I’ll see your Pope on the cover of Rolling Stone


…and raise you St. Francis De Sales over at Paris Review Daily:

In fact, hell has a way of rearing its infernal head at awkward moments throughout the Devout Life, perhaps as in life itself. Here’s a bit from “Balls, and Other Lawful But Dangerous Amusements,” which doesn’t mean what you think it does:

“Balls and similar gatherings are wont to attract all that is bad and vicious; all the quarrels, envyings, slanders, and indiscreet tendencies of a place will be found collected in the ballroom. While people’s bodily pores are opened by the exercise of dancing, the heart’s pores will be also opened by excitement … while you were dancing, souls were groaning in hell by reason of sins committed when similarly occupied, or in consequence thereof.”

Buzzkill, Francis! Not all his advice is so starchy, though. In “We Must Attend to the Business of Life Carefully, But Without Eagerness or Over-Anxiety,” he writes, “Imitate a little child, whom one sees holding tight with one hand to its father, while with the other it gathers strawberries or blackberries from the wayside hedge.” (I do this literally all the time—can’t recommend it highly enough.)

Still, if Francis has really been watching over the Fourth Estate for these many centuries, one imagines he’s pretty disappointed with the profession. After all, journalists and writers are not known for their piety, to put it mildly. Saving Calvinists from perdition no longer moves us to dip our pens.

“Buzzkill, Francis!” is my new “Settle down, Francis.” I do feel a bit sorry for the writer, however – in his rush to smirk, he’s overlooked Francis’s perceptive genius: quarrels, envyings, slanders and indiscreet tendencies on the dance floor form the basis for a great many of today’s more popular poems, the kind that show up on the radio.

Quarrels? Check 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”

When my joint get to pumping in the club, it’s on
I wink my eye at your chick, if she smiles, she gone
If the roof on fire, man, just let it burn
If you talkin’ about money, homie I ain’t concerned
I’mma tell you what Banks told me Cuz, go ahead, switch the style up
If they hate then let them hate and watch the money pile up
Or we can go upside your head with a bottle of bub’

Envyings? The list is endless, since the club seems to be as much about establishing status as anything else, but let’s take this very basic example from Will i. Am’s “Scream & Shout”

Everybody in the club
All eyes on us
All eyes on us
All eyes on us

Slanders? Back to 50 Cent and “Get Out Da Club”

Bitch you think you high class you ain’t worth a third of a nigga
Ya man is gangsta but we ain’t never heard of the nigga

And hoo boy, indiscreet tendencies. I’m gonna use this bit from Jennifer Lopez’s “On the Floor,” since it actually mentions sweat, and Francis mentioned the open pores brought on by dancing…

That badonka donk is like a trunk full of bass on an old school Chevy
Seven tray donkey donk
All I need is some vodka and some coke
And watch, she going to get donkey konged
Baby if you’re ready for things to get heavy
I get on the floor and act a fool if you let me
Don’t believe me just bet me
My name isn’t Keith but I see why you Sweat me
L.A. Miami New York
Say no more get on the floor

The poor devil also seems to misunderstand what it means for a saint to be the patron of this or that profession. Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but I always thought it had more to do with the excellent execution of the work than the piety of the worker. As long as we still dip our pens in the service of truth, I’m pretty sure Francis has to be pleased.



  1. Jonathan Potter says

    You call this upping the ante? The Paris Review is fine and dandy and all, but pope is on the cover of the friggin’ Rolling Stone, dude!

  2. Jonathan Potter says

    Speaking of popes, check out dude’s answer to #4 here.

    • Matthew Lickona says

      He better hang on to at least some of that exorbitant material wealth. Veuve Clicquot ain’t cheap, and there are a lot of people out there to baptize.

