In Times of War: How Will This End?

At best, uncertainty is a difficult emotional state. We live in a world of routines, reliable cause-and-effect, and pattern recognition. We don’t need to test gravity every time we take a step, which is a good thing. We make assumptions about how people we know well (or people in general) are going to behave, based on their past actions. (Erratic behavior, whether due to mental illness, substance abuse, or misreading body language, can be traumatic, especially for children.) We anticipate many things, from the functioning of traffic lights to our own digestion to the reaction of a deer suddenly come upon in a meadow, based on our understanding of “how things work.” We use these strategies all the time without thinking about it. Having a reasonable sense of how events will unfold frees up mental (and physical) energy and gives us a sense of control over our lives.

Unexpected things happen, of course. Most of the time they’re ordinary bumps and bruises like burned dinner, a sprained ankle, a higher-than-normal electricity bill, or a traffic ticket.  They can be terrible: 9-11, a hurricane, the wildfires that swept through my part of the country a couple of years ago and resulted in my family evacuating for a month. A death in the family. Often we have little or no advance warning: it’s over, leaving us stunned or horrified or grief-stricken. We don’t get to vote on what happened, we only get to pick up the pieces afterwards. At other times, we have advance notice, like the wildfires or other weather events (but not earthquakes, lived through a couple of big ones, too) or Covid-19. We grab the kids and the pets and get out of town; we wear masks and stay home, and so forth. Even if there’s nothing we can do to protect ourselves, we often have a pretty good idea how things are going to go. Not always, of course. I remember staying glued to local news while camped out in our hotel room, anxiety eating away at me as the fires got closer to our house; I’d go to sleep certain that in the morning, our place would be ashes (but it survived with only a little storm damage).

I think war is fundamentally different. On a day-to-day basis, for those in the fighting zones, it must be like a monstrous union between the Chicxulub impact, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the Black Death. Adrenaline fight-or-flight panic overload survival time, one blast at a time. But for those of us watching the catastrophe unfold from afar, anxiety takes over as the dominant emotion. Watching one horrific event after another taxes our ability to pay attention to the present moment, and that is normal. It’s in our DNA to anticipate what will happen next. In our minds, we flee to the future.

Where will Russia strike next? What weapons will they use? What can we do to shield Ukrainian civilians? Will anything come of the peace talks? What will China—or India—do?

Enter the pundits and op-ed writers, predicting everything from the economic collapse of Russia and Putin being deposed, to Russia bludgeoning Ukraine into surrender to plots, to assassinate Zelenskyy to even wilder speculations. They speculate about increasingly grim futures: Is this a prelude to nuclear war? The collapse of Russia and a worldwide recession? We gobble up the columns, even though they often leave us feeling even more anxious and wretched than before.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I think the answer lies in how predictability lowers anxiety, and the greater the stakes, the stronger the allure of a promised outcome. Not-knowing is a hellish limbo, and all too often it’s more intolerable than believing an authoritative voice with a fixed answer, no matter how grim.

I’ve started avoiding those opinion pieces. I see headlines while I’m scrolling through news, but I’m getting better at not clicking on them. Instead, I remind myself that masking anxiety with visions of doom is not likely to help anyone, beginning with myself. The truth is that I don’t have a crystal ball—and for sure the pundits don’t, either.

Working myself into a lather harms impairs my ability to think clearly. It cannot affect the outcome of the war.

Powerlessness is hard, and in evolutionary terms it’s dangerous. But when it is our true condition, the best way to manage it is by seeing it for what it is, and then finding ways to make a big difference in our own lives through good self-care and a small difference in the world.

Ways of Making Progress

I am not one of those people who pines for the way things used to be.

I mean, I grew up before there was a vaccine for measles and related diseases, which means that I had every version of measles possible regularly from the time I was five to the time I was ten.

I am fortunate that I had no lasting effects from those bouts, but it wouldn’t have been a bad thing to have missed out on measles.

So I’m a huge fan of vaccines and of other treatments and preventative measures for contagious disease. (I can rant about this at length, and have, but that’s not my goal in this post.)

In general, I’m in favor of many of the changes that have occurred in my lifetime, the mechanical and the digital as well as the medical. For example, as soon as I learned to type, I began writing on a typewriter.

I jumped to correcting typewriters as soon as I could afford one and I got my first computer in 1983 primarily as a writing device.

I also love the communication options. Email is great. Texting is great. Having a phone with you so you can coordinate meeting up in person is fantastic.

What I don’t love are the constant changes and updates. While security updates are important and some changes do provide an improved product, there are way more updates than need to happen.

And of course, if you don’t want to change all those things, sooner or later your computer won’t be able to use the tools it needs.

Here’s the other problem — and it might be the one that bugs me the most — these changes are sent along willy-nilly, with no regard to your reasons for using the device or what you might be doing at the time.

It’s not like you get a message — email would work for this nicely — that says these updates are available and recommended and here is where you go to get them when you’ve set aside some time for tech maintenance. Nor is it like you get a choice when, say, you don’t really want to change your word processing program.

No, they assume that the most important thing in your life is tech maintenance and interrupt whatever you’re doing, when in fact the most important things are the projects that you’re using the tech devices to do.

