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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Movies I Watched with My Sister Antoinette

You do not know how you will remember your loved ones until after they have died.

I suffer from a degree of "face blindness" – I find it difficult to recognize faces. And yet my mind spontaneously resurrects my sister's at least once a day. It's as if my consciousness had hands and were running over every pore, her tweezed brows, her green eyes, her fine nose, her sarcastic smile. Sometimes she is a bean-pole teenager. Sometimes a lush, young siren. Then a matron, weighing more than I, which is more than I ever thought my sister would weigh. As I emerge from a car, she looks down from the balcony, smiling an unselfconscious, friendly greeting. I had not seen her in a month. I wish I could return her smile, but I gasp. What a brain tumor can do to a woman's appearance. And then she is gone, and my day continues.

September 23 is her second birthday since her death.

Had I died first, she wouldn't think of me for more than a week. I am ashamed for missing her so much.

Our relationship was imperfect.

A kind of memory I never predicted has punctuated my days. "I watched that movie with Antoinette."

Here are some of the movies we watched together.

* "GONE WITH THE WIND" 1939 Victor Fleming
Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia De Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen

She read the book first, then I read it. It was the 1967 Pocketbook paperback, with a sky-blue cover. She probably read it in a couple days. As a teenager, she read Cervantes' "Don Quixote," also about a thousand pages long, in the original, seventeenth-century Spanish.

It took me forever to get through "Gone with the Wind," sitting alone on our nubbly, concrete stoop on long summer days. It was 1,037 pages long, and I was a dyslexic twelve-year-old who insisted on looking up words I did not know.

As we left the Colonial Theater, my mother said, "When I was younger, I hated Scarlett. Now that I am older, I understand everything she did – everything she had to do." Mrs. Manning and my mother's other friends nodded in agreement.

"I understand Scarlett" justified beating their kids and yelling at their husbands. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they kept us fed.

I fell in love with Ashley. Everyone else fell in love with Rhett. This makes me weird. There's no escaping it.

Antoinette fell in love with reading.

I was sitting in the front seat of the car while Antoinette was driving. We were debating whether there was such a thing as true love. I said no. "If Scarlett had been unattractive, Rhett would not have loved her." We used movies and books to explore big ideas.

When Antoinette was in the bed from which she would never rise, "Gone with the Wind" was on her large TV. I haven't operated a TV with much success since there were seven channels. Antoinette was in no shape to tell me how to work the gizmos on her new-fangled TV. Scenes from "Gone with the Wind" flickered, beyond my control.

The Yankees were burning Atlanta. Scarlett held pale Melanie's hand as Melly sweated in the bed.

"I'm not afraid. You know I won't leave you."

"It's no use. I'm going to die."

"Don't be a goose, Melly. Hold on to me. Hold on to me."

"Talk to me, Scarlett. Please talk to me."

"Don't try to be brave, Melly. Yell all you want. There's nobody to hear."

"Ma says that if you puts a knife under the bed, it cuts the pain in two," but Prissy knew nothing about birthing babies.

It's the last movie Antoinette and I watched together.

* "IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT" 1934 Frank Capra
Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert

Antoinette and I watched "It Happened One Night" five times in one week. One of the seven local TV channels – maybe channel 9 or 5 – used to show the same classic film every day at one o'clock for a week. Watching the same movie over and over was our film class.

"It Happened One Night" is the great granddaddy of all romantic comedies. No one has surpassed it; moderns can only hope to achieve its magical combination of airiness and profundity, its celebration of the nitty-gritty details of everyday life while at the same time transporting the viewer to the romantic paradise beyond the rainbow.

Heiress Ellie Andrews wants to marry gigolo King Wesley who flies an autogyro to their wedding. Her millionaire father objects, she runs away, in a satin gown, and has breathless adventure on a rickety, crowded, long-distance bus full of Depression-era characters.

A passenger named "Shapley" sits down next to Ellie. "My name is Shapley, see? And that's the way I like 'em. Shapley. There's nothing I like better than to meet a high-class mama that can snap 'em back at ya. 'Cause the colder they are, the hotter they get. Yes, sir, when a cold mama gets hot, boy, how she sizzles." How many times Antoinette and I repeated his routine to each other.

Life was a big adventure waiting only for the right, spunky young woman to open her door and mount the ride. Every line that anyone spoke was ripe to be written down to laughter or tears. There was some danger but you were quick and smart enough to elude it. And men like Clark Gable could be met on overnight busses.

* "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA" 1962 David Lean
Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains

After the lights came up in the Colonial Theater, I felt as if all the stuffing had been dragged out of me. I was 13 and went in knowing nothing about the Middle Eastern history Lawrence had affected, and even less about male rape, the insidious corruption that feeds on idealists, and recently liberated, former colonial people's tendency to flub their own fates. During the car ride home, I felt the wizened veteran with an advanced case of PTSD.

We saw it together only once and we never stopped repeating lines from the film. Antoinette would sing, "I'm the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo!" and I would respond, "The Nafud is terrible!" which we had misheard as "The food is terrible!" a funny thing for Omar Sharif to shout during a debate of a difficult desert crossing in wartime.

* "LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON" 1957 Billy Wilder
Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier

Director and screenwriter Billy Wilder and his partner IAL Diamond were geniuses, but we didn't know that. We just loved the lapidary dialogue and gemlike set pieces.

Audrey Hepburn, daughter of Private Eye Maurice Chevalier, falls in love with aging playboy Gary Cooper. They have an affair – but only in the afternoons. She struggles to keep up with Cooper's man-of-the-world, casual sexuality. He tries to resist falling for her sincerity and innocence. Add Paris, when it was still Paris, and a gypsy band playing a schmaltzy waltz, "Fascination." It's a crepes-and-champagne movie and it deserves to be better known.

* "THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS" 1971 Anthony Harvey
Joanne Woodward, George C. Scott, Jack Gilford

Woodward is an unattractive spinster, a brilliant doctor who is unappreciated by her peers. Of course we, smart girls who felt ugly and out of place, would love her. Scott thinks he is Sherlock Holmes. At one point, he says to Woodward, "No one you have ever loved has loved you," a line I hear in my head about once a month, in Scott's voice.

Convinced that Dr. Moriarty is closing in on him, Scott tries to create a distraction in a supermarket. He grabs the microphone and starts announcing sales. "Ham, ten cents a pound." We might be shopping in a store and Antoinette would suddenly turn to me and say, in her best George C. Scott imitation, "Ham, ten cents a pound."

* "THE MARCH OF WOODEN SOLDIERS" aka "BABES IN TOYLAND" 1934 Director Gus Mains is not a well-known name. He committed suicide after facing morals charges for indecent acts with minors.
Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy

A measure of how weird this movie is. A mouse is played by a monkey. Really. They put the mouse costume on a monkey.

