May 21

But they’re missing the most important threat to their lives.

Nail salons proliferate across America. Probably much of Europe and the elite stops of the world as well. Speaking from the US, I can say they’re so ubiquitous, these strip mall, storefront shops are competing with established hair salons and day spas for business to a degree that’s had the bigger, established businesses worried for years. Even former big salon workers opening their own breakout small nail businesses are concerned, as much about sanitation and regulation as by competition. I knew this already from some scattered experiences with one of them, as a woman professional with an increasing public event schedule that required an encounter with such places for a more ‘polished’ appearance, when time allowed.

I also learned the story from the other side, when I either had to run into a strip mall shop for an impromptu visit without appointment for a hurried nail polish before a special event, or when I was surprised by a guest on human trafficking on the air on radio who turned the conversation to what goes on in strip mall nail salons. Most of these are run and/or staffed by Asian women and even young men, most to my knowledge are Vietnamese (at least in my area around Chicago). The atmosphere in the only shop I visited was ‘off’ for some reason, one that made me instinctively uncomfortable for some reason I couldn’t discern.

I was shocked when international human trafficking expert Liz Yore was on my show for headline news, and delved deeper into the issue raising the disturbing fact that many suburban nail salons in America are staffed by victims of human trafficking. As we delved into the topic, we got a caller from Minnesota, a member of the police force in his city who affirmed what we were saying and expressed gratitude that we were making it public. Law enforcement can only address problems that are suspected, reported or identified. That takes a community effort. But the community has to be aware in the first place. So we did all we could, in a few different radio shows, to address this, and continue to, in the many ways people are being victimized by traffickers.

So now, along comes news stories in big media on nail salons , and I’m hoping the truth is finally coming out about that hidden, dark secret keeping so many people enslaved. Turns out they’re about the health hazards of the products used in nail salons, and the working conditions and wages.

Like this New York Times article. It goes through the conditions of the salons, and the reactions of Korean and Hispanic workers in them, to the fact that regulations were finally being addressed, and they were finally being informed.

But overlooked in the story is still the darker one, of human trafficking. Liz Yore put together this list of questions, to help identify possible sites for follow up investigation. The warning signs she spoke of on my show fit the workers in the salon I dropped into a couple of times. Though I do simple nail polish myself these days, I think of the workers I encountered those times, and how uncomfortable it would be to ask them these questions.

Thinking through it further, I realize how unfortunate, unjust and possibly tragic it would be if customers knew the questions, but were too uncomfortable to ask.

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May 21

Free to be bound only to the Communist Socialist State.

Really? Really.

China’s president warned in a key policy speech that religions must be independent from foreign influence, as the government asks domestic religious groups to pledge loyalty to the state.

Which keeps ‘influence’ in domestic, socialist hands.

China is ruled by the officially atheist Communist Party, and Beijing attempts to control a variety of religions and their spread.

“We must manage religious affairs in accordance with the law and adhere to the principle of independence to run religious groups on our own accord,” Xi said at a high-level party meeting that sought to unite non-Communist Party groups and individuals. His comments were widely reported in state media.

There’s an oxymoron for you.

“Active efforts should be made to incorporate religions into socialist society,” Xi said, adding that the party’s religious work should be about winning over the hearts and minds of the public for the party.

Which proves wholly and completely, if such proof were necessary, that such (or any) totalitarian ideologies are totally incoherent. Say whatever you will.

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May 11

No case for rights of any sort can be made by those who insist on the lawful ability to kill babies.

It doesn’t get more basic than that.

Feminist author Naomi Wolf made an important and intellectually honest statement of fact in her 1995 article “Our Bodies, Our Souls: Re-thinking Pro-Choice Rhetoric”. I cited it in my book Non-Negotiable: Essential Principles of a Just Society and Humane Culture.

But to its own ethical and political detriment, the pro-choice movement has relinquished the moral frame around the issue of abortion. It has ceded the language of right and wrong to abortion foes. The movement’s abandonment of what Americans have always, and rightly, demanded of their movements–an ethical core–and its reliance instead on a political rhetoric in which the foetus means nothing are proving fatal…

By refusing to look at abortion within a moral framework, we lose the millions of Americans who want to support abortion as a legal right but still need to condemn it as a moral iniquity. Their ethical allegiances are then addressed by the pro-life moevement, which is willing tos peak about good and evil.

But we are also in danger of losing something more important than votes; we stand in jeopardy of losing what can only be called our souls. Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life.

This comes to mind now as Congress prepares, again, to vote on the so-called ‘20 Week Abortion Ban‘.

Pro-life leaders are applauding the US House of Representatives for scheduling a vote this week on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy…

Eleven states have approved similar measures to H.R. 36. The New York Times reports that 37 new rules on abortion have been enacted in 11 states already this year. Arkansas alone approved six new laws. On Thursday, Wisconsin legislators proposed banning any abortion after 20 weeks.

In clearer language, abortion on a five month old baby.

