Sunday, August 29, 2010

Exploring the Border of the Ice Age: The Ice Age Trail

Global warming raises increasing concern these days, and, in the scope of earth's history, it is not the first time. Our global climate has changed radically and cyclically over the last million years. The glacial ice of the last Ice Age pushed down into Wisconsin and left tons of debris there as it receded. 

The National Ice Age Scenic Trail traces the border of the incursion of ice from the north into North America. Extending from Interstate State Part on the Minnesota border to Potawatomi State Park on Lake Michigan, it winds for over 1,000 miles through Wisconsin. (See map at right)

Largely maintained by volunteers, the trail offers a great destination for  hiking and sports enthusiasts, a nature conservation haven, and it also helps tell the story of the last Ice Age in Wisconsin.

The trail is roughly about as old as I am, but I only discovered it for the first time this month when I visited one county park that lies on the path.

I will share that story in my next post. Meanwhile, you can follow these links to learn more about the Ice Age Trail:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Conflicting Feelings of a Roman Catholic Woman: Remaining Faithful

A Roman Catholic woman religious friend shared the following reflection with me. Touched by the honesty of the inner struggle she described so authentically, I impulsively asked her if I could post it here, and she agreed. We anonym-ized the circumstances a bit because I think this could represent what goes through the minds of many Catholic women in many Catholic worship services.

What on earth happened? By: A Catholic Woman

A week ago Sunday, we went to the 11:00 Mass as usual, but it wasn’t usual. No “Celebrating Vacation School Liturgy” or Baptisms, but lots of young men in black and close to the altar.

It was a display of “Church Macho” - the seminarians and priest Vocation Directors all of the dioceses of our state plus our bishop and his special deacon/liturgical master of ceremonies –“ Mr. I’m in Charge of this Liturgy and Don’t You Forget It."

At first, I was surprised and puzzled as to why they were there. Then I learned that they had been staying at a nearby conference center and meeting there as a group. This was their Sunday liturgy.

And it was THEIR Sunday liturgy. However, I was glad to see that we had girl servers – all girl servers, and several women communion distributors. However, all the rest was “the guys”.

Then I got angry. It seemed to me like an “in-your-face” “young-boys’ club” up there on the altar and in the front sections of the pews. No strutting around or puffing out one’s chest, but just a kind of “we-take-it-for-grantedness” that you (the non-priest, non-seminarians common folk) are happy to see us and, not only happy, but honored to have so many of us with you today!

Then I felt a smoldering sense of injustice and anger. How dare you! How dare you put yourselves above us! Where is your humility?

The bishop, in his homily, surprisingly to me, spoke of humility to this “boys-men’s club”. I almost – almost – stood up and cheered. Now, I’m thinking; the proof will be in the years to come, to see if the American clerical culture will indeed change and become humble.

Then I felt humbled. Here I am, puffed-up and angry. I need to get my feelings and ideas in line with the Jesus of the Gospel.

I will pray for them and I will pray for me. I have a righteous anger, but I need to handle it in a way that doesn’t worsen the situation for me or anyone else.

Photo: Parishioners greet seminarians in the vestibule of St. Augustine of Canterbury Church, Kendall Park, following Mass Jan. 2. The Mass honored seminarians — future priests of the diocese — during the Year for Priests. — Frank Wojciechowski photo, Diocese of Metuchen, NJ website.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Religious Leaders Support NY Mosque; Denounce Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich

More than 40 prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and religion scholars condemned the "xenophobia and religious bigotry" that is fueling an increasingly strident opposition to a proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero.  They specifically challenge the divisive rhetoric of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who have strongly opposed a center that will promote interfaith relations, combat extremism, and offer community programs for Americans of all religious backgrounds.

"It's simply wrong for Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin to malign all Muslims by comparing this cultural center and mosque with a radical ideology that led to the horrific attacks of 9-11," said Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.

"We fail to honor those killed by terrorists when we betray the bedrock principle of religious freedom that has guided our democracy for centuries." 

Newt Gingrich recently claimed that the Cordoba House "... is a sign of their contempt for Americans and their confidence in our historic ignorance that they would deliberately insult us this way." Palin called plans for the center a "provocation" that "stabs at the heart."

Faithful America - an online community of more than 100,000 people of faith - also stands up for the American Muslim community. It advises interfaith cooperation in response to anti-Muslim sentiment and fierce opposition to proposed mosques in communities across the country.

Faithful America members are signing a petition to honor the "many contributions of American Muslims toward global peace" and denounce bigotry and limits on religious freedom as a betrayal of American values.

The full statement with signatories is available online here. You can view and/or sign the Faithful America petition HERE.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Where do our antibiotics go? [Hint: "Cuba" is not the correct answer.]

"A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that in the United States, 70 percent of antibiotics are used to feed healthy livestock, with 14 percent more used to treat sick livestock. 
Only about 16 percent are used to treat humans and their pets, the study found."

Source: The Spread of Superbugs
Image source: The Bitter Truth of Homeostatic Imbalance

Monday, August 9, 2010

Archbishop Desmond Tutu ~on faith and politics

Frequently when they attacked me for being involved in politics, I used to say, I wish I knew which Bible they were reading!
Because the Bible I read was quite clear: God revealed God to the children of Israel, not in a sanctuary, but by carrying out a political act – freeing a bunch of slaves.
Nothing could be more political. And yet it was also deeply religious.
They then realized that the God who does this kind of thing must be a God who cares, who is biased in favor of the weak, the oppressed, the marginalized.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
in an interview in Publishers Weekly, 12/15/03

Friday, August 6, 2010

One Year after ICE Announced Detention Reform: Little Has Changed

Reports show that for the nearly 400,000 immigrants ICE has detained this year, little has changed despite last year’s promised overhaul of the U.S. immigration detention system. One year ago, on August 6, 2009, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton promised sweeping changes to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, the enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) that would improve detention conditions.

