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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holidays and Family

In some sense we are all the proverbial "alien who just arrived from Mars."

I am, for example, totally allergic to football. If I were dragged to a football game, I would have no idea what was going on.

Scrolling through my Facebook friends' posts about the holidays with families, I am the alien just arrived from Mars.

Parents express affection for children, grandparents express affection for grandchildren, aunts and uncles express affection for nieces and nephews, nieces and nephews express affection for aunts and uncles: all utterly alien.

Child abuse isn't something you are supposed to talk about. Mention of it makes luckier people uncomfortable. They don't want to be exposed to your suffering.

The primary abuser was my mother. I was beaten, insulted, malnourished, not well groomed, sexually assaulted, and gossiped about. She occasionally threatened to kill me, and if we lived in a society where parents could kill their children, I think she would have.

Though I am Catholic and am personally horrified by abortion, I am pro-choice. If I could turn back the hands of time, yes. Yes. YES I would have given my mother that choice.

You, dear reader, are not superior to my mother. Getting a warm sense of your own superiority is not the payoff you or anyone else receives from reading my story.

One of the challenges I have faced since I was old enough to think is this: people can do unspeakable things and be fundamentally no better and no worse than anyone else.

My mother was brilliant. She was an incredibly talented, natural writer. I have never met anyone who worked harder than she did. When I was a child, she often had two, fulltime jobs. A Slovak immigrant, she was shafted by the American Dream and she had had to leave school to support her own brothers and sisters when she was only a young teen; her father had emphysema from the coal mines.

She did manual labor: cleaning houses, working in a candle factory. Denied birth control by her church and the peasant custom she was born into, she was pregnant nine times; at least two of those pregnancies were medically dangerous. She had to have surgery when she was five months pregnant with me, and the doctor told her that either she or I would die.

Around the time I was born, my father was alleged to be overindulging in alcohol and rubbing shoulders with organized criminals. I say "alleged" because I never saw any of this; my father found AA and never touched alcohol by the time I was conscious, and the Mafia's threats on my and my siblings' lives were hearsay.

Add, subtract, divide and multiply these facts until you realize what I did, the complicated mathematics that made me realize that Jesus had it right: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

I was an abused kid. I'm not talking about my mother when I say that. I'm talking about me, my own life. More about my life: I thought that my mother was the abuser, and when she died, I thought that the abuse was over.

Not. So. Fast.

It takes a village to destroy a child, and that village included my family.

My pale skin used to blossom with dramatic bruises. The children at St. Francis School would line up to view my bruises. The nuns, not exactly models of tenderness (they beat me, too) asked about these bruises. I made up a self-incriminating story to protect my mother: "I fall down a lot, sister."

My hair was unkempt. I can see this in old photos. I wore clothing that was obviously hand-me-downs and ill fitting.

My mother had many siblings, as did my father. We saw them often.

No one ever said a word.

When my grandfather died, there was no dress for me to wear to his funeral. My older sister found a brown polyester jumper, a repulsively ugly garment, a size too large. She and I walked into the funeral home where my grandfather's body was laid out. My mother yanked me aside. "You look so ugly. So fat and ugly. Don't you realize what a disgrace you are? You are shaming me in front of my family."

Nobody saw that – though it occurred in a room full of relatives. Nobody heard it, though it occurred in a silent funeral parlor. Nobody intervened. Ever.

That was training. Every person in that room was being trained: Diane is garbage. We see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil when her mother beats or humiliates or gossips about Diane. Because Diane is garbage.

Complicit. I think they passed that complicity down through the generations.

My senior year of college I was beaten and sexual assaulted in a way that I found unendurable, so I ran out of the house with nothing but the clothes I was wearing, and I wasn't even wearing socks. I write more about that here. My brother, Michael Goska, got married that year. I was not invited to the wedding. In fact none of my siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles has ever invited me to his or her wedding. 

My brother Mike fathered two children, Donald and Lydia, and then he died. Before he died he was quite ill and his family was in need of funds. I sent his wife ten percent of my entire bank account, a few hundred dollars, which was a lot of money for me at that time.

I "met" Donald when he was a baby. I have never met Lydia. I have written to both of them, and I receive no reply. I sent Lydia a Facebook friend request. No reply. I wonder if this isn't generational hate: "We've always ignored Diane, like on that day she showed up for her grandfather's funeral in the ugly, brown, polyester jumper and her mother screamed at her and we all ignored it; there is no reason to break precedent now." I don't know.

Right before I left for graduate school my sister threw a party for my mother's birthday. I was nervous; I am afraid of the people I am related to. I never know what they will do. But I wanted so very badly to go. I love my family.

My parents spoke Polish and Slovak. The sounds of those languages are delicious to me. I love the music. I loved it when, at family gatherings, Aunt Tetka and Uncle Strecko would start singing a folksong with one hundred verses. I love the taste of poppy seed cake. I love the stories. My family are all spectacularly good looking, movie star quality. Tall, slim and muscular. Athletes, cops, soldiers, workers, and criminals. Clear, pale skin. Beautiful, shiny hair. Brilliant eyes of mermaid blues and glacier greens.

I have such fond memories of playing with my cousins. Séances, walks in the woods after Thanksgiving dinner, swimming down the shore, inviting supernatural encounters in the haunted house that belonged to my aunt's father-in-law, driving past a mountain that glowed in the coalmining Pennsylvania town where they landed after arrival in America.

I wanted to go to this party.

I sought an appropriate dress, always a fraught experience for an eyesore like me. I begged a former student to give me a ride to my sister's house, off the beaten path of public transport or even easy hitchhiking.

We drove up to the driveway and noticed that there were no other cars.

My sister's husband walked out of the house and said, "Ha, ha, ha. The party was yesterday."

We left.

My sister would later insist that she had not purposely given me the wrong date.

