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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Owlgasm: Snowy Owl Irruption 2013 at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Photo by Brian Hansen Source
In 1983 I met a rich American man in an Indian jungle. One thing had brought this rich American man to the Indian jungle: salpornis spilonotus, the Indian spotted creeper.

This man had visited India and left, come back and left again, several times. He didn't come back for the Taj Mahal, or to volunteer with Mother Teresa, or to hear sitar or eat curry. He traveled halfway around the world, seven thousand miles, changing planes twice each trip, to see a small brown bird that spends its entire life staring at bark, looking for bugs.

"Oh," I said to the man, whom I remember as being slim, brunette, handsome and dressed nattily, and in his thirties or early forties. "That's just like our brown creeper."

Certhia americana, the brown creeper, is a look-alike American cousin of the Indian spotted creeper. The birds look so much alike that if I ran into an Indian spotted creeper in an American woodland I would probably mistake it for a brown creeper.

The otherwise cool and suave man was aghast at my comment.

"No!" he insisted. "No, the Indian spotted creeper is different! It is special!"

The man drifted away from me in the jungle and our conversation abruptly and permanently ended.

That's exactly NOT the kind of birdwatcher I want to be, I resolved. Someone so obsessed with numbers he'd return to India more than once just to tick off one bird on a list of "birds I saw in the Indian subcontinent."


At the time I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal. I used to vacation in India. I was in the Indian jungle – actually the Bharatpur wildlife sanctuary – to see Siberian cranes. That population of Siberian cranes has since gone extinct. In the intervening thirty years, Asia's human population has boomed, leaving less room for wildlife.


Two other memorable things happened during that trip to the Bharatpur wildlife sanctuary

First memorable thing.

I was trudging through the jungle. My "little voice" said inside my head, "You are going to meet Salim Ali." Salim Ali was one of India's greatest ornithologists. I was carrying his just published "A Pictorial Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent." At that moment, I looked up. An older Indian man was walking toward me. He was accompanied by some men speaking English. I approached. I asked him who he was. He was Salim Ali. I asked him to sign my copy of his book. He did. I have that book to this day.

The second memorable thing that happened to me during that trip to India was not so positive. Indian men harassed me endlessly. The December 16, 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23 year old Indian woman on a Delhi bus made world headlines. For me the news was disturbing but not new. I knew from firsthand experience what a hellhole for women and girls India can be. I came back from India wanting to punch New Age Americans in the nose. "Oh, it's Christianity that oppresses women," New Agers would say. "Oh, Hinduism has goddesses and that means Hinduism respects women," they'd say. Feh.

So, yes, barely an hour would pass in India when I wasn't being pestered by men. At one point as I hiked through Bharatpur, a group of men blocked a trail. I was alone in a jungle.

I made eye contact with the man who seemed to be the leader. I never broke eye contact. I reached into my pocket for the Swiss army knife my sister had given me as a Christmas present two years before. I opened it to the saw attachment. I marched right up to the group leader and rapidly pressed the previously unseen saw attachment to his throat. The men let me pass.


How did I become a bird watcher? Someone so interested in birds I'd risk the Indian jungle alone in order to see a Siberian crane?

I guess I must have been about three or four or five years old. I was sitting next to my mother. We were near the window in the front bedroom. She said something about the sparrows outside.

I was tremendously impressed that my mother used the word "sparrow." It is the first time I am conscious of someone using the word "sparrow."

I wondered what a sparrow was. Which of the birds in our yard, some of which were blue, some red, some yellow, some black, some grey and some brown, were "sparrows."

I wonder how my mother knew.

I was amazed that she knew, and could differentiate. Others knew "bird." My mother knew "sparrow."

I was determined to crack this code.

Ten years later. I was 14. My sister and I were driving along the Wanaque Reservoir. It is a beautiful road. Rolling hills surround the large, placid body of water.

On this day, there were dozens of vultures overhead. Something about their silhouettes against the sky looked prehistoric. They were not flapping their wings. They were merely spreading their wings tip to tip, soaring effortlessly, as if the sky were a ceiling and they were flat wallpaper affixed to it.

I was amazed then, and I remain amazed to this day, that birds can be so exotic, so present, and no one mentions them. It was as if my sister did not see these dozens of large birds. Again, I wanted to crack the code. I was better equipped at 14 than I had been at four or five, and, without ever saying that I was doing it, I requisitioned my oldest brother's binoculars. Somehow they stopped being his binoculars and became my binoculars. And I bought my first copy of Roger Tory Peterson.

I am still amazed by people who don't notice birds. One day I stood on a street corner in Bloomington, Indiana, as an accipiter – a hawk – chased a songbird through hedges. The songbird skulked, feinted, dodged. The hawk remained tight on its trail. This life-and-death struggle occurred even as pedestrians ate burritos, crossed the street, used the ATM. No one but me saw it at all.


The man in the Indian jungle is not my birdwatching ideal.

Margaret Morse Nice is the kind of birdwatcher I want to be.

Margaret Morse Nice studied birds from her kitchen window. She studied song sparrows, common birds in suburban gardens. She demolished the list-obsessive style of ornithology. In the list-centered approach, ornithologists did little more than count species, often counting birds they'd shot. Margaret Morse Nice didn't shoot birds. She didn't count birds. She didn't chase around after exotic birds. She looked out her kitchen window at song sparrows and got to know them intimately, and found wonder and science in common birds' day-to-day lives and interactions. She found beauty and scientific breakthroughs in everyday birds.

Margaret Morse Nice is one of my heroes.


It is winter, 2013. Snowy owls are irrupting. They are appearing far south of their normal range.

Because snowy owls live in the land of the midnight sun, they can be diurnal – active during the day. They live in a treeless tundra, so when they come south they prefer open country. Given their daylight activity, their preference for open country, and their striking plumage, when snowy owls irrupt, many see them and become excited. The news travels.

For the past couple of weeks, I kept seeing news updates about the snowy owl irruption. I itched, I ached to see a snowy owl, a bird I'd never seen before. There are many in New Jersey.

I hesitated, though. I didn't want to be the kind of birder that that man I met in Bharatpur had been. I didn't want to obsess over ticking off a number on a list. I didn't want to obsess on one species of bird.

But what a species. Snowy owls. So majestic, so beautiful.

Too, being poor for so long, I've gotten really used to denying myself. I can't do this. I can't do that. No, no, no. I've lost room for "yes" in my vocabulary. Lost room for hope or excitement or enthusiasm. There's just no room for any horizon in my life any more.

