Today’s news was a study in contrasts.  In Oregon, a woman  with terminal brain cancer whom ABC News called an “advocate for death with dignity” committed suicide. She said it was cancer that was ending her life, she was simply choosing when.

But CBS News reported that in Cincinnati, Ohio, a college freshman who also has with terminal brain cancer achieved her dream — to play a college basketball game.  You can see the very moving story  here.

We don’t know the religious background of either woman, but Lauren Hill is attending Mount St. Joseph University, a Catholic liberal arts university in Cincinnati.  Her attitude toward her disease is reflective of the best of Catholic thought and teaching.  Rather than wallow in self-pity and despair, she’s living her life to the fullest as long as she can.  And others — including Hiram College, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, and the NCAA — moved heaven and earth to accommodate her.

On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal had a story about the personal journeys of each of the U.S. doctors who have had Ebola and been treated in the U.S. Each of them suffered immensely, and each noted that at their darkest hours, in the midst of incredible suffering, it was the hope inspired by a faith in God that kept them going.

To me, at least, that sums up the difference between Catholicism and atheism or agnosticism:  Catholicism gives one the courage and the strength live life to the fullest, to carry on, even in the face of certain death.  For those who lack a faith in God, who lack hope, it’s not a matter of living life as long as one can, but rather simply choosing when to die.

Lauren Hill is showing heroic virtue.  Pray for her, for her family and her friends.

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What Companies Can Learn from Pope’s Management Style

Pope Francis I is changing centuries of Church practice by decisively detaching prelates accused of severe wrongdoing from their positions rather than waiting years, or even decades, for determinations of guilt, and University of Chicago Booth School of Business Prof. Luigi Zingales believes he is setting an example that companies across the globe should follow.

The Pontiff’s decisions to reorganize the Vatican Bank, to lay off controversial and spendthrift Church leaders (“the Bishop of Bling”) and to approve the arrest of a former Vatican ambassador on charges of pedophilia “communicate to the outside, in credible ways, the values of those who sit at the top and, therefore, of the organization itself.”

Zingales explains that others who run large businesses should emulate Francis’ actions. “Too often, company leaders make proclamations solely for the purpose of image. Employees know it and ignore them. Only when statements are followed by facts do employees begin to listen. From today on, the Church’s war on pedophilia is not only a proclamation: it is a reality.”

Key to this new corporate behavior, according to the professor, is the understanding of the difference between criminal and managerial responsibility. He points out that while citizens have the constitutional right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, organizations do not have a duty to protect powerful members until definitive sentence is pronounced.

For a criminal conviction, Zingales says, one needs proof beyond reasonable doubt. While for disciplinary action, removal or layoff, the standards are and should be much lower, especially in the case of top managerial positions.

“In fact, in some cases, like that of the bishop, proof is not even needed: it is enough to have a reasonable doubt. It is a merely managerial ‘cost vs. benefits’ calculation.”

“If laws and rules are enforced, the first who should follow them are the leaders. Pope Francis has nothing to fear: he, himself, is an example. But is the same true for the summits of our large companies?” Zingales asks. Clearly, he thinks it should be, and with more companies taking responsibility for their leaders, they might be.

 

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The Church Gets It Right Again: This Time on Premarital Relationships

The Catholic Church is being proven right again.  This time by a serious academic study conducted at the University of Denver.

It finds the more people who attend your wedding to share in the launch of your marriage, the better the chances you will be happily married years down the road. And, reaffirming church teaching which urges chastity and opposes living together before marriage, the study also finds that the more relationships you had prior to your marriage, the less likely you are to report a high-quality marriage.

The study, “Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have To Do With Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?,” from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia challenges the idea that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” – the general notion that what happens in one’s younger years, before marriage, stays there and doesn’t impact the remainder of one’s life.

How people conduct their romantic lives before they tie the knot is linked to their odds of having happy marriages, the study’s authors argue. Past experiences, especially when it comes to love, sex and children, are associated with future marital quality.

Those who have had more romantic experiences – for example, more sexual or cohabiting partners – are less likely to forge a high-quality marriage than those with a less complex romantic history, the researchers found.

Raising children from prior relationships can add stress to a marriage. For women, but not for men, having had a child in a prior relationship was associated, on average, with lower marital quality.

In Marriage, More Experience Isn’t Better

Study co-author Galena K. Rhoades, research associate professor of psychology at the University of Denver, said, “In most areas, more experience is better. You’re a better job candidate with more experience, not less.