I had been in my apartment the entire day before, cleaning before leaving for grad school. My phone never rang once. Everyone I am related to on my mother's side, aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, all my living siblings, was there for the family reunion to honor my mother's birthday, and it never occurred to a single person there to inquire as to why I was not there, or to phone me. I've asked. They told me. No, none of us phoned.

I went to grad school. I got a PhD. No one I am related to ever said "Congratulations." I eventually published my dissertation and it became a prize-winning book, which I dedicated to someone I am related to. This person never mentioned the dedication.

Recently I had a tough few years. I was evacuated from one hurricane during which the Passaic River entered my building. I stayed with a coworker. There was dramatic film footage on national news of the river's rampages in my city (example here). No one I am related to asked about me. I broke my arm and then received a cancer diagnosis. Coworkers, my boss, a couple of friends, and virtual strangers from Facebook drove me to and from medical appointments and brought me food. Someone I am related to said to me, "We talked about it, and we decided that you do not deserve our help."

I have a Facebook friend, Karla. She regularly reads my writing and comments on it. She holds my hand when I whine. She shares newspaper clippings and videos with me about subjects that interest me, from God and atheism to birds. Karla doesn't know this, but every time she is kind to me, patient with me, every time she encourages me or even pays attention to me, she shocks me and warms me. I am so grateful to Karla.

Which is one of the many reasons it always amazes me when I see cousins express affection for cousins on Facebook, or grandparents express affection for grandchildren on Facebook, or people say "I feel sad because my aunt / uncle / cousin / grandfather just died."

I am the proverbial alien who just arrived from Mars.

There's this guy, I call him Lestat, who has been in and out of my life, mostly out, for decades. He's the guy who, when I first met him, was brilliant, attentive, flattering, and charming. Everyone said, "Oh, this is so great; here's a man who can really love you; you are soulmates."

Then Lestat would do weird, ugly things and everyone said, "Oh, he's a victim of satanic possession; dump him. Forget him."

I don't think Lestat is a victim of satanic possession. I'm reading a book called Stop Walking on Eggshells about something called borderline personality disorder. I think Lestat may suffer from that. I'm not a shrink so I can't say.

I kept Lestat in my life much longer than people thought wholesome. Lestat was abused as a kid. He sees the world I see. When I talk to Lestat, I am no longer the proverbial alien who just arrived from Mars. I am among my own kind.

I wonder about my family. I used to think it was all because my mother's life had been so hard. But I met other immigrants, even concentration camp survivors, who didn't torment their own kids. My beloved Uncle John killed someone. (More about Uncle John here.) Is our coldness genetic?

I wonder how many families there are where indifference, if not abuse, is the order of the day. Grandparents who, like my grandparents, really could not care less about their grandchildren. Cousins who have no idea of their cousins' names. Children, like my brother Mike's grandchildren, who don't know that they have an aunt out there somewhere who wonders what they look like.

I guess I'll never know, because this is stuff you are not supposed to talk about.

In 24 hours, the holiday season will be over, and I can finally say "Happy Holidays." 

Friday, December 26, 2014

"The Imitation Game" Fine Movie; Distorted History

Film-fan me loved "The Imitation Game." The me who knows something about World War II felt that "The Imitation Game" was a bit of an unfortunate farce.

Aesthetically "The Imitation Game" is like a hundred other movies about British people dressed in attractive but muted woolens who march about speaking about God and country and occasionally dropping their civilized masks and giving play to their violence or their lust. We've seen all this before: the vintage clothing, the vintage cars, the vintage architecture, the golden lamplight on vintage interiors. We've seen it on Masterpiece Theater and Merchant Ivory and Jane Austen films and Downtown Abbey which I've never watched but which I feel as if I have watched.

"The Imitation Game" is also like a lot of bio pics.

I really do wish "The Imitation Game" had some aesthetic surprises up its sleeve.

"The Imitation Game" treats very complicated subject matter: the breaking of an unbreakable code. I wanted the movie to tell me something about this topic that I didn't already know. The film just puts an enigma machine on a table and has a bunch of smart characters stare at it and announce that it can produce one hundred fifty followed by eighteen zeroes variations. Okay, but how? Give me something technical. The movie never trusts its audience, or its own storytelling skills, enough even to scratch the surface of the nuts and bolts of code-breaking.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives a fine performance as the film's version of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped to decode Germany's Enigma during WW II. In the film, Turing displays symptoms of Asperger's. He doesn't get jokes and he has few friends. Everyone is mean to him. He lives an isolated life with only one significant human companion, his school chum Christopher. Turing is awkward and superior with his fellow codebreakers, and they hate him. He is light years more advanced than they. If only they could appreciate his brilliance! Turing is regarded with suspicion by his superiors. They almost arrest him. They break into and search his home. Again, this all feels hackneyed.

Enter Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Joan is a gifted code-breaker. Like Turing, she too faces difficulties because of others' ignorance and prejudice. People don't realize that a woman can be a worthy code-breaker and they keep her back and put her down.

Joan encourages Turing to overcome his Asperger's symptoms and to befriend his coworkers. He does so.

A casual comment by a secretary, that each German message ends with the words "Heil Hitler," leads Turing to have the Aha moment that breaks Enigma. His jubilation is short-lived. He realizes that he can't rescue an English ship because if he does so, the Germans will realize that the English have broken their code. Turing devises a mathematical method to determine when to use information gathered from breaking the code, and when not to.

Two other timelines are intertwined with the WW II timeline. We are shown Turing's schooldays. He interacts with Christopher, his schoolboy crush and only friend. Christopher departs from his life and Turing is heartbroken. The headmaster of the school is cold in breaking this news to young Turing. Poor little Turing must bear this hard news all by himself.

