What I’ve been reading

I don’t usually get my news from CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Fox, whatever.

So here’s what I’ve been reading about the past few days, while recovering from a minor illness–and these are some stories I think all citizens of this country (should read about too. Agree with the story or not, it’s always good to exercise one’s mind!

Safe & Legal Abortion: A matter of life and death

Heads up:

This blog entry IS graphic.

When I taught “Ethical Issues” at nameless State University, I inevitably lead a two week discussion about abortion. The first week was spent reading philosophical texts as to why abortion was a moral wrong; the second week we read philosophical texts defending abortion. (Should you be interested in these reading materials, drop me a line in the comment section.)

Throughout the whole course, no matter the topic, I kept my own opinion out of the discussion.

But I did open this topic, which I am definitely passionate about, with some basic statistics.

  • By the age of 45, approximately 35% of American women will have had at least one abortion. Think about that when you’re running errands, when you’re at work, etc, and you see a woman. Wonder, “Did she have one?”
  • More than one-third of American women will have undergone at least one abortion.
  • More than HALF of the women who found themselves pregnant were using at least one form of birth control.[i]

Of course, philosophy frowns upon logical fallacies, and citing carefully chosen scripture to make the case against abortion wasn’t allowed. I find it very interesting that all 140 students, most around 20-22, understood this and followed it for the entire semester, making the national conversation looks terribly immature.

Perhaps more importantly, any student of philosophy is well aware that name-calling is a logical fallacy, and it’s a weak one. After citing the basic statistics concerning the prevalence and note the silence—of abortion in my course, I would have students who were adamantly anti-abortion raise their hand and apologize for calling a woman who sought an abortion a “murderer” or some other term.

Those students realized that chances were 99.9% at least one person in our classroom of 140 had an abortion, had a friend who had an abortion, etc.

I really appreciated it, and it helped clear the air so we could debate academically, philosophically.

I premise all this because I feel it’s important that these statistics be more well known before we ever discuss abortion.

Shall we?

Philadelphia “doctor[ii]” Kermit Gosnell was recently found guilty of the murder of three babies and one woman at what has come to be known as his “house of horrors.” House of horrors is a good term, if not a tad too emotive (for the philosopher in me), to describe the crimes committed. The three babies were born alive, and there seems to be no question that he willingly and knowingly killed them after delivering them.

You can read the indictment here (in PDF). It’s a hard read, but it’s worth the read to fully understand the case, and sums up the charges against him.

You may wonder why these women sought late term abortions[iii]. I don’t know their personal lives, but I do know that 26 new laws alone restricting (and even banning) abortion have been passed this year alone. 33 states require a “delay” before a woman can have an abortion—these are also known as “waiting periods.” They are costly for women who must travel to seek medical help. In addition to that, 33 states have mandated doctors lie to their patients, usually (but not always) by floating the idea that their patient’s risk of breast cancer will increase.

We know many of Gosnell’s patients were poor and/or a minority. And given his conviction, it seems that Gosnell was preying upon poorer women who were desperate.

I’d like to note that stories such as Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” are rare. Most providers of abortion and reproductive issues care about their patients and believe in what they’re doing. They realize how stressful this situation is for many women. And of course, abortion providers are risking their life and face constant harassment.

Pennsylvania requires: biased counseling, a waiting requirement, restricts insurance coverage of abortion for poorer women. If married, the woman must sign a statement declaring she has notified her spouse of the abortion (and yes, this is illegal under Planned Parenthood of SE Pennsylvania v. Casey, yet is still on the books. *sigh* )

Laws restricting access to abortion have not been proven to deter women from seeking them. Instead, such laws place financial obstacles, and delay the abortion.

Restricting laws against abortion procedures also put the woman’s health at risk. She may very well turn to a charlatan such as Gosnell, who clearly lost/never had any interest in helping women.

“He was acting wholly outside the law, and the fact that that is the case really suggests the reason why we need to make sure that we have good providers, that abortion has to be safe and legal and accessible,”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

As draconian laws limiting a woman’s bodily autonomy spread across the country, we are more and more at risk of losing women. This isn’t hyperbole. Due to unsafe and illegal abortions, women DIE.

Just ask the family of Geraldine “Gerri” Santoro (née Twerdy). You’ve seen her death photo.

I leave with with the words of a family who lost their daughter, their sister, and yes, their mother in the 1960’s.

Two lives were needlessly and sadly lost here. This horrible sad picture of death makes clear that illegal abortion not only harms and kills women, it has never ever saved one baby.

Gerri Santori. No one should die like this. EVER.

Gerri Santori, as she died. No one should die like this or face what she did. EVER.


