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Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam by Douglas Murray: A Review


After you turn the final page of Douglas Murray's 2017 The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, you may find yourself staring off into the distance, sipping absent-mindedly at your absinthe, planning your escape to New Zealand or better yet, Mars. You may enter a monastery or a gun store. You may immediately plan to have twelve children, or you may get sterilized.

The basic facts are few: after the mass slaughter of World Wars I and II, Europe faced a labor shortage. Europe voted in socialists, and promised cradle-to-grave benefits. To solve both problems, Europe imported large numbers of often Muslim laborers.

Again, the World Wars' horrors, documented in excruciating detail, followed by the collapse of European imperialism, caused many elites to feel ashamed of their own identity, and to promote cultural relativism and multiculturalism. Europe abandoned its Judeo-Christian roots and the concept of the nation-state. Europe's most theatrically "moral" and "enlightened" elites promoted "diversity," open borders and a denigration of European culture as the height of virtue.

At the same time, non-European cultures were assessed as superior. These trends reached their climax in recent years, when massive numbers of mostly young, male, Muslim migrants made their way toward Europe in rickety boats and fragile rafts, and Europe, led by Angela Merkel, announced, "Come on in. Our social safety net will hand you cash, food, housing, and healthcare. Our multiculturalism will elevate you above any critique."

Among the migrants were some who indeed assessed their own culture not only as superior to European culture, but as the culture that should, through violence and terror, dominate the world. The inescapable boogeyman of this tale is simple mathematics. Muslims have more children; Europeans have fewer. "By the end of the lifespans of most people currently alive, Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place in the world we had to call home," as Murray puts it.

Other books have covered similar territory: Oriana Fallaci's 2002 The Rage and the Pride, Bat Yeor's 2005 Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, Bruce Bawer's 2006 While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within, Melanie Philips' 2006 Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within, Claire Berlinski's 2007 Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis Is America’s, Too, and Mark Steyn's 2008 America Alone: The End Of The World As We Know It.

Even if you have read one of the previous books, you will want to read Murray's. Murray addresses what has often been referred to as "the migrant crisis," dated from 2015, and he covers events as recent as December, 2016. Murray brings his own late-night, brooding, depth. This is a book that dares to relate life's big questions to current headlines.

The Strange Death of Europe's 320 densely-packed pages open with four irrefutable words: "Europe is committing suicide." There are ample shocks to be had when reading this book. Here is one: Murray tells the truth. Truth has been so demonized that we are used to speakers avoiding truth, the way a wagon train might avoid quicksand. I found myself, more than once, turning to the copyright page to confirm that this was not a self-published book.

Let's with a few bullet points that will stay with me for a long time.
·         In December, 2014, Africans took a smugglers' boat from Morocco to Spain. A Christian prayed. The captain and crew systematically identified, beat, and threw overboard all Christian passengers. This is not an isolated incident. Christian passengers on other boats have been drowned. Not just Christophobia but also racism dominates on the boats. Economically better off Tunisians and Syrians look down on, and outrank, darker skinned and poorer sub-Saharan Africans. Middle Eastern Muslims occupy the best seats on the boat and are most likely to survive any accidents.

·         On September 27, 2016, a 27-year-old Pakistani migrant in Germany was arrested while publicly raping an Iraqi girl. The girl's father approached with a knife. The police shot him dead, presumably right in front of the little migrant who had just been raped. She was now orphaned, as well as being a six-year-old, stateless rape survivor. She is not alone. Women are regularly raped and pimped by their fellow migrants, who are majority young men.

·         The November, 2015 terror attacks in Paris killed or injured over five hundred people. Seven of the nine terrorists had posed as Syrian refugees.

·         An eleven-year-old British girl's buttocks was branded with hot metal with the letter "M" for "Mohammed." The Mohammed in question "owned" her, beat, raped, and tortured her, and pimped her to numerous other sexual sadists, all Muslims. When victims like her – there are uncounted thousands – sought justice in England, they were accused of being "racists." When MP Ann Cryer took up rape of underage English girls by Muslim men, she was accused of being an "Islamophobe." She required police protection. A Muslim man spoke up; he received death threats from his fellow Muslims. English authorities hushed up, and enabled similar grooming gangs for "more than a decade."

·         In 2004, in Marseille, France, Ghofrane Haddaoui, a 23-year-old Muslima, was stoned to death for rejecting a Muslim man's advances. This is not an isolated incident. "UK police admitted that they had failed to investigate scores of suspicious deaths of young Muslim women because they had thought these potential honor killings were community matters."

These events begin to strip the veneer off "multiculturalism" and Europe's approach to the "migrant crisis" as a warm and cozy humanitarian triumph.

And here's one more anecdote. Visiting a migrant camp, Murray met a 31-year-old husband and father. Back home in Afghanistan, this man had been a school administrator. The Taliban ordered him to help them poison the water supply for hundreds of schoolchildren. Poisoning Muslim schoolchildren would advance their goal of eliminating education, which they see as un-Islamic. To urge him to comply with their plan, they tortured the man in unspeakable ways, including repeatedly raping him while telling him, "You have no god; we are your god; you must do whatever we say." "If anyone tries to send me back to Afghanistan," this migrant promised Murray, "I will kill myself."

Murray makes clear: he understands that many migrants are escaping hellish lives. But Murray has the courage to ask whether it is Europe's duty – or even within Europe's ability – to take in every person on earth living a hellish life. The Afghan made most of his trip overland. He could have stopped in any number of relatively peaceful and comfortable Muslim countries he passed through on the way. He didn't. He, like the other migrants, insists on Europe, and, indeed, Western Europe.

Research has shown that refugees do best when they are taken in by countries and cultures closer to their own. There are over fifty Muslim-majority countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Central and East Asia. Most are at peace and many are very wealthy. Migrants walk through these countries to get to Europe. Why? Aylan Kurdi, whose death photo was exploited as a passport for uncountable refuges, was not escaping war; his employed father, living as an Iraqi refugee in peacetime Turkey, wanted the better welfare benefits to be had in Europe.

Murray points out that the ummah, or international community of Muslims, has not responded to the "migrant crisis" with much urgency, generosity, or compassion. Fahad al-Shalami, a Kuwaiti official, explained that his country is unsuitable for migrants because it is expensive and suitable for workers, not migrants. Further, al-Shalami unabashedly stated, migrants posed a threat to his nation. "You cannot accept people who come from a different atmosphere, from a different place. These are people who suffer from psychological problems, from trauma." Saudi Arabia has 100,000 empty air conditioned tents it refuses to a single migrant. But Saudi Arabia offered to build 200 mosques in Germany to accommodate new migrant arrivals.

Murray, using facts and figures, shoots down the claim that current immigration policy benefits Europe economically. He argues that that policy is in fact a drain on national wealth, as significant numbers of current immigrants are more likely to take more out of the government coffers than they put in. He also argues that housing, schools and other social services are suffering. Greens and other leftists who had previously argued for the benefits of zero population growth are suddenly arguing for the benefits of huge and sudden increases in population. In short, Islamophiles are willing to say anything as long as it serves their agenda. In any case, "immigrants get old as well," Murray observes, in response to the argument that Europe is "graying" and needs fresh blood. Expecting immigration to keep up welfare benefits for an aging population is "a pyramid scheme." Regarding the alleged cultural benefits of current immigration policies, Murray remarks, "If there is a bit more beheading and sexual assault than there used to be in Europe, then at lest we also benefit from a much wider range of cuisines."

In contrast to the Muslim world, Western Europe is dominated by elites who are, in a word, suicidal. Open borders is "a deliberate policy of societal transformation: a culture war waged against the British people using immigrants as a battering ram." Multiculturalism is a lie. "Amid the endless celebrations of diversity, the greatest irony remains that the one thing people cannot bring themselves to celebrate is the culture that encouraged such diversity in the first place." Murray quotes Samuel Huntington, "Multiculturalism is in its essence anti-European civilization. It is basically an anti-Western ideology." Rather, multiculturalism is "self-annihilating."

Murray quotes opinion-leaders who insist that European cultures have no identity, or at least no identity worth saving. A Swedish Minister of Integration told new arrivals that Swedes envy them because they have a culture, whereas Sweden has no culture worthy of mention. If one challenges this, the response is that white, Christian Europeans are the most evil people in history, who have done nothing but invade, colonize, and enslave. In 2006, the Swedish Prime Minster, Fredrik Reinfeldt, said, "Only barbarism is genuinely Swedish. All further development has been brought from the outside." "Destruction is exactly what our societies deserve," Murray writes, paraphrasing the pro-migrant mindset. Europe "must be uniquely punished for the deeds of history."

Masochism is the hip European's most potent drug. Murray cites Norwegian politician Karsten Nordal Hauken who was raped by a male Somali migrant. Hauken expressed his own "guilt." "I had a strong feeling of guilt … I was the reason that he would …be sent to a dark and uncertain future in Somalia."

In 2015 a "No Borders" activist was gang-raped. Her comrades urged her not to report the rape. At first, she did not. When she finally did, her comrades accused her of "spite."