In the other timeline, also interwoven randomly into the WW II timeline, Turing is interrogated in the early 1950s for "gross indecency" – homosexuality. Turing undergoes chemical castration. This affects his ability to think. He can't even do a simple crossword puzzle in the newspaper. He is a broken man. The film insists that his death was a suicide. Some, including Turing's mother, are not so sure of that.

I was moved by the film. The scenes of little schoolboy Turing are very poignant; it's always hard to watch children suffer. Cumberbatch is a very competent actor and he plays intellectual intelligence well, which is a rare accomplishment. Not many actors could look as smart as Cumberbatch does. He is convincing as someone with Asperger's.

The me who knows and cares something about accuracy in a film "based on a true story" about WW II was very disappointed with this movie.

"The Imitation Game" erases the significant contribution of Polish war heroes and Polish mathematicians to the breaking of Enigma. Like Turing, the Poles were also cruelly and ignominiously betrayed by the very Brits they helped: from Churchill consciously lying about who committed the Katyn massacre to Churchill handing the Poles to Stalin at Yalta to Brits like Stephen Fry insisting that Polish Catholics caused the Holocaust.

It was ideologically convenient for Brits to shaft the Poles, and the Brits did exactly that. "The Imitation Game" erases the Poles because the film wants Turing to be a lone genius and a lone, martyred homosexual. As it happens, during WW II, there were plenty of opportunities for heroism and martyrdom; Turing did not monopolize the supply.

The film is inaccurate in other significant ways. Turing was treated kindly by the headmaster around the Christopher incident, and Turing remained in contact with Christopher's family. Turing proposed to Joan Clarke because he liked her – he even told her he loved her – not to keep her in the code-breaking program. He tried to re-start their relationship years later. Turing could be funny and charming in real life. Etc.

The bottom line is that the filmmakers wanted to create an image of Turing as an isolated genius, unappreciated by anyone, and persecuted because of his homosexuality. In fact Turing was part of a team of other geniuses, and he was open about being gay. I wish the film had been able to tell us more about how a relatively privileged man had been so ill-treated. His working class lover was not chemically castrated, for example. "The Imitation Game," though, is not really interested in probing complex facts, or in saying anything new. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

American Tragedies and American Dreams: The Future of Black America in the Wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner Grand Jury Verdicts

The Telegraph AP photo Source
This essay appears at Front Page Magazine here

Decades ago, I taught at a community college. The bunch of us treated our shared office as if it were the neighborhood bar. We'd hang out for hours. That beat going home to our cheap apartments or our parents' basements and watching TV, which was all we could afford on the pittance adjunct professors are paid. James was a jazz musician. Mo's nose was always to the grindstone. Patrick was enthralling. I wish I had had a video camera recording our every conversation. His words glittered.

Melvyn was only a teenager. He was a new kind of person – a computer nerd – on the cusp of a revolution that would enrich many. Education was just beginning heavy reliance on computers. We profs were luddites. We would fumble with the computers – accidentally unplug them with our feet – and squeal that this was a sign of the end times. Young Melvyn to the rescue. Melvyn had a bouncy step, a perpetual smile, and a know-it-all air: that combination of goofy youthfulness and superior impatience exhibited by a hundred other computer geeks on a hundred other campuses. Melvyn's hours seemed to be pre-dawn through midnight. Young Melvyn was the computer demigod.

Now, decades later, James is near retirement as the president of a better community college. Mo is still plugging away, at a higher-paying university. Patrick, brilliant Patrick, never landed the tenure-track, Ivy League position that could match his outsize intellect. He drank. He was homeless. He died.

The last anyone had heard of Melvyn, he was in jail. He had been stealing computers. Melvyn was the one member of our group who was born at the right place and the right time to parlay his freakish natural gifts into the best-paying job and the cushiest future. He destroyed all that with stupid, unprofitable, recklessness.

Melvyn was black. The scuttlebutt was that Melvyn had felt uncomfortable being the computer demigod of an academic setting, accepted by whites. Stealing computers restored his sense that he was authentic. He was in solid with his homies. He was sticking it to the man. The man who liked, trusted, and relied on him.

James is just as black as Melvyn. Mo is an immigrant with the kind of facial hair seen on many an FBI wanted poster, a foreign accent and a name that sets off alarms – Mohammed. James and Mo were able to build comfortable lives in America. Melvyn could not. But then neither could Patrick, a tall, handsome, heterosexual, Irish-American.

I've been thinking a lot about American tragedies and American Dreams in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury verdicts. I've also been thinking about my current young students' futures.

I walk to work though Paterson, NJ, a post-industrial, high-crime, majority-minority city. My commute helped change me from someone who once voted communist to someone who now shocks herself every time she pulls the lever for a Republican.

As I walk, I pass healthy African American men in the prime of life who spend their days smoking joints and gossiping on streets littered with trash that no one but the rain ever removes. The day of the Trayvon Martin verdict, I was stopped by police cars, flashing lights, and yellow tape. I actually hoped for civil unrest. Something to show that Paterson still had a pulse. In fact one of Paterson's former silk mills, a three-story brick structure, had completely collapsed. The bricks that sprawled chaotically, good only for blocking traffic, once surrounded industry founded by Alexander Hamilton and workers that gave Paterson an international reputation as "Silk City."

There are facts, and there are stories. Impersonal forces like gravity, chemical bonds and time create facts. Humans create stories. Facts are objective. Stories are subjective.

It is a fact that police kill a disproportionate number of black males. What is the story one builds around those facts? For me, the pressing question is: what story is most likely to condemn my students to jail terms alternating with de facto incarceration on garbage-strewn street corners? What story will empower my students to become like James, an African American college president?

Here's the story Della Kurzer-Zlotnick is telling. In December, 2014, Kurzer-Zlotnick, an Oberlin student, posted a letter to her professor on her Facebook page. In her letter, Kurzer-Zlotnick asked that her final examination in statistics be delayed.

