News stories about Haiti in the aftermath of Haiti's devastating earthquake last January have repeated charges that international aid organizations have undermined Haiti's private sector health care system. Here's my post on Hopital Sacre Coeur, an amazing hopsital I visited just days before the earthquake (which did not hit Milot, the northern town where the hospital is located. Check out my post on National Review.
The third in the new series of Narnia films, The Voyage of the Dawn Treaderd is decent family fare but offers a slightly different spin from the book's author, C.S. Lewis. -- at least that's my argument here, in my column for Headline Bistro. Below is the thrust of my critique:
"You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness," C.S. Lewis, the bestselling Christian apologist, author and academic, once observed. And in his series of fantasy novels for children, The Chronicles of Narnia, this bestselling author of adult spiritual classics helped generations of young readers to awake from “the evil enchantment” before they were mired in its thrall.
A spellbinding Christian allegory disguised as a series of adventure stories, The Chronicles of Narnia are embedded with deep spiritual and moral insights that fly below the radar of the reader’s skeptical, self-protective reflexes. For some fans, the seven-book series constitute the author’s greatest legacy. Could we offer similar praise for the film versions of these beloved books, with the most recent – “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” – released in movie theaters last week? The short answer is: not likely.
Setting aside the second Narnia film -- the ghastly “Prince Caspian” – both the first adaptation, “Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and the new “Dawn Treader,” offer acceptable family fare. But these cinematic makeovers aren’t ambitious enough to stand up to “evil enchantment.” If spiritual warfare is required, then these limited productions provide insufficient firepower.
Learning to Die in Miami is one of the most memorable books I've read in years. It's a story about an 11-year old Cuban boy sent with his brother on the United States' Operation Pedro Pan airlift to Miami after the Cuban revolution. They were among 14,000 Cuban children who left their homeland, while their' parents were still in Havana. Carlos and Tony Eire must take care of themselves when the two young boys are placed under the guardianship of abusive foster parents. Carlos, the narrator, is hilariously funny, enlivening this often harrowing narrative that turns into a deeply moving conversion story. I reviewed the memoir for the Washington Times. Eire won the National Book Award for his earlier memoir about his childhood in Cuba: Waiting for Snow in Havana.
Erica Jong, the 1970s icon and author of the bestselling Fear of Flying, recently launched an attack on two hip new parenting fads: "green parenting" and "attachment parenting." Jong argues that overly earnest devotees of these these labor-intensive parenting practices are driving themselves nuts and should desist. Here's my take in Headline Bistro on Jong's wide-ranging diatribe.
Waiting for Superman will transform your understanding of the problems that besest our broken public school system. In my two commentaries for Headline Bistro, I begin with the fight over the soul of public education led by Michelle Rhee and end with a look at the Catholic Church's own "superman" moment, as large nubmers of Catholic schools continue to close every year, a trend hitting inner-city students the hardest. After I posted my comments, I found tht Archbishop Dolan of New York had already made another connection with the documentry film: he suggested that Catholic schools provided an answer to the problems of inner-city schools.
The new Wall Street: The Money Never Sleeps with Michael Douglas has some great moments, but mostly grabs our attention because we're in the midst of an economic crisis beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals. When I saw the sequel to Wall Street, I was struck by the return to the theme of fatherless young men on the move, looking for an icon to imulate. I wrote about the film for Headline Bistro, noting that director Oliver Stone initially had been surprised to learn that his first film about Wall Street -- a movie he made to repudiate filthy rich investment bankers -- actually served as a recruiting vehicle for these same banks. Young men wanted to work at these banks, and the "greed is good" argument of the film's character didn't put them off. But there's something more that Stone has missed with these movies. The films are supposed to serve as an argument for tightened regulation of a greedy financial industry, but even if additional regulations are imposed on Wall Street, they can't save the industry from the problem of human freedom and sin. Stone has one solution for greed, but it's not the only one.
The Nobel Prize Committee's decision to award Robert Edwards, the Cambridge University biologist who developed In Vitro Fertilization, was generally appauded by most of the scientific community and Louise Brown, the world's first "test tube" baby, born in 1978. Shockingly, most of the news reports ignored the darker consequences of IVF and other reproductive techologies that have led to the freezing of an estimated 500,000 embryos and destruction of countless others deemed genetically defective. Here's my report in the National Catholic Register, which also notes that IVF procedures only have a 30 percent success rate--thirty years after Louise Brown was born. Alternative methods of addressing infertility--such as treating the underlying medical conditions that created the problem in the first place--are addressed by Dr. Hilgers at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska. States Dr. Hilgers:
Dr. Thomas Hilgers, director of the Omaha-based Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction and developer of pro-life NaPro Technology, believes it is past time for physicians dealing with infertility to re-evaluate their tendency to promote IVF. Instead, he argues, they should treat the medical conditions that lead to infertility.
