The Hypocrisy of St. Patrick’s Day
Malachy McCourt was born in Brooklyn, USA and from the age of three was raised in Limerick, Ireland. He returned to the land of his birth at the age of twenty and again worked at the manual tasks such as longshoreman, truck loader, dishwasher, until he became an actor. That career took him to Broadway and Off-Broadway and regional theatres in plays such as Mass Appeal, Da, The Hostage, Inherit the Wind, Carousel and Translations. The soap operas such as Ryan's Hope, Search for Tomorrow, One Life to Live, and All My Children were also a good source of work and sustenance as were the movies Molly Maguires, She's the One, The Devil's Own, Green Card, and TV movies such as You Can't Go Home Again and The Dain Curse. Due to a heavy schedule of writing, book signings and public appearances McCourt had to take a sabbatical from the acting trade but is now back after completing five movies Happy Hour, Guru of Sex, Gods and Generals, and Ash Wednesday plus a running part in the HBO prison series Oz. As well as being the co-author of the play A Couple of Blaguards with his brother Frank, Malachy has written his own New York Times bestseller memoir, A Monk Swimming, published by Hyperion Press. His memoir, Singing My Him Song, now out in paperback is published by Harper Collins. Running Press recently published four of Malachy’s books: the history of the song Danny Boy, a history of The Claddagh Ring, Voices of Ireland, an anthology, and Malachy McCourt’s History of Ireland. Recent books, Harold Be Thy Name and Bush Lies in State, are published by Welcome Rain. In the works is I Never Drink When I’m Sober for Harper Collins. Malachy writes a column, Sez I to Myself, that appears in the Manhattan Spirit, The Westsider and Our Town in NYC.
Question: What are the origins of St. Patrick’s Day?
Malachy McCourt: The origins of St. Patrick. It’s started with a man name Nile of the Nine Hostages, who was an Irish pirate and went about the British Isles capturing people and bringing them back and selling them as slaves. So he went to – we’re not sure whether he went to Wales where he captured this man, Patrick, and brought him back and sold him to a man named Meliuc, and Patrick was put out on the hills of County Antrim to serve as a Shepard for about four or five years. He was a teenager when he was captured. And that’s not a real name, Patrick. That was not his name. He was from a Patrician Roman family and therefore, he was known as the Patrician. So when they wanted him to empty the slop buckets of something like that, they would say, “Let the Patrician do it.” So, that’s how he got the name, Patrick.
So, anyway, I’m not sure what his affection for Ireland was a great, wonderful, poetic, literate, Pagan country, and it had Bards and Druids and the Ascendancy and he thought that they should all be converted to Christianity. So, when he escaped, subsequently, he went to France, to his Uncle’s in Martin of Tours, and then he went to Rome and he was consecrated a Bishop, and then made his way back to Ireland in 432, and ruined a perfectly good civilization.
Question: How did the celebrations for St. Patrick’s Day change over time?
Malachy McCourt: He used the shamrock, which has three leaves, as the metaphor for the trinity of that belief, God the father, God the son, God the Holy Ghost. And so he held that up, in one stem, he used that as his illustration. And of course, the Shamrock being green, it betoken the green as being something, but his own color was blue and St. Patrick’s blue is well-known.
Over the years, it was a holy day of obligation in Ireland, very little celebration. My memories of it are of a gloomy, rainy, awful day when no matter what, we had to get up an hour earlier and go to mass, and then go to school and face the same old rubbish from being hit on the head, or beaten on the hands because corporal punishment was in order at the time. And I think it still is too to a certain extent. So, it didn’t change much.
But then what happened over the years, as it became a holiday, a big holiday here, or a big celebration I should say, not a holiday. A celebration here in New York, the Irish said, “Oh, we should do something about that.” So, they decided to imitate what goes on here. Everything except that the crowds here are somewhat – not somewhat, quite, homophobic and they don’t let the gays march as a unit, as an identified unit. Whereas, in Ireland, the home of the whole bloody thing is the gay people get prizes and awards for being the most colorful group in parades. So, I think it’s amazing.
Recorded on March 10, 2010
In the US, they don’t let gays march, whereas in Ireland, gay people get prizes for being the most colorful group.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
Can you make solar power work when the sun goes down? You can, and Dubai is about to run a city that way.
- A new concentrated solar plant is under construction in Dubai.
- When it opens next year, it will be the largest plant of its kind on Earth.
- Concentrated solar power solves the problem of how to store electricity in ways that solar pannels cannot.
Believe it or not, for a few decades, giving people "milk transfusions" was all the rage.
- Prior to the discovery of blood types in 1901, giving people blood transfusions was a risky procedure.
- In order to get around the need to transfuse others with blood, some doctors resorted to using a blood substitute: Milk.
- It went pretty much how you would expect it to.
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