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Gender Reassignment

@dariaren

The Science of Gender is complicated. We are all assigned a Gender at conception. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes made of the double helixes of DNA strands, 46 chromosomes altogether. They, in turn, harbor some 20,500 genes identified by the Human Genome Project. Males have the XY and females have the XX configuration. Every one of our cells has either one or the other configuration. To speak of Gender Reassignment is a bit disingenuous, for to truly change our Gender, every cell needs to be changed to one or the other configuration. That would be 32.7 trillion cells that would have to change their Gender, an impossible task. To cut off the penis and make a vagina and give that person some hormones to grow breasts and a few other hormonal manipulations, for example, the suppression of facial hair growth or drugs that prevent secondary sexual development of puberty does not make that individual a female and is a feeble attempt to mimic nature. Surgical manipulation to imitate one or the other sex is not all that different than cross-dressing which is a feeble attempt to assume the attributes of the opposite sex. Boys that put on a dress are still boys and girls that wear pants are still girls. The cells continue to be either XY or XX. XY muscles will remain stronger than XX muscles regardless of hormonal influences. Just because a Transgender person has external genitalia that resembles a male or female does not mean that the muscles or neural tissues act accordingly. That is why the athletic competition allowing XY genotype individuals to compete in female athletics is ridiculous from a scientific viewpoint. You might as well paint pink XX letters on a boy’s forehead and let him be on the girl’s volleyball team. Not only is that farcical but it is very unfair. Girls will work their whole life toward achieving certain athletic goals that, given the same level of training, can be surpassed because having different cells that have the XY chromosomes will and have outdone the XX cells in strength, speed, and endurance. School Boards, educators, and politicians who make public policy that endorses and supports transgender athletic competition are challenged, not only in scientific understanding but also in the ethics of fair competition.
     Gender change operations are more or less permanent and cannot be reversed all that easily. For that reason, I believe the individual who undergoes such dramatic treatment needs to be evaluated very carefully and by multiple fields, including psychological, emotional, maturational, intellectual, and secondarily, anatomical/ surgical aspects. I also think a significant waiting period should be mandatory, as people do change their minds. There needs to be a whole set of rules and regulations with legal input and oversight to protect the individual who wishes to undergo this transformation, as well as protect society as a whole. This would include athletics, laws involving privacy such as bathroom access, civil rights of men, women, and children, and age discrimination mores and practices. The treatment of minors in this controversy is another issue. Vanderbilt University has just put a hold on all gender reassignment operations for individuals under 18 years of age.
     There are numerous conditions, some due to chromosomal changes and some due to hormonal aberrations, that can cause ambiguous genitalia or phenotypically normal external genitalia but of the opposite sex of the individual’s genotypical sex. For example, a normal appearing female may in fact be a genetic male of XY configuration. This is due to the insensitivity to testosterone and is called Testicular Feminization Syndrome. In my business as a surgeon, I am aware of some very famous “women” in the entertainment business that have achieved great success in part by their physical appearance but are males genetically. HIPPA laws prevent me from naming names, as they should. But these individuals are unable to procreate and do not have the internal organs to carry a baby. The testes that have not descended are at high risk of becoming cancerous and must be removed. Some hormonal conditions, such as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, will cause a genetic female to look more like a male, and this can also occur with tumors of the adrenal gland. The goal of treatment for these individuals should be, first of all, to cure any life-threatening condition, but secondarily to create a functioning human being that is happy with their appearance, and if possible one that can enjoy a normal life with normal functional sex organs that may even give them normal fertility in certain circumstances. Many chromosomal X or Y anomalies do not have serious brain dysfunction but some are devastating, such as Fragile X Syndrome. Here too, there must be the participation of multiple specialties to choose the right path in terms of selecting a sex for that individual and the correct upbringing, education, and psychological development. This too relates to gender assignment and must have some of the same legal, medical, and surgical inputs to reach the best outcome for that individual.
     Gender reassignment is a new trend in human thinking and behavior. This has not been possible in the past because we did not have the technology to achieve this, nor is it anywhere near perfect at this point. Because it is new, with little experience in judging eventual outcomes, we need to be very careful and proceed with great caution. Vanderbilt University did the right thing.

Albert Schweitzer

Re-post of this article as it has vanished from my website mysteriously. It is nevertheless a worthwhile essay about one of the most selfless people that has existed. Watercolor of Schweitzer by me.

Schweizer became a role model and hero for me, inspiring me to return to school to become a surgeon after nearly 10 years as a GP. He had such a “Reverence for Life!”, which for him meant every living thing. Albert was born January 14, 1875, in Alsace-Lorraine, then a German province, and after the Treaty of Versailles was ceded to the French. His father was a Lutheran minister, and Schweitzer himself became ordained in the Lutheran faith. He wrote scholarly books on Christianity, one of them titled The Quest for the Historical Jesus. These efforts led him to the inevitable conclusion that the first-century theology derived from Jesus, and those that knew and followed him, is not compatible with, and far removed from, the theology that was later created and promoted by the, then pagan Roman Emperor Constantine, through the Council of  Nicea after  325 CE. Nevertheless, this is what is proffered as Christianity in our current world.

