Bill Moyers interviews Barry Lopez
May 3, 2010 8:55 AM   Subscribe

This that you call Ursus maritimus, this polar bear. This is a being who came from somewhere and is going somewhere. It's not locked in time. And that—the great resistance to Darwin is, I think, he told us that it's all moving. And it's headed in no particular place. And then particular physics comes along. And quantum mechanics come along. And these physicists tell us the same thing. "It's really fuzzy out there."
A few days ago, without much notice, PBS broadcast the final episode of the Bill Moyers Journal. Moyers devoted his final segment to an interview with essayist Barry Lopez—whose writing, Moyers said, has "set the gold standard for all of us whose work it is to explain those things we don't understand." (Transcript.)

In a recent blog post on the Journal website, Moyers explained his decision to retire after the final show on April 30th:
I'm leaving for one reason alone: It's time to go. I'll be 76 in a few weeks, and while I don't consider myself old (my father lived into his 80s, my mother into her 90s) there are some things left to do that the deadlines and demands of a weekly broadcast don't permit. At 76, it's now or never. I actually informed my friends at PBS of my decision over a year ago, and planned to leave at the end of last December. But they asked me to continue another four more months while they prepare a new series for Friday night broadcast. I agreed, but said at the time—April 30 and not a week longer.

It wasn't easy deciding to close the Journal. I like what I do, I cherish my colleagues, and my viewers remain loyal and engaged. I will miss the virtual community that has grown up around the broadcast - kindred spirits across the country whose unseen but felt presence reminds me of why I have kept at this work so long. But it has indeed been a long time (almost 40 years since I launched the original Journal in 1971), and that's why I can assure you that my departure is entirely voluntary. "Time brings everything," an ancient wise man said. Including new beginnings.
Here are some recent interviews and essays from the Bill Moyers Journal that you might have missed:
- An essay: Deepening the American Dream
- An interview with novelist Louise Erdrich
- An interview with Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson on American inequality and King's legacy
- An interview with Jane Goodall
posted by cirripede (34 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't realize this was the last episode. I was flipping through channels (no cable, there isn't much to flip through) the other night and stopped on this program, essentially at this moment. I was satisfied and intrigued by precisely this quote, about Polar Bears not being locked in time, and the fuzziness of science/life. And I was grateful to stumble across this little moment of lucidity and civility, and when I eventually flipped away to see if Rockford Files was on I remember thinking, idly, how great it was that Bill Moyers was still on, being thoughtful and smart with thoughtful and smart people.

posted by dirtdirt at 9:09 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Moyers is a giant, and his absence will be hard to fill. I don't see breathless snarky people like Rachel Maddow as worthy successors, even if they are taking on similar issues. Sadly, being loud and obnoxious seems the only way to get noticed now.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:14 AM on May 3, 2010

Hasn't Moyers retired more times than The Eagles?
posted by pashdown at 9:27 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Rachel Maddow is not breathless and snarky by comparison with anyone else working in her zone. She's doing more to actually advance progressive political interests than Moyers has done in a long time. I love Bill Moyers. Rachel Maddow is no Bill Moyers, but she's got a long time to get there.

Moyers' style of journalism is no longer supported even at the margins of the mainstream media. If he has a successor at all, it's probably Amy Goodman.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:32 AM on May 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

Moyers' style of journalism is no longer supported even at the margins of the mainstream media.

Which is a damning indictment of the media, not of Moyers.
posted by Malor at 9:39 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I admire him so much. Now that he's retired, I wish Obama would send him over to NPR to help right that ship. .. er, left that ship.

And now that he has the time, I hope Moyers finally decides to talk with Robert Caro, whom he was been putting off for decades. Any complete account of the Johnson presidency will be severely lacking without Moyer's candid views, opinions and perspective, and Caro is well into his forth and final book on Johnson.

an aside: I'm curious what people thought of the Barry Lopez interview.
posted by Auden at 9:57 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Which is a damning indictment of the media, not of Moyers.