I begged friends to go with me to look for snowy owls. They told me to get lost. Bastards. I thought of all the hours I've spent doing things that strike me as torture: going to garage sales, for example.

Recently I blogged about a cousin who unfriended me on Facebook, and blocked me, because she got a sex change operation and I referred to her as "she" rather than "he."

One thing I hate about that whole drama is this: people who insist on the change in pronouns seem to be saying that there are two genders: one likes high heel shoes, lipstick, and shopping. The other likes flannel shirts, fixing things with hammers, and watching football on TV.


There are a multiplicity of genders. I am a ferociously heterosexual woman who hates garage sales, hates shopping for anything except food, never wears makeup, and yearns to spend every spare minute in the woods, tromping through mud, being bitten by mosquitoes and blackflies in summer, losing sensation in my fingers and toes in winter, standing stock still for lengthy periods of time to ascertain whether the warbler I am staring at has barring on its chest or not.

On those rare occasions when people give me presents, once every ten years or so, they give me generic feminine items. Sweet smelling soap. Hand cream. You know what I want? Outdoor gear. Never get it. Except for that one time my sister gave me a Swiss army knife. Best thing she ever did.

How many women like me are there out there? Not enough, I'll tell you that. But however many of us there are, we are our own gender. Do we demand our own specific pronoun? NO! So don't waste my time with your demand that I assign you your own pronoun.

Couldn't find a damn soul to go owl hunting with me. Bastards, and again bastards. I have no friends.


Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore. I awoke yesterday morning and saw that the apartment was dark and my radio alarm was not blaring. I checked the clock. Four thirty a.m. Time to get up. I tried to convince my body that it really ought to use the smallest room in the house; otherwise, I'd have to use a grotty, contagion-ridden, roadside gas station restroom. My body barely cooperated. I could not get it to eat, though. I popped some popcorn, shoveled that into a bag, filled a canteen with water, and headed out into the freezing, predawn darkness.

The car was covered with ice. I do not have an ice scraper. I just bought the car. It is very old. I hoped it would make it. I started the car up, knowing it would warm up and the ice on the windows would melt. It did.

I reviewed my instructions. I tried to commit them to memory. I began to drive, and I rapidly discovered that I really ought to have eyeglasses.

I haven't driven in a long time. I haven't driven hundreds of miles in a really long time. I've never driven to this area of New Jersey.

The sun rose somewhere south of where the giant beer bottle used to rise over New Jersey. I remember those trips down the shore with my father. I wondered how dad was doing, and where he was. Daddy would have driven me to see this owl. He wasn't a perfect father, but he liked to drive, and he was willing to drive us anywhere. He would have brought a newspaper, and sat in the car reading the paper while I sought out the owl. God rest his soul. I hope there are newspapers wherever he is.

I rapidly discovered, by the passing cars, that I am the slowest person on the road. No, wait. My God, there is someone slower than I! Passed. Amazed at how well I drive. You never forget.

It took me two and a half hours, non-stop. I was not concerned about how I'd find the owl. I knew there would be other birders there. There were.

A gray haired couple emerged from a Prius. They had serious equipment. A spotting scope, and the man had a harness to hold his binos on his chest. I immediately felt the kind of envy I do not feel when I see a girl in a pretty dress. I do not want the pretty dress. I want the binocular harness.

"I'm looking for the snowy owl," I said to these people who were strangers only for the moment.

"Snowy owls," the man said. "There have been so many, it's almost passé."

I felt deflated.

"Follow us," the man said.

I did. Never for a second did I question following two strangers in the early morning quiet through a wilderness area. Birdwatchers. Good people. No question. Just show me one serial killer who was also a birdwatcher.

The Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge trail we followed was a rutted road through brackish marshes. Atlantic City's skyline is visible along most of the eight mile loop. We hadn't gone far when a very familiar form rocketed past my right window.

Birdwatchers know birds like parents know their children's faces, even if we've never seen the bird in life. I knew exactly what that bird was, even though I'd never seen one before.

My guides pulled over. I did, too. I jumped out of the car. "Holy shit!" I shouted.

"Yup, peregrine."

A peregrine falcon! The fastest animal on earth! I've wanted to see one for so long. And there it was!

We drove on. My guides pulled over again. A bald eagle!

We drove on. My guides pulled over. There was a knot of cars in front of us. They were all facing a white blob on the marsh. My heart beat fast.

I could tell by my guides' happy faces that this was what I'd driven two and a half hours to see.

I raised my binoculars.



A beautiful creature. She lives in the Arctic, and she is colored like it, and she has brought it down to us. Who wouldn't want to see this? The polar bears and the narwhals and the musk ox could not make it to Jersey this year, but the snowy owl did. How could we resist her fascinating allure?

We stood and stared.

She had some blood on her beak. Perhaps she had just killed one of the beautiful ducks we also enjoyed seeing. She gazed at us with her golden eyes. She yawned.

We looked at her for about five minutes, and then we moved on.

I chatted with my guides toward the end of the loop. He is a retired high school chemistry teacher. He leads birdwatching trips.

After driving around the eight mile loop, I parked my car and walked the eight mile loop.

The peregrine perched on a refuge sign and allowed us birdwatchers to approach within six feet. I'd normally never approach a wild bird so close, but I had to, to pass on the trail. It was tremendously exciting for me to get so close to such a celebrity of the bird world. A bald eagle posed in profile on a nest platform as if for a calendar. The national anthem began singing itself in my head.

The pintails, green winged teal, shoveler ducks and hooded mergansers were every bit as gorgeous as the snowy owl, though less exotic.

When I returned, I asked at headquarters how the owl news had affected the refuge. The volunteer at the desk said that last year on that date they'd had 45 visitors. He said that this year, in just a few hours, they'd had over a hundred. The day was nowhere near finished.

In the parking lot, I saw license plates from Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Ohio, and Massachusetts, as well as New Jersey.

I don't know how to say this without sounding ponderous, but my day spent in nature yesterday looking at birds in a marsh where the loudest thing I heard was the wind through the marsh grasses, the honking of geese and the quacking of wild ducks was the most healing day I've spent in a very long time. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution" by John L. Allen, Jr. Book Review

John L. Allen Jr.'s book "The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution" is required reading for all serious Christians, as well as anyone who cares about world peace and human rights. Christians are the most numerous among victims of those persecuted for their religious beliefs; "80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians" (9). Christians face persecution in more countries than the followers of any other religion (34). One estimate: every hour, every day, for the past decade, eleven Christians have been killed. Christianity in the Middle East is experiencing a genuine genocide.

