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Monday, May 30, 2016

Why Don't Christians ... ???

A Facebook friend asked, "Why don't churches feed, house, and provide services for homeless people?"

I was really offended. I'm a Christian and to me the question is an implicit insult: "Christians are hypocrites because they talk about being charitable but they don't really walk the walk."

Two answers.

1.) Homelessness is really, really complicated. Homeless people are not all puppies and kittens. They often do bad things to people who try to help them, like make threats and start fires that end up killing people, damaging property, and inconveniencing many. I speak from experience.

I have worked one-on-one with homeless people and I've gotta say, puppies and kittens they were not. The ones I worked with were addicts who had betrayed and let down loved ones, mentally ill people who refused to take medication, and randomly violent. One refused to use restrooms. Think about that. He wore his waste products in his clothes. How to help such a person?

So. Anyone who says that the solution to homelessness is a roof has probably never actually interacted with a real, live homeless person.

2.) Churches DO work with the homeless. That's a simple fact one can discover in about twenty seconds with a phone call to a local church. So implying on facebook that churches don't work with the homeless is not true and it is not helpful.

3.) But here is the real answer.

If you do what it looks like Sophia Loren is doing in the photo, you end up with a distorted view of the world.

Looking at other people and thinking, "Why don't you live up to my expectations? Why are you lacking something I think you should have? What can I see in you that I can latch on to as inferior in some way? And harp on? Publicly?"

Why not look at other people and focus on *what they are doing right*?

Why not look at the churches in your neighborhood that you find it so easy to put down and criticize, and look at the programs that they do offer?

Here on Facebook we are all on display.

Satan lives in me as much as he lives in anyone.

I look at other people and Satan whispers in my ear.

"Huh. That guy says he's a Christian, but when I asked him for help with my job search, he never even responded. And he has lots of contacts."

I give in to anger, resentment, and envy.

And Jesus whispers in my other ear, "Stop looking at what that guy did not do for you. Stop focusing on how he let you down.

Look at all the good that guy does. Look at how hard he works on his causes. How much he is there for his extended family. How many charities he donates to."

When you focus on people's good sides, on what they are doing right, you see that your previous focus, the fault-finding, demeaning, envious, judgmental focus, offered you a twisted picture.
Now, go to a church, and ask about the programs they offer. And be surprised. And impressed. And rather than putting them down on Facebook, join in, or at least donate.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Bearing False Witness: Prize-winning Historian Rodney Stark Takes on Anti-Catholic Prejudice

Even If You Are Not Catholic, To Understand Today's Culture Wars, You Must Understand Catholic History

Even non-Catholics will benefit from Rodney Stark's 2016 Templeton Press book Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History.  

This edifice, Western Civilization, of which you are both participant and beneficiary, has been under assault by cultural leaders for decades – see, for example, Keith Windschuttle's 2002 "The Cultural War on Western Civilization." Professors have been teaching students that horrors such as the Atlantic Slave Trade and the Holocaust are the only products that Western Civilization has to offer. In 1991, Lee Bass donated twenty million dollars to Yale to teach Western Civilization. "Yale teachers regularly bash the West and traditional American values and also ridicule and harass students who disagree," students reported. Bass protested; Yale returned his money, and was willing to sabotage a potential further grant of five hundred million dollars.

Cultural Relativism is dogma. To say that one culture is superior to another is to sin and invite punishment. Given how horrible The West is, other choices on the civilizational menu are presented as tastier and more nutritious. Alternatives include Communism, Islam, and multiculturalism. On May 6, 2016, Mark Tushnet, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard, declared that "The culture wars are over; they lost, we won." Tushnet wants liberals to "take a hard line" and treat conservatives, people with traditional understandings of gender, and persons of faith in the same manner that the victorious Allies treated defeated Nazis.  

Let's just throw out the past and start at year zero. The problem is, of course, that "clean slate" types, from French Revolutionaries to the Khmer Rouge, inevitably end up murdering large portions of their populations.

One cannot understand the West without understanding Catholicism, its oldest institution. One cannot understand hatred of the West without understanding anti-Catholicism. Read Rodney Stark's new book to discover your own true history – the history Yale would not teach you – the history that at least one Harvard prof might reduce to scorched earth – and to plot your own best future.

Counter-jihadis will benefit from Stark's book. Throughout jihad's history, in response to external threat, non-Muslims have turned on each other, inadvertently helping jihad. In 1937, another target misunderstood the enormity of his enemy because of his focus on anti-Catholic animus. Sigmund Freud was urged to flee Vienna to escape the inevitable Anschluss. He replied that he didn't fear Nazis; his "real enemy" was the "Roman Catholic Church." In a similar vein, superstar atheist Richard Dawkins says that "the Catholic Church is a disgusting institution, the second most evil religion in the world."

Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton deflected attention from jihad by dangling the bright shiny object of the Catholic boogeyman – ISIS is not that bad, nor was 9-11, because "the Crusades!" This diversion of attention occurs at all levels of society. In 2013, Nigeria's Boko Haram destroyed fifty Catholic churches. Some internet posters were not sympathetic. Rather than discuss how to address Boko Haram, posters denounced Catholicism as Satanic, citing age-old anti-Catholic material including the 1563 Foxe's Book of Martyrs. Similarly, on April 11, 2016, Jihad Watch reader Hugh quoted Luther and called Catholicism "the wretched devil," another poster wrote, "Muslim tolerance is not very distinct from the Catholic tolerance shown by the Spanish Inquisition."  

In their anti-Catholicism, liberal atheists nod in agreement with Protestant right-wingers. Christopher Hitchens smeared Mother Teresa; on May 15, 2016, a Baptist minister posted his "impression" of Mother Teresa screaming in Hell. A liberal blog referred to Catholicism as "mumbled incantations in front of a large statue of a mostly naked European bloke nailed to Roman torture implement and an act of ritual cannibalism." After The Guardian published an atheist protesting anti-Catholic rhetoric, the site was flooded – with anti-Catholic rhetoric. Samples: "F - - - the pope," "superstition and strange muttered incantations," The Catholic Church "does not truly allow for development, criticism, fallibility." As one poster put it, "thirty minutes and already all the comments entirely validate the point of the article."

Rodney Stark is a best-selling and prize-winning author. Bearing False Witness would make a fine beach book. His prose is rapid, authoritative, and utterly clear. Stark earned a Berkeley PhD. He is the author of thirty-eight books. He can pirouette from a sweeping summary of many centuries' arc to the intimate details of private moments that take place in hushed, anonymous corners and vivify remote eras. Stark is fearless; he quotes material, such as Peter Schafer's controversial work on the Talmud, that others might fear citing.

In recent years, many authors have chipped away at anti-Catholic myths. Henry Kamen published The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision in 1997. Scholars like Lyndal Roper have overturned every popular assumption about the who, what, when, where and why of the witch craze. After John Cornwell published the shoddy Hitler's Pope, Rabbi David G. Dalin published The Myth of Hitler's Pope. Indeed Rodney Stark himself has published previous rebuttals to anti-Western propaganda, including his 2010 book, God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.

Professional historians have been saying among themselves for years that there actually never were any Dark Ages, and that the entire concept was invented to bash the Catholic Church. Bogus Dark Ages historiography has its own Wikipedia page. Historians' shop talk has not yet filtered down to the masses. Just the other day one of my Protestant Facebook friends mentioned her homeschooling lesson passing on to her student and son the Dark Ages / Age of Reason dichotomy.

The Big Lie dies hard even among PhDs. In their recent, well-received books, The Moral Arc and The Better Angels of Our Nature Michael Shermer and Steven Pinker repeat as true a foundationless anecdote about German priest Friedrich Spee. These atheist authors depict Spee as a Catholic nincompoop who requires tutoring by a secular leader. In historical fact, Spee, in the scrum of mob insanity, risked his own life by publishing Cautio Criminalis, an argument against witch trials. His book helped to end these trials.

Even if you've read other recent scholarly books addressing anti-Catholic myths, Bearing False Witness is worthy. It condenses and efficiently organizes a vast battery of material on a broad scope of topics. Debaters will not only want to buy this book, they are going to want to hand it to their opponents and say, "Do yourself a favor. Shut up and read this."

Stark is not Catholic. He was raised Lutheran, went through a period of agnosticism, and, in a 2007 interview, he described himself as an "independent Christian." He reports, "I did not write this book in defense of the Church. I wrote it in defense of history." The book makes no attempt to convert the reader.

After Protestantism broke from Catholicism in the sixteenth century, Protestants busily began cranking out lurid fantasies of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the witch trials. Protestants generated inaccurate accounts for the same reason that all identity groups demonize their other of choice. In the language of scholar Henri Tajfel, Protestants were maximizing positive distinctiveness. That is, to make membership in Protestantism more appealing, Protestants depict Catholic identity as utterly repugnant. Alas, Protestant propaganda plays into the hands of those who would smear all Christians, all Westerners, and indeed all people of faith as sadistic, irrational, triumphalist bigots.  

Anti-Catholic propaganda is hardwired into our neurons. We unthinkingly parrot the metaphors "witch hunt" and "inquisition." We are much less likely to turn to the French Revolution's "reign of terror" for our metaphor, though that anti-religious exercise killed about as many people in one year as died during the two hundred years of witch trials. We rarely resort to "show trial," though the Soviet government killed perhaps a million of its own citizens during just two years of the Great Purge.

Stark takes on ten mythologized topics: anti-Semitism, suppressed Gospels, persecution of Pagans, the Dark Ages, Crusades, the Inquisition, the development of science, slavery, authoritarianism, and modernity.

