Daily Archives: September 22, 2013

News Ireland as told by Donie

Sunday 22nd September 2013

We should deal with rogue priests here, not Rome says Diarmuid Martin


Censured Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery (right pic.) who has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said the spate of censures of five Irish priests by the Vatican should have been dealt with by the Irish church instead of Rome.

He was speaking on RTE Radio about the publication of an in-depth interview with Pope Francis by the Italian Jesuit journal ‘La Civiltà Cattolica’, in which the Pontiff criticised the excessive number of denunciations sent to Rome about priests and theologians complaining of their lack of orthodoxy.

In the interview, the Pope said these conflicts over orthodoxy should be handled by local bishops’ conferences rather than the Curia.

Responding, Dr Martin said he hoped that the problems and the tensions within the Irish church would be eased “so that we get away from a climate of bickering into one in which we all work together.”

He said he also strongly believed that these matters should alwaysbegin with the local church and where possible be resolved within the local church.

Noting that Irish society had been through some difficult years, Dr Martin said he agreed with the Pope that the church shouldn’t be so over-concerned by just abortion, gay marriage and contraceptives.

Meanwhile, censured Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery who has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith – over his stand on women priests and contraception – told the Irish Independent that what the Pope said, “seems to amount to a fairly substantial critique of the way in which the Curia and, in particular, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith have been operating.”

In his interview, the Pope said that in some cases, when Vatican Congregations are not functioning well, “they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship”.

The Pope’s call for local bishops’ conferences to handle such matters could potentially be “good news” for Fr Flannery and the other censured Irish priests.

“It changes the rules of the game in the sense that it appears that the Curia has largely been taken out of the business of dealing with disciplinary matters and it has been handed back to the local church to deal with it,” he said.

For Fr Flannery, that means that the matter should be dealt with by his Redemptorist congregation.

The priest – whose recently launched book ‘A Question of Conscience’ has sold out and a second reprint is due in just over a weeks’ time – said there was “no question” that the Pope was criticising the “thought police” who spent their time reporting people to Rome.

Irish people ‘do not need another reason to drink’


Doctors have launched a scathing attack on an annual event that promotes Guinness, claiming alcohol-related illnesses in Ireland have reached “epidemic” proportions.

As Arthur’s Day approaches, the Royal College of Physicians Ireland (RCPI) has organised a public talk aimed at highlighting the dark side of alcohol.

Liver disease specialist Dr Stephen Stewart, who will speak at the event tomorrow, said he has treated patients as young as their 30s with end-stage liver disease who were unaware they had a drinking problem.

“We have a progressively worsening relationship with alcohol in Ireland, which manifests itself in the increasing numbers of young people dying from alcohol-related illnesses,” Dr Stewart said.

The doctor, who serves as director of the Liver Disease Centre in the Mater Hospital, said deaths relating to cirrhosis of the liver have doubled between 1994 and 2008, and that hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease almost doubled between 1995 and 2007.

“Alcohol is more affordable than ever. Alcohol is more acceptable than ever. Alcohol is more available than ever,” he said.

“We need measures to address this epidemic. Where does Arthur’s Day fit into all of this?”

Chair of the RCPI’s policy group on alcohol Professor Frank Murray will open the public meeting.

He said with alcohol consumption and binge drinking at such high rates, the nation does not need “another reason to drink”.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smyth, who will also address the event, warned young people who drink feel more depressed and more anxious while women who open bottles of wine to “de-stress” after a hard work day do more harm than good.

“This strategy for coping with the slings and arrows of life is counterproductive and is not a good model to set for children,” he said.

Arthur’s Day is an annual event organised by Diageo to celebrate the anniversary of the Guinness brewing company.

More than 500 music events featuring over 1,000 different acts will be held across the country on Thursday.

The RCPI meeting – called Join the National Conversation on Alcohol: Who’s calling the shots – will take place at 6pm on Monday at the college’s headquarters on Kildare Street, Dublin.

Survey reveals potential for Ireland to raise adventure tourism numbers


Failte Ireland has said there is greater potential to grow activity tourism numbers across the west of Ireland and the Atlantic coast line, according to research published by them today.

They surveyed more than 15,000 holidaymakers from the four key overseas markets of Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands as well as tourists from within Ireland.

The survey shows that Ireland is extremely well positioned in the adventure and activity segment of tourism.

The Green Isle continues to be a huge draw for international visitors who love action-packed holidays more than the city trip or beach break.

Our European neighbours enjoy Ireland’s music and sights but the survey shows that they prefer to participate in adventure activities along our coasts or mountain walking.

Cycling, walking and horseriding are still proving the most popular activities.

Next year, Ireland will host the 2014 “Year of Adventure” with the Adventure Travel World Summit getting underway in Killarney.

The mental strain of making do with less in your diet


Diet’s don’t just reduce weight, they can reduce mental capacity. In other words, dieting can make you dumber.

Understanding why this is the case can illuminate a range of experiences, including something as far removed from voluntary calorie restriction as the ordeal of outright poverty.