[ii] I use the term “doctor” most reluctantly, as what this man was charged and convicted of is un-professional and certainly not behavior expected from a medical doctor.

[iii] A late term abortion is generally any abortion that occurs after 12 weeks gestation.

Breaking the Cycle of Criminal Minds

I have a confession to make. I’ve gotten hooked on the TV series, Criminal Minds.

I’m normally not much for crime dramas, and I wince at the thought – let alone sight – of horrific torture. And I’m under no illusions about the crime shows being realistic. FBI profilers aren’t all genius heroic-yet-subtly-flawed models, and they can’t reflexively sum up a criminal’s entire life history based on a ransom note and the shape of their r’s when they write in blood on the wall. Still, there’s a certain morbid fascination in people who delve into psychotic minds for a living. Or maybe we’re all just sickos.

But one thing that I find particularly positive about the show is that they always touch on what made the sociopathic serial murderers what they are. The sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their fathers and brothers as children. The anguish they endured as five-year-olds seeing their mothers prostituting themselves for money to buy food and drugs. The emotional damage they experienced moving from foster home to foster home as teenagers abandoned by their parents.

That part, unfortunately, is all too realistic. And those things leave scars that have very real long-term effects.

Human beings aren’t born evil. Thousands of pages have been written about the “true nature” of humans, but I remain convinced that every person has the inherent potential to do good or to do evil. One’s genetic endowment of abilities, talents, and preferences may predispose one in various directions, but environment and upbringing have huge impacts. They either reinforce the evil or nurture the good. Which wolf wins? The one you feed. And extreme abuse and neglect cause extreme mental illness.


Children who live in and endure pain and evil every day learn evil, and grow up to continue the cycle. We as a society reap what we sow. If we allow the least and most vulnerable among us to be abused and neglected, they in turn will abuse and neglect others.

That’s why it’s so important for us to do whatever we reasonably can to help those most in need. If we don’t, we simply setting the stage for a never-ending and increasing cycle of evil.

Study after study after study supports the idea that preventative measures are much more cost-effective than remedial. Saving a couple hundred million by cutting Head Start funding today might seem like free money, but you’re going to pay 20 times that a few years down the road.


With multitudes of serial rapists and murders among us, with children being abused and neglected at increasing rates, what has been the response from Republicans? What is their solution to the problem of the vicious circle of abuse and re-abuse? How do they propose to break the cycle?

Cut spending on the very programs that try to address the problem. It’s as if they see the problems as something that cannot be solved, cannot even be improved upon. They seem to say, “Some people are just evil. Why bother? It’s their own damn fault.”

Instead, they blame the victims and the victims of the victims. Rather than try and make things better for those in need, they just throw up their hands and build fortresses for the rich to hide behind. Gated communities that keep out the unfortunate. Sort a reverse Escape from New York. Set up islands of wealth and safety, and let anyone on the outside fend for themselves. “I got mine; to hell with everyone else.”

It’s a short-sighted, selfish, destructive response. But it saves them money in the short run.

Republicans preach “self-sufficiency” and despair of creating a culture of dependency. In the meantime, the poor simply despair.


As if to underscore the U.S.’ abysmal attitude to the needy, the latest UNICEF report on child well-being just came out. The U.S. ranks 26th out of the 29 developed countries included.

Actually, the U.S. does pretty well, except for child material well-being, health & safety, education, behavior & risks, and housing & environment.

That leaves … well … nothing. But we beat Latvia. Whoo whoo!

It’s this very sort of neglect that leads to children growing up to have mental issues that result in criminal behavior.


It’s time we faced up to the fact that ignoring problems or hiding from them doesn’t make them go away. The more evil we force our children – and they’re all our children, whether they grow up in our own homes or in the homes of other Americans on the other side of town – to endure, the more evil we ourselves will experience. We reap what we sow, even if that harvest doesn’t come in for a decade or more.

We need to increase our spending to help those in need, particularly children. Establish and expand programs that care for the most vulnerable. Build bridges, not walls. Let’s break the cycle of criminal minds.

It was never worth it: Iraq, 10 years later

If you read this blog, you’re probably well aware that the Iraq Invasion/bombing/war started 10 years ago.

I admit to avoiding stories about it, purposefully. You see, in 8 years, I witnessed 6 friends be deployed. One was deployed multiple times and she doesn’t talk about it.

One—who I’ll call “Bob”—was summoned for service in mid-January of 2003.

So let’s not act surprised that this war ever happened. In my experience, the folks in charge had this planned from the beginning.

I didn’t know Bob well at the time. I shared an office as graduate assistants with him in 2003. I helped him pack some of his belongings, at work and at home.

