Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
What a remarkable author- illustrated blog post from Maira Kalman reflecting on her visit to Monticello, the pursuit of happiness, and the meaning of America.
My last gift to Dad, a huge admirer of Mr. J., was the poignant book about his last years, Twilight at Monticello. Time does indeed waste too fast.
Happy Independence Week!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
"Makers of worlds" indeed! The new digital 3-D technology is stunning (and didn't give me a headache), the story is preposterous but still fetching, the situation defies all telling but doesn't stand in the way, the characters are humanly recognizable and appealing, the emotional depth is surprisingly real, Ed Asner's voice work is a delight, the historical references are authentic, the affection for canines is heart-tugging... I give "Up" as many stars as you got, and agree with David Denby: "instant classic." Go see it. (Older Daughter in the theater next door was taken with "Transformers" too, and I think she's welcome to it.)
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Bell's Bend to Beaman Park area, a lovely pristine part of Nashville close to downtown (as the crow flies, but far in spirit and atmosphere) is under threat of major development. May Town Center is envisioned as yet another commercial and corporate agglomeration, hard by Bell's Bend Park and the Cumberland River.
The debate between those who want to preserve this area, and those whose idea of progress entails high-density, high traffic urban commercial expansion (they don't like to call it "sprawl") without end, has now been complicated by a new study that contemplates a more recreationally-oriented 3d Way future. It might include B&Bs, conference and retreat centers, outdoor performing arts venues, and an amphitheater.
Maybe that'd be ok, better at least than May Town. All I know for sure at this point is that I spent a terrific afternoon last fall discovering delightful river vistas at Bell's Bend, and have enjoyed outstanding day hikes at Beaman. I can be there in less than 30 unstressful minutes of pleasant rural driving through middle Tennessee's finest rolling wooded hills. Ready access to such experiences, so near urban amenities but not literally next door to them, make this a special place to live. It won't be easy to improve the quality of life we now enjoy in this "recreational corridor" as it presently exists, but it will be all too easy to ruin it. Please be careful, Mayor Dean and council.
John Updike's poem "Baseball" evokes a moment in my life that could come back to me tinged with mild humiliation, or at least blushing humility, but thankfully it just makes me smile. Recalling the skill and difficulty involved in the deceptively simple-seeming act of snagging a fly ball, Updike wrote:
straining to get a bead
on a small black dot
a city block or more high,
a dark star that could fall
on your head like a leaden meteor.
Monday, June 22, 2009
MTSU "On The Record" 2009
|June 21, 2009|
Title: "The Pursuit of Happiness"
Synopsis: Dr. Phil Oliver, assistant professor of philosophy, explains "The Philosophy of Happiness," a new class he will be teaching beginning this fall.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
- Many b-&-w family photos, including one from 1925 featuring four generations (brother Glenn, mother, grandpa, great-grandpa, b. 1845)...
- Our first family photo, from 1957.
- Class photo of me from 1966, another from1970 inscribed to Uncle Glenn and Aunt Lucy.
- Winterton Curtis monograph from 1957, "A Damned-Yankee Professor in Little Dixie"
- Commencement program from Dad's graduation from Vet School, 1960. (btw: I took a walk this morning and saw the new clinic just opened by the two young men who bought his practice last year.)
- An aerial photo of (old) Busch Stadium, with exploding fireworks above, 9.8.98 (the night Mark McGwire hit his 62d home run).
- The letter I wrote to our older daughter on the day of her birth, reporting a forgotten but (if I say so myself) prescient personal conversation with Bill McKibben about the environment and our obligations to future generations
- A copy of Vanderbilt Magazine from 1999, in which I reviewed John Lachs's In Love With Life.
- A newspaper clipping from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dated 9.18.74, featuring a letter to the editor written by yours truly defending "President Ford's courageous, though untimely, attempt to put Richard Nixon behind us."
- Another clipping, dated 12.25.89, called An expression of love: a father's letter. It begins: "To our sons: We are fathers, and we find it hard to say 'I love you.'" It concludes: "We reach out, and this time we say, 'I love you...' Love, Dad"
Thanks, Dad. I love you.