     In Schweitzer’s later life, he became more philosophical, accepting many views of the Creator and His Creations. Near his life’s end, he became a Unitarian, a non-dogmatic religion that emphasizes spiritual development and the search for truth in all faiths.                                                                             

      But Albert had many facets to his complex character and his rich life. He was a brilliant musician. He committed all the organ works of J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn, and Caesar Frank to memory, and gave numerous organ concerts throughout Europe to raise funds for his hospital in Lambaréné, French Equatorial Africa. At lunch break and every Sunday,  he played his hybrid piano/organ built especially for him to withstand the hot, humid African climate.        

     Above all, he was a dedicated healer. In addition to his Ph.D. in philosophy and religion from the University of Tübingen, Germany, and his musicology education with an emphasis on the organ and piano, he found time to become a medical doctor.   At age 30, as a doctor of philosophy, pastor of St. Nicolas, the Principle of the Theological Seminary in Strassburg, and a renowned organist recognized as an accomplished interpreter of J.S. Bach, and despite the strenuous objections of friends and family, he returned to Medical School for seven years as a beginning student in a field in which he had no previous ability or knowledge. Upon graduation in 1913, he and his Jewish wife headed for Africa to serve the poor and forgotten Africans whom he called his “brothers” before that was part of the pop culture and language.                                            
     With his own funds that were obtained through his Bach organ concerts, he built a hospital in Lambaréné, and with his wife serving as nurse and anesthetist, they gave literally their all to help the sick, suffering, and the dying. He treated a variety of maladies, including the gamut of tropical diseases and parasites, and also operated on strangulated hernias, traumatic injuries, and obstetrical emergencies with his wife administering ether anesthesia. Many doctors, inspired by his dedication to life, came to Lambaréné in order to work with him.
    
     He was a prisoner of the French during World War I from 1917 to 1918 because he was German, but he returned to Lambaréné when the war was over and was there until the end of his life.

     
     He died at his own hospital on September 4, 1965, at age 90. “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace,”   so prophesied  Albert Schweitzer.                                                                           
     
     I was inspired by Schweitzer not only by his respect for all life, but also by his philosophical stance on religion, music, and human kindness, and the ambition and hard work of an accomplished and successful musician to go back to school to become a doctor so he could go to Africa and help “his brothers” who needed medicine for malaria, their hernias repaired, and their babies delivered much more than they needed J. S. Bach. But Bach did contribute when Schweitzer left his hospital in Lambaréné, French Equatorial Africa, for those times when he ran out of funds and had to go back to Europe to give Bach organ concerts which refunded him to buy medicines, surgical tools, and hospital beds. The watercolor at the beginning is my rendition of Albert Schweitzer, probably the most generous and selfless “Christian” ever on this earth after JC himself.  

 

CIVILIZATION

Venus de Milo

When did we become civilized?  What does it mean to be civilized? The great civilizations go back to Sumer-4000BC, Babylon-2,000 BC, Assyria-1,000 BC, Egypt-3,000-300 BC, Greece- 600 BC, Persia-300 BC, Rome-100 BC- 500 AD, and many more, like the Hittites, the Phoenicians, the Indus Empire, the Carthaginians, not even mentioning the Shang, Qin, and Han Dynasties that fit in somewhere between.

But what started all this? Was it tool making? Was it agriculture? What exactly made man work together in groups to cooperate, hunt, work, fight, eat, and live together?  Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, put “Civilization” with the first healed femur (thigh bone) 15,000 years ago. She reasons that for that individual to survive long enough for his thigh bone to heal, there must have been a support structure to protect and feed such an individual.  In nature, if any living thing breaks a crucial bone for getting around, they do not survive very long.  They become food for other animals.  But evidence for humans working together much sooner does exist. Working together in groups seems to me to be the real beginning of civilization. 

Tools go back to before we were even the genus Homo.  Australopithecus afarensis, “Lucy,” or her relatives from the Olduvai Gorge, were likely the first toolmakers, 3.3 million years ago.  These were very primitive and evident only by cut marks on animal bones, indicating they used stones to butcher and eat animals.  Tools that could be identified are first seen in the Homo habilis era ca. 2 million years ago. Homo habilis was bigger brained, and more skilled. After all “habilis” means “handy.” The first evidence of growing grasses to harvest the seeds was found around the Sea of Galilee. They were dated to 20,000 BC, putting the beginning of agriculture back by at least 10,000 years than previously thought.

