Thursday, January 27, 2011

Roe vs. Wade

I belonged to Toastmasters International for more than 25 years. Early on, I learned that the topics that you always wanted to avoid were religion, sex, and politics.

We just passed the 38th anniversary of the passage of Roe vs. Wade. Regardless of how you feel about the ruling, abortion is the only topic that I can think of (other than pedophilia) that manages to involve all three.

I grew up in the conservative 1950’s, and “came of age” during the very turbulent 1960’s. Over the years, my outlook on most topics has shifted from conservative to liberal to conservative and back to “liberal”. As a result, one of the newspapers that I read pretty much on a daily basis is The New York Times, and I tend to cringe at the views that are presented in the New York Post, a VERY conservative newspaper that is owned by Australian Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, coincidentally, also owns Fox News, which hired Sara Palin as a regular commentator in January of last year. Although Fox News will not disclose her salary, her income from all sources between the time that she resigned as governor until April of 2010 was in excess of $12,000,000

The article that triggered this post was the one published this morning by Nicholas D. Kristof, which he titled, “Tussling over Jesus”. The link below will allow you to read the entire article, which I would strongly recommend.

Tussling Over Jesus.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling of 1973, it is estimated that there were an estimated 250,000 illegal abortions performed each year in the United States. According to the most reliable estimates, 90% of the illegal abortions were performed by “reputable physicians in good standing in their local medical communities”, and they were completed in the office of the physician. The highest known number of maternal deaths from the procedure was 388 women, in the peak year of 1948. Starting in 1972, improved antibiotics reduced the number of maternal deaths substantially, to a total of 39.

The legalization of abortion hasn’t eliminated maternal deaths, since an estimated 30 women a year die from infections or adverse reactions to general anesthesia.

Texas and other southern states have recently passed some draconian abortion laws, which has led to an increase in what the state would consider to be illegal abortions. On February 14, 2014, the state suspended the license of a Houston doctor who had performed 268 abortions between November 6 and February 7.

The irony of restrictive abortion laws is that they actually lead to an INCREASE in the number of abortions. Since Texas passed its more restrictive law in the summer of 2013, roughly 30% of the safe abortion clinics in Texas have closed, and that total includes a number of Planned Parenthood clinics. Only 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood are abortions, so closing them means that impoverished women no longer have access to medical care and birth control. Since Texas has the 10th highest rate of poverty in the country, that's an awful lot of people. On top of that, sexual education is not mandated in Texas, and when it is taught, the focus in on abstinence, rather than an birth control. The result is that Texas has the fifth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.

As of February, 2014, the abortion rate in America is the lowest it has been since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973. The actions of Texas and other states can only lead to an INCREASE in a practice that they are trying to stop!

Just as the Volstead Act was ineffective in curtailing the consumption of alcoholic beverages in this country, abortions will be performed in this country whether they are legal of not. Contrary to what you might think, though, this article ISN’T about abortion - it’s about compassion.

Although Mr. Kristof’s article mentioned the Roman Catholic church, the fact remains is that virtually all of the world’s major religions are opposed to abortion. The controversy in the case that he cites was that a Catholic hospital (St. Joseph’s in Phoenix) was punished by the Catholic church because it allowed an abortion to be preformed on a woman who, without question, would have died otherwise.

Regardless of which religion you’re talking about, I’m opposed to the strict adherence to dogma when it overrides a human act that is a more compassionate approach, and I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Ancient Jewish law prohibited work from being performed on the Sabbath. Even though Jesus was born a Jew, he is know to have performed at least seven miracles on the Sabbath, and (in all likelihood) he probably performed more than that.

At my Catholic grade school, I learned the definitions of mortal and venial sins. It was said that if you died without confessing a mortal sin, you would be condemned to Hell after death. Although mortal sins could vary by degree of seriousness, eating meat on Fridays and masturbation were both considered to be mortal sins, as was homosexuality.