In January, 2016, a 24-year-old woman was raped by three migrants in Mannheim. She published an open letter to her attackers. She wrote, "I am so incredibly sorry … you aren't safe here, because we live in a sexist society … you are beset by increasing and more aggressive racism …  I will not allow it … I will not stand idly by and watch as racists call you a problem. You are not the problem. You are not a problem at all."

A German intellectual told Murray that "the German people were anti-Semitic and prejudiced and deserved to be replaced." "Only modern Europeans," Murray writes "are happy to be self-loathing in an international marketplace of sadists."

Islam, on the other hand, must be celebrated as a font of all good things, as in the 1001 Islamic Inventions exhibit in the London Science Museum. When medieval scholar Sylvain Gouguenheim published an essay arguing that the texts from Ancient Greece said to have been saved by Muslims were in fact preserved by Syriac Christians, Gouguenheim was condemned for "Islamophobia." Scholars publishing on questions so simple as the origins of the Koran must publish under pseudonyms and live in hiding. Western Europeans, no less than terrorists, adhere to this speech and thought suppression. "The one thing our societies really do hold sacred and impervious to ridicule or criticism are the claims and teachings of Mohammed."

To facilitate their war on the West, pro-migrant activists hammer away at mind-numbingly repetitious Nazi analogies. It is 1939, and Muslim migrants are just like Jews in Nazi Germany, and open borders activists are just like the saviors of Anne Frank. This scenario is not just false, it is fantastical, self-flattering and tantamount to Holocaust denial.  

Murray asks why Eastern Europe is so different. I can only hope he might read my own 2015 article, "Western European v Eastern European Responses to Mass, Unvetted, Muslim Migration."

Groups paying the highest price for Europe's approach to "multiculturalism" include, of course, women, homosexuals, and Jews. One Parisian said in 2015, after the November attacks of that year, "Before, it was just the Jews, the writers, or the cartoonists." Tommy Robinson, not a member of the elite, was rendered a non-person by the UK for his resistance. Murray comments on the double standard here. "It is infinitely easier to criticize generally white-skinned people, especially if they are working class, than it is to criticize generally darker-skinned people whatever their background." "In 2003 a report into anti-Semitism by the European Monitoring Center was quietly shelved when it found that the upsurge in anti-Semitic activity in Europe was caused by a rise in attacks on Jews by young Muslims." In Paris in 2006 Jew Ilan Halimi was tortured for three weeks, and killed, at the hands of Muslims. On Bastille Day in 2014, "worshipers at a synagogue in Paris were barricaded inside by immigrant protesters chanting, 'Death to the Jews.'"

Murray, like many other commentators on the "migrant crisis" doesn't dwell on the fact that the crisis is a crisis for the sending countries, as well as the receiving ones. The migrants are not those most likely to suffer in war. They are not the poorest of the poor, the elderly, women, and children. The migrants are overwhelmingly healthy, young men with enough cash to pay considerable smugglers' fees and enough sophistication to navigate any obstacles using iPhones and instructions sent to them by "open borders" activists. As young, healthy, resourceful men who are able to achieve their goals, they are, in short, the raw material for an army. They could be in their home countries fighting to defeat ISIS. They could be working to build a better future for their wives and children.

What happens to a poor, unstable country when its most energetic population rises up, en masse, and leaves for Europe? At least one scholarly study, focused on Pakistan, argues that male migration has profound negative impacts. Ambitious young men are a unique resource, and they should be using their drive to improve their homelands, not to outwit border patrols and the disbursers of welfare checks, not to compete to prove that they are more pathetic and more worthy of Europeans' pity than the next "refugee," not to join with other migrants in mass sexual assaults on the women, girls and boys of naïve hosts offering them refuge.

Murray repeatedly cites opinion polls that show that a majority of Europeans don't want mass Muslim immigration into their countries. He mentions Enoch Powell, a conservative politician who gave a 1968 speech, later known as the "Rivers of Blood" speech, that voiced many of the concerns that Murray outlines in his book. Powell was removed from the political scene. And yet, Murray says, about 75% of the public agreed with him. Ray Honeyford, a headmaster, wrote a 1984 article critical of the effect of multiculturalism on education. Honeyford's carrier was ruined.

Given these overwhelming pressures, one must ask: what made early counter-jihadis so much more insightful and courageous than their peers? The answer, I think, is comparable to the characteristics that typify Holocaust rescuers. Rescuers, according to scholar Nechama Tec, are independent outsiders with universalistic values that transcend race and ethnicity. Just so with counter-jihadis. Not a few counter-jihadis were and are gay: Pim Fortuyn, Bruce Bawer, Tommy English, and Murray himself.

Murray remarks, "If a concern is felt by a majority of the public for many years and nothing is done to address it, then trouble and resentment are certainly stored up. If the response is not just to ignore the concern but to argue that it is actually impossible to do anything about it, then radical alternatives being to brew … at worst they will surface on the streets."

Murray does not address one possibility that seems all too plausible: war. Ayaan Hirsi Ali warned of war in June, 2017. Political scientist and Arabist Professor Gilles Kepel discussed the possibility in September, 2016, as did Daniel Pipes in 2007. Tommy Robinson, in a June, 2017 interview, expressed the despair he feels "as a father of three." "There's no light at the end of the tunnel … When people get desperate – it's like they're forcing people down that path" to war.

In a chapter entitled "Tiredness," Murray says that maybe Europe is dying, as per Oswald Spengler in Decline of the West. Murray recognizes that the West is founded on "Judeo-Christian culture, the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and the discoveries of the Enlightenment."

"For centuries in Europe one of the great – if not the greatest – sources of energy came from the spirit of the continent's religion … it drove Europe to the greatest heights of human creativity." Murray says that a couple of forces destroyed Christianity. One was nineteenth-century German biblical criticism, that desacralized previously sacred texts. The other was Darwin.

In place of Christianity, no substitute has arisen except for nihilism and hedonism. "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," Murray quotes an atheist bus campaign slogan.

Scholarship cannot fill in the gap left by retreating Christianity. There's a lapidary set piece in the book where Murray skewers an academic conference. "A group of academics and others had gathered to discuss the history of Europe's relations with the Middle East. It soon became clear that nothing would be learned because nothing could be said … the aim of this game – for game it was – was to maintain the pretense of academic inquiry while making fruitful discussion impossible."

Art, too, cannot replace religion. It is contemptuous of its audiences. It has journeyed from creating works that cause the viewer to say, "I wish I could do that," to works that cause the viewer to say, "Even a child could do that." "The art of our time seems to have given up any effort to kindle something else in us."

Nature abhors a vacuum. People have always asked, and will always ask, "What am I doing here?" Western Europeans no longer have answers to such questions. Islam is sure of itself. Islamists and their Islamophile allies guarantee that Islam is above reproach. Young Europeans seeking meaning will convert to Islam.

In spite of all this, Murray recognizes that, as atheist author Don Culpitt wrote in 2008, "Nobody in the West can be wholly non-Christian. You may call youself non-Christian, but the dreams you dream are still Christian dreams … the modern, secular world is itself a Christian creation." Murray writes, "The culture of human rights, for instance, owes more to the creed preached by Jesus of Nazareth than it does, say, to that of Mohammed … Europe is a collection of towns and villages. Leave a village and you will eventually stumble upon another. And in any low-built area the first thing you will see is the church, placed at the heart of the community. Today, where these hearts of the community are not wholly dead and converted into housing they are dying … I cannot help feeling that much of the future of Europe will be decided on what our attitude is towards the church buildings and other great cultural buildings of our heritage standing in our midst … A society that says we are defined exclusively by the bar and the nightclub, by self-indulgence and our sense of entitlement, cannot be said to have deep roots or much likelihood of survival. But a society which holds that our culture consists of the cathedral, the playhouse and the playing field, the shopping mall and Shakespeare, has a chance."

Murray, who had previously self-identified as a practicing Anglican, but now identifies as an atheist, insists that any real return to Christianity is impossible. One gets the sense that Murray believes that only the Amish and pockets of Hasids still take the Bible seriously. Murray sounds so genuinely sad in these passages, so deeply elegiac, that I wished I could hand him a copy of my own book, Save Send Delete, in which I argue for Biblical faith as a reasonable choice for a modern, educated, thinking person. I can only hope that he might stumble across this review and email me. I will send him a free copy.

Murray's book, as well as all discourse on Europe's overwhelming and rapid Islamization, could benefit from mention of the scholarship of Robert Putnam. Marxist social engineers act on the belief that existence precedes essence – there is no such thing as an essential human being. Human beings can be manipulated to be whatever those in power want them to be. If the elite decides that rapid Islamization is a good idea, people can be made to accept that through proper training from their betters.

Such training kicks in immediately after every terror attack. We know exactly that Sadiq Khan is going to say that the latest attack "Has nothing to do with Islam. We cherish our diversity. We are going to go about our daily lives." Those statements, repeated robotically ad nauseum, masquerade as avuncular reassurances. In fact, they are more sinister. They are 1984-style dictatorial scripts, brainwashing the masses and red-lining the limits of acceptable speech. This is what we are required to say. We may not ask, "What can we do differently to avoid such terror attacks?" We may not ask, "Isn't it time we refuted the teachings that inspired the murderers?" or, "Who is minding the border?"

