One is the great warmth, affection and magnetism of this man—Francis—and his willingness to allow the gospel to shape his ministry in a very profound and visual way. Additionally, the pressures of the culture we find ourselves in has, in a way, forced Catholics and Protestants together in a new way, where they realize that what divides them is far less than what unites them. … And when you hear a Pope stand up and talk about mercy, and forgiveness, and the broken hearts we all endure, and the need to push gossip aside and how destructive that can be in our lives, he’s getting down to the very granule level of faith that I think is appealing to the evangelical and Protestant mind.
A second selection from Emily Dickinson’s newly published “scraps” and fragments:
may gloat on
be the same
Now I abundance
Which was to
famish then or
Unto the Gallows
in the sky
(From The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson © 2013 by Christine Burgin and New Directions. Transcription images copyright © 2013 by Jen Bervin and Marta Werner. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.)
Bill Keller, an erstwhile Catholic, recently reiterated the case against priestly celibacy (NYT):
The arguments for lifting the requirement that priests forswear sex and marriage are not new, but they have become more urgent. Mandatory celibacy has driven away many good priests and prospects at a time when parishes in Europe and the United States are closing for lack of clergy. It deprives priests of experience that would make them more competent to counsel the families they minister. Celibacy — by breeding a culture of sexual exceptionalism and denial — surely played some role in the church’s shameful record of pedophilia and cover-up.
“Lots of people don’t see [celibacy] as some extraordinary act of witness,” said Thomas Groome, who heads the department of religious education and pastoral ministry at Boston College. “They see it as just a peculiar lifestyle, and one not to be trusted.” Groome was a priest for 17 years but left to be a husband and father. “The loneliness of it, I think, can drive people crazy,” he told me. “I’ve known hundreds of priests in my life,” from student days in an Irish seminary through the priesthood and decades as a theologian. “I don’t know too many diocesan priests, maybe three or four, who have lived a rich, life-giving, celibate lifestyle.”
James Martin, a Jesuit priest, read the piece with exasperation, noting that the article is “based largely on the opinions of two priests who left the priesthood and a sister who left her order, and [Keller's] own speculation about what the celibate life must be like”:
Maybe it would have been helpful to look at some actual data.
Richard Beck ponders Caravaggio’s intentions:
Most think Matthew is the bearded man. It appears that he’s pointing to himself as if to say “Me?” in response to Jesus’s call. This theory is supported by two others works of which The Calling is a part, The Inspiration of St. Matthew and The Martyrdom of St. Matthew. In those paintings St. Matthew looks similar to the bearded man who is pointing to himself in The Calling.
And yet, some think Matthew is the young man on the far left of the painting, the one at the table hanging his head. The gesture of the bearded man, if you look at it, is plausibly pointing to the young man with the unspoken question now being “Him?”. If the young man is Matthew the painting is capturing the moment just before Matthew lifts his head from the table to look at Jesus.
Beck goes on to write that he believes Matthew is the bearded man, but prefers the “drama” of imagining it to be the young man, about to look up and meet the eyes of Jesus. Pope Francis’s perspective on the painting, which he discussed in an interview with America in September:
“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”
(Image of The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio, c. 1600, via Wikimedia Commons)
A reader writes:
Your post quoting Francis’s wish for a “bruised, hurting and dirty” Church suddenly sparked a match in my head – the face of the Whiskey Priest, the protagonist from one of my favourite novels, Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory. And all at once I put my finger on what it is that makes Francis so exciting – he is Greene’s pope. The priest of that novel is drunken, adulterous and self-destructive, weak and self-pitying. He is a “hollow man”, filthy and unshaven. But he is the greatest priest in all fiction because his is the church of the street, the church that will take you however awful or fallen or destitute you are. The church needs to hurt and fail too, if it is to properly care for a fallen people.
“It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful,” reflects the priest. “It needed a God to die for the half-hearted and corrupt”. Even as an atheist teenager I remember being struck by this radically beautiful idea. I came to see two Catholic Churches in my head: the untouchable hypocritical Ratzingers caught up in that perfect web of procedure, and the repugnant filthy whisky priests seeing pity in all humanity. That Francis sees the ideal of the Church to be poor tells me he’s on the right track.
We will never get a whiskey Pope, I suppose, which is a shame. But something tells me Greene would have liked the idea of a hurting church and a Pope who washes the feet of convicts.
