Monday, September 30, 2013

"An End to the Holy See's Privilege?"

This letter was published in the current issue of Conscience, the quarterly journal of Catholics for Choice (Vol. XXXIV - No.3 , 2013) ----

"In 1984 I was among the plaintiffs who challenged President Ronald Reagan's decision to extend US diplomatic recognition to the Holy See, elevating one faith over all others in violation of the separation of church and state. In Joanne Omang's excellent article, 'Playing Hardball against Women's Rights', (Vol. XXXIV, No. 2), she rightly states that the Holy See's permanent observer status at the UN privileges one religious body over all others -- especially when the Holy See uses (misuses?) that position to block international efforts to advance women's and children's rights. Pope Francis should change the Holy See's position at the UN to match that of other faith and nongovernmental groups.

"Incidentally, Bennett Elliott's informative review of Eric Berkowitz book, Sex and Punishment, from the same issue, reminded me of a lecture I attended more than 50 years ago with Dr Alfred Kinsey at his Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. During the informal gathering Kinsey let it be known that the institute boasted the largest library in the world on all matters sexual, except for one even larger -- the Vatican's. He asserted that the church had tried to amass information about sexual behavior as a first step towards deciding what to condemn as sinful and what regulations to make.

"Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty, Silver Spring, MD"

Catholics for Choice and its journal Conscience cannot be praised too highly. The current issue contains a remarkable collection of "Essays from around the world" -- literally from all over North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia -- titled "Why I Am Prochoice". For well over 30 years this organization and journal have been in the forefront of the struggle to defend and advance women's rights of conscience.

Edd Doerr

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Separation of Sports and State

by Edd Doerr

Separation of church and state has been  good for religious liberty, and, for good or ill, it has enabled religion to flourish in the US. Now maybe we should seriously consider the separation of sports and state. What provokes this remark? Two important articles in the current (Oct) issue of the venerable Atlantic magazine: Gregg Easterbrook's "How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers" and Amanda Ripley's "The Case Against High-School Sports". To paraphrase Ben Franklin, "If a Sports League is good, it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not choose to support it, so that its patrons call for the help of government subsidies, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." If it is wrong for government to force us taxpayers to support religious institutions, then why should government force everyone, including the many millions of us who do not worship in the Grand Temple of the Most Holy Pigskin, to part with our hard-earned cash for the benefit of the wealthy and politically connected owners of football (and basketball, baseball and ice hockey) teams?

Easterbrook spells out the multi-billion dollar details in his article, while Ripley shows how "The United States routinely spends more tax dollars per-high-school athlete than per high-school math student -- unlike most countries worldwide." (While I gave Ripley's new book, The Smartest Kids in the World", only a so-so review on Sept 10, I think her Atlantic article is really great.)  Ripley makes the very valid point that only a small percentage of high school kids get any exercise benefit from school sports. (When I was in high school, and I played in the marching band, football games were played on Friday afternoons for the benefit of students, but now they are played on Friday evenings for the benefit of the parents.) Across America school budgets are being slashed, teachers and other school personnel are being laid off, class sizes are being increased, college costs are rising, and pseudo-reformers are busily at work privatizing, voucherizing, charterizing and messing up public education, but anyone who suggests that we reduce public subsidies for huge sports stadiums or school or college athletic departments is likely to be called an unAmerican Islamist/communist.

In addition to the above, we might note that high school, college and professional football leads to no small amount of head and brain injuries, unlike virtually all other common sports.


by Edd Doerr

For 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to the New World, Spain built full-size replicas of the three ships and sailed them to our shores. When they put into Annapolis, Maryland, two visiting Norwegian friends and I drove over to see them. The harbor was crowded with tourists. Approaching from  the car park we found also tied up at the dock a small Viking ship, not one of the ocean-going sort but one designed for sailing around the Baltic Sea.

The name of the Viking  craft was spelled out on it in Old Norsk runes, which translated became Fyrdrake (Fire-Dragon), pronounced "Fear-Drahkah". The four-man crew were dressed like Vikings, complete with swords. We asked them what they did. Their joking reply, "We sail up and down the Chesapeake raping and pillaging".