Persecution includes harassment, second class status, denial of employment, individual exile, mass expulsion, imprisonment, torture, rape, crucifixion, and death.

"Does anybody hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before somebody, somewhere" pays any attention at all, asks the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem (15). "The world remains totally silent. It's as if we've been swallowed up by the night," says a Christian in Iraq (138). "The failure of Christian leaders in the West, and especially in the United States, to speak our more forcefully in defense of beleaguered Christians" is nothing short of scandalous (212).

John L. Allen works for CNN, the National Catholic Reporter, and National Public Radio. He is a superb writer and "Global War" is an excellent read. You may hesitate to read this book because you cringe from accounts of torture and other human rights abuses. Jettison that hesitation. I cried only once while reading this book. For the most part, Allen writes drily, e.g., "So and so was beaten, raped, and killed." He does not linger over the kind of poignant detail that would make this book a very difficult read exactly for the kind of compassionate person who needs to read it. You will be able to get through this important book. There are no graphic scenes of upsetting material.

Read properly, this book won't depress you; it will inspire you. The people in these pages are heroes of unimpeachable courage and faith. They prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. There is no finer example than the Burundi seminarians. In 1997, African seminarians had taken an Easter retreat on the theme of Christian brotherhood. Shortly thereafter, murderous rebels invaded their seminary and demanded to know who was a member of the Hutu tribe, and who was Tutsi, with the intention of massacring the Tutsi. The seminarians and staff refused to say. They knew full well they all faced death for their refusal to give in to ethnic hatred. They were martyred.

Christians are the most persecuted persons of faith on the planet for a few simple, easy to grasp reasons. First, Christianity is the largest religion on the planet. Second, Christians live on all continents in significant numbers. Third, the ideologies most likely to oppress persons of faith, Islam and the Left, include overt, foundational doctrines opposed to Christianity in particular (Allen does not state this). Fourth, Christian doctrine itself, given its elevation of conscience and compassion over raw power, turns Christians into targets for oppressors. Fifth, the Christian practice of "turning the other cheek" encourages some to conclude that Christians will not cause any trouble to those who harm them. Sixth, Christianity suggests a supra-national identity as a Christian as something greater than ethnic or party affiliation; this threatens nationalists and totalitarians.

Allen amply documents the assertion that there is a global war on Christians with material from easily accessible and respected sources, including secular ones like the Pew Forum, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the US Department of Homeland Security. He uses statistics and case studies.

Allen cautions: there is no single enemy or remedy; concerned persons must not respond with sensationalism or violence. Allen thoroughly rejects scapegoating of any group, including Muslims; he honors Muslims who themselves have been martyred in defense of Christians. Members of any or no religion can persecute Christians, including Buddhists. Buddhist monks have participated in acts of violent persecution of Christians. Allen acknowledges that Christians can and do persecute other Christians. He tells the story of Maria Elizabeth Macias Castro, who exposed drug cartel activity in Mexico. In a very Catholic country, drug dealers killed her.

The stories Allen tells, without any hint of sensationalism or sentimentality, are extreme. In Egypt, Muslims pour sulfuric acid on Coptic Christians' cross tattoos in order to remove them. In Orissa, India, mobs carry out a pogrom of Christian homes. In Pakistan, a Christian faces death for drinking from a "Muslim" well. In Ivory Coast, two Christian brothers are crucified. In Afghanistan, a Christian is imprisoned for handing a Bible to someone.

Allen argues that in considering whether or not a victim can be counted as a victim of Christian persecution, one must consider the motives of the victim as well as that of the victimizer. Sister Dorothy Stang was murdered in the Amazon for helping poor farmers to resist land grabs by rich, powerful ranchers, and for raising awareness of the environmental price of deforestation. She read the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the peacemakers" to her killers.

Christophobes will inevitably argue that the persecuted deserved their fates. Nonsense. Christian martyr Shahbaz Bhatti "defended the rights of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims." He opened a free school with an entirely Muslim student body (91).

Allen's book ends with suggestions for action. Those concerned for persecuted Christians, Allen recommends, should pray, they should get the word out about persecution, they should come to realize that the Christian church is a global phenomenon, they should donate to existing charitable organizations and create their own innovative charities, they should involve their own political leaders, and they should aid resettled refugees. They should do all this in partnership and consultation with those being persecuted.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

American Christians Worked Up about Duck Dynasty; Continue to Ignore "Genocide" in CAR

A magazine that publishes photographs like this is being treated as the new Christian Bible.
It teaches about vaginas and anuses from the mouth of a reality show TV star. American Christians applaud! 
Photographs like this, of an alleged "genocide" of African Christians by Muslim Seleka soldiers, and counter massacres by Christians of Muslims, don't arouse the same interest. 
Christians are rushing to defend Phil Robertson, aka the "Duck Commander" the television star of a reality show called "Duck Dynasty." It's about Southern hunters. I do not own a TV and I have no idea what transpires on this program, although I imagine it involves hunting ducks.

Robertson was interviewed by Gentleman's Quarterly, a magazine. In his interview, Robertson stated that, to a penis, a vagina probably feels better than an anus.

A&E, the producers of "Duck Dynasty," has suspended Phil Robertson.

Christians are rushing to defend Robertson and his statement. They say that Robertson is a victim, and that A&E violates freedom of speech, and that Robertson speaks Biblical truth.

Okay, let's review.

Christians are grasping onto something so trivial as a reality television show as the raft of their faith.

They are insisting that a man who was disciplined by his employer is a "victim" of "free speech" violation. Oh, nonsense. Robertson is a rich man, a television star, and his boss also has rights and can exercise them.

Christians are rushing to Gentleman's Quarterly, a publication based on lust, greed, and power, as their new spiritual text. Gentleman's Quarterly is a step below Playboy. Flip through its pages. You will see movie stars, politicians, expensive products, and naked women.

Christians, how dare you disgrace your faith by rushing to Gentleman's Quarterly as your Bible?

And, since we're talking Bible here, tell me where in the Bible God tells us that vaginas feel better than anuses?

When I was a child, no decent Christian used words like "vagina" or "anus" in public.

Do I have to say it? Shame on all of you.

