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Back in mid-February, we Arizona intactivists got excited when a Sun City state senator filed a bill in the Arizona State Senate to put a stiff penalty on female genital mutilation. Senator Judy Burges called for it to be a Class 2 Felony with at least a $25,000 fine.  We quickly pointed out that while we also opposed female cutting,  there was already a federal law passed in 1996 to cover the issue, but why didn’t she put on an easy amendment to her bill and include the protection of males from genital mutilation, namely the assault of routine infant circumcision?  Let’s make things fair.  Let’s protect all our people from sexual assault.

In reaction to the bill’s filing,  Senator David Bradley, D-Tucson, was quoted in the press as wondering aloud and suggested “perhaps the proposal should be extended to procedures done on boys.”  When we saw that, we went to writing both senators, and two of our finest voices for boys’ genital rights traveled to Tucson one Saturday to discuss the issue with Sen. Bradley, hoping he might work to amend the bill or raise the debate.   When you are Democrat in the Arizona Legislature, with both houses solidly controlled by Republicans — mostly very conservative to boot — you don’t get far.  If Bradley was serious, there is little evidence he pursued this.   Some would say it will snow 40 inches in Phoenix before male circumcision is curbed in this state given the mindset and political culture.

I posted my letter to Bradley in  a Feb. 13 blog.  Like my letter to Burges, I got no response.

Senate Bill 1342, tagged “Unlawful Mutilation – Female Genitalia,” moved swiftly through Judicial, Health and Rules Committees.  In the Senate, it was approved in early April on “consent agenda,” a packaging with other bills that got approved without comment.  Exactly 18 seconds were devoted to it on April 3 when the Arizona House approved it with zilch discussion.  All were unanimous votes, and it goes on to female Governor Jan Brewer, who’ll certainly sign it.

Males got the shaft.  Hypocrisy, double standard, an ignoring of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. What will it take?  How can these lawmakers not see such a sham?

Below is the text of the bill as they raised the issue and laid down the law.  It could be so nicely adapted to include males, as well.

HISTORY

The Office of Women’s Health (OWH) reports that the terms female genital cutting (FGC), female circumcision, and female genital mutilation (FGM) all describe the cultural practice of partially or totally removing the external female genitalia. This cultural practice is performed on infants, girls, and women of all ages, varying from country to country and even within countries.

According to OWH, many people believe that FGM is associated with a particular religion, but it is not supported by any religion and is condemned by many religious leaders. The practice crosses religious barriers and many reasons are cited as to why this practice is performed, including social, economic and political reasons.

It is estimated that between 100 million and 140 million girls and women worldwide have received FGM, and there are 3 million girls at risk each year. It is unknown how many women in the United State have received FGM.

Federal law specifies that whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both. Federal law also makes it illegal to transport a person from the United States or its territories to another country for the purpose of FGM and specifies that violations are punishable by a fine or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both.

PROVISIONS

  • Specifies that it is unlawful for a person to:
  • Mutilate a female who is under 18 years of age.
  • Knowingly transport a female who is under 18 years of age to another jurisdiction for the purpose of mutilation.
  • Recklessly transport a female who is under 18 years of age to another jurisdiction where mutilation is likely to occur.
  • Prescribes a Class 2 felony and a fine of not less than $25,000.
  • Specifies that persons convicted of unlawful mutilation must serve the entire sentence.

SENATE BILL 1342 further:

  • Stipulates that unlawful mutilation is punishable as a dangerous crime against children if the victim is under the age of 15.
  • Prescribes sentencing guidelines.
  • Declares that parental consent or the consent of the victim is not a defense to a prosecution for unlawful mutilation.
  • Defines mutilate and mutilation.
  • Specifies that mutilate and mutilation as defined by the bill do not include procedures performed by a licensed physician that are proven to be medically necessary due to a medially recognized condition.
  • Adds unlawful mutilation as a reportable offense for the purpose of mandatory reporting. Specifies that civil actions for recovery of damages based on an act of unlawful mutilation or the failure to report must be commenced not later than 10 years.

 

Because of my 12-year role as chairman of the Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Program Advisory Committee in the Tempe Union High School District, I was invited last fall to serve on a district task force to study sex education curricula that are available and to recommend one for implementing in the district’s seven high schools.

We examined five, and our task force chose to recommend one called Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH).  Twelve of 16 volunteers voted (three were absent) to call on the district to adopt it.  One of our task force members serves on the school board as president, and she abstained. Thus, all who voted want FLASH.

As I pored over the teacher manuals and materials for each curriculum, I was especially on the lookout as to what they said about the male anatomy and whether they addressed circumcision, and, if so, was it accurate?  As I expected, the matter was handled in just a passing sentence or two, and some curricula had no illustrations. In all, circumcision was treated as part of the birth process.  Not a mention of the ethical or human rights issues of genital cutting.

I started off the task force members’ assessments today. I gave my evaluation of the two finalists for adoption. With that said, I took the liberty to call on the school district governing board and those implementing a curriculum to not treat circumcision as one of the routine steps taken when a boy is born. It was an opportunity I had to take advantage of.  We had about 25 community citizens in the audience.  I am certain some on the task force were thinking that I was exploiting my speaking time with a topic far afield from the immediate topic — which curriculum was best.  In any event, this is what I said regarding circumcision

 That said, my previous written remarks on FLASH  included two lengthy paragraphs on the issue on what is said and taught on infant circumcision.  If this district is going to have an earnest and enlightened curriculum on sex education, then it should not, and must not teach, circumcision as just one of the routine steps to be taken after a baby boy is born.  All babies inherently have human rights, especially to be safe in their own bodies as nature made them. Millions of baby boys lose the most sensitive parts of their sexual anatomy because of a procedure parents mindlessly allow and the circumcision industry profits from. No medical society in the world recommends circumcision, but the tyranny of culture and tradition in this country perpetuates what is a violation of a child’s genital integrity, his right to be whole and complete.

The male foreskin is a complex structure that every male has a right to keep, and only he should determine whether to keep it.  Very, very few intact males grow up to want their foreskins amputated, so that debunks and discredits any notion that parents are doing what their sons would want by having them cut after birth.

Instead, there can be resentment.  What’s cut off would represent 15 square inches of penile skin in an adult. Medicaid won’t cover circumcisions in this state because it is medically unnecessary and it’s regarded as cosmetic surgery.  It is sad and perplexing that male circumcision is allowed while females are protected from genital cutting by federal law in this country. It is hypocrisy, a double standard, and violation of the 14th Amendment of equal treatment under the law.

