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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why the Same-Sex Marriage Experiment Will Not Work
By Jim Daly


Throughout its grand history, America has regularly been willing to reevaluate cultural norms, especially when the change that challenges the status quo promises to right a wrong or advance and improve the social welfare. Many of these watershed movements have delivered precisely and as powerfully as promised (woman’s suffrage and civil rights) while others have failed (prohibition and no-fault divorce).

Historically, American voters have been blunt in evaluating the wisdom of social change. When a bad idea, which was originally considered to be good, slips through and into law, the American people haven’t been shy about fighting for its repeal and holding corresponding leaders to account. With the benefit of the new media and widespread access to endless streams of data, voters are now able to even more quickly discern fact from fiction and evidence from mere promise.

It’s in part from this context that I’ve been following the ongoing marriage debate in the New York state legislature. Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared the legalization of same-sex marriage his number one priority. Supporters are waging a clever, celebrity-driven and well-funded campaign, suggesting that all they want is “marriage equality.” In fact, what they want to do is redefine this multi-millennial institution.

I am, naturally, personally opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage for the simple but profound reason that it violates and contradicts the sacred text of the Bible, which I believe to be true and inspired. But on what basis should I expect people who don’t believe as I do to likewise oppose same-sex marriage?

On the basis of logic, reason, common sense and the fact that preservation of traditional marriage is in the best interest of the common good, as evidenced by any number of factors, including reams of social science data and thousands of years of history.

Any discussion on the definition of marriage incites strong emotional reaction. And those of us within the orthodox Christian community understand that many in the culture see this issue very differently, and hold to very passionate views on the subject. We understand that on this matter, in some circles, that “never the twain shall meet.” Nevertheless, this difference of opinion does not preclude us the privilege of championing a principle we hold dear, especially since it’s our Christian faith that motivates us to support and defend what we believe to be God’s blueprint for human relationship. In the last half-century, progressives have exercised their own rights of cultural engagement, aggressively championing sweeping cultural changes on numerous levels. Although we may disagree with them, we certainly don’t begrudge them the right to engage the process. But in this pursuit to redefine marriage, wouldn’t it make sense to consider the outcomes of prior social reengineering efforts?

In the late 1960s, no-fault divorce promised to simplify, streamline and decrease the contentiousness surrounding marital breakup. Instead, it only encouraged struggling spouses to throw in the towel. Fathers abandoned their families in droves. Poverty levels skyrocketed. Prison populations increased at dramatic levels, a consequence of kids now growing up without a father in the home.

A few years later, in 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in all 50 states. Supporters heralded a new era of responsibility, where every child would be a wanted child. Tragically, over 48 million babies have now been aborted and the beauty of life has been cheapened as a result, while child abuse has skyrocketed.

The expansion of welfare promised to alleviate human suffering. While in some ways noble in intent, it disincentivized work, undermined the family unit and created a perpetual cycle of dependency and poverty. Fathers were no longer needed to be an integral part of the family.

Cohabitation is yet another experiment which promised to liberate couples from the “burden” of marriage. The number of couples living together outside of marriage has increased ten-fold between 1960 and 2000. Over 12 million unmarried partners now live together in the United States. The result? Cohabitation not only decreases a person’s appetite for marriage, it also increases the risk of divorce, should the couple ever tie the knot.

Further, a home with two unmarried partners has proven to be the most dangerous place for children in the U.S. Children who live with their mother and boyfriend are 11 times more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally abused than children living with their married biological parents.

In each example of social reengineering I’ve noted, progressives promised good things. Sadly, the exact opposite has happened. However well-meaning the motivation, reengineering what God has designed is not only unwise, but radical and dangerous, too.

Without evidence of success to which to point, supporters of these ill-fated ventures are left with but one choice: If you can’t change unfavorable outcomes, you change the minds of people as to what is considered favorable and good.

Here lies the last great frontier and the last gasp for those determined to re-engineer marriage. Those committed to this form of radicalism have systematically broken down the cultural barrier to same sex marriage by desensitizing people on the issue, stigmatizing those who oppose the movement and potentially criminalizing anyone who stands in opposition to them. The irony in our cultural discussion currently, is if you support traditional marriage, you are the one perceived by the cultural elite to be the radical.

Consider the case of a New Mexico couple who own and operate a photography business. When they kindly refused to shoot a lesbian “marriage” ceremony, they were summarily brought up on human rights violations by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. They were fined for not accepting the job. While on the other hand, Christian organizations are now being singled out and suppliers are threatening to no longer supply them with critical support functions like computer technology because of their stand in opposition to same-sex marriage. Those in favor of same-sex marriage do not see the contradiction in these two examples. One group must perform the services and is fined for not doing so (in the name of human rights); the other is allowed to default on their contract because of alleged bigoted behavior on the part of the religious organization (with no regard for religious expression).