Social engineers are wrong. There are essential aspects to a human being. Normal people inescapably do better when they have a sense of community and heritage. When the support of community and heritage is ripped from them, they react negatively. As John Leo wrote in 2007, summing up Robert Putnam's then-recent research, "immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating short- and medium-term influence on the social capital, fabric of associations, trust, and neighborliness that create and sustain communities."

Indeed, if the very anti-Western, pro-Islamization forces were to learn that, say, Mali, a majority Muslim country in Africa, were to become, through immigration, majority atheist Chinese in this century, those very activists would be on fire with concern for "indigenous" Malians. Funny how being an "indigenous" person is highly valued by anti-Western forces when one is talking about a country like Mali, and that very status becomes an insult when one is talking about white Europeans.

Murray's book reminds us of an important fact. Believe it or not, right-wing counter-jihadis and Islamophiles like NPR, The Southern Poverty Law Center, the ludicrously self-identified "anti-fa" or "anti-fascists" all have something significant in common. Both claim that counter-jihad is an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. Left-wingers want to discredit and marginalize counter-jihad by labeling it "hard right." Right-wing counter-jihadis want to monopolize credit.

Murray reminds us that the early counter-jihadis in Europe were not right-wingers at all. As a child, Oriana Fallaci had engaged in real anti-fascist activity in Nazi-occupied Italy. Retired sex bomb, animal rights activist, and vegetarian Brigitte Bardot is no right-winger. Pim Fortuyn, Theo Van Gogh, Bruce Bawer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the staff of Charlie Hebdo, Tommy English, leader of Gays Against Shariah UK: none of these are right-wingers. In this country, neither are Sam Harris, Bill Maher, and Eric Allen Bell. On the other hand, Republican President George Bush went to the Islamic Center of Washington, DC, six days after 9/11, to say, in the company of CAIR's Nihad Awad, that "Islam is Peace." I had a schizophrenic experience with a Catholic priest. When it comes to abortion, women or married priests, he is an arch-conservative. When I tried to talk to him about jihad, that same arch-conservative priest suddenly sounded like an "open borders" advocate. You can read our exchange here.


Opposing FGM, child marriage, and the murder of people with whom you disagree are not inherently right-wing stances. In a 2009 Gallup Poll, zero percent of surveyed Muslims thought homosexuality morally acceptable. Opposing the murder of homosexuals is not an exclusively "'right-wing" position. Counter-jihad is too important to risk alienating any potential allies by labeling counter-jihad as a purely "right-wing" concern. Counter-jihad is a universal, human concern.

You can read this piece at FrontPageMagazine here

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Book of Henry: A Live Girl is Less Verbal than a Dead Boy



"The Book of Henry" has the potential to become a cult classic. There's a subset of people for whom the shambolic plot of this film will scratch their itch. Underneath all the autumn leaf clutter and heartwarming kitchen scenes, there's an unfortunate message about girls and about sexual assault victims.  

Warning: this review will reveal the ending of "The Book of Henry."

TBOH starts out in one of those idyllic towns you only see in middlebrow American films. No one has a regional accent. There are wooded hillsides all around, and scenic waterfalls, and quilts on couches. You can tell that characters are meant to be coded "poor" or "working class" because they are wearing Goodwill clothing, but they manage to live in big Victorians on lots of wooded property. If this were a real town in contemporary America, I'm afraid it would be one of those places with a high opiate abuse rate.

Susan (Naomi Watts) is a single mom of two adorable boys, Henry and Peter. Susan is a waitress, she drinks too much, and she is addicted to video games. Susan's best friend Sheila (Sarah Silverman) is a sharp-tongued lush with a heart of gold and cleavage so low we can see her heart beating.

Henry is a genius and has the personality, not just of a mature man, but actually of a saint or a Bodhisattva or Cary Grant, the angel character in "The Bishop's Wife." Henry spends his time hanging out in a treehouse designed by Norman Rockwell on acid, creating Rube Goldberg machines, and amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars – and he talks to his broker on a pay phone. Where are there still pay phones? Wouldn't a boy genius have a cell phone?

At first you think, okay, this is going to be like a Steven Spielberg boy's true adventure film. An "ET" crossed with a tad of homebound Thelma and Louise. But no.

Henry looks out his window and concludes, from what he sees, that the next-door neighbor, Glenn, is sexually molesting his step-daughter, Christina. Uh, oh. This has just turned into an educational film about the horrors of child abuse and incest. Or maybe a Eugene O'Neill style family horror story. Well, there's a fleeting few seconds of that, but then Henry is hiding in a gun store, learning how to buy illegal weapons. Okay, this is quite the roller coaster ride. You don't even have time to make sure you have fastened the safety latch when Henry suddenly develops a bad headache and worse vision.

Henry goes into seizures. It's a disease of the week movie! No, wait! A handsome surgeon steps in to operate, and to make eyes at Naomi Watts who, yes, is still in the movie. Is this going to be a romance film? Where does this train stop?

Henry dies. Just like that. The titular character is dead, halfway into this PG family story / unsuitable for children incest story / true crime story. His death is so quick and so subtle I didn't realize he was dead until Susan is shown mourning by obsessively baking brownies while wearing a chocolate-stained apron.

This is where the "Book of Henry" of the title comes in. Note that "Book of Henry" sounds like a Biblical book. That's because Henry is now dead and doing good deeds from the afterlife. Susan discovers that Henry left a notebook with a detailed plan for her to murder her next-door neighbor, Glenn. So now we are back to this being a Hitchcockian story. But it never goes there. It never does what suspense or true crime or horror films do. It continues to play as if it were a wholesome, small town Americana comedy. The sight of Naomi Watts going from chocolate-stained apron to staring down the sights of an illegal automatic weapon with a silencer in a PG movie chilled my blood.

Susan comes within seconds of following her dead son's macabre / wholesome plan to its final, murderous / humanitarian end, but then she can't bring herself to pull – or as Henry would have it – squeeze the trigger. She merely informs Glenn that she is on his tail, and Glenn kills himself.

Susan then adopts Christina and puts Christina in the same bedroom that Henry had previously occupied – with her other son, Peter. No doubt there will be a sequel on how one of these two needs to be killed for a subsequent incest flare-up.

And the whole thing is meant to be heartwarming and kind of funny.

Sheesh.


It's hard to talk about this train wreck of a film in any serious way, but. Christina, the incest victim, says almost nothing in the movie. She is silent. The obvious thing for Susan to do, even before buying a high-powered rifle, would be to get Christina alone, away from her stepfather, with an authority figure and encourage her to tell her own story. In this Hollywood movie, a dead boy is the master puppeteer for his adult mother, who is merely a marionette, and that dead boy is more verbal than a live girl. And that's a disgusting and dangerous message. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life: Prayers and Reflections for Getting Closer by Julie Davis. Review.


Julie Davis' 2017 Niggle Press book Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life: Prayers and Reflections for Getting Closer is one of the weightiest little books I've ever read. There are just 209 pages of main text, and each page has few words. I open randomly to page one hundred and I find a three-sentence quote from the Gospel of Luke, a brief, one-paragraph quote from Saint Augustine, and ten sentences of reflection from Davis. The few words that appear on each page, though, like the words in a rich poem, are dense with meaning. They are the kind of words that cause the reader to pause and ponder.

The quote from Luke: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those that love them … But, rather, love your enemies and do good to them." The quote by St. Augustine tackles this challenging commandment in practical terms: we must remember that even hateful people are "God's work" and capable of change for the better. Davis acknowledges, "I can't control the emotions that flood over me when I'm mad at someone." Davis concludes the page with a prayer: "Lord, have mercy on me and bless my enemy. I am not strong enough to love him by myself. Help me to see with your eyes."

Each pair of pages, left and right, has a theme. The themes are subdivisions of the book's twelve chapters. The opening chapter is "Beginning to Pray" and the closing chapter is "Continuing to Seek." In the chapter entitled "Finding Jesus in the Cross, the Resurrection, the Eucharist," themes include "Spending Time with God," Jesus as a courageous hero, and "Death Shall Be No More: Death, Thou Shalt Die." Each quote on the page relates to the theme.

There are quotes from the Old and New Testaments on almost every page. Otherwise, Davis' sources range broadly. There is a prayer, that originated from the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, contemplating Jesus as he developed in Mary's womb. There are several quotes from CS Lewis, Thomas Merton, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Popes Benedict and Francis, and the writings of saints including Patrick, Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, and Augustine. There are also quotes from Hermann Cohen, a nineteenth-century Jewish convert to Catholicism, Andrew Klavan, a twenty-first-century secular Jewish convert to Christianity, media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and Father James Yamauchi, who, I take it, is Davis' home church pastor.

These Biblical quotes, quotes from literature, and Davis' reflections are elegantly laid out on the page. Formatting is important in all books, but especially in a book like this. Davis is a visual artist as well as a verbal one, and her careful choices in fonts and spacing guide the reader through a flowing experience.