  3. In case it is of interest, here is what I have written on HIV/Aids, although it will probably be known already. I need to check it again, but otherwise don’t plan to do much more with it:

    It seems likely that HIV is a fictitious ‘viral infection’ that was invented for political reasons and that the illnesses associated with AIDS are either themselves fictitious (for example, cancer) or the result of treatment and other environmental factors . If we set aside, as Descartes asks us to, the foundational facts of science that we have been told, and instead rely on observation and reasoning to decide what is most likely to be true, it seems impossible that virus cells would damage, or kill, the person. Even if one assumes that they are able to travel, despite their size, through liquids and tissues, or travel through membranes from spaces and cavities within the body, and thrive and multiply (by whatever means), and assuming that they have a motive for harming and killing the person, a virus cell that is initially imperceptible to the senses, and which remains invisible to the eye, will not possess the ability to inflict harm whatever its number, however many cells might theoretically inhabit the body at any one time (including those that may remain after their death). This is because the capacity of a large number of cells to inflict harm is not substantially greater than that of the individual cell (as, for example, a number of very small simultaneous stings will not hurt significantly more than one sting, and as the sound of several birds singing will not be significantly louder than that of the song of one bird); and because even if the individual cells are able, in theory, to join together to form a larger substance, as is the case, for example, with the constituent parts of a tumour or of an animal, the fact that the virus cell is apparently invisibly small to the eye, even when a light is shone on it, implies that by whatever number it is multiplied, it will have no volume or weight. For the same reason, the virus will not be able to overwhelm the body by virtue of the number of its cells. When a person is sickened by, for example, the flu or the common cold, this is a because the body is weak, not because it has been infected by a virus of any kind. Similarly, a person who falls ill or dies as a result of HIV infection does so because of factors that will include those related to their diagnosis and treatment but not because of HIV infection.
    Although diagnosis is by a colour test, which it is possible now to do in the home but which needs to be sent to a laboratory for analysis, it is said to be possible to view the HIV virus cells under a microscope, either within blood samples or where the cells have been partially, or completely, isolated from bodily fluids. If, as is claimed, the virus is approximately one times ten to the minus nine metres in diameter, and if, as is claimed, a magnification of around ten thousand is needed to view the cell, the image of the cell would be only approximately one hundredth of a millimetre in diameter, that is, smaller than the image that it presented using the microscope. [check]. In any case, it is not apparent that something as small as a virus cell would exist as a particular entity, nor that anything, whatever its size, would present a clear image with such a magnification. A thing can be divided, arithmetically, by one times ten to the negative nine, but that does not mean that anything that small necessarily exists. When particular – in the sense of whole – living things do exist at an extremely small size (which raises the question of what they emerge from, since some moving life forms appear to emerge at a larger size from, for example, decaying fruit fibres), it is likely to be possible to view them as clearly, or more clearly, without magnification as with it.

    For example, it is possible to see with the eye alone tiny spores of mould and also things resembling mould in motion. However, if you enlarge a thing or a substance using a microscope , quite soon, that is, with increasing magnification, there comes a point (even if the magnification claimed is not possible to achieve) at which the image becomes indistinct. A lens reduces or magnifies, its effect increasing the further away the object is. When something is placed under a microscope lens the effect of magnification is therefore relatively limited, while the person’s focus is on what is very close, with increased lighting, and so which might otherwise not been seen clearly. The extent of magnification needed to enlarge a close object would be such as to render the image indistinct. Even if it were possible to obtain a clear enlarged image of a close (but relatively distant) object with a particular curvature of the lens, the difficulty would remain of obtaining an accurate two dimensional representation of the three dimensional constituents of a three dimensional cell and one in which, at such a magnification, the image would not be influenced by intervening objects (such as dust particles) and reflected lighting, and relative sizes would not be distorted in what is viewed (even if they could be calculated) and in which some parts of the image would not appear clearer than others.

    Therefore, whether or not there is a discrepancy between the size of the cells, the magnification, and the image, the difficulty remains of obtaining a clear image of the cell with increasing magnification. A ‘powerful’ microscope, such as an electron microscope, which apparently presents clear images of such things as nuclei and electrons, more plausibly contains the images within it (as in a viewfinder or kaleidoscope). And even if the nature of microscopy were such that it was possible in theory to see the virus under a microscope and to view film of an HIV cell binding to a cell and then injecting its RNA and enzymes into the cell and the RNA transforming into the DNA that enters the nucleus, which it is said to do, observation of other small organisms in nature suggests that it would not, so that any film said to show the virus or the action of the virus has to be viewed with suspicion. . (If, instead, the virus were large enough that a clear image could be viewed under a microscope, virus cells would be visible, for instance at the site of transmission, where it is said to multiply.)

