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Saturday, August 31, 2013

"Except Uncle John." Blogging a Broken Heart. Chapter Zero.

A field of rye. Source
Slovakia. Source
Slovakia source
I was a little kid alone in an empty house with a big, hard, strange man. I was scared.

I was scared because I knew that no matter what I did, it would be wrong.

If I looked at the man, they would scream at me. "You stupid fat bitch! How dare you look at him! Do you want to make him feel uncomfortable? Stupid fat worthless bitch."

If I didn't look at him, they would scream at me. "You worthless piece of garbage! You didn't even look at him! You made him feel horrible!"

If I talked to him, they would scream at me, "He doesn't even understand English you stupid fat bitch! You are so worthless!"

No matter what I did, it would be wrong.

I was frozen in fear. I was frozen in fear most of the time. Because no matter what I did, it would be wrong, and they would beat me. My mother, my father, my four older brothers, my older sister, nuns. Bang bang bang. Bruises all over, inside and out. Because I was so bad and everything I did was wrong.

Hard, stringy muscles bulged from his white t-shirt, no fat. His facial expression was unlike anything I had ever seen on an American. Do we even have a word for it? Not angry, not sad – severe. He had plainly never smiled. Never. Ever. Not a single smile.

We were alone, in a quiet empty house.

My father was wherever my father ever was. Work or golfing or something that would be discussed only in whispers or screams.

My mother was working. Always, always, always, working. Middle of the night. Cleaning offices. Six o'clock in the morning. Factory. Middle of the day. Cleaning some rich woman's house. Always working.

Oh, gosh. Mommy left for work, left the man here, left him without feeding him breakfast!

He must be hungry.

He is strange. He is foreign. He is alien. He even smells different! He comes from a village. Mommy's village. They don't have electricity there. Or do they? Running water? Stoves? Refrigerators? Does he cook on an open fire? Does he shoot his own deer for breakfast?

BANG BANG BANG. He is hammering nails! Carpentry! He is fixing the house! On an empty stomach! Because Mommy left for work and he has not been fed and he doesn't recognize the refrigerator as an appliance stocked with food!

Oh, gosh. I've got to feed him something. Even if everything I do is wrong. Even if they beat me later.

I stand up on shaky legs and go into the kitchen.

What do they like? They. We. Am I one of them or not? When the nuns make fun of my name in school, I feel like I am one of them. Right now, with this foreigner in my house, I am an American.

Rye bread. Ham. Eggs. A pickle. That's what they like. That's what we like. I can do that.

I have been taught to cook. Cooking is the one thing I don't do wrong.

I arrange it on a plate so it looks nice.

Terrified, I step towards the porch, where the man is hammering nails.

What will I say? I can't say anything. I can't do anything right and I can't speak my mother's language. But I can't let this man go hungry.

I make some noises in my throat.

The pale, scary, severe man turns around to face me and my fear and the plate of food I just cooked, and made look nice, just for him. His cheekbones ride high. His cheeks sink. Lank grey hair is pushed back from his brow. His blue eyes glitter in an almost geologic, inhuman way, as if they were signaling glaciers, their distant kin.

Our eyes meet.

And that was all it took.


I remember that exact moment as if it were a crisp photograph nestled in the folds of my brain. I remember that exact moment my eyes met Uncle John's eyes. I have loved him ever since with my entire heart.

"Except for Uncle John." I've been alone all my life. "Except for Uncle John."


My mother was born in Czechoslovakia, a country that no longer exists.

I just asked my Facebook friends, most of whom are American, "How many of you have a parent who was born in a country that no longer exists?"

Magdalena Paśnikowska, whom I had thought of as Polish, revealed that both she and her mother had been born in Czechoslovakia.

Having a parent born in a country that no longer exists can inform the sensitive soul that history does violence, and that security is a temporary illusion. The forces that made and broke my mother's beloved homeland, a homeland she missed till the day she died (I played fujara music for her as she died) those forces were cataclysmic: World War I, Versailles, World War II, Soviet occupation, the fall of the Soviet Empire. Ezekiel's God raised life from old bones: "Czechoslovakia, Arise!" Within one person's lifetime, Czechoslovakia erased.

I sometimes feel a barrier between myself and my American friends, friends whose parents were lucky enough to be born in countries that still exist. I want to teach them this one way that the world can be cruel. It can vaporize something as solid as your homeland.

When my mother and I flew into Czechoslovakia for her first visit home since she had left as a child, as the plane descended into legendarily beautiful Praha – Prague – she rhapsodized. She was so proud. But Prague is not my mother's capital city any more.


Uncle John came to visit our family in America when I was a kid. It was the 1970s. He came for a few weeks. He came alone.

I was told wild stories about Uncle John.

I didn't understand my mother's language very well in those days. I knew a few words. Years later I would spend a year in Poland and learn Polish, which is roughly mutually intelligible with Slovak.

When I was a child, though, I didn't understand, so I had to accept what I was told. I report it now, hoping I am not slandering my Uncle.

I was told that Uncle John had killed a man. Uncle John was guarding the village's grain, I was told, and someone had come to steal it, and Uncle John shot him dead. There was a trial, and Uncle John was found guilty and sent to prison.

More. Uncle John had grown tired of his wife, a traditional Slovak woman who wore only black, including a black apron and a black babushka. And she was skinny. My mother translated Uncle John as saying, "I want a fat woman who wears colorful clothes," and so he took up with Jolana, who was indeed fat, and did wear colorful clothes. She was a midwife and a witch. She would cure me of evil eye, God bless her.

My mother was uncomfortable with the witch part. Mommy complained more about the magic than about Uncle John leaving his lawfully wedded wife and living in sin. My mother was a village woman who had emigrated to America. The Hasterman, the water sprite who kidnapped children who wondered too close to the River Nitra at night, and the churching, not going out after giving birth until one had been churched, and all the other village beliefs really bugged my mom. That's what she said in English, anyway. Who knows what she said in Slovak. Perhaps the Slovak version of "Abracadabra."

After Uncle John left his skinny wife who wore all black, his sons ambushed him and beat him till they thought he was dead. He wasn't dead, but he was in the hospital for quite a long time.

Uncle John was a Communist. I asked him why. "When I was a child, hospitals and doctors were only for the grofs and the rich. A peasant could not go to a hospital. A peasant got sick and died. Today, peasants can not only go to hospitals, they can go to health spas like Piešťany. That's thanks to the Communist Party."

At a more feverish moment, Uncle John would tell us that he was a communist because one day a man stood up in the village bar and said, "Slovak som a Slovak budem." "I was born a Slovak and I will die a Slovak." And that man disappeared and was never heard from again.

