View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

November haiku

November heat wave –
forgotten autumn leaves bloom
from beneath the snow

Papa Bear heads for the honey tree in the sky

Stan Berenstain, who with his wife, Jan, created Berenstain Bears, died Saturday.
(See NYT:

I read many an adventure of Mama, Papa, Brother and Sister Bear to my daughters.

I sometimes found the books a bit too preachy – and Mama was certainly not a modern model for my girls. Still, there are worse things to do with one’s talent that to write and illustrate upbeat children’s books.

Heck, he could have been a political speech writer, or an illustrator for Playboy.

So let’s all toast to the memory of Stan. Maybe dig out a copy of one of the Bear books, and read it for the memories.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dorothy Day: November 29, 1980

25 years ago, Dorothy Day died.

The founder of the Catholic Worker movement has been promoted by some for sainthood.

Certainly those of a progressive ilk – myself included – think she qualifies.

Her work among the poor alone is an inspiration.

Her writings, her activism, her conversion despite what it cost her in the eyes of the world, also inspire.

There are some who look at her politics and early life and raise doubts.

She opposed war – even World War II.

She protested the arms race.

She spent time in jail even in her 60s.

She had an abortion as a young woman (something she deeply regretted).

She lived with a man and had a child out of wedlock (and lost him because she converted).

She hung out with communists and radicals.

She supported anti-war protesters in the 1960s.

She herself rejected suggestions that she was a saint. She said she didn’t want to be dismissed so easily.

For me, those are all plusses.

So whether or not the Church officially proclaims her a saint, I hearken back to an old tradition of people being named saints by popular acclaim.

Pray for us St. Dorothy.

My least favorite "Christmas" song

Several local radio stations have begun their annual Christmas-songs-around-the-clock marathons.

I don’t mind. I like Christmas songs – even the sappy and silly ones.

But there is one song they all insist on playing that bugs me.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

The only connection to the season is the mention of the weather. It’s cold, there’s a blizzard.

Other than that, it’s a seduction song.

Stay the night.

I’ll make it worth your while. (wink)

Have a drink. (That’ll loosen you up?)

As for what her mother, father, neighbors, etc. might think – well, “What’s the sense in hurting my pride …Baby don’t hold out ... How can you do this thing to me?”

You know what gift he’s hoping for.

For the rest of the lyrics, you can find one version at

I'm a big fan of sex - in the right circumstances. I just happen to believe in moral behavior.

On its own, the song is tamer than a lot of the sexually oriented songs on the radio. I don’t particularly like them – especially when they turn sex into something divorced from love and women (or in some cases, men) into objects.

I don’t listen to such songs in general.

And certainly not at Christmas.

Bah. Humbug.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A birthday verse "meme"- o

I first saw this over in Happy Catholic (
I’ve seen it in other blogs since.

The idea is to find your birthday verse in each of the four Gospels. My birthday is June 4, so I looked up 6:4

Here’s what I found:

Matthew – “(But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,) so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Mark – “Jesus said to them, `A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.’"

Luke – “(How) {David} went into the house of God, took the bread of offering, which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions."

John – “The Jewish feast of Passover was near.”

Not sure what it means. Two of them involve eating. Hmm. And given the events with my family in the last year, Mark’s verse got a smile.

What do you find M2 (
Kat (
and CafeCath ( ?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Denying communion?

The issue of denying communion to pro-choice politicians is one of those topics that just won't go away.

I have been up and down on the issue myself.

I believe it is a mortal sin to actively and publicly support and promote aborton.

Certainly canon law says anyone who helps to procure a completed abortion is automatically excommunicated. A number of analysts interpret that as applying to those who push a woman to get an abortion, help her to get it (i.e. the mom or boyfriend who drives the mother-to-be to the clinic or knowlingly helps to pay for it), and even to any politician/activist who publicly helps to legalize or to keep legal abortion.

Of course, there is room for interpretation. Is a person who says he is pro-choice but does not otherwise actively promote abortion as culpable as the person who actively battles attempts to limit or eliminate legal abortion?

Is the teenage boyfriend who is scared and confused so he suggests his pregnant girlfriend get an abortion as culpuble as the adult man who pressures his girlfriend to get an abortion because his wife might find out or it would mess up his career?

The issue here is communion, though.

I don't think the communion line should be a battlefield.

I think if a pro-choice politician (or a known sinner) comes up for communion, he/she should be given communion. Who knows - maybe he or she has reformed.

BUT, the local church leader then should contact the person to discuss what happened. If the person has repented and now rejects abortion, wonderful!

If not, the local leader then should explain that what he/she did was wrong under the circumstances. The leader should use this as an opportunity to discuss the moral issues involved, and, hopefully, to get the communicant to realize the error of his/her ways. (It would be nice, but not likely).

