Monday, June 30, 2008

Harriet McBryde Johnson

"A Life Worth Living":

When Harriet McBryde Johnson died earlier this month at the age of 50 from a congenital neuromuscular disease, obituaries called her a "disability-rights activist." This is far too narrow a description of her life. She was less a traditional activist than an acute social conscience. Ms. Johnson forced us to look at disability in a different way -- not as something that we should seek to eradicate, but as something that is integral to the human condition, a "natural part of the human experience," as the American Association of People With Disabilities puts it.

Ms. Johnson, a lawyer, first earned national attention when she debated philosopher Peter Singer at Princeton University in 2003, an experience she wrote about for the New York Times Magazine. Thankfully free of the ponderous cant that infects so much of bioethics, she was brutally direct when she talked about disabilities, including her own. "Most people don't know how to look at me," she wrote, describing her severely twisted spine and her "jumble of bones in a floppy bag of skin." But she abhorred the "veneer of beneficence" that overlay the arguments of those who said she would be "better off" without her disability. "The presence or absence of a disability doesn't predict quality of life," she argued, challenging Mr. Singer's support of what she called "disability-based infanticide."

Read the whole thing.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Holy Over-pitched Claims, Batman!

A new company in California is trying to become the first to gain federal approval to test an embryonic stem cell treatment in humans.

And the chairman of their scientific advisory board, Hans Keirstead, is making some rather, um, bold claims:

Stem cells have the potential to treat every single human disease, but there's a lot that's over-pitched out there.

Oh, the irony!

Reading this, I couldn't help but recall this exchange from this episode of The Simpsons:

At the Mayo Clinic, Burns receives the results of his tests.

Burns: Well, doc, I think I did pretty well on my tests. You may
shake my hand if you like.

Doctor: Well, under the circumstances, I'd rather not.

Burns: Eh?

Doctor: Mr. Burns, I'm afraid you are the sickest man in the
United States. You have everything.

Burns: You mean I have pneumonia?

Doctor: Yes.

Burns: Juvenile diabetes?

Doctor: Yes.

Burns: Hysterical pregnancy?

Doctor: Uh, a little bit, yes. You also have several diseases
that have just been discovered -- in you.

Burns: I see. You sure you haven't just made thousands of

Doctor: Uh, no, no, I'm afraid not.

Burns: This sounds like bad news.

Doctor: Well, you'd think so, but all of your diseases are in
perfect balance. Uh, if you have a moment, I can explain.

Burns: Well ... [looks at his watch]
[the Doctor puts a tiny model house door on his desk]

Doctor: Here's the door to your body, see? [bring up some small
fuzz balls with goofy faces and limbs from under the desk]
And these are oversized novelty germs. [points to a
different one up as he names each disease] That's
influenza, that's bronchitis, [holds up one] and this cute
little cuddle-bug is pancreatic cancer. Here's what
happens when they all try to get through the door at once.
[tries to cram a bunch through the model door. The
"germs" get stuck]
[Stooge-like] Woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo! Move it,
[normal voice] We call it, "Three Stooges Syndrome."

Burns: So what you're saying is, I'm indestructible!

Doctor: Oh, no, no, in fact, even slight breeze could --

Burns: Indestructible.

(This site has the video of said episode, but I can't get it to play.)

For the record, it's also worth reminding ourselves which types of stem cells have yielded the bests results treating disease heretofore:

[HT: JivinJ]

Two Valuable Insights

I thought it worthwhile to highlight two closely related insights I came across yesterday on two blogs I read regularly.

The first is from The Dutchman at FestungArnulfinger:

I was recently at the wedding of a friend. He’s a lawyer and his wife is also a professional, they are young, healthy, intelligent, good looking, honest, hard-working, decent people. Just exactly the sort of people you expect to be good parents. Yet they have no desire for children. I put this down to their being secular, since I know of no genuinely pious people who desire marriage without children, and I take it as one of the most powerful condemnations of godlessness that in a secular society it is the very best elements of the population who fail to reproduce.

