Thursday, September 28, 2006

DDT: Don’t call it a comeback…

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) announced on September 15, 2006 that they have once again approved the chemical DDT for indoor use after a 30 year ban. DDT, first used in 1943, is an insecticide that was used to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes. DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) is produced under many trade names. It was banned because of “environmental concerns”. I remember the big concern was that some linked DDT use to the weakening of the shells of Bald Eagle eggs. Weakened shells would cause more breaks in the eggs and ultimately less Bald Eagles. I unsure if scientific studies continue to uphold links like this. Nevertheless, the WHO’s strategy of combating malaria with mosquito nets and malaria vaccine development seems to have been (were?) failed approaches.

Like all chemicals DDT needs to be used responsibly.
“The scientific and programmatic evidence clearly supports this reassessment,” said Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. "Indoor residual spraying [IRS] is useful to quickly reduce the number of infections caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. IRS has proven to be just as cost effective as other malaria prevention measures, and DDT presents no health risk when used properly.” [1]

The anti-DDT campaign began in 1962.
Rachel Carson kicked-off DDT hysteria with her pseudo-scientific 1962 book Silent Spring. Carson materially misrepresented DDT science in order to advance her anti-pesticide agenda. Today she is hailed as having launched the global environmental movement. A Pennsylvania state office building, Maryland elementary school, Pittsburgh bridge and a Maryland state park are named for her. The Smithsonian Institution commemorates her work against DDT. She was even honoured with a 1981 U.S. postage stamp. Next year will be the 100th anniversary of her birth. Many celebrations are being planned. [2]

But views toward DDT have changed.
Views about the use of insecticides for indoor protection from malaria have been changing in recent years. Environmental Defense, which launched the anti-DDT campaign in the 1960s, now endorses the indoor use of DDT for malaria control, as does the Sierra Club and the Endangered Wildlife Trust. The recently-launched President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) announced last year that it would also fund DDT spraying on the inside walls of households to prevent the disease. [1]

I’m certain that the “population controllers” are none too pleased with the WHO’s reasonable announcement.
Each year, more than 500 million people suffer from acute malaria, resulting in more than 1 million deaths. At least 86 percent of these deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa. Globally an estimated 3,000 children and infants die from malaria every day and 10,000 pregnant women die from malaria in Africa every year. Malaria disproportionately affects poor people, with almost 60 percent of malaria cases occurring among the poorest 20 percent of the world’s population.[1]

I’m also sure that the use of DDT will, once again, be another “political issue” tossed onto the table. The “anti-DDT” crowd will surely mis-represent the WHO’s position by garnering up images of airplanes indiscriminately dumping chemicals in the middle of the night onto both wildlife and urban areas. The WHO’s announcement was for indoor use only. Using the “outdoor use” straw man, this same crowd, rightly concerned about DDTs ecological aspects, will present the extinction of entire species as a likely outcome.

The “pro-DDT” crowd will welcome the “indoor use” DDT announcement as proof that the WHO recognized its failed strategy to save human lives, combat illness and poverty. Addressing the root of the problem (mosquitoes carrying malaria) with proven measures will be a sign of hope for millions of our brothers and sisters.

“Momma Said Knock You Out” – L.L. Cool J

Photo: Mosquito hanging on a blade of grass ©Adam Tinney
Citations: [1] “WHO gives indoor use of DDT a clean bill of health for controlling malaria” (WHO September 15,2006)
[2] “Call for DDT Opponents to be Held Accountable for Millions of Preventable Malaria Deaths” By Steven Milloy (
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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Boston Herald/Fox 25 Debate

The first Massachusetts gubernatorial debate was Monday night. It was sponsored by The Boston Herald and FOX-25 TV and moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Republican Governor Mitt Romney, who allegedly has 2008 presidential aspirations, is not running for another term.

The candidates are Lt. Governor Kerry Healey, 46, (Republican), former Clinton Administration official Deval Patrick, 50, (Democrat), former Mass. Turnpike board member Christy Mihos (Independent) and astrologer (?) Grace Ross (Green-Rainbow Party). Some polls have Patrick with a 39 point lead over Healey. Mihos currently has about 5 points in the same polls. Ross has no chance of realistically winning although she claims to be leading all others with the 75 points if the people who do not vote or are not registered to vote are included!

I only caught the second half of the 70 minute debate. First the superficials: Kerry Healy looked great in a 1970’s style wide-open collar suit. Deval Patrick looked suave and smooth with a pink tie and dark suit. Christy Mihos was way over-tanned. Grace Ross wore a tie-dyed outfit. (She lists her birth date with the exact time — 11:03pm— for astrologers who may be interested.) From what I saw it was basically Patrick-Mihos-Ross vs. Healey. The issues I missed were education, taxes, and illegal immigration. The issues I saw were the Big Dig and fishing industry.