     So I would hope that educators in this district in years and decades ahead will come to see that circumcision is medically unethical when performed on a helpless, defenseless child who has not given his consent and deserves to keep the 20,000 nerve endings of the foreskin, more than half of skin of his penile shaft, the ridged bands, the frenulum, the Meissner’s corpuscles, the mucous membrane and so much more.  Botched circumcisions,  117 deaths a year in the U. S. to circumcision, skin bridges, and loss of so much sensation — and we wonder why the U.S. needs to consume 47 percent of the world’s Viagra and Cialis to gain a modicum of sexual vibrancy. Do you think there might be a connection here? Men are truly missing something taken from them in infancy. The foreskin has 16 identifiable purposes. It is not throw-away, expendable skin. Eighty percent of males on this planet are doing nicely being intact.

    So let’s get the real facts, teach with humanity and genital integrity in mind in this district.  Let’s not teach that circumcision is part of normal parenthood.  As a father of an intact son and two intact grandsons, I say we can put this cruel practice behind us.  May the teens of this district, who grow up and become parents one day, respect their children’s perfect bodies and their birthright to keep all the body parts they came with.  It starts with education.

 So, that said, I recommend the FLASH curriculum to governing board of this district.

One task force member thanked me publicly and acknowledged it caused a gasp in the room when I brought up circumcision, but she said it raised awareness about something she knew little about.  A male parent of five circumcised sons also said my information was fascinating and the best thing to come out of the meeting for him.  He just didn’t know that circumcision was an issue.

I intend to follow through with the hope that when the program is implemented, health educators will teach that newborn males have the right to remain intact — and reasons why. I know:  We are talking about educational bureaucracy and the likelihood this one issue will fall through the cracks.   But it is a step.   As the 12th recipient of the city’s prestigious  Don Carlos Humanitarian Award (1995) for a community of 166,000 people,  I believe I was re-earning the honor and fulfilling my duty to live up to it.

Hopefully, we saved some boys from the perverse practice of penile reduction today. It is all about education.

Most of us in the international movement to banish routine infant circumcision are offended by hospital web sites that show happy babies and information about how efficiently their staffs can take care of that thing called circumcision. Banner Ironwood in San Tan Valley talks of “The Little Things” and “A Little Pampering” and “Circumcision services offered daily by our experienced pediatricians.”  Oh, wow, every day they run the little guys through the penile-reduction room where their bodies are altered for a lifetime.  

I felt compelled to write the Banner Health CEO about all of this:

Mr. Peter Fine, President and CEO, Banner Health Executive Offices, 1441 N. 12th Street, Phoenix AZ   85006

Dear. Mr. Fine:

There comes a time when medical ethics have to trump cultural traditions, a time when human rights for the defenseless supersedes what misinformed parents request.   In your strategic role as president and CEO of major hospitals, Mr. Fine, you are in a place to examine a practice and lead the way to rejecting bad and unjust medical practices and advance humanity’s quests for caring for those with no voice.

 Across this planet, thankfully, sanity is coming to how we treat our newborn males. Routine infant circumcision rates are plummeting as more and more parents come to realize such cosmetic surgery on their male babies cannot be justified and that their God/nature-given bodies are not to be violated by misguided do-gooders in medicine.  If medical centers like yours joined others that have ceased performing circumcisions, we would have a more just and sane world. As the father of an intact son and two intact grandsons, I can categorically say that I take pride in breaking the tyranny of hospitals that perform circumcisions.  Oh, yes, your staffs will say they are only providing what parents ask for and turned-away parents will then go elsewhere.  If Egyptian parents requested you to do female circumcision on their daughter so that she won’t be spurned by her culture or would otherwise lead a wanton, immoral life with all her parts, would you consent to accommodate them?   Yes, we know Congress outlawed female genital mutilation in 1996 and that it goes on underground in the U.S., nonetheless. The travesty is the double standard, the hypocrisy, in this country where minor males can undergo genital cutting while so much as a pin prick to a 10-year-old Muslim girl to meet some modicum of “ceremony” is outlawed. The bottom line is circumcision meets the criteria of de facto sexual assault. It is only legal because of the medicalization of all things related to birth carried out by hospitals and clinics like yours and a wanton ignorance of the foreskin and its functions by doctors.

Interesting, State Senator Judy Burges, R-Sun City, has a bill in the Arizona Senate to stiffen the penalties for female circumcision, including a $25,000 fine, even though federal law already is in place. The irony and injustice is that young males are currently denied the protection from genital cutting. How absurd.

Deny it or not, millions of males in the U.S. resent their circumcisions. They feel violated, betrayed, sexually damaged at a time when they were too vulnerable to do anything but frantically cry, then drop into a semi-comatose protective place to try to recover.  Typically, they don’t breast-feed well after that. They feel betrayed with the first act of violence they confront after birth.   Many circumcisions are poorly done. Too much is cut, leading to painful erections as adults. Others have skin bridges — and always that ugly circumcision scar ring. Their glans is permanently “hung out to dry.” The foreskin protects the glans in the same way the eyelid protects the eyeball.  Some 130 baby boys die each year in the U.S. from circumcisions gone awry.   Fortunately, some fierce lawsuits have been filed against doctors and hospitals.   In 2002, we were successful in Arizona to get AHCCCS to stop paying for circumcisions under Medicaid, saving 12,800 babies a year in the state from the cruel indignity of circumcision.  Nationally, we could save 24 percent of all male babies, born under Medicaid, from such perverse medical practices.

I know medical staff in hospitals, OBGYN clinics and doctor offices shrink from having to participate in circumcisions.  Their instincts tell them it is wrong.  Doctors right there talk out loud how what they are doing is unnecessary.  Back in the 1990s, the nurses at St. Vincent Hospital in Sante Fe, N.M., balked en masse at participating any longer in genital cutting.  These R.N. Conscientious Objectors would inspire the intactivist movement and they formally organized Nurses for the Rights of the Child, empowering their peers elsewhere to tell their institutions that circumcision is wrong.  Cat Saunders, writes on their web site, says, “We recoil in horror at reports of female circumcision in other countries, yet we refuse to see that brutal acts of genital mutilation are committed every day on baby boys in the U.S.”  Tragically, cutting foreskins is a $2 billion business in the U.S. and a terrible waste of health dollars.

There is growing evidence that circumcisions play a key role in the enormous cases of erectile dysfunction in the U.S where circumcision has had its major inroad.  We are 7 percent of the population and 47 percent users of Viagra, Cialis, etc.  The loss of those 20,000 nerve endings goes a long way in diminishing sexual sensitivity as men age.  Viagra is in such demand in Israel where circumcision is so pervasive that Pfizer has just taken the unprecedented decision to sell it over the Internet.   Do you get the picture, Mr. Fine?

Almost 20 years ago, I earned the City of Tempe’s highest community honor,  the Don Carlos Humanitarian Award. It only re-energized me to work for the rights of children, especially those victimized by a medical culture that knows better and can’t seem to stop.

