Worthy Words


Last month writer Wil Wheaton received a request from the Huffington Post to publish an essay, “Seven Things I Did to Reboot My Life,” that he’d just published on his own blog. Until his follow-up essay, I wasn’t aware contributors to HP aren’t paid for their work – except in that most traditional of literary reimbursements: exposure. I believe most every freelance writer has encountered the ubiquitous “we-can’t-pay-you-but-you’ll-get-tremendous-exposure” line. It’s supposed to make us feel comfortable, hopeful maybe, that – in lieu of much-needed financial resources – an untold number of readers will see our work and that someone in that vast crowd will be awestruck enough to offer us a paid job that, in turn, will lead to our long-held dream of being a successful (affluent) scribe. But I’m surprised at this revelation, considering HP founder Arianna Huffington is a proud progressive who champions free speech and worker rights.

Wheaton didn’t fall for HP’s offer and declined it faster than a Hollywood celebrity dropping a gluten-filled sandwich. Meaning he politely told them to stick their “exposure” ruse up their ass. I couldn’t stop laughing out loud when I read that. My dog surely thought I’d finally gone over the edge, as he grabbed his rawhide bone and scurried into the den.

Good for you, Wil!

Myths about writers persist. It’s not a profession; it’s more of a hobby. We like to suffer for our art. We’re so desperate for notoriety we’ll give it away whenever we can – like drug addicts needing a fix. As with any tall tale, there’s some measure of truth to it. But most of us writers take our work seriously. It’s more of a calling than a profession; a passion for the written word and a desire to spread our thoughts and ideas in the best way we know how. Yet we also like to get paid for our time and effort.

Writing isn’t like a sneeze; building up quickly, before exploding forth. It takes time and energy. Ideas may pop into our heads during the most unlikely of literary activities – eating, showering, having sex, stalking the last publisher who called your writing crappy – but turning those sparks into full-fledged and long-lasting flames is cumbersome. Some scribes can pound out a story in a matter of weeks, while others take years to write an award-winning tome. Whatever the length of time, it’s not an easy task.

But what is it that makes some people think writers don’t mind working for free? What is it that compels some publishers to believe “exposure” is a sufficient replacement for monetary compensation? But, then again, how much is a single word worth? If a rap singer can spit out a foul-mouthed, yet otherwise incomprehensible “song” and earn millions, why should a freelance writer have to produce 500 words for fifty bucks? I can see the insanity in such questions, but I know too many others just don’t get it.

In 1988 the Writers Guild of America – composed of West and East branches – drove home the importance of writer compensation with a strike that practically brought the U.S. entertainment industry to a halt and almost bankrupted the state of California. The WGA started as the Authors League of America in 1912; an entity devoted to protecting the financial and creative rights of writers. Its first president was Winston Churchill – not the famed British prime minister – but a former member of the New Hampshire State Legislature and a novelist and playwright. President Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the Copyright Act of 1909 on his last day in office, served as the Guild’s first vice-president.

The ALA’s mission was simple and straightforward: “to protect the rights of all authors, whether engaged in literary, dramatic, artistic, or musical competition, and to advise and assist all such authors.” In 1921, it metamorphosed into the Authors Guild, when playwrights, composers, and lyricists left to form the Dramatists Guild of America. In 1933 the Screenwriters Guild formed in Hollywood.

The 1988 strike wasn’t the WGA’s first, but tellingly, each protest arose in response to cultural and technological changes in the entertainment industry. In 1960 the WGA launched a 21-week strike against film studios seeking compensation for movies shown on television. In 1973 they struck in favor of increased wages and health benefits. The 1981 strike was for cable and home video revenue. And, just three years before the 1988 event, the WGA protested over royalties from videocassette sales. The 1988 strike actually began late the previous year, when movie and TV producers demanded that writers accept sliding-scale payments on residuals from works that are re-broadcast after their original air date. The producers claimed that syndication prices drop, so writers shouldn’t expect compensation identical to their original payments. The writers didn’t dispute the concept of syndication; the matter concerned the amount. Negotiations commenced, but stalled. And the result was the longest-lasting writers’ strike in U.S. history; costing the entertainment conglomerate roughly $500 million.