The papers reported that when the three Spanish ships arrived to Annapolis and the crew disembarked they were greeted by the four Vikings, who told them  "We got here first".

The crowds were so large that we were unable to board the Santa Maria, but we did get aboard one of the two smaller vessels. It was appallingly small for an ocean-going  vessel and did not even have a completely covered deck. In answer to my question one of the Spanish crew members told me that the little ship had a crew of either 22 or 23.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Diane Ravitch Attacked

by Edd Doerr

Diane Ravitch's important new book Reign of Error, which I reviewed quite favorably on several blogs on Sept 5, hit the bookstores on Sept 17. But the conservative attacks on her defense of public education and critiques of the school pseudo-reformers have begun in earnest. One of them, by conservative hack columnist Kyle Smith, appeared on Sept 15 in Rupert Murdoch's sleazy New York Post.

Here is the response I sent to the Post: "Kyle  Smith's smear of Diane Ravitch's book Reign of Error is unworthy of The Post. Ravitch offers positive recommendations for improving our public schools while exposing the fallacies and foibles of the pseudo-reformers. Ravitch's opposition to school privatazation is supported by more than two-thirds of Americans, as shown by the 2013 Gallup/PDK poll and 27 statewide referendum elections from coast to coast. Smith ignores the 2/013 Stanford CREDO report showing that two-thirds of charter schools are either worse than of no better than regular public schools, despite their skimming advantage."

Letters to editors are necessarily very brief and polite. The Post on Sept 17 printed only my second sentence, along with my name and identification as president of Americans for Religious Liberty, but they also printed two longer letters from New Yorkers  defending Ravitch.

As the attacks on Ravitch and her book will surely be widespread, readers of this blog might care to email me ( such attacks. I will be happy to try to respond to them.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What? In the New York Times? Aaargh!

by Edd Doerr

On September 14 there appeared a rather longish op ed piece in the New York Times (!) titled "Overpopulation Is Not the Problem", authored by one Erle C. Ellis,  who is  identified as a biologist serving on the faculties of not one but two distinguished universities that would probably be embarrassed to be named. The gist of  Ellis's rather dreadful and certainly unsceentific screed is that there is no problem with human overpopulation: "There is really no such thing as a human carrying capacity." After my initial shock wore off -- after all, this was not April Fool's Day -- I stumbled to my computer and dispatched this letter to the estimable New York daily, which has yet to publish it:

"Erle Ellis's 'Overpopulation Not the Problem' op ed (Sept 14) is out of sync with science. It ignores climate change, resource depletion, environmental degradation, deforestation, desertification, carbon dioxide build-up, and global political messes and inadequate action. The Ford administration's 1975 National Security Study Memorandum 200 report spelled this out in detail when world population was only half what it is today. Ellis's piece is as irresponsible as loony climate change denial." (Letters to editors have to be very short.)

This reminds me of an incident that took place in Indianapolis back in the 1950s. I was asked to be on a Sunday evening radio talk show to discuss the population problem, which was even then being discussed by scientists like Julian Huxley. (The show's topic had been my suggestion to the show's producer.) The other guests on the show were the head of Indiana Planned Parenthood and a liberal Presbyterian minister. The show went well, but the following morning we were greeted by a screaming newspaper headline "Population Bomb Backfires". The show's host was fired for daring to discuss such a topic in public. In fact, none of us guests on the show ever mentioned the words "contraception" or "birth control". And I ended up being blackballed to teach in the city's public schools.

Anti-Choicers' "Fetal Pain" Ploy

by Edd Doerr

In their 40-year jihad against women's rights of conscience and religious freedom regarding abortion the anti-choice movement has resorted to pushing through laws to ban the procedure after 20 weeks on the ground that fetuses can feel pain then. Since 2010 a dozen states have passed laws to enshrine that notion into law, and congressional Republicans approved such a bill in June.