"Students of color, particularly Black students, have suffered significant trauma," she wrote, "due to the Grand Jury decisions" and thus they "are not at all in a place to take their final exams right now." "Black students" are "struggling and feel traumatized because of the recent and day-to-day acts of racism in this country. Black students and other students of color have to focus on their survival." Kurzer-Zlotnick herself identifies as "a white, middle-class person" who has "to [sic] privilege of being able to step away from these events and put enough energy into schoolwork and finals to assure that I will pass my classes." But, she says, "Just because the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown do not seem to threaten the survival or safety of white people does not mean that they are not severely affecting students on our campus." Those students, she reports, "are tired, they are hurting beyond belief."

Kurzer-Zlotnick describes herself thus, "I'm 18. My biggest passion is social justice and community organizing…At my synagogue, Shir Tikvah. I had the social action position when I was 15, and I didn't really know what that meant – I just knew I cared about social change and progress."

According to Forbes, the total annual cost for a student to attend Oberlin is $62,000. Five percent of Oberlin's student body is black. Thirteen percent of the overall American population is black.

Is Kurzer-Zlotnick's letter telling a true story? Are African Americans so burdened by murderous police that they can't function, and do they need rich, white liberals, who publicly admit to their own cluelessness, and who live in white enclaves, to make excuses for them and to lower standards for them? And is this the route to a better tomorrow for all?

Here are some more facts, and a different story told by a different teller. One of my students, Terry, is an African American. Terry had a difficult semester, too. Terry was traumatized by life events too personal and too crushing to recount here, but please imagine the worst. Terry never asked for special treatment; in fact Terry never initiated disclosure. I noticed that Terry was depressed and I asked why. Terry never missed a class. Terry produced work so far superior to that of others that I asked to display it as an exemplary model.

And here is yet another story. After the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury verdicts were announced, a concerned friend emailed me. "Be careful," he warned. "They are predicting black rage."

In the days subsequent to the Brown and Garner verdicts, my black neighbors are saying to me what they usually say. "Good morning … nice weather … my kid is giving me a hard time … my dog wants to go for a walk." Al Sharpton called for protests in Paterson. I saw no protests in Paterson.

Other news is claiming our attention in Paterson in December, 2014. There are, of course, the usual drive-by shootings, heroin busts, and deadly fires. But lately we've learned that in the entire city, only nineteen students scored high enough on the SAT to be deemed "college ready." This while sixty-six employees in Paterson schools earn at least $125,000 annually. Paterson teacher Lee McNutly went public to allege that his school was nothing but a chaotic "indoor street corner" where teachers were coerced into falsifying records in order to ensure six-figure bonuses to administrators. Paterson school #20 displayed a large sign for a week that contained multiple misspellings, in spite of parental complaints. All these local stories demanded more attention than alleged "black rage" over the Garner verdict.

And yet Jesse Jackson insists that it is inevitable that black people "explode" in riots. In late November, 2014, after riots in Ferguson, Missouri, CNN's Don Lemon interviewed Jesse Jackson. Lemon, who is black, said that "Lawlessness and violence should not have happened and there should be no excuses made for it." "If people need jobs," Lemon asked, "why would you burn down a store where you could possibly get work? What does one have to do with the other? What does lawlessness have to do with lack of jobs?"

Jackson responded. "There is a body of people who after a long train of abuses simply explode…Pain can lead to irrational conclusions. To be locked out of police departments, fire departments, contracts and schools. Those factors matter."

Here's another story. A youtube poster calling herself Honestly Speaking posted a video entitled "The Mike Brown Fiasco" on December 2, 2014. Two weeks later, it had over a million views and seven thousand up votes. Honestly Speaking looks into the camera and shouts. She shouts that Mike Brown was a "disrespectful" thief, "asshole" and someone who "don't contribute nothing to society" "who started the trail that lead him to his death. Just because he is black does not change the fact that he committed a crime." She denounces protests as "bleeding heart bullshit." Honestly Speaking is a black woman.

I am a former leftist and I know how facts are spun. "Truth is that which serves the party." Ideologues will insist that black people like James, who became a community college president, are statistical anomalies, that black people like Don Lemon who push back against Jesse Jackson are sellouts or self-hating blacks, "house niggers" or Uncle Toms. Ideologues will insist that my black neighbors who did not riot after the Eric Garner verdict suffer from "false consciousness." Ideologues will insist that African American students like Terry who do well within existing institutions are pawns whom The Man allows to succeed at the expense of their oppressed brethren – it's all a conspiracy. In this spinning of Terry's story, Terry's success only delays the inevitable and necessary revolution. Ideologues reserve their most toxic vitriol for outspoken and admired black women like youtube poster Honestly Speaking. She's already responded in a youtube video to being called a "race traitor."

The left claims women and minorities. When women and minorities resist the left's lure, we receive the harshest punishment. Witness what the left does to Sarah Palin, Deneen Borelli, or even Juan Williams.

Here are some facts. My coworkers describe hiring committees that decide that only African American candidates will be considered, even though that policy is not stated in the job description. Whites will apply, but will not be considered. My students and coworkers, who often are members of minority groups themselves, gossip angrily of others, including family members, who slack or claim preferential treatment because of their skin color. Maureen describes to me her volunteer work as a mentor for African American interns at a Fortune Five Hundred company. It maddens her that these interns need to be trained in basics like arriving on time, dress and comportment. I see monies, positions, programs, scholarships, that have been designated for African Americans, go begging, because they lack appropriate applicants. I see extended hands that reach out to emptiness. I see highways to success with no traffic on them. I see, in short, many Melvyns.

The past is prelude. We've seen these riots before. Jesse Jackson excuses them; implies that they are the way that African Americans can get jobs they would not otherwise get. Is that true?

