Sunday, June 25, 2017

A review of Jessica Bradshaw's You're Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons

As many regular blog readers know, I frequently hang out on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard, although I have never myself been a Mormon.  I started hanging out on that site because my husband, Bill, used to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He and his ex wife were converts at the end of their disastrous marriage.

Bill was once a fairly enthusiastic Mormon; when I met him, he still claimed to believe.  I think he had high hopes that the church would help him save his first marriage.  But over time, it became clear that the church would not save his family and, in fact, made his situation much worse than it might have been.  Unfortunately, Bill's two daughters became devout members of the LDS church and he pretty much lost them when he divorced their mother and later decided to resign from the church.

It is certainly no secret that I despise my husband's ex wife for many reasons-- many of which have nothing to do with the LDS church.  The truth is, what happened to Bill would have happened whether or not they had been Mormon converts.  My husband's ex wife delivered the same despicable treatment to her first ex husband.  She effectively influenced her eldest son to reject his father.  She did the same to Bill's daughters.  She will likely engage the same method if and when she leaves her third husband, with whom she has another son and daughter.  That is simply what she does because she's an abusive person who thinks her children are extensions of herself and uses them as weapons.

However, although I don't believe the church was the main cause of my husband's split from his now adult daughters, it's been my observation that the LDS church is an excellent parental alienation tool.  The importance of the church and its ridiculous lifestyle tenets-- its insistence on being privy to the most private aspects of a person's life and focus on perfect families-- made it much easier for my husband's young, impressionable daughters to reject their perfectly good dad as "unsuitable" and "undeserving" of them.  To be honest, I agree that Bill doesn't deserve his daughters.  In my opinion, they aren't good enough for HIM.  Fortunately for them, Bill is a lot more forgiving about his daughters' decision to reject him than I am.  He once had a very close relationship with them.  He is their father and will always love them, while I have only met them in person once.  I have no connection to them and I think their behavior is unreasonable and just plain stupid.

Perhaps my brief rundown of my personal experiences with the church will offer some insight as to why I read so much about Mormonism-- particularly about those who choose to abandon it.  Since I've been with Bill, I have come to know a number of impressive ex-Mormons.  It takes a lot of strength of character to go against the grain and reject one's family religion, especially when it's a very demanding belief system like Mormonism.  I have found that many ex-Mormons are very intelligent, sensitive, and open-minded.  I truly like them as a group of people.  For that, as well as for her decision to divorce Bill, I will always be grateful to Bill's ex wife.  Her decision to go LDS and Bill's decision to leave the church indirectly influenced my life in many positive ways.  Of course, had she not divorced Bill, I might not have gotten to be his wife.

It's indirectly because of my husband's ex wife that I "met" Jessica Bradshaw, who just published You're Not Alone: Exit Journeys of Former Mormons.  I read her first book, I'm (No Longer) a Mormon: A Confessional, which she wrote under the pseudonym Regina Samuelson.  I enjoyed the book and reviewed it and Bradshaw and I became Facebook friends.  I was delighted when Bradshaw announced her second book, which would be published under her real name.  She also solicited stories from her ex-Mormon friends and acquaintances.  I wanted to get Bill to submit his story, but he never got around to writing it.

Over the past almost fifteen years of marriage, I have seen firsthand what can happen when a person decides to leave a high commitment religion like Mormonism.  Some Mormon families truly believe in "free agency" and are okay with family members deciding for themselves what to believe.  There are many more families that can make leaving the church extremely difficult.  Some ex-Mormons wind up getting divorced, being shunned by family members and friends, and even losing their jobs or getting kicked out of college over deciding that Mormonism doesn't work for them.  Deciding to leave Mormonism was a huge decision for many past members; it can be overwhelming and terrifying.  Many ex members feel that they are alone as they make this monumental decision for their own lives.

Bradshaw's latest book is a compilation of stories by former church members who left.  Each story is very well edited and offers valuable insight into what makes a person decide to leave Mormonism.  I was amazed as I read about how each person's eyes were opened to the world beyond the church.  It was gratifying to read how many of these ex church members began to develop insight, empathy, and an expanded perspective of the world around them, even as many of them found themselves ostracized from their families and friends.

