More Thoughts on Prof. McMahan’s Essay

Reading yesterday’s NYT (online) essay, The Meat Eaters, by Rutgers University professor of philosophy Jeff McMahan (forwarded by reader Daniela and shared below by Steve), I’m almost more puzzled by my own need to comment on the piece than I am amazed by it.

It’s tempting to lump this man’s essay in with the tiresome mass of animal rights propaganda, but I think it’s only superficially similar. This goes deeper, is arguably crazier, and may belong to another tradition entirely.

Professor McMahan’s work is principally atheist, by my reading, secondarily misanthropic, and only for the sake of example concerned with the welfare of animals.

His ignorance of animals and “nature” is obvious (Does he know some deer eat baby birds? Does he know ducks rape and kill each other?) and his ignorance of the human animal (his own animal self!) can be inferred. But I think the misanthropic bent of his argument hints that maybe he knows just enough about himself to be scared and disgusted by what he sees.

This is a very old theme, indeed. Man’s fear and loathing of himself long predates any “animal rights” movement (though it certainly seems to inform it.)

I can’t help but, as a parent of two children, recognize in this line of thinking a child’s deep-seated (and profoundly self-centered) sense of injustice.

Faced with the world’s certain measures of pain, bewilderment and abandonment, reasonable children seek comfort—and if denied that comfort, predictably lash out in self defense. They give hell to their parents, to their siblings, teachers, and tragically often to themselves.

To such a child, it is better to be alone than in the company of fellow sufferers. It is better, some will conclude, even to be dead.

For all the professor’s elaborate argument and educated language, he writes essentially from the perspective of a hurt child, ironically selfish in his lashing out against the “cruelty” of others.

This argument has been taken farther than the professor has yet come. Every religion and entire civilizations (spawning literatures and philosophies he must certainly know) have been created in the attempt to see past the problem of pain.

Although we still argue (obviously) and wonder about this problem, there is at least a shared understanding that the problem is sewn into the system and somehow essential to it.

Whether you chose to see this as life in a Fallen world or simply acknowledge, in the secular sense, that we’re all fucked, every adult must advance from that basic understanding to whatever conclusions can be drawn.

Only a child will chose to sit in a corner, hungry and hurt, while everyone sits at the table and eats what’s given.

Update: Chas’s thoughts here.

Progress: My Days These Days

How I am doing, adapted from a few letters to friends and relatives: basically well if sometimes a bit frustrated, with only occasional moments of terror (;-)

I was never a couch potato before, but my undiagnosed symptoms slowed to stopped me for almost a year and I had to work to get back. Now of course I am rather at the other extreme, but there are worse things to be. Fitting it all into ones’ schedule may be the hardest part even for childless under and self- employed me. I start with about an hour of stretches and the mile walk every AM (and first I must wake up, take meds, and have serious coffee, usually over the computer). I also do half the pigeons and all the hawk work, and some of the dog walking; Libby the other animal chores, most of the garden, and (infuriatingly for me if not her) has more or less taken over cooking because of my lack of dexterity and slowness. She of course also works more or less full time.

Then at 530 MW &F, I go off to the gym for an hour to work out (after a second lunch to keep my weight up–a new one!), returning so pumped up and high on endorphins it usually takes me two stiff vodkas and an hour before I can relax enough to eat! Then, though I am sleeping through the night for the first time in years, it usually takes another drink or two before I can fall asleep at 12 (I get up at 6 and am NEVER tired; before this exercise regime, at least for my “sick year”, I was tired all the time and nodded off constantly– go figure!)

Oddly, the meds, which I take at meals, give me two quick sleepy periods right after; coffee apparently blocks this– thank God!– after breakfast.

(On the gym; a ridiculous success so far. It is still improving, and not all that slowly. I was warned that though the weightlifting would probably help my general condition and strength, and stop or roll back symptoms, it might not affect my minor motor movements. For instance I would still type badly, which had been a problem, since I kept hitting the wrong keys. But a few weeks after starting lifting weights, I became able to type again, at least until I got tired– certainly well enough to write letters and notes. I think that the dictation software will be a lot of help for professional– length work, at least once I get it trained. But though I find the high–tech software exciting, I am even more amazed that being able to bench press three eight- rep sets of 180 pounds makes it easier to type. I am always enough of a naturalist that neurology astounds me more than technology).