If there is no repentance, the local leader should then ask the person not to come to communion again.

The local leader also has a reponsibility publicly to make Church teaching on the matter clear. It should be proclaimed from the pulpit and in print in the bulletin.


Thus informed, if the miscreant persists, the sin is on him or her.

In the extreme cases of very public sinners or dissenters, though, stronger measures may be appropriate.

If they have been warned a couple of times, and they persist, then announcing their names from the pulpit or in the bulletin might be an option.

Imagine if the presider got up after communion to say:

"As many of you know, XXX is a public advocate of abortion, and I have no indications XXX has changed his/her stance. I have spoken to XXX about the appropriateness of receiving communion, but XXX did so today. Let us pray now for XXX that the Lord might touch his/her heart and open his/her eyes."

Even if it didn't work with the person, think of the lesson given to the congregation.

A priest - a Christian - willing to risk speaking out publicly on a serious moral issue. (Gee, isn't that something we honor saints for doing?)

I know, I know, not likely.

But I've heard many a priest get up at Mass and chide the congregation for not giving enough to the collection.

Isn't this more serious?

Friday, November 25, 2005

The rest of the story ...

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer.

One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog.

There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

"I want to repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son's life."

"No, I can't accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer replied waving off the offer.

At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family hovel.

"Is that your son?" the nobleman asked.

"Yes," the farmer replied proudly.

"I'll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of."

And that he did. Farmer Fleming's son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman's son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia. What saved his life this time? Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill.

His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill.

We can never know the full extent to which our actions will affect the lives of others, so it behooves us to treat every opportunity to do good as a gift from God himself.

A person named Lee Eschen sent this to me in a Yahoo discussion group devoted to C.S. Lewis (and the Inklings).

Paul Harvey would love it. Maybe he was the original source.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Thanksgiving memory

While driving around this evening – taking Nana back to her home after she’d spent the day with us, then going to visit my father, who could not be with us – I was listening to a humorist on the radio recalling childhood Thanksgivings.

I have vivid childhood memories of Christmas, New Years, Easter, and even Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

But I have few memories of Thanksgiving.

I vaguely recall my mother cooking a big meal, and football on television, but that’s about it.

I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s just that Thanksgiving Day was not big in my family.

Maybe the fact that I never liked turkey and was not happy about eating it had something to do with it. (Being a vegetarian allows me to avoid it now!)

I do have one vivid Thanksgiving memory from adulthood.

In 1979, I was living with two friends, having just finished college. We decided to host all our families for Thanksgiving at our apartment, with us preparing the entire meal.

The mothers were skeptical. They kept offering to make things for the meal – just in case.

We said no.

We worked on it for weeks, planning the meal, buying the food, collecting enough chairs and place settings for all our guests.

I remember the day.

The families arrived. They were full of questions about the meal – the smell of which filled the apartment.

It was clear they had doubts.

Then we began to serve.

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, peas, cranberries, homemade bread, salad, and apple, pecan and pumpkin pies. The one non-traditional dish was fried rice (I was a vegetarian by that point).

The parents kept remarking how good it all was. It was as if they were struggling with the idea that their 20-something sons could pull off such a feast.

I was even asked for my fried rice recipe.

Very satisfying.

We only did it once. By the following year I was married.

I’ve had family Thanksgivings since – hosted now by my wife and me. The food is always good. My wife does most of the cooking, with her mother and I also preparing dishes. This year, my oldest daughter – now married – contributed a fine apple pie. And the two youngest daughters made the salad.

A true family feast.

Still, that Thanksgiving of 26 years ago is the one I remember best.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ho Ho Ho

I just interviewed tonight to be a fill-in mall Santa. Pending a background check - something I've passed as a teacher anyway - I start next Thursday.

Three hours of Ho! Ho! Ho!

This has long been one of my dreams.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Praise be to God (I'm not annoyed)

A few posts ago I listed some things I’m annoyed about.

It was a response to a book about things to be happy about.

I had fun compiling the list and sharing it. People have already suggested some items to add to the list.

Of course, being the scrupulous sort that I am, I have been studying my motivation for doing it since (showing off?), and wondering if it was a Christian response.

“No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” – Eph 4:29

“Immorality or any impurity or greed must not be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving.” Eph 5:3

What I wrote was not obscene or impure or mean spirited (though Paris Hilton and folks in Alabama might take exception!).

And, of course, God does not forbid humor.

But what of humor that tears down rather than builds up? What of humor that engenders an attitude of negativity in ourselves and others?

There’s that whole millstone thing to think about!

So instead of 14,001 Things to be Annoyed About, maybe I should be compiling 14,001 Things to Praise God For.

Gerard Manly Hopkins comes to mind for offering such praise in I poem I have always loved.