Davis' own reflections are general, and mostly free of particular biographical detail. You won't learn much about her from her personal comments, except that she is a wife and mother. For example, about suffering, she writes, "I want to avoid suffering … I know that great good can come to me through the Cross. That is different from the present moment when I'm suffering. Then I have to fight self-pity. Sometimes suffering is inflicted by others. Sometimes I inflict it on myself as a natural consequence of my own actions."

One doesn't know what is causing Davis this suffering, who is hurting her, or how she hurts herself. By using general language, I conclude, she is trying to produce a document that can be significant to many readers, no matter whether the reader shares biographical details with Davis or not. Every now and then Davis lets slip a very personal detail. For example, she sometimes uses a kitchen timer in her prayer life. Her description of this method is priceless and very true.

Davis wants this book to be an aide to other Christians in their prayer life. Online reviews attest to its value and success at just that. One reviewer reported, "I immediately ordered copies for the six people in our RCIA class who will be baptized or confirmed at Easter this year." Another said, "Exactly what I needed at this point in my life!" Another reviewer wrote, "Are you ready to hit the reset button on your practice of the faith? Here it is." This book is helping people.


I think Seeking Jesus has another use. I think this would be a great gift to an open-minded Christophobe. There are a lot of people these days who insist that all Christians are violent bigots. Jesus is certainly the main character of this book, but Davis is a very appealing sidekick. She is humble, eager to learn, thoughtful, and patient. I think giving this book as a gift to someone trying to understand a modern American Christian's interior life would be a very charitable act. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Wonder Woman: Crypto-Misogyny, Revisionist Paganism, and Cultural Appropriation of the Central Christian Narrative

Image from Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack


Patty Jenkins' 2017 film Wonder Woman achieved the highest opening box office for any female director, and the best box office for a female-lead comic book film. Wonder Woman is the sixth highest grossing 2017 film and it may well rise higher. After opening on June 2, Wonder Woman was number one for two weeks; in week three, Forbes reported, it continued to set box office records. Wonder Woman bested the Tom Cruise film The Mummy. Some theaters scheduled all-female viewings. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas announced, "Apologies, gentlemen, but we're embracing our girl power and saying 'No Guys Allowed' for one special night at the Alamo Ritz … When we say 'People Who Identify As Women Only,' we mean it. Everyone working at this screening – venue staff, projectionist, and culinary team – will be female."

On June 11, 2017, director Patty Jenkins tweeted what purports to be a note from a schoolteacher. Wonder Woman, this note claims, completely transformed a kindergarten class into a Utopian seedbed of future feminists. One of the note's bullet points: "A boy threw his candy wrapping [on] the floor and a 5-year-old girl screamed, 'DON'T POLLUTE YOU IDIOT, THAT IS WHY THERE ARE NO MEN IN TEMYSCIRA.'" Upworthy says that Wonder Woman will "lead viewers to develop empathy" for "members of groups unlike themselves." "The Legion of Women Writers launched a fundraising campaign to send 70 high school-age girls to see the film."

In 2015, actor-director Rose McGowan argued on Instagram that movies were simple-minded because movies are controlled by men, and if more women were in charge, movies would be rich, complex, and thoughtful. She was sick, she said, of "green goblins in tight outfits." Superhero movies are "the same formula over and over." Why? "If men direct 98% of all film, the fault of banality rests squarely on their shoulders … They are killing film … Superhero movies lack complexity, story development, character development, freedom of thought. It's lazy male filmmaking … Where are the human stories? … I want intelligence, daring work that drives society forward. I want a mirror, not every cliché regurgitated ad nauseum … Let's bring complexity back … Think of all the stories not on screen because women are blocked by the status quo … Add women … It brings such instant depth to make a character female."

I agree with McGowan's critique of superhero movies. Her insistence that everything would become instantly richer and deeper if male actors, directors, and characters were replaced by females has been proven wrong by Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman opens on Themyscira, originally known, in the comic books, as Paradise Island. Any man who sets foot on the island is condemned to death. Themyscira is populated by perfectly proportioned, healthy, high-breasted, small-waisted, long-legged, flat-bellied, glossy-haired, tight-butted, pert-nosed, wide-eyed females in skimpy, skin-tight costumes who spend all day wrestling with each other. Themyscira is clearly a teen boy's fantasy. No land where women can't risk pre-menstrual tummy bloat, or can't remove the metal bras that keep their breasts well-defined, is any female paradise.

Do male superheroes come from islands populated by legions of model-perfect boy-toy eye candy? Heck no. Men don't invite competition over their looks with other, spectacular looking men. Male superheroes are the only guy in the room who flies faster than a speeding bullet. Themyscira isn't a feminist daydream; it's a harem.

The women of Themyscira spend their time in physical fighting. Yes, I am a feminist. I am this kind of feminist – I recognize that men and women are different. I value women's qualities. In general, men respond to threat with fight or flight behavior. Women respond with tend-and-befriend behavior. I do not think I can solve my problems by beating someone up – not even in my fantasies. In conflict situations, I attempt to understand my opponent. I attempt to "tend" to that person's needs if I can and work together for non-violent, win-win solutions. I can fight or run if necessary, but, again, like a lot of women, my evolutionarily programmed primary urge is to nurture life and community, not destroy to destroy them. Wonder Woman is no realization of any of my feminist or even merely female fantasies.

An island populated solely by women is no paradise for me. I love men. My ideal fantasy world would include men – and family. I'd have a husband, and kids – not just daughters, but sons, too. I'd have a cozy home, with a kitchen I'd spend about a hundred years accessorizing. I'd have a nook for reading, in a bay window, in a large library, with velvet curtains, looking out on a garden. A woman's movie, for me, is not a man's movie that slips a female simulacrum into the spandex leotard of a male lead. A heroine is not a male superhero with a pair of breasts slapped on him. A woman's movie is a movie that respects and honors what women really are.

Who created this so-called feminist superhero, anyway? Harvard psychologist William Moulton Marston. Marston was a polyamorist, living with at least three women as his de facto wives. Two of his long-term partners typed his manuscripts and supported him financially. Marston was part of "a 'sex cult' … Participants celebrated female sexual power, dominance, submission and love by forming 'Love Units' … including Love Girls who "do not … practice … concealment of the love organs."

Olive Byrne was Marston's graduate student. She became one of her married professor's mistresses. Byrne wore heavy silver bracelets that inspired Wonder Woman's superpower jewelry. Byrne was the niece of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. "Wonder Woman sprang from an intellectual milieu that included both New Age free love and a radical commitment to reproductive rights," writes Noah Berlatsky in The Atlantic. "Marston – and Sanger too … believed that women were purer and better than men." Marston's legal wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and Olive Byrne continued to live together after Marston died. There is speculation that Elizabeth and Olive became lovers.

Comic book historian Tim Hanley documents that 25% of images in the original Wonder Woman "included images of bondage." His 2014 Chicago Review Press book Wonder Woman Unbound reports that Wonder Woman's "creator filled the comics with titillating bondage imagery … In the 1950s, Wonder Woman begrudgingly continued her superheroic mission, wishing she could settle down with her boyfriend instead, all while continually hinting at hidden lesbian leanings. While other female characters stepped forward as women's lib took off in the late 1960s, Wonder Woman fell backwards, losing her superpowers and flitting from man to man."

Marston had a religious devotion to bondage as salvific. "The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep … to enjoy being bound ... Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society ... being controlled by [and] submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element," Marston wrote. Note that Wonder Woman wields a rope – a LASS-o – as one of her superpowers.

Marston's concept of feminism dominates the movie version of his work. He wrote, "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman ... Give [men] an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves."

Mr. Marston, you just don't get me at all. You think that because I don't go around punching people in the face as male superheroes do that I "lack force, strength and power." No. I exercise my strength, force, and power every day. For me, a battle is waged primarily through my keyboard, or through after-class conversations with troubled students. For me, victory doesn't mean that I am surrounded by the prostrate bodies of my enemies. For me, victory comes when a failing student tries harder and gets an A. I don't win by punching noses. I win by understanding, supporting, communicating, and connecting. Further, I desire no slave, certainly not a male partner who is a slave. I love the men I admire, men who are not beneath me or above me but are my equals. And, yes, that is the woman in me talking. Men aren't worse than I because they win through zero sum conquest. They are just different. Demanding that women must become masculine before they can be respected is not feminism.

"But, but, but!" some will scream. "Wonder Woman sold lots of tickets!" Indeed it has. I'm a teacher. I see young women consume media that tells them that they need to be sexually loose to find happiness. I see them consume lectures that demonize any awareness that girls experience sexual rejection differently than boys do, lectures that deny that women's need for committed relationships is hard-wired and evolutionarily sound. And I see these same girls become anorexic, self-harming, depressed, prescription-drug-dependent, and suicidal. Yes, they willingly buy the media and the academic lectures that tell them that gender is a social construct and that they should be something that they are not – that is, boys. They try to be promiscuous, to brag of sexual "conquests," and to punish themselves for any "clinging," for any sentimentality. Now they are buying a media product that tells them that girls, no less than boys, can save the world with their punches and their kicks. It terrifies and depresses me to think that girls, who are, in general, less physically powerful and also less aggressive than males, may discover their physical limitations the hard way – in the middle of a physical confrontation that they could have, had they listened to their feminine instincts, avoided.

