2010

  1. 20100523 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune): Celibacy and the Catholic priest The Catholic Church’s rule of priestly celibacy is not about sex, but power. BY JAMES CARROLL
  2. 20100514 The International Herald Tribune: Stocking an e-book library for the future BY BOB TESDESCHI
  3. 20100515 Religion Explained (Pascal Boyer)
  4. 20100515 The Making of Religion (Andrew Lang)
  5. 201010511 Anthill: A Novel (Edward O. Wilson)
  6. 20100427 Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion (Barbara J. King)
  7. 20100500 Religions Of Star Trek (Ross Kraemer, William Cassidy and Susan L Schwartz)
  8. 20100411 Solar (Ian McEwan)
  9. 20100525 Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  10. 20100303 International Herald Tribune
  11. 20100305 The Romance of Violette (Anonymous)
  12. 20100301 Decline of Science in England (Charles Babbage)
  13. 20100217 SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM (T. E. Lawrence)
  14. 20100210 Colomba (Prosper Mérimée)
  15. 20100126 In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language (Arika Okrent)
  16. 20100104 The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

20100523 The International Herald Tribune (The International Herald Tribune): Celibacy and the Catholic priest The Catholic Church’s rule of priestly celibacy is not about sex, but power. BY JAMES CARROLL

Like all Catholics, I gratefully depend on the faithful ministry of the many good priests who serve the church. Yet I offer a broad critique of something central to their lives and identities — the rule of celibacy. I write from inside the question, having lived as a celibate seminarian and priest for more than a decade in my youth. Yet when I left the priesthood in 1974, I was more conscious of vowed obedience as the pressing issue than celibacy. I wanted to be a writer, which required a free play of the mind that seemed impossible in the life of “orders.” But now I see how imposed sexlessness and restrictive authority are mutually reinforcing Power was the issue. Ironically, in the glory days, celibacy seemed to convey another kind of power. It was essential to the mystique that set priests apart from other clergy. From a secular perspective, the celibate man — or, in the case of nuns, woman — made an impression simply by sexual unavailability. But from a religious perspective, the impact came from celibacy’s character as an all-or-nothing bet on the existence of God. The Catholic clergy lived in absolutism, which carried a magnetic pull. The magnet is dead. What I only intuited 35 years ago has become an open conviction shared by many: Celibacy cuts to the heart of what is wrong in the Catholic Church today. Despite denials from Rome, there will be no halting, much less recovering from, the mass destruction of the priest sex abuse scandal without reforms centered on the abandonment of celibacy as a near-universal prerequisite for ordination to the Latin-rite priesthood. (“Near universal” because married Episcopal priests who convert are exempt from the requirement. “Latin rite” because Catholic priests of the Eastern rites are allowed to marry.) No, celibacy does not “cause” the sex abuse of minors, and yes, abusers of children come from many walks of life. Indeed, most abuse occurs within families or circles of close acquaintance. But the Catholic scandal has laid bare an essential pathology that is unique to the culture of clericalism, and mandatory celibacy is essential to it. Immaturity, narcissism, misogyny, incapacity for intimacy, illusions about sexual morality — such all-too-common characteristics of today’s Catholic clergy are directly tied to the inhuman asexuality that is put before them as an ideal. A special problem arises when, on the one hand, homosexuality is demonized as a matter of doctrine, while, on the other, the banishment of women leaves the priest living in a homophilic world. In some men, both straight and gay, the stresses of such contradiction lead to irrepressible urges that can be indulged only by exploitation of the vulnerable and available, objects of desire who in many cases are boys, whether prepubescent or adolescent. Now we know. Celibacy began in the early church as an ascetic discipline that was born partly of authentic mysticism, partly of ancient ritual purity codes, and partly of a neo-platonic contempt for the physical world that had nothing to do with the Gospel. But it was not until the Middle Ages, at the Second Lateran Council in 1139, that celibacy was made mandatory for all Roman Catholic clergy. Ironically, this was a reform designed to brace clerical laxity and remove inheritance issues from the administration of church property. But because the requirement of celibacy is so extreme, it had to be mystified as a sacrificial opening to special intimacy with God — “a more perfect way.” Monastic orders of both males and females had indeed discovered in such sexual sublimation a mode of holiness, but that presumed its being both freely chosen and lived out in a nurturing community. But when the monastic discipline of “chastity” was imposed on all priests as “celibacy,” something went awry. Sexual abstinence was no longer freely chosen, since the vocation to ordained ministry and the call to the vowed life are not the same thing. In the ordinary experience of parish priests, there was no intimate community within which to humanely live a sexually sublimated life. Mere repression would have to do, along with loneliness. Why did celibacy come to matter so much to those in charge of the church? The answer is familiar because celibacy, like other issues having to do with gender, reproduction and sexual identity, is not really about sex — but power. The hierarchy found in the imposition of sexual abstinence a mode of control over the interior lives of clergy, since submission in radical abstinence required an extraordinary abandonment of the will. In theory, the abandonment was to God; in practice, it was to the “superior.” The stakes