“When it comes to relationship experience, though, we found that having more experience before getting married was associated with lower marital quality.”

More experience may increase one’s awareness of alternative partners, the researchers speculate. People who have had many relationships prior to their current one can compare a present partner to their prior partners in many areas – like conflict management, dating style, physical attractiveness, sexual skills, communication ability and so on. Marriage involves leaving behind other options, which may be harder to do with a lot of experience, the researchers say.

More relationship experiences prior to marriage also means more experience breaking up, which may make for a more jaundiced view of love and relationships, Rhoades said. It’s also possible that some people have personality characteristics – such as liking to take risks or being harder to get along with – that both increase their odds of having many relationship experiences and decrease their odds of marital success, she added.

Rhoades and co-author Scott M. Stanley came to these insights by analyzing new data from the Relationship Development Study, an ongoing national study based at the University of Denver and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Between 2007 and 2008, more than 1,000 Americans who were unmarried but in a relationship, and between the ages of 18 and 34, were recruited into the study.

Over the course of the next five years and 11 waves of data collection, 418 of those individuals got married. The authors looked closely at those 418 new marriages, examining how the history of the spouses’ relationships and their prior romantic experiences were related to the quality of their marriages. The 418 subjects were reasonably representative of unmarried adults in the United States in terms of race and income. All analyses in the report control for race and ethnicity, years of education, personal income, religiosity and frequency of attendance at religious services.

Sliding vs. Deciding

Past studies show that couples often “slide” into living together rather than talking things out and making a decision about it. In this study, participants who lived together before marriage were asked directly if they made a considered decision about premarital cohabitation or slid into it; they indicated their degree of “sliding versus deciding” on a five-point scale. The more strongly respondents categorized the move as a decision rather than a slide, the greater their marital quality later on.

“We believe that one important obstacle to marital happiness is that many people now slide through major relationship transitions – like having sex, moving in together, getting engaged or having a child – that have potentially life-altering consequences,” said Stanley, research professor and co-director of the Center for Marital & Family Studies at the University of Denver, as well as a senior fellow for both the National Marriage Project and for the Institute for Family Studies.

Often these risks co-occur. For example, those who have multiple cohabiting partners are also more likely to have children before marriage and with more than one partner.

“Another way to think about ‘sliding versus deciding’ is in terms of rituals,” Stanley said. “We tend to ritualize experiences that are important. At times of important transitions, the process of making a decision sets up couples to make stronger commitments with better follow-through as they live them out.”

This finding could also simply reflect that couples who deliberately decided to cohabit are better at talking about important transitions in general, a skill that could help them build a happy marriage, he added.

More Guests, More Stable

Having more guests at one’s wedding – the biggest ritual in many relationships – is associated with higher marital quality, even after controlling for income and education, which may be proxies for how much the wedding might have cost, the study found.

Among couples who had weddings, the sample was divided into those who had weddings with 50 or fewer attendees, 51 to 149 attendees, or 150 or more attendees. Among each grouping, 31 percent, 37 percent, and 47 percent, respectively, reported high marital quality.

“In what might be called the ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ factor, this study finds that couples who have larger wedding parties are more likely to report high-quality marriages,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and a professor of sociology at U.Va. “One possibility here is that couples with larger networks of friends and family may have more help, and encouragement, in navigating the challenges of married life.

“Note, however, this finding is not about spending lots of money on a wedding party. It’s about having a good number of friends and family in your corner.”

Stanley added, “Our bottom-line advice to Americans hoping to marry is this: Remember that what you do before you say ‘I do’ may shape your odds of forging a successful marital future.”

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New Study Finds Hormonal Contraceptives Increases Risk of Gestational Diabetes

While the Obama Administration is pushing the use of contraceptives — and demanding Catholics pay for them — evidence continues to accumulate showing the health dangers of using hormonal contraceptives.

The latest, released today by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, found women who used hormonal methods of birth control had higher odds for gestational diabetes than did women who used no contraception.

Researchers analyzed data collected in 2007 and 2008 by the Missouri Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) to determine if type of contraception before pregnancy influenced maternal risk for GDM.

Of the 2,741 women who completed the 2007–2008 PRAMS survey, 8.3% were diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and 17.9% of the respondents had used hormonal contraceptive methods. Women who used hormonal methods of birth control had higher odds for gestational diabetes than did women who used no contraception.

 

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Why Most Catholics Don’t Practice Adoration

Trying to get adoration started in any parish is a really difficult job.  In one parish, just one person plus a deacon showed up for adoration followed by benediction — a commitment of just 20 minutes for adoration itself.