The second is from Mark Shea at Catholic and Enjoying It:

We have a remarkably cartoonish notion of evil in our culture. As though those who do evil get up in the morning thinking, "How can I do Evil with a capital E today?" Almost nobody gets that evil is invariably the pursuit of a good end by disordered means and that, therefore, every evil doer in the world can say with some sort of plausibility (to himself if to nobody else) "I meant well".

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Esto Vir! Be a Man!

I just posted this on the Catholic Dads Blog:

Today, being the feast of St. Josemaria Escriva, I was prompted to recall what was likely the best advice I've ever received in confession.

A priest of Opus Dei, quoting St. Josemaria, once told me, "Don’t say, 'That person bothers me.' Think: 'That person sanctifies me.'" (Would that I actually put this into practice in my daily life, then I'd really be getting somewhere.)

It seems to me this advice is particularly applicable to us as dads. As the heads of our families—and thus, our domestic churches—it is we who are given the uber-important task of setting the spiritual example in our homes.

Griping and moaning about anyone or anything we find less than agreeable is so facile; any schmuck can do it without exerting the scantest effort.

But refusing to complain—now that takes fortitude. And think of the model we offer our children (and our wives) when we show patience instead of descending into bitter, angry bellyaching.

St. Josemaria again:

Don’t say, “That’s the way I am – it’s my character.” It’s your lack of character. Esto vir! – Be a man!

The two aforesaid pithy counsels are taken from an excellent book (originally published in 1982) of St. Josemaria's called The Way, of which I just came across a review titled, coincidentally, "Esto vir! – Be a man!"

In it, the writer of the article, Joseph Rendini, quotes St. Josemaria's introduction to The Way:

Read these counsels slowly.
Pause to meditate on these thoughts.
They are things that I whisper in your ear – confiding them – as a friend, as a brother, as a father.
And they are being heard by God.
I won’t tell you anything new.
I will only stir your memory,
so that some thought will arise
and strike you;
and so you will better your life
and set out along the ways of prayer
and of Love.
And in the end you will be
a more worthy soul.

Rendini then observes:

By 1975, men had in general stopped speaking to each other in this way – simple, direct, forceful but intimate, the way fathers should talk to their sons about the most important things. This manner of speaking caught my attention.

It caught mine, too. It's for this reason that I continue to return to The Way as a springboard for mental prayer, and why I frequently recommend it to others who are seeking good spiritual reading.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I.D. Theory

“Catholics agree about everything. It is only everything else they disagree about.” —G.K. Chesterton

Ever since Expelled came out, I've wanted to throw in my $.02 on evolution/intelligent design/creationism, but am only getting around to it now.

Family obligations being what they are, and given my reluctance to spend money if I Don't Absolutely Have To, I haven't yet seen the movie. I'm sure I'd like it, and I hope to see it at some point, as I'm told there are are some priceless exchanges between Ben Stein and the humorless Richard Dawkins.

Regardless, what intrigues me about Expelled — and about ID theory generally — is that for growing numbers of Christians (conservative Evangelical Protestants especially, and Catholics, to a somewhat lesser extent, I would say), ID theory seems to be on the Non-Negotiables List.

It ought not be.

I'm no scientist, but I find it regrettable when Christians (of any stripe) wail and gnash their teeth at the very mention of the word "evolution", as if the very notion of evolution per se is necessarily inimical to belief.

It's not. (Cf. Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis and Pope John Paul II's 1996 Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: on Evolution.)

What also intrigues me is that there are not a few orthodox Catholics who are very critical of intelligent design theory. Case in point, Gonzaga philosophy professor Michael Tkacz, a Thomist, who offers an instructive primer on Thomistic criticism of ID theory here [HT: Mark Shea].

Ultimately, as with most every issue on which Holy Mother Church allows her children a great degree of ideological latitude, I don't have a dog in this fight. But I continue to be fascinated by those much wiser than I who are duking it out on these most important questions.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Firefox 3

I was one of the bazillion people who downloaded the new version of Firefox (Firefox 3) on Tuesday.

I like it, but my one complaint is that I can't find out how to get a new tab to automatically open up as a web page, which could easily be done with Firefox 2.

The Firefox 3 FAQ is here.

