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Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (l.) shoots a television spot with Papa John's Founder, Chairman and CEO John Schnatter, Oct. 26, 2012. (Jack Dempsey/Invision for Papa John's/AP)

Athletes peddling junk food: The beginning of the end?

By Contributing blogger / 10.07.13

In a sense, it's not surprising news: a Yale University paper published Monday in the journal Pediatrics documents the tendency of athletes to endorse energy-dense, nutrient poor food, and a paper published two years ago in Australia suggested that when sports celebrities endorse junk food, public perception of those foods becomes more positive.

In a nutshell: popular athletes make lots of money by helping to sell extremely profitable, horrible food, and they're paid well because their endorsements work.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is singled out for analysis by the paper; interestingly enough, he is not just a promoter of Papa John's pizza, he's a profit participant. Here's the NBC News summary of Manning's situation:

The QB pockets $12 million annually by lending his face, voice, and persuasive powers to Buick, Reebok, Gatorade, and DirecTV plus Papa John’s – and he owns 21 Papa John’s stores in the Denver area, according to Forbes.
On Sept. 29, his pizza-pie profile even ignited some on-field ribbing: During the Broncos’ win over Philadelphia, Eagles defensive players tried to drown out Manning’s play calls by repeatedly screaming the name of the pizza chain.

Putting numbers behind the perhaps self-evident conclusions about the link between celebrity endorsers and junk food may help: dozens of articles are now being written about the relationship between sports, celebrity, and obesity, and why professional athletes, often a force for social good, have felt comfortable pushing such unhealthy food to the general public.

The problem as always, is a degree of deniability that comes with endorsements. An endorsement isn't an endorsement of an unhealthy lifestyle – when Eli Manning promotes Triple Double Oreos, it can be argued that he isn't advocating eating a dozen Triple Double Oreos every day, but rather that he's considering you sample a single Triple Double Oreo for dessert as part of an otherwise balanced, healthy diet.

But when that endorsement is seen as part of a much larger and generally acknowledged pattern – food companies pushing fatty, sugary, low-nutrition food using popular entertainers and sports figures – parents can be aware of the game that's being played.

And if enough parents gain enough awareness of the trends, it can make it increasingly unpopular for athletes to push HFCS-laden soda and cholesterol-soaked fast food, in the same way that any agent worth his or her salt will council caution about an alcohol or (perish the thought!) tobacco endorsement. In 10 years, the spectacle of a quarterback telling you to eat a circular, cheesy, pepperoni-studded heart attack might be unusual – or, like top stars touting Chesterfields and Winstons, a thing of the past.

Yom Kippur War 40th anniversary: Metal placards in the shape of Israeli soldiers form a memorial of the battle of Tel Saki, one of the first of the 1973 Israeli Yom Kippur War, in the Israeli controlled Golan Heights, on the border with Syria. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Yom Kippur War: An American remembers being 17 in a kibbutz bunker

By Correspondent / 10.05.13

In search of adventure and barely 17 years old, in the summer of 1973 I washed up on a kibbutz in Israel’s northern Galilee. I knew precisely what I was fleeing: a dreary Midwestern upbringing, my parents’ messy divorce, a fear of being sucked into their existence. What I sought instead was unclear.

The geography of the place was awe-inspiring. Beyond the kibbutz’s eastern boundary, the terrain snaked steeply down to the now not-so-mighty Jordan River, then up to the Golan Heights, snaggle-toothed against the heat-hazed sky. Mount Hermon, of biblical renown, loomed moodily to the north. Damascus was just over the horizon.

The work was more prosaic. Up at 4:30 every morning under a bejeweled tiara of a sky, I and my fellow apple pickers stumbled through the cool-hot air to the dining hall to swallow tea and stale bread spread with strawberry jam. The birds were just rousing themselves when we crowded onto a tractor-pulled cart, our orchard transportation. All morning we clambered up and down ladders to get at the farthest reaches of the trees in the brain-boiling heat, squinty-eyed from the stinging perspiration.

We were a random sprinkling of pre-and post- college students and backpackers, mixed in among a British group from Manchester. The Brits seemed relentlessly uninterested in doing any work. One of them, after spraying his room with shaving cream, was found wandering naked and babbling on the sizzling tarmac of a nearby airstrip. He was packed off to a local loony bin, then shipped home to England.

Simcha, my Hebrew teacher, said the place was a magnet for misfits. I suppose that included me, although I preferred to tell people that nice Jewish girls don’t run away from home to join the circus, they join a kibbutz. 

