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Monday, October 27, 2014

In All My Years of Birdwatching, I Have Never Seen This Before

Excellent photo of a golden-crowned kinglet by Jacob S. Spendelow. See more of his gorgeous work here
Sunday, October 26, 2014

The weatherman promised clouds and sun but as I drove to Skylands the sun disappeared and the sky up north ahead of me clotted with dark, ropey clouds. In a down vest, with no Gore-Tex on me, I was not prepared for rain. I strategized – I could perhaps filch the custodian's backup, clean plastic bag that he had stored in the bottom of a garbage can.  But then I decided that it wasn't going to rain. The day was just painting itself to match my mood.

I will never go to Skylands, my favorite place on earth, and not think of my sister. Just the other day I was in eighth grade and she was in high school and we went up there and picked two paper bags full of apples under a sky just like this, ominous, mid-Autumn clouds that silvered an entire afternoon into one long evening. We rolled the wild and wormy apples out on a countertop, washed, peeled, and pared them, as Mommy stretched the strudel dough on top of a white tablecloth with red flowers, stretched that strudel dough so thin you could read a newspaper through it. The newspaper could even be in Hungarian, and multilingual grandma could read that. We were awake long into that evening's early darkness, watching, through the glass window in the oven door, the uneven blanket of strudel dough, wrapping apples, its peaks warming to gold.

What was I saying? Where am I? When?

I was hiking up the trail at Skylands trying to figure out how I could rescue my sister. I could phone this doctor, that doctor, talk to the nurse; where is Virginia, my beloved telephone tarot card reader? And I can't. No plan I could devise would rescue my sister.

Some say you don't exist, but you do, don't you? That was you behind Mike's death at 33, and Phil's death at 23, and now this. There you are, God. I've found you. God, you may be omnipotent, but you appear to be deaf. Your omnipotence lies in your implacability and your aim. Can I get you to move? Or at least redirect your lightning bolts? Apparently not. I know this drill all too well. So much for that "ask and ye shall receive" stuff. Was it all just song lyrics? Did it rhyme in the original Aramaic?

I passed another birdwatcher, tall, slim, and gray-haired. He may be someone I've met before, the man who maintains the bluebird houses, but I was too drained to ask. He may have known I am a birdwatcher by the binoculars hanging from my neck. He told me what he was seeing: both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

I would like to see a yellow-bellied sapsucker. The last time I saw one, years ago, it was here at Skylands. He was on an apple tree trunk riddled with precise rows of holes; this punch-card pattern is the signature of the yellow-bellied sapsucker. The holes are the wells he drills and from which he sips sap.

I asked the man what to listen for. He said that the yellow-bellied sapsucker says "kwrr, kwrr." He imitated the call. I said I'd listen for that.

He asked me what I was seeing and I told him that my mind was elsewhere.

I resolved to look for the kinglets.

I saw white-throated sparrows and slate-colored juncos, the quintessential winter ground birds in my neck of the woods.

As I get older I note that I am always surprised by the seasons. You think seasons would no longer surprise me, especially since I am a walker and I am out in everything.

Last winter, 2013-14, was one of the most severe winters I'd ever lived through. I just couldn't believe spring at all. I had a down vest in my backpack – just in case! – well past the equinox. "One swallow does not a summer make." Summer 2014 didn't really convince me till it was almost through.

But now summer is over and I know this because I saw several white-throated sparrows and slate-colored juncos. And I managed to pay fifty cents a pound for fairly good apples at Shop-Rite.

I also saw a lot of hermit thrushes. Enthusiasts of collective nouns will tell you that a group of hermit thrushes is called a "hermitage." Similarly, a group of turkeys is said to be called a "rafter" and a group of crows is said to be called a "murder." An ascension of larks, a gaggle of geese, a parcel of penguins

My question is, WHO calls a group of thrushes a "hermitage"? Not I.

Perhaps fans of collective nouns, but how often do these people actually encounter a group of thrushes?

The hermit thrushes were eating berries, which they do in winter. In warmer seasons, they eat insects. Hermit thrushes are eating berries: seasons have changed. Get it through your head.

The man I had passed promised me ruby-crowned kinglets and golden-crowned kinglets.

I quickly saw a golden crowned kinglet. Then I saw one of the weirdest things I've ever seen as a birdwatcher. I've never seen anything like this before.

The kinglet was flying, and she somehow managed to catch her wing on a branch. Her body was suspended sideways from the branch, one wing hanging loose beneath her and flapping pathetically; the other wing was above her and affixed to the branch somehow. She made high-pitched alarm calls; there was no one to hear or rescue. She struggled and struggled. It was really hard to watch. I've never seen anything like that before and I can't imagine how it happened.

