Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Verraten und Verkauft

Back when the AIDS epidemic first hit Germany in the mid to late 1980s, I was working as a lab tech in a leukemia and immunogenetics research group in Tuebingen (south of Stuttgart).  Now there are are few things that American readers need to understand before I tell you the rest of this story:

1.  The university where I was working is known as a "docents' university" (die Dozentenuniversitaet).  That means that the different department heads rule their departments with de facto powers bordering on the feudal.

2.  My immediate boss and the titular speaker (der Sprecher) of the working group were constantly at odds.

3.  I was an obscure nobody in the working group, i.e., a mere serf in the hierarchy.

Among other duties, my boss was serving as a "doctor father" (der Doktorvater) for a medical student.  That meant that he was the faculty advisor for that student's clinical research project thesis necessary to complete the student's medical studies.  The student's project was to test the anti-HIV antibody status of approximately 200 German hemophiliacs; to test their T-cell surface markers; and to correlate the results with their clinical status.  (As you will recall, one of the groups especially susceptible to HIV infection in the early years of the epidemic was hemophiliacs treated with HIV-contaminated Factor VIII.)

My part in the work was to help that medical student do those 200 Western blots according to a procedure set up by a biochemistry student doing his "civilian service" (der Zivildienst) in our laboratory.  In other words, the "civilian service" student was a conscientious objector working in our laboratory instead of doing military service, and he had worked out the polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE) procedure for us. (Germany has a universal draft for males.  They either go to the military or do "civilian service".  Those who refuse to do either go to jail.)

Now, the T-cell surface marker work was done by another lab tech in the clinic where we all worked because that was where the flow cytometer was.  The medical student completed the clinical examination of the patients up north in Bonn at that university's hemophilia clinic.  Our boss arranged for the medical student and me to do the Western blots in the basement of the Max-Planck-Institut building on the north side of Tuebingen.  It was no big deal for us to set up our equipment in a corner of the basement.  Well, it was no big deal to us.  In the AIDS hysteria of those days, the cleaning ladies had refused to go anywhere near HIV, so we were permitted to do the work only in an area where they never worked anyway.  With no running water in that corner of the basement, we schlepped in our reagents from and took all of our trash back to the clinic.

Once we got set up, we started a marathon testing spree from 8:00am one Friday until about 4:00am Saturday morning.  We mounted the Western blots on backing paper according to each run.  I had presorted the specimens according to the names of the patients in alphabetical order to make it easier for the student to find what he needed when he needed it.  Then I put the sheets in a ring binder and wrapped the ring binder in aluminum foil; Western blots are light-sensitive and can fade over time.  Then we tore down our equipment, loaded it back into the trunk of the student's car, and went back to the university clinic with the Western blots in hand the following Monday after we had got some sleep.

On one hand, it had been necessary to do the Western blots outside our laboratory in the clinc because the speaker had issued orders that we were NOT to do HIV testing in his clinic for reasons unknown to us serfs.  On the other hand, the medical student's proposal for the project already had been approved.  Everybody knew that the PAGE portion of the work required using an HIV-positive cell extract preparation to provide the antigens on the nitrocellulose paper for the Western blots.  We also had used serum from a known AIDS patient as our positive control.  But NONE of this work was done in the speaker's clinic in deference to his orders.

The day came for our boss to travel to Israel for an international scientific conference.  Prior to our boss' departure, a colleague had dropped by from the flow cytometry lab to find out why his name was not on a paper recently published by the group.  The answer was that, although the technician from our lab had done her cell surface marker work on his machine, he had not contributed to the actual research work.  The colleague became a bit testy with our boss, and our boss responded.

The next day -- with our boss safely out of the way to avoid any personal confrontation and with the medical student attending a workshop in Bonn -- that colleague from the flow cytometry lab went to the speaker to accuse our lab of flouting the speaker's direct orders.  Very shortly after that, the speaker's emmissary was looking through our lab with the colleague.  They asked me where the Western blots were, but I honestly did not know, having handed them over to our boss.  They went away none too happy with me.

As soon as they were out of earshot, I ran to another lab where I knew that another researcher kept a spare key to the boss' office; retrieved the key; opened the boss' office; scanned the chaos; spotted the binder in aluminum foil; grabbed it; and stuffed it into my student's backpack.  Then I called the office of the vice-provost to ask what the hell was going on.  The vice-provost  told me that I must hand over anything that the speaker demanded of me in "his" house -- regardless of any concerns about the patients' rights to confidentiality of their medical data.  So then I went to our union steward in the electrician's shop.  He listened impassively to this crazy American.  Then he said, "It's their problem to sort out.  They need to leave you out of it."

That evening I walked home with the Western blots safely stashed in my backpack just in case the speaker's emmissary decided to rifle our boss' office when he was not there (No, I had not told the union steward about that part.)  The binder fit nicely under the winter longjohns in the closet in my dormitory room.  Then I telephoned the boss' wife at home to alert her to what was going on in her husband's laboratory while he was out of town.  Then I telephoned the medical student in Bonn to tell him NOT even to set his tippytoes in the clinic until our boss had returned to confront the accusations.  The medical student could rest assured that I had his Western blots safely stashed away.

The next day, the speaker's emmissary called us lab techs onto the carpet to press us for information.  At one point, he wanted us to tell him which of the patients had AIDS and which did not.  I responded that, even if I were a licensed clinician qualified to make any diagnosis whatsoever, I certainly would not do it on the basis of one Western blot in the absence of other clinical data.  Anything else would amount to irresponsible speculation on my part that could result in irreparable harm to the patients' right to confidentiality.  Besides, there was the chain of command to respect in this instance.  As far as I knew, the medical student had been working on his doctoral thesis as approved by the university administration.  I would appreciate it, therefore, if the emmissary would put any questions about this matter directly to my boss upon his return.

The emmissary fumed a bit more, but the other lab techs, all German employees more susceptible to the spectre of being fired than I was, had caught the drift of my argument and remained silent.  They did not want to leave their jobs without a good reference.  That was understandable given that the worst that could happen to me was that a German policeman would march me onto a plane back to the USA after my visa had been revoked for some bogus reason.

In the end, our boss returned from Israel.  I handed over the Western blots to him in person.  The medical student proceeded with his doctoral thesis and graduated on time.  The speaker fumed a bit more.  In the following weeks, I decided to throw in the towel and go home.  How can any sane worker bee function with pointless political feuds contaminating the group?  Some days it was like watching a "Spy versus Spy" cartoon in an old issue of Mad magazine.  It was time to get on with something else in life.

So, now you know a good example that illustrates why American researchers are required by Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR) to disguise the names of test subjects in their submissions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  How the clinician decodes the names in case he needs them is his business.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Where Were You On 9/11?

