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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Steven Pinker and Michael Shermer, Please Tell the Truth about Friedrich Spee

Friedrich Spee by Martin Mendgen Source
Dr. Steven Pinker
Dr. Michael Shermer
Penguin Books
Henry Holt and Company


I'm writing to request that you retract what appears to be false material published in both the 2011 Penguin Book Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Dr. Steven Pinker and the 2015 Henry Holt and Company book The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Dr. Michael Shermer. I request that you remove this material from any future editions of both books, and that you insert accurate material.

Both books repeat an unsourced anecdote that misrepresents Father Friedrich Spee, one of the first and most influential opponents of the witch craze that seized Europe during the Early Modern Period. This misrepresentation of a long dead priest matters for several reasons.

Friedrich Spee was a human rights hero and pioneer. He risked his life for others.

Spee is a figure of historical importance. Understanding him is key to understanding the witch craze, a significant period in Western history.

Spee's work is highly significant today. His biographers consider Spee to be among the first influential authors to work out an argument against the use of torture to obtain confessions. Spee "ranks among the most important authors of his time." His work "was one of the first sustained, detailed attacks…against the witch trials and use of torture" (Modras 27).

Both Doctors Pinker and Shermer self-identify as representational of atheist reason and truth, as opposed to the alleged obscurantism of persons of faith. That both gentlemen have disseminated unsourced material from a non-scholarly book undermines their self-identification.

Both Doctors Pinker and Shermer self-identify as representing a new and improved, science-and-reason-inspired path toward better lives for all humankind. Father Friedrich Spee should be assessed as an ally, and celebrated, by those interested in human rights. He should not be denigrated and slandered with the use of spurious material and unscholarly methodology.

Both Doctors Pinker and Shermer repeat Charles Mackay's anecdote about Friedrich Spee in their books. As Mackay would have us believe, a humanitarian secular leader, the Duke of Brunswick, "shocked" by the witch craze, which, presumably, is being carried out by Catholic clerics, summons Father Friedrich Spee. The Duke demonstrates to Spee that torture does not work in the extraction of confessions. Brunswick does this by torturing an accused witch into implicating Spee in witchcraft. Spee has an Aha moment and puts an end to the witch craze. Dr. Pinker uses this anecdote to prove that the "Age of Reason" and a "scientific spirit" ended the witch craze. Dr. Pinker places the witch craze in the Middle Ages, as does Dr. Shermer. Dr. Shermer uses the same anecdote to "prove" the same point.

The anecdote is almost certainly false.

I wrote to Dr. Pinker and he was kind enough to reply. He acknowledged that he found the anecdote in a book that cited Charles MacKay's 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Charles MacKay was a Scottish journalist, not a scholar. Delusions is not a serious history of the witch craze. It was written in a popular and sensationalistic style. I found no footnote for the anecdote in my copy of Mackay's book. The reference librarians at the Cheng Library found no footnote for Mackay's anecdote in their copy of Delusions.

Dr. Ronald Modras, author of a biographical sketch of Spee that appeared in a scholarly journal, and author of several other works on Jesuits and Catholic history, wrote to tell me that he has read at least eight works on Friedrich Spee and that none of them mention Mackay's Duke of Brunswick anecdote.

I find no mention of Spee, witches, or torture in one online biography of the Duke of Brunswick (here).

At the height of the witch craze, Friedrich Spee risked his life in writing an anti-witch craze book, Cautio Criminalis. There is no evidence in Cautio Criminalis that it was inspired by any shallow trick of any Duke. Rather, as Modras writes, "The Cautio is not a calmly argued essay on jurisprudence. It is a shrill cry to stop a travesty of justice" (Modras 29).

Cautio Criminalis was inspired by Spee's experience. "I myself have accompanied several women to their deaths in various places over the preceding years whose innocence even now I am so sure of that there could never be any effort and diligence too great that I would not undertake it in order to reveal this truth…One can easily guess what feelings were in my soul when I was present at such miserable deaths."

Cautio Criminalis' argument against the witch craze is not the argument Doctors Pinker and Shermer want it to be. Both Doctors Pinker and Shermer repeat what has since been proven false: that increasing scientific thought ended the witch craze.

