Friday, December 31, 2010

New Years' Resolutions

Ah, the new year - the time when every magazine, journal, blog, news station, etc. does one of three things:

The list of the top (or bottom) "X" things (where "X" is usually 10) of the year. An example is Listing the Year end Lists.
The list of predictions for next year, such as Five Fearless Predictions for 2011.
The resolution(s) for next year, or meta-resolutions, like Make 2011 Better.

This post falls into the third category, sort of. I don't propose to tell you my new year's resolutions because I don't have any. I don't intend to tell you how to make your new year's resolutions work, because I think they are silly. I will share with you a good alternative to new years' resolutions. I call it Lent.

Let's face it, when you make a new year's resolution you are resolving to instantly change something in your life. Forever. No way that's going to work out well, because forever is too long. Plus, there's no real reason to make the change other than "it's a new year". Who really cares? It's just another day.

Lenten, resolutions, on the other hand are made for a good reason - to prepare ourselves for the mysteries of Easter, and be closer to God. That's a bigger motivator than "it's a new year". Plus, a Lenten resolution is temporary - you can change back after 40 days, so it's much easier to keep by telling yourself "only 'X' more days." The thing is that, after 40 days or so, it's much easier to continue the improvements.

So I don't make new years' resolutions, I make Lenten resolutions. Each year I try to do  little better in either my behavior or my prayer life. It doesn't always "take" in that I often do go back to my pre-Lent behavior, but there's always next year.

By the way, the same thing is true for Advent which has the added benefit of being the Church's new year, but somehow I find it much harder to make and keep an Advent resolution, even if the time span is shorter.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

We (won't) take Manhattan

If you recall my earlier post The Manhattan Project, Apple pulled the Manhattan Declaration app from its iTunes app store over Thanksgiving vacation. Appropriately, it is over Christmas vacation that they respond to the inquiries by the authors of the Manhattan Declaration. The response is not promising. From the page:
Apple is telling us that the apps' content is considered "likely to expose a group to harm" and "to be objectionable and potentially harmful to others." Inasmuch as the Manhattan Declaration simply reaffirms the moral teachings of our Christian faith on the sanctity of human life, marriage and sexual morality, and religious freedom and the rights of conscience, Apple's statement amounts to the charge that our faith is "potentially harmful to others."

It is difficult to see how this is anything other than a statement of animus by a major American corporation against the beliefs of millions of Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox citizens. It is our sincere hope that Apple will draw back from this divisive and deeply offensive position. The corporation's leaders must be made to understand that they do the country no good service in capitulating to efforts to stigmatize, marginalize or defame people on one side or the other in important moral debates.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holy Innocents

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents; those infants murdered 2000 years ago for the crime of being born close to the time of Jesus' birth. Many of the events surrounding the Nativity are firmly established by history and archeology, but this event is not recorded, leading some to question whether or not it actually happened.

Certainly Herod was capable of doing such a deed. He had his own children murdered to protect his position, why would he hesitate at killing some Jewish children? Some historians say that the events were not recorded because the number children actually murdered was probably not as great as believed. Others cite Herod's friendship with the "media" of that day. Can we find any analogues in modern day events?

If you're stumped, I refer you over to the excellent Redneck Reflections blog.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Apps for Catholics

Despite Apple's pulling of the Manhattan Declaration app from the iTunes app store, there are still some Catholic apps available. Every so often a friend gets a new iPhone or iPod and I wind up telling them what apps I have on my iPhone. So I thought I would immortalize it in these pages bits.

Some of these apps have a separate version for the iPad. The links I give are the iPhone/iPod app because that's what I have. I have rated each app with 1 to 4 crosses [+] based on my evaluation of it - your mileage may differ. If you know of or like other Catholic apps, please share in the comments - I'd love to find more apps.

