I recently had a discussion with the editors of a student newspaper at the University of Virginia called the Cavalier Daily. The paper is currently performing an admirable service in its coverage of some questionable judicial proceedings at the university. But the paper printed information which its source had been instructed by the university to keep confidential. I asked the editors whether they opposed the rule that made University Judiciary Committee proceedings confidential. They said they had no opinion on that but had a policy of printing anything that made good news.

Palmyra Courthouse

A referendum will be voted on in Fluvanna County, Virginia, early in 1997. Technically it is to be a referendum on the building of a new courthouse. In a looser sense, it will be a referendum on the value of history. The referendum asks whether an attractive town with a tradition of nearly two centuries should, as has happened to other towns nearby, be abandoned and allowed to decay, or whether we should continue to live in it. In his early essay "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life," Friedrich Nietzsche distinguished three useful types of history: that which finds admirable examples in the past worthy of imitation, that which preserves in gratitude what the past has given us, and that which criticizes the past and demands change. The main target of criticism in this essay was the scholarly over-studying of history as a topic removed from current life. But Nietzsche also attacked the blind clamoring for newer and newer things which has only increased in the century since he lived. It is the second of the three types of valuable history which is needed today in the county seat of Palmyra, Virginia. A choice is being offered to the citizens of the county between preserving a wonderful old town in which ancestors of many of those citizens walked, and building a cheap and ugly sprawling office park on what is now a lovely farm. I would like to ignore the matter of the farm's destruction. And, for the sake of argument, let us imagine that rather than an "office park" the plan calls for the construction of an architecturally stunning, environmentally wise, new town. Even in such a hypothetical situation, we would have good reason to preserve Palmyra. According to Nietzsche, for the revering historian,

FDR's Memorial

There's a green cross in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Monument at the juncture (or just below it), the Capitol (or RFK Stadium, may it rest in peace) at the Eastern foot, the Lincoln Memorial at the Western head, the White House at the Northern hand, and the Jefferson Memorial at the Southern hand. Three of the blocks of space formed by the cross are largely filled by city. The one between the Lincoln and the Jefferson is water and grass. And now it contains a new memorial which will lead a great many people to make the walk (or bike ride, or rollerblade) between the two memorials. When somebody says "Meet me at the FDR," it won't mean a highway, like in New York, and it won't mean a four door. It will be referring to a beautiful parklike structure that one only notices when in it. The FDR Memorial has no effect on Washington's skyline. It's a long sequence of semi-enclosed spaces, with twelve foot high walls of huge blocks of pinkish granite, numerous waterfalls, trees, sculptures, reliefs, plaques, quotations carved into rock, all of it open to and hugging the cherry trees which ring the Tidal Basin. Pairs of people pedal up in their sky blue pedal boats and stop to float, feet up, watching the people on the benches watching them. The people seem to like each other. One has a sense of simple naive trustful friendliness brought from the fifty states with the children and the cameras. But the memorial is back from this edge. And it is not as crowded with things as I've made it sound. The memorial is enormous. It can't all be seen at once. And the duration of walking through it, from North to South, from FDR's first term to his second to his third to his fourth to his death, gives one an idea of the length of his presidency.

The Utopia of Zero Wishful Thinking

What is a history of thought? We are often told tales of the progress of thought from one mode to another over the centuries (say, magical - religious - rational - pragmatist - ), and yet no one has ever encountered a society in which any of the supposedly past modes of thought does not remain significantly present; nor are many past or primitive societies not known to have contained, or to contain, at least a few thinkers well ahead of their times. Many individuals come of age taking the latest and seemingly final mode of thought as utter common sense, whether or not they have a name to apply to it. For these people, the earlier modes of thought must be studied if their rejection is to be fully understood, and the whole operation takes on the appearance of two steps backward and two steps forward - a net waste of time, if not of research grants. All former patterns of thought look like blatant (however unconscious) wishful thinking, in which one would not have engaged no matter when one was born.

Thoughts on Criminal Justice

December 1998
My first encounter with the idea that prisons might be a bad idea was in reading Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish (1975). He spoke of alternatives or substitutes for prisons, and also for factories, schools, barracks, and hospitals, all of which he said resembled prisons. But he said not one word about what such alternatives might be, and his style struck me as pretentious. So I didn't pay much attention.

The Last Word on Sodomy

When I read Newsweek, I generally skim it, and even then seem to grasp it all without having to really pay attention. But sometimes I hit the George Will column, "The Last Word," like a brick wall. I have to go back over it carefully three times, and even then can only at best guess what he's saying. His thinking is so far removed from mine, and he is so convinced that everybody already shares his views, that I often have a hard time grasping his message.

Reply to Neal Gabler

11 January, 1999
Various newspapers, beginning with the L.A. Times, have recently been running an editorial by Neal Gabler explaining the sexual inquisition in Washington, DC, as a struggle between proponents and opponents of religion, and taking the side of the religious. I think Gabler is right about the struggle, and would like to comment from the opposing camp.

Caring for Criminals

12 January, 1999
I have sympathy for people who do cruel, selfish and destructive things - in many cases these correspond to committing crimes - because I think these people would be happier if they did not do these things, and this quite apart from the punishment often inflicted on them by their societies. I do not sympathize with the sick culture of much American music, film, and television that romanticizes crime. I do not fail to sympathize with the victims of crimes, or - for that matter - with the victims of injustice. But I am concerned about criminals, whether or not they are apprehended.


February, 1999
In April of 1995 I wrote a paper for a graduate philosophy class at the U of Virginia with professor John Simmons. We were reading Rawls, and the paper was called "Reason and Religion in Rawls." It's 17 pages long but makes a simple point that is not specific to Rawls. Recently I found the same point made - the only other time I've seen it - in a paper by Stanley Fish in "The Revival of Pragmatism," edited by Morris Dickstein. The point is that toleration conflicts with religion.

Labor Action

A group of University of Virginia students, faculty, and staff is expected to
demonstrate Friday, March 26th, at 1:00 p.m. on behalf of a living wage
for all UVa employees. The demonstration will take place outside the Rotunda
at the center of campus where the Board of Visitors, which sets the
university's budget, will be meeting.

World Beyond War

War Is A Crime

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There Is No Way To Peace

Peace is the way.

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