In a pig’s eye

pig-eyesReally smart scientists at a couple big research universities are mixing people and pigs.

I have no doubt that their intentions are laudable.  They want to save lives.  They want to make the world a better place.

Read all about it in the National Geographic, which takes both people and pigs very seriously.

The science involved is likely beyond the reach of a liberal arts major like me.  But the concept seems fairly simple.  You remove a pig embryo from a sow, put in in a petri dish, inject it with some human cells, put it back in the sow and let it grow into a sort of hybrid pig (called a chimera) that has organs that can be harvested and transplanted into people.

You are probably as confused reading that last paragraph as I was writing it.  The idea is that, for example, people and pigs have similar hearts.  And with a little genetic manipulation, we can create human-ready pig hearts, which would be good news for people who need a heart transplant.

As a token nod to animal rights activists, I admit that this process isn’t as positive for the pig.  But it isn’t any worse than being made into bacon or footballs.

It might not surprise you that despite some encouraging test results, scientists are a long way from producing organs in pigs that they can plug into humans.  It is a challenge to get human cells to thrive in a pig – and the human body doesn’t naturally welcome a part-pig organ.

While scientists are excited by all this, some people of more ethical orientation aren’t sure mixing the genes of people and pigs is such a great idea.  No, I don’t think we’ll suddenly have people walking around with curly tails or pigs learning to play video games.

But I’m thinking we might be on the edge of a slippery slope.  If this organ-growing scheme works with pigs, why not chimps?  What happens if you actually produce a conscious creature that isn’t entirely human?

Ridiculous?  Perhaps.  But a few years ago, putting a pig heart in a human was unthinkable.  Now we want to create an assembly line.

Awesome Elephants

2997498286_fc11d3edd6_bWe had a tradition in our family when the kids were little of going to Ringling Brothers Circus each year on the day after Thanksgiving.

Believe me, it was more fun than Black Friday shopping, for mom and dad as well as the kids.

Even in those days – more than a decade ago – the circus was a bit politically incorrect.  Animals performed tricks.  And there were elephants, lots of elephants, doing stunts no elephant would do in the wild.

The idea of trained elephants rumbling around the United Center in Chicago was more than some activists could stomach, so they protested and petitioned and eventually pressured the circus to retire the elephants.

Absent its elephants and with kids more interested in video games than tightrope walkers working without a net, Ringling Brothers is folding its tent after 146 years.

I will miss the circus.

It was remarkable combination of hokum, fantasy and skill.  The price of admission was low enough for families, especially with the “special discount coupons” that seem to be available everywhere.

Of course, like the $1.00 movie shows with the $6.95 popcorn, you had to watch out for the $8.95 snow cone that included the souvenir tiger-head cup.  And each year there was a special gizmo that every kid had to have; life would be meaningless without it even through it likely would break before you got home.

The actual show was a mixture of animals, clowns, gymnastics, dancing, singing and music.  There really were three rings, which meant that sometimes you weren’t sure what to watch.  I always tried to convince myself I could keep an eye on everything, but I was fooling myself.

Just when you thought things were getting predictable, a demonstration of the amazing capabilities of the human being would burst forth:  trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, people balancing to avoid a fall that could maim or kill, perhaps someone shot from a cannon.

It was corny, sometimes silly, old-fashioned and blustering.  But people – and animals – did amazing things.

Perhaps the do-gooders are right and it isn’t kind to keep an elephant in a circus.  It wasn’t like they were given a choice.  However, I always figured the circus treated the animals pretty well, if for no other reason than it costs a fortune to get a new elephant if something happens to the one you have.

If I’m blessed to have grandchildren, there likely will come a day when one of them asks if I ever saw a live elephant.  I’ll tell them about the circus and they may wonder why they can’t see the elephants on parade.

I will miss the circus.

Inauguration Day

psalmToday is inauguration day.  The United States gets a new President.  This makes 45 new Presidents in our history.

We get a new President every four or eight years – unless something terrible happens.  Thanks be to God, that doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

A minor miracle is that we are one of the minority of nations in which this change of leadership occurs without a coup, military intervention, dissolving of the legislature or imprisonment of political opponents.

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. — Psalm 9:9

This isn’t to suggest that we are without politicians who have earned prison time.  Even in the land of the free and home of the brave, people enter political service poor and leave a few years later wealthy.

There will be a parade, happy crowds, cheering, inspirational words and lots of parties. There also will be angry protestors, demonstrations and confused news commentators.

Those who like our new President have high expectations:  lower taxes, strong national security, great health care, abundant energy, less intrusive government and a chicken in every pot.

Know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. — Psalm 140:12

Those who hate our new President have low expectations:  the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, millions of illegal immigrants are jailed, global warming floods Malibu Beach, minorities are enslaved and school lunches halted.

Both sides of the expectations equation will prove wrong.  A new President can make a difference, but he can’t turn our nation into the Garden of Eden.  On the flip side, he also can’t turn it into Death Valley.

The Psalms offer some insight, because they remind us that it is God – not wee politicians or we the people – who in the end can solve our problems, comfort our hearts, satisfy our souls.