Was she stuck on a thorn? How did she get a thorn through her wing? Kinglets are tiny birds … was she trapped in a spider web?

I determined that I had to rescue her.

I began to walk toward her and she struggled and struggled and before I reached her, she managed to free herself from whatever was holding her.

She flew to a nearby branch and began, with her bill, furiously preening the wing that had been stuck.

This unique sight did feel to me, somehow, related to my sister and my crushed sense that I should be rescuing her, but that I can't. I have no conclusions. I am just reporting.

The persimmon tree is full of fruit, and now is the time of year for them. They are good to eat only after all the leaves have fallen, and after the first frost. They were too high; I could not reach them. As I passed the now barren rhododendrons and azaleas which bloom, at Skylands, in a rich array of the orange-melon-pink spectrum, I remember when Antoinette was a young nurse and we came up here and she was wearing fingernail polish and holding her long, slender fingers up against the blossoms on the azalea, trying to find the blossom that most exactly matched her polish.

I walked down the single-lane road through woods, the road that passes the small pond on the Mount St. Francis property. When Antoinette was a member of the Confraternity of the Children of Mary – they got to wear these lovely blue robes to mass – and I was at home sucking my thumb, she and her classmates had come up to Mount Saint Francis for a school trip. Antoinette was wearing a watch pendant necklace she had received for her birthday and the clasp came lose and the pendant fell into the pond and was lost forever. Though I was not with her on that day, I cannot pass that pond without thinking about that pendant, rusting silently at the bottom of it somewhere, unless it was swallowed by a heron who mistook its shine for the fins of a goldfish, swallowed it down, carried it to some exotic clime, and pooped it out on a sandy beach. I wonder if the clock is still ticking.

The sun was setting and dusk was whispering through the trees and I was assuming the greater caution I assume when the light is abandoning me, a lone female pedestrian. I looked up and saw three very black and quite large figures and it took me several seconds of moving the vocabulary inside my head around – if those are people they are much larger and more monochromatic than most people – to realize that they were bears. I've seen wild bears only twice before, once running away into the woods on the side of the road, and once skulking around Charlene Lovegrove's dumpster in Vernon.

It was a mother and two cubs. The mother stood up on her hind legs and looked at me.

In September Darsh Patel was killed by a bear in nearby West Milford.

The bears looked beautiful: sleek, pure black, glamorous, well fed.

They slipped into the brush and were invisible within seconds.

I just kept walking. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Moment of Silence for Nathan Cirillo

"Just think of what you were doing when this happened," she said she told him. "Just think you were standing at the cenotaph. You were honoring others. Just think of how proud that will make your family. Your family must love you so much."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

On Calls to Kill or Expel Muslims

Apollon of Olympia Source Wikipedia
In the wake of the recent murder in Ottawa, and in response to discussion of that murder, I posted the text, below, on my Facebook page last night.

Please don't post on my page recommendations for a genocide of Muslims, expulsions of Muslims, and posts saying that Muslims are not human, and are, instead, cancer or some other thing – some *thing* that is not human.

1) Such posts recommend a sinful action. I am a Catholic and a Christian and mass murder, forced expulsion and dehumanization are all sinful and contrary to my belief system.

2) These posts are counter-productive. We are at war. War requires clarity and truth. Bombastic, undisciplined, inflammatory comments about mass murdering Muslim men, women, and children, rounding up innocent civilians and expelling them, and talking about people as things, make the situation we confront worse, not better.

"Let's kill all Muslims" misrepresents counter-jihad. No, the choice is not between submitting to jihad and "Let's kill all Muslims." Such posts give a false image of what it means to resist jihad.

3) Recommendations of mass human rights abuses – murdering and expelling innocent people – hurt, offend, and disturb me, while serving no useful purpose. I'm sure they hurt, offend, and disturb other Facebook friends who may stumble across them.

4) I don't want my Facebook page to be used to disseminate ideas I find abhorrent and immoral.

My position has always been clear:

1) Energy independence. Sine qua non. We fund jihad every time we fill up our gas tanks.

2) Articulate and celebrate Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition

3) Speak the truth about jihad and gender apartheid

4) Act on existing laws.

Number four is key. I think we have a law against sedition. The mosque attended by the Oklahoma beheader preached the violent overthrow of the United States. Our security services knew this. Yet they did not act. Political Correctness stayed their hand. A woman died as a result.

Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, gave ample warning to his fellow army officers that he planned a jihad action. None of his fellow army officers stopped him. Political Correctness prevented them. Thirteen people died.

The Tsarnaev Brothers murdered a Jewish man before they bombed the Boston Marathon. Yet they were not apprehended.

