Monday, March 28, 2011

What if Men Got Pregnant?

A young woman I know gave birth recently.  Her baby was taken from the hospital in the careful arms of a case worker from an adoption service and into the loving arms of a waiting family.  Then the young woman went home to try to get on with her life.  One million girls and women in the United States tear a hole in their own hearts every year.  85% of them receive an abortion.  15% give up their child to adoption.  100% of them are changed forever.  100% of their decisions are thrown into the grist mill of our seemingly endless moral debate about the correct fate for the lives involved.  Beyond these life-altering events 400,000 teenagers give birth - 10% of all births in the United States.  These girls, too are changed forever.

The politics of the womb are brutal and in stark contrast to the weakness and vulnerability of a post partum woman.  Our capacity as individuals to love and nurture is not matched by a collective capacity to understand and tolerate.  As the national debate rages on,  the girls and women behind the statistics struggle to move on, some with empty arms, and many with empty wallets trying to make ends meet.  Do not fool yourself that these stories all have a happy ending.  Would it be different if men got pregnant?  I don't mean every time.  I mean - what if the sex act were a crap shoot and either partner might conceive.  Would we view romance differently?  Would we be more accommodating of others?  Would we reconsider what we consider "privacy"? 

The life-changing responsibility for the successful mating of the sperm and egg has always been born by women. The lucky ones, and by a small margin, the majority, are women in stable circumstances with the means to raise their child.  But many are not so lucky.  That makes us a two class society: those for whom the monthly cycle of fertility creates a regular exposure to risk; and those who may walk away.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Do We Know What We Want?

For 25 years politicians and alternative energy advocates have wanted to decrease US dependence on foreign oil.  They have bullied the country into huge capital expenditures on mass transit and given credits and incentives for carpooling, van-pooling and riding bicycles to work.  They have advocated taxing petroleum with the expectation that the tax would allocate the cost of our dependence evenly across our economy.  They have argued that it would be a good thing if petroleum based products, especially gasoline, are more expensive because we would use less of them and turn instead to substitute sources of energy. 

But.  Every time the price of gasoline rises we hear a cacophony of complaints that the associated "pain" is too great.  When the price rises in the winter we have Congressional calls for subsidized heating fuel.  When it rises in the summer we see a Congressional scramble to find a way to salvage summer driving vacations.

And.  Whenever there is a push to develop our own known petroleum reserves in Alaska and our mountain states we hear that more drilling in the US is a problem, not a solution.  We stall and complicate the issue of new permits to drill achieving an effective moratorium on our domestic industry.

Then.  We subsidize off shore drilling in Brazil.  Again.  Several years ago we made a $2 billion loan to Brazil's state-owned Petrobras.  And now the President announces that he is prepared to make another - this time $3 billion.  Is it OK to drill off Brazil but not in our own waters?  Should our deficit-financed economy lower the risk and raise returns for a foreign company when our own industry is sidelined?

We need to make up our minds what we want to do.  I vote for our own industry, in our own waters and on our own lands, protected by the best environmental regulations in the world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pucker Up and Blow

That is not what Lauren Bacall said to Humphery Bogart in "To Have and Have Not".  What she said was: "You know you don't have to act with me, Steve.  You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything.  Not a thing.  Oh, maybe just whistle.  You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve?.  You just put your lips together and blow."

This winter, I decided to learn to whistle.  Not the easy-go-lucky whistle that most people can do.  I wanted the turn-their-heads whistle that you can hear over even thunderous applause.  I had believed that the skills required were innate or possibly passed only to a chosen few selected at random in their early teens.  Like others who have great respect for the web, I turned to Google and discovered step by step instructions assuring me that I would be a whistling fool in a few weeks.  Starting at step one: "Tuck away your lips" you know you are following a carefully thought-through path.  Be sure you have a mirror handy so you know when you have successfully completed step two: "Draw back the tongue."  Don't give up. 

There are many useful applications of an ear-piercing whistle.  Let me know when yours is ready.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Catherine Elizabeth McAuley was born in 1781 in County Dublin, Ireland.  A powerhouse of determination and faith, she practiced acts of charity and devotion while seeking an organizational home for her vision.  In 1828 she founded the Sisters of Mercy.  Miss McAuley chose the name with the intent of making works of mercy the distinctive feature of her community.  In 1843 the Sisters of Mercy were welcomed to Pittsburgh and soon opened a school, and orphanage and hospital in Western Pennsylvania.  By 1895 the Sisters were in Phoenix where they opened a small hospital, St. Joseph's.  Today, The Sisters of Mercy in the United States teach 100,000 children in their parochial schools,  care for 3,834 orphans, and operate 53 Hospitals.  Among the largest of the hospitals is the 700-bed St Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center.