If religious liberty is lost in America, we will cease to be the nation our Founders intended us to be. Our rights will no longer be derived from God but from man, and therefore, dangerously beholden to political despots. I don’t think Thomas Jefferson intended that to be the outcome for our great nation when he wrote the famous Danbury Baptist Church letter which mentioned the separation of church and state. Contrary to conventional wisdom, President Jefferson was expressing a concern that the church needed to be protected from the state, not the state from the church. It appears his fears are now being realized.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Woman's quest for missing dad leads to Utah desert
By Chi-Chi Zhang,
Associated Press

In this April 16, 2011 photo provided by Leslie Schneider, San Juan County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Torgerson holds Kenneth Scheider's skull which was found by a hiker a few days prior to a search that turned up most of the rest of Schneider's skeletal remains. Schneider had been missing for five years until a few weeks ago when the hiker came across his skull in the southern Utah desert.
(AP Photo/Leslie Schneider)

SALT LAKE CITY – It was supposed to be Kenneth Schneider's goodbye to the world, the last solo road trip the 78-year-old would take, from Washington state back to his native Utah.

No one knows just how or why the trip ended as abruptly as it did. But, more than five years later, as she clutched her father's skull in the harsh southern Utah desert, Leslie Schneider finally felt an odd catharsis and relief that her family's own emotional quest for answers also had come to an end.

"I was holding this small skull that was supposed to be my dad and trying to make a connection," Schneider said, recalling her help last month turning up her father's remains after a hiker's grisly discovery reopened the missing persons case. "To be there to be a part of that experience was such a privilege and it was amazing how much we found ... It was a complete shock."

Family members weren't concerned when Schneider set out on his journey in his beat-up Nissan Sentra in October 2005. He knew Utah well.

The World War II veteran meandered through Oregon, California, Nevada and finally across Utah to Canyonlands National Park, where he ran into trouble. San Juan County authorities found his car on a dusty road in Cottonwood Canyon near the park. He'd left a note saying he was walking to a ranch about eight miles away. He was never heard from again.

Crews scoured the area for days, using helicopters, horses and dogs but didn't turn up any clues. The search was eventually called off. His family back in Seattle didn't know what to think.

"We had considered foul play, but I don't think any of us believed that," said Mari Schneider, one of his five children. "I had even thought that it could have been suicide because this trip was like his goodbye to the world. He had visited with fellow veteran soldiers in Las Vegas ... Many of them said he didn't look well."

Over the years, his children figured the mystery would never be solved, that their dad would remain just another missing person.

"We had pretty much lost all hope of finding him and even though we had a memorial, nothing ever felt complete," Mari Schneider said.

Then came that telephone call about a month ago. A hiker found a skull in the desert near the spot where the man's car had been abandoned years earlier.

Sheriff's Deputy J.J. Bradford thoughts immediately turned to Kenneth Schneider, whose missing-person photo still hangs in his office. As he prepared to mount another search, the sheriff called Leslie Schneider.

"When I first heard they were looking for my dad, there was a voice in my head that said, `I don't just want other people picking up his bones, I want to be there,'" she said. "That probably sounds bizarre to most people, it's your dad and these are his skeletal remains, but it was really important to me."

So she hopped on a plane with her partner and 14-year-old son and headed for Utah.

After they arrived at Cottonwood Canyon on April 16 and met up with Bradford, she held the skull and tried to come to grips.

She joined the search team, searching the dry sagebrush and scrub scattered across a valley beneath towering red rock cliffs. She tried to imagine why her father would have descended from the steep, rocky ledges where his car was found, and how he died out there.

What were his last moments like? A thunderstorm hit the first evening Ken Schneider would have been alone in the canyon. She hoped he didn't suffer or freeze. She prayed his death was swift, perhaps a heart attack.

They fanned out across the area, looking for any more clues. Then someone pointed to a piece of fabric.

"Sure enough, it totally looked like my dad's shirt," Leslie Schneider said.

Her son found the first bone, a piece of an arm. Others came across more scraps of clothing, her dad's wallet with his driver's license and library card, remnants of a notebook he always carried with him. And his watch, the Timex he always wore.

"It was a shock because I didn't think it was going to be so easy to find stuff. The skull was emotional but it wasn't like I immediately felt my dad's presence," she said. "But I really did when I saw the watch ... It was just so him. That was him just as much as the wallet was, because it was so familiar, that distinctive watch style. Finding the wallet was huge. You could read his name, so seeing his name on something there was amazing."