Today's (Sept 17) New York Times has an excellent report by Pam Belluck ("Complex Science at Issues in Politics of Fetal Pain:") detailing what scientists have to say on the subject. Their consensus is that fetuses cannot register pain until some time after 24 weeks, simply because the cerebral cortex is not sufficidently developed until that late in gestation. About 90% of abortions are performed before 24 weeks (90% by 13 weeks) and procedures after 24 weeks are performed only for serious medical indications affecting the woman and/or the fetus. I urge you to read the Times important piece.

On May 30, 1987, Americans for Religious Liberty sponsored a one-day conference in Washington on the subject of fetal "personhood". The conference featured addresses by Catholic and Protestant theologians, attorneys, and scientists. All participants agreed that assigning "personhood" to fetuses before some time after 28 to 32 weeks of gestation made no sense. The papers presented at the conference were published by ARL in the book Abortion Rights and Fetal "Personhood", edited by psychologist James Prescott and myself (Centerline Press, 1989, 1990). The book was plugged by Isaac Asimov, abortion rights pioneer Lawrence Lader, NARAL executive Kate Michelman, Catholics for Choice president Frances Kissling, sociologist Alfred McClung Lee, and The Humanist (May/June 1989).

The conference's science findings were incorporated in the ARL-sponsored amicus curiae brief to the US Supreme Court in the 1988 case Webster v Reproductive Health Services. The brief was signed by 12 Nobel laureate scientists (including DNA co-discoverer Francis Crick) and 155 other distinguished scientists (all listed on the brief). The Prescott/Doerr book is out of print, but the amicus brief to the SCOTUS is included in John M. Swomley's 1999 book Compulsory Pregnancy: The War Against American Women (Humanist Press), still available for $10 from ARL, Box 6656, Silver Spring, MD 20916.

(Edd Doerr has headed ARL since 1982)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

by Edd Doerr

On September 15 the Washington Post had a section on the middle period of the Civil War, the battles of Gettysburg Vicksburg, Chickamauga, Chattanoga, etc. It devoted most of a page to Lincoln's November 1863 Gettysburg Address, one of Lincoln's most memorable speeches. The Post printed the whole (short) speech, which concludes  (the Post says "Below is the text as it appears in his [Lincoln's] copy of the speech.") with these words, "we here highly resolve that . . . the nation shall have a new birth of freedom."

However, the version of the speech on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington contains the words "under God" after "THIS nation", and Samuel Eliot Morison's monumental Oxford History of the American People (1965) agrees with the Memorial text.

As there were no tape recorders or television cameras to capture exactly what Lincoln said, we have an interesting mystery here. Can anyone shed any light on the matter? We know that Lincoln never joined a church, though he often attended Washington's New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (at which in 1993 I was one of the speakers at the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights celebration of the 20th anniversary of Roe v Wade), and that he liked  Tom Paine's Age of Reason.

(Edd Doerr is president of Americans for Religious Liberty and a former president of the American Humanist Association.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Talking Space and Time with Yahweh

By Gary Berg-Cross

I noted in an earlier blog on cosmic views that one of the ironies of modern life is to live simultaneously in a rich culture alive with scientific advance while also stewing in a conservative, religious culture denying much of that science and limiting its sights to old visions. 

For example, there was a recent story called “The Oldest Star in the Universe? --A Primeval Dwarf Galaxy Sucked into the Emerging Milky Way") which has an age close to the universe's calculated age of about 13.8 billion years.  

That got me thinking about the contrast of views of the universe that science gives compared to religious view such the Genesis story (well there are really 2 conflicting stories) of the Hebrew Bible. Those storied adopted from Sumerian tales in effect are the cosmic image Yahweh supposedly dictated to humans about the Universe. This is what you need to know. There we have no deep spacer or time which is so awe-inspiring to many of us.  So I thought “What if we might supply some very simple math to see how the Yahweh-religion view compares to the contemporary scientific view?  How much revelation do we get?

