Tell Me a Story


By Bob Lane

In monasteries, seminaries, retreats and synagogues, they fear hell and seek paradise.

Those who know the mysteries of  Life never let that seed be planted in their souls.


Over the years I have talked with your congregation on several occasions. I have talked about the Bible, about contemporary literature, and about absurdist philosophy, and had fun doing that. Today I want to tell you a story. Today’s story will be about story. I have come to believe that story is of basic importance.

Long ago and in a romantic faraway place my life was changed forever. Outside a Lutheran Church I met the woman who, some 57 years later, is still helping me to tell our story as a family. A second story was found in the works of Albert Camus – specifically the first two books he wrote: The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger. The ideas that had such an effect on me? The Absurd. And the absurd hero.

The ideas behind the development of the absurd hero are present in the first three essays of The Myth of Sisyphus. In these essays Camus faces the problem of suicide. In his typically shocking, unnerving manner he opens with the bold assertion that: 

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. (p. 3).  

He goes on to consider if suicide is a legitimate answer to the human predicament. Or to put it another way: Is life worth living now that god is dead? The discussion begins and continues not as a metaphysical cobweb but as a well-reasoned statement based on a way of knowing which Camus holds is the only epistemology we have at our command. We know only two things: 

This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. (p. 14)  

And the rest is construction” – Camus argues that there is no meaning to life. He disapproves of the many philosophers who “have played on words and pretended to believe that refusing to grant a meaning to life necessarily leads to declaring that it is not worth living.” (p.7) Life has no absolute meaning. In spite of the human’s irrational “nostalgia” for unity, for absolutes, for a definite order and meaning to the “not me” of the universe, no such meaning exists in the silent, indifferent universe. Between this yearning for meaning and eternal verities and the actual condition of the universe there is a gap that can never be filled. The confrontation of the irrational, longing human heart and the indifferent universe brings about the notion of the absurd. 

The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. (p.21)  and further: 

The absurd is not in man nor in the world, but in their presence together…it is the only bond uniting them. (p. 21) 

People must realize that the feeling of the absurd exists and can happen to them at any time. The absurd person must demand to live solely with what is known and to bring in nothing that is not certain. This means that all I know is that I exist, that the world exists, and that I am mortal. Doesn’t this make a futile pessimistic chaos of life? Wouldn’t suicide be a legitimate way out of a meaningless life? “No.” 

“No.” answers Camus. Although the absurd cancels all chances of eternal freedom it magnifies freedom of action. Suicide is “acceptance at its extreme”, it is a way of confessing that life is too much for one. This is the only life we have; and even though we are aware, in fact, because we are aware of the absurd, we can find value in this life. The value is in our freedom, our passion, and our revolt. The first change we must make to live in the absurd situation is to realize that thinking, or reason, is not tied to any eternal mind which can unify and “make appearances familiar under the guise of a great principle,” but it is: 

…learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment. (p. 20) 

My experiences, my passions, my ideas, my images and memories are all that I know of this world – and they are enough. The absurd person can finally say “all is well”. 

I understand then why the doctrines that explain everything to me also debilitate me at the same time. They relieve me of the weight of my own life, and yet I must carry it alone. (p. 41)  

In the following essays, Camus presents examples of the absurd person. We are given Don Juan, the actor, and the conqueror as examples of people who multiply their lives in an attempt to live fully within the span of their mortality. But more important is the creator who is discussed in the essay “Absurd Creation”. “The absurd joy par excellence is creation.” For in creating a work of art the creator is living doubly in as much as his creation is a separate life. “The artist commits himself and becomes himself in his work.” Works of art become, then, the one means for a person to support and sustain a lucid consciousness in the face of the absurdity of the universe. 

Art is for Camus an essential human activity and one of the most fundamental. It expresses human aspirations toward freedom and beauty, aspirations which make life valuable for each transient human being. Art defies that part of existence in which each individual is no more than a social unit or an insignificant cog in the evolution of history. 

While I was involved in studying Camus for a graduate course at the University of California I found this profound bit in his notebooks, where he wrote:

“For a generous psychology.

