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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Encounter with Jewish Christophobia on Facebook

I recently had a really icky, rotten experience.

I'm purposely using emotional, little kid words like "icky" and "rotten" because they best encapsulate the essence of this experience.

I had an encounter with a Jewish anti-Christianity bigot via Facebook.

It wasn't an intellectual experience or a sociological experience or a geopolitical experience, even though it involved religious conflicts that go back millennia. It was an icky, rotten personal experience with a rude, ignorant man who wanted to beat up on a Christian girl and did.

In August I received an email from "Rob," a man who said he had read something I'd written and liked it. He said he was looking to meet people with "good values, rational sense and intellectual curiosity," and that meant me. He wanted to be Facebook friends. I accepted. He sent me several follow-up emails telling me he'd read other works by me and liked them, too.

I responded as I usually do. "Thank you for the positive feedback," I said. And I said nothing more.

He invited me to what sounded like a luxurious vacation home. I didn't go but thanked him.

Then the first negative email.

He began, again, with compliments "I like your writing, its clarity, its unashamed moral voice, its appeal to reason and its relying on facts."


But, he said, I was wrong about Christianity.

Rob wrote, "Anti-Semitism is endemic to Christianity…it is implicit in its theology … Christianity was at its start a type of Judaism mostly followed by Jews but early on, there was a falling out, arising from Jew's unwillingness to leave Judaism and to become Christian. I think there was a power struggle to determine if the religion would be controlled by Jews or ex-Pagans and the Jews lost. I think the early church resented this and needed to distance from Judaism. I think Christians needed to be more welcoming to Romans; so they white washed the Roman's holocaust in Judea. The Romans killed about 2 million Jews and Crucified about 100,000 Jews. Instead of the Romans being the villain of the story, the Jews became the villain.

"I harbored resentments of Christianity … Christianity constantly fights against evil, if not always successfully. Yet the eternal Nazi, the eternal psychopath, will always and must always hate the Jews. They will do it however they can and hijack or coop the Church when they can … Maybe Jesus didn't die for your sins, but Jews did."

Rob spewed a bunch of pseudo-facts about Poland, the Pale of Settlement, and Torquemada, the kind of "truths" that one could "learn" from reading Leon Uris, watching Bill Maher, paying attention to leftwing professors, and listening to NPR. In other words, intellectually worthless stereotypes, misunderstandings, and manipulated Christophobic propaganda.

Me, I deal with facts. I respect scholarship. I sacrificed to learn. I have zero tolerance for bullshit.

I politely responded to Rob. I responded with facts. My replies were much shorter than his emails to me. I mostly just referenced peer-reviewed scholarly books published by university presses.

I corrected Rob's historical errors, especially about Poland. There are two Polands: there is an historical reality, Poland, and there is a mythical land about which self-described "educated" people can make any absurd statement they like, and not be challenged, for example, that the Nazis put the concentration camps in Poland because they knew Poles would approve. Anyone who thinks that the Nazis were eager to receive occupied Poland's approval for anything is talking about mythical Poland.

Rob responded with personal insults directed against me. He was shocked, shocked, that I did not want to accept his assessment of Christianity as inherently anti-Semitic and tantamount to Nazism.

And Rob responded at length. One message was almost three thousand words long.

It was apparently very important for this man to convince one Christian woman that Christianity sucks.

In one of his subsequent messages, Rob said something very telling, "I think you find this conversation more problematic than I thought."


I blame Christians. I blame church leaders.

Christian apologetics is a scholarly discipline devoted to the public, intellectual support for Christian faith.

Where is it?

I spent most of my life as a Christian. I went to a Catholic grade school. I didn't even know Christian apologetics existed until relatively recently.

What did I know?

I knew that Christians in the modern world walk around with slumped shoulders and hangdog faces, apologizing for all of Christianity's real and imagined crimes. I know that Christians in media are mea culpa, breast beating wimps, ashamed and afraid to speak up for their faith. I know that public Christians are also often utterly ignorant. They often do think that Nazism was Christian, for example. They think this because they are as stupid as rocks when it comes to the intellectual history of Nazism.

I know that any public Christians who do show any zeal are often not the same Christians who have any intellectual chops. Tammy Faye Bakker was a charismatic spokeswoman for Christianity, but she was no Thomas Aquinas.

Those Christians who are public intellectuals, like Garry Wills, are more famous for their scathing criticisms of the church than for arguing for faith.

And then there are Christianity-bashing liars and intellectual sluts like James Carroll and John Cornwell.

We live in an era where it is hip to be Christophobic. Christopher Hitchens is cool. Bill Maher is cool. Sam Harris is cool. They are all psychopathological hatemongers. But they are cool. They hate the right people. Christians.

Public Christians want to be in media and so they play the game – "Yes, I am Christian and oh I am so ashamed of that."

And I blame Protestants. Protestants churn out an amazing amount of anti-Catholic claptrap. Christophobes glom on to this stuff.

Christian apologetics, which does a brilliant job of representing our faith, is marginalized. It should not be. It should be in neon letters as big as the Hollywood sign.

Another reason I blame Christians.

I am a Christian. I am a Christian after years of study and exploration of other faiths. I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God who was born of a virgin, lived as a man, taught and healed, and died on a cross for my sins. I believe he rose again from the dead. I believe he hears my prayers. I believe the lives of everybody on planet earth would be immediately improved through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

I am proud to be Christian. I am proud of my Christian forebears. I will not apologize for being Christian and I will not stand by silently while others insult my faith, which is the most important thing in my life.

Why don't more Christians say such things publicly?

Rob didn't even get how insulting and inflammatory his emails to me were. He didn't get what a clod he was being by sending me emails saying, "Maybe Jesus didn't die for your sins, but Jews did."

