Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Promises Betrayed"

We finally wrapped up mid-term reports in section 9 the other day (didn't we?) with an interesting discussion of hip-hop culture and the values (or lack thereof) implicit therein. Following an earlier report on the comic "Boondocks," featuring a clip of Dr. King's haunting legacy, I'm reminded of Bob Herbert's impressive critique in his book Promises Betrayed...

Friday, March 26, 2010

From Gibson to McGwire


You could look it up, as Casey Stengel used to say.

Ferguson Jenkins, the only Canadian in the MLB Hall of Fame (1991), spoke at our conference luncheon today and recounted his first win in the major leagues: September 10, 1965. He relieved Jim Bunning, now his fellow Hall of Famer. (Bunning has gone on to a post-MLB career that ought to earn him a spot in the Senate Hall of Shame, too.) The starter for the losing team that day: Bob Gibson. Cool.

Then Fergie signed a couple of books and, at her specific request, a baseball for Younger Daughter. "Peace," he inscribed with his personalized salutation. Even cooler.

I love this annual event! Can't wait 'til next year...

P.S. My session went very well, too.
P.P.S. I've been reading Fergie's book. He's a greater inspiration off the field in retirement, as I learn of his charitable activities and his resilience in the face of horrible personal loss (a wife and a daughter). Baseball is "only a game," life is about so much more. But Grantland Rice was right: it's all about how you play, how graciously you bear defeat as well as victory, and how you pick yourself up and get back in the game.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

W.E.B. Du Bois

His name came up during a class report yesterday on the "Boondocks" comic, where apparently (and inexplicably, to this white boy) it was grafted to an "Uncle Tom." But I don't know of anything servile or deferential about him. He was a student and friend of William James.

Du Bois, W. E. B. (1868–1963), essayist, novelist, journalist, critic, and perhaps the preeminent African American scholar-intellectual. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868. He was born into a small community of blacks who had settled in the region since at least the Revolutionary War, in which an ancestor had fought. In 1885 he left Great Barrington for Nashville, Tennessee, to enter Fisk University. The racism of the South appalled him: “No one but a Negro going into the South without previous experience of color caste can have any conception of its barbarism.” Nevertheless he enjoyed life at Fisk, from which he was graduated in 1888. He then enrolled at Harvard, where he completed another bachelor's degree in 1890 before going on to graduate school there in history. At Harvard his professors included William James, George Santayana, and the historian A. B. Hart. He then spent two years at the University of Berlin studying history and sociology and coming close to earning a second doctorate. Du Bois enjoyed his stay in Europe, which greatly expanded his notions about the possibilities of culture and civilization. Then, in 1894, he dropped back, as he himself put it, into “nigger-hating America"...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The "This I Believe" testimonial I was trying to recall in class yesterday, from the young woman whose environmental credo is all the more poignant in light of her own tragic fate: Michelle Gardner-Quinn's "Reverence for all Life." Another favorite: astronaut Dan Tani's orbital optimism. And, as noted: Unitarian Robert Fulghum's version of the trans-end-dance.

Here's the title I mentioned in class, The Secular Conscience by Austin Dacey. It argues that discussions of "private" religious belief belong in the public sphere. The Times reviewer applauded its  "confidence in John Stuart Mill’s principle that every idea should be 'fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed,' lest it “be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth.”

And here's the one I confused it with, also written in the spirit of J.S. Mill: Science and Nonbelief, by Taner Edis, who says "God is not a purely philosophical problem, and supernatural concepts are not insulated from scientific criticism."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

facts and values

If you've ever prefaced a remark with "this is just my opinion but...," please consider Sam Harris's perspective on the fact/value distinction. If you really value your values, they're not "just" your opinions-- they're your best provisional (albeit fallible and correctible) estimations of fact bearing on a question of value...