After less than six weeks of this regimen (not JUST the weights– stretches & meds too of course), I have not only gained back the 20 pounds I lost during the last nine months or so, but added another 10, all pure muscle as far as I can tell. I probably have the best muscle tone I have ever had. Tremors often don’t even start until evening and are minor then. Cramps are almost nonexistent. And I am sleeping the best I have in years. My appetite is ridiculous. I can walk without the Parkinson’s shuffle. Everyone says I look great, including people that thought I was dying six months ago.

Exaggerated? Sometimes I don’t believe it myself, and I still get bad moments– the road is sometimes bumpy. But consider my inspiration for finding out about this “therapy”, Mark “Flyover Country” Churchill’s uncle, whose ambitious weight program i showed to my instructor– after 20 months, he’s painting again!

Between all this, I have to find time to work (and correspond and blog, which feeds it) and do things to write about– well, I have memories and notes for my Asia- travel- dog book already done, so that helps.

But the “how” is still being worked out because I am physically slower– must find the right tech. The dictation software is the long- term thing I think and I am already using it even for long letters, but the right hardware becomes vastly more important when you are not 100% functional. I have this ergonomic wireless keyboard I like, but they are not cheap, break easily, and I am on my 2nd in 6 months. Two days ago my space bar started sticking so that it either made nospacebetweenwordslikethis, or, if I SLAMMED it (and broke my rhythm, which any writer can tell you is an obstacle to saying what you are trying to say), it made looong spaces, like this. (Apparently Blogger won’t allow the illustrative two- inch break I wanted to put there!)

So I got out this regular keyboard, which we got in trade for something from our Mac maven in Socorro, who must have 50 computers– a real geek’s geek. It types fine, but the mouse, which I have never used, is FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE- I just can’t click it, and it has a translucent panel on it that, if I touch it, instantly bounces me to the top or the bottom of the page. WTF?? It is so bad that I will write my letters in the AM with this board (maybe cutting and pasting things of interest–like this?– into notes to other friends!), then put back the other keyboard in the afternoon and use the still sometimes surreal voice control (I am tempted to keep a log of its suggestions, including “church” for perch and “hugging”–!- for hawking), which should hopefully minimize my use of the space bar as much as possible. Write until late afternoon, feed the falcon, lift weights, begin again.

Only a perpetual half- day behind, as usual. And I still have to go to Socorro and get a different mouse, and/ or either fix the @#$%^& space bar or replace the board!

Seriously though, present problems are lighter than any for an age; many are funnier than sad. As my friend the Montana mystery writer and fellow pauper Peter Bowen says; “Writers! Whine, whine, whine– we’ll be rich when we’re dead!” If I get my tech refined, become able to walk another mile a day, maybe get a shorter range hawk for fall or drink a bit less vodka (though my “new metabolism” seems to burn it right off, not like last depressed year) I’d feel I was improving even more. And if I ever sell the Asia- dog book– or even “revive” Querencia- the-book– a whole other project I’ll talk more about when I figure more out but which I think I can do, at least in NM– I would feel like a success, even with Parkinson’s!

Enough of what Libby calls “the organ recital”– I’ll keep it rare, but people have been asking. Besides, time is pushing on me– no more blogging for now, as I must feed the hawk and go off to the gym!

