Wrong Right

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No sooner had the group taken control of the tiny town than various branches of law enforcement – from local police to the U.S. Marshalls – arrived fully armed and fully prepared for combat. The group expressed anger towards the federal government and decried a system of oppression and brutality. But both the federal government and the police viewed them as mere renegades whose goal was destruction, not revitalization of a battered community. The day after the siege began both entities exchanged gunfire. Seventy-one days later it ended.

The 1973 occupation of the small South Dakota hamlet of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement (AIM) startled most other Americans and garnered international attention. It really shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but many non-Indians believed then their Native American counterparts were content to live in isolation on land carved out just for them. Who outside the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation knew things were so bad? The history of Wounded Knee had already been written in blood. In December of 1890, a violent clash between the Oglala Sioux nation and U.S. federal troops left some 150 Indian people dead. That cataclysm was fresh in the minds of AIM members, including co-founders Russell Means and Dennis Banks, when they overwhelmed Wounded Knee on February 27, 1973. Things hadn’t changed much for the residents of Wounded Knee or all of Pine Ridge, for that matter, in the period since the 1890 event. Poverty, sickness and infant mortality were high, while employment and opportunities were low. The U.S. federal government had failed the entire community. But it didn’t fail to react to the sudden occupation by AIM. If you study that fiasco from the vantage point of AIM and residents of Pine Ridge, you should get an understanding of their angst and the long brutal relationship Native American communities have had with the federal government. If you look at it from the U.S. Marshalls’ view, it was a military success – albeit one that lasted too long for their liking.

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AIM members literally readied themselves for battle when they overran Wounded Knee in 1973, exacerbating the fears of many White conservatives: Indians with guns.

I thought about the 1973 Wounded Knee quagmire, when a group of anti-government activists seized a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon two weeks ago. They’re protesting the treatment of two local men, Dwight Hammond and his son, Steve, by the federal government. The Hammonds had been charged with starting two fires – in 2001 and 2006 – on their farmland that ultimately encroached upon federal territory. The Hammond property has been in their family for generations, but it interlocks with publicly-owned territory managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The government allows Hammond-owned livestock to graze on the federal land. The Hammonds claimed they set both fires on their land strictly as a clearing method and had informed the government in advance. But U.S. officials deny receiving any such notification and claim the family was trying to cover up evidence of illegal deer hunting. The 2001 fire burned 139 acres of BLM land, while the 2006 blaze burned only an acre. Dwight and Steve Hammond were arrested and charged with destruction of federal property and sentenced to three months and 366 days, respectively, in prison in 2013. A series of appeals resulted in early releases for both men. But the government recently backtracked and ordered the men to serve more prison time. By the time they peacefully turned themselves in to authorities, the occupation of Malheur had begun.

The rebellious group’s leaders are the sons of another land owner, Nevada’s Cliven Bundy, who was the crux of a federal dispute two years ago that resulted in another standoff. Bundy, a wealthy cattle rancher, had been using federal land in Nevada to feed his livestock. The government allows people to do that, but the farmers must pay fees. Bundy hadn’t paid his share of fees since 1993, and in 1998, a judge ordered him to remove his cattle from federal land. He refused and in March of 2014, federal officials tried to seize some of his livestock. In no time, a large contingent of supporters descended upon the Nevada ranch, armed and ready to fight. The government backed off and returned the cattle to Bundy without further incident. Bundy apparently still hasn’t paid his fees. Shortly after that incident concluded, Bundy showed his true colors (pun intended) when – recalling his experience driving past a Las Vegas housing project – he said, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro. [A]nd in front of that gov­ern­ment house the door was usu­ally open and the older people and the kids — and there is al­ways at least a half a dozen people sit­ting on the porch — they didn’t have noth­ing to do. They didn’t have noth­ing for their kids to do. They didn’t have noth­ing for their young girls to do. And be­cause they were ba­sic­ally on gov­ern­ment sub­sidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young chil­dren, they put their young men in jail, be­cause they nev­er learned how to pick cot­ton. And I’ve of­ten wondered, are they bet­ter off as slaves, pick­ing cot­ton and hav­ing a fam­ily life and do­ing things, or are they bet­ter off un­der gov­ern­ment sub­sidy? They didn’t get no more free­dom. They got less free­dom.”