73,800 years ago, there was a mega volcano, in Sumatra, Mount Toba, that caused a ten-year nuclear winter with devastating consequences to all of the earth.  2800 km3 of lava were ejected compared to Mt. St. Helens, which was only 4 km3. Toba was obviously more devastating, tons of sulfur content shot into the stratosphere and a white ash that covered much of the earth.  Sunlight was blocked by the atmospheric dust and debris, and what little sunshine hit the earth was reflected back by the white ash covered large parts of the earth, at least 10cm thick.  Earth was already in an ice age, but this was the icing, so to speak, on the cake.  Much of the earth was deforested.  Plant and animal life were greatly reduced.  The human population shrank down to perhaps less than 3000 females that were capable of childbearing.  That became a genetic bottleneck.  And we know this because there is far too little genetic variation in what is found in us today, because the present population has a smaller number of ancestors than you would expect from a gene pool that was close to 2 million years old. Hominids that were in competition with us became extinct, such as Neanderthals, who were, by and large, bigger than H. sapiens, also stronger and much more violent.  Murderous tendencies were the order of the day. In that respect, Neanderthals were more like Chimpanzees who are patriarchal and aggressive, killing anyone, not of their group.  Even cannibalism was not unusual among Neanderthals.  What evolved from the remaining Homo sapiens that reproduced, was a race of humans, more like Bonobos, who are matriarchal and live together with no or little violence.  The tribes that sprang from this small group of remaining H. sapiens after the bottleneck released its stranglehold was smarter, kinder, and gentler.  Humans were more cooperative, and more likely to make friends with neighboring tribes.  Tools made from far away materials such as Obsidian proved that trade was part of this cooperative interaction of tribes.  It is likely that tools and language made their appearance in close association. To make and use tools requires communication. This cooperation allowed us to survive and eventually thrive once more. 

We banded together in larger groups in parts of the globe that had a better climate and, consequently, was more fertile.  The Fertile Crescent was the perfect location, warmer, and with plenty of water.  

Civilization comes from the Latin “civis” which means “city or citizen of a city.” The first “cities” appeared right after the Neolithic revolution, which changed our culture from hunter-gatherer to living in larger settlements that grew plants for food and domesticated animals. The first city was the city of Eridu, located near another contender for the first city, Uruk in Sumer, located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Uruk was abandoned, possibly because the Euphrates changed course. A great flood destroyed the ancient city, and in their mythology, the whole world was flooded as retribution against mankind for some perceived wrongdoing that offended the gods.  It was up to Gilgamesh, the King, to save humanity by building a large boat to house all the beasts of the land.   Sound familiar?  That flood story predated the Old Testament by 1000 years, when Moses, the traditional author of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, left Egypt.  

We evolved socially into civilizations, one after the other, that created laws like the Code of Hammurabi, religions that were polytheistic and monotheistic, art, music, technology, and architectural marvels like the pyramids and the hanging gardens of Babylon.  Nevertheless, some civilizations did not cooperate as well as others.  Rather than sharing and helping, they had the territorial yours vs. mine attitude.  Interestingly, this aggressiveness is very dependent on our hormones.  Testosterone, the male hormone, is the cause of aggression in individuals and, by extension, nations.  While estrogen, oxytocin, and serotonin are the hormones of cooperation, friendship, and some say, love.  Civilization requires more collaboration and kindness than war, destruction, and conquering others. Perhaps more estrogen in our politics could give us a leg up to become more civilized.

TIME

The oldest and most impressive calendar (photo by Ankit Sood,-q0ZLK D7ngl- unsplash.jpg)

