Archive for June, 2009

Buffalo Mountain


Me ‘n’ K on top of Buffalo Mountain, Floyd County, Virginia:



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The BEAR Whisperer

The forest was angry that day, my friends.  There we were, deep in the dense woods, just my dear wife and myself, unarmed, alone…when all of a sudden:  a mighty crash and roar!  We had come face-to-face with the monstrous beast, the ruler of the forest, the mountain king–the mighty Black Bear!


As my dear wife cowered in (quite understandable, non-gender-specific) fear, I approached the beast.  He glowered.  I genuflected.  He looked puzzled.  I kneeled.  He kneeled.  I folded my hands.  He folded his hands.  I raised my eyes to the heavens.  He raised his eyes to the heavens.  I figured that such a spiritual bear might be reasoned with.  I said to the bear, “I see you are the praying kind.”  The bear said, “Yes, I always say grace before a meal.”


This was not going as well as I had anticipated.  I said to the bear, “Don’t be afraid.”  The bear smirked.  I said, “I just want to whisper one thing in your ear.”  The bear shrugged, allowing me to approach.  I whispered in his ear.   With that, he smiled, turned, and gamboled off into the forest.

My dear wife embraced me, and with tears in her grateful eyes, cooed, “My hero!”

All in a day’s work for…THE BEAR WHISPERER!

p.s.  Just what DID I whisper to that bear…?

p.p.s.,  Here’s another photo…might be a bit more accurate than the others:


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Anarchism 101 with Noam Chomsky

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Dying is easy…poetry is hard.

Anyone can die.  It is the easiest thing in the world.  No one has yet, in the end, failed at this endeavor.  Everyone succeeds in dying.  Living is like that, too.  So long as you’re breathing, you are living.  Easy as pie.

Poetry, on the other hand, is hard.  The word poetry comes from the ancient Greek word poein, meaning to make or to create.  So while living is easy, making a living, creating a life for yourself, is not.  Not everyone, it seems, succeeds at making a living, at living “poetically.”  When someone says, “life is hard,” that’s what I’m talking about.  Dying is also like that.  To paraphrase the immortal(!) words of Bruce Springsteen, “Everyone dies, baby that’s a fact.”  But to make something creative out of your dying…that’s not so easy, is it?

Randy Pausch tried to do it in his last lecture.  John Updike does it (well, he is a poet after all…) in his posthumous collection entitled Endpoint.  A sampling of these poems was published in the March16, 2009, New Yorker (subscribers only).

Here’s one of the poems from Endpoint that means a lot to me.  The Fred Muth of the poem was a good man.  He’s the father of my very dear step-brothers and sister.  When I was a kid, I used to look forward to getting a ride in his Porsche (no one I knew had anything so exciting!) and to canoeing on the Schuylkill.    He is sorely missed, as is the poet who honored Fred with his work and his lifelong friendship.

Peggy Lutz, Fred Muth

December 13, 2008

They’ve been in my fiction; both now dead,
Peggy just recently, long stricken (like
my Grandma) with Parkinson’s disease.
But what a peppy knockout Peggy was!-
cheerleader, hockey star, May Queen, RN.
Pigtailed in kindergarten, she caught my mother’s
eye, but she was too much girl for me.
Fred – so bright, so quietly wry – his

mother’s eye fell on me, a “nicer” boy
than her son’s pet pals. Fred’s slight wild streak
was tamed by diabetes. At the end,
it took his toes and feet. Last time we met,
his walk rolled wildly, fetching my coat. With health
he might have soared. As was, he taught me smarts.

Dear friends of childhood, classmates, thank you,
scant hundred of you, for providing a
sufficiency of human types: beauty,
bully, hangers-on, natural,
twin, and fatso – all a writer needs,
all there in Shillington, its trolley cars
and little factories, cornfields, and trees,
leaf fires, snowflakes, pumpkins, valentines.

To think of you brings tears less caustic
than those the thought of death brings. Perhaps
we meet our heaven at the start and not
the end of life. Even then were tears
and fear and struggle, but the town itself
draped in plain glory the passing days.

The town forgave me for existing, it
included me in Christmas carols, songfests
(though I sand poorly) at the Shillington,
the local movie house. My father stood,
in back, too restless to sit, but everybody
knew his name, and mine. In turn I knew
my Granddad in the overalled town crew.
I’ve written these before, these modest facts,

but their meaning has no bottom in my mind.
The fragments in their jiggled scope collide
to form more sacred windows. I had to move
to beautiful New England – its triple
deckers, whited churches, unplowed streets –
to learn how drear and deadly life can be.

–John Updike

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Workers of the world… relax! (Summer Reading)

The Abolition of Work


Bob Black


No one should ever work.

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

That doesn’t mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child’s play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn’t passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us want to act. Oblomovism and Stakhanovism are two sides of the same debased coin.

The ludic life is totally incompatible with existing reality. So much the worse for “reality,” the gravity hole that sucks the vitality from the little in life that still distinguishes it from mere survival. Curiously — or maybe not — all the old ideologies are conservative because they believe in work. Some of them, like Marxism and most brands of anarchism, believe in work all the more fiercely because they believe in so little else.

Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marx’s wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists — except that I’m not kidding — I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry. But if all the ideologues (as they do) advocate work — and not only because they plan to make other people do theirs — they are strangely reluctant to say so. They will carry on endlessly about wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity, profitability. They’ll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don’t care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.
You may be wondering if I’m joking or serious. I’m joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn’t have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn’t triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I’d like life to be a game — but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.

The alternative to work isn’t just idleness. To be ludic is not to be quaaludic. As much as I treasure the pleasure of torpor, it’s never more rewarding than when it punctuates other pleasures and pastimes. Nor am I promoting the managed time-disciplined safety-valve called “leisure”; far from it. Leisure is nonwork for the sake of work. Leisure is the time spent recovering from work and in the frenzied but hopeless attempt to forget about work. Many people return from vacation so beat that they look forward to returning to work so they can rest up. The main difference between work and leisure is that work at least you get paid for your alienation and enervation.

I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimum definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it’s done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist of “Communist,” work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.


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A conversation with anarchist David Graeber about anthropology (Charlie Rose)

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A reconciliation between science and religion? Again??

Richard Wolin, in an essay entitled, “Reason vs. Faith: The Battle Continues,” reminds us that

In 1802 Georg W.F. Hegel wrote an impassioned treatise on faith and reason, articulating the major philosophical conflict of the day. Among European intellectual circles, the Enlightenment credo, which celebrated the “sovereignty of reason,” had recently triumphed. From that standpoint, human intellect was a self-sufficient measure of the true, the just, and the good. The outlook’s real target, of course, was religion, which the philosophes viewed as the last redoubt of delusion and superstition. Theological claims, they held, could only lead mankind astray. Once the last ramparts of unreason were breached — our mental Bastilles, as it were — sovereign reason would take command and, presumably, human perfection would not be long in coming.

So…how’s that workin’ out for us?

Not as promised, that’s for sure.  Our manifest failings are blamed, by one camp (“believers”), on the desacralization of the world and the death of a sense of the transcendent, or, by another camp (“nonbelievers”), on the persistence of religious “superstitition” in a scientific world.  Wolin cautions that “A genuine and fruitful dialogue between believers and nonbelievers is impossible unless one takes the standpoint of one’s interlocutor seriously,” which is just what he accuses both those who mourn our slide into secularization (e.g., Charles Taylor) and those who can’t wait for religion to finally go away (Dawkins, Dennett) of failing to do.  What would it be like to take these two opposing viewpoints seriously at the same time?  Wolin does not say.

I am not so sure that the “battle” is between science and religion or between reason and faith.  The “battle” may stem from how much romanticism informs one’s view, whether that view be “religious” or “secular.”  The “battle” may stem from how little anarchism informs one’s “faith” or one’s “reason.”  That is to say, a non-romantic anarchist might not find a “battle” between faith and reason at all….

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Pens Win!!!!!!!!!!


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A reconciliation between science and religion?

Trina Hoaks:  No way!

People have tried to reconcile the two, but we see what happens when religious people try to marry religion and science. We get the Templeton Foundation and the Discovery Institute or worse – the crackpot site Answers in Genesis. These groups are not in the business of promoting science. They are in the business of reconciling religion and science by perverting science via intellectual dishonesty so that is no longer distinguishable as science. Science is not something to be reconciled to anything, really. The only reconciliation that is prudent is within science itself – the reconciliation of theories and evidence.

William E. Carroll:  There is nothing to reconcile.

But contrary to what appear to many to be the current fundamental challenges to faith, the greatest threat to faith is not unbelief, the “new atheism” (or the older varieties, for that matter), the simplistic philosophical judgment that the world needs no explanation beyond itself and that, as Stephen Hawking once famously remarked, “there is nothing for a creator to do.” Rather, the greatest challenge to faith comes from a view often used to defend faith: the view that radically separates and opposes faith and reason and which, at times, maintains that belief is a matter of the heart and not the mind. […] To flee from reason (and science) to the seeming safety of faith alone flies in the face of Catholic teaching and, ultimately, eviscerates faith itself. There can be no faith without reason. This does not mean that faith is subordinate to reason, even though faith presupposes reason. The new atheists are the ones who really have a restricted and distorted notion of reason. They think that there can be reason without God, or, even worse, that to embrace reason one must reject God. But faith helps the believer to see the full amplitude of reason: to see how reason, as well as faith, leads us to God.

John Gray:  I don’t know, but religion’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Evangelising rationalists will continue to deny the fact, but religion – in all its varieties – is shaping the future, much as it shaped the past.

Osel Hita Torres:  I don’t know, but don’t call me Lama Tenzin Osel.

I never felt like that boy.

Richard Dawkins:  Yeah, right, sure…har, har.

We are robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.

Christopher Hitchens:  Sod off!

So you’re willing to take a very large number of very important assertions completely on faith? I don’t respect that, I have to tell you.

(Like he doesn’t…like anyone could do otherwise….)

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Derrida: How does philosophy begin?

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