The 2007 WGA strike was, as before, a response to emerging technology. This time, it was a digital issue, and, as before, producers tried to utilize the new gadgetry to get around paying writers a decent share. The increased presence of the Internet and other devices, such as I-phones, allowed for greater dissemination of content. Recalling the 1988 mess, movie and TV producers listened two decades later and worked quickly to end the drought.

The angst of writers resounds clearly with other artists. In 1999 two teenagers, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, launched an online company called Napster, where people could download and share songs – for free. Using a then-innovative technology called file-sharing, users simply had to log onto their computers and – for lack of a better term, but calling it what it is – pirate their favorite tunes for personal usage. From a technological perspective, it was ingenious. From an artistic viewpoint, it was flat-out theft. The music industry quickly took notice, and – after much legal wrangling – Napster was forced to shut down in 2002.

The same issue arose again with musical streaming. It exploded into controversy last year when singer Taylor Swift pulled her entire music catalog from Spotify, one of the largest musical streaming companies in the U.S. Spotify and others offers users a desktop application for a nominal fee through which they can download whatever songs they want. The companies earn a hefty profit through ads and other sources. And the artists earn…a few dollars. Literally. Singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash dubbed musical streaming “dressed-up piracy.”

My paternal grandfather was a carpenter. One day, in the 1930s, a local woman called him to help get a window in her house unstuck. He examined the window briefly, before taking a hammer and lightly tapping on either side of the frame, thus dislodging it. When he charged her $10, she balked; asking why she should pay him for “tapping a little bit here and a little bit there.” He promptly told her the fee wasn’t for “tapping a little bit here and a little bit there,” but for knowing to “tap a little bit here and a little bit there.” Knowledge is worth something. So are words.

How much someone’s talents are worth will always be a matter of debate and is often subjective. On an episode of “The People’s Court” a while back, a performance artist sued a student videographer she’d hired to capture one of her stage shows; she wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the final product. Apparently she could only afford one camera, so the young man could only focus on a limited area of the stage with just one camera; instead of videotaping the entire panorama. He could have brought in an assistant to work another camera, but the artist said her budget wouldn’t allow it. When Judge Marilyn Milian asked why she was so upset, she pointed out she was disappointed with the limited scope of the videotape. There were several people on stage, but the videographer only managed to catch one or two. Milian reminded the artist she’d hired a student videographer, not a professional, and queried why the woman just didn’t pay for a second videographer. Her budget wouldn’t permit it, she reiterated – whereupon she answered her own question. Case dismissed.

Anyone who thinks writers must accept the “exposure” concept at face value should consider this scenario. Imagine you’ve spent the bulk of your professional life in the food service industry. You’ve worked for a variety of outfits – restaurants, hotels, country clubs – before you finally decide you’re tired of slaving over other people’s hot ovens and decide to open your own catering business. You encounter a couple who wants to hire you to cater their daughter’s wedding reception. They want a certain amount and variety of food for a large number of people on a particular day and at a particular time. They then tell you it’s not in their budget to pay you up front for all the food and your time and energy in preparing it and setting it up, but emphasize that with so many people expected to attend the reception, you’ll get great culinary exposure; which means that someone will surely find it so delicious they’ll want to hire you for something else at a later date. Do you think a caterer would go for that? Why should a writer?

Last year I finally decided I needed to hire a professional editor to review my novel manuscript. I selected Leslie Silton, a Los Angeles-based editor who has worked with a variety of writers. After going through my novel, she found a number of sometimes minor things that I’d missed; elements that ultimately would have made me look unprofessional. It really does pay to get an outsider to review your work. At no time, however, did I expect Leslie to work for free. I never dreamed of telling her, “Look, I can’t pay you, but I have about 200 followers on my blog, 300 Facebook friends, and 250 Linked In contacts. I intend to publicize my novel on all those sites, and when they see what a great job I did, they’ll also see your name.” I would have gotten a dial tone the second I finished that sentence. As a Bostonian, though, I’m certain Leslie would have provided some colorful verbiage to go with it. If you produce work for one site, just for the “exposure,” what makes you think someone who sees it and – given that they like it – won’t expect you to be satisfied with the same thing?

On one of my Linked In groups a while back, this very subject came up. A freelance writer mentioned that she was frightened when a client expressed dissatisfaction with her work; therefore, she lowered her fees to avoid a slight to her professional reputation. I told her that she shouldn’t have felt bad enough to lower her fees, just because one particular client didn’t like her final output. “Your work is worth something,” I emphasized.

