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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Birding with Marc; Zone-tailed Hawk at Cape May; Is Birding Racist or Sexist?

Photo credit and source: Biotrope
Saturday, September 27, I got up at three a.m. I hadn't really been sleeping. I was too excited. I took a shower and coaxed my mouth to accept some yogurt and candied ginger. Ginger is a great car sickness preventative. I went downstairs and studied a pair of headlights in the distance, growing larger, heading straight for my front door. I assumed the driver was aiming at me, even though he had no idea what I look like. Actually it's a pretty safe bet – I am usually the only white woman in this neighborhood. Certainly the only white woman standing on the street at four a.m. with a pair of binoculars slung around her neck.

I had no idea what Marc would look like, or how old he would be, or what his voice would sound like, or what kind of car he drove. I had no idea if he would want to listen to heavy metal music during the several-hour drive, or Country Western, or rightwing talk radio. I had no idea if we would chat, if he would be a talker or a listener, or if he'd talk about God, conspiracy theories, or tell dirty jokes. All I knew was that he had offered to take me birdwatching to Cape May, and that was enough.

A smiling face peeked out the glass. I opened the door.

"Are you Marc?"

"Yes. Are you Danusha?"


I got in.

The awkwardness of our meeting in predawn darkness was eased by my need to instruct Marc in how to get to the Garden State Parkway.

Then Marc was kind enough to ask me a question with a complicated answer, and I started talking, never hard for me, and so we fell into easy conversation. It was a pleasant ride.

Our first birding stop in Cape May was Higbee's Dike. You can view video of birding at Higbee's Dike at the link, below.

There is an elevated wall of sand at a point in Cape May. Birds migrating south face Delaware Bay and turn around, hoping to minimize the time they spend flying over water. Birders congregate on Higbee's Dike in order to view this concentration of birds.

Hundreds of birds flew past us, many at eye level. The birds were flying very quickly.

Marc, who is a birding champion, rattled off the names of the species as they flew past: black-throated blue warbler, black-throated green warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, Northern water thrush, red-eyed vireo, etc.

These birds are all familiar to me. I'd seen them all before, many times.

I could not identify a single one of these birds.

To me, they all looked like undifferentiated, rapidly moving, blurred, blue-gray silhouettes against the pearly dawn sky.

I wondered why Marc and the other birdwatchers surrounding me could identify the birds flying rapidly past, and I could not.

Is it because my binoculars were inferior? Is it because my eyesight is poor? Is it because I have a slow reaction time?

I don't know. I do know I suck at this kind of birdwatching.

I was especially heartbroken when Marc announced that he could hear a killdeer. Nothing is more familiar to me than the call of a killdeer, and I couldn't hear it at all, not even with my good ear. Ah, for the long-gone days when I could hear better.

The "counter," a man assigned by the Audubon Society to count species, announced those he heard. He heard a pine siskin. Argh! Where? What was the sound? The man had no time for my questions. It was gone, in any case.

I could see patterns on larger birds like yellow-shafted flickers and blue jays. I could also recognize their distinctive flight patterns and silhouettes. I could identify the smaller birds that did land on trees.

But I did not identify a single one of the warblers in flight, even though these are all birds I know and have seen many times, and I could not make out a single identifying detail, and so I must confess, again, that, at this kind of birdwatching, anyway, I suck.

Don't get me wrong. Discovering how much I suck as a birdwatcher, and how much better Marc and everyone else was, was not a downer experience for me. I enjoyed witnessing their prowess, and I also enjoyed looking at the birds I could see. A bald eagle flew over, and I can still count the number of times I've seen a bald eagle on one hand (although that will change soon, I hope).

I especially enjoyed watching the light from the rising sun proceed up and over the dike, spill in almost audible, discrete droplets onto the tops of the trees, gild leaves, pour down tree trunks, glint off the crests of the waves in the distant water, brighten the white sides of boats, and wake up the world.

I didn't count but I'd guestimate that there were about two dozen people atop Higbee's Dike, but I could be wrong.

Most of the people up there were men, and most had some or all gray hair. Many had English or Scottish accents.

Recently National Geographic ran an article focusing on Clemson University Professor J. Drew Lanham's allegation that birding is racist. You can read the article at the link, below. A year ago, Brooke McDonald, in June, 2013, published an article alleging misogyny in birding, again, link below.

I thought about these articles as I stood on Higbee's Dike, surrounded, not just by men, not just by white men, not just by white men with British accents, but by men who were so very much better than I at a hobby, birdwatching, that I love and cherish more than I can describe here. I consider "birdwatcher" not just something I do, but what I am. And I was discovering how bad I am at this activity, and how much better a bunch of guys are.

Here's the deal: I was in the minority as a woman, I performed pathetically – I was almost certainly the worst birdwatcher there – and I had a great time. Further – people were nice and respectful and nobody gave me a hard time for being a total loser. And I'd want to go back up atop Higbee's Dike and do it all over again.