In the meantime, while much of the new legislation focuses on waiting periods, counseling, and what doctors can say to patients, The New England Journal of Medicine last week published a study showing that severely premature newborns at age 22 weeks (some weighing 1.1 pounds at birth) may survive with intensive treatment with few lasting developmental problems.

Which wound up on the front page of the New York Times last week in a revealing article accompanied by a compelling photo of a young girl on a swing, fully healthy and alive, who represented those babies born so prematurely who received such life-giving treatment and clearly not only survived but thrived.

The issue of ‘viability of the fetus’ is a turning point in this debate over when abortion is ‘acceptable’ and must be protected as a ‘right’, and when it pushes the limit.

Abortion pushes the limit of what civilized society should allow from the very beginning of life when that society fights so many other battles to serve vulnerable minorities of other sorts in other conditions to secure their rights. Before they are whatever other identity in a protected class, they are first human.

This vote Wednesday better happen, and pass. Until the deception and insanity of Roe v. Wade can be undone, incremental common sense laws establishing long overdue limits have to work their way forward to protect the most innocent, youngest class of brothers and sisters among us. It is the civil rights movement of our time.

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May 07

It stated the obvious.

But on Thursday, this story appeared on the cover of the New York Times, prominently, above the fold, with a photo to help illustrate the point. First of all, look at the photo and read the caption. That pretty much sums up the story. Which became much more difficult to access online the very day it appeared.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

A small number of very premature babies are surviving earlier outside the womb than doctors once thought possible, a new study has documented, raising questions about how aggressively they should be treated and posing implications for the debate about abortion.

Several things about that. The photo shows a thriving young girl who was born ‘very prematurely’, illustrating the full humanity of life at all stages. The opening sentence in the piece emphasizes “a small number of very premature babies”, planting the idea that these babies are “very premature’ (so what?), and that only a “small number” of the them survive outside the womb if delivered that early (so…we should disregard them?). Oh, and another thing downplayed in the lead. It was documented in “a new study”.

What was buried deeper in the Times story was that this study was produced by the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine.

There’s a lot to say about this report, a lot to unpack. But for now, the clear and delightful humanity of the little girl on the swing in the photo accompanying the story says it all. And the implications this has on the debate about abortion…no question. After the Gosnell trial there were enormous implications. Truth has a way of coming out in spite of efforts to suppress it.

Across America, states are introducing bans on abortion after 20 weeks. That’s a five month old baby. This New England Journal of Medicine study will certainly add information to that heated debate, which is nothing more than a radical, ideological drive in the first place.

How the abortion movement has sustained power and influence after these many years is the bigger story.

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Apr 28

Whatever happened to hope and change? Ferguson showed how much things had changed for the worse. Baltimore is Ferguson on more petrol.

What did we learn from Ferguson?

The talking heads and the politicians keep stressing that we should learn from our mistakes, that we should change things. But what, exactly, do they want to change? They’re vague and purposely so. Should we change the way we talk about race in America? Perhaps, but it’s become so easy, and profitable for some, and we’ve memorized the rituals and we know the symbolism. I don’t think we’ll change it any time soon.

John Kass is right.  That was last November, when activist Al Sharpton – who even some of the locals in Ferguson, Missouri wanted to keep out of their town on this occasion – made his usual declarations about racial inequality and injustice, and his usual demands for attention.

“Let the record be clear,” Sharpton, speaking of (prosecutor Robert) McCulloch, told a news conference at Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis. “You have broken our hearts, but you have not broken our backs. We are going to continue to pursue justice.”

Justice? What about justice for (local bakery owner) Natalie Dubose, and other African-Americans who saw their businesses ruined? Where’s their justice?

I wish I could tell you we learned something from Ferguson, but I can’t. All I’ve been hearing is the old tired politics, and the old tired excuses.

Now Baltimore, which devolved in a surreal sequence of escalating violence live on American television screens Monday night. This seems like a return to decades ago in America. Is it? Or has it been festering all this time, totally unresolved? Partially unresolved? Or did a set of circumstances incite feelings to such conflagration over time?

As Monday night devolved, there was a complete absence of any mitigating force, any authority whatsoever. That’s emblematic of the social and political problems America is struggling with, seemingly in worse ways than we have in decades.

The president has spoke out a lot over his tenure about specific incidents and social, racial, political, cultural ramifications. What did he have to say about Baltimore, still smoldering and partially shut down from riots that haven’t been stopped yet?

The president waxed noble about police excesses, the aspirations of those born into poverty, and the need to create opportunities for millions of primarily minority city dwellers. But he admitted that he has nothing even resembling a plan to lift America’s minorities out of poverty when he resorted to lamenting the lack of infrastructure spending out of a recalcitrant Republican-led Congress.

It’s all political. It’s all spin.