She broke down in tears, then kept looking. Throughout the daylong search, they uncovered more skeletal remains. A tattered hat found a few days earlier was the one her dad received at a 50th reunion of fellow Marines who were with him during the invasion of Japan.

As Leslie Schneider stood in the desert sun, her father's bones scattered out on a blue tarp, it struck her how bizarre it all was.

"It's like you're watching a movie of your life or something, you're just asking yourself, `How did I get to this place?'" she said. "It's just so outside the realm of what most people expect to have happen in their lives."

A medical examiner will soon be reviewing the bones for any injuries while trying to determine a cause of death, but for now, the experience has brought the family closure they never thought they'd find.

They plan to return, all the children, in August to resume the search for the rest of their dad, his lower jaw bone, hands and feet, and to gather for one final goodbye.

"We all loved him madly," Mari Schneider said. "What a most perfect ending to a life, he was at home and in the desert."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mona Lisa's identity revealed under concrete?
The model and inspiration for Da Vinci's masterpiece may be in bones of neighbor's wife
By Jennifer Welsh,
LiveScience Staff Writer

Louvre Museum, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
This is a retouched picture of the Mona Lisa, a painting by Leonardo DaVinci, currently housed at the Louvre museaum in Paris, France. It has been digitally altered from its original versio by modifying it's colors.

The mysterious face of the Mona Lisa may be lying under a few feet of cement in a decrepit convent in Florence, Italy. Researchers are currently searching for the bones of what might turn out to be Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, the woman many art historians believe to be the inspiration of the iconic painting.

And while they haven't hit pay dirt, last week they took a leap in the right direction: The team members announced they had discovered what may be steps leading down to a crypt where the model is thought to be buried, according to historical documents.

The convent above the stairs, called St. Ursula in Florence, was where Gherardini died in 1542. It was built in 1309 and was used by the church until 1810 when it was converted into a tobacco factory, then used as a shelter during World War II, before it housed university classrooms. Since a failed attempt to turn it into a barracks in the 1980s, the compound has remained empty.

Researchers, including historian Giuseppe Pallanti who published the book "Mona Lisa Revealed: The True Identity of Leonardo's Model" (Skira, 2006), believe that Gherardini's husband, Francesco del Giocondo, commissioned their neighbor Leonardo Da Vinci to paint a portrait of his wife in 1502, around the time she was pregnant with their second child. Da Vinci took until 1519 to hand over the painting, carrying it around with him on his travels and not giving it up until his death, according to the theory. The painting currently hangs in the Louvre museum in Paris.

Historical records, including Gherardini's death certificate discovered a few years ago, place her death at St. Ursula's, where she spent her last two years after her husband's death. The documents note that there is a crypt beneath the church floor, where Gherardini would have been buried.

Excavating and exhumation

The work of excavating the dilapidated building started in late April, led by Silvano Vinceti, the chairman of the nongovernmental organization National Committee for the Promotion of Historical Heritage, Culture and Environment. The group has also uncovered the supposed remains of Italian artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggioand reconstructed the face of Dante Alighieri, an Italian poet known for writing the "Divine Comedy" about a fictional journey through hell.

The team first scanned the floor of the nunnery using ground-penetrating radar, which could "see through" the cement floor poured during renovations in the 1980s. They used this data to identify the area where the crypts could be located in and around the church and convent.

The team started excavating the site on May 9; they've uncovered a few inches of the floor and have discovered a layer of ancient bricks, each about 35 inches (90 centimeters) wide, possibly steps leading to the tombs or a series of crypts.

"The finding is consistent with our records," Vinceti said in a statement to Italian news agency ANSA. "We should be where the altar once stood, and where a trapdoor led to the crypt we saw on the georadar scan."

Finding her bones

They need to continue excavating the area for possible bones. If they find enough skull bones, Francesco Mallegni, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Pisa, will attempt to reconstruct Gherardini's face, providing extra clues to who was really the subject of the painting, according to ANSA English.

"The excavation is still just the beginning, we made a few inches," Vinceti said to ANSA. "We should go for at least two feet and will serve at least a week of work to get a better picture of the situation."

They will also test the genetic material of the bones and compare it to DNA from Gherardini's children, who are buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church. This would prove that the bones found at the convent were actually hers.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Shutting Out the Kids from the Family Fortune
by Robert Frank

© The Saginaw News/AP
Wellington R. Burt

Want to avoid raising spoiled kids?

Consider the Wellington Burt School of Wealthy Parenting.