Looking at the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff and the current Oregon mess, two facts are obvious: the protestors in both situations are White and that the federal government hasn’t fired a shot. At least they haven’t done so yet in Oregon, and I doubt they will. Unlike the 1973 Wounded Knee standoff, the government has been patient.

Oregon protestor, Jon Ritzheimer, displays a family picture on his phone and a copy of the Constitution to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.  He needs bottled water and Ramen noodles, too.

Oregon protestor, Jon Ritzheimer, displays a family picture on his phone and a copy of the Constitution to the media at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. He needs bottled water and Ramen noodles, too.

What would happen if a group of Indians took over the Malheur site and demanded the U.S. federal government stay away for good because it had been Indian land for thousands of years and should remain that way? How would the government react if a group of Mexican-Americans descended upon the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas and ordered the state and federal governments to cease making it a tourist attraction? What if a group of African-American Chicago residents, tired of rampant poverty and police abuses, overwhelmed city hall and demanded the mayor and police chief resign? Can anyone honestly see the U.S. federal government reacting with patience and diplomacy if any of these scenarios actually occurred? If you do, I have a box of gold bullion I’d like to sell you for USD 100.00 a bar; just give me the money (cash only) and I’ll ship it to you postage paid.

The people at Malheur are just a few members of a larger anti-government contingent here in the U.S. While the state of Oregon overall has a reputation as a bastion of liberal ideology, its eastern sectors are much more rural and conservative. The same holds true for its northern neighbor, Washington. For its southern neighbor, California, the northern half is the rural, conservative portion with strong anti-government sentiments. (On more than one occasion some northern California residents have launched concerted efforts to secede from the rest of the state; most recently in 2014.)

There have always been anti-government insurgents in the United States. From 19th century abolitionists to 1960s-era Black Panthers, various groups have organized and protested against what they view as an oppressive regime. The modern-day militia movement spawned from anxiety over tumultuous civil rights protests. Blacks, Hispanics, Indians, women and gays and lesbians form the bulk of their frustration (fear?), as they call for a rebirth of core American values. The militia movement is comprised mostly of devout Christians of European extraction. Publicly they trumpet their concerns about a federal government out of control, but many of their actions shout White supremacy. Any would-be social cataclysms are the stuff of pure hysteria. In other words, these clowns are conjuring up shit that hasn’t even happened.

The U.S. federal government, however, isn’t so left-wing. Cliven Bundy’s oldest son, Ammon Bundy, leads the Oregon militia and has promised his fellow Americans that “we are not terrorists.” The crop of loudmouths seeking the U.S. presidential nomination in the Republican Party have denounced President Obama for not using such terms as “Islamic terrorists” or “Muslim militants.” But they haven’t applied similar monikers to Bundy’s gang in Oregon or to the young White man who shot and killed 9 Black people after a Bible study session in a Charleston, South Carolina church last year. They were quick to slap the terrorist label onto a Muslim couple who ambushed a Christmas party in San Bernardino, California last month, killing 14 and injuring 22. But they offered their usual “thoughts and prayers” after a mentally deranged man opened fire in a Lafayette, Louisiana move theatre last summer, killing 2 and injuring several others, before taking his own life. The Lafayette killer allegedly praised the Charleston killer in a written screed that displays the “angry White male” syndrome in all its raging effervescence. More importantly, both men had purchased their guns illegally.

In 1968, thousands of law enforcement personnel swarmed into Chicago in advance of the Democratic National Convention. Emotions were still raw for many after the recent assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. Police swiftly targeted unarmed protestors; part of their paranoia over rumors that leftists planned to spike the city’s water supply with LSD. Mayor Richard J. Daley had the Illinois National Guard in place, as convention participants arrived. The sight of police beating the crap out of unarmed protestors, while business proceeded as usual in the convention center horrified most Americans.