Imagine that you are attending a late-afternoon meeting. Someone brings in a plate of cookies and places them on the other side of the conference table. Ten minutes later you realize you’ve processed only half of what has been said.

Why? Only half of your mind was in the meeting. The other half was with the cookies: “Should I have one? I worked out yesterday. I deserve it. No, I should be good.”

That cookie threatened to strain your waistline. It succeeded in straining your mind.

This can happen even with no cookie in sight. Dieters conjure their own cookies: psychologists find that dieters have spontaneous self-generated cravings at a much higher rate than nondieters. And these cravings are not the dieters’ only distraction. Diets force trade-offs: If you eat the cookie, should you skip the appetizer at dinner? But that restaurant looked so good!

Many diets also require constant calculations to determine calorie counts. All this clogs up the brain. Psychologists measure the impact of this clogging on various tasks: logical and spatial reasoning, self-control, problem solving, and absorption and retention of newinformation. Together these tasks measure “bandwidth,” the resource that underlies all higher-order mental activity. Inevitably, dieters do worse than nondieters on all these tasks; they have less bandwidth.

One particularly clever study went further. It tested how dieters and nondieters reacted to eating a chocolate bar. Even though the bar provided calories, eating it widened the bandwidth gap between dieters and nondieters. Nondieters ate and moved on, but dieters started wondering how to make up for the calories they had just ingested or, even more fundamentally, pondered, “Why did I eat the bar?”

In other words, diets do not just strain bandwidth because they leave us hungry. They have psychological, not just physiological, effects.

The basic insight extends well beyond the experience of calorie counting. Something similar happens whenever we make do with less, as when we feel that we have too little time, or too little money. Just as the cookie tugs at the dieter, a looming deadline preoccupies a busy person, and the prospect of a painful rent payment shatters the peace of the poor. Just as dieters constantly track food, the hyper-busy track each minute and the poor track each dollar.

As Prof. Eldar Shafir at Princeton University and I argue in our new book, “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much” (Times Books), a similar psychology of scarcity operates across these examples but with varying degrees of force. If a cookie can tax our mental resources, imagine how much more psychological impact other forms of scarcity can have.

Take the case of poverty. In a paper published last month in Science, with Profs. Anandi Mani at the University of Warwick and Jiaying Zhao at the University of British Columbia, Professor Shafir and I waded into politically charged territory. Some people argue that the poor make terrible choices and do so because they are inherently less capable. But our analysis of scarcity suggests a different perspective: perhaps the poor are just as capable as everyone else. Perhaps the problem is not poor people but the mental strain that poverty imposes on anyone who must endure it.

One of our studies focused on Indian sugar cane farmers, who typically feel themselves to be both poor and rich, depending on the season. They are paid once a year at harvest time. When the crop is sold, they are flush with cash. But the money runs out quickly, and by the time the next harvest arrives they are stretched thin: they are, for example, 20 times as likely to pawn an item before harvest as after it. Rather than compare poor and rich farmers, we compare each farmer to himself: when he is rich against when he is poor. This kind of comparison is important because it addresses valid concerns that differences in psychological tests merely reflect differences in culture or test familiarity.

We measured farmers’ mental function — on what psychologists call fluid intelligence and executive control — one month before and one month after harvest. And the effects were large: preharvest I.Q., for example, was lower by about nine to 10 points, which in a common descriptive classification is the distance between “average” and “superior” intelligence. To put that in perspective, a full night without sleep has a similar effect on I.Q.

Bandwidth scarcity has far-reaching consequences, whether we are talking about poor farmers or affluent dieters. We all use bandwidth to make decisions at work, to resist the urge to yell at our children when they annoy us, or even to focus on a conversation during dinner or in a meeting. The diversity of these behaviors — combined with the size of the measurable effects — suggests a very different way to interpret the choices and behaviors of the poor. Just picture how distracting that cookie was, and multiply that experience by a factor of 10.

For dieters, bandwidth scarcity has one particularly important consequence, illustrated inone study that gave people a choice between fruit salad and cake. Before choosing, half of the subjects had their bandwidth taxed: they were asked to remember a seven-digit number. The other half had a mentally less-demanding task: they were asked to remember a two-digit number. Those with less available bandwidth ate more cake: they were 50 percent more likely to choose cake than the others. There is a paradox here: diets create mental conditions that make it hard to diet.

This may sound defeatist. But there are positive lessons for how to manage the different kinds of scarcity.

THE United States government, laudably, offers financial aid for low-income students to attend college. Qualifying for it, though, requires completing a densely packed 10-page booklet, mentally taxing for anyone. A one-page version would not only be simpler but it would also recognize that the poor are short on bandwidth as well as cash.

The same tactic — economizing on bandwidth — can be used in dieting. Take the Atkins diet, which effectively bans many foods, including bread and a lot of desserts. A ban is less complex than the trade-offs and calorie accounting required by many other diets. While all diets require self-control, Atkins requires less thinking. This might explain its popularity, and even its effectiveness: a recent study shows that people persist longer with diets that require less thought.