So, Mr. Fine, go listen to those dreadful cries in your circumcision units across your network of hospitals. They aren’t smiling like the babies on the Banner websites that say, “The Little Things” and “A Little Pampering.”   Imagine those baby boys someday wondering why no one spoke up for their wholeness, their completeness, the structures that go with male sexuality. Stop the cutting at your hospitals.  Read the vast literature out there on why the foreskin needs to stay with the infant.  Every human being has a right to self-determination and to be safe and whole.  The most well-meaning parents don’t own their children and cannot ethically order healthy, functioning parts to be cut off for such shallow, thoughtless reasons like looking like their father or locker-room comments or someone’s preference for genital carving.    It is said that “civilization is just a slow process of learning to be kind.”

Routine infant circumcision is cosmetic surgery, Mr. Fine.  And we don’t practice that on minors. Be a leader for human rights and child protection, Mr. Fine. Parents are hopelessly and woefully ignorant in this area because we talk to them. Most would abstain from it if they only knew better.

How about your hospitals laying down the knife and letting baby boys go home with all their parts so that one day they don’t resent the place where they were born, the circumcisers who violated their bodies and the administrators in positions like yours who allowed it all to happen.  As Horace Mann boldly said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

Mr. Fine, you and your boards and staffs can help make our world a better place.  Baby boys deserve all they came with into this world.  Help make it happen. Shut down you cutting units.  Send all your boys home happy and whole.  Let’s join Europe, Asia, South America and other parts of an enlightened world and put circumcision on the dung heap of history’s misguided medical practices where it belongs.

Make Banner Health a leader in medically ethical treatment of our next generations of males. They deserve wholeness and a medical industry that respects that.

 Sincerely,

 Lawn Griffiths

Before my mother died at 87 from ovarian cancer in 1997, she informed me I was a “caulbearer.” I had been born with a caul on my head. She said the filmy remnant of the amniotic sac enveloped my head as I emerged from the womb, the second of a set of twins.    

My mom said the phenomenon had prompted the nurses in that hospital delivery room in Des Moines, Iowa, to exclaim, “He has a caul on his head! The baby has a caul on his head!” Delirious and exhausted as she was from delivering twins, my mother, a registered nurse herself, knew what they were talking about — an occurrence steeped in old wives’ tales and ancient lore especially common in the British Isles.      She explained that it had long been believed that when the caul clung to a baby, it was a sign of very good luck — an omen that the child was “destined for greatness,” but more importantly, that the child was safe from drowning.

So here I was, age 50, and my dying mother was finally telling me something she had withheld from me all those years.

Mother had chosen not to tell me simply because she feared I would be a risk-taker. Perhaps I would go swimming in dangerous waters and think I was immune to drowning. She told me how sailors over the centuries went to sea with a pouch of dried caul membrane in their pockets as protection from perishing in the great deep.

Since that time, I have occasionally researched the “caul,” described as a “shimmery coating” or “veil,” and I have wondered if, in fact, I have had a charmed life.

Well, of course , on many levels, that is true. But then it’s all relative.

Compared to what?

Certainly, I have been blessed with a lifetime of good fortune.

Could that caul have been a reason why I had perfect school attendance for 10 of my 13 grades in school, counting kindergarten, including not a day missed in high school? And only an upset stomach in seventh grade blemished what would have been a perfect attendance string from grades four to 12.

Or that the two days of work I missed with the flu in late January 1978 are all that mar a perfect no-sick-day record going back to June 1972, when I began full-time work? That’s just two days in almost 34 years. And no broken bones or surgeries in 60 years of life.

Can that good fortune be plausibly attributed to the caul? Or a long litany of other amazing events that have touched my life?

One Web site asks, “Were you born with a caul? Then you are one of the lucky who have spiritual gifts. When the caul, the membrane enveloping the fetus, does not break and the baby is born with the entire caul intact, the individual is gifted with strong psychic talents. Most often he is clairvoyant.”

According to that theory, a normal birth is difficult for the baby, and the child endures loss of oxygen that causes “cells responsible for paranormal perception to die. These brain cells don’t restore themselves.” So it follows that the caul not only protects the baby but also prevents those cells from dying.

I was not totally wrapped in a caul, just my head. So, for me, it means the “birth with a partial caul reaching up to the shoulders, or only covering the head, will result in lesser psychic talents.”

Cauls are more common in premature births, the literature says. My twin and I were born two weeks early.

Charles Dickens began his novel “David Copperfield” with the character telling how he was born with a caul that was advertised in the newspaper for “the low price of 15 guineas.”

“Whether seagoing people were short of money about this time, or were short of faith and preferred cork jackets, I don’t know; all I know is that there was but one solitary bidding . . . from an attorney . . . who offered two pounds in cash and the balance in sherry.”

The offer was withdrawn and 10 years later, the caul was put up for raffle.” Copperfield remembered feeling “uncomfortable and confused at a part of myself being disposed of in that way.” An elderly woman got it in that raffle and “was never drowned, but died triumphantly in bed at 92,” the Dickens story says.

It’s said that Lord Byron, Jesus, Alexander the Great, pianist Liberace, poet Kahlil Gibran, actress Lillian Gish and Shakespeare’s Hamlet were among those born with cauls, a phenomenon, by one account, said to occur about once in every 80,000 births.

One popular legend is that a caulbearer can see the future, and another says that a child born with a caul would grow up to become a vampire.

In medieval times, a midwife would rub a sheet of paper across the baby’s head and face, pressing the fetal membrane onto the paper and giving it to the mother as an heirloom. “Medieval women often sold their cauls to sailors for large sums of money — a caul was regarded as a valuable talisman.”

In one book, with a chapter on old beliefs about birth phenomena, I found: “The idea that children ‘born with a caul’ would have everything they wanted in life was very widespread, as many ethnographic reports testify.” It told of an ancient Chaldean text that good fortune would come to the entire household when a baby was born with a caul. It was said the Roman midwives stole cauls from newborns and sold them to lawyers for handsome sums because “they were convinced that ‘if they had it on them when they were pleading in court, it was a great help in winning the case.’ ”

The Catholic Church fought the caul superstition, notes the book “Welcoming the New Baby”: “. . . women anxious to reinforce the magic virtues of the caul would persuade priests to say blessings and masses of consecration.” In one case, a mother had the caul itself baptized when the baby was baptized and had nine Masses said over it. Even when bishops forbade priests from celebrating Masses over dried cauls, women hid them under altars, the book notes.

It also notes that a tradition of Iceland is that “fetal membrane appearing over the face at birth, is associated with a guardian spirit called a fylgja,” offering warning against potential danger.

So if a caul means a new child is especially blessed by God, who’s to say that everyone else is not? Likely no one has compiled a list of a people born with the “veil” and compared their rate of drowning versus the no-caul group.

I would be interested if any readers have their own caul stories. Let me know.

(This commentary first appeared in the East Valley Tribune (May 27, 2006) as a Spiritual Life column).