Time is a simple way to start. We have all heard of the creation story days of creation. One religious source by Dr. Jason Lisle debunks the most widely accepted teachings about an old universe and summarizes the Biblical view this way:


 The Bible teaches that the entire universe was created in six earth-rotation days (Exodus 20:11 ). Furthermore, the Bible provides the age differences between parents and descendants1 when listing certain genealogies. From these kinds of biblical references, we know that the elapsed time between Adam and the birth of Christ was roughly 4,000 years. From other historical records, we know that Christ was born roughly 2,000 years ago. Since Adam was created on the sixth day of the creation week, we can conclude that the earth, the entire universe, and everything in it were created approximately 6,000 years

OK, so the universe is about 6000 years old, let’s call it 104 ,this is closer to the upper range found in The Bible and Science give very different Ages for the Universe. This contrast with the 1.38 x 1010  modern science concludes from data, principles  and models. So the portion of the now known universe and the Old Testament version of about one millionth of the time (10-6).

Space provides an even larger discrepancy.  The old world the Hebrews 
wrote about covered perhaps 10% of the earth’s surface. Let’s be generous and say it applied to 10% of the spatial volume of the earth. A NASA earth fact sheet lists its volume as (1010 km3). So the biblical account, 
throwing the Garden of Eden and such in, would be (109 km3).  
Compare that to the volume of the solar system.
The radius of the Solar System is perhaps a million times that of the earth. This is the point where the Solar Wind (from the Sun) meets the Interstellar Wind. And thanks to Voyager 1 we have that distance to the heliopause. ( and see for a measure of where Voyager 1 is right now. 
This gives a volume 4/3 times the cube of 1 million or about 1018 bigger than earth.  Volumes grow large quite fast with the cube power. We could stop there and say that Yahweh was holding back a bit of info from the ancient Hebrews.  Multiplying space and time we have Yahweh’s biblical coverage as 10-6 x  10-18 or about 10-24th of the solar system.  That is a million, million, million, million times too small. Of course this is still only a small part of the spatial story.  There are star systems to consider. Yahweh held out on much of the beauty of the galaxy.
The volume of the Milky Way is 
estimated at about ~3.3×1061 m3. That’s 1051 bigger than the Earth (and over 1024 of the solar system. 
And we might note in passing that the approximate volume of the 
observable universe (see Orders of Magnitude) is 3.4 ×1080 m3 or
 bigger by a factor of 1030 or so. 
Putting it all together we would have to imagine that our cosmic engineer 
Yahweh who would have designed electrons,quarks and black holes saw
fit to pass on a non-quantum and very local bronze age message covering only 10-100 or so of the potential story.  And here I am leaving out all of 
the great objects and such we might discuss in this volume over time. 
Yahweh left out dinosaurs too along with the simple idea of atomic theory or the quantum realm of the natural order! Just a hint about the speed of 
light or a Plank length would have been so enlightening.

One may go a bit farther considering that we seem to live in an expanding universe (Bang) so the size of the universe or is observable part expands over time, something it would have been nice to know back in 1400 BCE.  Then there is the even more interesting ideas that may be true such as this universe being part of a much larger system, as Brian Greene elucidates in his Hidden Reality. There are many possible universes that modern Physics suggests are possible.  Yahweh might have outlined these, but instead we've had to do it ourselves:
  • Quilted Multiverse - Space is infinite, therefore somewhere there are regions of space that will exactly mimic our own region of space. There is another world "out there" somewhere in which everything is unfolding exactly as it unfolds on Earth.

  • Inflationary Multiverse - Inflationary theory in cosmology predicts an expansive universe filled with "bubble universes," of which our universe is just one.

  • Brane Multiverse - String theory leaves open the possibility that our universe is on just one 3-dimensional brane, while other branes of other number of dimensions could have whole other universes on them.

  • Cyclic Multiverse - One possible result from string theory is that branes could collide with each other, resulting in universe-spawningbig bangs that not only created our universe, but possibly other ones.

  • Landscape Multiverse - String theory leaves open a lot of different fundamental properties of the universe which, combined with the inflationary multiverse, means there could be many bubble universes out there which have fundamentally different physical laws than the universe we inhabit.

