Clowns in full costume have a meal before attending the annual Clowns Church Service at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston on February 3, 2013 in London, England. Clowns attend the service in memory of Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837), the most celebrated English clown who was born in London. The service has been an annual tradition since 1946 with the attending clowns usually performing for the public afterwards. By Oli Scarff/Getty Images.
Dan Duray details the long and arduous process Lawrence Wright and his team underwent to get the facts right in Going Clear. In 2010 the church sent flacks and lawyers to the New Yorker offices to dissuade the magazine from publishing the long profile that led to Wright's book:
“[Tommy Davis, the church’s lead spokesman at the time] had a pie chart of the 971 questions we’d sent him,” Mr. Wright said, recalling the meeting during a recent interview at the Random House offices. “The pie chart showed that 59 percent of them were false.” He let that sink in. “They’re questions! How do they fall into the true-false category? It was bizarre to me.”
In an interview with CNN's Belief Blog, Lawrence Wright looks to the future of the "religion":
Personally, whatever people want to believe is fine with me. Why people gravitate to different expressions of faith is quite intriguing to me, and I don’t condemn them for what they choose to believe.
But the behavior of the church towards its critics, towards reporters, towards defectors, and especially towards members who are inside the clergy – in particular children who are recruited at appallingly young ages to sign these billion-year contracts and surrender their alternative lives to a life of poverty and isolation – those practices worry me considerably. And I think there’s an accounting the church of Scientology is going to have to face, if it wants to survive.
Michael Serazio argues that "if you look hard at sports, you can't help but see contours of religion":
The notion that sports remain our civic religion is truer than we often let on: In fandom, as in religious worship, our social connections are brought to life, in the stands as in the pews. It serves as a reminder of our interconnectedness and dependency; it materially indexes belonging. Like others, I indulge the royal "we" when speaking of my team, though there is little evidence they need me much beyond ticket sales, merchandise, and advertising impressions. Nonetheless, as Durkheim long ago noticed, "Members of each clan try to give themselves the external appearance of their totem ... When the totem is a bird, the individuals wear feathers on their heads." Ravens fans surely understand this.
(Photo: Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 the New York Jets leads a players prayer after their game against the San Diego Chargers at MetLife Stadium on December 23, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. By Rich Schultz /Getty Images.)
[A]s Fletcher masterfully shows, rehab culture has created a deep schism between science and its twelve-step methods. There is now a vast body of research on addiction treatment, including groundbreaking medications that can quell urges, safely fulfill an addict’s need for dopamine, and often prevent relapse. And yet, Fletcher finds that some 80 percent of rehabs in the United States dispense no medication at all. In fact, many rehabs consider the use of opiate-replacement drugs and other medications—like naltrexone, Suboxone, and buprenorphine—as equivalent to drinking or using heroin, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of their positive effects. In other words, you’re not truly sober if you’re “on” something. To that end, many rehabs kick addicts out for secretly using—that is, for being addicts.
I have a personal bias. Martin Ivens is a dear friend, my column editor for 15 years, and now acting editor of the Sunday Times. The cartoon they published on International Holocaust Remembrance Day (negligently, not deliberately) can be seen here. I discussed it here. Here's Martin's email apology to various offended readers:
I am grateful to you for writing to The Sunday Times and expressing your views so clearly. I'd like to apologise at the outset for the offence caused by Gerald Scarfe's cartoon published last Sunday.
Its publication was a terrible mistake. The timing – on Holocaust Memorial Day - was inexcusable. The associations on this occasion were grotesque. As someone who understands the history and iconography in this context, I appreciate fully why publication has caused such offence and I apologise unreservedly for my part in that.
I sought an urgent meeting with leading members of the Jewish community, and am pleased to say that we got together on Tuesday evening. It was a frank but constructive meeting. The chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, accepted my apology on behalf of the group and told the press afterwards that the community "now looks forward to constructively moving on from this affair".
A movement is afoot in Russia to ban the use of foreign words in public:
‘We’re tormented with Americanisms,’ the leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, complained last week. ‘We need to liberate our language from foreign words.’ He is drawing up a list of 100 words which he would like it to be illegal for broadcasters, writers and academics to use in public. Fines and unemployment could face anyone caught saying café, bar, restaurant, sale, mouton, performance or trader. Some of the words have come into use since the fall of the Soviet Union; others have been around for decades, if not centuries. ‘There are perfectly good Russian words you can use,’ Zhirinovsky says. ‘Why say boutique when we have lavka?’ (Lavka is usually translated into English as something like ‘stall’.)