While Christians are getting all worked up over their hatred of choice – homosexuals – what are Christians NOT devoting time to?

I was once a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Central African Republic. I know it as one of the poorest, most isolated, and most martyred places on earth.

Right now utterly defenseless Christians, whose ancestors, up to the twentieth century, were the prey of Muslim slave drivers, are currently being massacred by Muslims in the CAR, and some are lashing out and killing Muslims back.

Are American Christians paying any attention to this massacre, which some are calling a "genocide"?

It appears not. They are too busy getting excited that a blowhard reality TV star, and a magazine that features pictures of naked women, shares their hatred of homosexuals.

Prophet Jeremiah, we need you today. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What I Learned from Teaching about People, Democrats, and Republicans

"Red" was giving me a very hard time. I won't outline Red's offenses here, but they were bad. I had to pull Red aside for a long, harsh talk. I had to send Red an email threatening hellfire and damnation.

It was pretty clear that Red hated me. I overheard Red talking about me with another student. Oh. The. Hate.

That was just fine by me. I hated Red, too. I joke with my students, "I hate all my students equally." Because I think it's corny to say "I love all my students equally." I really hated Red more, though.

One reason I hated Red was that Red was forcing me to be a harsh, unsmiling, disciplinarian, my least favorite role. It's a lot of hard work. Being a disciplinarian requires focus and concentration, energy I'd rather devote to intellectual activity, rather than to cracking the whip.

I cracked the whip, though. I cracked the whip because that is my job, and I really believe that that is my best service to Red.

I thought Red would cut and run. I was surprised to see Red continuing to come to class.

Red settled down.

I began to forget that Red had ever given me a problem. I began to notice Red's beautiful smile and sparkly eyes.

Late in the semester, Red came to me with some work. I had a look at it. Red pointed to a certain spot in the paper, and said, "I was going to make this mistake here, but I heard your voice inside my head, and I didn't make that mistake."

Of course my heart glowed, but I didn't show any expression on my face.

Later, Red came to me with the same piece of work. Red had made some changes I asked for.

I read the revised work, and realized I'd give it an A right then and there, but I didn't want to say that, because other students had not handed in their work yet. Also, since Red had improved the work so much, and this was just an intermediary version of it, and Red had plans to work on it some more, I didn't want to say, "Excellent, finished; I'll give you an A now."

I wanted Red to keep going, as Red obviously wanted to do. To see how far Red could take this paper. So I resolved to withhold some praise, for now.

When I raised my head after I'd finished reading, all I said was, "That was pretty good."

Red's face burst into a beautiful smile; Red's eyes sparkled.

"Hearing what you just said felt so good," Red said.


"Billy" was a good student, but then made one false move that should have meant not only failing my class, but perhaps being expelled from school, if I reported it all the way up the chain of command.

I put on the costume I have to put on at such moments – bulletproof armor. I hardened my heart. I let the hammer down. I allowed not a drop of warmth or familiarity into my speech. It was as if Billy and I had never met.

Billy cried. (I don't want to say if Billy is male or female, but I have made male students cry. It doesn't feel particularly good – or bad. I don't plan to make students cry. I plan to uphold standards. It's just part of the job.)

Billy trembled.

I let some time pass. Let the consequences sink in.

Billy approached me. Asked me to withhold punishment. Asked to be allowed to make good.

Billy made good. Very, very, very good. Billy achieved something so academically impressive that I wish I could describe it here. To describe it would violate Billy's anonymity, so I cannot. Let's just say that Billy performed in such a manner that Billy could have competed with people much more highly placed in the academic hierarchy.


Red and Billy are both "disadvantaged" students. Non-white. Students white people like me are supposed to pity. Students about whom we are supposed to have low expectations, for whom we are supposed to exercise lower standards.


I am talking about two real students, Red and Billy. But this happens just about *every semester.*

Students come in to my class expecting to perform to low standards. From my syllabus, they learn that I have higher expectations.

Some chafe. Many drop out. Many hate my guts.

Some stick around and – and this is the point of this whole post – they raise their expectations to the level that is asked of them.

The bar rises, and, after some resistance, they raise their performance level.


Want people to do better?

Here's a thought: Why not ask them to do better?

Why not stop rewarding bad behavior?

Why not reward good behavior?

Why not get rid of white guilt and pity as ways of treating people?


My syllabi, the documents students receive on the first day of class, are six pages long, single space, small font. One typical syllabus is four thousand words long.

I tell students that they must arrive in class on time, and the consequences for arriving late. I tell students that they cannot sleep in class. That they lose points for not being polite. When assignments are due. How assignments are to be formatted. That they can't wear baseball caps in class. That they should not send me emails telling me their excuse for not meeting criteria.

I tell students EXACTLY where the bar is.

As the semester progresses, I devote a lot of time to policing the bar. It's a lot of work, work many teachers would prefer not to do. It takes time and a willingness to be hated.

Some read just the first half of the first page of the syllabus, discover that they can't wear baseball caps in class, and walk out.

Some resolve to meet expectations. Then, about a week and a half into the semester, they start sending me sad emails. It was raining. Their car wouldn't start. The printer they tried to use on campus five minutes before class began didn't work as expected. It was somebody's birthday and there was a big party.

I am mean. I tell them that excuses don't count. I make some allowances … but these students often disappear on their own, no matter how many allowances I make. They have some internal clock that will not allow them too many successes, too much good feeling. And so they fold and disappear.

So I tell students, on day one, in the lengthy syllabus, what is expected of a successful student. And then I assume what is for me an unnatural role, enforcer of standards. And I am hated.

But I do my best not to move that bar.

And, every semester, there are students who perform up to that level.


I used to be very "nice." I used to weep when students wept. I used to spend money on students. I used to try to solve their problems. If a student couldn't make it to class because of a colicky baby, I'd offer to babysit the infant so the student could do the work.

The nicer I was to students, the less demand I made of them, the more likely they were to fail.

Yes. Really. The nicer I was to students, to lower the standards, the more money and time I spent, the more likely the student was to fail.

It's as if the student turned into a jellyfish. Stopped doing *anything.* Just assuming I would take care of everything.

The opposite is not true. It's not true that the more demanding I am, the more likely a student is to succeed.

Rather, this is what is true – I never know which student is going to turn out to be a Red or a Billy at the end of the semester. I never know which student is going to respond to a raised bar with a raised performance.