     Four hundred thirty-nine days after Julius Caesar introduced his calendar, replacing the old Roman Calendar, he was murdered on the Ides of March 44BC (E). Ironically the Ides was the traditional date on which all debts needed to be settled. 
     The Roman Calendar had advanced three months out of sync with the Solar Calendar and was really out of date, so to speak. Caesar hired a Greek astronomer/mathematician, Sosigenes of Alexandria, said by Pliny the Elder to be the smartest mathematician of the time.  His job was to create a new, more accurate way to keep track of the days, naming the 7th month after his boss (July) and the 8th month for the first and greatest Roman emperor, also related to Julius, Augustus Caesar. But even the smartest mathematicians make mistakes, and he, too, had overestimated the length of the year by 11 minutes and 14 seconds. By the mid-1500s, the seasons were about ten days ahead. Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian Calendar. It became the Gregorian Calendar which now is the standard throughout the world except for the Greek Orthodox church, which still uses the Julian version. Because the earth’s path around the sun is precisely 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45.25 seconds, an error of an extra day per century needs to be corrected. The Gregorian Calendar takes care of this and other minor errors by adding an extra day in February every 4th year unless the year is divisible by 400 (the leap year).
     Time is like a river. It flows past us. Time is, however, relative. It can speed up or slow down. It was Albert Einstein who calculated the faster we travel, the slower time passes. Theoretically, if you board a spaceship that travels near the speed of light, you will not age as fast as your twin who stays on earth. This has actually been proven experimentally. A super accurate atomic clock placed on a jet traveling as fast as a jet can, when brought back, was slower than the clock that remained on earth. Gravity also affects the speed time passes. The more gravity there is, the slower time passes. If you would wear an ankle watch and compare it to your wristwatch, it will consistently be slower because it is closer to earth and, therefore, more affected by it. Time even stops when exposed to the strongest gravitational field there is, a black hole. If we carry this to its (il)logical conclusion, time could actually reverse if exposed to more gravity or travel faster than the speed of light. Time travel? I would, however, not hold my breath for that to happen. We do not have the technology (yet) to achieve that!
     Since my retirement, time does not affect me nearly as much. Saturday or Sunday does not matter. All I know is that there is no mail on Sunday.
     The day I was born was a day like all days. The earth was at a certain place in its travels around the sun. So every revolution of the earth since then, when the earth passes that point, it is my birthday. That marks a year for most of us, regardless if you use the Roman, Julian, or Gregorian Calendar. It is the same place in earth’s orbit. Why is that important? I used to be excited because of the presents I received. Now I am not nearly as delighted to receive presents. After nearly 80 years, you have probably gotten all the gifts you need and a few you don’t, and see birthdays just like any other day except it marks one year closer to our demise! Why on earth would I celebrate that? As Shakespeare said, “To be or not to be, that is the question!” It is only a matter of time!
     That reminds me of my favorite joke. A salesman wanders along a country road and comes across a farmer feeding his pigs. The farmer has an apple tree and lifts each pig up to the tree so they can grab an apple and eat it. After watching this for a while, the salesman asks the farmer a question. Why don’t you shake the tree, the apples will fall, and the pigs can eat their fill of apples? It would save so much time! The farmer shakes his head and says, “Yes, I know it saves time, but what’s  time to a pig?”

What is a RINO (Republican In Name Only)?

RINO is a pejorative word for a Republican who is not as right as the ultra-right think one ought to be. By that I mean you do not support Trump, and want everyone to be vaccinated! Republicans used to be the party of Ronald Reagan, the party who believed in the conservative point of view, Capitalism, less government, fewer taxes, law and order, but now it has something to do with Donald Trump and whether you get vaccinated or wear a mask.
     Trump was once upon a time the leader that embodied the Reagan principles. He won the 2016 election because no one wanted Hillary Clinton, but then something happened. Trump clearly had a meltdown. The anti-vaxxers took over. Vaccination was now against freedom, against my rights over my body. But vaccination has nothing to do with rights, nothing to do with freedom, nothing to do with Anthony Fauci. It is a vaccine against a lethal illness, that has killed close to six and one half million people. The problem came about by the issue if you can mandate people to get vaccinated against their will. Somehow the Trumpists allied with the anti-vaxxers even though it was Trump that first pushed the vaccine, and even though he and all his family took it. But the far right saw it as an infringement on civil rights. Somehow the personal right to choose became mixed up with the right to protect yourself.
     As a physician and a scientist, I find this a curious position that I have failed to comprehend. When the Polio Vaccine came out, no one talked about personal rights. We all stood in line to get our vaccine and were very grateful to get it. One issue is that the Covid virus is very clever. It can change (mutate) quickly and gains new characteristics that make it more infectious and able to avoid the vaccines we have developed to attack it. This somehow has weakened the argument for vaccination in the eyes of the anti-vaxxers. Science is however not like religion. It is not absolute and it certainly is not the word of God. Science is the search for truth. If evidence points to a new discovery then that becomes the standard. Science is not wrong, it becomes better educated and then acts accordingly. In this pandemic we have learned that this virus has abilities that we didn’t think it had. It can change into other forms quickly. Last year’s version of the vaccine does not work as well against it. Yes, you need the latest version in order to be fully protected, and it will likely become a yearly ritual. The older vaccine still works, just not as well. It will keep you out of the ICU and likely keep you from dying, but the newer vaccine works better. Just like the latest version of the newest model Tessla has more buttons and more features than last year’s model. Some models keep you safer in a car crash than other models, just like some vaccines work better than others.   I do believe in personal choice but I also believe that if you want to ride next to me in an airplane or be a police officer or serve me food you must be vaccinated. You have the right not to get vaccinated but you can’t infect me either.
     Wearing or not wearing a mask is another thing I cannot wrap my head around. How  in heaven’s name does that have anything to do with your being a Democrat, Republican, RINO, or anything to do with political persuasion? It is just a mask, a piece of material that filters out the air you breathe in and out. Granted, it does not do as good a job as you think it should, but it does work which has been shown to be the case for the last 130 years. That is what the science shows over and over. How much evidence do you need, and it is why surgeons wear them when doing operations?   You can get better working masks but they must be fitted to you and are really uncomfortable.
     I have come to the conclusion that I am an ELMO, a combination of the elephant , symbol of Republicans but also have Rino features at the rear, just as my cartoon above shows. An ELMO is a conservative who believes in vaccination, keeps believing in the US Constitution, and thinks that Trump has voided his ticket to run for President a third time.

