Archive | May, 2010

Stem-cell collaboration

May 31, 2010


Scientific analysisThe church often gets labeled as being against science because of its opposition to embryonic stem-cell research. Few realize the church is actually a strong supporter of stem-cell research, just not the kind that destroys nascent human life.

A recent announcement by an international biopharmaceutical company and the Pontifical Council for Culture demonstrates the church’s commitment to advance ethical research.

Foundations affiliated with NeoStem and the Vatican agency — whose foundation has made an initial $1 million commitment to the venture — will work together to educate people around the world about the benefits of adult stem-cell research to treat disease and alleviate suffering.

Plans are to sponsor an international conference on adult stem-cell research at the Vatican in 2011. The Vatican and NeoStem also hope to develop educational programs, publications and academic courses to address the scientific, theological and philosophical questions surrounding stem-cell research, according to a Catholic News Service story.

“We want to be able to deliver to our pastors, to our bishops, information that will help them respond to the bioethical questions raised by Catholics at the local level,” said Father Tomasz Trafny, an official with the culture council. “We need to understand the technologies, the science, many things, in order to know what kinds of answers we need to provide for them.”

NeoStem holds exclusive worldwide rights to VSEL (very small embryonic-like) stem-cell technology. According to the CNS story, Dr. Robin Smith, chair and chief executive of NeoStem, said the technology has the potential of achieving “the positive benefits associated with embryonic stem cells without the ethical or moral dilemmas as well as other negative effects associated with embryonic stem cells.”

This initiative is one way the church is walking its talk on ethical research. We need more like this.

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Catholic school ‘SciGirl’

May 29, 2010


SciGirlWomen have long been underrepresented in science-related careers. But a new PBS show, “SciGirls,” is on a mission to change how tween girls think about STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and hopefully inspire them to pursue careers in these fields.

Each 30-minute episode of the show, which has a companion Web site, features two animated characters — Izzie and her best friend Jake — who confront problems only science can solve. They get help from real “SciGirls” who, as the show’s promotional site notes, “put STEM to work and save the day.”

One of the girls appearing in an episode is Peri Warren, a seventh-grader at St. John the Baptist School in Excelsior, Minn. The episode — “Going Green” — features the school and its lunch program.

Peri and her friends, Allie Wilkie and Mackenzie Jones, asked students to sort trash and compost during lunch periods. The girls then took the sorting one step further, learning about the different types of plastics and what the numbers on each container mean. Then, they initiated their own recycling project.

Other local connections featured in the episode include Randy’s Sanitation and the Recyling Association of Minnesota.

Caring for God’s creation is an important part of Catholic social teaching. We need more youth like Peri and her friends who are interested in science and conservation and more shows like “SciGirls” that encourage students to make a positive impact on their world.

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Are we spending too much time fishing and hunting?

May 28, 2010


I ran across an interesting news article today highlighting a recent study by a University of Minnesota ecologist, Craig Packer, and a group of researchers.

They say a good way to manage the harvest of fish and game would be to limit the number of days allowed for hunting and fishing. I have thought about this a number of times over the years and I think there is merit to this idea.

In fact, I have practiced this some myself. Granted, my job and family responsibilities do a lot to limit my time in the woods and waters, but I also have tried to manage the impact that I and people I hunt and fish with have on a particular area. In other words, I try not to burn good spots.

For example, with deer and turkey hunting, I often get permission on several pieces of private property so that we harvest no more than two animals on one piece of property. In fact, in all the years I have hunted turkeys and deer, we have never taken more than two on any particular piece of land in one season.

Unfortunately, I regularly hear of high harvests in small areas. Last fall, I talked with the landowner where my friend, John Nesheim, hunted deer with his crossbow. He told me one hunting party took six deer off of his land.

In my book, that’s too many. The year before, I met two different hunters who hunted turkeys on a piece of property where I hunt deer. One said that he and his friend each shot a turkey during their season. The other said he went out with two of his friends and they each got one. That’s five gobblers from the same 160-acre piece of land. Again, too many, as far as I’m concerned.