Let’s take that to prayer today.


Hope and change and making American great again

150306-D-AF077-067In a few days, Donald Trump will take the oath of office and become the 45th president of the United States.  Expect parades, demonstrations, parties and protests.

Not everyone in America is on the same page.

To some, this change of administrations marks the end of hope and change.  To others, it is the end of an eight-year nightmare.

In reality, it is a moment in the ongoing history of nation with the highest of ideals that is populated by humans who always fallen well short of perfection.

I hear so many people saying that the country has never been so divided.  Those folks must have slept through their American history classes – or went to schools that should be sued for malpractice.

Anyone who lived through the 1960s and 1970s know what it means to live in a divided nation.  The Civil Rights Movement and the protests against the Vietnam War brought conflict, hate and division.

More than 600,000 American soldiers – Union and Confederate – died in the Civil War.  That’s much more divisive than social media micro aggressions.  So while I would hesitate to claim we are a nation united, it really could be much worse.

My wife and I pray each night before dinner.  We have a long list of intentions, and I’m grateful my wife somehow remembers them all.  The final intentions are for our new President and Vice President, their families and those who serve with them.  We offered our prayers for those now leaving office as well.

We pray for their safety and their wisdom.  But more important, we pray that their hearts be open to the will of the Holy Spirit, that they fulfill the plan God has for their lives.

With God’s guidance, America will have hope and it will be great.


Stick to the stage

screen_acting_1921_page_65_alla_nazimovaMovies are not real

Movies are images on a screen, stories, characters.

Characters in movies are not real.  And I’m beginning to think the actors who portray them also may be not real.  At least, they don’t play in our real world.

This came to mind as I read about Meryl Streep’s grumbling at the Golden Globes.  I’m not going to review her rather immature ramblings, but it is enough to say that she doesn’t like our President elect, Donald Trump.

I have equally negative feelings about the person who will be leaving the Oval Office in a couple weeks.  But if someone were giving me an award about my acting, musical performances, literary genius or plain old masculine beauty (none of these are likely) it wouldn’t occur to me to use the occasion to opine on politics.  I figure that just because I won the Olympic marathon (in my dreams), I should stand there with a gold medal hanging from my neck and voice my views on Republicans and Democrats.

It isn’t that I don’t have an opinion.  And I don’t deny the right of Ms. Streep or anyone else who acts to have an opinion.  But there is a time and place for everything.  When you are getting an award for acting, it is a time to talk about acting – and maybe thank your family and friends.  Please leave the politics to cocktail parties and Tweets.

I’m sure there are some folks of a Republican persuasion who have vowed never to view another movie starring Ms. Streep.  I make no such vow, for the practical reason that if I decided to watch movies not starring goofy liberals I would have few movies to view.

I also hope that politicians don’t decide to return the slams in kind.  I can imagine (almost) Mr. Trump taking the oath of office, thanking his supporters, then launching into a rant about the poor acting in recent movies and the negative impact of Hollywood on today’s youth.  He might even call the movie industry deplorable.

Food from the ends of the earth

4313199005_02bb7d026fOne of the many blessings I receive by working for a Roman Catholic organization is that I visit Rome occasionally.

I’ve been there more than a dozen times.  I mention this not to suggest I’m important, but to establish my credentials for what follows.

McDonald’s has been in Italy since 1985.  That was more than a decade before my first visit to that beautiful country.  So by the time I arrived, it wasn’t unusual to see the golden arches peeking out from behind a famed architectural treasure or mundane subway station.

As shocking as this may seem to some folks, Italians are buying lots of burgers and fries.  And if they were not, McDonald’s wouldn’t be building restaurants around the Eternal City.  The company is an American, capitalist institution.  (I don’t say that as a criticism.)

To some Italians, having McDonald’s in their midst is culturally insulting.  Sort of like drinking California wine in Paris or eating a Hersey Bar in Switzerland.

However, one of my well-placed informants in Rome tells me that most McDonald’s customers are, in fact, card-carrying Italians.  The tourists typically want local cuisine.

According to my source, Italians have several solid reasons for patronizing McDonald’s:

  • Inexpensive
  • Air conditioned
  • Ample seating
  • Clean and functioning bathrooms

Frankly, my experience in Rome would suggest that those attributes would be absent from many non-McDonald’s establishments.  But since I rarely enter a McDonald’s at home, I don’t seek them out in Rome (usually).

The Rome/McDonald’s controversy heated up this week with the opening of a burger joint practically on the Vatican’s front porch.  To many people, this seems so inappropriate, like putting a nightclub next to an elementary school.

But I think it is only a matter of time before priests, bishops and even cardinals are sneaking into McDonald’s for a Big Tasty.  I don’t expect the Pope to show up, but he does come up with a surprise now and then.

One of his most surprising – and beautiful – moments was when he greeted the crowd in St. Peter’s Square shortly after his election.  Among his many beautiful reflections was that the Church had gone to the ends of the earth to find a new Pope.

Well, Rome has gone to the ends of the earth (Oak Brook, Illinois) for the newest restaurant near the Vatican.  The world will survive.