Wheaton offered a logical response to the Huffington Post “exposure” offer: they earn a considerable amount in advertising revenue. More importantly, HP itself is valued at something around $50 million. Too many writers fall for that “exposure” bit – and suffer the blatant disrespect that surreptitiously goes with it.

As writers we’re worth something. And exposure doesn’t quite cover it.

Image: Cullen Communications.


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Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2015


“Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action – though often trivial in isolation – are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”

George Orwell


Today is the 34th Annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, sponsored by PEN International.

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It Came from the Cup


This could only happen in the 21st century. In 2009, Jennifer Schreiner and her partner, Angela Bauer, decided they wanted a child. Either adoption wasn’t good enough or artificial insemination through a medical facility was too expensive and cumbersome; perhaps both. Regardless, the Kansas couple selected the next available option: they placed a Craigslist ad. Yes, the same site that has become renowned for furniture scams and serial killers suddenly became the poor people’s avenue to familial concoctions. Trailer park trash has moved online. Again, only in the 21st century!

And, as fate would have it, Schreiner and Bauer got a response. William Marotta thought he had the right stuff for the job and contacted the duo. After some semblance of background checks and medical screening, Schreiner and Bauer decided he was “The One.” They offered him the going rate for off-road sperm donation: fifty bucks a pop. But, perhaps out of some degree of compassion, Marotta declined. Among the variety of legal documentation Marotta signed was one absolving him of any legal or financial obligation. In other words, once he fired the gun, he wasn’t culpable for whatever happened to the bullets. Schreiner got pregnant and gave birth to a girl later that same year. Then, things got messy – at least from a litigious standpoint.

In 2012, Schreiner and Bauer sought financial support for the child from the state of Kansas. As required by state law, they provided Marotta’s name and other personal information. At first, Marotta denied he had anything to do with Schreiner and Bauer, other than polite conversation. But he conceded the child was his, after the state forced him to undergo a paternity test. What’s happened over the last three years is the stuff of bad daytime dramas.

The Kansas Department for Children and Families filed suit against Marotta in October of 2012 seeking $6,000 in state aid provided to Schreiner and Bauer. In January of 2014, a Kansas judge ordered Marotta to pay the $6,000; declaring the initial contractual arrangement wasn’t legal because the insemination occurred outside a license medical facility. (I don’t want to know the details.) Marotta has appealed, and the case returned to court last month. His reasoning? “I’m the sperm donor; not the father.”

Amidst this legal carnage, of course, is the hapless child who didn’t ask to be born, much less born into the arms of stupid and arrogant adults. Marotta’s statement that he’s merely the “sperm donor” feeds into the misandric sentiments of the feminist left that views men as nothing more than just that: sperm donors. The legal claims of Schreiner and Bauer is also typical of feminist ideology. To them, men have no role in the lives of children until financial support is needed. Then, suddenly, it becomes his child. It’s a twisted, hypocritical philosophy.

Things can get weird with sperm banks. Last year an Ohio woman, Jennifer Cramblett, sued an Illinois facility she’d visited, when she gave birth to a daughter who was half-Black. Cramblett had selected donor No. 380, a White, blond, blue-eyed man. Someone at the bank apparently misread it as No. 330, which was a Black man. Now Cramblett is stuck with a biracial child, instead of a pure White one. I imagine she was traumatized when the baby came out with kinky locks of hair and dark brown eyes. I mean, what neo-Nazi lesbian chick would want that in her house?

That particular case reminds me of the infamous Repository for Germinal Choice, better known as the “Nobel Prize Sperm Bank,” which was founded in California in 1980 by millionaire Robert Graham. Its purpose was simple and direct: produce children with superior IQs. Nobel recipients and other geniuses were ideal donors. One if its most infamous benefactors was William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor radio who became better known for his curious theories of race and contemporary eugenics. Shockley believed people with IQs under 100 should be sterilized and asserted that those of Native American and African extraction occupy the lowest rung of the human food chain. In reality, Shockley was one of only 3 Nobel laureates known to have donated sperm to the RGC, but the facility’s reputation was as damaged as Shockley’s. It quietly closed in 1999 with its founder dead and its records sealed. Graham’s self-styled “genius factory” had produced at least 200 children. Its goal of creating a better future didn’t turn out so great. Think “Logan’s Run.”