The women in the audience applauding the onscreen women of Themyscira are applauding the very norms that, in other settings, they protest. Women rage against the lookism that demands that women be attractive before they can be anything else. Wonder Woman's fans applaud it for being "diverse." After all, some of the babes on Themyscira are black. None of them has anything like what is normal body fat for an American woman. None is aging as a normal woman does. There are no remarkably tall, flat-chested, or broad-beamed women on Themyscira. Themyscira's so-called "warriors" all have the pinched profiles of pin-ups. Not a single one could pass as a female Olympic weightlifter or shot putter. They don't have the sturdy bodies of women peasants who spend all day in agricultural labor. There are no handicapped women. None of them wears glasses. Featuring a pouty black runway model next to a pouty white runway model is not "diversity." It's pandering.

Let's finally admit that women discriminate in favor of pretty women just as surely as men do. Women reject big-boned, dowdy, nerdy females, as high school friends, as potential hires, when buying dolls, as heroines of novels and main characters of films every bit as much as men do. So-called feminists castigate and lecture men for participating in evolution's inevitable preference for the pretty and the powerful, but women do it themselves, to themselves and each other. I remember a "feminist" friend practically ululating about what a thrill it was to see Gloria Steinem speak in person. I drilled this feminist about what Steinem actually said in her talk that was so inspirational. All she could say was that Steinem was over sixty and still could "rock" tight, black leather pants. We women forge our own chains.

Proponents will argue that Wonder Woman herself, Diana, (Gal Gadot) is the film's hero, its center. Sorry, no. In significant ways, Diana departs from male superheroes. Male superheroes are clever and smart as well as strong. Diana is often a clueless and comical fish-out-of-water. She has lived her entire life on an island. She doesn't know how to navigate the twentieth-century, mixed-gender Europe she enters to fulfill her mission. In a couple of scenes, Diana is the butt of the audience's laughter.

Chris Pine, in the Star Trek reboot, stars as something like a superhero, Captain James T. Kirk. In Wonder Woman, Pine is Captain Steve Trevor, the shadow superhero. He chaperones Diana around the modern world, protecting her from her naivete and communicating for her when she cannot make herself understood. Male superheroes are much more independent than is Diana. They shine alone on stage. They don't share the spotlight. Their companions, when they have them, are coded as lesser. Robin is a child; Batman is an adult. Jimmy Olson is the squeaky-voiced mortal who admires Superman. Watson is tutored by Holmes. Steve, though mortal, is equal to the divine Diana.

Male superheroes don't require this kind of babysitting from female sidekicks. Hidden underneath the flashy poster art that depicts a hard-charging female as the center of action is a different plot: Diana is cared for by a protective and powerful male. Evolution has fashioned women to seek such men. Normal women want to share their lives with men as competent as they are. Women value husbands who can fix cars and be home handymen. Steve "fixes" things for Diana, recruiting a crew to advance her mission. Yes, Diana is powerful herself. But unlike Hugh Jackman's superhero Wolverine, for example, Diana is no lone wolf. She is in a relationship with a man, Steve, who could easily assume the superhero mantle himself. Again, behind the film's overt message of a lone female superhero is a more traditional truth: women value relationship. It is disingenuous to pretend that Wonder Woman is about something it is not.

Feminists say that to assess whether or not a narrative is female-centered, don't just look at the main character. Look at those with whom the main character interacts. If a female character is not shown having significant relationships with other women, but only with men, it is not a women-centered story. On Themyscira, Diana wrestles with her fellow Amazons. Once the film leaves the island, though, Diana is the lone, token female in a male-bonding buddy movie. Steve recruits a ragtag crew of his colorful friends – an ugly Scot, an Arab who wanted to be an actor but who was victimized by anti-Arab prejudice, and a Native American smuggler. Diana is adrift with this cast of characters from a boy's true adventure tale. They know and value each other. She's a pretty girl in a bathing suit plunked down in their treehouse. She might as well be a wall calendar. How about Diana plunging into a cat-fight with the female villain in some interesting, female-centric way? Never happens. For Diana to function, she must interact with men, in an all-male world.

Diana and Steve's mission is – wait for it – to find and defeat an evil genius who wants to destroy the world. I bet you didn't see that coming. Diana is only partially correct in her understanding of the mission. She thinks she is seeking Ares, the Greek god of war. She assumes that General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is Ares. She chases and kills Ludendorff. The problem is that she's mistaken. Ludendorff is not Ares. It is Steve who has recognized the real threat: a planeload of German poison gas. While Diana is off on her wild goose chase, Steve has a different trajectory. He is focused on the concrete, immediate threat of poison gas. He sacrifices his own life by destroying the plane and its deadly cargo.

In recent years, leftists have gone on and on about cultural appropriation. An example: Elvis Presley. His songs, dress, and performance style have been assessed as the cultural property of African Americans. According to theorists of cultural appropriation, Elvis' entire career was a form of theft.

Pagans might love Wonder Woman. The film presents itself as based on Greek mythology. Diana is called an "Amazon." Zeus is her father. Zeus created his child to fight Ares, the Greek god of war. Diana is a savior figure. While Steve is sacrificing his own life to save others, Diana is facing off with Ares. Ares is depicted as a dark, horned entity walking through red flames. Ares tempts humanity to its own doom. This is all hogwash. And it is cultural appropriation.

The mythical Amazons were eager warriors. They worshipped Ares, the god of war. The idea that an Amazon would want to defeat Ares and end war is absurd. Neo-Pagans insist that societies where female goddesses are worshipped are better societies for women. One look at modern India, where female infanticide and gruesome rape headlines are epidemic, where female infanticide actually has worsened as India has prospered, proves false the assertion that goddess worship = good conditions for women. Hindus worship many powerful goddesses: Laxmi, Durga, Saraswati. An ad agency created a campaign of images of those goddesses – featuring bruises from domestic violence.

Ancient, Pagan Greece was often a lousy place for women. Well-born Athenian women were married off young to men they might not have chosen for themselves. They were expected to stay at home and produce legal heirs. Lowborn women had it even worse. Prostitutes, when not entertaining clients, had to spin wool to earn money for their pimps.

In Wonder Woman, Zeus is a loving father god who wants to help people. A loving father god who creates humanity and sends a promised savior has nothing to do with Ancient Greece. It is ripped off from Judaism. It's more than a little ironic that "feminists" celebrate a movie awash in ersatz Greek mythology. In authentic Greek mythology, Zeus is a serial rapist. Zeus assumes the form of a swan to rape Leda, a bull to rape Europa, and a shower of coins to rape Danae. Males were not safe; Zeus assumes the form of an eagle to rape Ganymede, a boy.

Classicist Eva C. Keuls, in her University of California Press book, The Reign of the Phallus, shows that "The phallus was pictured everywhere in ancient Athens: painted on vases, sculpted in marble, held aloft in gigantic form in public processions, and shown in stage comedies. This obsession with the phallus dominated almost every aspect of public life, influencing law, myth, and customs, affecting family life, the status of women, even foreign policy." Athenian men made a "blatant claim to general dominance" supported by "the myths of rape and conquest of women, and the reduction of sex to a game of dominance and submission, both of women by men and of men by men."

"The master rapist, of course, was Zeus … A foreigner once came to Athens and asked why the Athenians so often used the exclamation 'by Zeus'; the answer: 'Because so many of us are.'" That is, Zeus was such a successful rapist that Athenians can assume themselves to be descended from him. The Brygos Painter kantharos is a two-handled wine-drinking cup from Ancient Greece. Kreuls describes this cup. It depicts "two scenes of rape, one homosexual and one heterosexual, carefully balanced in composition, with that typically Greek bisexual promiscuity." A collection of Attic Art "contains 395 items, and includes rape by all the major male divinities on Olympus … Zeus [wields] his scepter or his thunderbolt (or both); Poseidon, his trident; and Hermes, his caduceus."

In addition to misrepresenting what Ancient, Pagan Greece really was for women – bad – Wonder Woman appropriates another people's myth. That people would be the ancient, monotheistic, moralistic Jews, and their offspring faith, Christians. In Judaism, not in Paganism, one loving God created humanity. That loving God recognized that the temptation to do evil was a problem for humanity. That temptation is personified by Satan, who, at least since Revelation 13, has been depicted as having horns – as Ares does in Wonder Woman. God promised a savior, a Messiah. Christians believe that Jesus is that Messiah, that Jesus is the son of God, and that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was salvific. Diana does not sacrifice her life in Wonder Woman, but in the final scenes she is shown suspended in air, arms stretched wide, legs together: a cross pose. While she is struggling with the horned Ares / Satan, shown walking through hellish flames, Steve is saving humanity by flying into heavenly clouds and sacrificing his own life.