ASYLUM LIGHT

Bowen Building, the largest structure at Peoria State Hospital, supposedly haunted, before it was demolished in 2017

Asylum Light is a book about what was one of the larger Mental Hospitals in the country, Peoria State Hospital – with 7,000 inmates/patients on 200 acres before it closed its doors in 1973. My father worked there as a psychiatrist, and my family lived on the grounds of this Mega-Institution. I also became a physician with a background, since pre-teen years, of interacting with insanity. Dealing with the insane on a daily basis has given me a different perspective on the insane mind. If you look at the last decade of mass shootings, every one of them was caused by an insane person. The normal mind does not go into a school, workplace, mall, or anywhere and open fire on random people who had very little or nothing to do with the shooter.
     Take a look at the last school shooting at Uvalde, Texas. An 18-year-old first shoots his grandmother in the face, then heads to the school, texting his intent to kill children and then proceeding to kill 19 children and two teachers. To give you a window into this insane boy’s brain, he pointed the gun at a teacher, whom he did not know, said “good night” to her, then shot her in the head – no regret, no conscience, no filter – typical of the psychopathic personality. He was a psychopath long before then. His multiple fights at school, his bragging about cruelty to animals, his act of shooting a BB gun at random people from his car window, and his loner mentality were strong clues.  
     The most lethal school shooting in the US was at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut. Twenty children and six adults died from a 20-year-old gunman who also killed his mother that day. Do you think he might have been crazy? In 2017 another crazy person fired on a crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. He shot over 1,000 bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, killing 60 people and wounding 411. They were all unknown to him, and his motives are still unknown.
     But I know the cause. An insane mind does not need a logical motive.   The most recent shooting in Chicago was again done by a schizophrenic. It is interesting to me that few mentioned this obvious fact to me which is the root and only cause of this tragedy. His internet postings are classic. The references to his mission. His hallucinated preordained actions – “it is my destiny” are typical of his altered mind which no laws can change. The anti-psychotic class of drugs has the only hope of changing his delusional brain chemistry. The problem is that he must ingest them if they are to work.         
      Insanity remains a mystery. Brain scans and genetic studies hint at an alteration of brain chemistry. Unfortunately, insanity is not curable to date. Most gun laws will not prevent crazy people from shooting innocent children. The insane pay little heed to the law. Small capacity magazines, background checks, and red flag laws will make little difference to the insane person. THE MAJORITY, IF NOT ALL, OF THESE CRIMES, ARE DUE TO MENTAL ILLNESS! This is the main issue that needs to be addressed, and it is mostly ignored and hardly mentioned. It is not PC. It is considered reactionary and outdated.      
     Unfortunately, no psychotherapy, no pills, and no laws will fix it. Anyone who has demonstrated a risk to themselves or others needs some kind of restraint up to and including confinement in a facility for the good of themselves and society. For some, there is no other answer than institutionalization. It is not cruel. It is not unjust. It is necessary and cruel not to do it, and the only solution!  
    Recently a 27-year-old man from Califonia was apprehended near Justice Kavanaugh’s home, threatening to kill him. He had been on the phone with 911 expressing suicidal thoughts and death threats to Justice Kavanaugh. Crazy? Absolutely! John Hinkley who shot President Reagan in 1982 to call attention to himself, in order to impress movie actress Jodie Foster, was recently released, presumably cured of his mental illness. From what I know of mental illness, he will never be cured. As soon as he stops his medications, he will start his delusional thinking.      

     Keeping guns out of the hands of a crazy person certainly is an admirable goal, but with all the guns in circulation, that is a near-impossible task, but that is not to say that it should not be implemented. Certainly, an effort to identify insane people is a reasonable approach but difficult to enact. A history of strange behavior is a hint. Animal cruelty, a strong indicator of a psychopathic personality, is a good predictor of homicidal tendencies, which should be taken far more seriously than it is. Certainly, shooting at people with a BB gun should ring alarm bells and certainly must be reported to the police. Medications might have helped. A physician, especially one dealing with mental illness, is probably the best judge of homicidal tendencies. So a certificate from a doctor of mental stability might be a simple requirement to own a gun. It is easy to implement and not stepping on anyone’s rights. It works in Italy, and they also have their share of crazy people and guns.            
     An insane person who has homicidal thinking needs to be confined. His medications must be administered under supervision to ensure that he takes them. Just like a sex offender is monitored, an insane person who has demonstrated danger to others needs to be institutionalized. Peoria State Hospital for the Incurably Insane dropped the “Incurably Insane” part because it was not PC, but unfortunately, true. Asylums were life savers! Mass shootings were unheard of then. Our society will need to reconsider the only option that so far has a proven track record, bringing back the Asylum for the Incurably Insane.

