Posts Tagged ‘opening day’

Opening Day!

April 1, 2013

So to answer my own question, if the days are gods then what is Opening Day? Nothing less than the perennial first day of creation, the primordial dawn we’ve been waiting for. It happens every Spring.

Every year at about this time, we baseball fans are united in that familiar fleeting feeling of giddy irrational exuberance. Our team is still in first. It won’t last, for most of us. We’ll get fooled again, and we’ll turn around and do it next year too. But that seasonal feeling of renewed great expectations is, as the commercial says, priceless.

CBS ran an Emersonian little feature yesterday on baseball as a road to god, prominently highlighting the “miracle” comebacks my team pulled off in the postseason year before last. Well, I’ve not trodden that path myself (I’m a Humean on miracles) but those were some pretty special days. Especially godly days.

And this ought to be a national holiday but it’s not, so it’s back to cases in Bioethics. 

We may want to linger over some of the cases we didn’t get to last time, thanks to the captivating report dialogue on the moral standing of hypothetically-sentient AIs. Brian Goldman’s very affecting TEDx talk on the fallibility of physicians and our need to create a culture in which they will feel free to admit they’re human, will never “bat 1.000” and will make mistakes is worth pondering. Why the myth of medical superheroes? It’s stupid and it costs lives.

Leading off today, it’s WebMD,, et al. [Koop’s obit,] “A little [web] information is a dangerous thing,” especially when it’s embedded in pay-per-click Big Pharma-sponsored ads and when it emboldens spottily-informed know-it-all consumers to shop for bargains abroad. It’s not easy in that venue to tell the difference between endorsements, ads, and “sponsored articles.” The decline of journalistic ethics  here takes a biomedical toll.

Then, organ donation. What’s wrong with soliciting needed vitals via social media? Tweet for a lung, link-in for a liver…

“Reality TV” has actually turned sufferers’ medical desperation into prime time entertainment with Miracle Workers and the like.  I don’t watch those shows and had no idea there were people competing for ratings for their lives. Nor had I considered the damage a show like House could do, glamorizing expensive tests and cases while dissing the most important (but least telegenic) day-to-day work of health care providers. Not to mention peddling “phony” hope for ordinary medical consumers. (“Don’t all docs do that?”)

Redefining retirement sounds good to me, I’m no good at shuffleboard and there are still collegians to fund in my family. But McGee’s right, for those ready to rock back retirement should be “a special time” to give back some “wisdom, experience, and accumulated skills.” We’re just not geared that way yet, nor do we appear about to be. Anyway, many of us aging Americans need to stay in the workforce as much as it needs us, to continue paying for schools and hospitals and urban upkeep. So, a solid ethical conclusion: retirement is wrong. (I presume no one will argue that it’s wrong to provide biotechnological “treatments for just about everything that kills us.” Well, Bill McKibben maybe?  “Enough!” But that’s still the patient’s call.)

“Dying Well” is a standard topic in bioethics, and I’m glad Glenn’s backed away from his earlier criticism of “advance directives” and “living wills.” I do love that he’s worked Woody Allen’s Sleeper into the discussion…

…not to mention Timothy Leary, Darth Vader, and George Jetson.

And Alistair Cooke, being attacked not by a duck [at 2’01”] but by bone-thieves.

And that traveling museum exhibit of interestingly-arranged naked corpses, that I saw in St. Louis (trying to recall its name… Body Worlds)… surely that can’t be ethically blameless? [A Bioethicist takes a peek]

And I guess a Bioethics class has to talk about Terri Schiavo sooner or later, just as we had to talk abortion the other day. Alright, let’s get it over with.

Affecting the quality of the day

March 30, 2013

Well that was interesting: logged on as usual but, for the first time in 1K+ dawns, was met by an ominous “Oops” from wordpress. “Small system error” etc. (??!!)

Small death, more like. (Just watched Princess Bride the other night with Older Daughter, Mandy Patinkin’s “prepare to die” still echoing with fresh awful resonance.) The set and comforting habit of a thousand dawns does not die quietly. I’ve heard tales of blogs mysteriously disappearing into the void, never to be recovered.

But not today, thank goodness. “Refresh” worked. (Hope I’ve been doing the “export” backup correctly.)

So what I was just about to say, before the “system” so rudely interrupted…

If the days are gods, Emerson must’ve known, they’re not clones of the Judeo-Christian god: they’re not officially “all good.” A case could be made, though, for the worst of them fitting Dawkins’  description.