That wouldn’t be a surprise to University of Virginia psychologist Timothy Wilson, who in a series of 11 studies found most people ages 18 to 77 would rather be doing something – possibly even hurting themselves – than spending even brief periods of time alone in a room with nothing to do but think, ponder or daydream.

The participants, by and large, enjoyed much more doing external activities such as listening to music or using a smartphone. Some even preferred to give themselves mild electric shocks than to think.

“Those of us who enjoy some down time to just think likely find the results of this study surprising – I certainly do – but our study participants consistently demonstrated that they would rather have something to do than to have nothing other than their thoughts for even a fairly brief period of time,” Wilson said.

The period of time that Wilson and his colleagues asked participants to be alone with their thoughts ranged from six to 15 minutes. Most of whom reported that this “thinking period” wasn’t very enjoyable and that it was hard to concentrate.

“That was surprising – that even older people did not show any particular fondness for being alone thinking,” Wilson said.

He does not necessarily attribute this to the fast pace of modern society, or the prevalence of readily available electronic devices, such as smartphones. Instead, he thinks the devices might be a response to people’s desire to always have something to do.

In his paper, Wilson notes that broad surveys have shown that people generally prefer not to disengage from the world, and, when they do, they do not particularly enjoy it. Based on these surveys, Americans spent their time watching television, socializing or reading, and actually spent little or no time “relaxing or thinking.”

Most reported they found it difficult to concentrate and that their minds wandered, though nothing was competing for their attention. On average the participants did not enjoy the experience. A similar result was found in further studies when the participants were allowed to spend time alone with their thoughts in their homes.

“We found that about a third admitted that they had ‘cheated’ at home by engaging in some activity, such as listening to music or using a cell phone, or leaving their chair,” Wilson said. “And they didn’t enjoy this experience any more at home than at the lab.”

An additional experiment randomly assigned participants to spend time with their thoughts or the same amount of time doing an external activity, such as reading or listening to music, but not to communicate with others.

Those who did the external activities reported that they enjoyed themselves much more than those asked to just think, that they found it easier to concentrate and that their minds wandered less.

The researchers took their studies further. Because most people prefer having something to do rather than just thinking, they then asked, “Would they rather do an unpleasant activity than no activity at all?”

The results show that many would. Participants were given the same circumstances as most of the previous studies, with the added option of also administering a mild electric shock to themselves by pressing a button.

Twelve of 18 men in the study gave themselves at least one electric shock during the study’s 15-minute “thinking” period. By comparison, six of 24 females shocked themselves. All of these participants had received a sample of the shock and reported that they would pay to avoid being shocked again.

“What is striking,” the investigators write, “is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid.”

Wilson and his team note that men tend to seek “sensations” more than women, which may explain why 67% of men self-administered shocks compared to 25% of women.

Wilson said that he and his colleagues are still working on the exact reasons why people find it difficult to be alone with their own thoughts. Everyone enjoys daydreaming or fantasizing at times, he said, but these kinds of thinking may be most enjoyable when they happen spontaneously, and are more difficult to do on command.

“The mind is designed to engage with the world,” he said. “Even when we are by ourselves, our focus usually is on the outside world. And without training in meditation or thought-control techniques, which still are difficult, most people would prefer to engage in external activities.”

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Supreme Court Invalidates Massachusetts’ 35-Foot Buffer Zone Around Abortion Clinics

The Supreme Court unanimously held Massachusetts’s law establishing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics violates the First Amendment.  The decision appears to focus on the fact that the zone includes public sidewalks and roadways.

It’s not a sweeping decision.  It says states can pass laws that specifically insure access to clinics.  But states can’t more broadly restrict speech on public sidewalks and roads.

It also rejected the protestors’ argument that such restrictions are viewpoint-based and require strict scrutiny.

the Massachusetts law violates the First Amendment. This is a law that imposes a thirty-five-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. – See more at: http://live.scotusblog.com/Event/Live_blog_of_opinions__June_26_2014#sthash.a99ZJFYQ.dpuf
the Massachusetts law violates the First Amendment. This is a law that imposes a thirty-five-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. – See more at: http://live.scotusblog.com/Event/Live_blog_of_opinions__June_26_2014#sthash.a99ZJFYQ.dpuf
the Massachusetts law violates the First Amendment. This is a law that imposes a thirty-five-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. – See more at: http://live.scotusblog.com/Event/Live_blog_of_opinions__June_26_2014#sthash.a99ZJFYQ.dpuf
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Gay Marriage Legalization May Lead to More Breakups

Gay marriage may lead to increasing breakups by homosexual couples, and the more states that adopt such statutes, the more breakups there are likely to be.

