Boinkie's Blog


Thursday, December 25, 2008


Merry Christmas to all.

The film of the video comes from the Nativity Story
The film has many theological and plot problems (it changes the story for dramatic effect, but then goes boring when the well known part is followed).

But the actress who played Mary, Keisha Castle-Hughes, gets the spirit of Mary correct. She is friendly, strong, attractive, and glows with joy, unlike too many actresses who portray Mary as a passive withdrawn dreamy personality.

(Keisha Castle Hughes is best known for her previous role in WhaleRider...and indeed, she is half Maori).

When the movie was released, reporters noted snidely that the actress was pregnant during filming even though unmarried, and confronted one Vatican cardinal with the "scandal".

The Cardinal instead said, (I paraphras) ah yes, and because of the pregnancy she could play Mary with that glow of all expectant mothers.

So although I didn't really like the film, when I think of Mary at the time of Christ's birth, I find this movie portrays her the best.

And for Mary during Christ's passion, I see the Mary of Passion of the Christ, Maia Morgenstern.

Ironic, isn't it, that the best portrayals of Mary in the Cinema are by non Catholic actresses?


Thursday, December 18, 2008

The baby in the Stable

I wonder if those arguing about manger scenes in public squares in the US really understand the story. The scene is usually quiet and poetic. No dirt, cute animals, and pretty...

The manger can only be understood if you spent time in poorer countries. People live not much better than that. A family with five kids in a house with three (in the Middle East) a roof to sleep on, and a lower room to house the sheep.

This was what Mary faced: Having a baby, when there was no private room for her to do so. The thought of a quiet, private area which had animals is not as shocking as it seems: at least she didn't have the baby on the street, and undoubtably St Joseph got a relative to help her with the labour.

Joseph and Mary were poor, but not destitute. He lived similar to the majority of people in the history of the world: working, marrying and begetting and finding happiness and support in one's family.

Yet all the time,a drought, an epidemic, a storm, an earthquake,political problems, a passing army or banditry, or any number of things could mean you lose your home, or even death for you and all of those you love.

So Jesus' birth is not so much a poetic story for people to ponder as a realistic story that could be faced by the majority of people over the last two thousand years.

St. Francis, seeing how the poor people had lost sight of that reality, made the first manger scene, using real people and real animals... and suddenly, the story was not of angels and miracles, but a story that everyone could relate to: A simple child who was born to ordinary parents, but that child was God.

Too often, in pagan worlds (and in the modern society that worships fame and fortune) the "superior"people are those who are rich or famous or powerful. Those who are lesser beings are seen as unimportant to the world.

But God didn't come into the world as a man in a cloud of light, nor was he born of a queen in a palace.

He came as a baby, born in the stable because the house was crowded. And if God could be born and live as an ordinary village worker, that means that every farmer and carpenter and mechanic and small shopkeeper's life has dignity.

The world worships youth and beauty, but sees the child as a burden, a "choice" to be aborted when inconvenient to the parents.

God sees the child as a symbol of hope.

So mangers are anathema to the culture of it any wonder that the richest land on the earth suddenly is facing opposition to the story of a baby born in poverty?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Ethical dilemmas we will be reading about

The Obama presidency will probably immediately lift the "ban" against using embryonic stem cells, i.e. taking stem cells from human embryos that kill the embryo.

This will get him lots of praise in the press.

What you probably won't read is that this is unnecessary.

Adult stem cells are working fine, are easy to find. Every day, scientists are finding a new source of the various types of stem cells in ordinary tissue. Adult stem cells are cheaper and better, since they "match" the patient. And since you can start with a lot more of them, they are less likely to degenerate into cancerous tumors, (a problem after a cell multiplies a certain number of times)...

A lot of people are under the impression that there are lots of "unwanted" embryos out there just sitting around, so why not use them? But the dirty little secret is that embryonic stem cells have to be "fresh" to use.

And you can't just take a stem cell and voila, instant replacement part. You need to get etically matching stem cells to treat people. Usually this means taking an egg, removing the DNA and making a clone.

And therein lies the problem:

The California initiative for stem cells mandates that only donated embryos or eggs could be used (not embryos or eggs from paid donors). The result? California companies doing embryonic stem cell research are complaining about the shortage of "eggs" to make fresh embryos, and petitioning the state to fund money to buy the eggs.

How do you get human eggs? By paying women to take fertility pills to make them ovulate a lot of eggs (a medicine that has side effects) and then doing minor surgery to remove them.

Last time I looked, the "price" for fresh eggs from a Boston college student was 20thousand dollars; as a result, a lot of infertile couples are buying eggs from Eastern Europe.

But since embryonic stem cell eggs don't have to be from white people, this means if Obama changes the law, another black market operation in third world countries will be set up to get eggs from poor women: women whose bodies might be more prone to side effects of the medicine, and in countries where women risk dying of infection from the "minor procedure" to "harvest" the eggs...and such deaths will be easy to ignore.

And then there is the problem of genetic match.

Using one's own stem cells means the DNA matches. Using an embryo means trying to match the DNA (and if not perfect, using anti rejection medicines similar to ordinary transplants). The dirty little secret is that to work, embryonic stem cells would have to be turned into clones of the person needing the organ or tissue: And cloning is difficult (and not a perfect match, since mitochondrial DNA doesn't match).

But what about using all those frozen "left over" embryos?

One problem: They are too old to be useful...many never "revive" when defrosted.

And then what about the parents?

A study from Duke Medical Center shows that parents of left over embryos have moral qualms about these children.

Few want more children, but many (20%) would prefer to keep the frozen embryos in storage. The news that most (over 50%) oppose allowing infertile couples to "adopt" these children is also not surprising, given the societal taboos against "abandoning" one's children to strangers. But "the majority" say they would allow the left over embryos to be used for research.

An earlier study in Science magazine suggested that 60% of the parents would like to donate the embryos for research.

This shows a profound moral confusion on the part of the parents: I suspect they would donate the embryos since the alternative (destruction) is distasteful, and since suspended animation probably kills the embryo anyway, why not let it be used for a good cause?

On the other hand, few parents have actually signed papers to allow their embryos to be used, which suggests that there is a gap between what the tell polltakers and reality.

The press spin about this of course is that evil anti science President Bush won't fund such research, so that option "is not open" to such parents.

But of course this is not true: private companies can legally use such cells...they just want fresh embryos, or better still, fresh eggs that they can make fresh embryos from.

A survey by Business Wire showed widespread confusion on the issue, where most people thought that adult stem cells didn't work, and that "stem cells" were all from embryos.

But the truth is that adult stem cells work, and have been used for years to treat various diseases; more recently, scientists have found out how to insert genes into stem cells, meaning that children with genetic disease such as sickle cell disease might have an alternative treatment to suffering with the disease or a risky bone marrow transplant.

And the big news, that scientists have managed to make adult stem cells act like embryonic stem cells and turn into various tissues, makes the expensive embryonic destructive stem cells unneeded.

Of course, scientists would still like to use embryos for basic research, (the UK recently approved of research to make animal/human embryos).

So why not do the research first on animals?

Ah, but if a scientist tries to do the basic research on apes, he or she may find his car or house firebombed by animal rights activists.

Ironic, isn't it? California frowns on ape research, but it's fine to experiment on one's unborn offspring.