In response to a question about the violence in Baltimore posed during a joint White House press conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Obama delivered a perfectly anodyne and unremarkable 15 minute lecture about the lamentable state of affairs in America’s cities. There wasn’t much to object to in his response; it was a platitude-laden sermon about the school-to-prison pipeline, criminal justice reform, and excessive drug sentencing. Many leading Republicans would agree with the president’s assessment of the social ills that plague urban centers. Don’t believe me? Check The New York Times.

But the president conceded that he has no real plan to address the chronic hopelessness that bedevils cities like Baltimore when he claimed that what this moment truly called for is more infrastructure spending…

That might have made the president’s dispirited liberal base voters, many of whom reside in these hopeless urban environments, feel better, but this is about as naked an admission of powerlessness as you could get. And the president is correct to concede his impotence. The federal government has squandered much of its credibility among urban minorities…

The ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment that was narrowing to near parity before the 2007-2008 recession is again a measure of dispiriting inequality. African-American unemployment rates remain persistently higher than those of whites…

These problems predate Obama’s presidency, and they will persist long after he leaves office. The persistence of these issues also puts the lie to the notion circa 2008 that the president’s administration would put an end to systemic inequality along with halting the rise of the tides. Obama acknowledges his own powerlessness with yet another plaintive appeal to the value of roads and bridges.

What we need is a bridge over the divide of Americans.

What did we learn from Martin Luther King Jr.? Why have his speeches and letters and addresses been quoted and recalled so selectively? How about this one:

We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice. It does resist. It is not a method of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resister but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.

NOT TO HUMILIATE BUT TO WIN OVER

Another thing that we had to get over was the fact that the nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. This was always a cry that we had to set before people that our aim is not to defeat the white community, not to humiliate the white community, but to win the friendship of all of the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past. The end of violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption.

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Apr 23

The essence of the man was a humble, missionary spirit devoted to truth and the shared identity of humanity.

That’s about it, in a sentence. But volumes can be written about Francis Cardinal George and his life, leadership and legacy of steadfast devotion to God and the people of God, even those who oppose religion and the tenets of faith. No one was beyond reach, and he reached for everyone. By the time “the Lord took him home” last Friday, in the words of his successor, Cardinal George had left a huge impact on much of the world, beyond the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Popular evangelist Fr. Robert Barron called him ‘A Lion of the American Church‘, and then went on to explain how he engaged the universal Church and people across the globe.

As the vicar general of his order, he undertook travels to six continents, dozens of countries, visiting with thousands of OMI evangelist priests. I was continually amazed at his detailed knowledge of the politics, culture, and history of almost any country or region you could name. It was born of lots of direct experience.

This missionary consciousness is precisely what informed the intellectual and pastoral project that was closest to his heart, namely, the evangelization of the contemporary culture.

Internationally renowned Catholic scholar George Weigel paid tribute to ‘the man who reshaped U.S. Catholicism.’

In the first place, he refused to think of the Church as something that could be defined in terms of “liberal” or “conservative.” As he said at his first Chicago press conference in 1997, the Church is about true and false, not left and right.

Cardinal George never wavered – couldn’t waver – from that incisive vision of truth and falsehood, which was clear in every address he gave, every column he wrote, every letter to members of government he sent. His engagement of hot button issues was crystal clear and irrefutable, so politicians and activists tended to avoid confronting the truth statements by attacking the man and putting him into a box with labels, though neither fit.

Vatican watcher and correspondent John Allen encountered that in this conversation with Cardinal George.

He spurns the entire left/right dichotomy, calling it “destructive of the Church’s mission and her life.”

“For us, the category that matters is true/false,” he said. “I reject the whole liberal/conservative deformation of the character of our lives. If you’re limited to that … then somehow or other you’ve betrayed your vocation as a bishop and a priest.”

His vocation as a priest was essential to his whole life, even as he became the preeminent American prelate, elector of popes, consultor to popes, head of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Last November, at the press conference introducing his successor to take over the Archdiocese of Chicago, allowing him to become the first Archbishop of Chicago to actually retire, reporters asked how he would spend his retirement. Battling cancer and its effects, he did note that his health would determine that to some extent, but allowed the opportunity, he wanted to read more, write more, continue to be present to attend all sorts of events, and hear confessions. At core, he was a priest who wanted to continue to hear confessions, to be close to the people.

So I have a confession to make. I have over-thought this. I’ve gone over so much material I have saved over the years written by and about him, and the many tributes written since his passing, and devoted radio show hours to his thought and teaching and witness for the past week, that in whatever time I could emerge from the work bunker I’m still in, I couldn’t assemble it into a personal account of the man I’ll forever be grateful to have known.

My family has not only known, but encountered and engaged in services, events and conversations with him since just about the time he arrived in Chicago, over 17 years ago. That grew into friendships, with me and my priest son especially, but he always asked about other family members. We had some very special, memorable, profound conversations. My son’s appreciation for Cardinal’s great philosophical mind led to great conversations between the two of them, which led to long conversations between my son and me about the philosophy of relationship and identity, the basic theme of Cardinal’s book The Difference God Makes. I’ve given talks on that book, it’s so fundamentally true. And challenging.