Couldn't agree more. I love Bill Moyers and despise what television "journalism" has become. Still, within that horrible business, Rachel Maddow -- PhD, lesbian, feminist, damn forceful interviewer, and level-headed debater -- is an island of sanity and reason.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:06 AM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

an aside: I'm curious what people thought of the Barry Lopez interview.

I know that people came into the bookstore yesterday asking for Barry Lopez, and they didn't care which book they got, so I'd say the people liked it.
posted by redsparkler at 10:08 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

So sad to lose Bill Moyers. He has no suitable successor.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:26 AM on May 3, 2010

homunculus, I posted a bunch of stuff on that as an FPP a while back . . .

You want to meet snarky (and get breathless)? Take the fastest biggest bear and the meanest most unpredictable bear and mate them.

posted by fourcheesemac at 10:28 AM on May 3, 2010

I remember, and I'd wondered when it would happen again. This is the first case I'm aware of since that one. But what I want to know is this: could a typical young man, armed only with a knife, (say, six or eight inches long) be trained to consistently "win" fights with a polar-grizzly bear hybrid?
posted by homunculus at 10:38 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by homunculus at 10:39 AM on May 3, 2010

A grizzly-polar bear hybrid is in the middle of an arena, being attacked by 5 year olds who will stop at nothing to kill it. How many can the bear take on before they overcome it?
posted by cirripede at 11:10 AM on May 3, 2010

ALL of them.
posted by Malor at 11:16 AM on May 3, 2010

Wow, a lot of off-topic comments and answers in that Ask question. I guess the mods enjoyed them too much to delete them.

Back on topic, I'm really going to miss Moyers. I never watched the show, but downloaded the podcast version to listen to at work. His final rant against "Plutonomy" was an excellent way to close his show.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 11:33 AM on May 3, 2010

The interview itself is just amazing. I've never heard of Barry Lopez but I am definitely going to be checking him out, just need to decide where to start.

This quote: "somebody said to me the other day, "People talk about saving the earth, but what they want to do is save the Holocene." You know, the last 10 thousand years, that what they're interested in" sent me to read about the Holocene and related subjects for about 20 minutes.

I don't typically enjoy the writing of people who style themselves as storytellers like Barry Lopez does here, and the mentions of Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning as well as Martin Buber might normally put me off (not that I disrespect these thinkers), but he speaks with such casual eloquence on topics such as hope, grace, imperfection, tragedy, and humanity, as well as nature, that I think this is going to be a win. Thanks for the post.
posted by doteatop at 11:52 AM on May 3, 2010

Barry Lopez is incredible; it was an inspired choice by Moyers. It is hard to read his work without recognizing the reverence between the lines.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 11:52 AM on May 3, 2010

Now I can go out on Friday nights again. The man represents the sanest and most significant of televised journalists and will be missed enormously.
posted by ahimsakid at 11:54 AM on May 3, 2010

Thanks for this; my wife and I were upset that he was leaving (though he's certainly earned the time off), but we were somewhat consoled by the greatness of that final interview, and I'm glad to have the transcript. Now to find and read some Lopez (any recommendations, anyone?) and cross my fingers that the replacement show is worth watching.
posted by languagehat at 12:29 PM on May 3, 2010

You could always start with Winter Count, it is an approachable book, but always seems to have new depths each time you go back. I loved Arctic Dreams but the one that most affected me was Of Wolves and Men. That book will give you a new understanding of savagery. And by savagery, I mean, of men.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 12:41 PM on May 3, 2010

There was a lot of notice on FB via the PBS page about this. I still missed the broadcast, like a dumbass, but I have it queued up to watch later.
posted by PuppyCat at 12:49 PM on May 3, 2010

Thanks for posting this. I look at men like Moyers and Lopez and realize just how little I have done and how thoughtlessly I's inspirational to realize that it might not be that hard to fix that.
posted by maxwelton at 1:22 PM on May 3, 2010

Arctic Dreams was one of the most annoying books I've tried to read. I got a couple chapters into it before I threw it against the tent wall. Which was made even more significant because I was in the Arctic at the time and only brought a couple of books with me.
posted by hydrobatidae at 4:05 PM on May 3, 2010

A grizzly-polar bear hybrid is in the middle of an arena, being attacked by 5 year olds who will stop at nothing to kill it. How many can the bear take on before they overcome it?

