Archive for July, 2009

Geezers Rock!!

Had a great time last night at Citizens Bank Park enjoying Elton John and Billy Joel in concert. Wish you’d been there!


p.s. Got fantastic seats yesterday for an E & K October birthday special concert: Springsteen at the Spectrum!


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Happy Birthday, JD…wherever you are.

Jacques Derrida would have been 79 years old today.


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Off to Phoenix for Metanexus Conference


Check here for details.

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If a Brother Is Commanded to Do Impossible Things…

CHAPTER LXVIII of the Rule of St. Benedict

If a Brother Is Commanded to Do Impossible Things

If, perchance, any difficult or impossible tasks be enjoined on a brother, let him nevertheless receive the order of him who commandeth with all meekness and obedience. If, however, he see that the gravity of the task is altogether beyond his strength, let him quietly and seasonably submit the reasons for his inability to his Superior, without pride, protest, or dissent. If, however, after his explanation the Superior still insisteth on his command, let the younger be convinced that so it is good for him; and let him obey from love, relying on the help of God.


Today is July 11, the Feast of St. Benedict.

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Here’s one of those things….

One of those things that makes you scratch your head: is giving away “free” stickers promoting clean energy for America. It is a very attractive sticker, designed by the same person who did the Obama “hope” poster.  The website notes:  “Stickers are 4″ by 5.125” (about the size of a postcard) and will take 5-7 weeks to arrive.”  If you would like more than one sticker, you will have to make a small donation; but the first one is “free.”

There is a nifty gadget on the site that gives you an up-to-the-minute count of how many stickers have been given away “free.”

As I write this (1:50 pm on 7/11), 203,678 stickers have been given away free.

In the time it took me to type these letters, the number has grown to 203,707.  At the current clip, I’d say about 25 stickers are being given away every minute for “free.”

So, the head-scratching: What is the carbon footprint of this promotion?  The 203,707 “free” stickers will be made out of 29,000 square feet of some kind of paper/plastic material, will be produced on machines (running on coal-generated electricity, most likely at this point in time), and will use some sorts of interesting chemicals for the inks and stickum.  The 203,707 “free” stickers will have, backing paper you have to peel off,  I’m guessing.  That’s 29,000 square feet of waste backing paper that will end up in the landfill.  Each one of these “free” stickers will be mailed–i.e., sent on trucks and planes (mostly not using green technology)–to their recipients.  The recipients will stick them, I’m guessing, on their automobiles (even the best of which burn fossil fuel).  Or on their laptop cases, which use (probably) coal-generated electricity as well.

I’m just asking….

But at least we’ll be able to prove we are green.  We have a sticker.  And it was free!

2:13 pm…204,685…Current rate now looks like 44 stickers per minute…..


"Free" green sticker. Note (and I swear I am not making this up): the filename for this graphic is "pu_sticker." Perhaps they meant "stinker"...?

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Food, Inc.


We saw Food, Inc. yesterday at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute (one of our local treasures!).  Director Robert Kenner made this documentary not only informative but also beautiful…even though what it has to report is ugly and mean.  If you have read Eric Schlosser‘s Fast Food Nation or Michael Pollan‘s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, you already know about the issues raised in this film, and both writers play a big role in the documentary.  Another important voice (of reason) is that of Joel Salatin, whose Polyface Farms happened to be featured last night on ABC news as being the supplier of “happy hogs” for the Chipotle restaurant chain.  Gary Hirshberg, Chairman and “CE-Yo” of Stoneyfield Farms made a very persuasive case in the film in favor of working with Wal-Mart (hardly the run-of-the-mill activist’s favorite company) on the distribution of non-GMO/organic foods.  He believes that Wal-Mart’s decision not to use rBST intheir milk may signal the demise of this growth hormone (due to the chain’s massive buying power).

But these are all the good guys.