Here goes (with some updates from friends):


  • Holy Bible RSV-CE [+++] Most of the bible apps out there (and all of the free ones are protestant bibles. This one is the real deal. Thanks to Owen at Drawn to Catholicism for pointing me at this one.
  • Catholic Bible [+++] Based on the CPDV (Catholic Public Domain Version) translation of the bible. Not enough of a bible scholar to know if this is a good translation or not. The web site claims:
  • The Catholic Public Domain Version of the Sacred Bible is a new translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible made using the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheims version as a guide. The CPDV is in the process of being translated; the estimated date of completion is early 2009. It is not merely an update of the Douay-Rheims. It has perhaps as many differences from the Douay-Rheims, as it has similarities to it. However, the CPDV is also not a translation that is independent of other English translations. The CPDV draws on the eloquence and insight of the Challoner Douay-Rheims, so that this new version can present to the English reader both freshness and familiarity.
  • iPieta [+++] has a Catholic bible (Douay-Rheims and Vulgate), a calendar, and various prayers and devotions. 
  • Official Divine Mercy [++++] By the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. Need I say more? Includes the message, history, biography of St. Faustina, chaplet, novena, stations, and much more. Even has audio prayer! Thanks to Paul Sofranko for bringing this to my attention.
  • The Rosary App [++++] I like this rosary app best - with "dials" for the prayers instead of trying to emulate beads.


  • Universalis [++++] Calendar, saints, daily psalms, prayers and readings from the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, seven times a day. Usable without an internet connection. Thanks again to Owen at Drawn to Catholicism.
  • Lauds, Vespers, Compline, and Divine Office [+++] These are all Divine Office apps, to pray the liturgy of the hours. The three individual ones (Lauds, Vespers, and Compline) are components of the Divine Office app split out into individual apps. These apps have some cool features. In addition to written and audio prayers it can show you a map of everyone in the world who is currently praying with you (or at least those who choose to share their location information). Check out The Catholic Foodie for a better review than I can give you here, including an interview with the developers of the app. One caveat - have a good internet connection when you want to use them.
  • iBreviary/iBreviary Pro [+++] Another app for liturgy of the hours, but also includes mass readings and a missal. My only complaint is that it shows the info for the last time you used it  - you have to manually update it to the current day's information/
  • Prayers [++++] is another Divine Office app, with common and devotional prayers, blessings, Catholic doctrine etc.
  • [also see iPieta above]
  • Holy Rosary [++] I'm not a big fan of rosary apps in general, but this is a decent one.
  • SantoRosario [+++] Rosary and other prayers - I think this is one of the less "cheesy" rosary apps.
  • iMissal [++++] Has a complete missal, prayers, and even a video mass, courtesy of Catholic TV.
  • Stations of the Cross [+++] Excellent app by Ave Maria Press. Name describes it well, although it is not the traditional stations. For that see the next entry.
  • The Traditional Way [++++] Another excellent Stations of the Cross app. This one has the traditional stations (hence the name).
  • Evangelizo [+++] Prayers, Gospel readings, Saints of the day and more - appears to be a very "quick" app. 
  • iMass [++] View the daily TLM (for you trad Catholics - not really my thing though).


  • H2O News [++++] News, the Gospel and more from Rome.
  • Radio Maria [+] Looks like a cool app, with alarm clock, Catholic internet radio and more. Unfortunately crashes on my phone. You may have better luck
  • Ave Maria Radio [++++] Same app as Radio Maria, but different audio stream, and this one works.
  • iCatholicFM [+++] Same app again, but with different Catholic radio audio stream.
  • iPadre, SaintCast and other SQPN shows [++] These are OK, except they are paid apps and they aren't really more useful to me than just listening to the podcasts themselves.
  • iPFL [+] Basically lets you seach the Priests for Life site for prayers and other litugical resources. Not super useful for lay folk.