Why do Christian students sit passively in college classrooms as professors insult their faith? Why do Christian Facebook users post links to clips by Bill Maher?

Why do Christian laugh when Christophobic "jokes" are told at parties?

Of course bullies like Rob think it's okay to send thousand-word emails to complete strangers insulting Christianity. Christians, in their weak and cowardly refusal to stand up for their faith, telegraph to bullies like Rob that that's okay to do. Of course Rob thought that I would make a nice, passive, punching bag for the venting of his hostility. That's what Christians do, right?


I want to respond to a couple of Rob's laughable "intellectual points."

That Christianity is inherently anti-Semitic. That is, wherever you find Christianity, you will find anti-Semitism.



America is one of the most Christian countries in the world. It is one of the least anti-Semitic. The two are related.

No, the New Testament is not an anti-Semitic book.

Yes, there are scathing criticisms of Jews in the New Testament. Those criticisms were written by Jews, writing in a Jewish tradition of self-criticism that is much more powerfully represented in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament God speaks of his chosen people in terms that could chill your bones. Read examples like Psalm 78: 10-11, II Kings 17: 7-8, Jeremiah 32: 30, II Kings 17: 18-20, Psalm 78: 59-62, I Kings 14: 15, Amos 9: 8, and there's a lot more where that came from.

Please don't ever tell me the New Testament is an anti-Semitic book unless you can tell me how the critical verses in the New Testament are more problematical than the critical verses in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament, Jesus, the son of God, a man and a Jew, states unequivocally, "Salvation is from the Jews." John 4 22.

In the beautiful document, Nostra Aetate, the Vatican states, "Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making both one in Himself … God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues – such is the witness of the Apostle."

Pope John Paul II said that Jews are Christians' "older brothers." "With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers."

I have not encountered such positive statements about Christians or Christianity among Jews; if they exist, please inform me.

No, The Second Vatican Council of the 1960s was not the first time the Catholic Church rejected the charge of "Jews killed Jesus." I am not a church historian but I know that the charge of deicide was articulately rejected at the sixteenth century Council of Trent, and, I suspect, before.

No, theology did not spark pogroms; economic patterns which no longer exist did. Please read Edna Bonacich, Amy Chua, and "Bieganski."

Yes, the church did denounce pogroms, and even try to stop them; the church also repeatedly denounced blood libel.

Yes, Christians have done horrible things to Jews, and Christians have repeatedly comes to terms with that, and worked to make sure it never happens again.

The most heinous, despicable, and false of Rob's accusations is that Christianity is tantamount to Nazism. And, yes, Christians regularly make similar stupid statements.

Please read "Nazism's Inspirations and Foundations: Atheism, Scientism, Darwinism, Nationalism, and Neo-Paganism." It walks you through the thought processes that allowed Nazis to commit mass murder, even though they often found it unpleasant to do so.

None of these debating points will mean anything to the Robs of the world. Rob clings to his resentments against Christianity because it works for him to do so. If you want to learn more about that, again, read "Bieganski," especially the chapters at the end that talk about the interviews. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Sherlock Holmes Tarot: A Review

I love detailed, rich, intelligent tarot decks that, like a novel, create their own world. I am delighted by intriguingly new but integral and faithful interpretations of tarot's timeless themes. I value fine artwork that pleases my eyes. I am grateful when I can find a deck that is accompanied by a book that is well-written. The Sherlock Holmes Tarot offers all these gifts.

I am not a "Sherlockian." As a kid, I watched the Basil Rathbone / Nigel Bruce movies on TV, and also the 1971 film "They Might be Giants," which I adore. I've read two Sherlock Holmes stories, which I liked, but not well enough to want to read more. I am not a fan of the Victorian Era. So, I can't offer a cognoscente's review. If the deck contains some violation of the Holmes universe or Victoriana, it slipped right past me, and given that I'm not religious about Holmes or the Victorian Era, I don't care. I am a fan of tarot and I can say that this is a respectable tarot deck.

Wil Kinghan's images are aesthetically pleasing and unusual. His technique is ink line work and digital painting, with photographs of friends used as models.

This technique results in images that are reminiscent of antique black-and-white photographs that have been hand-tinted with color. Kinghan's set pieces – one might almost call them dioramas – are faithful to the Victorian Era. There are high collars, high hats, cobblestones, and distant, domed roofs seen out of coal-dimmed windowpanes. But there are also some shockingly vivid colors: reds, purples, and chrome yellow, pulsing vividly. As is appropriate for a deck inspired by a criminal investigator, living in London, from the era before electricity, most cards depict dusk or night crossed with wisps of fog. Between the bright colors and the stygian atmosphere, this deck depicts a collision between neon and gaslight.

Kinghan's cards are so busy with life, they jump off the page. The Magician is Sherlock Holmes himself. He is sitting, thinking – but Kinghan infuses electric life into this seated thinker. He's about to jump up with a great insight and solve a case. The minor arcana are drawn with all the color, dynamism, and detail as the major arcana. The four of evidence – analogous to the four of wands – depicts Holmes and Watson celebrating at a pub. The scene is alive: there are chandeliers, booths with other customers, candles, bottles, curtains, and a waiter. The line of the table comes at the viewer like a Dutch angle.

Other scenes are more dynamic still. The eight of evidence (eight of wands) depicts a train, puffing smoke, hurtling into the distance over a bridge, moon overhead. Holmes, in a tall hat, is just glimpsed peeking out one of the windows. It's hard to look at this card without entering into the scene, and imaging a story to accompany the image.