The underwear bomber's father contacted the CIA and yet he was not barred from entering the US. He came close to blowing up an airplane and only passengers stopped him.

Universities are hotbeds of jihadist sentiment and anti-Western hatred. Reza Aslan, Ward Churchill, and Bill Ayers are celebrated and others who hold a relatively positive opinion of the US are told they are too "right wing" to get a tenure track job.

We Americans have dug our own hole – and you want to murder innocent Muslims. But you don't want to stand up to Political Correctness? You have lost my respect with your thoughtless, violent, ineffectual rants. 

Ebola, White Guilt, and Magical Negroes

"It's really interesting how when Ebola was common in Africa nobody cared about it but now that it's common in white countries there is a vaccine and a cure."

The student who said this to me is a good student. He is intelligent, hard-working, courteous, and curious about the world. We were conversing on an American university campus in mid-October, 2014, during the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

I responded to this student, "Ebola has never been common in Africa. The death toll is in the thousands, not the millions. Ebola is not common in white countries. There is no vaccine. There is no cure. There are lots of incurable diseases that strike lots of white people."

I despair at how American racism distorts discussion of a health crisis, and cripples competent response to that crisis. The American racism I'm talking about is exemplified by my student's fallacious beliefs. Here are a few more examples.

The day before this conversation, on October 14, a Facebook friend posted a photograph of an African boy, his face vivid with emotion. Underneath a text read, "In this African tribe, when someone does something harmful, they take the person to the center of the village where the whole tribe comes. For two days, they say to the man all the good things that he has done. The tribe believes that each human being comes into the world as good. But sometimes people make mistakes. The community sees those mistakes as a cry for help."

I pointed out that a very quick Google search immediately exposed this text as a hoax. It contained words meant to be from an unnamed African tribal language; in fact the words were the first and last names of the author of a textbook on waste management; some "African" words were cribbed from Spanish. The idea that an unnamed and distant African tribe deals with evil in a way superior to Americans is a manifestation of the concept of the Magical Negro. The Magical Negro is a stock character in American fiction and film. He exists to help the white main character.

I mentioned to my Facebook friends that the post offended me. It treated Africans as fundamentally different from Americans, and so different and distant that it wasn't even necessary to name the very tribe that was meant to deal with evil in such a superior way. I mentioned that this mattered to me because I had served in Africa with the Peace Corps. I had come to realize that Africans are human beings just like Americans. Africans are not worse than Americans, nor are they better.

On October 9, 2014, the Sacramento Bee published a cartoon of an obese, bald, stupid-looking white male. He wears a t-shirt with the letters "USA" written across the chest in red, white, and blue. The man is smoking, eating a burger and fries, and drinking beer. Statistics surround his head; the numbers indicate how many Americans die of obesity, smoking, and alcohol consumption each year. Above the man's head, a balloon contains the caption, "Ebola!!!" The implication is, of course, that white Americans are panicking about Ebola, but are unconcerned about their own rampant self-destructive behavior. Further, Americans are stupid and dangerously unstable. They panic and become hysterical without cause.

On October 14, The Independent (UK) ran an article entitled "What's Wrong with How the West Talks about Ebola in One Illustration." The illustration depicts black bodies in sickbeds. In one bed, there is a white body. That body is surrounded by reporters. The black bodies are ignored. The caption reads, "A death in Africa, or Asia for that matter, should be as tragic as a death in Europe or the USA." In fact the three US Ebola victims that are receiving so much media attention are not white: Thomas Eric Duncan was Liberian, Nina Pham is Vietnamese-American, and Amber Vinson is African American.

On October 16, Marlow Stern, in the Daily Beast, wrote that Ebola news coverage "strikes me as reinforcing the xenophobic, Old World line of thinking that Africa is the 'Dark Continent' where diseases emanate from."

In his October 18 Weekly Address, with the Orwellian title, "What You Need To Know About Ebola," President Barack Obama scolded Americans. "We can't give in to hysteria or fear because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need. We have to be guided by the science. We have to remember the basic facts," nagged Obama. The implication here is, of course, that Americans are hysterical, panic-prone ninnies who need their president's wagging index finger to remind them that science is superior to hysteria and fear.

It doesn't take long in any given google search of the word to discover that Ebola was invented by Americans to murder or exploit Africans. A Liberian newspaper, The Daily Observer, published an article alleging that Americans invented Ebola in order to harvest organs from Africans.

We are talking about Ebola through the distorting filters of white guilt and Magical Negroes. White guilt, as Shelby Steele illustrates in his book of that title, is not about black people at all. Like the white man's burden narrative, white guilt makes the white man active and the black man passive, if not absolutely immobile. White guilt shines the spotlight on white liberal heroism, and reduces blacks to supporting players in the white man's drama. Blacks exist only to be pathetic, to be helpless, and to supply the white ego with a black object to save. Any problems that significantly involve black people are not to be talked about with the same clarity we devote to other problems. How do we talk about other problems?

