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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Raptor Education Foundation Visits Paterson's Eastside High School

Recently National Geographic published an article alleging that birdwatching and birdwatchers are racist. 

I responded with an essay that American Thinker ran. You can see that essay here

The Raptor Education Foundation informed me of their visit to Paterson's Eastside High School. Eastside High School does not have a single white student, I don't think. It is all African American and Hispanic. It is in a low-income neighborhood in Paterson, NJ. 

I am overjoyed that the Raptor Education Foundation visited Eastside High School. I just wish everyone concerned about racial injustice would respond as the REF does: by doing something positive and concrete.

I immediately made a financial donation to the Raptor Education Foundation and I invite anyone who cares about racial injustice, the environment, and who wants to contribute to making the world a better place to do the same. Here is their Facebook page and here is their web page.

Here is an account of the REF's visit to Eastside High School in 1994:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

National Geographic Alleges that Birdwatching is Racist; An Urban Birdwatcher Responds

On September 23, 2014, National Geographic published an article by Martha Hamilton entitled "Colorful World of Birding Has Conspicuous Lack of People of Color." The gist: birdwatching is racist. Non-racist people must intervene to ensure that birding and birders become "inclusive."

I live in Paterson, NJ. Paterson is two thirds Black or Hispanic, with the nation's second largest Muslim population. My first job after graduation from college was as a Peace Corps teacher in a remote African nation, ranked as the poorest country on earth. I have taught and published on racism and ethnic conflict. I care deeply about my students. I want their futures to be better than their pasts.

I am a birdwatcher. I mentioned the National Geographic allegation in an online discussion list dedicated to birding. I said that I found the article "off base." Rick Wright, author of The American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of New Jersey, informed me that he would henceforth block any messages by me. Others sent insults. Rather than saying, "We have a Paterson birdwatcher. Let's dialogue," the senders of abusive emails decided, "You disagreed with a liberal on race. You must be insulted and silenced."

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Brother, Phil Goska, And the Rites of Autumn

There's a ritual I observe every autumn.

I first think about it when I see the first sign of autumn.

My ancestors came from the far north. Our DNA reflects Slavic, Saami (Lapp) and Viking ancestry. Summer is always a challenge.

When I'm deep in the lap of summer, sweating and squinting and seeking unavailable shade, one day, when it seems, truly, I'm lost in an endless desert, I see it: red leaves in a green tree.

Usually it's a poison ivy vine snaking up a plump maple in a scarlet, serpentine pattern.

Then, one evening, I take it for granted that I can do something outside in full sun. It'll be seven or eight o'clock and I'll want to go birdwatching and I'll step out and hey! It's dark! Where did that endless summer evening go? Who turned out the lights?

I know autumn is on her way, the hem of her skirts sweeping in silver stars where lemon sunbeams had been.

And I know that that fall ritual is upon me.

I mostly gaze at Phil's photo, and I remember what I remember of him, and I cry. The tears always amaze me because the tears are fresh.

Storage. I'm a homebody, a hausfrau, and I think a lot about storage. I keep the high quality chocolate in the refrigerator. I look down on plastic. I never throw out glass jars because glass is nonreactive, airtight, and superior for storage.

Where are these tears kept?

In this sterile happenstance Darwinian universe, in this God-breathed creation, one truth all beliefs share: everything wears down; even stone melts under streams.

But tears. They never spoil. They never age.

And then I say, "Okay, that's it for this year." And I stop thinking about Phil, and bottle the tears up again till next year.

Phil was seven years older than I and a guy, and our family wasn't close anyway, so we really didn't have much one-on-one time.

I remember when I was younger than ten, and Phil was a young teen. We packed a bag with rags and he and I and some of his friends went down the woods. We wrapped the rags around Tommy so that he looked like the Mummy, the monster star of one of those Golden-Age, black-and-white, Hollywood movies we were always watching on TV. Tommy, dressed in rags to look like the Mummy, chased us around the woods, and we were genuinely scared. At least I was.

I ended up in the Wanaque River that day. I don't remember if I fell in or was thrown in. I remember that baptism as being a moment in my overcoming my fear of bugs and the woods in general. Like all little girls, I liked pink and shiny things, and princesses. Four older brothers and a house near woods and Bohunk parents changed that, and a woods-woman I became.

A darker memory. I was lying on the couch. Our house was small and there were a lot of us, so more than one person could be doing more than one thing in the same room. I was sleeping and Phil was listening to Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" over and over and delivering a monologue. I don't remember who his audience was. Was he talking to a person who was in the room also? Was he talking on the phone? He was a great storyteller, a raconteur. I remember him. I don't remember his audience on this night.