The five of deduction (five of coins) depicts a woman's deathbed. That could have been a static scene. In Kinghan's hands, it is alive – no anti-pun intended. There are dramatic shadows, and Holmes assumes a posture tense with meaning as he is dragged by a beagle. The lightning-like gleam from a top hat highlights Kinghan's attention to detail.

The Sherlock Holmes Tarot is one deck for which the user will very much want, and will make extensive use of, the accompanying book. Matthews has a New York Times bestseller to his credit; he can write. Two beauties of his text are its specificity and that it does not over promise. This isn't fluffy New Age stuff about how if you focus your intention you will win the lottery. It's about more grounded, detailed, day to day stuff, with Holmes as your guide. Each card is accompanied by a quote from a Holmes story.

Matthews' interpretations of reversed cards are every bit as extensive as his comments for upright cards. Upright interpretations are called "the game," as in "The game is afoot." Reversed interpretations are dubbed "the fog," that obscuring meteorological phenomenon we associate with London.

Matthews reconfigures the minor arcana as observation (swords), evidence (wands), analysis (cups) and deduction (pentacles). The pages are Baker Street Irregulars, that is the street urchins whom Holmes employed. Pages are all too often throwaways; here they are especially good. Knights are peelers, a slang word for police officer like the more familiar "bobby." Queens are ladies, and kings are inspectors. Both major arcana and minor arcana are depicted using characters and events from the Holmes canon.

The meanings of the cards are made very clear in the book. For example, the five of pentacles depicting a woman's deathbed is explained as an event from a Holmes story that fits quite neatly with the traditional interpretation of the card. For me as a reader, this deck would have been more valuable if these meanings were made easier and quicker to grasp. I fear that I may be struggling with working out equivalences: "eyeball on card means the card is part of the observation suit and observation means swords." Since I am not a Sherlockian, I don't know all the plots the cards depict, and I would have liked reminders on the cards themselves: a small sword at the bottom of the card, for example, plus a discrete, one-word prompt like "regret" for the five of analysis (five of cups).

Second, we all know Sherlock Holmes had a problem with women, and, by extension, all that the cups suit represents. Rather than create a cups suit and have Holmes react to it, the cups suit is processed through Holmes; it is the cups suit through Holmes' limited and hyper-rational point of view. To me that's a mistake. Holmes may have been a great (if fictional) man, but he wasn't able to eliminate emotions, spirituality, the feminine, or the supernatural. Heck, I hear there is even a new tarot deck named after him. I wish the cups suit had been more traditional, and firmly, representative of that very side of life that Holmes found so challenging. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Can You Be Friends With Someone You Disagree with Politically and Religiously?

Can you be friends with someone you disagree with politically and religiously?

I am friends with Sandy McReynolds, with whom I disagree about religion and politics, so I think the answer is "yes."

Unless it's "no."

Two recent events.

I was the person who approached "Cathy" and wanted to be friends with her. She was smart, civil, kind, helpful, and fearless. I admire those qualities. I liked Cathy. Cathy helped me with a complicated computer problem. Cathy educated me about a couple of news stories I was not following closely. I admire helpfulness and intelligence. I enjoyed and was grateful for our friendship, even though we weren't close.

During the military conflict between Israel and Gaza, Cathy focused a lot of pity on Arab babies "murdered" by Jews. This struck me, because I had never previously seen Cathy express any compassion for anyone who was killed by anyone else. Heaven knows there are enough wars going on in the world right now. If one wanted to focus attention on victims of killing in war, there is the Syrian Civil War, the victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria or the mall attack in Kenya.

No. Cathy had never expressed any sadness over those deaths.

Cathy was really, really sad, and she wanted everyone else to be really, really sad, about cute, innocent babies murdered by Jews. And the Jews doing this killing are genocidal, and they get satisfaction and pleasure from killing Arab babies, and the Jews want to kill all Arabs, and probably all Muslims. (World Jewish population: 13 million. World Muslim population: 1.6 billion. Plausible?)

I did not want to conclude that Cathy was working up so much grief over Arab babies killed by Jews because Cathy was anti-Semitic. I don't like kneejerk accusations of antisemitism or racism or misogyny or homophobia. I think we should be slow to apply these labels to anyone. They are serious accusations and everyone should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Too, I believe in people co-existing and being nice to each other. I think we should bend over backward to be slow to make inflammatory accusations and I think we should do everything we can to interact with our neighbors in as pleasant a way as possible. I think we should be slow to go to war internationally, and I think we should be slow to go to war interpersonally. And ending a friendship because you disagree with someone about Israel is going to war interpersonally.

I think we should do everything we can to keep friendships going, not just for our own benefit – it is good to have friends – but also for the benefit of human community – it is good for humans to learn to coexist.

It hurts my feelings when people drop me as a friend. Recently two people, Carol and Chris, dropped me as a friend because I spoke openly of my ugly and life-threatening experiences with Obamacare. I felt sad. I noted the irony of Carol and Chris' logic: "I support healthcare for the poor so much that I cannot be friends with a poor person who needs healthcare who has been screwed by Obamacare." Feh.

Look – it's just a disagreement – I support Israel – you don't – do we have to stop being friends over that?

Besides, bottom line, even if Cathy were anti-Semitic, that wouldn't necessarily cause me any trouble. I'm not Jewish.

Then the decapitations.

Cathy made snide, cynical, joke-like statements about the American journalists beheaded on camera by ISIS. These statements made my guts churn. I returned to them over and over. Did she really say that? This nice person? My friend, however casual and distant? Did she really say that? Those words exactly? About James Foley and Steven Sotloff, these two innocent, defenseless men decapitated on camera in a terrifying and humiliating way?