were infinite, since sexual desire marked the threshold of hell. Obsessive sexual moralism spilled out of pulpits. Ancient neo-platonism became modern Puritanism or Irish Jansenism. The confessional booth became a cockpit of “mortal sins,” with birth control emerging as the key control mechanism — the church’s control over every Catholic adult’s affections and actions. And if the laity were willing to abide by this intrusion and its burdens, it was only because the celibate priest could be seen to have made an even greater sacrifice. What birth control was to Catholic lay people, in other words, celibacy was to priests — a set of hierarchy-imposed shackles on the conscience. Lay people have broken those shackles, but priests have not, unless the tens of thousands who have left orders are counted. As is suggested by the hierarchy’s apparent equanimity about that exodus, and the slow-motion collapse of the priesthood it has caused, church authorities will pay any price to maintain a vestige of control over the inner lives of Catholics. That is why bishops have exchanged their once ample influence on matters of social justice for a screeching, single-issue obsession with abortion, a last-ditch effort to control the intimate sexual decisions of lay people. When it comes to their clergy, the single-issue obsession remains celibacy. This nearly changed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), a gathering in Rome of the world’s Catholic bishops that initiated astonishing changes in church doctrine and practice (renouncing, for example, the anti-Jewish “Christ-killer” slander, though it is in the Gospels). The bishops took on a range of questions, and were preparing to reconsider both birth control and celibacy. As dominant matters of sexual morality for the laity and the clergy, they were twinned. That those issues were even on the Council’s agenda alerted the world to the possibility of change — which was itself revolutionary. Until then, an insufficiently historically minded church had regarded such contingent questions as God-given absolutes. What was the point of even discussing them, since change was out of the question? But change was suddenly in the air, and that made Catholics begin to ask questions on their own. That was enough to generate waves of panic in the most conservative wing of the hierarchy, waves that broke over the insecure Pope Paul VI, who had replaced the far more open-minded John XXIII. Pope Paul astonished the Council fathers, and the Catholic world, by making two extraordinary interventions that violated both the spirit and the procedures that had defined the Council until then. In late 1964, just as the fathers were about to debate the question of “responsible parenthood,” the pope ordered the Council not to take up the question of “artificial contraception.” Snap! Birth control was “removed from the competence of the Council,” a harbinger of Paul VI’s own determination that the teaching would not change. It was politically unthinkable that the church could maintain the prohibition of birth control, the burden belonging to the laity, while letting clergy off the sexual hook by lifting the celibacy rule. Therefore, in late 1965, Paul VI made his second extraordinary intervention to forbid any discussion of priestly celibacy. “It is not opportune to debate publicly this topic,” he declared, “which requires the greatest prudence and is so important.” A Council had initiated the clerical discipline of celibacy, but a Council was now not qualified even to discuss it. The power play was so blatant as to lay bare power itself as the issue. And just like that, Catholics had reason to suspect that celibacy was being maintained as a requirement of the priesthood because of internal church politics — not because of any spiritual or religious motive. God was not the issue; the pope was. The abrupt elimination of the mystical dimension of vowed sexual abstinence left it an intolerable and inhuman way to live, which sent men streaming out of the priesthood, and stirred in many who remained a profound, and still unresolved, crisis of identity. In response to the pope’s removal of birth control from the “competence” of the Council, one of its leading figures, Cardinal Léon-Joseph Suenens of Belgium, had risen immediately with a warning; “I beg you, my brother bishops, let us avoid a new ‘Galileo affair.’ One is enough for the Church.” (Galileo was famously forced to renounce what he had seen through his telescope, an imposition of dishonesty. “And yet it moves,” he was reported to have muttered under his breath.) Paul VI’s twin reimpositions of the contraception and celibacy rules plunged the whole church into a culture of dishonesty. God is solemnly invoked on matters that have nothing to do with God. For the sake of the mere appearance of the hierarchy’s authority, sexual proscriptions have been officially upheld, even while the hierarchy itself looks the other way when those proscriptions are massively repudiated. Catholic lay people ignore the birth control mandate. Catholic priests find ways around the celibacy rule, some in meaningful relationships with secret lovers, some in exploitive relationships with the vulnerable, and some in criminal acts with minors. If a majority of priests is able to observe the letter of their vow, how many do so at savage personal cost? How many Catholic women’s eyes have opened to the built-in gender insult of an all-male celibate priesthood? Well-adjusted priests may live happily as celibates, but how many regard the discipline as healthy? Insisting that celibacy is the church’s “brilliant jewel,” in Paul VI’s phrase, defines the deceit that has corrupted the Catholic soul. Lies, denial, arrogance, selfishness, and cowardice — such are the notes of the structure within which Catholic priests now live, however individually virtuous many of them nevertheless remain. Celibacy is that structure’s central pillar and must be removed. The Catholic people see this clearly. It is time for us to say so.