  • Catholic Calendar (aka RC Calendar) by Universalis [+++] Great Calendar with feast days, information and more. You can set it for many different countries' feast days. 
  • Answers for Catholics [++++] A great tool for evangelization or just answering questions you have about the faith. 
  • iConfess [++++] A tool for making a proper examination of conscience and a "how to" for Confession. Whether you confess daily or haven't been in years there's something for you.
  • Mass Times [++++] Finds mass times, distances, directions, phone numbers, web sties, etc. for Catholic churches near your current location (or a location you enter). Very useful, especially if you ever travel.
  • St. Augustine [++++] Christian Doctrine, Confessions, City of God all available to read, with bookmarks you can add.
  • All Popes [++++] Reference material on all the popes!
  • The Catholic Game [++] Catholic trivia game. Gets boring after a while, but still fun and since it was free...
  • Manhattan Declaration [++] Removed from the iTunes store for being "offensive". Basically takes you to the Manhattan Declaration web page.
  • Heresy Detector [+] Goofy app that makes a needle point to random numbers from 0 to 10.
  • iFaith [++] Connects you with web sites of various Dioceses. You can get news, homilies and more.
  • Lourdes [+] Photos and prayers from Lourdes.
  • Spirit FM 90.5 [+++] Catholic radio from Spirit radio from the Diocese of St. Petersburg, FL.
  • iCatholicRadio - The Station of the Cross [+++] Catholic Radio from WLOF 101.7 FM Buffalo, NY. [H/T Paul]
  • Fulton Sheen [+++] Audio of speeches given by Fulton Sheen. Free app, but some of the content requires upgrading.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

There's no place like home for the holidays

Two stories of coming home for the holidays. First in Canada, St. John the Evangelist to Join the Anglican Ordinariate. From the motion voted on by the parish:
"We accept, unreservedly and with humility and gratitude, the invitation of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church through the provisions of Anglicanorum Coetibus in a corporate manner."
...and from Orlando Florida, The congregation of the Cathedral of the Incarnation has voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed Resolution that the Cathedral of the Incarnation accept the terms of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus and request admission, at the earliest possible moment, to the anticipated personal ordinariate to be erected in the United States of America.
With profound gratitude and filial respect to the Successor of St. Peter, the Congregation of the Cathedral of the Incarnation warmly receives the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

Having prayerfully considered the aforementioned papal legislation, along with its associated Complementary Norms, and with due regard for the accompanying canonical commentary by Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, S.J., Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, (all published under the auspices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on November 4, 2009) and recognizing in the Holy Father's most generous response to the pleas of various Anglican groups our common desire and holy commitment to achieve the reconciliation of our small flock with the Catholic Church in a corporate fashion and with due regard to our own precious Anglican Patrimony, this Congregation now resolves...
Welcome home, and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Good is a Chocolate Manhole Cover?

...or  gingerbread man the other 11 months of the year? I pondered this important question as I made gingerbread for our scout troop Christmas party yesterday.  Fortunately for us all Cakewrecks has the answer. Unfortunately the answer is hideous. Go on over and check it out.

Extra credit if you know where the title came from.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NYC is Anti-choice

Let's pretend I'm thinking about buying a computer but I don't know if I want to buy one or not. That's my choice, but I need information. Now, say there's a group of computer-literate people who have a free computer clinic where I can go to get information to help me decide if I really want to buy one or wait. A few blocks down is a Best Buy* store where I can go talk to the sales clerk about whether I should buy one. Who do you think is going to give me unbiased information and respect my choice (especially if my choice is not to buy a computer)?

I think it's obvious that however good Best Buy is, they at best have a conflict of interest. They would like to make a sale. The sales clerk wants to make a commission. The free computer clinic is staffed by volunteers who have no financial interest whatsoever in my decision.

Now, what would you say if the city of New York enacted a law that required the free computer clinic to post signs outside saying that they did not sell computers or have experts on staff. Suppose the city blocked or restricted the rights of the free computer clinic to post advertisements for their services, or even be listed in directories? Suppose this law only affected the free computer clinic, not the Best Buy or other stores that sold computers.