Foley and Sotloff, by all accounts, were really nice, idealistic, caring guys who gave up comfortable lives in order to cover the Arab world's problems, in order to help solve them. Why make cynical, joke-like statements mocking their deaths, when their bodies were not even yet cold?

I was stopped stock still. I just stared. Did she really just say that? Did people really just hear that and not object?

But what about all that compassion for dead Arab babies?

Oh. Oh, wait. The dead Arab babies were killed … by Jews. That is what made them different. That is what made their deaths worthy of large, glistening, public tears. Is that it? Is the person I chose as a friend, whose friendship I enjoy … anti-Semitic?

I really don't want to think that. I don't want to make that accusation.

I'm moving on.

Cathy had a reason for scoffing at Foley and Sotloff. Their decapitations had been manipulated by the CIA, because tptb (the powers that be) want us to go to war with innocent Muslims. Cathy was refusing to allow her pity to be manipulated by tptb to twist her into hating Muslims. Okay …

But then the straw that broke the camel's back.

Cathy said this. She said, in so many words, that most or maybe even all Americans want to kill all Muslims.

Again, my reaction was, did she just say that? Really?

Americans are genocidal? Murderers? Staying up late at night plotting the genocide of all the world's Muslims? Really? She believes this? Americans are plotting the murder of Muslims in Paterson, Dearborn, Cairo and Lahore?

When people are sad about Arab babies that Israel "murders," though you've never heard them express any sadness over any other dead baby, you can wonder about antisemitism, but it's not conclusive.

When someone publicly jeers at Americans decapitated on camera by terrorists, you might think about the times in your life you said something that was tasteless and misconstrued, and move on.

When someone who is otherwise intelligent and informed mocks victims of sadistic and hateful public executions because she's convinced that these executions are mere theater cooked up by the shadowy and evil powers that be, you can kind of feel sorry for the person and hope for better education in public schools.

But when someone tells a whopper lie like that, in the tense atmosphere we all live in now, just two days away from the anniversary of 9-11, there really is no more room for doubt.

The statement is false. It's more than false. It's evil. There's nothing ambiguous there.

There are terrorists murdering Americans right now, and stating publicly that every American is a target for death at any time. Americans do not deserve this death sentence. We aren't guilty of any crime that warrants this. The terrorist death sentence on all of us, every last one of us, including Muslim Americans, including babies, including grandmothers, is morally wrong. To obfuscate that crystal clear moral truth is evil.

Cathy's claim that all Americans have evil hearts and are plotting and planning to murder all Muslims on planet earth is beyond false. It is an evil claim, stated to justify the killing of Americans.

And so Cathy and I are no longer friends.

I'm also no longer friends with another person. This person, "Rob," approached me after I published an article about supporting Israel on Facebook. He complimented my "good values, rational sense and intellectual curiosity." So far so good.

But then Rob began sending me numerous and lengthy posts (ten posts a day, pages of material) insisting that my faith, Christianity, is inherently anti-Semitic, that Nazism was Christian, that Chmielnicki (who murdered Polish Catholics) was Polish, that Poles are all anti-Semites and of course if I deny that that's proof that I'm an anti-semite just like all the other Poles.

I responded to Rob's uninvited and unwelcome pages of posts attacking and insulting my faith and my ethnicity. I responded courteously. I responded with facts. Not hard to do. I've published a book on the topic, and I've been working on it for years.

Rob called me a liar and insulted me personally.

Letting go of any hope of friendship with Rob was not hard. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

How to Talk to a Stonewalling Asshole on the Phone When You Are Vulnerable and Overwhelmed But Still Keeping Your Peace of Mind and Winning

How to Talk to a Stonewalling Asshole on the Phone When You Are Vulnerable and Overwhelmed But Still Keeping Your Peace of Mind and Winning

Dedicated to someone who never thanks me when I dedicate writing to her.

Recently I watched someone I care about a lot talking to a stonewalling asshole on the phone. The person I care about was vulnerable and overwhelmed and I could hear that squeaky little rabbit sound in her voice and it cut me to the quick.

God has sent me the kind of life where my path is littered with Don-Quixote-style windmills and all I have to tilt at them is my puny little pen. I've had to talk to a lot of stonewalling assholes on the phone.

I want to share what I've learned about talking to stonewalling assholes on the phone when vulnerable and overwhelmed.

1.) Walk away from the phone & Develop your quiet place.

Yes. You heard me. Now do it.

Listen, I'm a teacher, and I'm going to walk you through this process. Believe me when I tell you: the first thing you have to do when it is time to talk to a stonewalling asshole on the phone is to walk away from the phone.

You are going to feel tempted to skip this step. Do not skip this step. It is the single most important step.

This is what you are going to do: you are going to develop a quiet place.

A quiet place is a set of reactions to stimuli that your body produces on command. You want to be calm, happy, and self-confident. You want to radiate a beneficent conviction that you getting what you want is the best damn thing that ever happened on planet earth. You do not want to feel vulnerable. You do not want to feel overwhelmed.

This is how I develop my quiet place.

I do this when I have time. I don't do this at the last minute.

I provide input to all my senses. I wear clean clothes, I brush my teeth, I sip a cold drink, I put on a favorite perfume, I listen to New Age music like Jonathan Goldman's "Holy Harmony," available on youtube, and I breathe very slowly and focus on each breath. I meditate on Jesus' love for humanity, or waves crashing on shore, or walking off into the forest with Uncle John. I envision predictable things, like a Sacred Heart image, or the path through the rye behind Uncle John's house.

Giving myself all this cues: the smells, the sounds, the sights, the tastes, the feel, teaches my body to assume this relaxed posture the next time I plug in all these stimuli.