20100514 The International Herald Tribune: Stocking an e-book library for the future BY BOB TESDESCHI 805 words

The reading experience with the major e-book software applications is not significantly different, but before committing to a reader, you may want to consider how you will use your purchased books in the future. It is no longer such a novel thing to read a book on a cellphone, and on the iPad it is practically a requirement to download ‘‘The Elements’’ or open ‘‘Winnie the Pooh’’ to give your friends a glimpse of the future of book reading. But for many people, choosing the best book-reading application is a challenge, especially because of the wealth of choices in the Android Market and the App Store from Apple. The problem is not really the small things — the differences in how the iBooks and Kindle applications, for example, turn a page or enlarge the type. The better programs are all pretty good in these respects already, and they will all reach parity on such things quickly enough. Plus, they are all free, so it costs nothing to switch. Nonetheless, the iBooks software for the iPad offers a generally better reading experience than its rivals, thanks to automatic brightness adjustments and overall ease of use. But the iBooks store has fewer titles than, say, Amazon’s Kindle store or the Barnes & Noble eBooks store. For iPhones, the Kindle application worked the best for me. On a BlackBerry, I found Kobo easiest to use, and on Android phones, Aldiko was the best in a sparse field, although it is hampered by the lack of recent titles available for it. But since the reading experience with these applications is not significantly different, the hard choice comes down to differentiating how you select your books, and how you may one day like to use them — beyond reading them on your Android, iPhone or BlackBerry. In this respect, there are nuanced differences, but the upshot is this: I am starting my own digital library through Kobo, but I plan to hedge by not buying a lot of books in the near future. Kobo is backed by a company that is aligned with the Borders bookstore chain, as well as major booksellers in Canada and elsewhere. You can buy nearly as many books for Kobo’s software as you can for the Kindle. But you can potentially do more with those books when you buy them through Kobo. The books you buy through each of these applications are, for now, only readable within that software. That is not a major headache — as long as the applications that support your e-books survive forever, with the support of the major hardware manufacturers. But if, for example, Barnes & Noble is taken over and the new owner stops supporting the old application, the e-books you bought will be as useful as a Betamax tape. Which brings us back to Kobo. The company’s chief executive, Michael Serbinis, said that in the coming months the company would upgrade its software so you will be able to buy a book, keep it forever and read it with any other software you choose. To which I say, ‘‘Show me.’’ Kobo would need to find a single file format friendly to every other application, and if you include the Kindle, which uses Amazon’s proprietary software, that is unlikely to happen. Mr. Serbinis said Kobo would release its books in an Adobe format, one that is increasingly popular among publishers. This does not mean Kobo is assured of long-term success, but it does mean the books you buy through Kobo may have a marginally higher chance of being useful to you years from now than books bought from a store with a proprietary format. Still, until a clear winner has emerged, I’ll spend conservatively. Kobo is available for the iPhone, iPad and BlackBerry, and an Android version is in the works. If you happen to have an Android device, or are waiting for an excellent Android-based tablet to rival the iPad, the Aldiko reading software supports another e-book technology, called the Open Publication Distribution System. That means you can use the software to read any free book you might have downloaded from another source, but not if the title is copyright protected. Nearly every book that is worth something to a publisher is currently copyright protected, though, which leads us to the place where we started: if you buy your e-books with no intention of sharing them widely and easily with other devices or people, you will not be disappointed. And if that is too big a constraint for you to accept, then just enjoy your free books and give it a few months, or years, before the publishing industry figures out a way to let you use what you buy as you see fit.

