Steve’s Reads 1/24/14

I swear at some point I will write things other than lists of things you should read. I will do more than meta-reading. In fact I have a post up at Daily Theology today that I think is worth your while. But I won’t comment on my own writing. That’s meta-narcissism. No wait. Just narcissism.

There were several things I was struck by this week, so commentary will be short. Two football, two Bible, one Papal, one about education.

Regarding My Wife and Peyton Manning
Peyton Manning was/is really important for my home city of Indianapolis, and not just because football. Beyond leading the Colts out of a decade and half of football funk (with a few good seasons thrown in), he also did a lot of charity work (particularly the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital) and was an overall good ambassador for the city. This piece brings out a lot of the decent human side of him too – letter writing, phone calls, his relationships with people in the Colts organization beyond players and front-office types. I still think the Colts made the right call in letting him go and drafting Andrew Luck, but I will be a little sad watching Peyton play a Superbowl for someone other than Indy (I hope he wins).

Changing the Conversation
There’s an interesting proposal by Roger Goodell to change the extra point/2 point conversion after touchdown system in the NFL. I don’t think it’s a great (or necessary) idea, but this article makes an interesting case for the role of statistics, expected value, and loss aversion in analyzing the change. One can reasonably argue that this rule change would really only remove the act of kicking the extra point (as regards outcomes), but it could change the psychology of the decision making. It also references the question of what to do on 4th down, and I appreciate and agree with its encouragement of going for it on 4th down more often.

#CanonFodder: The shortest ever commentary on the whole Bible
This is an excellent project on Twitter: offering 140 character commentaries on every book of scripture. It sounds like a silly exercise at first, but some of these are poignant, precise, and moving. Some favorites of mine:

  • Amos: Hallelujah! The Lord is here! Run for your lives!
  • Matthew: We thought his teaching was a mirror of God’s Law, but we were wrong. The Law is the mirror, reflecting him.
  • Galatians: We felt insecure without our chains so we hired experts to repair them. Then Paul came back, wielding a sledgehammer.

And the one that still gives me chills to think about: “Psalms: The invention of antiphony: when my heart broke in two, I taught both parts to sing.”

Bad Music Theology: ‘Timber’ by Pitbull (feat. Ke$ha)
I love Ke$ha and regularly use her as an example in my undergrad theology class. I like this song, which is featured regularly at our Wednesday trivia nights. But never have I loved this song as much as I did after reading this analysis, which (tongue firmly in cheek) redeems the song in light of the prophet Elijah. This post shows what it means to win at internet.

Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter
This is the 48th message for World Communications Day (the only annual day of celebration called for by the documents of Vatican II). These messages don’t get the attention they deserve, so you should go read it (and then read my commentary/analysis on it at Daily Theology).

An open letter to Father Garanzini
It’s a letter worth reading, especially if you’re involved in Catholic higher education. There are major questions (I can’t answer here) about the relationship between the university as educator/formator and the university as business. Without the first, there is no mission; without the second, the mission is unlikely to be supported. This letter sees Loyola Chicago as lurching too much towards business at the cost of undermining its actual mission. Although I can’t comment on Loyola specifically, I do see this question cropping up elsewhere, and it needs more serious reflection (and, at the very least, awareness).

Who is My Digital Neighbor? World Communications Day 2014

Stephen Okey:

My commentary and analysis on Francis’ 1st World Communications Day message

Originally posted on Daily Theology:

Banner from the Vatican news service
Banner from the Vatican news service
Yesterday Pope Francis released his message for the 48th World Communications Day, “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter.” Since 1967, most of these messages (and every one since 1996) have been dated for release on January 24th, the feast day of Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists. They are released several months ahead of the actual day of celebration, typically in May or June, of World Communication Day: “each year in every diocese of the world, by the determination of the Bishops, there should be celebrated a day on which the faithful are instructed in their responsibilities” with respect to media (Inter Mirifica 18).

Although these messages are often overlooked, I think the internet popularity of Pope Francis makes it more likely that this message will be read. Here, I’d like to offer some comments on key…

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Steve’s Reads 1/17/14

This past week was the first week of class at Saint Leo, so most of my reading was class prep. But there were a few things I enjoyed/felt challenged by, so I share them here.

For Roger Mahony, Clergy Abuse Cases Were a Threat to Agenda
This investigative essay is from 12/1/13, and it has been sitting in my browser tabs since then, waiting for a moment when I had the time to really sit and read it. The story of Mahony, the former Archbishop of Los Angeles, ends up being a tragic one (in several senses). The obvious tragedy is that of the clergy sex abuse scandal and the efforts by church leaders to cover it up/hide it/ignore it/protect the reputation over the vulnerable. The tragedy this article focuses on, and quite perceptively, is the loss of moral authority that these cover-ups led to.

Mahony was an advocate for nuclear disarmament, for opposing the death penalty, for immigration reform that actually cared about immigrants, and for peaceful resolution to the 1992 LA riots. And, in many of these areas, he seemed to be doing good work – he was good at making connections, he was someone people in LA (and not only Catholics) seemed to trust, and he largely used his moral authority in positive, productive ways.

