Archive for December, 2009


December 31, 2009

“Buster” is the little snowman’s name, according to our girls– his Intelligent Designers. 

We had to leave him behind and drive south, out of Wednesday morning’s cold Missouri snowfall and back into the middle Tennessee basin’s warmer evening drizzle. (Thanks for sending his shrinking image, Aunt D.)

He’ll be our last snowman of the decade. Thinking of him made the interminable trip home slightly less monotonous, but I for one am happy to swap the white stuff for higher average daily temperatures. Yesterday’s morning saunter was just a little more invigorating than I wanted.

But then, I’m not a kid. Don’t worry, girls. He’ll be back again someday.

Enormous State U.

December 30, 2009

If you’ve visited my day blog, you’ve seen this image alongside the semi-cryptic tag: “I’m a philosophy prof at a large state University in Tennessee.” 

The statement was accurate when that photo was snapped, unbeknownst to me, by East Tennessee State’s staff photographer in 1992 for the following year’s undergraduate catalog. A year later I was married and relocated, eventually landing at another Enormous State U. in Tennessee.

So hello and Happy New Year, old ETSU friends… wherever you are. Where have the years gone?!


December 29, 2009

Robert Solomon writes: “Philosophy and spirituality were once kin. There were no sharp divisions between philosophy and religion, or religion and mythology, or theology and religious practice and ritual, or a rational view of the world and a passionate one. (Socrates was but one of the most famous philosophers who exemplified both reason and eros.) Now, spirituality has been kidnapped by religion. Indeed, more than a few religious sects and cults define spirituality as exclusively particular to themselves. ‘To be spiritual is to believe in God, in exactly this way!'”

Oh, no it’s not. Stay tuned.

food rules

December 28, 2009

Michael Pollan has a new book, if it’s as good as his old ones I’ll use it next time I teach environmental ethics. In fact, it may be time to re-tool that course as “Environmental & Food Ethics,” given the surge of popular interest in this topic.

Seems we’ve all pretty much come around to accepting the old wisdom that you are what you eat, even if we don’t all eat like it yet.

“Man isst was Man isst.” Ludwig Feuerbach

remembering JCO

December 27, 2009

Happy birthday, Dad.

Dr. James C. Oliver, 79, born in Montgomery City, MO, to the late Clay J. and Myrtle Marie Hart Oliver on December 27, 1928, and passed away September 12, 2008… Dr. Oliver will be remembered by his family and many friends for his kindness and generosity.

That’s exactly how he’s remembered, and for his sweetness and light and wit and humanity. He was a Deweyan too, he paid so much forward. I think of him every day.

hi fidelity

December 26, 2009

Andre Comte-Sponville distinguishes between faith and fidelity, both rooted in fides but with very different meanings. “Fidelity is what remains when faith has been lost.”

You do not “need to believe in God to be convinced that sincerity is preferable to dishonesty, courage to cowardice, generosity to egoism, gentleness and compassion to violence and cruelty, justice to injustice, love to hate.”

The faithless can still “recognize the human grandeur of these values–their urgent importance, their vital necessity, their extreme fragility– and respect them because of all these qualities.” Their fidelity to inherited humane values, and their commitment to passing along a strengthened legacy of values that can elicit on its merits the fidelity of the next generation, is their spirituality.

Spoken like a Deweyan. “The things in civilization we most prize are not of ourselves. They exist by grace of the doings and sufferings of the continuous human community in which we are a link. Ours is the responsibility of conserving, transmitting, rectifying and expanding the heritage of values we have received, that those who come after us may receive it more solid and secure, more widely accessible and more generously shared than we have received it.”

Semper fi, Andre.

Peace, love, & understanding

December 25, 2009

Nothing funny about ’em. Or health and happiness, either. Merry Christmas, all.

humanist Christmas

December 24, 2009

Canadian humanist Justin Trottier reflects on the holidays:

Humanists hold an ambivalence regarding this season.  Like mostly everyone, we value generosity, altruism and fellowship, and emphasize the need to celebrate in a secular sense with friends and family, with good food and drinks, with songs and even decoration.

We see nothing wrong with adapting religious holidays to secular festivities, considering that Christmas is almost entirely a loose adaptation of various formerly pagan rituals. We also appreciate the sense of reinvigoration when we crack open brand-new calendars and behold the unwritten future.  But humanists see no intrinsic value to the holiday season apart from any we humans put in it, and worry that if we over-emphasize specific days and rituals, we fail to put the holiday in its proper historical, political and sociological context.

I agree. Every day is a birthday to celebrate, and treating Christmas as a unique day of love and brother-and-sisterhood commits the very error my Sunday School teachers warned me about when they derided “Sunday morning Baptists” who back-slid the rest of the week. I am one humanist who would love to reclaim Christmas for us all, and the rest of the calendar for a more genuine spirit of Christmas.

Then, maybe we could begin to give up our dependence on pseudo-spiritual holidays devoted so intently to mega-shopping and forced cheer. The celebration of life should be an unforced flower, not an obligation.

We’re #7!

December 23, 2009

Take heart, fellow Tennesseans, we’re the 7th happiest state (based on climate, taxes, cost of living, commuting time, crime, schools [!] etc.) — New York is #51 (D.C. is #37).

So, the defensive-sounding Times reporter can’t resist asking: “Are people in [happy places like TN] truly happy, or are they wearing ‘What, me worry?’ smiles?”

Speakin’ just for me & some people from TN: truly, mostly.

100 monkeys

December 22, 2009

You know the ubiquitous legend (not sure it’s particularly urban) about the hundredth monkey who tips the critical mass and creates a shared attribute of consciousness for all monkeys ever-after? Or something like that. Weird, as I learned in logic class years ago.

The implication is that a collective consciousness can be created by a cadre of initiates who transform their myth into our reality simply by believing. Reality is just that up for grabs, supposedly, for all us primates. This is another of Carl Sagan’s “demons,” and an invitation to philosophical skepticism. Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping points” may be real enough, but they’re incrementally viral– not magical.

But beware, holiday revelers. You can get in big trouble for calling the emperor out and naming this as the nonsense that it is. Better to let people at Christmas parties have their tipping, typing, believing, reality-manifesting monkeys and save the critical thinking for class. Alas.

Will I ever learn? Probably not. But if I do, I want personal credit for my educability. I’m already catching the blame.