20100515 Religion Explained (Pascal Boyer)

The most familiar scenario assumes that humans in general have certain general intellectual concerns. People want to understand events and processes, that is, to explain, predict and perhaps control them. These very general, indeed universal, intellectual needs gave rise to religious concepts at some point during human cultural evolution. This was not necessarily a single event, a sudden invention that took place once and for all. It might be a constant re-creation as the need to explain phenomena periodically suggests concepts that could work as good explanations. Here are some variations on this theme: [1] People created religion to explain puzzling natural phenomena. People are surrounded by all sorts of phenomena that seem to challenge their everyday concepts. That a windowpane breaks if you throw a brick at it poses no problem. But what about the causes of storms, thunder, massive drought, floods? What ‘pushes’ the sun across the sky and moves the stars and planets? Gods and spirits fulfil this explanatory function. In many places the planets are gods; in Roman mythology thunder was the sound of Vulcan’s hammer striking the anvil. More generally, gods and spirits make rains fall and fields yield good crops. They explain what is beyond the ken of ordinary notions. [2] Religion was created to explain puzzling mental phenomena. Dreams, precognition, as well as the feeling that dead persons are still around in some form (and frequently ‘appear’ to the living), are all phenomena that receive no satisfactory explanation in our everyday concepts. The notion of a spirit seems to correspond to such phenomena. Spirits are disembodied persons and their characteristics make them very similar to persons seen in dreams or hallucinations. Gods and a unique God are further versions of this projection of mental phenomena. [3] Religion explains the origins of things. We all know that plants come from seeds, animals and humans reproduce, etc. But where did the whole lot come from? That is, we all have common-sense explanations for the origin of each particular aspect of our environment but all these explanations do is ‘pass the buck’ to some other process or agent, and so on. However, people feel that the buck has to stop somewhere, and uncreated creators, like God or the first ancestors or some cultural heroes, fulfil this function. [4] Religion explains evil and suffering. It is a common human characteristic that misfortune cries out for explanation. Why is there misfortune or evil in general? This is where the concepts of Fate, God, devils, ancestors are handy. They tell you why and how evil originated in the world (and sometimes provide recipes for a better world).

20100515 The Making of Religion (Andrew Lang)

Man derived the conception of ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ from his reflections on the phenomena of sleep, dreams, death, shadow, and from the experiences of trance and hallucination.

201010511 Anthill: A Novel (Edward O. Wilson)

An entomologist turned writer. But who writes the book reviews in Nature??? Do they read the books?

20100427 Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion (Barbara J. King)

To sum up our definitional musings, then, religion is all about practice and emotional engagement with the sacred, as defined by one’s social group; it is not necessarily about a set of beliefs concerning supernatural figures, though it may be that, too. The following text is typical of how limited the author of the book actually is. She has an interesting idea (god from empathy), but does not have the intelligence nor the guts to go to the end of it: Richard Dawkins is a brilliant evolutionary thinker who also routinely opts to insult the faithful. Speaking at a meeting sponsored by the New York Institute for the Humanities, Dawkins sneered at those who would foster an interface between science and religion. Evolution, he said flatly, is antireligious. He did not stop there. Railing against the United States as a country of “religious maniacs,” he yet reserved his most acerbic comments for scientists who embrace religion: “I think that scientists who say they are Catholics or Jews or Muslims owe it to us to say how they reconcile this with the sort of petty, cheap, parochial, niggling religion which goes with those titles.

