June 24 - July 7, 2007

This column will provide links to, plus quotes and summaries of, on-line articles that might be of interest to the Infidel community. Because theinfidels.org is concerned with educational issues, the articles selected will help to inform and enlighten readers as well as entertain them. In order to conform to "fair use practices," only small segments of the articles will be quoted. One caveat: to read the entire linked article, readers may have to subscribe to on-line versions of newspapers or magazines.

My summer schedule is packed, and this column will have to do for two weeks. "Happy trails to you...."

This week, once again, hopes that our government could invest in scientific research that might have incredible therapeutic results was dashed by Mr. Bush. Of course many states and private citizens are putting money into stem cell research. Here is a report from the NY Times:

“Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical,” Mr. Bush said in a brief ceremony in the East Room of the White House. He called the United States “a nation founded on the principle that all human life is sacred.”

At the same time, Mr. Bush issued an executive order intended to encourage scientists to pursue other forms of stem cell research that he does not deem unethical. But that research is already going on, and the plan provides no new money.

Advocates for embryonic stem cell research called the new plan a ploy to distract from Mr. Bush’s opposition to the studies.

“I think the president has issued a political fig leaf,” said Sean Tipton, spokesman for the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, an advocacy group. “He knows he’s on the wrong side of the American public.”

Read the rest of the Times story here...


An interesting glance at the discipline and emotional aspects of Medicine comes from a new book, "Body of Work," by Christine Montross, who writes with astonishing lyricism and bluntness about the dissection of human cadavers. A review of her book appeared in the LA Times:

"Body of Work" is at its best when Montross, who is also a poet, allows us to observe the astonishing beauty her dissection reveals, and to relish the language she uses to describe it. "The language of these bones slides along their edges," she writes. "Os coxae, the hip bones. Their three parts, with names like flowers: ilium, ischium, pubis…. The pelvic brim, as if water spills over it…. Brim, arch, spine. The ligament names like a call to prayer: sacrospinous, sacrotuberous. Sacrosanct."

EQUALLY gripping are the stories she shares of loved ones who fall ill, and later, of some of her first patients, whose living-and-breathing bodies insistently remind her of Eve's — and her own — humanity. Here, language, arising from the body, becomes healing, accommodating both knowledge and wonder, abetting not only the joy of discovery but also the empathic connection between teacher and student that underlies learning anatomy, and learning to heal more generally. Montross surely recognizes the humane healing power in language properly employed; she reads the work of fellow poets Mary Oliver and Mark Doty alongside her anatomy texts, and she consoles one of her lab partners, a sensitive former dancer, as she struggles through the dissection of the head, by listening to her story of a friend's death after a severe brain injury.

The narrative act is therapeutic for both Montross and her stressed-out classmates — the decision to name Eve, and at the same time to imbue her with a kind of universal motherliness, both enables and forgives what they must do.

Find the rest of the review here...

Many of you might already know of this exhibition involving preserved human cadavers; I had the chance to see it in Portland, while I was attending the American Humanist Association conference, but not the time to do so. Several people have raised ethical concerns about the exhibit, as reported in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

"Bodies ... The Exhibition,' featuring 15 full-body human corpses from China that have been preserved by a process called "plastination," is scheduled to open at The Carnegie Science Center in October for a seven-month run.

The cadavers are peeled of their skin and arranged in poses -- kicking a soccer ball, setting up a tennis serve -- alongside 200 other body parts and specimens, including embryos and fetuses from 9 to 32 weeks gestation, all plasticized. [...]

One opponent [to the exhibition] is Elaine Catz, an 11-year employee of the science center who resigned over "Bodies'' last week.

"We don't know how these people died or why they died, and I don't think Premier knows, either," she said, referring to the company, Premier Exhibitions of Atlanta, that is presenting the show. "Before we put our stamp of approval on it, there should be a high burden of proof on Premier.''

Read the rest of the story here...


Staying with human rights issues: Emily Wax of the Washington Post Foreign Service has been covering the continuing oppression of the "untouchables" in India where, despite increasing wealth and opportunity for young people, caste retains its power to divide haves from have-nots:

DALLIPUR, India -- The hip young Indians working inside this country's multinational call centers have one thing in common: Almost all hail from India's upper and middle castes, elites in this highly stratified society.

India may be booming, but not for those who occupy the lowest rung of society here. The Dalits, once known as untouchables, continue to live in grinding poverty and suffer discrimination in education, jobs and health care. For them, status and often occupation are still predetermined in the womb.

Read the rest of the Post story here...


In another story concerning human rights, regarding race, Leonard Pitts, Jr. reports and reflects on the struggles and complexities of being "black" in Brazil, as published in the Miami Herald:

RIO DE JANEIRO -- An old adage comes to mind: ‘‘If you're white, you're all right. If you're brown, stick around. If you're black, get back."

It was a folk saying -- property of no one, property of everyone -- that we African Americans used to encompass defining realities of our lives. Meaning not just the fact that some white men would think themselves better than you because they were white, but the fact that some black men would, too, because they were light. This was a legacy of slavery, when light skin often meant less brutal treatment.