Meanwhile, France trying to replace "hashtag" with "mot-dièse," which means "sharp word":
This isn't the first time France has changed up its vocabulary to avoid English words creeping into the language. In 2003, France replaced the word "email" with "courriel," and attempted to create new terms for Wi-Fi and blog.
Dan Charles eyes the Super Bowl snack table:
According to the 2013 Wing Report, Americans will eat 1.23 billion wings [this] weekend. ... In an odd twist, the once-cheap wing has become the most desirable and expensive part of the chicken. Per pound, chicken wings are now pricier than bone-in chicken breasts, perhaps inspiring this epic wing heist.
Bill Roenigk, the National Chicken Council’s chief economist, breaks it down by region:
When you look at all chicken consumption, the Mid-Atlantic states are about 5 to 6 percent above average. The West Coast is just 1 to 2 percent above average. Cowboy country—Wyoming, Montana, cattle country—is the softest consumption area. Super Bowl weekend is nearly 5 percent of annual consumption.
Oliver Sacks finds a silver lining in our tendency to misremember events:
We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections—but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information.
Indifference to source allows us to assimilate what we read, what we are told, what others say and think and write and paint, as intensely and richly as if they were primary experiences. It allows us to see and hear with other eyes and ears, to enter into other minds, to assimilate the art and science and religion of the whole culture, to enter into and contribute to the common mind, the general commonwealth of knowledge. This sort of sharing and participation, this communion, would not be possible if all our knowledge, our memories, were tagged and identified, seen as private, exclusively ours. Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.
Nate Cohn imagines the consequences:
If coaches begin to adopt the lessons of advanced football statistics, the changes would be noticeable to even a casual fan: Teams would go for it on fourth down, stop running so much on first down, go for the jugular with a late lead, and take big risks as an underdog in the first quarter. In that sense, statistics might promise more fundamental changes to football than baseball. Fans watching a data-driven baseball manager might not notice any big changes at all, unless they were fans of bunting.
Ruminating on competing interpretations of Frost, Joshua Rothman finds himself compelled by Joseph Brodsky's darker, brooding portrait of the poet:
Frost, Brodsky writes, in "On Grief and Reason," his 1994 essay for The New Yorker, "is generally regarded as the poet of the countryside, of rural settings—as a folksy, crusty, wisecracking old gentleman farmer, generally of positive disposition." He "greatly enhanced this notion by projecting precisely this image of himself in numerous public appearance and interviews" ... In reality, Brodsky writes, Frost was a dark, "terrifying" poet, as Lionel Trilling had called him. He was a poet animated by "anticipation," by a knowledge of "what he is capable of," by a sense "of his own negative potential." Frost’s life contained much besides contemplative strolls through the New England countryside, but Brodsky argued that in that countryside, Frost had seen the most profound part of himself. In nature, Frost had painted his "terrifying self-portrait."
Brent Cox crunches the numbers, adjusting for inflation, on ticket prices and ad revenue:
From the data, it's pretty clear that the increasing popularity of football, as it slowly equaled and then surpassed the popularity of that most American of American games, baseball, is reflected in the inflation of associated costs. In the case of the television spots, you can throw in two other factors, first the growth in size and sophistication of the advertising industry over the past forty years, and second, and probably more importantly, the splintering of the television industry. At the time of the first game in 1967, there were three (or two and a half, some would say) national television networks on which to advertise. Additionally, there were no home-use devices that could record television, let alone skip the commercials. As the television industry developed into thousands of channels, and a decreasing audience willing to watch it in real time, the value of advertising on the Super Bowl increased, in terms of the audience it would draw, and in terms of the actual amount of that audience that would sit willingly through the commercials.
Ruth Krause and Helen Whittle lament that the German language "is littered with what some people view as derogatory or discriminatory words," often connected to antiquated racial or ethnic terms:
In pubs across Bavaria, people order "Negroes" or "Russians," and receive a wheat beer mixed with cola or lemonade. A traditional restaurant in Kiel is proudly called Zum Mohrenkopf, which translates as The Moor's Head. Words such as "negro" and "Moor" have been disdained by the politically correct crowd for years. But "negro kisses" or "Moor heads," a German adaptation from the French tête de nègre, or "negro head" - referring to candies made from marshmallows, chocolate and wafers - remain firm favorites at children's birthday parties.