That same spring, just two properties over, another group of three hunters shot three turkeys in their season. I know that turkeys are prolific when it comes to reproduction, but these properties are taking a pounding and I wonder how long they can sustain such a harvest. I chose to hunt elsewhere this spring, although I did take one of my sons to a neighboring property and he harvested a nice tom.

The problem, I believe, is that most hunters just think of themselves. They are driven to harvest animals, which is their right, but they think little or nothing about others who hunt the same properties and harvest additional animals. In fact, what I often see is hunters regularly hunting the same properties year after year, then bringing others they know out there. The aforementioned group of three are friends of a hunter who hunts the same property with three of his friends. So, one person is responsible for seven people hunting one piece of property.

To me, this is ming boggling. It’s almost as though he is trying to monopolize the property. I talked to the landowner this spring after my son shot his bird, and he told me that he had hunters scheduled to come out during each of the eight turkey-hunting seasons this spring.

Wow! He’s got an excellent piece of property featuring prime habitat and lots of acreage (500-plus), yet I don’t see how it can remain good if this amount of hunting pressure keeps up year after year.

Honestly, it’s hard to believe how little hunters think about this. They seem focused only on filling all of their tags. Then, if things are slow, they start blaming the Minnesota DNR for not doing enough to provide a plentiful supply of game.

The study I read about today recommends more restraint. I agree. I’m not sure if there’s a good way for the DNR to incorporate this into the game and fish regulations. Ideally, hunters and anglers would begin to practice this on their own. Perhaps, the best example I have seen is bass and muskie anglers. The most serious of these release everything they catch. Not coincidentally, the state’s bass and muskie populations, both in terms of quantity and quality, are the best they’ve ever been.

Certainly, there have been catch-and-release regulations for both species that have helped. But, many bass and muskie anglers have adopted their own standards of catch-and-release that go way beyond the rules. Good for them. I, too, release almost every bass that I catch. I made one exception two summers ago when I caught the biggest largemouth of my life — 5 pounds, 11 ounces. I debated, then took it to a taxidermist. Even now, I struggle with whether I should have kept the fish. I’m not likely to keep another, unless it is really big, like more than 7 pounds. To be honest, if I can get a good picture of me in the boat holding the fish right after I catch it, that’s as enjoyable as a mount.

I would love to see more hunters and anglers really stop and think about their current practices and make decisions not to overharvest their good spots. Sharing with others is a reality of our time and I think it’s only going to become more necessary. It would sure be nice if people started disciplining themselves and moderating their harvest without regulations forcing them to do it.

As we do practice moderation, I think we will find ourselves experiencing more gratitude for what we do harvest.

To read the full article on the study, visit

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Sistine Chapel secret?

May 28, 2010

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"The Separation of Light from Darkness"A lot of popular fiction writers today continue to profitably mine Dan Brown-type theories portraying the Vatican as a place of dark secrets and cryptic puzzles.

You don’t expect respected scientists to advance similar ideas. But two neuroanatomists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore are proposing a theory that could be straight out of “The Da Vinci Code” or “Angels and Demons.”

They believe Michelangelo, the 16th-century artist who painted on the walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, hid anatomical illustrations in some of the chapel’s frescoes — drawings concealed, no less, inside the body of God.

A recent Scientific American blog post summarizes research conducted by Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo and featured in a paper in the May 2010 issue of the journal Neurosurgery.

The pair believes Michelangelo was also an anatomist, but he kept it a secret by destroying most of his anatomical sketches and notes. One corresponding proof they offer is that the chest and throat of God in one of the Sistine Chapel ceiling panels — “The Separation of Light from Darkness” (above) — are an exact depiction of the human spinal cord and brain stem.

Is it true? You’ll have to be the judge. But, if it is, what message — if any — was Michelangelo trying to convey?

Suk and Tamargo steer clear of such speculation, but theories abound. Maybe Michelangelo was trying to show that God was endowing humans with the divine gift of intelligence. Or maybe he was trying to show — during a time when science and the church were sometimes at odds — that intelligence leads to God, cutting out the necessity of the church. Michelangelo, after all, although devout, unfortunately had a strained relationship at times with the church.

Certainly, no one can know for sure. What do you think?