On October 6, 2014, TIME magazine published a fascinating article about a medical crisis: parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. TIME fearlessly and unhesitatingly demolished the idiotic excuses parents give for not vaccinating. TIME boldly stated the danger such parents pose to wider society.

TIME went even further than that. TIME related the screwy decision not to vaccinate children with the mentality, values, and worldview of the anti-vaccers. Anti-vaccers, TIME pointed out, tend to be leftist, affluent, well-educated, and living in trendy, desirable locations, like university towns. Their "master of the universe" worldview prompts them to "think they know better than doctors…it's a community of 'Hey, I know better.'" But, TIME stated, "What they think they know just ain't so."

TIME goes so far as to psychoanalyze anti-vaccers "When people achieve a certain status, they think they're invincible. They think it will never happen to them, and if it does, they have resources to deal with it…People are trying to be the ultimate parents. Every piece of clothing and food is thought out, and vaccines fall into that category." TIME ends with prescriptions for how to reach anti-vaccers, prescriptions tailored to the demographic's income, education, and attitude.

That's how we should be talking about Ebola. In exactly the same fearless, fact-based, forthright way that TIME talked about the affluent, trendy whites who don't vaccinate their children.

When we do talk about Ebola that way, there are a handful of key facts that will receive great emphasis, emphasis they are not getting now.

First, a quarantine is not racist; it's rational. Ebola needs humans to travel. It can't travel on its own. The purpose of a quarantine is to deprive a virus of human hosts. A temporary quarantine on Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea is to everyone's benefit.

As it happens, I myself came close to death in the Third World, while serving with the Peace Corps. I developed an acute streptococcal infection in a remote village several-days walk from any road with vehicular traffic. No one rescued me. I did not expect anyone to do so. I have always regarded my survival as a miracle; an atheist might chalk it up to chance. One of my fellow volunteers did die, and another came close to death. We regarded these events as the price we paid for our own choices. Because of my specific Peace Corps history, I cannot donate blood. Those rejecting my blood are not being racist; they are being rational and responding to microbes, not my skin color.

The sooner Ebola is deprived of new human hosts, the fewer people will sicken and die.

The second thing we need to talk about is one possible route for Ebola into the human population: through consumption of bushmeat. The third thing we need to talk about is traditional burial customs, including traditional Islamic burial, which requires extensive handling of highly contagious corpses. Finally, we need to talk about the mindset of Africans in Ebola zones. President Obama did not shrink from wagging his finger at Americans and nagging us that science is superior to superstition. That sermon was delivered to the wrong congregation.

Westerners cringe when talking about bushmeat. How dare we lecture Africans, who are famously victims of famines, to limit their consumption of any food? This attitude is nonsense. It's obvious that an ecosystem that can support enough gorillas and chimpanzees for human consumption can feed far less finicky omnivores like domestic chickens, goats, and pond-raised tilapia. Legumes like peanuts supply a great deal of the protein in many African diets. Africans don't have to eat bushmeat, especially not primates, and they risk their own health – and ours, in our age of rapid travel – by doing so.

Consumption of bushmeat and suspension, during Ebola outbreaks, of traditional burial practices could be achieved through radio. Radio is very powerful in Africa. Radio played such a key role in 1994 Rwandan that radio broadcasters were convicted of genocide by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal.

To maximize radio's impact, we need to speak plainly about a touchy reality. Many Africans do not believe what they hear from official sources. They cling to traditional beliefs and conspiracy theories. If a government spokesperson tells an African villager that he should abstain from bushmeat and not bury his deceased loved one with a traditional burial, and that he risks Ebola by doing so, that African will likely reject this information, and believe something else that he has heard through the grapevine, or from a traditional healer.

I think, again, of that illustration in The Independent article, the illustration of black people dying and no one caring, and one white person dying and the press attending. The illustration, as has been mentioned, is factually wrong, but it is haunting. Yes, we care about the Africans dying from Ebola, but our distance from them makes it hard for us to act on that care in any effective way. That distance isn't just one of geography; it is also one of belief. All the advanced medicine in the world is for naught if traditional burial practices are adhered to. When I served in Africa, I saw aid workers begging mothers to filter water through cloth, and to let it sit before consumption, so as to limit their children's exposure to schistosomes and other pathogens. The Africans I knew largely rejected the premise that invisible pathogens cause illness. They did not accept the authority of science. It was more attractive to adhere to traditional beliefs that associated illness with curses and magic. These attitudes can be changed, just as the attitudes of "master of the universe" anti-vaccers can be changed, but those who want to change them have to first acknowledge that they exist.