Now, I might be walking home through heavy traffic and in a bad neighborhood, and feel a migraine coming on, but just envisioning the path behind Uncle John's house and calling to mind Jonathan Goldman's "Holy Harmony" brings my body into relaxation mode, and the migraine is lessened if not extinguished.

2.) After you've meditated on relaxation and love for fifteen minutes, think about the big picture. The phone call you are going to make is not what life is all about. Life is a learning experience. What you are going to learn from this phone call is how to defeat a certain kind of dragon. The whole point here is not the $49.95 the company owes you for the framistan that malfunctioned while still under warrantee. No one is going to mention that framistan in your obituary. But people might mention, and remember, how solid you are, how good you are at slaying dragons, and how you kept things in proportion.

That's what talking to stonewalling assholes on the phone is all about. It's about learning to slay dragons while maintaining your peace of mind.

3.) Think about your priorities and the people with whom you make deals. Beware of promises. No Nigerian princes. No sexy Asian girls eager to meet nice lonely rich American men. Read between the lines. Be appropriately suspicious before you sign on the dotted line. Ask yourself if your route to happiness really is lined with items purchased on a whim on the home shopping network. Read Yelp and Google and Amazon reviews. Look before you leap. Ask for advice from older, more wizened friends. Don't overextend yourself. Check your credit report. In short, do everything you can to minimize the number of times you have to talk to stonewalling assholes on the phone.

4.) Focus on their vulnerabilities and your strengths. All conflict comes down to vulnerabilities v. strengths, and strategy.

What weapons do you have?

What vulnerabilities does your opponent have?

Example. My building is being renovated. The renovators dumped loads of brick dust in my apartment, two separate times. Did much damage to pretty much everything I own.

I had to buy a vacuum cleaner to clean it up. I deducted this from my rent. My landlord sent me a threatening letter from a lawyer.

I could go to court, but it would take time and energy. I would prefer to avoid court.

I realized that it was the renovator who dumped the brick dust, and that that company would be negatively affected if I were to write an accurate account of what transpired on internet sites devoted to reviews of construction companies. I wrote to the renovator and said I'd write and post just such a review. My strengths: I'm a good writer, too, I had photographs and an audio-recording documenting the company's dumping of brick dust. The company's vulnerability: a negative review would hurt their business.

They did, indeed, pay for the vacuum cleaner.

So, before you get on the phone with an asshole, assess the situation. What weapon do you have that could be used to end things rapidly in your favor; what vulnerability does your opponent have that you can exploit?

5.) Don't pick up the phone if you are already tense. Don't pick up the phone in a tense environment. If someone is bullying you at your end, you have already lost. Tell the person at your end who is bullying you that their bullying is damaging your performance and may lose the case for you. In short, place yourself in a calm environment. Be sure you can hear well. Be sure the person you're going to be talking to can hear you. Call when you are calm and at your best.

6.) Keep a pen and paper at hand. Consider buying a voice recorder or using any recording function your phone has. Let the other person know that you are recording the conversation if you do so.

7.) Record the following: who, what, when, where, why, how. Get names. Write them down. Spell the person's name and ask for confirmation. Record the time and length of the phone call. Record the phone number you called. If you are transferred, ask what the number is they are transferring you to.

8.) State your case briefly, clearly, without any drama or emotion. When you state your case, stick to who, what, when, where, why, how. Don't be mean, don't be pitiable, don't be angry. The person you speak to may attempt to goad you to try to get an emotional response out of you. Resist it. Again, don't be mean, don't be pitiable, don't be angry. The facts, just the facts. If you are being goaded, simply repeat the purpose of your call, and your request. "I am calling about a malfunctioning framistan. It is still under warrantee. I want a replacement. Please send it to this address. Please confirm that you will replace the framistan, as guaranteed in your warrantee."

9.) Constantly keep asking for answers to who, what, when, where, why, how. Ask, "When can I expect a new framistan?" for example. "Please give me the name of your superior who has denied my claim for a new framistan. Please give me his phone number." "How long do I have to send in an appeal to your denial of a framistan?" Write everything down.

10.) Have a backup plan. "Since you will not replace my framistan, I will post complete details of this transaction on the Amazon page for your products. I will post a similar negative review on my blog. I will include your name and a detailed account of this conversation." If you have some talent, harness that. "My friends and I are in a theater troupe and we will post a satire of your poor customer service in a youtube video." If you have friends in high places, make use of that. "My uncle is a buyer for a campus bookstore and he will make sure that from now on, his bookstore will stock only your competitors' framistans."

Remember, at no point in the conversation, never, do you lose your cool. You act cool and calm, and you are cool and calm. You don't feel angry, pitiable, or overwhelmed, and you don't behave as if you are angry, or pitiable, or overwhelmed. Before this conversation began, you went to your quiet place, and you are still there, and you will still be there after the phone call is over. No matter whether you receive the replacement framistan worth $49.95 or a million bazillion dollars or not, you still have "the priceless gift of serenity."

11.) Lather, rinse, repeat. Sometimes it takes several phone calls, letters, and in-person visits to get something done. Talk to more than one person. Consider an in-person visit. Constantly reassess your weapons and your opponent's weaknesses. Try new strategies. Read "Rules for Radicals," a really good book about how to get things done without killing people. An example. Alinsky says that Rochester's biggest employer, Eastman-Kodak, did not hire enough black people. To protest, Alinsky threatened to get a bunch of black people to eat beans and attend a concert by the Rochester Philharmonic, a recipient of Eastman-Kodak's donations, and fart all through the performance. There's more than one way to skin a cat!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

If You Are Not an Anti-Semite, Then Why Are You Obsessed with Jews?

