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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why I Started Birdwatching. Why I Stopped Birdwatching. Why I Started Birdwatching Again.

Part I: Why I started birdwatching.

I mentioned in a previous post about the snowy owl irruption of winter, 2013-2014 why I started birdwatching. I'll repost that here:

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

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

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

I wonder how my mother knew.

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

I was determined to crack this code.

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

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

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

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

Part II: Why I Stopped Birdwatching.

I have some obsessive compulsive qualities. I love my obsessive compulsive qualities. My house is always clean. If I research something, I research it beyond the range of normal human curiosity, and I am never afraid to debate, because I always have more factoids than anyone else. (Test drive me. I'll debate you into the ground and have you screaming for mercy. And, no, this quality has not won me ANY friends.)

I became obsessive about seeing new species of birds. Birdwatchers become excited when we see new species. With every new species we see, our "life lists" of birds seen gets longer.

For me it wasn't enough to see even something as splendid as a wood duck, aix sponsa, "waterfowl in wedding raiment," in breeding plumage. I obsessively scanned every bird I saw to discover some unfamiliar wing bar or lore coloration – the lore is the tiny area between eye and beak – that would signal a new species. I was tipping from love into a greed that numbed my appreciation.

A bigger reason I stopped birdwatching: I entered grad school, and academia, and my life turned upside down. I've written about that in other places so I don't have to belabor it here.

Academia impoverished me. I had no money for a car and you really can't scream "STOP! THE! CAR! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I see a bird!!!!!!!!!!!" when you are a passenger in other's cars.

I was devoting every minute to my attempt to becoming a tenured, published professor, and doing that on no money. I had no time to watch birds.

The biggest reason I stopped birding, and this is hard to write about.

When I was a kid, we used to let our family dog, Tramp, run free for an hour or so each night.

Dog lovers, homeowners, pedestrians, please don't jump down my throat about this. If I had a dog now, I would not let him run free at all, ever.

I grew up in a different world.

My parents were immigrants and I guess that's how it was done in the Old Country.

I grew up in the kind of town where no one locked his door … ever. I never had a key to the house I grew up in. Neighbors walked in when they felt like it; they didn't knock. Once they reached the kitchen they would call out my mother's name, "Paaaah leen?"

If you were walking down the street and saw that your neighbor left his car headlights on, you would open your neighbor's car and turn off his headlights. I have done that.

If a siren went off, and a fire truck arrived, every kid for miles would mount his bicycle and ride to the fire truck and surround it and stand and stare.

So, yeah, we used to let Tramp run free for an hour or so every night. If Tramp was slow in returning home – he was the Frank Sinatra of dogs – I would go out to find him and drag him home. If this were a summer night, I would have to step carefully, because the ground was covered with frogs.

When I helped my mother in the garden, every time I overturned a big slab of rock, there would be a toad underneath.

At a certain point, and I don't remember when it was, exactly, I realized I would walk out at night and not worry about stepping on frogs. The frogs were just gone. I could turn over slab after slab, and find no toads hiding beneath.

One autumn day, my sister Antoinette and I were emerging from a walk in the woods. Suddenly we were stopped in our tracks. Something massive, sun obliterating, was moving over our heads. We were riveted to the ground, our bodies trembling in awe. It was the biggest flock of birds I have ever seen.

I've never seen a flock of birds that size since.

When I was a kid, I'd walk in the woods and if I happened across one bottle, I'd be outraged, deeply troubled. ONE piece of human trash in the woods would overwhelm me.

I cannot express in this blog post how deeply I bonded to the natural world as a child who grew up with four older brothers who hunted and fished and trapped and hiked and found arrowheads and watched stars, and parents who gardened and told tales of the Old Country, including how grandpa was saved from death by a flower my grandmother sliced at its fat hip and milked for its thick, gluey juice, and a sister who once wove a necklace of flowers and posed for a photograph I still have of her, looking every bit the Rusalka, the nature sprite, in a patch of New Jersey woodland, a sister who picked apples with me from wild trees on late Autumn afternoons; we'd tote them home in paper bags and roll them out on the kitchen table and there would be strudel before midnight. "Pull the dough," my mother would say, "till you could read a newspaper through it." We did.

I cannot express in this blog post that love for nature.

Someone has expressed it. My brother Phil bought a book, "Sand County Almanac," and then my brother Phil was killed; he never read the book. I read it in his honor. There is a quote on the cover of Phil's copy of "Sand County Almanac": "There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot." Aldo Leopold expresses my love for nature. Read his book.

I stopped birdwatching because I couldn't take the pain of what we are doing to the natural world. I wanted to preserve my memories of watching spotted sandpipers teeter along the banks of the Wanaque River. I did not want to return to see empty plastic bottles and strip malls and housing developments.

Part III: Why I started birdwatching again.

I was diagnosed with cancer. I realized after pounding my cranium into a cement wall of hate for twenty years that I would never, ever overcome academia's disdain for my kind (more about that at this blog post) and get a tenure track job. I stopped doing what I had been doing: constantly applying for jobs, writing for publication … that freed up a lot of time.