Early on the morning of 911, I had driven to the DMV in Waukegan, IL, to renew my driver's license.  The DMV hadn't opened yet, so I went nextdoor to treat myself to a restaurant breakfast without the cats trying to get at my scrambled eggs.  Sipping my orange juice, I noticed a plane flying into the side of a skyscraper on the TV screen across the restaurant, but nobody else in the restaurant seemed to notice what was going on.  The volume was off on the TV, so I still didn't know what was happening.

So, on my way out, I stopped at the pay phone and called in to work.  Did they need me to come straight in and do the license thing another day?  No, finish renewing the driver's license and then come in.  The trouble was in New York, not Chicago.

Walking back to the DMV to stand in line, I listened quietly as people talked about what they had heard over the radio on the way there.  The only thing I had to add to the conversation was, "This means we're going to war."

Armed with my new driver's license, I went to my temporary job at the Lake County Coroner's Toxicology Laboratory.  The coroner's deputies were usually an upbeat group, very sociable over a morning cup of coffee.  But this morning everybody was busy preparing to be deployed to Chicago in case there was an attack there.  They would set up and run temporary morgues in cooperation with civil defense authorities and their Cook County colleagues, if necessary.

I walked back through the offices into the lab; the autopsy theater and the cold storage areas lay further back in the building.  There was no point in getting upset now.  Upset would wait for another day.  I set up my Abbott TDx machine and reagents; pulled the next series of urine cups out of cold storage; and began running the drug screening tests on the court-ordered specimens from probationers.  Cannabinoids and cocaine metabolites, mostly.  Here and there the court had ordered screening tests for opiates, benzodiazepines, and methamphetamines/amphetamines, depending on the offender.

Every now and then you'd get a tap water specimen from some fool who thought he was being slick.  Addicts can be so pathetic.  The machine just stopped and beeped.  Good-bye probation, hello Lake County Jail, fool.

Positive specimens I set aside for the forensic analyst to confirm with other procedures like thin layer chromatography (TLC):  "Blues that fade are 'ludes from Dade."  He would get to the confirmatory tests using the old methods in between setting up new procedures on the new gas chromatography/mass spectrometer (GC/MS) machine that the County Board had bought for the toxicology lab.  I had been hired to work down a three-month backlog of screening specimens in order to free up the forensic analyst's time to set up that GC/MS.  When I got the backlog whittled down, I'd do things like tidy up the lab, clean the cabinets and the countertops, etc.  The paperwork had to be typed up, etc., to be sent back to the judges.

I kept working, working, working, just to get through that day.  When I was done and ready to leave, I stopped by the office to tell the guys, "You know where to find me if you need me to come in for anything."

"We'll call you if we need you, Charlotte."

And then I walked home three blocks.  I stopped to check out the creek in the gully I crossed over on the way home; there had been an otter down there in the shadows one night when I was walking the dog.  When I got home and after I brought the dog in from his piddle run, I lay down to get some rest in case they needed to call me that night.  It was tempting to turn on the TV, but I had a headache.  Soon the cats were piled on top of me in the bed.

In the morning, Chicago had not been attacked.  Mayor Daley had ordered everyone to evacuate the Loop (downtown) in a quiet and orderly fashion.  People complied without any fuss or panic that I heard about.  Easterners sometimes make fun of Midwesterners for being such compliant chumps -- way too easy to gull or intimidate.  But the habit of quiet compliance and cooperation has its merits in most circumstances as long as you don't cross us.

Yeah.  We were going to war over this one.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Meet My Former Boss Tina

I met Tina the Program Manager when she hired me to work part-time in a transitional housing ministry for destitute HIV-positive addicts in recovery.  Tina was a licensed additions counselor and herself a recovering addict and alcoholic.  Her mother had been an alcoholic diabetic; she died when Tina was three years old.  Tina was raised by some relatives; I don't know what became of her father.  It could not have been a happy childhood for the young Tina to have resorted to alcohol and cocaine to numb her pain.

Tina was also married and had two daughters.  She was determined to give her daughters the loving home she had never had.  Her husband was one of those very rare men who had stuck with his wife through thick and thin.  Both spouses did whatever it took to build a home and a family for their children.  They were lay Catholics who lived their faith in a way that put the clerics to shame.

Tina taught me how to toss a room to look for drugs and how to confront addicts with quiet yet blunt resolve.  My prior experience with HIV had been as a laboratory technician in clinical and research immunology laboratories.  Western blots, Northern blots, and ELISA screening tests I knew about.  Coping with addicts was a whole new ball game for me.  I quickly learned that drug addicts and politicians share an incredible capacity for deceit and readiness to sacrifice everything and everyone just to feed their narcissism.  The only effective way to handle either is up front and immediately.  Never, ever let a lie or a deceit slide until another time, or it will become a sacrosanct precedent in the twisted mind of the addict or the politician (You let it slide once, so you owe it to me now.)

But if Tina was a determined program manager ready to storm the gates of hell to bring an addict off the street and into recovery, she was also just another woman in a ministry run by her church.  Our particular house had been founded by a man who specifically recruited Tina to take over for him when he was transferred to set up another house in another city.  Tina did an admirable job, but the bigshots from Chicago would come through and talk down to her.  I do not recall ever hearing them listen to Tina.  Oh, the boys in the dog collars would show up to raise money for the building and to schmooze with donors alright, but I do not think that they ever truly grasped the sometimes gutwrenching work Tina did in that ministry.  Even if they had grasped the stress of Tina's work intellectually, they would not have respected, much less honored, it (cf.

The time and the pressure came to expand the ministry to increase through-put and reduce unit costs.  In other words, we were supposed to take on more addicts; cycle them through their treatment regimens faster regardless of outcome (multiple relapses are expected in recovery); and reduce the cost of housing and managing each addict -- at least on paper. Yes, my dears, addiction recovery is not merely a Christian mission, it is an American industry.

The boys in the dog collars hired a bloodless banker to do the job, and he in turn did a number on Tina.  He gave her one month to raise a million dollars in grants for the ministry or lose her job.  She raised the money.  He wanted to get rid of the volunteer activities coordinator, but Tina fought to save that woman's job.  The woman turned on Tina and played into the hands of the banker.  The banker fired Tina and named the former volunteer coordinator the acting program manager even though that woman had no qualifications as an addictions counselor whatsoever.

The last time I spoke with Tina over the phone, she was fighting kidney cancer and terrified of leaving her daughters orphaned as she had been orphaned.  Even before the cancer struck, she had been suffering autoimmune flare-ups that crippled her.  The doctors had warned Tina that she would spend her later years in a wheelchair.  How much of those autoimmune problems was rooted in the family history of diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and how much in the damage caused by the alcohol and the drugs, I do not know.  But the boys in the dog collars did unload Tina from their payroll within one year of her first crippling flare-up.