Like this snip about being ‘counter-cultural’, even though talking about faith in a secular culture that grows increasingly hostile to Christianity sure seems counter-cultural.

A faith that demands that culture change is sometimes called “countercultural.” The adjective is unfortunate if it leads believers to see themselves on one side and their culture on another. Our culture is as much in us as we are in it. Religious critics of a culture can imagine a bad system opposed by good people, but the distinction is too facile. If our social system and culture are, at least in part, evangelically deficient or even corrupt, so are we all. The evangelizer begins by taking responsibility for the culture to be evangelized.

This is another reminder, as was his whole public life, that Francis Cardinal George did not fit labels or boxes.

The above links to tributes and article on Cardinal George were written by friends, and ‘friends of the show’, somewhat regular guests on my program. Here’s another, by good friend Mary Hallan FioRito, his longtime executive assistant. She wrote it when he retired. It’s good to recall now.

Many have already offered comment on the Cardinal’s legacy: his brilliance as an intellectual and scholar (he holds two Ph.D.’s, one in American Philosophy from Tulane University and an S.T.D. in Ecclesiology from the Pontifical Urban University in Rome), a man of languages (he speaks five) and culture (his weekly columns in the Archdiocesan news media often tackled issues of the day) and a popular author (“The Difference God Makes” and “God in Action”), a sought-after lecturer and public speaker. He loves to engage in debate and discussion, and his Q & A sessions on college campuses always received rave reviews from students, even when they disagreed with him.

I never understood how anyone intellectually honest could refute his arguments. But as well know as he is and was for his intellect and clarity, relatively few knew how humble he was, and devoted, and deeply committed to serving human dignity and the common good.

Over the years, he attended countless wakes and presided at hundreds of funerals, comforting those who were grieving. Speaking on behalf of those who had no voice in the public square, he prayed in front of both an abortion clinic and in front of a government deportation center. As the member of a missionary order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, he had traveled to many of the places where the poorest of the poor call home…

And in the past 17 ½ years, the Cardinal has truly shown himself a neighbor, offering help in times of need, advice when asked, a friendly smile when greeting you, an encouraging word if you appeared down. At his final Mass at Holy Name Cathedral last (November), Francis our Archbishop, our pastor, and yes, our neighbor, remarked that many have asked him what his legacy here would be. He noted in his homily that God has given us, the people of the Archdiocese, to him as a gift and he in turn has tried – like the good and faithful servants in last Sunday’s Gospel – to use those gifts wisely, to teach us, to help us to be holier, more generous, and more responsive to the Lord’s call in each of our lives. “YOU are my legacy,” he concluded.

May each of us live up to it. Thank you, Cardinal George, good and faithful servant.

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Mar 25

“Motherhood itself is now on trial.”

A leading constitutional lawyer, and one of the leading attorneys (if not the leading one) involved in high profile surrogate parenting cases in the US, made that claim, and not lightly nor without deep knowledge of the issues involved. Harold Cassidy was chief counsel in the first contested surrogacy case in the United States that struck down surrogate mother contracts as unenforceable, the ‘Baby M’ case. Decades later, he’s now sounding alarms about the issue of surrogacy and where it’s headed. In New Jersey especially now, but far beyond ultimately.

Some fervently believe that if gestational surrogacy laws were to be widely accepted they would irreparably change human civilization. Gestational surrogacy is now front and center for debate, not only in New Jersey, but across the nation. It demands attention…

The Baby M court made the following observations: private adoptions are disfavored; the surrogacy arrangement places a child without any regard for the child’s best interests; it circumvents all laws that require counseling of the mother before she surrenders her rights; and the compulsion of the contract makes surrender of the child after birth not truly voluntary or informed. Beyond that, the arrangement exploits women as a “surrogate uterus” or an “incubator” and expects a mother to act as an inanimate object, which denigrates the woman in her role as mother.

Back at that time, Cassidy made the prescient observation of the corrupting influence of money in the purchase of babies. Here he cites one of New Jersey Chief Justice Wilentz’s remarks in the court opinion.

There are, in a civilized society, some things that money cannot buy. In America, we decided long ago that merely because conduct purchased by money was “voluntary” did not mean that it was good or beyond regulation and prohibition. . . There are, in short, values that society deems more important than granting to wealth whatever it can buy, be it labor, love, or life.

That would prove to be a powerfully prophetic statement.

Cassidy went on to become the attorney for a different high profile surrogacy case, this one gestational surrogacy (not the biological mother carrying the child). The mother was Angelia G. Robinson, “AGR” as she would later be known in court papers. It’s a case study in how surrogate parenting can be fraught with problems.

Robinson felt that the girls were her responsibility and that she was the only person in the world who could protect them. The bond and love for the girls who had developed by then and in the ensuing months was far more powerful than anything she ever anticipated. The growing sense of moral obligation to her daughters increased as she realized that her daughters needed their mother.

Read the whole thing, it goes from bad to worse.