Mr. Young, you sent me an email around midnight badmouthing me for my previous post about Israel. Bottom line: I think Israel has a right to exist. You don't think Israel has a right to exist, that is, if I read your post correctly, overripe as it is with insults, obscenities and misspellings – one would think that "you" is not so hard to spell that someone could manage to misspell it twice in one brief message.

I did not post your message because the ratio of insults, obscenities and lies to substance was one hundred to one.

I deleted your message and walk away and yet I found myself thinking of something you wrote. I'd like to address that here.

You wrote, and this is a cut and paste, "I'm not condemning jewish people." The lower case on "Jew" is in the original and is fairly typical in "I hate Israel but I'm not an antisemite" internet posts.

I have a question for you.

If you are not an anti-Semite, then why are you obsessed with Jews?

You splutter hatred against Israel and the IDF in an email sent to a little-known blog, and a little-known blogger.

Why did you bother to do that?

Why do you bother to hate Israel and the IDF?

Mr. Young, according to statistics I found online – please feel free to check the source; I will include a link – well, here is the quote:

"11 million Muslims have been violently killed since 1948, of which 35,000, (0.3 percent) died during the six years of Arab war against Israel, or one out of every 315 fatalities. In contrast, over 90 percent who perished were killed by fellow Muslims." Source

If you care about Muslims dying in the Middle East, why do you not care about the many more Muslims murdered by fellow Muslims – many more – not dozens more or hundreds more or thousands more but millions more murdered by their fellow Muslims than by Jews?

Why don't you care, for example, about the Shiite Iraqi Army soldiers handcuffed behind their backs, thrown into a ditch like logs, and methodically massacred by ISIS fighters, who posted photos of this event online?

Please answer that.

I have friends on Facebook who post florid protestations against Israel. They don't post any protests against ISIS. Why is that?

I wonder if you understand the concept of percent. Fewer than one in one hundred people, worldwide, are Jewish.

Actually, Jews are .02% of the world population. According to Wikipedia, in 1939 Jews were .08 % of the world population. And then Hitler methodically massacred them, as the world stood by and watched. That population decline has not been reversed.

Why are you obsessed with .02 % of the world's population?

I can't find what percent of the world's land mass Israel occupies, but I have discovered that Israel is ranked the 155th country in the world in terms of size. It is tiny. Israel could fit 545 times into the land mass occupied by Arab countries. Israel is roughly the size of my own state of New Jersey, a state I could comfortably drive across in less than a day. Why, Mr. Young, if you really don't hate Jews, are you obsessed with a country that is so tiny you can barely see it on a world map the size of a standard piece of paper?

Me? I'm not obsessed with Jews. I'm sick to death of talking about whether or not Israel has a right to exist. I'm sick to death of trying to talk to people who seem to have part of their brains shut off. You say you don't dislike Jews but you argue for a position that would result in millions of Jews being slaughtered?

Did someone inject your brain with curare? Did someone study, with an MRI, where thoughts about Jews arise, and learn how to paralyze that very Jew-thought spot? And do you expect me to swallow your idiocy? Why?

I'm Catholic. I want to focus on the Christians being massacred by your friends and allies. But the first thing I read this morning is your misspelled anti-Semitic screed, and your insistence that you don't have a problem with Jews.

I've been reading the anti-Israel posts that pass through my Facebook feed, and on internet discussion sites. Anti-Israel posts are remarkable for their level of vituperation. Israelis are baby killers, big-nosed, sadistic, shameless, manipulative, hairy, ape-like, arch evil, all powerful, world dominating Nazis. Israel is a slaughterhouse, a concentration camp, Auschwitz, one big gas chamber. Israelis drink blood.

The level of hate in your posts is breathtaking. That some of you Jew-haters have advanced degrees, have "Save the Whales" bumper stickers and attend vegan potlucks – always with one "enlightened" token Jew as a friend – scares the beejammers out of me.

And you insist, in spite of the bile you spew like a geyser, that you don't hate Jews?

Can you please explain any of this to me?

This is what I think is going on. I think you guys have an idea in your head of what an antisemite is. I think you think an antisemite is a white supremacist from the Southern United States, a KKK member, or a bad, old Catholic. And you see yourself not only as not any of those things, but as having risen above such lowlifes. You are atheists or secularists or New Agers or Pagans or members of enlightened denominations like the Anglicans.

You're not a KKK member, and your name is not Jethro, and you are not a hated Catholic; incense makes you queasy, so you can't be an antisemite.

Further, you surround yourself with other "enlightened" people who ignore jihad and Christian persecution and Sunni on Shia violence and gender apartheid, and you are all chanting the same chant, and you all have your fingers in your ears and you are all saying "la la la la la la la" to anyone who isn't part of your anti-Israel clique, so you never have to confront your own utterly public emperor-has-no-clothes degree of intellectual and moral naked self-exculpation and blindness.

Is that it? Is that how it works in your spaghetti-twisted brain?

Maybe I am missing something. Maybe your obsession with less than one percent of the world's population, with less than one percent of the world' land mass, with fewer than one percent of the deaths that have occurred in the Middle East in the past one hundred years, makes sense in some intellectually and ethically rarified way that I am unable to grasp.

Please explain.

Oh, and when you do, be kind to my old eyes, and please give spellcheck a try. Thank you. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Open Letter to Henk Zanoli, 91 Year Old Dutch Righteous Gentile Who Returned His Medal to Yad Vashem

Zanoli Family Source: NYT
Hank Zanoli Source: Haaretz 
Henk Zanoli is a 91 year old Dutchman and recipient of the Righteous Gentile award from Yad Vashem. During the recent violence in Gaza, several people to whom Zanoli is distantly related by marriage were killed. Mr. Zanoli decided to return his medal to the Israeli embassy. He sent a letter to the embassy accusing Israel of being the sole cause of problems in the Middle East. He specifically said that Israel is a racist country. He demanded that Israel become, in effect, a borderless, pacifist state, and that it cease defending itself. Only then, he stipulated, would Israel be worthy of the word "righteous," and able to respond appropriately to his own heroism.