Alice Robb examines some research showing that drinking and drugging in adulthood correlate with higher childhood intelligence:
Drawing on the results of the National Child Development Study, which tracked for 50 years all British babies born during one week in March 1958, [evolutionary psychologist Satoshi] Kanazawa found that kids who scored higher on IQ tests grew up to drink larger quantities of alcohol on a more regular basis than their less intelligent peers. He evaluated other factors, including religion, frequency of church attendance, social class, parents’ education and self-reported satisfaction with life, and found that intelligence before age 16 was second only to gender in predicting alcohol consumption at age 23.
In Kanazawa’s model, illicit drugs constitute another evolutionarily novel experience—and he (and others) have also found a link between high IQ and experimentation with drugs. In Kanazawa’s study, the higher a respondent’s IQ before age 16, the more psychoactive substances he or she had tried by age 42. Another study found that 30-year-old women who had earned high scores on an IQ test at age five were more than twice as likely to have smoked weed or used cocaine in the previous year; men who had scored highly on IQ tests as children were 50 percent more likely to have recently consumed amphetamines or ecstasy.
Gretchen Reynolds examines research on the extent to which sex is exercise:
[Professor of exercise science Antony D.] Karelis and his colleagues recruited 21 young heterosexual committed couples … and had them jog on treadmills for 30 minutes, while researchers monitored their energy expenditure and other metrics, in order to provide a comparison for the physical demands of sex. The scientists next gave their volunteers unobtrusive armband activity monitors that gauge exertion in terms of calories and METs, or metabolic equivalent of task, a physiological measure comparing an activity to sitting perfectly still, which is a 1-MET task. Then the scientists sent the couples home, instructing them to complete at least one sex act a week for a month while wearing the armbands, and to fill out questionnaires about how each session made them feel, physically and psychologically, especially compared with running on the treadmill.
When the researchers analyzed all of the resulting data, it was clear, Karelis said, that sex qualified as “moderate exercise,” a 6-MET activity for men and 5.6-MET activity for women. That’s the equivalent, according to various estimates, of playing doubles tennis or walking uphill. The jogging, by comparison, was more strenuous, an 8.5-MET activity for the men in the study and 8.4 for women. (Though some men, according to their activity monitors, used more energy for brief periods during sex than they did jogging.) The sex also burned four calories per minute for men and three per minute for women, during sessions that ranged from 10 to 57 minutes, including foreplay. (The average was 25 minutes.) Men burned about 9 calories per minute jogging and women about 7.
A former family doctor and recovering morphine addict offers a harrowing account of what it’s like to take and withdraw from the drug:
I am an outcast; I see a father walking along the roadside, holding his children by the hand. It’s like a knife, a small parcel of anguish, why can’t I be like that, be a normal dad, with normal interests and normal concerns. I remember it, I remember walks and family picnics, birthdays, holidays, Christmas. The memories seem to come from a far distance, a long-lost place. I’ve sent this happiness, this contentment, away from me. The normal world is a rainbow of colours, mine is dull and grey. Why can’t I be like that still, how did I lose it?
It’s a selfish ordeal, I’m drowning, too immersed in my own misery to think about the people I am hurting, my wife, my children. “A devil in the house,” my wife calls it, no matter how many times she tries to push it out it keeps on getting back in again. The drug has come between us, has ruptured that bond, that presumption that we were a couple and a family, that we would meet everything together and handle it together. I have betrayed the trust, I have promised her again and again that I would stop, that no, I’m not acting strangely and no, I haven’t used and no, there’s nothing wrong with my voice, and yes, I’m clean, that this was definitely the last time, but I’m like all addicts; you know I’m lying because my lips are moving.
And I get angry when my lies are challenged, when she asks about a blood-stained tissue, or wants to see my arms to check for bruises, or finds a stray needle or empty ampoule. I make up some story, try to explain it away, I had a blood test today, or I banged my arm on the car door, the ampoule must have been there from a few months ago, it sounds stupid even as I’m saying it, but it’s all I’ve got. What about the kids, she asks, supposing Jack or Katie had hurt themselves on that needle, how would you feel, do you not consider them? I have no answer, I think I care, but the drug comes first every time.
Recent Dish on drug addiction here.
