Monthly Archives: October 2015

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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