I felt almost immediately at home there. Perhaps it was the sense of being at a perpetual overnight camp: the rows of squat little bungalows and rooms; the communal dining hall; the swimming pool; laundry; clinic. A self-contained miniature hamlet where, in the waning half-light of sunset, the sad-sweet singsong of the muezzin’s call to evening prayer wafted across from a mosque in the Arab village on a nearby hill.

On Oct. 6, Yom Kippur, I awoke to a khamsin. Simcha said there was always one on the holiday, just to add to the misery of fasting-to-atone-for-all-our sins. The suffocatingly hot wind that blew in from the Arabian desert shot the temperature to over 100 degrees F and left a sandy veneer on everything. My teeth were crunchy with grit. Khamsin means 50 in Arabic: the number of days that the wind supposedly blows. It drives people to madness. During the Ottoman Empire, when Turkey ruled this part of the world, a man wouldn’t be held responsible for killing his wife during a khamsin.

I was already knee-wobbly faint from lack of food and drink; the heat was a vise-grip that made it difficult to breathe. I sat in a chair in my room in front of a uselessly whirring little fan, then flopped on the bed because it looked more comfortable, then changed to another chair because it might be cooler. Finally I gave up and slowly trudged to the main building.

The kibbutz was echo-quiet; no one worked on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. The little paths that criss-crossed the settlement, usually filled with people walking or riding bicycles or pushing carts with children in them, were deserted. Even the day-and-night radio chatter that wafted out from buildings with the hourly beeping time signal for news was silent. The Voice of Israel had gone dead for the day.

There was air conditioning blasting in the recreation room. In the distance, the Golan’s usually craggy profile was barely visible behind the quivering mask of heat. Michael, my newly minted boyfriend from the British group, shuffled in. Black curls and emerald, cat-slitted eyes, topped off with an antic sense of humor.

Michael said: “I was wondering where you got to.”

I said: “I’m trying not to think about food.”

He reached across me to grab an outdated copy of Time -- but never quite got there. The air around us was suddenly exploding. “Bloody hell!” he said. “What was that?”

More ear-drum-shredding detonations in rapid succession shook the ground. Through the picture window, we saw smoke billowing from the Golan Heights. Someone shouted at us to run to the bomb shelters. I had no idea where to go. We followed a kibbutz member to a clearing, then down leaf-strewn steps to a door. He tugged on it. Locked. 

Michael and I took off at an adrenaline-infused sprint for Simcha’s house, dog-cringing at each explosion. She was standing in her garden with some neighbors.

I said: “What’s happened?”

She said: “We’re under attack. The Syrians crossed the border and are bombing the Golan. The Egyptians crossed into Sinai.”

“How do you know?”

“The Voice of Israel came back on the air. The chief rabbis were on the radio, saying that we’re at war and that it’s OK to break your fast now and not wait until sunset.”

“What should we do?”

“I suggest you return to your buildings.”

We followed her advice, but no one in authority was around. Michael retrieved a radio from his room; we heard the urgent codes being broadcast on the Army channel that called up men to reserve duty. The attacks had taken the country completely by surprise. The kibbutz as well: the place suddenly came alive with men half-dressed in their military uniforms, guns slung over their shoulders, gear falling out of hastily packed duffel bags, rushing to get to their units.

One of the women in charge of the kitchen was dishing out pieces of chicken left over from the previous night, before the fast began. Gnawing on a drumstick, I jogged back to Simcha’s, Michael in tow. She was nowhere to be found. Michael and I felt our way in the gathering dark to the edge of the hill beyond her house. I made out a few other people standing there. They were watching pinpricks of light, tiny jewels in a miles-long necklace, twisting across the Golan Heights toward us. Tanks. Someone in the blackness asked: “Theirs or ours?”

“I dunno,” came the reply. “But we’d better get to the bomb shelters.”

That night, lying on my back on a wooden bunk in a shelter deep underground, I watched the sleeve on my shirt fluttering, as if in a strong wind, from the concussion of the artillery above. I watched for hours, fascinated, unable to sleep for the noise and the excitement. This is how it would be for the duration of the three-week war.

Nights we hunkered outside the shelters until it was time to sleep, listening to the static-swooshed reports of the BBC from London. The kibbutz was spotlit by a glaring harvest moon that made mockery of the blackout. Turn it down a couple of notches, Michael shouted. The radio announcer’s clipped English informed us that Jordan might send troops to fight alongside its Arab brethren. That would put us in even graver danger. I sat rapt, spellbound by the kibbutz members assigned to babysit us -- veterans all of Israel’s wars -- as they debated every angle of such a possibility long into the shimmery night. And went to bed in the bunker dreaming of geopolitics.