We spent something over an hour on Higbee's Dike; maybe two hours. We came down in the full light of day.

Then came the moment that I love, the moment when a birder must make a big decision based on wind speeds and direction, date, time of day, carefully studied up-to-the-minute reports – Marc had his phone with him and he checked updated reports from other birders throughout the day – and blind, gut feelings and intuition. Where do we go next? What birds do we pursue?

Marc really wanted to see a marbled godwit and a sandwich tern. But Marc, being a decent human being and a gentleman, kept asking me what I wanted to do. Here's what I, as a woman birdwatcher, wanted to do – I wanted to do what Marc wanted to do. He was obviously much better at this than I, and I wanted to follow him. And that doesn't make me an oppressed female; it makes me someone who made a wise decision, and who doesn't always have to feel that she is the first or the best to have a good time.

Marc decided to go to the Cape May hawk watch. Marc made this decision based on rational processes and hard data, but here's the thing: chance. Chance! I don't gamble, but I do watch birds, and chance plays a huge role in birdwatching, and that's part of why I love it. For all his preparation, Marc had no idea that his decision to opt for the Cape May hawk watch would be the best decision of the day, resulting in our seeing a state record bird.

The hawk watch is a large wooden platform overlooking a pond at Cape May Point State Park. The hawk watch was crowded yesterday, Saturday, September 27. Again, there were more men than women, and more people with some or all gray hair than not. There were also women young and old, Asian-Americans, and some African Americans. No one treated anyone any differently, as far as I could see, and, given these recent articles, I did observe carefully, if, I hope, subtly. Pretty much everyone was doing the same thing. Standing, or sitting, poised, with at least one hand on a pair of binoculars, waiting and hoping for the day's big find. The day's big find was not long in coming.

There were many hawks and vultures overhead, but quite high. Sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks predominated. There were mute swans, American widgeon, a pied-billed grebe, little blue heron and a great egret in the pond.

Marc tutored me in differentiating between sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks. There were plenty of both up in the sky to use as examples. Marc did this because I confessed to him that after adding both to my life list years ago, I no longer bothered to differentiate the accipters I saw. I enjoyed Marc's tutelage and was grateful for it.

What I'm saying is that when a birder takes time to instruct someone else, he isn't necessarily being rude or superior. I mention this because of the recent articles. I think those at the receiving end are best served by adopting an attitude of gratitude rather than one of "Oh, I'm a woman so he's assuming I don't know." I had told Marc that I don't bother with this question, and he was being kind and helpful, not superior.

Another aspect of Marc's presence that I valued greatly. There is a question I often want to ask people, but I often don't ask, because I fear that it sounds as if I am trying to insult the person, or question his or her intelligence. That question is, "How do you know that?" or "What makes you so sure?" or even "You just said X. How does X apply in this situation?"

I asked Marc that question over and over, all day, and he was never once put off by it. I especially asked that when Marc identified a royal tern or a Capsian tern in flight. "How do you know that that is a royal tern or a Caspian tern? You just said X, but X doesn't seem to apply to this bird."

Marc answered my every query with complete courtesy, authority, and humility.

A lot of the human interaction in birding is, at its essence, teaching and learning. Teaching and learning is a challenging human endeavor; I know; I'm a teacher. One must have authority, but also humility. One must step forward, but also step back, and intuit when to do each.

In short, anyone lucky enough to bird with Marc is a lucky person, indeed.

I was seated at the hawk watch when a man in his twenties or thirties, standing behind me, said loudly, but without any hysteria, "Zone-tailed hawk."

My very first thought was "Not possible. What's wrong with this picture?"

I've never seen a zone-tailed hawk, but I've seen their pictures in books. I know they are southwestern birds.

The crowd on the hawk watch platform grew excited. They all pointed their binoculars in the same direction. I saw nothing but blue sky, but looked skyward with everyone else. I saw a turkey vulture, that looked a bit different from a turkey vulture – different size, and the colors were a bit off – but surely that was a turkey vulture. I didn't see the distinctive horizontally striped tail that gives a zone-tailed hawk its name. Then Mike, a man with a spotting scope, showed me an image he had captured. Damn, there was the zone-tail, which I had not been able to see with my binoculars.

The Mike who showed me this image may be the same Mike who posted a blog post about the zone-tailed hawk's appearance at the Cape May hawk watch. You can read Mike's blog post at the link, below.

Something else quite moving to me happened at the hawk watch. I noticed that a blondish-grayish haired man was wearing a t-shirt with the Arabic letter nun on it. This letter has become an international symbol of support for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East, and against the violence of jihad. In Iraq, ISIS jihadis have been marking Christian homes with this letter. This is a sign that the Christians inside are to be robbed, exiled, violated, and killed.

I said to the man wearing this t-shirt, "I like your t-shirt."