But my being a strict upholder of standards – a "psycho bitch" or, of course, a "Nazi" as some students would have it – allows the Reds and the Billies to improve their game and reach a level of performance there was no room for, otherwise.

As long as teachers look at students like Red and Billy and decide, "Non-white, from a deprived neighborhood; it's my job to pity this person and have low expectations of him or her," there is no room for Red or Billy to clear a high bar.


Politics? I used to be a leftist. So far left I was a fellow traveler for a short while in my misspent youth.

Moving to the right was a glacially slow, deliberative process.

One of my steps to the right was taken after I realized how my pity approach to teaching was not serving my students.

Is there an analogy here? Of course there is. I and others in cities like Paterson, Camden, Newark, Detroit, Chicago, etc, are surrounded by it.

I used to think that the Democrats were the party that served the poor. One day I heard David Horowitz speak. At the time, I thought Horowitz was comparable to Satan.

Horowitz said, "Look at the worst cities in your state – Paterson, Newark, and Camden. They've all had Democratic governance for decades."

Ding! The sound of a bell going off.

The right stands for placing a clear bar where all can see it and hone their performance to reach that bar.

The left focuses, not on the athlete, but on the referee. The referee must jettison standards, must pity, must allow. Because, after all, this athlete is African American or Hispanic, and can't do as well.

Not surprisingly, Democratic polices have resulted in lowered standards of behavior.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"I Am Malala" Book Review

"I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban" by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb is stunningly written and important. There is a problem at its heart: Malala is a refugee from Islamic gender apartheid, and she cannot state that plainly. Her dilemma in no way diminishes the power of this excellent book, which should be read, learned from, and savored by millions worldwide.

Christina Lamb, Malala's co-writer, faced a tough challenge. Lamb, courageously, uses Malala's childlike voice to talk about girlhood friendships and rivalries, about reading the "Twilight" books and praying to be taller, and she also writes about the sweep of history in that same, youthful voice. Geopolitics through the eyes of a brave little girl: Lamb's literary feat is admirable.

Pakistan was founded in 1947. Muslims living in the British Empire's Indian Subcontinent demanded their own country. They got two: Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh. Perhaps a million people were killed, as Muslims and Hindus were forced to relocate to satisfy the demand for two new Muslim countries. Pakistan has been in trouble ever since, with assassinations and imprisonments of its leaders, lawlessness in its Northwest Frontier Provinces, and wars with and terror attacks on India. Pakistan famously hosted Osama bin Laden at the time of his death. Pakistan's mistreatment of women is infamous around the world. Gang rape and imprisonment for rape victims are practiced in Pakistan as legal remedies.

Christians are killed just for being Christians; Muslims are killed for criticizing Islam. Governor Salman Taseer was killed for criticizing human rights abuses of Christians. Taseer's assassin is treated as a hero. Pakistan is corrupt, and runs on bribes and nepotism. Malala's father had trouble opening his school because of this. During Malala's short lifetime, there has been a devastating earthquake and flood. Conspiracy theories are rife: America is responsible for Pakistani flooding; Jews carried out 9-11; the polio vaccine was invented by Americans to sterilize Muslims. Hepatitis, from dirty needles, is rampant. Thousands of schools are "ghosts," receiving funds, staffed by, and educating, no one.

In this troubled country, Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai is a true hero. Without much money, he was determined to open a school. Contrary to Pakistani social norms, he cherished his daughter and educated her. It was the very idealistic Ziauddin who raised Malala to be the heroine she is today.

Ziauddin told his family to toss coins and candies into his baby girl's cradle. This congratulatory, celebratory gesture is normally saved for boys. Ziauddin had noticed, when he was growing up, that he was served cream, milk, eggs, and chicken breast, while his sisters received tea, no milk, no eggs, and chicken necks.

Malala describes conditions for women in Swat: women don't vote, don't leave their houses except with a male guardian, and aren't educated. Arranged marriages to much older men often end tragically. A fifteen-year-old neighbor who made the mistake of falling in love was poisoned by her family in an honor killing. A girl could be forced to marry a bad man in order to settle a tribal feud. Malala's mother could not read.

There is no clear, bright line between "good" Muslims in Pakistan who want education, peace, women's rights and coexistence, and "bad" Muslims. In each household, in each family, in each heart, there are confused desires and loyalties. Malala's own mother at first supported the very terrorists who shot her own daughter. Malala's father, Ziauddin, once prayed "O Allah, please make war between Muslims and infidels so I can die in your service and be a martyr." Later he denounced this thinking as the result of "brainwashing." In Malala's hometown bazaar, you could buy posters and candy boxes emblazoned with heroic images of Osama Bin Laden.

One woman gave her gold jewelry to the Taliban. When she flinched during explosions, her husband chided her: "There goes your nose ring; there go your bangles." Indeed, Malala reports that the Pakistan government and security services are implicated in support of the very terrorists they claim to be fighting, and taking money from America for fighting.

Those advancing jihad and gender apartheid cite Islamic scripture and practice as support. As one mullah put it, if anyone can show Islamic support for the education of females, that person "can come and p--- on my beard."

Ziauddin and Malala try to say that Islam is all about peace, education, and equality between men and women, but they don't cite any Muslim scripture or practice to support this claim. In fact the Koran and hadith describe women as deficient in intelligence and religion.

Malala describes in detail the encroachment of the Taliban on day to day life in Swat Valley. She describes the Taliban listening at keyholes, sadistically killing neighbors, including a poor dancing girl, and black fires as confiscated TVs and DVD players burn. Malala grew up in Swat, proud of the Buddhist monasteries and stupas that once graced the region. The Taliban arrived and destroyed them, as they destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas.

Many of her neighbors supported all this. They saw it as true Islam. Malala's mother approved of the restrictions on women. Ziauddin's teachers went to work on Taliban construction projects. A barber lost money because Islam approves beards; the barber praised the Taliban, afraid to speak out. "It was as though everyone were in a trance."

Not so, Malala dear They approved, at least some of it. Because of this approval, those who planned and carried out the attack on Malala are still at large. This is how deep the approval, or at least tolerance, of jihad runs – Ziauddin hired a man to teach Malala to memorize the Koran. This man told Malala that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a good thing because Benazir "Was not following Islam properly." Ziauddin told Malala to continue to learn from this mullah!!!