When was this night? "Born to Run" was released on August 25, 1975, so this night had to have occurred after that date. "Born to Run" made the cover of TIME and Newsweek on October 27, 1975. But of course Phil never got to see that. So this night would be the last night I had the chance to hear him tell his stories.

After Phil started talking, I only pretended to be asleep. I wanted to hear everything he was saying.

Phil talked about the frustrations, brick walls and injustices he was hitting in life. We were Bohunks, working class. Our parents were peasant immigrants from Eastern Europe. They had had a very tough time of it in America and they had no idea how to train us to open doors of opportunity. Phil was driving a truck, something he was not at all suited to.

What should Phil have done?

He was an angel. What do angels do during their brief sojourns among us mortals on earth?

Phil spoke of me in his monologue. "Diane is so naïve. Diane has no idea." He was right of course.

I despise capital A Atheists who insist that there is no such thing as precognition. I grew up with it. My mother was psychic. My father was as well, but perhaps less so, or perhaps he just talked about it less.

My mother woke up exactly a week before. She saw her mother's face above her. Her mother was trying to tell her something hard. My mother didn't want to hear the message my grandmother was trying to convey to her. My mother said, "No, mama, no. No, mama, no." I can hear my mother now saying these words. "No," she said. She refused knowledge. She did not hear her mother's message.

On other occasions she had listened. One of my mother's deceased, Old Country ancestors once woke my mother up from a sound sleep and told her to get out of bed. My mother listened to this voice and got up to discover that Mike, who was a baby then, had climbed out of his crib and was crawling near a carpentry project of my father's, a large, unstable book case. Had my mother not found him, the bookcase might have fallen on him. So, yes, you listen to your departed loved ones when they came to warn you, especially when they speak with a Slavic accent.

This message my mother refused to hear. But she knew something bad was about to happen.

She told me. "Something bad, really bad, is about to happen. I don't know what it is. I didn't want to hear. I didn't want to know. Be prepared."

I can remember now the suspended horror I felt that week. I knew my mother's psychic abilities were reliable. I just didn't know what was going to happen. I felt, that whole week, as if something dark and sinister were right over my shoulder, right behind me, pursuing me and my family, and it was just a matter of time.

A week later, Phil was killed in a car accident. He was not the driver. It was my birthday.

And so I remember every year.

My brother Mike died young, as well. Phil was 23; Mike was 34. But Mike did not die on my birthday, so I don't have a ritual for him.

I was the last person in our family to see Phil alive. I was seated at the kitchen table. He came down the stairs. He went to the sink to get a glass of water from the faucet. His back was to me. He was wearing a fine shirt with a woman's face on the back. Those shirts were popular then. He turned and went out the back door.

In the dream I had over and over for the next five years, at the last minute, I rise from the kitchen table and rush to the back screen door. I put my hand on the door handle. I stop him.

Phil turns around. Phil was a beautiful guy. But in the dream, he is preternaturally radiant. He is smiling a smile of confidence that surpasses anything I can interpret. He refers to me by my nickname. He says, "I gotta go, Di."

I had that dream for five years before I realized that he wasn't referring to me by my nickname at all. He was, rather, telling me, "I gotta go die."

After I realized that, I never had the dream again.

If I am still around, I will probably post this same message some time next fall. I will tell you the same memories, all over again. Phil was seven years older than I, and a guy, and our family wasn't close, so I have a limited number of memories to go through.

Thank you. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

On the Limits of Coexistence: I Will Not Lie to Protect Your Myths

A Facebook friend I'll call Desdemona posted video from the September 21, 2014 People's Climate March. The video depicted dancers in Aztec-influenced costumes dancing before a several-foot-high Aztec-influenced stone skull idol. The skull idol represented Coatlicue, the Aztec fertility goddess.

Desdemona's video is linked, below.

Here's Wikipedia on Coatlicue

"She is represented as a woman wearing a skirt of writhing snakes and a necklace made of human hearts, hands, and skulls. Her feet and hands are adorned with claws…Her face is formed by two facing serpents after her head was cut off and the blood spurt forth from her neck in the form of two gigantic serpents, referring to the myth that she was sacrificed during the beginning of the present creation.

Most Aztec artistic representations of this goddess emphasize her deadly side, because Earth, as well as loving mother, is the insatiable monster that consumes everything that lives. She represents the devouring mother, in whom both the womb and the grave exist."