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manly Hopkins

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Something to remember

How will you be remembered
When your stay on Earth is through –
By a friendly disposition
Or a biased point of view?
Whatever form of legacy
You leave behind, it’s true –
The way you’ll be remembered
Is entirely up to you!

J. M. Robertson

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Churches to close

The local secular paper has picked up on a story that's actually been out for a few weeks.

The Diocese of Rochester is closing 11 churches - four in the city, and seven in the rest of the diocese. A few more churches may also be added to the list in the coming weeks.

The news story cites the usual reasons - declining numbers of priests, declining attendance, the financial burden of keeping open large buildings that are rarely filled, etc.

These reasons all sadden me, but they are part of the reality we face.

But there was one passage in the article that struck me:

Parishioners feel a sense of loss when churches close, (Bill Pickett, the diocese's director of pastoral planning) said, but perhaps some of the Protestant churches in the city can use the buildings and expand their ministries. "There are booming churches in those areas," he said. "And maybe the kingdom work will increase because our communities are more vital and alive."

Okay. I'm all for increasing the kingdom. I don't think God will object to Protestants (or even Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc.) in heaven.

But why are these churches "booming," and the Catholic church not doing so in those areas?

Perhaps a shift in demographics? The old Europeans that were the heart and soul of Church growth a century ago (Irish, German, Italian and Polish here) have moved out of the city to the suburbs.

However, in the suburbs, the children of those same people are flocking to Protestant churches. I remember once doing an article for our diocesan papper about an Assembly of God church in one of our suburbs where the majority of the parishioners (about 70-75 percent) were former Catholics.

The Catholic pastors of that suburb reacted not by looking at themselves to see what they could do, but by threatening to cancel all their subscriptions to the paper to punish us for writing such a story.

Which may help to explain some of the problems the Catholic Church is facing.

What draws people to these churches? Lively worship, good music, inspired preaching, a welcoming atmosphere, a sense of being involved, etc.

Some of this is superficial in nature. They are entertained. One has to wonder how deep that faith is. How well will those seeds grow?

Still, we can learn something from them.

Certainly better preaching is needed. Music can be improved. We can be more welcoming.

I think one hurdle we have to overcome is clericalism. Catholics are used to "Father" doing everything (with help from "Sister.") I know church leaders are trying to promote lay involvement. Our pastor has been pushing for more of it at our parish. But only a few people respond to his regular calls for volunteers.

Maybe what we need are closings like this to shock people - ordained and lay - into changing their thinking.

My fear though is that the closings will simply lead to more closings and a continued downward spiral.

I guess that's where faith - and lots of praying - come onto play.

Of course, one of the prayers might just be for our leaders to open their eyes, minds and hearts to the promptings of the Spirit.

I have no simple and easy answers. This is certainly a topic that's been bandied about for many years now.

So I will pray. And tomorrow I will sing in the choir. (Hope that doesn't scare off a few people!)

Not to beat a dead horse

The following story is running on the AP wire:

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ Groups from around the Capital Region are expected to turn out today to protest Wal-Mart.

The week of protesting was organized by the national watchdog group Wal-Mart Watch.

The group staged more than a thousand events around the country to protest the retailer's labor and environmental practices.

Capital Region groups like Save Rotterdam will join the protests. Save Rotterdam fought against a Wal-Mart supercenter in Rotterdam. The protest is expected to draw more than 100 people from around the Capital Region.

Maybe they should wish Wal-Mart shoppers and workers, "Merry Christmas!"

Harry Potter and the Two Thumbs Up

The wife and I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire last night.

It is darker and more intense than the earlier films (though this is true of the book, too). It is also long.

More like the Lord of the Rings films.

Definitely not a movie for small children.

In fact, I heard children crying, and some parents left with their children late in the film. I don’t know if that was due to the children not being able to sit any longer, or their getting scared.

I don’t blame the film makers. I think the parents simply didn’t realize this was not a film for small children. (The PG-13 rating should have given a clue, but some folks are clueless.)

The film had to be sketchy at times. The book is long, and to include it all would have made the movies way too long even for adults. I suspect the DVD will have added and extended scenes.

The film also assumes that you are familiar with the Potter canon. It alludes to earlier actions or characters without fully explaining.

For example, early in the film Harry has a bad dream. Hermione suggest that he write to Sirius Black – but there is no explanation of who he is. (Harry’s godfather, falsely accused of helping to kill Harry’s parents, and the subject of the third book and movie). Later on Harry and another character arrive in a graveyard and there is a tombstone that reads “Riddle.” That is the family name of Lord Voldemort – the evil wizard and Harry’s ultimate nemesis - as we learned in the second book and movie.