Stark grounds every assertion in peer-reviewed scholarship by the biggest names in their fields. Each chapter includes mini-biographies of these key scholars. He provides a bibliography of hundreds of books and articles, a good percentage published by university presses.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum refers to anti-Semitism with the conventional moniker of a "two thousand year hatred" – thus equating it with Christianity. Stark points out that those who insist that anti-Semitism has been temporally and geographically coterminous with Christianity can easily be proven wrong. Anti-Jewish persecutions predate Christianity, and Christians for many centuries were a minority sect without the power to persecute anyone. Christians in America today do wield power and show little interest in persecuting Jews. Western Christians did not murderously persecute Jews in any historically significant way until the eleventh century when "the conflict with Islam boiled over …" this "changed perceptions of religious threats." When anti-Jewish violence broke out, popes condemned it and bishops and knights protected Jews. In short, anti-Semitism is not essential to Christianity; rather, it is a phenomenon dependent on external factors.

In recent years theologians like Elaine Pagels have championed Gnostic Gospels and argued that the early Catholic Church learned to be violently oppressive of dissent by practicing on the Gnostics. No, Stark writes. The Gnostic Gospels were nothing more than marginal and "ludicrous." They died a natural death.

Similarly, Catholics are meant to have practiced their totalitarianism by viciously stamping out Classical Paganism. In fact, the switch from Paganism to Catholicism was gradual and blurry. As Stark puts it, "not even Saint Augustine could convince his flock that bountiful crops and good health" should not be "subcontracted to pagan gods." In Iceland, Helgi the Lean "believed in Christ, but invoked Thor in matters of seafaring." On the other hand, Pagans were willing publicly and gruesomely to torture Christians to death, even after Constantine accepted Christianity. A Pagan emperor forbade Christians from taking part in the education of the children of the elite. He'd be right at home today at elite colleges, where Christians are underrepresented among both faculty and students.

"The standard account of the Spanish Inquisition is mostly a pack of lies, invented and spread by English and Dutch propagandists in the sixteenth century during their wars with Spain and repeated ever after by the malicious or misled historians." Stark backs up this assertion with university press scholarship. One of the wilder facts: the Spanish Inquisition, in the person of Alonso de Salazar Frías, aka the Witch's Advocate, put a brake on the witch craze in Spain.

"No Catholic Church, No Scientific Method" is the title of a 2011 Scott Locklin article. Stark would agree. Stark grounds the scientific method in the Catholic approach to God and to knowledge, and contrasts both to those found in other belief systems such as Islam and Confucianism. Stark walks the reader through the development of scientific inquiry. He lists the most prominent figures. Many were not only devout Christians; many were clergy. "Just as there were no Dark Ages, there was no Scientific Revolution." Again, these are fighting words. Stark has the scholarly muscle to hit them home.

The Atlantic Slave Trade is a very tough topic; Stark discusses it with sang froid. He uses hard statistics to argue that, as hideous as slavery was, overall, slaves fared better in Catholic areas than in Protestant ones, and they were more likely eventually to be freed. Popes repeatedly condemned slavery, and it was their lack of temporal power, not their lack of conscience, that prevented their condemnations to result in an earlier end to the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Stark chides historians for not paying adequate attention to efforts by Jesuits to empower Native Americans to stand their ground against the Spanish and Portuguese colonial onslaught. Jesuits gave their life to this decades-long effort and achieved quite a lot. Surprisingly, Stark does not mention the 1986 film The Mission.

Very big names have condemned the Catholic Church as authoritarian. Reinhold Niebuhr said that the Catholic Church could not be part of a free society. John Dewey condemned the Church as a "reactionary world organization." Sidney Hook called the Church "the oldest and greatest totalitarian movement in history." Stark quotes Bernard Lewis' observation that separation of church and state "is, in a profound sense, Christian." Stark writes, "the Church made it possible to examine the basis of worldly power and the interplay of rights and rule." That's a pretty major accomplishment, one many societies, where religion and state are intertwined, could not make.

Max Weber attributed capitalism's success to Protestantism. Stark says that Weber is "obviously wrong." Stark traces the development of capitalism back through medieval times, to monasteries. He quotes Thomas Aquinas on the morality of pricing food sold in a famine zone.

Bearing False Witness does not whitewash Catholicism. With the same cool courage he displays with all controversial material, Stark acknowledges that some Jesuits did own slaves; some mobs did massacre Jews; some popes did father bastards. How, then, for two thousand years, has Catholicism produced priests willing to risk martyrdom in their attempts to empower the wretched of the earth, eloquent popes who articulated the evils of slavery, anti-Semitism, racism, and Nazism, women who transcended what society wanted women to accomplish? How did Catholicism nurture the intellectual life that gave the world the triumphs of Western science? Stark never strays from his laser focus. He does not attempt to answer this question. I will so attempt: because Catholicism is founded on the unique truth of an omnipotent and loving God who created all humanity and cares about the fate of each individual person, and who adjures us to love each other as He loves us, it was able to overcome the inevitable rot found in any human institution, and keep alive the spark ignited when Abraham first heard and obeyed the command to "Go!"

There are a few things I wish Stark had done differently. I wish his chapter on anti-Semitism had mentioned Edna Bonacich, as well as more recent work by Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein. Stark writes, "popular comedians no longer tell scurrilous jokes about priests or the pope, nor do many Protestant preachers still thunder on about the sins of the Vatican." Alas, Bill Maher has made a career of denigrating Catholicism (as documented by the Catholic League) and plenty of Protestants disseminate anti-Catholic propaganda. Chick Publications, which Stark does not mention, is going strong. In spite of a few small quibbles, this book has my highest endorsement, for everyone from Catholics to atheists who appreciate brave truth-telling on important topics.