Days, we popped up above ground for air, meerkats-from-our-burrows, during lulls in the fighting. Pairs of Israeli Mirage jets shrieked low over the Galilee and into the Golan, so low they made you want to hit the ground for cover. I learned to brace for the earthquake as they dropped their load of bombs, then count the seconds until they screeched back overhead to base. And pray if they didn’t.

We were allowed back to our rooms after a few days to shower. A battery of long-snooted Howitzers had taken up residence on the football pitch below. Sneaking down to get a peek at them, I was brushing out my damp hair when the commanding officer suddenly shouted “aish!”  (fire) -- and was just about thrown to the ground from the explosions. Someone yelled at me to get back to the shelter; the Syrians were going to answer the guns any minute now. Whatever relief the shower’s cascading water and soap had provided was undone in an instant. I galloped back to the bunker, dizzy with fear but thrilled, in a voyeuristic way, to be at the center of world events.

Of course, I understood, in an abstract way, that people on both sides were dying. Especially when a couple of grief-etched officials led away a girl from our group. Her brother, who had moved to the country years ago, was killed in the early hours of the fighting.

Little did I know then that this was a portent of my adult life to come. War would dominate my existence, both as a reporter and as a wife. I would lose one husband, a fellow journalist, to it and almost lose another, a diplomat.

Even if I had known, it’s doubtful that I would have cared. Because to my hungry, solipsistic, immortal 17-year-old self, this was what I had been seeking.

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Nan Benedict, Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Literacy Center in Evansville, Ind., reads Dr. Seuss' "One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish" to Samantha Bradbury and her sons Ayden Bradbury and Braxton Bradbury and Tara Osborne and her son Matthew Osborne, Sept. 24. (Erin McCracken/The Evansville Courier & Press/AP )

Read aloud to your kids; forge bonds, promote literacy

By Judy Bolton-FasmanGuest blogger / 10.04.13

When Anna was 11 years old, she asked if I would read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to her. Not one to want to miss out, Adam asked if he could also listen to the story.

I was hesitant to read the book to my young children. How would I explain its apparent racism? Were they too young to understand the difference between cultural norms and malicious prejudice? Had I worked out the context in which “Huckleberry Finn” existed in my own heart and mind?

I plunged ahead and read the book to my children. As a result, we had deep conversations about the language of racism. We concluded that words hurt as much as punches. It turns out that “Huckleberry Finn” is on Adam’s English syllabus this year. I feel good that I prepared him for the tough issues the book brings to the foreground.

I told that story recently to ML Nichols, author of the very helpful book “The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5: How to Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework Meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.” In addition to having that important conversation about difficult subjects, she confirmed what I have intuited all these years: that “reading with your kids even for 15 minutes a day makes a profound difference in a child’s education. Teachers know which families are reading to their children. And if your kids will let you, read to them through middle school.”

Middle school? Isn’t that the time when kids are first testing out their independence? Nichols noted that in between those attempts at separation from parents, some middle schoolers secretly like to be read to: “They won’t tell their friends but from a very young age, kids like the bonding, the rhythm, the expression in your voice. All that makes reading a pleasurable experience. Reading with your kids is also a great way to help them build vocabulary.”

According to Nichols, the best way to support a child’s education is to model read for that child. “Reading is a pillar of the elementary school years,” she noted. “If a child doesn’t develop those core reading skills, he or she can struggle through the rest of school.” Nichols asserts that the best way to inspire a child to read is to model it for children: “Whether you’re reading a book, a newspaper or a tablet – let your kids see you reading.”

Nichols’ wisdom on all things connected to elementary school education is hard-won. The idea for her book came about 12 years ago when her oldest child, now a senior in high school, was entering kindergarten. She looked around for a book that might guide her through her children’s early school years and came up empty. It was also a time when she had stopped working outside the home and got a bird’s-eye view of the elementary school classroom by volunteering.

“I learned a lot as a parent volunteer in schools and on district committees,” she noted. “But it wasn’t until I helped a parent write an email to a teacher that a light bulb went off for me that I could put everything I’d learned in a guide for parents on the elementary school years.”