In fact Spee does not use a scientific disbelief in witches to support his case against the witch craze. Modras argues that Spee is like a modern-day opponent of the death penalty. Realizing that banning the death penalty outright might be unattainable, death-penalty opponents focus on issues like the high cost of death penalty cases, and the lower cost of life in prison.

Spee's concession to popular belief notwithstanding, his insights about what causes witch crazes are in alignment with contemporary scholarship.

"It all begins with superstition, envy, and calumnies. Something goes amiss, and people clamor for an inquisition. All the divine punishments described in the Bible now come from witches. God and nature are no longer responsible for any mishap; witches do it all" (Modras 32, summarizing Cautio Criminalis).

That a Roman Catholic priest writing in the height of the witch craze offered insights that mirrors the most modern scholarship contradicts the notion that people needed to evolve into, or be tutored by, atheists, or scientists, or twenty-first century moderns.

Spee briefly concedes what his readers probably cannot be disabused of – that witches exist – but then Spee argues that guilt cannot be adequately ascertained, and torture is too cruel and unjust.

Spee uses the tools of his Catholic faith to make his point to his audience. Spee uses traditional Jesuit argumentation style and Biblical citations. He cites the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Just as a farmer allows weeds to grow with wheat, and separates one from the other at harvest, God allows sinners to live out their lives (Matthew 13). Just so accused witches should be allowed to live, Spee argues, in order that people might avoid the serious crime of killing innocents. In risking his life to save others and to cleanse the soul of his church and his wider society, Spee was following the example of his Lord, Jesus Christ.

Spee's traditional, Catholic, Jesuit argumentation style, his graphic descriptions of the cruelty and irrationality of torture, and his Biblical references worked.

Where and when Spee's book was translated and read by leaders, the witch craze ended.

The pattern of Spee's impact was repeated throughout Europe. It wasn't science that ended the witch craze.

I asked prominent witch craze scholar Brian P. Levack, "What ended the witch craze?"

On February 21, 2015, Levack wrote to me, "I address this question at length in the third edition of my book, The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe, and at great length in my essay on the decline and end of witch-hunting in Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: the Eighteenth Century. This is a complicated issue, but my main argument is that the trials did not end because judicial authorities stopped believing in witchcraft but because they began to realize that the crime could not be proved at law."

In his other writings, Spee showed his special concern for women. He wrote a devotional book directed specifically at women's spiritual development. He used feminine metaphors for God. He was a brave and self-sacrificing man who entered primitive hospitals, malodorous, foul places he described in his writing. He died at the young age of 44 of an infection contracted while ministering to the sick.

Nowhere in the factual biography of Father Friedrich Spee does one encounter the silly anecdote deployed by both Doctors Pinker and Shermer to prove that ignorant Catholics required compassionate secular leaders to end the witch craze.

The old-fashioned, popular understanding of the witch craze runs something like this: In the Middle Ages or Dark Ages, the obscurantist, misogynist, all-male and omnipotent Catholic Church murdered millions of innocent, Goddess-worshipping wise women. Then the Enlightenment came along, people rejected religion -- especially Catholicism -- suddenly became very smart and scientific and atheistic, and stopped the witch craze.

Scholars have completely debunked everything about this narrative. The witch craze took place not, as Doctors Pinker and Shermer would have it, during the "Dark" or Middle Ages, but during the Early Modern Period.

In the real Middle Ages, the Catholic Church repeatedly rejected the concept of witchcraft. Societal stresses like the breakup of the Catholic Church during the Reformation, the Little Ice Age, and changes in the prices of basic goods and traditional patterns of almsgiving contributed to witch crazes.

The Inquisition actually sometimes suppressed local witch crazes. See, for example, Alonso de Salazar Frías, the witch's advocate, who was himself a Spanish Inquisitor, and who worked to stop the witch craze in his region. The demand for trials often came from below, from common people, rather than from church or secular leaders, and from women. Envy and petty malice was often the spark. Men as well as women were victimized.

In a metaphorical sense, witch crazes have never ended. During the Reign of Terror, devotees of the Enlightenment, dedicated to atheism and reason, managed to rack up a death toll in one year comparable to the entire number of witch craze victims over the course of three hundred years of trials.