“IVF is a technology that destroys life to create life. It does not look for or address the underlying causes of infertility. On both counts, it’s the wrong approach and a lot of people have suffered as a result,” said Hilgers, an obstetrician, gynecologist and specialist in reproductive medicine and surgery.
More than three decades after Louise Brown’s birth on the 10th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, notes Hilgers, IVF procedures have yet to exceed a 30% success rate for achieving pregnancy. Still, women are encouraged to pay tens of thousands of dollars for several cycles of treatment and undergo invasive medical procedures. The brutal truth, said Hilgers, becomes clear in this “mind-blowing statistic”: There are “9.5 million women in the U.S with reproductive problems, and, in a given year, 99.5% of those women will never have a baby using IVF.” For many women, the legacy of their gamble with IVF is “mistrust and regret.”
When Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, Never Let Me Go, was published in 2005, i consumed it in one sitting. The story about a seemingly idyllic British boarding school, charged with the education of human clones, was absolutely enthralling. Like Ishiguro's novel, The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go is also sturctured to slowly reveal an evil reality cloaked in what appears to be humdrum daily rituals. Now the film version of Never Let Me Go is in U.S. theaters for a limited engagement and should not be missed. My commentary addressing some of the moral and cultural issues raised by Ishiguro appeared today on Headline Bistro. I applauded Carrie Mulligan's performance as "Kathy H.", the narrator and a central character. As usual, Mulligan is suburb.I note in my commentary:
For some of us, Kathy’s struggle exposes the moral contradictions inherent in our present use of contemporary reproductive technologies: methods of assisting fertility or curing diseases that are predicated on the destruction of human life. Kathy’s plight reveals the tragic limits of good intentions and the seductive power of scientific breakthroughs that give us power over life and death. Reflecting on Hailsham’s failed mission, we may find ourselves re-examining the culture’s incremental tolerance of attacks against nascent human life, from legal abortion to the laboratory creation of embryos destroyed during research. Once moral absolutes are discarded, utilitarian equations, which employ a cost-benefit analysis to establish the value of individual lives, seem too fragile, or adaptable, to prevent future abuses of reproductive technologies.
Ishiguro acknowledges this grim truth, though he doesn’t belabor it. Indeed, some will reach very different conclusions about the moral dynamics at play here. After all, many desperate patients and their families have already accepted the necessity of employing embryo-destructive research to advance future cures. But Kathy’s story will move some complacent bystanders to grapple directly with the first of many difficult questions: Now that human cloning is achievable will it inevitably become desirable?
Go see the movie, and after you do, get the book. Kathy H. will haunt you.
What is the value of time for a biographer, even one who knew the flesh-and-blood man he is writing about?
Weigel: Obviously time gives one some emotional distance on the person about whom one is writing. But in my case, the most important “time factor” was the fact that I came into possession, after the Pope’s death and through the courtesy of Polish academic colleagues, of a cache of remarkable materials from the files of the Polish secret police and communist-era foreign ministry, the East German Stasi, the KGB, the Hungarian secret police, and the White House, none of which had been previously available. Those materials allowed me to explore the communist war against John Paul II in considerable (and dramatic) detail; some have said that the first third of The End and the Beginning reads like an espionage novel. And I expect there’s something to that.
In another exchange, Weigel addresses the pope's two-track strategy for dealing with communist regimes:
John Paul II sought to transform the Holy See’s policy of Ostpolitik by creating the foundation for the nonviolent overthrow of the Soviet empire. Yet he appointed Cardinal [Agostino] Casaroli, a strong advocate of Ostpolitik, as his secretary of state. Why did he do that, and what does that decision reflect about his approach to foreign policy? Other examples?
Weigel: I have long argued that the appointment of Casaroli, architect of the Ostpolitik of Paul VI, as John Paul II’s secretary of state, was an extremely shrewd move on John Paul’s part. With Casaroli as principal Vatican diplomatic agent, no communist government could accuse John Paul of reneging on Paul VI’s agreements or dramatically changing the Vatican’s policy line. Meanwhile, John Paul II himself went around and over the heads of governments with moral appeals to oppressed peoples around the world, calling them to live in the truth, which was his basic weapon against communism. It was a classic good cop-bad cop strategy.