It seems like the grizzly could go through thousands of them, stopping only when exhausted. What would they even do, smother it? Like bees vs. a giant hornets?
posted by delmoi at 4:49 PM on May 3, 2010

All I can say is..I wish there were more like you, Bill Moyers.
posted by wierdo at 7:01 PM on May 3, 2010

And what's cool about the Polar Bear/Grizzly hybrid is that IT'S ALREADY DEAD.
posted by sneebler at 7:02 PM on May 3, 2010

Thanks for posting this. Three cheers for Bill Moyers.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:43 PM on May 3, 2010

What's funny about Moyers, who now seems almost like a political radical, is that the guy is pure 1960s establishment in background and outlook. It is truly incredible how far to the right the political landscape has shifted since the 1970s.
posted by stammer at 8:16 PM on May 3, 2010

And also how much stupider it's become.
posted by stammer at 8:24 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Compared to most politicians today, Nixon seems like a flaming liberal.
posted by wierdo at 10:06 PM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Back in 2003 at the start of the US invasion of Iraq, I was watching NOW (with Bill Moyers) and at then end of the show, he had this comment about a headline he saw called "Marines Cross Euphrates". Here's the transcript.

I go back and read this from time to time.
posted by jefbla at 10:31 PM on May 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wow jefbla, that's amazing, gave me the chills just reading it. Here's the text:

BILL MOYERS: This headline I saw on the web — MARINES CROSS EUPHRATES — got me to thinking.

Do they know? Do they know, these young Marines, this elite American fighting force. Do they know Alexander the Great crossed the Euphrates, too, on his way to battle — and empire... With his engineers, architects, scientists and scribes, and an army 40,000 strong, their l3-foot spears gleaming in the sun.

The mighty Darius also crossed the Euphrates, and on these plains met Alexander in battle. Xenophon … Xerxes and Sennacherib...they crossed the it, too. The Sumerians crossed this river...the Akkadians, Hittites, and Amorites. The Semites, as well.

The Euphrates is the largest and longest river of western Asia. And where it meets its sister the Tigris became the fertile womb of Mesopotamia, birthplace of civilization. A thousand gods sprang forth here — and cities like Persepolis, Seleucia, Nineva, and Babylon. Somewhere between these rivers lay the Garden of Genesis.

Adam and Eve, exiled, crossed the Euphrates fleeing East of Eden. Writing first appeared here — myths and legends took hold. Gilgamesh, the Flood, the prophet Jonah, the Tower of Babel. Sargon, beloved of Ishtar, won 34 battles here, ruled twice as many cities, and vanquished his foes. Inana, goddess of love and war, slaked her thirst and passion here. Hammurabi proclaimed his Code…

And on these stones is all that remain of conquests, rebellions and battles — the violent death of rulers — prisoners of war disposed of by execution. For five thousand years the story repeats itself, the victory of one, the defeat of the other. Tribes and gods turn on each other. Omens fill the literature: "A powerful man will ascend the throne in a foreign city," it is written. "They will lock the city gates and there will be calamity in the city," it is written.

Even Ghengis Khan met his match trying to get here. The last word has always been written in the sand. Cities and states lie buried beneath it. The great figures who once held sway here Ashunrasirpal II, Tilglath-pileser III, Shamish-Adad V, King Nino, Queen Semiramis, King Shar-Kali-sharr. Suleyman the Magnificent, the Ottomons, the British, have all been carried away.

Five thousand years from now, who will be crossing the Euphrates? What will remain from our time? And what will be remembered?

posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 8:03 AM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

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