I took my binoculars out of storage.

One day, March 25, 2014, I went shopping at Corrado's, a produce store. There is a reservoir nearby and I walked along a four lane road, traffic at my back. That gray day the reservoir was still ninety percent frozen over. In isolated, puddle-sized pockets of water, dozens common mergansers swam. Common mergansers were not a new species to me; I did not receive the electric thrill of a fresh check mark on my life list. I just stood there, and looked at them.

Common mergansers have black heads and black backs, red bills and white bellies.

They sky was gray; the ice whitish; the water dark.

Traffic moved at my back.

I stood and gazed at the birds. I walked some more, a few miles. I watched a muskrat dive into the water, and emerge with something that looked like a snake in its mouth. I startled a turkey vulture feeding on a deer carcass.

After some time, I realized I needed to move on in order to get home before nightfall.

I also realized that that hour I spend walking along the reservoir and looking at the common mergansers was the happiest hour I'd spent in some time. I didn't see any new birds. I didn't fatten my life list. I did not forestall environmental catastrophe. All I did was look at mergansers – and I lost all sense of time. I forgot that I was on a four-lane road with cars whizzing past my back. I totally forgot about my health and money woes.

So I am, once again, a birdwatcher.


Please remember my upcoming Shroud of Turin talk. Details here.


The Best Moment from Last Week

I was unable to find attribution for this photo.
I found it doing a Google image search for "happy girl." 
Wednesday, April 23

Just a small, nice moment in a teacher's day.

I'm feeling so frazzled lately, juggling so many balls, that time itself seems warped. Is it really the end of the semester?

Right before I teach, I often come up with a "cherry on the cake" type idea for the given lesson I'm about to teach. Now that the semester is winding down, the cherry is for the entire semester, not just one day.

This morning I was really frazzled. So many things to do – pursue health care (which keeps running away from me) – buy half-price Easter candy at Walgreens, prep my upcoming talk on the Shroud of Turin (the talk is now about three hours long). But as I was running around, I thought of something I could do to make today special for one student. I had prepared a game as a review for the upcoming final exam. I thought of a special little gift I could give to the winner of the game.

And then of course I thought, no, this little gift is no good, it's not special enough, I don't have pretty handwriting to write out the card ...

And I just told the negative voices to go fuck themselves and took the leap. Brought in the little present.

So, at the end of the period, and at the end of our final class, the student who won the game got the special gift, the gift I felt so insecure about giving, sure it wasn't good enough, and she screamed, jumped up, and hugged me.

It was the best moment of my day for many reasons, not least of which is I have never seen that student so happy and excited.

Santo Subito


"This image was processed using digital filters. People queue for St Peter's Basilica in St Peter's Square on April 26, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican. Dignitaries, heads of state and Royals, from Europe and across the World, are gathering in the Vatican ahead of tomorrow's canonisations. The late Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be canonised on Sunday 27 April, inside the Vatican when 800,000 pilgrims from around the world are expected to attend. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Copyright © 2014"

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Shroud of Turin 1988 Carbon Date: Is It Possible that Scientists Lied? Or Simply Screwed Up?

I'm shortly to give a talk on the Shroud of Turin. I'm no expert on this topic; merely one of millions of interested amateurs. In preparing for my talk, I'm reading, of course, about the 1988 carbon dating that estimated the Shroud's date between the thirteenth and fourteenth century. If this date is accurate, there is no way the Shroud could be what it appears to be: a visual record of the death of Jesus, made through some contact of some kind with Jesus' crucified body.

It is said that the Shroud of Turin is the most studied artifact in history. I don't know if that is true, but there is a massive amount of literature devoted to it. In preparing for my talk I've reread three books, watched five documentaries, visited several webpages, conducted a handful of interviews, and I still feel under-informed.

The carbon dating has in and of itself inspired massive literature. The Wikipedia page devoted to the carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin is 14 pages long; five and half of those pages are bibliographic citations of other books, articles, and webpages addressing the carbon dating.

Some of these citations are obviously rants by curmudgeons with axes to grind, for example Tom Chivers' article entitled "The Turin Shroud is Fake. Get over It."

Other citations appear to represent serious inquiry. Two examples, chosen at random:

"A Re-evaluation of the Radiocarbon Date of the Shroud of Turin Based on Biofractionation of Carbon Isotopes and a Fire-Simulating Model" published in Archaeological Chemistry.


"Chemical Modification of Cellulose. The Possible Effects of Chemical Cleaning on Fatty Acids Incorporated in Old Textiles" published by the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Given the massive amount of data that argues for the Shroud's authenticity, many have a problem with the 1988 carbon dating.

In attempts to understand what went wrong, there is one possibility that I have not often encountered. That possibility: Maybe someone or someones on the carbon dating team lied. Or maybe someone or someones on the carbon dating team made a mistake.

It is remarkable that so few mention this possibility.