I left that ministry shortly after Tina was let go in a "right to work" state.  I will not work for any management that I can not trust.  I can no longer work with or for Tina's church in any capacity.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Berlin Wall And Checkpoint Charlie

I had two opportunities to pass through Checkpoint Charlie and visit both East and West Berlin between 1982 and 1987:

The first time I visited Berlin, I traveled by train to be on my own for a few days with one of those days spent in East Berlin.  After answering artful questions by the East German guards at Checkpoint Charlie (My fellow Americans couldn't have cared less what I was doing), I spent the morning wandering around East Berlin just to get myself oriented.

I got lost in some dead-end alley.  There was a bit of lawn and a dull grey wall beyond it with little stamped metal signs on it.  The stamped metal signs were about six inches tall by about nine inches wide with a dark blue enamel background and white lettering.  I am extremely nearsighted and thought that the signs would bear the name of the street -- so I could get myself oriented again.  But there were signs on the lawn not to step on it, and I was a guest in somebody else's house.  So I leaned over the grass to read the signs.  It was the East German side of the Berlin Wall sans graffiti.  I had wandered into a restricted zone.  Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye that two young men in uniforms with rifles were watching me closely.  I backed up carefully and went back the way I came to get myself reoriented elsewhere.

Then I went to an East Berlin bookstore to check out their selection and then wandered around the old university campus.  I thought that I would check out their university library, but I did not even make it up the steps to the door of the library.  Party-faithful students were stationed outside on the steps, and everybody going into the library had to show their university ID to get past them to the door.  They were polite but firm; my student ID from Tuebingen did not pass muster.  That was the first time I had ever been denied access to a library in my life.*

From there I took a lunch break at a restaurant open to foreigners where they wanted my Western currency.  I met two young ladies having lunch on a winter day while they left their babies wrapped up in their prams outside for the fresh air.  They were new mothers and on their state-paid six-month maternity leave.  They were curious about how American mothers juggled work and home, so I told them what I knew from my coworkers' experiences. They were aghast that rich America would deny newborns and mothers adequate maternity leave to get the child off to a good start.

That afternoon, I went to a museum.  The teacher of a class of nine or ten-year-olds (or was it eleven or twelve-year-olds?) caught my ironic look when she was explaining to her pupils that a certain painting was painted in New Time year of WXYZ.  There was no BC:AD::BCE:CE in East Germany.  It was New Time or Old Time.  The teacher never mentioned that the painting illustrated a Bible story from the Old Testament.

That evening I went to a theater known as the old stomping grounds of Bertold Brecht.  They staged a satire by Dario Fo with some very good special effects.  Up in a box (the only time I have ever been in a theater box), I met two young construction workers from Dresden.  They had been detailed to Berlin to rehab some buildings.  According to them, Dresden was even more rundown and shoddy than East Berlin.  They told me one or two East German jokes during the intermission, but I didn't want them to get into any trouble on my account.  I forget what jokes I told them (probably something about the Chicago political patronage machine or Tricky Dick Nixon).

Leaving the theater, I walked to Checkpoint Charlie and made my way back to the hostel in West Berlin.  Nobody bothered me or approached me on the east side of the wall.  I was completely alone on the street in a world city.

The rest of my first stay in Berlin, I went to the zoo, the symphony, and assorted museums in West Berlin.  The train ride back through East Germany was just as dull as the train ride to Berlin.  With embankments along both sides of the railroad tracks, you couldn't see anything anyway.  The East German conductors came through and ordered the window shades pulled down.  So, all the women either read books and magazines or busied themselves with needlework.  Nobody engaged in audible conversation.  Nobody made eye contact.

My second visit to Berlin was sponsored by the exchange student office in Tuebingen for a weekend excursion.  It was a bus tour with other foreign students and a bit more comfortable in a small private hotel.  The tour bus drove past that old university library in East Berlin, and at one point I recognized a square from old news clips of Nazis burning books.  It made me shudder.  At no point did we meet or speak to any East Berliners.

In West Berlin we went to the theater for a production of Zuckmayer's Der Hauptmann von Koepenick one evening.  Another evening we went to a drama about the Warsaw Ghetto.  After the show a curtain bearing portaits of Ronald Reagan and Helmut Kohl came down to gasps in the audience.  Reagan's trip to the Bitburg cemetery that also contained the graves of SS men was still a raw topic.  The third evening we went to a jazz club in a smoky cellar (To my knowledge there have been no more jazz clubs along 55th Street in Chicago for decades now; Americans have to travel to Berlin to hear the good stuff in smoky cellars for an affordable price.)

But the incident I recall most clearly about the Berlin Wall and all that it signified happened in Tuebingen.  I was working as an "undergraduate scientific aide" -- basically the German version of a work-study student -- in a leukemia and immunogenetics research laboratory.  The lab also did clinical tissue crossmatches for bone marrow transplantation.  We had one patient who had fled East Germany twenty-some years before.  He needed a living-related bone marrow transplant, if possible, but his only sibling still lived in East Germany.  The East German authorities refused to let his sister leave East Germany to come to Tuebingen for the tissue crossmatch, much less the bone marrow transplant if she turned out to be compatible with her brother.  They said that she knew "state secrets".  The woman had worked all her life as a waitress in a cafe.

So much for the German Democratic Republic of Workers and Farmers...

*The second time I was denied access to a university library happened at the medical school library of Northwestern University on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago circa 1990/1.  My employer had sent me to photocopy a scientific article about extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy in a professional journal likely to be in their collection.  Honest fool that I was, I asked the librarian whether I needed to pay a fee.  The bitch stood up and announced in a loud obnoxious voice that she didn't know where all these outsiders from off the street got the idea that they had any business in a private university's medical library.  I was thinking that it had something to do with the tax dollars all of us paid to subsidize that medical school and its library, but I kept my cool.  Instead the librarians at the Library of Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Chicago -- a land grant university -- were very gracious and helpful.

From that day on, I swore to confine my studies -- if I ever could afford to go back to them -- to land grant universities.  It never perplexed me at all that Communist Mikhail Gorbachev and Methodist Margaret Thatcher hit it off so well.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

OK, Now I'm Ticked Off

The following is the edited text of an email I sent to Ann Fisher on the "All Sides" radio program at WOSU-AM, FM, Columbus, Ohio, on August 10, 2011:

Dear Ann,

To my mind today's segment typifies how Columbus/Ohio/American social service, law enforcement, and education services need to coordinate their efforts BUT DON'T.  If you can correlate how a mother interacts with her 18-month-old with the likelihood of that child dropping out of school and job training, then you need to begin intervention right then and there.  Do NOT wait 14.5 years to bemoan the outcome that the kid is hanging out on the corner at East Whittier Street and South Champion Avenue in my neighborhood, learning the fine art of becoming a social predator and career criminal.

REALITY CHECK:  WHY?  Because I will shoot the little bastard when the teenage/adult creep crawls into my window to terrorize me in my own home!

