The wounded woman gets called a stereotype and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true.
–Leslie Jamison, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” The Empathy Exams*
On the day before New Year’s back in 2021, I found myself riding the train to work when, one stop after mine, a vaguely familiar woman got on. Or maybe I should say, struggled on. She was, I guess, in her sixties, heavy-set, apparently in pain, though not from any obvious cause, and was struggling with a shopping cart full of possessions. At first, in a reflexive reaction to the shopping cart, I took her to be a homeless person, but that turned out not to be the case. She clearly had trouble moving, and had trouble getting the cart onto the train. I half got up to help her, but not knowing how my gallantry would be received, sat back down and watched her struggle. It was rush hour, just before 8 am. Continue reading →
I read the other day of the recent death of Stephen Nathanson, professor emeritus of philosophy at Northeastern University. I didn’t know Nathanson very well–we never met–but nonetheless wanted to note his passing.
I first encountered Nathanson’s work when I did manuscript reviews for Prentice Hall Press back in the mid-1990s. The Press assigned me a manuscript of his to review with the working title Who Gets What?, later called Economic Justice and published in their Foundations of Philosophy Series (1998). It’s a refreshingly well-written and clarifying book. When I first read the manuscript, I held a Rand-and-Nozick-influenced version of libertarianism at odds with the defense of the welfare state Nathanson offers in Economic Justice. It took me awhile, but I eventually came around to something like the view Nathanson defends, and did so partly by reflection on his arguments. I still turn to the book decades after the fact when I want to think things through on the subject. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking to do the same. Continue reading →
Stories about suicide now catch my eye more than they once did, so it’s no surprise that this story leapt out at me while reading the paper this morning: A 14-year-old high school student in Bayville, New Jersey is bullied in a school where bullying seems to be a chronic problem. She’s beaten in a school hallway by another student who has her confederates film the beating; the video is then uploaded to TikTok. The victim, thoroughly humiliated, goes home, waits a day, then kills herself.*
Confronted with the chronic nature of the bullying in the school, and the school’s equally chronic failure to respond to it, the school’s superintendent does his best to deflect. It was the girl’s fault, he says: she was a troubled drug user from a dysfunctional family; the school tried to give her drug counseling, but the family declined. And that, he says, not the bullying, is what explains her suicide. Continue reading →
A couple of weeks ago, during Advent, I decided to do something ostensibly “nice” for myself. I decided that it was time, despite my newly-found vocation as a perpetually depressed and isolated widower, to get out and do something enjoyable for a change. Music is something I enjoy, and so, I reasoned, I ought to get out and see a musical performance. In grad school at Notre Dame, I made it a habit each week on Sunday afternoons to watch a classical performance that took place right by the library where I did my studies. “Right by the library” literally meant a few paces from the library, so while the concert took place in the middle of the afternoon–premium study time–I couldn’t easily appeal to transit costs as an excuse for not going. Continue reading →
Sometimes people you come to know in passing leave a more-than-passing memory. Three such people have recently passed away in quick succession, and I wanted to mark their passings.
Many readers of this blog may know, or know of, Chris Sciabarra, The Famous Dialectical Libertarian of Brooklyn, but far fewer have had the privilege, as I have, of meeting his late sister Elizabeth (1952-2022). To the best of my memory, I met her only twice; it may in fact only have been once, but she was the kind of person who would have left a double impression from a single encounter. Continue reading →
I can’t react to the death of Christine McVie without at the same time re-living the death of my wife Alison Bowles, who lived and breathed the music of Fleetwood Mac. That’s something I’d rather not do, at least in public, so I’ll leave it at the thought that like just about everyone of my age and background, I grew up listening to Fleetwood Mac, and even at my most “metal,” couldn’t help liking them. It was through Alison that I came to love them, and through Alison’s death that their music has become a constant reminder of her, and a bittersweet fixture in my psyche. Here’s my favorite one of McVie’s songs, which manages, at least for me, to conjure up the ghosts of childhood wonder, and with it, the evanescence of adult happiness. That’s probably not what she intended when she wrote it, but eventually, the creations of a great artist take on a life of their own.
I note with sadness the passing of John M. Cooper, the Henry Putnam University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, and one of the pre-eminent scholars of ancient philosophy of the last several decades.
The 2002 film “John Q” begins with a scene in which a reckless driver dies, clearly at fault, in a horrific car wreck. Her organs, including her heart, are “harvested” or “recovered,” depending on your preferred choice of medical terminology, for purposes of organ donation. That organ recovery drives the plot of the rest of the film, which involves–somewhat heavy-handedly–the transplant of that very heart into a totally unrelated person dying of heart disease. In short, one person’s recklessness becomes her tragic demise; that tragedy becomes another person’s salvation.
Today would have been my mother’s 96th birthday. (She died at 91.)
The other day, while indulging in my usual frustration over how my college students are so often ignorant of so many things that I was familiar with well before high school, it occurred to me that a substantial portion of those things were material I learned not in school or even through my own reading, but from my mother – not in any didactic setting, but informally. For example, I first learned about Versailles and Pompeii through my mother’s recollections of her own school projects on those topics; the mnemonic “SPA” (to recall the chronological order of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) she likewise recalled from her school days.