"If you have a headache and tell the doctor you have a stomachache, how can the doctor help? You must speak the truth," Ziauddin says. And yet further down the same page, Malala says "What was happening in Swat was not about Islam." Very good people like Ziauddin and Malala will not bring on the new day they crave until they speak the truth about the headache all Muslims confront.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Moment at the End of the Semester

Winslow Homer. The Country School 
Teacher: "That concludes this long lecture on a possibly obscure topic. And this is our final class.

Here's the takeaway. In this class you learned how to assess sources. How to formulate questions. How to perform research.

After you leave this class, throughout the rest of your life, people are going to throw information at you, as if you were a soldier on a battlefield bombarded with information.

'Buy this! Sign up for this! Worship this! Join this!'

Pitchmen of various types will toss big words at you, packaged in incomprehensible sound bites: 'Remember what the Nazis did! So sign this petition!' Or, 'We can't take that route! Remember what happened to the Albigensians!'

Now you know how to handle that. If someone tells you to remember what happened to the Albigensians, or mentions some other word you're not familiar with, you can research it. You don't have to be in the dark.

I enjoyed this class. Keep in touch."

The students sit on the edge of their seats, looking at the teacher. She had meant to end, and to dismiss, class, but they are waiting.

"You can't let it go at that," one of them says.

"Yeah, you have to tell us," another demands.

"What?" she asks.

"What happened," they must know before they will leave, "to the Albigensians?"

It was one of my most beautiful moments as a teacher.

In that class, we talked about the films of Leni Riefenstahl, and Aztec human sacrifice, and whether or not a white man can rescue African American folklore, and the Parthenon's lack of right angles, and what that means.

They kept up with everything.

I can't say how often a colleague says to me, "You have them read *that*????" or "You discuss *that*??? With *our* students?"

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What It Meant to be a Christian Today; Switching on One Light Rather than Wallowing in Darkness

Lighting a Candle by Friiskiwi 
This is what it means to me today to be a Christian.

Some people hurt me yesterday. Their identities don't matter and I won't report their identities here.

I can say that they hurt me on purpose, and they hurt me because they perceived themselves as receiving some psychological or perhaps Darwinian reward from hurting me.

I am vulnerable to them. I have been trying for years to be helpful to them and supportive of them, especially in the last little while.

So, I was hurt. Physical pain, dark, troubled thoughts.

I didn't want to lose a minute more to their sadism than I had to.

A couple of my atheist acquaintances have insisted to me, with the determined orthodoxy of the zealot, that anyone who was abused as a child must be scarred for life. There is no such thing as free will, they insist. There is no such thing as soul. There is no such thing as choice or personal responsibility. We are all nothing but mechanical wind-up toys. If someone hurts you, you will hurt yourself or someone else.

So my atheist acquaintances insist.

See, though, the universe is not purely mechanical. You can bless loaves and fishes and feed a multitude. You can be an abused kid and not turn into an abuser. You can be hurt as an adult by the same people who hurt you when you were a child and you can choose not to be scarred.

So, back to yesterday.

I dealt with my pain by going for a walk.

During my walk, bad words did enter my head. I did think about revenge. To that extent, I am a mechanical wind-up toy. I do lack free will. Someone hurts me; I want to hurt back.

I saw that I was thinking bad words and vengeful thoughts, and I realized that that doesn't mesh with the faith I profess. I didn't even have to banish the bad words or vengeful thoughts, because my brain was going a mile a minute, and I just cruised past that neighborhood into mute, deep sorrow.

Days are short this time of year so I outwalked the sun, and had to turn back to Paterson in darkness. I was a bit scared. An SUV driven by an African American woman pulled into my portion of the sidewalk. I thought I might be about to be kidnapped as a sex slave, or I might be in luck. I was in luck. The driver offered me a ride home. God bless her

I was still hurt. I was alone in my apartment. Talking to others helps; I had no one at hand to talk to. I debated with myself about posting on Facebook about the ugly thing that happened, but I decided that posting risked more harm than good. I would have to say publicly what these easily identifiable people did to me. I didn't want to tarnish their reputations. Often people respond to others' pain by badmouthing the perpetrator. I rarely feel any benefit from hearing others badmouthed. Rather what I want to hear is how to retain equilibrium when being hit hard. I remained mum.

This morning I woke up and still didn't know how to address what happened yesterday.

I knew I had to address it.

I decided to give it time.

I prayed for guidance.

I'm an adult now, and the worst of what was done to me is behind me. I thought about all the kids being abused right now. I thought about how bleak their lives are. Abusers want to feel good about some aspect of their lives, and so they choose to abuse others as a route to feeling good. We are their drug of choice. Our bodies, our days, our plans, our hopes, our psyches, our health. We are their chew toys.

I thought of what a shock it was for me when I emerged from the abusive home and met people who were nice to me. Compliments – what a shock! People treating me with respect – what a shock! People honoring commitments to me – what a shock! People inviting me over for dinner – Wow!

I thought of Karla Thrush, a Facebook friend, saying that she likes my writing.

Courtesy, compliments, concern directed at me. All big shocks. All very educational.

You start to respect yourself, value yourself. You start to realize how crazy your family is. You actually start to pity your family.

When I interact with those who abused me in my childhood, and they are abusive again, it reminds me of all those past hurts, and the shock of emerging, of being treated with respect.

I began going through my mail. I found a solicitation for donations from the Humane Society. Groups I donated to last year are asking for this years' donation.

In some cases, I have not given. That's because my medical bills, which I am handling out of pocket, without insurance, are intimidating me.

This morning, I thought about yesterday's ugly event. I thought about what I could do to change the world. To bring more light into it.

I wrote out a big check to the Humane Society.

That's what it meant to me to be a Christian today.

To be hurt yesterday.

Not to lash out, but to wait for insight on how best to handle the pain.

Not to overeat. Not to drink more alcohol than is suitable for my body. Not to say things publicly that might hurt others, others I don't want to hurt, no matter how they treated me. Not to get revenge. Not to swear a lot.

To use what puny powers I have to reverse the crappy thing. To witness a world that hates, and to manifest love. To bring more light into the world.

Why? Because of Jesus. That's it. I want to be true to him.

As I mentioned, above, I'm not a particularly good person. I did want revenge. I fantasized revenge. What I am is someone who tries to make choices that mesh with my beliefs. Small choices about small things, because I am a small person.

The point is, I can make those small choices for the good, and I do, and I do because of Jesus. 