Lt. Governor Kerry Healey defended herself well against charges that the current administration “did nothing” in an attempt to clean-up the Big Dig mess. Romney and Healey were thwarted many times by the Massachusetts legislature in an attempt to gain control of the Big Dig. Christy Mihos appeared to have an “axe to grind” with Healey and Romney since he was fired from the Turnpike board by acting Governor Jane Swift in 2001. Although I think Healey defended herself well she was flustered at times. The question should have been asked of the other candidates what they would have done differently.

Patrick’s response to the “fishing industry” question was basically “keep them off drugs and have more treatment available.”

Basically nothing significant happened in the debate. Clearly I thought that Healey won given that it was 3 verses 1. Nevertheless, since “nothing happened” and no tough questions were put to Deval Patrick, and Patrick is in the lead, Patrick comes out the winner in this round.

On the most pressing moral issues here’s what I gathered on the two major candidates (and Christy Mihos) from other sources:

Deval Patrick (Democrat): Pro-“homosexual Marriage”, pro-abortion, pro-child sacrifice for stem cell research

Kerry Healey (Republican): Against "homosexual Marriage", pro-abortion, pro-child sacrifice for stem cell research

Christy Mihos (Independent): Pro-“homosexual Marriage”, pro-abortion

Photo: Deval Patrick, left, Grace Ross, Christy Mihos and Kerry Healey (Photo by Nancy Lane)
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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Three stages of Dehellenization

This weekend I read Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture titled “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections” given at the University of Regensburg on September 12th. As I suspected it had little to do with “insulting the Prophet Mohammed” or “attacking Islam.”

Rather, with broad strokes, Pope Benedict presented “a critique of modern reason from within (that) has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age.” He challenged the academics to overcome “the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable” and made the argument that “theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith” thus allowing us to become capable of “that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.” Thorough his lecture, Pope Benedict argued in favor of the “great task” of allowing faith and reason to once again meet in the university.

Pope Benedict XVI is both an intellectual and a man of Faith, so it is not unexpected that, like Pope John Paul II, he would have much to say in depth about the topic of “faith and reason.”

His argument quoted a dialogue between “Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both” as the point of departure to introduce the topic of faith and reason. This point of departure illustrated how a particular notion of God can hinder access to reason and, as a result, a worldview in which Faith and reason are not in harmony.

Its point was to illustrate that past academic studies have noted that for “Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.” Pope Benedict presented the commentary of others on this dialogue: A consequence of this notion of “absolute transcendence” would mean that, “God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.”

In his line of thought Benedict presented three “stages” of dehellenization that the Christian Faith has encountered (i.e., The separation of classical Greek philosophy from Faith.)

The first stage of dehellenization, Pope Benedict presented was during the Reformation in the sixteenth century.
[T]he Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this programme forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

Liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought the second stage of dehellenization according to Benedict.
[The] central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favour of morality.

The third stage of dehellenization, according to Benedict, is now in progress. It has to do with pluralism, inculturation, and a “return to the simple Gospel message”.
In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.

Sola Scriptura, “morality without worship”, and re-inculturation of a “simple message” are the broad lines that Pope Benedict traveled in his Regensburg lecture. These are very interesting topics that are encountered often even, if they are not always identified as such. Given the depth and breadth of the lecture presentation, it is safe to say that these are the topics that occupy a great part of Benedict's time. (It is obvious that "insulting Islam" is no where in the Holy Father's orbit of interests).

Photo: Parthenon Temple in Athens © Patrik Rzezwicki
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Friday, September 15, 2006

Pickin’ a fight

Pope Benedict XVI's lecture at the University of Regensburg, where he had taught theology, on September 12th titled “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections” has caused quite a stir both in the mass media and in the Muslim world (at least what we learn through the same mass media). Benedict’s lecture, from reports of what I read so far, shows quite evenhandedly that he is clearly aware both of the irrational violence —often in the name of “religion” — in the East and the dehumanizing secularism that is suffocating the West.

Unfortunately, in many quarters of the Muslim community the reaction has been one of threats and violence, in addition to condemnation of his words and demands for a personal apology.

Unfortunately, Benedict's personal journey to his homeland will most likely be remembered for these violent negative reactions in other parts of the world. In his homily at an outdoor Mass in Munich on Sunday September 10, 2006, the Pope taught about Our Lord's reaction of love to the violence he encountered with his own suffering: A reaction and a God we all need...