Let's get over our racism. Let's get over our white guilt and Magical Negroes. Let's do what we have to do to defeat Ebola. That starts with talking about Africans as if they are people just like us.

This essay appeared in the American Thinker

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Raptor Education Foundation Visits Paterson's Eastside High School

Recently National Geographic published an article alleging that birdwatching and birdwatchers are racist. 

I responded with an essay that American Thinker ran. You can see that essay here

The Raptor Education Foundation informed me of their visit to Paterson's Eastside High School. Eastside High School does not have a single white student, I don't think. It is all African American and Hispanic. It is in a low-income neighborhood in Paterson, NJ. 

I am overjoyed that the Raptor Education Foundation visited Eastside High School. I just wish everyone concerned about racial injustice would respond as the REF does: by doing something positive and concrete.

I immediately made a financial donation to the Raptor Education Foundation and I invite anyone who cares about racial injustice, the environment, and who wants to contribute to making the world a better place to do the same. Here is their Facebook page and here is their web page.

Here is an account of the REF's visit to Eastside High School in 1994:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

National Geographic Alleges that Birdwatching is Racist; An Urban Birdwatcher Responds

On September 23, 2014, National Geographic published an article by Martha Hamilton entitled "Colorful World of Birding Has Conspicuous Lack of People of Color." The gist: birdwatching is racist. Non-racist people must intervene to ensure that birding and birders become "inclusive."

I live in Paterson, NJ. Paterson is two thirds Black or Hispanic, with the nation's second largest Muslim population. My first job after graduation from college was as a Peace Corps teacher in a remote African nation, ranked as the poorest country on earth. I have taught and published on racism and ethnic conflict. I care deeply about my students. I want their futures to be better than their pasts.

I am a birdwatcher. I mentioned the National Geographic allegation in an online discussion list dedicated to birding. I said that I found the article "off base." Rick Wright, author of The American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of New Jersey, informed me that he would henceforth block any messages by me. Others sent insults. Rather than saying, "We have a Paterson birdwatcher. Let's dialogue," the senders of abusive emails decided, "You disagreed with a liberal on race. You must be insulted and silenced."

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Brother, Phil Goska, And the Rites of Autumn

There's a ritual I observe every autumn.

I first think about it when I see the first sign of autumn.

My ancestors came from the far north. Our DNA reflects Slavic, Saami (Lapp) and Viking ancestry. Summer is always a challenge.

When I'm deep in the lap of summer, sweating and squinting and seeking unavailable shade, one day, when it seems, truly, I'm lost in an endless desert, I see it: red leaves in a green tree.

Usually it's a poison ivy vine snaking up a plump maple in a scarlet, serpentine pattern.

Then, one evening, I take it for granted that I can do something outside in full sun. It'll be seven or eight o'clock and I'll want to go birdwatching and I'll step out and hey! It's dark! Where did that endless summer evening go? Who turned out the lights?

I know autumn is on her way, the hem of her skirts sweeping in silver stars where lemon sunbeams had been.

And I know that that fall ritual is upon me.

I mostly gaze at Phil's photo, and I remember what I remember of him, and I cry. The tears always amaze me because the tears are fresh.

Storage. I'm a homebody, a hausfrau, and I think a lot about storage. I keep the high quality chocolate in the refrigerator. I look down on plastic. I never throw out glass jars because glass is nonreactive, airtight, and superior for storage.

Where are these tears kept?

In this sterile happenstance Darwinian universe, in this God-breathed creation, one truth all beliefs share: everything wears down; even stone melts under streams.

But tears. They never spoil. They never age.

And then I say, "Okay, that's it for this year." And I stop thinking about Phil, and bottle the tears up again till next year.

Phil was seven years older than I and a guy, and our family wasn't close anyway, so we really didn't have much one-on-one time.

I remember when I was younger than ten, and Phil was a young teen. We packed a bag with rags and he and I and some of his friends went down the woods. We wrapped the rags around Tommy so that he looked like the Mummy, the monster star of one of those Golden-Age, black-and-white, Hollywood movies we were always watching on TV. Tommy, dressed in rags to look like the Mummy, chased us around the woods, and we were genuinely scared. At least I was.

I ended up in the Wanaque River that day. I don't remember if I fell in or was thrown in. I remember that baptism as being a moment in my overcoming my fear of bugs and the woods in general. Like all little girls, I liked pink and shiny things, and princesses. Four older brothers and a house near woods and Bohunk parents changed that, and a woods-woman I became.