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

(What a confrontation he and He might have at the Pearly Gates, as cleverly imagined here.)

No, the day-gods are Greek and Roman: powerful, unpredictable, delightful, terrible, capricious, reassuring, painful, pleasant, emotional, disconnected, willful, forgiving, mean, generous, dreary, sunny, short, long, busy, boring, creative, sluggish.

And at daybreak, whenever we rise to meet them, they’re still always full of challenge and possibility. And for us too, most important of all, they’re mortal. Hence the deep wisdom of Henry’s  observation: “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

Affecting the quality of the day is how we mortals pursue happiness, or don’t. The quality of my day was elevated yesterday by a few things, lunch with Older Daughter at Woodlands not least. Then the pleasure of assembling a flyer for PHIL 3160, The Philosophy of Happiness, for which students at my school will soon be registering in droves. Then Jon Miller and the Giants on the MLB channel from SF, stoking my eager anticipation of another season in the sun.

If the days are gods, what does that make Opening Day?

Why we’re here

January 17, 2013

I love Opening Days. And lo, here’s another one!

We did it this way, last time.

This time I’m making a conscious effort to skip the usual boring preliminaries (“going over the syllabus” etc.) to get on with meeting and greeting my new CoPhilosophy cohorts, thanks to some solid teaching advice from a younger colleague in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Introductions have already begun. I don’t intend to explain a thing in class today, if I can possibly avoid it. I’m just gonna ask Who are you? and Why’re you here? 

But, if anyone happens to ask what college is and what it should be, I’ll refer them directly to Andrew Delbanco (College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be):

The most important thing one can acquire in college is a well-functioning bullshit meter. [Or baloney if you prefer.] It’s a technology that will never become obsolete.

And the most important reward of a liberal education: quality time, for a lifetime, with your most intimate personal acquaintance.

“You want the inside of your head to be an interesting place to spend the rest of your life.”

Martha Nussbaum‘s said much the same thing, adding the crucial civic/democratic dimension:

“Apart from economic gain, a system of education (both K–12 and higher education) needs to prepare students for rich and meaningful lives, and–my primary focus–it needs to prepare them for democratic citizenship. If it does not cultivate skills essential to the health of democracy, democracy won’t survive. It’s that simple. For democracy to survive, young people have to learn to argue and deliberate. They need to be able to decide what they themselves want to stand for, giving reasons for their preferences to others rather than simply deferring to tradition and authority. Training in the ability to argue also produces greater respect for others, as people come to see that people who disagree with them also have reasons for what they choose. They develop healthy curiosity about those reasons, rather than seeing political argument as just an occasion to defeat the opposition.”

Like Delbanco, I wouldn’t dream of denying that plenty of interesting people skip college. But as he points out, people who say college is not for everyone tend to have in mind other people’s kids. 

Today, they’re all my kids.

Waiting and hiding

December 13, 2012

Spent much of yesterday in the outpatient surgery waiting room, watching video monitor updates of Younger Daughter’s status. She broke her pinky playing basketball a week ago, and was  in for the unappealing surgical procedure of having screws inserted, three of them, into the bone.

Sounds medieval, Older Daughter observed. Or cybernetic.

We were there from 9:30 to 4:00. That’s no way to get out of school, but to look on the bright side: it gave me a grading break.

I did get out  a bit yesterday, to fetch Mom’s peppermint mocha at mid-morning and then a couple of Reubens from the deli for lunch. It was still crisp but sunny at noon, so I decided to hoof the half dozen blocks up to West End and noticed all kinds of people and places (an oddly-named BBQ place I’d not seen before on Church St., for instance, and an architecturally-distinctive apartment building on 18th) I would have missed behind the wheel.

One of my resolutions this year: never burn hydrocarbons to accomplish any non-emergency errand that can be performed pedestrianly. (That should be a word, I’m ignoring the red squiggle-line.)

At Jason’s I ran into my two favorite Reasonable Atheists and 3QD contributors, Aikin & Talisse. Didn’t see them brandishing any provocative reading matter but I’ll bet they were carrying.

So, both girls are at home this morning, Younger Daughter resting fitfully on another round of painkillers, Older Daughter allegedly planning to study for finals. Speaking of which, I have one more exam to administer today and then it’s back into the hidey-hole.