We fool ourselves, and we squander an opportunity to learn how to be better people, when we rewrite the witch craze as something done by people wholly other who lived in a past we have overcome.

We benefit ourselves, and the cause of righteousness, if we recognize that the witch craze was carried out by people exactly like us.

We inspire ourselves to better things when we learn of lives like that of Father Friedrich Spee, what inspired him and what he accomplished.

Doctors Pinker and Shermer, please retract the unsourced and unscholarly anecdote you have disseminated and please change any subsequent editions of your books to reflect the true history, motivations, and impact of Father Friedrich Spee.

Thank you.

Danusha V. Goska, PhD. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Bridges of Madison County" in the Internet Age

Robert and Francesca touch for the first time. Whoa.
I can pretty much guarantee that that one touch is more erotic than anything in Fifty Shades of Gray. 
Have never seen an actor so vulnerable in a romantic role 
The buff breasted sandpiper shows his armpit, and his commitment 
I rewatched "Bridges of Madison County" this past week and was totally blown away by it, as I was the first time I watched it.

I'm a huge movie fan and a movie snob as well.

I tend to look down on violent films or films built around gunplay. Schlock. I know Quentin Tarrentino is considered an artist in some parts. Not these parts.

Because of this I was aware of Clint Eastwood only as a star of violent movies built around guns.

I finally saw "In the Line of Fire," a movie starring Clint Eastwood, in 1993, when he had already been a star for decades. I was amazed at how talented I thought he was, and what star power he had. "Oh, ho, ho, what have we here? What have I been missing?"

But I still have not seen any of Eastwood's gun movies. Not "Josie Wales" or "Dirty Harry" or "Unforgiven."

I read the book "Bridges of Madison County" and I thought it was underdeveloped, pop romance candy. Didn't grab me or move me at all. I wanted to read the Mad magazine parody.

But the movie!


I rewatched it every night this week. I generally watch movies twenty minutes at a time. If I like them, as I loved this, I "rewind" to watch key scenes over and over. I do this with books as well. I re-read favorite passages four or five times before moving on.

I just can't get over how deeply moving and charismatic I find Eastwood's performance in "Bridges of Madison County."

The buff breasted sandpiper taught me much about acting.

The buff breasted sandpiper mating display is poignantly pathetic, to anyone who isn't a buff breasted sandpiper. He lifts his buffy wing to display his white armpit. He does this over and over. Once he has accumulated a female audience, he lifts both of his wings, and displays both of his white armpits.

The key – he does this with great conviction.

That's the key to great acting. Conviction.

Clint Eastwood brings so much conviction to his role as Robert Kincaid, a National Geographic photographer who visits Iowa to photograph covered bridges, meets and falls in love with Italian-American war bride Francesca Johnson. Her husband and children are away for four days at the state fair exhibiting a prize steer. It's the early 1960s.

Robert and Francesca meet, fall in love, realize they are soulmates, engage in torrid sex, and part, forever, never to speak to each other again.

Meryl Streep plays Francesca. I find her performance to be a series of ticks meant to communicate Italian passion and speaking with the hands. Very distracting and actor-y.

Eastwood, though, is overwhelming. He is just so present, so charismatic, so genuine, so sincere, so vulnerable, so aching, so unforced. I have never seen another male actor put in such a performance in a romance movie. Tom Hanks brings this much commitment to "Saving Private Ryan" but that's a war / buddy / save-the-world movie. "Bridges of Madison County" is about a man falling in love with an over-forty housewife.

Towards the end, after Robert and Francesca have said goodbye, they cross paths by chance in her Iowa downtown. He is in his pickup truck; she is in her pickup truck. They are waiting at a red light. Robert refuses to move his car. Francesca's husband, totally unaware, wonders why the guy in front of him won't move his car. Francesca's hand reaches for the car door. She white knuckles it. You know she wants to jump out of the truck and run to Robert. You know he is hoping against hope that she will do just that – that's why he keeps his car immobile, even after the light turns to green. Robert places the pendant Francesca had given him over his rearview mirror. She is devastated, struggling with herself, her husband and the father of her children sitting right next to her.

I am floored by this scene. I don't think a scene where a president's finger hovers over the nuclear button could create as much tension and heartache for me.