A darker memory. I was lying on the couch. Our house was small and there were a lot of us, so more than one person could be doing more than one thing in the same room. I was sleeping and Phil was listening to Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" over and over and delivering a monologue. I don't remember who his audience was. Was he talking to a person who was in the room also? Was he talking on the phone? He was a great storyteller, a raconteur. I remember him. I don't remember his audience on this night.

When was this night? "Born to Run" was released on August 25, 1975, so this night had to have occurred after that date. "Born to Run" made the cover of TIME and Newsweek on October 27, 1975. But of course Phil never got to see that. So this night would be the last night I had the chance to hear him tell his stories.

After Phil started talking, I only pretended to be asleep. I wanted to hear everything he was saying.

Phil talked about the frustrations, brick walls and injustices he was hitting in life. We were Bohunks, working class. Our parents were peasant immigrants from Eastern Europe. They had had a very tough time of it in America and they had no idea how to train us to open doors of opportunity. Phil was driving a truck, something he was not at all suited to.

What should Phil have done?

He was an angel. What do angels do during their brief sojourns among us mortals on earth?

Phil spoke of me in his monologue. "Diane is so naïve. Diane has no idea." He was right of course.

I despise capital A Atheists who insist that there is no such thing as precognition. I grew up with it. My mother was psychic. My father was as well, but perhaps less so, or perhaps he just talked about it less.

My mother woke up exactly a week before. She saw her mother's face above her. Her mother was trying to tell her something hard. My mother didn't want to hear the message my grandmother was trying to convey to her. My mother said, "No, mama, no. No, mama, no." I can hear my mother now saying these words. "No," she said. She refused knowledge. She did not hear her mother's message.

On other occasions she had listened. One of my mother's deceased, Old Country ancestors once woke my mother up from a sound sleep and told her to get out of bed. My mother listened to this voice and got up to discover that Mike, who was a baby then, had climbed out of his crib and was crawling near a carpentry project of my father's, a large, unstable book case. Had my mother not found him, the bookcase might have fallen on him. So, yes, you listen to your departed loved ones when they came to warn you, especially when they speak with a Slavic accent.

This message my mother refused to hear. But she knew something bad was about to happen.

She told me. "Something bad, really bad, is about to happen. I don't know what it is. I didn't want to hear. I didn't want to know. Be prepared."

I can remember now the suspended horror I felt that week. I knew my mother's psychic abilities were reliable. I just didn't know what was going to happen. I felt, that whole week, as if something dark and sinister were right over my shoulder, right behind me, pursuing me and my family, and it was just a matter of time.

A week later, Phil was killed in a car accident. He was not the driver. It was my birthday.

And so I remember every year.

My brother Mike died young, as well. Phil was 23; Mike was 34. But Mike did not die on my birthday, so I don't have a ritual for him.

I was the last person in our family to see Phil alive. I was seated at the kitchen table. He came down the stairs. He went to the sink to get a glass of water from the faucet. His back was to me. He was wearing a fine shirt with a woman's face on the back. Those shirts were popular then. He turned and went out the back door.

In the dream I had over and over for the next five years, at the last minute, I rise from the kitchen table and rush to the back screen door. I put my hand on the door handle. I stop him.

Phil turns around. Phil was a beautiful guy. But in the dream, he is preternaturally radiant. He is smiling a smile of confidence that surpasses anything I can interpret. He refers to me by my nickname. He says, "I gotta go, Di."

I had that dream for five years before I realized that he wasn't referring to me by my nickname at all. He was, rather, telling me, "I gotta go die."

After I realized that, I never had the dream again.

If I am still around, I will probably post this same message some time next fall. I will tell you the same memories, all over again. Phil was seven years older than I, and a guy, and our family wasn't close, so I have a limited number of memories to go through.

Thank you. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

On the Limits of Coexistence: I Will Not Lie to Protect Your Myths

A Facebook friend I'll call Desdemona posted video from the September 21, 2014 People's Climate March. The video depicted dancers in Aztec-influenced costumes dancing before a several-foot-high Aztec-influenced stone skull idol. The skull idol represented Coatlicue, the Aztec fertility goddess.

Desdemona's video is linked, below.

Here's Wikipedia on Coatlicue

"She is represented as a woman wearing a skirt of writhing snakes and a necklace made of human hearts, hands, and skulls. Her feet and hands are adorned with claws…Her face is formed by two facing serpents after her head was cut off and the blood spurt forth from her neck in the form of two gigantic serpents, referring to the myth that she was sacrificed during the beginning of the present creation.

Most Aztec artistic representations of this goddess emphasize her deadly side, because Earth, as well as loving mother, is the insatiable monster that consumes everything that lives. She represents the devouring mother, in whom both the womb and the grave exist."