Get that baby into a professional creche with qualified and dedicated personnel paid a living wage while you get his mother into job training to put her on notice that Section 8, food stamps, and Medicaid are NOT career choices.  They are only a fallback to tide her over until she lands a REAL job.  Then you move that child to a Head Start/day care program while Mom is at work.  In addition, you run after-school enrichment programs to keep the child CONSTRUCTIVELY occupied, not hanging out on the corner in my neighborhood

You expressed a concern that not every kid is made to concentrate on science and math.  That's OK.  I hear tell that big bad Venezuela has developed a music program for poor kids that has garnered international acclaim.  A certain symphony conductor alumnus of that program is supposed to hang out in Los Angeles, California, these days.  He has some expertise at putting children to work learning to play musical instruments.  Stop farting around and get him to help you do it!

IF you are willing to face the fact that Section 8, Medicaid, and food stamps were never intended to be career choices but are in fact being abused as career choices, then you need to get serious about telling that transfer payment employee on my taxpayer trillion (forget dime) that she is on my clock and needs to get her fanny to work like the rest of us.

IN ADDITION, children need real fathers, not "baby daddies".  If he wants to be a "baby daddy", let him do it on his time and his dime, not mine.  That means:  Get serious about collecting some real child support from these bozos.  Put some positive male role models into the children's lives to displace "baby daddy".  You know what I mean:  Men that wear their pants around their waists and not hanging from that peg in their crotches.  Men whose resumes list their gainful legal employment, not their criminal RAP sheets.

Bill Cosby was right when he said that recipients should get their welfare checks ONLY when they can prove that their children have attended school all week and that the parent has been diligent at his/her job training program all week.   Remember that Bill Cosby is a man who grew up in the slums of Philadelphia; survived enlisting in the Navy; went to university on the GI Bill and scholarships; has a PhD in education; and therefore has some idea of what he is talking about.  Oh, and the man made some decent money doing side jobs in show business along the way.

But does anybody LISTEN?  Hell no.  The whole world came crashing down on him anyway -- except perhaps that cadre of truly adult fathers sick and tired of being taken for chumps by the deadbeats.

In conclusion, thank you, Ann.  I feel much better now, having gotten that off my chest.

P.S.  I know what it is like to live on Section 8, food stamps, and Aid to Familes with Dependent Children (AFDC).  We HAD to resort to those things when my father deserted the family when I was 13 years old back in 1966.  But my mother didn't run the streets.  She ran her home; sent her children to school unless they were truly sick; and went to work as a part-time cafeteria lady in the public schools to earn enough money to pay to move her children to Chicago.  Once there, she found work in her old home town and never looked back.  By the way, my father was a GS-10 federal civil servant that didn't pay his child support and got away with it because the system was just as full of loopholes then as it is now.

Help me, Jesus.  I don't need to watch some stupid movie Idiocracy.  I'm LIVING in an idiocracy!

Monday, August 8, 2011

News Update From Ohio

On August 8, 2011,  I heard a troubling report on WOSU-AM, FM radio in Columbus, Ohio.  It seems that the number of known drug withdrawal cases for prescription drug (especially opiate) addiction in Ohio newborns doubled between 2008 and 2010.  Not all Ohio hospitals track these cases.  There is no reporting requirement for these cases in the State of Ohio.  Not all mothers are screened for drugs during their pregnancies unless the clinician suspects that something is amiss.  So, we do not know the real extent of the problem.  Furthermore, according to that report, sending an addicted newborn home to go through withdrawal can be life threatening -- especially if the mother does not recognize the infant's withdrawal symptoms.

The report did not go into what lifelong consequences that babies born addicted to prescription drugs/opiates may suffer.

Yet another example of Ohio's "pro-life" legislators' hypocrisy about abortion.  They demand forced births in the jackbooted dominatrix state even as they reject caring for the baby in the social welfare nanny state.  Too bad for the infant that how she lives or dies once she is born is her problem.

Addendum:  See also (broadcast on August 9, 2011)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meet My Neighbor Beverly

Born the daughter of an alcoholic mother, Beverly has learning disabilites, bipolar disorder, and three children by two fathers.  All she wants is the stable loving home she never had as a child.  It is getting there that is so damned hard -- especially when she forgets to take or can not afford to buy her medications.

Beverly works as a home health aide when her car runs well enough to get her to and from work.  She has not learned how to get around on public transit in Columbus.  I think she is frightened of losing her way, and there is the snob factor, too.

Her husband lost his job as a laborer when the financial crisis hit Ohio hard in 2008.  He has been looking for work ever since with nothing ever quite panning out for him.  Employers generally are not interested in two-time felons even in a good economy.  Finding a real training program that in fact leads to a real manufacturing job was a joke in Ohio even before the crisis.

It was no secret that my neighbors were going through a rough patch; you could hear the fights all the way down the street.  I do not know what it is about my dumpling face that makes stressed out women want to talk to me about their problems.  I have never married.  How do I know what to do about it?  I think that they just want to get things off their chest, and I am willing to make them a fresh cup of coffee while they unburden themselves.

"Ms. Charlotte, can I talk to you about something?"

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" (Oh brother, here we go.)

"I feel so betrayed, but I can't do anything about it."

"Betrayed how?  Remember that this is the worst economy since the Great Depression.  In all fairness, he is out there every day, pounding the pavement to look for work.  He does his best to help look after the kids when he's home."

"It's not about that.  It's about...", she drifts off.  (Jesus, help me, I am no marriage counselor.)

"Well.  I was six months pregnant with this new baby when I found out that ... well.  There was this woman who came to our house with his mother one or two times.  I thought she was his cousin or something, you know.  But she's his first wife.  And they're not divorced.  Ms. Charlotte, he swore before the judge that he was forsaking all others when we got married. Now what am I supposed to do?  I married him because I thought that we were going to build a family.  And he's still having, you know, relations with her."

"Does she work?  Are there other children?"

"She's on some kind of disability.  They have no kids." (Aha, a built-in stepmother.  Don't even go there, Charlotte.)

"How did the county clerk's office miss this?  Don't they do a name check in their records?"

"He married her in Franklin County and me in my county.  I guess one county doesn't know what the other one is doing."

"That's Ohio for you."

"Yeah.  I don't know what to do." (Especially since turning him in likely would mean hard time for the third strike.  What about the children without even half a father in the house?)

"I don't know what to tell you, Beverly.  Maybe you need to speak with a bona fide counselor in confidence -- like a pastor or somebody who could help you work through this." (Don't mention lawyers, yet.  Get her to her pastor first; the pastor is certain to have more connections in the community than I do.)

"I can't talk to my caseworker without her having to report him."

"What about your pastor?  What you tell her is strictly private."

"My church is back home.  I don't know anybody here in the city."

"Make an appointment with your pastor back home the next time you go down there to visit.  You need to sort out for yourself what you need to do or not do in what order to protect yourself and the children.  Would you like more coffee?"

"No thanks.  I have to get back to the kids."

"How are you fixed for laundry detergent?"

"Ms. Charlotte, you shouldn't.  You don't have that much money, either."