We also get plenty of teenage angst related to dating/relationships. Harry is growing up. (There’s an amusing scene with a female ghost and Harry in a bubble bath!)

The special effects are good. The dragon fight was especially well done.

On the whole, a good movie. My wife thought so, too.

It does not have the wonder of the first movie. It lacks the artistry of the third. But I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mass appeal

Cardinal Arinze has spoken.

The Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, in an interview with Inside Vatican magazine, says the Mass is not entertainment.

(There are some Masses I’ve been to that definitely wouldn’t qualify as entertainment.)

"People don't come to Mass in order to be entertained. They come to Mass to adore God, to thank him, to ask pardon for sins, and to ask for other things that they need."

(Or to check out who didn’t come. Or who is wearing what.)

"When they want entertainment, they know where to go -- parish hall, theater, presuming that their entertainment is acceptable from a moral theological point of view."

(Hmm. I wonder if some of the songs I’ve sung over the years would be “acceptable.” My wife does like one song I wrote, “The Shower Song” – “Come on babe, let’s take a shower together. I don’t see why you’re making such a fuss. There’s no sin in having god clean fun - `cause cleanliness is next to Godliness.”)

He has plenty more to say, but naturally I was drawn to his comments about music.

“The local church should be conscious that church worship is not really the same as what we sing in a bar, or what we sing in a convention for youth. Therefore it should influence the type of instrument used, the type of music used."

(Some of my more religious moments when I was younger came in bars. But then, I am Irish.)

"I will not now pronounce and say never guitar; that would be rather severe," Cardinal Arinze added. "But much of guitar music may not be suitable at all for the Mass. Yet, it is possible to think of some guitar music that would be suitable, not as the ordinary one we get every time, [but with] the visit of a special group, etc."

(My guitar gently weeps.)

He goes on to say that Gregorian music should not be banished – and if it is not heard anymore then “somebody has made a mistake somewhere.”

(One of my favorite goof-around songs in college was a bit of Gregorian fluff. All I remember of it is “My father plays dominos better than your father plays dominos. Your move.”)

He also says that there is room for music that respects the language and culture of a people. He leaves plenty up to the bishops.

(Hoo boy. In some dioceses that guarantees some less-than-stellar worship experiences.)

He correctly points out that there are some priests who get caught up in showmanship, and there are abuses. But he also notes there were abuses in the old Tridentine Mass as well.

(And some priests abuse the Mass by not being prepared, racing through the liturgy as if they have an appointment, mumbling the words as if they are just going through the motions, and dull preaching. That can be as bad – if not worse – than the showmanship, because the message conveyed is that they don’t care. And if the priest doesn’t care, why should we?)

The cardinal says the liturgy "is not the property of one individual, therefore an individual does not tinker with it, but makes the effort to celebrate it as Holy Mother Church wants. When that happens, the people are happy, they feel nourished. Their faith grows, their faith is strengthened. They go home happy and willing to come back next Sunday."

(No argument there. But a little guitar music would make me happy. Sniff)

(“… now that our wedding day is here, there’s some wisdom I think we both should heed. It’s something my father taught me: Never buy what you ain’t never seen. So come on babe, …”)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

U.S. Bishops call for rejection of the death penalty

The Bishops have come out with a statement on the death penalty that is sure to annoy some conservatives.

New statement calls for rejection of 'illusion' of death penalty
By Patricia Zapor

Washington (CNS) -- A new statement on the death penalty that calls on society to "reject the tragic illusion that we can demonstrate respect for life by taking life, was approved by the U.S. Catholic bishops Nov. 15 in a nearly unanimous vote.

The statement, "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death," builds upon the 1980 statement by the bishops that called for the abolition of capital punishment.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., notes that. ”While this statement represents a major step forward for us as a body of bishops, it does not represent new teaching."

It uses teaching from the "Catechism of the Catholic Church," the Social Doctrine Compendium and Pope John Paul II's encyclical, "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life").

So the conservatives will have to take on JP II on this one.

The CNS article goes on to note:

“The United States should stop using the death penalty for four reasons, it says:

-- Other ways exist to punish criminals and protect society.
-- The application of capital punishment is "deeply flawed and can be irreversibly wrong, is prone to errors and is biased by factors such as race, the quality of legal representation and where the crime was committed."
-- State-sanctioned killing diminishes all people.
-- The penalty of execution undermines respect for human life and dignity.”

Some folks argue that in other nations where the murderers can’t be contained, the death penalty should still be permitted.

Perhaps. The Church certainly has not completely ruled it out.

But this argument is not applicable to the U.S.

As for the death penalty being needed to protect guards or other inmates, or because the killers will “teach others,” I contend we can isolate the killers. We already do that with some dangerous criminals, and in order to protect some inmates from the rest of the prison population.