Would you say that law helped me to be able to make a good decision about buying a computer?

* I have nothing against Best Buy - I just chose the name as a well known business that sells computers for my example.

Pro-Life Video Contest WInners

Action Life of Ottawa has published the winners in their Pro-life video contest. It must have been a tough decision because I think all three are equally good. I especially like the ending of the third place one (and no, it's not gory - the image you see is a preborn baby grabbing the hand of a doctor who is performing surgery on it). Congratulations to the winners! Enjoy all three!

First prize: Eric Jette, 17, St. Joseph's High School, Nepean

Second prize: Ellis Maveety, 14, St. Francis Xavier High School, Ottawa

Third prize: Culture of Life Club, Lakeshore Catholic High School, Port Colborne

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Street Cleaner's Nativity

OK, so I am blogging, but it's light stuff.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lighting the Tree

Busy this week and next, so I haven't been posting much (and probably won't until after Christmas day). In the meantime, have a very Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 13, 2010

No Future for Jews

"I see no future for Jews in the Netherlands" says former Dutch EU commissioner Frits Bolkenstein. According to Mr. Bolkenstein "recognizable" Jews are no longer safe in Netherlands due to Muslim anti-Semitism. He said he has no confidence in proposed measures to combat anti-Jewish sentiment and recommends they emigrate to the US or Israel.

In other news, an Israeli tourist wearing phylacteries while visiting New Zealand caused a minor panic on a New Zealand ferry on Sunday after the captain reported to police that a passenger was carrying a "suspicious article," NZTV reported. Some media in New Zealand even reported a hostage situation aboard the ferry, according to the report.

Reminds me of Joe Biden being ridiculed for wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday, and perhaps the cartoonist forced into hiding by threats of Islamic violence.

Sad to be living in a world where Jews and Christians are persecuted to the point where there is no expectation that the law will defend them.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

More Christmas Movies

In my cliffhanger post "A few of my favorite things" I began the ongoing task of describing some of my favorite Christmas-y movies. This post continues the list. Most of these movies are pretty popular, and I'm sure you've at least heard of them if you haven't actually seen them.

What they have in common is that all of them are movies that my wife and I have shared and enjoyed over past Christmases. I'm sure you'll enjoy them if you give them a try.

The Shop Around the Corner - This is the film tat inspired "You've Got Mail" and I think it's better. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan are coworkers in a little shop who just can't stand each other. They both fall in love with their anonymous pen pals, who turn out to be - you guessed it - each other. Jimmy Stewart's character has more character than Tom Hanks. See it and let me know if you agree.

Going My Way -Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is sent by his bishop to rescue Father Fitzgibbon's  failing parish without taking the reins away from the older, "cranky" priest (played by Barry Fitzgerald). Along the way the two priests become friends, and O'Malley helps a gang of kids go straight and reunites an estranged couple and their daughter.

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas - This is a trilogy of short cartoons featuring Donald Duck, Goofy, Mickey, Minnie and the rest of the Disney gang. Huey, Dewey and Louie are stuck reliving Christmas ala "Groundhog Day" until the "get" it. Goofy goes to great lengths to dispel Max's cynicism regarding Santa Claus, and Mickey and Minnis do a take on "The Gift of the Magi".

A Holiday Affair - I couldn't find a video for this one. Robert Mitchum is a sales clerk who loses his job thanks to a woman who is really a spy from a competitor. So of course hey date and fall in love. OK, it sounds pretty silly but it's a sweet story.

The Bells of St. Mary's - Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is sent to "straighten out" Sister Mary (Ingrid Bergman) and close down her school. But Sister's stubbornness and faith in God's providence turn his heart, and eventually the heart of Horace P. Bogartus, a rich miser who can help them.

Stay tuned - more movies to come!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

If you think I'm a fool...'s just another jewel in my crown.

This is from a speech by Gianna Jessen at Queen’s Hall, Parliament House, Victoria, Australia. I normally don't repost things I assume my readers have probably seen on other blogs, but this video featured on Jill Stanek's site I found to be moving and wanted to share with you all.