He was also (arguably) better than others in conference of bishops at paying attention to abuse. Nonetheless, he obstructed police investigations, did anything possible to avoid the scandal becoming public, and refused to turn over his meticulous personnel files on suspected/accused abusers. In addition to the pain caused by the abuse itself and the ensuing cover-up, these actions undermined whatever moral authority Mahony previously held. Mahony represents a microcosm of the experience of the larger church in this matter.

In the Name of Love
When I was in high school/college, the advice I got from my parents was along the lines of “do what you’re passionate about, but make sure you can pay the bills.” It wasn’t as naked a form of “Do What You Love” as the one this article looks at, but it was close. And the truth is, I am incredibly blessed and privileged to do what I love. I have a job that is personally and vocationally satisfying while also paying me sufficiently to live a comfortable existence. And I probably would not have gotten to hear without listening to that mantra somewhat.

The article makes an insightful and often overlooked point about “DWYL” – that those who are able to do so are more than likely the benefits of class privilege, whether that’s access to real wealth or even just a basic parental safety net. In addition to the question of privilege, it also highlights the potential narcissism of this view – it’s all about me and what I want to do, because I’m a delicate snowflake, unique in every way.

I’d be interested in seeing someone more grounded in the sphere of Catholic social ethics respond to this – the article gestures toward the CST tenet of “dignity of work and the rights of workers” by emphasizing that many people perform work that is not apparently lovable but is necessary for the functioning of society. One summer, while I was home from college (privilege privilege privilege), I worked maintenance at a local school cleaning boilers, filling ditches with gravel, etc. I did not love the work, and I doubt many people who do that for their livelihood (and not their summer spending money) love it either. Yet we also believe that there is (or should be) dignity in such work, that there is something virtuous in honest labor, and that the dignity of those workers ought to be respected. I don’t think work needs to be “lovable” in order to have “dignity.” Perhaps by selling labor primarily in terms of a privileged sense of personal satisfaction is an overlooked challenge to this tenet of CST.

Deaf Seahawks fullback stars in commercial that will give you chills
I was not familiar with Derrick Coleman before I saw this, but it’s a great commercial and a great story. The real payoff in the commercial is during his voiceover when he says

They gave up on me. Told me I should just quit. They didn’t call my name. Told me it was over. But I’ve been deaf since I was three. So I didn’t listen.

And now this weekend he’s playing in the NFC Championship game for the Seattle Seahawks. Definitely an inspiring story. I’m rooting for the Broncos to win the SuperBowl this time around (you had a great year, Colts), but this story can get me to pull for the Seahawks this weekend.

Also, I think this provides an interesting juxtaposition with the article immediately above – Coleman has clearly overcome resistance and rejection in order to do what he loves – would he have been successful without (likely) being encouraged to “do what you love”? Can that mantra, if used more carefully, really be a way of fueling one’s pursuits?

15 Technologies That Were Supposed to Change Education Forever
Hat tip to my friend Gabe Rosenberg on this one. A nice review of previous claims about how technological innovation would fundamentally change education, with some excellent pictures/drawings/advertisements. Some have made a difference (yeah sometimes I show videos in class, and everybody loves a search engine), but others just come from an overly optimistic sense of techno-solutionism. So maybe we don’t need to hype every new device/program/app/digital ecosystem as the savior of education from boring lectures and seminars.

My university is really trying to be on the forefront of technologically innovative education. We have no floating schools (or centers, in Saint Leo’s parlance) as of yet, but we do have everything from smartboards and tablets to online courses to video-conferencing. Tomorrow I’ll actually be teaching my first video-conference class, so we’ll see how that goes. The fear in all of this, and one I don’t think we’ve fallen prey to here, is to let the technology replace sound education.

Steve’s Reads 1/10/14

Some years I make New Years resolutions, some years I don’t. But every year, a few of my friends and I decide on a theme for the year. It’s not a prediction of how the year will go, but more of a principle to aspire to. 2013 was the Year of Triumph, and that one worked out pretty well for me, actually. 2014 is the Year of Purpose, and I thought it might be time to think more about the purpose of this blog and website.

So one thing I’m trying to do is give a recap and comment every Friday on articles, blog posts, etc. that I read in the previous week that I thought would be worth your time. Most articles will be from the week, but some might be older things I’m just getting around to reading (the internet takes so much time!). Topics may be diverse. Opinions expressed are my own.

We need to talk about TED
Benjamin Bratton is critical of the culture that TED talks promote: the idea that brief talks with clever ideas are sufficient action to deal with complex major problems. Part of the problem is the way these talks can inspire lack of action (as though talking is enough), part of it is the way these presentations have simply parroted “middlebrow megachurch infotainment.” I tend to be most interested in the “technology” section of the TED talks, and the talks do vacillate between the savior and despair poles of techno-futurism. With respect to technology, it’s very easy to fall prey to the allure of TED talks being a simulation of action – for example, the fears I have about technology, privacy, and loss of solitude have been really interesting for me to think about and have made for great conversation, but they have had virtually no impact on my engagement with technology. I suspect that is the same for most people who watch TED talks. If you’re interested in a theological critique from the same angle, I highly recommend John Slattery’s post at Daily Theology on TED Talks.