In fact, major Shroud author Ian Wilson calls the idea that someone lied "entirely risible" (129) and "unworthy" (de Wesselow 170).

Are we really all so convinced that scientists are infallible? Are we really all so certain that scientists are all above the normal temptations to lie?

Mind! I am not saying that the carbon dating team lied. I'm not saying that the carbon dating team screwed up. I'm saying that the carbon dating team was made up of human beings, and human beings lie and screw up. Yes, yes, EVEN SCIENTISTS lie and screw up.

I've spent the last twenty plus years in academia. I've rubbed shoulders with, house-sat for, and worked as a secretary for world-class scholars. Let me tell you, world-class scholars can be Machiavellian, vain, infantile, needy, thin-skinned, manipulative, highly ambitious, driven, Darwinian machines single-mindedly devoted to their own reputations and power. I've seen interoffice wars break out over what font gets used in a pamphlet advertising a conference. I've witnessed grudge matches between scholars that have lasted for decades and across thousands of miles.

Only a tremendously naïve person, brainwashed by science's own propaganda, would believe that scientists never lie and never screw up.

Just one, recent example of how the peer-review process, our highest standard for scientific truth, has been corrupted and prostituted for person gain: Doctors have falsified scholarly publications for money. In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline was taken to court over one such case.

Given the politicking, backstabbing, breast-beating, plumage grooming, peacock strutting, profiteering, CV-fattening, spitting and growling that scientists engaged in around the 1988 carbon dating of the Shroud, it is entirely believable to me that some might engage in numbers tweaking as well.

Harry Gove stated in so many words that he didn't much care about the Shroud; he just wanted to publicly demonstrate the power of his method (de Wesselow 164). Ego is hardly trustworthy. Teddy Hall was trying to raise money. Greed is not trustworthy.

Shroud author Thomas de Wesselow allows that lies or incompetence may be behind the 1988 date. He mentions some groups, who sound like fringe conspiracy theorists, who think that fraud is the problem. But de Wesselow sees no need for a conspiracy. He points out that, yes, scientists do sometimes lie. He cites one notorious case, that of Hwang Woo-suk, who fabricated research on human stem-cells and who published in Science in 2004 and 2005 (170).

Sometimes scientists lie as part of an attempt to make a larger point. In 1996, NYU physicist Alan Sokal published a fake scholarly article in a prominent journal in an attempt to show how shoddy the journal's standards were.

Lying scientists are not necessarily one-shot deals.

Madison Grant made a career of lying. He sold vile race theories to the American public in the early twentieth century under the guise of science. He was highly influential in the passing of the immigration quota laws of 1924 and 1929. Hitler called Grant's book his "bible." Grant put a human being on display in the Bronx Zoo – under the auspices of science. Grant was not alone. Almost all American thought in the early twentieth century is tainted with scientific racism.

I could go on but you get my point.

Too, it's possible that someone simply screwed up. Highly trained professionals DO sometimes screw up. Surgeons, more often than you'd suspect, often do amputate the wrong leg, the wrong arm, or the wrong breast, or remove the right bodily organ from the wrong patient. When I was a nurse's aide, I had a patient, Annette B, who had lost BOTH of her legs to two separate doctor's errors. If you want to give yourself nightmares, you can read more about such screw-ups here.

Teddy Hall and Michael Tite, why should we believe you? If the bulk of the evidence places the Shroud in the first century, why should we believe your numbers?

Please note: I am NOT saying that the 1988 carbon date should be tossed. I'm saying it should be taken quite seriously. Part of taking it seriously involves viewing it critically, and one of the questions we need to ask is, is it possible that someone made a mistake, and is it possible that someone did not tell the truth?

I'm also saying that it says something, something not so positive, about our culture that we think that because scientists say something that it is beyond question. For heaven's sake, scientists are not infallible. They are human beings. Like anyone else, they are susceptible to greed, ego, and error.

And, of course, there should be more testing. When one test result disagrees so firmly with so much of the rest of the evidence, that test needs to be repeated. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How We Talk about Islam and Terror: Nuance and Context

Add caption
On April 23, the CNN program "The Lead" featured Reverend Ruth Yoder Wenger, a prim and self-righteous gray-haired woman, in black blazer and eyeglasses, lips firmly pressed together in a sanctimonious fake-smile posture that could strike fear into any school child's heart, and Peter B. Gudaitis, a bald man in a sweat jacket, member of "New York Disaster Interfaith Services."

Wenger and Gudaitis appeared on CNN to protest that Americans are saying bad things about Islam and Muslims. Specifically, Wenger and Gudaitis were there to protest the National September 11 Memorial Museum's feature, "The Rise of Al Qaeda," which

"describes the emergence of the terrorist organization that carried out the 9/11 attacks. It concentrates on a period of roughly 15 years, beginning with al-Qaeda’s founding during the Soviet-Afghan War and concluding with its rationale and planning for the attacks of 2001. The program tracks al-Qaeda’s embrace of violence and the decision of its leadership to commit mass murder, at the dawn of the 21st century."