So if you've already seen it, my apologies, but if you haven't check it out. Take 10 minutes you would have spent looking at lolcats or the like. It's worth it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Manhattan Project

Over on the right hand side of this blog you should find a button labeled "The Manhattan Declaration" (also in the image in this post). Just what the heck is this and why am I posting this?

The Manhattan Declaration is a document that you can sign online. As of this post, almost 500,000 people have signed it. It is ecumenical, and affirms beliefs common to all Christians, including:
  1. the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life;
  2. marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and;
  3. religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.
Earlier this year, the Manhattan Declaration wrote an iPhone app that let users access the site's blog from their iPhones. This is nothing radical. Lots of iPhone apps are underneath it all browsers designed to work specifically with one site or another. Apple vetted the app, and gave it a 4+ rating for containing no offe3nsive content.

This fall an "LBGT" group started a petition to have the app banned from the iTunes store, calling it "hateful" and "offensive". They collected 7,000 signatures. The Apple pulled the app from it's store over Thanksgiving (ironically). Of course, Apple is a business, not a branch of our government, so they are not bound legally to publish any particular app, but as a company they should be responsive to their customers. Do you think Apple would pull any content from iTunes if 7,000 people don't like it? I'm sure if it comes to that I could find 7,000 people who don't like a lot of what's there from pro gun apps, pro violence songs videos and apps, songs with explicit lyrics, immoral videos. I suspect Apple would not drop all of this for 7,000 names or 70,000 names.

To my knowledge, the only other apps that Apple categorically refuses to sell are pornographic. So in effect, Apple is saying that affirming Christian beliefs is as offensive as pornography. This I find offensive.

Please enjoy the video below, go to the site, send Steve Jobs an email, and sign the Declaration.

A few of my favorite things

One of the traditions we have in our home around Christmas time is that my wife and I share a "new" holiday movie. By "new" I mean a good Christmas-y movie that we've never seen before, which generally means "old" rather than "new". Over the years it gets harder and harder to find ones we haven't seen before. I'd like to share with you some of the movies we've watched and perhaps you'll share with me one we haven't.

This is going to take more than one post, but I'll start with a few I would have thought every American who didn't live in a hole in the ground would have seen. However, in talking to some of my friends they haven't seen all of these, so here they are, in no particular order.

A Christmas Story - This is the story of a little boy named Raphie, who wants a BB gun for Christmas. It follows his machinations geared towards manipulating his parents into getting it for him. The plot starts on Thanksgiving when he tries to lobby Santa, and continues through Christmas day. Well written and well told, it's a very 1960s cynical yet heartwarming look at Christmas through the eyes of a child. Darren McGavin steals the show with his portrayal of Ralphie's dad. I loved this movie when I first saw it, and even though it is played pretty much non-stop throughout the Christmas season year after year, it still is enjoyable.

A Charlie Brown Christmas - OK, it's a cartoon feature, not a movie, but it still brings me back to my youth, picking out a Christmas tree with my family and decorating it in the living room. Charlie Brown is distressed by the commercialization of Christmas, and needs help finding the true meaning. With all the wonderful wit of Charles Schultz and music by Vince Guaraldi, I think this will be a favorite all my life.

Miracle on 34th Street - No, not the crappy remake (which I would not advise seeing), but the 1947 original, with Natalie Wood as little Susan Walker. In this movie, Kris Kringle (aka Santa Claus) is disgusted by the commercialization of Christmas and decides to try his hand as a department store Santa. Things get escalated to the point where the city locks him up as insane. Up-and-coming attorney Fred Gailey has to prove he's not insane. This is a powerful tale of good vs. evil, innocents vs. arrogance. An old family favorite! Who wouldn't enjoy seeing Judge Harper and Mr Sawyer outflanked by the naivety and honesty of Kris Kringle?