The movie ends years later, with Robert dead, Francesca dead, and her kids going through her belongings and discovering the affair.

The viewer learns that Robert and Francesca never had contact again.

Is that a good thing?

These two were soulmates. A soulmate is a rare and vital resource. Do you really toss such a gift away?

Why couldn't Francesca love both her husband and Robert? It didn't look like her husband was making use of 100% of Francesca.

Could this story take place in the internet age? Wouldn't Robert and Francesca be emailing back and forth? Francesca could be stirring up ham hocks a la Bolognese for her family with one hand, and texting Robert with the other.

A personal anecdote. Shortly after Save Send Delete was published, I received the single scariest email I have ever received. It was from a stranger, and it was a profound and passionate confession of love. I read the first three sentences, peed my pants in fear (metaphorically), and phoned a male friend. I made the male friend promise he would protect me from whomever had sent this email.

Reassured by my male friend, who was eager to beat someone up for me, I went back and read the entire email. It was from a perfectly sane and nice person, and it *wasn't* addressed to me. Why was it sent to me?

Through a wild quirk of fate, which I can't describe here because it would expose private information, this person stumbled across Save Send Delete, read it, and was reminded of his own Francesca-Robert or Mira-Rand relationship. A star crossed relationship that meant a lot to him, but that ended abruptly and permanently.

Reading Save Send Delete opened his wounds, and he needed to communicate that to someone. Given this secret nature of the relationship, he couldn't tell anyone he knew in real life, so he sent that email to me, pouring out his heart and confessing his love for this woman who had entered, and exited his life forever.

A final note. The soundtrack to Bridges of Madison County is lovely. It features music written by Eastwood, and singing by Johnny Hartman, who really should have been as famous as Nat King Cole or Dean Martin if not Frank Sinatra. He is THAT good. Beautiful voice, superb diction, great intelligence in every song delivery, very romantic. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

"The Moral Arc" by Michael Shermer. Book Review in Front Page Magazine.

I reviewed Michael Shermer's new book, "The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom" for Front Page Magazine. You can read the review here

You can also read the full text of the review, below. 

Michael Shermer's Unmoral Arc
A new book's messianic vision of a God-free future.

Michael Shermer's 2015 book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom, announces a messianic vision: humanity is naturally evolving into a superior version, one that will be more moral and less religious. He writes,

As a species, we are becoming increasingly moral…we are living in the most moral period in our species' history…we evolved the capacity to actually be moral animals (3-4; 361).

One of Shermer’s main themes is that formal education and literacy may make people more moral (28-9).

In this review, the phrase "human progress" will refer to this idea: that humanity is evolving in linear time from the past to the future into a more moral, less religious, more atheistic form; that religion is a negative force and a relic of the ignorant past; and that a combination of natural forces and formal education are effecting this improvement in the human species.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Famous Person Gets Cancer; Writes Poignant Essay

Photo by Ray Hennessy of Crushed Box Photography
A famous person has received a terminal cancer diagnosis. He has written a poignant essay.

A Facebook friend shared that essay this morning. I swiftly moved my cursor to the upper right hand corner of the box: "I don't want to see this." And I moved on, fearing what was coming. I know this essay would be shared multiple times; I'd have to click that "I don't want to see this" box many times, and stuff my fingers in my ears and repeat "LA LA LA LA" to avoid the inevitable encomiums to the famous man with inspirational cancer.

Another Facebook friend shared the essay this evening with an added editorial comment. The essay was "lovely."

I did not contain my rage, which was inchoate even to me. "'Lovely?' My mother died of cancer. I held her hand as she breathed her last breath. There is nothing 'lovely' about cancer."

And then, again, I rapidly moved my cursor to "I don't want to see this."

I remember my grandmother's screams as she died of cancer. They would not give her enough medication. Grandma asked the nurses; they denied or ignored her. Grandma asked my mother, 'Pavlina, ask the doctors.' My mother, her daughter, begged for the pain medication, and they wouldn't give it to her. The American doctors told my grandmother that they had adequately addressed her pain; that she should not be feeling any pain. Grandma came all the way from Slovakia to America, only for this, to die relatively young, and in gruesome pain, pain they told her she shouldn't even be feeling.