Friday, June 19, 2009
All these years I've been complaining about the desolate drive through southern Illinois to St. Louis, when we could instead have been following the footsteps of John James Audubon (and friend D., the Carolina Kantian) to this lovely state park south of Evansville, Indiana, hiking and picnicing and birding, instead of grousing about the tacky Interstate rest areas and their tacky patrons. It's another wonderful bequest of FDR's New Deal, a project of the Works Progress Administration and civilian conservation corps, dedicated in 1939.
Stopping here adds less than half an hour of driving time to the trip. The Pennyrile Parkway and US 41 may not be Blue Highways, in William Least-Heat Moon's sense of the term, but they worked for me today. Live and learn.
OK, I-64 here I come - tanned, rested, and ready.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 17, 2009
EDITORIAL CONTACT: Gina Logue, 615-898-5081; WMOT-FM, 615-898-2800
HAPPINESS IS A WARM PUPPY—MINUS THE FLEAS AND VET BILLS
New Class on the Nature of Happiness is Topic of Latest “MTSU on the Record”
(MURFREESBORO) – Everyone seeks the elusive quality of happiness, yet different people define it in different ways. What is the key? Money? Success? Beauty? Sex? Fame? Solitude? Family? Freedom? Great minds through the ages have pondered this matter and arrived at widely varying conclusions.
Dr. Phil Oliver, professor of philosophy, will teach a class titled “The Philosophy of Happiness” at MTSU beginning this fall. He’ll talk about it on “MTSU on the Record” with host Gina Logue at 7 a.m. this Sunday, June 21, on WMOT-FM (89.5 and wmot.org).
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I remember him plucking Ken Miller's book Finding Darwin's God from my shelf once and musing that he didn't understand why there was any controversy at all on this topic, among the devout: of course religion and science are compatible, of course a God should be expected to work His will through the laws and processes of a rationally ordered nature. "Intelligent Design" does not have to descend to anti-intellectualist Young Earth Creationist nonsense, though as a matter of fact it has tended to do just that in the debates of recent years, in the hands of rigid partisan pious zealots.
There's plenty of intolerant fire coming fron the other camp too, among evolutionists who insist that science moots religion entirely, and do not welcome any alliance with the likes of Miller. P.Z. Myers is one of those.
I understand where they're all coming from. There really should be room in a corner of the tent for at least those theists who aspire to scientific respectability even if their synthesizing project is doomed to fail. You don't have to agree with them, endorse their faith, or even respect it, P.Z. But you should respect them. A fundamental respect for the humanity of our fellow human beings should not depend on their falling in lock-step with our respective worldviews. I learned that from my Dad.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Winterton Curtis: recollections of the Scopes Trial, written in 1956...
Persistent URL: http://photography.si.edu/SearchImage.aspx?id=5305
Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
So, to all who've extended the tentative hand of Facebook friendship: thanks, I'll get back to you on that. (Maybe read some Aristotle & Epicurus & Emerson on the topic.) But I do appreciate the overture.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
[President] McPhee said that the Physics Department was also under consideration for elimination, but after drafting a report to show how the department planned to grow, it was taken off of the list. He said the Philosophy Department has the same opportunity to present a plausible plan.
"If the department doesn't develop a concrete plan on how they intend to not only reduce costs but increase growth then it is my opinion that we ought not have that department at MTSU," McPhee said.
Diane Miller, vice provost for Academic Affairs and interim provost, said if a decision to eliminate or merge the department is made, a plan to phase out the major over a three- to four-year period will allow students currently enrolled in the major to complete their degree program.
McPhee said he thinks that the Philosophy Department is already preparing a plan for how to decrease spending and increase enrollment.
Ron Bombardi, Philosophy Department chair, was unavailable for comment.
McPhee said that the elimination of the department does not mean that the major would not still be available, however, the merging of the department could still be an option if the elimination were to occur.
"Should a decision be made to eliminate the Department of Philosophy, the interim provost, in consultation with the appropriate deans, academic personnel and Faculty Senate representatives, will explore the various options for merging the department with the most appropriate and compatible existing academic department at the University," the report said.