My mother's sister Phyllis, her husband, and her four kids would come for Thanksgiving. My mother liked Phyllis so she'd be in a good mood all day. The big, wooden table would be pulled apart and the extra leaf inserted. My mother served, simply, everything. There are diners that don't have as much on their menus as my mother served on Thanksgiving.

Slovak Grandpa would smoke a pipe and play cards. Men, of course, watched football. I played with Little Phyllis, the cousin closest in age to me. My oldest cousin, Greg, played with my brother Phil, and Antoinette played with her age-appropriate cousin, Regina.

We watched "March of the Wooden Soldiers" on channel 11, WPIX. It was one weird movie. It disturbed me. One good part of growing up is I don't have to watch weird movies any more.

I was astounded when Regina didn't come to Antoinette's funeral, and I'm sad that Little Phyllis disappeared from my life. I actually still hope that a letter might someday turn up in my mailbox. We used to write to each other.

True, I did not go to Aunt Phyllis' funeral. I did visit her before I left for the year in Poland. She was almost bald, and bedridden, but I must say – this always beautiful woman now radiated a light and peace that she had never shown in more mundane hours. She showed me a rare kindness, saying to me, on our final meeting, "Don't stop writing." I was so touched by that. I didn't even know that she knew that I wrote. But she knew her sister, my mother, was a fine writer.

I received the inevitable news while living in a student dormitory in Poland. Thousands of miles away, young Poles who had never met Aunt Phyllis mourned her passing.

* "INHERIT THE WIND" 1960 Stanley Kramer
Spencer Tracy, Frederic March, Florence Eldridge, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Harry Morgan

We all but memorized the script, based on the play by Jerome Lawrence and the ironically named Robert E. Lee. We especially loved this exchange, in which Gene Kelly delivered the zinger:

"You're the stranger, ain'tcha? Are you looking for a nice, clean place to stay?"

"Madam, I had a nice clean place to stay... and I left it, to come here."

Kelly had mostly stopped dancing onscreen by 1960; it was a revelation to see he could be as nimble with dialogue as he was in tap shoes.

"Inherit the Wind" presents itself as a docudrama reenactment of the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial. Antoinette and I were Northern girls, and Catholics; we were all too ready to believe nasty stereotypes about Southern Protestants.

In fact, it was a big, fat, propagandistic lie from beginning to end, written by Christophobes eager to defame Christianity and the South. Thus it is ironic that one of the playwrights was named Robert E. Lee.

There are numerous webpages pointing out "Inherit the Wind"'s many divergences from fact. Here's just one:

* "THE HAUNTING" 1963 Robert Wise
Julie Harris, Claire Bloom

There may be scary movies as good as "The Haunting," but none is better. Julie Harris' character was something like me, an unattractive, unpopular, misfit. Claire Bloom's character was something like my sister. Confidently sexy, superior, at times tender, at times cruel. They sleep together in the room of a house haunted by parental cruelty. Julie Harris' character is sacrificed to appease relentless ancestral demons. Been there; done that.

* "THE EXORCIST" 1973 William Freidkin
Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Linda Blair

Antoinette read "The Exorcist" while staying, alone, at a friend's isolated lakeside cabin.

I saw the movie with Otto. I spent the first twenty minutes inside his shirt. Finally, I got up and left. I never even made it to the part with all the expert make-up effects. Even so, I was terrified for weeks afterward. I have since met much scarier things than cinematic Satans; that broke the spell.

Antoinette laughed through the whole movie. She laughed so much people complained. She said, "I'm a nurse. Patients puke pea soup on me, and much worse. This is ridiculous."

I never understood her, or anyone's, taste for horror. She loved Stephen King. I couldn't make it five pages into one of King's books. I was glad that before she died I was able to tell her that I'd received a generous writers' grant from Stephen King.

* "AFTER THE FOX" 1966 Vittorio De Sica; Screenplay by Neil Simon and Cesare Zavattini
Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland, Victor Mature

"After the Fox" is a cruelly funny farce about the power of celebrity and the allure of movies. Screenwriter Neil Simon was the king of comedy in the 1960s and 70s. His co-screenwriter, Cesare Zavattini, wrote the landmark neorealist film, "The Bicycle Thief." Vittorio De Sica had directed "The Bicycle Thief." De Sica, Simon and Zavattini cooked up a hilariously funny movie that makes fun of films, directors, and film fans.

"The movie! The movie! I want to be in the movie!" she would cry, in a stage Italian accent. And I'd laugh.

Years later, I tried to share "After the Fox" with a fellow grad student. It sailed right over his head. I didn't realize, when I was a kid, that I was living among some of the smartest, most aesthetically astute people I'd ever know, and that I'd spend the rest of my life aching for company at their intellectual and creative level.

* "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" 1939 William Wyler
Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon, Flora Robson, Geraldine Fitzgerald, David Niven

From an alcoholic, impoverished, abusive household, Cathy and Heathcliff escape to the wilderness of Peniston Crag and, using their imaginations, they create their own world with its own rules. They play in the heather, a wild flower – really almost a weed. They pretend that Peniston Crag is a castle where Cathy is queen and Heathcliff is her knight.

Back in civilization, though, Cathy and Heathcliff torment each other. She humiliates and betrays him in her search for a life with more money than, and none of the pain of, their childhood. He mocks her pretentious airs and graces, and runs away.

He finds other women. Geraldine Fitzgerald is nice and she loves Heathcliff but in an intimate moment all he can say to her is, "Why does your hair not smell of heather?"

Antoinette was a bitch. But she was funny and smart and after I ran away and found other playmates, I never – well, almost never – met anyone with whom I could talk for hours, never get bored, always feel surprised and intrigued and eager for more.  

* "THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD" 1938 Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Errol Flynn, Olivia De Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains

* "CAPTAIN BLOOD" 1935 Michael Curtiz
Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone

* "THE CORSICAN BROTHERS" 1941 Gregory Ratoff
Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Akim Tamiroff, J. Carrol Naish

Swashbucklers! Swords! Honor! Period costumes! Hot men in tights! Slightly subdued S&M torture scenes! Oh, we ate this stuff up.

In "Captain Blood," wicked pirate Levasseur (Basil Rathbone) menaces an elderly captive. He holds a knotted cord in front of the captive's head and says, with lip-smacking glee, "This is the rosary of pain. It is possible to screw a man's eyes out of his head."

