Saturday, March 31, 2007

“New Atheism”

Harvard’s “humanist chaplain” Greg Epstein disapproves of the atheist “fundamentalism” of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, according to the Associated Press:

Epstein and other humanists feel their movement is on the verge of explosive growth, but they are concerned that it will be dragged down by what they see as the militancy of New Atheism. "Humanism is not about erasing religion,” he said. It’s an embracing philosophy."

Yes, but humanists should not uncritically embrace any belief anyone cares to entertain under the guise of religion, or automatically extend benign respect and deference. Steven Pinker is right: “It’s only the sense that religion deserves special respect – the exact taboo that Dawkins and Harris are arguing against – that makes people feel that those guys are being meanies when applying ordinary standards of evaluation to religion.”

On the other hand, Epstein is right to worry about tarnishing humanism as mean-spirited. (Remember Madalyn Murray O’Hare?) The times we live in will be far better served by friendly atheists like E.O. Wilson, reaching out to religionists for common ground in hopes of preserving the earth (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth -- Norton '06; scroll to the bottom of this page to see YouTube video of Pinker, Dawkins, Harris, and Wilson)

But on the other other hand, I’m with Dawkins when he bemoans the abuse of children in the name of religious education. Children have a right to their native agnosticism, free of indoctrination. Philosophy can help with this, I am convinced. We need to be philosophizing with all our children from the beginning, arming them with the critical tools to think freely and creatively about their world and its future. More on this in future posts.

Talking and Living

My building at ESU yesterday was host to two noteworthy academic occasions:

1. Our department sponsored an address by a charming visitor from Chicago, who explained at length (and diagrammed) the structure of racial and sexual oppression in America. He used many words to say that black women have it worse than black men and whites generally. His thesis was almost too true to be good, too obvious to profit from theoretical elaboration. The ensuing trans-gender, poly-ethnic Q-&-A discussion was constructive, but on the whole I was reminded of what Richard Ford said (noted in Tuesday's post) about the futility of exhaustive explanations. The post-talk reception in our department chair's back yard, though, under a gorgeous moon on a perfect early spring evening with terrific food and drink and uninhibited conversation among good people, was more than worthwhile. I enjoy my friends and colleagues (and, btw, am pleased to report that they will continue to be my colleagues for the foreseeable future).

2. The English department sponsored a conference on Baseball in Literature and Culture. The luncheon speaker was the infamous old Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain, who was villainous when I was 11 years old because he helped defeat my Cards in the '68 World Series... and villainous later too, accused of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy, theft, money laundering, and mail fraud. He spent six years in prison. But his talk was all baseball. McLain had disturbing things to say about Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin (Martin "killed" Mantle) and Boog Powell (he broke Powell's hand with a "purpose pitch") and my hero Bob Gibson (he "hates America" but was a great pitcher).

I attended a session in the afternoon on the incredible old Negro Leagues star Satchel Paige (who was finally given an opportunity to pitch in the major leagues, and pitched well, at age 59). Paige said: "Age is a case of mind over matter, if you don't mind it don't matter." And: "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?" Well, he was 75 (though his birth certificate apparently cannot be located to confirm this) when felled by emphysema. Smoking is not a good idea if you want to pitch forever, as Satch once proposed to do.

I spoke a few years ago at the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, saying in part: "I suppose we are all here because we love to talk about baseball. Yet, and perhaps paradoxically, those of us who are most enthusiastic about baseball know that talk about it is ultimately incapable of bearing its own weight... personal enthusiasms run deep, to a place beyond talk and the objectifying intellect." It was fun to visit the Hall of Fame and meet fellow enthusiasts, but in the end I'm still with Ford: we need to "leave off explaining" and get on with living. "What an awful trade that of professor is," William James complained at term's end in 1892, "paid to talk, talk, talk! . . . It would be an awful universe if everything could be converted into words, words, words." And yet, he came back to teach again in the Fall. As will I.

So, in the name of leaving off explaining and getting on with living: our daughter's little league season opener is tonight (she's the only girl on her team of "Diamondbacks") and I intend to enjoy it, not explain it. Happy Opening Day!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Richard Ford

My old friend at ESU in Alabama (we go way back, to before the Sellars-Quine Kitchen Debate mentioned a couple of posts ago) and I recently were discussing a mutual favorite, novelist Richard Ford. Ford, A. noted, is a masterful chronicler of the often-riveting varieties of ways in which his Everyman heroes (and we) try and fail to lose ourselves in the everydayness of quotidian life. (Like me, I think, A. prefers the Existentialism of fiction to that of philosophy.)