To that end, Nichols emphasizes that establishing a good relationship with a child’s teacher is another cornerstone of his education. “I see our children’s elementary journey like a winding river,” she said. “We’re on one side of the bank and on the other side is the teacher with whom we’re partners. Each of us does our part.” Nichols makes her metaphor concrete with basic suggestions: “Do your part,” she asserts. “Make sure your child has had breakfast and gets to school on time. Teachers notice those things. Don’t be the parent who gets in permission slips late. I’m also hearing of more and more teachers getting notes from parents that a child couldn’t do the homework because of a dance recital or lacrosse practice. Such conflicting expectations confuse kids in elementary school because they want to please both their parents and their teachers.”

I’ve always had ambivalent feelings about homework, which is ironic given how much of it my own children have done over the years. Nichols does not debate the value of homework for young children. Instead, she offers helpful suggestions for painlessly getting it done. Like everything suggested in the book, the key is organization and consistency. Establish a time and a place to do homework with your child. According to Nichols, “ That place should be a happy one. Make it a fun destination with colorful pencils, cool puzzles or creative glue sticks. Our role as parents is to coach and guide, not to do or correct homework, which provides valuable feedback for a teacher.”

Adam is a junior in high school. I’m grateful that I no longer supervise his homework, but I miss reading to him and his sister. Although Nichols focuses on younger children in her book, I can still write a thank-you note to his longtime academic advisor for helping my boy to self-advocate and step out of his comfort zone.

“Teachers,” says Nichols, “appreciate a genuine expression of thanks from parents or students more than anything.”

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Judy Bolton-Fasman blogs at

Jennifer Lawrence: In an interview with Harper's Bazaar Jennifer Lawrence revealed that she was once told she would be fired if she did not lose weight, a request she has since learned to brush off. (Lionel Cironneau/AP)

Jennifer Lawrence teaches about male privilege

By Contributing blogger / 10.04.13

A great deal of understanding life involves understanding your own level of privilege. For example: Did you grow up the white child of married, college-educated parents in an affluent or comfortable neighborhood? Congratulations: You were born with a complicated and profound network of advantages that has helped you accomplish everything you've ever tackled since.

On a similar note: it can be difficult, at times, to remember that male privilege is a very real thing. Personally speaking, I spend a good 50% of my waking hours complaining at length about all the minor misfortunes and inconveniences that have befallen me, and I therefore tend to lose track of all the benefits that I wallow in daily. But then stories like this one come along: "Jennifer Lawrence Was Once Told to Lose Weight or Get Fired."

Here's the context: Oscar winner and blockbuster mega-star Jennifer Lawrence ("The Hunger Games") was once told that she'd be fired if she didn't lose weight, and the point was driven home using scantily-clad pictures of herself.

As a male, this hasn't happened to me. Ever. Even vaguely. And you might say to yourself (should you happen to be female), "well, wait – as a female, this hasn't happened to me, either."

Not with the explicit threat of firing and the explanatory photos, no doubt. But how often have you felt self-conscious about your weight, or judged, or under social or even professional pressure to maintain a certain look? Part of being a woman in modern American society (and others, too – but let's keep our focus at least somewhat constrained) is a feeling that appearances count, a lot, a feeling that is fed by the pervasive influence of Hollywood and television.

After all: If an by-all-accounts decent looking Hollywood actress can get bagged on and criticized for her appearance, what's to stop it from happening to almost any woman in any job? Ideally: the sensitivity of employers and peers. In real life: almost nothing at all.

There are a lot of things that I am worried about when it comes to raising my son, including but not limited to: whether he'll crash his bike into a car, whether he'll blow one or more digits off while playing with illegal fireworks, whether he'll use good judgment when it comes to drugs and alcohol, whether he'll drive safely or like a far-less-skillful Mario Andretti, whether he'll find a career he loves, whether he'll manage to do well in school or just muddle through like I did, and whether he'll stick around the Upper Midwest or ship off for distant parts.

But I'm not actively worried about his body image. I assume he'll be somewhere between thin and chunky, and ideally be fairly healthy and active, and he'll feel comfortable with himself. And that's about as far as I've really had to think of it, because I know for myself, body image was a much smaller part of the story than school, and friendships, and just generally figuring out life. And while that was also true for many of my female friends, it wasn't true across the board. And that, in a nutshell, is male privilege: the privilege to worry about something other than whether someone important thinks that you're a little too fat.

Nine-year-old Madeline Church won the honor to conduct The Philadelphia Orchestra following a spirited competition with other would-be maestros leading a group of Orchestra musicians, Oct. 2. (Pete Checchia/The Philadelphia Orchestra.)

Philadelphia Orchestra plays on, despite Carnegie cancellation

By Correspondent / 10.03.13

I love this.