(Hat tip: Mind Hacks)
Group pictures flatter individual faces more than solo shots, recent research suggests. Cindi May describes a study that “shows that individual faces appear more attractive when presented in a group than when presented alone — a perceptually driven phenomenon known as the cheerleader effect“:
Consider the Laker girls or Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. To many, these women are beautiful and sexy. However, their perceived beauty is in part a visual illusion, created by the fact that cheerleaders appear as a group rather than solo operators. Any one cheerleader seems far more attractive when she is with her team than when she is alone. …
[Researchers Drew] Walker and [Edward] Vul posit that the cheerleader effect arises from the interplay of three different visuo-cognitive processes.
Maria Konnikova considers why, “in the current media environment, a list is perfectly designed for our brain”:
Lists … appeal to our general tendency to categorize things—in fact, it’s hard for us not to categorize something the moment we see it—since they chunk information into short, distinct components. This type of organization facilitates both immediate understanding and later recall, as the neuroscientist Walter Kintsch pointed out back in 1968. Because we can process information more easily when it’s in a list than when it’s clustered and undifferentiated, like in standard paragraphs, a list feels more intuitive. In other words, lists simply feel better.
But the list’s deepest appeal, and the source of its staying power, goes beyond the fact that it feels good.
Alyssa Coppelman provides background:
For 31 years, photographer Marc Asnin documented his maternal uncle, Charlie Henschke, creating a raw and unflinching series he edited into a book titled Uncle Charlie, published last year by Contrasto. It’s a journey that began during Asnin’s freshman year of college, when the photographer-nephew still felt hero-worship for his uncle and discovers the many problems his uncle faced.
As a boy, Asnin admired his uncle and his rebellious nature: Henschke was tattooed, kept a gun in his glove compartment, and knew the streets. Although Asnin knew everything wasn’t perfect behind that façade, the complexities behind the image began to emerge as the project advanced. … The book, which features Henschke’s commentary on his own life, is startlingly honest. Although Asnin warned Henschke that he might not want to share specific parts of his life, Henschke refused, saying, “No, that’s how I feel, and I want everyone to know that, including my children.”
(Caption via Behold: “After his second marriage dissolved, Charlie started a new relationship with Blanca, a woman 25 years younger than him. In this photo, Blanca is smoking crack.” Photo by Marc Asnin. More about his book, Uncle Charlie, is here.)
Focusing on the Discovery Channel’s new series Naked and Afraid - which chronicles the experience of “one man and one woman [who] are stranded nude in hostile wilderness without food or water for 21 days” - Joan Marcus examines how she is both drawn in and repulsed by the genre:
Over the years I’ve watched everything from the 2004 makeover show The Swan, in which normal-looking women undergo radical plastic surgery and then compete in a freakish beauty pageant, to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, that grotesque excuse to mock the taste level and dietary habits of the working poor in rural Georgia. I teach a college pop culture seminar, and I like to write about pop culture, which gives me a handy excuse to indulge in reality dreck ad infinitum.
Shows are always upping the ante — increasing the shock factor, finding new ways to traffic in the risqué, the humiliating, the dangerous and disgusting. The more morally questionable a show is, the more likely I am to tune in on the excuse that anything this excessive has to be examined. I do like to think about how, in affording us the pleasure of judging real people in stressful and potentially humiliating situations, these shows palliate us — situating us comfortably in our own realities, reaffirming our cultural norms and making us more satisfied with our own lot in life. But of course my interest is not just intellectual. I’m as rabid a consumer as anyone, and shows like Naked and Afraid that push the boundaries of ethics and decency are on some primal level just a really, really good time.
Obviously I’m not alone here.
Ken Budd describes the challenges of writing and researching in the wake of his father’s death:
Writing a memoir is a selfish act. For the memoir to work, to truly be alive, the honesty of the writing must outweigh the feelings of your subjects. As the central figure, you have to write what scares you: the drama resides in the dark places where you’re least comfortable. And that means exposing yourself. It’s like ripping off the front of your house and saying, “O.K., here we are, take a look — I’ll be in the shower if you want a closer view.” If you can’t do that — if you’re unwilling to bleed, naked, on the page — why write memoir?
This honesty isn’t easy for friends and family, who probably weren’t eager to be “characters.” But the living can at least retaliate. A fellow writer once told me about a friend who released a memoir. “It’s really good,” she said. “He shares all these wonderful stories about his family. None of them will speak to him anymore, but it’s a really good book.”