The National Bureau of Economic Research is the largest economics research association in the United States. It is notable for the number of its research associates who are also winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics. The NBER published two papers in 2004, "The Economic Aftermath of the 1960s Riots: Evidence from Property Values" and "The Labor Market Effects of the 1960s Riots." These papers indicate that the race riots of the 1960s "had economically significant negative effects on blacks' income and employment." It's not just that cities affected by riots, like Newark, became dysfunctional and welfare-dependent ghost towns in the immediate aftermath of rioting. These riots had longer term, insidious, and all but invisible impact. Before the riots, the difference between what white workers earned and what black workers earned was becoming smaller. Black workers began to earn more. The narrowing of the gap between black workers' wages and white workers' wages accelerated during the 1940s – before the Civil Rights Movement. The riots reversed this trend. Researchers concluded that the black workers who suffered the greatest economic blows in the 1970s and beyond lived in cities where rioting was most severe. Riots were also found to depress the value of black-owned property. Rioting hurt black income and black assets.

Yes, white supremacy still exists. That's a fact. What do we do with that fact? What story do we tell? What story will help my students and my city?

There are lots of statistics that could be used in any number of ways. It is a fact that if a woman was overweight in high school, she is statistically likely to earn less than her slender peers for her entire working life, even if she loses weight. It is a fact – one that many leftists would like to bury – that children who grow up in the same home with their biological mother and biological father do better on a slew of life measures, from incarceration rates to lifetime earnings. It is a fact that poor, white Christians are significantly underrepresented on the campuses of elite universities among both students and faculty. It is a fact that recent immigrants from Africa, who are themselves mostly black, are a "model minority" with above-average incomes and education.

What do we do with these statistics? How do we cherry pick among them to weave a story that justifies a riot or encourages a young person to plug away at a secure but unglamorous job?

Jesse Jackson insists that suffering people must explode. But not all suffering people do explode, and not all those who explode are suffering. Terry suffered and did not explode – Terry excelled. Della Kurzer-Zlotnick acknowledges that she is a rich white girl, and yet she is exploding – and urging others to join her.

I would like to assign reading to these activists, specifically Shelby Steele's book "White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era."

Shelby Steele is a black man born in 1946; he knew, and suffered under, Jim Crow. In spite of this, he accomplished much. He lived to see his former white, liberal allies insist that he owed them his "gratitude" because their bleeding hearts, not his hard work, were responsible for his success. In response to their condescension, he says, he felt a murderous rage even more intense than that he had felt under Jim Crow. Steele says that the bleeding heart narrative erased his achievements.

African Americans confronted the Ku Klux Klan. They risked Freedom Rides that ended in beatings and arson. They remained calm as lunch counter patrons poured sugar over their heads. But somehow these same black people are so delicate they need a confused 18-year-old girl to protect them from final examinations in statistics. Kurzer-Zlotnick's enthusiasm for "social justice" must erase the considerable accomplishment of African American students like Terry, who soldier on in spite of personal hardship, and earn A grades. High achieving blacks become some kind of race traitors or freaks, anomalies who can't be acknowledged because their existence threatens the story Kurzer-Zlotnick is telling about white liberal guilt and noblesse oblige.

The harm white liberals do is not limited to their need to erase African American achievement. Kurzer-Zlotnick is a powerful audience. The performance she applauds is explosive black rage. She would probably applaud Melvyn's fencing stolen computers.

In 2006, in the New York Times, Harvard scholar Orlando Patterson, a Jamaican-born black man, wrote that one explanation for young black men's criminal behavior was the applause antisocial behavior earned black men from white youths. Young black men have the highest self-esteem of all ethnic groups, he says, and that self-esteem is not lowered by what many would assess as failure, for example out-of-wedlock births and poor grades. Not only young whites applaud criminality among black men. Corporate America does so, as well, making millions from hip-hop and ghetto fashions. Young whites, Patterson says, know when to turn off rage chic. The young black males who have been duped into providing this performance may not know when it is time to leave the stage. The whites move on. The blacks are trapped.

I would like to invite Della Kurzer-Zlotnick to walk to work with me through Paterson. I would like her to step over broken glass and past shuttered factories. I would like her, simply, to listen to conversations on buses. My neighbors want their kids to do well, and are proud of them when they do. They work difficult jobs; I see them in nurse's aide and McDonald's uniforms, day after day, year after year. Injustices of many kinds are a given; that's a fact. The key is what story one tells about injustice. It might be exciting for an 18-year-old girl to urge protest on one day when she feels worked up. I would like to invite Kurzer-Zlotnick and others to live in cities like Paterson after the protest is over, to see which approach has long-term, beneficial effects.

Danusha Goska is the author of Save Send Delete

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Night at the Museum: Secrets of the Tomb. Just Okay.

You don't go into "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" expecting great art. You expect a few laughs and some moments of wonder as you witness museum displays magically come to life. The first "Night at the Museum" disappointed me. The second, "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" surprised me with how much better it was than the first. Amy Adams was wonderful as Amelia Earhart in that film.

This new, third installment, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" was only okay, but it wasn't horrible, either. I really, really wish it had been a bit better. It's one of Robin Williams' and Mickey Rooney's last movies. Both died this year. Robin Williams does look visibly tired and sad.

One of my favorite stars makes an unbilled cameo appearance, but it is more awkward than special. Dick Van Dyke, who is a national treasure, is in the film, but only for a few minutes, and he isn't given much to do. Ditto Ben Kingsley as a pharaoh. If I were a director, I'd want to milk Sir Ben Kingsley as a pharaoh for all it was worth. Not here. Dan Stevens, formerly of Downton Abbey, is charismatic and impressive as Sir Lancelot, but his character is demoted from good guy to bad guy, and his face is disfigured, in a way that feels envious. It's as if the movie is punishing him for being a tall, gorgeous, heroic white male. Museum night guard Ben Stiller's relationship with his now teenage son is emphasized, and it doesn't feel real at all.