It’s Day 2 of the government shutdown. Obamacare has begun lurching along. In Syria, the extremist threat grows, although now in the background. In New York City, a stagehands’ union strike forces cancellation of what could be a moment of respite – the Philadelphia Orchestra’s season-opening gala concert at Carnegie Hall. The players could stay home and watch “Modern Family,” but no. The symphony, seemingly a master of the moment, instead goes to its orchestral home at the Kimmel Center and throws open the doors to the public, who fill the hall to capacity for a free show.

There’s Tchaikovsky. There’s Ravel. There’s Mozart. This is preceded by a vigorous pre-concert “conductor competition” outside, which has a bespectacled 9-year-old winning the podium as guest conductor for an excerpt from William Tell Overture mid-concert.

Carnegie Hall be damned. This group is going to be heard. Just last summer, their China tour flight delayed hours on the tarmac in Beijing, a string quartet of their players treated fellow passengers on the plane to an impromptu playing of Dvorak. The vaunted classical orchestra of Eugene Ormandy, now with Yannick Nezet-Seguin at the baton, gets out of the house often, touring hometown venues as pedestrian as the Naval Yard, Penn’s Landing and Macy’s.

But that’s not the point. This day was the kind of day where current events and bureaucratic constraints seemed to converge, really, leaving people unable to operate, given the uncertainty and unfairness and burden. The owner of one privately-owned restaurant near Independence Hall explained on the radio that the government shut them down, citing their relationship as a government concession, leaving longstanding private reservations, parties and regular customers in the lurch. This happens sometimes, where circumstance – be it a bad economy or strike you can’t prevent, or troubles with family or school or the next door neighbors – makes it hard to move. Sometimes it’s on a world events scale. Sometimes it’s minute.

The orchestra folks have had their own struggles of late, trying – like everyone else -- to hold together when the economy doesn’t cooperate. And just like everyone else, they must at times feel like they can hardly play.

“You can do whatever you want to do,” is such a cliché in America that we rarely stop to think about it. About whether it’s really the case. And of course it’s not. Not really. You maybe can do something, but you certainly don’t have everything it takes to do whatever you want – the right DNA or financial backing or patience or even time or sustained interest or willpower. And then there are the outside impediments, be they in Washington, the Middle East, Carnegie Hall, or your own City Hall. Not being able to do whatever we think we want to do, then, is probably more the norm than the exception.

There’s another cliché – “bloom where you’re planted,” and this might be a little more realistic. I think this is what the orchestra showed Philly on that beautiful but burdened early fall day. Whatever the distressing political or economic or international climate, even though their audience was in flip-flops and their hall hastily-filled and their gate one of smiles not sponsorships: They took what they did have and they played. Carnegie Hall can wait.

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Raising tolerant children requires that parents take stock of their own internalized biases and make intentional decisions about how they present and discuss diversity to their children. (Charles Sykes/Boys & Girls Clubs of America/AP)

Teaching tolerance: 'My dad told me not to play with black kids'

By Guest blogger / 10.03.13

“My dad told me not to play with black kids,”  quietly said Kid A, hesitating to share the ball with Kid B.

“B-b-b-ut, what’s wrong with black kids? I am black,” Kid B said with tears rolling down his cheeks, not understanding.

I was dumbfounded as I stood in between the two 6-year-olds. I wanted to shout to Kid A, “Well your dad is a nasty racist and he’s wrong!” But I knew better. 

Both children were upset and confused; they both wanted to play with each other. Unfortunately, both kids will always remember this incident. One kid will remember how he was exposed to racism and segregation when he was in kindergarten. The other kid will probably hear more revolting remarks from his parent as he grows older.

I, as an Arab-American, remember being told to “go back to your country” when I was in middle school. My youngest brother was called a “terrorist” when he was in elementary school. And we will always remember how we were made to feel as if we didn’t belong to American society.

But whose fault is it?

Surely, you can’t blame the children. In the end, children will echo what their parents say and do. If your circle of friends are solely people who look like you, you don’t expose your children to different cultures and teach them about diversity, and you’ve made racist jokes in front of them, then why should you be surprised when your child gets in trouble at school for picking on the minority kid?

Here are some basic ideas for how parents can help their kids celebrate diversity and cultures:

1. Expose them to different cultures. Check out local international festivals, go to authentic restaurants where they serve ethnic foods, and befriend your neighbors. I still remember eating scrumptious desserts and watching Bollywood videos at my Indian-American neighbor’s house. Simple gestures can leave lasting impressions.

