1) “The Vicar of Baghdad” is a three-part series over at Vice, and it’s difficult to put into words the (foolish? amazing?) courage of Vicar Andrew White, an English-born Anglican priest who walks with a cane, and who has now served in Baghdad’s central districts for fourteen years, running St. George’s Episcopal Anglican Church, as well as running a clinic for locals and, most interestingly, working as a intermediary between Sunni and Shia leaders for peace and dialogue. It’s a real-life parable (ht JZ).

2) There were several au contraires to the presumption that we “live by looks” this week. Or, to say it better, maybe that we live by looks, but we do not necessarily seek love by them. An article in The Atlantic talked about the sociological phenomenon known as “the beauty-status exchange,” the old trope of the one-eyed, wilting tycoon and his bodacious young broad. The article says that, while the stereotypes draw men as blood-thirsty lusties, and women as “security focused,” the typesets are askew (ht JL):

The study concludes that women aren’t really out for men with more wealth than themselves, nor are men looking for women who outshine them in beauty. Rather, hearteningly, people really are looking for … compatibility and companionship.

And if you need further evidence that all we really want is “a little tenderness”, well, you didn’t even need to leave The Atlantic this week. They present to you, I kid you not, the booming new industry of the “Cuddle” (ht JD):

Professional cuddlers, such as Ali C. in New York City and Samantha Hess in Portland, Oregon, popped up in the last few years and charge for one-on-one cuddle sessions in their homes or yours. They often charge between $60 and $80 an hour and require you to sign a waiver or policy form, which covers the rules on cuddling, confidentiality and more. You can book 30 minutes, an hour, or sometimes even an entire night.

Professionals typically don’t work with clients who merely like cuddling, but use it as a form of healing, or to help people who didn’t receive that kind of nurturing as a kid. Hess sums up the benefits of seeing a professional cuddler quite well on her website. She wrote, “Touch has the power to comfort us when we are sad, heal us when we are sick, encourage us when we feel lost, and above all else, allow us to accept that we are not alone.”

Cuddle parties and professional cuddlers seem to have come at a good time in America. The data suggests we feel lonelier than ever. According to a study published in June 2006 in American Sociological Review, a quarter of Americans in 2004 had no one to discuss important matters with. That’s more than double what that statistic was in 1985.

Tying this all together was the Elle interview with pop star Colbie Caillat, whose new song “Try” is all about not trying. In the interview Caillat talks about the making of her music video, in which she elects not to wear make-up, and talks about the performancism inherent in Hollywood’s Photoshopped expectations. Here’s Caillat (ht HS):

When I see gorgeous models and singers and they look perfect on their album covers, it makes me want to look like that, too, and it makes me feel like if I don’t Photoshop my skin on my album cover, I’m the one who’s going to look a little off and everyone else is going to look perfect. And that’s what everyone is used to seeing. They’re used to seeing people on the album covers completely Photoshopped. On one of my album covers, my arm was shaved down and it made me look very skinny. I think that gives a false reality. When I did the lyric video for “Try,” and I asked some of my celebrity friends if they would send a picture of themselves, you have no idea how difficult it was. Some of them said no, some of them said they’ll send me a picture in a couple of days because they have a pimple on their chin, and they didn’t want it showing in the picture. And I was like, no, no, no! That’s good! Let’s let all of our fans know that we get them too, because otherwise they’re just think that they’re the only ones who get acne. We all get it, so let’s just kind of laugh about it together. And then some of the girls still wore makeup in the pictures because they felt like they needed to at least look–I don’t know, in their eyes, decent or something when they still look beautiful. It was so hard for them to show any degree of realness.

3) As Nick Cave prepares to release yet another drop of Gothic self-mythology into the bucket of his multi-faceted postpunk career, this time a film bio/memoir called 20,000 Days on Earth, the New York Times Magazine ran a feature about the madman auteur. Takeaways of note included Nick’s relationship with his father, Colin, who died tragically when Nick was 19 in a car accident; Nick and his mother found out while his mother was bailing him out of jail. My favorite lines come from the very beginning (ht JF):

“I went to Graceland once”… “The rest of the band went in, but I stayed out on the curb, smoking cigarettes and feeling sorry for myself. Those last Elvis performances — the ones for television, when he was already sick — I must have watched those clips a hundred times. They’re like crucifixions.” He paused for a moment. “I couldn’t bring myself to go inside.”

4) Prognostalgia is a word Eric Schumiller uses to describe looking back on one’s future-of-the-past. Now that you’ve grown up, what did you want to be when you “grew up”? Not thinking of anyone in specific, but now that you’re married, looking at the spouse you are married to, do you remember what you thought of the spouse you would marry one day, perhaps when you were just a kid? Schumiller, using, of course, Back to the Future as his guide, describes how helpful and comforting these moments can be. What does it say to who we are now, looking back at who we wanted to be then? He says, in a very Phillipsian way, that even if the future does not pan out the way we’ve guessed it would (and it hardly ever does), we still embody the selves we never became.

In an alternate ending to “Terminator 2,” available on some special-edition DVDs, 30 years after the 1997 apocalypse she helped avoid, Sarah Connor asserts: “The dark future which never came still exists for me. And it always will, like the traces of a dream.” Maybe these totems from a future that never was can help us reconcile our current selves with the dream traces of what we once envisioned for our own futures.

5) Rod Dreher uncovered an amazing quote from T.S. Eliot’s The Idea of a Christian Society, that seems to have a lot to add to the conversation DZ wrote about last week in regards to the age of “religious liberty”. Dreher links a full-read here, but this is prescient, if not a bit world-weary (ht KW):

The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us, and it is a very different problem from that of the accommodation between an Established Church and dissenters. It is not merely the problem of a minority in a society of individuals holding an alien belief. It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian. And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma — and he is in the majority — he is becoming more and more de-Christianised by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. Anything like Christian traditions transmitted from generation to generation within the family must disappear, and the small body of Christians will consist entirely of adult recruits. . . .

On the other hand, Christianized or paganized or what-have-you, Jonathan Merritt points us to the research that shows, in general, we are dissociators by nature. Humorously, many Christians do, in fact, dissociate themselves from the Man. Even consciously! “Poll: Many Americans Think Jesus Doesn’t Share Their Political Views” (ht BJ)


6) Wine-lovers and oenologists, beware. That artisanal cab franc you spent $63 may have notes of mayberry and taste mossy on the front of the tongue, but it also may only taste like your $63 expectations!

Information about the vineyard at least tells us something about the wine, but even factors that don’t, like price, can have an influence. More expensive wines are often rated higher on taste than cheaper ones—but only if tasters are told the price ahead of time. In one recent study, the Caltech neuroscientist Hilke Plassman found that people’s expectations of a wine’s price affected their enjoyment on a neural level: not only did they report greater subjective enjoyment but they showed increased activity in an area of the brain that has frequently been associated with the experience of pleasantness. The same goes for the color and shape of a wine’s label: some labels make us think that a wine is more valuable (and, hence, more tasty), while others don’t. Even your ability to pronounce a winery’s name can influence your appreciation of its product—the more difficult the name is to pronounce, the more you’ll like the wine. In 1999, psychologists from the University of Leicester found that the type of music playing in a store could influence which wines were purchased: when French music was playing, people bought French wines; when German music was turned on, German wines outsold the rest. The customers remained oblivious.