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete

This review appears on Front Page Magazine here. Be sure to read the comments under the article. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I Will Not Vote for Donald Trump: My Top Twelve Reasons for Not Voting for Donald Trump

I will not vote for Donald Trump.

My top twelve reasons for not voting for Donald Trump are below.


I think George Bush and Barack Obama have both been disastrous presidents. The Iraq War, Obamacare: please God let us turn back the hands of time and erase both. We can't.

America needs a charismatic leader who can articulate and champion the Constitution, Western Civilization, the Judeo-Christian tradition and Emersonian self-reliance, achieve energy independence, keep us out of Sorcerer's-Apprentice foreign wars, declare a moratorium on all immigration, and get the American underclass off of generational welfare and doing the jobs immigrants do, earning a paycheck rather than shuffling toward a welfare check.

I planned to vote Republican, as I did in 2008 and 2012. I'm a registered Democrat, but when my party nominated a man whose campaign was typified by the notorious line, "Not God bless America, Goddamn America," the Democratic Party left me.

I don't own a TV and I don't follow celebrity gossip so I came to the 2016 presidential field knowing little about Donald Trump. I drove to a friend's house to watch the first debate and tried to see the best in him.

My favorite was Scott Walker. After he dropped out, I would have been happy with Rubio. I liked Cruz's intelligence and Christianity but had to acknowledge that the mob hated him for the exact reasons I liked him: intelligence, faith, and rectitude.

Trump? With careful study I realized I could never vote Trump. The reasons are below.

1.) Trump's Refusal to Disavow White Supremacists; and His Lies; His Continued Dog Whistling

On February 28, 2016, CNN's Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump three times to disavow white supremacist support, specifically that of David Duke. Trump refused. He later lied, claiming that he had a bad earpiece and could not hear the question. In fact Trump repeated David Duke's name. He heard.

In a more recent development, a critical mass of Trump supporters have openly expressed anti-Semitism. More on that here, but there's much more to this than one article can cover.

I cannot vote for the man in that Jake Tapper interview who declined to renounce David Duke's support and then lied about it. That alone renders him unworthy of my sacred vote.

Further – I *genuinely* don't understand how anyone, in good conscience, can vote for this man.

The KKK is a terrorist organization. No better than any other terrorist organization.

Some estimate c. 5000 lynchings in America, with c. 70% of the victims black. A good percentage of the rest were immigrants, Catholics, and Jews.

In Wisconsin and Utah, a white nationalist made robocalls for Trump. A white nationalist became a delegate for Trump in California.

No one is saying that Trump is personally a white supremacist, or that any given Trump voter is. Yes, since the Jake Tapper interview, Trump has seen which way the wind is blowing and tweaked his public statements, while continuing to dog whistle racists.

How can you play on the same team as David Duke?

2.) Trump's Infantile Temper Tantrum over Megyn Kelly

In the first debate, Fox newswoman Megyn Kelly asked Trump to answer for calling women "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals." To another woman, Trump said, "Must be a pretty picture, you dropping to your knees."

Here's how Trump should have answered. "I said those things before I became a presidential candidate. Now I am answering my country's call in a crisis. As part of my service, I now reject my former loose language. I ask forgiveness. I will speak with a new respect for women. Watch me. If I err again, correct me. But I promise you, I won't err."

Trump didn't do that. He collapsed into a mangled, messy heap like cheap lawn furniture. He broke down. He lost it. He made fun of Megyn Kelly for menstruating, even while he, Donald Trump, acted out a parody of a teenage girl overcome by a terminal case of PMS.

Trump refused to participate in the next Kelly debate. Subsequently, he lost Iowa.

Jesus said, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

Man-baby Trump will do to America what he did to his own campaign in Iowa. He's done it already. He reduced America's relationship with London's new mayor, Sadiq Khan, into a personal feud because Khan said something that Trump didn't like. "I will remember his nasty statements," Trump said. President Trump will bring America into nuclear war because Kim Jong-un will insult him.

You don't hand the car keys to a raving drunk. Not if you want to get home in one piece.

3.) The John Miller Interview Demonstrates Trump's Pathological Level of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

In 1991, Trump, in an interview with a People magazine reporter, pretended to be a PR man named John Miller. In that interview, he spoke in an inflated way of what a great guy Donald Trump is. You need to read the transcript, here. This behavior is outside the realm of normalcy.

4.) Trump's Pathological Lies. Truth Means Nothing to Him.

In May, 2016, on the day of the Indiana primary, Trump insinuated that Ted Cruz's father played some role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After winning that primary, Trump openly acknowledged that he did not believe that Cruz's father played any role in the JFK assassination.

Google "Trump's lies." Yes, we know politicians lie. But there is a difference between what most politicians do and what Trump does, and that difference is enough to disqualify him for any public office.

5.) There Is No There There. Trump Believes Nothing He Says.

