Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas!

Happy Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas! Here are our top ten suggested ways to celebrate:

10. Wear black and white
9. Begin all retorts with "Sed contra!"
8. Compliment deserving friends with "how angelically doctoral of you!"
7. Go to Mass
6. Resist the temptation to turn the oppositions' positions into straw men.
5. Transform common nouns into proper nouns to give your best friends nicknames employing some unorthodox capitalization (eg, "The Philosopher," "The Commentator," "The Theologian")
4. Enjoy your food and drink with gusto. But make sure the youngest are fed first.
3. Send a pack of whores packing
2. Begin all of your best arguments with a Patristics reference
1. Realize that, in the end, all of this is but straw.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What didn't make the news: the March for Life

This blog may be called "Ethics and Culture in the News," but today it looks at something that didn't make it into the news- or, at least, into the mainstream media: the annual March for Life. As is its annual tradition, mainstream American network news channels and major newspapers simply ignored the demonstration in which tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Americans participated. Participants in the March for life walked from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., up Constitution Avenue, past the Capitol Building, to the Supreme Court, where 38 years ago the Court handed down the devastating Roe v. Wade ruling. the Washington Post was one of the few major newspapers to cover the March; you can read their article here. The online site News Busters covered the lack of coverage. An excerpt from their article:

"Neither NBC, ABC, nor CBS gave any coverage Monday to the march on their respective evening news programs; none of the networks covered the story Tuesday morning. The New York Times did not cover the story, as the MRC's blog "Times Watch" documented. The Washington Post, however, did provide a fair account of the rally in its Metro section....It's not as if the March was crowded out by weightier news developments. Among the stories featured on the broadcast news networks Monday evening and Tuesday morning included a 13-minute segment on the upcoming Academy Awards on CBS's "Early Show," over 20 minutes dedicated to the Oscar nominees on NBC's "Today," and segments on Oprah Winfrey re-uniting with her long-lost half-sister on national television."

The full article is available here.

To correct News Busters, the New York Times did make an 8-picture slide show of the March available on their website, but no article appeared in the paper.

Friday, January 14, 2011

John Paul the Great to be beatified!

Pope John Paul II will be beatified on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday, in the Vatican. The announcement follows the certification of a miracle attributed to him, the healing of a French nun from Parkinson's disease. Beatification is the last step before canonization, and bestows the title "Blessed" upon one whom the Church holds up as a model of holiness. Read the full story here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

First Anniversary of the Earthquake in Haiti

One year after the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, very little progress has been made. The country still languishes in chaos and poverty. The Wall Street Journal diagnoses the reasons for discouragement. Although they do not put it in these terms, it seems that a major part of the problem is a lack of commitment to the principle of subsidiarity: with hundreds of international charities involved and rebuilding efforts that seem to purposely exclude involvement by Haitians, the people's needs are not being met, and the possibility of leading the rebuilding of their own country is not open to Haitians.

An excerpt: "Due to concerns about Haitian corruption, most of the money is handled by international agencies like the United Nations and charities rather than Haiti's government. Haitian officials say this means they have little control over the money, yet have to face an angry populace that demands progress....

Adding to a sense of dissatisfaction with reconstruction efforts, few reconstruction contracts handed out so far have gone to Haitian companies. Few charities are hiring Haitians, either. One non-profit coordinating refugee camp management for all humanitarian agencies said it's faster to build shelters with imported labor than Haitian workers. After protests from Haitians, a deal was struck to give 25% of the jobs to locals."

Read the full article here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Controversy over Kidney Donation between Released Prisoners

The New York Times reports today that two sisters imprisoned for a 1993 robbery have been released early on the condition that one donate her kidney to the other, who is suffering organ failure. Gladys Scott, 36, volunteered to give her kidney to Jamie Scott, 38. Controversy has arisen because in their early release from their double life sentences, Gov. Haley Barbour has required that Gladys Scott follow through with the promised kidney donation after release. Ethicists are questioning the governor's motives, who admits that in suspending their sentences rather than pardoning the women, his concern is to relieve Mississippi of the burden of Jamie's annual $200,000 dialysis bill. It is unclear who will pay for the kidney transplant, since the family does not have the means.

An excerpt:
"The kidney donation was the sisters’ idea, and is supported by the N.A.A.C.P. and other civil rights organizations. But the unusual nature of the arrangement has been criticized by some medical ethicists.

Legal experts said that suspending a prison sentence contingent on an organ donation is highly unusual and may be unprecedented.

Jamie Scott requires dialysis treatment at least three times a week, and her health has been failing during the past few months....

Gov. Barbour said he had acted in part out of concern over Jamie Scott’s health, but also to relieve the state of the cost of her dialysis treatment, approximately $200,000 a year.

“The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society,” Mr. Barbour said in a Dec. 29 statement. “Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the state of Mississippi.”"

Read the full article here.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Study linking vaccination and autism retracted

The scientific study that touched off a major vaccine scare in the late '90s has been officially retracted, the Wall Street Journal reports today.  The British Medical Journal has concluded that the study was largely falsified. Despite this, its influence was deeply corrosive, resulting in thousands of children falling ill from measles/mumps/rubella because their parents feared that if they were given the standard vaccine they would develop autism. The study claimed to demonstrate a causal connection between receiving the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine and developing autism. All of the original co-authors of the study, except Dr. Andrew Wakefield of Britain, have retracted their original findings.