In November of 1969, 89 AIM activists sneaked onto Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and demanded the federal government turn it over to them, so they could convert it into a Native American cultural center. The island had sat mostly untouched, since the government closed the Alcatraz federal prison six years earlier. The AIM occupiers claimed they had rights to the rocky island under the terms of an 1868 government treaty allowing Native Americans to appropriate any unused federal land. And, of course, we all know how great a job the U.S. government has done in honoring those treaties. Officials tried in vain to get the occupants to give up peacefully. Increasingly squalid living conditions and some infighting, however, led to AIM’s complete desertion of Alcatraz by April 1971. Perhaps it was AIM’s reluctance to give up immediately that led to the government’s more virulent response to the Wounded Knee occupation.

The federal government had kept a close watch on Martin Luther King, almost from the moment he became known for his peaceful resistance against American apartheid. The government did the same with the Black Panthers, but they went further and tried infiltrating the group. In 1967 then-California governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, which barred citizens from publicly displaying firearms. It was the closest thing to gun control the future conservative icon ever did, but it was a direct response to Black Panther activities; they had begun patrolling many all-Black neighborhoods to fight crime and stand against police brutality.

The government also kept track of civil rights activist César Chávez who led a series of farm worker strikes in California, beginning in 1962. Documents in the archives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) prove they had him and his followers under surveillance. He, too, was a target of Reagan who bore a dislike of organized labor. Reagan appealed to White conservatives in his first run for the presidency by promising to do as much as he could to return America to its pre-1960s period; before all the non-Whites had the audacity to demand equality, voting rights and other such anarchist claims.

The whole world was watching the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago:

Fights even broke out inside the convention hall, proving how nasty politics and media can be.

 

In contrast, the government reacted slowly to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1950s, which naturally corresponded with the rise of Black civil rights. Despite frequent lynchings, church bombings and other violent acts, the FBI didn’t even consider infiltrating the Klan until after the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964.

Although conservative voices slam government overreach with such things as the Affordable Care Act, the feds have treated mostly-White anti-government groups with care. Two 1990s-era events – Ruby Ridge and Waco, Texas – are often cited by conservatives as hallmarks of government gone awry, but actually show just the opposite. In August of 1992, a standoff erupted between government agents and a family of White separatists, headed by Randy Weaver, in Ruby Ridge; a mountainous region of northern Idaho where many fellow White separatists had established themselves. The siege resulted in the deaths of one federal agent and Weaver’s wife, Vicky, and son, Sammy. The FBI had the Weavers and family friend Kevin Harrison under surveillance for months; in their native Iowa, they had ties to White supremacist groups that the government suspected were responsible for a series of bank robberies throughout the mid-West, beginning in the 1980s. Authorities didn’t believe the Weavers were tied directly to the robberies, but that they served as a conduit for firearms trafficking. Randy Weaver had been charged with selling two sawed-off shotguns and was scheduled to appear in court. When he didn’t, the family and Harrison came under greater scrutiny.  While still in Iowa, the Weavers allegedly sent their kids to school wearing Nazi armbands.

Conservatives equally slammed the government over its response to the Branch Davidian siege in Waco in the spring of 1993. As with the Weavers, the feds believed the group was stockpiling weapons and ammunition, which ultimately proved true. Moreover, Branch Davidian leader David Koresh was suspected of child molestation. When agents approached the Davidian compound, they were met with a hail of gunfire. A lengthy standoff ensued whereupon the government tore into the compound with military-style precision; killing 76 people, including 23 children.

However, social conservatives haven’t been so quick to condemn the actions of law enforcement during the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. Established in 1972, MOVE (much like their White counterparts) is an anti-government group whose members all adopted the surname “Africa,” in symbolic protest of the Atlantic slave trade that stripped millions of Africans of their identities. The group came under federal surveillance from the moment of their inception. In the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, May 13, 1985 (Mother’s Day), police literally dropped a bomb of C4 explosives on one portion of a section of row houses in West Philadelphia. The resulting conflagration killed 6 adults and 5 children, injured several others and destroyed 61 residences. Like the Weavers and Branch Davidians, MOVE members were no angels. They had more people living in one house than city rules allowed; windows were covered with plywood; and they blasted the neighborhood with loud music and vociferous protests. Police also suspected – rightfully – that the group possessed a large cache of weapons and ammunition.