And, in a village that was one hundred percent devoutly Catholic, Uncle John denounced priests as "blazons," fools, and insisted that there was no God.

Uncle John was a bit of a badass.

The best Slovaks always are.

My mother told me that the fujara players wore half shirts that exposed their midriffs because the Hungarian bastard oppressors accused the Slovak serfs of smuggling stolen loaves of bread in their shirts. The Slovaks, in defiance, cut off the cloth to reveal their flat, empty stomachs.

Hunger, theft, defiance, music: our history.

I don't know if this story is true. I don't know if any of this is true.


We were a family of modest means. We had not seen, and would never see, the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, not even the Pine Barrens in our own state.

Uncle John had performed something of a miracle. A subsistence farmer and beekeeper, he had gotten together the money, and, in a post-Prague-Spring Soviet prisoner nation, received permission to visit America.

Where we could take him?

The Bronx Zoo, my father suggested.

"No, no," I pleaded. "I don't want to see animals in cages. Let's go to the Museum of Natural History!"

"Sure," they said. "That's what we'll do." So we all packed into the car and ended up at the Bronx Zoo. I cried. My father said, "John is a mountain man. He doesn't want to look at stuffed, dead animals." My father was right.

Daddy always called Uncle John a mountain man. Uncle John walked like a mountain man, Daddy said. I don't know about that, but I know that he pronated, and I do, too. We both wore our shoes down in the same asymmetrical way – from the inside of the heel out.

We also took Uncle John to a lake. I don't remember if it was Shepherd Lake or the lake at Bear Mountain. I remember that during that trip Uncle John took up a bee by its wings and talked to me about bees. He was never stung, and the bee escaped unscathed. I was amazed. Uncle John may have actually smiled.

And then Uncle John had to go back to Czechoslovakia, and I was very sad.


A few years later, my mother said to me one day, completely from left field, "I am taking you to Czechoslovakia for three weeks."

I was exploded with joy.

I remember the view of Praha from the plane, and my mother so proud that the capital of her country was one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

I remember a communist functionary in a caged booth giving my mother a hard time and she, flustered, exclaiming, "Jesus Maria i Svaty Jozef!"

The clerk threatened my mother, "Ja te dam 'Jesus Maria I Svaty Jozef'" – "I'll give you Jesus Mary and Joseph!" Wow, we were in a country where people in power could answer back to my mother in Slovak.

Uncle John picked us up. I was still scared of him. I'm scared of him now. I know he will welcome me to Heaven, and I'll be scared of him then.

Uncle John had a Škoda. That he had a car at all was pretty remarkable. Others in the village didn't have one. His house didn't have an indoor toilet till we arrived; he installed it for us.

The car's shell was made out of the same flimsy material used for cookie tins. It was propelled by a large rubber band being wound up and then released – my best guess at Soviet era mechanics. Uncle John carried a complete tool kit. We regularly stopped for repairs. Once we arrived in a city in the mountains just because, luckily enough, the car had died at the height of a pass. We coasted into town.

I was with Uncle John, in his little home, on his little plot of land, for three weeks.

With him I donned gloves and gathered nettles by the side of the road, with him I fed his pigs, rabbits, and chickens. We went to Piešťany and Topoľčany.

Three weeks were drawing to a close.

Uncle John and my mother had a talk. A tense talk. Loud. Important.

"He wants you," she said. "He wants you to live here in Slovakia with him. He says he will send you to a very good school, everything covered."

My heart beat fast.

"I said no," she said.

I wish my life had ended right then. I wish some superhero could turn the earth, turn back time, and … what?

I would never have been brave enough to defy my mother. Uncle John would not defy her. Who could have rescued this moment?

My mother hated me. I would devote hundreds of hours over the coming years to trying to overcome having a mother who hated me.

Here was a man, Uncle John, who loved me, and whom I loved. I loved Slovakia. I loved the rabbits and the chickens, the honeybees and the storks on rooftops. I loved the old women in black who constantly hugged me and made me drink slivovice and eat gooseberries and told me sad stories I couldn't begin to understand except for a few stray words: "Your grandmother sang beautifully … Nazis … Russians … war … Jesus and Mary … eat!"

Uncle John wanted to send me to a good school. An education. I craved this.

Why did she keep a daughter that she hated so much? Oh, that was it. My mother hated me so much that she kept me with her in order to keep me from love. 

Fujara player with midriff-baring shirt. Source
Six years later. I am no longer a little girl, though I am still scared most of the time, convinced I am monstrously fat and do everything wrong. I was sitting in my large, post-French-colonial house in Africa, taking a break from planning lessons, reading a letter from my mother.

Through these letters that she sends me in Africa, and, then, in Asia, I meet a different woman. This is one of the best writers I have ever read. She is whip smart and witty as Mark Twain, as Dorothy Parker. She is actually also compassionate. Who is this woman? I not only love, I admire her.

She begins the next sentence this way, "When you read this, do not cry or grieve. I have received news from the village. Uncle John is…"

I begin screaming. Alone, in this big, African house.

Later I wake from a nightmare. I am pounding on the wall, screaming and crying. Bruno, my lover, tries to calm me down. He can't. I just keep repeating, "Uncle John! Uncle John!"


I have this.

This is something everyone on planet Earth seeks. It is that feeling that you are in the right place, no other place. You occupy the exact right time, no other time. You are with the very best person on the planet you could ever possibly be with, no other person. Everything that needs to be said is being sad, no other words. Strangely enough, I have this with someone with whom I cannot converse. He speaks no English. I know only a word or two of Slovak.

It is summer. The sky is blue. The clouds are white. The sun is gold. The road beneath us is dirt.

A man is walking up ahead of me. He has survived the bastard Hungarians, and the lowlife Austrians. He has survived World War I and the Depression in this village, where hunger was real. He has survived the Nazis. He has survived the Soviets. He has survived.

He is dressed in plain, black clothes. Black slacks. White shirt. Black jacket. His black shoes are worn down on the insides.

To our right is a field of rye. It moves with the wind as do ocean waves. It hypnotizes. Red poppies, white daisies and blue chicory fringe the road and the field. Clouds of butterflies play above the blossoms. The rye is strangely blue.

I am following this man up into his mountains. That's where he keeps his hives. It's the season when the queens try to escape. Wearing only a fedora as protection, he will climb a slender sapling, stick his bare hand into a swarm of bees, find the queen, grasp her, and bring her back, bringing all the other bees with her. He will save the day.