We help a person more by giving him a favorable image of himself than by constantly reminding him of his shortcomings. Each individual normally strives to resemble his best image. Can be applied to teaching, to history, to philosophy, to politics. We are for instance the result of twenty centuries of Christian imagery. For two thousand years man has been offered a humiliating image of himself. The result is obvious. Anyway, who can say what we should be if those twenty centuries had clung to the ancient ideal with its beautiful human face.” Albert Camus — Notebooks

What a wonderful idea! Try to employ it always in family relations, in work relations, and in dealing with students.

The art form we all participate in is – story telling and story building. Storytelling is the conveying of events in words. Story building is sometimes called living. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instill moral values. We use stories as exemplars, for example, in the second book of Samuel we read the exciting love story of David and Bathsheba, and learn how David, driven by desire for the beautiful Bathsheba, brings her to his bed and makes her pregnant while her husband Uriah is in David’s army fighting the enemies of Israel. David eliminates Uriah by sending a letter (carried by Uriah) to the commander telling him to place Uriah in the fiercest fighting and then to fall back leaving him alone to be killed. After Uriah is killed Bathsheba mourns for him for the appropriate time and then David brings her into his house and takes her as his wife. (2 Sam. 11,12)   Shortly after this we are told “what David had done was wrong in the eyes of the Lord.” And then, as we read in the King James Version,:

             And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich and the other poor.              

The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up; and it grew up together      with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.               

And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.             

And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.  

And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

 Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view. Stories are the fabric of a culture. 

In general we use art to extend the reach of sense into the making of a world. Specifically, we use the art of storytelling to construct a story of ourselves in our world. We loop back from the objective world to the subjective world to construct a story of ourselves in  our world. As the representation of the self loops back onto itself exemplarizing the experience of a life, the self becomes unified in a story of a life. And by extension in a story of a culture.

Think of Homer, that great story-teller of the distant past. He populated his stories with the gods of the time. Think of the Hebrew Bible which begins at the beginning with a story of the creation. The creation myth can be read as a description of any act of creation: first the intention, then the translation from mind to matter, and then the evaluation: “and it was good.” Professor Douwe Stuurman, who taught The Bible as Literature at the University of California in the nineteen sixties, pointed out in lectures that the creation myth, when read aloud, will be heard to be an accurate description of the completion of any creative act. He told us the story of his first wife, a blind poet, who had asked him to read Genesis 1 and 2 aloud to her and who when he finished said “that is precisely the feeling of creating a poem.” In writing a poem one starts with an idea and a blank and formless page. The creative act of beginning to “blow” life into that page and after some time (and with some luck) giving form to the stuff of the mind, transforming it into a new medium has formed a completed work. The poet does not know the poem until it is finished. And when finished the feeling is there to be expressed: “And it is good.” 

Write your story, live your life, so when finished it will be said, “And it was good.”

The story tellers who compose the account of the creation presuppose God, as an objective being. God, as a character in a narrative, is yet to be discovered. To be discovered in the story. To be discovered through actions.

     In the Hebrew Bible Ecclesiastes stands alone in theology and in style. It probably never would have been included in the canon except that it was believed to have been written by King Solomon, and that authority was sufficient to assure it a place in the collection of “revealed” books. It is the most footnoted of books in the collection. On occasions the “footnotes” have become a part of the text as the redactor added a line here and there to try to force the story into the official line. For example, as the headnote to the book in the New English Bible puts it: “Glosses which relieve the gloom (and, indeed, the impiety) of the book seem to have been added in later times….” It has often been read as a gloomy and impious book because it departs from the official line in such a basic way. Right after the Speaker says “I saw under the sun that, where justice ought to be, there was wickedness, and where righteousness ought to be, there was wickedness,” a gloss (at 3.17) is added which states that God’s purpose is to test men “to  see what they truly are.” Or again at 7.18 after the Speaker suggests a balanced approach as the best psychology to pursue (“Do not be over-righteous and do not be over-wise”) the “Explainer” adds, “for a man who fears God will succeed both ways.” And at 8.12-13, after the Speaker has stated that wickedness is not punished, and goodness not rewarded the Explainer adds, “A sinner may do wrong and live to an old age, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God…” and the “yet I know” rings false in the overall story of skepticism that it presented in the text. The dramatic question in both Job and Ecclesiastes arises precisely because the human characters do not and cannot know what, if any, plan surrounds and defines their lives. In the Speaker’s response to this question we see it makes no difference whether there is a plan or not; it is not knowable in any case. “True, the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing.”