Aftermath of the 1985 MOVE disaster.

Aftermath of the 1985 MOVE disaster.

Still, in a recent editorial, Jesse Walker questioned the legitimacy of denouncing the Oregon protestors as “terrorists.”

“The occupiers do have guns, and they have said they’re willing to use them if the cops come storming in,” Walker opines. “Yet they have no hostages, they haven’t fired at anyone, and if they do fire, they will almost certainly not aim at a civilian but at someone professionally charged with removing them from the premises. You can call that a lot of things, but it’s absurd to call it terrorism.”

In typical right-wing fashion, Walker goes on to point to the Ruby Ridge and Waco affairs as reasons the government is taking a cautious approach with the Oregon group. Anyone who views Randy Weaver and David Koresh as heroic figures isn’t just misguided; they’re assholes. One of them was Timothy McVeigh, mastermind of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which he said was revenge for Waco. McVeigh was videotaped near the Branch Davidian compound during the standoff holding a sign asking observers if they felt their religion met government approval.

White supremacists and serial pedophiles are essentially terrorists. What else should they be called? People with “emotional issues”? While many White conservatives still refer to Ruby Ridge and Waco with anxiety, many Blacks view the MOVE bombing more as a blatant example of the usual police brutality. But I haven’t heard any African-Americans refer to MOVE members as heroes.

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My tweet to Jesse Walker after reading his editorial last week.

More recently, the Occupy Wall Street movement was practically halted before it gained any real traction. The group of racially diverse upstarts launched reasonable protests against the same government as others; theirs, however, were directed towards the affluent bankers and hedge fund managers who almost destroyed the U.S. economy and plunged the nation into the worst recessionary period since the Great Depression. The protestors were mainly peaceful and non-violent, yet police from New York to San Francisco plowed into them with mace and batons. Scouring the news about Tea Party rallies – where racist diatribes and threats of violent insurrection are common – I can’t find one incident where police even tried to stop them.

I don’t know what will happen next with the Oregon standoff. Malheur is primarily a bird sanctuary, so I hope no avians are harmed. The interlopers have put out a call for much-needed supplies, such as bottled water and toiletries. In a strange sort of way, I support their frustration in that I have no faith in the U.S. government to do anything right. The years since 2001 have pretty much proven that. Along with bottled water and deodorant, I’d provide a copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which the group surely has. But, my copies would highlight this essential passage:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Even though the term “men” can now be easily translated to “people,” I want them and their supporters to understand they are no more deserving of this thing called the “American Dream” than anyone else. We all possess that inalienable right to “life” and “liberty” – whether we drink bottled water or not.

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Family Valued

My parents and me during a celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary in June 1984.

My parents and me during a celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary in June 1984.

“Goddamn Obama!” My father never minces words when it comes to elected officials, celebrities, professional athletes, religious leaders and other miscreants. After reviewing the monthly social security payments for him and my mother, he estimated they would be short up to $600 in 2016. Unlike his predecessor, President Obama hasn’t ensured social security recipients would see annual increases. No fan of George W. Bush, my father continued his anti-Obama rant. “He’s more concerned with those goddamn Syrian refugees than with old people who’ve worked all their lives!”

He continued, pointing out that, combined, he and my mother had put a century’s worth of their lives into the work force. For years my father dealt with a stingy boss at a printing company where he stood on concrete floors for hours; his feet and knees now paying the price. My mother labored in the insurance industry, beginning at a time when pregnancy was considered a terminal offense and women had to put up with sexual harassment the same way they put up with a runny nose.

I reassured my father that, no matter what, I’ll be there for him and my mother. It’s become especially critical as their health falters – something to be expected in the ninth decade of life. A few years ago I had joined some friends at a dinner party, when the subject of aging parents arose. I mentioned my mother’s declining memory.

“Have you thought of putting her in a home?” one young woman asked.

“She has a home,” I replied. “It’s the one she’s in now.”