The man turned to me. He looked deep into my eyes. He said, "I am from Denmark. I am here to watch birds. I want you to know that as a Dane I appreciate what Americans have done fighting for freedom around the world. There are many dead American boys and girls who fought for the freedom of people who are not American. I want you to know that I am a Dane, and I appreciate that."

I was deeply moved but this testimony.

Marc and I continued birding throughout the entire day. Marc brought enough chicken salad for two. We ate it on paper plates and with plastic forks as we sat in his car, scanning a mud flat for marbled godwits, who, alas, remained elusive, as did the sandwich tern.

We drove home through the reverse of the process we had watched hours earlier: the day surrendering to night. Marc pointed out the new, crescent moon out the driver's side window. At that point I was drifting in and out. Marc kept himself awake by describing the plots of dystopic Margaret Atwood novels.

I asked Marc, "What is your favorite bird?"

Marc gave this much thought. Finally, he replied.

He went back to the 1970s, when he was a little boy. He was walking down a street in his town. He looked into a tree and right there, without binoculars, he saw a very beautiful bird. It was black and white and the orange of a fire's glow. It was a Blackburnian warbler. Little kid Marc was amazed that something that beautiful, that special, could be part of his everyday world.

I loved listening to Marc describe this blessed encounter with the magic of God's creation, and I'm glad I asked.

As sleepy as I was, once I got home, of course I could not let myself surrender to the Sandman till I had dragged some of my bird books into bed with me and reread their sections on zone-tailed hawks. This is a little ritual I perform whenever I see a new species.

You can view video of birding at Higbee's Dike here

You can read Mike Crewe's blog post about the appearance of the zone-tailed hawk here.

You can read the National Geographic article alleging that birding is racist here

You can read Brooke McDonald's piece alleging misogyny in birding here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Two Random Stories for a Friday Afternoon; Ripple Effect

I posted the following on an internet discussion board ten years ago. I apologize for the repeated material:

I think, why go on? Why take up space?

Here's a theory as to why. Maybe.

Maybe there is a spiritual dimension to life.

Maybe we are all connected in some way.

Maybe we are here to serve one another.

And maybe by living through my crappy, cursed life, and not succumbing to drug addiction, or self-destruction, or meanness, but by continuing, no matter how crappy my life is, to be a decent, hard-working person, I spiritually contribute to others. I help them to go on.

Maybe we are not as individual as we think. Maybe we are connected by a spiritual web made up of spiritual narrative.

I have often hung on for one more moment by using the example of people who lived through hell, and yet kept going. If they can keep going, maybe I can, too.

Maybe, by living through hell, and not quitting, I provide that sort of support to others, I throw out a spiritual lifeline, even if we never meet.

And maybe, when someone just quits, just commits suicide, they weaken others, maybe even others they've never met, because, maybe, we are all connected.



Most people know that I'm looking for work after many years of chronic illness that knocked me out of the job market. I've been looking for work for years now. And I've only been able to find temporary, part-time things that have barely kept me alive. Barely. I am living so far below the poverty line I can't even see the people who actually inhabit the poverty line.

This fall I taught one class at a community college. I had a lovely, lovely student, Terry, a woman who just glowed.

After the semester was over, Terry told me, one-on-one, two remarkable stories.

First story:

Needless to say, as a PhD, I am, technically, overqualified to teach at a community college.

But I've done a lot of research and writing on the c. 1880-1929 immigration, so I taught "Christ in Concrete," written by an Italian author from that period, Pietro di Donato.

As one always does in a community college, I wondered, was anyone getting this? The author's clever use of polysyndeton and personification? The social significance of this work?

Most of the students looked, simply, bored.

After the semester ended, Terry told me that there was a man in Terry's church who had been having some problems. She wanted to reach out to him, but didn't know how.

One day she just started to chat with him, and, out of thin air, just, trying to figure out what to say, she mentioned that she had this class where she was learning "Christ in Concrete."

The man responded. He knew the work.

That was the entree. She was able to reach out to the man, through that shared work of literature. A work that I pulled into the class, because of my own interests, that no other prof on campus was teaching.

Terry wanted me to know that the man's life was beginning to work out, and her intervention, and "Christ in Concrete," all played a role in that turn around.

Second story:

She had a friend who had a baby that died of SIDS. Her friend was, of course, distraught. One day, her friend was at the cemetery sobbing.

A man approached. He, too, was there visiting a grave. He was also visiting a child's grave. He was also visiting his own child's grave...

He approached the woman. They talked. She told him why she was there. 

"Very upsetting," the man admitted.

"And you?" the woman asked.

"Do you want me to tell you the truth? Or should I make something up?"

"The truth," the woman said, growing frightened.

"One day," the man said, "I just needed to go to the store to buy something stupid. I began to back the car out of the garage, and I ran over my baby."

Terry believes that that man's horrible grief was used by God to help her friend deal with her own loss. Of course, that concept begs all sorts of questions, but it is what Terry believes.

If the above theory is correct, in ways that we can't see, we are here for each other, even if just to say, "I survived that, and worse, and you can, too."

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.