It's a Wonderful Life - Frank Capra's 1946 tale of family and friendship, and God's love for us all still has the power to bring a tear to my eye. Jimmy Stewart is George Bailey, a man who has had all his dreams broken repeatedly by fate. He's about to lose what little he has left, and decides to take his life. But God has other plans for George. He sends a kind-hearted guardian angle, Clarence, to teach George that life is worth living.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) - Yes, another cartoon, but a classic, produced by Chuck Jones (of Bugs Bunny fame). The Grinch hates Christmas, and only decides to steal all the material good associated with it. But when it happens anyway he realizes Christmas is not about "stuff". Boris Karloff is narrator and Grinch, making a perfectly evil sounding character. Trivia fans - that famous grinch-y song was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, who made his name saying "They're GRRRRRREAT!" as Tony the Tiger, and whose head is one of the singing busts on Disney's famous Haunted Mansion ride.

Hopefully you have all seen these movies. If not, get down to the nearest video rental store and get a copy this Christmas season. Next up, some less known Christmas favorites!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Sunday, December 5, 2010

What to buy

Looking for last minute gifts for people? Know a person who "has everything"? Tired of giving the kids' teachers the same old stuff every year? Here are some great ideas for holiday gifts.

Food for the Poor has gifts starting from a fruit tree for a poor family ($10) all the way up to building a school. You get a printable card that you can give to the recipient showing what you have purchased in their name for a poor community. Most of the gifts are quite affordable, and Food for the Poor has an excellent track records for actually getting your donation to the people who need it. They have a big presence in Haiti, so this is a great way to help those people who have been through disaster after disaster this year.
Chalice is a Canadian charity that helps the less fortunate. While Food for the Poor serves the Caribbean and Latin America, Chalice serves the entire world. With gifts starting at $5 you can find something for everyone, or use these as low-calorie stocking stuffers. Gifts include things like soap, toothpaste, a stove, and many other things. Your gift is given to those who need it and your friend or loved one gets a paper or e-card describing it. You can also sponsor a child for $33/month.

Mercy Corps Gifts has 40 unique gifts, starting from $15, to help those in need. From growing pineapples to building a well, you get a printable PDF donation card to give/send to someone and a hungry child eats, a village gets clean water, a woman learns to read...

Catholic Relief Services is one of my favorite charities, because of it's great responsiveness when there is a disaster and it's stellar track record of actually getting donations to the people they serve. Through their gift program you can buy shares in a project, such as helping kids get out of gangs in Honduras, helping the victims of the cyclone in Bangladesh, providing prosthetic limbs for Sri Lankan war victims.

Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade supports the same work, but provides concrete gifts, rather than a certificate. You can buy Coffee, Chocolate or handicrafts. I can attest to the fact that their coffee and chocolate are simply the best I've ever had (well, their chocolate is the best and their coffee is as good as my next gift suggestion).

Mystic Monk Coffee is absolutely delicious. If you can, try the (limited edition) Jingle Bell Java. Yes, the web site is very slow, but the coffee is very yummy! In case you didn't know, religious orders do not get paid by the Vatican, but are independent organizations that must support themselves through their work. The "Mystic Monks" are a group of Carmelites in Wyoming who are building a new monastery and could use your help to do it.

Speaking of monks, Laser Monks provides all your ink and toner needs for printing those holiday cards and letters. Great prices, while supporting charitable works. And if you're looking for something other than ink, they also sell gift baskets and even "Benevolent Biscuits" for your dog!

The Dominican Nuns of Summit New Jersey have wonderful soaps, lotions, and other wonderful things to offer. Check them out.

If you can't decide on a particular order to support, Monastery Greetings provides a wide variety of gifts from different orders. A great "one stop" place to shop to support a wide range of good works.