    Instead, it seems odd that HIV ‘cells’ cannot survive for long outside the human body. Why would they not, in the apparently more hospitable environment (in terms of temperature, hydration, available nutrition, rest) outside the body? From observation, mould, for instance, appears to thrive in certain conditions but not noticeably within the human body, and this is true of most, if not all, living things, apart from the body’s constituent parts. What is it about virus cells that make the human body an inhospitable environment for most living organisms but the only environment hospitable to HIV virus cells? And would this not make the virus cells especially careful not to destroy it by virtue of their number or any other means, or to alter the body significantly? If they are said to be more suited to an environment in which the person is unhealthy, and therefore would benefit from weakening it, this would only seem likely to be true if a motive to harm is also attributed to them; otherwise, it would make more sense for the cells to target unhealthy individuals initially.
    Second, the nature of transmission seems unlikely. Why would the virus cells enter a part of the body, in the case of sexual activity, from which they might be expelled before they were able to travel? If it is because they can only survive and spread by coming into contact with blood, why would this be so? If the body is able to prevent the absorption of harmful virus cells from the digestive system, despite the small size of the virus cells, or if the virus cells obtain more nourishment, or are otherwise better able to survive and ‘reproduce’, even if only in the short term, in decaying food (in faecal matter) or discharges, setting aside the question of whether these substances themselves might not contain, or produce, harmful substances, how is the virus able to leave the body of one person, enter another, survive, apparently multiply, and then travel to other parts of the body after coming into contact with blood at, or near, the surface of the body?
    For example, during sexual intercourse, the HIV cells are said to travel from the semen, blood, or vaginal discharge of one person into the blood stream of another. In the case of uncircumcised males, transmission would seem to be more likely in the case, for example, of heterosexual intercourse, from semen into the blood stream. How is something as small as an apparently invisible virus cell able to travel out of the semen? Even in the case of blood to blood transmission, how plausible is it that virus cells are able to move in blood in order, first, to leave the body of one person and, second, to multiply, remain dormant (without necessarily presenting more than ‘transient’ symptoms at the site of entry or the rest of the body), and then travel and cause harm?
    Third, the process of replication seems unclear. The virus is said to replicate within the human body, near the site of entry, before travelling, once it has achieved sufficient numbers, and causing harm. since the spaces between ‘cells’ and cavities within the body are not said to constitute a hospitable environment for reproduction (which is consistent with the stated fact that they cannot live outside the body and makes the explanation of cell alteration more coherent, if not more plausible). It is said to replicate by first binding to, and then entering, the host cell, and injecting its DNA (which it has produced from its RNA) into the nucleus of the host cell. It is not clear, first, how it would be able to enter the cell. The fusing of membranes would be more plausible if the viral cell and host cell were of a similar size, or the viral cell were larger, but a blood cell is said to be sixty times larger than the viral ‘capsid’. Neither is it clear why the viral cell would need, in some sense, to enter the nucleus of the cell in order to reproduce, unlike bacteria, which are said to live and multiply in cavities within the body, unless the host cell is in some sense the ‘mate’ of the viral cell, which it is not said to be, even though a clear distinction does not seem to be being drawn between replication and alteration of host cells. Third, it is not clear why the injection of ‘DNA’ , which is information, would lead to the creation of new life, and that the creation of the new viral cell is aided by some sort of mechanism within the host cell again suggests some sort of mating process. That a decaying life form might produce a new one seems possible from observation of nature. But there is no satisfactory account of why a viral cell, imperceptible to the sense, is able to reproduce with and otherwise alter the cell, only a definition: ie, a viral cell is one that reproduces in and then alters the cell. Then, does the initial cell leave the host cell in the same way? Finally, if DNA mutation, which is said to happen more often in the case of HIV cells, is not the result of adaptation – ie, not beneficial – why would a mutant cell be more able to evade the body’s detection and defence mechanisms than the original?
    Fourth, it seems unlikely that cells would be able to replicate in sufficient numbers in areas such as lymph nodes in order later to cause harm throughout the body. In what way will the process of alteration of cells elsewhere in the body differ from replication?
    Fifth, it seems impossible that something as small as a virus cell would be able to move with ease within the body and survive. From observation, a flea, larger than an apparently invisibly small ‘virus cell’, cannot move within even a fairly thin liquid once it has got into it without getting stuck or appearing to drown. How would a virus cell, or a number of virus cells, be able to swim within blood and discharges in order to enter the lymph, and from the lymph into the blood and other parts of the body, especially as the spaces between ‘cells’ and cavities within the body are not said to constitute a hospitable environment,? Whatever the consistency, or viscosity, of different bodily fluids in different environments (eg, blood can vary in thickness, and colour), it seems implausible that an invisibly small virus cell, or its descendants, would be able to leave the area they have inhabited and travel within the body. On the other hand, this would not be inconsistent with the idea, however implausible, that the virus enters cells near the site of entry and reproduces within them: ie, it is possible to imagine hypothetical movement from cell to cell, with replication and alteriation of cells, as it travels, apparently able to thrive in the relatively unstable environment of the human body.
    Sixth, a virus cell, if such a thing existed, would not be able to cause harm. If it can only survive in the human body, if this is the only environment in which it can obtain nourishment and which is not dangerous to it, how would destroying its host create a better environment? If the reason is that it does not expect to survive its host and gains an advantage in the short term, then, setting aside the question of whether this is how nature, as opposed to humanity, behaves, how would any number of virus cells be able to do damage to a living being?