Trump doesn't give a whit about the wall, or immigration, or making America great again any more than, when he ran four years ago, he gave a white about Obama's birth certificate. Trump poll-tested these issues and went with them because they got the masses riled up. Trump said, "You know, if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, 'We will build the wall!' and they go nuts."

Trump didn't address Islam till the San Bernardino jihad attack. You can't turn into a counter-jihadi overnight. Trump made a ham-handed statement about Muslim immigration because he knew it would raise his poll numbers as Americans mourned more dead. He spoke about Islam so idiotically that he singled-handed set back the counter-jihad movement at least a decade. More about that at my American Thinker article, "Donald Trump and Counter Jihad" here.

Trump has backtracked on his key positions because his key positions mean nothing to him. If he were to attain office, he would backtrack and do whatever it serves his purposes at any given moment to do. The past is prelude: Trump has no record of work or sacrifice or leadership or accomplishment on tightening America's borders, putting Americans to work, thwarting jihad, lowering the number of abortions, keeping business in the US. He is merely mouthing words that make his mobs of supporters "go nuts."

6.) Trump Does Not Love America

Donald Trump will be seventy years old in June. He has been incredibly wealthy and privileged his entire life.

What, exactly, has Trump ever done for America?

When he was 45, Bill Gates set up the Gates Foundation.

When he was a bit over 60, Andrew Carnegie began giving away 90% of his vast wealth, supporting libraries, universities, and charities. Carnegie is practically synonymous with philanthropy.

Julius Rosenwald, a child of Jewish immigrants, grew up doing hard manual labor. He got rich. When he was in his early forties, began giving his wealth away to educate African Americans in the American South.

That's what rich people who love America do. They spend hours and hours and much labor and lots of money changing America and the world for the better.

One could go on. The Rockefeller Foundation. The Ford Foundation. The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation. St Jude's Hospital.


Don't waste my time.

Trump could not take the time to understand the Constitution. He thinks judges sign bills. He does not respect free speech; he promises that when he is president he will squash free speech rights. He will order soldiers to commit unconstitutional acts. He encourages his supporters to beat up his opponents.

This is not a man who loves America.

This is a man who is using America to fulfill his narcissistic fantasies. We are the reporter audience to whom, as John Miller, he sang the praises of Donald Trump.

When Trump encounters men who have worked and sacrificed for America, like John McCain, who was a Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war, and Ted Cruz, who argued for our rights before the Supreme Court nine times, Trump mocks them.

7.) Trump's Plans, If Applied, Would Lead To Disaster, Say Economic Experts.

Trump's tariffs have no happy ending for American consumers. Read Mark Levin on this, for example, here.

8.) Trump's Worldview Is A Nativist House Of Cards that Delays Solutions.

Immigrants and cheap goods from China are the cause of all our problems. We are completely innocent. If we can just eliminate immigrants and cheap goods from China, we'll return to the glorious days of the late 1950s when America strode the world like a colossus.

Except that none of that is true.

Both Democrats and Republicans, both leaders and common folk, want immigrants. Immigrants gave you a cheap car wash. They give you cheap lawn care and cheap nannies and cheap food and cheap restaurant meals. If you can't face that, you aren't mature enough to vote.

You shop at Walmart. You buy cheap goods.

Any solution to the problems immigrants and China present will only be found when we acknowledge what Pogo did: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Trump's nativist rhetoric sells a fantasy that feeds on his followers' worst instincts. His rhetoric manipulates his followers into adopting and maintaining an infantile stance, one that rejects the demands of maturity: admit your own participation in the problems you face; don't pretend that it's all somebody else's fault.

"Make America Great Again" is a backward-looking slogan. The train has left the station. America will never return to 1955. Let us love and celebrate America as she is today, and move forward from today, not look backward to the past.

9.) Trump Does Not Walk the Walk; He Does Not Practice What He Preaches.

Trump talks up employing Americans. In fact he and his subcontractors hired illegal Polish immigrants to clean up asbestos in the preparation for Trump Tower. They were not given adequate safety gear for this carcinogenic work, they worked twelve hour shifts seven days a week, and they were promised five dollars an hour, and not even paid that. They sued; Trump and his cohorts settled, after sixteen years of litigation. The story was covered in the New York Times back in the 1990s and it is easily found online.

At Mar-A-Lago, Trump declines to hire American applicants. He hires Romanians. That story is also in the New York Times.

Trump merchandise is made in China.

10.) Trump's Ego Would Not Inspire Him to Succeed; Quite the Opposite

The other day an author I like and respect very much was on the Dennis Prager show. This author said, paraphrase, "Trump has a big ego. He puts his name on everything. His big ego will force him to succeed. He doesn't want to fail."


This is how someone with Trump's personality disorder works.

If Trump becomes president (heaven forbid) he will fail. He will fail because he lacks the temperament, the commitment, the love of country and training necessary for the job.

After he fails, *he will blame us.*

He won't change real world facts to coincide with his own self-narrative as Mr. Success.

He will merely change the story he tells himself and others to coincide with his own self-narrative as Mr. Success.