Coatlicue gave birth to Huitzilopochtli after she was decapitated by one of her children. Huitzilopochtli sprang from her headless corpse fully grown and ready for battle. He killed his brothers and sisters. Huitzilopochtli became the Aztec god of war and human sacrifice. Aztecs bragged of sacrificing 80,000 human beings over the course of four days. Hearts were extracted in these sacrifices.

I "met" Desdemona through a mutual Facebook friend. Desdemona is a very nice lady and a very talented artist. I love nature and she loves nature. She creates art based on nature and I very much appreciate her artistic depictions of trees and birds. So far, that has been the sum of our Facebook contacts. Desdemona posts her paintings of trees and birds, and I click "like" and offer praise.

Because I like her as a person, I did not want to do or say anything to hurt her feelings.

I was scrolling down my Facebook feed one recent morning, and Desdemona's video of the dancers appeared. I commented, "It's not really sacred until they rip out the still beating heart of a captive, and offer it to Huitzilopochtli."

I posted the brief, fact-based comment, and moved on.

I received a message from Desdemona upbraiding me. She said, "I am deeply saddened and offended by your comment. Whether this is Sacred is not up for debate and is disrespectful of me, my beliefs and my Spiritual path to question it. I defined this as Sacred to ME in my words above it and ask you to respect that."

Desdemona's friend wrote "Danusha, are you part of the Danza community? Is this your and your ancestors traditions? These are my beloved friends in the above video doing ceremony at the Climate March. I can assure you that what they are doing is sacred and filled with love and beauty"

Another message said "Respect people singing and dancing in honor of Mother Earth."

I went back to Desdemona's Facebook page. I deleted my message. Again, it was never my intention to hurt Desdemona's feelings. I didn't know her religious beliefs. I didn't know that she identified with the Aztec-influenced dancers.

I do know this: Desdemona demanded that I "respect" human sacrifice. I do not.

Desdemona was attempting to demand that I lie for her. That I un-know information that is inconvenient to her – that the costumes, dance, and statue she was admiring were all built around human sacrifice.

How about Desdemona's and my own shared love of nature? After all, these folks were at the People's Climate March. Were the Aztecs at least planet-friendly? In fact pre-Columbian Mesoamerica is associated with environmental collapse, both in Mexico and in the Four Corners area, where the culture spread, in mass cannibalism. Maya culture collapsed before the rise of the Aztec, and Anasazi culture collapsed after Mesoamericans moved north, bringing cannibalism and terror with them.

I knew something that perhaps Desdemona and her friends did not know: that Aztec culture practiced human sacrifice. I mentioned that fact, and was ordered to "respect" "love and beauty" and "Mother Earth." I stated that I don't respect human sacrifice, and left the conversation.

It was one of those moments when coexistence does not work, not because of disagreement, but because one group – in this case what I guess might be called the New Age Pagan group – demanded that facts not be mentioned, and that evil be disguised and respected.

Recently one of my liberal Facebook friends instructed her Facebook friends that she does not want them to post photographs of Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh. I can't imagine ordering my Facebook friends not to post photographs of people I don't like.

Me? I am a Christian and a Catholic. Insults directed at Christians and Catholics flow through my Facebook feed daily. Sometimes I address them. Sometimes I don't. I've never made a blanket request that my Facebook friends not post negative truths about Christianity or Catholicism.

In fact, I would not want to live on the planet where I had such power to control others' thoughts or words.

You can read more about Aztec culture's cruelty and bloodlust here.

You can see the video Desdemona posted here 

Or here

An Old Joke

The Siege of Paris by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier

A big thank you to a Good Samaritan who drove me to the facility yesterday to visit with my sister. Thank you – a very good deed.

Antoinette looked me in the eye and said, "I'm going to tell you a joke that you told me forty years ago."

I was like, okay, what is she going to say now?

And damned if she did not tell me a joke that I told her forty years ago. One time, and never after that. How in God's name did she remember it, when she often forgets my name now?

The joke is below. It is a sick joke. If you don't want to read a sick joke, stop reading now.

It was during the Siege of Paris. The Parisians were very hard up and had to resort to eating their own pets. A good Parisian aristocratic woman held out and held out and finally succumbed and ate her beloved poodle.

While finishing up, she sighed. "If only little Chouchou were here. He would have loved these bones."

It boggles my mind that my sister remembered that joke from so many years ago ...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Sister. An Update.

I've posted three previous blog posts requesting prayers for a miracle for my sister. You can read those blog posts at the links, below.

I haven't posted many updates because her story is her story and I don't want to violate her privacy by posting what is, essentially, her story.

What can I say.

I am overwhelmed and very sad.

God's plan is invisible to me.