Later we were in the kitchen. Antoinette dipped the wooden spoon into the simmering pot of my mother's famous spaghetti sauce, and fished out a meatball. She thrust it toward me. "We call this the rosary of pain," she said, in a perfect pirate accent. "It is possible to screw a man's eyes out of his head."

I scoffed, grabbed the wooden spoon, dumped the screwed-out eyeball / meatball back in my mother's big pot, stirred some more, and fished out a very large sausage. I held it, dripping bloody red sauce, toward my sister. "This is the arm of a baby we brutally murdered."

"The Corsican Brothers" is about conjoined twins, separated at birth, who experience weird synchronicity throughout their lives. After they are separated as babies, something odd happens. One baby cries, but it is the other baby who has something snagged around his neck. He can't make any noise. The other baby cries for him.

"How strange. Mario was choking, and yet it was Lucien who cried!"

"What could it mean?"

"I don't know. From the first I've had a dread premonition concerning these children. They were born to be one. The same bloodstream! The same nervous system! I have separated their bodies. What of their souls?"

Antoinette and I experienced vast gulfs of separation, and yet … something held us together.

* "THE LONGEST DAY" 1962 Many directors, supervised by Darryl F. Zanuck
All-star cast

*"VICTORY" 1981 John Huston
Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max Von Sydow

In "Victory," Max Von Sydow, one of those impeccable movie Nazis, politely invites POW Michael Caine to play soccer against Germans. Von Sydow lists all the Allied countries players might come from. There will be English, American, and French players …

I leaned over to Antoinette and said, "What about the Poles and the Czechs?" I was conscious, even then, of how Eastern Europeans were being erased, or lied about, in cinematic World War II recreations.

Immediately, Michael Caine, onscreen, said to Max Von Sydow, "What about the Poles and the Czechs?"

We stared at each other, elbowed each other, and never forgot it.

Really, you had to be there.

* "STAR WARS" 1977 George Lucas
Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness

My senior year of college, Antoinette did something bad. She hurt me a lot. We fell out of contact. I was homeless for a while, and penniless. No access to TV, no money for theater tickets.

We reunited. I forget how or why. She certainly didn't apologize. She never apologized. We didn't talk about it. We never talked about it.

I do remember that she said, "This movie has come out –"

What was left unsaid, but understood, was, "This movie has come out since you and I last spoke, since I betrayed you when you needed me, since you were homeless and couldn't afford to go to the movies – "

"This movie has come out and you have to see it. I'm going to take you to see it. It's still in theaters. I'm not going to tell you anything about it. I can't wait to see your reaction. You are going to love it."

So, we went to see "Star Wars" in Wayne. We hadn't been to the Colonial Theater in years.

I can see myself sitting there, to Antoinette's right, staring up at the screen, watching the famous screen crawl, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," and I sat there, and I waited. And waited. And waited. Waited for *it* – for whatever it was that made this such a great flick, worthy to become one of our movies, up there with "Gone with the Wind" and "Love in the Afternoon."

And then the closing credits.

The lights came up.

Antoinette stared at me. "Well? Isn't that great?"

All I could think was, "Who *is* this woman? And what has she done with my sister?"

I didn't get any of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, either, or the TV show "Lost," all of which she loved.

Maybe I really was adopted.

* "BROADCAST NEWS" 1987 James L. Brooks
Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks, William Hurt

We didn't watch this movie together. I think I was living in Poland when it came out. When we reunited, Antoinette insisted I see it. Holly Hunter plays an ultra-competent TV producer. Her boss corners her at a party and says, "It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you're the smartest person in the room." And she replies, " No. It's awful."

Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, George C. Scott

"We had faces then," Norma Desmond said. To those of the Greatest Generation, and we Baby Boomers, their children, Golden Age movies stars were larger than life embodiments of mythic, primordial archetypes, but they were also as familiar as family members around the kitchen table, as the characters in your own dreams. John Wayne was raw manhood. Greta Garbo was heightened drama. Hard to convey this to folks raised in the age of disposable celebrity, of Kardashians.

"The List of Adrian Messenger" is a murder mystery. It's veddy veddy British, as crisp and dry as a gin and tonic. There are not one but two fox hunts. After the killer is found, the detectives calmly enjoy tea with him.

The movie's gimmick: *after* the closing titles, various characters from the film step forward, removed their makeup, and are revealed to be big name stars who had been in unrecognizable disguises throughout the movie. After their makeup was removed, they winked and waved into the camera, thus breaking the fourth wall. World-famous actors' winking at us, letting us in on their joke, felt very intimate.

Neither here nor there, but the TV show "Get Smart" broadcast an episode entitled "The Mess of Adrian Listinger," a joke I have remembered for forty-seven years.

* "THE WIZARD OF OZ" 1939 Victor Fleming
Judy Garland, Jack Haley, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, Margaret Hamilton

Every kid in North America watched "The Wizard of Oz" once a year. It was telecast annually from 1959 to 1991.

We knew that one of its famous gimmicks was switching from black-and-white to color. We knew that others had color TVs. We had a small black-and-white TV. We knew that we were poor. Antoinette, who worked like a horse, and never received any handouts from anyone, addressed that in her life. She died with money.

* "YOUR CHEATIN' HEART" 1964 Gene Nelson
George Hamilton, Susan Oliver

* "JIM THORPE ALL AMERICAN" 1951 Michael Curtiz
Burt Lancaster, Charles Bickford

If anyone asks you, "Which pop music star who died young would you bring back from the grave? Janis Joplin? Jimi Hendrix? John Lennon? Jim Morrison? Freddie Mercury?" the correct answer is "Hank Williams." Williams was a huge talent. The "Hillbilly Shakespeare" died at 29. Drugs, a recent beating, and heart failure.

If someone is debating the all-time greatest American athlete, surely the name "Jim Thorpe" will appear near the top of the list of candidates. Thorpe had to relinquish his Olympic medals. Some say it was because he had been a professional athlete before the Olympics. Others say it was because he was a Native American.

We saw these B-movie biopics back to back, and they made us cry.

We debated whose story was sadder, Thorpe's or Williams'. We were trying to understand human suffering, fate, compassion and hope.

* "THE HASTY HEART" 1949 Vincent Sherman
Ronald Reagan, Richard Todd, Patricia Neal

Richard Todd stars as Lachlan MacLachlan, a 23-year-old Scotsman and loner who is gruff and cold to everyone he meets. It turns out he was an abused child, a theme sure to tug at our hearts. "They say sorrow is born in the hasty heart," he says. He has learned not to trust anyone. Suddenly, a group of strangers are nice to him. They know something he does not know – he has only weeks to live. He makes some friends, he falls in love, his life appears to be looking up, but he has a fatal kidney condition, and he dies.