I Haven't Seen One of These in Ages

The other day I saw this sign on a building just a few blocks from Haus Jansen whilst taking a walk with the family:

I always associate fallout shelter signs with the Ss. Cyril & Methodius grade school building in N.E. Minneapolis, as that was the first place I ever saw one (circa 1983, when I was in kindergarten).

At the time, I remembered thinking something along the lines of, "What the heck does that mean?"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Show Me a Culture That Despises Virginity...

...and I'll show you a culture that despises children:

High heeled shoes designed specifically for babies have gone on sale.

The tiny stillettos, called Heelarious, are intended for babies up to six months and come in hot pink, black and leopard print:

Rest in Peace, Margaret Creagh

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Margaret Creagh, a faithful Pro-Life Action League volunteer for 27 years.

Margaret died Friday at the age of 83. She was laid to rest yesterday.


I served the Tridentine Mass for the first time on Monday, and I found the experience to be singularly sublime.

I've mentioned in previous posts that I like the Tridentine Mass, and I now know that I really, really like serving it. I hope and pray I will have other opportunities to do so in the future.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Brush Up Your Latin

I will have the great fortune to serve the Tridentine Mass for the first time this Monday, as a newly ordained priest from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter will be coming to our office to offer Mass in our St. Joseph Chapel:

In the meantime, I'm finding this Tutorial for Altar Servers—which, incidentally, is a project of our parish—to be extraordinarily helpful.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


The American Chesterton Society's 2008 Conference begins tomorrow.

Alas, I won't be there.

The last time I attended was 2002, and ever since then there's always been some scheduling conflict that forestalls any would-be designs to go. (This time around, it's a friend's wedding here in Chicago)

Maybe next year.

In the meantime, Sean Dailey is still very much working on his talk to be given at the conference this Friday. (And given my penchant for black humor, I was tickled pink by his choice of gif file that accompanied his post.)

Holy Camp Value, Batman!

One day recently whilst the family was consuming grapes—green grapes, to be exact—around the kitchen table, I was prompted to recall a scene from an episode of The Electric Company I saw as a lad that somehow managed to stay lodged in the recesses of my memory.

And, after googling "greedy greg grabbed the green grapes", I found it, via the magic of YouTube:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Showing the Truth

I posted this entry this morning on the Generations for Life blog:

Since their school year was already finished, a group of local pro-life teens, including Dolores and Patty Weber and Nate and Sam Scheidler decided last week to take graphic abortion pictures and stand outside one of their local public high schools (Batavia High School in Batavia, IL) on its last day of school.

As soon as they set up their signs, a security guard from the school told them that they would have to move across the street, or else he would call the police. Since these pro-life teens had attended many pro-life demonstrations in the past, they knew they had the right to stand on a public sidewalk, so they didn't move.

Soon more security guards came, and eventually so did the school's principal, who told Nate Scheidler that the public sidewalk in front of this public school was not public property.

Nate disagreed, and said that the First Amendment guaranteed their right to be there.

Then, the police came, and they too, like the school's principal, didn't believe the public sidewalk in front of a public school was public property.

After more back and forth, the pro-life teens continued to stand their ground, and stayed as long as they had planned to. (My co-worker Matt Yonke has more details on the Families Against Planned Parenthood blog.)

I have to give them credit: They knew their rights, and they weren't about to let anyone take them away.

Most of the time when we deal with police officers while doing pro-life demonstrations, we have no problems at all, but we certainly have dealt with our share of uncooperative police.

That's why for our Face the Truth Tour next month, we're working with our attorneys to write a professional brochure to give to police officers in the various cities we visit to explain that we're well aware of our rights and that what we're doing is perfectly legal.

Shakespeare Fans, Lick Your Chops

There's a humdinger of a bargain currently on Amazon: The Complete Plays and Sonnets of William Shakespeare (38 Volume Library) (Hardcover) for only $60 [!].

[HT: Remy via Matt Yonke]

Monday, June 9, 2008

Remember That, Dad? Thanks, Dad

I just posted this on the Catholic Dads blog:

For reasons unbeknownst to me, last month I happened to call to mind a talk I heard at a Camporee (a Boy Scout camping weekend) when I was 13, some 17 years ago.