Neo-Pagans are constant cultural appropriators; they combine denial about what Ancient Paganism entailed with outright pillaging of Christian values. A Neo-Pagan meme recently wormed its slimy way through my Facebook feed: "The Kingdom of God is within you." Educated people will recognize this as a quote from Jesus. The meme identified this quote, though, as coming from an Ancient Egyptian temple at Karnak. I wrote to Betsy M. Bryan, the Alexander Badawy Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, and asked her if there is any truth to this New Age claim. No, it is not, she said. That's cultural appropriation.

Wonder Woman gives us a Pagan, Ancient Greece that offered a Paradise Island for women. There was a force in the Ancient World that offered women hope for respect for their full humanity. That force was Christianity. "In Christ there is no male and there is no female." Celsus, an Ancient, Pagan Greek, condemned Christianity as a religion of "women, children, and slaves" – that is "the foolish, the dishonorable, and the stupid."

Yes, Western Civilization owes the Ancient Greeks a great debt. The Greeks gave us democracy and the intellectual foundations of our scholarship. But the Ancient Pagan world valued power, wealth and beauty. Good looking and wealthy people were good; slaves and women had negligible value. Human sacrifice, including the sacrifice of children, was a constant. Recent archaeological discoveries support ancient accounts of the sacrifice and cannibalism of young boys dedicated to Zeus. Deformed Spartan babies, of course, were tossed into the Apothetae, the deposits. In order to be considered men, eighteen-year-old Spartan boys had to participate in a rite-of-passage called "helot killing." They were given a knife and sent out into the countryside with the job of stealthily murdering as many random and unsuspecting slaves as they could, without being detected. No doubt these slaves lived in a constant state of terror. So much for Utopia, for "Paradise Island." Without our Judeo-Christian ethical inheritance, our Greek inheritance is incomplete.

Starting in the early 1930s, and ending around the same time as the onset of the Sexual Revolution, under pressure from the Catholic Legion of Decency, Hollywood movies had to adhere to strict guidelines re: sex and violence. One might conclude that films made during this era were a wasteland for women. The opposite is true. Scholars acknowledge that Hollywood under the code was a Golden Age for women's movies. Since films could not emphasize sex and violence, they had to emphasize something else, and they did. Women could be smart, fast-talking, and compelling. Since whole families went to the movies, films had to please women of every age and station in life. Older women like Marie Dressler, Edna May Oliver, Ethel Barrymore, Jane Darwell, and Marjorie Main, as well as young girls, like Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, managed to be box office stars.

During Hollywood's Golden Age, Katharine Hepburn sank a German warship. Barbara Stanwyck outwitted Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper and Fred MacMurray. Vivien Leigh shot a Yankee soldier and paid Tara's taxes. An old and frail Lilian Gish protected children from the homicidal Robert Mitchum. Jennifer Jones saw the Virgin Mary, Ingrid Bergman heard the voices of saints, Greer Garson won two Nobel Prizes, and Audrey Hepburn tended to lepers in the Belgian Congo. Greta Garbo ruled Sweden, saved Poland, and managed to laugh. Without punching anyone. Without taking off their clothes. When young women come to me for film recommendations, I try to introduce them to Gold Age Hollywood movies.

There are films today that focus on real, heroic women. Maudie celebrates Canadian artist Maud Lewis. Lewis was poor, chronically ill, physically handicapped, not particularly sexy looking, and beautifully talented. She doesn't beat anyone up. She doesn't blow anything up. She loved her very difficult husband, kept house, and created art.

Megan Leavey is about a confused, difficult working class girl who joins the Marines, finds herself in patriotic discipline and service, and risks her life to serve her country in Iraq. She bonds with her "aggressive" bomb sniffing dog, Sergeant Rex. Leavey and Rex are injured when a terrorist IED explodes beneath them. Leavey works hard to readjust to civilian life and adopt her former canine fellow veteran.

Letters from Baghdad is about Gertrude Bell. As the film's website says, the film "tells the extraordinary and dramatic story of the most powerful woman in the British Empire … She shaped the modern Middle East after World War I in ways that still reverberate today. More influential than her friend and colleague Lawrence of Arabia, Bell helped draw the borders of Iraq and established the Iraq Museum."

All three films, all in theaters now, have high scores at Rotten Tomatoes. All three films are bringing in a tiny fraction of the box office that Wonder Woman is bringing in. Ladies, stop blaming guys. If you want big-screen movies about real life heroines, get out there and buy tickets for the movies that depict them. And give up on finding Utopia in the fantasies of modern social engineers, Ancient Paganism, or the pages of comic books. Utopia is not to be found there. Forget all you've been taught about Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition being hopelessly corrupt and fit only for the garbage heap of history. Have another look at your heritage: at Sarah, Judith, Esther, Mary Magdalene, Thecla, Teresa of Avila and so many more. You'll be glad you did.

This piece first appeared in FrontPageMag here

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Help Save an Urban Greenspace from "Development"; Sign The Petition for Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain


I'm poor. I'm chronically ill. I live in Paterson, NJ. My parents were immigrants.

Paterson is majority-minority. It is largely an African American, Muslim, and Hispanic city.

On those rare occasions when my suburban co-workers give me a ride home, one sound seals what my address means. As we cross the border and enter Paterson – CLICK – their car doors lock.

Nature is my lifeline. Nature heals me. Nature shows me God. No matter what figure my bank account records. No matter what diagnosis the doc has to share. No matter if my car has just been vandalized. Through Nature, I transcend. After I got the last, scary diagnosis. I went for a long walk. At Garret Mountain.

You see, Paterson has nature: Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain is a park complex located partially in Paterson, New Jersey, and partially in what used to be West Paterson, but what changed its name, in recent years, to Woodland Park, so that its residents would not suffer the stigma of association with Paterson.

Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain is not just *any* park. It is, in fact, world famous.

Birds migrate. For migration, they require habitat. Habitat = water, native plants, and a critical mass of these, far enough away from predators, that they can survive their migration.

Migrating birds follow routes, routes that are hammered into the birds by evolution and vast reaches of geologic time. New Jersey is a vital passage on the Atlantic Flyway.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state. That makes it, potentially, the most deadly for migrating birds. Even so, Nature insists that the birds follow the Atlantic Flyway, right over New Jersey's shopping malls, freeways, and parking lots, all of which spell death for birds.

This is where Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain comes in.

Yes, I live in Paterson. And, guess what. I AM PROUD TO BE A PATERSONIAN! Because we survive. Because of Alexander Hamilton. And because of Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain.

This park is a destination for *international* birders. Because it is a destination for *international* birds. This park, surrounded by New Jersey's traffic-jamming, nerve-rattling, floodplain-exhausting urban development, is green. It is nature. It is a migrant oasis. Of international standing. I've seen bald eagles here. A Mississippi kite, far from home. Great Horned Owls. All in my own city.

People want to destroy Rifle Camp Park / Garret Mountain. The Passaic County Freeholders, and writer Christopher Maag, say, "Hey, we see some trees left in New Jersey – trees being enjoyed by poor and brown people. By immigrants! By birds! And people who come from thousands of miles away to see those birds! Can't have that!

"Let's cut the trees, pave the earth, and build a golf course! So rich white suburbanite hipsters can play golf in poor minority people's one place to experience nature.

Hey, the northern, richer, whiter portion of Passaic County has plenty of trees. Poor, brown, and immigrant southern Passaic County don't need no stinkin' trees."

If you care about birds having this one oasis when they are making their epic migration north, if you think a poor black kid has as much right to see a robin's nest as a rich white kid, then please sign our petition.

Thank you.



Friends of Garret Mountain Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/238256699670035

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In Afterimage (Powidoki) Communism Destroys An Artist. Bernie Sanders' Fans Should See Wajda's Final Film

A young man took the stage. He was earnest, pale, and underfed. "We are about to show you a film."

We students were excited. Kids love it when class is canceled and the teacher shows a film.

The young man continued in that weird English that could be heard only in the old Soviet Empire. The Iron Curtain guaranteed that its detainees didn't have much of a chance to converse with outsiders. Those very few people who could speak any English at all sounded as if they had memorized a purloined dictionary, reverse-engineered the grammar, and practiced only on Mars.

"Since you are Americans, you will not understand this movie," the young man promised, with a familiar resignation. The waiters in the restaurants with no food; the train station clerks who couldn't sell you a ticket and couldn't explain why; the librarians whose shelves were off limits: resignation flowed more reliably than water through the noisy pipes in the student dorm.

"Our history is peculiar," the young man informed us. We knew. We could exchange one dollar for fistfuls of Polish money. My Australian roommate, Kirstin, was about to visit West Germany. My Polish friend, Beata, gave Kirstin her entire month's salary, so Kirstin could bring back to Beata one spool of turquoise thread.

The movie began. Understand it? It swept me away. The 1973 film The Wedding (Wesele) manipulated images so skillfully that it might have been an amusement park ride. Through every breathtaking twist, The Wedding owned my rapidly beating heart, my flip-flopping guts, and my spine pressed against the seat.

The wedding in question was between an urban poet and a peasant. It was a bacchanalia, with orgiastic flirting, frenzied dancing, and percussive folk tunes, but there was simmering tension underneath. That juxtaposition – of celebration over the open mouth of hell – made it impossible for me to look away.

