Cherry Picking Our Sacred Documents

Over the weekend, I heard from a man I went to school with almost 40 years ago. He made a fortune as a stockbroker and in retirement is active in right-wing politics, acting as a significant rainmaker for some high-profile Texas Tea Party candidates. Ralph, as I’ll call him, was miffed at a column I wrote for ChicagoSide sports, explaining why the current Cubs ownership makes me want to stay away from Wrigley Field. “Social Security and health care aren’t part of the core functions of government,” he said. “If people want health care, they should save for it, just as they should save for their retirement.”

This morning, as I walked to the lake with my dog, we passed a homeless couple waking up from a night on a park bench. We know each other by sight. The woman, who likes to pet the dog, only has five teeth, so it’s hard to understand what she’s saying. I’d been feeling grumpy, because in my comfortable home on my high-quality mattress I hadn’t been able to sleep. As the woman and I exchanged greetings and she fondled the dog’s ears, my first thought was, “Count your blessings.”

Callie in Lake Michigan 2009

Callie in Lake Michigan

My second thought was how much happier I would be if I embraced Ralph’s point-of-view. Ralph is a born-again Christian, but he cherry picks his bible just as I cherry-pick mine. I tend to think of the petulant Cain demanding “Am I my brother’s keeper?” or the commandments to leave part of the harvest for the homeless to collect, and feel shame at where I fall short. Ralph tends to think of how he’s been washed in the blood of the Lamb and nothing else he says or does matters.

When I read the Constitution, I focus on the Preamble, which says we’re establishing the United States Constitution in order to “establish justice…and promote the General Welfare.” Ralph thinks the whole document is obsolete wallpaper except for the right to bear arms.

US Constitution

US Constitution

Gail Collins, on tour for her new book As Texas Goes, says no state is willing to let its citizens die by the side of the road. In fact, many states and many people are willing to do just that. Texas itself has decided to eliminate all Medicaid funding for clinics that provide family planning in an effort to get rid of Planned Parenthood in the state. Indiana, Kansas and Iowa have or are considering similar options. Women who haven’t been able to save as much money as Ralph, maybe because Wal-Mart and McDonalds don’t pay as well as manipulating derivatives, now cannot afford health care. Over a hundred thousand Texas women depended on Planned Parenthood for all their health care needs, not just contraception or abortion. In the effort to protect foetal life, these states are willing to sacrifice the lives and health of all the low-income women who live there. But Ralph knows this is the right thing to do. He’s so much happier than I am and I don’t think it’s all because of Jesus. If you know the poor have only themselves to blame for poverty, you can go to the beach with your dog and not worry about the woman on the bench with five teeth. It’s certainly true that I don’t do more for her than Ralph does.

A few years ago I was introduced to the CFO of one of Chicago’s biggest hospitals. He also said health care was a privilege, not a right. My granddaughter’s birth was lying heavy on my mind at the time. Her mother had a difficult delivery, and because my son’s firm didn’t cover obstetrical care, and he and his wife worked low-wage jobs, my husband and I paid their substantial medical bills. I asked the CFO what someone who didn’t have parents with savings should have done? Let the woman and child die? Become homeless? Our fight drew a crowd but other than entertaining the other restaurant patrons, we didn’t resolve anything. We both left convinced we were right, but I must say, it’s easier to be right and happy when you have a lot of cash.

My experience with the CFO led me not to get into an argument with Ralph, since neither of us was going to budge, but I will say he sleeps better than I do.

  • Jack

    Something that strikes me apropos to your post http:///  You might share it with Ralph and the CFO.

  • SaraParetsky

    Thanks, Jack. Scalzi says it way better than I did

  • Neve Rallow

    Ten V.I. Warshawski novels have been completely read, with notes.  The book store femp (Brief.  It’s what’s door thinner) was rather severe as she ordered Breakdown so I’ve been putting off going back there.  I’m avoiding Indemnity Only too, since like the first P.D. James novel it’ll be slow, slow, slow!  Cruella’s aids can ask for clarification on that.  Thus I’m now churning into Guardian Angel.  The novels are remarkably good at being criminally taken over by charming adult males whose minds are completely concealed.  This relates to the fact that so many characters have incomprehensible names.  If only a character in Deadlock could have been named Brigitte Spears or Lorelei Lohen.  Still, I get about eight pitches worth swinging on per novel.