"It was one of those buy-one-get-one specials.  You can't let a man leave the house in dirty clothes when he's looking for work."

Leave it to unprincipled peters practising the Peter principle in the Ohio General Assembly to tell qualified doctors how to practise medicine when those same legislators can not, or will not, find a way to consolidate marriage and divorce records across Ohio.

Meet My Coworker Ann

Ann and I worked at the same small family firm in Red Bank, New Jersey, back in 1971/2.  I was a kid still fresh out of high school.  Ann from Perth Amboy, New Jersey, was a working mother in her mid-to-late twenties with three sons .  She had left school to marry too young.

Ann had to work outside the home because her husband had deserted the family when he decided that he did not want to be married to her anymore.  He had no trouble with driving by to show the boys a good time with fun and games.  It was those boring things like the rent, food, the utility bills, and medical care that he could not be bothered with anymore.

Boys will be boys, and Ann had her hands full with her three.  They ranged in age from about ten years old down to about four years old.  I think it was the six-year-old that had lost an eye because he had been playing with a pen knife when he shouldn't have.  It was the game where the boy throws the knife into the ground, and the knife is supposed to land with the blade in the soil.  In his case, the boy missed completely, and the knife handle bounced back up from the concrete sidewalk.  The blade landed in the child's eye.

Ann seemed to feel that the accident somehow made her an unfit mother.  Her estranged husband and his attorney did everything they could to rub salt into that wound to drive Ann over the edge. Yet Ann was the one who was pulling the load for two parents to the point of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.

You could see that Ann was under so such stress that she was about to break completely.  Sometimes she trembled.  At one point she had to choose between gasoline to drive that old wreck of hers to work or food in the house.

One morning Ann approached me quietly when the others were not around during break to ask if I could lend her some money until payday.  You could see that it pained her to have to ask a relative stranger for anything.  I pulled the twenty-dollar bill I had out of my pocket.  I had been trying not to break it until closer to payday, but I also had my basic necessities covered until payday.

"Here take it."

"I'll get it back to you on payday."

"Don't worry about it.  You have enough on your plate to worry about.  There's no rush.  My father deserted the family, too.  I know what it's like."

"But you're going to a new job after next week.  I'm no deadbeat.  How will I find you?"

"Like I said, don't worry about it.  Someday if you have the money to spare, just pass it on to some other woman who needs it or put it in the plate at church.  Whatever works."

A few years later, we bumped into eachother when I was visiting Red Bank.

"I still owe you that twenty dollars."

"Don't worry about it.  You needed it.  I had it.  It was a blessing to be able to give it."

Back in 1971/2, twenty dollars represented ten hours gross wages at minimum wage in a small factory reeling toward bankruptcy.  It was never about the money.

If a man wants to be respected as a man, the first thing he needs to do is act like one, not just prance around like some kind of wannabe.  Children need fathers, not "baby daddies".

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why My Mother Reared Me In The Episcopal Church

My mother, Regina Stephanie Zajfert, attended catechism classes in preparation for her First Communion in the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago in 1927.  There were two things that stood out in Mother's mind for the rest of her life whenever she spoke about those classes.

The first was that Mother felt treated like a second-class Catholic by the nuns because she attended Chicago Public Schools rather than a parochial school.  On one hand, maybe the nuns just knew the children from the parish school better and were less reserved with them.  On the other hand, even if my grandparents could have afforded the tuition for a parochial school in light of Grandfather's recurrent hospital stays, Grandfather preferred to send his children to Chicago Public Schools.  Having grown up a son of the church organist in Slesin, Poland, and having watched church politics from the sidelines, Jozef Michael Zajfert wanted his daughters to view life from a more broadminded, i.e., less parochial, perspective.  Maybe that attitude came through in Mother's innocent curiosity at that tender age.

The second was what happened in catechism class the day the nun spoke to the children about what kind of books "good" Catholics read.  "Good" Catholics read only those books that had a certain stamp on the title page of the book.  The stamp was called the imprimatur.

Mother piped up in her eight-year-old voice stoked up by Chicago Public Schools civics class, "But Sister, isn't that censorship?"

Guess who flew out of catechism class that afternoon.  Perplexed about what is was that she could have done that was so wrong, Mother went home to ask her parents why the nun had reacted to her question by expelling her from class that day. Grandmother and Grandfather reassured Mother that she had done nothing wrong.

Grandfather went for a walk and stopped by the rectory that evening to chat with the priest.  That was the last time Mother flew out of catechism class.  But the seed of skepticism, not cynicism, born of injustice and stupidity already had been sown in a child's mind and heart.

Fast Forward:  In 1960 most of my third-grade classmates in Copaigue, Long Island, New York were attending catechism class after school; the rest were attending Hebrew school.  Where did I belong?  I asked my mother why we had no catechism class in our church.  She explained, "We do.  You will attend your catechism class in eighth grade, when you are old enough to comprehend better what you are getting into."

Mother formally converted to the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States on the same day I made my Confirmation in Red Bank, New Jersey, in 1966.  Mother brought her Polish traditions of Christmas and Easter babka, rye bread, pierogi, smoked sausage, sauerkraut laced with caraway seeds, and horseradish with her.  She left behind the confessional and blind obedience to papal infallibility or to any earthly authority for that matter.

So, my Polish Roman Catholic mother and my German-Irish Evangelical Lutheran father reared me as an American Episcopalian, i.e., a renegade Catholic/backsliding Protestant fan of Erasmus of Rotterdam.  My childhood best friend Ruthie was a Reform Jew whose Viennese parents had fled Hitler.  I spent more time in Ruthie's synagogue than in my church during high school.

All in all my spiritual upbringing instilled in me a small-c catholic outlook on life.  It's a bit like being a small-d democrat.  In terms of intellectual rigor amalgamated with human empathy, I think it was the skepticism and respect for critical thinking that stuck.

Addendum:  See also (broadcast August 9, 2011)

I Heard Tell About An American Solomon

Many years ago, a coworker told me about a judge back home.  Back home for that coworker was Montana or one of the Dakotas or maybe Nebraska -- I do not recall which.

It seems that a high school girl had born a child out of wedlock sometime in the 1960s or the 1970s.  She went to court to demand child support payments from the father.  The father enlisted six of his buddies to testify that they all had had sex with her.  In a time before the advances of molecular biology and genetic testing, the boys insisted that there was no way to determine who really was the father.

The girl and her family were devastated by the lie.  However, that judge had been around the block once or twice.  He ordered each of the boys to pay one-seventh of the child support until the child's eighteenth birthday.  They could pay up for what they had confessed in court, or they could confess that they had perjured themselves in court and face those charges instead.

That judge was an American Solomon in my book.

Meet My Classmate Nina

Nina and I attended the same high school in the late 1960s.  Back then it was still a scandal for a girl to get pregnant before she graduated high school.  Considered unfit to attend regular public school classes (A loose girl in class might have contaminated the rest of us girls and given the boys unpure thoughts), the girl usually was shipped off to distant relatives or a home for unwed mothers until she delivered the baby.  Then she would return to school, the baby having been given up for adoption at birth.