Packing personal belongings up in case you don’t come back is morbid. There is no nice way to talk about this “practicality.” FUBAR is more fitting a term.

And so, 10 years ago, I had CNN on in my tiny grad school apartment, late at night. Before I was aware of live-blogging, I live-wrote him what I saw being reported, wondered how he was, wished him safety, and talked philosophy to (at–?)  him in the hopes of a brief distraction for him.

I felt stupid writing him sometimes—surely the trivialities of my life and university life aren’t comparable–but I wrote him at least one letter each week for the entire time he was in Iraq. I took to reading the newspaper (in paper, not just online) and cutting out articles I found absurd or funny.

I felt helpless. I just wanted Bob to come back, safe and sound. In April of 2003, he emailed me from Hans Blitz’s office. I laughed with relief—and the absurdity of the situation. I printed his email out and, at the request of our department chair, put it on display in the main office.

I would sometimes go around the department, asking my colleagues to sign and send a message to Bob. Everyone loved him, to be sure, and were more than happy to write a quick message to Bob.

My letters to him included such gems as “I’ve heard there’s a sandstorm in Iraq. Is that affecting you? I hope not, but if so, that must be really annoying—is it? Does it get all over everything and into everything?” and “Have you seen the Tigris and Euphrates? What a tragic comedy if you have…It’s cool from my point as a classicist, but horrible under these circumstances.”

(Yes, the sand was annoying, and yes, he did bring me photos of the ancient rivers, which he also thought was pretty cool from a historical significance POV.)

I only found out when he came back I was the only one in the entire department who wrote him. Ever.

When I saw Bob sitting in a classroom back in the summer of 2003, I ran in. All decorum and etiquette went out the window. He was much thinner, much tanner, but still Bob.

The professor stopped, understanding this reunion. Bob stood up, rushed to me, and hugged me so tight I thought a rib may have broken. (It would have been worth it). He then swung me around the room, kissed my cheek, and thanked me for the letters.

Over the next couple years, Bob and I got to know each other a lot better.

We were—and are—good friends. When we went to see Casablanca in 2004 and I threw up water (pre-migraine symptom), he didn’t bat an eye, just made sure I was okay.

Bob, if you’re reading this, I love you. We continue to carry each other in ways only friends can do, and apparently the Iraq War solidified our friendship.

The sad—no—the unacceptable fact  is that four  [pause and let that sink in] of my friends came back in body bags. The first one was murdered shortly after Bob swung me around the room, shortly after the President arrogantly made this statement:

“…and he challenged those tempted to attack U.S. forces, “Bring them on.””

My mom called me. It was July 4th, 2003. I was in the car, as a passenger, with my partner visiting the beach for the holiday.

“…is dead.” was all I heard. He had been shot, point-blank, in the head while sipping a Coca-Cola at a road stop.

To this day, I abhor the sound of fireworks. I cannot hear them without thinking of him, how bullet-like that sound of fire in the sky is.

I hate the 4th of July festiveness. It is, for me, a day of mourning.

This was a guy I grew up with. We went to middle and high school together. We liked to debate politics, and he even said once—as a compliment—“Don’t argue with Contrawhit, she may look mild but she’ll hand you your ass in an argument.”

And we laughed. We could disagree in high school and still laugh and appreciate each other’s passion for politics, etc. (which was unusual in our school—to not take a disagreement personally.)

I still feel horrible because I had no idea he had been deployed. I would have written him. Would it have done any good? I’ll never know. I feel it would have, though. Somehow.

I can’t be upset at the unknown person who shot him. Chances are it was a citizen pissed his country was wrongfully invaded, and my friend represented all that was wrong with the invading country.

I understand that anger, though I do not understand the retaliation. But that’s me. I don’t understand retaliation.

But what I just cannot get over is that when my first friend died, I was 23 and he was 22.

He remains forever 22, and I’m now 33.

Body counts.
Failure to age due to premature death.
These are the most evil and inhumane math.

I could go on. I could tell you the stories of the other men and woman killed.

But it’s really all the same story as the first friend.

I don’t mean to trivialize their deaths at all, but the stories are all so similar, from the method to my reaction, to sitting stoically at a funeral that should never have happened, watching parents bury children. (At one memorial, I was pregnant myself. That was a whole new dimension of survivor’s guilt).

I dedicate this emotional post to all those who served.  We, as a country, failed you. We failed to protect you. We failed—and still fail—to support you. We failed your families.

The list goes on. So many failures. So much pain, death–and it was all unnecessary.

I am pessimistic we will ever learn war is not worth it.