The host, Jake Tapper, asked Wenger and Gudaitis what their specific complaint was.

Wenger and Gudaitis repeatedly used two words: "nuance" and "context."

Beware of those words. They are weasel words. In liberal, academic environments, I have seen these very words used to obfuscate and forfend any serious discussion of real issues.

"Well, ya know, the Soviets did some bad things. Like the Holodomor that exterminated uncounted millions of Ukrainian peasants."

"Hey! That statement lacks nuance and context!"

These words can also be used to deflect any positive statement about perceived enemies.

"Hey, did you know that the Catholic Church is one of the major provider of social services in the United States today?"

"Bogus! No nuance or context!"

The CNN host Jake Tapper would have none of this. He pressed his guests: What specifically do you object to about stating that members of Al Qaeda, an Islamist terrorist group, attacking the US on September 11, 2001, in their own words, in an act of jihad?

"Islamist terrorist," Gudaitis said. You can't say that. You can't associate Muslims or Islam with terror. To do so … lacks nuance and context.


My friend Otto Gross sent me this clip. Otto is German. Ask Otto about lacking nuance and context. ALL Germans must live with the heritage of Nazism, must constantly justify their own existences to … well to people like me who have a huge chip on our shoulders against Germans.

When I say, in published writing, that German Nazis did despicable things, NO ONE demands "nuance" or "context." German Nazis did despicable things. Period.

I'm Catholic. I am part of an institution that hid child molesting priests. I can never hide from that reality. No nuance. No context. Child abuse is bad and the Church made terrible mistakes and we must change.

I have friends who are Jewish. Jews were overrepresented in the Communist secret police that murdered and tortured Polish heroes after WW II … and I am Polish, and my own people carried out pogroms against Jews.

No one is trying to protect Germans or Catholics with weasel words like "nuance" and "context."

Muslims will know that we love them and respect them and accept them into the wider human family as thoroughly as we ought to when we drop the pretense and speak frankly about crimes committed by Muslims in the name of Islam in the same way that we speak frankly about crimes committed by Catholics or Germans or Jews or members of any other group.

Feeling stigmatized? Join the club … and, like many of the rest of us, step up to the plate, and work for improvement in your own community.

The New York Times covered this story as well. Many NYT readers, in the comments section, revealed a certain amount of impatience with Politically Correct whitewashing.

A Times reader named "Maggie" wrote: "The museum didn't associate the hijackers with Islam, the hijackers associated themselves with Islam. People, religions, nations have to own their histories.

I've never owned a slave but I still recognize that ugly part of America's past. I have never condoned the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, but as a Catholic I have to live with that part of my religion's story.

Sorry Muslims, they aren't you but you still have acknowledge their ties to your religion."

You can read those comments here.

You can view the CNN clip here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Catholics, Protestants, and the Shroud of Turin

If anyone can identify this picture, please write to me.
I found it unattributed on the web and I'd love to know more about it.
I am scheduled to give a talk about the Shroud of Turin on Wednesday, April 30, at six pm, at the CCMC on the WPUNJ campus. Details here.

I mentioned this upcoming talk on Facebook. A Lutheran friend wrote,

"Shroud? I think it's from the era – not THE McCoy. My citations are from scripture. A separate cloth was used for the face. I'm not into my faith being affirmed by objects. They are temporal."

I was shocked and offended. I hadn't even mentioned the talk to her – she lives too far away. I had certainly never implied that anyone should base her Christian faith on the Shroud of Turin.

I posted a question – do Protestants view the Shroud differently? My Facebook friend Joe responded, "The face of Jesus has been claimed to have been found in everything from sliced tomatoes, to clouds, to tree bark. There are no sketches of the way Jesus looked from antiquity, so even if this is the face of some human, how does anyone know it is Jesus? I don't claim to speak for all Protestants, but I am skeptical of all such claims."

I wrote to Barrie Schwortz, one of my personal heroes, and the Shroud spokesperson par excellence.

In spite of his pressing schedule, Barrie took the time to write back and gave me permission to quote him. Barrie wrote,

"I actually have a special introduction to my presentations for non-Catholic Christian venues which I call: 'The Top 5 Reasons Why Some Christians Are Shroud Skeptics.' It addresses the primary reasons why some Christians deny or ignore the Shroud (and I've probably heard them all over the past 20 years). Here are the issues I discuss in the form of a 20 slide PowerPoint presentation:

1.The Shroud is a "graven image.“

2.The Shroud is just another Catholic relic.

3.The Gospels state that Jesus was tied with linen strips, yet the Shroud is a single large cloth. It further states there were 2 cloths in the tomb.

4.The Man of the Shroud has long hair, which is forbidden in the Gospels.

5.The Prophecies say the Man's beard was plucked, yet the Man of the Shroud has a full beard.

