Peep Science

Mar 302002

The mystery of everyone’s guilty springtime pleasure, marshmallow Peeps, are unlocked by a team of intrepid scientists.

The No Spin Zone

Mar 302002

I wrote this review last week, but forgot to post it. Oops.

I was a rather disappointed with Bill O’Reilly’s latest book The No Spin Zone. As a fan of The O’Reilly Factor for the past few years, most of the interviews and issues were old hat to me. (In contrast, O’Reilly’s earlier book, the semi-memoir The O’Reilly Factor, was a far more interesting read.) Both O’Reilly’s greatest faults and strengths shine though in this new book. His anti-conceptualism is apparent in his contradictory ideas, like his stance on drugs versus alcohol. But the honesty, forthrightness, and dogged pursuit of the truth that make his show worth watching are also evident. So here’s my advice: For those who are already failiar with O’Reilly’s show, don’t bother with this book. For those that are not, don’t bother with this book either — but do check out his show instead.

Two Drinks! Heaven Forbid!

Mar 292002

First cigarettes got pounded. I thought fatty foods were next. But alcohol might actually be the next target. I’m growing weary already.


Mar 292002

I suppose I should announce that I was accepted into the Masters program in philosophy at University of Colorado at Boulder. I will be starting classes in the fall. (The 60 minute/60 mile commute will give me plenty of time to listen to a great many of the awesome lectures from The Teaching Company.)

Given that I didn’t conceal my interest in Ayn Rand, I shouldn’t have been surprised to be rejected for the Ph.D program. Although my honesty may have cost me, I’m glad to be entering the program without an Objectivist closet wrapped around me. It got stuffy in there as an undergrad.

If I decide to pursue the Ph.D, I can always reapply armed with letters of recommendation from four Boulder faculty, as well as more published writings and lectures under my belt.

Memory Jumble

Mar 292002

As I was writing my review of Heavy Drinking (posted below), I most unpleasantly realized that certain clear, distinct, and consistent memories of Herbert Fingarette’s article “Alcoholism and Self-Deception” were, in fact, entirely wrong.

I read “Alcoholism and Self-Deception” in January, just a few months ago. Although my reading of the article was rushed, it was of sufficient interest that I ordered Fingarette’s book on alcoholism shortly thereafter. I remembered the article as arguing against the disease concept of alcoholism and the view that problem drinkers experience a loss of control over their drinking. Instead, Fingarette argued that the central feature of alcoholism is self-deception. I even vividly remembered the story of the man who, in full knowledge of the horrible consequences of his drinking, proceeded to deceive himself into drinking again by telling himself that if he put the shot of whiskey into a glass of milk, his full stomach would protect him. Then, since that whiskey didn’t affect him, he proceeded to have another. And so on. All of these recollections seemed perfectly clear and distinct.

Additionally, the summary of the article that I wrote on the title page read “discusses the medical model of alcoholism, claiming that the phenomena can be better understood in terms of self-deception rather than disease.” And my February 28th letter to Tim Lynch of Cato about the article involved the same interpretation. In that letter, I said “Fingarette’s analysis of problem drinking in terms of self-deception rather than ‘loss of control’ certainly fits well with my experience with alcoholics.”

All seemed well. So I wrote the following in my review of Heavy Drinking:

To my surprise, Heavy Drinking doesn’t argue, as the earlier “Alcoholism and Self-Deception” did, that self-deception is the central feature of problem drinking. Rather, in Heavy Drinking, Fingarette’s notion of drinking as a “central activity” takes center stage, while self-deception is not even mentioned.

At this point, I wanted discuss the role of self-deception in problem drinking, particularly citing the whiskey-in-milk story, so I quickly perused through the article looking for it. I couldn’t find it. I skimmed the article again, this time a bit more slowly. I noticed that Fingarette didn’t seem to advocate self-deception as a central feature of problem drinking. Reading the article again more slowly, I noticed that the introductory paragraph claimed that one of the purposes of the paper was “to show how the widely believed by unwarranted claim that alcoholism is a disease serves to encourage self-deception” (52). Oh dear. And, the whiskey-in-milk story was nowhere to be found. Oh oh dear dear. By the time I reached the end of the paper, I knew that my clear and distinct and consistent memories of both the central thesis of the paper and the particular whiskey-in-milk story were wrong. (When I googled for whiskey milk alcoholism self-deception, I found that the whiskey-in-milk story is from Chapter 3 of AA’s Big Book.)

I am very puzzled by this whole experience. I can (sort of) understand misreading the central thesis of “Alcoholism and Self-Deception” because I was so rushed to finish CU Boulder application at the time. But I have absolutely no idea where I might have read the whiskey-in-milk story recently. I am desperate to find out. I don’t remember reading any material on alcoholism, other than Fingarette’s article, around that time.

There is only one reasonable conclusion to draw: I must be going mad.