According to Morton, the agency intended to take substantial steps to transform the sprawling patchwork of approximately 350 jails and prisons into a non-penal, “civil” detention system. It was a promise in response to sharp criticism from advocacy groups, community organizations, and government officials.

Since then the agency has taken unprecedented steps to address some of its failed policies; however, significant challenges remain.

Under ODPP Acting Director Phyllis Coven’s leadership, we have seen a number of positive developments in the past year. However, we are concerned that they have yet to achieve meaningful impact in the lives of those detained. The reality is, under President Obama’s Administration, more people are being detained and deported than under the Bush Administration, in a manner that fails to meet the United States’ human rights obligations under international law. These practices are inconsistent with our nation’s values and are not making our communities safer,” said Andrea Black, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network. [BE: emphasis mine]

Last month’s launch of an Online Detainee Locator System took one step toward the promised reform. This tool allows families and attorneys to find loved ones and clients in ICE custody.

ICE took another such step in May by piloting a risk assessment and custody classification tool. That will allow the agency to screen individuals to determine whether or not they should be released. Immigrant’s rights proponents say that historically ICE has routinely detained people who should have been released.

And ICE has discontinued the detention of families and children at the T. Don Hutto Facility in Taylor, Texas, which received national attention when the facility’s substandard conditions became the subject of lawsuits. Today, ICE uses the Hutto facility, which is privately owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), to detain only women. However, In May, Hutto came under scrutiny once again when allegations surfaced of a series of sexual assaults by a CCA guard against females detained there.

RocĂ­o Villalobos of Texans United for Families explains the impact: “Today, the majority of women at Hutto are seeking refuge from violence in their home countries. This spring’s sexual assault incidents show how detention subjects people to more violence, which deepens their trauma, rather than protects them from it.” [BE: emphasis mine]

In another positive change, ICE has appointed “detention managers” to work in 42 facilities and hired experts in detention management and health care. However, their presence has facilitated very little change for detained immigrants. A detention manager was working at the Hutto facility when the sexual assaults occurred, for instance. Thus the detention managers’ ability to adequately oversee detention operations comes under question.

Immigrants’ rights groups plan to release a report evaluating ICE’s progress in October 2010, compiling recent data from groups across the country to illustrate how ICE’s reforms have affected detained immigrants. A snapshot of the reports, the groups say, reveals that human rights violations persist.

They provide examples of deficiencies in the provision of medical care, unnecessary detention of individuals who have serious medical conditions, inappropriate treatment of detained immigrants with mental health issues, inadequate health and hygiene provisions in detention facilities and individuals subjected to indefinite detention.

The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center reported that gross deficiencies in the provision of medical care continue, as well as the unnecessary detention of individuals with serious medical conditions. For example, a woman at the Baker County Detention Center who had been detained for five years remained in custody despite her deteriorating health, which involved a heart catheter, ulcers, and lung and orthopedic problems.

The Detention Watch Network launched a campaign, “Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice,” to call for an end to detention expansion, the use of cost-saving alternatives, and the restoration of due process in the government’s enforcement of immigration laws.


Photo credit: AP (8/3/2010) on 

Caption: From left, Richard F Vigna, Director of Field operations at Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) DirectorJohn Morton, and United States Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello stand beside a counterfeit Dooney & Burke ladies handbag which was seized as evidence in San Francisco. Federal authorities say they've seized counterfeit goods and arrested 10 people in raids of shops at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, thereby conscientiously protecting the nation from fake designer handbags. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Forty U.S. Billionaire Families Take Giving Pledge; Donate half of wealth to charity

Forty of the wealthiest families and individuals in the United States have committed to returning the majority of their wealth to charitable causes by taking the Giving Pledge. Warren Buffett announced the first group approximately six weeks after kicking off the long-term charitable project with Bill and Melinda Gates.

“We’ve really just started, but already we’ve had a terrific response,” said Warren Buffett, pledge co-founder and chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. “At its core, the Giving Pledge is about asking wealthy families to have important conversations about their wealth and how it will be used. We’re delighted that so many people are doing just that – and that so many have decided to not only take this pledge but also to commit to sums far greater than the 50% minimum level.” [BE: emphasis mine]

Wealthy supporters from throughout the country have come forward to join the pledge. A full list of those taking the pledge and personal pledge letters by many of these supporters outlining their commitment to give is available online at

The Giving Pledge is an effort to help address society’s most pressing problems by inviting the wealthiest American families and individuals to commit to giving more than half of their wealth to philanthropy or charitable causes. The pledge is a moral commitment to give, not a legal contract, and it does not involve pooling money or supporting a particular set of causes or organizations.

While this program is specifically focused on billionaires, the idea takes its inspiration from other efforts that encourage and recognize givers of all financial means and backgrounds.

A few statements from participants:
Bill and Melinda Gates: “We have been blessed with good fortune beyond our wildest
expectations, and we are profoundly grateful. But just as these gifts are great, so we feel
a great responsibility to use them well. That is why we are so pleased to join in making
an explicit commitment to the Giving Pledge.”

George Lucas: “My pledge is to the process; as long as I have the resources at my
disposal, I will seek to raise the bar for future generations of students of all ages. I am
dedicating the majority of my wealth to improving education.”

Michael R. Bloomberg: “If you want to do something for your children and show how
much you love them, the single best thing – by far – is to support organizations that will
create a better world for them and their children. And by giving, we inspire others to give
of themselves, whether their money or their time.”