LONG NEEDLE PINE AT LAKE VERMILION

The National Geographic Society considers Lake Vermilion, Minnesota, and its surroundings to be among the ten most scenic lakes in the world. I would never have found this spot on earth if I hadn’t married a girl whose Grandmother homesteaded on that lake in the late eighteen hundreds. Nettie Ethyl was one of four children of a dentist who set up practice in Boonville, Indiana, after the Civil War. He sheltered his offspring from most any social contacts to an almost pathological degree. Despite this, a handsome man from Kentucky came into town and swept her off her feet. She left her comfortable, serene home and close-knit family to take up residence in the North Woods on the shores of Lake Vermilion. They first lived in a tent and later built a cabin. Bear and Native Americans were their neighbors. Her husband eventually abandoned the family but not before he had fathered six children and, as it turned out, lived a double life as a bigamist, but worse than that, he hacked a man to pieces in a barroom fight. When I married into this family, little did I know an ax murderer was among my wife’s forefathers! But then, neither did my wife know this well-guarded family secret until both she and I researched the family tree by interviewing friends of Grandma Nettie Ethyl, who by this time were residing in the nursing home as none of the relatives shared this story with us.
In late summer, we often made trips to Lake Vermilion and stayed in the old cabin, enjoying the lake, the quiet peacefulness, the hikes on old Indian trails, the fresh Northern Pike caught that day along with the wild rice that grew abundantly in the shallow inlets of the lake, and the unbelievably good-tasting blueberry pie that only Grandma Nettie knew how to make from the buckets of berries we picked from the lush green underbrush of the woods. I did eventually discover her secret – lard.       Waterskiing was a particularly fun sport because the lake was so large and there were no people. The water was like glass. Speaking of glass, I need glasses for distant vision, which is not too useful in waterskiing. I almost skied into a moose more than once. There were numerous islands on the lake that was almost always devoid of people but always had plentiful blueberries. Mary and I would go out on our rowboat and spend hours on one of these islands eating the berries that we were supposed to bring home for Nettie to make a pie. But there usually were others who did. On one occasion, I brought along a set of pens and a sheet of bark from a birch tree. Bark from birch lent itself very well to making paperlike sheets. I picked a tree and started sketching. At home, I used some birch branches to fashion a frame for it.

We Need a New Name for People of My Political Persuasion

     My Parents fled  Communism in 1941 under a Stalin death sentence and survived Hitler’s National Socialism by stealth. A year before, the Communists summarily executed my Uncle in the streets of Bucharest, and my Grandmother was imprisoned in a Siberian gulag for 13 years. Those life experiences have made me permanently and genetically allergic to socialist ideology. The Woke Politics remind me too much of what my family endured under the various flavors of Socialism. We have not taken the middle of the road as Biden promised but have taken a sharp left turn for the last two years. Biden and the “Squad” have shown themselves to have decidedly failed this country as I feared. The inflation, a looming recession, the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the rise in crime, and the Covid-19 pandemic have not been handled with the results we were promised. I doubt we would have seen people falling off the evacuation planes in Kabul. We cannot sustain the steady influx of thousands of unregulated immigrants on our southern border. I do not think Biden knows how to deal with Putin. What happened to bringing the country together? The energy debacle alone and the gasoline prices are enough to prove the point. The 8.6% percent inflation rate results from a weak President who has been pulled further left by Bolshevik Bernie and the “Squad.” If the Keystone pipeline had been completed and none of our oilfields shut down, gasoline would not be $6.00 a gallon. We could supply oil to Europe, and we would not have to beg Venezuela or the murderer, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to give us more oil.
For a few years, I was in the Trump camp. His foreign policy with China, his economics, and his disdain for over-regulation was in alignment with mine. I was concerned about his praises for Putin and did not think we should abandon Europe or NATO. He was a President that had performed well enough up to the election, but then he had a severe mental lapse on January 6th.   I cannot ignore what I saw with my own eyes. While Rome was burning, the President appears to have been fiddling. This was instigated and fueled by him with numerous testimonies from the right and the left. His Vice President refused to follow the illegal order to stop the Electoral College vote count. This opinion was backed by multiple Constitutional lawyers, including the former Vice President under George Herbert Bush, Dan Quale, who told him not to break the law. Furthermore, Trump’s attorney told him he could not reverse the vote. He said the Supreme Court would go against him 9 to 0 if he tried. Even his daughter, Ivanka, testified that he knew his actions were illegal. His Attorney General, Bill Barr,  told him that he was not connected to reality. Despite his advisers telling him that he lost the election, despite the political leaders on both sides of the aisle trying to convince him that he lost, he persisted in claiming that he had won and was the rightful President. Prominent right-wing TV commentators, even family members, were frantically calling him to stand down and call back the rioters. Again he did not listen. Seven people died in this foolish effort. Sixty (60) lawsuits against the election results were either dismissed or lost. Many of those were under Trump-appointed judges. And the bags of fraudulent ballots never materialized. January 6th cannot be called anything else but an insurrection. I could no longer be a Trumpublican and had to join the other RINO’s, and now need to worry about all the RINO hunters with their AR-15s out there.
     However, now, I am not sure if, indeed, I still qualify as a RINO. I consider myself pro-life, but logic dictates that there must be an existing life for which to be pro. For eight hundred years, the church was influenced by the three “Super Saints,” St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and St. Thomas Aquinas, who all opined that personhood occurred at the time of quickening (when the mother feels movement), in alignment with the other world religions of Islam and Judaism that life could not be taken if no independent life existed. Then along came Pope Pius IX in 1869, who, now under trumped-up divine inspiration (pun intended), changed the assumption that life begins when sperm and egg meet. As a scientist who believes in logic and everything I have learned in embryology and medicine, it seemed a bit farcical to me that two cells constitute a person. I liked what the “Super Saints” said better. After all, do precedents not count anymore? And that was 800 years worth. And did someone forget to bring a dictionary for the Supreme Court Justices to look up the meaning of “Stare Decisis”? My short stint as an Altar Boy did make an impression on me, after all.
To add more controversy to my thoughts, I am forced to agree with Mitch McConnell regarding the background checks and red flag laws to keep guns away from the crazy people. I just hope it works.
     Since I still believe that I am conservative by nature, I continue to have a lot of the party’s mascot, the elephant, in me, but now with RINO influences showing through at the rear. I think I have become an ELMO (an Elephant with a modicum of RINO butt).