We both fell in love with Lachie MacLachlan, and wanted to reach right into the TV screen and rescue him. In movies and in real life, we only really fell hard for the suffering man, the outcast, the troubled guy who needed rescuing.

"The Hasty Heart"'s combination of tear-jerking pathos and lighthearted humor probably helped post WW II America deal with mass death.

* "THE ART OF LOVE" 1965 Norman Jewison
Dick Van Dyke, Elke Sommer, James Garner, Angie Dickinson

Just a very funny Carl Reiner comedy about creativity, capitalism, betrayal, suicide, and execution by guillotine. A really good Madame Defarge joke.

* "THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL" 1965 John Sturges
Burt Lancaster, Lee Remick, Donald Pleasance, Jim Hutton

The only Western on our list. If you don't have time for the full movie, give yourself a treat and listen to the boffo theme song. As a YouTube viewer commented, "'Epic' is too small a word."

* "A NEW KIND OF LOVE" 1963 Melville Shavelson
Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Thelma Ritter, Eva Gabor

After Antoinette received her terminal diagnosis, I made her a get-well card with Paul Newman's picture on it. She loved him. She knew I loved Gary Cooper. She gave me a vintage movie poster of the Cooper anti-slavery movie, "Souls at Sea," and a boxed set of Coop's DVDs.

I tried to re-watch "A New Kind of Love" recently. It is sooo misogynist, which, somehow, I missed as a kid.

The main character is that character we loved in film after film: a highly intelligent, competent female who excels in a man's world. In this film, though, she must change into a frivolous sex kitten in order to gain the lover she wants: Paul Newman. She plays the same game Audrey Hepburn plays in "Love in the Afternoon" – she tells Newman sex stories. A phone-sex Scheherazade. When Hepburn did it, under the direction of Billy Wilder, the master, it was effervescent.

We missed all the misogyny when we saw the movie as girls.

Antoinette told me she couldn't watch "Mad Men" because she lived through the early sixties and she remembered the pressure on girls not to be smart, to be Barbie Dolls. She had some regrets of her life, and that was one of them. Not realizing till later that she was smart, and that being a smart woman was a good thing, not a curse from the Gods.

* "TOMMY" 1975 Ken Russell
Roger Daltry, Oliver Reed, Ann-Margaret

We saw this in a movie theater down the shore. It was around that time when the age difference between Antoinette and me weighed heavily. I was an asexual tomboy who spent all my free time in the woods or libraries. She was a glam, brainy vamp, renting beach houses, drinking, smoking, and committing other mortal sins. Let us draw the curtain over this unfortunate scene.

* "SLEUTH" 1972 Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine

Sadistic, claustrophobic, clever mystery. We saw it once in the Colonial Theater and never again. Did not become one of our favorites. Too much of an all-male, self-satisfied head game.

* "WHITE CHRISTMAS" 1954 Michael Curtiz
Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen, Dean Jagger

"Sisters, sisters, there have never been such devoted sisters."

She loved it that Bing Crosby called Danny Kaye a "weirdsmobile."

* "A FISH CALLED WANDA" 1988 Charles Crichton
John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin

I've never seen a single episode of "Monty Python's Flying Circus." I can repeat entire routines, just from listening to my sister.

We saw "A Fish Called Wanda" with her husband in a mall multiplex near her home after I got back from Poland. I think she was trying to initiate her husband into our film-loving society of two. It didn't work. I don't think he's much into films. But I don't know.

* "GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK" 2005 George Clooney
David Strathairn, Robert Downey Jr

In the early 90s, Antoinette did some bad things that hurt me a lot. Her death was not the first time I lost her. Not the first time I had to go through grieving losing her.

After our mother died in 2001, she came back into my life. Who knows why. I don't. We didn't talk about these things.

I tried once. She was driving. I mentioned that event from my senior year in college. She literally drove her SUV off the road.

"What? He did *what* to you?"

She hadn't even known. But then, she had never asked.


We spent time together again after many years with no contact. We watched movies together again.

"Good Night and Good Luck" is a modern black-and-white movie. I told Antoinette that I wanted to see it and it was playing in her upscale neighborhood, but not in my low-rent one. As a favor to me, she agreed to see it. She wasn't into artsy fartsy new black-and-white movies any more than I was into horror or neo-Flash-Gordon "Star Wars" space drek.

I tried to pay for her ticket and mine. She pushed me away from the cashier and paid for both of us. In this small way, and in her paying for my pomegranates, she was still my sister.

"Good Night and Good Luck" is the umpteenth Hollywood movie about the Red Scare. The Red Scare, from the perspective of my historical seat, was much ado about nothing. In Poland and Czechoslovakia, Communists were torturing, murdering, and burying our people in unmarked graves. Some American Hollywood Communists lost jobs that they got back later after the Red Scare passed. We saw the movie that one time and never mentioned it again. I don't even think we talked about it in the car afterward, except to say, "Meh."

* "MY COUSIN RACHEL" 1952 Henry Koster
Richard Burton, Olivia De Havilland

Olivia de Havilland was a queen of Golden Age Hollywood. She starred in "Gone with the Wind" and "Captain Blood." Richard Burton was a star decades later, when stardom meant making lousy movies but being followed around by Paparazzi interested in your latest divorce from Liz Taylor. What could be more different from "Gone with the Wind" than Burton's biggest critical hit, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"?

But Burton and de Havilland shared one movie: "My Cousin Rachel." It's one of those rare Hollywood films where the female lead is older – in this case by nine years – than the male. Even so, Olivia de Havilland, at 101 years old, is, as of this writing, still alive. She has outlived Burton by thirty-three years. He died in 1984, of the same toxic stew that took down Hank Williams. Booze, drugs, pain, fame.

In "My Cousin Rachel," Burton's character visits the widow of his deceased cousin. He suspects her of murdering his cousin. But then he falls in love with her. You never really know what the film is telling you. Is Rachel an innocent victim of her own allure and his lust-thwarted paranoia? Or is she a diabolical black widow?

I wonder something similar about my sister. She could be so wicked. But I miss her like crazy. These memories of watching movies with her are nothing but pleasant. Like the movie "My Cousin Rachel," I cannot provide you with a final judgment. I'll leave you with the final lines of the movie.

"Blessed Rachel, only you know the burden that I must carry to the end of my days. This question that I must ask myself again and again, every day of my life, never to be answered now until we meet at last in purgatory. Were you innocent, or were you guilty? Rachel, my torment, my blessed, blessed torment."

Watch this space. At some point I hope to post "Recipes I Cooked with My Sister Antoinette." 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Save Rifle Camp Park and Garret Mountain from "Development"

Hi, do you have a minute?

I want to show you something.

Just take my hand, and close your eyes.