That’s the finding of a study by University of Arkansas researchers.

The researchers started with the fundamental assumption that couples who live in a state where same-sex marriage is illegal will weigh both the possibility of moving to a currently legal state and the probability of future legalization where they live.

The model included three stages. Stage one began with participants in a dating relationship revealing their preferences for cohabitation or continued dating. If both players chose the same preference, they moved up to stage two and were placed in those respective categories – “cohabitation” or “continue dating.” This move required agreement. Stage three was defined by participants, whether cohabitating or dating, choosing to continue in their current state, get married or exit the relationship. If exit was chosen, they incurred costs that depended on the relationship type. It was assumed that exit costs for a cohabitating player exceeded those from a dating player. Also, the choice to marry also incurred a relocation cost.

Results revealed that falling migration costs and the greater probability of legalization actually increased relationship hazard rates among same-sex couples.

This is possible, said said Farmer, professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, because when migration costs fall marriage is more possible, and all is well if both partners want to marry. In fact, the likelihood that they will want to marry rises. However, if one member of the couple really doesn’t want to marry, now they have a point of disagreement, something that wasn’t on the table before.

“So the marriage option can create friction if preferences differ,” Farmer said. “That friction might result in a relationship hazard.”

The model also generated surprising predictions regarding why and how marriage would improve household economics. The researchers found that for some same-sex couples, marriage would not improve the economics of their households, and in some cases it would worsen them.

As of March 2014, 17 of the world’s 193 countries legally recognized same-sex marriage at the national level. In the United States, same-sex marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Through legislation or constitutional amendments, 33 states explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage, a situation similar to the variety of U.S. anti-miscegenation laws that were eliminated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1967.

The researchers’ study will be published in the Southern Economic Journal.

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Fasting Is Good Spiritually — And Can Improve Health

For prediabetics, many interventions focus on lifestyle changes and weight loss, but new research on periodic fasting has identified a biological process in the body that

After 10 to 12 hours of fasting, the body starts scavenging for other sources of energy throughout the body to sustain itself. The body converts bad (LDL) cholesterol in fat cells to energy, combating diabetes risk factors.

“Fasting has the potential to become an important diabetes intervention,” says Benjamin Horne, PhD, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, Murray, Utah, and lead researcher on the study. “Though we’ve studied fasting and it’s health benefits for years, we didn’t know why fasting could provide the health benefits we observed related to the risk of diabetes.”

Prediabetes means the amount of glucose, also called sugar, in the blood is higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes.

Fasting Most Impactful

Prior research done by Dr. Horne and his team in 2011 focused on healthy people during one day of fasting and showed that routine, water-only fasting was associated with lower glucose levels and weight loss.

“When we studied the effects of fasting in apparently healthy people, cholesterol levels increased during the one-time 24-hour fast,” said Dr. Horne. “The changes that were most interesting or unexpected were all related to metabolic health and diabetes risk. Together with our prior studies that showed decades of routine fasting was associated with a lower risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease, this led us to think that fasting is most impactful for reducing the risk of diabetes and related metabolic problems.”

Due to the findings in 2011, Dr. Horne launched this new study to look at the effects of fasting in prediabetics over an extended period of time. The study participants were prediabetics, including men and women between the ages of 30 and 69 with a least three metabolic risk factors. These risk factors include:

  • A large waistline. This also is called abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.”
  • A high triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.
  • A low HDL cholesterol level, the “good” cholesterol. A low HDL cholesterol level raises your risk for heart disease.
  • High blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood.
  • High fasting blood sugar. Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.

Cholesterol Levels Dropped 12%

In the pool of participants qualifying for the study were people with different weights, some obese and some not. In previous fasting research performed by a few other institutions, those studies have all only examined obese participants and focused on weight loss due to fasting. Though weight loss did occur in the Intermountain Medical Center study, three pounds over six weeks, the main focus of the study was diabetes intervention.

“During actual fasting days, cholesterol went up slightly in this study, as it did in our prior study of healthy people, but we did notice that over a six-week period cholesterol levels decreased by about 12 percent in addition to the weight loss,” said Dr. Horne. “Because we expect that the cholesterol was used for energy during the fasting episodes and likely came from fat cells, this leads us to believe fasting may be an effective diabetes intervention.”