Dear Henk Zanoli,

Henk Zanoli when I heard that you, a 91-year-old righteous Gentile, had returned your Yad Vashem medal because you object to Israel defending itself against Hamas, I felt revulsion. My very first thought was, "Oh my God, it's true. They really do like their Jews passive, in gas chambers, and dead, not active, not able to defend themselves against the genocidal forces arrayed against them."

And I thought, too, that at 91 your faculties might not be sharp enough to realize what a propaganda coup you were handing the genocidal antisemites.

I read more about you on the web.

I rapidly saw from your letter to the Israeli embassy that your mind is sharp as a tack.

I read of your heroic sacrifice, and the sacrifices of your family.

You performed awesome feats of bravery, Mr. Zanoli. You smuggled an eleven-year-old Jewish child from Amsterdam into your village and you sheltered that child throughout the war, saving his life. He eventually moved to Israel. You did this in spite of your family being under suspicion. Your father, may God grant him eternal reward, was an active resister of the Nazis. Your father was sent to Dachau concentration camp, and he died at the Mauthausen concentration camp. The rest of your family struggled and sacrificed as well. Your brother-in-law was executed for being part of the resistance. Your brother's Jewish fiancée was deported to certain death.

You are great people, Mr. Zanoli. I respect you.

I am very sorry for the loss of life your family sustained in the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas.

I read the letter that accompanied the medal you sent back to the Israelis.

You wrote, "the Zionist project had from its beginning a racist element aspiring to build a state exclusively for Jews" and "Your state continues to suppress the Palestinian people" Israel, you say, must treat everyone equally. Once Israel does that, you say, it will be a "righteous" state, and able to reward you for your own righteousness.

Sir, with respect, I have to tell you that what you wrote in that letter is not true.

Israel is not the root cause of your relatives' deaths. It is the refusal of Muslim Arabs to accept the existence of Jews as sovereign in their own homeland that caused your relatives' deaths.

If Israelis put down their weapons as you require in order to call them "righteous," they would, within days, all be dead, imprisoned or enslaved.

That would not be the first or the last time a Jewish community was wiped out by Muslims. It would not be the first or the last time a non-Muslim community was wiped out in the Middle East. You've heard of the fate of Christians in Mosul, Iraq? In Syria? In Egypt? You are familiar with the fate of the Yazidi?

Christianity goes back in the Middle East for two thousand years. Judaism goes back in the Middle East four thousand years. The Zoroastrian roots of Yazidi go back even further than that. Islam is a relative newcomer. If you want to support the indigenous group, you would be supporting the Yazidis, Jews, and Christians.

The Muslim Conquest of the Middle east began 1400 years ago, and it is still going strong, and its proponents don't want it to stop till the map is covered by the black flag of jihad, with no interruptions in color.

Hamas, in its charter, calls for the deaths of all Jews. In its long-term goals, it includes the re-establishment of a caliphate and worldwide Muslim domination. Please read the Hamas Charter. Please listen to Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of a Hamas founder.

Please acquaint yourself with how Muslim-majority states have treated Jews, who came to be as a people in the land of Israel thousands of years before Arabs left their peninsula for their world conquest. Read Bat Yeor, Andrew Bostom, Robert Spencer, Bernard Lewis.

Mr. Zanoli, did you know that long before the Nazis required Jews to wear a yellow star, Muslim states required Jews and Christians to wear clothing patches in the shapes of monkeys and pigs? Did you know that as recently as 1834, Sol Hachuel, a Jewish woman in Morrocco was decapitated for refusing to become a Muslim? Did you know that in "Golden Age" Muslim Spain Muslims crucified a Jew, Joseph ibn Naghrela, and massacred thousands of Jews in one day? Did you know that perhaps a million Jews had to leave Muslim countries in 1948? Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya – Do you know they were chased by rioting, murder, theft, rape?

Hamas is not unique and it is not new. Islam has had a huge problem with the  mere existence of Jews since Islam's founding. No matter where those Jews were. Remember, this is a belief system that insists that the day will come when even rocks and trees will shout out, "Oh, Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come kill him."

When you ignore this, Mr. Zanoli, no matter how heroic your deeds were in World War II, no matter how sad your current bereavement, what you say is garbage. It is worse than not worth listening to. It is an aural toxin that gives a victory to antisemites who are every bit as deadly and as much of a threat to world peace as were the Nazis whom your father fought so bravely.

Whether you can face it or not, Mr. Zanoli, propaganda coups like yours empower bastards like Hamas, and ensure the death of more innocents like your kin who died.

If all of you "Jews are racist baby killers; Hamas are noble freedom fighters" types would shut up, Hamas just might get it that their propaganda war is not working, and they might, they just might, try coexistence.

You fuel the flames of war. Hard to face, I know.

Please educate yourself, Mr. Zanoli, before you speak again in such a public way.

It wasn't Jews who killed your kin. It was Jew-hatred.

You used to fight that, remember?

It's not too late to rejoin the good guys, the folks working for peace for all.

We'll keep a seat at the table for you. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity" Nabeel Qureshi. Book Review

Every Muslim should read "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus." Faith is worthless unless it can withstand a challenge. "Finding Jesus" is a reader-friendly book. Its chapters are short and its language is simple and direct.

