Listening to the Universe
Interesting TED talk on listening to the universe. We assume the universe is silent but there are sounds that are emitted. Of course, there is still silence between the gaps. In a fascinating conclusion, she shares sounds that were captured from the birth of the universe, the big bang.
Pope Benedict XVI resigns
Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, made news when he announced his resignation from the papacy last week. There is a lot of debate around even what this event should be called! For what its worth, in my opinion it is a resignation, and not an abdication. An abdication suggests that the Church is a monarchy, which strictly speaking, it isn't even if the structure resembles it in many important ways. Besides, in this, I think that canon law is in my favour, but I digress.
Much commentary has flowed as a result and I am supportive of this resignation, partly, because it removes the papacy from a cult of personality and makes it a ministry for the broader Church. This, I think, is a good thing both from a spiritual and governance point of view. Added to this, Benedict XVI is a wise man, not an administrator by any means, but a smart theologian steeped firmly in the history of the Church and acutely aware of the problems of the institution in a (post)modern world. His action is a sober reflection on his own ability to govern in light of his health and the challenges of the office and in this, I think, that he provides a positive role model to people who arrive at a decision that they are no longer able to fulfill roles. This is not a personal failure - far from it! It is the opposite of being ego-centric and narcissistic.
Cardinal Newman wrote of the dangers of a long papacy as the risk of corruption increases, inconsistency develops, and general decay of effectiveness ensues. Recall, that is was under Benedict's pontificate that Cardinal Newman was beatified.
There will be, in the months ahead, a sober analysis of his pontificate and already there is commentary on the child abuse scandal that has rocked the Church. Recently, it was revealed that Cardinal Mahony, while cardinal in Los Angeles, was involved in hiding and moving priests accused of molestation. Such conduct is criminal and he should be facing charges. That he is eligible to vote, and will in fact be voting, in the conclave is a scandal that needs to be addressed far better than it has been. Certainly, Benedict XVI was aware of these problems as he had been prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under John Paul II. At that time, the CDF handled such reports. To be fair, when he was elected he did strip the founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, Marcel Maciel, of any honours and committed him to a life of penance. Maciel had been credibly accused of abuse of seminarians under his care as well as funneling money away from the order for his mistress and their child.
Benedict XVI permitted more generous celebration of the so called Latin mass (referred to as the extraordinary form now) and outreach to disaffected conservative groups like the SSPX.
He was and is a scholar, theologian, and biblical exegete. His volumes on Jesus of Nazareth are good readings.
Jody Bottum had some unkind, and to my mind unfair, things to say in his assessment. Comparing him to the last pope who resigned in 1294, St. Celestine (Pope Celestine V), Bottum wrote, "The truth is, however, that if proper governance of the church—doing the hard administrative work needed to sail that ship of the fisherman, St. Peter—were all that is required of a pope, then Benedict should have resigned long ago. His aging has brought little new; he has been, all in all, a terrible executive of the Vatican. Not in San Celestino’s league, of course, but as bad as a pope has been for 200 years."
Bottum feels, and I profoundly disagree, that resignation is dangerous precedent.
"Besides, there remains the problem of political theory that the aftermath of San Celestino’s abdication taught us. If popes can resign, then popes can be forced to resign, notwithstanding the fact that the church believes they are chosen with guidance from the Holy Spirit. And after they resign, what then? What are we to do with them? The sheer presence of a retired pope in a Vatican monastery may prove a burden and distraction for his successor. And if, with Benedict in 2013, a retired pope does not seem to pose a direct political threat, that hardly insures that no future retired pope will prove so. The political portions are part of the pope’s job, too...
That’s something, one suspects, that the ascetic monk Peter of Morrone didn’t grasp while serving as Pope Celestine V, saint though he was. It’s something that Joseph Ratzinger seems to have ignored as Pope Benedict XVI, saint though he too may be".
As with all things, history will arrive at an assessment but God alone can judge.
Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls
I love the sound of Alabama Shakes. Part Janis Joplin, bluesy, southern, soulful - a fresh find. I have been listening to some of her songs on you tube and posted one below.
She is making her debut on Saturday Night Live tonight and I am sure that her career will take off from there. I hope that she never loses her unique niche and style.
Enjoy this recording from WNRN radio station in Charlottesville, Virgina.
Man this girl can sing and whistle!!
The Bed of Procrustes
One of my favourite books is, the Bed of Procrustes, by Nassim Taleb. It is a collection of aphorisms.