Okay, open them now.

See where we are?

Hear the car stereos, the sirens, the trucks hitting potholes, the fights? See the garbage in the streets? And do you smell that? It's the antique sewers.

Hey, watch out! You almost got hit by a Porsche.

He's here to buy drugs.

We are in Paterson, New Jersey. Silk City has seen better days.

That African American gentleman there, the one with the white beard, rising from his park bench and reaching out to shake your hand. He's retired since he had a heart attack. He asks you how you are, and he really wants to hear. He promises to pray for you, and he will. He offers kind advice about living every day to its fullest. His smiling face and compassion prove that many good people still live in Paterson.

It is, though, a tough place to live.

But look up. Five hundred feet. That verdant outcropping. That is Paterson's emerald. You are looking at Garret Mountain and Rifle Camp Park. Take my hand. Let's go.


I hear you. Wow, indeed. It is so different from Paterson, isn't it? Or Woodland Park, or Clifton, the surrounding, endless, megalopolis of traffic jams and sports fields and pushing and shoving.

Here, you can feel the cool breeze clapping through the leaves, rather than heat pounding up from asphalt. You can hear birds sing and water trickle against basalt streambeds, rather than sirens' wail and boom box blast. White and black and brown people, grandparents and children. Teens flying kites. Toddlers eye to eye with their very first frog. Lovers gazing at the rising moon as if they've never seen sky before.

Runners train with all the focus of Rocky Balboa before his big match with Apollo Creed.

A woman is pulling paper out of her pocket and scribbling. She's a writer; she needs this escape to rendezvous with her muse.

We slip into tree cover. Suddenly all sound is muffled. We step silently over moss pillows. The trail is surprisingly steep. Our bodies are dappled with leaf shadow -- just like that dappled fawn in the high grass. Never fear; her doe mother is nearby. We pass three young black men, seated around a big, table-shaped boulder. It's where they come to decompress.

Over there you see some folks with binoculars. Believe it or not, this small park, falling within the boundaries of New Jersey's third most populous city, in America's most densely populated state, is an Audubon-designated, environmentally important area.

Look down around you. You see that this mountain is actually a plateau. It's the remnants of an ancient magma flow. Down below: suburbs, factories, highways. New Jersey is right underneath the Atlantic Flyway, the ancient route birds take north in spring and south in winter. Because this park is an oasis of green surrounded by pavement, birds need Rifle Camp and Garret to feed and rest.

See those dead trees? They feed bugs, and birds eat those bugs. Then those trees crumple into soil, nourishing new life. The grasses, bushes, wetlands and rocks all play their part in making this park a lifeline for one-hundred-fifty species of birds, some of them endangered. Peregrines and bald eagles, red-headed woodpeckers and cerulean warblers. These birds travel from the Arctic to the Amazon, every year. New Jersey's own Garret and Rifle Camp are part of the timeless, border-defying web of life.

Remember when we were back in the city, with all its rush and rules? You couldn't cross the street till the sign said you could. You had to compete with others on the urban sidewalks. Think of how you feel on a sports field. The referee blows his whistle. "You win! You lose!"

We need trees as much as we need civilization. Thousands of years ago, Moses went into the wilderness to encounter God. Today we come to Garret Mountain / Rifle Camp.

When I was a kid, an older immigrant from Spain used to talk to me about how important it was for him to spend time in Rifle Camp Park. I think Rifle Camp gave him a chance to connect with the part of his soul that he left behind when he was a shepherd child in the dry hills beyond Toledo.

One of my neighbors now, a successful artist, a sophisticated professional who works for the city, cherishes this park as her route to inspiration for her abstract paintings.

Another woman I know doesn't get up here as much as she would like. She doesn't have a car and she needs a wheelchair. Even so, she makes it a point, every day, to gaze upward. No matter what she has just heard from the doctors or what hassle she must work through to get the medical care she needs, she finds peace and solace just in the vision. She can then focus on her day to day struggles with renewed vigor.

No, Garret Mountain / Rifle Camp is not, oh, say, Yosemite Valley. There are no spectacular rock faces to climb; no grizzly bears to fear.

This is what Garret Mountain / Rifle Camp Park is. It is a green escape from a concrete jungle. It is a refuge of bird melodies and wind song in a cacophony of blare. It is an essential oasis for a hummingbird so light you could mail ten of them with one first class stamp, a bird traveling a three-thousand-mile highway. It is a water sponge when it rains – it helps to lessen flooding. It is a seal that Passaic County voters protect their environment for future generations. It is a portal to another dimension, where the sun and the clouds create light, where air on the skin ignites pleasure, where manmade rules, from the "Don't Walk" sign to the concept of points and home-runs, are utterly meaningless.

It is the place low-income Paterson, Clifton, and Woodland Park residents can reach. They may never climb Half Dome in Yosemite. They may never "Ooo" and "Aaa" over Yellowstone. They may be so low income they don't have a car to reach Stokes Forest or Norvin Green Forest in western and northern New Jersey.

But they have this, their emerald, their green, their place to exhale. Passaic County Freeholders, don't take away from this generation what previous generations have protected.

Sign the petition to protect Rifle Camp Park from development:

Visit this webpage:

Join up with other cool people who want to protect Garret Mountain and Rifle Camp:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Vatican Attack: Americans are "Dangerous;" Islam is Non-Violent

This article first appeared in FrontPageMag here

The Vatican Attacks Trump Supporters
 White Christian Americans are "Dangerous;" Islam is Non-Violent

In July, 2017, La Civilta Cattolica published an article entitled "Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism," a.k.a. "An Ecumenism of Hate." La Civilta Cattolica is Italian for Catholic Civilization. This publication is prestigious and long-lived. It was founded in 1850 and it is vetted by the Vatican. The authors of "An Ecumenism of Hate" are Antonio Spadaro a 51-year-old, Italian Jesuit and editor-in-chief of La Civilta Cattolica, and Marcelo Figueroa , a Presbyterian, Argentinian theologian. Both are close associates of Pope Francis.

"An Ecumenism of Hate" identifies Trump voters, Protestant and Catholic, as in need of correction, as they diverge from true Christian faith, and pose a threat to American democracy and world peace. These Trump voters are wrong about, or are handling in an incorrect way, the following: abortion, same-sex marriage, the environment, education, welfare, immigration, the current influx of migrants into Europe, and Islam. Given that the article was understood as a papally-endorsed, full-frontal attack on the president of the United States and his supporters, it received wide attention.