After that, we will walk this same dirt road back to the cottage. Jolana will kill a chicken and make knedliki and we will eat, and then sleep.

But that's later, this evening. For now I am just doing just this. I am following this man on a dirt road. And this – not when I publish my book, not when I see the Taj Mahal, not when I win a large sum of cash – this is the perfect moment of my life, which nothing can take away.

Uncle John. Far Left. 
A field of rye. Source

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is This TORTURE? Can Amnesty International Help???

Is This TORTURE? Can Amnesty International Help???

1.       Attendance is mandatory. Three hours' worth of absence will cause a student's final letter grade to be dropped by one letter grade; five or more hours' worth of absence will result in a failing grade. Two late arrivals to any class session counts as an absence. Any student not settled in his seat at the exact time that class is scheduled to begin will be late.

2.       Do not attempt to circumvent class rules by telling the professor a sad story. Campus offers many resources. If you need help with anything, ask for help; I'll help. But do not tell the professor that you work, that you could not find a parking space, that you suffer from Lampington's Disease, that you are taking time off to attend a funeral, as part of any attempt to circumvent academic requirements. If you are absent, contact a fellow student and ask for notes. If you arrive late, it is your responsibility, after class, to inform the teacher of your arrival in order that you not be counted absent. If you arrive late, sit quietly near the door. Do not walk across the room or make noise while getting your papers out.

3.       Comport yourself in an appropriate manner for a mature adult in an academic environment where respect for others and personal dignity are required to advance the necessary focus and learning for all. Remain seated in class during the class session. Use the restroom and make cell phone calls before class, after class, or during breaks, not during class. Don't pack your bags noisily before class ends. Speaking out of turn may contribute to a failing grade. We will be discussing controversial issues: race, gender, religion. If students speak out of turn, that will lower the quality of the discussions. Raise your hand and wait to be recognized before you speak. Don't sleep, joke, etc. while another student is speaking. Don't eat in class. Don't wear baseball caps in class. These behaviors degrade the academic environment.

4.       Class participation is mandatory. Participate in every class session, in a courteous way, commensurate to the percentage of the class that you represent. Remember: apt and sincere questions contribute to learning.

5.       Silence and store your electronic devices before class begins. Three strikes of visible or audible devices in this room, at any time, and your grade drops one letter grade. Please do this before class begins so that I don't have to devote time to asking students to store devices. I reserve the right to confiscate visible electronic devices temporarily.

6.       Emphasize conscientiousness. Students who consistently arrive on time, hand in assignments on time, participate in class, don't talk out of turn, whose work shows evidence of application of critiques, receive A's and B's.

7.       Exhibit courage. If you think that there is something that needs to be said and no one is saying it, it is your job to say it.

8.       Exhibit integrity: integrate your thoughts, beliefs, feelings, words, and deeds. This class will take up hours of your life. Live those hours fully, in truth. One goal of the teacher in this class is to improve the student's ability to speak and write about his own position. To do this, students must master the ability to understand and reiterate what others are saying, to state their own opinions in Standard English, and to support their opinions with facts from academically reputable sources. As part of her effort to hone verbal mastery in the students, the teacher will assume various personae: a believer in racist theories, an atheist, a religious believer … students should not assume that the teacher holds any of these positions. The teacher will challenge students to better support their positions. Students should not assume that this is a sign that the teacher wants the students to remain silent or agree with the teacher. When the teacher asks the students challenging questions, she is trying to hone students' ability to produce academically reputable and convincing positions. Do the work, and you will get the grade, whether the teacher agrees with you or not.

9.       LATE WORK and EMAILED WORK WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED. If you don't hand in work on time, you will receive a failing grade for it.

10.    Standard English is required. If you have not mastered Standard English, work with the tutors at the Writing Center, and this website. If you get critical comments from me on your paper, don't get angry, don't cry, and don't give up. Writing is like any other activity. You can improve your writing. Talk to me. I can help you to improve your writing. If you can't write in Standard English, you cannot pass. 

I'll Be Speaking on September 11, 2013. Please Come!

Knight Academy Lecture Rosenborg Palace. Source
I'll be giving at talk about "Save Send Delete" at the Wayne Public Library, Preakness Branch, on Wednesday, September 11, 2013, at 10:30 a.m. Please come! 

Directions are here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

"Secrets of the Koran: Revealing Insights into Islam's Holy Book" by Don Richardson

"Secrets of the Koran: Revealing Insights Into Islam's Holy Book" by Don Richardson. Book Review.

Richardson's main points: Richardson repeatedly emphasizes that the vast majority of Muslims are good people who often aren't even aware of what is in the Koran, as it is not translated, it is in a medieval Arabic, and it is so chaotically written it is borderline incoherent without the hadiths, or sayings, to clarify what verses mean. The Koran is so repetitious that if all repetitions were deleted, it would be 40 % of its current size.

The Koran is a unique among world scriptures. It repeatedly calls for jihad and repeatedly threatens a ghastly hell to anyone who doubts and does not obey without question. Islam was spread by the sword. Christians and Jews were crushed under Islam. Islam is making headway in Europe through its high birth rate and Europeans' low birth rates. Islam is making headway in America through Political Correctness, especially on university campuses. Students are encouraged to be hostile to and ashamed of Christianity, while not being taught about the Arab Slave Trade. The Judeo-Christian tradition is an important foundation of Western Civilization, and even atheists will regret it if we reject it.

Richardson offers a comparison between the Judeo-Christian God and Allah. God keeps promises and separates church from state. Allah is free to abrogate any previous statement, and can withdraw salvation even after death. Allah demands totalitarian power over church, state, and the entire planet.

Further, "Jesus raised the dead; Mohammed killed the living. Jesus healed the sick; Mohammed harmed the healthy. Jesus released the oppressed; Mohammed enslaved the free."

There are at least 109 jihad verses in the Koran; one out of every 55 verses is a jihad verse. One in every eight verses is a threat of damnation. Hell is graphically described as a place with vivid tortures, like burning in fire till skin blisters off, only to be healed in order to have new skin to burn. By contrast, the Old Testament mentions Hell once n every 774 verses, and it is never described so graphically. Anyone who questions that Mohammed is a prophet, or questions that the Koran is divinely inspired, or refuses to battle for Islam, goes to hell.

Mohammed claimed himself to be in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the Koran claims that the Bible confirms the Koran. In fact the Jews who knew Mohammed rejected him, and the Bible contains no confirmation of the Koran. Mohammed murdered many Jews and exiled Jews and Christians from Arabia, where they cannot live to this day.