The process of extracting LDL cholesterol from the fat cells for energy should help negate insulin resistance. In insulin resistance, the pancreas produces more and more insulin until it can no longer produce sufficient insulin for the body’s demands, then blood sugar rises.

How Fat Cells Can Lead to Diabetes

“The fat cells themselves are a major contributor to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes,” he said. “Because fasting may help to eliminate and break down fat cells, insulin resistance may be frustrated by fasting.”

Dr. Horne says that more in-depth study is needed, but the findings lay the groundwork for that future study.

“Although fasting may protect against diabetes,” said Dr. Horne. “It’s important to keep in mind that these results were not instantaneous in the studies that we performed. It takes time. How long and how often people should fast for health benefits are additional questions we’re just beginning to examine.”

The research was presented at the 2014 American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions.

 

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At the VA, and at GM, a False God

The scandal at the Veterans Affairs Department follows quickly that at General Motors.  And it wasn’t all that long ago we were talking about Bernie Madoff, the con artist who posed as a high-returns-generating investment advisor.

The VA scandal is simple:  Veterans called for appointments and instead of being put into the system, were put on an unofficial waiting list where they languished for weeks, even months.  Why?  So VA officials could meet targets and get bonuses.

At General Motors, the scandal was also simple:  For more than a decade, GM knowingly churned out vehicles whose ignition switches were severely flawed.  Several deaths have been attributed to those ignition switches.  What would it have cost to produce switches that weren’t defective?  Just 15 cents.  But a GM official decided that was 15 cents the automaker didn’t need to spend.  Why?  Well, 15 cents times thousands of cars adds up to “real money,” an impact on the bottom line — and on bonuses.

As for Bernie Madoff, it was all about money.  His victims were, for the most part, people who put their common sense aside to achieve unusual gains.

At the root of all these scandals was a focus on money as an end in itself.  Not money as a reward for producing a good product or providing superior service, but simply money in the form of bonuses, higher stock prices, easy, rapidly increasing wealth.

Jesus told us the greatest commandment was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and the second is like unto it:  To love your neighbor as yourself.”

Do anyone seriously think those VA officials who were not putting veterans into the system for months at a time would have done that to themselves?  Absolutely not.  You can take this to the bank:  If they were scheduling themselves, they would have gotten an appointment within days, if not hours. And if there weren’t enough doctors to take care of themselves, they would have moved heaven and earth to get the necessary doctors.

Would GM officials have bought one of those defective cars for themselves?  Not likely.

As for Madoff, he was just a crook, out to take other peoples’ money.

When money, or power, or prestige leads a person to do something to someone else that they wouldn’t do to himself, you know his god is Money, not God.

We’ve seen in the VA, in GM and in Madoff what happens when Money — or Power, or Prestige — becomes our God.  It ain’t pretty.  But it’s so easy to be seduced into pursuing Money, or Power, or Prestige at the cost of honesty and integrity.

Perhaps we all should imitate members of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT), who begin each day by reciting the greatest commandment — “I will love the Lord my God with all my strength, with all my mind, and with all my soul, and I will love my neighbor as myself,” with the emphasis on loving our neighbor.

That’s not a guarantee we will be honest and treat others with dignity and respect.  But if we say we will, every day, there’s a far greater likelihood we will than if we never say it at all.

 

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Over Two-Thirds of Americans Have HPV, Study Finds

The Catholic Church is regularly ridiculed for its insistence that sexual activity should be only between one man and one woman, married to each other.

But Jennifer Fulwiler, an atheist who became Catholic, describes a moment in which she realized that “all the (Catholic) teachings I had railed against are intended to save us from disaster.”

New evidence of the validity of that insight comes from a National Institutes of Health study which founds that 69% of healthy Americans are infected with one or more strains of human papillomavirus virus.

To be sure, only four of the 103 men and women whose tissue DNA was publicly available through a government database had either of the two HPV types known to cause most cases of cervical cancer, some throat cancers, and genital warts.

And what is the U.S. Government’s response to HPV?  Does its public health guidelines call for aggressive promotion of sexual abstinence outside marriage? Of course not.

Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says: “The burden and cost of HPV-associated disease and cancer remain an important public health problem.”

And what is its solution?  “An important public health goal is enhancing HPV disease prevention by improving vaccination coverage through public policy and clinical practice.”

In other words, our government’s policy is vaccinate — but don’t tell people to avoid sexual activity outside marriage.  That’s like telling people to take the partially effective flu vaccine, but not to wash their hands.

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