The context for the talk, as I recall, was that the speaker's dad had died unexpectedly. This fellow, in turn, was recounting an imaginary conversation with his dad, reflecting on all of the good childhood memories he had shared with him. These were the things he wishes he would have been able to actually say to his dad, but never had the chance to.

The lesson of the talk was that each of us should never be hesitant to express our gratitude toward those we love; otherwise, we may lose the chance to do so (in the present life, at least).

I can't recall any of his specific recollections, but I very distinctly recall his refrain, so to speak. After recounting each memory, he said:

Remember that, Dad? Thanks, Dad.

With Father's Day coming up this Sunday, I would encourage each of my fellow Catholic Dads—and, anyone else too, for that matter—to similarly express such gratitude to our own dads for any of the various childhood memories we hold dear.

Magnificat Should Have Used a Different Picture

I'm usually fond of the works of sacred art Magnificat uses for its covers, but I can't say as I'm a fan of the image of St. Paul they elected to use for this month:

From the angle at which I first saw it, I fancied momentarily that the profile looked rather like that of Vladimir Lenin:

Worth Watching

On a friend's recommendation, I recently watched The Ninth Day.

This site gives a synopsis:

February, 1942. A Luxembourg priest is released from the Dachau concentration camp and sent home. The Nazis, annoyed with the bishop of Luxembourg's refusal to co-operate, plan to use him to give public support to Hitlers policies. Gebhardt, a superior officer in the Gestapo, gives Kremer nine days to make a decision. If he refuses their offer, he will immediately be sent back to the camp.

I very much enjoyed this film, and highly recommend it.

So too does Stephen Greydanus, the National Catholic Register's film critic, whose review is here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

An Interesting Take

Seminarian Tim Kelleher has an interesting take on the Father Pfleger situation (and the state of the clergy and Church at large) on the First Things blog.

Check thou it out.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Apropos of twelve of my fellow Illinois residents' having decided yesterday to convict Tony Rezko on corruption charges, I had a yearning to reread one of Chesterton's most famous and beloved essays, The Twelve Men.

Oddly enough, I had never read it until just a few months ago, when our friend Ann Petta, wife of the late Frank Petta, sent me a copy with a note saying it was the first thing Frank had ever read of Chesterton's.

Worth a Listen

Father Richard Simon, the current pastor at St. Lambert's Parish in Skokie, IL, is one of the best priests I know.

When I say "best", I mean that inasmuch as he possesses in spades the qualities of being orthodox, holy, down-to-earth, intelligent, eloquent, humble, and funny.

I first got to know him at the parish where he used to be pastor — St. Thomas of Canterbury in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood — which runs a soup kitchen where Jocelyn and I volunteered while we were students at nearby Loyola University. (In fact, that's how we met.)

In addition, we've had the good fortune of having Father Simon lead our staff retreat the past two years.

For the past few years, my prayer has been that some time when Rome needs to go to the sacerdotal bullpen, he'll get the call and find himself the recipient of a ring and crozier.

Father Simon is a regular guest on Relevant Radio's "Searching the Word" program, and yesterday's topic was the canonicity of Scripture.

I only got to hear the first half of it, but Father was in rare form. As of this writing, yesterday's program is not yet available in the Archives, but I suspect it will be quite soon.

It's well worth a listen.


In response to the increasingly messy Father Pfleger situation, the most intelligent comment I've come across so far is one that simply encouraged prayers on his behalf.

So too, we should pray earnestly for Cardinal George, that he will have the wisdom of Solomon in pastorally sorting out the various sticky wickets presented by Father Pfleger and the congregation at St. Sabina.

There's No There There

Along the lines of this entry I posted last week, this morning on Jill Stanek's blog, a commenter named xalisae wrote:

I fully and completely believe [abortion] kills another real human being who should be afforded all the rights and protections every other person in the world has or should have by default. Because of this fact, I want to promote things that will keep abortions from happening. The pill and other contraceptives do this. Why the pro-life movement cannot comprehend this is beyond me.

Notwithstanding xalisae's laudable staunch opposition to abortion, I wrote in response:

We can't comprehend it because there's no there there.