Ford's Frank Bascombe has now taken the stage in three outstanding novels, with the publication last fall of Lay of the Land. He is an older, wiser, more secular Binx Bolling (Walker Percy's "seeker" in The Moviegoer), who comes at last to understand that "a practical acceptance of what's what, in real time and down-to-earth, is as good as spiritual if you can finagle it." And: "Here is necessity... to live it out."

Bascombe, now more-than-slightly past mid-life and momentarily weary of becoming, hungers for necessity ("something solid, the thing ‘character’ stands in for") and Permanence. The trouble is, "Permanence can be scary. Even though it solves the problem of tiresome becoming, it can also erode optimism, render possibility small and remote... down deep inside [to] become just an organism... This you need to save yourself from, or else the slide off the transom of life’s pleasure boat becomes irresistible and probably a good idea."

I met Ford about ten years ago, and expressed to him my admiration for a particular passage in the first Bascombe tale The Sportswriter (1986)--

"Real mystery—the very reason to read (and certainly write) any book—was to them [his teaching colleagues] a thing to dismantle, distill and mine out into rubble they could tyrannize into sorry but more permanent explanations; monuments to themselves, in other words. In my view all teachers should be required to stop teaching at age thirty-two and not allowed to resume until they're sixty-five, so that they can live their lives, not teach them away—live lives full of ambiguity and transience and regret and wonder, be asked to explain nothing in public until very near the end when they can't do anything else. Explaining is where we all get into trouble. . . "Some things can't be explained. They just are. . . . It is better not even to look so hard, to leave off explaining. Nothing makes me more queasy than to spend time with people who don't know that . . . for whom such knowledge isn't a cornerstone of life."

Such a stance is easier to sustain, of course, if you are a former teacher who has achieved subsequent success in other endeavors (fiction writing, for instance). But its wisdom occurs to me in the classroom just about every day, usually smack in the middle of an explanation.

In a future post I'll discuss the middle Bascombe book Independence Day (1995) and its striking parental wisdom -- striking in part because Ford is not a parent himself.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


We've been reading James Lovelock in the environmental ethics class. He first introduced "Gaia," the Earth Goddess metaphor of a living and self-regulating planet that so many of the "scientifically correct" hastily rejected as mystical and New Agey, decades ago. Now, in Revenge of Gaia, Lovelock has gone apocalyptic: humans have plundered the planet and must consequently receive Mother Earth's harsh version of Tough Love. He predicts an 80% "culling" of the population in the next century, followed by a period of adjustment when the human survivors -- like those Irish monks -- will once more have to reinvent civilization.

Lovelock may be right, but I don't like his tone. I much prefer the perspective of Michael Pollan, whose Botany of Desire is our next read. Pollan, too, affirms that we are a part of nature; but his version of the relation between humans and non-human nature also acknowledges its "co-evolutionary" character. Our interests and desires have not just injured Gaia, in important ways they have defined her. We don't have to think of ourselves as forever harboring a toxic threat to the arc of our planet’s evolutionary destiny; we are one of its adaptations, and the only one capable of articulating a planetary point of view that recognizes planetary health as inseparable from human self-interest.

Al Gore made clever use of the Gaia metaphor in his testimony before Congress this week, noting that when your child is sick you don't ignore her condition because a scif-fi author [Michael Crichton, of course] said it wasn't a problem; you treat it.

I like Gore's tone more than Lovelock's, too. As Senator Gore wrote, way back when:

"For civilization as a whole, the faith that is so essential to restore the balance now missing in our relationship to the earth is the faith that we do have a future. We can believe in that future and work to achieve it and preserve it, or we can whirl blindly on, behaving as if one day there will be no children to inherit our legacy. The choice is ours; the earth is in the balance."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

In the kitchen with Quine and Sellars

Professor K. is retiring from my midwestern alma mater (ESU), I've just learned. I never took a course with him, but one of my treasured and enduring school memories involves a reception in his home for two distinguished visitors in the late '70s: Willard van Orman Quine (1908-2000) and Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989), probably the most famous philosophers in America at that time. I vividly recall being in Dr. K.'s kitchen on Westmount Avenue (a personally significant address, for reasons I'll discuss in a future post) with Quine and Sellars, and thinking how delightfully improbable the memory would seem, decades later. And so it does. Both of them have had their influence, though I don't remember either of them saying anything profound in K.'s kitchen that evening. (Would a callow undergraduate have recognized profundity if it bit him, back then?)