 WHEN DOES A FETUS BECOME A PERSON?

     This is a question that involves religion, philosophy, legal opinion, and cultural factors. It is, therefore, not an easy answer and cannot be answered by one segment of society, and that includes the Supreme Court, which is highly influenced by religious thinking, with five of the nine Justices being practicing Catholics. 
     Catholicism is strongly associated with the right to life, and Feminism is strongly associated with pro-choice. So who is right? That too is a difficult question to answer. It depends on when in history you ask the question.  Catholic thinking was not entirely pro-life when Saint Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, and Saint Jerome were opining about it. Quickening was the dividing line. This is when the mother detects the first movement of the fetus. That is also not an exact point. It can be seen as early as 16 weeks and as late as 25 weeks.
     In the Roman era, abortion was practiced and not opposed by the church. It was not until the middle ages that it became an issue. The problem became more urgent because nuns were showing up pregnant, and not all of them were in that state by “divine impregnation” i.e., virgin conception. It was Pope Gregory XIV who determined (ex-cathedra) that ensoulment occurred at 166 days (24 weeks)  after conception. The three “Supersaints” Aquinas, Augustine, and Jerome did note that conception was God’s will, but it was not until ensoulment that determined that a fetus becomes a human person in the church’s eyes as to when abortion becomes the taking of a life, i.e., homicide. Prior to that, it was NOT a mortal sin.
     The whole idea of taking a human life then sprang from ensoulment, which also is a vague point in time. That and quickening roughly coincide in the writings and canons of the church. The pro-lifers historically cannot point to “early abortions” – before 24 weeks to taking of a human life, at least not on the cultural and historical data. And that did not change until 1869  when Pope Pius IX  proclaimed that Mary, Mother of God, was free from sin in the first instant of conception. From then on and not before, any conception that was terminated through human action was considered a homicide. It was not until 1869 that the church reversed the nearly eight-century position of ensoulment. For the last 150 years, a more radical position that any interference with conception, including even blocking conception (birth control – condoms, birth control pills, etc.) was a mortal sin.  
     What about other religions that legitimately have a voice in this moral dilemma? Jews are of the opinion that life does not start at conception. In fact, the status of personhood does not happen until birth. If the mother’s life is at risk because of the pregnancy, the fetus has to be destroyed in order to save the life of the mother. Over 80% of Jews support abortion for any reason.
     Islam also uses ensoulment as the point of personhood. The Prophet Mohammed has placed that to be at 120 days from conception. Protestants are not united in one stance on abortion. However, 60% support abortion rights, similar to Hindus, while Buddhists are overwhelmingly supportive of abortion at 82%. The overall support in the US for abortion is 60%, while 40% are opposed.
     The beating heart is not a sensible measure of personhood. The heart is not the seat of the soul, no matter what Aristotle claimed. If the contraction of an organ is the deciding measure, you might as well use the function of the colon as the determining factor. The human embryo has heart muscle that starts to contract at five weeks but cannot sustain life. A heartbeat can be detected at ten weeks by ultrasound, but the actual beating of the heart cannot be heard by the human ear until 20 weeks. I am not sure when ensoulment happens. I am not even sure I know what a soul is. I do know that after 24 weeks, the fetus can survive outside the mother’s womb. That would be what I would consider viability.
     What do we do with issues that divide us usually? We vote on it. I would put it on the ballot, and let the majority decide. On second thought, that didn’t work out so well last time.