Mohammed's versions of Biblical stories are garbled and include extra-Biblical folklore. Errors include the Koran mentioning the Exodus story 27 times but never including the Passover. Mohammed confused Haman, a Persian, with the Egyptian Exodus story which occurred 900 years before Haman. Mohammed mixes in elements of the story of the Tower of Babel, which has nothing to do with Haman or Egypt. The Koran's inclusion of extra-Biblical fables include God lifting up Mount Sinai and threatening to drop it on the heads of the Jews, and Jesus making clay birds fly.

The Koran does not depict Mohammed as performing any miracles. It also does not depict the Jews as ever attacking Mohammed. Rather, it was he who attacked, slaughtered, and enslaved them, and who took Jewish women captive as sex slaves.

Mohammed fought 47 battles and raided dozens of caravans. Captured females and booty were distributed to warriors, thus increasing Islam's appeal. Heaven offers abundant sex slaves to warriors. When the severed head of one enemy was tossed at Mohammed's feet, he said it was more acceptable to him than the choicest camel in Arabia. Warriors had to pledge fealty to Islam above all other ties; they were encouraged to massacre their own relatives.

Mohammed repeatedly ordered that his critics be killed; he ordered or supported at least 43 assassinations, including poets, women, children, and the elderly, half of whom were killed for criticizing Mohammed. Mohammed personally supervised the systematic beheading of hundreds of Jews.

Islam divides humanity up into two parts: the House of Islam and the House of War, or non-Muslims. Non-Muslims must be warred upon until they submit.

It is the Muslim's duty to make war on all infidels until Islam is dominant, ex 8:40. Peaceful verses like "Let there be no compulsion in religion" were abrogated – that is, canceled out. Allah threatens to obliterate faces and twist heads around on their necks. The Koran permits Muslims to enter the homes of infidels and steal their belongings 24:29. The Koran and hadiths recommend sex slavery.

Richardson says that "If the Koran makes full sense only in Arabic, it is not a revelation for all mankind." The Koran contains nothing comparable to the Good Samaritan story. Rather, the morality of the Koran demands that Muslims be nice to Muslims and not take infidels for friends. The Koran's support of slavery ravaged Africa and Europe – more than ten million Africans and over a million Europeans were enslaved. Castration was routinely practiced in the Arab slave trade, not outlawed till late in the 20th century.

"Secrets of the Koran" is an undisciplined rant. Richardson obviously has passion and courage, but his book cries out for an editor. He goes off on too many tangents and covers no topic adequately. He uses some good sources, like Ibn Warraq and Bat Yeor, but in other cases he cites anecdotes and Reader's Digest. He uses anecdotes when he should and easily could cite published statistics. He misses some authors he should cite. He shares unique insights, but is then clueless. He overuses italics, exclamation points, and rhetorical questions, and the book is repetitive. He succumbs to that Protestant failing, anti-Catholic bigotry. Richardson's insights on the Koran are valuable, but you could read better edited books offering the same information.

Don Richardson is also a painter. Here is some of his artwork, available as cards at his website here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

More Bad News and How It Is Affecting My Faith in God

I got more bad news the other day. And my first thought was, there is no way I can tell anyone about this. Because it's been nothing but bad news for too long, and people are worn out, and if I report one more piece of bad news, everyone will turn away from me permanently. I've used up all my bad news chips.

Also, of course, I feared that people would say, "Well, you know, it's all your fault."

Before this series of bad news events, my life was no picnic, but it had its hopes and joys. I'm an adjunct professor looking for a full time job I'll probably never get. I have no family and little money. But I love my apartment and I LOVE my job. My job doesn't offer health insurance. A key fact, lately.

The past two years have been one catastrophe after another. Two hurricanes. One forced evacuation and two weeks without power. A broken arm. Cancer. Cancer in a loved one. A broken relationship. A book publication and good reviews, but no publicity. And now this.

I'm not sure what this new bad news will mean. The scary part – a chance of blindness. Or it could be relatively minor. It could even be self-correcting. I don't know. Once I found out about blindness, I stopped asking.


I remember the week after September 11, 2001. Americans suddenly felt unsafe, instead of smug and self-assured. People were hugging their loved ones tight, knowing that they might never see them again. People were realizing that everything they owned might go up in smoke at any minute. People were realizing that there were forces in the world that hated them and wanted to destroy them and might.

I felt psychologically at home that week. Suddenly everyone around me knew what I'd known all my life. What I'd learned from being an abused kid, from being born into a poor family and eating surplus food, from my brother being killed on my birthday, from working as a nurse's aide and watching people die alone and unloved, forgotten by their own children.

I love my country, but sometimes its ease feels very alienating.

I like the diversity of New Jersey. One of my students told me once about escaping his home country with bullets flying at his heels as he ran over a border into the unknown. He was in his mid-fifties, and he had had to leave everything, everything he owned, his status, his family, his language, and run from a police state. He was starting all over with nothing, at a time of life when my American friends look forward to comfortable retirement.

This is why I go ballistic and encounter my inner Grand Inquisitor when I see cute food on Facebook. I know cute food is harmless. I know it's an expression of creativity and love. I look at it, though, and think, "You spent hours putting Reese's peanut butter cups and malted milk balls into the shape of a turkey while there are so many problems in the world???!!!"

And, yes, we all need to escape from the problems in the world, and if a Reese's peanut butter cup shaped like a turkey gets you there, God bless you. I'm just reporting on one of the folds in my perception.

I strive to pray the rosary every day. The first prayer of the rosary is the Apostle's Creed. The first words of that prayer are "I believe in God."

I now stop at those words.

My book "Save Send Delete" is the true story of my yearlong debate about God, and love affair, with a prominent atheist. In the book, I do my best to present my case for faith.

I couldn't write the book now.

I ask myself about discrete elements of Christian faith. Do I believe that Jesus existed? Yes. Do I believe that he died on the cross? Yes. Do I believe that he rose from the dead? More yes than no. Do I believe in God? Probably. Do I believe in life after death? Yes.

What part, then, do I choke on?

That God loves me. Inconceivable.

That my life has any meaning or significance at all.

I find it hard, any more, to pray for myself.


As I scroll down the Facebook feed, I see prayer requests. I want to pray for people.

I stop. I sit still. I acknowledge that I am turned to stone. I pray to transmogrify, even if only for the few moments it takes to pray for a stranger on Facebook. I pray to be able to pray for others. I pray to be able to hope and channel love. I pray.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Save Send Delete": Powerfully Written, Logical Arguments for God

The work by Rembrandt that Emma Googled. Source
I am very touched by Emma Bull's Goodreads review of my book "Save Send Delete."