One contributor wrote about how, as a Mormon missionary in Japan, he experienced extreme cognitive dissonance.  He observed how happy, moral, and loyal the Japanese people were to their families and employers.  They were able to be this way even without the direction and interference of a church's oppressive lifestyle restrictions or strict "moral" code.  As the years passed, the contributor experienced a series of life events that led him from being an "acting Bishop" of a huge ward in Salt Lake City to a convicted felon who temporarily lost his license to practice optometry.  This was a decent person-- a good guy who was having a crisis of faith and could not talk to his wife, other family members, or friends about his feelings.  He started playing racquetball, took his new passion too far, eventually got seriously hurt, and was put on opium based painkillers.  He developed an addiction to the painkillers, started calling in his own prescriptions, and soon lost everything.

Many church members would look at that story and determine that it was the man's decision to abandon the church that led him to such disastrous consequences.  Indeed, when church members resign, a lot of active members think it's because they want to sin, are too lazy or weak to live by the church's rules, or were somehow offended.  Active members tend to avoid those with weak testimonies because they fear they will lose their own testimonies.  It occurs to me that active members who fear those who are losing their testimonies must also have weak testimonies, because if their testimonies were strong, someone else's doubts would not be a threat.

A person leaving the church often feels very much alone and may turn to habits that can turn out to be destructive.  In the case of the contributor I just wrote about, he turned to racquetball.  Racquetball is not a destructive habit in and of itself, but if one plays to the point of becoming seriously injured and needs pain pills, that can lead to a serious disruption of one's life.  Perhaps if the man could have talked honestly to his wife or church leaders about his doubts, he might not have experienced such a calamity.  Maybe he would have eased up on the racquetball and not gotten seriously hurt.  Or maybe the positive feelings he got from the drugs would not have been as seductive, since he might have been able to get a sense of normalcy and calm without needing medication.

Unfortunately, for many people, the church does not lend itself to open discussion or honesty.  Married couples must cope with less intimacy because the church is a not so silent partner in their relationships.  Important decisions about things like religious beliefs are not left up to the married couple.  The church must be involved.  And the church's involvement means there will be less privacy, pressure, and the potential for punishment and humiliation.  Many people who have doubts about the church don't speak about them openly.  Instead, they simply fake it.  They lead lifestyles that are not authentic.  They miss out on a lot of wonderful life experiences and freedom due to fear of disaster and abandonment.  Being "fake" is also psychologically unhealthy and can ultimately lead to unhappiness.

I have only described one story in You're Not Alone, but rest assured that the book is full of enlightenment about why people leave the LDS church and encouragement that there is life after Mormonism.  While the immediate consequences of leaving the church can be heartbreaking and devastating, most people are able to pick up the pieces and live better, more authentic lifestyles.  They make their own decisions and can accept their successes and failures as their own.

I've seen firsthand how liberating leaving the LDS church can be as I've watched Bill.  When I met him, he was living on $600 a month and thought his life was ruined.  He thought God hated him.  What a blessing it's been to have watched him blossom into a self-confident man who loves freely and enjoys his life.  He has plenty of money (not paying 10% gross to the church is a great thing), gets to travel, wears whatever underwear he prefers, and drinks whatever he pleases.  He is not afraid of being exposed to other people's experiences and no longer has a testimony that must be protected at all costs.  And although he was abandoned by his daughters, Bill has found out that his life is still very much worth living and he is free to do it on his own terms.  I'm pretty sure that is what Jessica Bradshaw's contributors have also discovered.

Naturally, I recommend You're Not Alone, especially to anyone who has been thinking about leaving the LDS church, but also to those who are in any belief system that has them in metaphorical chains.  I also think You're Not Alone is a great read even if you aren't LDS, although it probably does help to know something about the church before you read it.  I also recommend Jessica's first book, I'm (No Longer) a Mormon.  Five stars from me.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Don't hold your breath for breatharianism...

Over the past couple of weeks or so, a number of news outlets have reported on a couple that claims that they and their children live solely on air.  This practice, known as "breatharianism", involves getting energy from the universe.  I had heard of breatharianism before, but it always seemed a bit like bullshit to me.

The most recent news item about breatharianism comes from Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castello, a young American couple with two children.  They say they have barely eaten anything since 2008 and Camila was supposedly able to maintain a healthy pregnancy without eating.  Of course, this story also turned out to be bullshit.  The couple had told their story to a British content creation company, which then sold it to several major media outlets.  Ricardo and Castello have a business that teaches people how to live solely on air and apparently that was the motivation to give the interview.