I have no respect for people who patronize sperm banks; whether they’re making a deposit or a withdrawal. The men obviously think their sperm cells are akin to gold bullion; priceless and treasured like nothing else. The women surely believe they are perfect enough to raise children without a father. I never had children – outside of dogs – but I know that women and men each offer different things to children. We have our own unique ways of raising kids. Neither way is superior to the other. To say men have no role in bringing up children is like saying women have no role in business or politics. Eliminating half the human race from one endeavor because you don’t think they can do anything right isn’t practical; it’s just plain bigotry.

I know full well there are plenty of single parents who’ve done an extraordinary job of raising their children; whether natural-born or adopted. But I’m certain many of them don’t have an unmitigated and pathological hate for the opposite sex. It doesn’t help, of course, that there are men who screw like rabbits on Viagra. A close friend of mine was never close to his own father and knew the man had sired other children. I once offered to help him play a cruel joke on his father; meet him for beers and pretend I was one of his many offspring. My friend was tempted to go through with it; he despised the man enough for abandoning him and his mother at a vulnerable point in their lives.

Watching my father conduct extensive genealogical research on both sides of his family for more than a quarter century has brought me closer to him and other relatives than most anything else. It made me comprehend the importance of culture and heritage, and the critical roles they play in each generation. A long-time acquaintance of mine was adopted in the late 1960s. Because of his features, he’s always believed he may be of either Native American or Mediterranean descent. I had to stop and think about that. How would it feel not to know your true family? Where do I come from?

The children born of sperm bank machinations eventually get old enough to ask those same questions. It’s only natural. And it’s unfair to dismiss their curiosity. But their situation is already causing heartache. It’s also bringing doubt about the practice of sperm – and egg cell – donations.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Dr. Kirk Maxey was a champion sperm donor and – by his own estimate – fathered some 400 children. Years later he apparently developed a conscious. It began in 2007, when two of his daughters found him through the Donor Sibling Registry, an outfit that is answering the call for help. Meeting his previously-unknown offspring conjured up a startling realization: his kids could possibly (an unknowingly) encounter one of their half-siblings; start dating; fall in love; get married; and…produce children. If you hear banjos playing, you know where this could lead. Maxey is now calling for stricter regulation of sperm and egg banks.

Children aren’t commodities to be bought and sold. Creating perfect offspring is not just a nightmarish scenario from low-grade horror movies. It’s been tried in the past – long before Robert Graham’s ill-fated attempts. Decades ago sperm bank weren’t thinking of the children they were bringing into this world; they were thinking only of some well-manicured society they wanted to create for themselves. They didn’t consider the powerfully natural bonds children have with their parents; an ancient human sentiment that can’t be subjugated to test tubes and cryogenic machines.

We’re all worth something. More than $6,000 and a quirky dream. People have tried, but you can’t put a price on humanity.

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$1 and a World of Art

Never judge a building by its facade.

Never judge a building by its facade.


What can you buy for a dollar these days? Maybe a pack of gum, or a single doughnut. In Chicago, it can buy an entire building. Okay, said building is a 1920s-era former bank on the city’s south side. Long-abandoned and crumbling from one end to the other, it’s the type of structure where the best residents are birds and rats. Artist Theaster Gates, however, saw something else: a world class arts center. The Chicago native, an urban planner with a gallery of prestigious art awards and even more creative vision, literally purchased the 20,000-square-foot edifice for a single U.S. dollar in 2013 from the city and began transforming it into a conclave for exhibitions, artist residencies and the headquarters for the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit organization he established in 2010 to foster cultural and artistic development in forgotten and underprivileged neighborhoods. Earlier this month the former Stony Island State Savings Bank was reintroduced as the Stony Island Arts Bank. Among other artifacts, it contains the book collection of John H. Johnson, founder of “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines; the record collection of Frankie Knuckles, the “Godfather of House Music”; and slides of art collections from the University of Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Gates described the center as a “a repository for African American culture and history, a laboratory for the next generation of black artists,” and “a space for neighborhood residents to preserve, access, reimagine and share their heritage, as well as a destination for artists, scholars, curators, and collectors to research and engage with South Side history.”

