Thursday, 12 September 2013

Talking to nuns about Pope Francis

Pope Francis is quite interesting. He has refused to move into the papal apartments and instead lives in the rooms in the Domus S. Marthae which he had before he was elected. The Domus S. Marthae is a residence/hotel which was built by Pope John-Paul II so that cardinals could have somewhere to stay while electing popes. It's generally used as a nice enough hotel but it's not that fancy -- I know because I stayed there in Spring 2010. Looking at how I described it at the time, I said that the rooms upstairs were straightforward and plain but the downstairs reception rooms quite fancy. (Though the view was pretty impressive.) By staying there he is avoiding the control which the Vatican system could otherwise have over who has access to him, and dodging the civil servants.

He has an interesting past too, in a bad way. Several decades ago his withdrawal of support for some priests in the slums of Argentina led to their arrest and torture. These priests were proponents of liberation theology, which takes the view that priests must live and work alongside the poor, and which has been viewed with suspicion by church authorities because of its links with Marxism. According to some readings of Francis' life since he has been increasingly filled with guilt over this, and moved more and more towards the liberation theology way of thinking. The idea that the church is for the poor doesn't seem in the least controversial to me, but the Roman Catholic church has a complicated history to work from.

So what will happen as a result of this, who knows? It might be something good. The nuns felt positive about it. I don't myself quite understand how you can have a pope. Pope Francis has responded to a series of reflections in an Italian newspaper by an interested non-believer in what seems to me, given that my Italian is basic, to be quite friendly language. (There is a not-very-good English translation here.) He has suggested that of course atheists must abide by their own consciences. (Which may not be a papal statement that leaves most atheists overjoyed and relieved but then he is responding to specific questions in a particular series of articles so it's not something which he has come out with from thin air.) But what about Roman Catholics, are they also supposed to abide by their own conscience? I honestly don't know how it works.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

News from the internet

I've been to Cambridge, which is a complicated place, and to the monastery of Le Bec Hellouin, where I chanted Psalms in French and discussed Pope Francis with some Benedictine sisters.  But now it's lovely to be back in my little house at the end of the street. Here are some things that have happened while I've been gone.

1. This child tricked, rather than wrestled, a hamster into costumes. Good parental advice there.

2. Is this a real book trailer for Pynchon's new book? It seems legit, and is linked to from the Penguin website, but it's also pretty wierd.

Bleeding Edge book trailer from The Penguin Press on Vimeo.

3. This thing about the accent of Shakespeare's time is quite cool. I wish I talked like that all the time.

4. You've probably already seen the "Ask a Slave" youtube series.

5. I knew breakfast wasn't really that big a deal!

Sunday, 1 September 2013


There are two (2) things that make it a little bit harder for me to blog these days. The first is that I am sleeping tons better than I'm used to. I don't want to jinx it -- and given how much sleep is affected by some deep level of the subconscious that seems like a real possibility -- but at the moment I keep doing this weird thing where I turn off my reading light, shut my eyes, and am asleep within about twenty minutes. No more mulling over deep thoughts in the middle of the night. The other thing is that I spend most of my working hours thinking quite hard. My post-doc academic jobs have involved large amounts of what is essentially just data entry. Once you know how to take book X and summarise its position on charter/manuscript Y into database Z (hint: start at the index) you find that it's not quite taking up all your brain, not to mention that there's all the time you spend physically tracking down a copy of book X, backing up database Z, etc etc. Whereas mundane activities are rare in my current employment. Most days I do something which I had no idea how to do the previous day. I have to do a lot of thinking abstractly about organisation and patterns, and I also do a lot of learning to use new tools.

It's not that I don't have things to blog about. I've been doing quite a bit of thinking about gender in particular, because I find myself in a very male-dominated though thankfully not macho environment. I've been doing some STEM ambassador work (to encourage the youth in its regard for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths, though I really only care about computer programming) because I want there to be more visible female computer programmers and the only one whose visibility I get to control is me. I really want to blog about these things. I fear that maybe not blogging about them is a sign that I haven't been getting the chance to think about them to semi-finishedness.

And if I haven't been thinking about those things fully, there may be more important but less to-be-blogged-about things that I haven't been considering. I'm off next week on the Corpus Christi College annual trip to the monastery of Bec, which will give me some time to think about God and truth. But as for blog things I think maybe I should try to do what I would do with a complicated task at work, e.g. break it down into several different small parts and write short clear things for each one.