So to be here in Brazil, to wander through this culture where a man the color of Bishop T.D. Jakes or Don Cheadle might, with a straight face, deny the Africa in him and people earnestly debate "who is black," well . . . it feels like you've stumbled into a fun-house mirror of race in which everything is exactly the same as it is back home, except where it is completely different.

Read the rest of the Pitts column here...


Turning to another topic, albeit it still concerns culture, religion, and "caste," there seems to be increasing blowback as a result of the so-called "New Atheism." For example, a former Bush speech writer, Michael Gerson, penned an opinion piece for The Pittsburgh Post Gazette: "Religion in public life: The abolition of slavery proves it can be a great force for good."

"The abolitionists" were actually an exceptional alliance. Some, such as the large, intense Thomas Clarkson -- whom the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described as a "moral steam engine" -- were political radicals influenced by the French Revolution; forerunners of the modern human rights movement. Others, such as William Wilberforce -- a charming, diminutive Tory member of parliament -- were passionate evangelicals; forerunners of modern religious conservatism. Using research, lobbying, posters, petitions and boycotts, these allies invented the political pressure campaign. They also created a new way of political thinking. In their view, says Mr. Davis, "Providence could reveal itself only through a new human ability -- the ability of an enlightened and righteous public to control the course of events."

Given today's rise of radical Islam, and the tendency of a few American religious leaders to attack Muhammad and advocate the assassination of foreign leaders, the role of religion in foreign policy is much debated.

The abolitionists demonstrated that religion and conscience can be a force for good in the world, that the darkest instincts and destructive interests of humanity can sometimes be overcome, and that idealism is possible and powerful. "While there is little evidence that human nature has changed for the better over the past two millennia," concludes Mr. Davis, "a few historical events, like Britain's abolition of its extremely profitable slave trade, suggest that human history has also been something more than an endless contest of greed and power."

Read the rest of the article here...


More blowback, and an example of how faith-based policy consortiums manage to publish their political agendas under the guise of religious freedom. Here is a column that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor: "The world's predominant faiths should protect religious freedom for all," by Robert Seiple, currently president and CEO of the Council for America's First Freedom:

Richmond, Va. - The conversation was both memorable and sad. It was 1999 and I was in Moscow representing the United States and attempting to promote international religious freedom. In 1997, Russia had adopted a new law on religion, mostly in response to an opportunistic West that had flooded the former Soviet Union with missionaries following the fall of communism. The Russian Orthodox Church and Islam – the two established majority religions – felt threatened and conspired with the Russian government to produce the law. Most religious law from authoritarian countries turns out to be bad legislation, and this was no exception. It essentially provided government protection for established religions, while tearing up the welcome mat for anything new. [...]

In a culture of religious pluralism, majority faiths bear special responsibilities. Unfortunately, all too often it is the dark side that emerges. India's Hindus, for example, have recently petitioned the government for a series of anticonversion laws. For the world's "largest democracy," this violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is appallingly ironic.

Pakistan's antiblasphemy laws have likewise sullied the moral standing and reputation of Islam. Clumsily written and easily abused, this legislation has most often been used to settle scores with individuals from minority faiths.

Read the balance of the Monitor story here...


Speaking of settling "scores with individuals from minority faiths," here's a report from the Boston Globe about continuing Republican attacks on Mitt Romney, for his Mormonism:

Gathering for their April meeting at the county courthouse, Republican activists from Warren County, Iowa, planned for this summer's county fair and vented about illegal immigration.

And then the county chairman for Senator John McCain's presidential campaign, Chad Workman, made an unexpected digression: He took direct aim at Mitt Romney's religion, according to four people at the meeting.

Workman questioned whether Mormons were Christians, discussed an article alleging that the Mormon Church helps fund Hamas, and likened the Mormons' treatment of women to the Taliban's, said participants, who requested anonymity to discuss the meeting freely.

One participant summed up Workman's argument this way: "The fundamental flaw of Mitt Romney . . . was that he was Mormon, not because he thinks this way or that way on one issue."

Red the rest of the story here...


Finally, for a change of pace regarding religion: Scott Mervis, of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, interviewed Sinead O'Connor (famous for her music, and infamous for tearing up a photo of the pope, on Saturday Night Live). She has a new CD coming out, "Theology":

Q: You wanted to make a record that addressed troubled times of war and terrorism. How did it lead you toward one about faith rather than protest songs about governments?

...I suppose, as I said, the subtext for a lot of these warmongers is religious, and I kind of object in a way to God being portrayed as something that loves conditionally and is on the side of war anywhere. So, from that point of view I could be interested in arguing these people on their very own theologies. So that's where I'm coming from in terms of protest. If you're protesting against war, well, it would be kind of stupid to protest it aggressively. It makes more sense to try to protest it gently and from a proof point of view. These people are saying that God somehow condones violence. These are Christians, Jews, Muslims, not everybody, but a small minority of people in each of those religions, are claiming that God supports violence when the actual evidence in their theologies contradicts them.

Read the complete interview here...

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