           Once in an evening class I had the students listen to a recording of Ecclesiastes as read by James Mason and asked them to jot down responses as they were listening. I too kept notes of what came into my mind while listening to the Mason interpretation of the text. My “reader’s response” notes follow:

        The opening passage with its circular images of cyclical activity without purpose: eyes not satisfied with seeing, appetite not filled, rivers that flow to the sea but the sea is  never filled – all accurately  describe a mental state of despair and weariness.

        Obviously the speaker is a middle aged man who has attempted to live his life with some ideas and beliefs that have proved to be false.   The path he has followed has been a long one with many attempts to make life meaningful by aiming at particular external goals. He has tried wisdom, madness, folly, pleasure, great works, money, sex, mirth, and found them all to be empty, because always was the reality of his own mortality.

        The text is like a huge symphony with separate and identifiable movements. It opens with an emptiness of spirit that is palpable to the  senses, but then it starts to move to a different level of acceptance and resignation and finally to an amazing finale of optimism, acceptance and joy. (Herb is asleep now; his head   leaning further and further toward Cathy. He may be faking it just to lay his sleeping head on her shoulder. He wakes and looks at me, ah,  did the instructor see me sleeping? Emptiness, all is emptiness.) Is it boring? Well, yes I suppose the beginning parts are boring to a twenty year old who still believes he is immortal.       

 (How many people will drop off to sleep?  The room is hot, the reading accurate but monotonous – oh, how right Mason is to read it just that way – David’s book falls off his lap as he too drops off. What difference does it make? “One event happeneth to all.” No one will remember or care tomorrow what happened today.)

        The poem which The Byrds stole to make “Turn, turn, turn” is the first move towards life and acceptance. There is a time for every-thing has a comforting sound to it. There is a time to sleep and a         time to study. “So I hated life.” Why? Because it didn’t yield to my hopes and plans; it went on not paying attention to me, not caring about me. What is missing? Why this despair and hatred of life? An entire inventory of goals is given and none have produced the feeling of life, of value. Are there more goals that haven’t been considered? Will it become clearer when I am older?  Will Herb wake up? What is missing? Why is everything stale and flat?

        And finally – and finally an answer:

         “The light of day is sweet, and pleasant to the eye is the sight of the sun; if a man lives for many years, he should rejoice in all of them.”         (11.7)

     Everyone should write her own response to this book. Read it; listen to it; write about it. It suggests to me these themes: Get rid of goals and life begins to flow, have goals and you get tied up in knots. This does not mean that you should not save for a rainy day. These are life-goals that the Speaker talks about.  If you set out to find wisdom, labor, and pleasure as ends in them selves, and expect these ends to deliver results as an investment might, then you are doomed to emptiness, for happiness is always a by-product of doing something and not a thing to be sought out like a coin lost on the floor. Life, says the Speaker, is an attitude not a program, a scene and not a plot. With divine justice in human affairs an illusion, and truth unattainable, the Speaker is left with little upon which to build. All that is certain for man\woman is that there is a desire for happiness. Thus, the basic theme of the book is an insistence upon the enjoyment of life, of all the things in this world since it is the only world we can know.  Live capriciously, do not calculate like Job did; joy is our categorical imperative and we must taste of life’s joys without self-deception. The Speaker reminds us that the realities of life do not correspond to the yearnings of the heart. Often our deepest desires are thwarted by the hard facts of experience, and our timeless yearnings are frustrated by our time-restricted days.

Let me end with an example of a story that resonates in me. Another story that changed my life. For years I have been prejudiced against a certain group of humans. Even long ago as a college student I used to shy away from members of this group. Confronted with them I withdrew with fear and repugnance. I knew I was wrong to do so but I could not seem to get what I knew incorporated into what I do.