  • Marc Hirsch

    I’m a retired doctor, 67 years old, but I volunteer at a Free Clinic for workers who can’t afford health insurance. I like what you have to say. I just started your book Body Work. I also just, coincidentally, published my own 1st murder mystery, The Case, set in the 1950’s NYC and up the Hudson River. It has a female protagonist too (long explanation.) I grew up in the Bronx with Harold Winston, a Chicago PD who told me he was in grad school with you. He was a chess guy who became a lawyer. I was a street bum who, somehow, became a doctor. I’m very fond of the Bronx of the 1950’s, as you clearly are of Chicago. I like your blog. Marc Hirsch (MD) 

  • Gloria Feldt

    Astute observations, Sara. But I’ll throw in with you, not Ralph. He might appear happier but who wants to hang out with such a mean, selfish, ignorant person? And BTW, I know very well that you do quite a lot more for those in need than Ralph and his ilk, so don’t undervalue yourself. xox

  • Neve Rallow

    The actual President Bush attempted to make a coherent comment when he said in early 1989 that a Congressional pay raise was long overdue and “everybody knows that.”  Likewise, everybody knows that a loose linoleum tile is a feature in Burns Marks, Guardian Angel, and Tunnel Vision.  Everybody knows that streets decant V.I. Warshawski onto freeways and that no one sketches a wave to her from their car on any freeway.  But now at the quarter mile post in Guardian Angel and with four novels left to read (Indemnity Only, Tunnel Vision, Hard Time, and Breakdown), I think I’ve run into the word “milkshake” for the first time.  One of the great features to not having had a drink for 15 and a half years is being able to remember that a novelist never used a word until it shows up.  There are three Chicago-born, or Chicago-using, women I’m counting on to dismantle the Democratic machine.  One is named Sara Paretsky.  Then in the afternoon we can play Scrabble.     

  • Neve Rallow

    Guardian Angel has Audrey Jameson as a doctor visiting to take care of Lotty at the same time as CPD Officer Galway, and was published in 1992.  They respond in a similar way to discussion of the brutish guard at Diamond Head.  Nicknamed Bruno, Bluto would have been funnier.  Love is slow pure prizing, I slopened up my tries, and you preached doubt and you rooked my tanned.  A Truman to such my goal now, Funny don’t you net show now, fold your maybe just a little bit lighter.   

  • Offl2011

    Is there a difference between people who won’t work for something and those that can’t work for something.   I see a difference between the two. I believe we are much better off taking care of ourselves…as the govt places a lot of quid pro quos, limitations and qualifiers on anything they “provide” to the public. As did your son’s company, perhaps if the son had been given money instead of a policy, he could have taken that money and purchased a plan that would have covered his wife’s pregnancy.  Instead he had to rely on what the company provides. Beyond that there are people who are happy to sleep on the beach and have 5 teeth. Why do we assume every person wants the same life, the same comfort, the same material things. I believe we should make every effort to take care of those who CANNOT take care of themselves. But, beyond that I believe it is best to let people take care of themselves to the level they want. I don’t want the govt or a company telling me what I can or cannot have…or what I must do/comply with to get those things even if that means I live on a beach with no shelter and no teeth…at least then, it’s because I chose it and I have a lovely sunrise every morning with a nice gentleman who lets me pet his sweet dog as he takes his daily run.

  • Marc Hirsch

    I absolutely agree with you. I think people should be free to chose their own lives. Living in relation to other people, depending on municipal water and electricity, is the beginning of a slippery slope to being responsible for each other. I lived alone on an island with a dirt road and no electricity or running water in my youth, to escape just such interdependence. I got lonely. Now I do the best I can to have the life I want. I don’t mind if my taxes are used to take care of people who need it. There has always and will always be people scamming the system. It’s imperfect, but it’s a trade off for compassion and company. That’s not a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, if you’ll forgive the obstetrical reference. We sometimes get so vehemently mean to each other over our philosophies.