    Assuming its motive was only to obtain nourishment, how would something as small as a virus cell be able, for example, to consume its host, no matter how large its number. From observation, fruit flies may cover the skin of, for example, an apple, but cannot penetrate it in order to gain the nourishment within it. Could any number of virus cells pass through any skin, or membrane, within the body? Small flies may enter relatively solid fruits that have had their skins removed, but they do not appear to alter the fruit’s shape substantially or cause it to decay or dry any faster than if they were not present, and, in fact, seem to feed less on the fruit itself than the mould that appears on it as it decays, so that the flies’effect appears to be, in some way, beneficial. But if the virus’s intention was to consume a part of the body, in which case the HIV virus is essentially the ‘flesh eating bug’ that was discovered some time after the discovery of the HIV virus, how could something invisibly small erode the human body? How much damage can something invisibly small do over whatever length of time and by whatever number it is multiplied? Common sense suggests that a virus cell that cannot live outside the human body would not live for a long time or multiply rapidly and in great numbers inside it. And would the virus cells not seek to regulate their number so as to maintain a hospitable environment? But, however long they lived, and however rapidly and by whatever number they multiplied, something that is initially invisible will not multiply to something with mass.

    If the virus cells harm directly, ie, not as a result of feeding, then, setting aside the question of why, how are they able to do so? Although not said to be the case with HIV infection, one would assume that subsequent exposure would be of relevance if an increase in cells within the body is of relevance. (And that the initial exposure would need to contain above a minimum number of viral cells such that below that number would pose no risk, either immediately or as a result of reproduction if introduced in a hypothetical AIDS vaccine). However, whether or not subsequent exposure would increase the hypothetical risk of illness and fatality, that the ‘virus’ would not cause harm is the same.

    Given the size of the virus cell, the mechanism could not be physical force: no matter how great their number, something as small as a virus cell would not be able to overpower a host. How can something be harmful that is invisible to the eye whatever its number. The ‘cells’ of the body are apparently invisible to the eye but, when multiplied, make up tissue and organs, whereas HIV virus cells cannot be seen by the eye (as, for example, one sees particles of dust when a light is shone on them), whatever their number.

    But neither is it possible for the mechanism to be toxicity. Usually something toxic has a taste or a smell, but the HIV virus is said to have no smell, for example, when present on a slide. A toxin is a substance that enters the body and harms it, usually initially, from which the body generally recovers, unless the toxin proves fatal. Examples of toxins include medicines and other drugs (which, derived from natural substances, might be beneficial in very small amounts but dangerous in larger quantities) and rotten food (which is likely to make the person feel unwell and which is usually expelled).
    Something that is immediately poisonous or rotten will usually, if taken on one occasion in sufficient quantity, harm the person in the sense of causing them to be unwell. In the case of substances that become more toxic without subsequent exposure, ie, where one does not recover (or perceive that one has recovered), which is apparently the case with HIV infection, one assumes either that the cell(s) becomes more toxic, perhaps because it is able to survive, and retain its toxic properties, longer than other toxic substances in the body, and, as other living substances, may become most toxic near or even after its death, or because it multiplies to an extent that other toxic substances are unable to.. However, the fact that the virus cell is unable to survive outside the body suggests it is unlikely to survive within the body longer than other toxins, such as medicines. Although, whatever its number, it would not have mass, some might find the argument that its toxic effect would not increase as its number increased less convincing, even though the most compelling argument against viral infection is that something that is not observable does not exist. But not only does, for instance, the pain or sound from more than one small source not seem substantially greater than that from a number, but, for example, in the case of stings or blows, it seems to be the case that repeated exposure, or an injury in more than one place, has a beneficial effect. For example, a small pain or injury seems to lessen the impact of a potentially more serious one and, in the same way, an injury – and sometimes an illness such as a cold – is usually felt less if a person has drunk alcohol or is sleep deprived. But, in any case, would a virus that is imperceptible to the senses have a greater toxic effect than constant, or even regular, exposure to substances that emit toxic fumes, such as cars and gas heaters?