A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash.

At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the track, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back.

Then they all turned around and went back.  Every one of them. One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said:  “This will make it better.”

Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are still telling the story.

Why?  Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course.

Each of us creates a narrative in our life, creates a STORY of our life by the actions we take as we walk toward the finish line. Choose your stories with care, for “the truth about stories is – that’s all we are.”



OBLIGATION, ANARCHISM, AND FOOTBALL (published in “Humanist in Canada”)

By Bob Lane

It might be useful to consider the questions of political theory, and the language used inthe answers offered over the centuries. “How can we explain why it is that the great majority of people seem to voluntarily accept their inequality?” is the central or crucial question in the field of political theory. This question, as Hume noted, comes from the observation that, in fact, it is so easy for the few to rule over the many. Why is this the case?

Sometimes the answer is offered that we have an obligation to obey the State. What is the nature of this obligation? Where does it come from? Can we reduce all political obligation to the application of a formula?

As Thomas McPherson puts it in his book Political Obligation: “The philosopher’s interest in political obligation has been mainly in the problem of the grounds of political obligation — that is, in the questions: “Why ought we to obey the government?” (p. 4)

And, if we cannot find a ground in political obligation then we have anarchy.

First, notice the difference between:

(1) Why ought we obey the government? and (2) Why do we obey the government?

The answers to (2) are usually in the terms of certain facts: because the government has all the power; because it would be prudent to obey; because the government knows best; etc. But one cannot answer a question about what people ought to do simply by pointing out what they do do. And yet there is a logical relationship between the two questions, a relationship that can be stated simply: “ought‟ implies “can‟. We cannot claim that one ought to do something which one cannot do. Philosophers have offered many theories attempting to establish the grounds for political obligation that answer the question “Why ought one obey the government?‟

I propose to look at several of them now and argue that all are logically flawed. The theories are:

1. Divine Right (St. Augustine or St. Paul)

2. Natural Law (Plato)

3. Contract Theory (Hobbes, Locke)

4. Social Utilitarianism (Bentham and Mill)

5. Naive Anarchism (the marshal‟s wife in High Noon)

6. Theoretical Anarchism (Robert Paul Wolff)

An interesting feature of much of political philosophy is that its language is often closer to poetry than to science. Hobbes talks about a social contract but doesn’t want us to look for it. Machiavelli and Hegel tell us the State is an organism but don’t really expect biologists to go looking for a new species. Marx talks of a future time when all will be well in the language of the prophets of old. Plato uses allegory and myth. There is often a fair amount or urging, commending, cheering as well as arguing.

One problem in discussing these theories is that it would be easy to commit a straw man fallacy in order to easily defeat them. I’m aware of that possibility and my comments do not depend for their validity on the complexity and subtlety of these arguments, but on a rather simple logical category mistake that each makes. You should read these writers yourselves for they are first class thinkers, some of whom are also first class writers.

My first point is this — if we cannot ground political obligation in some way then anarchism rules the day. If there is no answer to the question “Why ought we obey the state?” then everyone has the right to do whatever he or she wants to do since the political rules would not be binding.

To the question “Why ought we obey the state?” the divine right theory answers because it is as if God had given the command. Rulers, it says, are representatives of God on earth and one owes obedience to the laws because those laws are God’s laws. We are to obey not because the law is the law but because the law is God’s command. The person who has bound himself to obedience by the acceptance of a particular God would have an external ground of obligation to obey all particular laws. Oddly enough this position is not satisfactory because it is too relativistic. What God are we to obey? Khamenei’s God? Trump’s God? Sharon’s God? Think of all the gods who are currently invoked in the bloody streets of Lebanon!

The natural law theory answers that it is as if the laws of the state were like the laws of nature. According to this theory there are certain fundamental principles of right and justice that human reason can discern merely by attending carefully to the propositions asserting those principles. These propositions are claimed to be self- evident truths or laws of nature. This theory often gets a hand by arguing from analogy to the laws of nature discovered by science. One should notice, however, that “law‟ is ambiguous as in “the law of gravity‟ and “the law which will set our taxes‟ for it would indeed be strange to talk about repealing the law of gravity. While the laws of nature are discovered regularities, the laws of states are proclamations. We might counsel our friends to obey the law but we do not counsel stones to obey the law of gravity.