According to the article I linked:

In their eight-day programs and four-week online video courses, which cost from around $200 for a video course to more than $1,700 for an eight-day session in San Francisco, the couple claims they teach people to "increment the energy" they receive through conscious breathing techniques and other exercises.

Later, they clarified that they do eat sometimes.  But they claim they just eat fruit or vegetable broth every once in awhile.  Not sure I'm buying that, since they both look pretty healthy.  And eating the odd fruit and bowl of vegetable broth for eight years would likely cause them to become emaciated.

This couple promotes breatharianism as a way to save money for travel and/or promote good health.  They allegedly went from being vegetarians to vegans and then became breatharians after a 21 day process.  The first week, they supposedly took nothing-- no food or water.  The second week, they had water and diluted juice.  The third week, diluted juice and water.  And now, they supposedly get most of their energy from the sun.  Ricardo and Castello say they don't make their children practice breatharianism.  Their kids eat what they want... for now.

Sorry... this is absolutely absurd.  And the fact that they have children and are supposedly promoting this lifestyle is concerning, especially since a Belgian couple was convicted last week after their seven month old baby died of malnourishment due to the parents' insistence on feeding him nothing but vegetable milk.  Baby Lucas was only about 9.5 pounds when he died; only a kilogram more than he weighed at birth.  His organs were half the size they should have been.

This isn't to say that I have anything against veganism, especially for adults who can choose it for themselves.  I don't think there's anything wrong with vegetarianism, either.  But babies need total nourishment from a variety of food sources.  The Belgian couple did not consult a doctor before they put their son, Lucas, on his diet.  They got their information from the Internet and people who shopped in their "health food" store.  And when Lucas clearly wasn't growing, they continued the diet until he died.

Breatharians, who claim they only subsist on energy from the sun, could be promoting similarly dangerous ideas to parents of infants, who need solid nutrition in order to grow.  And then there are people in the world who can't afford to eat and may see this ridiculous practice as a way to live without a major expense.

Even if breatharianism wasn't total bullshit, I can't imagine why anyone would want to forego eating simply to save time or money.  I can understand why people with eating disorders do it-- but why do it for any other reason?  Eating is pleasurable.  Good food is one of life's best treats.  I enjoy traveling myself, but part of the experience is the food.  Why go to a foreign place and simply subsist on sunlight when you could be enjoying the local cuisine?   

Seems to me that just the first week of the breatharian transition could be fatal.  Human beings can't live for long without water.  And yes, people who have tried to become breatharians have actually died.  I hope anyone reading this is smart enough to know better than to try to live like a plant.  

Friday, June 23, 2017

Marrying your stepchildren... part three

I probably shouldn't write about this again, since it tends to attract people who feel the need to chastise me for my opinions.  I'm going to do it anyway because it's on my mind.  And since this is my blog, I feel alright in writing my thoughts here.

Yesterday, the Today Show featured yet another story about a man who "proposed" to his girlfriend's daughter.  Some readers may remember that I'm not a fan of guys who "propose" to their potential stepchildren.  For some reason, it's always men doing this to women with little girls.  Although I'm sure there are cases where potential stepmoms "propose" to their potential stepsons (or stepdaughters), I have yet to see a case like that featured on a media outlet like the Today Show.  I have also never seen a potential stepfather proposing to a potential stepson.

Anyway, this time it's Grant Tribbett doing the proposing to his girlfriend, Cassandra Reschar, and Cassandra's 5 year old daughter, Adrianna.  According to Reschar's account on The Knot's How He Asked, after popping the question to Cassandra,

“Grant got back down to propose to my daughter,” Reschar wrote. “He said, ‘Adrianna, can I be your daddy, to promise to love and protect you for the rest of your life?'"

Meanwhile, Cassandra's friend, a professional photographer, took pictures of the touching event.  Cassandra shared the photos on The Knot and then the Today Show picked up the story.

Not surprisingly, there was a flood of comments on the Today Show's Facebook page from people thinking this was "the sweetest thing, ever".  There were lots of memes and gifs depicting happy tears.  People were posting that this is what a "real man" does.  I understand why people think this is very touching, although I personally don't agree.

I've noticed these "proposals" to kids usually involve jewelry or a special gift of some sort. What little girl wouldn't want a new necklace or ring, especially if it's "special"? It certainly makes it easier to excite the child and get her on board with the new family dynamic, right?  It also strikes me as being more than a little bit manipulative.