Moreover, I think the culture of violence engendered by movies, television and music, and the environments in many homes and neighborhoods, do far more to educate young people about violence.

For the full statement go to to

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Life marches on

Vatican adviser: Catholic moral tolerance of nuclear deterrence over

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Vatican's "strictly conditioned" acceptance of U.S. nuclear deterrence policy since the 1980s appears to be over, a Vatican adviser said Nov. 11.

Former Canadian Sen. Douglas Roche, special adviser to the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, made that observation at an international gathering of American war and peace thinkers in Washington sponsored by three U.S. Catholic organizations.

Roche said he believes the Vatican now rejects nuclear deterrence completely in light of decisions by the U.S. and other nuclear powers to make nuclear deterrence -- and possible war use of such weapons -- a permanent part of their defense policies. He said this is in direct violation of the strict condition posed by the Vatican 23 years ago when it accepted deterrence only as a temporary step on the road to nuclear disarmament.

Roche was one of 19 speakers at an unusual Catholic colloquium at Georgetown University on just war in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Let's see. Abortion is increasingly under attack. The bishops are pushing the Church's opposition to the death penalty. And now nuclear weapons are getting attention.

It's good to be consistent life.

Who could have guessed this about Alito?

Document Shows Samuel Alito Rejects Abortion as Constitutional Right

by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 14, 2005

Washington, DC ( -- A new document obtained by the Washington Times shows that Samuel Alito, President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, rejected abortion as a constitutional right. In a letter to Attorney General Edwin Meese in 1985, Alito wrote that "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion."

"I personally believe very strongly," Alito said in the document, which is one of many the White House released today from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for the Senate Judiciary Committee to review before holding hearings on Alito in January.

In the memo, Alito also wrote that he was a conservative and a Republican and appreciated the opportunity to advance President Reagan's legal positions, such as opposing abortion, during his tenure as an assistant in the office of the Solicitor General.

"It has been an honor and source of personal satisfaction for me to serve in the office of the Solicitor General during President Reagan's administration and to help to advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly," he wrote.

"I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that ... the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion," Alito said.

"I am and always have been a conservative," he added, according to the Times. "I am a lifelong registered Republican."

This document provides the strongest evidence yet for pro-life advocates who are still worries that there is not enough evidence to prove Alito will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if a case comes before him on the high court. Most pro-life groups have endorsed Alito's nomination and abortion advocates are launching campaigns this week to oppose him.

In the memo, Alito added that he "I believe very strongly in limited government" and the "the supremacy of the elected branches of government," and "and the legitimacy of a government role in protecting traditional values" -- showing his judicial philosophy would make him likely to uphold pro-life laws on the Supreme Court.

In interviews with members of the Senate last week, Alito described Roe v. Wade as a precedent-setting case that deserves "great respect" but would not commit to upholding the decision in the future.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat, told reporters Alito described the abortion case as a "precedent on which people, a lot of people, relied, and had been precedent now for decades and therefore deserved great respect."

Lieberman called that "encouraging" but added that Alito would not say he would vote to uphold Roe.

Prochoicers are panicking.

Quick. Call up his ex-girl friends, frat brothers, and second grade teacher. There's got to be some dirt on him somewhere.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I get annoyed

At a bookstore, I once stumbled across a happy little book: 14,000 Things to be Happy About by Barbara Ann Kipfer.

This perky little tome included page after page of happy items - Flannel sheets. Strawberry ice cream. Making faces at monkeys in the zoo. Dog dishes that say "Good Dog." Carolers singing around a Norwegian spruce. Sun burning off the morning fog. Cabanas.

14,000 happy items.

In no particular order.

For no particular reason – except perhaps so that there would be nearly a million copies of the book in print, and thus generating the author some income.

Indeed, Ms. Kipfer seems to have created her own happy little industry. Her other titles include The Wish List; 4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone; 2,002 Ways to Cheer Yourself Up; Instant Karma; 1,400 Things for Kids to Be Happy About; and 8,789 Words of Wisdom.

She seems to have a thing for numbers.

And happy thoughts.

I wish her no harm. She put in the effort to create this book – coming up with 14,000 items isn’t easy. It supposedly took her 20 years to compile them.

And she’s not ripping people off with books and infomercials for get-rich schemes that never work, or miracle cures for acne that don’t work.

I hope she is happy.

Still, my reaction to the book was immediate.

I was not happy.

In fact, I was - well – annoyed.

Now that is not an unusual state for me. But in this case, I was really annoyed.

So much so I took out a notebook and began to fill it with a counter list.