As a writer, I’m naturally attracted to the slew of books the place houses. But it’s obviously much more than a glorified library. It’s a people’s center; far removed from the ranks of high society cocktail parties and stuffy art museums. Gates has connected the beauty of art and literature – hallmarks of a progressive nation – with communities that some thought worthless. In this volatile election season, where self-proclaimed saviors of the masses regurgitate their ideas of revolution and the future, that’s simply extraordinary.

Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates








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The Grandest Trickery


“Francis – Latin: Franciscus – ‘Free man,’ a man subservient to his government.”

Name Your Baby by Lareina Rule, 1963.


After a brief and heavily-publicized tour of the United States, Pope Francis returned to the Vatican last Sunday night. Amidst his hectic schedule, frequent baby-kissing and the usual slew of parades, complete with Miss America-type waves, Francis became the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress and the first to hold mass at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The media and Catholic faithful couldn’t get enough of it. I’d had enough the moment he stepped foot on U.S. soil.

In a way, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was returning home; since he’s the first pope from the Americas and the first outside of Europe. But he’s of Italian extraction, and his hometown of Buenos Aires is more European than Latin American. So, he’s not that different from his predecessors. You know what would be different? If the Church had selected a full-blooded Indian who was raised dirt-poor in the mountains of México; perhaps even a man who had been married to a woman and then widowed or (better yet) divorced; maybe someone with a criminal background, like burglary or auto theft. But that would make him too imperfect. I can’t see someone with that many scars rising to the lead one of the most self-righteous institutions the world has ever seen.

I’m not concerned with perfection. No such quality exists in humans. Most everyone in America, from President Obama down to the latest illegal immigrant across the U.S.-México border, was smitten with Francis. As a recovered Catholic, I could see right through the velvet and silk menagerie of angelic verbiage and outstretched hand. Yes, Francis may sound different; offering juicy tidbits of progressive ideology by saying, for example, it’s improper to judge gays and lesbians and criticizing the growing wealth divide. But he’s still head of one of the most powerful and affluent entities on Earth; an empire with an estimated net fortune up to $750 billion. As a former altar boy at a Dallas Catholic church, I wonder now if any priest or nun thought of molesting me; knowing how shy and obedient I was during my childhood. Francis has convinced many people to return to the Catholic Church. I left the Church years ago for one primary reason: its mistreatment of women. And I’ll stay away. I’ve always had a tendency to hold grudges, but this goes beyond personal feelings.


Women’s Work

Of the world’s estimated 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, women comprise more than half, which corresponds to the world’s overall population; that is, women make up more than 50%. Yet, unlike most of the planet, certainly unlike developed nations, the Church is far behind in how it views women and their “place” in society. Women actually make the Church function; they’re the ones who teach the kids, sweep the floors, cook the meals, do the laundry, carry the water and so forth. Meanwhile, their male counterparts (term used loosely) don all those chic designer gowns and issue judgmental pronouncements on human behavior. In medieval times, for example, the Church condemned as heretics any medical practitioner who sought to ease the pains of pregnancy and birth for women. Such agonies, the Church declared, are the price all women must pay for Eve’s trickery in the ethereal “Garden of Eden.” You know the story: the one where the wicked female shoved an apple, or some type of fruit, down Adam’s throat; thus making him and all of humanity a victim of feminine wiles. Even now, the Church refuses to grant the role of priesthood to women. It was hell – almost literally – for them to allow alter girls. But, aside from the convent and church secretaries, there aren’t too many formal positions for women in Roman Catholicism. The Church still won’t even sanction birth control.


Native Americans

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized the first Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwa. It was a unique moment in the Church’s history. Native Americans have a contentious relationship with Roman Catholicism and all of Christianity. That came to the forefront recently when the Church announced that Francis would canonize Spanish missionary Junipero Serra. Canonization is exclusive to the Roman Catholic Church; a lengthy and exhaustive process a deceased individual undergoes before achieving sainthood. Sainthood is that coveted status in the Church where people are proclaimed to be as God-like as humanly possible. Someone has to do a great deal in the name of the Church (and God) just to be considered for canonization. It’s sort of like the U.S. Medal of Honor, except the Church doesn’t acknowledge the recipient may have killed some folks along the way. More importantly, Medal of Honor recipients don’t try to convince people they’re above humanity.