"Kingdom of Heaven" 2005 Ridley Scott. Crusades Emasculated and Lobotomized by PC and FX

Let's get this out of the way right up front: Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven" stinks. It's one of the worst movies I've ever seen, in any category. In spite of its well-earned bad reviews, I went to enjoy the spectacle. Mistake. You could get more Medieval spectacle by flipping through an illustrated children's book about the Middle Ages. Or, you could watch a decent movie set in the same era, from "Becket" to "El Cid" to "The Adventures of Robin Hood." Heck, you could watch "Monty Python's Spamalot." "Kingdom of Heaven" was lobotomized and emasculated by Political Correctness and Special Effects. The movie is so diluted by its own wishy-washy Political Correctness that it doesn't even have narrative drive.

There is no side to root for, no character pursuing a long-term goal, no big idea being fought over. All that blood and sand and buckled swash of the Crusades v. the Islamic Jihad, was over nothing more important than Orlando Bloom's good looks.

This complete lack of a point doesn't just make the movie mind- and butt-numbingly boring, it also makes it ironic. If nothing else, people on both sides – both Crusaders and Jihadis – *believed* in what they were doing. To make a movie about this conflict in which no one believes in anything is to make a movie about high fashion in which there are no skinny women. It's completely pointless.

This would have been a much better movie if Scott had had the balls to pick a side, any side, and present it, in all its fire-breathing passion and wrong-headed intensity. I wouldn't have cared if he had picked the Crusaders' side or the Jihadis' side.

I can't help but compare this film to Oliver Hirschbiegel's "Downfall," a movie about Hitler's final days, or even Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will." Both films feature heinous characters, like Hitler and Goebbels, who believe a vile philosophy. Both are excellent films. That both films present a point of view – even a completely wrong point of view – in all its intensity gives the viewer much to think about, and could be used to contribute to ethical debate.

"Kingdom of Heaven's" plot is ridiculous. One example: leaders choose to keep a very bad man alive, knowing that this very bad man will lead to a bloodbath of the entire city of Jerusalem, just because a former blacksmith tells them not to kill him. Huh? Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis and Jeremy Irons are completely wasted. Ridley Scott should have to convert to Catholicism just so he can confess his sins against these fine actors.

Ghassan Massoud, as Saladin, alone has enough charisma to shine. Aroused audience awareness of him may be the only good thing to come from "Kingdom of Heaven." The movie drags, drifts, and then falls flat. When you're yawning and looking at your watch during a violent siege that's a very bad sign. There are lots of pretty costumes and sets, but nothing happens in them, so, who cares? As many male viewers commented, at least in Oliver Stone's "Alexander" you got to see Rosario Dawson's naked breasts.

Just one example of how dumb this movie is. In a field of corpses, thousands of obviously computer-generated vultures feed. Two problems – they have the profiles of bats, not vultures. Bats are mammals, you see. And these "vultures" make the sounds of migrating cranes. Cranes eat frogs, insects, seeds, and berries, *not* human flesh. Throughout that whole scene, I could hardly keep from laughing. Not the correct reaction to a scene of carnage.

Not many people would know that that was the sound of cranes, you say? Well, is that the kind of intellectual integrity you want in a movie about conflict between Christians and Muslims, especially in an era when this conflict is still very much alive? "Kingdom of Heaven" is simple-minded in its Politically Correct hatred of Christians and Christianity, and its elevation of Islam above all criticism. That's not what makes it a bad movie, though. For what makes it a bad movie, see above.

In any case, the filmmaker's arrogance shines through his PC. In laughable scenes, a European blacksmith teaches ignorant Middle Easterners about *wells*, so that they will have water. Good grief. Are we to believe that people in the Middle East didn't know what wells were until reluctant Crusader Orlando Bloom arrived? And, if that's true, wouldn't that ultimately make the Crusades a very good thing? You had a lot of thirsty people till 1187.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pope Francis is TIME Magazine's "Person of the Year."

After John Paul II passed away, and while the media was awash in coverage of his funeral, JD, one of my hardcore atheist friends on the internet, said something I'll never forget.

JD's father had died before that. And, a couple of days after his death, she got a phone call from him! Her phone malfunctioned in such a way that it rang, she picked it up, and it was a recording of her father!

I said to her, "See? See? He was trying to contact you!"

And she was like, "No, no, just a coincidence. Just a malfunction."

Anyway, after John Paul II died and the funeral was all over the media, JD said, longingly, "I've been watching John Paul II's funeral coverage, and I so yearn for the days when I was an observant Catholic. I miss all that."

Oh, JD, why not just return to the church?

I know my church is imperfect. I also know I will probably never leave it. It gets so much right, so much that I value with a tenderness and love I feel for few other things.

People try to turn me against my church, and they have no idea what they are doing. The love I feel for my church is something about which they have not got one clue.

Celebrating, with an imperfect Catholic's pride, TIME magazine naming Pope Francis "Person Of The Year."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela as a Facebook Headshot. Memories of Africa. Our Next Step.

When I was young and stupid I was a leftist and I attended rallies.

At one a middle aged white man, paunchy and ginger-haired, stood on a stage. We, the thronged masses below, followed him in a singsong chant: "Free Nelson Mandela."

Just three words but for us they were part of a bigger package: Mandela was the heroic black man fighting against all the evil that Western, Christian, capitalist white men had spread in the world. When the white man was finally shunted aside, and the values of women and people of color dominated, the world would be Utopia, Nirvana, the worker's paradise.

I believed in stuff like this so unquestioningly that my first job after graduation was teaching in a remote village in a remote African country.

I almost never talk about my time in Africa. What I saw there was so awful, and so contrary to what anyone wants to hear. What I want to say is practically illegal.

The media hoopla over Mandela's death prompts these few words.

Within days of my arrival in Africa, reality twisted my soft, young, leftist brain around like a corkscrew. I discovered the following things, listed below, quite rapidly. I didn't realize it at the time, but each of these realizations was a step away from being a leftist, toward being someone who would, one day, vote Republican. The child of two politically active registered Democrats, the niece of a beloved uncle who was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, I really, really, really, did not imagine any future where I would someday vote Republican.

Shortly after getting off the plane I found out that:

1.) Black Africans have black African slaves. So much for the whole "The white man is the problem" approach.

2.) The white man – French colonizers – left, but Arabs, or Arabized Africans, stayed, and they were still taking slaves, dominating economies, and exuding contempt.

3.) Africans hate each other more than they hate us. One day, without warning or apparent motivation, members of one tribe in my village rose up and started torturing members of another tribe. To outsiders, these two different tribes looked identical in every respect. French troops in tanks had to arrive amidst the mud huts and straw roofs to break things up.