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Einstein’s God

May 26, 2010


bookcoverKrista Tippett hits the mark in explaining the relationship between faith and science in the introduction to her new book, “Einstein’s God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit.”

Tippett, who lives in St. Paul and hosts the public radio program “Speaking of Faith,” argues that much of the current religion vs. science debate is based on the false premise that one of these approaches to truth must be right and the other wrong.

In short, she states (rightly) that science is not the enemy of faith, or vice-versa. While they may speak different languages, faith and science together give us valuable insights into the universe and our place in it. Despite the claims of some, one can accept scientific explanations about the “big bang” and evolution and still believe in God as creator of the universe and of us human beings in his image.

In “Einstein’s God,” Tippett explores the science-faith intersection in interviews with a variety of scientists — including physicists, surgeons and psychologists — who are interested in the spiritual aspects of topics ranging from quantum theory and mathematics to health and evolution.

The term “spiritual” is used rather loosely in the context of the people interviewed, since almost none of them is religious in the traditional sense of the word. The one notable exception — which happened to be my favorite interview — is John Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest and former Cambridge physicist. His ruminations on God, creation, love and the nature of suffering, although somewhat controversial, offer all Christians, including Catholics, good opportunities for deeper reflection.

“Einstein’s God” is worth the time to read. It would be especially good for book groups, whose members could discuss the bigger issues it raises.

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Last call

May 25, 2010


My turkey season ended last Friday, when I made one last attempt to bag a Wisconsin gobbler. It has been a tough season in the badger state, with birds being very stubborn about coming in to calls.

I knew the hunt would be challenging, but also rewarding because I was taking my friend, John Nesheim, on his first turkey hunt. He responded to the invitation enthusiastically when I offered it to him in March, and he was pumped to go into the woods, even though I asked him to be at my house at 4 a.m.

As I figured, the birds once again were unresponsive. We got one to gobble a couple of times about 150 yards or so from us, but then the bird shut up and went on his merry way. I could have gotten out of the blind and chased him, but this hunt was not about me getting a bird. It was about spending time with my friend and enjoying the experience.

Eventually, I did venture out for a short time just to see if there were any birds moving on the property. I spooked a hen that we had seen in a field feeding, but that was it. All went quiet after about 7 a.m.

No matter. John and I had a great time anyway. John is intrigued by the sport and says he wants to do it again next year. Hopefully, I can take him out. Even though he now uses prosthetic feet, he gets around very well. We had a short walk to the blind, which he handled easily, even a few of  the bumpy spots. I marvel at how quickly he has learned to travel on artificial feet.

John ended up being the seventh person I guided this year. In what proved to be one of the toughest springs of all time for me, I was able to help one of those seven, my son, Andy, get a bird. I called birds within range for my two other sons, Joe and William, but we couldn’t seal the deal. Actually, in both cases, it was my fault.

As any veteran turkey hunter will tell you, that’s the way it goes. You can do a bunch of things right, but one mistake can cost you a bird. I have experienced this countless times, but, hopefully, those lessons learned will lead to harvested birds in the years to come.

John and I quit about 9 a.m. and headed back home, where we went out to breakfast. I was able to catch up on how he’s doing. He has worked hard on using his prosthetic feet, and it shows. He thinks he will be able to climb into a deer stand some day, maybe this fall. I have already been thinking about setting him up for the archery season. Because of a disability permit, he can hunt with a crossbow. We have two adjoining properties lined up for him, with one of the landowners even offering to put up a stand for him.

It’s looking good and I sure am excited about John’s deer hunting prospects this fall. It’s a joy to help him.

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My turn

May 17, 2010


IMG_0222After a week of hunting wild turkeys, I am left scratching my head. It was a week filled with highs, lows and extreme challenges. Because of our radically early spring, the birds were ahead of schedule in terms of the breeding cycle. Not so much the hens, which were sitting on their nests incubating eggs. Rather, the toms, which got interested in breeding sooner than usual and appeared to be losing interest.

Last year at this time, I heard lots of gobbling and didn’t have much trouble calling birds into shooting range. This year, it was much, much harder. In fact, in four days of hunting in Wisconsin, I never even saw a tom, though I heard gobbling and did have birds close on a couple occasions.