A word to would-be wise students: please heed my previous instructions and postpone all grade queries ’til Monday. 

Sitting in that waiting room yesterday, I was pleased to come across a very wise bit of teaching advice from a younger colleague in the Chronicle of Higher Education that I’ve been inching towards for some time, and am finally going to embrace on January 17: ditch the syllabus on the first day of class. Do something interesting and fun, and begin really getting to know your student collaborators from the get-go. Talk about due dates and such later. Ask ’em all “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?” and write down what they say. Other smart tips abound in the article too (though nothing about how to make yourself love grading).

I’ve come up with another innovation as well: floaters. We’ll have a different representative of each of our four discussion groups floating from group to group at ten minute intervals during each class, helping me knit the separate strands of our larger conversation into a tighter weave. “Connecting the dots,” I call it.

Isn’t it a good sign, that I’m already thinking about the new semester? Maybe. Or maybe just another indication that I really don’t like grading.  I shouldn’t complain, it’s way better than a broken digit.

philOK, I’m back into the hole now, like that other Phil in PA. There will be about five more weeks of winter (break), after Monday.

“Today is tomorrow! It happened!” Phil Connors

Day 1!

August 27, 2012

Opening Day is here: Happy New Year!

First day of class means a fresh start, a blank slate, a chance to sew “fresh seed” into our discussions. We’re like birds fluttering into a lighted hall to roost briefly before flying back out into the darkness.

We’re all whales wondering what’s happening as we whoosh towards that large unnamed expanse below.

But this is crucial: we’re birds of a feather, a plurality of plummeting whales, a surfeit of seed-sewers. We don’t have to wonder wordily in solitude, we can talk about our thoughts and experiences and the transient objects of our world.

We won’t always see eye-to-eye in philosophy class, but our arguments won’t just be exercises in mutual contradiction either. Though of course they can be.

In any event, it should all be eye-opening. “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones…”

Ready, set…

Oh, wait. Those remarks are tailored to the Intro/CoPhilosophy course. I think they can readily be adapted to Environmental Ethics and Activism too, since collaboration very often does lead to ethically-rooted action in pursuit of shared goals like, say, sustainable ecosystems. I’ll talk about that a bit on the radio this afternoon.

Here’s where we begin in EEA:


Deja vu all over again

April 6, 2012

What’s on my mind this morning? The interesting discussion we had in A&P yesterday about Sam Harris and free will? Our department’s Lyceum lecture coming up this afternoon, about nothing? The bizarre dream I just awoke from, in which I found myself lost in a gated community of strangers who acted as though I were invisible?

A little, yes. But truthfully, what I’m really thinking about this morning is the ridiculous image of Bill Murray running the bases at Wrigley Field’s Opening Day, then assuring the fans that their beloved Cubbies would win every single game this year.

Before they lost. Again.

“Groundhog Day” comes to Wrigleyville, and the world is back on track. Go Cubs go!

Another opening day

January 18, 2012

It’s deja vu, all over again: a quirk in the calendar has me meeting two classes for the first time today, after meeting the others twice already. CoPhi will be slightly out of sync, but you really can’t have too many fresh starts in life. Once again, let’s play ball!

A “non-traditional” student stopped by the office yesterday after class. He’s a freshman, like his daughter, and is excitedly waking at last to student life and the quest for wisdom. He’s questioning a lifetime of uncritical convention, in the workplace and in church. Hell hath no fury like a former fundamentalist who’s begun to think.

I usually dispute Plato’s claim that no one is really qualified to philosophize before life’s mid-point, but we all have to do what we can when we can. The enthusiasm for fresh starts is infectious, and especially appealing when caught from someone who’s been around the block. No one better appreciates the value of asking Why? No one gives better voice to the Jamesian insight that our habitual acts accumulate day by day and had best not be neglected.

Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct…

I’m catching lots of enthusiasm in the A&P class too, where we also have more than a few non-trads. I think the presence of experienced students in the mix, alongside the next generation, may be what I like most about teaching at a large state school. When there are more opening days behind than ahead of you, it’s good to be reminded that experience is worth a lot. And curious, inquisitive experience is priceless.  Welcome back!

Opening Day! Let’s play two

January 12, 2012

It’s Opening Day of the Spring semester in two classes, and I’m excited.