 

Many of us who diligently work for the rights of children, especially helpless newborn males, are astonished by an Arizona lawmaker, Sen. Judy Burges of Sun City, who is calling for Arizona to ban female genital mutilation. Clearly we oppose the cultural practice commonly carried out in Africa and other parts of the world, often on the pretext of tradition and muting a female’s wanton sexual desires. Surely, some immigrants to the U.S. from those areas are having it done here under the radar and outside of prosecution under 1996 federal laws that banned female circumcision.

We who find male and female circumcision repulsive, unwarranted, cruel and defiant of medical ethics are seeing once again that this lawmaker and supporters are blind to what is routinely done to young males.  How can one be justified and the other cutting banned? It is even illegal in the U.S. to make a pinprick to a girl’s genital to satisfy an “ritual” requirements.  But boys’ genitals are altered for life, not to mention more than 100 dying in the U.S. from circumcisions gone wrong, plus thousands with botched circumcisions, include skin bridges, overly tight cutting that make erections painful and much more.

The Arizona Legislature is moving the female ban forward.http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/free/20140210arizona-panel-endorses-ban-female-genital-mutilation.html  Here is a letter I have written to a senator who showed some enlightenment  by speaking up for males:

Senator David Bradley Arizona State Senate 1700 W. Washington Room 313 Phoenix, AZ 85007 Dear Senator Bradley:

Re: Circumcision bill in the Arizona Legislature

How heartening it was to read Howard Fischer’s Capitol Media article in which you offered some thoughts on Senate Bill 1342, introduced by Sen. Judy Burges of Sun City West.  You nailed it on the head when you suggested that “perhaps the proposal should be extended to procedures done on boys.” 

As a health care administrator, you well know the human rights quest for decades to awake the medical community to the intrusion of male circumcision.  It is a practice imposed on helpless, defenseless males who would never have asked for it, as shown by the sheer paucity of uncut males who grow up and then have it done on their own. They are few. Circumcision is a dirty little practice because of a deceived, uninformed populace while the health industry happily goes along to reap  $200 or far more each time they spend 12-15 minutes cutting a foreskin. And parents are cowards to watch.

Where are the medical ethics? Where are human rights? Where is a child’s right to sovereignty over his own body? Why doesn’t he have the rights to grow up to be whole and complete as God and nature made him? Why does government sit back and permit such de facto sexual assault on the helpless?

Lawmakers need to end the hypocrisy, the double standard and recognize the 14th Amendment of equal protection under the law.   Stop trivializing male circumcision. Genital cutting is genital mutilation — male and female. All that nonsense about it being a little snip that doesn’t impact sexuality is rubbish. Tell a female that having her labia trimmed up is acceptable.

All humans should be safe from such seizures and destruction of healthy body parts and structures. More than a few males today resent that they lost their foreskins — the covering, the protection, the sensitive body part, the moisturizing structure — and it can’t be replaced. For eons, males have been largely safe to keep their foreskins. Only in the U.S. is it culturally entrenched cosmetic surgery on the helpless and non-consenting. Arizona lawmakers should be bold and protect all from the intrusions of circumcision. The circumcision industry, sadly, makes hundreds of millions because ignorant parents permit it.  I truly loving, thoughtful parent respects the genital integrity of each child. The U.S. Congress banned female genital mutilation in 1996, so an Arizona law of the same nature might well be unnecessary.  Females have protected foreskins.  Why aren’t males protected?  Our son and grandsons are intact because our instincts told us that circumcision was a repulsive and cruel act.

Sen. Bradley, you hail from Seattle, Wash., a state, like Arizona, which does not pay for Medicaid circumcisions on minors because it cannot be justified. Arizona was the seventh state in 2002 to end the reimbursement.  Seattle is home of Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/.

We urge you to take your enlightened idea to amend the bill to include all people — male and female– to be protected from unwanted, medically unethical circumcision. It will be one step to a more civilized and kinder Arizona. End the screams, the lifetime of scars, the medical insult of circumcision.

Lawn Griffiths

Move over Mesa Arizona Temple of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints.  You’ve been upstaged by a magnificent edifice 15 miles southeast in Gilbert. The Gilbert Arizona Temple is a stunning  jewel on the Southeast Valley landscape.  It’s an eye-catching landmark along Loop 101 that is well worth a visit before it is shut off to the general public so the church can begin the work it was built for.

The temple, 3301 S. Greenfield Road, is a veritable showpiece of architecture and design.   Some 30 of us took a two-hour press tour of the new temple on Wednesday, before hundreds of thousands of curious members of the public were to begin a marathon come-see Saturday and in the weeks ahead through Feb. 15. After the temple is formally dedicated March 2 by LDS Prophet/President Thomas Monson, it will be off-limits to the public.  Only card-carrying Mormons with “recommends” from their ward bishops will be allowed inside the building, used primarily for temple marriages, baptisms of the dead and other rites of the church. With 400,000 Mormons in Arizona and the biggest concentration in the East Valley, the time had come to add another temple.

It becomes the fourth LDS temple in Arizona, after the Mesa temple, dedicated in 1927; a temple dedicated in March 2002 in Snowflake; and the Gila Valley temple at Central, just north of  Thatcher, dedicated in May 2010.  A fifth temple is now under construction on West Pinnacle Peak Road near 53rd Avenue in northwest Phoenix, while yet a sixth is on the drawing board for Tucson. Leaders say they are accommodating a growing church that claims about 15 million members worldwide.

Thursday’s grand tour was led by Elder William Walker,  who has been executive director of the Temple Department at the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, since 2007.   The church has been a temple-building binge, especially since 1993.  Theretofore, the church had 45 temples worldwide.  The Mesa temple was the seventh one built.   Since 1993, 97 temples have been dedicated, including 34 in the year 2000.  Walker skirted questions about construction costs, saying it was paid out of general church funds (no special fund-raising campaign) and that faithful Mormons, paying their 10 percent tithes, made it possible.  Asked if individual Mormons wanted to know how much was really spent on the project, he said a determined person could check City of Gilbert building office records, but that it was rare for a member to raise the question.  To a suggestion that the church could have better spent the same money on serving the poor and needy, Walker said the church already carries out a robust worldwide outreach to the poor and disaster relief.  He said temples become immediate icons for members, and teens typically display photos of their temples on their bedroom walls.

The Gilbert Arizona Temple is a magnificent building of straight lines, stunning and endless sets of stained glass windows, shining marble hallways, elegant carpets and craftsmanship in woodwork, seating, chandeliers and tasteful, classy furnishings. Walker deliberately promised nothing would be left out of the tour.  The jar-dropping stop was the  Celestial Room with a 1,500-pound 8-foot tall Swarovski chandelier, towering mirrors, striking pillars and rich furnishings.  It is regarded as the most sacred room in the temple and all are to remain silent within the walls of the brightly lit room with white carpeting.

The agave of the Southwest was repeated again and again and again in designs in the walls, windows and cornices. The temple, like most others (Mesa excluded), is topped by a golden figure of the angel Moroni — 195 feet atop the dramatic center spire that suggests a rocket ready to take off from a square launching pad.