McPhee said that the possible departments that the Philosophy Department could be merged with would not be looked into unless the elimination is emanated.
"Not available for comment?"
Well, I'm available. I've already commented on the fishy quality of these developments, now I'll add simply that an emanation (neo-Platonically speaking) is supposed to elevate those it reaches, and raise their status. This has not been an uplifting process.
British science popularizer Simon Singh has discovered just how risky it can be to question the evidentiary basis of the alternative health practice known as Chiropractic. The offending piece he wrote for The Guardian has been removed from public view, pending the outcome of a libel trial brought by the British Chiropractic Association; but it has been reproduced elsewhere by a sympathetic supporter. A full, unfettered airing of Singh's views on "alt med" can be found in his book Trick or Treatment.My own domestic situation has frequently landed me in hot water on this very issue through the years, too, though no formal litigation so far. My view is that chiropractic is successfully therapeutic for some, though the verdict is still out on exactly why... because the science is still inconclusive. No one should be sued for saying that. Good luck, Simon
I understand where he's coming from, and am also most contented on those days when I have scribbled a few good lines. But that's an excessively bookish attitude. Even a bad writing day can still include a trip to the park, a good walk or bikeride, a ballgame, a fun outing with family and friends, splashy fun at the pool... Try to get out of the book-lined study a little more, Orhan, and let nature and her progeny be your study for at least a portion of each day. I don't know if that's the best way to win the Nobel, but there are bigger prizes at stake than mere recognition by one's peers.
So I side with Emerson over Pamuk on this one: the days are Gods, summer days especially.
Pamuk also said literature should focus on our fears: "the fear of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears…" But I think literature, philosophy, and ordinary good sense should go beyond fear and explore the fearless state of mind that habituates itself, as Whitman said, to the daily dazzle of existence - the good, godly days - and learns to love life.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Miller's cool website pays homage to the generations before him.
The book features this epigraph, from an 8th century Chinese poet: "The months and the years, a running river. Then there's the day you wake up old."Then there's the day you wake up younger than the day before. It can happen.
Monday, June 8, 2009
"Isn't there something over and above earthly things— some more glorious meaning to one's life and activities?"
He racked his brain... (Bernard Malamud, The Natural)
As did Ted Williams, as did John Updike, as also (without bat in hand) do I. Racking our brains, tracking ever-elusive, "ever-not-quite" (William James liked to say) transcendence on Earth. It's oh-so-close, sometimes, glimmering and twinkling at us before it darts back into the dark. But while we're here in the visible world we've got to keep on tracking. And drink a toast before we go.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
I escorted the kids and two of their friends to the zoo yesterday, without additional adult assistance. Nothing remarkable happened, but since I'll not likely be doing that again it seems worth remarking. I didn't have to do it, but let the record show that I did it anyway.
Ethically speaking I'm ambivalent about the practice of confining wild animals for human gawking convenience, which seems anachronistic and wrong on its face... but arguably useful in provoking human sympathies that might in the long run be in the animals' and the planet's best interests. In the digital age, though, a holographic zoo might serve the same educational function. I'm not sure a holo-zoo would trigger the same family feeling of connectedness with the entire animal kingdom that the real thing evokes for at least some zoo-goers, but it's a possibility worth exploring. In the meantime I'll just have to bite the speciesist bullet and hope the zookeepers are respectful of their tenants when nobody's watching.
But putting all that aside, a trip to the zoo is awfully appealing when you find yourself in search of something to entice four young ladies outdoors on a gorgeous early June afternoon. The Dad hat doesn't always coincide with the Ethicist's, I confess. But it was a good walkabout, on a very pleasant sunny afternoon, and (again) a great opportunity to observe the human animal on parade. You can observe a lot by watching, especially this time of year.