The same study had another interesting finding: it was the perceived complexity of a diet — not its actual complexity — that determined persistence.

So keep this in mind the next time you’re picking a diet to shed a few pounds. Try one that won’t also shed a few I.Q. points.

New Hope for H.I.V. Vaccine


“Kafkaesque” is not a word normally used to describe immune responses, but it’s how Dr. Louis J. Picker described what his experimental vaccine did to his rhesus monkeys: “It’s like their T-cells were turned into the East German secret police, hunting down infected cells until there were none left.”

Recent work by Dr. Picker, a vaccine expert at Oregon Health & Science University, has shaken up the long, frustrating search for an AIDS vaccine. His latest study, published in Nature last week, has scientists scratching their heads, wondering if it might open up a new avenue for research.

Dr. Picker tested his vaccine in 16 monkeys who were then infected with simian immunodeficiency virus, a close relative of H.I.V., which normally would have sent them spiraling rapidly down to a miserable death. The experimental vaccine protected only nine of them, but it also did something never seen before: these monkeys slowly “cleared” the virus and now appear to be cured. “Three years later, you can’t tell them from other monkeys,” Dr. Picker said.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the effect was “unique.”

And Dr. Barton F. Haynes, the director of the Human Vaccine Institute at Duke University’s medical school, said it was “potentially extremely important to understand how this happened.”

Scientists often test ideas for potential AIDS vaccines by creating similar ones against S.I.V. Never before has one eliminated an existing infection. In that sense, the effect of Dr. Picker’s vaccine was less like that of a measles or flu shot and more like that of the AIDS cures used in two famous cases, known as the Berlin patient and the Mississippi baby.

The Berlin patient, Timothy Ray Brown, was infected with H.I.V. and cured only by obliterating his immune system to defeat his leukemia, and then injecting bone marrow from a donor with a rare H.I.V.-blocking mutation. The unidentified baby was born to an infected mother in Mississippi and apparently infected with H.I.V., but then cured with early and large doses of antiretroviral drugs.

Both now appear to have no H.I.V. lurking deep in their bodies, but it is impossible to be sure because not every bit of their tissue can be tested.

Because he works with monkeys, Dr. Picker was able to do something that would be unthinkable with human patients — necropsy them, grind up every organ and take 240 samples from each to be sure that they harbored no hidden virus.

Making vaccines by simply weaAids

kening the virus that causes AIDS has failed because the virus mutates a hundred times faster than even the fast-mutating flu virus. In Dr. Picker’s vaccine, S.I.V. genes are fused to those of another virus, the cytomegalovirus. (The name means “big cell,” and it is in the herpes family but different from its relatives that cause lip and genital sores, chickenpox and shingles.)

H.I.V. fusion has been tried with adenoviruses and others, but cytomegalovirus seems to work better. It’s not entirely clear why, but one theory is that cytomegalovirus has a very long history of infecting primates — so much so that 100 percent of monkeys and about 80 percent of humans get it in their lifetimes.

Therefore, we primates have adapted to it. Although the virus can be lethal to fetuses and to those with immune systems suppressed by AIDS or transplant drugs, in most victims it causes no symptoms.

The body responds to cytomegalovirus more slowly and calmly than it does, for example, to a flu.

As in any infection, the thymus gland generates new white blood cells called T cells — in this case, CD8 hunter-killer cells — primed to target the specific virus. But in the case of Dr. Picker’s vaccine, those cells stay in an unusual “half-alert” state. A full-blown immune response eventually exhausts itself, and can even be dangerous. For example, the rare humans who catch H5N1 bird flu often die of the immune response itself; they drown in the flood of CD8s and other would-be saviors pouring into the lung tissue, spoiling for a fight.

That “half-alert” state is the “Kafkaesque” element: unactivated CD8s wander around aimlessly, while fully activated ones behave like storm troopers. But the half-activated CD8s persist in tissues, eliminating their targets quietly without triggering inflammation or even a mild fever.

When S.I.V. genes are fused to the cytomegalovirus spine, the CD8s kill S.I.V.-infected cells too.

Since it protected only some monkeys, the new technique might be best used in combination approaches. For example, Dr. Fauci said, it could be given with a vaccine that generates antibodies against H.I.V. “and maybe eliminate the cells that sneak past the antibody shield.”

Alternatively, the vaccine might be given to infected patients who are on antiretroviral drugs to see if it can “mop up” lingering reservoirs of virus.

It should take up to three years to get a human version ready for trials, Dr. Picker estimated.

“Now the outstanding question is, ‘Why only half?’ ” said Dr. Mike McCune, an AIDS researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, referring to the monkeys who were protected in Dr. Picker’s trial.

Too often, AIDS advances that work in lots of monkeys don’t work in many humans.

“Not all monkeys are the same,” Dr. McCune said. “They’re not as inbred as mice, but they’re sometimes from the same families, they get the same diets… Who knows what will happen if this goes into humans?”