I never met my grandmother; she died before I was born. My mother described her death. Many times? One time? I don't remember. I can say that my mother's description of my grandmother's slow, doomed, death from excruciatingly painful cancer is engraved into me, letter by letter.

I resolved, as a child, never to get cancer.

I got word that my brother Mike, 33, was dying, in a dream. At the time I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a remote Himalayan village. On the basis of the dream, I hitched on my backpack, and began walking. As soon as I arrived in Kathmandu, I was flown to America, to see him one last time. Mike was a father, with another baby on the way. He stayed alive long enough to hold Lydia in his arms. I've never met Lydia. She's out there, somewhere, and the only thing I know about her is that she wants nothing to do with her aunt, whom she has never met.

I held my mother's hand as the last breath left her body. Watching her die of cancer caused me to forgive her for everything. "Everything" was a lot, in our case. It was that bad. The suffering she went through, even with hospice-supplied morphine, was that bad.

When I received my own diagnosis of cancer, the initial prognosis was not for long-term survival. People insisted, "Well, you've lived such a full life." What they didn't know is that no one has ever said "I love you" to me. Some silly, soppy part of me kept marching through every day because it was lured on by that chimerical carrot. Someday I would meet a man who would see something worthy in me, and he would love me, and I would begin to live. After I got my cancer diagnosis, I realized how idiotic I had been to hope that. My prognosis improved greatly after surgery. In this chopped up body that no one will ever love, I'm still alive, and I have no idea why.

A neighbor has cancer, or so I gather from his appearance. We do not talk. We have been within sneezing distance for ten years. I tried once to chat with him in a neighborly way, and his replies suggested to me that he is mentally ill. Sometimes naïve friends send me packages, through the postal service, to my address. These packages are stolen. Sometimes the empty package, ripped open, is left outside my door. I often wonder if it is my neighbor who steals them. I don't know.

I've never seen or heard him with any friends. He was born on another continent; I've never met anyone else in this city from his land, who speaks his natal language. He is alone.

I noticed his rapid weight loss a few months back. Then he began to smell of urine. Then there were worse smells emanating from his apartment. Though it's a cold winter, this building had a very bad fly infestation recently. I wondered if this infestation was related to my neighbor's cancer. Were they breeding in … his … unkempt apartment? Bodily fluids? Corpse? A couple of times the super has pounded on my neighbor's door. "Are you there? Are you there? We are just trying to make sure you are okay."

My neighbor is bald now, and in a wheelchair. He was able to walk a month ago; no more.

Sometimes uniformed, anonymous health aides leave him parked in the hallway. He is too disoriented to carry his key, and the super doesn't come soon enough to let him into his apartment.

Cancer in someone poor and alone is hard to watch. And watch is all I am prepared to do. I don't know this man. I'm a bit afraid of him. I am overwhelmed with my own health needs and my sister. There is nothing Christian in my response to my neighbor's cancer. In relation to him, I am as stone cold as a year zero Pagan on her way to the gladiatorial games. It is ugly to confront this in myself.

When I see my neighbor, I resolve again, that I must kill myself before I get to that state.

I didn't know I could feel as much emotional pain as I have felt over my sister's diagnosis.

I'm so fucking sick of people turning cancer into poetry and slogans and t-shirts and butterflies and poignant, uplifting essays that get shared on Facebook. .

We don't attempt to tame, prettify, and befriend other atrocities.

Oh, a celebrity was raped, and she wrote a lovely essay about it that appears on the New York Times' op ed page today. It was SO uplifting and life affirming!

Nobody writes poems that get illustrated by wistful bluebirds about starvation or acid attacks or other horrible things that hurt like hell, that mutilate our bodies, grind us down and, eventually, after taking everything that matters, including our dreams, kill us.

Why do some insist on doing this with cancer?

Years ago I had a vestibular disorder that caused complete functional paralysis and uncontrollable vomiting.

Very few people have ever heard of vestibular disorders. No one had any idea what I was going through. Others' total ignorance was very isolating. Who wants to hang out with a woman who can't stop puking?

An internet acquaintance asked, "Don't you wish you had cancer? Everybody knows what cancer is. There are so many societies and support groups. You'd just have to say 'cancer' and so many services would be at your fingertips."