(Photo of those marshmallow chocolates by Janet McKnight)
Peter Gajdics describes his experiences with reparative therapy:
Three years into the therapy I suffered a physical and mental breakdown precipitated by prolonged, near-fatal doses of five concurrent psychotropic medications, one of the many ways Alfonzo "helped" suppress my libido so that I could "flip over to the other side" (to heterosexuality). When it became clear, despite the medications and near-daily "feeling therapy," that my same-sex erotic desires were not diminishing, Alfonzo ordered me to bottle my feces and to sniff it whenever I was attracted to a man. "You need to be reminded where homosexual men stick their penis," he said. "You need to be reminded that homosexual relations are not pleasurable.” When none of that worked—I was still attracted to men, only now all erotic desire seemed to elicit the smell of feces—Alfonzo threatened to hook my genitals up to electrodes. "Without my help," he told me weeks later, "you’ll probably just get AIDS and die."
Claire Cameron celebrates Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary, praising the way the novelist "fit his story in between what we know and how we feel," resulting in a story about Jesus and his followers that powerfully resonates with our own experiences of grief and tragedy:
We know the Bible. In Tóibín’s telling, the writers of the gospel were attempting to tell a story about redemption. When they hear Mary’s version of the crucifixion, they discount it and go on to write about a resurrection instead. We feel a mother who has lost her son. Tóibín’s intimate approach makes Mary feel more credible and human than the other versions of her we’ve come across before, whether they be in a crèche, a church or on a piece of toast. To her, the crucifixion was a horrific tragedy and this intuitively feels right. No parent could see the torture and death of his or her child in any other way.
(Image: "The Madonna in Sorrow" by Giovanni Battista Salvi, via Wikimedia Commons)
[T]he essential theme of Wiesel's 57th book is the role of theology in a secular age. If he were allowed one question to God, asks an interviewer, what would it be? Wiesel answers with one syllable: "Why?" The survivor belongs, he continues, "to a generation that has often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind." And yet, "I believe that we must not give up on either."
In essence, this means that as a Jew who has seen the worst that history has to offer—and who notes the genocidal acts that go on unabated in Africa and the Middle East—Wiesel still sees the glass as half-full. And as a writer who saw how the perversion of language could contribute to genocide, he still believes in the power of prose and poetry to redeem humanity despite its inhumanity. "I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console." The author's choice manifests itself on every page.
"In the Valley of the Elwy" by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1899):
I remember a house where all were good
To me, God knows, deserving no such thing:
Comforting smell breathed at very entering,
Fetched fresh, as I suppose, off some sweet wood.
That cordial air made those kind people a hood
All over, as a bevy of eggs the mothering wing
Will, or mild nights the new morsels of Spring:
Why, it seemed of course; seemed of right it should.
Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales,
All the air things wear that build this world of Wales
Only the inmate does not correspond:
God, lover of souls, swaying considerate scales,
Complete thy creature dear O where it fails,
Being mighty a master, being a father and fond.
(Photo including Hopkins, on the far right, circa 1866, via Wikimedia Commons)
Philosopher Huw Price thinks "we humans are nearing one of the most significant moments in our entire history: the point at which intelligence escapes the constraints of biology." He frets that "if technology does get to this stage, the most important fixed point in our landscape is no longer fixed":
Technology will have modified the one thing, more than anything else, that has made it “business as usual” so long as we have been human. Indeed, it’s not really clear who “we” would be, in those circumstances. Would we be humans surviving (or not) in an environment in which superior machine intelligences had taken the reins, to speak? Would we be human intelligences somehow extended by nonbiological means? Would we be in some sense entirely posthuman (though thinking of ourselves perhaps as descendants of humans)?
Regensburg, Germany, 9.45 am
Ariel Sabar reports that it's dying out:
Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic, was the common tongue of the entire Middle East when the Middle East was the crossroads of the world. ... In a highly connected global age, languages are in die-off. Fifty to 90 percent of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken today are expected to go silent by century’s end. We live under an oligarchy of English and Mandarin and Spanish, in which 94 percent of the world’s population speaks 6 percent of its languages. Yet among threatened languages, Aramaic stands out. Arguably no other still-spoken language has fallen farther.
Will McDavid ruminates on one of Ernest Hemingway's most compelling short stories, "Big Two-Hearted River," which he describes as "a story about war, woundedness, and living with memories and ghosts":
The story’s central symbol, of course, is the river. Nick can tell his position from the river; the river allows him to engage his emotions for the first time all trip; the river exerts pressure upon him and is dangerous. The river here is a symbol for Nick’s own emotional life, the two-heartedness he feels in the need for mundane stability (the shallows) and the need for emotional excitement (the deeper, faster water). As Nick tries to reel in the large trout, Hemingway notes that he’s leaning backward into the river, and it’s mounting against his thighs. He’s bracing himself against the river’s pressure, but his emotions are mounting, and they almost overwhelm him. At the same time the nicotine is giving him some emotional distance from the fight with the trout, he’s stepped out of the river, too. The emotional avoidance is far from ideal, but Nick is wise about knowing himself and processing only as much as he is capable of handling at a given time. Temptation tells him to immerse himself in the river and process everything at once; the voice of grace gives him room to take it in as he must – it gives him time, space, and permission to engage his emotional life gradually, without too much excitement all at once. The voice of grace frees him to listen to the voice of simple prudence.