The Second Vatican Council in 1963 made a lot of changes in the then existing rules of the church. Along with dropping the requirement for celebrating mass only in Latin, the Church also dropped the requirement of abstaining from the eating of meat on Fridays throughout the year, although the prohibition still exists on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent. The Catholic Church still RECOMMENDS that Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays throughout the year, and it REQUIRES that some other form of penance be substituted if meat is consumed on a given Friday.

Some of my classmates at the Catholic high school that we attended in Minnesota were killed in Vietnam. To my knowledge, none of them went to Hell because they had masturbated the night before they died.

Although Dr. Oz strongly recommends frequent sex “even if you’re alone”, a number of other medical institutions feel the same way. According to BBC news, masturbation greatly reduces the incidence of prostrate cancer in older men.

Like many churches, the Catholic church is opposed to homosexuality. Without belaboring the point too much, I’m of the opinion that sexual preference is much more due to biology than a conscious choice, and should not be considered a sin. However, picketing at military funerals in order to advance a strident anti-gay message should definitely rank high on a list of “grievous sins”

In spite of the fact that the Catholic Church has paid more than $2 billion to victims of sexual abuse, there hasn’t been a mad rush to the exits among American Catholics. For a number of years, the percentage of the American population that considered themselves Catholic has remained a very steady 23%.

Although the actions of St. Joseph Hospital manage to put more compassion into an ancient church with a long and storied history, meaningful change will come about only when the shortage of priests escalates to the point that it’s a full blown crisis. Not only has the number of priests continued to decline, they are also getting a lot older.

In the early days of the church, women were ordained until the 4th Century, and priests were allowed to be married until the 12th Century. Surprisingly, there ARE women priests in America today, and their stories will be told when the movie “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” comes out later this year. If the Catholic church worked to incorporate that group into the larger church body, and simultaneously allowed MARRIED MEN to be priests, the church would again be truer to the mission outlined by its founder nearly 2000 years ago.

At that time, we can all say “hallelujah”.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Guess who's coming to dinner?

“Guess who’s coming to dinner” was a GREAT movie from 1967 that included Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as the main characters in a plot that involved their Caucasian daughter bringing home her fiancé, a black man played by Sidney Poitier, to dinner.

Now that we have a black man in the White House, who recently met with a visitor from overseas, the story takes an interesting twist.

A few months ago, Barrack and Michelle Obama were taking a mid-morning coffee break when, out of the blue, the President said “Hu’s coming for dinner”.

Michelle said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to check with Julianna Smott (current social secretary who is in the process of moving to Chicago to help President Obama’s re-election campaign) to see who is scheduled."

The President responded, “ Michelle, what I meant was that Hu Jintao, the President of China, is coming for a brief visit in January.”

Michelle said, “That’s good news! Since he’s probably tired of Chinese food, let’s have an “all American” menu, and let’s include things like poached lobster, aged rib eye steak, and apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

you are invited to a dinner at The White House

The President said, “ The menu sounds good to me, but who should we include on the guest list?

Michelle said, “ Julianna will take care of most of the invitations for us, but for starters, we probably should NOT include the Dalai Lama” or the family of Liu Xiaobo (the Chinese winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize).

“I agree. How about a heavy concentration of Chinese-Americans?”

“Well", she said, "there’s B.D Wong and Vera Wang, Elaine, James, and Wang Chao, Steven and Jean Chu, Charles and Ying Woo, and David Wu.”

“Anybody else in that category?”

“Perhaps a few people in the entertainment business, like Jackie Chan and Michelle Kwan.”

“Other categories?”

“Maybe a couple of guys from The New York Times, like Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristoff”

“Any business leaders?”

“ Well, I’d invite people like the Chase Chairman, Jamie Dimon, and the GE Chairman, Jeff Immelt”

“:Anybody else we haven’t thought of?”

“How about Ma?”