Fortunately, things worked out well on my Minnesota hunt, which last only about four and a half hours. I sat in my blind on a property near Red Wing at dawn on Mother’s Day, and heard only distant gobbling. So, at 9 a.m., I got out and started walking along a ridge to see if I could hear any gobbling. I heard only one gobble, which was across the road on land I did not have permission to hunt.

Then, I came to the property line and looked out onto the neighbor’s land, which I also had permission to hunt. I scanned the newly planted field and grass strip next to it. My brother has hunted this spot many times and has shot several birds there over the years, so I was on high alert as I approached it. I looked out into the distance and saw nothing. Then, closer to me, I saw something brown in the grass. As I tried to identify it, it moved!

Quickly, I realized it was the top of a gobbler’s tail fan. I shouldered my gun and took a step forward. As I did so, the head, neck and upper body of a nice tom came into view. Almost immediately, the bird ran his head up, which they often do when they see something and are trying to identify it. I knew it would be a long shot — maybe 50 yards or more — but I also knew my gun holds a good pattern at long range. So, I fired.

Immediately, three birds flew up and into the woods to the right of the grass. My heart sank because I figured one of those birds was the tom. “Oh well,” I thought, I knew the shot was long and I was probably not going to get any closer. In hunting, it often pays to react quickly to shot opportunities.

I decided to walk over the little rise and check the area where the bird was standing, just in case I happened to hit it. As I crested the hill, I looked into the field and there he was! It was a beautiful bird — 20.6 pounds with an 11-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. I couldn’t have been happier.

Getting this bird early gave me two days to do projects at home before I headed off to Wisconsin for my season there, which went from Wednesday  through Sunday. The weather outlook for the first two days was not good, but I was hoping to find enough breaks in the rain to get on some birds.

I heard very little gobbling on Wednesday and none on Thursday, when it rained all day. On Friday, I went out with my dad on a small piece of property that has lots of birds on it. We got close to a group of gobblers that gobbled pretty hard, but wouldn’t cross a ravine that was between them and our blind. Even though we had six live hens feeding in front of us, no toms came in. One gobbled back in the woods, and we figured he would be drawn to the six hens, but he stayed put and left after just a short time.

It was at that point that I knew the toms were nowhere near as fired up as they were last year, when the same thing happend and I had a group of seven hens come out into a field. That time, a tom was strutting a ways back and followed them all the way over to where my blind was. I took a shot at 50 yards after the hens started moving away. I knocked the bird down, but he got up and ran into the woods. I never found him.

Six hens should be irresistible to a gobbler, but not this year. The toms seem very lethargic and extremely tough to call in. Yet, my dad and I did just that on the last day of our hunt. I repositioned the blind so that the ravine wouldn’t be an issue.

We crawled into the blind at about 5:30 a.m. and the birds were gobbling already. Just like I had hoped, they were on our side of the ravine and answered my calls with vigorous gobbles. They were in a corner and didn’t seem to want to move, but eventually, they came our way.

They were probably only 50 to 60 yards away, just around the corner. We were waiting for them to show themselves, but they never did. They went back the way they came, then swung around and went up into a field. We heard them gobbling there for about an hour, but we never saw them. I think I could have snuck up on them and taken a shot, but I wanted to call them in so my dad could shoot.

I know the birds can be unpredictable, as my turkey-expert friend always says, but I really can’t figure out why these birds wouldn’t come all the way in — and stay out of sight! I’ve heard of birds hanging up, but I find it odd that they would come all that way, then stop and not even try to see the hen that is calling. We had decoys set up, but I’m almost certain the birds never saw them.

I’m going to chalk this up to a tough spring and the toms losing interest in breeding. However, I am not done yet. I did buy a bonus license for Wisconsin’s final season, which begins Wednesday. I am taking my friend, John Nesheim, out for his first turkey hunt. After getting his feet amputated, he now uses prosthetics. And, we’ll be hunting the same property where my dad and I hunted, which is small and offers easy walking. Maybe we can find a way to call these birds in, or encounter some others. One thing I know — it won’t be easy.