A Feminist New Year’s Resolution: Lose Weight-Shaming
I greatly appreciate the tack this post took in the context of resolutions – instead of rejecting them altogether or focusing resolutions on weight (as so many will do this year), perhaps resolve instead not to shame others or one’s self because of weight. My own experience of being overweight/fat/obese resonates with some of this post, although I think also being a man means my history of it is different. My experience of shame has never really been tied to cultural expressions in magazines/TV/movies the way I think it often is for women, but I have experienced it in the context of friends and family.

The post and the comments do raise a thornier issue, which is the connection between fat and health. Although I think some of the comments are correct that the correlation between fat and health has at times been overstated, I disagree with some of the comments that suggest you can’t express concern for someone’s health. In my own case, my ladyfriend has concerns about my own health, and since she’s considering a life with me and the possibility of children and the ways in which bad health now might complicate that, I think she has a legitimate concern. As much as my weight is my issue, it’s problematic to suggest it’s not at all her issue as well. And yes, when we talk about weight/health, it is usually difficult.

Two points I did appreciate are that (a) the mental health effects of fat-shaming are largely ignored and (b) that the experience of feeling better is better motivation than ticking down on the scale. When I eat better, I feel much better (and I lose weight too, but I am actually more satisfied by how I feel).

Her and the Complex Legacy of the Female Robot
I am really looking forward to seeing the movie Her, which is finally coming out in my area today. This article looks at the gender dynamics in play in the film, which most reviews have ignored. One of the (unexplored?) subtexts of the film seems to be that Joaquin Phoenix’s character not only forms an apparently mutual relationship with an operating system, but that he also owns this significant other. The article makes an interesting comparison between the typical depictions of “male” and “female” robots/AIs, arguing that “male artificial intelligence programs are more often portrayed as machines built for disseminating knowledge; they generally don’t attempt to imitate human life or fill emotionally supportive human interpersonal relationship roles—such as romantic partner, spouse, or parent.”

My first thought here though was of the movie Robot and Frank, where Peter Sarsgaard voices a caretaker robot assigned to an elderly Frank Langella who suffers from dementia. Sarsgaard’s robot is a combination housekeeper and live-in nurse – even when he eventually becomes an accomplice in crime, it’s as part of an attempt to care for Frank by promoting a hobby that might promote cognitive improvement. Nonetheless, that movie is more or less an exception to the rule, and I think the article’s points are well-taken. Maybe after I get a chance to see Her, I will write something on the two movies together.

How Pharrell and a Cast of Hundreds Got Happy for a 24-Hour Interactive Video
It would be difficult to overstate how much I love this website right now. Pharrell Williams did a song for the film Despicable Me 2 that is probably the catchiest thing he worked on in 2013 (a year in which he was part of both Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”). Then, he turned it into a 24 hour music video that you can skip ahead through. Once the song starts playing, no matter where you skip to, the song keeps playing from the exact some point you jumped from. It’s exuberant, fun, and a real pick me up. This article looks at how and why they made it happen. Perhaps my favorite part – each scene is done in one continuous take with no reshoots – if someone goofed up, it’s in there. In the end, this song is perfect if you need to throw yourself an impromptu dance party in your office, cubicle, kitchen, public square, bowling alley, whatever.

The Season of Advent: I Want It All

Stephen Okey:

Happy Advent to all!

Originally posted on Daily Theology:

Lego Advent Calendar, halfway through
Lego Advent Calendar, halfway through

Well aware of my deep love for LEGOs, this year my girlfriend gave me a LEGO Advent Calendar. Each of its 24 little cardboard doors hides a small set of pieces, which so far have formed a Christmas tree, a fireplace, a table, some presents, six minifigures, and a grill. Being doubly thoughtful, Paige had also snuck in a note for each day of the Advent calendar, helping her to be present during the season despite our long distance.

This is the first Advent calendar I’ve ever had, and so far it has been excellent training for the season. Like (I suspect) most people with an Advent calendar, I want to open all the doors now. I want all the LEGOs! I want all the notes! I have no desire to wait. My struggle with the Advent calendar has reminded me of one of my…

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Never Forget…Someday Forgive?

Stephen Okey:

I have a lot of strong feelings associated with 9/11. I remember it pretty vividly, and still get emotional talking about it. I’m not at a point of forgiving, although I hope someday I will be.

Originally posted on Daily Theology:

NT5 - Jesus Heals the Paralytic in CapernaumMy birthday is November 22nd, which has the distinction of being (a) the earliest date on the calendar for Thanksgiving and (b) the date President John F Kennedy was assassinated. This latter fact was brought home for me when I was 8 or 10 years old. My family was out to a celebratory dinner at Max & Erma’s (which had a great sundae bar). At some point during the meal, a man in the next booth over turned to ours and asked my parents if they remembered where they were when they heard. I don’t remember the man bothering to specify what it was that they’d heard – it was clear he meant JFK. My parents did remember, and briefly shared their stories with the stranger. To me, it was an odd sort of bonding moment, a shared memory of shock and even grief among strangers.

I don’t really need…

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