Contract theory answers “Obey the government because it is as if you have entered into a contract to do so.” It was intended to bring out the necessity for government to be based on the agreement or consent of the governed, rather than imposed on them from above.

We are to imagine that once upon a time in pre society our ancestors got together to enter into a contract that would assist them to combat a life that was “nasty, brutish and short”.

“We have to give up some autonomy,” they reasoned, “in order to gain security.”

Contract theory can be seen as a logical outgrowth of natural law theory. If natural law theory is correct about there being basic and unchanging principles of right and justice that are knowable, however, it does not follow that one group has the right to compel another group to obey those laws. But contract theory provides the grounds for enforcing the law. Each individual in the state of nature has the right to enforce the natural law (as best one can) and it is that right which one gives over to government when one contracts with one’s fellows to put an end to the state of nature. Hobbes argues that every legitimate government is founded on such a social contract.

To the question: “What is the justification for society’s exercise of authority over its citizens?” the social contract theory replies: “This authority is derived from each man’s consent, or as if he had signed a contract.”

Social utilitarianism says that both natural law theory and social contract theory are wrong. People create governments chiefly for purposes of self-protection. in order to secure a situation in which all of us — the weak as well as the strong — shall have an opportunity to live our lives without the constant fear of attack by our fellows, we need a system of rules by which each of us accepts certain restraints upon our actions on the condition that everyone else accepts those same restraints. Social utilitarianism justifies government authority on the grounds of the principle of utility, which says that that action is best which maximizes the pleasure of the most people. Its justification lies in the consequences it brings about. If every member of society is more secure because of government authority, then authority is justified.

The naïve anarchist holds that society would be better off if there were no established governmental authority at all. It is based on an optimistic view of human nature that holds a belief that men and women without government authority or force would in fact limit their own desires in such a way that they would not be in perpetual conflict with one another. Mrs. Starrett In the great movie Shane articulates this position: “It would be better if there were no guns in the valley at all, Shane, even yours.”

Theoretical anarchism is the view that there is no theoretical justification for the authority of the state. Some people rule and some obey. Some have guns and some dig graves. Those with the guns are obeyed not because they have any right to be, but simply because they have the power to compel obedience. Wolff argues that the absolute moral and intellectual autonomy of the individual cannot be given away to the state and will always be the arbiter of obligation. He posits this autonomy of the individual as the external grounds for his anarchism.

Notice that all these analyses, whether they draw the anarchist conclusion or not, follow the same logical pattern. (i) A tight connection is assumed between political authority, in the rule-issuing sense, and political obligation. (ii) The issue of justifying political authority is reduced to the question of whether citizens have a strict obligation to obey laws just insofar as they are valid laws. (iii) Since obligation is given priority here, the justification of strict political obligation is made the central issue and the justification of political authority is thought to turn on it. (iv) But since obligation is logically prior to all other political concepts, the task of justifying it requires we go outside the whole system of political concepts. (v) Hence, the justification must be attempted by reference to some external, non-political system. Then this offered justification must treat these obligations as non-political and therefore all external grounds exclude political obligation in principle. We are left with but one conclusion: we can have no political obligation at all.

This is what the anarchist has noticed and seized on.

Let me try a football analogy. British Columbia and Winnipeg are playing for the western final. Winnipeg is whistled for having thirteen men on the field. They attempt to justify this action:

1. God said we could.

2. Natural law said we could.

3. Contract theory said we could.

4. It would maximize pleasure, or the end (winning) would be easier to obtain.

5. We just wanted to.

6. We can decide how many players to use because we are an autonomous group of moral agents.

In each case the captain is looking to an external principle to ground his claim. But all these claims are senseless because the disobedient act makes sense only within the rules of the game. It must be justified within the football league rules. The principle of utility cannot be invoked by a quarterback as justification for throwing an illegal pass.

The notion of political authority is an intrinsic one, belonging always to a particular system of political concepts.