I'm especially grateful for this sentence: "I am not a believer in God personally, however, I'm no atheist either, but the logical arguments and supporting anecdotes made me contemplate the possibilities, it is so powerfully written."

So far many readers have enjoyed the love story aspect of the book, but not that many have focused on the God stuff. I'm glad it worked for Emma.

Here's Emma Bull's full review:

I'm not particularly a fan of epistolary style writing, especially when you are reading only from one person's angle. I found that although I was frustrated that I didn't know exactly what Rand was writing to Mira, it made me think, and look between the lines and use my imagination. I can't actually remember the last book I read, if any, that has made me truly concentrate on what the author has written/not written. She has inspired me to go and read all the references, I actually googled Rembrandt to view the painting as Mira is discussing it with Rand. I am not a believer in God personally, however, I'm no atheist either, but the logical arguments and supporting anecdotes made me contemplate the possibilities, it is so powerfully written. I just wish that perhaps the last word had been "send."

Miley Cyrus at VMA: The Antidote

Miley Cyrus, an American child star, performed at the VMA last night. She strutted onstage, stuck out her tongue, and pointed to her crotch. She stripped down to flesh colored underwear, and donned a foam finger to point at her crotch. She then went down on all fours and pretended to receive anal sex from a man dressed as a pimp.

It was heavy-handed, ugly, and for me anyway, weirdly unerotic.

"Her performance went over the line that separates humans from animals," said my friend Fayla Lindsey Ott, author of the bestselling "A Time to Heal."

I disagreed with Fayla. I said that wild creatures in their own habitats often approach mating with a mesmerizing conviction, effort, beauty, and dignity. Not all the time. But many do.

I thought of the birds of paradise video that has taken youtube by storm, and video of 17 year cicadas. Watching them is the antidote to Miley Cyrus' depressing display.

Oppose US Military Intervention in Syria Because ...

I oppose US military intervention in Syria because

1.) This isn't good guys against bad guys. This is bad guys against bad guys. The Assad regime is a notorious rejecter of any concept of human rights. The regime's opponents are the types to mutilate corpses and eat a human heart on camera (really -- check youtube.)

2.) The US has no influence in Syria, no cards to play. We can't say, "Do what we want or we will ... " We have no leverage.

3.) Military intervention, if not approached with a total war / win decisively at all costs strategy (what we did during WW II), always has disastrous unintended consequences and things end worse than they began. See US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Persecution of Christians in Egypt: Let's Please Do This. It's Quick, It's Painless, and It Will Make You Feel Good. And Let Us Know How It Went!

You enjoy freedom of speech. Use it! It feels good! 
Please do this.

It will be easy to do.

It will make you feel good.

1.) Please go to this website and find the address of your representatives:

2.) Please go to your local paper's website or a website like this one and get your local paper's editor's email address.

3.) Please also find an email address for the leaders at your church, synagogue, mosque, or humanist society.

4.) Please cut and paste the letter, below, and send it to your elected representatives, the local press, and church leaders. Or write your own letter.

Dear (Place elected representative or Editor name here)

At this very moment, an innocent, indigenous, minority population is being targeted for terror, death, and cultural, if not actual genocide. These victims live in a country that the US supports with massive amounts of economic aid. Many analysts point out that American diplomatic missteps may have contributed to these attacks. These victims are the Christians of Egypt.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights reports the following statistics just for August, 2013:

Torched: 25 churches and monasteries, four Coptic civic associations, two religious libraries, four schools or Coptic associations attached to churches, two social services annexes and an orphanage that was evacuated only a few days prior to the attack.

Looted and destroyed: seven churches and four schools run by Coptic associations.

Partially destroyed: five churches

Pelted with stones and Molotovs: ten churches and the houses of three priests

Analysts see an echo in today's violence of the fourteenth century. Until then, Egypt was still almost fifty percent Christian. Under Muslim persecution, including the threat to convert or face being burned alive, many terrorized Christians converted.

The Christians of Egypt face their Kristallnacht. On November 9-10, 1938, German Nazis attacked Jewish houses of worship. The world sat by and did nothing. Hitler took the world's passivity as a sign that he would encounter little resistance in carrying out his planned genocide of the Jewish people. Indeed, he was able to carry out that plan.

We must not be similarly passive, especially since, given the amount of aid it receives, Egypt is a client state of the United States. The persecution of Egypt's Christians is happening in our geopolitical and economic backyard.

Please take action on this matter. Please do so quickly. Please inform me of what you do.

Thank you.


Please do this, folks. Please let's send out these letters. And report back what happens.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hitchhiking to Heaven Part Two: Skylands Photos!

A few posts back I wrote about Skylands, my favorite place on earth. You can read the blog post "Hitchhiking to Heaven" here.

The other day I had the unique pleasure of sharing Skylands with the talented young writer Tasha Samkough. Tasha sent me these photos of Skylands.

You can read more of Tasha's writing here

Friday, August 23, 2013

Unfriended on Facebook! Because of Politics! Liberal Smackdown!

At least he didn't call me an ignorant slut. 
"Leo" told me that he was going to unfriend me on Facebook because I am too "right-wing." And I post "right-wing crap" which upsets him.

I was hurt. And my reasons for being hurt will surprise you. This is important not just for me or Leo but for where America is headed, right now.

Oh, I was hurt for the obvious, personal reasons, of course.

I was hurt because like most humans I am a big baby and I want people to like and accept me and I feel sad when they dislike and reject me.

I was hurt because I like reading Leo's posts: fruits of his creativity and announcements about his next artistic productions.

I was hurt because I feel connected to people Leo is connected to and I learn of their comings and goings, their joys and sorrows, like the birth of Leo's new grandson, only through Facebook.

I was hurt because I wish I were not so alone and I am aware that my tendency to work through problems publicly, in dogged debates, alienates people. I am called "opinionated," "obnoxious," "self-righteous," "obsessive," "boring, " and "wrong," "wrong," "WRONG!!!"

Four people have unfriended me on Facebook in the past month or so, all of them self-identified "leftists" or "liberals," all because I am "right-wing."

And I am hurt.

But here's what REALLY hurts me – and here's what matters – these "liberals" identify me as "right-wing."

And it doesn't hurt me for the reason you might think.

Some facts.

I'm a registered Democrat. Both of my parents were registered Democrats. Over ninety percent of the candidates I've voted for have been Democrats. I've worked for the Democratic Party and other liberal causes, going door to door with a clipboard, educating and asking for donations. I've registered voters on street corners. I've staffed phone lines. I've pasted fliers on utility poles. Always for "liberal" causes: the environment, unionization of workers, peace.