Properly addressing these issues has been very successful in Protestant churches (i.e. Lutheran, Methodist, Evangelical, Messianic, non-denominational, etc.). I was fortunate to have some help from my board member, Diana Fulbright, who is a Biblical scholar who reads and writes Greek, Latin and Aramaic. She helped me with the biblical references to answer the last two on the list."

I am very grateful to Barrie Schwortz for all that he does, and for this illuminating reply. I love it that Barrie is of Polish-Jewish ancestry. Barrie's mother is from Wisznice. Barrie, like me, grew up with immigrant parents. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Requiem for an Oak Tree

Angel Oak Tree
I walk to work, and I am alone. I love nature. I pass many trees. I become attached.

Just in the past year, I discovered a magnificent oak that stands just off my beaten path. I altered my path in order to walk under this oak.

It is magnificent ("It is" in my memory, still present tense.) Lush, powerful, sheltering, sculpted, manly in the best way, womanly in the best way.

"My" oak tree was cut down today, Wednesday, April 16th. I stopped my commute on foot. I stood and I watched, sobs choking in my throat. I wanted to stand there giving the bastards the finger with both hands, but they were doing dangerous work with massive, noisy machines – power saws, wood chippers – and I did not want to kill them, as they were killing my hero, this oak tree.

I will never forget this tree, or stop being grateful to it. If nothing else, as I was walking past its corpse, I thought, for more than a few minutes, whether or not trees have souls. I thought that for this tree.


I posted the above message on Facebook last week after seeing the oak tree cut down. I was deeply moved by how many people responded.

Katie Lynch wrote, "If only trees could talk…the story they could tell of all the things they have witnessed over all the years they have been alive. Watching all the changes that took place in the world, from dirt paths and horse-drawn buggies to major four-lane highways with super-fast cars... There are witness trees in the battle fields of Gettysburg, and Saratoga, trees that witnessed the stories of all the families who lived in the old houses they shade, majestic oaks on the Southern Plantations that witnessed Slavery... Just imagine the stories they could tell if only trees could talk…

I have a giant one oak overlooking my back yard and when I sit out there in the summer, those are my thoughts, of all the things that tree has seen and all the changes that have come since it was a little seedling."

Dina Coldrick wrote, "I have a dozen beautiful live house plants in my home. One palm in particular I bought as soon as I got my first apartment ... she's still with me 25 years later!!!!! Thank God she can't talk!" Dina mentioned a photography book, "Trees and Things," that includes photos of "mutilated" trees.

Carol Moessinger wrote, "A nondescript tree stood sentry on the corner up the street. It was tall and the wind had caused it to sway then lean in one direction as though its branches were in supplication to the Great Mystery. I almost cried when I came home one day and the tree was nothing more than chunks of firewood and kindling."

Sandy, Sandra, Vivian, Ellen, Anna, Malgorzata, and other friends posted supportive and caring messages.

Rusty Walker posted his painting of an oak, along with a poem.

Weathered Oak, You and Me
by Rusty Walker

Twisted oak, reach high, bow low,
Lived long enough to see you go;

I met you when you were a sprig,
So small was I, you were so big.

As older age twists you and me,
I turn a leaf, your leaves fall free.

Too much sun, too little rain,
Both you and I do weather the strain.

Only in hearts and minds in the end,
If you should go, as I, my friend.

Rusty Walker
Napa Oak Tree
I googled the phrase "Requiem for an Oak" and found this text:

"Hearts were once built of it. Three thousand
Trees went into Billy Ruffian, before
Steam and steel ruled. Wine was once
Brewed of it; sows grew fat on pannage.
Now, we picture it, pixel it and Flickr it,
Knowing well, Napoleon went down before it,
Robin Hood took shelter under it,
The Green Man glowered through it,
And cavemen hollowed boats in the bole
Of it. Will we let it wither, like an English
Elm, beetle-bored and riddled? Oaks
Send no suckers to sustain them. Science
Sees the riddle: could solve it.

Will we let it?"

Source of the above text is here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bad News on Easter Sunday: Health Care Update


Today is Easter but not for me.

I got some bad news in the mail yesterday.

Oh, gosh. Where to begin.

In a previous post I talked a bit about my status: I have always been working poor. I'm a really hard-working person. I started working when I was fourteen years old, as a page in my town's newly founded library. I moved on to being a nurse's aide. I did that to pay college tuition, room, and board, sometimes working full time while attending classes full time and maintaining an A minus average. I entered Peace Corps and served twice, came back to the states, entered grad school, and earned a PhD. While doing the PhD I worked as a landscaper, carpenter, live-in domestic servant, cook, cleaner, tutor, exam grader, and telephone surveyor. I love work. I completed with PhD with no debt.

After completing my PhD I fully expected to get a tenure track job. I spent most of my free time for many years doing nothing but applying for tenure track jobs.

Didn't happen; I am an adjunct. I earn less than minimum wage (most of the hours an adjunct works – preparing lessons, grading papers, meeting with students, creating courses we are assigned at the last minute – are unpaid) and I have no health insurance.