She then proceeded to lecture me on the benefits of assisted care facilities, as if I was an ignorant farm boy and she was an omniscient philosopher who’d come down from her golden thrown atop the Himalayas.

I quickly shut her up. “That’s so bleeding-heart liberal of you,” I said. “We don’t do that in my family.”

The idea of putting my mother in a “home” is akin to abandoning my aging dog in a Wal-Mart parking lot should he get sick. If I won’t dump my beloved canine into a strange environment where he’d surely perish, do you think I’d do the same to the woman who almost died giving birth to me?

The other day I spent time with a long-time friend, Pete*. His birthday was recent, and I’d promised to treat him to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, Ojeda’s. He had also sent me a free pass to his gym; a tiny joint in East Dallas, near where he lives. So we agreed to visit the gym first and then head to the restaurant for an early dinner. He just happened to have the day off from his job as a customer service agent for a major insurance outfit. But he’s never idle. Both his widowed mother and one of her sisters live with him in a huge house he bought through an auction a few years ago. His younger sister – who lives with her husband and toddler daughter in the house where she and Pete grew up – drops by daily to help, as does an old family friend who cleans the place. Between his mother and his aunt, Pete often finds himself running on fumes. His aunt, who’s in her 90s, has dementia and spends her time in bed watching the Catholic channel on TV.

“She’s gone,” he told me the other day, as we stood in the front room of the house. He said it with the same degree of ordinariness as if he’d told me rain had fallen that morning. “She’s completely gone.” I’d met and spoken with her before, but Pete assured me she probably wouldn’t recognize me.

I caught a glimpse of her, quietly peeking in through the open door of her bedroom. She faced the large-screen TV; surrounded by a gallery of religious relics.

Pete’s mother ambles around on crunchy knees with a walker. An orthopedic surgeon had told them both years ago that knee-replacement surgery wouldn’t be viable at her age. His mother took it in stride, but Pete became irate with the doctor; bringing up such new-age remedies as shark cartilage.

Our visits to the gym and the restaurant provided a much-needed respite from our respective daily grinds. The gym is an old-fashioned place where solid-iron weights outnumber the handful of machine weights; the paint is peeling; the water fountain trembles with every usage; and men can walk around shirtless without offending suburban soccer moms. The restaurant, Ojeda’s, is practically a Dallas landmark. Family-owned, it looks like one of those quaint hole-in-the-wall eateries you won’t see listed in travel brochures. I like it because they serve gigantic swirls and monster homemade pralines. Pete likes it because they use real cheese – his one true test of a Mexican restaurant’s authenticity. As usual, I ate too much. But virtually floating out of the restaurant, instead of walking, I still felt good. Right now that’s one of life’s simple pleasures.

Neither Pete nor I get out of the house much. “You’re my only real friend,” he told me at the restaurant. Almost everyone else he called a friend had pretty much disappeared.

I thought about my own collection of friends. I never was an outgoing type of person. I’m too much of a loner; the kind people wonder about when they learn of mass shootings. It’s not intentional on my part. Ironically, Pete had once expressed concern that I was becoming too much of a “recluse.”

“I’m a writer,” I reminded him. “We’re loners and reclusive by nature.”

Pete and I have something else in common: our fathers grew up together in East Dallas. They’d attended the same grade school and the same high school. When Pete’s paternal grandmother had become too frail to care for herself, she’d moved in with one of her other children. As my paternal grandmother aged, two of my aunts periodically hired independent caretakers; young Mexican women fluent in Spanish. But my father and his siblings often spent time with their mother. They didn’t just hand her off to those young women, before going about their own lives. Growing up, my father told me, almost every family on their street had an elderly relative living with them.

The aforementioned little gal who talked of “homes” couldn’t understand such dedication to family. She recounted stories of digging water wells in Africa for the Peace Corps.

“Ten million years after humans began walking upright, and African still can’t dig its own water wells?” I queried.

That really pissed her off! I didn’t care. For folks like Pete and I, there is no other “home” for our loved ones, outside the places where they already live. When we returned to his home after the gym, he told me it was alright to park in the neighbor’s driveway. A few years ago, when Pete staged a Memorial Day cookout, I’d met the neighbor; a quiet elderly gentleman who lived alone in a house as big as Pete’s. But, Pete told me, the man’s children had recently placed him in one of those “homes;” their answer to his frequent falls and other health concerns.