My two favorite scenes involved Luke Wilson as a miniature cowboy and Steve Coogan as a miniature Roman soldier. In one scene these tiny people try to comment on a youtube cat video. In another scene they are saved at the last minute from an exploding volcano.

In terms of plot or special effects magic, "Secret of the Tomb" doesn't offer anything that you can't get from the two previous films. There are no moments where you say, "Wow, I am really glad that they made this movie, so that we could see *this.*"

Even so, I mildly enjoyed the movie. If you are looking for a mindless, family-friendly good time, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" may serve your needs. 

Chris Rock's "Top Five." Amos and Andy for 2014

"Top Five" is billed as a romantic comedy. Chris Rock plays Andre, a movie star comedian; Rosario Dawson plays Chelsea, a journalist sent to interview him. Their relationship is not what I will remember about "Top Five," though. What I will remember: the words f---, m-----------, s---, the b word, the p word and the n word. These words constitute a good twenty-five percent of the script, as in "Hey, n word, would you like an f word drink?" "Yes, n word, I would like an f word drink." In other words, the obscenities are sprinkled throughout the script without adding any meaning.

Most of the female characters onscreen are vile, naked, prostitutes and strippers. There are many naked female body parts onscreen. These female bodies are there to perform simulated sex acts. They also rob strip club patrons, and hide their wallets in their private parts. After servicing a couple of men, they extort money by screaming "Rape!"

I don't understand why anybody made "Top Five." If you want to hear unfunny jokes whose only appeal is to those who think repeating the f word and the n word over and over is funny, and if you want to ogle naked female characters who are also made out to be nasty human beings, why would you go to see a movie billed as a "romantic comedy"?

Chris Rock knows he lives in a country where a white person could lose his job, his friends, and his social respect for using the n word. But he, Rock, can use it, because he is black. By using the n word repeatedly, he rubs his audience's face in the privilege to intimidate that he enjoys.

Chris Rock is one of the luckiest and most successful people on the planet. A good chunk of this film is Chris Rock complaining about being black. At the same time, he and the rest of the cast never stop hammering away at reminding the audience that they are black. We're black. We're different. We use the f word and the n word a lot. We speak Black English. We listen to hiphop. Taxis won't stop for us. Okay, okay, okay, Chris, we get it. You are black. Can you get on with the movie now? Like, can there be a plot?

The movie tosses a bunch of aborted plot points into a blender and presses "mash." You get alcoholism, reality TV, men obsessed with fat women, cheating, and hidden identities. None of these plot points goes anywhere. The movie always comes back to women getting naked for money, obscenities, and the n word.

There is a particularly nasty, ugly scene evoking the anal violation of a white man. The film's one white male character is a duplicitous homosexual. He is made to kneel naked on a bed while another character forces hot sauce into him. He writhes helplessly, begging for the hot sauce to be removed. This is a hateful scene.

As for the putative romance. Chris Rock is not sexy. He's skinny, googly-eyed, and his voice is unmodulated, loud and grating. Romances have been built around men who aren't conventionally attractive. See Woody Allen. But Rock can't carry it off. He's paired with a very desirable woman, Rosario Dawson. The movie seems to want to make her unattractive. She's given a butch, Cuban-political-prisoner hair-cut, with half of her head shaved, no makeup, and she wears the same dress through most of the film. Even so, she is out of Rock's league. The script does very little with their pairing.

And … comedy? I did not laugh once, and neither did anyone else in the theater. I guess if you find African Americans wanting to steal hangers from a hotel thigh-slappingly funny, this movie is for you. You might also enjoy Amos and Andy.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Western Pornography Causes Islamic Terrorism": Hamza Yusuf, Influential Muslim

Mohammed Sajjad Source
We witness the horrible crimes committed in the name of Islam. We read the manifestos distributed by terrorists, manifestos that cite Koranic verses and hadith to justify the sex slavery of little girls in the Islamic State, the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar, Pakistan, the decapitation of a British soldier on a London street.

We say, well, at least Muslims will see this, and begin to question how their scripture is interpreted and applied. And then they will call for a reform of Islam.

In my experience, though, Muslims often don't do this.

I have face-to-face conversations with Muslims who are convinced that crafty Jews created ISIS, that George Bush planned the 9-11 terror attacks, that the CIA is responsible for the murder of schoolchildren in Pakistan.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we have the ritual of confession. You examine your conscience, confess your sins, ask for forgiveness, and start anew. In Christianity, that ritual is highly developed.

I don't see the same thing in Islam.

Rather I see finger pointing, never at Islam, never at the Koran, or the hadith, or their interpretation or application.

This tendency was exhibited on December 15, 2014, at Georgetown University.

Hamza Yusuf is a highly influential American Muslim. Of him, The Guardian newspaper said "Hamza Yusuf is arguably the west's most influential Islamic scholar." The New Yorker magazine said that Yusuf is "perhaps the most influential Islamic scholar in the Western world"

From Wikipedia: "Jordan's Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre currently places him 42nd on its list of the top 500 most influential Muslims in the world. The magazine Egypt Today described him as a kind of theological rock star, 'the Elvis Presley of western Muslims.' Recently, Hamza Yusuf was ranked as 'the Western world's most influential Islamic scholar' by The 500 Most Influential Muslims."