A couple of years back I was diagnosed with cancer. After many days of intense effort on my part and supported by Robin Schaffer, I was able to find charity care. Surgery. Recovery. Good news – my prognosis improved a lot.

But then I was diagnosed with a new, chronic condition. I've since learned it's fairly common and relatively easily treated. Problem. With the onset of Obamacare, I lost charity care. That happened months ago.

Since then I've been phoning, emailing, visiting people in person, begging.

I got a letter yesterday that appears to be my final rejection.

I lost charity care, and I've been turned down for my last hope for any coverage. Coverage I desperately need to treat the new, chronic condition that really wouldn't be that big of a deal – if I could afford to go to a doctor.

I'm crushed.

Tomorrow I will start phoning and emailing and begging again. I need medical care. Given the letter I got yesterday, and what I've been told so far, I have no reason to hope.


My book "Save Send Delete" is a declaration of Christian faith.

I'm not even sure why I'm trying so hard to say alive, any more. I accomplish nothing and I am alone. My life is just a series of pointless struggles.

Do I still believe in God, even at moments like this?

Yes, I do.

This is the best way I can put it. Right now I feel like I'm totally alone in a blizzard. It's dark. The wind is pounding against me. Pellets of snow blast my face and all but blind me. I am lost.

Somewhere out there, somewhere – I don't know where – I don't know how to get to it – I don't understand why I have to be alone in the dark while others are safe, warm, connected and comfortable – I don't know why I have to fight pointless, petty, losing battles while others can relax and enjoy  – I don't know what this means to me, exactly but – I think – I think – that somewhere out there one candle flickers.

At this moment, that is the best I can do.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Shroud of Turin, Joe Nickell: An Interesting Phone Call; Skeptic Double Standards?

I'm scheduled to give a talk about the Shroud of Turin at the William Paterson University Catholic Campus Ministry Center on Wednesday, April 30th, at six p.m. The talk will probably be to a small audience. It might just be me and my host!

Even so, I want to be as thorough as I can be in my preparation.

A few days ago I phoned the office of Joe Nickell, author of Inquest on the Shroud of Turin. I got an answering machine. I asked, "How does having a PhD in English qualify you to assess the science on the Shroud of Turin?"

I asked this because the New Atheists, Skeptics, etc, repeatedly insist that Christians and other people of faith are anti-Science and lack the proper education to speak with any authority. They insist, further, that they uniquely possess the bona fides to speak with authority. They insist that they follow Science, the only true guide to truth.

Why, then, does a New Atheist like Richard Dawkins, a biologist, have the qualifications to speak with authority about theology? In fact, Dawkins does not have that authority, as Terry Eagleton made clear in his essay "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching," found here.

I ordered Joe Nickell's PhD dissertation and skimmed it. It addresses the disappearance of Ambrose Bierce, the source of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Veiled Lady," and William Shakespeare as the possible author of "Pericles."

These are interesting and worthy scholarly topics but they do not qualify Joe Nickell to assess the blood on the Shroud of Turin. Alan Adler assessed the blood on the Shroud of Turin as real blood. Alan Adler was a chemist with a distinguished career one can read about here.

Scholars are qualified to comment on their area of expertise: Isn't that a basic tenet that the New Atheists, if they really practiced what they preach, would embrace enthusiastically?

Joe Nickell called me back this morning. I salute his courtesy in returning my call and I am grateful for his time.

Nickell began the conversation by asking me repeatedly to say and spell my name. This was repeated multiple times. He also wanted to know where I was. I have to admit that I wondered if this method of beginning our conversation was meant to intimidate me. Like many Polish Americans, I'm used to having to repeat and spell my name, but not that many times!

I didn't record or transcribe the conversation and my account here is as I remember it.

Nickell asked me repeatedly if I were Catholic.

I found this question offensive. What difference does my identity make to the truth? None, of course. Truth is truth, no matter the ethnicity or religion of speaker or hearer.

After being asked more than once if I am Catholic I said that I am. He seemed disapproving. He said that Catholics have behaved badly toward him.

He has my sympathy, but as a citizen of the great, and very diverse state of NJ, I have had negative encounters with persons of any number of ethnicities. I don't harbor ill will toward any, and I don't ask people, "Hey, are you Etruscan? An Etruscan sold me a really bad car once" before interacting with another person.

He said that he has conducted many investigations. That's good, but investigators typically commission experts to comment on key points. He said that he consulted a doctor, Michael M. Baden, who supported his conclusions that the Shroud is inauthentic.

It is good that Nickell consulted Dr. Baden, but Mark Antonacci's book lists 24 doctors who assess the Shroud as authentic. Is the one dissenting voice really proof that it is inauthentic?

Nickell called those with whom he disagrees "shroudies." The term sounded contemptuous to me. Nickell said that "shroudies" are all Catholic and they conclude that the Shroud is authentic and then work backward in an attempt to discover data that will support that conclusion.