I actively support gay rights, broadcasting essays like this and publishing essays like this. I marched, attended countless meetings, and donated money.

I've been actively opposed to every American military intervention in my adult lifetime. I've organized anti-war demonstrations and spoken on street corners and over the radio.

I'm a feminist. I'm pro-choice.

Even when I was living on an adjunct's salary of six thousand dollars a year (really) I donated, and continue to donate money, to Audubon Society, Humane Society, Guidedogs for the Blind, World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club, National Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy, National Parks … If you stick an animal or a tree on an envelope and send it to me with a request for a donation, chances are I will send you money.

I eat healthy: whole grains, beans, in season, local if possible. I've grown my own food.

It actually never occurred to me in my life to take work with money as the primary goal. I was a nurse's aide, Peace Corps Volunteer, writer, and teacher.

I lived in Africa, speak an African language, and have had African American friends, bosses, and lovers. Ditto Asia. I have had friends, bosses, coworkers, students, and lovers from all the major racial groups and religions.

If had more time and could do more volunteer work, I would work against jail and for restorative justice.

If I won the lottery, I would create my own elementary school in the high-crime, high-minority, post-industrial slum of Paterson, NJ. I have fantasized this school in detail.

This is what my liberal friends are calling right-wing, and saying they must expunge from their lives; this is what my liberal friends find so upsetting they can't bear to encounter it on Facebook.

I think you get my point. I'm about as "right-wing" as Emma Goldman.

So why do my Facebook posts upset Leo so much? Why must he eliminate these posts from his vision?

Here's why.

I'm poor. I live among poor people. I don't read about poverty, I live poverty and witness poverty, and I minister to poverty when I encounter it among students, neighbors and friends.

My aha moment about liberalism and poverty: liberal policies fail the poor. I've lived it. I've seen it.

Years ago, when I thought of myself as a "liberal," or a "leftist," I thought of my liberal friends as comrades, team members, who, like me, wanted to save the world. When I realized that liberal policies were actually hurting, not helping, the poor, I tried to communicate this to my liberal friends. I tried to tell them about policies that might actually help. Jobs, not welfare, for example; reliance on personal responsibility, not a distant white liberal's pity, support for the nuclear family.

My liberal friends would not listen. They refused even to question their accepted ideas. Many of them had never been poor, had never lived among the poor, and were sure to lock their doors and roll up their windows on the odd chance that they drove me home. Discussing strategy that contradicted their own, even if it came from a real, live person was not acceptable. They denounced me. I lost their friendship.

My aha moment about liberalism and skin color. Liberals judge people by the color of their skin, not the content of their character.

I've told this story many times. My first semester at Indiana University, Bloomington, a professor for whom I worked did some very bad things to me because, against her express orders, I took off four workdays to attend my father's funeral.

After she hurt me, a lot, I was asked to testify against the professor. I testified for the next five months, to high mucky mucks on campus, including Deborah Freund, who, I was told, was the second in command of the university.

During this period of harassment / testifying, my inner ear burst. I spent the next several years intermittently paralyzed and unable to stop vomiting. I lost the ability to work, I lost my life savings, I lived on food bank donations, and I traveled throughout three states seeking treatment. Doctors performed three experimental surgeries, finally curing me, but rendering me deaf in one ear. I lost years of my life and was knocked out of any professional track.

The professor whose actions precipitated the ruination of my life was a "psychopath," I was told. "She almost killed one of her employees." I was told. Why wasn't she stopped before she could get to me? One campus official after another said to me, "She's black and female and we were afraid of being called racist and sexist. We want you to testify against her because you have nothing to lose."

One of my liberal friends told me that it was good that this professor had done this to me, because, after all, I was white and she was black and whites had to suffer to expiate the sins whites had committed against blacks. My friend didn't factor into her analysis that I was a child of immigrants who had left their own slavery as serfs in Eastern Europe, only to come to America to be second class coal miners and cleaning women.

My aha moment about liberal hate. I don't like it that liberals have designated heterosexual, Christian, white, American men for hate, demonization and ridicule. Liberals all too often use "white man" the way other racists use the n word. Delbert "Shorty" Belton, Christopher Simson and Christopher Lane are just some of the white men in the news this summer who appear to have been beaten or killed for no other crime than being white men.

My aha moment about liberalism and religion. The Democratic Party I grew up in was friendly to Catholicism. There was no disconnect, in my working class town, between being a church-goer and being a left-winger.

Now liberals openly express a crazed hostility to and contempt for religion, especially Christianity, that can only be described as maniacal bigotry. Their hatred for people of faith defies all rationality.

Except, of course, when it comes to Islam.

9-11 was a moment of truth for many former liberals.

Many liberals were astounded, after 9-11, when their fellow liberals said "America deserved it" and "Islam is a religion of peace. Not like Christianity. The Crusades, doncha know. Osama bin Laden is not a Muslim, he's an American operative. Blowback!"

Here's my stance on Islam: most of Islam is none of my business. I don't care if people abstain from pork and alcohol, make pilgrimage to Mecca, and pray five times a day. I care about two features of Islam, because they affect me and universal human rights: jihad and gender apartheid.

This is what I think America should do about Islam:

1.) Energy independence, including conservation and green energy.

2.) Stop military intervention in Muslim countries, unless those countries attack us. Oppose any future exercises like Obama's intervention in Libya, Bush's intervention in Iraq, and Clinton's intervention in the former Yugoslavia. Reinstate the draft, to increase involvement when American presidents unconstitutionally start wars and send some mother's son off to die.

3.) Educate young people about jihad and gender apartheid. Educate students about what the Crusades were really all about. That is not happening now.

4.) Allow frank public discourse about jihad and gender apartheid. That is not happening now.

5.) Oppose any hostility to Muslims as people. Muslims are just like us.

Leo, can you please tell me how my proposals, above, are "right-wing"? And what would you do differently?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An Old Poem about a Man I Once Loved Far, Far Away

Googled "cross cultural love" and found this. Source
But I was really looking for this. Disney's "It's a Small World" Photo by Peter Pan fan. Source
This is an old, old poem I wrote a long time ago.

I was trying to convey three things.

One: the cross cultural weirdness of being a working class Polak-Slovak Catholic loving a bourgeois, Midwestern, WASP Buddhist while living in the only Hindu kingdom on earth.

I was also trying to capture the totality of our goodbye. There was never a way for that Midwestern WASP Buddhist and me to connect outside of that pocket of space and time in Nepal.