Hamza Yusuf used to be Mark Hanson, American son of two "academics" in Washington State and Northern California. Interestingly, Yusuf studied Islam in Mauritania, one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. Mauritania is notorious for its huge number of slaves. These slaves, and their horrific treatment, apparently did not alert Yusuf to any misgivings about how the Koran is applied in the Muslim world. You can read more about slavery in Muslim Mauritania here. You can read about how attempts to liberate Mauritania's slaves "violates Islamic values," in Al-Arabiya, here

At the Monday, December 15, 2014 Georgetown conference, Yusuf acknowledged jihad violence, but said that the West was to blame. Western pornography causes Muslim men to blow themselves up. From Investigative Project:

"Intelligence agents routinely find sexually explicit materials on laptops belonging to captured jihadists. Yusuf offered a theory in which young men 'become deeply defiled' by the pornography habits and blame the West for providing the corrupting influences. They turn to jihad for religious purification and redemption.

'I really think that we underestimate the amount of people that have this experience of wanting to restore some kind of purity to themselves,' Yusuf said, 'and the only restoration for them is blowing themselves up and get rid of the part that is the source of my defilement which is my body.'" source

Yusuf's "blame the West" finger pointing does not work. Jihad predates the invention of the West and of modern pornography by hundreds of years. Jihad began under Mohammed, 1400 years ago. Further, all cultures are exposed to Western pornography. Not all cultures engage in jihad.

Yusuf's comment is significant because it is typical of an influential approach to Islam. Many Muslims, and many Western leftists, refuse to engage in any serious critique of Islam.

I am Catholic. My church is regularly criticized. That's a good thing. The criticism invites Catholics to examine ourselves and constantly realign ourselves with the right path.

I heartily applaud Muslims like Zuhdi Jasser, who confronted Yusuf at that same conference, who want Muslims to take a look at the violence committed in the name of Islam, and who want Islam to be reformed.

As long as influential Muslims like Hamza Yusuf allow no serious critique of Islam, and as long as Muslims like him have powerful support among Western leftwing professors, journalists, and cultural leaders, any reform of Islam will remain remote.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Need a Girlfriend: Blogging a Broken Heart

This guy goes on a cruise. There is a terrible storm at sea. Boat sinks. Guy survives. Finds himself washed up on a desert island. There is one other survivor: Angelina Jolie. So, this guy is alone on a remote island with Angelina Jolie, the most desirable woman in the world.

Time passes. They have learned to spear fish and catch rainwater. The inevitable happens. They make love on the beach under the vast sky full of stars, the sound of waves crashing in their ears.

More time passes.

Angelina notices that her man is not fully satisfied. He obviously wants something she is not giving him.

"Honey, what is it?"

"Oh, Angelina, our lives here are almost perfect. The beach, our love … it's all so great. There's just one thing … one thing I miss … one thing I need."

"Anything, darling. Name it. I'll do it for you."


The guy snips a lock of hair and affixes it to Angelina's upper lip – a mustache. He takes another lock of hair, and affixes it to her chin – a beard. He makes her wear his baseball cap. He teaches her to walk like a guy. "Now, Angelina," he asks. Please pretend that you are my old buddy John, from back in the States."

Not sure what is going on, Angelina agrees to act like a man, and pretend that she is John.

The guy walks up to her, slaps her on the back, and says, "John! It's great to see you! Long time no see! Listen – you wouldn't believe who I've been fucking!"

I love that joke.


God hasn't given me an easy life. The past three years God has been really letting loose.

There have been two hurricanes, two and a half cancer diagnoses, a chronic illness, a broken arm, and endless struggles to get health care, struggles that have resulted, more than once, in wrong diagnoses or even worse illness.

And a broken heart.

In all this agony, I have often wished that I had a girlfriend.

There was a time in my life when having a girlfriend was a really easy thing. You just showed up – on the playground, in the high school cafeteria, at the university, the protest rally, the tramp steamer plying the waters between Burma and Thailand.

One night in an airport in, I think, the United Arab Emirates? – I honestly don't remember where this airport was – I unfolded some newspaper and lay it down. I would sleep on this newspaper. A couple in their fifties approached. They wanted to sleep next to me. Sure, I said. Bob and Sally Herbert, from Lake Park, Iowa. Bob and Sally and I ended up traveling through Israel and Greece together. I loved them. When I got back to the States, I visited them in Iowa.

People were just there.

Marie Center was my girlfriend in Nepal. Marie fell in love with John. She was a tall and brilliant Dartmouth grad. Feminist. Very liberal. He was a plug ugly, abrasive, macho, dope-smoking, bongo player from Jersey.

Marie and Julie and I had a pajama party. We stayed up all night. All we did was talk about Marie and John. It was blow by blow. "And then he said this, and then he did this, and then I felt this, and then …" There was another pajama party after Marie and John broke up. Years later John would email me after Marie died. He was in Southeast Asia then. Or maybe Egypt. But thanks to email, we got to talk. Really talk.

Through my recent cancer diagnoses, the hurricanes, the evacuations, the broken heart. I have wished for this. I have wished that I mattered enough to someone else for that person to say, "I will have lunch with you Tuesday." And for that person to spend time looking at my face and saying my name and hearing what I have to say and responding to what I say.

For there to be time for that. Not, "Oh, I can squeeze in fifteen minutes a week from now" and then canceling at the last minute because something more important has come up.

Not a casual encounter during which the other constantly stares at her cell phone. "Oh, my daughter just sent me a photo of the house she is thinking of buying."

Sometimes people say, "Oh, I wish I could do something." And what they mean is: "I wish I could cure your cancer / cure your sister's cancer / drive the Passaic River out of your home after the hurricane / hire you in a fulltime job so you had health insurance."

But that's not really what I want. I want someone to be willing to pencil me in for lunch, look at my face, not at their cell phone, say my name, and HEAR me, and to have time for that.

There was a time in my life when I had that. And I think that time is forever gone, and has been gone for a good ten years at least.

So I talk to myself through my writing.

I sometimes post about the broken heart on Facebook. I always say, "Please don't give me unsolicited advice, and please don't say hateful things about Ted."