The world needs God. We need God. But what God do we need? In the first reading, the prophet tells a people suffering oppression that: "He will come with vengeance" (Isaiah 35:4). We can easily suppose how the people imagined that vengeance. But the prophet himself goes on to reveal what it really is: the healing goodness of God. And the definitive explanation of the prophet's word is to be found in the one who died for us on the Cross: in Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, who here looks at us so closely. His "vengeance" is the Cross: a "No" to violence and a "love to the end". This is the God we need. We do not fail to show respect for other religions and cultures, we do not fail to show profound respect for their faith, when we proclaim clearly and uncompromisingly the God who has countered violence with his own suffering; who in the face of the power of evil exalts his mercy, in order that evil may be limited and overcome.

In Morocco, the newspaper Aujourd’hui questioned whether Benedict’s call for a real dialogue between religions was made in good faith.

“Pope Benedict XVI has a strange approach to the dialogue between religions,” the paper wrote in an editorial. “He is being provocative.”

The paper also drew a comparison between the pope’s remarks and the outcry in the Muslim world over unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published around Europe beginning last year.

“The global outcry over the calamitous cartoons have only just died down and now the pontiff, in all his holiness, is launching an attack against Islam,” the newspaper wrote. (Muslim Leaders Assail Pope’s Speech on Islam by Ian Fisher, NY Times, September 14, 2006)

Jimmy Akin, a Catholic apologist, posted his thoughts to his personal blog on the violent Muslim reaction to Benedict’s lecture: "Anyone Who Describes Islam As A Religion As Intolerant Encourages Violence" : “Basically, Islamic culture is infected with an ethos of rage and hatred, and it needs to grow up and stop being so thin-skinned,” says Jimmy.

I don't agree with Jimmy that Benedict's citation or his original words may have been a "gaffe" (major or minor). Pope Benedict, in my estimation, is simply following the example of the Sacred Humanity of Christ, of whom he is the Vicar of. I think that this is an aspect of Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man, that many —Christians included— give too little reflection on. Christ sought out others for dialogue (e.g. the Samaratin woman at the well and Zacchaeus the tax collector) and "picked fights" with the Jewish leaders (e.g. the Pharisees on many occasions). The direct and clear words of Christ were certainly hard for many to accept when he walked the Earth. His manner of dialogue was equally hard to accept at times. (His public ministry wasn't all a dazzling Sermon on the Mount. He challanged others in so many ways.) Do we expect the reaction of some to the words of his Vicar, Pope Benedict, to be any less easy to accept?

The reaction to the words and thoughts of the Vicar of Christ are certainly externalized in the Muslim world to much a greater degree than in the West where his words and thoughts more often need time to be internalized in those hearts where they are not met with indifference or distraction.

I suppose culture plays not an insignificant factor in these quite different reactions. Nevertheless, human passions always need to be kept in check. Temperance (self-control), along with Prudence, Justice and Fortitude are the cardinal virtues. We hear much about "Justice"— and rightly so— from the Muslim world. I wonder to what degree these other cardinal virtues are given consideration among the adherents of Mohammed?

Update: Saturday September 16,2006: After I read the full (provisional) text of Benedict’s lecture for myself, it seems pretty clear to me that he was not “picking a fight” with Islam. Benedict's citiation may have indeed been a "gaffe." My follow-up post can be found here.

Photo: Benedict XVI at his birthplace, Marktl am Inn, Bavaria, on Monday September 11, 2006 (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)
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Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor without Wisdom

Labor Day USA is traditionally the close of summer. It is a day-off from work for most of us and it is a day to spend with family and friends. It should be a day to reflect of human labor and thank God for the good human labor. We should especially reflect on the wisdom of our labor.

Science and technology, especially in the so-called “developed world”, is increasingly consuming larger parts of human labor. It should be obvious that all that is technically possible is not always ethical, moral or licit. Wisdom needs to always accompany human labor. Unfortunately, science and technology that is supposed to serve man is increasing —at a disturbing pace— to degrade and to dehumanize people.

Couples Cull Embryos to Halt Heritage of Cancer by Amy Harmon (N.Y. Times, September 3, 2006) presents a “case study” of human labor lacking wisdom.

As Chad Kingsbury watches his daughter playing in the sandbox behind their suburban Chicago house, the thought that has flashed through his mind a million times in her two years of life comes again: Chloe will never be sick.

The means to justify the idealistic end of “Chloe will never be sick” include in vitro fertilization (love replaced with a technique) and “quality control” of genetic screening (eugenics).

Prospective parents have been using the procedure, known as preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D., for more than a decade to screen for genes certain to cause childhood diseases that are severe and largely untreatable.

Now a growing number of couples like the Kingsburys are crossing a new threshold for parental intervention in the genetic makeup of their offspring: They are using P.G.D. to detect a predisposition to cancers that may or may not develop later in life, and are often treatable if they do.

For most parents who have used preimplantation diagnosis, the burden of playing God has been trumped by the near certainty that diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia will afflict the children who carry the genetic mutation that causes them. The procedure has also been used to avoid passing on Huntington’s disease, a severe neurological disease that typically does not surface until middle age but spares no one who carries the mutation that causes it.