She was right. When I finally got my inevitable cancer diagnosis, there were so many support groups and services. And that was great.

What wasn't great was this. This urge to tidy up and domestic and be inspired by cancer.

I feel that all these Inspirational Cancer Products like the last lecture delivered by the guy with pancreatic cancer or the latest poignant cancer essay are objects that come between a real person with real cancer and the person next to him or her who doesn't have cancer.

The Inspirational Cancer Product is written in neon letters ten feet high. This person is a *celebrity*! And he has cancer! And he's inspiring me! He's teaching me deep and poignant lessons about my own life! I can experience his cancer story while lounging in a hammock.

And you, you real person with cancer, you are bald, and you smell bad, and the anonymous health aide just parked your wheelchair in the hallway because you are too overwhelmed by what's happening to you to know where your key is. You scare and depress me and life feels chaotic around you.

I so often feel, I don't know who I am in relation to my sister. I never realized how dogged my love for her is. This love pounds against my flesh and demands that I save her, and I can't. And I have no place to go with this agony.

No hammock lounging inspirations here.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Obama's "High Horse" Prayer Breakfast Speech: Dangerous Propaganda

Source: The People's Cube
Obama's entire February 5, 2015, prayer breakfast speech was vile. This isn't about "right wing tea bagger wingnuts" selecting isolated and insignificant quotes to misrepresent Obama.

Obama begins with several paragraphs of jokes. There are eleven indications that the audience laughed. He also praises the Dalai Lama.

Obama's "Christians get off your high horse" speech was delivered within two days of ISIS releasing a video of a Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kassasbeh, being burned alive in real time.

Obama's "Christians get off your high horse" speech was delivered within a month of the Charlie Hebdo shooting.

Obama does not see the Charlie Hebdo shooting or the torture snuff video as problems. The bulk of his speech is devoted to problematic Christians and Westerners who are arrogant, who are on high horses, who need to be taken down a peg.

I am not a world leader. I was so troubled by the torture video of the burning pilot that I could not make a high profile speech two days later that opened with one joke after another.

The main thrust of Obama's speech -- make no mistake and don't let the spinners lie to you -- is to indicate that the major problem in the world today is Christian and Western arrogance. This Christian and Western arrogance, this Christian riding of "high horses," must be tempered by "humility," a word Obama uses seven times.

Obama uses the word "Islam" twice, and both times it is to defend Islam from any criticism. He quotes a warm and cuddly hadith, "None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

Obama does not cite the Koran verse that ISIS, which is lead by a man with a PhD in Islamic studies, used to justify the burning of Jordanian pilot Moas al-Kassasbeh. "Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses - We will drive them into a Fire. Every time their skins are roasted through We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted in Might and Wise." Koran 4:56.

It is not the example of prophet Mohammed, the perfect human worthy of emulation, that ISIS cites. Mohammed tortured a Jew, Kenana ibn al-Rabi, to death using fire.

It is not the example of prophet Mohammed planning to burn the houses of those who refuse to attend to the call to prayer. It is not the example of the "sword of Allah," Khalid ibn al Walid, who decapitated a man, burned his head, and cooked his dinner, which he subsequently ate, on the flames of his victim's burning, decapitated head.

ISIS knows all these verses, hadith, and examples. Obama may know them, too, but he hid them from the American people in his prayer breakfast speech. Obama disguised these truths with a warm and cuddly hadith.

Obama misrepresented people who are threatening to kill Americans, and have killed several, and are currently recruited American Muslim youth. Obama's obfuscation will not lead to America's safety or preparation.

This is vile. We NEED to retain our capacity for outrage and judgment and indeed we need to retain our capacity for fear.

I have never recommended war or even bombing. I recommend peaceful means to defeat jihad. Energy independence and a war of the big truths told publicly and unashamedly.

Obama is actively resisting those big truths in the full text of his prayer breakast speech, not just in the money quote that is making headlines.

Obama's prayer breakfast speech, by ignoring atrocities, by counseling against outrage, by renaming the problem as Western and Christian arrogance and outrage that needs to be tamped down with "humility," actively works against the interests and safety, not only of Americans, but of Kurds, Shiites, Yazidis, and now a Sunni Muslim Jordanian pilot, all victimized in the name of an ideology Obama forbids us from learning about or critiquing.