The whole zoo experience seems to have been Disney-fied, somehow, since my last visit several years ago as a kindergarten chaperone. Or maybe we've all been Disney-fied, in our orderly spectator way of taking in thematic entertainment, queing for over-priced comestibles, shuffling purposively from sight to sight etc. It's sure a far cry from Thoreau's tonic wildness. But okay, I admit it: I'm glad we saw the tiger cubs before they head home to Florida in a couple of weeks.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
The concessions were under control this time. The girls didn't complain about the bathrooms.
And the post-game fireworks were actually worth staying for.
Good job, Sounds. We'll be back.
Friday, June 5, 2009
Speaking of Ted Williams and his peers...
Growing up in St. Louis, I always heard people contend that Stan Musial was better than Williams. I don't know about that, but I love Curt Flood's Musial anecdote. As a young ballplayer, Flood solicited the veteran's advice. How do you hit a curveball? "You wait for a strike, then you knock the shit out of it."
Who was the best? Neither Williams nor Musial, according to the The Man:
I ever saw, though, was Willie Mays.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Here's one: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, by Mary Roach. It's a hoot, giving the subject all the levity it so richly deserves. Let's face it, whatever else you can say about human sexuality you have to admit that it gives rise to some intrinsically funny situations. For instance, when our author drafts her compliant spouse "Ed" to engage in intimacies recorded by ultrasound imaging, under the watchful direction of Dr. Deng. ("Now please make some sort of movement," says Dr. Deng. And then, in case its not clear, in case Ed might be contemplating flapping an elbow or saluting the flag, he adds, "in and out.")
Sex tends to get treated either too seriously or too goofily in our culture, sacralized and mystified (by the likes of D.H. Lawrence and many imitators... and by W.J. Clinton) or, alternately, played for laughs (see Woody Allen in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.) Roach's book splits the difference, coming at it scientifically. But I defy anyone to read this without laughing loud and often. Try to put it behind you when you're finished, though, if you want to take sex seriously ever again. How you think about things really does alter your experience of them, and (as they know at TED) ideas really can be sexy. Eh, Woody?
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Julian Barnes' brother Jonathan, a philosopher, thought his brother's opening line in Nothing to be Frightened Of "soppy"; but it expresses the natural ambivalence that many atheists feel about the human condition. Are we up to the challenge of living in a Godless universe?
When their mother died and Julian relayed the undertaker's question about viewing the body Jonathan said "Good God, no. I agree with Plato on that one." What did Plato say? "That he didn't believe in seeing dead bodies."
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
I hope so, we do worry too much about the kids and rely too much on "experts." (Ann Hulbert, btw, writes a very good column on these issues for Slate, and wrote a very good book that we used in "Philosophy of Childhood" called Raising America.) But Lisa Belkin's conclusion is still sobering.
...we have replaced the experts who told us what a good parent worries about with experts who tell us that a good parent doesn’t worry so much. We may even see parents stop aiming to prove how perfect they are and start trying to prove how nonchalant they are. But worry is worry. The search to keep from messing up goes on.
For a few more years, anyway. The power of a parent to screw a kid up is daunting, the capacity of a kid to resist the best nurture is discouraging. But what would you be if you didn't try? You've got to try. (Not talking cheeseburgers here, Lyle.) "Parenting" is still a verb.
Monday, June 1, 2009
According to this morning's newspaper account,
The Department of Philosophy must present a viable plan for significantly increasing its number of majors. It must be approved by the interim provost and president by Sept. 30. If it is not, various options for merging the Philosophy Department with the most appropriate and compatible existing academic department at the university will be considered. The major may be phased out over a three- or four-year period.
Also noted in the article,
The dean is quick to point out that the Philosophy Department has an acceptable number of majors based on Tennessee Board of Regents standards. "That is an average of 10 majors over a five-year period," he said.
Thank you, Dean. The majors issue is a red herring, in the original report because the task force that produced it passed false information along to the President... or because someone wants it there for ulterior reasons.
Almost no philosophy department in the country has a surfeit of majors compared to larger, standard-vocation-oriented programs. This is America, after all. Of course we want more majors, and goodness knows the country (and its pool of collegiate administrators!) can use more thoughtful people. But pretty clearly, that's not what our university's present budget-slashing initiative is about.