New York Times' readers exulted. "Glory hallelujah," says the reader response voted most popular by other readers. "I am not a Catholic but I believe Pope Francis is a true disciple of Christ," reads the second most popular response. "I wholly support Pope Francis' crusade against greed and exploitation… and hate-inspired exclusionary policies," "I am CHEERING," "Pope Francis … is the true moral leader of the world," read subsequent popular responses.

The Economist calls the article "startling." In Commonweal, author and theology professor Massimo Faggioli calls "An Ecumenism of Hate" a "must-read," because, inter alia, it shines a light on Vatican response to "Trump's Islamophobic remarks and advocacy for the deportation of undocumented immigrants." Trump voters and their ilk, Faggioli writes, are responsible for "new barriers … between Christianity and Islam."

Luis Badilla, editor of a popular Italian Catholic website, Il Sismografo, asks why Rome had to produce such an article. Why hadn't American bishops said, sooner and more emphatically, what the article said? American Catholic leaders were guilty of an "embarrassing silence."

There were some similar outpourings of joy at the Civilta Cattolica site. "My Muslim friends say that Francis is the one man on earth who is uncorrupted and can speak the truth. They love him," writes one reader.

John L. Allen writes in Crux that Spadaro and Figueroa "clearly reflect the kind of views held by the pontiff." Trump supporters hated the article, and Trump critics loved the article, Allen writes: "immediate reaction here mostly broke down along pro- or anti-Trump lines. If you're inclined to give the president a break, you probably hated the article, and vice-versa." The article deserves attention, Allen writes, because it breaks precedent. "This is not just business as usual. It's rare for a Vatican media outlet, even one that's only semi-official, to comment directly on the politics of another nation, especially in a fashion that can't help but be seen as fairly partisan."

A subsequent Crux article presents a "Latino / Latina take" on the article. "Underrepresented" Latinos and Latinas feel like "aliens in this Promised Land." Latinos and Latinas voted for Hillary Clinton. (The article really does insist, throughout, on referring to male and female Latinos and Latinas separately.)  

The Jesuit magazine America's coverage features a photo of a sincere looking, attractive young woman holding a sign in front of the White House. Her message: "Resist Islamophobia."

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote a critical response, calling the article "bad but important." The National Catholic Register condemns the article as "a collection of uninformed assertions spiced with malice." Spadaro and Figueroa attacked an obscure website, Church Militant. That website responded sharply, suggesting that the article might be "promoting positions contrary to Catholic teaching." In CatholicPhilly ,Archbishop Charles Chaput likens Spadero and Figueroa to Lenin's "useful idiots."

I am a proud and lifelong Catholic, author of a book defending my faith. I am not a Trump supporter. Reading Spadaro and Figueroa's reflection of my pope's thinking about my country and my fellow citizens enrages and disgusts me, and tempts me to despair. The article epitomizes the ignorant, arrogant liberal stance that got Trump elected in the first place. Spadaro and Figueroa, and, by extension, Pope Francis, have, in this article, not only failed to meet the challenge presented by the Trump phenomenon, they have taken giant steps in the wrong direction.  

"The Ecumenism of Hate" exhibits the intellectual level of a gaggle of scruffy, slightly tipsy graduate students randomly spinning the Google wheel in a futile attempt to support their wobbly positions. Spadaro and Figueroa make sweeping generalizations about what Americans think and how Americans behave, and they cite not one single peer-reviewed social science article or respectable poll. Spadaro is an Italian who has lived in Italy most of his life. His degrees are in theology, and he writes about literature and art. Figueroa is an Argentinian Presbyterian pastor and theologian. What formal education or life experience qualifies these two men to fabricate a hostile, strawman depiction of their boogeymen of choice, Trump supporters, and also, as the authors themselves specify in their bigoted little screed, "whites from the deep American South"?

In fact they have no scholarly support. Rather, their rant is sanctioned by its being obedient to liberal prejudices and pseudo-intellectual smokescreens. Liberalism's favorite go-to scapegoat for all the world's ills is the Redneck, the Cracker, the Hillbilly, the Trailer Trash "whites from the deep American South." This character is as reliable a bete noir to liberals as Shylock is to anti-Semites. Spadaro and Figueroa have not received adulation because they use the tools of scholarship to advance a novel and pertinent paradigm. Their words have been elevated to prophetic status because they exploit their intimacy with the world's oldest institution to tell liberals that liberal prejudices, liberal blind spots, and progress-retarding liberal hatreds are perfumed with sanctity. The sad irony is that many of those liberals metaphorically spit on the Vatican, on Christianity, and on Western Civilization, and no amount of flattery or gestures at comradeship will budge them from their Christophobia.

Just one demonstration of Spadaro and Figueroa's intellectual pretensions. They insist that Lyman Stewart and Rousas John Rushdoony contributed to getting Trump elected, and are responsible for the worldview of many Evangelicals and Catholics. I will wait while you Google these two names. I think most readers of "An Ecumenism of Hate" had to Google these two names.

Rousas John Rushdoony was a twentieth-century, Armenian-American Calvinist who is known as the father of Christian Reconstructionism, a fringe movement that recommends that society be governed by divine law. Spadaro and Figueroa make no attempt to support their assertion that Rushdoony's was the unseen hand, manipulating Rednecks, however remotely, into voting for Trump.

I performed a little experiment. Many of my Facebook friends are members of the groups Spadaro and Figueroa point their accusing finger at. They are white, Christian, Southerners who voted Trump. I asked, "Have you ever heard of Rousas John Rushdoony?" They had not. Yes, a man can be influential but unknown, but the friends I asked are the type of people who support their positions with quotes from their reading. They cite admired sources like Martin Luther, the Bible, C. S. Lewis, Friedrich Hayek and David Horowitz, chapter and verse. Rushdoony was a non-entity to them.  

It is easy enough to demonstrate a thinker's influence. Spadaro and Figueroa could have, for example, shown us where bestselling, contemporary authors cite Rushdoony. No such attempt is made. Spadaro and Figueroa could have toted up the Facebook pages devoted to Rushdoony and the number of fans such pages have. One can find multiple Facebook pages dedicated to C. S. Lewis. Just one such Lewis page has a million and a half fans. I found a couple of pages for Rushdoony with a few thousand fans. Facebook reflects no groundswell of affection for the man. Paul Matzko argues that Rushdoony himself exaggerated his influence by insisting that thinkers were stealing ideas from him without attributing them to him. Perhaps Spadaro and Figueroa made the mistake Matzko describes – insisting that Rushdoony is influential because Rushdoony himself insisted he was.

Too, just because two different people reached the same conclusion does not mean that one influenced the other. They may have reached these conclusions independently. Rushdoony decried the influence of welfare on the work ethic of recipients and he called for homeschooling. Plenty of people have drawn similar conclusions without any contact with Rushdoony or his ideas.