Read the full transcript of Obama's morally bankrupt and actually dangerous speech here:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Barack Obama, at Prayer Breakfast, Does Public Relations Work for ISIS; A Massive Failure of Leadership

Child at ISIS showing of their video of the immolation of the Jordanian pilot
At the Thursday, February 5, 2015 prayer breakfast, US President Barack Hussein Obama said, "People committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ."

I have taught the witch trials at the university level so this is not news to me. I have published on Polish-Jewish relations so I'm very familiar with antisemitism. Again, this is not news to me.

What Obama said is abominable. It isn't "bad politics" or "misspeaking."

What Obama said is an unforgivable abomination.

Look, I have published, on, say, the Kielce pogrom, when my own people, Polish Catholics, murdered Holocaust survivors by stoning them. Gut wrenching stuff. My people. Poles. Catholics.

Here's the problem with what Obama said.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre and the technically expert film depicting the immolation of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh are world historical events. They require substantive response.

Please tell me where our world would be today if this is the speech that went down in history:

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. But let us never forget that we committed a genocide against the Native Americans. In fact, let us spend the day meditating on our flaws as a people."

FDR recognized Pearl Harbor for what it was and he said what leaders say in moments of historical crisis.

Barack Hussein Obama took this moment in the post Charlie Hebdo post torture video world to say that Americans suck and that Christians torture people in the name of Christ.

This is so demented, so perverse, so vile it beggars language.

Barack Hussein Obama is not ISIS's public relations firm. Why is he acting like it?

ISIS is justifying what they did with verse 4:56 from the Koran "Those who disbelieve in Our Messages, we shall make them enter Fire. As often as their skins are burned, We shall change them for other skins, that they may taste the chastisement. Surely Allah is ever Mighty, Wise."

ISIS can also justify what they did to Moas al-Kassasbeh by citing Mohammed's torture of Kenana ibn al-Rabi, a Jewish man whom Mohammed ordered tortured with fire.

When my own beloved people, Polish Catholics, stoned Holocaust survivors in Kielce, they were *violating* Christ's teachings.

ISIS believes that they are following Mohammed's teachings. David Wood has produced several videos laying this all out.

Not just Jesus never said that he had the right to drive people into fire. Moses never said anything like that, either. There are hard verses in the OT. They are in the minority and the verses about compassion are in the majority, example Hosea 6:6, "It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice." The rabbis, in composing the Talmud, counseled against capital punishment and historically it has rarely been applied by Jews.

Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, delve into complex philosophical questions. Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, are not telling people to make war on all humanity till their view is dominant.

Hadith 4:196: Allah 's Apostle said, " I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,' and whoever says, 'None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,' his life and property will be saved by me except for Islamic law, and his accounts will be with Allah"

We are in peril. We need leadership. The cultural relativism Barack Hussein Obama peddled at the prayer breakfast is not leadership. That cultural relativism is actually a neuro toxin that is paralyzing our culture.

God help America.

Praying for Jordanian Pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh and His Family

I'm a news junkie. I am not one of those people who says, "I don't watch the news because it upsets me." News is my high. 

Rarely does something occur that upsets me so much that it interferes with my ability to focus on work or household chores, etc. 

ISIS' slickly produced video of their torture murder of Jordanian pilot Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh was one of those news events. 

I realized that the only way I could deal with this news was to pray. 

I greatly admire what Shep Smith of Fox News did with the video. I don't have a TV but I have internet access. I saw Smith's reporting on the web. 

Smith didn't show the ISIS snuff video. Rather, Smith described it. His description was articulate and thorough. It was a remarkable journalistic service. If you have not seen Smith's video, it is on youtube here

In 2002, PBS' Frontline broadcast an amazing documentary about 9-11, "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero." 

NYC police officer Kim Coleman described a phone call from her daughter who worked at the WTC, "I realized that the first plane hit my daughter's building. And as I bent over to pick up the telephone, my daughter was on the other line. And she was telling me that she was scared and that it was real smoky in there and they couldn't breathe."

Coleman's daughter died in that fire and smoke. 

It could be unbearable to be a parent and to lose a child that way. 

