Habemus Papam: A Pope. A Language.
From the moment Pope Francis set foot on the
balcony, he projected a man of humility. He asked the sea
of people that swelled before him, to first bless the Holy
See: "In silence, let us say this prayer of you for
me." An inspiring gesture. Yet one, one might say,
that was apt considering the problems and turmoil within the
Catholic church, and how some “higher ups” have
let the faithful down.
Humility in a Pope should be a given. Yet
the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had virtually all the TV
talking heads, swooning at the very concept, waxing “popetic”
as they went on.
I may have been mistaken last month in stating,
that the influence of the papacy has greatly diminished over
time. That would hardly be the takeaway here, judging by the
World Cup atmosphere that overtook some spots around the globe.
And what with those coming out of the Catholic closet—“practicing”
and “lapsed” alike—animatedly speculating
on the far reaching implications of this surprising papal
choice. (Cardinal Scola was a “2-1” favorite going
in, according to U.K. bookmakers.).
Even those of other religious persuasions,
were having trouble curbing their enthusiasm. Politicians
would kill for such bipartisan fawning. Perhaps being Pope,
is still big potatoes.
Yet despite all this, let’s be frank
about the selection of Francis (which happens to be my middle
name, and which I feel a need to point out for reasons that
magnum mysterium mihi (1)
—more on Latin in a moment). He seems to be a solution
to a problem that the church doesn’t really have—especially
relative to its many more pressing issues—and that is,
one of reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised and victims
of social injustice.
I would vouch for that, if the missions I
was involved in with my parish taking me to places such as
an orphanage in Tijuana and the slums of Kenya, are any indication.
But can Francis’s humility and record
of service to the poor, translate into success in other situations?
Can he go beyond the weak mea culpa (2)
issued by his predecessors regarding the pedophile scandals?
Or the apparent fiscal (and possibly other) improprieties
within the Vatican itself?
Secundum imperator consentio (3),
there is hope he’ll take a forthright approach in dealing
with scandals, but given his staunch conservative positions
on church teachings in the past, no one expects any ex
cathedra (4) changing
the church’s position on canon law and theological matters.
Matters such as marriage for priests, women as priests, same-gender
marriage, contraception, and that most volatile issue of all—abortion.
On that note, I turn now to something of a
linguistic nature, that struck me so strongly in watching
all of this. I’ve already hinted at in this text, what
with the use of obscure Latin phraseology.
Latin as a language may be as dead as a doornail (or Marley’s
ghost), but not so in the Vatican (or at St. Patrick’s
on any Sunday, for that matter). The Cardinals chanted Ora
pro nobis (5) as they
made their way to the Sistine Chapel… then a prelate
declared Extra omnes (6)
after they had taken an oath of secrecy… and in a grand
climax the following day, a proclamation of Habemus
Papam! (7) was issued
throughout the world.
The unabashed use of Latin in public, probably hasn’t
been heard since something last uttered by William F. Buckley
Jr., who wound up cum mortuis in lingua mortua
(8). And of course in written form,
legal documents are filled with similar incomprehension in
the belief that quidquid Latine dictum sit altum
This whole papal event, fueled as it was and always has been
by Latin, took me to vita ante acta
(10); a church still steeped in the
The fact that this was the first Pope ever
to come out of a Latin American country, was upstaged for
me by the ritual itself enshrouded in a language of antiquity,
albeit melodious and quaint. Not to mention the white smoke/black
smoke messaging from a jerry-rigged chimney, in those moments
when even Latin was deemed insufficient to convey the weight
(and wait) of the moment.
A shift in the wind? Vicis mos
(1) I am a great mystery to myself.
(2) Though my fault.
(3) According to general consensus.
(4) A formal declaration from “the chair.”
(5) Pray for us.
(6) Outside, all of you (who are not part of this enclave).
(7) We have a Pope!
(8) With the dead in a dead language.
(9) Anything said in Latin sounds profound.
(10) A life done before.
(11) Time will tell.
Quote(s) of the Month
problem can be solved by the same consciousness
that caused it in the first place.
Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis
In errore perserseverare.*
Philippica XII, 5.
can err, but only the fool persists in his fault.
Some things are so ubiquitous,
and yet so simultaineously innocuous, that you never think
of them as having to have been invented. They’ve just
sort of always have been. Crossword puzzles fit that description.
Yet this year marks only the one hundreth anniversary of the
invention of the crossword puzzle as we know it.
It was not some anonymous
discovery found carved in a wall of some cave, or an ancient
game of vague origins that evolved over a couple of millennia—ala
chess— but rather the brainchild of a twentieth century
man, Arthur Wynne from the U.K. He is attributed with being
the first to publish a “word-cross” puzzle on
December 21,1913, that incorporated most of the features in
what we now know as the “crossword.” In time it
would spark a craze that reached a peak in 1924.
How much of a craze? The
New York Times, the most prestigious publisher of the
most difficult crosswords to solve (though it didn’t
publish its first puzzle until 1942), complained back then
sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words, the
letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more
or less complex.
is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport...
[solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive form
of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given
attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development."
Then of course, leave it to
The Protestant Ethic to rain on the parade of fun and games.
A clergyman called the working of crossword puzzles:
mark of a childish mentality"… There is no use
for persons to pretend that working one of the puzzles carries
any intellectual value with it.”
New York Times, December 23, 1924)
It reminds me of an exchange
purported to have taken place at a dinner ceremony between
a Catholic Bishop and Grouch Marx:
“I’d like to thank you Mr. Marx for bringing
so much fun into the world.”
“And I’d like to thank you for taking so much
It is estimated that there
are now some 50 million Americans for whom crossword puzzles
are presumably fun, and a regular part of their lives. So
much for the somber predictions that this fad would quickly
a devotee, I can vouch for the rush one can get from solving
TNYT’s harder weekend puzzles—in ink.