Announcing that Trump voters are following in the footsteps of Rousas John Rushdoony matters. It matters because Rushdoony was close to being a Holocaust denier, and he had other controversial ideas. This is guilt by association, a logical fallacy.

During Barack Obama's first run for the presidency, video emerged of his friend and mentor Reverend Jeremiah Wright making inflammatory statements, including "God damn America." As one, the powers that be, from pulpits to senate chambers to editorial offices, drew and quartered anyone who posited any connection between Obama's close association with Wright and Wright's calling down hellfire destruction on the nation Obama hoped to lead. Obama's opponents, John McCain and Mitt Romney, refused to use the Wright tapes in their campaigns.

Spadaro and Figueroa insist on smearing all "whites from the deep American South" who voted for Trump with the name "Rushdoony," a name most have never heard, a name that has had negligible influence on their lives. But associating a liberal person of color, Barack Obama, with Rev. Wright or Obama's communist mentor Frank Marshall Davis is verboten, a hanging offense. This is a prime example of liberal selective outrage and the liberal ethnic identity hierarchy.

Spadaro and Figueroa remind me much of Michelle Goldberg's 2006 book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. Goldberg works hard to associate American Christians with Nazis, through her black, white, and red cover photo of sieg heiling Christians to her saying that reasonable people must "Keep a bag packed and your passport current," so that you can escape the US once the evil Christians take over. Goldberg also waved the dreaded flag of Rushdoony. Goldberg diagnosed of one attorney, presumably an educated man, "whether he knew it or not" Rushdoony had "shaped his thinking."

As author Charlotte Allen put it in an L. A. Times 2011 op-ed, "Every time a Republican candidate for high office surfaces who is also a dedicated Christian, the left warns in apocalyptic tones that if you vote for him, America will sink into a 'theocracy' … but linking Rushdoony to present-day evangelicals involves connecting a dubious series of dots." If you knew somebody who knew somebody who knew Rushdoony … you were obviously a Rushdoony-ite and mere mortals must shudder in fear before you.

In addition to its intellectual worthlessness, "An Ecumenism of Hate" is a failure for another reason. The authors are guilty of the very crime they impute to others. Spadaro and Figueroa use the term "Manicheanism." Manicheanism was a religious worldview from Ancient Persia. Its followers viewed the world as locked in conflict between darkness and light. By this reference, Spadaro and Figueroa argue that Trump voters see the world as good v. evil, and in black and white terms, with no nuance, no shades of gray.

Spadaro and Figueroa, and, sadly, their patron, the pope, are the ones thinking in Manichean terms. Spadaro and Figueroa refer to their scapegoats, their bete noirs, "whites from the deep American South," in the following terms. They are "dangerous" and "vindictive." They work "to maintain conflict levels," they want to "conquer and defend" "the Promised Land," they ignore "the bond between capital and profits and arms sales," they think of war in terms of "heroic conquests," they offer a "theological justification" for their "belligerence," they are "anesthetized" to "ecological disasters," they perceive their fellow Christians as a "community of combatants," their religious beliefs are "no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism," because "the narrative of terror shapes the worldviews of jihadists and the new crusaders and is imbibed from wells that are not too far apart." Trump voters' religious views are identical to "the theopolitics spread by Isis" because both are possessed by the "nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state." Trump voters are mired in a "xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations."

In an exclusive interview with America, Spadaro continued in this vein. He accused the targets of his condemnation of "intolerance," of lacking mercy, of being "warlike and militant." He said, "Christians are called, together with other people, including those who think differently from them, to build a better society."

The authors have the audacity and the utter lack of self-awareness to state, "The pope does not want to say who is right or who is wrong for he knows that at the root of conflicts there is always a fight for power. So, there is no need to imagine a taking of sides for moral reasons, much worse for spiritual ones." The hypocrisy here could burn through lead. 

The demonization of whites from the American South, or, by extension, all white, American Christians, like any hate, has consequences. Harvey recently set records as one of history's most destructive hurricanes. People died. Millions suffered. Vivid images of heroism were broadcast throughout the world. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, responded by celebrating the death of "whites from the deep American South." The magazine headline read "God Exists." Because God killed white Southerners. This is where we are in 2017. Liberals celebrate internationally, and are suddenly ready to admit the existence of God, because white Southerners drowned in Hurricane Harvey. Spadaro and Figueroa, speaking for the pope, are playing their role in this tidal wave of hate.

Also in his interview with America, Spadaro said that his opponents' thinking imagines that "the church is therefore transformed into a kind of sect, a sect of the pure, the option of the pure, even though numerically small, which then seeks to impose its vision on society, prescinding any form of dialogue." Christians must "build a better world through dialogue." Someone really needs to hand Spadaro a mirror. Spadaro and Figueroa exhibit no hint that they had ever engaged in any dialogue with Trump voters. They speak within earshot but over the heads of Trump voters, to condemn them to other liberals. This process is condescending, humiliating, and dehumanizing.

That Spadaro and Figueroa's article participates in liberals' longstanding hierarchy of ethnicities is evident in the article itself, in its treatment of Southerners. This liberal ethnic hierarchy is also on display in a response to the article, the above-mentioned Crux piece that offers a "Latino / Latina" "take" on the article. Latinos and Latinas "comprise nearly half of the Catholic Church in the United States." That statement is triumphalist – our numbers beat your numbers – and it is meant to intimidate – there are more of us than there are of you. This is an anti-Christian and anti-Catholic motivation. The Catholic statement would be that one hundred percent of American Catholics are one hundred percent Catholic.

The author of this article, Miguel H. Diaz, has placed a hand puppet of Catholicism over his real agenda: identity politics, the very identity politics that helped get Trump elected, as Mark Lilla diagnosed in the New York Times within a week of the 2016 election. Steve Bannon recently invited Democrats to continue with identity politics. As long as they do so, people like him, Bannon, will continue to win. He's right.

Diaz harps on how disempowered he feels as a Latino. He says he is an "underrepresented alien in the Promised Land." He self-identifies thus: "Miguel H. Diaz holds the John Courtney Murray Chair in Public Service at Loyola University Chicago and is a former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President Barack Obama." This is a man who occupies the pinnacle of American society. And yet he playacts at being a marginalized ethnic victim, because it is rewarding to him to do so.