I must admit, I both do and don’t want to believe Elie is right, personally, about belief and American storytelling today. I both do and don’t want to believe it, because one of the scripts I wrote that I’m most fond of is engaged precisely on the territory that he says isn’t being tackled. It’s about belief – and the transforming power of surrender to the divine – and it’s also about the sociology of religion in America today (not at all the same thing). I’d like to think it’s a story he’d appreciate. And I’ve gotten pushback from some producers on the grounds that it’s “too religious” or I don’t do enough to “explain” this foreign world to audiences. I’d like to think that only means I’m on to something – that I’ve got a story that “needs to be told.” And yet I not only don’t feel the script I wrote is foreign to audiences – I don’t feel it’s foreign to contemporary cinema. Of course I believe it’s a unique snowflake; but I don’t think it’s the only snowflake in the blizzard.
Luke Kelly-Clyne praises an awesome new web series:
Created and written by husband and wife team Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld, executive produced by them and Sinclair’s manager, Russell Gregory, and brought to life by a stellar cast and crew, High Maintenance follows a cycling weed man as he makes his deliveries to different New Yorkers in their native habitats. Nuanced in its voyeurism and deft in its subtle comedic breaks, this is more than a funny show. It’s honest and true, unapologetically and consistently straight with no regard for Internet video conventions or goofy stoner genre norms.
A very different but equally amazing episode after the jump:
An average guy, supposing he weighs about 150 pounds, burns closer to 3.5 calories per minute having sex. The authors write, "Given that the average bout of sexual activity lasts about 6 minutes, a man in his early-to-mid-30s might expend approximately 21 kcal during sexual intercourse. Of course, he would have spent roughly one third that amount of energy just watching television, so the incremental benefit of one bout of sexual activity with respect to energy expended is plausibly on the order of 14 kcal" (emphasis added).
So there you have it. Sex is better for you than watching Downton Abbey…but only by 14 calories.
He's not looking for the big names of street art but for what he calls 'the little guy', the one who's drunk, angry, frustrated, bored or who just want to look like a bad boy (and miserably fails in the attempt.) The result is funny but somehow it has more soul than the works you can admire at the MOBA (the Museum of Bad Art.) And that's probably because Hocking knows that a graffiti can never really be taken out of its context. His photos show the comedy but also the tragedy of abandoned buildings, of a city hit by crisis, of its disenchanted inhabitants.
Andrea Denhoed recounts the sad tale of a friend who, as a commentary on his solitary life, staged a fake wedding to a deaf Ukrainian woman on Facebook:
We all know that there are fake people on the Internet, just as we know that there are e-mail scammers, sexual predators, and virus authors, and what we envision are reptilian-looking loners sitting in basements, growing sallow by the blue light of their monitors. But maybe we should be picturing Manti Te’o, or the sweet-faced woman at the end of "Catfish." We’re on guard against Ukrainian scammers being manipulative and mercenary when what we should be concerned about is Tim being lonely, resentful, reckless, and attention starved.
When we talk about the "dark side" of the Internet, we’re usually talking about criminal deception, or sometimes about porn, but what about the time we spend refreshing our inboxes like lab mice hoping for a pellet, or the vast unacknowledged expanses where we let our brains go stupid and set them free to graze on things like "The Ultimate Girls Fail Compilation 2012," which currently has more than sixty-six million views on YouTube, but none of the buzz and analysis that follows "legitimate" viral videos?
The Internet is perhaps the closest thing we’ll ever have to the ring of Gyges—the invisibility charm that allows its wearer to be alone while having access to the outside world—which Plato posited as the truest test of how a person will act when freed from accountability or restraint. We might not be doing anything evil, but we’re not doing anything we want the world to see.
Meanwhile, developers have come up with Informacam, "an app that collects and analyzes the metadata stored in digital photos and video":
Bent Creek, North Carolina, 5 pm
Sam Scott previews "synthetic alcohol," a compound being tested on humans that could be on the market in two years:
It has a chemical structure similar to benzodiazepine, a class of psychoactive drugs that treat anxiety and insomnia. The as-yet-unnamed drug can produce alcohol's desirable effects such as sociability and relaxation, but without negative effects such as nausea.