There are plenty of bad guys, the baddest of whom is Monsanto, which, according to the film, bullies farmers into using their “patented” seeds (but they’ve offered rebuttal).  But did you know that in some states you are NOT ALLOWED TO SAY BAD THINGS about Monsanto and other food producers?  By LAW!  Did you know that?  Remember when Oprah bad-mouthed hamburger because she didn’t think it was safe to eat?  She was sued by the beef industry for the loss of business that her comments allegedly caused.  She won the case, in the end, but it cost money. Monsanto does that to people who don’t like their seeds.   (See here, here, and here for examples.)  So in this great land of ours, you can no longer say out loud that you don’t like something or that you don’t trust it.  I understand that spreading malicious misinformation about someone or some business can be ruinous to that person or business.  But on this reasoning, there’d be no restaurant, movie, or film critics.  There’d be no campaign debates (my pointing out the weaknesses of a candidate may cause him to lose an election, political power, and money).  And what is really troubling about this blatant assault on free speech is that the information being put forth about the agribusiness is frequently true.  Could the tobacco companies sue anti-smoking campaigners because they said that smoking will kill you?

Monsanto–the people who brought you Agent Orange (check this out)–is also lobbying your elected representatives to make sure they are not forced to label their products as being GM.  They are afraid we’ll all be too stupid about genetically modified foods and therefore “needlessly alarmed” by the label.  So we get either the nanny state or the nanny corporations.  Terrific.   Everybody’s looking out for us.  Readers of this blog should know that I don’t suffer junk science gladly.  Have GM foods been proven bad for us?  Do we really know what causes climate change?  My point is simply that in a democratic society we have the right to the facts, to the theories, to the worries, to the counterclaims, etc., and I object to government or corporate sponsored efforts to withhold information.

And then, in the film, there is the really bad stuff:  death, despair, despoliation, destruction.  I wouldn’t want to ruin that for you by going into detail.

You should check out Food, Inc.  Like Michael Moore’s Sicko, it’ll get you thinking about how way wrong things are.  And you can read up on this stuff.  This handy list should help.

Here’s another of Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays to get you started:

Regard For The Soil
1. Andrew Nelson Lytle says:
The escape from industrialism
is not in socialism
or in sovietism.
2. The answer lies
in a return to a society
where agriculture is practised
by most of the people.
3. It is in fact impossible
for any culture
to be sound and healthy
without a proper regard
for the soil,
no matter
how many urban dwellers
think that their food
comes from groceries
and delicatessens
or their milk from tin cans.
4. This ignorance
does not release them
from a final dependence
upon the farm.

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Peter Maurin’s “Easy Essays”

Some wisdom from Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays:

The Duty of Hospitality

1. People who are in need
and are not afraid to beg
give to people not in need
the occasion to do good
for goodness’sake.
2. Modern society calls the beggar
bum and panhandler
and gives him the bum’s rush.
But the Greeks used to say
that people in need
are the ambassadors of the gods.
3. Although you may be called
bums and panhandlers
you are in fact
the Ambassadors of God.
4. As God’s Ambassadors
you should be given food,
clothing and shelter
by those who are able to give it.
5. Mahometan teachers tell us
that God commands hospitality,
and hospitality is still practiced
in Mahometan countries.
6. But the duty of hospitality
is neither taught nor practiced
in Christian countries.

Feeding the Poor at a Sacrifice

1. In the first centuries
of Christianity
the hungry were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at personal sacrifice.
2. And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
“See how they love each other.”
3. In our own day
the poor are no longer
fed, clothed, sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
but at the expense
of the taxpayers.
4. And because the poor
are no longer
fed, clothed and sheltered
the pagans say about the Christians
“See how they pass the buck.”

What Makes Man Human

1. To give and not to take
that is what makes man human.
2. To serve and not to rule
that is what makes man human.
3. To help and not to crush
that is what makes man human.
4. To nourish and not to devour
that is what makes man human.
5. And if need be
to die and not to live
that is what makes man human.
6. Ideals and not deals
that is what makes man human.
7. Creed and not greed
that is what makes man human.

Better Or Better Off

1. The world would be better off,
if people tried
to become better.
2. And people would
become better
if they stopped trying
to be better off.
3. For when everybody tries
to become better off,
nobody is better off.
4. But when everybody tries
to become better,
everybody is better off.
5. Everybody would be rich
if nobody tried
to be richer.
6. And nobody would be poor
if everybody tried
to be the poorest.
7. And everybody would be
what he ought to be
if everybody tried to be
what he wants
the other fellow to be.

You can read more of Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays here.