Here’s the beginning of 14,001 Things to be Annoyed About

People who get into the 10-or-less-items line with 17 items
Platitude-filled political speeches
Public radio membership drives
Song titles that use letters and numbers in place of words
Musicians who play songs with titles that use letters and numbers in place of words
Songwriters who write songs that have titles that use letters and numbers in place of words either because they are trying to be cute or because they don’t know how to spell
ATVs in residential neighborhoods
Bumper stickers that are too small to read
Booming car stereos next to you at a red light
Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween
Italians playing Native Americans in old movies
Ethnic jokes
Cold sores
Boston traffic
People who talk loudly in restaurants
Cigarette butts by the side of the road
Paper cuts
Haiku that aren’t really haiku
Yippy dogs
Dogs who bark at 2 a.m.
Slow drivers in the fast lane
Conservative talk radio hosts
Liberal talk radio hosts
Talk radio
People who talk during Mass
Lip synching singers
People who ignore “Don’t Walk” signs
“Bright-moment” features on local television newscasts
Whining kids in check-out lines
Movies with Roman numerals beyond III
Face lifts
Liposuction being shown on television
Gummed up salt and pepper shakers in restaurants
Auto dealership service departments
Auto repair bills
Road work
People who straddle lanes on the road
Being stuck behind tractor trailers on the highway
Gay pride parades
Romance novels
People who talk on cell phones while driving
People who talk on cell phones while in the store
People who give you a funny look when you say you don’t have a cell phone
Fifth wheels
Long footnotes
Heat and humidity
Fake punks
Tight shoes
Tight pants
Tight pants that used to fit
Moldy leftovers
Television ads for sexual dysfunction medications
Perky morning hosts
Announcers who talk while the song is still playing
People who e-mail calls for boycotts without first checking the facts
Internet spam
Televangelists with bad hair
People who don’t clean up the gifts their dogs leave on my lawn

You get the idea.

Wonder if I can find a publisher?

I’ll be annoyed if I don’t.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Forget the Wal-Mart boycott: Donohue is dancing

November 11, 2005

Catholic League president Bill Donohue commented today on Wal-Mart’s decision to yield to the league’s demands:

"Yesterday, I said the Catholic League’s boycott of Wal-Mart would proceed until the company a) rendered an apology b) withdrew its insane statement regarding the origins of Christmas and c) revised its website. When I left the office last evening, none of the three demands were met. When I checked news reports this morning, and Wal-Mart’s website, all three were met.

"Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman released a statement last night saying, ‘We sincerely apologize to any person or organization that was offended by the inappropriate and inflammatory comments made by this former associate.’ Fogleman was referring to the objectionable remark offered by a Customer Service employee, Kirby, who started the entire controversy by sending the insane statement regarding the origins of Christmas to a female customer. Alas, Kirby has been fired. As for our third demand, Wal-Mart has now adjusted its website so that when a customer types ‘Christmas’ in its search engine, it no longer gets, ‘We’ve brought you to our ‘Holiday’ page based on your search.’ Now the customer is taken directly to a site named ‘Christmas.’

"Wal-Mart says it is not going to change its policy of encouraging employees to say ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’ This is dumb, but it was never part of the Catholic League’s complaint. We only trigger boycotts when we’ve been grossly offended.

"This is a sweet victory for the Catholic League, Christians in general, and people of all faiths. And it means that Wal-Mart can now enter the Christmas season without this cloud hanging over it."

Gee - such a monumental struggle. Right up there with St. George and the Dragon.

It's good to know the Catholic League is right on top of Christmas slights.

Now if we could show the League that some of the workers and businesses Wal-Mart's actions hurt year-round have Catholic connections, maybe Mr. Donohue will say something on their behalf.

Whores got rights

Nov. 11 ( - The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $1 million to an Indian organization that acts as a "labor union" for prostitutes, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) reports.

The foundation set up by the billionaire head of the Microsoft Corporation made the $1 million donation to the Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee (DMSC) in 2002, according to federal agency documents obtained by C-FAM in its weekly Friday Fax <>. The documents also reveal that members of the Gates-funded organization attacked law enforcement officials in India who sought to rescue minors from brothels. ...

(full article: )

Wow. Amazing the things Microsoft money gets into. But then, the computer industry is already in bed with Indian business concerns - as anyone who calls a computer help line often discovers.

Friday, November 11, 2005

More on the Wal-Mart Christmas boycott

I wrote earlier today about a Catholic League call for a boycott of Wal-Mart for allegedly banning Christmas.

This AP story (excerpted here) appeared later in the day.

(Nov. 11) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Thursday said it no longer employs a worker who wrote to a shopper that Christmas is a mix of world religions, but that the company does support the generic greeting, "Happy Holidays," as being more inclusive amid year-end celebrations by numerous faiths. …

The dispute erupted after a Wal-Mart worker responded to a woman who complained that the company was replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays." The response described Christmas as a combination of world traditions from Siberian shamanism to Visigoth calendars.