2. Be mindful of the cartoons and shows they watch. Many Disney films stereotype minorities. I’m not saying to ban these films at home, but to have conversations with your children, depending on their age, about the messages embedded in these films.

3. Talk to your children about what it means to live in a diverse society. Don’t be colorblind or tell your kids to ignore the colors of each other’s skin. Children will always be curious about the world and people around them. Simply explain to them that we all look different but we live with each other peacefully. I like using the salad analogy when explaining this to children: Some of us are tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, cucumbers – we are all different but we are mixed together and get along well.

4. Read books with your children that talk about diversity and culture. With teenagers, watch films about minorities, cultures, and discrimination, and discuss together.

5. Be a role model and be careful of the words you use in front of your child. Telling a random person you just met, “Wow, your English is so good, where are you from?” basically says that just because you look different you must not be an American. Celebrate diversity and culture by accepting one another and showing your children that it’s perfectly OK to look different.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Aya Kalil can be contacted at

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Pope Francis strives to separate Catholic essentials from the gild and the ermine in hopes of rekindling a connection to disillusioned followers. (Giampiero Sposito/Reuters)

Can Pope Francis heal the Catholic Church's wounds?

By Correspondent / 10.03.13

“Freedom,” as Janis Joplin so famously sang, is “just another word for nothing left to lose.” I think sometimes her words could describe the job facing the new pope.

Troubles in the American Catholic Church alone – which the Economist estimates accounts for 60 percent of total church wealth – are crushing, and the litany is familiar:  According to Pew’s Religion and Public Life figures, church attendance among even strong Catholics dropped from 85 percent in 1974 to 53 percent last year. Only 27 percent of all Catholics attend weekly.

In the past eight years, eight of America’s dioceses have gone bankrupt, and another is set to file soon, much of it due to the priest sexual abuse scandals that have cost the American church more than $3 billion. Many dioceses that stayed in the black are rapidly unloading assets to cover their bills.

Some 100 million, or one-third of Americans, including this reporter, have been baptized Catholic, yet America appears to be following Europe in becoming more secular. Evangelical churches now compete for once-reliably-Catholic Hispanics.

The faithful, observant, and not, seem to be forever squabbling – over women priests, gay priests, married priests, gay marriage, abortion rights or wrongs, capitalism, a return to Latin prayer, which politician should be denied communion. Etcetera. And, of course, the sexual abuse scandals left much of Catholic America without the heart to carry on as before. Even if they could, is anyone listening?

The concerns of the once-mighty bishops were all but ignored at the White House during the Obamacare calculations, and the old notion of keeping the “faithful” in line is almost unimaginable now. Today, people – if they want to be Catholic – are, and if they don’t want to be – aren’t. No authority figure asks them what teachings they observe or don’t observe.

Probably most every Catholic is – or does – something the rules would disallow. Sometimes, they believe what they’re doing is wrong and they do it anyway, with varying degrees of remorse. Sometimes they believe the rules themselves are wrong. Contrary to popular misconception, in many places, a Catholic could go to mass every week for 30 years without hearing a sermon about birth control or abortion or sin.

It’s pretty much accepted that, as people worship as Catholics year in and year out, they reach a greater understanding and embrace of the how’s and why’s of church teaching.  It’s probably much the same in other faiths.

As in organizations everywhere, church authority brings with it props which themselves connote power. The CEO gets the corner office. The president gets pomp and circumstance. Mom and Dad get the remote. While his church has lost much, the new pope still has Rome at his disposal. He still has the trappings of his office – the pageantry, the history, the wow.  But why does this pope seem to be giving up the little leverage he has left?

Weekly, it seems, he’s peeling away another convention of authority, forfeiting another symbol of power. First it was the name he took – that of a simple saint, beloved, but also, it could be argued, a little crazy. Then there was the shunning of the need for a big apartment, a fancy car, an A-list of sins, a judgmental nature, a guy to carry the bags. And in a world in which “compliance,” seems to be a cardinal virtue, he similarly tells millions of kids in Rio to make a mess, to shake things up. 

Despite the weight of the troubles, this Francis seems to move more freely than any pope in memory. He separates Catholic essentials from the gild and the ermine. Indeed he seems to have calculated that, unless he eschews the trappings that set his office apart, he will lose the essentials of the church. Kind of like when a friend gets a promotion and things are never really the same again between you, what with him in that corner office and you in the cubicle. It’s right there in the instruction manual:  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke14:11).