"We can get rid of most of the toxicity. We'll have a compound maybe 100 times safer than alcohol," claims [David Nutt of the Brain Sciences Division at Imperial College London]. This means less damage to the heart and liver, but it also lets you wake up fresh. "Because it targets a specific receptor in the brain, we can reverse the effects if people want to drive home," adds Nutt. The antagonist could come in the form of a pill, or a dissolvable film that is placed under the tongue.
Update from a reader:
Call me crazy but isn't that smoking pot?
Brooks Sterrit picks out lines from the Bard that feel oddly at home in contemporary hip-hop. A few favorites:
"I’ll teach you how to flow." (The Tempest)
"He speaks plain cannon fire, and smoke and bounce." (King John)
"Holla, you clown!" (As You Like It)
"Trip no further, pretty sweeting." (Twelfth Night)
"The books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation—a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us," - Franz Kafka.
"Winter Carnival in a Small Flemish Town" by Emily Fragos:
On the iced-over, metal-gray pond, skaters are held
At beautiful angles by water and air. Such suppleness
Of limbs, spines, strong knees, and light, tilting heads
To balance their spinning bodies. Two boys are facing off;
One, about to touch the other’s nerve, sure to bring fists
Or tears, is pulling back from the brink he’ll never know.
The requisite music, a man with his lute. The selling of warm ale
In clay jugs and of spicy cakes. Under a huge, white ocean of sky,
A cow with frozen udders stands right of center, gazing past us
Like a worn-out party guest, listening to the moans of the winter dead:
Take shelter, dear people. Swathe your children, bolt your doors,
And stoke y our fires. Get off that softening pond. Quick!
Via Brain Pickings, Virginia Woolf wonders:
What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art.
An excerpt from her diary in 1920:
To Fairburn, a street can outline the curve of a smile and the highways can fracture across a solemn face, creating a hauntingly beautiful representation of human expression.
How Eric Giroux puts it:
Remember when you were a kid and you’d look at a map and be like ‘that looks like a dude wearing a chef’s hat’ or some shit? Well Fairburn takes that same sort of imagination to an entirely new level.
[It] is much in the same vein as "Live every day like it's your last." It's a nice idea until you think about it. After you kill a man just to see what it feels like, then what? Who wants to spend every day on the phone with the same twelve people repeating "I just want you to know that I love you very much"? Nobody does.
We are, in fact, motivated in no small measure by competitive drive. But, as Hume suggests, only the extraordinarily vain will be able muster and sustain the will to produce when "up against" the whole eternal pantheon of letters. The petty contest for merely local glory gets the scale of useful emulation about right. It's probably better for literature if we don't try to play dead.
In his 1971 novel, The Abortion, Richard Brautigan imagined a home for the "unwanted . . . and haunted volumes of American writing." In 2010, Brautigan fan John Barber brought to life the Brautigan Library. Wes Enzinna visits the stacks:
Patrons from across the United States have paid twenty-five dollars apiece to house their unpublished novels here, books with titles like "Autobiography of a Nobody" and "Sterling Silver Cockroaches." The shelves hold 291 of these cheap vinyl-bound volumes, which are organized into categories according to a schema called the Mayonnaise System: Adventure, Natural World, Street Life, Family, Future, Humor, Love, War and Peace, Meaning of Life, Poetry, Spirituality, Social/Political/Cultural, and All the Rest. Bylines and titles don’t appear on the covers. "The only way to browse the stacks is to choose a category and pick at random," Barber explains. "Are you in the mood for Adventure or the Meaning of Life?"
Why Brautigan is an appropriate namesake:
At the end of his life, Brautigan — despite tremendous commercial success early in his career for works like Trout Fishing in America — couldn’t get his own work published, and he blamed the "eastern critical mafia" for brutal reviews and for ruining his reputation. Brautigan’s work isn’t widely read today — Thomas McGuane’s criticism in 1973 that Brautigan was an anachronism, "nothing but a pet rock! A fucking hula hoop!" has, perhaps, proved prophetic. Yet Brautigan has nonetheless become a patron saint for failed writers, a novelist and poet in whose work — and the peculiar library named after him — thwarted authors find refuge.
Read some descriptions of the Library's collection over at its website. Dish fave:
Clue: The photo was taken at 8.12 am on January 10th 21st.
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 VFYWcontest@gmail.com. Winner gets a free The View From Your Window book. Have at it.