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God smiles on Dad

May 6, 2010

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My 88-year-old father just got back from his five-day Minnesota turkey hunt earlier this week. To my surprise and delight, I was given the news that both he and my brother, Joe, got birds. Joe took a nice, mature tom on Sunday, and Dad got a 1-year-old tom, called a jake, on Monday, the last day of the hunt.

They faced tough conditions and didn’t even see a tom the first three days and heard very little gobbling. But, they finally found a good spot and took two birds on the last two days.

What really impressed me was how much the landowners wanted Dad to get a bird. After striking out on a couple of different places the first three days, they went to a place where Joe’s friend had hunted in years past. When the landowner met Dad, he told him about a good spot near the back end of his property where he had seen turkeys.

When Joe remarked that there were lots of fences to cross to get there, the landowner said he would leave all of the gates open so Joe could drive Dad all the way back to the spot in the morning. Dad can’t walk very far anymore, especially in the dark, so this small act of generosity was much appreciated by both Dad and Joe.

They set up the blind Saturday afternoon, and hunted in it for a couple of hours before taking the landowner and his wife out to dinner. Then, they returned Sunday morning. A tom appeared in the field later in the morning, with two hens nearby. Joe got the hens to come toward the blind, and the tom followed. The hens eventually veered away toward the woods, but the tom was close enough for a shot and Joe took it.

The next morning, things came together nicely — and quickly. Three jakes came right in to the decoys at 6:25 and Dad had an easy shot, which he made. Here’s the amazing part — even though he had gall bladder surgery just a month ago, he got up at 4 a.m. every day of the hunt. A couple of times, he woke up before Joe. And, he wasn’t tired when it was all over.

Now, it’s my turn. My Minnesota hunt begins Sunday and I did some scouting today. I heard a bird gobbling on the land I have permission to hunt, plus I saw a gobbler strutting in a field as I drove away from the property. The weather looks good for Sunday, so I’m excited,  especially after hearing about the success Dad and Joe had!

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Illustrated book for young readers shows how Black America has lived the Beatitudes

May 6, 2010


beatitudes cover

“The Beatitudes: From Slavery to Civil Rights,”

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

What a great tool to counter the cultural stereotyping and racism that is so much a part of American society.

Author Weatherford’s pen is poetic as she walks readers through the history of the Black experience from the ships that carried spiritual-singing slaves through centuries of segregation and bigotry to the hard-fought years of the Civil Rights movement and even up to the glory of the election of the first African-American U.S. President.

The background music for the journey is the Beatitudes, that striking teaching of Jesus that is captured for us in Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 5: 3-12).

As your read about the heroes and heroines of Black Americans  and see their images in Ladwig’s colorful paintings, you can’t help but recall the phrase “blessed are” for each and every one. Some are their names are well-known to adults —  Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. — but may be new to the young readers for whom this Eerdmans title is intended. Other names will be new to adults as well.

Thankfully, a brief biographical paragraph of each individual is included in the back of the book. These short sketches will be educational for young and old alike.

This is a great book to buy for the young readers in your life. Cheat, though. Read it yourself before wrapping it as a gift. Better yet, have that young reader read it aloud to you. You’ll both be blessed. — bz

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What if you knew a secret you dared tell no one?

May 6, 2010


Im not scared cover

“I’m Not Scared,”

by Niccolo Ammaniti

Can a nine-year-old be brave?

Brave enough to try to save the life of another boy?

Niccolo Ammaniti’s little, 200-page mystery is one you’ll read in one sitting.

You’ll have to.

You’ll just have to find out what happens when young Michele makes an amazing discovery as he and his friends are out exploring in the Italian countryside where they live.

Ammaniti captures Italian family life, community tension, childhood fears and blunders that anyone who has been a child will identify with.

Best of all is how he puts readers inside the mind of his nine-year-old hero. He lets us see how someone who is just a boy knows the difference between right and wrong and is willing to risk the consequences of doing what his heart tells him he must.

This is not a new work but one first published in Italian in 2001 and translated into English by Jonathan Hunt in 2003. That “I’m Not Scared” has been translated into 20 languages should tell you how good a read it is. — bz

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