Time to re-conjure Douglas Adams’ philosophical whale in the Intro course I’ve taken to calling “CoPhi”(because philosophy is a collaborative search for wisdom, and because– as William James said– “the pluralistic form takes for me a stronger hold on reality than any other philosophy I know of, being essentially a social philosophy, a philosophy of ‘co’…”

And Annie Dillard’s goldfish.

The argument clinic, of course.

And we’ll begin to sample what “philosophy” means to young people who’ve grown up in a mostly a-philosophical time and place. Anti, even. I’ll ask everyone:

1) What’s your definition or current understanding of philosophy?

2) What have you read, seen, or experienced lately (in books, film, pop culture, or “real life”)  that you consider interestingly philosophical? How so?

In “Atheism & Philosophy” (A&P) this afternoon we’ll begin

to explore the philosophical, ethical, spiritual, existential, social, and personal implications of a godless universe, and (quoting the new catalog description for PHIL 3310) to examine various philosophical perspectives on atheism, understood as the belief that no transcendent creator deity exists, and that there are no supernatural causes of natural events. The course compares and contrasts this belief with familiar alternatives (including theism, agnosticism, and humanism), considers the spiritual significance of atheism, and explores implications for ethics and religion.
Their question: are you a good person, with or without God? Some of them, I’m sure, will be using the course to sort out their final answer to that question. A suggested final report topic: write & present your testimonial account of “Why I am [am not] an atheist.”
My working hypothesis is that William James got it right in “Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life” (1891) when he said you don’t have to believe in a god to be good. We’ll see.
Our texts: Jennifer Hecht’s Doubt Quiz, Rebecca Goldstein’s 36 Arguments, Julian Baggini’s Atheism,          Louise Antony’s Philosophers Without GodsRussell Blackford’s 50 Voices, Sam Harris’s Moral Landscape, and possibly one additional text to be determined by class vote. The floor is open for nominations.


I think I’ll wear the baseball tie today, in celebration of the fact that we’re all still winners. Even Cubs fans. “It’s a long season,” said the philosopher Crash Davis, “you gotta trust it.” But, the Church of Baseball?

Sounds good to me. Let’s play two!

play ball

January 13, 2011

It’s another Opening Day for Intro to Philosophy-let the journey begin…

The syllabus has been posted in the Pipeline, for those who’ve matriculated at our Enormous State University. Your first assignment, STUDENTS, is to find it there and read it. (If you’ve already printed the version posted previously you’ll need to update the sequence of assignments, which has been revised.)

Thinking is serious business but it’s also meant to be fun and enlarging, so we’ll be playing with a graphic as well as textual approach to big questions about life, the universe, and everything. (That’s a lot to cover, admittedly; the universe is really big.)

What is philosophy? I still like William James’s answer: an unusually stubborn striving for clarity. Stubborn, but not inflexible or intransigent. Argumentative but not disagreeable. Philosophy in the classroom is conducted with words pondered, spoken, and heard. That’s why I also like Sally Brown’s experimental approach to this question.

On Day#1 we need to set the right tone by emphasizing the importance of listening not just to our own words but to others’ as well, respectfully and with an appropriate humility.

We all have much to be humble about, not only the limits of our own personal perspicacity but those of the very enterprise we are engaged in: using words to express thoughts and feelings that begin in inarticulate wonder.

Maybe that’s enough words to get us going.

graphic philosophy

August 31, 2010

Another Opening Day for Intro to Philosophy, another journey of enlightenment before what we hope will be a soft and not-yet-terminal landing. (That was the whale’s wish, too.)

Today is mainly for introducing all the ladies and Bruces [orig.], and clarifying what is and isn’t within the bounds of acceptable philosophical argument. Welcome to philosophy.

I like to try new things in Intro. In addition to the usual textual guides- Passion for Wisdom, Consolations of Philosophy (reviews)we’ll add Doubt: A History as a recommended supplement. Philosophy may begin in wonder but it sustains itself on intelligent skepticism.

And, this time we’re going visual with some high-toned graphic novels. OK, comic books. Logicomix: an Epic Search for Truth, and Philosophy for Beginners.

I attended a symposium in August where someone presented a (fun) paper on “Putting the Fun Back in Philosophy.” It’s almost always fun for me, but this should be fun for the class of ’14 too.

And just wait ’til midterm, when we’ll have some fun with pop culture [& more]. In sum, We’ll tolerate no stuck-up sticky-beaks here.

To those of my colleagues who may be scandalized by this approach: you’re no fun at all! .