But my main beef with this trend is that it promotes a fairytale "happy ending".  Fairytales generally have no basis in reality.  Let's face it-- unfortunately, a lot of marriages don't end up lasting.  I'm not saying Cassandra and Grant won't stay together.  I'm simply saying that it's definitely not a given.  There could come a time in the future when they'll split up.  If they split, what will become of Grant's promise to Adrianna?

Perhaps Grant intends to legally adopt Adrianna.  If he does, then maybe he really can keep his promise to love and protect her forever.  If he doesn't adopt her and this couple splits, there's a good chance he won't be able to keep his promise because he won't have any rights to a relationship with her.  Hell, even if he does adopt her, there's a chance he won't be able to keep his promise, although with the legal rights that come with adoption, he stands a much better chance than he would without them.

I shared this post on Facebook with the comment that I must be one of the few people in the world who thinks this annoying trend of men proposing to their stepdaughters-to-be is a bad idea.  I also commented that I didn't dare share my feelings about this on the Today Show's post, because I knew it would only invite a hailstorm of people shaming me for not being caught up in the romance of the moment.  But-- here's the thing.  A parental relationship, especially one involving steps, is not the same thing as a marriage.  Moreover, a man asking for a child's permission to marry the child's mother and/or "be their daddy" is disingenuous, especially when it involves special jewelry or another type of gift.  

What if the child says "No, I don't want you to marry Mommy."?  Will the couple really take the child's feelings into account?  Will the adults actually allow a child to overrule their decision to get married?  Although sometimes kids are absolutely right when they have misgivings about their parents' choices in partners, the fact is, it's not the child's decision.  In the vast majority of cases, they have no control or say over the situation and it's wrong to make them think they do.  

This particular story makes me think that Adrianna's biological father is not in Adrianna's life now.  If he's not in the picture and Cassandra and Grant are serious about letting Grant "be the daddy", I hope they plan to make it legal.  If Grant is truly going to be Adrianna's daddy, then he will need the legal authority that comes with that responsibility.  That way, if the couple later splits (and I'm not saying they will-- just saying that divorce is VERY common), Grant will have legal rights and responsibilities toward the child.  He has a better chance of being able to honor his commitment.

Besides the obvious legal and logistical issues that could arise from "proposing" to one's stepchildren, I think using symbols that are traditionally intended for marriage as a way of including a stepchild is inappropriate.  I wrote this in my second post about this trend:

Marriage is not the same thing as step-parenthood. Marriage is a different relationship that involves sexual relations and a type of intimacy that is hopefully very different than the relationship a stepparent has with a stepchild. A marriage proposal is supposed to be a serious thing and one that most people hope will be special and come once in a lifetime. Stepfathers who present rings to their stepdaughters, in a way, kind of pre-empt that special moment that may come later in the child's life, when she is a grown woman. Some people might argue that these types of proposals aren't really serious. If that's the case, why film them and put them on the Internet? In fact, why do them at all?

I also think that publicizing these proposals is a bad idea because, again, there could come a day when the relationship falls apart.  Since a lot of stuff stays on the Internet forever, these types of proposals can one day lead to a lot of hurt.  

Personally, I am a lot more impressed with stepparents who commit to taking care of their stepchildren on a daily basis with no expectation of accolades or attention.  I also think that it's best when stepparents have a basic modicum of respect for the child's other natural parent, even if that person isn't necessarily a good person.  The fact is, half of the child's DNA comes from the other parent and that is a very strong bond.  Many people want to deny that DNA matters, but I have seen that it often really does, for good or ill.  

I know that people are going to do what they're going to do.  My ranting about this practice won't change anyone's mind, nor will it change the Today Show's practice of glorifying this trend.  And, for all I know, this proposal will lead to a long and happy marriage.  I do hope that Grant and Cassandra have a good life together and Adrianna gets to call Grant "Daddy" for the rest of his life (or hers, depending on who dies first).  

I hope this romantic "proposal" works out for them and doesn't eventually lead to heartbreak.  But I also think that more people should consider the potentially negative scenarios that can come up later.  What seems like a sweet, romantic, heartfelt gesture can later turn into something heartbreaking, like betrayal.  When kids are involved, I think it's best to stay grounded in reality and not indulge fairytale endings.  Adults have a responsibility to look after the best interests of the children in their care.  That means keeping it real and being honest.  These "proposals" to kids are, to me, not always honest and they're usually more for the adults than the kids.  