  • Quantum Multiverse - This is essentially the Many Worlds Intepretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics: anything that can happen does ... in some universe.

  • Holographic Multiverse - According to the holographic principle, there is a physically-equivalent parallel universe that would exist on a distant bounding surface (the edge of the universe), in which everything about our universe is precisely mirrored.

  • Simulated Multiverse - Technology will possibly advance to the point where computers could simulate each and every detail of the universe, thus creating a simulated multiverse whose reality is nearly as complex as our own.

  • Ultimate Multiverse - In the most extreme version of looking at parallel universes, every single theory which could possibly exist would have to exist in some form somewhere. (from  a review of The Hidden Reality by  Andrew Zimmerman Jones)

    We think of the Big Bang as creating our universe, but as we have studied the Big Bang in more and more detail, the math is suggesting that the Big Bang may not have been a unique event. There may be many Big Bangs that happened at various and far-flung locations, each creating its own swelling, spatial expanse, each creating a universe -our universe being the result of only one of those Big Bangs....

    For instance, in the multiple Big Bang version that gives rise to different universes, it's possible that the different universes, as they expand, could collide with one another, sort of like - think of a bubble bath. Each of the Big Bangs gives rise to one expanding bubble in the cosmic bubble bath. Those bubbles can smash into each other.

    And if they did, if our universe got hit by another, had a fender-bender with another universe, that would send ripples going through the cosmic microwave background radiation - heat left over from the Big Bang. And astronomers are now looking for patterns in the microwave background radiation that might suggest that we did have that encounter in the past with another universe. That'd be a very direct way of establishing that other universes are out there.
     From a NPR interview

You can interpret this discrepancy between the Hebrew stories and modern science views many ways, but to it me it provides astonishing odds that the Yahweh story is just that, a local, home grown Middle Eastern creation story. People may admire the Genesis prose, but I’ll take the poetry of the scientific view of the Univserse by a factor or 10100 or so.

Labels and Stereotypes

by Edd Doerr

Labels and stereotypes are deceptive, confusing and get in the way of  clear thinking. Example: "Baptist". Does this conjure up images of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Texas creationist loonies? Or does one think of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a coalition of over a dozen major Baptist organizations dedicated for many decades to church-state separation and the two century-plus Baptist history of  support for separation?

Or "priest". Images of clericalism, opposition to birth control or abortion, lobbying for tax aid to church-run private schools, sexual abuse of minors etc.? Or maybe Robert Drinan (1920-2007), the Jesuit priest and five term Democratic congressman from Massachusetts who was key to blocking passage of a school prayer amendment in 1971? Drinan did not disagree with the Vatican's anti-abortion teaching but he was an outspoken opponent of anti-abortion legislation. Drinan played a key role in shaping the Democratic Party's pro-choice stance.

And then there are the "atheists" and alleged "humanists" (though few in numbers) who take the Vatican's and Religious Right's side in opposing freedom of choice on abortion, who support  having government force all taxpayers support sectarian private schools (like atheist Milton Friedman), and whose actions often set back the cause of church-state separation and other humanistic goals.

Labels and stereotypes must not be allowed to stand in the way of broad cooperation among religiously disparate groups in pursuing generally humanistic goals.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"The Smartest Kids"?

a review by Edd Doerr

The Smartest Kids in the World, by Amanda Ripley, Simon & Schuster, 2013, 307 pp, $28.00.

Although reviewed favorably in the New York Times (8/25) and The Economist (8/17), this book by a veteran journalist is rather superficial, limited and overrated. The author compares American public education with schools in Finland, Poland and South Korea, largely through the eyes of three American high school students spending a year in school in the three countries. Though mildly interesting, it is of  limited value because the three countries are very homogeneous and have rather different cultures and histories than ours. We do learn that South Korea's system is seriously flawed and that Finland's does have lessons we can learn in the US, such as Finland's having very few private schools, no tax aid whatever for private schools, and a very strong teacher union.  One good thing in the book is that it shows that both American and foreign exchange students agree that US schools put altogether too much emphasis on sports.