I said earlier we are left with the conclusion that we can have no political obligation at all. Hence anarchism is true, but now you can see that this would follow only if we attempt to ground political obligation on some external ground. We need to think about political obligation as existing within a field of play, and about the game of politics as being constituted by rules which are justified from within the system. The rules change. We change them. They are not natural laws but conventions. They express not the truth forever, but reflect our limited wisdom or our desire to be just and fair and decent.

Photo by David Besh on

Stuurman on existentialism

“Thinking isn’t reflection. Thinking is an active process. You think about whatever you want to think about, and it’s a creative business. It’s an interaction between you and . . . it’s like a painter painting a cow. He starts off with maybe a photograph; then he puts something on paper; and then it’s back and forth, and he ends up with something that’s not like his first photgraph of a cow, and it isn’t like the cow. It’s another world. It’s a created world. Well, the same way with thinking. It is preoccupied with itself, really – it’s own world that it is creating. And the word “reflection” is kind of a clue as to what it is about. The implication is that the mind is a mirror. John Locke, for example, said that if you’re going to be a good philosopher, you have to spend most of your time polishing the mirror of your mind to make sure it’s good and clean and that you get a good picture of reality.

And speculation is the same thing. Speculation is just the . . . “Speculum” is the Latin word for mirror, and that the mind is a mirror. And Shakespeare says, “Hold a mirror up to life, to nature.” The existentialist said no. The universe isn’t out there  –  not the one that interests us  . . . But the mind works with its own creations.”

. . . . .

Lane on meaning.

Stuurman on Hitler:

“Now Hitler’s was a gift for sensing what was in the mob and releasing the mob energy, but he had no intent . . . he didn’t even know what he was doing it for. There was constant amazement. . . . Now, when it came to speech making, this was what fascinated me and what was behind my studies of Hitler at the time, was that I was trying to figure out how he worked and why, because most of the time we are goal-oriented. We have some purpose in mind. He didn’t have any purpose. A few little general things like Lebeensraum, you know – they were going to create a big German state – but all of it was improvised and wasn’t thought through at all. Nobody was doing any leading. They were just exercising the energy that gets released in a mob situation. So, that was what fascinated me.”

Friends #3

Bob and Bob: I don’t know how many times we answered for the other! Once upon a time we had a newly minted teacher and we were relentless. Roll call was a hoot – we would answer for each other or when the teacher wasn’t looking we would leave the home room and come in again – screwing with the head count. On occasion we were caught out and sent to see the principal, Mr. McNaughton. He was a good guy, really, and I don’t think he ever figured out that we had written some stuff on his car while we were out cruising the town.

He, like so many adults, would forgive us most things because we were athletes. We had respect for him. Maybe because he was strong as an ox! Once he grabbed me by the arm and picked me up in the gym when I was screwing around. He could get your attention! He also taught a history course and it was good. He had been in the war and on occasion told us some war stories.

When we lettered in football we had to go thru an awful initiation which included walnut races, duck walking naked, and other indignities (no longer allowed) but loved by the upper class men.

Boys Varsity Football - Wray High School - Wray, Colorado - Football - Hudl
On the field.

Bob’s Letter Sweater.


After turning 85 I noticed that I spent a few minutes a day remembering stuff from the past. I am going to write about a few of those key memories, whether you readers like them or not!

First up: Bob Davis. Bob was a good friend from grade school until today. We do not communicate much anymore because of travel restrictions and the fact that we live in different countries, but we are still life-long friends. Bob is a bit older than me. We were together a fair amount as kids. He stayed with me on the farm = wrestling in the hay loft – and I with him in town. His Mom worked in the hot lunch program, where, because of her, both Bobs also worked. That provided us with extra chow and a way to interact with everyone in the school during lunch time.

As young males turned loose on the town at night we did some weird things!

For example we used to walk around the town looking for trouble. One odd trick we had was meeting a new kid we would engage in conversation and then, in the dark, pee on the kids trousers while talking. I know, stupid, eh?

