Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

Books and the Lightness of Travel

August 13, 2009

8 months since last post, a repaired laptop, and returning to CT tomorrow to work at a retreat center (after the dentist).  I’ve been trying to decide what books to take with me.

I’ve settled on small ones.

  • Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy  The Christian Future and Planetary Service. I feel I need Eugen at all times and these two are focused on issues of society’s speed and the need for communion.
  • Ira Stone A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar.  Stone’s translation and commentary for Wisdom & Mussar by R. Simcha Zissel is a surprise gift as the appendix.  Mussar means “instruction” or “correction” and refers both to a literature of self-improvement throughout rabbinic Judaism and also specific activities. Stone’s encounter with Zissel’s Kelm school of mussar through the lens of Emmanuel Levinas brings the tradition to greater contemporary relevance.
  • Dalai Lama Spiritual Advice for Buddhists and Christians.  Short and quick.
  • Pirke Avot “Chapters of the Fathers”.  Olitsky brings major commentaries to his pages of both English and Aramaic. This is a major effort for the next few months to be able to teach this tractate.
  • Margaret Atwood Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.  The cover has a balloon near the top above the print and a thumb tack at the bottom facing up.  I started this in June and it was a riot.  Part of my effort see the financial bubble as a poetic invention.

Perhaps Walter Brueggeman The Covenanted Self: Explorations in Law and Covenant and a Daniel Elazar edited book on covenant and constitutionalism.  There’s a project in me about the federating, communing in personal and political dynamics, drawing on Jewish and Christian sources and seen in US history.   Not sure if that deserves my time now.

I’m concerned once again with the “culture wars.” Hopefully that may subside as a I depart the DC area. It forced to drop an idea of reviewing several classic studies of legislative dynamics through the lens of health care reform 1970s-1990s.  Yet there is less legislative activity now compared to the culture war of the town hall meetings which all media outlets excitedly channel to the viewer.

Was tempted to bring an Aquinas-based reading of salvation history through he lens of Torah & Temple and a book on Lonergan’s own intellectual conversion.

There are also a number of books relevant to retreat management or other activities where I’m going. They’ll have to wait here. I’m committed to easy of travel.

That’s the update. Scattered interests, as ever.

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Death: A Rabbi and a Priest Walk Out of a Bar…

January 14, 2009

Today at lunch I was told that Rabbi Alan Lew, a seemingly vigorous, recently retired pulpit rabbi, died yesterday during a post-prayer walk.  January 4th, 9 days ago, I helped Alan and his wife find transportation from this retreat center to visit friends in Martha’s Vineyard.  He then traveled to Maryland to continue teaching with Jeff Roth and Joanna Katz about mindfulness, brokenness. From his website:

Rabbi Lew’s book This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation was published by Little Brown and Co. in August of 2003. ” . . .Yet for Rabbi Alan Lew, the real purpose of this annual passage is for us to experience brokenheartedness and open our hearts to God. . . . Lew has marked out a journey of seven distinct stages, one that draws on these rituals to awaken the soul and wholly transform us. . .”

I like and despise the Days of Awe, an annual death preparation meant to transform our lives.  During the Yom Kippur fast, white is worn to suggest our burial outfit and bathing discouraged.  You are already rotting!  The soul must experience Tshuvah, or re-direction, turning to the ways of God and away from sin, in order to be granted life in the coming year. This is severe yet Alan know the energy can be guided toward self-revelation, the death of the old self must be embraced.

I also note Richard John Neuhaus’ passing.  His fascinating life teaches what is possible.

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Radio Silence

October 18, 2008

About 2 weeks ago the campaign left me cold.  I decided I really wanted to figure out a compelling explanation of the Palin phenomenon (why she inspires) to the liberals.  Overcoming such a longstanding rift is no easy task and has brought about a period of silence as I’ve experienced the chasm which separates us.

Strategy and Tactics

October 3, 2008

The near elimination of military history from college catalogs (often in exchange for social history) is one of the reason our public conversation about war is so limited.  Besides the market among older men for WWII or ancient battles, there’s one counter-trend  — the vast number of popular computer games in which the player reenacts historical battles.  For the rest of us, here’s some help from Augean Stables:

Many people do not properly understand the difference between the two, and it is a crucial difference.

There are four levels of warfighting- Policy, Strategy, Operations, and Tactics. Strategy is the marriage between the political ends and the military means. Tactics, to give a boiled-down definition, is what is done when in combative contact with the enemy- the manuevers, attacks, timing, etc. To elucidate with an historical example – In WWII, the policy was the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. One of the strategies to achieve that policy was to knock out the German industrial capacity through aerial bombing runs. There were many operations, or organized collections of missions, meant to ensure that the bombing strategy was successful. The tactics involved in the operations include the decision to bomb at night, non-evasive flying to increase the accuracy of the bombing, and dogfighting manuevers by the fighter escorts.

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Manual for Postmodern Childrearing

October 3, 2008

“How would you bring up a child if you took the lessons from postmodernism literally? The young Swedish writers Athena Farrokhzad and Tova Gerge present a postmodern parenting guide.”

From an otherwise odd and unpleasant list, these are my favorites, especially the last one.

Emphasise the child’s potential mobility in the structure of desire by constantly spinning, shaking and upending the container in which it is kept, e.g. bed, buggy, baby walker and skin.

Combat the metaphorical system in the child’s language acquisition process. Point to a dog and say: “Paw, woof woof, mammal”.