In the 18th century, Serra established one of the first Christian missions in what is now the state of California. I’ve always proudly announced that Spaniards were the first Europeans to colonize the American Southwest; building entire communities. But I’m just as quick to acknowledge the other side of the epic tale: the indigenous peoples of the same region often fell victim to the violence and oppression Europeans brought in their hunger for land and precious metals. When Spain’s Queen Isabella, who funded Christopher Columbus’ voyages and who’s also one of my direct ancestors, learned that her minions were torturing and killing the Indians, she ordered them to stop – which they did. She then ordered them to begin trying to convert the Indians to Christianity – which they did. Then Isabella died, and the slaughter continued. The brutality was almost as bad as that imposed by British and French royalty who had no problems killing those people who either didn’t catch the flu and died or dropped to their knees and started praying to Jesus. In America’s infancy, many White Christians held a concept called “Manifest Destiny.” Some still do.

Francis proclaimed Serra “one of the founding fathers of the United States” and praised his willingness to abandon the comforts of his native Spain to spread Christianity in the Americas. Absent in the virtual deification is the fact that Serra was a tool in a brutal colonial system that killed thousands of Native Americans and subjugated thousands of others who didn’t perish. In August, the California state senate voted to replace a statue of Serra with one of a truly heroic figure: the late astronaut Sally Ride, a California native who was the first American woman in space. You know that had to piss off the Vatican elite. A woman given higher status than a male missionary?! How dare they!

Naturally Francis didn’t address the Native American holocaust; the longest-lasting and most far-reaching genocide in human history. Instead, he said that, when it comes to Christian missionaries, we must “examine their strengths and, above all, their weaknesses and shortcomings.” In other words: we don’t give a shit how you people feel.


The Pedophile Scandal

In June of 1985, American Roman Catholic bishops held their annual conference in Colorado. There, they were presented with a report entitled “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner.” Labeled “confidential,” the massive document was prepared just as the church was dealing with the case of Gilbert J. Gauthe, a priest in Lafayette, Louisiana who had been convicted of child molestation. While we now know the pedophile priest scandal stretches back for decades, the Gauthe case is where the madness first came to light. Revelations about what the Church knew and when shocked and horrified the Catholic faithful. That the Church tried to cover up the scandal by spiriting its gallery of child rapists from one diocese to another – a sort of ecumenical Witness Protection Program – initially seems unimaginable. But, with its vast financial resources and entrenched role as a global powerhouse, I’m not the least bit surprised. Like any international conglomerate, the Church didn’t want to concede it was wrong; opting instead, to pay out millions to keep the loudmouths quiet.

There’s no amount of money that can make up for the pedophile scourge. The damage has been done. This is not a 1950s-era TV show where mom dents the car, and the kids stumble around trying to keep dad from finding out. Francis grudgingly acknowledged the pedophile conundrum during his visit to the U.S. by meeting privately with a handful of victims and proclaiming that “God weeps” at the sexual abuse of children. I guess God weeps when old fuckers like Francis couch their disdain for talking about it publicly by using such generalized terminology. I say this because Francis also praised American bishops for how they confronted the scandal and told priests he felt their pain. For the record, the Roman Catholic Church never confronted this scandal, until U.S. law enforcement got involved. And the priests certainly aren’t the ones who endured any pain – unless it was pain from handcuffs that were too tight or soreness from sitting in a chair for hours, while giving a deposition. But I don’t feel that qualifies.

In the myriad dreams my writer’s psyche produces, the disintegration of the Roman Catholic Church is one of the grandest. But it’s still a dream. We’re talking about an institution nearly two millennia years of age. It’s the foundation of all Christianity – something evangelicals are loathe to admit. It’s not going away anytime soon, unless a comet strikes the Earth or every super volcano on the planet erupts simultaneously. With his soft voice and impish smile, Francis may have convinced a number of people he’s a pope unlike any other; a man wanting to bring the Church into the modern age. After all, he has a Twitter account!

Social media savvy or not, I see the same ruse. I see the same hypocrisy. I see the same figurehead. I see the same wicked entity. It just won’t change for the better. It can’t. It’s deceived too many souls.


Image courtesy J. Belmont.


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F This!


Just when you think something is new, researchers prove you wrong. For example, I thought American cowboys invented the ‘F’ word. Then I heard rumors someone in my family came up with it during a baptism, but that’s another story. A British historian, however, has found the earliest written record of this vocabulary gem in a court document – from 1310.