Coatlicue gave birth to Huitzilopochtli after she was decapitated by one of her children. Huitzilopochtli sprang from her headless corpse fully grown and ready for battle. He killed his brothers and sisters. Huitzilopochtli became the Aztec god of war and human sacrifice. Aztecs bragged of sacrificing 80,000 human beings over the course of four days. Hearts were extracted in these sacrifices.

I "met" Desdemona through a mutual Facebook friend. Desdemona is a very nice lady and a very talented artist. I love nature and she loves nature. She creates art based on nature and I very much appreciate her artistic depictions of trees and birds. So far, that has been the sum of our Facebook contacts. Desdemona posts her paintings of trees and birds, and I click "like" and offer praise.

Because I like her as a person, I did not want to do or say anything to hurt her feelings.

I was scrolling down my Facebook feed one recent morning, and Desdemona's video of the dancers appeared. I commented, "It's not really sacred until they rip out the still beating heart of a captive, and offer it to Huitzilopochtli."

I posted the brief, fact-based comment, and moved on.

I received a message from Desdemona upbraiding me. She said, "I am deeply saddened and offended by your comment. Whether this is Sacred is not up for debate and is disrespectful of me, my beliefs and my Spiritual path to question it. I defined this as Sacred to ME in my words above it and ask you to respect that."

Desdemona's friend wrote "Danusha, are you part of the Danza community? Is this your and your ancestors traditions? These are my beloved friends in the above video doing ceremony at the Climate March. I can assure you that what they are doing is sacred and filled with love and beauty"

Another message said "Respect people singing and dancing in honor of Mother Earth."

I went back to Desdemona's Facebook page. I deleted my message. Again, it was never my intention to hurt Desdemona's feelings. I didn't know her religious beliefs. I didn't know that she identified with the Aztec-influenced dancers.

I do know this: Desdemona demanded that I "respect" human sacrifice. I do not.

Desdemona was attempting to demand that I lie for her. That I un-know information that is inconvenient to her – that the costumes, dance, and statue she was admiring were all built around human sacrifice.

How about Desdemona's and my own shared love of nature? After all, these folks were at the People's Climate March. Were the Aztecs at least planet-friendly? In fact pre-Columbian Mesoamerica is associated with environmental collapse, both in Mexico and in the Four Corners area, where the culture spread, in mass cannibalism. Maya culture collapsed before the rise of the Aztec, and Anasazi culture collapsed after Mesoamericans moved north, bringing cannibalism and terror with them.

I knew something that perhaps Desdemona and her friends did not know: that Aztec culture practiced human sacrifice. I mentioned that fact, and was ordered to "respect" "love and beauty" and "Mother Earth." I stated that I don't respect human sacrifice, and left the conversation.

It was one of those moments when coexistence does not work, not because of disagreement, but because one group – in this case what I guess might be called the New Age Pagan group – demanded that facts not be mentioned, and that evil be disguised and respected.

Recently one of my liberal Facebook friends instructed her Facebook friends that she does not want them to post photographs of Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh. I can't imagine ordering my Facebook friends not to post photographs of people I don't like.

Me? I am a Christian and a Catholic. Insults directed at Christians and Catholics flow through my Facebook feed daily. Sometimes I address them. Sometimes I don't. I've never made a blanket request that my Facebook friends not post negative truths about Christianity or Catholicism.

In fact, I would not want to live on the planet where I had such power to control others' thoughts or words.

You can read more about Aztec culture's cruelty and bloodlust here.

You can see the video Desdemona posted here 

Or here

An Old Joke

The Siege of Paris by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier

A big thank you to a Good Samaritan who drove me to the facility yesterday to visit with my sister. Thank you – a very good deed.

Antoinette looked me in the eye and said, "I'm going to tell you a joke that you told me forty years ago."

I was like, okay, what is she going to say now?

And damned if she did not tell me a joke that I told her forty years ago. One time, and never after that. How in God's name did she remember it, when she often forgets my name now?

The joke is below. It is a sick joke. If you don't want to read a sick joke, stop reading now.

It was during the Siege of Paris. The Parisians were very hard up and had to resort to eating their own pets. A good Parisian aristocratic woman held out and held out and finally succumbed and ate her beloved poodle.

While finishing up, she sighed. "If only little Chouchou were here. He would have loved these bones."

It boggles my mind that my sister remembered that joke from so many years ago ...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Sister. An Update.

I've posted three previous blog posts requesting prayers for a miracle for my sister. You can read those blog posts at the links, below.

I haven't posted many updates because her story is her story and I don't want to violate her privacy by posting what is, essentially, her story.

What can I say.

I am overwhelmed and very sad.