I pray not to lose my faith. I don't think I will. In some things I am stubborn and I think I will be in this. But I can't say I like God very much right now.

I have never loved anyone more than I have loved my sister, and no one has loved her more than I have.

It's not easy.

That's pretty much all I can say.

Thank you.

The first blog post requesting prayers for my sister is here.

Another one is here.

And another is here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Gone Girl" Cheap, Contrived, Exploitative

"Gone Girl" is a contrived, exploitative, pretentious film that aims for the middlebrow audience and hits its mark. The filmmakers insert – no pun intended – a sex scene every ten minutes or so, and alternate those with buckets-of-blood scenes of violence, and utterly predictable flashlight searches for clues of a Nancy Drew level of sophistication. If you want to see someone stabbed to death while climaxing during sex and bleed out like an upside down pig, this is the film for you.

The dialogue is pseudo-clever. Example: a man compliments a woman seated at a table full of strangers by informing her that she has a "world-class vagina." She smiles girlishly.

The film is capped up with a plot twist so implausible it blasted me right out of the movie onto the moons of Jupiter by the author's straining, sweating, thuddingly manipulative hand. And then the movie piles on the single most unbelievable ending I have ever seen.

There are movie surprises that rearrange the furniture inside your head and make you shout, "Oh! Of course! How could I not have seen that? Now everything makes so much more sense!" The best such surprise is in the film "Sixth Sense." "Gone Girl" surprises you by showing how desperate a writer can get.

Warning: The rest of this review will reveal the ending of "Gone Girl." If you don't want to know the ending of "Gone Girl," stop reading now.

Nick (Ben Affleck) is married to Amy (Rosamund Pike). They live in Missouri, the show me state. Amy disappears and Nick is under suspicion. Did he kill her?

So, now, you are thinking that "Gone Girl" will explore the interesting question we all ask when beautiful young women disappear and their husbands are suspected of murder. Those questions are: How could a loving marriage go so wrong? How could a marriage look perfect on the outside and be rotten on the inside? How could a loving husband murder his own wife? Does our 24/7 media coverage encourage us to form lynch mobs? Forget it. "Gone Girl" explores none of this.

Nick had cheated on Amy with one of his students. Hurt, Amy faked her own disappearance. Amy is incredibly beautiful, the star of a series of children's books, a sexual Tantric master, a psychopath, and a criminal mastermind. Heck, the filmmakers may as well just added invisibility, flight, and the ability to conjugate Polish verbs at will to Amy's list of superpowers. She is that unbelievable.

Amy just wants to hurt Nick, because he hurt her. So she flawlessly fakes her own murder. Amy seeks shelter from Desi, an old boyfriend, Neal Patrick Harris, whom she had accused of stalking her. Desi makes Amy his virtual prisoner in his lake house. He, too, is a criminal mastermind, psychopath, and Tantric sex master, and his lake house is carefully designed to prevent Amy from escaping from their hot sex, good food, and discussions of opera and philosophy. You had no idea Missouri was this interesting, did you? You'll never call it "flyover country" again, will you?

Amy stabs Desi when he is climaxing during their hot sex. Buckets of blood gush out of him. The director wants you to see all this – this is what you bought your ticket for, is it not? Certainly not for intelligence or heart.

Amy returns to Nick. No one bothers to indict Amy for Desi's murder, because she is incredibly beautiful, famous, and a criminal mastermind. And because the plot of this movie holds together like a wet Kleenex. Nick knows that Amy is a murderer and that she attempted to frame him for her murder and only returned after that went wrong. Nick hates and fears Amy. And Nick stays with Amy, as her husband. The End.

I think the author of "Gone Girl" was trying to use flamboyantly exaggerated premises to comment on a few themes: none of us can fully understand what keeps marriages together, women are terribly hurt by infidelity, beautiful women can use manipulation and sex to get what they want in life.

All of these themes are genuinely interesting, and good art inspired by them is compelling. I kept thinking of "The Country Girl," a brilliant treatment of a complex marriage that outsiders don't understand. TV coverage of the Laci Peterson murder was ten times more watchable, interesting, and educational than the idiotic "Gone Girl" could ever hope to be. "Body Heat" was a hundred times better as a depiction of a hot blond wrapping a big, dumb, handsome guy around her finger. And "Body Heat"'s plot twist leaves "Gone Girl" in the dust.

Ben Affleck's broad shoulders and chest look really good here. His acting is vapid, absent, and clueless, appropriate to the part of a man manipulated by a woman. Rosamund Pike's performance as a human who could never actually exist is good. Basically, she's playing a Star Trek space alien, and she does it well. The excellent Tyler Perry is wasted.