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Jan. 17th, 2011

Angry Scrooge

Poem: "Thanks Robert Frost

This is a poem that I got from Garrison Keiller’s "A Writer’s Almanac." The author is David Ray.

     Thanks Robert Frost

     Do you have hope for the future?
     someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
     Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
     that it will turn out to have been all right
     for what it was, something we can accept,
     mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
     not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
     or what looking back half the time it seems
     we could so easily have been, or ought...
     The future, yes, and even for the past,
     that it will become something we can bear.
     And I too, and my children, so I hope,
     will recall as not too heavy the tug
     of those albatrosses I sadly placed
     upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
     yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
     and it brings strange peace that itself passes
     into past, easier to bear because
     you said it, rather casually, as snow
     went on falling in Vermont years ago.

The line "... my children, so I hope, will recall as not too heavy the tug of those albatrosses I sadly placed upon their tender necks" strikes like an arrow in the heart.


Jan. 14th, 2011

Lake Country

"Profound Courtesy"

The following is from an essay by surgeon Richard Selzer. The essay is titled "Lessons From the Art."

     I stand by a bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in a palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon has followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
     Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening light, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze and touch each other so generously, so greedily? The young woman speaks.
     "Will my mouth always be like this?" she asks.
     "Yes," I say, "it will. Because the nerve was cut."
     She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles.
     "I like it," he says. "It is kind of cute."
     All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.

The beginning of the final paragraph of the essay is this sentence,"I do not know when it was that I understood that it is precisely this hell in which we wage our lives that offers us the energy, the possibility to care for each other."

The final sentence of the essay is this: "Slowly it gathers, rises from the streaming flesh until, at last, it is a pure calling — an exclusive sound, like the cry of certain solitary birds — telling that out of the resonance between the sick man and the one who tends him there may spring that profound courtesy that the religious call Love."

Jan. 13th, 2011

Flying Geese

Also Leopold on Wilderness Conservation

In an article arguing for conservation of wilderness areas, Aldo Leopold had the following to say:

[I]f in a city we had six vacant lots available to the youngsters of a certain neighborhood for playing ball, it might be "development" to build houses on the first, and the second, and the third, and the fourth, and even the fifth, but when we build houses on the last one, we forget what houses are for. The sixth house would not be development at all, but rather it would be mere short-sighted stupidity. "Development" is like Shakespeare's virtue, "which grown into a pleurisy, dies of its own too-much."

In objecting to the dedication of the Gila as a permanent wilderness hunting ground it has been truly said that a part of the area which would be "locked up" bears valuable stands of timber. I admit that this is true. Likewise, might our sixth lot be a corner lot, and hence very valuable for a grocery store or a filling station. I still insist it is the last lot for a needed playground, and this being the case, I am not interested in grocery stores of filling stations, of which we have a fair to middling supply elsewhere.*

In another context Leopold wrote something that I deeply believe:, "We shall never achieve harmony with land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations, the important thing is not to achieve but to strive."

*Leopold, Aldo: A Plea for Wilderness Hunting Grounds, Outdoor Life, November 1925.

Nov. 23rd, 2010

Angry Scrooge

John Rawls on religious belief

The political philsopher John Rawls, author of the very highly regarded A Theory of Justice, seems to have been a devote Lutheran in his youth. When he was a soldier in World War II, though, he lost his faith. Recently a paper he wrote when he was an old man and near death (aged 76) has been published. Its title is "On My Religion." In this paper he says the following:

How could I pray and ask God to help me, or my family, or my country, or any other cherished thing I cared about, when God would not save millions of Jews from Hitler?

To interpret history as expressing God’s will, God’s will must accord with the most basic ideas of justice as we know them. For what else can the most basic justice be? Thus I soon came to reject the idea of the supremacy of the divine as... hideous and evil.

The paper is discussed in an article in the New York Review of Books. The author of the article (Kwame Anthony Appiah) concludes, "I know there are paths around this conclusion. But I confess I find something bracing in Rawls’s straightforward refusal to take them."

Oct. 22nd, 2010

Angry Scrooge

A history story.

Here is a history story for Dave. It is taken from Paul Fussel’s book Wartime:  Toward the end of World War II, a badly damaged B-24 was returning from a bombing mission in Germany. Over Hungary, the pilot told the crew to throw out every thing moveable to lighten the plane. One man even emptied out his pockets and threw out a steel-backed pocket book of Scripture (thought to protect the heart from bullet wounds when carried in a breast pocket). Lightening the plane did not work however --- the plane went down, the man was captured and spent the last year of the war in a German prison camp. Thirty years later the man received a package from a woman in Hungary who had found the book in her field. His name and address were inscribed in the cover of the book. The book arrived as the man was recovering from brain surgery. The man’s wife said that arrival of the book probably saved the man’s life as his mood went from one of morbid despondency to one of hopefulness and optimism.

Aug. 16th, 2010

Angry Scrooge

British University Instruction in 1966

The following is from an article by Tony Judt in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books. It concerns his early days at Kings College, Cambridge, and particularly the instruction he received (cir a 1966).

My greatest debt, though I did not appreciate it at the time, [was to] a very young Research Fellow, now a distinguished professor emeritus, who... in the course of one extended conversation on the political thought of John Locke... broke through my well-armored adolescent Marxism and first introduced me to the challenges of intellectual history. He managed this by the simple expedient of listening very intently to everything I said, taking it with extraordinary seriousness on its own terms, and then gently and respectfully picking it apart in a way that I could both accept and respect.

"That," says Judt, "is teaching." Ands so it is. Judt finishes by saying, "It is also a certain sort of liberalism: the kind that engages in good faith with dissenting (or simply mistaken) opinions across a broad political spectrum."

Jul. 27th, 2010

Angry Scrooge

Sassoon: "Suicide in the Trenches

Here is another anti-war poem that I more or less meant for Memorial Day. It is by Siegfried Sassoon, a British officer in World War I.

Suicide in the Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy.....
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
And no one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Sassoon enlisted out of patriotism, but eventually became disgusted with the war and its conduct, making a public declaration of this disgust and after being wounded refused to return to the front. Rather than courts-martial Sassoon (he was a decorated combat veteran), the authorities decided he had shell shock and sent him to a hospital.

May. 30th, 2010

Angry Scrooge

"Here dead we lie" A. E. Housman

This is a poem I memorized years ago.  I was thinking about Memorial Day today, and it just came back to me.


Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung

Life to be sure
Is nothing much to lose
But young men think it is
And we were young

A. E. Housman 

May. 27th, 2010

Angry Scrooge

"I shall not pass this way again" William Pen

The following is by William Penn. Glenn Campbell turned it into a song lyric, but I prefer the original.

"I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again."

I particularly like he talks about kindness to "any fellow being," which of course includes animals.

May. 22nd, 2010

Angry Scrooge

Socialism in Oz

L. Frank Baum , author of the Wizard of Oz, was a socialist. He wrote:

There were no poor people in the land of Oz, because there was no such thing as money, and all property of every sort belonged to the Ruler. Each person was given freely by his neighbours whatever he required for his use, which is as much as anyone may reasonably desire. Every one worked half the time and played half the time, and the people enjoyed the work as much as they did the play, because it is good to be occupied and to have something to do.

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