I could go on and on with places to get gifts that also support charity, missions, religious, etc., but frankly it would be more than you want to read and I want to write. The above are a sampling of places I've actually used and can recommend. Fell free to let me know of others you like.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Remember Seinfeld? That was his mantra when discussing homosexuality. There was a whole episode, "The Outing" that featured the line over and over. Today I came across this article in the Washington Times on a new pill which can help lower the risk of a gay man contracting HIV from an HIV-positive partner. The numbers are interesting. the article states
Research subjects who took a pill called Truvada every day — plus used other AIDS-prevention strategies — lowered their risk of getting HIV by about 73 percent.
Men who failed to take the pill every day had only a 21 percent lower risk of getting HIV
It also was only effective with men who are confirmed as HIV-negative and who practiced additional prevention strategies such as consistently using condoms, getting treatment for other sexually transmitted diseases and reducing the number of sex partners.
Only 21% lowered risk? Compared to what? One would assume lower than not using the pill. But why then do they say that the effectiveness requires consistently using condoms, etc. Just what is the reduction in risk afforded by condoms?

I recall reading somewhere that condoms reduced the risk of contracting AIDS by 60%, but I didn't have a source. So I went googling. I visited literally dozens of sites that claims that condoms were "highly effective" but didn't give numbers and didn't quote a source that gave numbers. I finally found Worksop Summary: Scientific Evidence on Condom Effectiveness for Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Prevention from the National Institutes of Health. The results are not promising.
In general, the Panel found the published epidemiology literature to be inadequate to definitively answer the question posed to the workshop participants. Most studies reviewed did not employ a prospective design, which is the optimal method to assess the effectiveness of condoms in preventing infection.
The "highly effective" numbers seem to come from a laboratory study of condoms, which was then assumed to apply to actual use. The first assumption was that since the FDA specifies that no more than 1/400 condoms fail a water leak test that 399/400 condoms will not leak in actual use. Then they assessed virus passage through a "perfect" condom using a liquid with a high concentration of virus. assuming that the chosen liquid behaved like semen and that a high concentration behaved like a low concentration of viral particles (which is a known false assumption - I can't find the paper, but at higher concentrations, multiple particles jam small holes and so they are less likely to pass through than at low concentrations).

That information was used to form a hypothetical risk model. The results appear to be nonsense. There are too many obvious things wrong with this model to go into here (I have to wonder who approved the "research"), but suffice it to say that if this model were true, then condoms would be nearly 99.399196% effective at preventing pregnancy (yes, that's the level of accuracy claimed by the model), and they are not. Real world studies show that about 16-20% of couples who use condoms regularly experience pregnancy within their first year of use (the paper uses the number 14%).

When a model doesn't predict real world data, the model is wrong.

There were several studies done on actual people for HIV, however. They considered only passing HIV between men and women during vaginal intercourse, not transmission among gay males, but one would hope the results were similar, or at least it's less of a stretch than the hypothetical model. The results look more realistic.
Overall, Davis and Weller estimated that condoms provided an 85% reduction in HIV/AIDS transmission risk when infection rates were compared in always versus never users.
This means that condoms are as effective against HIV as they are against pregnancy, which is still not very effective, considering the number of unintended pregnancies for condom users. A 1-in-6 chance of contracting a deadly disease for which there is no cure doesn't seem "highly effective" to me.

So condoms are not the answer they are claimed to be. Let's hope this new pill is not only effective as effective as claimed, and that it doesn't lead to more resistant strains of HIV if it is used as prophylaxis.

However, that's not what I intended to blog about. The thing that struck me most about the article was the rate of infection.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) represent "nearly half of all people living with HIV in the U.S., and the rate of new HIV diagnoses among MSM is more than 44 times that of other men," the CDC said.
We are living in a country that's considering regulating eating habits because overweight people have a 40% higher chance of contracting cardiovascular disease. Why don't we consider lifestyle choices that result in a 4300% higher chance of contracting HIV? We just repeat the mantra "not that there's anything wrong with that" and ignore the suffering of these people.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

New Life

I just couldn't not blog about NASA's announcement today.
NASA has discovered a new life form, a bacteria called GFAJ-1 that is unlike anything currently living in planet Earth. It's capable of using arsenic to build its DNA, RNA, proteins, and cell membranes. This changes everything.
I agree that this is a big deal. We have up to now assumed that DNA had to be made up of the same elements all the time. These bacteria use arsenic (yes, that arsenic, the poison) in place of phosphorous in their DNA. The article goes on...