Sure enough, it happened to Nina.  She cleaned house after school for a grown man with children, and he had taken advantage of the situation.  Terrified of how her parents would respond when she told them that she was pregnant out of wedlock and that there was no prospect of even a shotgun marriage, Nina enlisted my younger sister to be there for the revelation.  She felt that having an outsider present would increase her prospects of making it through the ensuing explosion safely.  They both made it through physically whole, but it still got very ugly.

After Nina returned from the home for unwed mothers run by the nuns, her body and her spirit had changed.  Her girlish waist was gone.  The nuns had withheld pain medication while Nina was in labor, telling her that she did not really need it and to stop making a fuss about everything.  Nina screamed until she broke her own soprano voice.  Nina had had a beautiful voice and had participated in all the musical events at school, but she did not sing again after she came home.

There was a hard edge to Nina that had not been there before.  With a flinty look in her eyes, Nina related that, during the delivery, she had been told not to look at the baby.  She was not allowed to hold it, either.  The baby was taken away for adoption immediately.

Nina had looked anyway.  That's how she knew that she had born a son.

Addendum:  Compare (broadcast on July 21, 2011):

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Meet Frances: Maybe She's Clean Today

I met Frances years ago, when I was working for a transitional housing ministry for destitute HIV-positive drug addicts in recovery.  Frances shared her story openly as she progressed in her recovery.  Her story opened my eyes about what some girls endure in this life:

Frances' mother was a common street prostitute.  Frances had no idea who her biological father was, just that he was some john.  The man that Frances grew up calling her father was in fact her mother's pimp.  When Frances was 13 or 14 years old, the pimp "father" began abusing Frances sexually (Frances was already used to her mother beating her with an electrical cord.)  Soon Frances was pregnant.  The mother found out about the pregnancy and threw the pimp out of the house in a rare display of maternal concern.

But there was still a pregnancy to be dealt with.  Rather than take Frances to a qualified physician, her mother forced Frances to drink something she had concocted.  The homemade abortifacient did its work.  Soon the teenager's body was expelling the fetus into the toilet.  The mother flushed the toilet unceremoniously, and Frances watched as a tiny hand swirled in the toilet bowl and then disappeared.

The amateur illegal abortion traumatized Frances.  Her need to numb that trauma combined with the on-the-job training she was getting at home propelled Frances into prostitution, drug addiction, and alcoholism.  By the time I met her, Frances was also a two-time felon and HIV-positive.  Frances had never finished school and was working on her G.E.D. in addition to her recovery.  Her mother had died in the streets years before while Frances was in prison.

What Frances craved most was some shred of love in this life.  She became involved with another client and married him -- even though the ministry discouraged clients from becoming involved with anybody in the early phases of their twelve steps to recovery.  The marriage lasted until the day federal law enforcement officers broke down the door to their apartment.  Her husband had been accessing child pornography over the internet while Frances was at work.  He, too, was a two-time felon, so they sent him up for life as a three-time loser.

Frances suffered a relapse and soon was back out on the street.  My former boss was searching the streets to find Frances in order to bring Frances back in and restart her recovery the last I heard (You will meet my former boss Tina in another post.)

YOU tell me how strangling access to legal safe abortions for victims of child rape, incest, and sex trafficking can help a Frances or any other girl in a similar predicament.  Apparently, "true believers" would not permit themselves -- or anybody else --  to rescue the child from heinous abuse by aborting the pregnancy legally and safely and then moving the girl to a safe haven.  Instead religionists must compound the abuse by scoffing at and making a mockery of the child's trauma.

UPDATE:  As of late March 2012, Ohio's illustrious governor, attorney general, majority legislators et al have rediscovered child sex trafficking as an election year issue.  From their legislative performance to date, I must infer that they have no problem with transvaginal ultrasound sonograms to detect the heartbeat of a fetus as long as the probe is being shoved into your daughter, niece, or granddaughter, not theirs.

Addendum:  Compare;;

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Meet My Friend Joe

Joe and I have been friends for over thirty years.  Abortion is the one topic that we agree not to talk about.  Joe is Catholic and vehemently "pro-life".  I am anti-misogyny-tricked-out-as-religion and vehemently pro-choice-by-the-one-most-competent-to-make-the-decision, i.e., the woman.

Some years ago, Joe's daughter became pregnant out of wedlock.  Abortion was out of the question in that house (At least she had the sense not to marry the father and did finish school.)  Like my friend Mary, this girl's child came into the world with cerebral palsy.  This particular child is bright as a button; has good eyesight; but does need a walker or a wheelchair to get around.

The time came to enroll the grandchild in grade school.  For Joe it was a no brainer that he would bust his butt a few more years to pay for another generation of his family to attend a Catholic school on the south side of Columbus, Ohio.  Joe's family had been members of that parish for three generations; this child would be the fourth.

Joe or his daughter, I am not sure which, went to the school to talk to the powers that be about letting the child attend the school on a trial basis.  If it did not work out, the family would make other arrangements for the child.  The administrator running the school said flat out that she was not comfortable with a disabled child attending school there.  The parish priest backed the administrator.

After three generations, Joe and his family now attend another parish.  The child attends a different Catholic school across town.  From the way Joe related the story to me, I can not quite tell whether the administrator was more put off by the child's physical disabilities or the fact that the child was born out of wedlock.

There may be no appeal within the church, but that Catholic school accepts federal funds for education and is therefore subject to certain secular rules of fair play.  Joe's daughter filed a complaint with the federal government.  In her complaint, she asks that the school's personnel be required to complete training to work with disabled pupils in light of the federal tax dollars all of us have paid to that school to date.

Oh, and one more thing.  The mother wants not one penny in damages for herself or her child.  She does want an apology.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Meet My Grandmother

My maternal grandmother, Felicja Zajfert (pronounced ZI-fert), was born in or near Bialystok, Poland.  She had terrible childhood memories of blood running in the streets from the pogroms, and she detested bigots of any sort.

Immigrating to the United States as a very young woman, Grandmother went to work as a seamstress in the sweatshops of Chicago early in the 20th century.  Today factory floors are filled with some mindnumbing cacaophony over the loudspeaker.  Back then Grandmother and two of her coworkers would recite poetry to eachother on their breaks.  When the noise of the machines ebbed, you could hear verses by Pushkin, Mickiewicz, or Goethe being recited by three women who had been lucky to get a grade school education back in the old country.

Grandmother married in Chicago in 1917 or 1918 and had two daughters.  The first was my mother, born in 1919.  After the birth of her second daughter during a very difficult delivery at Cook County Hospital in March 1925, the doctor told my grandmother, "Mrs. Zajfert, if you have another baby, you will leave behind a widower and three orphans.";

Grandfather Jozef Michael Zajfert, born in Slesin, Poland, was a decent enlightened human being and not interested in sending his wife to an early grave.  So, they did what they had to do to maintain their marriage that lasted until his death in 1958.  They never mentioned to their daughters which birth control method they were using, and their daughters did not ask.  It was their parents' private business.