Wellington R. Burt was a rich timber baron from Saginaw, Mich. He died in 1919 with a multimillion-dollar fortune -- one of America's largest at the time.

Yet rather than risk messing up his kids lives with a huge inheritance, he created an unusual will.

He stated that his fortune would be distributed to the family -- but only 21 years after his grandchildren's death.

His children and grandchildren weren't entirely deprived. Burt gave his "favorite son" $30,000 a year but the rest of his children got allowances roughly equal to those he gave his cook and chauffeur, according to the Saginaw News.

"I'm pretty sure he didn't like his family back then," said Christina Cameron, an heir and a great-great-great grandchild of Burt's.

Now that it's 21 years since the death of the last grandchild, the fortune is finally being turned over to Cameron and 11 others, including three great-grandchildren, seven great-great grandchildren and another great-great-great grandchild. The fortune is valued at more than $100 million. (She'll get a little more than $2.6 million, since those further up the family tree get more under a master agreement).

Saginaw County Chief Probate Judge Patrick McGraw said the estate is "one of the most complicated research projects" he's faced in his 12-year career in Saginaw.

Of course, skipping a generation is not unusual among rich parents who want to send a message to their kids (but somehow not their grandkids). Generation-skipping trusts and other estate-planning structures have been around for ages.

But Burt's will takes kid-skipping to a new, almost punitive level. Who knows, maybe his kids and grand-kids were better off for the lack of inheritance, or maybe the money would have allowed them to lead fuller, happier lives. We'll never know. It would be interesting to compare the lives of his new heirs with those who were shut out.

What do you think of Burt's School of Parenting?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

After Kate, Prince William kissed his Filipino nanny
By Carla Gomez
in Bacolod City
Philippine Daily Inquirer | Asia News Network

Bacoleña Araceli “Lillie” Piccio with the Clarence House butler Bernie at Clarence House after the royal wedding.
Photo credit:

Bacolod City (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Royal nanny Araceli "Lillie" Piccio said Prince William thanked her twice for coming to his wedding and, along with his bride Kate, kissed her on seeing her at the reception at Clarence House on Friday (April 29).

Piccio, who is from Bacolod City, in central Philippines, was the lone Filipino invited to the royal wedding, having served as a nanny to both Prince William and Prince Harry, and later working for their mother Princess Diana.

"I cried at the wedding. It was both a happy and sad occasion for me," she told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a telephone interview.

Piccio was happy to see the boy she had cared for turn into a handsome young man and finally get married, but she wept at the thought that his mother, Princess Diana, could not be at his wedding.

"The princess would have been so proud of him," she said.

Piccio said she had breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner at Clarence House on the day of the wedding and went home past 8 p.m. on Friday.

With the rest of the staff

When Prince William and his bride arrived at Clarence House from the Buckingham Palace reception in a dark blue Aston Martin, Piccio, along with the rest of the staff, lined up in the courtyard.

She said they were briefed to curtsy when the royals arrived.

"When Prince William drove in there was loud applause from everyone and all of a sudden I heard him call out 'Hi Lillie' and he came up to hug and kiss me, as if he really missed me," Piccio said.

"I was dumbfounded ... I was not able to say anything."

"He said he was so happy I came to his wedding and asked how I was. He also said he liked my dress," Lillie said. She wore a dress made by Bacolod designer Lourdes Lipa.

She added that Kate, who also kissed her, asked how she knew Prince William.

According to Piccio, Prince William told his bride that "She (Piccio) looked after Mummy before."

Stopped to talk

"I told her I had been working for the family since William was a baby. She (Kate) was beautiful and sweet," she said. "Everybody was looking at us because Prince William and Kate stopped to talk to me."

Asked if Kate was like Princess Diana, Piccio said, "Nobody can wear the shoes of Princess Diana. She was one of a kind, she was beautiful, kind and generous. She taught her boys to be humble."

Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, arrived at Clarence House later, she said.

"Prince Charles came up to me and asked how I was and asked where I was working, and I told him I was retired," she said.

Piccio added that she was having snacks when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

"When I looked up, it was Prince Harry. I tried to get up to curtsy to him but he told me to sit and he kissed me," she said.

A lovely couple

Later in the evening, Piccio said she saw Prince William come down dressed in his tuxedo along with his wife who was wearing a white gown to go to another party at Buckingham Palace.

"He looked so handsome, and she looked beautiful," she said.

On Saturday, Piccio said she was surprised to get a call from Bernie, the butler at Clarence House.

"He told me Prince William told him before he left to make sure to call and thank me for attending his wedding, and that he was so happy that I was there," she said.