Mystery has traditionally surrounded a Mormon temple for non-members. What REALLY goes on when they perform the baptisms for the dead?   And what are these “sealing rooms” for LDS weddings all about?  Our group wend it way through the labyrinth of  rooms and corridors, visiting a locker room where temple workers are able to step into their own private areas, change into white temple clothing and perform their ordinance work.  There are seven “sealing rooms” so that as many as seven marriage ceremonies can take place simultaneously.  Elaborately furnished side rooms large and small will handle the crowds of families as they gather, wait and eventually move to the sealing ceremonies.   One room with a  rug crafted with embroidery in Asia is where brides do their last primping after dressing in nearby rooms. Oddly, there is no locker or dressing rooms for males in wedding parties.

Massive mirrors, original large Arizona landscape painting complement a large number of scenes of Christ’s ministry or scenes from the Mormon Church’s earlier years.  On the first day of taking reservations for weddings, there were 100 inquires and 30 sealings booked. One caller insisted that she be penciled in the calendar for the first wedding, Walker said.  He said he expected the temple would be holding 30 to 40 weddings on some days.  Only temple-worthy church members may be present for the 20-minute sacred ceremonies.

Baptisms for the dead will take place in the lower floor of the temple.  The round baptistry is similar to those in all temple — a large round, walk-in pool erected on the backs of 12 oxen that symbolically represent the 12 tribes of Israel, which biblically is referenced in I Kings Chapter 7:24.  The temple, which has 85,236 square feet of space,  sits on 15.4 acres that are already assiduously manicured.

Plans call for about 100,000 members to be served from the Mesa temple and 100,000 from the new Gilbert site, which has its own new, stunning chapel to serve a stake.  About 200 wards, or separate congregation, can be found in the area.

As of Wednesday, there had been about 347,000 people scheduled for the open houses to tour the new temple  through Feb. 15, excluding Sundays.  Architekton in Tempe was the architect, while Okland Construction Company of Tempe was the main contractor.

Those taking tours will be asked to wear shoe coverings to protect the extensive carpeting in the temple.  Reservations for open houses can be made at http://mormontemples.org/gilbert. ABC15 will air a 30-minute special about the new temple at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 17.

Down through the centuries, medicine has truly been a sordid venture where the pursuit of making people healthy has not always been a goal.

In fact, medicine has a shameful past. Much of that can be attributed to sheer ignorance in plodding through the muck for something that worked.  Part of it was the failure of the medical arts to develop without countless outrageous mistakes. But a  large part of it is because those who “practiced” medicine were more intent on greed and self-interests. Nothing was lost if they lost the patient.  Human life seemed to have sharply less value than we regard it today.  And the bodies of the dead were highly sought for curious experiments and highly popular public dissection exercises.

I just finish a newly published book, “Strange Medicine – A Shocking History of Real Medical Practices through the Ages,” written by Nathan Belofsky (Perigre/Penguin Books, 213 pages, $14).   The work simply extracts from numerous earlier medical references and other writings the litany of bizarre practices that “doctors” and health practitioners carried out supposedly in a quest to end suffering or treat some medical issues.

But time after time, they displayed virtually no empathy, no sense of caring for the patient.  Life and death were both mysterious.  An anything-goes science was followed.  Medical actions on patients lacked regulations, and the general public seemed all too willing to go along with the latest crazy concoction of a medicinal remedy where tests were questionable at best.  Gullibility reigned.

Outrageous and audacious experimenting could be carried out without so much as any oversight or medical ethic standards. Clumsy, cruel steps were taken on some chance it would help a patient.  In fact, treatments were routinely deleterious and worsened the situation. Sanitation was virtually unheard of as late as the 1890s, and germs introduced during treatment turned relatively benign health situations into a spiral toward death.   One wonders why the populace, upon seeing such lousy fates of patients, allowed themselves to be subjected to grotesque, perverse treatments.

Some examples:

– In 1839, teething took the lives of 5,016 of London’s babies, according to the city’s registrar general.  Dr. Jacob Plank, a founder of modern dermatology, believed that teething caused lameness…In 1844, the Lancet told doctors to scarify with a sharp knife every single baby tooth once, if not twice a day…To stop all the crying, doctors recommended patent medicines like Woodward’s Gripe Water, made of alcohol…”

– In 1855, Scientific Medicine ran an article recognizing Dr. Alpheus Myer’s contribution to internal medicine.  Myers had invented a “trap for removing tapeworms from the stomach and intestines.  The patient would fast for a week to make sure the tapeworm was hungry. The trap would then be  baited with cheese and lowered down the patient’s throat with a string. The tapeworm, which the article claimed could be hundreds of feet long, would take the bait.  The trap would spring and the worm would be reeled in.

– Graves were continually robbed for corpses to experiment with. “Cemeteries fought back, employing guards, watchtowers and even land mines.  With bodies at a premium, British doctors and hospitals encouraged the thefts, from a distance.

– Blood-letting was all the rage, but patients all too often were bled too much and died.  Leeches were popular for centuries for drawing out blood. “…local drugstores sold leeches by the barrel. …  A doctor would tie a leech to some silk thread and lower it down his patient’s throat.  When the leech became heavy with blood, he’d reel it in like a fish. … Doctors commonly applied leeches to the anus.  This had to be done with caution, to prevent patients from going into contraction or spasm.”

–  There were fixations with enemas, with some patients become so addicted to it, that they had them multiple times a day.   Doctors found spinning bodies for extended time got results.  Cauterizing patients with hot irons were said to have salutary effects.  All sorts of varmints — mice, rats, snakes and monkeys — were used for treatments, typically killed with some of their innards employed as medicine.

Surgeons apparently reeked of blood and body odors and carried the stench with them.  But doctors apparently had an aversion to a lot of touching of patients, especially the unwashed poor.  In Victorian times especially, they avoided looking a the naked flesh of women patients.

To my alarm,  Belofsky does not really discuss the perverse practice of circumcision — certainly one of the most disgusting, cruel, baseless practices to be conjured under the umbrella of health.  But after reading “Strange Medicine,” it comes as no surprise to me that human experimenters would cut off a healthy section of the penises of helpless infants for some pretext.

The book does include a host of ways to stop masturbation, including mechanical devices with spikes that go to work with any erection.  The there is that dastardly Dr. John Harvey Kellogg’s famous solution: “(Circumcision) should be performed…without using an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon he mind….In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris  an excellent means of allaying abnormal excitement.”

The lesson here is that modern medicine is still finding its way through the darkness, offering a bazillion solutions to what ails us, failing woefully in some areas and certainly prescribing things that will prove to have caused severe damage, side-effects, injury and death.  The profit motive in pharmaceuticals, medical practice, hospitals and quacks will drive them forward to who knows what.

