Dispatches > The Buzz


Issue: "Trial and terror," Sept. 1, 2001

TREATING EVIL: Andrea Yates allegedly drowned her five children in a bathtub last June. Now she's pleading insanity. Husband Russell Yates said his wife suffered from postpartum depression after their two youngest children were born, and it became worse after her father died. Prosecutors in Texas plan to pursue the death penalty anyway. A competency hearing was set for Aug. 28. Good for them, says columnist Don Feder. If Jeffrey Dahmer could be convicted of murdering 15 people and Susan Smith put away for drowning her two kids, Yates surely deserves punishment. "Granted, Yates was depressed," he said. "Who isn't? Just thinking about the outpouring of sympathy for the woman depresses me. If depression is an excuse for murder, prepare for a bloodbath." Feder concludes that our secularized society can't face the fact that evil really exists and so must turn to psychology for explanations. "It's frightening to think that a sane person could ruthlessly slaughter five children, kill and cannibalize 15 young men or murder 6 million strangers. It's actually comforting to attribute such horrors to insanity. Mental illness can be treated with drugs and psychotherapy. But how do you treat evil? With the weapons of the spirit. And, when necessary, with very strong bars or a lethal injection." TIME TAKES NOTICE: Homeschooling made the cover of Time. With an article titled "Seceding from School," John Cloud and Jodie Morse say the movement is starting to shake up public education. In Florida, for example, the state loses nearly $130 million because 41,128 children are out of the system. The rising tide also means taxes that support government schools may be in trouble. Cloud and Morse speculate that the economy may send parents back to work and away from homeschooling. "But for now, homeschooling is still growing at about 11 percent a year, and it's no longer confined to a conservative fringe that never believed in the idea of public education anyway," they remark. The Time writers bring up familiar issues about socialization, parental sacrifices, college admission, and nontraditional curricula. They wind up concluding that homeschooling is "flawed" and some sort of "healthy synergy" between public school and homeschool is a good idea. They end the article with a worried statement about how state education may decline and become "simply another consumer good pushed by market forces and not a common good that transcends them." While a cover story like this at least takes homeschooling seriously, it still presents a subtle negativity toward the movement. BEYOND CRITICISM: Do Buddhism's American fans understand the religion's human problems? That's what Joshua Kurlantzick wonders about in The New Republic in a dispatch from Bangkok. He says he studies Buddhism, but wonders about Western stereotypes of a pure, serene, and incorruptible faith. He said he heard some disturbing stories when visiting World Fellowship of Buddhists last fall. Thais told him about "saffron-robed Buddhist monks [who] were guilty of graft, lechery, and other crimes." News stories told of monks committing murder and sexual abuse. Kurlantzick said he asked a Buddhist feminist "whether it bothered her that, in Thailand, the aged Sangha [leadership] covers up sex crimes committed by monks and prohibits women from playing virtually any leading role in the religion. Or that in Sri Lanka some monks support the war against the Tamil rebels. No, she replied, insisting that Buddhism is dealing with its contradictions faster than other faiths. When I raised my concerns at a seminar on the religion, people simply shushed me. The media perpetuates this silence." Little of this bad news is heard in America, Kurlantzick notes, even though the United States has around two million Buddhists. Romanticism seems to cloud the reality of wayward monks in a faraway land.

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