The “procedure” used to avoid passing on Huntington’s disease includes, not healing Chloe, but rather selecting Chloe as worthy of human development and consigning her siblings to be either frozen or destroyed.
But every time Mr. Kingsbury looks at Chloe, with her blue saucer eyes and her tantrums that turn abruptly to laughter — and back — he knows it was worth it.

If Mr. Kingsbury could look at his other children, frozen or destroyed, we would hope that he would change his conclusion.
Many of those exploring P.G.D. are the first generation of women to have reached reproductive age after their mothers developed cancer and tested positive for one of the breast cancer mutations. They see it as saving not just their children but generations of descendants from the same fate.

“I was very relieved to know that I would not have to pass this gene on to my children,” said Michaela Walsh, 20, a junior at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., who found out she carries a BRCA mutation. She has already decided she wants to use P.G.D. when she has children. “My mother told me that the only worse thing than having cancer twice was having to give the gene to me.”

But the same knowledge makes others who carry the mutations take particular offense at the selection procedure, which they say implies that they themselves, and many members of their family, should never have existed. It raises the specter of eugenics, they say, in the most personal terms.

“It’s like children are admitted to a family only if they pass the test,” said Denise Toeckes, 32, a teacher who tested positive for a BRCA mutation. “It’s like, ‘If you have a gene, we don’t want you; if you have the potential to develop cancer, you can’t be in our family.’ ”

Other critics oppose preimplantation diagnosis on the grounds that it could be used to select against homosexuals, women or people with disabilities. It reduces people to their genes, they say, and paves the way for the pursuit of children designed to suit parental ideals and for discrimination against those born with perceived imperfections.

Medicine should always help people. I suppose P.G.D. only “helped” Chloe to “pass the genetic test” that her siblings “failed.” P.G.D. as a technology does not produce “designer babies”. Rather, it destroys those who fail to meet pre-conceived criteria.

Human life should always be respected and accepted as is and not be subject to quality controls. P.G.D. and related technologies seems to come from fear: Fear of defects and imperfections. Fear of human life. Fear of its mystery and its drama.

How many wonderful people are missing because of P.G.D.? Human labor as biotechnology is in urgent need of wisdom.

Photo: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; Genesis Genetics Institute (detail)
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Annapolis (2006)

For our rainy Labor Day Holiday Weekend Annapolis (Touchstone 2006), written by Dave Collard and directed by Justin Lin, was our video pick in these parts. Based on the tagling “50,000 Apply. 1,200 Are Accepted. Only The Best Survive” and remembering clearly the action-packed trailer with explosions, fighter jets and so forth, I expected Annapolis to be either an action-packed adventure of naval life or an in-depth look into United States Naval Academy. Annapolis was neither.

Instead the story focused on Jake Huard (James Franco), a wait-listed applicant to the US. Naval Academy, who is told of his acceptance a few days before freshman orientation. Huard is an amateur boxer who works in the shipyards with his father on building naval vessels. It is a story of an undisciplined and hard-headed young man who want to fulfill his dream of being a naval officer.

The story was as much about boxing as it was about the Freshman (Pleb) year at the Academy. Cole (Tyrese Gibson) is the commanding officer for Huard’s brigade. He is a marine officer who makes Huard’s life especially difficult once he discovers that Huard is the “weak link” of the group. A boxing match between the two during the annual “Brigade Championship”, when all are equal in the ring regardless of rank, is the climax of the film.

Overall, Annapolis, was positive and respectful towards the military. It presented a high honor code and the consequences that follow if the code is broken. This was very edifying, given real-world scandals in the Academies and in the Navy, in particular. Regardless of these scandals, Hollywood is indeed able to present the good and the ideal of Academy and Naval life. My hope is that Hollywood would treat other institutions in a like fashion.

The “bonus features” showed that the producers and director of this movie were extremely conscientious to get the details of Academy life correct. They hired former Naval Academy graduates to train the actors and extras and to act as consultants. In particular, they stopped the director from having Cole hold an umbrella over himself in the rain while he drilled the cadets. A commanding officer would never do such a thing. He would get wet like the rest. My hope is that Hollywood would be as conscientious in gettting the details correct of other institutions in a like fashion.

My impression was that this movie was a light version of An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). The drama of turning civilians into naval officers took back seat to the storyline of Huard's boxing and his contention with Cole.

Other cast included: Jordana Brewster —nice name, Jordana— who played Midshipman Ali as Huard’s love interest and trained Huard both in boxing and in academy life; and Boston/Dorchester’s own (and former “New Kid”) Donnie Wallberg who played Lt. Commander Burton.

Photo: James Franco and Tyrese Gibson
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