Lest anyone think I don't know what I'm writing about, let me remind everyone that Bill "adopted" his former stepson (non-legally).  He promised to be "Dad" to former stepson and even paid child support for him after the divorce.  That decision ended up leading to a lot of heartbreak for Bill when it became clear the relationship was entirely about money and stepson went back to calling his long absent bio father "Dad".  Now that Bill's daughters are adults (who may or may not have been legally adopted by #3), they remember that Bill is their dad.  One has even made tentative steps toward reconnection.  So much for their "everyday daddy", right?  I can't help but have this cynical perspective about these scenarios because I've seen up close and personal what can actually happen in these situations.

Remembering Lisa Steinberg...

For some strange reason, I was reminded of a song from my youth yesterday.  I've already blogged about "Dear Mr. Jesus" on my music blog, but that was a pretty short entry.  I think it was short because besides being associated with very depressing case of horrific child abuse, "Dear Mr. Jesus" is an overtly religious song that kind of gives me the creeps.

Someone set this song to the Sims 2...  The group is called PowerSource and the soloist is six year old Sharon Batts.  They were from Bedford, Texas.

Anyway, "Dear Mr. Jesus" was popular in 1987 or 88, although it was originally recorded in 1985.  I used to hear it on morning radio right around Christmas 1987.  It was constantly played around the time that six year old Elizabeth "Lisa" Steinberg was in the news.  Her illegally adoptive father, disbarred former criminal defense attorney, Joel Steinberg, had beaten her on November 1, 1987.  Steinberg was under the influence of crack cocaine when he struck the little girl.  For hours, Lisa was left in the care of Steinberg's live in partner, Hedda Nussbaum, who finally sought medical help for the girl when Joel Steinberg went out to party with some friends.

Lisa spent days languishing in Saint Vincent's Hospital before she died of her injuries on November 5, 1987.  Officials noticed that both Nussbaum and another illegally adopted child, Mitchell, both had signs of physical abuse.  Nussbaum was not prosecuted for the events leading to Lisa's death because she agreed to testify against Joel Steinberg, who was convicted of first-degree manslaughter.  He spent about sixteen years in New York's Southport Correctional Facility, a "supermax" prison, because it was presumed he was at risk of other inmates attacking him.

Joel Steinberg was paroled in June 2004.  His illegally adopted son, Mitchell, was returned to his biological mother.  In 2007, a judge upheld an order for Steinberg to pay Michele Launders, Lisa's birth mother, $15 million.  Launders had initially hired Steinberg to find an adoptive family for Lisa, but he chose to keep the girl and raise her as his own.  He never filed paperwork to adopt Lisa or Mitchell, so he was not legally their father.  As of 2006, Steinberg had moved to Harlem and was working in construction.  He still claims his innocence.

I was a teenager when this case was in the news; and it was in the news every day for weeks.  The tragic child abuse case made "Dear Mr. Jesus" an especially timely entry to popular music.  Americans seem to have a high tolerance for schlock, especially if there are religious overtones.  That song was very syrupy and it struck people right in the heartstrings.  I cringe when I hear it now, although it does force me to remember this very tragic and high profile case. 

Hedda Nussbaum was a former book editor who was well-educated.  She and Steinberg were considered upper-middle class.  And yet, she took his abuse, which was so severe that she needed extensive plastic surgery to repair damage to her nose.  When she called for medical help, she initially claimed that Lisa had choked on food and her bruises had come from falling while skating.  It was later determined that the child had been lying on the bathroom floor for at least ten hours before Nussbaum called for an ambulance.  

It's hard to believe that this fall, Lisa Steinberg will have been dead for thirty years.  I remember when this case was news, seeing Hedda Nussbaum's tired, defeated face in magazines and on television.  Nussbaum's plight brought new attention to "battered women's syndrome" and domestic violence.  I also remember seeing Lisa's picture.  She was tiny, unkempt, and looked so scared and traumatized.  How awful it is that her short life was filled with so much trauma.

The details of this case are shocking and depressing.  It's hard to believe this couple was so easily hidden behind the veneer of respectability.  And yet the two innocent kids illegally adopted by them were living in filth and regularly being subjected to Steinberg's monstrous abuse.  I really think it's too bad Steinberg was released from prison.  At least Mitchell, now known by a different name, was able to escape Lisa's fate.  I read that in 2004, around the time Mr. Steinberg was released from prison, he was headed for college.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


I was so blonde in 1979!