Which people involved in the industry of ‘making babies’ knew, all along. Alana Newman was a ‘donor child’, and has devoted herself and her time to both warning of and healing from the impact of reproductive technologies that favor the adults at the expense of the children. The calculus is off, she says.

All of the virtues play into our fertility or marriageability. And if virtues and trustworthiness are too slow to develop, we may miss out on our natural fertility window. If a certain amount of virtues education is not observed after the wedding day there will be more divorces—which I’ve come to understand increases the use of egg donors and surrogates as divorced women in their 40s and 50s seek to remarry and bond their new relationship with a child, or remedy loneliness as single mothers by choice.

Or same-sex couple wanting children, the situation at the heart of longstanding debate. George Weigel puts it bluntly here, in this piece on ‘Children As Commodities.’

Moreover, in their determination to deny reality ”or perhaps reinvent it” the proponents of the D.C. surrogacy bill have adopted a species of Newspeak that would make George Orwell cringe. You can get a flavor of it in a letter written by a friend of mine to his D.C. councilman:

“ . . . in reading the bill I was struck that nothing was said about the child to be born out of the surrogate agreement. Much is said about the rights and responsibilities of the ‘gestational carrier’ (a very strange expression) and the ‘intended parent,’ but nothing is said about the child. The child is treated as a thing to be used as the gestational carrier and intended parent wish. This is the most troubling feature of the proposed law. It gives no indication that one is dealing here with a human person who will have feelings, thoughts, and memories. These are all swept aside as though the child to be born will have no interest in how he or she came into the world, who his or her parents are, and all the other things that are so fundamental to our identity as human beings.”

“Gestational carrier”? The D.C. bill not only treats the child as a thing, a commodity that can be bought and sold; it treats the woman bearing the child in the same way.

Where are the laws regulating these things, asks Margaret Datiles Watts, a DC area attorney who writes on legal issues of bioethics and the family.

Michael Cook called it early, that surrogacy would become “one of the big human rights issues of the first half of our century”.

I hope that the Nobel Peace Prize committee is listening. But I fear that it is not.

The reason is simple: it would offend supporters of same-sex parenting. Every Nobel Peace Prize needs both an acclaimed hero and a despised anti-hero. If the Swedish Women’s Lobby or Jennifer Lahl’s Center for Bioethics and Culture or Alana Newman’s Anonymous Us Project, were the hero, who would be the anti-hero?

The UN Commission on the Status of Women heard Jennifer Lahl just days ago, on Egg Trafficking and Rented Wombs, and How Not To Make Babies.

Some cases of surrogacy go beyond coercive to exploitive. One woman describes her twin children being taken from her at the hospital and given to the father. Until that moment, she had expected to raise her children in shared arrangement with the father, with whom she had a platonic friendship. She was not aware he was using her as a “breeder” for him and his male partner.

“How do we promote reproductive justice for all in these third-party arrangements?” Lahl asked…

“For science to serve rather than hurt us, we must always link what we can do to what we should do,” said Archbishop Auza, the Vatican’s representative to the UN.

Alana Newman is speaking out again on that subject, after the flap between Dolce & Gabbana, and Elton John.

This past week has seen the outrage generated by parents of donor and invitro-fertilization children following a now-infamous Panorama magazine interview conducted with the fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana, wherein Domenico Dolce proclaimed, “You are born to a mother and a father — or at least that’s how it should be. I call children of chemistry, synthetic children.” Immediately, Elton John advocated a boycott of the designers’ products in retaliation for the perceived offense against his two sons, who were conceived via an egg donor and surrogate mother.

Speaking as two donor-conceived young women—alive because of reproductive technologies—we felt an urgent need to respond…in support of Dolce and Gabbana.

So they go on to say

(Elton) John’s children were commissioned in partnership with his spouse, David Furnish, and it is not yet public information which man is the biological father, or if they both are and the children are not fully genetically related…

It is important to note, however, that infants, toddlers, and all of these “miracle” beings are too young to protest their own objectification. We however, are now of age and in a position to speak for ourselves. “Synthetic” indeed is a harsh and inaccurate description of us offspring born by third-party reproduction. Dolce’s word choice was a mistake. But there is much underlying truth in what he said: “life [does] have a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.” Emphasis ours.

Those of us conceived non-traditionally are full human beings with equal capacity in every regard—no one need question our humanity. It is not our individual, case-by-case worth as humans that is debatable; rather, it is how we value human beings in general that warrants discussion. Has anyone asked John for how much he purchased his kids? How much money he and Furnish paid the boy’s genetic and birth mother for their absence and invisibility?

It’s not brave, this new world of technological capabilities.

Some suggest that spending more money on making children means that they are more loved. Our children are definitively wanted, they say.