“Honey, your mother has lived with us for the last two years .....

“No, Barack, I meant Yo Yo Ma, the cellist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.”

“Oh, yeah”.

“Speaking of Chicago, we should probably invite Richard and Maggie Daley, since Hu will be in Chicago later on this week”


“ I think we’ve got a good start, honey. We’ve got a Wong and a Wang, some Chaos and some Chus, some Woos and a Wu, a Chan and a Kwan, and a Ma”.

“Sounds good”

“Hey, it’s getting close to lunch time. Are you up for some Chinese food?”

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Richard and Maggie are taking a mid morning coffee break ………

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve -

One of the best selling books of all time is a book called “Think and Grow Rich”. It was written by a man named Napolean Hill, and was published way back in 1937. I’ve read it several times over the last 40 years, and I gave my son a copy for Christmas this year.

Since the publication of the book, there have been countless people who have accumulated amazing wealth purely because of their belief in an idea. Recent examples are Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). The MOST recent example is a story that was published in the January 16, 2011 edition of Parade magazine.

Cynthia Stafford, a single mother of five children, started to lull herself to sleep at night in 2007 visualizing that she had won the lottery, and she pictured the EXACT amount - $112,000,000. In her dreams, she not only saw the amount on the check, she also could see the clothes that she would be wearing when she learned that she had won.

As crazy at it sounds, her dream came true less than six months later!

The amount that she won in the lottery was EXACTLY $112,000,000, and she was wearing the same lime green blouse with a leaf print that she saw in her dreams when she learned that she had won.

The MOST remarkable story about achieving what the mind can conceive occurred almost 600 years ago, and had absolutely NOTHING do with accumulating wealth.

The video below will give you a a quick summary about an important historical figure, but the facts that surround this individual are even more remarkable.

Joan of Arc on YouTube

Joan of Arc was born to a poor French peasant family in the year 1412. Her family lived in a portion of northern France that was controlled by England, during a period of time that was known was The Hundred Years War.

At the age of 12, she was out alone in a field when she saw visions of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret, who told her to drive out the English army, and restore the rightful king of France to the throne in Rheims.

At the age of 16, she petitioned the garrison commander for permission to visit the royal French court at Chinon. Although her first attempt was not successful, her second attempt was. On that visit, she predicted that the French would achieve a military victory over the English at a town called Orleans.

Less than a year later, the acting king of France put her in charge of the French army, a remarkable move in view of the fact that she was 17 years old, illiterate, and that she claimed that she was motivated by the belief that the voice of God was instructing her to take charge of her country’s army and lead it to victory.

Amazingly, she soon led the French army to a series of victories, and reversed the side of the war.

Ultimately, she was captured by the opposing army, and was brought to trail, where she was accused of heresy. She was condemned to death by burning at the stake, and she died on May 30, 1431. Although the Hundred Year War continued for 22 years after her death, the French ultimately prevailed.

After the war had ended, Pope Callixtus III authorized a retrial due to the urging of the Inquisitor-General, Jean Brehal, and Joan’s mother, Isabelle Romee. At the end of the appellate trial, she was declared innocent on July 7, 1456.

She became a symbol of the Catholic League during the 16th century, and in 1849, the Bishop of Orleans declared a fervid panegyric on Joan of Arc. His act attracted attention in both England and France, which eventually culminated in her beatification in 1909, and her canonization on May 16, 1920. Along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, and St. Teresa of Lisieux, she is considered to be a patron saint of France.

For a lot of reasons, the accomplishments made by Joan of Arc would be impossible to achieve in today’s world. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that, even today, a single individual with a compelling vision can accomplish impossible acts.

Before you put your head on the pillow tonight, repeat the sentence in the title above. You may never win as much money as Cynthia Stafford did, and you’ll never change the course of history as much as Joan of Arc did, but at some point in time, your tomorrows are going to be a lot different.

To quote Moya Brennan, you’ll change your world.