's readers (though now that it's summer I'm sure there are fewer college students). But I hope you all have many years ahead of you in which to recover from these drops. And perhaps you can buy some shares during this downturn, to profit better later.

It would be superficial of me to bring in the Johnson quotation above without discussing its origin a bit. When Johnson said this to Boswell, he was discussing the case of a convicted forger, and something Johnson ghost wrote in his behalf. In 18th century England, forgery was a capital crime, and Dodd (the forger) was to be hanged. Johnson was explaining how it was conceivable that something Johnson wrote could have been thought of as coming from Dodd's pen.

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Through all of this, one can't forget life itself. One of my favorite books is The Oxford Book of Death. (I didn't know it had gone out of print, but apparently it's coming back.) It's an exploration of how death has been treated in literature, and the converse of it all is that it winds up being an appreciation of life. (It's where I first read Yeats' "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death," and if you know the poem, you recognize that it demands we chisel meaning out of our lives, else we consign ourselves to death, from having nothing better to do.)

So today we took advantage of relatively pleasant weather, and walked a few blocks to Prospect Park in order to play catch and break in some new gloves. I will not threaten the job security of any of the Yankees' infielders (even those at Tampa Bay can feel complacent), but it was very good to toss, catch, run, act tricky, and apologize to neighboring sun-bathers. Later, it as good to tie balls into the gloves to leave them idle for a few days: it was a statement that yes, the world will still be around come Wednesday, and it will still be good to play catch.

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  July 14, 2002:
"Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts. It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in the multiplicity of human habitations which are crowded together, that the wonderful immensity of London consists."
— Samuel Johnson (James Boswell: Life of Johnson)

That may be so for London, but I don't think this statement applies to New York City, unless you turn it inside out. In my view, to know New York City, you have to get to the outer boroughs. Granted, there will be greater impetus now that the Museum of Modern Art has temporarily relocated to Queens, but this is something I've felt for at least 15 years (only having been here 20 years, that represents the bulk of my time).

First, let's talk about the population statistics. I wouldn't want to imply that real people don't live in Manhattan, but people forget more people live in either Brooklyn or Queens. Of the eight million NYC residents reported in the U.S. 2000 census...

The Bronx
Staten Island
2.5 million

Since Manhattan accounts for less than 20% of New York residents, how can one see New York City without seeing the outer boroughs?

A list of just the attractions which are in the outer boroughs is staggering...

I could go on at length, but you get the picture. And these are only the biggies. And they're all easier to get to than Hampton Court is, outside London. And that's not even to mention the neighborhoods with their ethnic variety and wonderful restaurants.

So sure, come to New York. See Manhattan, and do the pilgrimage to Ground Zero if you like, plus the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Statue of Liberty and Central Park, but take the subway out to the other boroughs, and really get to know the city for all its worth.

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Saw The Road To Perdition today, and loved it. A gorgeous film, with an imaginative script and great acting. Paul Newman's Irish brogue took an early vacation, but that's really a minor complaint in the midst of an otherwise superior achievement.

Also, this odd thought. You know how some buildings don't have a 13th floor, out of superstition? Today my wife told me she did something at 9:11 AM, and naturally I heard "9-11" before the "A.M." I wonder if some enterprising clock manufacturer will someday market a digital clock that stays on 9:10 for two minutes and then goes directly to 9:12? I don't need one, but is this so very far fetched? Did you hear about the blip of protests over the title of the second movie in The Lord Of The Rings? How some people thought it inappropriate to call it "The Two Towers" even though that was the name of the book? An article on a petition to change the title (no longer up at; the url was read,

"THE TITLE IS clearly meant to refer to the attacks on The World Trade Center," notes the petition posted at and signed by more than 1,200 people. "It is unforgivable that this should be allowed to happen."

The title is actually the name of the second book in the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy on which the films are based, but even when this was pointed out to the petitioners, they maintained that the title of the film should still be changed.

Some people, however, left comments on the petition suggesting that they believe the petitioners are overreacting. "I think they should rename New York too, because every time I hear 'New York' it makes me think of that day and it makes me cry," noted one. "That and the words 'world,' 'trade,' and 'center' should be removed from our language as well."

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  July 7, 2002:
"I am, indeed, far from desiring to increase in this kingdom the number of executions; yet I cannot but think, that they who destroy the confidence of society, weaken the credit of intelligence, and interrupt the security of life; harass the delicate with shame, and perplex the timorous with alarms; might very properly be awakened to a sense of their crimes, by denunciations of a whipping-post or pillory: since many are so insensible of right and wrong, that they have no standard of action but the law; nor feel guilt, but as they dread punishment."
— Samuel Johnson: Adventurer #50

Let me think... If I recall correctly from one of my classes in high school, society has three reasons to punish the guilty: rehabilitation, retribution, and deterrence. (Removal from society doesn't seem to be in this list, so maybe I'm forgetting exactly what action these three reasons are supposed to support.) I like this Johnson quotation because he covers the deterrence issue pretty well.

On July 7, one of the topics on NBC's news/discussion program "Meet The Press" was the continuing stream of corporate scandals. Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson was on, and was asked how he felt President Bush should respond to the scandals. Peterson said "Well, the president will be right if he suggests some of these guys go to jail, because to paraphrase Johnson, that'll concentrate the mind."

I was of course happy to see Johnson mentioned on national television, but I think it's important to remember that Peterson was emphasizing the impact of punishment on the executive who has already committed a crime. Peterson omitted the deterrent value of jail terms when alluding to Johnson's remark (although I'm sure that additional value is not lost on him).

On a completely unrelated note, this past Saturday we went to the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area in Vero Beach, Florida. Regrettably, we were not properly prepared, and were chased out by mosquitoes, as well as a large puddle we couldn't navigate due to some being in sandals. But it looked like a wonderful set of trails and we want to go back. The parking lot is tiny (four cars?), so you shouldn't expect to see many people while you're there, and we saw only dirt paths (though, again, we didn't get very far in). But there is a Publix nearby where you can buy repellent, so make sure you slather up. It's really the kind of Florida that I like, pretty close to raw nature.

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