“The baby doesn’t care anything about the money,” says marriage and family therapist Nancy Verrier, regarding the issues surrounding surrogacy. “That’s not what hurts the baby. The baby is hurt by the separation, by the loss of that mother that it knows.” This ever-present realization of loss remains with both mother and child throughout their lives. Nature has ensured that mothers and children attach to one another, as it is a trait necessary to our survival; without motivation to love or instinctively care for her child, why would a mother protect her children from potential danger? She wouldn’t, and that would have heralded the end of our species. With this biological connection so immediate and meaningful, why doesn’t society view maintenance of that connection as more imperative?…

Growing up donor-conceived, it has been a great struggle to comply with the commandment “Honor thy mother and thy father,” because in order to obey the desires of one parent we must agree to the obliteration of the other. We plead, we beg: let us honor both our mothers and fathers as essential and irreplaceable.

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Mar 19

How and whether it was observed depends on perspective.

I happened to be in Rome, in the middle of a brief visit with my son, who came by the hotel in time to head to St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus and read me the message on his cell phone from Vodafone (in Italian) which said something like ‘If the world is an epic, it is thanks to woman.’ The message then said in celebration, free internet access would be given to all subscribers that day… And I asked him to repeat that. Neither of us knew anything about this Festa taking place on a day already important to me and marked for celebration for other reasons. So he said it’s apparently Women’s Day in Italy, and we thought it nice that the cell phone company started it off with a nice message. It was a little baffling to us both, since Italy celebrates Mother’s Day as the US does, and this day was set apart from that to celebrate all women, which we did not know.

Then we headed to St. Peter’s. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Sometime late that day, a splendid one in Rome with family spending hours outside in glorious weather walking, dining, strolling, talking, enjoying gelato, with more strolling amid countless other families, I went online ever so briefly. And learned that articles and blog posts were dedicated to revealing the origins of International Women’s Day in socialism and communism, something most citizens of the US never knew because it’s not celebrated here and hardly noticed as an international story.

But when we read that, it stood so at odds with our experience in Rome, the first experience of this occasion. Whatever it is or was for anyone else anywhere, here’s how I first encountered the Day of the Woman (besides the Vodafone message my son read to me).

At the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis finished his remarks relating to the Sunday Gospel with these remarks.

…“a greeting to all women! To all the women who work every day to build a more human and welcoming society. And a fraternal thank you to those who in a thousand ways bear witness to the Gospel and work in the Church. This is for us an opportunity to reaffirm the importance and the necessity of their presence in life. A world where women are marginalised is a barren world, because women not only bring life, but they also give us the ability to see beyond – they see beyond themselves – and they transmit to us the ability to understand the world through different eyes, to hear things with more creative, more patient, more tender hearts. A prayer and a special blessing for all women present here in the square and for all women! Greetings!”

It was a beautiful finish to a message that sent us off on what I said was a glorious day, and along the way we saw everywhere the Italian bouquets of ‘mimosas’, the small yellow flowers that symbolize the day, and I was greeted by shop owners and restaurant hosts with a warm ‘Buona Festa!’

Reading the stories online later about the socialist roots of the day, decades earlier, I thought of the many times we had crisscrossed the Pantheon walking around Rome those days. It was originally erected as a pagan temple or building of some sort, possibly dedicated to many gods. It was later consecrated as the church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Which seemed emblematic to me, of meeting something where it is and bringing to it a Christian presence, reflecting the glory of what Pope Benedict referred to as the ‘new humanism.’

Like when my family visited Ireland and came upon the Hill of Slane, on which St. Patrick lit a Paschal fire to rival the ‘festival fire’ on the opposite Hill of Tara lit by a pagan king, initiating a longstanding, sacred Catholic Easter Vigil rite.

In other words, it is indeed what you make of it.

So since my initiation into this festival honoring women on March 8th happened as it did in Rome, hearing Pope Francis honor the role of women as he did, it seemed to me a current day acknowledgement of the unique role of women recognized by the Second Vatican Council in its closing remarks, among countless individual ones by popes and councils. After addressing different, diverse identity groups, the Council fathers said this:

And now it is to you that we address ourselves, women of all states — girls, wives, mothers and widows, to you also, consecrated virgins and women living alone — you constitute half of the immense human family. As you know, the Church is proud to have glorified and liberated woman, and in the course of the centuries, in diversity of characters, to have brought into relief her basic equality with man. But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.

Simply not falling? That’s it? Yes, that is what they were saying.

You women have always had as your lot the protection of the home, the love of beginnings and an understanding of cradles. You are present in the mystery of a life beginning. You offer consolation in the departure of death. Our technology runs the risk of becoming inhuman. Reconcile men with life and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of our race. Hold back the hand of man who, in a moment of folly, might attempt to destroy human civilization.

Wives, mothers of families, the first educators of the human race in the intimacy of the family circle, pass on to your sons and your daughters the traditions of your fathers at the same time that you prepare them for an unsearchable future. Always remember that by her children a mother belongs to that future which perhaps she will not see.

How beautiful is that?

And you, women living alone, realize what you can accomplish through your dedicated vocation. Society is appealing to you on all sides. Not even families can live without the help of those who have no families.