 

EULOGY FOR FLORENCE SHOOK AT MEMORIAL SERVICE NOV. 14, 2013

AT TEMPE MORTUARY – TEMPE, ARIZONA

Hello,  my name is Lawn Griffiths.

I thank Lani Gates and the family for the honor to speak for a few minutes about Florence, an incredible lady who brought light to her world for nearly 92 years.  At the outset, let me say that my remarks are largely in the context of knowing the Shooks through Kiwanis.

I met the Shooks  when I joined Tempe Kiwanis in 1986. Ken was a robust Kiwanian,  ever drumming up interest in volunteering at Kamp Kiwanis in New Mexico.  A one-time lieutenant governor for a batch of area Kiwanis clubs, Ken took great pride in what would be 38 years of perfect attendance in Kiwanis. He was a lieutenant governor and club president in Mission, Kansas, making Florence “A First Lady in Kiwanis.”  He capped off his year here as lieutenant governor by taking Florence to Vienna, Austria, for the 68th annual Kiwanis International convention in 1983.  The next year that convention was held in Phoenix. Ken was a real force in Southwest District Kiwanis and probably could have been Kiwanis governor.

A very fat photo and memento album of the year 1982-83, that the Shooks gave me for our archives, showcases Ken’s year as lieutenant governor, and there are many pictures of Florence and Ken together at the many, many functions they attended in that demanding year.

With Ken’s distinguished Air Force career during World War II and Vietnam (20 years of active duty and many more in the reserves, retiring as a major), it is significant that Florence died Monday on the 95th anniversary of the Armistice, now commemorated as Veterans Day.

When Ken had his heart attack in August  1995 at the Southwest District Kiwanis convention in El Paso, Texas, a determined Florence went into overdrive as his caregiver, getting him back to health as far as possible.  Florence had the daunting task of getting Ken back to Arizona for recovery and rehabilitation.  He was a heavy man, and that frail little lady worked miracles getting him around, into and out of bed, in and out of a wheelchair, car, shower, chairs…..

Once Ken was healthy enough to get out again, Florence, became his driver, and they became a duo at Kiwanis meetings. Just six weeks after the heart attack, Florence took him to the club’s awards and officer installation banquet.   A photo in the Oct. 19 issue showed Ken in a wheelchair and a smiling Florence looking blessedly into Ken’s face.

From then on, Florence transported Ken to Kiwanis, and many of our Club members met them in the Shalimar parking lot and took turns with the wheelchair and getting Ken into and out of the car.

In the June 6, 1996, issue, in the visitors and guest section, I wrote, “Florence Shook accompanied Ken Shook to the meeting in her wonderful way.”

Ken always acknowledged to the Club that it was only because of Florence’s abiding care and love that he was even alive after that.  It became Ken’s tradition that at a Kiwanis meeting each August, Ken would tick off that he was alive for one more year because of Florence  — eventually nearly 14 years in all.

In September 1996, as editor, I wrote in the weekly Bulletin, “Ken Shook was accompanied by his bride, Florence, who might as well be a member.”  Another time, I identified her as “The Duchess of Ken.”  Another time I wrote,  “As always, Florence Shook was on hand with Ken Shook, who had dusted off a clever linotype (hot metal lead type) wall knick knack from Ken’s realty days. It said, ‘Old realtors never die.  They just become Listless.”

Finally that November, after a year in “guest status,”  the board of directors voted to make Florence an honorary member of the Club.  She would eventually compile nine years of perfect attendance, which ended when Ken had increased health problems and could no longer attend .

In 1997, KCOT voted Ken as the third recipient of its highest honor, the George F. Hixson Fellow, for sustained service to the Club and Kiwanis itself.  Ken turned around and sent $1,000 to Kiwanis International for Florence to become a “Lady Hixson.”

We remember how much Florence loved gardening and how in May 1992, she became the president of the 44-member Tempe Garden Club.

At the first Kiwanis meeting after the fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001,  our Club president Vinny Mirizio told about the deaths of employees of his company at the time, Adecco, in the World Trade Towers. He suggested how our Kiwanis Club should raise funds for victims’ families.  Florence immediately got up from her seat and went straight to the podium and presented a $100 check to start the fund.

Kiwanis secretary Judy Aldrich said I must mention Florence’s “wonderful sense of humor and her great work as a caregiver.”

My wife and I took two of our grandchildren to Silver Bells one summer day to visit Florence and carried on a chat.  It was clear she was getting good care. I would check in by phone with Lani, from time to time, to get Florence updates to share with our members.

Lani sent me a note after Florence moved from her home to Silver Bells.   “Some days we are called by name and others rewarded with her bright blue eyes and cheery smile…..  Mom treasures your friendship.  When asked how she’s doing, Mom always says, ‘I’m hoppin’.”

If we measure our lives by the company we keep,  we can all count ourselves as blessed by the times we kept company with that winsome, “hoppin’” lady named Florence Shook.

The world made a mistake in 1948 with the establishment of the sectarian state of Israel. A theocracy is contrary to healthy human civilization. People, with the same ideology, are not easily packaged and confined to a geographical area – and inhospitality and discrimination that follow lead to tyranny and oppression.

A political state governed by the tenets of one precise religious doctrine is bound to lead to suppression, turmoil and injustice. Palestinians, like American Indians on this continent, were run over, smashed and violated in countless ways after it was determined Jews could be settled as a nation state already populated  by people with centuries of sovereign rights to that land.

Zionists came with an attitude. They soon had an invader mentality. It was a land grab of monumental proportions.  Their illegal occupation of the West Bank, Palestinian lands, has caused Israel to lose respect in the world. Their zealous campaign to wipe out thousands of homes of Palestinians and erect massive settlements for Jews only is so bald-faced that Israel deserves all the world’s contempt for it. By the end of 2011, more than 527,000 Jewish settlers were living on Palestinian lands, in massive modern conclaves protected, of course, by ominous walls. The Jews have revived the pogroms of Eastern Europe 75 years ago in Palestine.

The problem with Israel is that is does not behave. It is a rogue in the community of nations. Countless United Nations’ resolutions have called for  Israel to return territories, desist from confiscating Palestinian property or committing human right violations.

It is all ignored. The rules of the world community don’t apply to Israel

Sadly, the United States has been the arrogant  bully’s best friend — often the only nation voting on Israel’s side. What American wasn’t outraged with Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., in February 2012 when the U.N. Security Council voted to censure Israel for its West Bank settlements and occupation, with Rice casting the lone no-vote with Israel, so the council’s action was blocked? More than 100 nations backed the censure. Rice said the whole Palestinian question needs to be settled by peace negotiations. Yeah, and how futile has that been? American leaders’ relentless support of Israel — no matter what — has been shameless and embarrassing.

No world leader has made more trips to Washington and the White House than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  How can such a wisp of a country get such disproportionate attention? Certainly, the powerful pro-Israel lobby in this country is a key factor.