How to write

This whole thing is so funny and true I can hardly excerpt. But I’ll try:

“Find that single cartoon frame from “Peanuts” that you keep in a box somewhere, the one in which Snoopy is reading a publisher’s rejection letter for his novel that goes, “Has it ever occurred to you that you may be the worst writer in the history of the world?” Read it and laugh. Later that day, read it again and not laugh. Feel really, really sad. Go over your notes one more time. Look at earlier drafts and passages and realize that maybe this stuff here is the lead, actually, and then if you follow that outline from seven outlines ago, it just might work. Re-read the last couplet of the first strophe of Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella. Look at those riffs in the earlier draft again and realize some are not that bad. Convince yourself that your bike chain really does need another good cleaning and what’s that gunk on the inside of the rear fender? Read the latest draft-like substance and think that, with a little work, maybe this won’t be too embarrassing. Feel mildly excited that there could actually be something here worth reading eventually. Look at the list of details again. Re-read the edited draft and start to feel better.”

Writers & Debt

An excellent Read- The- Whole- Thing piece by Megan McArdle in the Atlantic:


“…writers are, as a class, extraordinarily at risk. They spend their twenties, and often their thirties, living paycheck to paycheck. They are extremely well educated, and all that education is not only expensive, but builds expensive habits. You end up with a lot of friends who make much more money than you–who don’t even realize that a dinner with $10 entrees and a bottle of wine is an expensive treat, not a cheap outing to catch up on old times. Our business is in crisis, and we lose jobs often. When we do, it’s catastrophic.


“Until we’re comfortable with talking publicly about the fact that we don’t make much money and likely never will, that our lives are risky, and that this has obvious impacts on our ability to consume on the level of our educational peers, writers will keep getting into trouble. “

Sage advice. But would I have listened in my twenties or even my thirties?

Writers’ Woes

Christina Nealson sends this grim item from salon about the state of mainstream publishing.

“…On Dec. 3, now known as “Black Wednesday,” several major American publishers were dramatically downsized, leaving many celebrated editors and their colleagues jobless. The bad news stretches from the unemployment line to bookstores to literature itself.

“It’s going to be very hard for the next few years across the board in literary fiction,” says veteran agent Ira Silverberg. “A lot of good writers will be losing their editors, and loyalty is very important in this field.”

“One of the most visible victims was Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of Philip Roth, Margaret Drabble, Richard Dawkins and J.R.R. Tolkien, among many others. Just before Thanksgiving, the publisher (actually two venerable houses, Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, which were bought and merged by an Irish company over the past two years) had announced an unprecedented buying freeze on new manuscripts. On Dec. 3, they laid off what former executive editor Ann Patty described as “a lot” of employees (the industry trade publication Publishers Weekly confirmed at least eight), among them the distinguished editor Drenka Willen, whose list of authors included Günter Grass, Octavio Paz and José Saramago.”

This is depressing news I’ll grant you– not least since I had a book being considered at H- M. ! But some of us have been outside looking in for years, and know — or suspect we know– why.

” “There were hedge fund guys with no background in publishing buying up publishing houses,” says André Schiffrin, founder of the New Press and author of “The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read.” He explains that corporate owners of major publishing houses expected impossible 15 to 20 percent profit margins in an industry with traditional margins of 3 to 4 percent. “They were part of that whole feeling that you could make money by buying and selling companies, rather than by selling books. At some point it comes to a dead end.” “

And if you are a writer and want to write, you have to reject despair. I have been struggling with depression and frustration with publishing for two years now, and it won’t get me back to Kazakhstan. There is a lot of potentially creative anger out there.

“Rumors of publishing’s demise are probably overstated, but the future of publishing may depend on what those laid-off editors, publicists and industry leaders do next. The morning after Black Wednesday, a publishing blogger and e-book aficionado named Mike Cane stirred up his readers with a bite-size manifesto on Twitter: “If the FIRED NY pubstaff are such hot fucking shit, let them coalesce and form an EBOOK-ONLY IMPRINT to crush their fmr employers.” However callous this Twitter-versy seemed at the time, it posed an interesting challenge: Can the publishing world channel all of this collective anger, bewilderment and fear into industry-altering strategies?

” “If the last five or 10 years have shown us anything, it’s this: content will get out,” Lexcycle’s Choksi says. “With social networking and blogs, if you have something to say, it will get heard. It just might not look like the traditional publishing model you are used to.” “

Readers’ ideas encouraged. If I don’t get an advance (elsewhere in the article they spoke of “modest” advances under $100,000–HAH!– how can I get to Asia and finish my next project?