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Novak and New Athiests

September 30, 2008

Jacques B in the Washington Post warmly reviews Michael Novak’s latest, No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers.

First among the virtues of this book is its author’s commitment to civil, sober discourse. “My underlying thesis,” he writes, is “that unbelievers and believers need to learn a new habit of reasoned and mutually respectful conversation.”

…, No One Sees God calmly re-draws the “primitive fresco of Christianity” sketched by the New Atheists. Whereas they depict believers as simpletons and dupes, Novak offers a more complex portrait of the theist psyche. Believers routinely express dismay and anger toward their deity. They often feel betrayed by Him. And they sometimes even doubt that He exists. “The line of belief and unbelief,” he observes, “is not drawn between one person and another, normally, but rather down the inner souls of all of us.”

Novak then addresses the group bias issue familiar to students of Bernard Lonergan or Aaron Wildavsky.

The really compelling question asked by this book goes something like this: How can God’s existence, which is so abundantly obvious to believers, seem so incomprehensible to nonbelievers? To help frame the debate, he invokes the idea of a “blick,” a “way of viewing reality that is not usually overturned by one or more pieces of countervailing evidence.” Coined in about 1950 by the British philosopher R.M. Hare (who spelled it “blik”), the term refers to a mental filter through which people sift information, admitting some things as facts and rejecting others. To simplify somewhat, atheists and theists process information about the cosmos in radically different ways.

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The Truth that Dare Not Speak Its Name

September 27, 2008

Patrick Deneen and others at Culture 11, that lively, new conservative-ish blog I mentioned a few weeks ago, suggest what candidates should say in the debates. Deneen would have McCain transfer his cache of military virtue to address our own complicity in the economic and ” devote a McCain presidency to restoring virtues of frugality and self-governance.”  To address Obama’s Red State weakness, he should “call for an economy that rewards the lower and middle class, not the wealthiest, and an effort to paint these commitments as the most fundamental form of traditional values.”

Deneen declares Americans must be taught about limits and let go of the corrosive growth ideology shared by both parties. He knows, too, that none of this will happen.

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Brothers-in-Arms? Secular Humanism and Religious Faith

September 26, 2008

I have a favorite recent First Things post. Edward Oakes explores a mostly unknown T.S. Eliot essay which he recently stumbled upon.  Eliot, writing in 1930 in an anthology on the modern condition, suggests secular humanism, even aggressive anti-Christian skepticism, challenges the religious person to clarify and refine their faith, thereby serving as an ally for truth.

[V]ery little knowledge of human nature is needed to convince us that hierarchy is liable to corruption, and certainly to stupidity; that religious belief, when unquestioned and uncriticised, is liable to degeneration into superstition; that the human mind is much lazier than the human body. . . . If we cannot rely, and it seems that we can never rely, upon adequate criticism from within, it is better that there should be criticism from without.

Eliot then demands more original secular critiques!

Oakes adds:

Even a passing glance at what I have earlier in these pages called “pop atheism” is enough to show how pathetically mediocre are the recent apologetes for atheism. Going from Nietzsche to Bertrand Russell to Richard Dawkins and ending with Sam Harris is quite a declension.

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The Company We Keep

September 25, 2008

Permit me a praise of First Things, once marketed as “the intellectual center of the conservative movement.” I’m impressed, especially today, by numerous writers who creatively explore the deeper issues of public life.  I don’t always agree. I almost always feel challenged.  That’s the kind of company I enjoy.

In Sin and Cinema Tim Perry notes notes that some of Hollywood’s most popular villains — Voldemort, The Joker, Magneto, Michael Corleone, Sauron — communicate “the traditional, rich, and incisive language that Christian cultures once used to describe the human condition.”  We must not become monsters to fight monsters.

R.R. Reno offers layman’s logic why it’s “fair” taxpayers will bailout Wall Street. “The net worth of all Americans who have [housing and] stock and bond-based assets was supported by exactly the economic dynamics that have produced the mess that we—statistically the very same people—are now going to pay to unwind in what I hope is an orderly fashion. My friends, most of us did profit from the sub-prime [or lax lending] debacle.”

Junior Fellow Stefan follows the culture war skirmish between Citadel cadet’s fists and Princeton Marching Band’s sass.

Editor Father Richard John Neuhaus reflects on trajectory “faith in public life.”  While extreme separationists worry about the Coming Theocracy, they “tolerate, or may even assiduously protect, the public expression of marginal religious opinion, of opinion that is not likely to influence our common life. But they take alarm at the voice of the majority.”

RJN continues, “In the Constitution, the majority imposes upon itself a self-denying ordinance; it promises not to do what it otherwise could do, namely, ride roughshod over the dissenting minorities.” Why would a majority do this to itself?  RJN concludes by unearthing the religious values that inspired this system.

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Rhetoric and Morality

September 4, 2008

“Is the good speaker a good man?” asked Quintillian.

The ancient Greek Sophists sold their skills to anyone with coins.  Half the field of Communications in today’s academy is dedicated to public relations and marketing.

Not necessarily, I respond to Quintillian.  So when is one sure than employing oration skilsl or teaching them is not aiding injustice?

“The power to speak well and think rights will reward the man who approaches the art of discourse with love of wisdom and love of honor.”  Isocrates, Antidosis

Love of wisdom and honor?  Oh, I think I got out of those required classes by complaining to my adviser.

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