The dead can’t retaliate. And I didn’t just write about my father’s life — I probed that life. Our relationship was strong, but parts of him were unattainable to me. He was a workaholic. He spent long hours at the office. Like me, he internalized his thoughts. So I compensated by interviewing his friends and co-workers, who told me stories I’d never heard. A former boss revealed how he and my father laid off 30 workers, agonizing over the horrible task. … Once that narrative goes from the mind to the page, the dead can’t correct you; they can’t say, “Wait — that’s not how I remember it…”
Recent Dish on memoirs here.
Laura Parker picks up on a new trend:
Though disabled gamers may still be cut off from traditional gaming systems to some degree, a growing number of developers are using the built-in accessibility features of mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad—voiceover, assistive touch, and guided access—to create games for physically disabled and visually impaired players that don’t require the specialized hardware that living-room gaming consoles often do.
BlindSide is one of those games. It’s a survival horror setup, about an assistant professor named Case who wakes up next to his girlfriend, Dawn, in their apartment, after what initially appears to be a power outage. But Case, Dawn, and everyone else have actually inexplicably become blind. At the same time, scary-sounding monsters roam the city. Because Case is new to the feeling of being blind, one of the objectives of the game is to teach players to navigate the environment using audio cues, both from Case, who yells when he bumps into things—“The door is to my left, the kitchen is to my right”—and subtler hints, like the way sound travels in a particular environment. For example, if you’re facing an open window, you hear traffic noise in both speakers, but if you turn to the right, you only hear the noises in the left speaker. Other sounds—a dripping faucet or a noisy TV—also help you get around. …
[A] large part of BlindSide’s success seems tied to the fact that it doesn’t feel like a game that’s been designed for disabled players. A game with no visual stimulus can be just as engrossing for players who can see as for those who cannot, it seems.
Daniel Mandelsohn, the classicist and essayist, reflects on the rudiments of good criticism:
One of the courses I like to teach is a Great Books course that’s mandatory for first year students, and after I read their first papers it’s always very clear to me that they have no model, no template for what a critical essay is supposed to do—what (or how) you’re supposed to be arguing when you’re writing about a text or a movie or anything. They don’t understand there is a rhetoric of criticism—that there’s a stance you have to have, that you have to position yourself, that you don’t just blather about your impressions or your “opinions” or, worse, your “feelings” about a work. They literally have no idea, at first, what the point of being critical is—no doubt because, in part, they are being raised in a culture where a bland, everything-goes, multi-culti niceness is the paramount virtue. You have to know who you are—as a person, but also as a member of a given civilization—in order to speak about a work.
I always tease them at the beginning of the semester about their writing—I say, “Whenever you write me at 11 o’clock on a Thursday night begging me for an extension on the paper, the prose is always so beautiful and the email is so wonderfully structured.”
It is small, a punch: Krapp, a desk, a banana, a closet with a light, a tape recorder, some reels, and some fart jokes. Every year on his birthday, Krapp records a tape about his thoughts and whatever’s happening in his life. Then he listens to it and the ones he made earlier. The play is very funny and very sad and still beautiful. It is barely half an hour — all power, no clutter. There is no one else, not even a dog or a landlady, and since Krapp doesn’t seem cold or hungry or locked in we think yes, okay this is how he wants it. …
The first five minutes — or ten or fifteen — of the play are silent. Krapp shuffles around the stage; he eats a banana, pours himself booze. When he finally speaks — “spool” — it’s funny, like blowing a raspberry at a funeral to make a baby laugh. First Krapp listens to older reels — here he is, throwing a ball for a little white dog; and there in a boat, with a lady who has gooseberry scratches on her thigh — and next he records a tape for this year, his sixty-ninth. He has to restart it a couple times. He is freaking out about his dogs loose in the desert. “Everything there, everything on this old muckball, all the light and dark and famine and feasting of… the ages!” Krapp says. “Yes! Let that go! Jesus!” He is passionate and so crabby.
Case imagines a conversation between Krapp and Gertrude Stein:
A long excerpt from David Foster Wallace’s “The Depressed Person” (pdf), which first appeared in the January 1998 issue of Harper‘s:
The feelings of shame and inadequacy the depressed person experienced about calling members of her Support System long-distance late at night and burdening them with her clumsy attempts to describe at least the contextual texture of her emotional agony were an issue on which she and her therapist were currently doing a great deal of work in their time together.
You have until noon on Tuesday to guess it. City and/or state first, then country. Please put the location in the subject heading, along with any description within the email. If no one guesses the exact location, proximity counts. Be sure to email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book or two free gift subscriptions to the Dish. Have at it.