Some say this Sellars statement was savvy: "The aim of philosophy is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term." Sellars wanted to reconcile the scientific and "manifest" images of life, and to preserve the philosophically worthy elements of everyday common sense.

Quine was considered a reductionist and revisionist sort of empiricist, saying things like: "Physical objects and the (Homeric) gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conceptions only as cultural posits". And: "Philosophy of science is philosophy enough". That's definitely not common sense. But is it wrong?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Cheers to the Irish, and to Carl Sagan

A short history lesson on St. Pat's Day (Happy Birthday Sis!) -- Thomas Cahill says there'd be no Internet, blogosphere, or literate culture of any kind if the Irish hadn't "saved civilization":

Ireland, a little island at the edge of Europe that has known neither Renaissance nor Enlightenment--in some ways, a Third World country... had one moment of unblemished glory. For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of western literature--everything they could lay their hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overwhelmed. Without this Service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one--a world without books. And our own world would never have come to be. (How the Irish Saved Civilization, Random House 1996).

I raise my Guinness to those scribbling monks!

Meanwhile, Sam Harris continues his crusade to save civilization from religion. In a new LA Times op-ed he writes: Every one of the world's "great" religions utterly trivializes the immensity and beauty of the cosmos. Books like the Bible and the Koran get almost every significant fact about us and our world wrong. Every scientific domain — from cosmology to psychology to economics — has superseded and surpassed the wisdom of Scripture.,0,5899452.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrail
Trivializing the immensity of the cosmos: that's Carl Sagan's charge in his newly-exhumed 1985 Gifford Lectures, just published by his widow Ann Druyan as The Varieties of Scientific Experience. The echo of William James is deliberate; Druyan says Sagan admired James's description of the feeling one can get from religion or science of being "at home in the universe." The point Harris borrows is that a God of earth and its heaven, the "iron age" God, is simply too small. The point he misses, though, is Sagan's genuine agnosticism about the varieties of ways in which people do in fact make themselves at home. Sagan really is a Jamesian in this regard, while Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett are not. Is such agnosticism an "enabling" view, opening the door to religious perfidy?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"The Meaning of Life"

I once taught a course called "The Meaning of Life" -- lots of fun, if ultimately inconclusive. But on the last day of class we looked at a clip from my all-time-favorite TV show "Northern Exposure" which implied that the M.o.L. is "that old-time rock-&-roll" (music and lyrics by Bob Seger). The point was less literal, of course: we all need to find the particular music of our lives and "dance" to it. Anyway, Terry Eagleton has a new book on the subject. Here's a review excerpt.

Eagleton finally plumps for happiness, currently enjoying a revival among economists, philosophers and even politicians. But he points out with Aristotle that happiness comes in many and devious forms. . . Happiness disengaged from selfishness and allied to the Greek love for humanity (agape) passes muster, at times almost lyrically so.
The meaning of life is thus not "what you make of it". It is not a passing pleasure, which humans share with animals. Indeed it is not even an answer to a question, but rather "a matter of living life in a certain way". It is an ethical construct and involves treating others as you want them to treat you, caring for those close to you, helping strangers, thinking long term.
The meaning of life to Eagleton is like a jazz band, individuals engaged on a collective endeavour in pursuit of happiness through the mutuality of love.

--Simon Jenkins, in The Guardian --,,2030253,00.html

NOTE to the invisible (hypothetical?) readers of this blog: With the end of Spring Break and my return to reality (and a very large stack of ungraded essays), Delight Springs shifts to a slower pace of publication. New posts will now appear on Tuesdays and Saturdays. But as always, feel free to comment on any of these bottled messages whenever they find you.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Safe at home!

The odyssey concludes...