Bigfoot footage: Adrian Erickson's The Erickson Project has released footage that claims to prove the existence of Bigfoot. (Adrian Erickson/tubemediacom/YouTube)

Bigfoot footage: Time for a lesson in skepticism

By Correspondent / 10.03.13

We protect our kids from junk food and with the announcement this week that Bigfoot “evidence” has been compiled by The Sasquatch Genome Project we now need to remember to also limit their intake of junk science.

“Junk science is faulty scientific data and analysis used to advance special interests and hidden agendas. Individual scientists may use junk science to achieve fame and fortune,” according to the Junk Science website.

Dr. Melba Ketchum, is the leader of the group of researchers chasing Bigfoot using a science net woven of HD video of furry people napping in the woods and DNA samples from an unknown hominid species, according to ABC. Ketchum declared Tuesday in a press conference that this is “a serious study” that concludes the legendary Sasquatch exists in North America and is a human relative that arose approximately 13,000 years ago. No peer reviews of the research were presented by Ketchum.

My son Quin, age nine, watched the press conference, saw the video and photo evidence presented, and laid down the scientific law on the subject.

“Just ‘cause it has a 'sciency' name doesn’t mean they have an idea of what they’re doing or that it’s real,” said Quin.

I honestly thought Quin would be thrilled to learn that the legendary Bigfoot is being said to actually exist. Thank you Norfolk Public Schools, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Vsauce Channel on YouTube, for giving my son a Bigfoot-sized footing in reality.

Apparently my parental scientific method was flawed when I picked this story to show Quin. I had all my research lined-up: Quin’s nine. He’s a boy. He loves science. Boys love a good monster story.

However, my science and the Sasquatch Genome Project have something in common, neither took into account the volatile properties of logic, science, imagination, big money, grainy video, and credibility when the catalyst is a child’s mind.

Like the Sasquatch Genome Research Project I thought that perhaps the huge amount of money spent on the research would lend credibility, so I told Quin that the project spent half a million dollars on the five year project, according to ABC News.

“OK they’re knuckleheads,” Quin said.

He buried his face in his hands and talked through his fingers. “Seriously? Someone gave science $500,000 and they used it for Bigfoot? I can’t go to NASA’s website ‘cause Congress rage quit and won’t give science any money when they found plastic stuff on Saturn's moon and these guys are doing Bigfoot?”

Then we watched a news video of the press conference held by the scientists and saw the sketches and "scientific evidence" of DNA samples presented.

At the news conference Tuesday in Dallas, the researchers shared “never before seen HD video” – provided by millionaire businessman Adrian Erickson's The Erickson Project – of the supposed creature crawling around the Kentucky woods. Erickson also provided the money for the research.

Quin was unmoved.

“They haven’t proven Bigfoot exists. They’ve proven Star Wars exists, because that’s a drawing of Chewbacca,” said Quin of the sketch shown by researchers. “It could be a giant ape. It could be a family of Wookies crash landed on Earth and stranded here. Did they check with NASA? Oh wait, they can’t because NASA’s closed!”

Ouch! Quin began to cry and stormed from the room. He’s going to have to spend hours watching old Bill Nye videos to calm down.

My son helped me see that the problem with junk science is that it’s a lot like junk food inasmuch as it’s overpriced, addictive, makes your mind sluggish and for those raised on a strict diet of real brain food can be very upsetting to the system.

Despite the wealth of information services available online, young people still see libraries as 'very important,' according to a survey of younger Americans ages 16-39 conducted by the Pew Research Center. (Seth Wenig/AP)

Don't cry for libraries: young people have their backs

By Contributing blogger / 10.02.13

It's difficult not to see libraries as barometers for civic and intellectual health: they're public places that celebrate learning, knowledge, self-improvement, and – perhaps most crucially in this digital era – getting out of the house and actually doing something amid other members of one's community.

But there is much (reasonable) hand-wringing over the future of libraries, particularly as public funding starts to dry up and big publishers engage libraries in a death match over the use of e-books. Central to the libraries-are-dying thesis: the Internet in general (and Google and other search engines, specifically) will kill libraries, as young people become increasingly and exclusively dependent upon their smart phones as the source of all information, ala the all-knowing Star Trek computer.