He will say, "Congress was against me. There was a conspiracy. My plan was really good but Megyn Kelly sabotaged it. It's all Ted Cruz's father's fault."

Want to see an example of this kind of self-mythologizing, this kind of manipulation of facts to coincide with one's inflated ego?

Read the John Miller – People magazine reporter transcript. Trump cheated on Ivana, thus sabotaging his marriage. Trump cheated on Marla Maples, thus sabotaging his adulterous relationship. Did Trump change his own behavior to save his marriage? No, he changed the story he told. It was all somebody else's fault. It was Ivana's fault. It was Marla's fault. Trump was superior and blameless. You can read a lot of it here.

Trump is not Hitler, and most Trump = Hitler analogies are absurd. But in this small respect, this analogy works.

Everyone thinks Hitler loved Germany, just as Trump's supporters think Trump loves America.

In fact Hitler ordered Germany destroyed. It's called the Nero Decree, after another ruler who destroyed his own empire. Hitler said, "If the German people loses the war, it will have proved itself not worthy of me."

Hitler could have said, "Whoops. I screwed up. The Soviets are advancing from the east. The Allies are advancing from the west. We've committed history's most notorious war crimes and Germany will be hated for generations. It's all my fault. I'm sorry."

No such luck.

No, Trump is not Hitler, but a failed President Trump would resort to the exact same psychological legerdemain for the same narcissistic-personality-disorder reasons. He would say, "I'm not the problem here. You are. America, you are unworthy of me. I wanted, by encouraging you to hate each other, by slapping tariffs on foreign goods, by building a wall, even though most illegal aliens arrive by plane, to make America great again. You didn't follow up. It's all your fault."

11.) Trump's Wealth Braggadocio Is Bogus

Trump is nowhere near as rich as he claims. See here.

Trump's hidden taxes hide secrets. See here.

Trump shafted Atlantic City says Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, see here.

Yes, Trump's four bankruptcies matter. See here.

One analyst says that if he had just invested his inheritance, he'd be richer today than he is now. Read that here.

12.) Cults of Personality Always Go Splat

Trump's followers love Trump. Not positions. Not policies. Not America. Not Americans. Trump.

"Only he can save us!" "Without Trump we are lost!" "I don't care if he insults women / publicly humiliates the Republican Party / promises to violate the Constitution. He is our leader!"

I don't hear, in those hosannas, any investment in America, any respect for, or even awareness of, the Constitution, or any faith whatsoever in American citizens. Without Trump America will fall? What about three hundred million Americans? Are we all chopped liver?
 That's a cult of personality. Cults of personality have a history of ending badly.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Meetings with Remarkable Birders at Garret Mountain, Paterson, NJ, May 2016

Melina Gioffre Fuda
Thursday, May 19, I got up at 3:30 a.m. I had things to do later in the day and I planned to devote one hour to birdwatching on Garret Mountain.

I didn't leave Garret Mountain until 12:30 p.m. I had been there for six and a half hours.

It's a small park. The trail that loops the top is only two miles.

I just couldn't stop oooo-ing and aaaa-ing. Each particle of light on each leaf seemed a miracle it would be a crime not to witness and celebrate and allow to change me – to humble me, to cleanse me, to make me more at peace, grateful, part-of-it-all. To remind me who I am.

I arrived at six. The sky was gray. I was wearing a down vest, an unusual garment in late May. I heard no birds. I walked down Wilson Ave to the area where I saw a female rose-breasted grosbeak the other day. I really wanted to see the male. A busy little Carolina wren all but pecked at my sneakers. Cool to see her so close.

Never saw the male grosbeak. I hear them, but with my hearing problem I can't locate sound. This breaks at my heart, as, before the incident, I was really good at locating birds by sound. I was bulldog determined. I would stand in the same spot, practically running an intravenous to the mosquitos, never leaving till I found the bird.

I saw a blue-gray gnatcatcher on the nest. The Cornell Lab All-About-Birds page for the blue-gray gnatcatcher informs us that

  • they don't eat a lot of gnats

  • they sometimes build as many as seven nests a season, because they are parasitized by cowbirds and mites and many predators eat their young

  • they build their nests from lichens and hold them together with spider webs.

They are, simply, adorable, as close to fairies as I ever hope to meet; I can't imagine that real fairies would be any improvement on blue-gray gnatcatchers.

I also saw a robin, a titmouse, and two blue jays on their nests. Blue jays are so obstreperous it was moving to witness their more tender, parental side. Actually for all I know they were telling their kids, "It's a dog-eat-dog world! Get out there and succeed! Don't be a wimp and don't make me ashamed!" Probably.

But of course I was lusting after warblers. I saw plenty, but not the cerulean I hoped to see. They are becoming rarer and rarer. :-(

I also wanted to see a Kentucky warbler, because I thought I had seen one the other day but it was a mere nanosecond flash between leaves in a treetop, and I'm very scrupulous and noting all field markings before a bird disappears.

Birdwatching really educates me about my own mind, how it works and how much information I can store. Warbler identification is all about stripes, bars, and washes, in yellow, black, brown, blue, green, and red. To identify a given bird, you must remember the number and placement and color of any given property. While you are looking at the bird, you are certain. That was a line through the eye.