Writing, analyzing data, meeting people via Zoom — those are the important things, not keeping up the computer. Continue reading “Ways of Making Progress”

Why the Aussie elections are so important this year: an introduction for the unwary

It’s one of those Mondays. I say this with much care and I’m drinking much coffee. Normally I would give you a book post on a Monday, but Australia’s much-awaited (by us, anyhow) election was called yesterday. This is not just any election. It’s our last opportunity to move away from rabid and corrupt politics. It matters. I asked if that meant I should post about it and Nancy Jane Moore said, “Yes, please.”

I’m doing two posts. The first one is on my Monday and the second is will be posted when Monday finally hits the US. One is about our parties, and the other will talk you through our electoral system. All the cool stuff is in this post, and I introduce the parties. I’m not hiding my opinions – you can see where my vote is likely to go if you read carefully.

First, you need to know that, in Australian popular opinion, our current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, belongs in the same crowd as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. When Trump was US President, the two acted as if they were best friends. Morrison is a fundamentalist Christian of the prosperity theology variety and, until a few weeks ago, was publicly a close friend of Brian Houston, the Hillsong leader who is currently on trial.

Until a few years ago, Australia was on various lists as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Right now we’re not even considered close to achieving such an honour. In the last ten years, international influence and local decisions by the ruling party and their allies have pushed us away from our cultural standard.

How did this happen?

Just one example will explain it. In the last three years we’ve not had a week without a disaster of enormous magnitude. The Federal government put money aside to help and didn’t spend the vast bulk of it. In fact, a few weeks ago, the newspapers told us that the government had earned $800,000 on interest on unspent disaster relief. State governments have taken the brunt of getting people through disasters such as bushfires, floods, and the pandemic. Because they were promised Federal help and only a tiny fraction of the promised help came, we still have people who are living in caravans because they received none of the promised help when the 2019-20 bushfires ripped through territory the size of Syria. Some of these people have been evacuated (or even died) when the floods hit their town this year.

This is unheard of for Australia. We used to be outstanding at getting people through natural disasters with ridiculously low death tolls. We now don’t even have proper Federal policies to handle the natural disasters, and the government keeps cutting back support of the scientists who predict them and all the various bodies who normally find ways of dealing.

That’s just a small part of a complex picture. Australia is moving from being a laid-back country that really tries to do its bit, to a somewhat corrupt oligarchy. We still have our base culture, but I don’t think we can handle three more years of this culture being intentionally ground underfoot.

May 21, as you can see, is an important election. It will decide who we are and whether we care about people, about the land… about anything other than a small group of individuals making much money. The current deputy leader, theoretically representing rural Australians, has said quite clearly that money is more important than anything else. Farmers are one of his chief voting blocs, and he makes it clear he doesn’t care.

How we got this way has an interesting and sad history. It follows the same path as the changes in the US Republicans, and some of the same factors are at play. I don’t want to talk about that here. Instead, let me introduce you to who is standing for election. Our parties are not what they look like to non-Australians: their names are, to be honest, not that intuitive.

 

LNP – Liberal National Party, or the Coalition. This is the party currently in power. They are most definitely right wing.

‘Liberal’ in Australia has always referred to the small government (or smaller government) party, but these days it is the party that supports the coal and gas industries and is, to be fair, well-supported by those industries in return. In the sixties and seventies they supported cheap or free education. The free education was brought into play by the Labor party, and is the reason no-one my age ever suffered from university debts. The Liberals kept it when the Labor party was voted out. It was a Liberal leader (Malcolm Fraser) who was in charge when I was an undergraduate, and made sure that I paid no tuition fees. I paid student union fees (less than $100 a year) and for books, and anyone without income got Austudy , which was not quite enough to live on, but Austudy and a part-time job got most students through university with no debt at all. These days students emerge from undergraduate degrees between $20,000 and $100,000 in debt (or even higher) – it’s a choice between education and owning a house, even for most people who come from comfortable backgrounds.

These days the Liberals are, as I said earlier, quite right wing for the most part, despite the name. Even for a right wing party, they are light on addressing climate change, which is why Australia is labelled as bad on climate change – if you poll people’s opinions, dealing with it is important to us. It is not, however, important to our current leaders.

How does the LNP act in Parliament? One of my favourite clips (my least favourite clips make me want to weep): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7UCSpZB5Bo

 

Labor – currently the Opposition. Labor started off from the union movement. Unions are still much bigger in Australia than in the US, and considerably more powerful, though less than they used to be. It was, originally, definitely left wing but has drifted towards the right in recent years. Let me be clear, though – right wing in Australia is not the same as the US right.

The spelling of the name is due to one of their early leaders, King O’Malley. He was very important in the days when Australia became independent and he founded a party and… he was American. This is why the name of the party uses US spelling. Canberra (our national capital, where I live) reacts to this naming in its own way. O’Malley was a teetotaller, so a pub was named after him. I have met friends at King O’Malley’s many times and each and every time someone makes a joke about the spelling of Labor.