Smartest Kids fails to deal with the most serious problems affecting US public schools, such as
inadequate and inequitably distributed funding; the continual slashing of school,budgets; our country's failure to get serious about the poverty afflicting 25% of our kids; the unending campaigns to privatize education through vouchers, charter schools  and virtual or cyber education; the over-the-top testing mania; the incessant attacks on teachers and teacher unions; and the misuse of standardized testing to undermine the teaching profession. The author shows no evidence that she is  familiar with veteran educator Diane Ravitch's important 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System or social scientists Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine's 2012 book Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education.

Ripley has little or nothing to say about the common sense steps we  can take to improve public education, such as prenatal care for all pregnant women, high quality preschool education, enriched curricula, lower class sizes, a full range of wraparound medical and social services, elimination of high-stakes standardized tests, ending the school privatization drive, and maintenance of democratic control of public education (all recommendations in Diane Ravitch's new book [Sept 2013] Reign of Error, which I have reviewed in several venues).

Edd Doerr, President,  Americans for Religious Liberty (

Friday, September 06, 2013

Rafferty Rides Again

a review by Edd Doerr

A Fit of Pique: Dispatches from the Culture Wars, by John Rafferty, On Paper, 2013,  224 pp. $16.95.

John Refferty is president of the Secular Humanist Society of New York and editor of the organization's newsletter, Pique. This charming book is a collection of a dozen years of his writings in that journal on every subject imaginable. Following is my blurb about the book, included opposite its title page ---

"John Rafferty's refreshing, wide-ranging writings for Pique are comparable to those of Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce. A Fit of Pique is a delightful garden of gems, a garden well fertilized by the droppings -- er, -- mindless utterances and deeds of the Religious Right.

"Edd Doerr, peesident of Americans for Religious Liberty and columnist in Free Inquiry"

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Attack of the Education Pseudo-Reformers

a review by Edd Doerr

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, by Diane Ravitch, Alfred A. Knopf, 2013, $27.95.

Make no mistake, America's public schools, an indispensable component of our democracy, are under serious siege. Hordes of pseudo-reformers, privatizers, voucherizers, charterizers, hucksters, snake-oil salesmen, privateers, wealthy right wing foundations, billionaire busybodies, hijackers, conservative ideologues, Religious Right gurus, political hacks, assorted non-educators, and media toadies are working day and night to undermine, weaken and destroy our public schools. Their tsunamis of funds spent on lobbying and influencing elections dwarfs to insignificance the paltry sums spent by the teacher unions on advocacy for children and teachers.

Education historian Diane Ravitch, author of the important 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Underming Education, spells this out in fine, well documented detail in Reign of Error, which may well be the most important single book on education in a century.

She shows how the pseudo-reformers are wrongly portraying our schools as "failing" when the reality is that they have been making steady progress, despite being being inadequately and inequitably funded and despite years of incessant conservative sniping. (The book has 41 charts of NAEP data in the appendix.) She shows clearly how the mania for testing testing testing undermines education and forces schools to neglect science, history, civics, the arts and languages in order to concentrate on preparing students for endless useless tests; how vouchers, charter schools and virtual or cyber schooling are horribly overrated; how wholesale closing of public schools (viz. New York, Chicago, etc) damages communities and children. She names names (like the execrable Michelle Rhee), identifies the powerful groups undermining public schools, pins the tail on the jackasses working to wreck public education.

Ravitch does not just expose what is wrong with the pseudo-reformers and privatizers, she offers common sense, reasonable, tested ideas for improving the already steadily advancing public schools: serious efforts to alleviate the poverty affecting 25% of American kids; prenatal care for all pregnant women; high quality early childhood education for all kids; enriched curriculum in all schools; lower class sizes (note that the private schools patronized by the wealthy all have small class sizes);  revamping charter schools to their original purpose as locally run community schools run by professional teachers working with, not against, local regular public schools; a full range of medical and social wraparound services; elimination of high-stakes standardized tests; upgrading the teaching profession (as in Finland); maintaining democratic control of public schools.