A 3-hour drive from Columbia, SC brought me to the mountainside doorstep of my old friend and former grad school roomie D., who led me to an excellent little bistro in Sylva, NC called "Guadalupe" (the beer selection was outstanding, I can particularly recommend the "Duck-Rabbit" and "Highland" Porters). Then we took in a gorey movie I might rather have missed, "The 300." In this version of ancient Greek history, centering on the battle of Thermopolae, the blood-lusty, death-dealing Spartans never retreat, never surrender, commit collective suicide in the name of warrior "honor," and all the while are portrayed as exponents of reason and freedom. Times reviewer A.O. Scott said it was as violent as "Apocalypto" and twice as stupid. But it was nice to pay just $5 for a movie, even if I lost count of decapitations, eviscerations, and variations on the declaration that freedom isn't free. I'm betting this film is popular in the Bush White House.

A restful night's sleep, capacious breakfast, and much engaging conversation followed, and then I was on the road again, arriving safely home in mid-afternoon to a welcome greeting that confirmed the truism about absence and the heart. Before I had a chance to unpack a thing I was whisked off by my elder daughter to her baseball practice. It's good to be useful again.

My march through Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas topped 2,000 miles; the restorative value of it all was priceless. And it's great to be home.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Anhedonia & consummatory experience

I commented in public on two philosophy papers this morning, one concerned with John Dewey's notion of "consummatory experience" and the other with the phenomenon of "anhedonia" -- the loss of zest, spring, joy, delight -- and what French philosopher Gabriel Marcel might have to teach William James about it. I was concerned to make just a couple of points:

1. Consummatory experiences are better had & enjoyed than talked about & analyzed.

2. The more consummatory experiences you have, the less likely you are to experience anhedonia.

I made those points, but not (of course) so concisely. This being an academic philosophy conference, and philosophy being a discipline that trades chiefly in words, I was expected to talk at much greater length about those two points and others besides. I did not disappoint.

But I hope my confreres will do what I did yesterday: go outside, breath the fresh air, take in some new sights, walk around... even if you don't have a consummatory moment, you'll still feel better and will be far less vulnerable to the dreaded anhedonia (which, btw, our French speaker pronounced not as rhyming with "Caledonia" but instead with the greater stress on the penultimate syllable -- so I learned at least one thing this morning).

I also related my experiences of the past week, which to my mind show that it is indeed possible to chase down your consummations (or at least become open to them) if you want to.

Next stop: the mountainous environs of Asheville, NC. Then, to invoke the inevitable baseball metaphor, I'll round 3d and head for home.

Thursday, March 8, 2007


Wow! Lakeland is a perfect baseball venue. I'd never attended a "real" game there before, just an informal intrasquad game years ago at which I recall Sparky Anderson being vocally managerial. This time I paid for admission to Joker Marchant Stadium and opted for a spot on the left-field "berm," the angled hillock just behind the fences. It was a lovely vantage from which to see a game (not to mention batting practice, during which I came oh-so-close to snagging a HR ball more than once). The Tigers hosted the Braves, into extra innings ( I confess to leaving before the resolution of the 4-4 tie, with concerns about Orlando gridlock -- not unreasonable concerns, as it happens.) Detroit looks good this year, with the addition of Gary Sheffield. BTW: Lakeland offers the best selection of non-Budweiser products of any place I've been in the Grapefruit League (or in the majors, come to think of it). First time I've ever been able to tell a Brit fan at a baseball game where he could find some Boddington's.

Leaving 2007 Spring Training behind, I'm in a reminiscent mood. My 1st-ever Spring Training was the last time the Cards were reigning champs, '83. I remember an upstart rookie outfielder named Andy van Slyke pounding a long home run against Joacquin Andujar, the '82 Series star, in one of those serendipitously-discovered free intrasquad games at the Cards' old St. Pete facility. (Andujar, who once said his favorite word in English is "youneverknow," responded with a mock finger-wag at van Slyke).

Time to join my philosophy colleagues and talk shop. In preparation I spent some quality time out of the conference hall today, wandering our host city -- Columbia SC. What a beautiful old town, with the 200+ year-old University campus nestled in the middle of things and a short stroll from the new River Greenway. I went to school in a different Columbia, not without its own sense of history -- but this one's unique in its own way. (How else could it be?)

When I leave here I'm looking forward to encountering another old friend -- a fellow academic who shares my ironic regard for our common profession, and (like Groucho & me) wonders what kind of club would have someone like us for members -- on the trek home, in the other Carolina. What a terrific week it's been -- but I miss my family. Just about time to go.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

"Darwin's God"

From Sunday's NYT Magazine, "Darwin's God" (I'm just catching up, having been precoccupied with my own transcendental pursuits here in Florida)--

Call it God; call it superstition; call it... “belief in hope beyond reason” — whatever you call it, there seems an inherent human drive to believe in something transcendent, unfathomable and otherworldly, something beyond the reach or understanding of science...

Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists [meaning Dawkins, Dennett, & Sam Harris -- though none of them is "neo" in this regard] is a quieter and potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.
Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident?

I'm not sure that's 's quite the right question, but I incline to James's observation as the beginning of an answer: the impulse to transcendence is not about God, it's about life. People reach for religious and other magic because they want a more intense and satisfying experience of mortal life (and the quest for immortality is satisfying for them). Transcendence is a natural phenomenon, and the invocation of transcendent entities, powers, potentialities, etc., is natural too. This is what I've called "global naturalism."

More on this later, I have miles to go and one more stop on my baseball junket.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Delight in Bradenton, Venice

6:50 pm E.T. My last full day of Spring Training, reluctantly concluded (but happily consummated). Pirate City remains charming and little-known (you can stand in the middle of an array of four diamonds, a few steps behind each home plate, as b.p., infield practice, and intra-squad games are going on). Phils beat Bucs in Bradenton, another gorgeous day-game (they announced the weather back in PA: 20 degrees, more snow expected), Ryan Howard smashed a double off the centerfield wall. Then, another rejuvenating beach walk (Venice Beach this time). It'll be hard to leave in the morning, but I need to reach Jacksonville by nightfall -- unfortunately my old friend near J'ville will be heading out of town in the a.m. But there should be just enough time to spare for a stop at the Tigers' place in Lakeland -- and I'll try to resist the impulse to stay for the game at 1. It sure was nice -- symmetrically so -- when my Cards avenged 1968 last October (thanks to the incredible lack of throwing-to-1st prowess on the part of the Tigers' pitching staff) and at the same time softened the blow of 2004 -- and did it with a team that probably couldn't have bested the '68 Cards once in ten tries. Just goes to show that baseball is indeed a funny game. As Casey Stengel said, there comes a time in everyone's life, and I've had plenty of 'em...

More delight in Sarasota

Is there a better setting for catching up with an old friend than in the left-field grandstand of Ed Smith Stadium on a 75-degree afternoon in Sarasota? Not in my experience. It was nice to see the home team rally for a 9-8 win against the Phils, too... though again, this is not about winning and losing -- it's about being, and (in the language of John Dewey) consummating, or fulfilling, or delighting in the possibilities of experience inherent in the nature of a live creature who also has language.

The post-game walk on Siesta Beach was pretty fulfilling too, timed to end just as the sun dipped into the Gulf.

And the hot tub before bed was more than delightful.

It's off to Pirate City now. My home-town AAA team is no longer a Pirate affiliate, as they were when I last visited this region three years ago. But I do know some of the players, sort of -- they were checking in ahead of me at the Days Inn when I first hit Bradenton the other day. (That's a Days Inn to avoid, btw.) The great thing about Pirate City is its accessibility. People have been bemoaning the impending departure of the Dodgers from their Vero Beach home, because it affords greater fan access than any other Spring facility. But the Bucs' place -- while no Dodger Town -- is plenty accessible too.

Time to get out there.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Greetings from sunny Florida!

Venice, FL. It's another lovely day in baseball paradise, at my friend's home south of Sarasota (where I'm meeting another friend at noon for the Reds' game at Ed Smith Stadium). Made my way here after yesterday's game at old McKechnie Field in Bradenton -- Reds whupped the Bucs, but Spring Training isn't about who wins & loses, it's about delighting in the atmospherics, the sun, the possibilities and the hope springing eternal... And here's the sort of thing that can only happen at a Spring Training game: on entering McKechnie Field I was greeted by a retiree renting seat cushions, who abandoned his spiel when he noticed my tee-shirt from "Chocorua, New Hampshire" -- he not only knew the place well, he also knew of William James and the fact that WJ had a summer home there (the place James loved because it had so many windows and doors, "all opening out"). We talked about James, Chocorua, philosophy, etc. for several minutes while his rental business took a holiday. That has never happened to me in a big league ballpark.

The roadtrip through Georgia was uneventful (if you don't count my purchase of pecan brittle made in Plains, GA and sold in Cordele) but not unpleasant. This was the trip when I finally fell in love with XM satellite radio, and (when at last I had to stop the music) was reminded of what a magnificent service is provided by (If you haven't heard Richard Dawkins and his wife Lala Ward reading The God Delusion you have something to look forward to).