Related stuff: “Writer Bailout” (NOOOO!); and should we buy cheap books? . (Conflicted answer: I have to read!– and since people sell MY books cheaper than I can…)

Interesting times…


Sorry for light posting. Still haven’t found the bird. Realistically I am not sure what to expect. Of the longwings I have flown in the last 15 years or so, all but one were out at least overnight, and all but one of those eventually returned. Also, in one of the more notorious cases in the southwest, a peregrine- prairie tiercel from Arizona stayed out two years and was recaptured, and became an even better bird!

But the situation still has me a bit down. A breeder friend has offered me a similar bird but my feelings are mixed. Somehow it seems funny to try the same thing twice in a row (disloyal?!) Also these hybrids are both big- going and personable hawks, which means they are both easier to lose and it hurts more if you do. I am also considering trapping a hawk rather than a falcon– Cooper’s, redtail. They do work a lot closer. Any thoughts?

It has been that kind of month. I also tried to operate on an injured pigeon, an important breeder. She survived the first one well, but burst some of her stitches so I had to do her up again. Then she developed “sour crop”. I thought I cured that but went out one morning (on the way to search for the hawk) and found her dead.

Then one night, as I was nodding off from exhaustion from this and work (more below), the dogs went berserk in the back yard. I went out dressed only in my jeans to find a huge black cat in the pigeon loft. I chased it around, knocking pigeons sideways in the dark (no yard lights, just my Maglite) until it shot up vertically into the “trap”, the cage on the roof pigeons enter through. I locked it from the bottom and went back for shoes and my .410. I returned with Libby and the gun. The tazis were leaping up the walls of the loft like coonhounds on a tree– I thought that Lashyn would achieve the roof– howling and baying. Little Larissa just stood and howled like a coyote. When I climbed on the roof I opened the trap with my left hand, holding the gun with my right.

The cat slipped out and vanished like smoke, too quickly for me to even swing the gun. I guess black cats and clouded black nights mix well. Even the dogs didn’t help. I hope for everyone’s sake he doesn’t come back.


I finished two more chapters for the book I have been negotiating about since April, bringing the total wordage (without compensation of course) to 14,500. That one I actually have some hope for. The other, the one I spent most of last year on, just got rejected for being too international in scope (previous rejection? “Too American.”)


I had hoped to be hawking but just chasing a rabbit with the hounds or shooting a dove with the hammergun or even walking up to the crest of the Magdalenas will be just fine. I hope to return refreshed.


I seem to be doing this too much; that is, apologizing for lack of content. I think this (often) is an uneasily split- personality blog. Sometimes I am a link aggregator, sometimes a photo blogger; and sometimes I expose my own personality a bit.

Trouble is, when I most “need” to do that is when I least like to– when I am down.

I know good things are happening– the baby falcon for instance. And the constants– Libby, dogs New Mexico, garden– are fine as ever. But depression knows no easy rules and it is sitting on my head like Phillip Larkin’s toad (well, OK, that was “work”, which is related…)

Work is stuck. I have a partly- completed book out from my agent– she says because of publisher- editor vacations not to expect a reply until “at least” August.

The lawsuit over last book is still up in the air (and I have to trust to an out- of- state unpaid volunteer lawyer if it comes to a head.)

No magazine work on tap.

Several checks due.

Agent doesn’t want to see fiction (may not want me working on it–?– unclear.)

Add to this screaming arthritic everything, aggravated endless sinus infection, and general sleeplessness. Our good doc left for Austin 9 months ago, and we have so far had two tries at new ones that say either “live with it’ or (literally) “I don’t know, what do YOU think?” Add near house arrest because the 20 year old truck is not only expensive to run but getting so balky that we don’t dare drive it to Albuquerque (we borrow) and it gets a bit old.

So I wait, and once in a while complain. At least I am old enough to realize that this, like everything else, will pass.

I promise no more about this until at least fall. And will follow up with good links and a promise for some good book reports if I get a bit of energy…