The tension between Christian-Animist-Black-Bantu Africans and Muslim-Arabized Africans was so intense it was genuinely terrifying. It was clearly only a matter of time till they started killing each other. (They are killing each other now.)

4.) Americans treat their dogs better than many African men treat women. I once saw an African woman walking down the street with her family. She was balancing a moped – a small, motorized bicycle – on her head. She had luggage in one hand and a child in the other. She was pregnant. Her man walked beside her, unencumbered in any way.

5.) Buildings I entered, even in remote areas, including buildings that would have been planned for and used by Africans, not by French colonizers, had electric light switches and water taps. These light switches were not attached to lamps at one end nor electrical generators at the other. No water flowed from these taps.

There was no electricity or running water beyond a few streets of the capital city. Duh. In the past, people had electricity here. People had running water here. Now they do not. Some things about the bad old days of colonialism were better. Some things about the good new days of self-rule are worse. Duh.

6.) If I touched the water, I risked schistosomiasis. Schistosomes are parasites that feed on human blood in the liver, kidneys, urethra and bladder. Schistosomiasis is so common in some parts of Africa that young boys urinate blood around the same time that girls begin menstruation. It's considered a rite of passage.

If I were anywhere near a river I might be blinded by worms that crawl across the eyeball. If I breathed, I risked incurable TB. If I had sex, I risked AIDS. If I went for a walk, I risked being eaten by lions, or bitten by a viper, adder, mamba, or asp. Although it is the hippos in the river that are the deadliest of all. If I stayed home, a mosquito bite might transmit malaria and kill me, or I might get rabies from the thousands of bats that live in the rafter of the house, or the rats that live in the foundation.

Wow. Wow. So Africa is in trouble not just because of the evil white man. Africa is in trouble because much of Africa is a hot zone, a Petrie dish, a really challenging place for human life, it always has been, and it always will be until we make big, big strides in medicine and technology. Wow.

7.) My bosses, my Peace Corps superiors, are all completely clueless, leftie hippie flakes. They are all angry at daddy, maybe not their own daddy, but their friend's daddy, the one who made more money than their daddy at the law firm, and their Peace Corps careers are guided, not by what works, but by left wing ideology.

My bosses are in competition with each other to express the appropriate amount of contempt for whitie, for the rich daddy who angered them in their childhoods, when that's not what Africa needs. Speaking basic truths about Africa is taboo, because these truths violate left ideology. We Peace Corps Volunteers travel in our own bubble, a mini gulag of mind control.

We couldn't say that anything any African did was wrong. We couldn't say that anything any colonizer did was right. We couldn't say that until women's status was elevated and inter-tribal hatreds were done away with, nothing could work in Africa. We couldn't admit that the hated Christian missionaries, who came, learned the language, stayed, and built institutions to last, did more than Peace Corps was doing. We just constantly had to blame the white man and capitalism.

This last feature was in overdrive during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, said to be the world's fastest. Westerners fell over each other to blame long departed Belgian colonizers for Hutu machete-ing Tutsis to death. Bullshit. The Belgians did not cause that genocide. Human nature did. Human nature squeezed through the potent force of inter-tribal hatreds, very much alive in Africa.

The African country I was in was so dangerous there was no American ambassador. Even the Marines had left. Me and my fellow volunteers were constantly under assault. One of my fellow vols was raped. At least one. One lost it and had to be psycho-vacced – evacuated by force for psychiatric reasons. A handful were kidnapped at gunpoint and held for ransom. Armed men tried to kidnap me but I fought them off. One vol was stabbed. Six French volunteers were killed in a bombing at a theater I used to attend.

I flew directly to Washington, DC. I met with the Peace Corps officer in charge of the African nation where I served. I presented him with a lengthy report on all of these dangers. I presented him with page after page of evidence that Peace Corps was accomplishing nothing positive. I presented him with frank, politically incorrect suggestions from real volunteers in the field.

He spoke words to me I have etched inside my brain. "Within twenty years, we are going to have every man, woman and child in that country living like an American."

Yes, he was an idiot. More than twenty years have come and gone, and CAR is now descending into what some are calling a genocide between Muslims and Christians, something I saw coming decades ago.

Pygmies are victimized in ways too horrible to name. Let's name one way: they have been victims of cannibalism by their fellow Africans. If you've got a strong stomach, you can read about that here.


When Nelson Mandela fell ill, I dreaded his imminent death. I dreaded it because I knew we'd soon be awash in a tsunami of piety.

Mandela was a great, inspirational man, and he fought against a real evil: apartheid. So far so good.

What I knew would bug me would be that the tsunami would celebrate the wrong Mandela.

I knew there would be a temptation to interpret Mandela as the celebrity cover boy for "white man bad / black man good / self-rule is the solution / self-rule happy ending."

South Africa has self-rule. There is no happy ending.

South Africa has been called the world capital of rape. Men rape infants to cure themselves of AIDS.

Self-rule is even worse in Zimbabwe. Who is worse, Robert Mugabe or British colonizers? Human rights are violated all over Africa in ways that are hard even to think about. Sierra Leone's No Living Thing campaign involved mutilating children.

The country I lived in, Central African Republic, is now a site of what some are calling genocide.

I don't know anyone who pays any attention to any of this. I don't know anyone who pays any attention to any of this. I am not using cut and paste here. I am typing these words over and over because they drive me nuts. I don't know anyone who pays any attention to any of this.

It will be wall to wall Mandela for days in the media. Who is paying any attention to genocide in the Central African Republic?

I knew that as part of the tsunami of piety devoted to Mandela's passing, many of my Facebook friends would use Nelson Mandela's photo as their Facebook photo. That's happened.

I honor that. He was a hero. I see where they are coming from.

But what does that photo mean to them?

If it means, let's care about the poorest of the poor, let's care about Africa, let's do what's necessary to help Africa, then can we please, after we retire headshot, celebrity Mandela as our Facebook photo for the day, can we please post a photo of the very unfamous victims of the killings in CAR? Can we talk frankly about what Africa needs? Like less Politically Correct ideology, and more roads, industry, jobs, schools, and status for women?

One can dream.

It's harder to chant "More and better infrastructure, frank conversations about root causes of poverty, and education for women and girls!" than it is to chant "Free Nelson Mandela" but the former is what Africa needs.