“How could they do that to him?” Pete lamented.

I didn’t have an answer. Even after returning home that evening, I struggled to comprehend how some people could hold such disregard for their relatives. What goes wrong in a family to create that kind of animosity? Well…I suppose a number of things. My dog, Wolfgang, was the only one who expressed unmitigated excitement at my return the other night. After I’d left, my father told me, my mother had developed yet another excruciating headache, and he had become sick to his stomach. They were fine by the time I arrived.

It seems, though, every time I leave the house for an extended period – just to get away and relax – something goes wrong. On the day after Thanksgiving I joined some friends for a post-holiday lunch. It’s something of a tradition among them. Someone offers to host the gathering, and everyone else brings food, beverages and / or money to pay for it. This time the location was clear on the south end of Dallas, in the Oak Cliff area. Cold rain was falling. But I made it and had a great time. When I arrived home, my father lay in bed, shivering uncontrollably. All the happiness from that day evaporated, as I settled in; tired and wanting to lay down for a short while. But I didn’t because a sense of guilt overcame me. I couldn’t just relax, while my father trembled in a near-catatonic state. I’m not that heartless. The trembling – whatever its cause – finally subsided.

Two days before Christmas another close friend invited me to lunch; just to hang out and commiserate about life’s antics. The day was bright and cool, and I had a great time. A simple, good meal and a mixed drink can do wonders for the soul! But, when I returned home, both my parents were sick. My father was actually angry. They’d lay down for a nap, whereupon my mother experienced another severe headache – a life-long scourge for her. That somehow induced an argument between them. As before, the happiness I felt from a pleasant afternoon got wiped out in a second.

Goddamnit, I yelled deep inside. Why the fuck can’t I leave the house for a little while and NOT come home to a medical drama?! As always, Wolfgang was the only one who seemed genuinely excited to see me. I looked at him, as I do every time something like this occurs, and whisper a secret wish into his dark eyes: “I want to grab you, jump in the truck and go. Just go somewhere. Anywhere! Just get away from here.” But I always sigh and realize I can’t do that. Not me. Someone else very well could.

For decades archaeologists have argued over what drove the Mayan Empire to collapse: drought or internal warfare. Perhaps both. What caused the Roman Empire to collapse? It grew too big, some theorize. Perhaps it did. But have scientists ever considered another more personal dilemma: the collapse of the family unit? Whether a community is a titanic empire, or a small band of hunter-gatherers, one thing has always been certain throughout human history – the family. Without a solid family structure, no society can function properly. Here in the U.S. social and religious conservatives have wildly pointed to abortion and gay marriage as the biggest threats to the family unit. And, in their narrow minds, I’m sure they believe that. But the greatest threats to any family usually come from within: alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, infidelity. If threats come from outside, they’re often society itself: unemployment, underemployment, lack of medical care, poor schools, wage inequality. These latter elements are what could bring down the modern American state, if those noble elected officials aren’t careful.

I recently perused through some family photo albums; not looking for anything in particular. I’ve finally reached that point in life where the concept of family takes on an entirely different meaning. I really can’t explain it. But, when you reach that time, you just know it. It felt good to look at those old pictures. Yes, it was nostalgic. Like with the pains of old age, that’s to be expected.

Later the other night, as my parents readied for bed, my mother ambled out of their bedroom and asked who all lives here. “Is it just the three of us?”

“The four of us,” I corrected, gesturing to Wolfgang.

“Oh, yeah!” she exclaimed, adding that she didn’t understand why she kept forgetting that simple fact. She reached down to scratch Wolfgang’s downy ears and bade him goodnight.

After she returned to her bedroom, I merely looked at Wolfgang. He cocked his head in the same way I shrug my shoulders. What can we do? This is it. This is our world. Our family. That’s what we value. Little else matters.

 

*Name changed.

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Worthy Words

Writer-at-work

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

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“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

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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

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“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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