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Food for thought, after yesterday’s celebration of our American revolution:

“The Chiapas rebellion was distinctive among guerrilla struggles in that it did not seek to seize state power.  Instead, it aimed to win the right of people to govern themselves within their own communities.  It did not call upon other Mexicans to take up arms for a new national social agenda, but for the space and means to elect popular, democratic movements tied to particular locales.  One commentator, Gustavo Esteva, called it a ‘new kind of movement’ and the ‘first revolution of the twenty-first century.’  By that he meant the feisty manifestation of a growing struggle of people around the world for economic and political survival and sovereignty within their own communities. […] It wasn’t a Marxist guerrilla group, for example.  It had no clear-cut socialist ideology or political platform and no one leader.  Nor was it a fundamentalist or messianic group.  Its members came from different Indian groups, professed different religions, spoke different languages, and were explicitly ecumenical. […] As mentioned, its goal was not to seize power to govern the country but rather to reclaim the community.  It did not eschew, but used, modern means of communication and a strategy of networking varied coalitions of dissent.  Perhaps most strikingly, it did not call upon the government for cheaper food, more jobs, more health care, and more education.  Rather than trying to find its niche in Mexico’s efforts to solve its problems by strengthening its role in a global economy organized around the needs and wants of a consumer society, it sought to order its own world around the organic needs of community.  In Esteva’s words, it was not a revolt in response to a lack of development but a response that Chiapas was being ‘developed to death.’  People ‘opted for a more dignified way of dying.’ This more dignified way consists of a ‘commons’ the community carves out for itself in response ‘to the crisis of development’; ‘ways of living together that limit the economic damage and give room for new forms of social life’; ‘life-support systems based on self-reliance and mutual help, informal networks for the direct exchange of goods, services, and information’; and ‘an administration of justice which calls for compensation more than punishment.'”

–Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth Community Earth Ethics [Orbis 1996], pp. 128-129.

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Shoulda called the BEAR Whisperer…



Yeah, all right, it probably wasn’t so funny for the guy.  But it is another reason to skip the salami and go vegan!

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On the Science and Religion Dialogue

Here is an interview with your Peripatetic Prattler published in Romanian (!) back in 2007.  The questions are those of Cătălin Mosoia.

“Controlled and contextualized risks…”

My motto:  spero meliora (Cicero)

1. What was the reason for choosing your career?

Actually, my career at Metanexus Institute seemed to choose me! I had taught philosophy for about ten years, and then worked for about four years in industry (both in old-line manufacturing and in information technology). This combination of educational interests and business experience—odd as they may seem together—apparently made me an attractive candidate in 2001 to head up the Local Societies Initiative, an ongoing international grant program designed to foster science and religion dialogue and the pursuit of the really big questions of life, the cosmos, and the human person. Since October of 2006, I have been the Executive Director of Metanexus Institute [and am now VP for Academic Affairs], and my job provides me with unparalleled intellectual and spiritual stimulation as well as an engaging set of practical problems to work on that come with network building.

2. What was your thoughts regarding religion? Was anything special happened for becoming interested in religion?

As a philosopher, I find every question raises a whole set of other questions—and that is especially true when it comes to the question of “religion.” Depending on what one might mean by “religion,” I would have a variety of thoughts regarding it. But to speak autobiographically, in looking back over my life, I have always been religious—it would not be wrong to say deeply religious—even when (and perhaps especially when) I was most critical or rebellious towards “religion.” Religion in its institutional state (and I would argue it cannot be otherwise, ultimately, than institutional) always gives rise to the possibility of problems, moral and political problems, and it has historically proven itself quite dangerous and detrimental to persons and communities. But I would argue, against today’s popular critics of religion, that this is not the only aspect of religion, that it is not only dangerous, not even in its (ultimately unavoidable) institutional packaging. Religion has also been at the center of our most humanistic impulses and is still a great force for peace and well-being.

3. What conditions must exist for permitting such a dialogue between science and religion?

I believe there are at least two main conditions that must obtain for the constructive engagement of science and religion. The first is a basic openness on the part of the participants in the encounter to be informed and even surprised by the views of the other. The second is a willingness to adopt a philosophical approach to the questions that arise at the intersection of the sciences and the world’s religions. By this I mean that the sorts of questions this dialogue will raise will not ultimately be answered scientifically nor will they be fully addressable in a fruitful way within a closed religious system. There needs to be a position—at least provisionally and with all requisite attention to possible drawbacks—that is outside both science and religion. And let me quickly add that, really, there is no one thing “science” and no one thing “religion”—there are sciences and religions (always in the plural).