20100500 Religions Of Star Trek (Ross Kraemer, William Cassidy and Susan L Schwartz)

Shared rites and beliefs create and reflect an understanding of how the universe is, which makes social life possible: A society full of people with vastly differing, conflicting beliefs is one whose potential for dysfunction is enormous, something Roddenberry seems not to understand. Although Roddenberry’s views permeate Star Trek, the absence of religion-or at least any public, communal Terran religion in the third millenium-also fits well with Star Trek’s generally optimistic, almost utopian view of the future, in which all the concerns addressed by religions-poverty, illness, social inequity, injustice, ecological crises-have been solved (obliterating or altering the traditional functions of much modern religious belief, if not practice). Roddenberry may not have been aware of this inconsistency.

20100411 Solar (Ian McEwan)

I was not impressed, but I liked at least this joke – the string theorist caught in bed with another woman who exclaimed to his wife, ‘Darling, I can explain everything!’

20100525 Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

I am most seriously displeased.

20100303 International Herald Tribune

Last year, three women received Nobel prizes in the sciences, a record for any year. Women now earn 42 percent of the science degrees in the 30 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; in the life sciences, such as biology and medicine, more than 6 out of 10 graduates are women.more than 6 out of 10 graduates are women. Younger women, too, are sticking more with science after graduating: In the European Union, the number of women researchers is growing at a rate nearly twice that of their male counterparts, giving rise to what some have dubbed a fledgling ‘‘old girls network.’’ Even Barbie, the iconic doll who in 1992 was infamously made to say, ‘‘Math class is tough,’’ has had a makeover as a computer engineer for her 2010 edition, complete with pink glasses and pink laptop. But if progress has been dramatic since the two-time Nobel physicist Marie Curie was barred from France’s science academy a century ago, it has been slower than in other parts of society — and much less uniform. In computer science, for example, the percentage of female graduates from American universities peaked in the mid-1980s at more than 40 percent and has since dropped to half that, said Sue Rosser, a scholar who has written extensively on women in science. In electrical and mechanical engineering, enrollment percentages remain in the single digits. The number of women who are full science professors at elite universities in the United States has been stuck at 10 percent for the past half century. Throughout the world, only a handful of women preside over a national science academy. Women have been awarded only 16 of the 540 Nobels

20100305 The Romance of Violette (Anonymous) 20100301 Decline of Science in England (Charles Babbage)

20100217 SEVEN PILLARS OF WISDOM (T. E. Lawrence)

We could not lightly draw water after dark, for there were snakes swimming in the pools or clustering in knots around their brinks. Twice puff-adders came twisting into the alert ring of our debating coffee-circle. Three of our men died of bites; four recovered after great fear and pain, and a swelling of the poisoned limb. Howeitat treatment was to bind up the part with snake-skin plaster, and read chapters of the Koran to the sufferer until he died.

20100210 Colomba (Prosper Mérimée)

Être alla campagna, c’est-à-dire être bandit. Bandit n’est point un terme odieux: il se prend dans le sens de banni; c’est l’outlaw des ballades anglaises.

20100126 In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language (Arika Okrent)

There is no winging it in Lojban. The language has an exhaustively defined syntax, and it is completely unambiguous. One must clearly specify the structure of the sentence as a whole, using various markers that serve, in effect, as spoken parentheses. There can be no confusion, for example, between an “ancient (history teacher)” and an “(ancient history) teacher” in Lojban. When you say “I saw the man with the binoculars” in Lojban, you can leave no doubt as to whether you had the binoculars or the man did. Lojban sentences have only one structural parse.

20100104 The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

Soooooo boring & redundant. An unnecessary book. It was so successful because it was written as a best-seller. This is the major achievement of the author: understanding how to write a best seller.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.