NASA's geobiologist Pamela Conrad thinks that the discovery is huge and "phenomenal," comparing it to the Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise crew finds Horta, a silicon-based alien life form that can't be detected with tricorders because it wasn't carbon-based. It's like saying that we may be looking for new life in the wrong places with the wrong methods. Indeed, NASA tweeted that this discovery "will change how we search for life elsewhere in the Universe."
Here's where I get lost. The Horta, as we all know, replaced carbon with silicon. Now, carbon is a big deal. Just about every molecule in living organisms relies on carbon in some way, to the extent that the term organic chemistry is used to describe chemistry of carbon compounds. Replacing phosphorous is not in my mind as big a deal, because while phosphorous is essential to life, the amount of it in a living organism is relatively small and the organism using it would still be recognizable (as opposed to the Horta, which didn't even register on the tricorder as living). Not that this isn't still a big deal, but whereas I would think the Horta would have a completely different life process, I could see this arsenic-based DNA behaving very similarly to the rest of Earth's life.

But why arsenic, of all things? In 1868 Dmittri Mendeleev began writing a chemistry textbook. One of his ideas was to arrange the known elements (60 at the time) in order of increasing weight. This had been done before, but Mendeleev noticed that when they were written in tabular form, some elements in the same columns had similar properties. This had been noticed before also, but what Mendeleev did, and which required a leap of faith, was to force similar elements into the "correct" columns based on their properties, leaving empty places in the table. Mendeleev claimed that the holes in the table were as yet undiscovered elements, and by looking at the patterns in the table he was able to predict the properties of these unknown elements.

For instance, there was a gap under aluminum in Mendeleev's table, which he called "eka-aluminum" (eka is a Sanskrit word meaning "one more than"). From the patterns in the table he predicted that eka-aluminum would be discovered to have certain properties. He predicted it's atomic weight would be around 68, its density would be around 5.9 and it would be a metal with a low melting point. In 1875, eka-aluminum was in fact discovered by French chemist Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran who named it gallium (and there's a fascinating story in the naming of gallium as well). Gallium's atomic weight is 69.9, density 5.93, and it's melting point at 30.1° C (which means it can melt in your hand)!

At any rate, the answer to "why arsenic" is because arsenic is right below phosphorous in the periodic table (you could call it "eka-phosphorous"). In that sense it is chemically very similar to phosphorous, and can form similar bonds with similar other elements to make similar molecules that have similar properties.

As for naming gallium, at the time, the discoverer of an element got to name the element. Gallium's discoverer, who was French, claimed to have named it for France, since the Latin name for France is Gaul. However, his name was Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran, and Lecoq means "the cock", which in Latin is Gallus. So perhaps he was naming the element for himself, rather than his country. We'll never know.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Habemus Episcopus!

As you may or may not know, I reside in the Diocese of Trenton, NJ.

On Dec. 1, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Bishop John M. Smith as head of the Diocese of Trenton. Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., has succeeded to the diocesan see, becoming the 10th Bishop of Trenton. A Mass marking the transition in pastoral governance will be celebrated Dec. 8 at 12:10 p.m. on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

In his first statement as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, Bishop O'Connell writes:
As your new shepherd, I ask you to join me in striving to live out the motto that I have chosen as bishop: “ministrare non ministrari, to serve and not to be served (Mark 10:45).” May that be the spirit of our collaborative ministry to teach and lead and continually invite all the faithful entrusted to our care to holiness!
Please read the whole statement (it's not long) and join me in welcoming our new shepherd.