Needless to say, Grandmother heard the usual exhortations from the pulpit to be a good Catholic woman and to fill the world with Catholic children at Sunday Mass.  One day -- in the worst days of the Great Depression -- my mother was leaving the church with Grandmother when a woman in tears ran up to the priest.  The woman was begging the priest for help.  Her husband had abandoned her with eight children.  There was no food in the house.  They were being evicted.  She was desperate.  Could he help her --

The priest rebuked the woman, "Woman, nobody told you to have eight children."

Grandmother, God bless her memory, turned on that priest and crawled up and down that fool in Polish and English:  "What do you mean that nobody told her to have eight children?  I've sat here Sunday after Sunday when YOU were preaching that it's the DUTY of 'good' Catholic women to bring baby after baby into this world!  Now that she can't feed them, YOU want her and the babies to just crawl into some corner and starve!  [...]"

The priest was stunned, unaccustomed as he was to being called to account by a woman -- and an immigrant laywoman with only a grade school education at that.  He gave Grandmother a wide berth after that encounter.

My mother never forgot that encounter.  She related it to me when I was a girl as she was telling me about Erasmus of Rotterdam and "free will".  According to my mother, God gave every human being at least two grey cells to rub together in each cranium, and it is our duty to use them to the best of our ability.  It is one thing to consult educated experts about how to handle a problem.  It is quite another to let others do your thinking for you.  So, always think about things and check the experts' credentials both for technical expertise and the soundness of their judgment before you accept their advice.  Never suspend sound judgment and healthy skepticism to follow anyone or anything blindly.

No woman with two grey cells to rub together in her cranium will submit to any hypocrite that can turn on her like that priest in her hour of need.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Meet My Friend Mary

Mary is a former coworker and a friend.  About ten years ago, a fellow began to woo Mary.  It took him six months to convince her that he really cared about her and to get Mary into bed.  It was the first and last time they had sex, for he dumped Mary like yesterday's trash as soon as he was finished with her.  Unfortunately, that was not the end of it, for Mary was pregnant.

Neither Mary nor her family believe in abortion.  It was a difficult unplanned pregnancy.  Mary spent approximately the last month to six weeks of the pregnancy confined to bed in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio.  She had to keep her legs up and her head down and remain in bed in order not to lose the baby.

The child, a boy, was born with diplegic cerebral palsy.  He has had almost twenty eye operations since birth (Mary has lost count.)  The prognosis whether he will lose his sight completely or retain enough to be labeled legally blind is up in the air.  The doctors have broken his legs and reset them to help him walk almost normally, but he still tiptoes often.  He attends special education classes in public school.

Because the child has "only" diplegic cerebral palsy and is not yet legally blind, he has been denied even partial disability by Social Security.  Like many working people, Mary is not adept at navigating the maze of social service agencies and sees little point in humiliating herself any further with them  So, Mary is the child's sole support; she works a full-time job and runs the house.  The biological father has degenerated into a crackhead, and only the paternal grandparents have shown any interest in the boy from that side of his family.  The maternal grandparents dote on the child.  However, there are relatives in Mary's extended family that still do not speak to her, for she was the first wayward daughter in the family to give birth to a bastard, thus bringing shame on the family name.

Mary has not had a medical check-up since delivering her son.  She can not afford the luxury.  The sectarian hospital and the archdiocese so intent on bringing her son into this world have lifted not one finger to help her since he was born.  They do not even lift her up in prayer as far as I can tell.

At one point, the company where Mary had worked for seventeen years went under, and she was laid off.  The loss of that job meant the loss of what little health insurance coverage she had.  A local merchant sponsored a benefit for her son, and the working stiffs of Parsons Avenue chipped in to raise enough to help her pay down about $17,000 in outstanding medical bills.  Mary does not earn enough on her current job to afford health insurance with or without healthcare reform.

About four years ago, Mary finally met a man worth his salt.  A widower partially disabled from literally backbreaking labor in road construction, in coal mines, and on oil rigs, he has proven to be a good soulmate and a decent stepfather for the mother and her son.  Their summer treat is to take the boy to the drive-in movies, where the screen is big enough that everbody can see the film.

One time I asked Mary what she would do if she discovered that she was pregnant again.

"I'd shoot myself.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my husband, and I love my son.  But I could never go through this again."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Abortion And The 129th Ohio General Assembly


Finally submitting to my doctor's wishes, I let her do a PAP test on me for the first time in 15 years.  The results came back fine.  But if I do not like a qualified professional fumbling around my innards, I sure as hell resent the 129th Ohio General Assembly populated by the medically unqualified presuming to insert themselves between my licensed physician and me.  If I had wanted craven politicians in the consultation or exam room at any time in my reproductive life, I would have invited them.  I did not.  They should stay the hell out -- especially when they represent a political party unable to put a credible alternative to health care reform on the table even though they claim to be so distraught about "Obamacare".

That said, I personally can afford to be apathetic about abortion; the question has become moot for me, biologically speaking.  But where are all the young women whom this move by the 129th Ohio General Assembly will affect?  Why are they not up in arms?  Are they so cowed or complacent or just plain clueless?  Maybe they have no sense of American women's reproductive history.

Maybe I need to get up close and personal with younger readers that have grown up complacent about the breakthrough of Roe versus Wade :


I was nine years old and sitting at the kitchen table, doing my homework one evening, when my parents walked into the kitchen, having one of their "conversations".  My father was speaking in a low voice about a coworker who had given him contact information for somebody who would --

Suddenly my mother blurted out, "I'm not going to some back-alley abortionist, just get that through your head! You were there to make this baby, you can be there to take responsibility for it."

A few months later, on the morning of July 4, 1962, my parents had another conversation in the kitchen.  This time it started about hotdogs.  My father lost it completely and flew into what I later would learn was a homicidal bipolar rage.  Horrified with my feet stuck to the floor and unable to move -- still nine years old, I watched my father kick my pregnant mother around the kitchen.  By early the following morning she had begun to hemorrhage vaginally.  My father woke me from my bed and brought me downstairs.  He told me that I was to stay in my parents' bed until he returned from taking my mother to the emergency room -- just in case my younger sister or brother woke up while both parents were out of the house.

I asked why I couldn't just stay on the sofa.  No, I had to stay in their bed even though my mother's half of it was drenched in blood.  There was blood down the hallway floor and all over the bathroom floor and the toilet.  The one concession that my father did make was that I did not have to clean up the blood; he would mop up the mess when he got home.  My mother said nothing; she was looking rather pale.

So, there I lay until my siblings woke up and our father came home.