As Taleb explains them, "aphorisms, maxims, proverbs, short sayings, even, to some extent epigrams are the earliest literary forms - often integrated into what we now call poetry. They carry the cognitive compactness of the sound bite...with some show of bravado in the ability of the author to compress powerful ideas in a handful of words - particularly in an oral format....aphorisms require us to change our reading habits and approach them in small doses; each one of them is a complete unit, a complete narrative dissasociated from the others. My best definition of a nerd; someone who asks you to explain an aphorism".
Below are some of my favourite from his collection (and that he created).
Academia is to knowledge what prostitution is to love; close enough on the surface but to the nonsucker, not exactly the same thing.
The test of originality for an idea is not the absence of one single predecessor but the presence of multiple incompatible ones.
Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment.
You never win an argument until they attack your person.
It is a very recent disease to mistake the unobserved for the nonexistent; but some are plagued with the worst disease of mistaking the unobserved for the unobservable.
You have a real life if and only if you do not compete with anyone in any of your pursuits.
You need to keep reminding yourself of the obvious; charm lies in the unsaid, the unwritten, and the undisplayed. It takes mastery to control silence.
It is much less dangerous to think like a man of action than to act like a man of thought.
When conflicted between two choices, take neither.
Games were created to give nonheroes, the illusion of winning. In real life, you don't know who really won or lost (except too late), but you can tell who is heroic and who is not.
The only definition of an alpha male; if you try to be an alpha male, you will never be one.
Those who have nothing to prove never say that they have nothing to prove.
You can be certain that a person has the means but not the will to help when he says "there is nothing else I can do." And you can be certain that a person has neither means nor will to help you when he says " I am here to help".
If you find any reason why you and someone are friends, you are not friends.
Art is a one-sided conversation with the unobserved.
If you can't spontaneously detect (without analyzing) the difference between sacred and profane, you'll never know what religion means, You will also never figure out what we commonly call art, You will never understand anything,
Zero Dark Thirty and torture
Kathryn Bigelow's new film on raid on the Pakistani home that killed Osama bin Laden is generating controversy due to its treatment of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by the CIA that arguably led to the intelligence that finally located bin Laden's home.
Waterboarding, the simulated drowning of a suspect, is one of the techniques in particular that has been defined as torture according to some lawmakers including President Obama. It was legal under the Bush administration and was used to interrogate some prisoners.
Bigelow is known for another film surrounding the Iraqi war, The Hurt Locker, that received critical acclaim and an Academy award. Bigelow is able to tell stories of the war without inserting partisan or ideological overtones in her treatment. This is an extremely difficult task given how much US involvement in these wars was a source of controversy in the United States and in some respects divided the nation.
Many critics and viewers of the film have argued that Bigelow shows how enhanced interrogation techniques were successful in leading to the capture of bin Laden and that, through this, she tacitly supports their use. Or at a minimum, she treats the process amorally. Some ethicists would have preferred that she took a harder stance against these practices. Others have argued that her function is simply to tell the story based on the intelligence she received.
Matthew Boudway in a Commonweal article, Alleva & Zizek on Zero Dark Thirty, outlined two contrasting articles by two different authors, Richard Alleva and Slavoj Zizek on this issue. In the more critical article of Bigelow's treatment, Zizek insists that "to depict torture “neutrally” is a kind of obscenity, if not a tacit endorsement. He asks us to imagine a “neutral” depiction of the Nazi death camps, one “focusing on the technical problems involved (transport, disposal of the bodies, preventing panic among the prisoners to be gassed)."
I have not seen the film but I think Bigelow has struck the right pitch. I respect Bigelow as an artist for not trying to moralize this issue. In this she stands in the tradition of Tolstoy who, in Anna Karenina, passed no judgement on Anna who abandoned her child to take up with her lover. It would have been easy to cast Anna as irresponsible, spoiled, etc. But he simply told the story and this, in part, is why it remains one of the great novels of literature.
It is not for storytellers to moralize. It is for them to tell the story.
It is for us to reflect on the implications of that story and think about who we are, consider if ends justify means, ask questions. Clearly, one of the most perennial and classic ethical questions facing humankind has been, do the ends justify the means? Zero Dark Thirty has opened a national conversation, yet again, on this theme.
The title of this blog is an allusion to the famous work of Blaise Pascal. This blog represents the variety of my interests and thoughts on any given day and are strung together, like Pascal's Pensees, in no particular order. I work in the field of mental health, education, and human rights. I write and am a human rights advocate. I enjoy poetry, jazz, spirituality, politics and a potpourri of other interests that you will see reflected in this blog.