How sensitive an understanding of roles that was, and is.

Especially you, consecrated virgins, in a world where egoism and the search for pleasure would become law, be the guardians of purity, unselfishness and piety. Jesus who has given to conjugal love all its plenitudes, has also exalted the renouncement of human love when this is for the sake of divine love and for the service of all.

Lastly, women in trial, who stand upright at the foot of the cross like Mary, you who so often in history have given to men the strength to battle unto the very end and to give witness to the point of martyrdom, aid them now still once more to retain courage in their great undertakings, while at the same time maintaining patience and an esteem for humble beginnings.

What a profound statement of understanding, acknowledgement, appreciation and appeal this is, even in its brevity.

Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender and accessible, make it your task to bring the spirit of this council into institutions, schools, homes and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.

This needs to be recalled now. We are presently in the midst of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Next Monday, my radio program will be dedicated to the proceedings of some lively, engaging, and intense meetings. And to giving voice to women who speak to the role of life giver, nurturer, caregiver, humanizer, peacemaker, and the witness of what Vatican II saw as “the vocation of woman…achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved.”

Which beats the hell out of whatever socialists and communists intended by fabricating something like an international women’s day according to their designs.

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Feb 24

It depends on how carefully you choose your words.

This Washington Post headline was attention grabbing: ‘The progressive ideas behind the lack of free speech on campus.’

It has a provocative opening setup.

Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic? A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at “challenging the ideological echo chamber” elicited this ominous “trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: “Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.”

What?

Challenging an “ideological echo chamber” is a good idea. What went wrong with that good intention?

One of my fellow panelists mentioned that the State Department had for a time banned the words “jihad,” “Islamist” and “caliphate” — which the transcript flagged as “anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language.”

I described the case of a Brandeis professor disciplined for saying “wetback” while explaining its use as a pejorative. The word was replaced in the transcript by “[anti-Latin@/anti-immigrant slur].” Discussing the teaching of “Huckleberry Finn,” I questioned the use of euphemisms such as “the n-word” and, in doing so, uttered that forbidden word. I described what I thought was the obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet.

Two of the panelists challenged me. The audience of 300 to 400 people listened to our spirited, friendly debate — and didn’t appear angry or shocked. But back on campus, I was quickly branded a racist, and I was charged in the Huffington Post with committing “an explicit act of racial violence.” McCartney subsequently apologized that “some students and faculty were hurt” and made to “feel unsafe” by my remarks.

Unsafe? These days, when students talk about threats to their safety and demand access to “safe spaces,” they’re often talking about the threat of unwelcome speech and demanding protection from the emotional disturbances sparked by unsettling ideas.

This is intellectual dishonesty, bankrupt ideology and ‘politically correct’ bullying carried through to its logical conclusion. Though the irony is, those who do it can’t discern logic.

“Unsettling ideas”? What is academia about, if not ideas that provoke thought, challenge debate, fire neurons and engage critical thinking skills. Whatever happened to the art of argument? Forensics?

Progressivism, that odd misnomer.

How did we get here? How did a verbal defense of free speech become tantamount to a hate crime and offensive words become the equivalent of physical assaults?

You can credit — or blame — progressives for this enthusiastic embrace of censorship. It reflects, in part, the influence of three popular movements dating back decades: the feminist anti-porn crusades, the pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses.

What to say? This could launch a book, or three. Read the piece and digest its arguments, it’s revealing.

But as for the “feminist anti-porn crusades”, there’s plenty to say that could fill volumes alone on that topic, on how very selective feminists have been in the past few decades to speak out against objectification of women. The latest of which is the vile ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ campaign, which has predictably taken its first publicized toll (with no way to account for the private ones).

Here’s the real anti-porn crusade. And here.

As for the “pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses”, this will take truthful, dedicated and committed rehabilitation – not just efforts but movements – to really recover what’s been lost in the decades of groupthink that took over academia and legitimate intellectual inquiry, and turned out reactionaries who no longer know the rich history of civil, religious and humanitarian rights, first principles, and the consistent ethic of human life and dignity that undergirds them.

They may get annoyed by technological devices constantly feeding them ‘auto-correct’ and ‘auto-suggest’ replacements for what they really feel and think and want to say. But they fail to see it happening in more consequential communications in the classroom, the debate halls and in the public square.

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Feb 17

The film’s opening exposed a deep wound. It needs healing.

Whatever happens to the book and film franchise, the real life toll of human torture it exposes has to stay prominent in public debate and social action. It’s been in the shadows for far too long, and done incalculable damage.

There’s pornography addiction. Which this group of innovative human rights advocates calls ‘the new drug.’ The site is loaded with information and resources.

Dr. Peter Kleponis told me on radio that after spending nearly two decades in marriage counseling, something changed, and the reality of the scourge of pornography addiction started becoming more apparent and more urgent in the crises he found himself dealing with, though nobody would talk openly about it. That was eight years ago, and he’s been working on treatment for men and couples over those years.

