John Emerson Roberts: His Significance in Freethought History

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The Council for Secular Humanism has published on their website an article I wrote describing John Emerson Roberts’s pivotal position in the development of freethought from liberalism to radicalism.  You can find it at:


If the article makes you interested in more background, consider ordering my biography, which gives much attention to the context in which Roberts worked and what made him successful.  You can get a new, signed copy from me via Amazon, through ERYBooks, at:


J. E. Roberts in later life with his fourth wife, Frances (Hynes Bacon) Roberts

J. E. Roberts with his fourth wife, Frances (Hynes Bacon) Roberts


Location, location

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The weather here is back to good walking temperatures, and I’m out in the desert and in the sun more.  (In the heat I walk either briefly, around a few blocks, or before breakfast.)  Plants are blooming and grasses are going to seed.


A fondness for nature and place is something I share with William Paley, whose book is the basis for my collection of poems, Made and Remade, due out next year.

The Bridge Outside Paley's Door

The Bridge Outside Paley’s Door

As the picture of the bridge at Wearmouth reminds me, Paley’s place is very different from mine, but when he talks about the joy of walking out in nature, I know whereof he speaks.  I tried to express this in “Shared Ground,” previously published in Ascents.  (See more on the books page for that volume.)

Shared Ground

Walking among new-born
flies, aphids, all nature
to feed his wonder, the parson
loses regrets (the bishop’s ring
never bestowed) finds comfort
in common creaturehood.

He’s at home wherever
he walks, while I, creature
of foggy hills, green valleys,
walk on alien land where
nothing of profit’s produced,
nothing is wasted.

A jackrabbit feeds on
freeze-battered prickly pear,
bolts at my approach,
happy in his speed, doing
what he’s made for.

If the universe has a maker
is it made less lonely?
My legs being made for walking,
their motion settles my spirit.

Southern New Mexico State Fair

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Southern New Mexico State Fair?  There is no State of Southern New Mexico, so how can this be a State Fair? The title is meant to convey that this event at the Dona Ana County Fairgrounds is a multi-county event.  The population of most of the southern counties, however, is such that this “state fair” is rather less than the Santa Clara County Fair in California which I visited as a child.  It is smaller in acreage: the county fair had a truck-pulled train to take people from the entrance to the animal barns at the back of the property.  In between there was room for an airplane or army vehicle display.  The county fair had four exhibit buildings.  The SNMSF has only one.

In spite of its smallness I do visit the local fair every other year or so, as much for nostalgia as anything.  I loved the rabbits and poultry when I was a child.  We have those here as well.rooster


There is of course a midway.  I suppose I thought as a child that those rides sat on that ground through the year.  It is evident that at the local fair, they don’t.  There’s an Arizona flag at one end and a New Mexico flag at the other, suggesting the territory this ride concession serves.midway flags closeup

All fairs, I think, have shiny new farm machines.100_0990

Something that I don’t think existed when I was a child was the climbing tower.  Notice the flags on this one.  They worship the almighty dollar?100_0997

And there is always food.  The quesadilla booth wasn’t open yet when I was there, so I decided on a funnel cake.  Funnel cakes, like “Philly” cheese steaks, were foods I knew nothing of until I moved to Pennsylvania.  They’ve crossed the country, but the funnel cake I had was not up to the standard of the one which I considered the special treat of the annual flower show in Philadelphia.  (The flower show was aptly timed for March, a convention center full of flowers and shrubs when it was still winter outside.  The funnel cake was just a side benefit.)100_0982

I did not see any cotton candy, which was the treat I liked at the fair as a child.  There were many souvenirs, but no kewpie dolls, the little plastic dolls on wooden sticks.  My parents did not approve of them, so they remained at the stand.  Nowadays, I don’t need souvenirs.  I have memories of fairs I’ve been to, and expectation of visiting again in years to come.

San Diego Flora

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When I visit San Diego I am always amazed at the plantings.  I’ve assumed that the area was naturally rich in diversity and greenery.  I have been reading about Kate Sessions, called the mother of Balboa Park, and I find that she is largely responsible for the illusion that everything just grows in San Diego.  In fact, things grow well, when watered, but many of them came from elsewhere, and many of them were brought in and urged on residents by Kate Sessions, beginning at the end of the 1800s.

The Palm Canyon in Balboa Park contains many, many palms, but they didn’t just grow there; they were planted.  The fan palm came from Hawaii.fan palm

Other palms, so high I had trouble getting a picture, were brought back by Kate Sessions from Baja California.  No doubt not all of the trees in Palm Canyon date back to Ms. Sessions’ work: they grow very thickly in spots.100_0966

And other plants thrive in the shade of the palms.


We also explored the Botanical Building, filled with exotic plants which would not thrive out of doors.  I liked this odd plant best, but neglected to note its name.100_0971

For better pictures of all manner of things in and around San Diego, including flowers on Friday, visit the blog of Russel Ray: http://russelrayphotos2.com

Balboa Park, San Diego

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On a recent visit to San Diego I made a visit to Balboa Park.  We had been there before for the organ concerts, but not seen the rest of it.  We didn’t see “the rest of it” this time either, but we saw a little more than we had before.  The organ shell was, of course, shut this time:


The shell is hiding here behind the curved portico, because we were headed for the palm canyon across the street.  The most impressive tree in the palm canyon area is not a palm, nor is it a strikingly tall tree, if you don’t count the long exposed roots which extend down the canyon.  Here is my attempt to give an impression of this tree:

tree top

tree trunk

tree roots




Because the tree is surrounded by others it was hard to get a long view.  These photos were taken from the stairway down into the canyon.

Those of you who have been following my previous posts will recognize that I have a fascination with roots.  Unlike my other photos these roots were not crossing a trail.  They were just there, being themselves, being admired by people like me.



Even in this well maintained park there were things growing where they “weren’t supposed to.”  This branch was particularly colorful:100_0973