God's plan is invisible to me.

I pray not to lose my faith. I don't think I will. In some things I am stubborn and I think I will be in this. But I can't say I like God very much right now.

I have never loved anyone more than I have loved my sister, and no one has loved her more than I have.

It's not easy.

That's pretty much all I can say.

Thank you.

The first blog post requesting prayers for my sister is here.

Another one is here.

And another is here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Gone Girl" Cheap, Contrived, Exploitative

"Gone Girl" is a contrived, exploitative, pretentious film that aims for the middlebrow audience and hits its mark. The filmmakers insert – no pun intended – a sex scene every ten minutes or so, and alternate those with buckets-of-blood scenes of violence, and utterly predictable flashlight searches for clues of a Nancy Drew level of sophistication. If you want to see someone stabbed to death while climaxing during sex and bleed out like an upside down pig, this is the film for you.

The dialogue is pseudo-clever. Example: a man compliments a woman seated at a table full of strangers by informing her that she has a "world-class vagina." She smiles girlishly.

The film is capped up with a plot twist so implausible it blasted me right out of the movie onto the moons of Jupiter by the author's straining, sweating, thuddingly manipulative hand. And then the movie piles on the single most unbelievable ending I have ever seen.

There are movie surprises that rearrange the furniture inside your head and make you shout, "Oh! Of course! How could I not have seen that? Now everything makes so much more sense!" The best such surprise is in the film "Sixth Sense." "Gone Girl" surprises you by showing how desperate a writer can get.

Warning: The rest of this review will reveal the ending of "Gone Girl." If you don't want to know the ending of "Gone Girl," stop reading now.

Nick (Ben Affleck) is married to Amy (Rosamund Pike). They live in Missouri, the show me state. Amy disappears and Nick is under suspicion. Did he kill her?

So, now, you are thinking that "Gone Girl" will explore the interesting question we all ask when beautiful young women disappear and their husbands are suspected of murder. Those questions are: How could a loving marriage go so wrong? How could a marriage look perfect on the outside and be rotten on the inside? How could a loving husband murder his own wife? Does our 24/7 media coverage encourage us to form lynch mobs? Forget it. "Gone Girl" explores none of this.

Nick had cheated on Amy with one of his students. Hurt, Amy faked her own disappearance. Amy is incredibly beautiful, the star of a series of children's books, a sexual Tantric master, a psychopath, and a criminal mastermind. Heck, the filmmakers may as well just added invisibility, flight, and the ability to conjugate Polish verbs at will to Amy's list of superpowers. She is that unbelievable.

Amy just wants to hurt Nick, because he hurt her. So she flawlessly fakes her own murder. Amy seeks shelter from Desi, an old boyfriend, Neal Patrick Harris, whom she had accused of stalking her. Desi makes Amy his virtual prisoner in his lake house. He, too, is a criminal mastermind, psychopath, and Tantric sex master, and his lake house is carefully designed to prevent Amy from escaping from their hot sex, good food, and discussions of opera and philosophy. You had no idea Missouri was this interesting, did you? You'll never call it "flyover country" again, will you?

Amy stabs Desi when he is climaxing during their hot sex. Buckets of blood gush out of him. The director wants you to see all this – this is what you bought your ticket for, is it not? Certainly not for intelligence or heart.

Amy returns to Nick. No one bothers to indict Amy for Desi's murder, because she is incredibly beautiful, famous, and a criminal mastermind. And because the plot of this movie holds together like a wet Kleenex. Nick knows that Amy is a murderer and that she attempted to frame him for her murder and only returned after that went wrong. Nick hates and fears Amy. And Nick stays with Amy, as her husband. The End.

I think the author of "Gone Girl" was trying to use flamboyantly exaggerated premises to comment on a few themes: none of us can fully understand what keeps marriages together, women are terribly hurt by infidelity, beautiful women can use manipulation and sex to get what they want in life.

All of these themes are genuinely interesting, and good art inspired by them is compelling. I kept thinking of "The Country Girl," a brilliant treatment of a complex marriage that outsiders don't understand. TV coverage of the Laci Peterson murder was ten times more watchable, interesting, and educational than the idiotic "Gone Girl" could ever hope to be. "Body Heat" was a hundred times better as a depiction of a hot blond wrapping a big, dumb, handsome guy around her finger. And "Body Heat"'s plot twist leaves "Gone Girl" in the dust.

Ben Affleck's broad shoulders and chest look really good here. His acting is vapid, absent, and clueless, appropriate to the part of a man manipulated by a woman. Rosamund Pike's performance as a human who could never actually exist is good. Basically, she's playing a Star Trek space alien, and she does it well. The excellent Tyler Perry is wasted.