Why the silence? Fear, shame, confusion, the mainstreaming of the porn culture. Which became more prominent with the release of this film. Look at this middle-school class project, worked into a crossword puzzle.

There’s the dismissive excuse that as long as people consent to what they’re doing, it’s nobody else’s business. But with cultural dysfunction, sometimes consent is not enough.

“As long as he or she is consenting, it’s OK.” No it’s not, because people consent all the time to practices that they know are destructive and this doesn’t make such practices right. First, people can be pressured by their culture or their peers into things that they know are harmful to them. The fear of being left out or laughed at can motivate the teenager to do drugs that are physiologically damaging to his body. He may know that they are harmful and that he will suffer consequences for doing them. But he doesn’t want his friends to think that he isn’t cool enough to do things that are physically risky. So he ‘consents’ in order to fit in. His ‘consent’ may seem voluntary but really he is being pressured by the people in his surroundings, and his fear of social rejection overcomes his better judgment. Women and men all the time are afraid of not fitting in or being part of the cool crowd. So they ‘consent’ to sexually exploitative practices that they know are damaging in order to be accepted. The sixteen-year-old girl ‘consents’ to sext pictures of her naked torso in order to fit in with the social climbers at school…

The point is that history is full of examples of mass cultural delusions. Just because large numbers of people think that something is right or intriguing or cool doesn’t make it in fact right or intriguing or cool. A democratic majority is a poor basis for a healthy sexual morality.

A lot of times my students these days tell me that they want to help stop the sexual trafficking industry. They are shocked by the idea of exploited women – girls, even – being made to do things that are predatory and damaging. Whenever they say this to me I always respond, “do you really want to do something to stop sex trafficking? Change yourself first before you try to change others. Don’t look at porn, don’t promote sexual practices that are exploitative of others, and don’t put money in the hands of people whose movies stir up a desire in the culture for the trafficked girls.” “Fifty Shades” is wrong because it is stirring up a desire in people for exploitative sexual practices. It makes people want to do things that enable predatory industries like sex trafficking to flourish.

This MSU study bears out the harm that comes from exposure to pop culture porn, like ‘Fifty Shades.’

Young adult women who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher. Further, women who read all three books in the blockbuster “Fifty Shades” erotic romance series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.

All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in “Fifty Shades,” said Amy Bonomi, the study’s lead investigator…

Compared to participants who didn’t read the book, those who read the first “Fifty Shades” novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours.
Those who read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink — or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month — and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime.

Bonomi, who has a doctoral degree in health services and a master’s in public health, said she is not suggesting the book be banned or that women should not be free to read whatever books they wish or to have a love life.

However, it’s important women understand that the health behaviors assessed in the study are known risk factors for being in a violent relationship.

And they don’t end up the way Hollywood portrays in this film series.

“They’re making out as if this caught on all by itself, but it wasn’t organic growth. There’s been a juggernaut of media behind this, and it’s selling to women an image that somehow if you love a sadist out of his (abuse) you’ll have a great life,” (Dr. Gail Dines) said.

“When in reality, how ’50 Shades’ would end is that she’s running for her life to a battered women’s shelter, with children in tow, she’s got her front teeth knocked out, she’s got cigarette burns up and down her arm…she’s living off the grid without a bank account or a cell phone, cause these sadists never let go.”

The media celebration of the books and movies shows an irresponsibility and an ignorance about how violence against women is perpetuated, Dines added.

“You have a media who’s celebrating this violence against women,” she said. “No other group would be celebrated when they’re beaten and tortured like this, it would be considered an outrage. For any other minority group, if you had a film that would eroticize them being violated, people would absolutely be tearing down the cinemas in the streets. And what do we have here? We have a massive media juggernaut promoting it.”

Dines, who is also a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, said she believes “50 Shades of Grey” has also caught on because we live in a culture where pornography is considered acceptable.

“If you want to understand the popularity of this, you have to look at the way pornography has literally hijacked the way people think about sex and sexuality,” she said.

As a sociologist, Dines said she has seen a lot of research about the effects of pornography on the brains of boys and men. The younger someone becomes addicted to porn, the more difficult it is to break away, she said. Furthermore, regular viewing of pornography is re-shaping the way boys’ brains are forming.

“We’ve got 40 years of experimental psychology research which tells us that the more porn men look at, the more boys look at, the more they believe it,” she said. “The jury’s not out about that – that has been known in the science literature for years and years.”

There’s also plenty known by the international experts in human trafficking, like Elizabeth Yore, who tells me that the film ‘Fifty Shades’ portrays torture as romance, and helps predators groom their victims. Help stop this. Be alert to signals that it may be happening right around you.

And be aware of the porn effect. And resources available to eliminate it, and heal the wounds it causes, no matter how deep or dark they seem.

If all of this helps just one person, it will have served its purpose. And if ‘Fifty Shades’ has any redeeming value, it’s in opening this critically needed public discussion, exchange and forum for help to protect and restore human dignity.

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