That void hurt, of course, but I was also trying to convey how hunger is a form of keeping faith.

When I wrote this poem, my relatives in Slovakia really were still peasants, and they really did still remember me. Now I see many are white collar and they probably don't remember me at all. They'd probably still feed you, though.

This poem recently appeared in an online publication, Looseleaf Tea, visible here.

Nepal. And as spectacular as the photos are, they do not capture the Nepal I knew. Source
Hunger is a Form of Keeping Faith
My people in Slovakia are still peasants.
Go there today, mention my name,
and they will feed you and house you
and you will be fatter when you left
than when you came.

I was born your third year in the special school for
experimental chi –
No, the experimental school for special children.
We didn't have such stuff; though nuns experimented on us
enough. But for a mother to call her son special – oh –
that'd be a curse.
There wasn't much food in the house.
Apa was drinking again.
Momma had to go back to the factory right away.
Your dad ran the factories,
in a flat corn state
far away.

At a key stage in your adolescence you would not fight
and nobody liked you.
I could.
I downed a guy twice my age when I was seven.
Both of our reputations interfered with our relationships.

You went from crew cuts and laid out shirts to San Francisco.
I was cleaning the bathroom the day you arrived, sore
to run down the woods
soon as the floor dried
smelling green and mud through
You lived communally; with one big family;
I slept and can still feel Toni's elbow in my ribs.
You made acid. I made bologna sandwiches,
biked them to momma lunch times,
vowing I'd never end in the factory. You ended the war.
I sat on the stoop with my dog Tramp,
watching fireflies,
awaiting puberty.
You went to India. I went to High School.
When you were 24, a woman you truly loved hurt you, and you changed.
When I was sixteen, alone in the woods, a soldier stuck his tongue in my mouth.
You took a shot at divinity school.
I became confused about mass, and especially confession.
Something called, but not a bat, we could not quite locate it.
A guru met by chance on a blank beach directed you to
I broke down and took the job in the factory.
Up ahead, they had me scared: my brother, on drugs.
My brother, back from Nam sad.
My brother, suddenly religious.
My brother, suddenly dead.
I read, secretly, on breaks: Proust, Thoreau, "The Anarchist Cookbook."

As your circle was closing, hitched in a backpack, I hit the shoulder
of interstate 80, stuck out my thumb, to leave Jersey and cabbage and kitchens
forever. San Francisco my destination, I slept through your home state.

I was looking for you.
I wasn't told that you had gone.

Momma says, "When we came to America, it was just a mess to me. I didn't know what we were looking for; all I knew was what we lost. What we found we couldn't name, so we couldn't ever own it."

Momma says the unpluggable gap with her American children is hunger.

"You'll never know what hunger is, not in this land. You get better garbage here than we had some Easters. 'Buy'? There was no such a thing as 'buy.' Some years the sap snapped and you had to hold the gone cherries in your tongue for four seasons more; we did. I tell you after hungry so long, the food bites you! Keep the whole damn supermarket; leave me the taste of one sugar beet cake after sixteen hours in the fields."

They taught us hunger to hold us back to give us need pleasing things were held from us to make a hole inside as our inheritance.

She wasn't pretty, but stable, and you were tired. You did the same form of meditation.
A series of black matted chests and muscles earned in factories. Members of a quieter generation, we screamed privately.

When I couldn't abide the hunger any more, I had to turn to you.

I caught up in Kathmandu. You were my teacher.
You told me, earnestly, about Buddha.
It told you, in detail, about the latest hairy chest.
Never having met anyone quite so white, bored in class, I played at making you sweat.
After several years of meditative abstinence, you drank your first liquor.
No matter what you tried, I wouldn't reach enlightenment.
No matter what I tried I couldn't make you strike.
You laughed.
I felt known.
You encouraged me to come to class on time.
I danced.
You watched.
Suddenly you said, "Your spirit made me come."
Steadily, I worshipped you.
You laughed. "If we'd met as kids you would have beaten me up."
"But I wasn't born yet."
Your wife served tea.

I was Catholic, strong and good. You were enlightened, above all this. For years.

Among all else the Germans did, they denied their victims graves, so the living could have no place to go to work out what one must with the dead. Today flowers blow and candles melt on sewer drains where resistance fighters died.

No addresses were exchanged.
And I still wonder,
am I not supposed to mind because
We were American
or I was working class
or this was the real world
or this was not
or you had transcended
or you had not?

Somewhere now bowed off my map you may still be.
But I never indulge:
how the shades have fallen in under your eyes
Do you still see beauty you once showed me?
Is your jelly sweet in the morning?

A material girl I am back in Jersey,
scoring hairy chests when I can
seeking work with good dental benefits.

And the women still wear babushkas, as they did when momma left. They hold to the strange, American face that holds lines of a good-bye two, no, three invasions ago, and cry. "I remember. I remember. The flowers on the oxen. Don't you worry. We are here. Come and you will always be welcomed. We remember."

By Danusha Goska
Dedicated to Dwight, who inspired the poem, and Pam McKenna, who read it.

Holy Father, Pope Francis, Please Speak for Us About Persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt


Dale Weeks wrote:

I wish OUR POPE were handling this better. Yes, he has fittingly called for our prayers, but I think what's happening to Christians in Egypt calls for a personal and forceful denunciation from the Pope. I don't have any illusions that the Muslim Brotherhood would cease and desist, but the Pope has a unique bully pulpit.

When Benedict publicly rebuked the Obama administration on the subject of abortion and ObamaCare, Christians and virtually ALL people of faith rallied behind him. Ostensibly, he's the leader of worldwide Christianity and when he talks, people listen and his unequivocal condemnation would virtually force Obama and the West to publicly address the atrocities. Perhaps it wouldn't help, but it would be more productive than the current deafening silence.

Dale Weeks' website is here.

A picture taken on August 18, 2013 shows a burnt icon in the Amir Tadros coptic Church in Minya, some 250 kms south of Cairo, which was set ablaze on August 14, 2013. (AFP Photo/Virginie Nguyen Hoang) Source

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pogroms against Christians in Egypt, Mohammed Badie's Prayer Bump, Waiting for Muslims to Condemn this Slaughter, Waiting for Christian Leaders to Lead

Reports: A Christian cab driver was surrounded and killed in Alexandria Egypt.
His crime? He displayed a cross on his dashboard. 
Mohammed Badie's prayer bump, and his swords. Source
Muslims are carrying out anti-Christian pogroms in Egypt. They are burning churches and terrorizing, humiliating, and killing Christians. Christians have lived in Egypt for two thousand years, six hundred years longer than Muslims.