Coleman was comforted. She said, "That night, when I went to bed, after I finally was able to lay down, there was a light that shines through my window. And for some reason, this light was real bright. And I opened my eyes, and I saw an angel. She was dressed in white and she had a smile on her face, and I took that to believe that she was letting me know that my daughter was in heaven and that she was OK.

I just pray every day that she didn't suffer and maybe she just fell off to sleep and she didn't feel anything. I know she was scared, but I know my daughter also has faith in God, so I know she was praying.

I never question why God didn't intervene. I often ask the question as to why he picked her, but I have come to the conclusion that I felt God knew something I didn't know. And maybe he felt that- maybe she was- even though she was here 23 years, that she was suffering a lot more than I knew about. And I felt that God knew best. I always felt that way when he takes someone, that he knows better than we do." Transcript here.

I hope and pray for such comfort for all who mourn. May God comfort the family of Moaz al-Kasasbeh. May his killers encounter justice. 

Jordanian Pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh

My prayers for him. 

"That Old Feeling" 1997 Bette Midler, Dennis Farina, Paula Marshall, Danny Nucci, David Rasche, Gail O'Grady

I *love* "That Old Feeling" and it bugs me that this effervescent bedroom farce is not received as a classic along the lines of "It Happened One Night" or "When Harry Met Sally." For my money, it's a masterpiece in its genre. Comedy is a lot like music. It requires timing, choreography, and expertise to look effortless. "That Old Feeling" is the product of a master – director Carl Reiner – and it shows in every gesture, every beat, every scene. "That Old Feeling" is smart, witty, bubbly, bouncy, sharp and sweet from first scene to last.

"That Old Feeling" doesn't make much sense; it isn't supposed to. It's supposed to make you laugh and feel romantic and good about life, and it does. Anyone, of any age, could see this movie and feel, afterward, that they could walk out the door and stumble across the love of their life. Though I've watched this movie several times, I still laugh out loud at favorite gags.

Molly (Paula Marshall) a straight-laced twenty-something, is marrying Keith (James Denton), a ridiculously handsome politician's son. Molly's divorced parents have not seen each other for years. Lily (Bette Midler) is an actress. Dan (Dennis Farina) is a writer. They hate each other. They, in turn, are married to Alan (David Rasche) a therapist and self-help author, and Rowena (Gail O'Grady) an interior decorator. Lily is being chased by Joey (Danny Nucci) a paparazzi.

The rules of the bedroom farce genre are that a roundelay of characters must rapidly pair off in unlikely ways, their pairings interspersed with improbable plot devices and lots of slamming doors and aghast hands to faces as couplings are discovered. That's pretty much all that happens in "That Old Feeling," right up until the very last moments of the movie. It's no small feat that Reiner keeps all these juggled balls bobbing compellingly in the air.

It's all funny and sexy and smart, but it's also actually pretty deep. "That Old Feeling," like all good bedroom farces, comments on love and hate and attraction, commitment, fidelity, and adultery, and on relationship trade-offs. All of the characters in this film are likeable and they are all flawed. If character X ends up with potential partner Y, she will gain in one area of her life, but lose in another. Charm v stability. Passion v consistency. Love/hate v security. The exciting unknown v the old reliable.

Every performance is terrific. Bette Midler is, well, Bette Midler. She's never been better than she is here. I often find her over-the-top but here she is just the right amount of the Divine Miss M. David Rasche, a former member of the Second City troupe, makes me laugh every time he is onscreen as the therapist and self-help author. He's every bit as funny as Will Ferrell. Danny Nucci is appropriately sleazy and scruffy and he is also wonderful after his transformation via wet fingers and another man's jacket. Dennis Farina is amazingly, wonderfully hot as an arrogant, macho guy who gets what he wants by waving large bills between his fingers under the noses of hotel staff. I could go through the whole cast but suffice it to say that every performance is funny, tender, human, and expert.

One of the lovely plusses of "That Old Feeling." It depicts people over fifty having sex and enjoying it.

I watch this movie over and over because I love the signature of a master's hand in every scene. In the opening scene, a man proposes marriage to a woman. In the background, there is a bouquet of flowers. The flowers are onscreen for less than a minute, but they are lit so beautifully it takes my breath away. It's that kind of meticulous attention to detail that makes a movie worth watching for me.