We were also fairly good athletes. Bob was better than me, but we were both involved in football and track, Bob also was a good basketball player. Once when we were young we creeped into the rich Grigsby’s yard so we could see if the girls were getting ready for bed. What we saw (about 1949) was amazing: they had a television set in their living room – and it was ON! We were amazed by the picture, and riveted to the window watching people flitter across the screen!

Later we each served in the USMC during and after the Korean “conflict”.

We were best friends.


I recently turned 85. Who new I would make it on Earth for that long? High school football and track, run away bad boy, Korean war, marriage, kids, work, degrees, teaching as a career, retirement and Blogging!

It has been great: mostly good health, good friends, good job, good colleagues, good family – no complaints.

Some ceremony (like above) but mostly work and play. 85 years of work and play! Started playing early and started working early. Many an hour on the Case tractor as a kid working away while singing and dreaming. Loved teaching and learning, liked bs-ing with colleagues, arguing, lecturing, marking papers, hiring people (mostly good people), getting in trouble, a couple of fights, finding my way through life and its many detours, receiving a few honours, meeting new friends, (still have a few friends who long ago were students in my classes) trying to deal with kids and grand-kids – in other words LIFE.

Near the beginning with Mom and Beth.

It has been great!

Check this out. And this.

Guest post

John Richards recently contacted me because we were both students at UCSB long ago! John was a student in Professor Stuurman’s classes. I, of course, immediately requested that he should contribute to the Blog from time to time. He responded with what follows:

Hi Bob,

Two of my elementary school friends have been discussing current events in the US from a religious perspective and recently, Buddy (Mary), who is active in the Unitarian church in Port Townsend sent a note with a link to a recent Politico article to Charlie, a quite devout Christian who lives in Sacramento. For some reason, Buddy included me in this correspondence. I read the article she posted below and after several days of pondering her question, I decided to respond. So far we haven’t heard from Charlie to get his perspective.

Here’s my reply:

This is a very interesting, yet disturbing phenomenon. The rise of Qanon in our country boggles my mind. I’m not a religious person, a result of my biological studies and work in a scientific field, but I have always been fascinated with the different religions and spiritual beliefs. One of my favorite university classes was “the Bible as English Lit”, taught by a Rhodes scholar, Douwe Stuurman, who studied philosophy in Germany in the 1930’s and saw first hand the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. He became a prof at the Santa Barbara College, the precursor of UCSB, but when the US entered WWII, he joined the army and went back to Germany on a mission to try to preserve as many as the books an Nazi documents as he could find. Here’s an excerpt about Stuurman’s work during the war – from “ Cultural Policy in a Time of War: The American Response to Endangered Books in World War II” by Kathy Peiss:
“ One of the more intriguing examples is Douwe Stuurman, who had been a Rhodes scholar and teacher at Santa Barbara College before he joined the army as an ordinary GI. On his own, he began retrieving Nazi books and pamphlets; future generations needed to know this history, he believed, and these publications would provide concrete proof. One day Stuurman showed his archive to Sargent Child, and the amazed Monuments officer could not contain his excitement. Stuurman had “run from Vienna to Nürnberg like a brilliant open field runner—-he has gained access to cellars, attics, storerooms—-thru [sic] the help of German and Austrian scholars—-and by playing no tricks with them so that they learned to trust him—-has come up with the beacon.” With an unofficial nod from his major, who quietly loaned him trucks, shelving, and space in a warehouse, Stuurman had collected over 100,000 items documenting the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. The principled call to preserve and document was, for Stuurman, a necessary rejoinder to looting and indifference.”

Here’s the reference cited in the article:
Sargent Child to Luther Evans, September25,1945,box33,folder:Representative Stuurman, Douwe, Library of Congress European Mission Records. Among many works on the fate of Jewish books, see Rose (2001), Shavit (1997), Simpson (1997).

After reading the Politico article again, I looked up Christian nationalism (see US) and Christian fascism on Wikipedia. Very interesting – check them out when you have time.

I also looked up Elizabeth Neumann’s background:

One of my primary concerns is to assure all religious and non-religious citizens that the federal and state governments adhere to the principle of the “separation of church & state”.

Best, John


PS – Have you ever seen the movie Monuments Men?