The article reports:

"The findings provoked a still-raging debate over vaccine safety and they prompted thousands of parents to forgo shots for their children. Measles outbreaks were subsequently reported in several Western countries. Several epidemiological studies conducted since the Wakefield paper by public health authorities haven't found any link between the vaccines and autism.

The Lancet withdrew the article in January of last year after concluding that "several elements" of the paper were incorrect. But the journal didn't describe any of the discrepancies as fraud. A British regulator stripped Dr. Wakefield of his medical license last May, citing "serious professional misconduct" in the way he handled the research."

The full article can be read here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Unprecedented 10 Year Plan for Catechesis in Ireland Launched

Today Ireland has launched a new ten-year plan to re-invigorate Catholic catechesis at all levels. The Catholic Church has fallen on hard times in Ireland, where the culture has undergone radical change in the last forty years, and where the clerical sexual abuse scandal was even more horrific than that faced by the United States. As a result, in a nation that was once overwhelmingly Catholic, weekly attendance at Mass has dropped off steeply and publicly defecting from the Catholic Church on websites such as has become popular.

In Ireland, schools take the primary responsibility for catechesis, since theology, like Irish language, is a mandatory subject in the national schools at all levels (and an equally unpopular subject at that). This has been shown to be an ineffective approach; Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has charged that students leave school largely "theologically illiterate" even after years of catechesis in school. The new ten-year plan, presented in a document called "Share the Good News" is the first of its kind in Ireland, and it recognizes the need for a whole new approach to catechesis in Ireland, focusing on the family and the parish as the primary medium for catechesis, and calling for more lay volunteers to be involved. Archbishop Martin vividly illustrated the predicament of the Church in contemporary Ireland in his remarks following the publication of the new ten year plan:

"We can no longer assume faith on the part of young people who have attended catholic schools nor indeed young people who come from Catholic families.   This is not to say that there is a lack of goodness and generosity and idealism among young people.  This is not to say that in many there is not a search for deeper values and meaning in their lives.  

The problem is that there is a growing undermining of religious sense in our culture.  This religious sense will not arise automatically from within contemporary culture as was to a great extent the case in the past.  There are aspects of our contemporary culture which can lead us all to deviate from a true religious sense. Even our liturgies can loose the sense of a transcendent God....

Our catechesis must assist people to enter into the religious sense in a culture in which it is increasingly absent.  Without this, catechesis would only become indoctrination, and a catechesis of indoctrination does lead not to freedom but to fundamentalism.  This is not just pre-catechesis; it is a much more necessary and fundamental pre-condition for the ability to understand the Gospel and it is something that was not necessary in the Ireland of the past....

Faith is a deeper matter; it is a matter of a deep encounter between the individual and God.  Such an encounter cannot be forced on someone or pushed through like a hard sell.  Evangelization is always counter cultural but not a-cultural. Culture must ne evangelized by men and women who live within that culture and who are contaminated by some negative aspects of that culture.   Evangelization is about an encounter with the God who is totally other, but who became incarnate as one of us to enable us to know ourselves more fully and thus to find our true identity.

That faith finds it roots and nourishment in the faith community which is the Body of Christ, where Christ is active in our midst calling each of us to holiness, renewing his people as he did throughout human history through his faithful love."

The full text of his remarks can be found here.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Conditional grants program finds unprecedented success in Latin America

The online edition of the New York Times today featured commentary on a program implemented in various forms in 14 Latin American countries and 26 other countries that uses conditional cash transfers to relieve extreme poverty in the present and to break the cycle of poverty for future generations. Poor families who traditionally suffer from malnutrition, disease, and whose children are forced to leave school early to work and support the family are seeing tangible improvements to their living conditions and better prospects for the health and education of their children. Each program functions differently, but the general approach they all take is to provide cash grants to families for ensuring that their children regularly attend school, medical check-ups, and parenting classes focusing on diet and nutrition. The families benefit immediately, but the program also helps the children end of the cycle of poverty through improved nutrition and education. The article reports impressive results:

"Children in Oportunidades [the program in Mexico] repeat fewer grades and stay in school longer.  Child labor has dropped.  In rural areas, the percentage of children entering middle school has risen 42 percent.  High school inscription in rural areas has risen by a whopping 85 percent. The strongest effects on education are found in families where the mothers have the lowest schooling levels.  Indigenous Mexicans have particularly benefited, staying in school longer."

Read the full article, "To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor," here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Ruins of Babylon

The New York Times ran an interesting article today on renewed efforts to preserve Iraq's cultural heritage, especially through archaeology and restoration of sites like Babylon. The US State Department has provided a $2 million grant which is being used to preserve the Ishtar Gate, built by Nebudchadnezzar in the sixth century B.C., among other efforts. An excerpt:

"The World Monuments Fund has been carrying out what amounts to archaeological triage since it began its conservation plan in 2009. It has created computer scans to provide precise records of the damage to the ruins and identified the most pernicious threats, starting with erosion caused by salty groundwater. “What we’ve got to do is create a stable environment,” Mr. Allen said at the site in November. “Right now it’s on the fast road to falling apart.”"

Read the full article, "A Triage to Save the Ruins of Babylon" here.