My mom sent me a birthday card.  In it, was a Valentine's Day "card" I made for one of my dad's old Air Force buddies.  I drew it in blue ink on legal paper, which is now faded.  I can't say much for my artistic talents or handwriting... or even my spelling.  But I did glue the above picture to the "card" and my dad's buddy kept it all these years.  When my mom went to visit him and his wife, they gave it to her and she sent it to me for my birthday.  

In the picture above, I was seven years old and sported quite the bowl cut.  Back in those days, Dorothy Hamill's hair was all the rage.  I actually hated my hair like this, but my mom made me get my hair cut short.  Looks like I'm missing my front teeth, too.

I see I'm wearing a dress that belonged to my neighbor, Sarah, who lived next door to me when I was six and seven years old.  Sarah is Canadian and now lives in British Columbia.  A few years ago, I found her on Facebook and we reconnected.  I remember when I was a kid, I inherited a bunch of clothes that belonged to her, including one of her old swim team bathing suits.  I remember it was a red tank suit with white racing stripes down the sides.

Sarah's clothes were probably my only "hand-me-downs" because my sisters are so much older than me.  When I was born in 1972, they were 8, 11, and 13 years old.  So even though I was the youngest kid, I got most of my own clothes.  Some of my clothes ended up in my cousin's closet.  She grew up to be a lot taller than I am, though.  

As you can see, I really liked Dave a lot!

It doesn't seem like it was that long ago that I was seven.  Now I'm a lot older than seven.  Time really flies.  It's funny to see this innocent side of me now.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I lied...

Yesterday, I promised that today's topic would be lighter.  I totally meant to write a lighter post today. But then I saw the footage of Philando Castile being shot while stopped for a routine traffic violation last summer.  Supposedly, Philando Castile also matched the description of someone who was wanted for a crime.  It turned my stomach.

One of my Facebook friends is a police officer and he has a lot of opinions.  I actually really like him although we often disagree.  I wasn't surprised when my friend defended Jeronimo Yanez for killing Philando Castile.  For some reason, the jury acquitted this police officer for his outrageous actions.  There must be some evidence that isn't being made public because from what I saw in the videos, that cop really fucked up badly.

Mr. Castile did have a weapon.  He did inform the officer that he had the weapon and he was licensed to carry it.  Seconds after Mr. Castile told the cop that he had a weapon, we hear Yanez shout at him not to reach for it as he simultaneously fires seven rounds into Mr. Castile, right in front of his little daughter.

Amazingly enough, Yanez justifies his actions with this beaut of a quote:

“I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front-seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me?”

This so-called police officer was concerned about Castile's daughter's health because Castile was allegedly high on marijuana (which, I understand, doesn't tend to make people violent as a general rule).  So then he blows her father away with seven shots?  And she's sitting there watching it.  I wonder what kind of lasting damage witnessing that act of violence will do to that poor girl.

This video is clearly biased toward Mr. Castile and it's graphic.  

The girlfriend is obviously in more control than the so-called cop is.

And here is dashcam footage.

The cop totally freaks out.

Intellectually, I can understand that police officers have a difficult job and they put their lives on the line every day.  I still think this particular cop fell way short in what he was entrusted to do.  One of the things I like about living in Germany is that there's not as much violence here.  That includes the police.  Bill and I have witnessed them in action.  They do a lot of talking and de-escalating.  I'm sure that is mainly because most people don't own firearms.  To get a gun in this country, you have to undergo a lot of training and expense.  It takes time and effort.  This is certainly not the case in the United States.

I am generally all for showing respect to police officers.  But I must say, watching these videos made me feel outrage I don't often feel.  I think the jurors got it wrong.  I don't say Yanez went to the car intending to kill Castile, but he was clearly not in control and he made a fatal mistake.  He should be punished with more than just being fired.

I can hear the police officer is totally freaking.  He should be freaking.  He should be haunted by what he did for the rest of his days.  And we should all learn from this.    

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review of Inside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz

Hello again!  I've just gotten back from our whirlwind long weekend in Belgium.  Today happens to be my 45th birthday.  I have spent all day in an aging SUV, hurtling down various high speed freeways and avoiding traffic jams as much as possible.  It was kind of hellish, trying to get back to Germany today.  However, as bad as today's journey was, it paled in comparison to the journey so many others took to and through Germany back in the 1940s.