Our youngest sister was delivered by caesarean section in a "good Catholic" hospital in West Islip, Long Island, New York, on July 6, 1962.  There the clerics forbade the surgeons to perform a tubal ligation for my mother before sewing her up after the caesarean section -- all the better to foist their sectarian doctrines on a woman who now had four children to rear as well as her newly diagnosed diabetes mellitus.  My father refused to buy my mother the post-surgical girdle needed to help heal her abdominal muscles because he was too cheap.  So, my mother went through the rest of her life with a distended belly because she could not afford the corrective "cosmetic" surgery -- especially after my father deserted the family; married another Catholic woman; and had four more children with his second wife.

For decades I listened to assinine platitudes that I was just being neurotic about my parents' unhappy marriage.  That may be so, but I was also right about my father being crazy.  Independent medical proof finally arrived the day my brother cleaned out our father's medicine chest after he had died and found his V.A. prescription vial full of lithium tablets.  My father never went for a diagnosis, much less treatment, until he retired from the U.S. Army Signal School. Psychiatric diagnosis, no security clearance. No security clearance, no job.  No job, no money.  And that was the one thing my father, having grown up in the Great Depression, simply could not bear.  He just let the rest of us bear the brunt of his undiagnosed, unmedicated bipolar antics for seven-and-one-half decades.


I am so relieved that my father is dead and out of my life.  These days the nightmares recur only when I am going through a really stressful situation.  I am also grateful to be beyond the age when Mother Church can meddle in my reproductive life.  Mother Church was nowhere to be found when I needed rescue and succour as a child, so she can just shut her yap about how I live my life as an adult.  Frankly, it was better for me in the long run that I did not merit her attentions given what we now know about her minions abusing children with impunity around the globe for decades.  Now I must make sure that Mother Church does not sink her claws into me on my deathbed, too!  Compare:


When it comes to cutting a deal with evil incarnate, Planned Parenthood never negotiated, much less signed, the Reichskonkordat of July 20, 1933 .  The individual martyrdom of Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe never will, and never could, whitewash the institution's concordat in my book.  Lucie and Raymond Aubrac, the entire family of Corrie ten Boom, and Janusz Korczak deserve our respect and remembrance just as much as Stein and Kolbe.
31.  Bascomb, Neal.  Hunting Eichmann:  How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi.  New York:  Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2009.  Pages 68 -- 72, 122, 305.


Mother Church's chronic persistent misogyny notwithstanding, many Christian denominations have adopted a range of stands on abortion that reflect a nuanced understanding of the woman's predicament.  Other faiths also evince a spectrum of attitudes and practices that range from enlightened compassion to calculated barbarity when it comes to women, their bodies, and who does what to them when.  How a particular woman is treated in any of these cultures depends largely on her family's socioeconomic status as well as her access to nonsectarian formal education and job training, i.e., economic self-sufficiency.  Apparently, women's true status worldwide has not changed all that much since Margaret Sanger began her work in the slums of New York City back in 1916.  Today every woman with two grey cells to rub together in her cranium must decide whether she will submit to misogyny tricked out as religion.  Prudence and a healthy regard for self-preservation dictate that she exercise her franchise accordingly.


Evidently, medical decisions about abortion, as with all other forms of health care, are best left to confidential consultation between the woman and a competent physician free to discuss and to perform the full palette of treatment options the patient may wish to consider in light of her circumstances, not yours or mine.  Matters of faith are between the patient and her faith, not yours or mine.  The patient must be free to make her decisions without interference from bigots saddling her with their doctrines, saddled as they are with their own manifest hypocrisy and criminality.  IF we are to believe that American women are full citizens with equal rights, then that patient is a human being in her own right, not chattel.  Do you perchance recall the days within living memory when a doctor confronted with having to save the mother or the child when he could not save both would ask the father/husband which one the man wanted the doctor to save?

To argue that it is a woman's civic duty to submit to the pernicious machinations of sanctimonious bigots -- thereby putting her health, her well-being, and even her very life at risk -- is degrading and obscene.  I wish that the degradations my mother suffered at the hands of a Christian husband and a Catholic hospital were so rare that recounting my childhood experiences could shock and awe you.  But what I witnessed was not rare in 1962.  It is not rare in 2012.  Even if the abuse of women in all its permutations were rare, the law must allow the patient access to unfettered qualified medical care to cope with her birth control needs according to HER freedom of conscience in the real world, not in some la-la-land of medically unqualified and morally bankrupt clerics.  Those sectarian healthcare providers intent on subverting truly ethical health care for women would do better to refuse the federal healthcare tax dollars they rake in from all of us. (Heaven forbid! That would require clerics to stop to chasing the money -- and politicians like Mitt Romney, the presidency -- at any price just so long as it's women who pay the price.)

Accordingly, I do not give a tinker's damn what some doctrinaires in Rome or their political lackeys in Columbus, Ohio, presume to think they know about my life, my morals, or my decision to complete or to abort my pregnancy.  The only cleric I pay attention to when it comes to my reproductive life is that Augustinian Gregor Johann Mendel and his seminal work with pea plants.  Knowing that bipolar disorder runs rampant on my father's side of the family, I chose to abstain from motherhood for damned good reasons.  Knowing that Roe versus Wade was there to protect me in case I slipped up -- or was raped -- gave me the sense of security I needed.  How you young women in Ohio today propose to assert your reproductive healthcare rights in light of the bastardized legislation promulgated by the 129th Ohio General Assembly is beyond me.


Take it from the voice of experience, ladies:  Brownshirts, blackshirts, and run-of-the-mill nut cases in jackboots or cowboy boots or wingtipped brogues will kick you around your own kitchen and leave you there to bleed out if you let them.  I witnessed it with my own eyes when I was nine years old.  Of course, some doctrinaires wear stiletto heels or promote themselves as "women of faith" or "true believers".  Note how smugly they proffer themselves on the political stage even as they denigrate you and deny your rights in a country that purports to cherish freedom of conscience on the world stage.  But that only works if you remain silent and let them get away with it.  Be it Mother Church or Papa Staat -- with or without the dog collar -- you need to confront spiritual frauds of any denomination and their political hacks sooner rather than later.


Looking forward to voting the doctrinaires in the 129th Ohio General Assembly and that de facto Governor's Mansion in Delaware County out of office, I hope and pray that you women in Ohio get a clue and belly up to the voting booth in time -- IF you can still fit your bellies into the booth.  Just do not show up barefoot, or they will not let you into the polling station, never mind the Statehouse.  Mark my words:  Either you will vote to regain your access to competent medical care and full health insurance coverage for all your birth control needs, or you will go back to calling "JANE".


It may be politically incorrect these days to use the term "idiot fringe", but the fact remains that idiots are just as dangerous on the political right as they are on the left.  Politics has never been foolproof, and bigots mixing politics with sanctimony are the most dangerous kind of idiot on the American right.  So take care what you vote for lest you get it.

Postscript:  This post updated periodically in honor of Ohio Women's Lobby Day, March 21, 2012.