    Alhtough the virus is said to weaken and kill cells (for example, the ‘T cells’ that normally fight infection), where the mechanism is alteration rather than cell death (which would be the case, for instance, with cancer, where the virus would presumably become an agent or catalyst, or the initial one, of cell proliferation), how would it be able to do so? How would a virus cell, or a part of it, be able to cause a harmful alteration in the tissues or organs of the human body if not by force or through some toxic quality? The process is sometimes asserted and sometimes explained in terms such that it appears to be coherent but is either not consistent with observation of nature or seems to contradict common sense, which is an abstraction from observation . There is not a consistent account of what a cancerous cell looks like, ie, of what distinguishes it from non- malignant cells or from the tissue of benign tumours (so that a diagnosis of malignancy is made according to invasion of surrounding tissue rather than by cell pathology), and nor is it clear how a cancerous cell can invade, or otherwise affect, surrounding cells and tissue, nor how it could break away and travel to distant organs, nor necessarily how it ultimately kills, ie, whether it is through the destruction, through alteration, of vital organs. And neither is it clear how a virus cell could be the direct agent of alteration of cells in the way it is described, that is, by injecting its genetic code or enzymes [check for cancer – ie, that is how it enters cells]. In terms of whether or not it could otherwise cause a lump, in the sense of provoking one, it seems likely that lumps in the body are the result of such things as knocks, and represent injury or death of tissue or an obstruction of some sort, although it is possible that some might have a protective purpose (for example, to protect against further injury). In that case, it is possible, in theory, that a lump would develop, for example, near the site of infection or elsewhere in the body the virus cells had travelled to, but only if the virus presented an obstruction or was otherwise harmful.

    What kills in the case of apparently fatal illnesses such as AIDS is a cumulative weakening caused by the drugs (prescription or otherwise), which either weaken or else stimulate and then weaken, introduce poisons into the body, cause diarrhoea or constipation or encourage anorexia, depress or confuse and cause poor decision making, make one more susceptible to colds and respiratory illnesses (especially if one believes one ‘catches’ them from others), and as well to night sweats, rashes and spots, which are the body’s response to fatigue, cold, heat, dehydration or over hydration, and malnourishment, which, at the same time, the body may be less able to recognise and to respond to); surgery (which weakens, at least temporarily, so increasing the risk from other depressants, because of anaesthesia or blood loss); poor diet (insufficient calories, food that is not fresh or that contains toxins, including in alcohol and coffee); environmental factors, particularly inadequate heating, extreme heat, and fluctuations in temperature; excessive physical exercise in an effort to maintain fitness, and perhaps insomnia or too much sleep; and the emotional stress, and fatalism, caused by the belief, and others’ belief, that one has a potentially fatal illness. As you do not need gravity to explain why things fall to earth, you do not need cancer and HIV/AIDS to explain why people who have received a diagnosis of either might fall ill and die.
    In 1985, the HIV virus was reported to be the cause of a group of illnesses affecting homosexuals, heroin users, and haitians. There is currently no test for HIV infection that can be bought and the results obtained in the home. Whether or not a vaccine would be safe and effective, apparently promising trials, for example, in Thailand ten years ago, have come to nothing. Although life expectances for those testing ‘HIV positive’ are now said to be near normal, a diagnosis will narrow life choices and create fear. Although there is apparently a global food crisis, it seems unlikely that nature would present insurmountable problems such that humanity’s survival would depend on inventing and treating fictitious illnesses, while intended rational decisions about the targeting of individuals and populations will have been made, on their own terms (for example, the economic and cultural consequences), in error. An alternative would be to live in accordance with nature and according to natural law.

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