I don't know why, but it seems like I always read about the Holocaust at this time of year.  I just recently read The Pharmacist, a book about an ethnic German Romanian pharmacist who was corrupted and became a Nazi.  A couple of days ago, I finished Inside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz (2013) by Shlomo Venezia (Venezia also includes an interesting commentary about why so many Jewish people have places as their last names).  This may seem like a very heavy topic to be writing about on my birthday, but I wanted to get my thoughts down before I forgot too much... although honestly, this book was so gripping that I'd be hard pressed to forget much about it.

I've read a lot of books about the Holocaust, but none that have quite the perspective that comes from Shlomo Venezia, an Italian Jew whose family was rounded up and deported from Athens, Greece and sent to Auschwitz.  Once they arrived, Venezia's mother and sisters disappeared, almost certainly gassed immediately.  In exchange for some extra bread, Shlomo Venezia agreed to be a member of the Sonderkommando.  He had no idea what he was signing up for when he agreed to this special duty; basically, it was his job to help remove the corpses from the gas chambers and burn them.

This book, written in interview style, covers what it was like for Venezia to carry out his grim duties. Although he had relative comfort compared to other prisoners, he was there to see fellow Jews sent into the gas chambers.  He heard their screams and saw what they looked like after they were murdered.  He watched his colleagues raid their bodies before they were dispatched to the crematoriums.  One guy lied about being a dentist and was tasked with removing gold teeth from the corpses.  He found the work relatively easy at first, but then it grew more difficult as the bodies stiffened.

There were times when Venezia would run into people he knew.  One time, an uncle grew too sick to work and was sent to the gas chamber.  Shlomo had the opportunity to talk to him before he died.  He reassured his uncle, knowing that he was lying, but trying to comfort him in his last moments.  He gave him an extra piece of bread.  And when he died, he and his colleagues were able to say a kaddish for him before he was cremated.

Venezia was also in a position to see some things that other survivors could not have seen.  He witnessed a baby that survived the gas chamber only to be shot in the neck by a Nazi.  He saw a mother and son evade the gas chamber for a couple of days, hiding in tall grass.  They were eventually found and murdered.  He saw some prisoners try to escape, unsuccessfully, of course.

As the war drew to an end, the members of the Sonderkommando became dangerous.  They had seen so much.  The SS wanted to exterminate them before they could reveal all they knew.  Venezia had to use his wits to escape the situation and survive so that he could tell the tale of the horrors of Auschwitz.  While it must be a living hell to have those memories, we are fortunate that he is able to share them with the world.  I think we still have a lot to learn from the horrors of the Holocaust.

I won't lie.  This book is pretty depressing and often shocking.  And yet, it's fascinating and unbelievable... unbelievable that I now happily live in the country that produced most of the monsters who were capable of such horrific acts.  One thing I have noticed about Germany, though, is that its citizens fully recognize what happened and are very ashamed of it.  I have had some interesting conversations with Germans in my two times living here and many times visiting.  I even met one guy who was a POW in the USA.  Still, even having had those conversations and read so many books, it's hard to even fathom the horrors that went on during World War II.

Shlomo Venezia's account is stark, unflinching, dispassionate... and it's often very depressing and horrifying.  I still think it's valuable reading.  We really do have a lot to learn from what happened in the 1940s, especially given what is going on in Washington, DC right now.

I highly recommend Inside the Gas Chambers.  Be prepared to be shocked at the cruelty people are capable of... and heartened by the smallest acts of kindness and humanity.

Tomorrow's post will be on a much lighter topic.  I promise!


Saturday, June 17, 2017

In Belgium!

It took all day to get to our present location of Alveringem.  I rented us a huge old house that dates from 1670.  The dogs were warmly welcomed after their long ride.  I awoke this morning to the smell of beer brewing and the sounds of chirping birds and hooting owls.  I hope to have some new travel posts up today or tomorrow, but for now, I just want to enjoy where we are.  This town isn't particularly notable-- at least that I know of.  I think I chose it because it's not far from the beach, Ghent, or Bruges.  

Still... as much as I can vegetate at home, I'm tempted to do it here, too.  While it's currently cool outside, this place has a swimming pond that is also home to two fish.  We may have to try it out.

I think it'll be nice turning 45 here.  I'm a little leery about July, since July often sucks.  But right now, it's June... and I'm sitting in a beautiful old house with good WiFi.  And we were even visited by a cute little critter.

Good thing the boys didn't see this bunny!