You put your binoculars down, and turn to your field guide, and suddenly you are not so certain. Was that a line through the eye, or was it a triangle shape around the cheek? Was it feathers, or a mere shadow on the bird's face?

And yes, in the seconds it takes you to lower your binos and pick up your field guide, you do forget. These fine points probably meant very little to our primitive brains. I've lived in remote villages in Africa and Asia and no one I knew could name more than ten or so wild birds. The differentiation between one species and another meant next to nothing to my neighbors. For them it was all about, "We eat that. We don't eat that."

One autumn, I trekked through Muktinath, Nepal, at 12,000 feet in the Himalayas, one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites to Buddhists and Hindus. The ground was littered with common crane carcasses. Local boys had been amusing themselves with bolas, a rope with a weight at both ends. They tossed them at the migrating cranes' long necks, and choked them. Hated people that day. Hated, hated.

I wanted to see a Kentucky warbler again so I could be sure of the identification. I wanted to see a cerulean because they are blue, my favorite color, of the sky, my favorite element.

Birds laugh at such desires. And then they ice the cake by mocking us.

For years I had futilely been trying to see a yellow-billed cuckoo. They are a totem bird to me, and if I ever manage to find a publisher for God through Binoculars, you will discover why they are a totem bird to me.

As I hankered, yearned, and panted after cerulean and Kentucky warblers, a yellow-billed cuckoo, a normally secretive, skulking bird, all but landed on my face.

This was no retiring Geisha, a fan of leaves splayed across her countenance. This was a diva cuckoo. She stretched. She preened. She stared at me with strumpet like abandon.

"How could you be thinking of cerulean warblers when you could be looking at my creamy, immaculate breast, my fetching, elegant spotted tail and my rufous-tinted primaries?" she cooed.

And then she completed her show by vocalizing. So maybe she was a male; I don't know. But it was cool to watch a cuckoo call.

Watching sounds come out of bird's throat is mind boggling. Bird sounds are unlike any other sounds I know. They are layered. They are often impossible to describe. There are things going on there that seem to defy location in space and time. You can't plot bird song. It escapes our mind's parameters.

We can read lips because there is some relationship between the sounds we make and the shapes our lips assume.

Not so with birds. They all just get the same basic beak. It opens and symphonies or farts or scary movie soundtracks come out. Same two-part beak. Mind boggling.

Near Lambert Tower, I ran into a white-haired gentleman in a blue sweatshirt adorned with snow geese.

"Anything good?" I asked. I was wearing binos. He was wearing binos. No more words were necessary.

"I just saw two male scarlet tanagers in this bushes here."


I was immediately envious. You always are. The other birdwatcher, not you, had found the good spot, and was seeing all the good birds, as you strained your neck under one oak tree, trying to use your mojo to psychically will cerulean and Kentucky warblers to fly into view.

Gordon said he has been birding at Garret Mountain since 1963. He said that his hearing was not what it once was, nor his ability to move about quickly, so he had spent much time planted in that one spot against the stone wall, trying to find a worm-eating warbler.

"I see some clumps of leaves hanging from these bushes directly across from me, and in the past I've seen worm-eating warblers pull spiders out of such clumps," Gordon observed.

I nodded.

The other day I ran into a man who had seen a black-billed cuckoo by standing still as Gordon was doing right now. Just plant your boots in one spot and stare and stare and stare. Eventually a bird will fly by you. You might even achieve enlightenment. Worked for Buddha!

I was very glad I had run into Gordon. Before the incident, my hearing had been perfect and my most important sense. I am dyslexic and I learn best by hearing, not seeing. In fact my hiatus from birdwatching was caused partly by how depressed I was about losing so much of my hearing. Believe it or not, a good percentage of birdwatching is really bird-listening.

I was grateful that God had placed Gordon in my path. Gordon was showing me that there is more than one way to bird.

Gordon reminisced about all the birdwatchers he has known at Garret. There was a regular team of about eight people, and only two (?) are still at it. I'm probably misremembering the exact census.

"Do you know Bill Elrick?" I asked, mentioning a name I knew only from the internet.

"Yes," Gordon said. "I got him started. At first he wanted to band birds."


He mentioned Phil DelVecchio.

"He wrote 'Nature and Science' for the Paterson Evening News," I said.

"Yes!" Gordon said.

"He mentioned me in his column once," I said.


"Yeah. I saw a Lawrence's warbler on the Wanaque River."

My sister Antoinette had been so excited. Her little sister was mentioned in the newspaper! She read the column out loud – I can hear her right now. I think that that was one time in my life that I managed to please someone in my family. Very important to me.

A Lawrence's warbler is a hybrid between a blue-winged and a golden-winged warbler. I have not seen a Lawrence's warbler since that summer day on the Wanaque River so many decades ago. A blue-winged warbler calls every summer from the tops of the weeping willows in a low, wet patch at Skylands. Every time I hear the blue-winged's lazy call, bee buzzzz, bee buzzzz, I think of the time I saw a special bird, and my sister was proud of me, and I am lifted up, even if only subconsciously.