Monday, March 22, 2010

playing philosophy

Speaking of philosophy and sports (and health care and consumerism and Karl Marx), here come the Germans! And the Greeks!! I'll bet they don't dope on steroids...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Baseball Conference

15th Annual Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference
Friday, March 26
James Union Building
8 am - 4:30 pm
Featuring Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins (catch Fergie on the radio Sunday)

Conference Program (I'm on first...)

:45-8:15  Registration and Breakfast
8:20-8:30 Welcome, Warren Tormey, Conference Coordinator
            Dr. John McDaniel, Dean, College of Liberal Arts
8:30-9:15 Dr. Jim Carothers, University of Kansas:
            “Baseball Fictions and Baseball Facts”

9:20-10:20  Concurrent Sessions A
Session A1:  “Negro League Contexts”
Location: Hazlewood  Chair:  George Fleet
Daniel Anderson, Dominican University:  “The ‘Lost Art’ of Baseball:  James Weldon Johnson, Class Consciousness, and the Negro Leagues”
Andrew Hazucha, Ottawa University:  “Jackie Robinson, Richard Nixon, and the Politics of Race”
Stephanie Liscio, Case Western Reserve University:  “New Season, New Team:  The Revolving Door of Negro League Teams in Cleveland, 1922-1940”

Session A2:  “Baseball in Reflective Essay”
Location:  Dining Room C  Chair:  Sarah Bunting
R Dean Johnson, Eastern Kentucky University: “Baseball and Dating”
Phil Oliver, Middle Tennessee State University: “From Gibson to McGwire: Reflections from a Cardinals Fan on Childhood Indoctrination, Adult Disillusion, and the Steroid Era” 
Nick Bush, Motlow State Community College: “Envisioning the Baseball Intellectual”

10:30-11:30  Concurrent Sessions B
Session B1:  “Baseball and Ethical Negotiation”
Location:  Hazlewood  Chair:  Stephanie Liscio
Ron Rembert, Wilmington College: “Umpiring as Principled Negotiation?”
Tom Wells, Schreiner University: “Cheating isn’t Cheating if We’re Laughing – a closer look at It Happens Every Spring
Warren Tormey, Middle Tennessee State University:  “’The Old College Try’:  Eddie Collins and the 1919 Black Sox”

Session B2:  “Baseball in Class Contexts”
Location:  Dining Rm. C  Chair:  Andrew Hazucha
Kevin Grace, University of Cincinnati: “Cubans, Class Perceptions, and Cincinnati Baseball”
Matthew Bruen, New York University: “Baseball, Class, and Local Identity in Philip Roth’s ‘Goodbye Columbus’”
Crosby Hunt, Middle Tennessee State Univeristy:  “DeLillo and Baseball:  Studying the American Communal Psyche in the Big Event-the Cataclysm”  