I thought immediately of Barrie Schwortz, Shroud spokesperson par excellence. Barrie is of Polish-Jewish ancestry. He grew up in an Orthodox home, complete with separate plates for meat and dairy. Barrie did not want to participate in STURP but did so on the advice of a friend. It took Barrie many years and a lot of study to conclude that the Shroud was authentic. As far as I know, Barrie is still Jewish. (You can read Barrie's story here.)

I could mention others, like Thomas de Wesselow and Yves Delage who were not Christian and who concluded that the Shroud is authentic.

Joe Nickell is simply factually wrong on this point.

Nickell asked me twice if I knew what the word "iconography" means. I was so offended by this I did not answer.

He asked me how my training prepared me to speak authoritatively on the Shroud. I told him plainly that my training does NOT prepare me to speak authoritatively on the Shroud's authenticity; I said that my goal was to present a variety of points of view, including his.

Nickell said he was able to produce a reasonable replica of the Shroud. You can find Barrie Schwortz's assessment of Nickell's claim that he has reproduced the Shroud toward the bottom of the page linked here.

Nickell mentioned Ian Wilson's proposed provenance for the Shroud going back to the time of Christ, and pooh-poohed Wilson's work. Nickell mentioned that a bishop had denounced the Shroud.

I am grateful that Mr. Nickell called me back and answered my question. I am confused by our conversation. It is my subjective impression that Mr. Nickell sounded angry and defensive. He is a famous and successful author, and I am preparing a talk that maybe five people will attend, if I am lucky. Nothing I say at this talk will have any negative impact on his life. It's not clear to me why the anger and defensiveness are necessary.

I'm also confused by the double standards so common among the New Atheists.

Joe Nickell pooh-poohs Catholics as unreliable … and he attempts to strengthen his own case by citing a Catholic bishop.

Joe Nickell insists that scientific training is necessary in order to speak authoritatively, but he does not have a degree in science and I don't see his work being published by scholarly journals, as much pro-authenticity work is.

Joe Nickell casts aspersions on faith … but cites the Gospel of John as supporting his point (when in fact it does not.)

Again, I really do salute and appreciate Joe Nickell's courtesy in phoning me back and answering my question. My points here are meant to be larger points that contribute to how New Atheists and skeptics convey their message. If I notice an inconsistency in behavior and message, I'm sure others do, as well. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Shroud of Turin Talk. Catholic Campus Ministry Center, WPUNJ, Wayne / Haledon New Jersey, Wednesday, April 30th, Six PM

Very grateful to Lisa Osborne and Anna Martinez for designing these fliers for the upcoming talk on the Shroud of Turin at the Catholic Campus Ministry Center on the William Paterson University Campus in Wayne, New Jersey, 219 Pompton Road in Haledon (Wayne and Haledon border each other; most of the campus is in Wayne) at six pm on Wednesday, April 30th. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Female Genital Mutilation. First Person Account by Nawal el Saadawi from "The Hidden Face of Eve"


I was six years old that night when I lay in my bed, warm and peaceful in that pleasurable state which lies half way between wakefulness and sleep, with the rosy dreams of childhood flitting by, like gentle fairies in quick succession.

I felt something move under the blankets, something like a huge hand, cold and rough, fumbling over my body, as though looking for something. Almost simultaneously another hand, as cold and as rough and as big as the first one, was clapped over my mouth, to prevent me from screaming.

They carried me to the bathroom. I do not know how many of them there were, nor do I remember their faces, or whether they were men or women. The world to me seemed enveloped in a dark fog winch prevented me from seeing. Or perhaps they put some kind of a cover over my eyes. All I remember is that I was frightened and that there were many of them, and that something like an iron grasp caught hold of my hand and my arms and my thighs, so that I became unable to resist or even to move.

I also remember the icy touch of the bathroom tiles under my naked body, and unknown voices and humming sounds interrupted now and again by a rasping metallic sound which reminded me of the butcher when he used to sharpen his knife before slaughtering a sheep for the Eid.

My blood was frozen in my veins. It looked to me as though some thieves had broken into my room and kidnapped me from my bed. They were getting ready to cut my throat which was always what happened with disobedient girls like myself in the stories that my old rural grandmother was so fond of telling me. I strained my ears trying to catch the rasp of the metallic sound. The moment it ceased, it was as though my heart stopped beating with it. I was unable to see, and somehow my breathing seemed also to have stopped.

I imagined the thing that was making the rasping sound coming closer and closer to me. Somehow it was not approaching my neck as I had expected but another part of my body. Somewhere below my belly, as though seeking something buried between my thighs. At that very moment I realized that my thighs had been pulled wide apart, and that each of my lower limbs was being held as far away from the other as possible, gripped by-steel fingers that never relinquished their pressure. I felt that the rasping knife or blade was heading straight down towards my throat.

Then suddenly the sharp metallic edge seemed to drop between my thighs and there cut off a piece of flesh from my body. I screamed with pain despite the tight hand held over my mouth, for the pain was not just a pain, it was like a searing flame that went through my whole body.