Birdwatching means so much to me. That's why it breaks my heart when I encounter dark behavior among birders.

"Is he gone?" I asked Gordon about Phil Delvechhio, trying to find the most delicate way to phrase my question.

"Yes," Gordon said. "It was back in … [I don't remember the year] that Phil called me. He was over ninety years old then. He was driving [to some remote location] to look at a bird."

Here's a salute to Phil DelVecchio from Paterson resident E. A. Smyk:

For 50 years, he wrote a popular weekly column called "Nature and Science" in the Paterson News. To this self-taught scientist, butterflies and stuffed ornithological specimens were not simply dust catchers sitting on the shelves of the Paterson Museum building on Summer Street. Rather, Del Vecchio used the products of the taxidermist's art to feed the wide-eyed imagination of young visitors.

Del Vecchio died in December 2001 at age 97, but a glimpse of his passion for natural phenomena can be gleaned in this excerpt from his "Nature and Science" column, dated Feb. 26, 1970:

"One night at sunset we went to the highest point of Garret Mountain to look for a new comet … Higher, above the haze and pollution levels, the moon shone with a sparkling radiance; and as the western sky grew dark we witnessed a rare phenomenon for these latitudes, the zodiacal light, a violet triangle against a darkening blue sky, based in the greens, oranges and reds of the setting sun."

In his column, which I read regularly, DelVecchio had mentioned Pete Both's walking the Appalachian Trail.

"Gordon," I asked. "Do you know Pete Both?"


And two male scarlet tanagers landed in the bushes directly across from Gordon.

Holy moley but do they look like living fire.

"Oooo! Aaaa!"

I said goodbye to Gordon and moved on. The sun started to peak through heavy cloud cover, now breaking up. Within a hundred paces or so, I ran into a guy in his thirties, all suited up in spiffy, crisp, fresh-out-of-the-box Burberry beige. I admired his gear. When it comes to outdoor stuff, not cars, I am a gear-head.

"Anything good?" I asked.

"What's good?"

Aha. A coy one.

"A painted bunting," I replied, fantasizing thoroughly. Might as well have said, "Passenger pigeon."

"I saw one!"


"In Louisiana, last year."


"But I saw a worm-eating warbler, and a Kentucky."

Oh. My. God.

"Listen," I said. "There is a gray-haired gentleman up ahead, leaning on the stone wall under the tower. Can you please tell him about the worm-eating warbler? He is looking for one."

"No problem!"

The man was smiling from ear to ear, with the enthusiasm of a child. He told me that this was his first time at Garret Mountain and that he was thrilled. I realized he had missed the biggest days this spring. I was seeing many fewer birds on this day than I had a few days earlier. I didn't want to spoil anything for him.

I moved on.

From about ten paces away, I could see that the woman standing in front of me was a celebrity. It was Melina Gioffre Fuda, a superb photographer, a true artist. I had never met her or spoken to her. I had stumbled across her photos on Facebook and "friended" her and admired her shots ever since. I knew we'd meet eventually.

The sun was fully out now. Melina was looking through her camera lens at a flycatcher perched on a bare branch.

"Melina," I said.

She looked at me, a bit quizzically. I don't post many photos of myself on Facebook.

"I'm Danusha. Your Facebook friend."

We shook hands. And then we talked, as if we had known each other for fifty years. She is Italian American, I am Polish American, we are both Jersey girls and bird lovers. That is how that is.

I moved on to the ridge trail. It was magic. I could have been in a hobbit forest; I was, in fact, within view of Manhattan. It was so private back there that I managed to do something I had really needed to do all morning, and not trouble anyone. It's biodegradable.

I hiked on through miniature little pockets of basalt and fallen leaves and patches of sky that gave my soul everything it needed: beauty, tranquility, mystery, the splendor of God's creation.

Down at the pond I ran into two birders who appeared to be in the early twenties. The guy was ridiculously handsome. Even as he reported to me all the birds he had seen, with great excitement, I kept thinking, "Do you realize how handsome you are? It's freakish."

And up walked Gordon.

I said to my two young interlocutors, "This is Gordon. He's been birding Garret Mountain for fifty-three years."

They were suitably impressed.

Gordon talked about the diminution of bird populations. He said that back when he was starting out, you'd just get out of your car at Barbour Pond, and not move past that, the birds were so thick and varied.

Gordon is right. Bird population declines are dramatic, depressing, and scary. Just one article here.

But we don't have to be depressed or scared. We can be active.

I don't make much money but I regularly donate to Audubon, Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, World Wildlife Fund. I also publish articles talking about the mistreatment of women. When women are empowered, they have fewer children, later in life, and those children do better, and so does the planet.

We can change the world. One bird at a time. Please donate to the nature organization of your choice today. Thank you. And the blue-gray gnatcatchers thank you – by eating bugs that might pester you. 

Blue-gray gnatcatcher on nest by Steve Proviser
Yellow-billed cuckoo Dan Pancamo 
worm-eating warbler by Bob MacDonnell