Heavy Drinking

Mar 292002

After reading Fingarette’s essay “Alcoholism and Self-Deception” in Self-Deception and Self-Understanding, I was eager for more of his unique and interesting perspective on problem drinking in Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease. In this short and very readable book, Fingarette steadily and easily demolishes the prevailing opinion that alcoholism is a disease in which the alcoholic loses control over his drinking. (The scientific community long ago abandoned this view, but it lives on as dogma through therecovery movement.) Fingarette instead explains problem drinking as the result of choices that elevate drinking into a “central activity” in the drinker’s life. He argues that the motivations for the choices that make drinking a core value are as many and varied as are the individuals making them. My only serious objection to the book comes in the final chapter on social policy; Fingarette would seem to be happy to turn this country into a totalitarian state to prevent some people from making stupid choices about alcohol. Despite that flaw, Heavy Drinking presents an impressive and well-reasoned case against the disease model of problem drinking. Similar arguments, I suspect, would apply to any so-called addiction.

Tenure and Retirement

Mar 292002

Shane Bodrero e-mailed me that professors no longer have to retire at age 65 because the government regards such mandatory retirement as age discrimination. Just as I suspected. He also sent this rather fascinating 2000 NYT article Tenure Gridlock: When Professors Choose Not to Retire on a president’s attempts to reform the tenure system at Muhlenberg College. I wonder how successful those efforts have been.

Most revealing was this passage:

“He [the president of the college] makes it quite plain that he views older faculty members as an encumbrance,” said Richard C. Hatch, 63, a chemistry professor who has been on the faculty since 1962. “He would just as well see those nearing retirement get out as soon as possible, and I guess I’m one of those.”

Dr. Hatch says he is looking forward to retirement at the end of the next academic year, thanks to what he calls “a very good retirement package” offered by Muhlenberg and managed by the pension fund TIAA-CREF. But he adds that he does not appreciate the feeling that he and other senior colleagues are being pushed toward the door.

“I feel more and more like a dinosaur,” he said. “It is more difficult to keep up with developments in the discipline, but I also find myself out of step with the attitudes that the newer faculty has towards what a college like this should be.”

So this ancient chemistry professor isn’t really able to do his job anymore and is offered a great retirement package. But he’s resentful! Amazing!

The Middle East

Mar 282002

Mila 18 is a fictional account of the Warsaw Uprising, in which a small number of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto fought off the Germans for a surprisingly long time. The book is a good read, but not great literature. Philosophical issues such as collaboration and the prudence of armed resistance are explored through the conflicts between the characters before the uprising. The German determination to exterminate the Jews, even at the cost of undermining their war effort, is made horrifyingly clear. The willingness of Christian Poland, including the Catholic Church, to not only stand idly by, but also actively turn Jews over to the Germans, is also evident. The characters are well-drawn, but you do not live among them as in John Hersey’s novel The Wall. A novel about such an event should be overwheming, but Mila 18 did not reach those heights. Nevertheless, the book was hardly a waste of time or money; it was a good read.

Reading Mila 18 does provide a convenient excuse to re-read The Wall, which is one of my favorite novels of all time. But I should probably read a historical account of the Warsaw Uprising first. Any suggestions?

The right of Jews to defend themselves against those who wish to slaughter them is, sadly, no less relevant today than it was in Nazi Germany. The face of the enemy may no longer be the deluded Aryan Master Race, but the threat is the same. For our government to preach forebearance to the Israelis in the face of suicide bombers killing innocent civilians on an almost daily basis is an insult to all people who value their own lives. It is hypocricy in its worst form, particularly after 9/11.

My only hope is that GW is trying to calm down the area until he can neutralize Israel’s greatest threat — Iraq — who likely has weapons of mass destruction. (My understanding is that we need a few months to restock our supplies of weapons for a war with Iraq.) As Andrew Sullivan notes, the Arab states may be gearing up for another war on Israel. Although Israel could certainly kick all their primitive asses back to long before the stone age, the death toll may be terribly high if someone uses nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons against Israel. By knocking out Saddam, we largely eliminate that risk. Additionally, the Arab states may not be so eager to get their asses kicked again without the promise to weapons of mass destruction. And they may not want the US to join the fight either. In any case, I just hope Bush isn’t really cruising down the morally indefensible path of appeasement.


Mar 282002

I recently finished Mila 18 by Leon Uris, a fictional account of the Warsaw Uprising. (I’ll post a review later.) So some articles on eugenics popped out at me last night.

In Reason, the article Eugenics Rides a Time Machine takes peek at the eugenics of The Time Machine, comparing the ideas in the new movie to H. G. Wells’ book.

Even more provocative and fascinating is the article by Jonah Goldberg on NRO entitled Westminster Eugenics Show. It talks about the AKC obsession over pure dog breeds as the result of lingering eugenicist views about racial purity.

Personally, I am all too familiar with the costs of focusing on purity of bloodlines and conformation in physical appearance in dogs, rather than temperament or health. One of my German Shepherds, Kate, has very bad hip dysplasia. (We adopted her from a shelter in January of 2000, when she was about 4 years old, so we didn’t select the breeder.) She has just had the first of what will be three expensive surgeries. Without these surgeries, I suspect that we would have to put Kate down in about a year; the pain simply would have been unbearable for her. However, she is a stunningly beautiful dog, with a very regal appearance. She would certainly pass the AKC conformation standards.

Any dog, of course, can develop expensive medical problems. But the likelihood is simply so much greater with purebreds than with mixed-breeds. I will certainly never adopt another purebred dog, for fear of yet more careless breeding.

Whoo-Hoo-Fabulous Gay

Mar 272002

The What Do You Think? on gay adoption in The Onion was hysterical this week. I almost died laughing.

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