11:40-12:05  Concurrent Sessions C
Session C1:  “Baseball and Mysticism”
Location:  Hazlewood  Chair:  Ron Kates
Ron Bombardi, Middle Tennessee State University:  “Logic and Mysticism in the Philosophy of American Baseball”
Session C2:  “Baseball Fiction”
Location:  Dining Room C  Chair:  R Dean Johnson
Norman German, Southeastern Louisiana University:  “Two Readings from Switch Pitchers
12:15-1:45 Luncheon and Ferguson Jenkins Talk
Tennessee Room 
12:15-12:45 Lunch
12:45-1:30  Ferguson Jenkins (20 min + ~10 min. Q & A;  Book Signing to follow)
1:45-2:45 Concurrent Sessions D
Session D1: “Baseball, Maturing, and Aging”
Location:  Hazlewood  Chair:  Dan Anderson
Pete Carino, Indiana State University: “The Seasons of Henry Wiggen, Athlete and Everyman: Mark Harris’s It Looked Like Forever and the Notion of Athletic Exceptionalism”
Steven Walker, Middle Tennessee State University: “The Bull Dancer”
Carl Schinasi, Miles College: “Baseball and the Meaning of Life Redux”
Session D2: “Recovering Baseball History”
Location:  Dining Rm. C   Chair:  Kevin Grace
Jim Blackstock, Cleveland OH:  “The Marriage of Radio and Baseball, 1930-1960”
Stacey Graham, Middle Tennessee State University:  “America’s Sport:  Baseball Primary Sources at the Library of Congress”
Robert Barrier, Kennesaw State University:  “’Yes, We Played Town Ball’:  Colonial-Era Baseball in 20th Century Appalachia”
 2:55 -3:55 Concurrent Sessions E
Session E1:  “Damn Yankees”
Location:  Hazlewood  Chair:  Matthew Bruen
Tom Veve, Dalton State College: “A Grapefruit League Memoir”
Samuel Ball, Ohio University:  “The Pitcher Who Lost the 1960 World Series:  Ralph Terry and Mazeroski’s Home Run” 
Craig Klugman, Fort Wayne, IN: “Damn! A Re-evaluation of ‘The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant’ and the Musical that Followed”
Session E2:  “Baseball and Myths of Creation” 
Location: Dining Rm. C   Chair:  Tom Wells
Stephen Andrews, Grinnell College:  “What’s Fair is Fouled:  Mary Rogers, Alexander Cartwright, and the Police Reform Act of 1845”
George Fleet, Youngstown State University:  “The Story Begins:  The Introduction of Baseball (in) Literature in the 19th Century”
Jeremy Larance, West Liberty University:  “In the Beginning, Someone or Another Hit a Ball with a Bat:  The Compulsion to Create a “Genesis” in the Canons of Baseball and Cricket”

4:00-4:30  Plenary Session F
Session F1:  Roundtable Discussion:  
            Location:  Hazlewood Chair:  Warren Tormey 
"'I HATE That Guy': A Discussion of How Loathed Ballplayers Bring Fans Together"

Friday, March 19, 2010


We held class out on the James Union Building porch yesterday afternoon, the first really springy day of the season in middle Tennessee (and high time!), and many subjects arose. Unitarianism was one.

I couldn't think of the UU "non-creedal" credo, off the top of my head, so here's their statement-- clearly too radical for a traditionally-Baptist university wishing to promote itself as diverse and welcoming to all varieties of spiritual experience (does that sound angry?):

We promote reason and tolerance in our communities and embrace a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. As members of a non-creedal religious tradition, we Unitarian Universalists are encouraged to discern our own beliefs about different spiritual topics
The Unitarian Universalist Association's (UUA's) seven principles express the shared values that UUA member congregations affirm and promote.  Many Unitarian Universalists find rich personal and theological meaning in these principles.

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.
These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of our religious community.

-Unitarian Universalist Association

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Poetic Atheism"

Jennifer Hecht's latest contribution to a new blog called Unreasonable Faith*

...I don’t believe in anything supernatural. I don’t think the universe can think. I don’t believe there is some special being that is separate from the universe and knows about us and cares about us and made us. All of that is the imaginative fantasy of one group of animals on planet Earth... 

What comes into being when matter and energy fall into such patterns that they look up and say hi and write symphonies? Art happens. It’s very strange and wonderful.

The truth may be real but it is not “matter of fact.” What in fact we have here is a billion fantastically sexy weird interesting stories all going on at once in a great cacophony of experience. How do we make sense of what it is to be human, to be this thing, this sentient matter?
Well I certainly don’t think the magic of consciousness should be considered evidence for something hidden, something else. The magic of consciousness is magic enough. Nothing is gained by adding fantastical imaginative inventions to the wonders that actually are.
But the truth, the what actually is is very strange and overloaded and wondrous indeed...
*owned by former evangelical Christian Daniel Florien, who explains what made him a skeptic:

  1. read widely outside of evangelical Christianity with an open mind. Just reading isn’t good enough — without an open mind, everything confirms your own beliefs. I decided truth was more important than my current beliefs. I was warned this was dangerous. It was indeed.
  2. studied science with an open mind. I came to believe in an old earth, then finally evolution. This was a long process of removing layer after layer of propaganda.
  3. looked for evidence for many of the claims I believed and realized that there was no reputable evidence at all. I could believe Jesus was resurrected, or that Moses parted the Red Sea, but there was no evidence outside oral stories recorded by unknown biased authors many decades (or, as with Moses, many centuries) after the fact.
  4. researched the history and authorship of the Bible from a secular perspective. After I realized the messy history of the Bible, and saw all the contradictions and absurdities, I could not believe in inspiration much less infallibility, and any faith I still had crashed down.
  5. learned to think critically and, with much trepidation, finally applied it to my own religion. After years of struggling, I finally accepted I was in a cult called evangelical Christianity.
  6. asked hard questions and got tired of the final answers being “it’s a mystery,” which really meant, “it doesn’t make any sense to me either, but that’s what the Bible says.”
  7. learned about probability. Things I thought could not happen without divine intervention ended up being within the laws of probability. Coincidence really exists.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

your brain on "god"

We wrapped up midterm presentations in A&S yesterday, first with Callie's virtual round-table report demonstrating that atheism is diverse, not monolithic. "Atheism is a broad church," with not much of an orthodoxy. That's the point, right? Like Unitarians, but without even a symbolic nod to god. 

Then Marie's discussion of materialist spirituality, Michael Persinger's "God machine,"* and Andrew Newberg's contention that "God is great-for your mental, physical, and spiritual health." (His new book: How God Changes Your Brain.) In an interview Newberg says, in effect, that agnosticism can be a spiritual quest too: 

Why won't God go away? 

The main reason God won't go away is because our brains won't allow God to leave. Our brains are set up in such a way that God and religion become among the most powerful tools for helping the brain do its thing—self-maintenance and self-transcendence. Unless there is a fundamental change in how our brain works, God will be around for a very long time.

Are you personally a religious or spiritual person? Do you meditate?
I have long pursued answers to many of the profound questions that human beings have faced. My initial attempts to find answers arose from the Western traditions, with an emphasis on science and philosophy. Over the years, my personal search evolved into a more meditative approach, which appeared similar to some of the Eastern traditions. However, although my approach is in many ways is a form of meditation, I have never practiced a specific religious or meditative technique for any period of time. In order to continue my search, I have had to learn about many disciplines and traditions. This typically was to enhance my own approach, which I do consider a spiritual journey.

*Richard Dawkins tries Persinger's "God machine":

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Everybody Have Fun"

What can policymakers learn from happiness research? 

Elizabeth Kolbert: If “rising incomes have failed to make Americans happier over the last fifty years, what is the point of working such long hours and risking environmental disaster in order to keep on doubling and redoubling our Gross Domestic Product?”

To suggest that the U.S. abandon economic growth as a policy goal is a fairly far-reaching proposal. “The implications of this critique are profound”...

So we probably shouldn't expect our "leaders" to act on them. But we should be having that conversation.

Kolbert concludes:

As a long line of moral philosophers have noted, there’s more to life than subjective well-being. (“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied” is John Stuart Mill’s famous formulation.) And happiness, at least as it’s defined by happiness studies, offers little guidance on many of the choices that matter most.

Consider again the finding that a half century of escalating consumption has not brought Americans increased satisfaction. This is a disturbing fact, and certainly one that seems pertinent to discussions of economic policy.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, that we had enjoyed ourselves for the past fifty years. Surely, trashing the planet is just as wrong if people take pleasure in the process as it is if they don’t. The same holds true for leaving future generations in hock and for exploiting the poor and for shrugging off inequality. Happiness is a good thing; it’s just not the only thing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Twain at the ballgame

