Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reading the Sunday Papers

Some thoughts from reading the local paper (IC Press-Citizen & the Des Moines Register) as well as the NYT:

1. DMR article about U.S. ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, native Iowan, UNI grad, and former teacher. This will give Iowa Guru something to chat with the boss about if she gets to meet her!

2. DMR notes that Idina Menzel of Wicked & Glee fame is coming to DM this Friday. Should I tell Iowa Guru? Only if I want to go! (Maybe she should follow this blog. Yeah, that's right.)

3. Maureen Dowd normally skewers with wit and satire, but her piece in the NYT today is deeply troubling. Not because of what she writes, but the fact of the real, troubling truth of what she writes about. One can't treat these issues with any lightness. I'm talking about predatory sexual abuse stories and the many persons who did not intervene or tried to cover-up these terribly evil acts. We've all talked about "good Nazis" or "good Germans" with some disdain, but at least some of those persons who remained silent could be excused for fear of their lives. And in the Kitty Genovese case of fame from the mid-60's, we can understand a perverse social circumstance that might help us understand the the lack of response (and the accounts vary so as to question the moral culpability of bystanders.)  Dowd suggests it's our institutions that are flawed, but these behaviors that she describes in contemporary America really do go to character and moral standards. It's really shocking and troubling. (BTW, she quotes from Robert Bolt's wonderful play/screenplay about Sir Thomas More, "A Man for All Seasons", which I believe that I read for a political philosophy course and a quote from which I consider a great one about the importance of the law & legal procedure, even for "the devil", so I knew MD was on to something right away.)

4. On a more pleasant note, and going to the quotidian (but vital) search for serenity and balance, this NYT article by James Atlas about Buddhism in America (which he cutely dubs "Newddism") is a consideration of a growing appreciation, if not outright adoption, of Buddhism in the U.S. I certainly count myself among those greatly influenced by and receptive to Buddhist perspectives. (Thanks to Iowa Guru's graduate student friend Hedecki, who stayed with us before he returned to Japan and got me interested in Buddhism. He also provided wonderful entertainment for the infant 1HP with his "Indian elephant, African elephant" routine.)

5. An interesting companion piece to the Atlas article is this NYT article by Robert Zaretsky & John T. Scott, which is a consideration of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the great French Enlightenment (or Counter-Englightenment or Romantic) thinker (whose 300th birthday approaches). Now, compare the take of this article with that Atlas's on Buddhism. Am I alone in seeing some very interesting parallels? A comparison of Rousseau and contemporaries of his like Hume & Smith (don't forget The Theory of the Moral Sentiments!) might really provide some food for thought. I haven't found much exploration of these two traditions (Western Enlightenment, non-French variety, and Buddhism), but I think that it could prove fruitful. Pankaj Mishra touched on the topic in interesting way in his fine book, An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World, but he didn't go deeply into the subject (not his intention in that book, which is a fine read.). A book by David T. McMahan might provide some answers, and an interesting book-length comparison of Gandhi and the Stoics will be coming out later this year from Richard Sorabji, and it could prove very insightful (although we're not talking Buddhism with Gandhi, but still I think, somewhat birds of a feather.). Well, read it and weep--or laugh--or smile--or try to enjoy happiness in the moment!

P.S. I enjoy theater & J-J, whom I've read mostly as a political philosopher, could be a bit of a drudge. He reacted too strongly, in my opinion, the the excesses of Ancien Regime culture. No Shakespeare, no O'Neil--no thank you. Jettison Moliere if you must.

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