A mere review cannot begin to cover the richness of this book. It has to be read -- by every teacher, every administrator, every parent, every citizen (liberal, conservative, moderate, whatever) who cares about the future of our country and our children.

As a teacher for 8 years and as an education activist and writer for nearly 50 years, I cannot praise this book too highly. Buy it. Read it. Act on it.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A Noble Life: Seamus Heaney

by Gary Berg-Cross

I was sad to read that Seamus Heaney died in Dublin in late August at the age of 74. The passing of Ireland's greatest living writer and its first Nobel prize-winning poet since Yeats is a loss to us all. He was an author of 13 collections of poetry, 4 books of criticism, two plays, and numerous translations (the highly acclaimed Beowulf in 2000 which was my first purchase), lectures, and other writings. Some of us learned of, Heaney when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. 

You can see & hear his modest Nobel Lecture online. Known is the UK as “Seamus Famous“ he was a multi-talented writer-translator- professor-broadcaster. According to one source in 2007, his books accounted for 2/3rds of the poetry sales in the UK. Why?  He was a clear, but hard edged, Humanist voice. His was a Shakespeare-like mind that could creatively shape language to purposeful use. Like “stoked up, stiff as a broom” from his early poem Lint Water.

His themes often drew from his father’s generation of farm life but he could re-frame even earlier classics, such as Dante’s Inferno, to provide historical and cultural continuity to current times.

With his death many have spoken out on his impact. Irish American Joe Biden put it this way quoting from a Heaney poem on the Irish problem:

 "…. Heaney taught us that 'once in a lifetime, the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme'. We have been lucky in our lifetimes to see that tidal wave of justice rise and to find our hopes reflected in historic moments of opportunity. But most of all, we were lucky to have a poet with the grace of Seamus Heaney, whose simple, honest wisdom could help us better understand ourselves and the world we inhabit. I am sorry that we lost him, but grateful that his words will live on."


Seamus was beloved locally because he could paint an Irish landscape in words.  In  The Forge he hammers us with action words to give us a clear picture of the life of a blacksmith he knew as a child and adult. We see a creative, joyful process at seemingly simple action.  But the totality of grunting skill forges simple metals into refined art and useful tools.


You can see him reciting his short, early-years, froggy image-poem Death of a Naturalist' recorded by PBS. This is simple, lyrical nature poetry, romantically brooding over the then disappearing unspoiled world of rural Ireland. Of course it may be metaphoric for the relatively unspoiled world of politics preceding the Troubles. Some see the later works North (1975), Field Work(1979), and The Haw Lantern (1987), as Heaney attempted to grapple very personally with Ireland's bloody troubles. His early Catholicism evolved into a more secular voice in his mature years.

An even shorter poem recalling a departed person “When all the others were away at Mass.” And if that wets your appetite you can see more here.



From “Seamus Heaney reads his poems on video – which is your favourite?”


"Standard-Bearer in Evolution Fight"

The Science Times section of today's (Sept 3) New York Times has a wonderful three-column article about Dr Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), which for over a quarter century has been on the front lines defending public school biology education and fending off the fundamentalist creationists. The NCSE this year has added defending climate science to its agenda. Scott is a long time member of ARL's national advisory board.

ARL has long been involved in the fight to defend the inclusion of evolution in public school biology teachng. It was ARL that came up with the idea of getting Nobel laureate scientists to sign an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court in the 1987 Louisiana creationism case, Edwards  v Aguillard. We had 72 laureates on the brief. The following year we repeated the strategy in a Missouri abortion rights case, Webster v Reproductive Health Services, when we hastily got 12 Nobel laureates in biology (including DNA co-discovered Francis Crick) and 155 other distinguished scientists to sign an amicus brief showing that human personhood made no sense until after 28-32 weeks of gestation.

Edd Doerr, President, Americans for Religious Liberty (