Last December the Bishop of Phoenix excommunicated St. Joseph's Hospital.  He issued a decree revoking their affiliation with the Catholic Church after 115 years of operation and broad acclaim for quality of care.  As a result of his decision Mass can no longer be celebrated in the hospital's chapel and all items considered Catholic were removed.  The issue between the Bishop and St. Joseph's is the hospital's reproductive procedures.  Contraceptive counseling, provisions of contraception, voluntary sterilizations, and an abortion to save the life of a mother constituted a "scandalous situation" which the Bishop said "needed to change".

You can read the statement from St Joseph's President, Linda Hunt.  You can explore their website and meet their ethical leader, Sister Margaret McBride.  You can imagine .the careful consideration undertaken by the the medical and religious leadership in charting their path through the complex relationship of standards of care, Medicaid and Medicare contracts, private insurance provisions, and their own conscience.  You can decide for yourself what constitutes a work of mercy.  The executive team at St. Joseph's already has.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Living the Dream

John Baker has just won the Last Great Race - the Iditarod.  Please take a few minutes and visit his website.  John is Inupiat from Kotzebue.  He is the first musher from Western Alaska to win the race.  He has been in the top ten finishers for several years.  He came close to winning last year, but got lost on the trail and had to backtrack.  John has overcome many of the personal challenges that litter the path for so many.  He divides his time now between breeding and training his dogs, and speaking to children around the state about sobriety, personal development, and living their dreams.  This morning, John is living his dream.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Almost Heaven

If you are driving west out of Landisburg on Pennsylvania State Route 274 tomorrow, stop in at St. Paul's Lutheran Church.  Neighbors are collecting for the Clouse family.  They have already been to the Clouse barn and milked their cows.  They have done the other chores on this dairy farm and now are looking after the needs of the family.  Seven of the Clouse children died in a fire this week as their mother milked in the cow barn and their father worked his route collecting milk from other dairies.

Neighbors helping neighbors comes naturally in Perry County, PA.  This is beautiful country nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  The natural borders of mountains and streams enclose rich soil dotted today with family dairy and poultry farms.  Fifteen covered bridges built in the 19th Century offer safe passage over the runs and rivers draining east to the mighty Susquehanna.  More than a dozen grist mills still stand, some from 18th Century settlements.  The first court of common pleas was convened in Landisburg on December 4, 1820.

The Clouse's neighbors are doing what settlers have done throughout our history.  Farmer John Hoover is quoted in the Palestine Herald Press: "It's like the community's just pitching in and taking charge".  The Clouse family and their Amish and Mennonite neighbors will mourn together.  John Denver sang of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, less than 100 miles down range from the Clouse farm.  Almost heaven.  For the sake of this grieving community, I hope he was right.

Monday, March 7, 2011


The Last Great Race is on.  The Iditarod Sled Dog Race to Nome - underway from the official start in Willow, Alaska yesterday morning.  This is adventure.  I first saw the ceremonial start down the streets of Anchorage in 1989.  I have been to Willow and watched as the teams leave the road system and head up the trail.  I took my elderly father, a retired visitor from Philadelphia, to watch one year.  Like me he stood grinning as the teams ran by.  There is nothing like it.  If you are lucky enough to be in Anchorage at the ceremonial start you can walk along the cordoned-off streets and see the dogs.  When the teams are brought to the starting line - one team every two minutes - you see the handler's assistants straining to hold back dogs who are ready to run.

For 22 years I have been mesmerized by this race.  Now you can be, too.  Go to their website.  Learn about the race.  Meet the mushers.  Watch video.  See the squad of veterinarians checking each dog at each checkpoint.  Follow the GPS tracking of the teams.  Treat yourself.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

No Miracle this Time

A small piece in the news.   A man fell 190 feet into an abandoned mineshaft in Jersey Valley, Nevada.  A camera showed the man injured, but alive.  Rescue workers tried to rappel down but the 100 year old shaft crumbled around them.    The rescue was called off.  A day passed.  The camera showed no further movement.  The man was given last rites, and declared dead.

Look at a photo of Jersey Valley.  You might be  tempted to poke around these old buildings just as he was.  The Bureau of Land Management has identified 50,000 shafts in Nevada deemed "treacherous".  This one was not even on the list. 

There is too much we don't know about this story.  Was he conscious?  Was he aware?  How long did he really linger?  What was it like?  I can't get it out of my mind.  The old West lure of the ghost town.  The harsh reality of death.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Black Dog

A young man died last week.  His courageous family began his obituary with these words: "...passed away the age of 21, succumbing to his own private, internal struggles by his own hand."  Winston Churchill called his mental illness his "black dog".  My daughter has struggled with mental illness, and blogged briefly about a particularly painful episode.  Her blog is still up.  Please visit.

Perhaps you know someone with mental illness.  Perhaps you don't easily find words to offer understanding and support.  Terri Cheney has written a book that can help the uninitiated get a glimpse inside the dungeon of a troubled mind.  "Manic".  Available everywhere.  A sobering read.