After a few moments, I saw a red pool of blood around my hips. I did not know what they had cut off from my body, and I did not try to find out. I just wept, and called out to my mother for help.

But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes, it was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them, as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few moments ago. They carried me to my bed.

I saw them catch hold of my sister, who was two years younger, in exactly the same way they had caught hold of me a few minutes earlier. I cried out with all my might. No! No! I could see my sister's face held between the big rough hands. It had a deathly pallor and her wide black eyes met mine for a split second, a glance of dark terror which I can never forget.

A moment later and she was gone, behind the door of the bathroom where I had just been. The look we exchanged seemed to say: 'Now we know what it is. Now we know where lies our tragedy. We were born of a special sex, the female sex. We are destined in advance to taste of misery, and to have a part of our body torn away by cold, unfeeling cruel hands.


Nawal El Saadawi's account of her genital mutilation appears in the book "The Hidden Face of Eve."

In "Save Send Delete" I provide my own account of why I am a Christian. "In Christ, there is no male; there is no female." Jesus Christ is the best friend women ever had.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Shroud of Turin. Talk on April 30th in Wayne, NJ

On Wednesday, April 30th, at 6:00 p.m., Danusha V. Goska, PhD, folklorist and author of "Save Send Delete" will give a talk about the Shroud of Turin at the Catholic Campus Ministry Center on the William Paterson Campus in Haledon, NJ. The street address is 219 Pompton Road, near Camp Veritans. There is plenty of parking and refreshments will be served. Hope to see you there! 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Thinking of You

Thinking of one certain blog reader today ... wondering how it's going ... eagerly awaiting word! 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Soldiers Rejoiced That They Could Do Whatever To These Girls" -- An Infantryman Responds to "Save Send Delete"

William Adolphe Bouguereau Virgil and Dante 
I received an email on Thursday, April 3, from someone who read my book "Save Send Delete." I was astounded by this email because no one except a tiny handful of people I've reached through one-on-one marketing – by, for example, reading to very small gatherings at public libraries – knows that "Save Send Delete" even exists. Getting an email from a stranger is rare.

I was doubly astounded because the email was rather intense. The reader reported, "The last few days I haven't been able to sleep after reading your book."

I asked the sender if I could post his comments on this blog. He sent me an edited text and gave me permission to post that. It's below.


I read your book "Send Save Delete" and it touched me with its powerful message. I've never written to an author before. (I'm guessing a lot of people will write to you after reading that book!)

I spent a few years in the Army after I ran out of college money. (The infantry 2006-2009) During my time in I was promoted often, however, I was shocked at the brutality with which people treated each other and their enemies. I realized life held little value to many, but it became more precious to me! I spent some time in Asia and was shocked at the human trafficking and the absolute disregard to its negative aspects. Soldiers simply rejoiced at the fact they could "do whatever" to these girls with no consequence.

During that time my girlfriend from the college I couldn't afford graduated. We decided to get married. We will probably spend most of our lives in Asia. We ended up making more Asian friends than American! We gained some contacts with the Korean underground railroad and plan on opening up a school in the Jilin province of China. (After the army we taught English in Korea for 2 years) I am now back in college getting the degrees necessary to facilitate opening up an English school overseas.

Reading your book revealed things about my own identity that I never could have put into words. Touched by suffering at a young age I could never understand my desire to always be around it. The desire to actually give someone something that mattered was intense. In a sense it was the desire to find people who had suffered more than myself and help them; after all, they would be the people I could help the most! I often question my own motives for desiring to help others, is it because I desire adoration? Or do I really give unselfishly?

I discovered your book after reading the poem "Women of Darfur" and googling you. I hated the poem! (It was an assignment for school) I thought that it was just another written work to make non sufferers feel guilty. (I also hated the fact that I knew it would inspire platform seekers a spring board to launch their particular grievance. ( Liberals vs Conservatives.. Racism..

Environmentalism.. Capitalism etc) Suffering always seems to be the platform used to degrade the perceived perpetrator. So I googled you. I am glad that I did! Your book will always always be special to me! I do have one question for you. What was your motivation for writing "Women of Darfur?" Was it out of anger? When you wrote it, were you angry that there were people living an ignorantly blissful life?

In closing I'd like to thank you for writing the book "Send Save Delete" I hope that it does well and that the Lord blesses you with many opportunities to change lives. I pray that you are blessed with the joy of giving meaningful life to those who believe their life has no meaning.

- Caleb Tucci


Again, I'm astounded by this email. I spent the year that "Save Send Delete" was published begging editors at Christian and Catholic periodicals like Commonweal, Christianity Today, and the National Catholic Reporter to review the book. That's largely how the public learns of the existence of books – through book reviews. Not only would periodicals not review "Save Send Delete," they wouldn't even look at it. They saw no value in my work, and it's easy for me to conclude that my work has no value.

Receiving an unexpected email from a complete stranger is a rare and astounding experience.

If you'd like to read "Save Send Delete" you can buy it at Amazon here or send me an email for a lower priced, autographed copy.