That said: A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study suggests that there are reasons for hope. A survey of 2,252 Americans ages 16 and above looked in particular at the answers provided by 16-to-29-year-olds and found:

-- "Americans under age 30 are just as likely as older adults to visit the library, and once there they borrow print books and browse the shelves at similar rates."
-- "Large majorities of those under age 30 say it is “very important” for libraries to have librarians as well as books for borrowing, and relatively few think that libraries should automate most library services, move most services online, or move print books out of public areas."
-- "Three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older." (To be fair: younger Americans are far more likely to have been compelled by teachers or professors to read books in print for class.)
-- "Younger patrons are also significantly more likely than those ages 30 and older to use the library as a study or 'hang out' space."

Youth support for libraries is helpful to the cause; the institutions' willingness to change with the times inspires hope. E-books and videos are part of the story, but the evolution goes beyond that – some libraries are loaning out tools, a practice that seems odd on the face of it, but makes sense as a way for a community to effectively pool and share resources. (And if trimming a tall tree for the first time on your own isn't educational, I don't know what is.)

The fight for the future of libraries is far from over, but that it's a fight at all (and a spirited one, at that) is a good sign for those rooting for them to survive.

Roughly 47 residents of the real life setting of Nickelodeon's 'Gullah Gullah Island,' most of them descendants of West African slaves known as Geechee, remain on the coastal Georgia island where their ancestors were brought to work a plantation in the early 1800s. (David Goldman/AP)

Real-life 'Gullah Gullah Island' in danger

By Correspondent / 10.02.13

Parents who worry about their kids watching television can harness it for good by recognizing when things that influence their kids on the screen tie-in to real life news items. Exhibit A: the plight of the real residents of the bygone Nickelodeon show 'Gullah Gullah Island,' (the actual place is Georgia's Sapelo Island) slave descendants, in danger of losing the island homes to developers. 

It’s ironic that on Day 2 of Gullah Geechee Heritage month I almost missed the Associated Press report on how residents of one of the few remaining Gullah-Geechee communities on the Southeast US coast are appealing the tax hikes due to skyrocketing property values. The story would have sailed by me if the word “Gullah” hadn’t set off a theme song in my head.

For a few moments my mind was filled with the memory of a hot day on Goodland Island in Florida when my son Zoltan was three (he’s now 19) and we sang, “Come and let's play together in the bright, sunny weather. Lets all go to Gullah, Gullah Island.”

We were living on a sailboat and he’d seen the Nickelodeons show on a television at the marina (we didn’t have one on the boat). The song stuck because all we did was sail to islands back then.

The funny part is that Zoltan was so young then he doesn’t remember much, but as a parent that memory is golden. It’s worth saving and by extension so is this real world Gullah Island community. Granted, the Nickelodeon show was filmed on the more touristy Fripp Island, Ga., but the cultural base for the show was all Sapelo.

Cornelia Bailey said that her tax bill shot from about $800 to $3,000, though she and other island residents receive virtually no county services. They have no schools, no trash pickup, no police station and only one paved road.

“What’s really sad is that because there’s no school on the island kids growing up there have to move to the mainland to go to school and participate in sports,” the lawyer for the residents told me in an interview. Kansas City Chief Allen Bailey grew up on the island but had to commute and eventually move off-island to get into school and sports.

This is happening because wealthy mainland buyers are driving up land values and defenders of the island say “the increasing tax burden violates protections enacted to help preserve the island's indigenous inhabitants,” according to the AP.

“Made up of slave descendants long isolated from the US mainland, the Gullah-Geechee culture has clung to its African roots and traditions more than any other in America. Hog Hammock – with fewer than 50 residents – is one of the last such communities from North Carolina to Florida,” the AP reports.

This is one more great reason to read the paper and discuss the news with kids because it gives us opportunities to demonstrate how TV shows can transition into real world actions for good.

Call it interactive viewing if you like.

Parents can take spent TV time and make it into something proactive and productive. Find the TV in the news and then find a way to take a positive action.

Granted, the Gullah Gullah Island show is long gone, having run from 1994-1997, but the lessons it taught our kids on healthy eating, telling the truth, and problem solving are worth revisiting today.

We can use this news item as an opportunity to talk to our kids about problem solving and how the real life residents on this island may need help solving this problem.

Reading the news I realized that every day the news gives us a chance to work a “flash challenge” with our kids.

This item in particular is a great chance to take a news item, relate it to a cool educational show, and engage our kids by asking how they would solve this problem.

Kids and parents could write a letter, draw a picture, make a video singing the Gullah Gullah theme song in support of the islanders and post it (with parental guidance) on Facebook or other social media.

Watching educational TV can only do so much. Parents need to reinforce the lessons in the real world at various stages in our child’s development.

So come and let's work together in the bright, sunny weather. Lets all go help Gullah Gullah Island.

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