And some – not all – people respond by giving unsolicited advice, and by saying hateful things about Ted. "He's a bastard!!! Forget him!"

And I remember the rich luxury of talk during that pajama party with me, Marie Center, and Julie. It was a feast of words. We could pick and choose; we had all night. No one was rushing us. No one stayed our hands. We could grab, or pick, suck or swallow any word from the fully laden buffet table. We could laugh or cry or burst out in what suddenly seemed to be unbearably profound pop song lyrics that had to be sung at that exact moment at top decibel. No one was looking at her watch. Cell phones had not yet been invented.

The other day I took the risk of asking someone if I could phone her. She emailed back. "Yes," she said. "I have time now for a phone call, as long as we don't talk about Ted."

I passed.

Women my age have husbands and children. I've never had either. I think that's one reason I have no girlfriends. Women my age like to talk about their daughters. It's a different kind of talk. They are not talking to discover the workings of a relationship, and how to best fit in that machine. They are either bragging or mourning their daughter's successes or failures. That's why they use words. Their husbands are permanent fixtures that they take for granted, like furniture. How often do you feel the need to verbalize about a couch?

So, in the past three years of utterly pointless craptastic misery, amidst the broken bones and once glamorous body parts that once held such promise and once demanded so much attention, and that have since been gauged out to become medical waste, over the Passaic River flowing into and out of the building, there was a heart, and it was broken.

I want to blog about that here because I don't have a girlfriend, and I am convinced that talking is healing.

I have no plan or discipline. Yesterday I blogged about the horrors of the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar, Pakistan. Today I blog about one small broken heart, and my wish for a girlfriend.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Murder. Rape. Children.

Kronos eating his child. Goya
Islam justifies the murder of children. So say the Taliban, the "students" of Islam.

Islam justifies the rape of slaves. So says ISIS, led by a man with a PhD in Islamic studies.

Islam justifies the rape of child slaves. So says ISIS, citing Koran and hadith.

Islamic jihadis murder children. See today's headlines.

Islamic jihadis murder CHILDREN. See today's headlines.

Islamic jihadis murder C-H-I-L-D-R-E-N. See today's headlines.

c/h/i/l/d/r/e/n do you get it? Do you get it?

Do you see these children in your mind's eye?

Children. Children. Children.

Innocent. Defenseless. Children.


What's the latest score?

One hundred Pakistani children.

School children.

With their books, with their pencils, eager to learn, itching for recess, daydreaming, having crushes, understanding something for the first time, now dead.


Their blood. Their bodies. Their body parts.

Limp. Lifeless. Scattered.

Once as beautiful, as precious, as full of promise and joy, as YOUR child.

Dead. In the name of Islam.

Thousands raped in the Islamic State.

In the name of Islam.

Muslims, Might now be a good time for you to start rethinking and retooling Islam?

Westerners – Americans, Brits, college professors, Facebook posters – Westerners who apologize for Islam – those of you who play the cultural relativism game.

Do YOU care about c_h_i_l_d_r_e_n???

Do you CARE about [r][a][p][e]?

Islamic state, citing the Koran and hadith, publishes pamphlet justifying the rape of war captives, including children, details here.

Taliban murders over one hundred Pakistani school children, details here.

This post is dedicated to American college professors I know who will allow any negative thing to be said about Christianity, but who demonize any criticism of Islam.

This post is dedicated to a Facebook poster I know who bashes Christianity, and especially Catholicism, as inherently evil, but who will not allow a breath of criticism of Islam.

This post is dedicated to the American driving public, who has had ample notice that we need to find alternative sources of energy, and energy independence, but always places its gas tank above its heart and its head.

This post is dedicated to precious, violated, Pakistani and Iraqi children. I pray that there is a heaven for you especially, and that I might see you there one day, and that I can teach you something, and that you can teach me something, and that when the recess bell sounds, we can play. 

Reading "Save Send Delete" Livened Up Our Whole Relationship!

Very, very grateful to "Kate" for the fabulous review, below, of "Save Send Delete" at Amazon.

If you'd like a signed copy of "Save Send Delete" for yourself or for your loved one for Christmas, please contact me!

"I can't put it down. A very inspiring 'love story' over the internet between a Catholic Professor and a famous Atheist through email. This book is written so beautifully and thought provoking, it will make you laugh, cry, and contemplate the meaning of life. You want to jump into the pages and debate these topics with them.

Since reading 'Save Send Delete' I have realized how much I was stagnating in my own thought process and it made me want to broaden my horizons, to read more, to educate myself more, to be more, think more, love more, act more.

It is NOT a book just about being Catholic or being Atheist. It is more about Life. About cultures, classes, diversities, and what we ultimatelyall have in common. This book gave my husband, a born again Christian, and I, a Catholic school girl Catholic, so much to discuss and debate. It actually livened up our whole relationship. I HIGHLY recommend this book. One of the best reads I have had the pleasure of reading in a very long time."

Review at Amazon here

Monday, December 15, 2014

"I'll Ride with You" Christians, Shiites, and Yazidis in the Islamic State. Will Australian Twitter Activists Ride with the Real Victims of Hate?

Australian Twitter activists responded to the Sydney hostage crisis by announcing "I'll ride with you" to Muslims who feared the "inevitable Islamophobic backlash" against Muslims. 

Australian Twitter activists announced -- oh so very bravely and multiculturally and diversely -- that they would ride with Muslims in Australia to protect them from those evil, violent, non-Muslims. 

In fact if these Twitter activists really wanted to be brave, diverse, and multicultural, they would announce that they will ride with Christians, Shiites and Yazidis in the Islamic State. 

By the way, you can read the Islamic State's pamphlet defending sex slavery of Christian, Shiite, and Yazidi girls here