A Book of Inspirations

A BOOK OF INSPIRATIONS

      My 11th book just went off to the printer. It will be out in July, and I hope to sell a lot of them. I think it is my best book to date. I WILL DONATE ALL THE PROFITS TO THE REBUILDING OF UKRAINE. It is amazing to me that one crazy person can do so much harm in such a short time. It took Hitler a decade and Stalin two decades to destroy the world. It took Putin only a few months.         
     This new book was my therapy to counter the evil of this insanity. Art and esthetic beauty have always calmed me down and given me new inspiration that things will get better. The book’s title is Muses and Inspirations and features works of two UKRAINIAN ARTISTS, my father and me. My father was motivated by the two-dimensional muse (painting), while I paid homage to the three-dimensional muse (sculpting).
     Each work is accompanied by a write-up of why, how, and what motivated us. I have been a Surgeon most of my life, so naturally, that was a major part of my inspiration and created the work you see below, the gloved hand of a surgeon making the first incision. It is held up by the scalpel, which was quite a feat to have it appear to come from above as if guided by some unseen force. Bronze is a metal of copper mixed with 12% tin and thus is quite heavy. It would collapse if held up by a bronze scalpel, so the knife is cast in stainless steel, a metaphor for the King of the Medical Arts.

      Blacksmiths were one of my Father’s favorite subjects to paint. Painting them spanned his entire career. He admired the strength of brawn and brain that allowed them to tame iron. A blacksmith’s work is never done! Iron and steel obey his every whim from shaping horseshoes to forging swords.

This Blacksmith was a friend of my father, and allowed him to paint him in his shop. Unfortunately, the Blacksmith was very fond of “the grape.” While shoeing a horse in his shop, he was kicked by the horse in the upper abdomen. He was too inebriated to get help and bled to death from a ruptured spleen. That ended not only his life but also his career as a model and friend to my father.

On one of my trips to Paris, France, I became enchanted by the “gargoyle.” That is a sculpting adorning many cathedrals of Europe. The word “gargoyle” comes from the Spanish word “garganta,” which means “throat.” Originally the gargoyle was used to divert water from the roof of a church and the water was channeled out of the mouth of the gargoyle. The legend claims that these hideous faces actually discouraged evil spirits from attacking. They protected the people and the cathedral. I, too, had to have one to protect my house. So I sculpted one, and so far, it has been successful. No evil spirits have infested our house. Here is my version of the gargoyle.

Winter is filled with fun and excitement:  Christmas, holly, mistletoe, sleigh rides, chestnuts, and sitting by toasty roaring fires. Snow is difficult to paint. It is white, that is true, but it has character, substance, and it is cold. To convey this with a brush on a canvas with white Zinc Oxide oil paint and make it believable is quite a trick. The New England Winter, 24″x36″ oil on canvas,seems to be inviting a horse-drawn sleigh with jingle bells to pass over the bridge. This painting comes from the Santa Monica period of Vladimir’s life. A time in sunny California, 1965 to 1974, which made Vladimir reminisce about his time in colder climates. He forgot how bad winter could be: the house calls to the farm at the very peak of the mountain in the Austrian Alps in waist-deep snow and the cold winters in Peoria when he was night physician on call for six thousand criminally insane (that is for another book). His car had to have an electric heating blanket covering the engine so he could start it.

     To my knowledge, I am the first sculptor to incorporate the artistic rendering with a real object. In this sculpting, I took a real violin and have bronze hands positioned as if playing the violin. I call this piece Air on the G-String. Sometime between 1717 to 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote “Orchestration No. 3 in D Major.” Orchestration No. 3 did not get much exposure and languished in a drawer for around 150 years, very much like J.S. Bach’s other famous Opus, the six Brandenburg Concertos.

  A very talented violinist thought to be Germany’s best violinist, also a friend of Richard Wagner, discovered Orchestration No. 3 in D Major. He re-scored it so that he could play it on just one string on the violin by changing the key to C Major and lowering the entire score one octave. That string happened to be the lowest string on the violin, the G-string. His name was August Wilhelmj. Audiences came to use the name “Air on the G-string for it.” It was an immediate success and remains so still today. You would recognize it instantly as it is frequently played at weddings. The G-string has a more lusty connotation. To learn more about it, you will have to wait for the book. I shall put out a notice when it is available.