Nabeel Qureshi is the son of Pakistani Muslims and the grandson of Muslim missionaries. His family scrupulously practiced the five pillars of Islam. In the US, at college, Qureshi met David Wood, now an evangelist. Qureshi and Wood became best friends and had a banteringly competitive relationship. Qureshi was confident that he could present his Islamic beliefs in a way that would triumph.

Qureshi was deeply uncomfortable when Christians said things that shook his belief (211). He plunged into study and prayer and had to confront the fact that Islam does not withstand analysis, whereas Christianity does. In the final pages of the book, Qureshi describes accepting Christ and the shattering effect that had on his personal life. Islam proscribes the death penalty for apostates. Qureshi is a brave man.

Approximately the first hundred pages are an apologetic for Muslims. Qureshi loves his parents deeply and he wants anyone who reads his book to love them, too. His parents, his extended family and their friends, Qureshi insists, are lovable people completely innocent of any association with terrorists or jihad. He describes Ramadan, for example, as "a time to build community, restore broken relationships, strive for purity" (69). His description of the 9-11 terror attacks focuses on Muslims as potential victims of American hate crimes. "They're blaming Muslims" (114) he writes.

Qureshi was raised to believe that Mohammed was al-Insan al-Kamil, the perfect man. Many English-language texts use "PBUH" (peace be upon him) after mentions of Mohammed but Qureshi uses Arabic script that looks like a porcupine walking across the page. The presence of Arabic script in an English language book felt like an affectation, and given how Qureshi came to feel about Mohammed, I'm not sure why it appears at all.

Most Muslims he knew could recite many chapters of the Koran from memory, but they didn't know what it meant. The Koran was never to be placed on the floor. One had to wash one's hands before touching it. Salaat, prayer, is performed by rote. Even postures are dictated. "There is nothing personal about salaat…it is simply an act of duty, not personal or heartfelt" (49). The prayers are performed in archaic Arabic. "The language of the daily prayers is not personal to anyone" (50).

Qureshi's parents do not encourage him to develop his own conscience, or to question. At one point Qureshi was practicing a pro-Islam speech his mother had written for him. During practice runs, "she stood behind me while I was speaking and moved my arms and hands at appropriate times…as if I were her marionette" (58).

Qureshi acknowledges that his propensity to think and ask questions did not win favor from his elders, whom he was supposed unquestioningly to obey. He experienced culture shock when he was encouraged, in an American school, to question everything (76). "Authority in Western culture is reason itself" (108).

A cousin falls in love with a Hindu. Her entire extended family, including aunts and uncles, descend upon her and subject her to the third degree "Are you still a virgin?" "How could you fall in love with a Hindu?" "Allah forgive us!" "Don't become Americanized!"

Qureshi proposes a paradigm to explain Pakistani behavior. Pakistani Muslims, he argues, believe in authority, rather than personal conscience. Thus, his fellows could cheat insurance companies and restaurants without discomfort, as long as they were not found out. Once their crimes became publicly known and resulted in public shame, then and only then did the crimes become a problem.

Muslims think badly of Christians, Qureshi says, because Christians have not represented themselves well (81). Muslims are taught, and repeat, misconceptions about Christians. Christians have no concept of sin or responsibility, the Bible is corrupt, Christians are polytheists, Jesus either was never crucified or he survived crucifixion.

Through contact with David Wood, Qureshi discovers that he and other Muslims have spent their lives immersed in falsehoods. No, Mohammed was not a nice guy. His prophetic call was ugly; a supernatural being pressed his chest and terrified him so badly he contemplated suicide. Mohammed did condone the worst violations for female captives. Early Muslims did fight offensive wars and slaughter innocents.

Yes, Mohammed did unambiguously state that it is his mission to violently fight all humanity until everyone submitted to his concept of God; otherwise, he had every right to murder them and claim their property. The Koran, contrary to popular claims, contains no accurate prophecies of future events nor any advanced scientific knowledge. The Koran is not exactly as it was first set down; there were political struggles in its compilation and previous versions were burnt.

With the same thoroughness and accessibility that he devotes to detailing his reasons for leaving Islam, Qureshi walks the reader through his responses to Islam's theological objections to Christianity. Muslims claim the Bible is corrupt; not true; the New Testament was written within decades of Jesus' death, and we have manuscripts going back to antiquity. Jesus did claim divinity, he was crucified, and he did rise from the dead.

"Finding Jesus" is more of an evangelical tract than it is a memoir; it reveals no literary ambition. I was disappointed by its lack of intimacy and passion. Qureshi's coming out to his parents as a Christian is described in a skeletally brief sketch that leaves more questions than it answers.

I was put off by what struck me as Qureshi's assumption that his Western, Christian readers needed airbrushed, super-nice, "Leave It to Beaver" Muslims to feel comfortable with them.

Qureshi lets his parents and his former fellow believers off too easily. It's clear that his parents know the Koran backward and forward. Why had they never questioned its violence, its contempt for non-Muslims, and condoning of the worst violation of female captives?

Pakistan assassinates its leaders, imprisons Christians, blames rape victims, torches Ahmadis, wars on its neighbors, harbors Bin Laden, does not educate its children, and spawns lowlifes who shoot in the face little girls who want to learn to read. America ended slavery, defeated the fascists, rebuilt Europe, produced Jazz, Hollywood, Broadway, NASA, and the Civil Rights Movement.

Can mommy and daddy Qureshi really not see anything to critique in their natal country and nothing to admire in the one they immigrated to? When Qureshi married, I'm guessing an American Christian, his parents and sibling refused to attend his wedding. All of his efforts to create a positive image of his parents in his readers' eyes fell flat for me. I think I could have learned to love these folks if the book had been more literary, more intimate, and presented a less airbrushed picture of these two with all of their hopes, fears, warts and failings.