Images from The Wedding have stayed with me for forty years. A pretty young partier, her white face slick with sweat, elaborate red ribbons springing from her coiffure, stares blankly ahead. She holds a snifter of vodka in her fist, and sausages project out from between her fingers. She gulps the vodka and rotates her hand to bite off the tips of the sausages. Such crude power requires no subtitles.

There is a flashback. Years before, Polish peasants – just like those at this wedding – had sold Polish aristocrats' heads to Austrian overlords. The Austrians placed the heads in a wicker basket that bled onto the floor. A peasant whose face was caked with dirt dipped his hands into a bucket of blood. These memories are dredged up at the wedding. The poet sneers at his peasant bride. His face expresses all the hatred the elite feel for the great unwashed they try so hard to love.

I wish that I could find that earnest Polish man and tell him. No, I didn't "understand" The Wedding in that I had a command of all the facts. I didn't know that Polish nobles sometimes called serfs, my ancestors, "cattle." I didn't know that in 1900, poet Lucjan Rydel married a peasant girl as part of an effort to bridge the divide between the upper classes and the peasants, a rift that Poland's enemies reliably exploited in divide-and-conquer strategies. Only fifty-four years before Rydel's wedding, Jakub Szela led an uprising against serfdom, an uprising that took the lives of a thousand nobles. Austrian colonizers did purchase the heads of Polish nobility. Peasants brought in so many heads that the price was lowered from coins to salt.

Rather, I understood universal tensions. The poet was, in modern parlance, a well-meaning, politically correct elitist and virtue signaler who "went native" and tried to paper over tectonic divides with high ideals of universal brotherhood. The wedding guests struggled to allow the loud music – the musicians might have been playing "Kumbaya" – to unite them. This social engineering was doomed. Class conflict could not be mended with one party – nor, later, with one Party.

Other images from other films followed, in further visits to Poland and arthouse movie theaters in the US. In the 1958 film Ashes and Diamonds (Popiol i diament), a young patriot shoots a man he is convinced is part of the Communist Russian takeover of Poland. In fact, the assassin killed the wrong man – definitely once and possibly twice. Only twenty-four hours later, this assassin meets his inevitable fate. He is shot in the back. He attempts to hide from his pursuers among sheets hanging out to dry. His blood soaks through the sheets. I didn't understand all the implications of Ashes and Diamonds. I'm still not sure if it's a moral or an immoral movie. I do understand what I feel when I watch a beautiful young man stain sheets with his own blood.

In The Promised Land, (Ziemia obiecana) a 1975 film about the Industrial Revolution, robber barons celebrate while striking workers mass outside their mansions. A rock crashes through a window. The jagged rock is filmed with such skill and poetry that it becomes a character in the film. It demands, and gets, the viewer's full attention. Several moments of subsequent action are filmed from the rock's point of view. From the rock's perspective, the robber barons are marginalized and reduced in size. The rock is now in charge.

In A Love in Germany (Eine Liebe in Deutschland, 1983) race theory is demonstrated by Nazis investigating a Polish slave laborer who has had sex with a German woman. The Nazis use a tray that contains replicas of human eyeballs. Some eyeballs are typical of members of the master race; some eyeballs belong to life unworthy of life. The Pole is proven to be racially inferior. He is executed.

Maximilien Robespierre was the mastermind of the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, which took the lives of an estimated 30,000 victims. He was known as "The Incorruptible." Robespierre, scrupulous gentleman and ruthless mass murderer, is perfectly captured in brief visual gestures in the 1983 film Danton. Robespierre meets with a former ally, Georges Danton. Danton, trying to seduce Robespierre and rescue their alliance, now strained by Robespierre's mass killings, offers him a repast of French delicacies. The luxurious meal says to Robespierre, "Life can be good. Kick back and enjoy."

Danton challenges Robespierre: you want people to perfect, like the characters in novels. If they are less than perfect, you execute them. You have to love people as they really are. Danton fills a goblet level with the brim – a glass impossible to lift without splashing. By offering this to Robespierre, Danton implies: if you want to engage with life as it is, you have to get messy.

Robespierre lifts the brimful glass of blood-red wine, and, defying physics, and exercising perfect self-control, he manages to sip from it, without spilling a drop. Robespierre later sends Danton to the guillotine. His head is dropped into a wicker basket seeping blood, a visual echo from The Wedding.

I delayed seeing 2007's Katyn. The title intimidated me – it left no elbow room for what the film would entail. It's like titling a movie Auschwitz. The bulk of the film is not spectacular, genocidal bloodletting, but, rather, a focus on widows and orphans stumbling through the aftermath, women and children who had no idea what happened to their husbands and fathers. It is not till the final moments that the eponymous massacre is depicted in cold, efficient scenes. Boxy Soviet trucks drive across a dirt road in a pine forest. Soviet soldiers open the back door of one truck; a Polish army officer emerges. The Soviets rapidly force the Pole's hands behind his back, tie his wrists and neck with rope, walk him to a mass grave, and shoot him in the back of the head. He falls forward. The Soviet soldiers walk back to the truck, and pull out another Polish officer. In the distance one hears shot after shot. This is assembly-line murder.

In the 1957 film Kanal, filthy and doomed Warsaw residents fight from sewers. The film's claustrophobia and sense of defilement gave me nightmares.

And finally two films that inspired me throughout my life. Man of Marble (Czlowiek z marmuru, 1976) and Man of Iron (Czlowiek z zelaza, 1981). In Man of Marble a woman filmmaker tries to tell a story. The Communist government will not allow her to tell her story. Thwarted, she returns in frustration to her childhood home and curls up on the couch. Her father, a plump blue-collar worker, listens to her. He tells her, "You have told your story. You just told me."

The story she wanted to tell was about a Stakhanovite, a Stalinist hero. I didn't know the word "Stakhanovite." What moved me so much about this film was the focus on a woman trying to tell a story, and being thwarted at every turn. I knew the experience from graduate school in the United States.

Andrzej Wajda directed all these films. He released artistically and politically relevant films from 1954 to 2016, the year he died at age 90. Poland, as the earnest man reminded us, has had a "peculiar" history. In the twentieth century, it was occupied by European colonialism, as part of the Hapsburg, German and Romanoff Empires, and by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Wajda lived this history. His father was murdered at Katyn. Wajda himself served in the anti-Nazi, underground Home Army.

No doubt Poland's "peculiar" history inspired Wajda, but his themes are universal. He dramatizes the individual against the collective, and against the tsunami tide of history. Wajda transcribes the conversations idealists have when they are constructing their Utopias, and Wajda itemizes the price exacted by those Utopias. Wajda's individuals do not plan to be martyrs, but just by being who they are, they confront, and often succumb to, the ultimate sacrifice. In the opening of Ashes and Diamonds, a Pole who has cheated death says to other Poles who are sick of constant, ideologically-motivated killing, "Today, tomorrow, or the day after, any one of us could die. Chin up. You have to do your duty while you are alive. That's the important thing."

I feel like the above-mentioned earnest young man, the man who wanted to show us a movie he assumed we didn't want to see, in my attempt to encourage you to see Wajda's final film. Powidoki, released in America as Afterimage on May 19, 2017, tanked at the American box office. It has brought in only $24,000. There's no love story, no hope, and very few laughs. And yet for me Afterimage was a fully satisfying experience, and I want you to see it.

It's 1948. Wladyslaw Strzeminski, a fifty-something painter with international standing, is teaching a plein air class. Hania, a new student, arrives. She is dewy and lovely, and carrying a bouquet of daisies. Strzeminski stands above her on a hill. He is silhouetted against the sky; one can see that he is missing an arm and a leg. He lost both in WW I. When Strzeminski sees Hania's arrival, he rolls down the hill to meet her. His adoring students joyously follow, rolling down after him. Strzeminski delivers a spontaneous lecture. He tells his students that we see only what we are able to see. After we close our eyes and look away, an afterimage, opposite in color to what we have seen, lingers. "Every choice is good," he says, "because it is yours." His students beam at him. Hania has just developed a crush.

This is the one moment of joy, freedom, love and success Afterimage allows. Thus, it reverses the conventional bio-pic narrative arch. Usually we witness an artist's salad days, being misunderstood, alone, and poor. Eventually the artist is discovered and the film ends on a triumphant note. Not in the world controlled by Soviet Communism.

Strzeminski is in on the floor of his dingy apartment. He is working on a painting when suddenly the white canvas, and the light in his apartment, turn red. A banner celebrating Stalin has been raised over his apartment building. Strzeminski punctures the banner with his crutch. He is arrested.

A representative of the worker's paradise lectures Strzeminski in a drab office. Historians frequently debate the question: who was worse: the Nazis or the Soviets? The Soviets certainly make less stylish cinematic villains. Strzeminski inhabits a purgatory for artists, where the Communist bad guys all wear bad suits and worse haircuts and look as if they just chowed down a trough-full of potatoes. Every light switch is haloed by the grime of hundreds of fingers. Unlike Nazi Germany, there are no sexy Hugo Boss threads or shiny leather boots in this people's dystopia.