4. Can you compare the dialogue between science and religion with something else more understandable for the public?

Your question suggests that science and religion dialogue is not readily understandable for the public, but I would argue that it is actually quite easy for anyone to become engaged in this dialogue. In such a dialogue, the conversation partners must recognize that they are not experts in the same field. So each person—the physicist, the biologist, the theologian, the pastor, the philosopher, the artist, the historian—must speak to the others in non-technical terms. The physicist cannot simply show an overhead projection of complicated formulas! The theologian cannot simply assume that the formal language of her field is understood by non-experts! So technical terms either have to be translated into ordinary terms, or they need to be clearly defined at the outset, thus making this dialogue very accessible to the public. The second feature of this dialogue that makes it accessible is that the questions raised—about our origin, our purpose, our direction, our future—are deeply human questions, and not simply the questions of any particular disciplinary expert.

5. How useful would be for your professional interests a dialogue between science and religion?

Promoting this dialogue is central to my professional responsibilities, but I want to emphasize that the pursuit of these questions is central to my being a human person! I have argued that behind “science and religion dialogue” is a deeper concern for wholeness, for seeking a way out of the fragmentation of knowledge that comes from our institutional structures and disciplinary practices, for a unity of knowledge and even for wisdom. The split between science and religion, which happened for a variety of reasons and which should not be seen as all bad or negative, is a symptom of this deeper fragmentation that affects not just knowledge but also our communities and our very souls.

6. How risky is the dialogue between science and religion?

Dialogue partners must risk themselves in any encounter in order to truly meet and understand one another. But let me insist that these risks, well worth taking, need to be contained and contextualized. For instance, it is extremely unlikely that an encounter between contemporary physics and the latest theological investigations poses any threat to the practice of physics. Some opponents of religion and science dialogue see the “religion” side as wanting to interfere with the best practices of the “science” side, and I would agree with these opponents that any such interference is to be resisted. I think the same about scientific attempts to “explain away” religion or religious practices. Nevertheless, how we think about science and think about religion and how they each fit with the whole of human experience should be “at risk” of revision and transformation, or the dialogue is simply not being pursued authentically.

7. What are the main difficulties for starting such a dialogue?

There are at least two main difficulties: first, the presuppositions and prejudices and blindspots that inevitably form when one devotes all one’s intellectual and spiritual efforts in a single direction. This focusing, and the resulting division of labor, has been extremely fruitful, but there has been a price. The price has been a diminution of our willingness to understand each other. The second follows on the first, and regards our ability to understand one another. We lack the logic and methodologies for transdisciplinary dialogue so that our pursuit of the big questions will have an analogous (but not identical) rigor and offer the possibility of making progress in our self-understanding.

8. When do you think the common language of science and religion will be available?

The effects of the science/religion split have been developing over centuries, and it will likely take centuries for a fully developed and rich new understanding to arise. It will certainly take a transformation of our educational institutions and our approach to research and learning. It will take time. However, there is an ever-increasing number of scientists, thinkers, educators, and administrators that are working towards this transformation every day.

9. Who would be the winners of the dialogue between science and religion?

Quite simply, everyone!

10. What effects do you think would have the dialogue between science and religion?

There would be many, as I have suggested. But here is one concrete effect that is already observable from the science and religion dialogue: There are many well-intentioned people and organizations who are pursuing inter-religious understanding and harmony. This is so important in our world today. However, I believe that in posing one religion against another in order to understand them, one can only get so far until one encounters irresolvable dogmatic positions. In engaging in scientific and philosophical investigations together, bringing with us our whole selves and experience, including our religious or spiritual experience, we can make even more progress in mutual understanding. Instead of standing toe to toe to determine which religion is “right” (whatever that would mean…it is like asking which language is “right”!), we can stand shoulder to shoulder to face our common human problems together.

[Interview: “Riscuri controlate şi contextualizate” in Cătălin Mosoia, Ştiinţa şi religia in dialog.  Bucharest:  Curtea Veche Publishing, 2007.]

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