Not exactly akin to running with the bulls in Pamplona, but
to each his own derring-do.
The excellent 2006 documentary
film Wordplay, featuring Will Shortz the editor of
The New York Times crossword puzzle, gives one an
entertaining sense of what drives this diversion.
The movie is also spiced by
appearances of an unlikely and varied cast of celebrity puzzle
solvers such as Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns
and ex-Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina.
Which takes us to the American
Crossword Puzzle Tournament upon which the film is anchored.
Last month, the thirty-sixth
annual tournament was won once again by a guy named Dan Feyer.
It might not be a Super Bowl MVP award, but is it not written
that the geek shall inherit the earth?
As beauty is in the eye of
the beholder, so too is acheivement. Don’t tell the
600 who gathered in the ballroom at the Brooklyn Bridge
Marriott to watch the nail biting finale, that Feyer’s
feat was in any way inferior to Flacco’s. (Say that
fast five times.).
This was their Super Bowl.
And for them, it is not hard to imagine… “Hey
Dan Feyer, now that you’ve won the American Crossword
Puzzle Tournament, what are you gonna’ do next?”
going to Disneyland!”
I’m sure many of the
faithful seeking “solvation,” have already penciled
in XXXVII on their calendars for next year.
on Mott Street
click and clack of balls beneath
the low hung shade
the green felt meadow
working on the masses;
it could go
of Physics 101
played out here between
the inlaid diamonds
for bank shots
strut with their cue
in a cube of chalk
in a blue residue
the sunny-side nine ball
their place of operation—
on the fly—
held for ransom
who ran into a knife:
Conflicts of interest
black and blue collars
of a hustler and a poet.
Take Our Daughters and Sons to
Work Day Turns 20 on April 25th
It’s hard to believe that this program—so
patronizing and dripping in political correctness—is
still going on, now twenty years after its inception by Gloria
Steinem and the Ms. Foundation for Women. And at
that inception, it was exclusive to daughters.
I remember it well, as our ad agency promoted
and encouraged staff participation. We bought into the Foundation’s
premise that, there were self-esteem issues unique to girls,
and that therefore, they were in need of an assurance that
read something along the lines of: “See? You can have
a good job one day too, just like daddy AND mommy.”
Given this mindset, the Foundation initially
resisted pressure to include boys in the program as well.
In fact, according to Christina Hoff-Sommers in her book The
War Against Boys, one early proposal by the Ms Foundation
that would include boys, was something called Son's Day.
Son's Day would take place on a Sunday, so
the boys would avoid missing a day of school. It would require
boys to stay at home, to do cleaning and cooking and be educated
about topics such as rape, sexism and violence against women.
Ick, sick, transit Gloria. Though I love you
to death (“I Was Talking to Gloria Steinem Yesterday
About Nestle’s Hot Cocoa;” DECEMBER,
Finally, ten years into the program in ‘03,
it was officially extended to include boys. Though thankfully,
not in that convoluted “Son’s Day” proposed
by Ms. And the new mission for the renamed program—according
to the president of the Take Our Daughters and Sons to
Work Foundation—avers that:
girls and boys to what a parent or mentor in their lives
do during the work day is important but…
…helping them discover the power and possibilities
associated with a balanced work and family life…
providing them an opportunity to share how they envision
the future and beginning steps toward their end goals in
a hands-on and interactive environment…
is key to their achieving success.”
Holy hyperbole Batman! And wherein lies the proof and in what
First of all, the unspoken mentality here, is that all parents
have essentially white collar jobs, and that what they do
for a living, is something pristine, uplifting and aspirational.
Having had such an alleged position myself
in the course of an essentially desk-sitting career, I’ll
On that very first day of this program twenty
years ago, ever the dutiful father, I took my daughter—then
seven— to work to show her, presumably, what it was
I did for a living.
While there, she got to experience firsthand…daddy
on the phone… setting up meetings…assigning so-and-so
to this-or-that…moving papers from an “In”
box to an “Out” box…sending emails (daddy
has a computer on his desk!)… calling clients to assure
them of things, daddy was not exactly sure of…making
copies of stuff at the Xerox machine… and having lunch
ordered in, while working on a report that was likely to go
nowhere—yes, daddy was a “professional/managerial”
All in all though, from a kid’s perspective,
I guess it was not a bad way to spend a day out of school.
(It beat having to stay home because of an earthquake).
But what if daddy worked in a coal mine? Or
in a slaughterhouse? Or was an embalmer? Or an elephant sperm
collector? (There is such a job…Google it.) Or worked
in a toll booth? (No room for advancement).
What if daddy was a bartender on the Bowery
(before it became gentrified), and was pouring cheap whiskey
at 10 am for patrons who had just awakened from some nearby
But the ultimate irony in the whole concept
here, is that even by the most conservative estimates, based
on various surveys and polls, over 50% of the people, don’t
like their jobs—regardless of collar color!
A recent report courtesy of ABC News claims:
Americans who are lucky enough to have work in this economy,
are becoming more unhappy with their jobs, according to
a new survey that found only 45 percent of Americans are
satisfied with their work. That was the lowest level ever
recorded by the Conference Board research group in more
than 22 years of studying the issue."
Why we don’t like what we do for a living
is a whole other issue in itself. But how disingenuous would
that that be? Taking your kid to work with you, to a job you
The best-laid plans of mice and men (and yes,
women) oft go astray. And in this case, I would venture to
say, don’t have your kid take a day off from school
to spend it with you on your job. Take a day off from
your job to spend it with your kid. In a park. Do a turn
or two on a swing. See how high you both can go.