From the beginning, Israel took advantage of the world’s sympathy, guilt and blindness  related to the horrendous Holocaust of the 20th century. And tragically it has employed some of the same bullying that has been visited upon their ancestors. To take the Jewish diaspora and replant it in Palestine and displace millions already there was one of the great injustices of any century. Millions of Arabs were turned into refugees, especially after the wars in 1967 and 1973. Propped up financially and militarily by the United States, Israel has tortured and killed Palestinians trying to keep their lands and freedoms. Today Palestinians are harassed, denied the same rights as Israelis, prevented from voting and restricted in their movement by being forced to travel pitiful roads, while Israelis drive on modern highways that divide the Palestinians lands.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is relentless in its pressure on the U.S. Congress, the president and the American media to take actions that keep Israel the big gorilla that must be humored, fed and coddled on the world stage. The U.S. news networks all too rarely point out that Israel is illegally occupying the West Bank.

We all know the theory that a child tortured and abused likely will grow up to be an abuser himself. Perhaps, the millions of Jewish deaths, suffering, torture and the Never Again resolve reconstituted as a macabre psycho-social-political determination that is manifested today in the harsh and heartless way in which the Jewish state is punishing and killing Palestinians. Man’s inhumanity is reborn into a vicious cycle of hostility to others.

I have just finished reading “Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace,” which was accompanied by a 120-minute DVD film commentary and resource. In graphic detail, the materials show the shameless march of Israeli Jews across the land of the Palestinians, stripping them of dignity, citizenship, property, legal rights and opportunity. From the confiscation of the fields to their sending American-made behemoth Caterpillar bulldozers to knock down Palestinian homes for the weakest reasons, this is the behavior of a government that cannot be counted as a legitimate member of the world community. That the American media has been perfectly subdued by the Israel lobby and that a host of American presidents have been intimidated into submission is clear. Israel uses the pretext of “security” every second it gets, but this bully is INSIDE and OCCUPYING the West Bank, the area that should be a modern Palestinian state in a two-state agreement, the home of Palestinians. How can Israel, the intruder, argue “security” and “protecting ourselves” when they should not even be in the West Bank?

Many Israeli Jews have been working with peace groups around the world to condemn what Israeli political leaders have authorized in violation of the Geneva Conventions, human rights laws and common decency. Israel’s application of apartheid is shameless. A growing number of people are using the peaceful methods of boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) to put pressure on Israel, a nation that has certainly won no favors in the Mideast by its conduct and its groundless claim to being God’s favored people.

With more Jews in America than in Israel, we need pressure from those American Jews who recognize blatant injustices that cannot continue. Blind allegiance to Israel’s every move, tactic or position is wrong.   Israel’s lasting security will only come when it starts to behave and foster a true two-state solution.  Palestinians deserve so much more.

How does one thank and acknowledge the place where his career began?  Each of our careers has a beginning somewhere. 

   Mine began at the Eclipse-News Review — and I owe this weekly newspaper so much for lighting my vocational fire when I was a teenager.

   Today, Sept. 4, marks my 50th anniversary of writing for publication. It all began Sept. 4, 1963, when the Parkersburg Eclipse-News-Review in Parkersburg, Iowa, first published my writings at Parkersburg High School where I began my senior year as the editor of “Top Talk,” the weekly page of news, features, columns and silliness of our school scene.

   Theretofore, I had never even entertained a notion that I might spend the rest of my working years as a journalist. I was a reasonably good student (later class valedictorian), and writing came easily to me.  Maybe that is why English teacher Larry Minard took me aside at the end of my junior year and convinced me to be Top Talk editor come the fall of 1963.

   At the time, Don Munson was owner/publisher of the Eclipse.  For years the Eclipse dedicated a page or more to the PHS news, as it so generously does today for the campus world of the  Falcons and Wolverines. Over the decades, an untold number of students have been afforded the chance to see their words in print, in  a newspaper, thanks to the patience and generosity of Don Munson, and now for decades by Leon and Becky Thorne. That cannot be underestimated.

  I don’t recall how I assemble my Town Talk staff of student volunteers: Eileen Schrage (Lupkes), assistant editor; Penny Junker (Cady), social reporter; Gretchen Kneppe (Brown), sports reporter; Bill Meyer, academic reporter; Pat Frohling (White), feature editor; Jolene Abkes, senior portraits;  Peg Hosch (Neavins), photographer and “A Word to the Wise” columnist; Vivian Nieman, “Opinion Please” columnist; and Wayne Arends, junior high reporter.

  That first week’s page carried only five items, including Coach DeWayne Frey’s article about who had reported for the football season: 10 seniors, 7 juniors, 7 sophomores; and 7 freshmen. Another short article featured a breakdown of enrollments in the district’s 13 grades, ranging from 64 in second grade to 39 in fourth grade, and 180 in the four grades of high school.

   Superintendent Frederick Wix agreed to write a kickoff article setting the tone for the student newspaper: “This year’s Top Talk is a revamped and revised version of that which was seen last year….it is our hope that our staff will try to put forth, in true journalistic style, the pulse of our student body….It is our aim that the student newspaper will be used as a sounding board for the students, a medium which he can use to set forth thought-provoking ideas and communicate, with others, these ideas and suggestions. …This is a tremendous task which these students have undertaken, and I can only wish them the best of luck.  The views of the student may not always be the same as the administration, but these views must always have their due consideration in our free democracy….”

   With those words, Superintendent Wix was  prophetic about student and administration not always agreeing. 

    Each week, I would write a column, with my name on it. My second column, on Sept. 11, got me into trouble. In my third hour class that day, Principal Joe Van Eschen and Superintendent Wix came for me and sat me down in the principal’s office to lecture me for about an hour about my column titled “English Should Remain a Requirement.”  I had criticized the school board for its policy change to not make English in the senior year a requisite for graduation.  It had been turned into an advanced class of creative writing, English literature, speech and grammar — essentially a college preparatory class that students qualified for, based on their past academics. Only about 20 of the  46 seniors were enrolled in it.

  I opined, “If English remains a ‘selective’ rather than an ‘elective’ or requirement, then many, many students in the coming years will never hear of the poems of Tennyson, the tragedies of Shakespeare, the grammatical usage of the subjunctive mood or the correct method of writing a research paper.”

   I laid my cause out logically, I thought, but I ended it all with some carelessly radical words:  “In times when all people should be educated to speak, write and communicate intelligently, we must not motivate one group of students rapidly while the other is stranded.  People of the community: Act now. You have nothing to lose but a retarded future for your youths.”

   So that day, the school district’s top two administrators gave me a journalism lesson in Mr. Van Eschen’s office.

  Indeed,  I had been taken to the woodshed.

  I was told to submit my next columns to the principal to be cleared before delivering our full package to the Eclipse on Friday afternoons.