The Communist reads to Strzeminski. It's a manifesto declaring that the line between art and politics has evaporated. Art must be used to advance the workers. Individualistic art that reflects merely the impressions of the artist is decadent.

Strzeminski must acknowledge that he wrote those words himself. (Indeed, in 1936, Strzeminski named his daughter "Jakobina" – a name shared with French Revolutionaries.) But that was years ago, he says. His views have changed. With this mention of changing views, we are reminded of the opening scene. When Strzeminski, the onscreen character, recounts his theories of vision and art, he is also providing the viewer with program notes for the movie. Vision, the biological function and the metaphorical mental process, changes over time. We can never accept one vision as complete.

"Whose side are you on?" he is asked.

"On my own side," Strzeminski replies.

The Communist mixes honey with his vinegar. Join the revolution, Strzeminski is told. Create art that meets the revolution's needs. You will be rewarded with money and power.

Confronting such lures, Strzeminski is implacable. He will continue to create the art that his own individual vision demands.

Strzeminski returns to his apartment and his teaching. The naïve viewer might conclude that that wasn't so bad. Strzeminski wasn't sent to a concentration camp. That is true. He was not. Under Nazism, Germans had to confront the moral dilemma of participation in efficient and immediate genocide. In the Soviet Empire, all you had to do to compromise yourself morally was raise your hand at the same time as everyone else at a Party meeting, or withhold a bowl of soup, or a tube of paint, as we shall see.

Another Communist, this one bald, and more menacing than the first, delivers another lecture about the role of the artist in the revolution: deviation is verboten. To understand him, we must remember that Marxism understands itself to be scientific truth. An artist who creates art that deviates from Marxism's demands is comparable to a doctor who attempts to treat cancer with snake oil. That doctor is killing his patient. The non-Marxist artist is poisoning society.

Back in class, Strzeminski is delivering a lecture about Van Gogh. We tend to think of Van Gogh's art as completely subjective. Surely sunflowers and stars don't look, in real life, the way they look in Van Gogh's paintings. No, Strzeminski says. Van Gogh's work is an objective record of Van Gogh's impression. Again, vision, literal or metaphorical, changes over time, and changes depending on the viewer. This is more than a throwaway observation in a country that has lived under several different forms of government in the past hundred years. Strzeminski insists that it is the artist's job to record his own impression. The vision that springs from his individuality – apart from governing ideology – is his sacred gift.

The lecture is disrupted. Strzeminski is fired. The Neoplastic Room, founded by Strzeminski and containing art by him and his sculptor wife, Katarzyna Kobro, is "liquidated." A former student is escaping Poland for Israel. She requests his artworks entitled "To My Friends the Jews." They were inspired by his witnessing of the Lodz Ghetto. She takes the artworks to Israel for safekeeping.

If nothing else, Strzeminski might have been able to comfort himself with the thought of his disciples, his students, who will carry his work into the future. No. The Party that could not efficiently deliver consumer goods delivers betrayal quite expertly. One of Strzeminski's acolytes is pressured to turn on him by "voting" against him. His other students put on an exhibition. Thugs arrive before the grand opening and destroy each work of art. Wajda's camera shoots the empty room of shredded canvas and broken glass. We hear approaching laughter and high spirits. It is Strzeminski and his young friends. They reach the door, open it, and witness what the Party has done to their individualism, their vision. Their laughter dies.

Strzeminski had created an artwork that the Party might embrace: a mosaic in an exotic-themed café. Africans labor under colonial oppression. Strzeminski arrives at the café to see chisels gauging his ceramic images out of the wall. He is a non-person; his art must be non-art, even if it flatters party obsessions.

Strzeminski, though a celebrated artist, had lived a simple life. Every day a plump matron brought him one bowl of soup and two slices of bread. Late in the film she arrives, smiling, and ladles his soup into his bowl. He admits that he can no longer pay. She dumps the soup back into her pot. "We'll talk when you can pay." She leaves. Strzeminski stares at the bowl. He licks it.

He takes work creating propaganda posters. He coughs. He is coughing blood. He wipes the blood on a red rag. The red of the Stalin poster that overwhelmed his apartment has co-opted, and is now sucking up, his essence. His red blood disappears into the red rag, as he disappears into the collective.

At least he can create his own art in his own time – no – he goes to a paint shop, where he has purchased supplies for years, and the clerk refuses to sell to him. He is no longer a member of the recognized painters' collective that has the right to buy paint.

At least he can escape with a trip to the movies with his young daughter. No. The newsreel before the film shows Aleksandr Laktionov's Socialist Realist painting, "Into the New Apartment." A smiling, babushka-clad woman, arms akimbo and a medal on her chest, gloats over her red-and-gold walled apartment. Her belongings are at her feet in a knotted rag bundle. Next to her, a Young Pioneer displays a portrait of Stalin. Strzeminski leaves the theater in disgust.

In addition to an artist's destruction by the state, Afterimage, in brief, subtle touches, gives us an intimate portrait of Strzeminski the man. He had been married to a sculptor, but he now has no contact with Kobro. She dies without his knowledge. Their daughter, going by the nickname "Nika," is lone mourner at Kobro's funeral. She marches to the grave in a red coat. Old women chide her. "It's the only coat I have!" Nika protests. She turns it inside out, displaying the black lining.

Strzeminski is angry. Why could he not attend the funeral? "She didn't want you there," Nika must inform him.

"I wanted to bring her blue flowers. She had such blue eyes. Like yours," he tells his daughter.

"You too have blue eyes," Nika says.

Strzeminski's student, Hania, has continued to bring him daisies. These bouquets are an irritant to Nika, who does not relish sharing her father's affection with an infatuated student not much older than herself. Nika throws the daisies into the garbage. The innocence the white flowers represent is discarded.

Strzeminski is unable to reciprocate Hania's crush. He takes a bouquet, dips it in blue pigment, and lays it on his wife's grave. An artist, he transforms the blank white canvas of the white flowers into a blue reflection of his eye, of a love gift to him into a love gift to another, a gift that emphasizes the bond between him, his wife, and his daughter. That he must "re-purpose" Hania's flowers demonstrates his desperate economic plight.

I asked poet Oriana Ivy what she thought of Wajda's use of blue. Ivy said, "In Polish 'blue' has the connotation of 'heavenly' and 'free.' Artists and other exceptional people can be called 'blue / heavenly birds.' Always said with envy. As my mother would say, he's the 'lover type, not the husband type.' His kingdom is not quite of this world. There is also a phrase, 'blue almonds.' It indicates unrealistic desires about what can't be."

Penniless, hungry, ill, Strzeminski is hospitalized. His friend, poet Julian Przybos, visits him. Przybos had joined the Polish Workers' Party. Przybos has medicine. The doctor is shocked. "Where did you get medicine?" he asks. "In Switzerland," Przybos responds. As a Party member and diplomat, he travels to the West, and purchases medicine that a Pole in Poland could not access. The doctor informs Przybos that it is the right medicine, but it is too late. Even so, Przybos says to Strzeminski, "I envy you. Through everything, you have remained yourself. You produce art that is a reflection of your individuality."

Strzeminski makes a final attempt to work. He will become a clothing store's window dresser. He makes a few attempts with naked, disjointed mannequins. He is overcome and collapses in a clutter of plastic arms and legs. Shoppers passing by the window do not notice him. An artist whose art it became a crime to display, a man missing an arm and a leg, dies on display, but without witnesses.

Wajda was himself a student in Lodz at the time of Strzeminski's persecution. There is a statue in Afterimage that looks very like the Stakhanovite statue at the center of Man of Marble. One has to wonder if Afterimage was not a very personal project for Wajda.

I find it hard to explain to Americans that though I lived in countries in Africa and Asia that are among the poorest in the world, I found Soviet-era Poland to be more depressing. In Africa, people had the sense that they could change their fate through their own choices. In Poland, I felt as if some behemoth was attempting to suffocate souls, and every breath was a heroic act of defiance. In visits to Poland and Czechoslovakia, my parents' homelands, I met men like Strzeminski. These were brilliant, ambitious men who had been erased by the state. They could not publish or have contact with their professional peers. They conversed with me, an American teenager, with the urgency of the wrongfully damned pleading their case to Dante. I rarely talk about these men because I know that most people would not begin to understand. I am intensely grateful to Andrzej Wajda for creating Afterimage. This is not a depressing film; it is a masterful, sympathetic evocation of one individual who, as Przybos said, never surrendered his individuality.

Boguslaw Linda's performance as Strzeminski is seamless. One sees no acting, only Strzeminski. Bronislawa Zamachowska, who, at only 13, played Nika, brings an astounding emotional gravity to her part and great heart to the film. Zofia Wichlacz's beautiful, unguarded face perfectly captures Hania's young, doomed, obsessive love. Krzysztof Pieczynski, as Julian Przybos, communicates the decency, craftiness, and regret of the man who played his cards right in a bad situation.

I want to show Afterimage to Bernie Sanders' supporters who like to chant, "Free college!" Free college, like free everything, has a hidden cost. This film depicts one potential cost.

This essay first appeared at FrontPageMag here

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete and Bieganski