The e-mail, which Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said was genuine, said Wal-Mart had to act as a global organization in a world with many different practices.

"The colors associated with Christmas red and white are actually a representation of the aminita mascera (sic) mushroom. Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal. It is a wide wide world," said the e-mail, from a customer service worker identified only as Kirby.

Fogleman said Thursday that Kirby no longer worked for the company.

"We at Wal-Mart believe this e-mail between a temporary associate and one of our valued customers was entirely inappropriate. Its contents in no way represent the policies, practices or views of our company. This associate, who was hired less than three weeks ago, is no longer employed by our company," Fogleman said in an e-mail to the AP. …


So one less reason to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart.

Now all they have to do is to address the allegations of predatory corporate polices and abuse of its workers, and maybe I’ll shop there.

Down syndrome and the Culture of Death

Down Syndrome Now Detectable In 1st Trimester
Earlier Diagnosis Allows More Time for Decisions

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 10, 2005; Page A01

A first-trimester screening test can reliably identify fetuses likely to be born with Down syndrome, providing expectant women with that information much earlier in a pregnancy than current testing allows, according to a major study being released today.

The eagerly awaited study of more than 38,000 U.S. women -- the largest ever conducted -- found that the screening method, which combines a blood test with an ultrasound exam, can pinpoint many fetuses with the common genetic disorder 11 weeks after conception. That allows women to decide sooner whether to undergo the riskier follow-up testing needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Screening women before the second trimester allows those who might opt to terminate a pregnancy to make that decision when doctors say an abortion is safer and less traumatic. It also gives those who want to continue the pregnancy more time to prepare emotionally for their child's condition, and provides earlier reassurance to those whose babies are healthy, avoiding weeks of anxiety, Malone and others said.

(For the rest of the article, go to )

I used to be the senior residence manager in a home for people with developmental disabilities – including a number with Down syndrome. They were people just like everyone else – sometimes difficult, sometimes delightful. They had senses of humor, feelings, gifts to offer, so much more.

And, yes, they were sometimes sources of pain for their families. I found it depended in part on the family’s attitude. Some relatives were “ashamed.” But many simply accepted the residents as children, siblings, aunts and uncles, friends.

Not inconvenient people to be disposed of.

I would no more call for the death of my father – a wheelchair-bound, diaper-clad, nose-picking man who is sometimes difficult and embarrassing, but who tells jokes and stories, comforts the other residents of the home where he lives, offers advice to me about fixing my car or the plumbing, and who is, no matter what, my father.

This news saddens me, because this test is certain to lead to more deaths.

Wal-Mart bans Christmas?

I’m not a fan of Wal-Mart. The chain allegedly (avoiding lawsuits here!) destroys competition, bullies its small suppliers, has been accused repeatedly of mistreating employees (especially women), and sells shoddy merchandise that actually ends up costing customers more when they have to replace it sooner than if they’d bought the better quality stuff from a reputable source in the first place.

So I try to avoid shopping there.

This latest flap involving the Catholic League (which often goes overboard, but sometimes has a valid point), just adds a little more fuel to the fire.

The League accuses Wal-Mart of banning Christmas!

Hmm. I’m not sure about that, but part of an e-mail allegedly from Wal-Mart in response to a customer complaint about replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” is troubling:

“Walmart is a world wide organization and must remain conscious of this. The majority of the world still has different practices other than ‘christmas’ which is an ancient tradition that has its roots in Siberian shamanism. The colors associated with ‘christmas’ red and white are actually a representation of of the aminita mascera mushroom. Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal. It is a wide wide world.”


If this is indeed from Wal-Mart, they need to educate their employees about the history of Christmas – and about sensitivity to customers.

Somehow I can’t imagine them saying to a Black customer about Kwanzaa that it’s really just a made-up holiday rising out of the Black consciousness movement of the 1960s and that it just pulls together a hodge-podge of symbols and themes.

The League release goes on to say:

… Now here is why I am asking the leaders of 126 religious organizations that span seven religious communities to boycott Wal-Mart. Go to its website and search for Hanukkah and up come 200 items. Click on Kwanzaa and up come 77. Click on Christmas, and here’s what you get: ‘We’ve brought you to our ‘Holiday’ page based on your search.’ In other words, Wal-Mart is practicing discrimination.”

Go to the Catholic League site ( for the full release, and related information.

Even if you don’t find the League’s reasons or reasoning compelling, I suggest we all avoid Wal-Mart anyway on principal.

And remember that a certain white-bearded, jolly fellow of Turkish origins is watching to see who’s naughty or nice.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

It's Pat - again

Televangelist Robertson warns town of God's wrath

By Alan Elsner (Reuters)

Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them on Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.

Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate and founder of the influential conservative Christian Broadcasting Network and Christian Coalition, has a long record of similar apocalyptic warnings and provocative statements.

Last summer, he hit the headlines by calling for the assassination of leftist Venezuelan Present Hugo Chavez, one of President George W. Bush's most vocal international critics.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said. ...

The only good thing I can say about this is: Thank God he’s not Catholic!

Having babies is a smart thing to do!

There was an interesting item on the news tonight.

Studies suggest that women who have babies become more intelligent!

It could be hormonally related. It could be due to the demand that they organize and multitask more.

Whatever the reason, their brains grow larger.

And they tend to test higher on intelligence tests than women who have had no children.

I wonder how the Planned Parenthood types will spin their way around this.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Getting political

A discussion in another site with a Republican leaning Catholic (Paul of Thoughts of a Regular Guy - got me to thinking about my own political leanings and voting record.

I registered with the Democratic Party when I turned 18 in 1973 - though I had been involved in the Party the year before during the Presidential campaign. At 18, I even served on my hometown's city committee. I later helped with a friend's campaign for a judgeship. And more recently, I helped to organize the New York chapter of Democrats for Life.

My public involvement has been limited, however, by my jobs - 13 years as a full-time newspaper reporter and editor, and nearly 21 years as a weekend radio announcer and newscaster.

I've also had the added twist of faith. I am a consistent life Catholic. The consistent life ethic covers such issues as abortion, the death penalty, war, economic and social justice, etc.

So over the years I've often found myself split over who to support.

This one opposes abortion, but supports the death penalty and laws that hurt the poor.

That one works for worker rights and social programs, but supports abortion.

I find myself constantly trying to balance positions when voting.

Abortion obviously plays a major role in those decisions. A supporter of the death penalty might be "responsible" for the death of a dozen people, but a supporter of abortion might be "responsible" for more than a million deaths a year.

But then you have to throw into the mix the cost in lives due to economic and social policies, unjust wars, etc.

By the way, I don't like it when candidates take a wishy-washy position on abortion. "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I don't want to impose my religious beliefs on others."

Balderdash! We impose our religious beliefs on others all the time when it comes to other issues.

I also will sometimes vote for third party candidates to send a message - especially when the results are a foregone conclusion. In New York State, a Democratic presidential candidate will usually easily win - Gore in 2000, for example. Thus I have over the years voted Right to Life and even Green.

Never for Perot, though!

When I think of my own presidential voting record since 1976 (when I could first vote in a Presidential election), the tally is: five third party, two Republican, one Democratic.

In local elections, where many of the issues are more basic, I've tended to vote Democratic - though not exclusively. A county legislator would have little to do with decisions about abortion, war, or the death penalty, but would have a lot to do with local policies toward the poor, the uninsured, the homeless. I've generally found Democrats to be more sensitive to these issues.

So I'm, a Democrat - with an asterisk.

By the way, I'm also a history teacher, and one of the things I did for fun one time was rating the Presidents of the 20th Century (beginning with Teddy Roosevelt).

Here it is, for discussion purposes.

I looked at what they did, what they tried to do, how they affected the nation and our polices both during their terms and thereafter, world and national issues they faced, etc.

My ratings are successful, mixed, and failure. I also gave incompletes to some Presidents who did not have full terms either due to death (Harding, Kennedy) or to political situations beyond their control (Ford - who I actually liked).

Successful: both Roosevelts, Wilson, Truman, Eisenhower.
Mixed: Taft, Coolidge, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton.
Failures: Hoover, Carter, Bush senior
Incompletes: Harding (but heading toward the failure bin), Kennedy (but heading toward success), Ford (he was in a no-win situation).

Some of these ratings caused me to blanch.

I had to hold my nose when trying to be objective about Nixon and Reagan. Nixon barely made it out of the failure bin.

Clinton just disgusted me - the only Presidential vote I have ever come to regret (`92). Some of his policies troubled me (mishandling health care and welfare reform, for example). He had the skills to have have done so much, but he blew it. (sorry!)

Carter was a good man - but not a good President.

In case you are counting:

Successful: 3 Republicans, 2 Democrats
Mixed: 4 Republicans, 2 Democrats
Failures: 2 Republicans, 1 Democrat
Incomplete: 2 Republicans, 1 Democrat

The only president who will ultimately rate as one of the greats is Franklin Roosevelt.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A choice

Two people are on a plane flying during a thunderstorm.

A bolt of lightning hits the plane, killing the engine and damaging the steering controls.

The plane is spiraling down. There’s a good chance both passengers will die.

There is one parachute.

One of the passengers picks up a wrench and hits the other over the head, killing him.

The passenger then puts on the parachute and jumps.

It was a choice to save the life of one of them, right?