Lest I forget, I have three more days here and then it's back to the real world (or my version of it), specifically Columbia, S.C., where I am expected to have responsible things to say about John Dewey's notion of "consummatory experience" and William James's projected view of what French philosopher Gabriel Marcel said about the difference between problems and mysteries. More on that later, right now I have beaches and baseballs to attend to.

Friday, March 2, 2007

The Cat's 50... & some baseball chatter

Dr. Seuss's wonderful, horrible, subversive, playful, delightful "Cat in the Hat" is celebrating his 50th birthday today -- (not that there's anything especially meaningful or important about that particular number, from my perspective!) -- and that calls for a tip of the stripey hat to a character who taught more kids to love reading than anyone else I know. We read that and many other Seuss stories (my favorite was The Lorax: "I speak for the trees!) in our household just a few years back. I miss those years, and treasure them. I thank Mr. Geisel for helping to subvert my children, and teach them that it's ok to have fun on a rainy day even, or especially, if the adults don't get it.

In the Cat's honor I'm hittin' the road this afternoon, headed eventually to a philosophy gig in South Carolina... but it's Spring Break, so pleasure precedes business: I'm taking the long way, via St. Pete, Bradenton, Sarasota, Ft. Myers, Kissimmee...

It's been too long since last I heard the crack of the bat up close. My best Spring Training moment ever, by the way, is not the lone foul ball I ever caught in my bare hands while juggling dog & beer (in March '91 at St. Pete's Al Lang Field, when the Cards' still played there and not on Jupiter; it was shanked by Dale Sveum of the Philadelphia Phillies, and I plucked it in the right field grandstand where the Bay view is rivaled only by San Francisco's PacBell Park (or whatever their corporate masters are making them call it now).

Nope, the best moment was in March 2000, in Jupiter (got the preposition right that time): Ray Lankford made up for Mark McGwire's snub of my then-5 year old daughter's request for an autograph by walking behind the batting cage where he'd just cracked his Louisville Slugger... and handing it to her. Nice guy, Ray.

By the way, have you seen the doctored Derek Jeter baseball card? Someone digitally implanted the president and Mickey Mantle in the front row while Derek swings. Thanks to computers you just can't trust your own eyes anymore, can you?

Coming to this space soon, news from the Grapefruit league. (Still haven't ever done the Cactus, maybe next year.) The gravitational pull of the Volvo parked outside is palpable, with Jim Morrison ready to sing me out of town with "Roadhouse Blues" just as soon as I can finish inflicting two more midterm exams. Too bad everyone can't enjoy a Spring Break.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Stewart Brand's new shade of green

Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Catalog publisher (and instigator of Earth's first full-frontal photo portrait), online pioneer, former Merry Prankster, and free-thinking '60s icon, wants to know "where are the green biotech hackers?" He says we should -- and predicts that environmentalists soon will -- embrace nuclear power, genetic engineering, and biotech. He says population is not going to be a problem, nor will urban sprawl. ("An Early Environmentalist, Embracing New 'Heresies'," NYTimes, 2.27.07)

Is he nuts? I don't know, but after re-reading Bill McKibben's classic End of Nature in our environmental ethics class I'm struck by this Brand observation:

"My trend has been toward more rational and less romantic as the decades go by. I keep seeing the harm done by religious romanticism, the terrible conservatism of romanticism, the ingrained pessimism... It builds in a certain immunity to the scientific frame of mind."

I have a lot of respect for McKibben, but I can't warm to his Deep Ecology version of romanticism according to which nature's meaning is her independence of all things human. When he urges that we remain God's creatures rather than aspiring to godhood ourselves, I wonder if there isn't a saner intermediate position: we don't have to be gods, to be responsible global citizens and effective caretakers of the planet (for a change). We are the part of nature that can -- but too rarely does -- think about how to clean up after itself. McKibben makes clear, in this book, in Enough, and probably in his forthcoming Deep Economy -- that he thinks we must rein ourselves in, stop growing, stop re-engineering the planet and ourselves, declare "halt!"

I'm with Stewart Brand on this: "you have to keep trying new things," like biotech, and sometimes you have to rehabilitate old ones -- maybe even nukes. Accelerating Intelligence News