  The next week, I wrote a prosaic piece about the junior class running the concessions for sporting events. (I had been junior class president the year before and knew what that entailed).  As the weeks passed, Joe Van Eschen couldn’t find fault with my writings. So, he stopped screening them.

    Quickly, I got remarkable community feedback on my work. I earnestly sought to say something compelling and original each week:  the importance of teachers displaying discipline in the classroom, my experiences of being a twin, how social studies “must never fall to the elective status as English has,” reflections on my three years on Student Council, how seniors let their status go to their heads, why didn’t our school have a foreign exchange program, the need for great support of the school band and choruses. And so it went.

   For 36 weeks, through May 13, I oversaw Top Talk. I never missed a weekly column. I recall when President John Kennedy was assassinated on that Friday in November 1963, I had to pull the column I had written. That night, back home on the farm, I
wrote my Kennedy column, and my dad took it in to Eclipse that Saturday to catch up with rest of the material.   (From the exterior, the Eclipse building hasn’t really changed in these 50 years.)

   At the end of year, Don Munson published a “Roses of the Week” column saluting me and Larry Minard, our faculty sponsor:  “…Top Talk this past year was the finest since we have been in Parkersburg. … Lawn Griffiths deserves special tribute with Top Talk adviser Larry Minard. To keep the articles coming, to have the courage to write the editorials, to make Top Talk as interesting as it was took a lot of planning, time and effort. To sit down and write an editorial  when you know you will be panned by some unthinking classmates, who probably wouldn’t have courage  to do it themselves, takes as much fortitude as the back plunging the football line.  Lawn will be missed by the school, on the Top Talk staff and by the faculty, who will be hopefully looking for more youths with the courage and ability of Griffiths.”

    My life’s work was launched. I would see how far words would take me.

     I had assiduously cut out every Top Talk article and pasted it into a scrapbook that I still keep on a shelf to this day.  When I marched with the Parkersburg High School Band in the VEISHEA parade at Iowa State University in Ames in spring of 1964,  I took that scrapbook and tracked down Carl Hamilton, an Iowa Falls publisher, who headed the ISU Department of Journalism.  He paged through my scrapbook and gave me encouragement.  I enrolled in science journalism and graduated in four years.  As a freshman, I created and edited a residential hall quarterly magazine, Cadence, and produced it for three years. I was the Government of the Student Body reporter for the Iowa State Daily.  I regularly wrote for several other college magazines. I took creative writing classes, besides all the journalism courses.

    While with the U.S. Army, I wrote for the post newspaper.  I used the G.I. Bill to earn my master’s degree  from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalsim and then spent nearly 12 years (1972-84) at the Waterloo (Daily) Courier as a courthouse reporter, assistant state editor/farm editor, state editor and a columnist for about 10 years.   Parkersburg was part of my turf. Each Sunday for eight years, my “Rural at Random” column in the farm section sought to capture the soul and rhythm of rural life. Many of the 401 columns were rustic nostalgic pieces grounded in my formative years on the farm outside of Parkersburg. Later, as state editor, one of my jobs was hiring and employing 65 news correspondents across 15 counties of Northeast Iowa. Rewriting their submissions for clarity and completeness could be daunting.

  I would spend 40 years writing and editing daily newspapers in Iowa and Arizona.

  In 1981,  I joined the Waterloo Exchange Club and produced its weekly newsletter for most of three years, and then the district’s bimonthly newsletter.

     In February 1984, I was hired as the city editor of the Tempe (Arizona) Daily News. The next year I would become managing editor.  Two years later, I joined the staff of the Mesa (Arizona) Tribune as a columnist and religion editor. For  4 1/2 years, I was a daily columnist, “The Town Crier,” for five dailies in the Arizona chain of newspaper. In all, I spent almost 25 years with those newspapers under three ownerships, with 17 years covering religion.   For 23 years, I have produced a Kiwanis Club weekly newsletter, once picked top newsletter for middle-size clubs for Kiwanis clubs worldwide. Twice it was runner-up.

   The journalism that began in Parkersburg has led to more than 75 writing and community service awards over the past 50 years.  Along the way, I have met and interviewed such people as Mother Teresa (1989), the Dalai Lama (1994), Shirley Temple Black (1972), painter Thomas Kinkade (2008), evangelist Joel Olsteen, atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair,  actors Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, singer Charley Pride, actor Stephen Baldwin, three Catholic cardinals and many thousands of people of greater and lesser achievement.

     In recent years, I have been a free-lance writer for the Arizona Republic and some national magazines, along with writing numerous articles  for my church’s publications and the regional presbytery. The internet has profoundly hurt newspapers, and I am grateful my career largely predated it.

   Writing has allowed me to produce two books, including a 180,000-word history of the Kiwanis Club of Tempe;  life stories for people; a 70-page booklet for the PHS Class of 1964′s 40th class reunion; a 273-page book on my church’s 50th anniversary; numerous special projects for individuals; countless sets of minutes as secretaries for community organizations for decades; hundreds of blogs and a raft of carefully crafted  letters. I have edited book manuscripts and written press releases for numerous groups with which I have been affiliated.  Not to mention thousands of obituaries, numbing lists of county fair or Cattle Congress results and calendar items.

    Certainly, the encouraging words and affirmation I received from the  Parkersburg community in 1963-64 served to launch my career.  I was fostered by a school system of earnest teachers.  The great books that Mrs. Chamberlain checked out for me from  the library in the Wolf House fed my intellect and demonstrated good writing to a future writer.  Finally, let me again thank the Eclipse-News-Review, which gave me the platform my senior year.

    In June 1965, just a year after I graduated,  the Eclipse published a lengthy eulogy that I wrote on Joe Van Eschen, who died suddenly of a heart attack in his mid-30s.  I poured my heart into profiling “V.E.” as we called him. Yet it was so easy to capture him — his sports assembly pep talks, his rooster tail, his formidable height, his thunderous voice, the rhythm of his big, heavy feet across the wooden floor of study hall, then neatly writing messages on the big blackboard in front….  He was so describable.  I never mentioned our encounter that second week of school in 1963. That exercise, doing that tribute, reminded me anew how a cultivated skill to retrieve precise words for the moment gave me incredible satisfaction and self-worth.

   Writing is merely knowing which word to choose to follow the last one chosen.  To inform, communicate, enlighten and teach with written words is a noble art.

    Now tens of thousands of articles, columns, news stories, dozens of file drawers of my work, newsletters and correspondence have defined my life.

    And it all started formally for public consumption on this very day 50 years ago in the pages of the Eclipse-New-Review.  Thank you for first setting my thoughts to ink and paper that Wednesday a half century ago today.  For that I am grateful.  

 

   Lawn Griffiths is a semi-retired newspaper writer/editor living in Tempe, Ariz., with his wife of 40 years, Patty, and their family.

Lawn Griffiths

A longtime newspaper journalist wonders aloud whether anyone else has discovered the same things and is going to blow the whistle.

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