  • Marc Hirsch

    Just finished Body Work. I really like your take on social issues. Inspiring. The end brought a tear to my eye.

  • Neve Rallow

    On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Average is an orientation for “hitting” those parts of the V.I. Warshawski novels which “are up in the zone” and thus offer a way to handle the criminal use of them as Chicago novels by those adult males who have taken over Chicago.  It is true that OBPS can be asserted in this way without actual insertion of the ethical actions of the “hitter.”  However, as soon as OBPS used in this way appears on the Internet from anywhere in the U.S., it goes straight to FBI headquarters.  They have a team of agents who analyze whether the poster is justified in asserting that he has a certain level of OBPS.

  • Marc Hirsch


  • Neve Rallow

    How To Get Excluded For Life is the most popular book in the United States right now.  It’s actually a series of books with multiple authors.  They come out on a daily basis.  

  • Neve Rallow

    To give you a rough idea of how popular the How To Get Excluded For Life series is, it makes the Harry Potter series seem like My Life by Kelly LeBrock.  Ms. Paretsky, the American people have been charmed by your V.I. Warshawski detective series.  Objection, are we filming a soap opera today, Your Honor?  The distinguished counselor should speak to the witness in an appropriate manner.  Susatained with reluctance.  Ask the question, counselor.   

  • Neve Rallow

    Don’t look.  You know how federal judges hate evidence tampering, and photos are sure to fit the category.  If my memory is this good after having abused alcohol while young, it’s not quite true that I can reshuffle the V.I. Warshawski novels like they’re on a Rolodex because I’ve been dry for fifteen-and-a-half years, and only had off and on beers in the decade before that.  I might be able to have an impressive memory even did I still have those beers, except that there would always be a darkling cloudling hovering about the memory use process.  What being dry gives is the purity of the mind Rolodex.  I’m certain that when the 312 area code for Chicago is named in Breakdown, it’s the first time that area code has been named in the twelve novels I’ve read.   

  • Hi Sara

    What is your take on the Romney-Ryan proposed Health Care as compared to Obamacare?.

  • Neve Rallow

    Getting back into the actual “at bats” against those for whom U.S. troops are later going to just cope with their stronger sexual bodies, let’s take the novel Burn Marks.  Besinger is the honest insurance investigator, but Kim Basinger would surely at least go with the death penalty used on females in the south.  Boots is the criminal Chicago politician, but his name would surely at least go with any criminal conspiracy by presidents to use U.S. troops.  So a divergence is what I will swing based on.

  • kathy d.

    What is with people like this guy Ralph who calls himself a Christian no less? What are the lessons of that religion? Compassion and caring for other people: the Golden Rule. There is no excuse for this selfishness. If Ralph made charitable donations, perhaps he could help people with dental care like the woman you met.
    It’s just absurd. How many money do people need?
    I say the rich should be taxed and the money used for health care, public education, housing, infrastructure — and also a big jobs program, like the jobs programs of the 1930s.
    It is absolutely obscene for the super-rich 1/10 of 1% to keep garnering so much money while 50 million people don’t have health insurance or care, while 49 million people often go to bed hungry, including 16 million children, while public education is being whittled away, while Head Start programs are cut. And what about children? Don’t they have the right to thrive? To have a good life?
    To think otherwise is to have the worst cynicism about other human beings.
    The fact is the half of the work force in this country makes $26,000 or less a year.
    How can people purchase medical insurance? A lot of people don’t have enough money for food. Rents are sky-high; so is health care.
    People like Ralph are not living in the real world. Or they’re totally self-centered without concern for other human beings. We all choose what kind of people we want to be. He chose selfishiness. Luckily, millions of us choose kindness, compassion and wanting to help others. This society and others would be a sorry mess if there weren’t so many caring people.
    However, people need jobs at decent wages, health care, decent housing, education, adequate and nutritious food.
    The worst thing I can think of being is an uncaring, uncompassionate, callous, self-centered human being.
    I remember one of V.I. Warshawi’s books where, I think, it’s Lotte Hershel’s father at the end who asks, “What is the value of a life”? It’s “Did we do good”?
    I’ve never forgotten that. And “doing good” means being concerned about other people and doing something about it!!!


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