The item refers to a man named “Roger Fuckebythenavele,” and was discovered accidentally by Dr. Paul Booth, a historian at England’s Keele University. Booth was examining medieval court cases, when he stumbled upon the unfortunate moniker. Roger wasn’t actually born into a family called “Fuckebythenavele.” He was branded as such because he was an incompetent copulator. Usually that refers to most politicians, but Booth informed the local press, “Either it refers to an inexperienced copulator, referring to someone trying to have sex with the navel, or it’s a rather extravagant explanation for a dimwit, someone so stupid they think that this is the way to have sex.”

Apparently Roger was so bad at sex he was considered an outlaw and would be tried under judiciary circumstances. Before Booth’s discovery, the earliest documented example of “fuck” was in a 1475 poem titled “Flen fyys.” The line in question reads, ““fvccant vvivys of heli,” which can be translated to “they fuck the wives of Ely.”

Booth has contacted the Oxford English dictionary people to advise them of his discovery; whereupon they should then make the appropriate updates to the historical etymology of the “F” word. As of now, Booth hasn’t received a reply. In that case, just tell them to…have a nice day. Dagnabbit!


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National Banned Books Week 2015

Old Covered Books on Table HD Wallpaper

Today is the official start of “Banned Books Week” here in the U.S.; the annual counter-assault against the angry and the self-righteous who dare to tell the rest of us independent thinkers what we can and cannot read. It’s a relentless battle.

This year the theme is “Young Adult” fiction. YA fiction, as it’s more commonly known, is the newest fad among adventurous scribes who want to help teenagers cross the troubled bridge into full-blown adulthood; the period of life where people learn the hard way that they aren’t the center of the universe. Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy is one highly successful example. Despite its popularity, it has garnered its own share of conservative protestors. I really can’t understand that. Within the context of American mythology, “The Hunger Games” has everything: violence, racial exceptionalism and plenty of bad luck. I mean, people getting shot down like wild animals. What’s more American than that?

One of the more curious books being challenged is Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman, born Loretta Pleasant in Virginia in 1920, who died of cervical cancer in Baltimore in 1951. It’s not her brief life or tragic death that is necessarily so compelling. It’s not even the fact she died of cervical cancer. It’s what resulted from her death, and the variety of ethical challenges her situation posed. The type of cervical cancer she developed was unique; something oncologists at the time had never seen. Shortly before Lacks’ death, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital removed two samples of the cancer – without her knowledge or permission. They ended up in the laboratory of researcher Dr. George Otto Gey who noticed the cells were unusually durable. Gey isolated and multiplied some of the cells, producing a line he dubbed “HeLa.” The HeLa line would go on to assist cancer researchers in the ensuing decades.

Perhaps the most famous outcome was the cure for one of humanity’s greatest scourges. Jonas Salk used the HeLa line to develop the polio vaccine, which was approved for general use in 1955, after only three years of testing. Immediately thereafter, other scientists began cloning the HeLa cell line; since then, over 10,000 patents involving the HeLa cells have been granted.

The Lacks Family didn’t learn of these advances until 1973, when a scientist contacted them, wanting blood samples and other genetic materials. For them and many African-Americans, this scenario reminded them of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study;” perhaps the most egregious and blatant example of medical racism in the U.S. The tale of Henrietta Lacks is nonetheless a compelling study of medical research and medical ethics. But one idiot in Knoxville, Tennessee has a different view: she calls it pornography. Parent Jackie Sims found Skloot’s book inappropriate for students at L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville. The term “inappropriate,” of course, means: ‘I don’t like it, so no one else should have access to it.’ Sims apparently equates gynecology with pornography. The term “cervical” surely sent her frail mind into a tizzy. Her precious on was given an alternate text (maybe something along the lines of a Disney coloring book), but Sims – like the typical self-righteous curmudgeon – wants Skloot’s tome to be banished from the entire school district. Fortunately, district authorities haven’t backed down, and – as of this writing – the matter is still under consideration.

For a complete selection of this year’s frequently-challenged books, check out this list. Then go out and buy, or download, one of them and read it, if you haven’t already. Remember, true freedom begins with the written word.

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Banned Books Weeks is partnered with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.


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