According to reports, Muslims in Alexandria, Egypt, surrounded the taxi of a Christian driver because he displayed a cross on his dashboard. They killed him.

I am waiting for American and other Western Muslims to take effective steps against these pogroms. Prominent American Muslims could and should condemn this behavior, and contribute to stopping it.

If anyone knows of such condemnation, please inform me.

I would like my own Muslim friends to at least express sorrow.

So far that has not happened.

When I brought this up to one Muslim Palestinian friend, who now lives in Paterson, NJ, she let loose a tirade, citing conspiracy theories proving that Jews and Christians are responsible for all the problems in the Muslim world, and they deserve what they get. Muslims are innocent, blameless, she insisted. Mossad is responsible for 9-11.

I am waiting for my own Catholic and Christian leaders to take a stand, to guide me in my desire to support my Christian brothers and sisters. I hear nothing. Catholic leaders, what are you doing?

The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has the comically appropriate name of Mohammed Badie. Yes, that's right. Mohammed Badie.

Badie has a zabiba, or Muslim prayer bump, on his forehead. The zabiba is meant to come from pious prayer. Muslims hit their heads on the ground when they pray their five daily prayers.

Muslims are instructed to pray five times a day. Their five times a day daily prayer inculcates negativity toward Christians and Jews. Muslims pray not to be like the Jews, who anger God, or like Christians, who go astray.

There is a connection between the bump on Mohammed Badie's forehead, the prayers that he prays, and the pogroms against Christians occurring now in Egypt.

Further information here.

Lee Daniels' "The Butler" Civil Rights 4 Dummies & Stunt Casting. But Whitaker is GREAT.

Interesting to compare the posters. 

There's a scene about halfway through Lee Daniel's "The Butler" that is perfect.

African-American White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) asks his boss, Mr. Warner, for equal pay for African American staff. They are paid less than white staff, he complains. The audience has been watching Cecil Gaines for a while now, and we know he is an admirable man. He certainly deserves equal pay.

Warner tells Gaines that if he is not happy with his salary, he can go work someplace else.

Gaines is trapped in an invisible prison of white supremacy, and he knows it. Whitaker's face shows all the agony of that moment. He quietly leaves Warner's office.

Forest Whitaker is utterly brilliant in this scene, as he is in the rest of this choppy, heavy-handed, misguided film.

That scene is worth the entire rest of the film "The Butler." That scene has everything the rest of the film lacks: subtlety, intelligence, and faith in its audience.

Otherwise, "The Butler" is Civil Rights for Dummies plus an overload of stunt casting.

"The Butler" tells the story of Cecil Gaines, an African American White House butler. The movie tells us it wants us to pay attention to this humble, working class man. The movie depicts none other than Martin Luther King Jr, right before his assassination, delivering a speech on the importance of domestic workers.

But the movie belies its own message. "The Butler" doesn't have faith in its audience. It believes that we won't pay attention to this humble, admirable butler. So the film dumps one big Hollywood star and tabloid celebrity after another in small roles, and the film beats us over the head with a dumbed-down, sensationalized, hate-whitey version of Civil Rights.

Stunt casting: Mariah Carey is onscreen for about two minutes as Cecil's mother, and Vanessa Redgrave is onscreen for about three minutes as his first employer. The casting of the presidents Cecil worked for is flagrantly weird. It's as if the movie wants to set the audience abuzz over why this or that actor was chosen. John Cusak as Richard Nixon? Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan?? Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower??? Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan???? Did the people who cast this film take any of it seriously? James Marsden, though, is fine as JFK.

Oprah Winfrey plays Cecil's wife, Gloria. Oprah gives a fine performance. The problem is, she is Oprah Winfrey, and her presence as a celebrity never left my mind as I was watching her. Rather than being moved by the plot, my mind wandered. I thought about her recent public scandals, the Swiss purse incident, and calling Trayvon Martin a modern Emmet Till. I thought about her boyfriend Steadman. I wondered why he has never married Oprah. Again, Oprah's performance was spot on, but the script was not compelling enough to allow me willing suspension of disbelief.

The film's dumbed down version of Civil Rights is aesthetically and historically criminal. In the first five minutes of the movie, the film depicts two African Americans lynched together beside an American flag. They remain onscreen for quite a while. The film returns to the image. A black woman is raped by a white man. Again, weird casting: Alex Pettyfer, one of the most handsome men in the world, is the rapist. Why? Then a black man is killed. The n word is tossed around liberally. Crosses are scary – the Klan burns one and attacks a freedom rider bus. The film eventually states, in so many words, that America was a "concentration camp" for African Americans for hundreds of years, worse than what the Nazis did to the Jews.

All the whites onscreen are rich and powerful. All the blacks, including the Black Panthers, are good, innocent, humble, hard-working, harmless. The Civil Rights movement is all but exclusively black.

This just isn't true. Comparing the Holocaust to slavery and Jim Crow isn't accurate. The Black Panthers did some very bad things, including to their own members. Thousands were lynched, not millions, thousands of those lynched were white. The largest mass lynching in America was of Italian immigrants; Leo Frank was lynched for being a Jew.

African Americans made up roughly ten percent of the population; had whites not been part of the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans could never have achieved what they did. The film insists that the Civil Rights Movement was inspired by a "brown man," Gandhi. But in fact Gandhi was inspired by Tolstoy, Thoreau, Christ, and the Bhagavad Gita. The film alludes briefly to Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, but does not name them. The film refers to these Jewish Civil Rights martyrs only to cynically dismiss their sacrifice. Americans only care about dead whites, the film says. If that were true, the Civil Rights Struggle would not have achieved what it did. Jim Zwerg, a white man, endured a horrible beating on one freedom ride because he, like many Civil Rights heroes, was inspired by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I've lived in the Indian Subcontinent, where the religiously mandated caste system, for millennia, has doomed Untouchables to lives in Hell. I lived in Africa, where the slave trade still flourishes. From a world perspective, the United States is not remarkable because it had slavery and Jim Crow. From a world perspective, the United States is remarkable because it produced the Abolitionists, John Brown, martyrs like Goodman and Schwerner and Viola Liuzzo and heroes like Jim Zwerg and Rabbi Heschel. "The Butler" presents an unbelievable conundrum –  a country populated exclusively by evil, rich white supremacists somehow magically changed in 2008 and elected an African American president and presto changeo everything was better for black people. The masterpiece 1987 documentary "Eyes on the Prize" tells a very different story. Americans of all colors, all levels of society, inspired by American ideals, created a model the world could admire.

The Washington Post article that inspired "The Butler" is here