Mr. Clemens (Sam, not Roger) was a big score-keeping baseball fan? I had no idea! a Manhattan banquet for Albert Spalding’s round-the-world touring players [he toasted]“the boys who plowed a new equator round the globe stealing bases on their bellies!” Twain then delivered a tribute to baseball as “the very symbol, the outward and visible expression of the drive, and push, and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming 19th century!”
That night, by all accounts, he was at the peak of his game. One appreciative reporter wrote that Twain played his position “without an error” and understood baseball “from A to Z.”
Had he been so inclined, Twain might have explained that his knowledge of the nation’s game derived from years of close, pleasurable scrutiny, and that it had enriched his leisure hours while influencing his imagination.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

whiffs of spring

Cheering baseball/architectural news from* the Whippets' biggest fan"We Minnesotans have been watching baseball in a basement for 28 years, under a fabric dome on a plastic field designed for football, and come April, we'll be sitting in sunlight, or under the stars, with the handsome towers of downtown Minneapolis just beyond center field, and we'll mill on the great concourse just behind the loge seats and eyeball the game while ordering a steak sandwich or an old-fashioned Schweigert hot dog. Hallelujah. Wowser.
That this beauty was accomplished through public financing — $392 million of the $544 million total paid through a sales tax approved by the legislature — is some sort of triumph, and to an old Democrat like me, who believes that government can indeed do some good things right and is not a blight upon the land, this ballpark is an enormous pleasure, and so I headed south to my favorite medical clinic to make sure I'd live until Opening Day...
They opened the gate and slapped my haunch and I raced north toward the city, toward April 12, toward spring and summer and the bright future of the beloved country."
*And up from its ashes, renewed hope for a new park in my town too.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

James business

Some of the fun I'm missing (and was supposed to be commenting on) in Charlotte NC this afternoon:

Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy
2010 SAAP Conference Program
3:45 pm - 5:30 pm - Concurrent Session VII
C. Papers on William James, Business Ethics, and Richard Rorty, Magnolia Room

Roger Ward (Georgetown College), Therapy to Apocalypse: encountering the abyss of epistemology in James and Rorty

Aside from the opportunity to reconnect with distant friends and colleagues, what I miss most about not being present for this session today is an excuse to trot out again my favorite James statement on business ethics, and to say out loud and in public what he wrote to H.G. Wells in 1906: 

"The moral flabbiness born of exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS.  That - with the squalid interpretation put on the word success - is our national disease."  

global mush

"Creativity requires periodic, temporary "encapsulation" as opposed to the kind of constant global openness suggested by the slogan "information wants to be free." Biological cells have walls, academics employ temporary secrecy before they publish, and real authors with real voices might want to polish a text before releasing it. In all these cases, encapsulation is what allows for the possibility of testing and feedback that enables a quest for excellence. To be constantly diffused in a global mush is to embrace mundanity." Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget

--One of the authors I look forward to reading in our Future of Life course next Fall.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"The Future of Life"

New course
Fall Semester 2010, Middle Tennessee State University

Philosophy 4800.1: The Future of Life

Mondays and Wednesdays 2:20-3:45, James Union Building 202 

Integrating themes from two previous courses (Biomedical Ethics, Biotechnology and Ethics) with an additional focus on the value of “long-term thinking,” speculations on the sustainability of life on Earth, humanity's evolutionary prospects, genetic engineering, and “trans-humanist” visions of a  naturalized pseudo-immortality for some, and non-religious “transcendence” for others. 

Our starting point is this observation by William James:

“The really vital question for us all is, What is this world going to be? What is life eventually to make of itself?”*

Our texts will include
-This Will Change Everything: Ideas that will Change the Future (Brockman)
-You Are Not a Gadget  (Lanier)
-Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (McKibben)
-Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility (Brand)

Contact Dr. James P. Oliver (, 898-2050, JUB 307B) for further information.

*The passage, in Pragmatism (Lec.III) continues: "The centre of gravity of philosophy must therefore alter its place. The earth of things, long thrown into shadow by the glories of the upper ether, must resume its rights. To shift the emphasis in this way means that philosophic questions will fall to be treated by minds of a less abstractionist type than heretofore, minds more scientific and individualistic in their tone yet not irreligious either. It will be an alteration in ’the seat of authority’ that reminds one almost of the protestant reformation." Accelerating Intelligence News