This has been known for years. Heck, even Alfred Kinsey acknowledged (at the April 1955 Conference on Induced Abortion—which, incidentally, was sponsored by Planned Parenthood):

At the risk of being repetitious, I would remind the group that we have found the highest frequency of induced abortions in the group which, in general, most frequently uses contraception.

The Bullwinkle Approach to contraception as some sort of "remedy" for abortion is, and always has been, doomed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


I was hoping that Chicago's dreams of hosting the 2016 Olympics would have been dashed as of today.

Not so.

Count me among those who most definitely do *not* want the Olympics coming to the city I currently work in and used to live in for nine years.


Chiefly because of the Un. Be. Lievable. levels of graft and corruption our city (and state) are famous for.

Considering all the (tens of? hundreds of?) millions that stand to be made off building contracts if Chicago gets the Olympics, the only real beneficiaries would be those politically connected enough to land themselves sweetheart deals.

And considering that taxpayers could be would be on the hook for, say, $500 million, I'm incurably convinced that I want Chicago to remain an Olympics-Free Zone.

Venezuela's Progress Towards an Orwellian State Continues Apace

But the people don't seem to be taking it lightly:

Venezuelan law may lead to neighborly snitching

By Christopher Toothaker | Associated Press
June 4, 2008

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelans may be forced to spy on their neighbors or risk prison terms under President Hugo Chavez's new intelligence decree, raising fears of a Cuba-style system that could be used to stifle dissent.

Chavez says the intelligence law that he quietly decreed last week will help Venezuela detect and neutralize national security threats, including assassination or coups plots. But many Venezuelans are alarmed that they could be forced to act as informants for the authorities or face up to 4 years in prison.

Guns Don't Kill People; Cartoon Guns on T-Shirts Kill People

Or so some security guard at Heathrow apparently thinks.

[HT: Mark Shea]

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I Love a Parade

In honor of its 100th anniversary, the working-class Chicago suburb that is home to Haus Jansen and is known for, among other things, being the subject of a running gag on the local TV show Svengoolie, a public safety director who beat up a guy in a bar on the last local election day, and, more recently, making the boneheaded decision to demolish a Sears, Roebuck & Co. mail-order home, held a parade on Sunday.

Whereas we love a good parade, but hadn't been to one in quite some time — come to think of it, I think this was the first parade any of our issue had seen — we were there. With bells on.

So too was the aforementioned Svengoolie:

There were also a bunch of cool old cars:

Also on hand was our local parish, St. Odilo, which happens to be the National Shrine of the Souls in Purgatory:

I've gotta hand it to the pastor, the redoubtable Father Tony Brankin, whose brainchild it was to have the kids on the float represent, fittingly enough, the souls in purgatory:

To be sure, a good time was had by all.

Monday, June 2, 2008

What Would Chicago Be Without the Graft?

On the front page of yesterday's Chicago Tribune is a humdinger of an investigative piece of reportage on some eyebrow-raising real estate deals involving the wife of the city's 40th Ward Alderman, Patrick O'Connor, one of King Richard the Younger's "most important [city] council allies" (read: yes-men):


He zones. She sells. And it's legal.

Alderman OKd zoning for developers who retained his wife as sales agent. She sold homes worth $22 million.

By Robert Becker and Dan Mihalopoulos | Tribune reporters
June 1, 2008

It's hard to miss Barbara O'Connor's face on a drive through North Side neighborhoods, where her real estate signs beckon buyers to "find your way home."

In the last decade she has built a thriving business selling houses and condos, many of which couldn't have been built without zoning changes the developers sought from the 40th Ward alderman—her husband, Patrick O'Connor.

Barbara O'Connor has sold more than $22 million worth of houses and condos in the O'Connors' home ward after the projects first got a thumbs up from her husband. And she has sold homes worth millions of dollars in other parts of the city for developers who at one time or another have come to her husband for help.

Then comes the money graph:

It's a situation unique to Chicago, where neighborhood projects live or die on the word of the local alderman, and decisions made long before any public meetings are ultimately rubber-stamped by the City Council.

Then there's this sentence, which is self-evidently comical:

Patrick O'Connor said his wife's success has nothing to do with developers' dependence on his approval.

Read the whole thing.