Diaz' article closes, "What we most need at this unprecedented time in American history is a transfusion of Christian ecumenical love into our veins capable of offering us new life so that each of us regardless of creed, race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, and political affiliation can participate in the great project of making us one nation." Diaz announces himself as being about transcending identity, but the very point of his piece, its raison d'etre, is to racialize thought, to insist that a Latino, or maybe a Latina, would have a reaction to Spadaro and Figueroa that a non-Latino would not have. Diaz ethnicizes cognition. That is an utterly racist thing to do. The atomization and balkanization that his approach inevitably leads to is hinted at in his insistence, throughout his article, to referring to Latinos and Latinas. It isn't enough, to him, to put a fence around the identity of those whose ancestors spoke Spanish, and corral them off from those whose ancestors did not speak Spanish. No. He must further cordon off descendants of Spanish speakers by gender. I am shocked, shocked, that Crux did not follow up with an article expatiating on how Latino transgendered differently-abled readers reacted to the Civilta Cattolica article.

There's something even more nefarious going on. There are concrete reasons why those most dastardly of humans, "whites from the deep American South," voted for Trump. Spadaro and Figueroa wave the unfamiliar name "Rushdoony" in an act of misdirection. They don't want their readers to think of the real reasons Trump voters voted Trump.

In addition to its focused demonization of "whites from the deep American South" and other Trump supporters, Spadaro and Figueroa's article has another agenda. It practices identity politics. It elevates one identity above others. It exists to shield a religion from honest critique. It exists to cushion adherents of that religion from any confrontation with the outcome of their adherence to their religion's dictates. The shielded religion is Islam. The elevated population are Muslims.

Spadaro and Figueroa accuse Trump voters of investing in "a cult of the apocalypse." This is a bizarre accusation. I can't see Trump supporters like the fleshy Sean Hannity or the always exquisitely groomed Ann Coulter indulging in apocalyptic prepping. There is a real apocalyptic cult making headlines in today's world but apparently the Vatican has adopted a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil stance when it comes to the folks whose acts create a cornucopia of images, worthy of Hieronymus Bosch, for the End Times Catalogue. ISIS publishes a magazine entitled Dabiq, because ISIS members believe that their forces will defeat "The Army of Rome" near Dabiq, Syria, and bring on the end times. ISIS bases this belief on a saying of Mohammed. ISIS uses this belief to justify the selling of Yazidi children as sex slaves. "We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women … If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market."

Spadaro and Figueroa quote Pope Francis. "The duty of Christianity for Europe is that of service … The contribution of Christianity to a culture is that of Christ washing the feet … Christians are called, together with other people, including those who think differently from them, to build a better society … to build a better world through dialogue."

I cannot find any verses in my Bible where Jesus tells his disciples to "build a better society" or to "build a better world." I cannot find any verses announcing that all Christians are to do is to wash feet. If that's all Jesus did, he never would have been crucified. No. Christians are to speak their truth: Mark 16:15, John 8:32, Matthew 28 18-20, Luke 11:33. We must speak the truth to Muslims. We must not offer up "whites from the deep American South" as scapegoats for our rage for all that is wrong with the world.

Spadaro and Figueroa accuse Trump supporters of being without mercy. In fact it is they who are merciless. To demonize Trump voters, they refuse to acknowledge any pain that those Trump voters feel, any real threat under which they live. Spadaro and Figueroa castigate President George W. Bush for speaking of an "axis of evil." They castigate Team Trump for supporting a ban on Muslim immigration. "Axis of evil" talk and Muslim bans have their irrational roots in the delusions of an Armenian-American Calvinist, they insist. Spadaro and Figueroa close their eyes – and their hearts – to the real inspiration for Bush's and Trump's statements. Spadaro and Figueroa throw out red herrings in order to deafen themselves and others to the agonizing events that preceding Bush's and Trump's comments. On September 11, 2001, three thousand innocent Americans were incinerated for no other reason than their national and religious identity. On December 2, 2015, fourteen innocent people were shot to death at an office Christmas party. One shooter was an American-born Muslim, the son of immigrant parents. The other was a recent immigrant. Spadaro and Figueroa express no concern for the spilled blood of these innocents. There is not a word of compassion or understanding for the victims, their loved ones, the still living wounded, or a terrorized nation. Trump announced his Muslim travel ban five days after the San Bernardino shooting. However one feels about Trump's proposed ban, it is not just dishonest, it is inhuman, to obscure the event that inspired it. To insist, as Spadaro and Figueroa do, that Trump's proposed Muslim travel ban or Bush's talk of an "axis of evil" have their roots in the publications of an obscure, deceased Presbyterian is intellectual perversion and ethical rot.

Spadaro and Figueroa conflate counter-jihad with white supremacy. If you opposed the Civil Rights Movement, they say, you will oppose jihad. Spadaro and Figueroa should meet Lt. Col. and former Congressman Allen West, who rocketed to fame after he spoke frankly about the history of jihad when the white members of his panel sat stone-faced and silent, "Pleading the fifth amendment," as one put it, afraid to make any peep that might identify them as politically incorrect. That same Allen West went head to head with a lighter-skinned CAIR representative who tried to shout him down. And that Allen West, a black man, did not back down. Perhaps Spadaro and Figueroa have closed their eyes, their ears, and their hearts when confronted with the cries of pain of black Christians in Nigeria, in the Central African Republic, in Kenya, as they are blown up, driven from their homes, and sexually enslaved by jihadis, often lighter skinned than they.

Spadaro and Figueroa claim that Trump supporters work "to maintain conflict levels." I'd like to hear from Spadaro and Figueroa what, exactly, the fourteen innocents who died at the San Bernardino Christmas Party did to "maintain conflict levels" with their Muslim killers. Spadaro and Figueroa, please tell me what eight-year-old Catholic schoolboy Martin Richard did to "maintain conflict levels." His little body was ripped to shreds by the Tsarnaev brothers' pressure cooker bomb at the Boston Marathon.

In his interview with America magazine, Spadaro specifically identifies Pope Francis as deputizing himself to cleanse the good name of Islam. Francis, he says, "gives no theological-political legitimacy to … any reduction of Islam to Islamic terrorism." In other words, if Francis says jihad is not Islamic, suddenly jihad will stop being Islamic. When a non-Muslim says that jihad is not Islamic, it is "like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice," one ISIS member tweeted.

John L. Allen says that Trump supporters would not like the Spadaro and Figueroa article, and Trump critics would like it. I am a Catholic, and I am a Trump critic. I have debated every flashpoint that Spadaro and Figueroa highlight, from abortion to welfare, from jihad to homeschooling. I have never felt any temptation to take the route that Spadaro and Figueroa take. I have never felt any temptation to compare Trump voters to ISIS or to single out "whites from the deep American South" as being somehow uniquely evil actors on the world stage. In taking this high-profile and papally approved stance, Spadaro, Figueroa, and their supporters are not weakening Trump, they are strengthening him. And they are walking backwards from the teachings of Jesus Christ.