The party is now centre left (mostly) and centre right (increasingly often). It’s not a left wing party. If someone from the US were describing it, however, they might call it ‘left wing’, because of the same factors that made the old-fashioned Liberals strong on education and social welfare. Education, health, social welfare, and owning a home are four dreams that a large number of Australians agree on. Almost all of us also agree on doing far more to prevent climate change than we currently attempt. State Labor parties have a (mostly) good record on this.

Federally, Labor haven’t been in power since September 2013, so their record on all issues at the federal level is tangled with the strange politics and voting patterns of Opposition. Labor has a history, in Parliament, of not shouting loudly against things they can’t change ie by voting agreement where nothing can be done, and saving the arguments for places they can make a change. They may be not-good on climate change, then, or they may just be biding their time.

Labor has the electoral advantage of everyone’s favourite politician (OK, maybe not everyone, but a surprising number of us). Penny Wong is wildly popular. She refuses to move to the House of Representatives and become leader and every few months people say, “But why???” She’s probably right on not trying for leadership. Most leaders have come from NSW, Victoria or Western Australia and she’s from South Australia. What’s more, the bigoted parts of Australia hate her as much as the rest of Australia loves her: she’s Malaysian Chinese Australian and gay. She is targeted by many, many bigots and the way she handles these people is one of the reasons she is so popular.

She is also popular because of how she handles difficult issues. We watch her for her facial expressions as much as her words and her attitude. When she looks at someone in Senate Estimates and waits a moment before saying something, a clip will be sent around social media, to illustrate a moment where someone not doing their job was forced to explain. Her ethics matter to us. Clips of Wong are always circulated when Senate Estimates (one of our methods for ensuring government accountability) is at work. Let me show you. First, something very everyday (and actually Senate Estimates, where Wong is seeking answers from a minister for things done): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ein2OPaX4GI It’s not the most colourful of the clips, but it shows the everyday work she does and why she’s liked. It also helps that she does things like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5pxE4RXpjc

 

Greens – the next largest party (mostly). Until recently they were a bit gentler than the Greens in other countries, but these days they are fixed in their policies and have very strong views. They still get a lot of the left wing vote, but some of us would really like it if they listened and were a bit more adaptable.

Pauline Hanson, Clive Palmer and other leaders of small right wing parties. We have them in abundance. They get up to 15% of the vote in some states and some elections. They’re a story in and of themselves. They’re important politically, but can also be problematic. The old White Australia is best represented in these parties.

 

Independents: not new at all, but a particular type of independent candidate, based on grass roots decisions in a given electorate, is gaining a bigger voice than previously. These candidates are the main reason this election is impossible to call. Their colour is teal and many of them get backing from groups such as Climate 200 – addressing  climate change is one of the few policies they all totally agree on. Much of this voice belongs to the centre-right and their supporters used to be the core voters of the Liberal Party. This election is going to be one to watch, because if these independents do well, then several ministers are in danger of losing their seats.

The Liberals are so worried about them that two Liberal candidates have shifted the blue of the party in all their advertising to a shade closer to teal and one took his party’s name off some of his corflutes. The Liberals are not just fighting Labor for a majority: an interesting number of them are fighting for previously secure seats. In the 2019 election Zali Steggall (an ex-Olympic skier) defeated the previous prime minister in his own seat. Several of the “Voices of…” (the official term for the new grassroots candidates) are ex-journalists or sportspeople.

In Canberra, I don’t know yet if there are any standing for the lower house (the election was only called yesterday), but there are independents standing for the Senate, and one of them is, indeed an ex-sportsman, David Pocock. He’s not part of the teal people, but he is the leading candidate to challenge our Liberal senator (whose name is Zed, which isn’t nearly as funny in US English as it is in Australian English – for us ‘zed’ is the final letter of the alphabet) and the moment a particular picture of him was circulated, his vote increased enough to make people start to pay attention to him. He now has an audience for his policies, but for such an Australian reason.

This is not a complete introduction, but I’ve run out of time. When I meet a couple of deadlines, I will write you the next post, and you can see why the election is so soon and some of the mechanics behind our system. In some ways it’s very different to the system is the vast majority of democracies. Almost every vote counts here. And we have democracy sausages.

Watch this space.

March 769, 2020

That’s the date in my personal pandemic time. I start with March 17, 2020, when the Bay Area shut down. That was the first shut down in the United States.

Back then, I figured it would all blow over soon. I recall saying “I’ll go nuts if this is still going on in May.”

Maybe I did go nuts. I’m certainly not at my best. I saw an article in the paper about older people — mostly people about my age, not the very elderly — feeling like some of their life has been stolen from them.

I feel like that.

The other day I said to my sweetheart, “Do you think things will ever get better?”

And he said, “Look around you.”

It’s not just the pandemic. Russia invaded Ukraine and the news from there is horrific — not just war, but obscene war crimes. The only good thing I can get out of all that is that for once the U.S. government is doing the right thing. It’s a difficult problem, bringing back the fears of nuclear war that all us boomers grew up on, but near as I can tell the powers that be are actually balancing doing the right thing with making sure they don’t trigger something worse.

California is in a serious drought. We’re going to have more fires, because this land was meant to burn regularly, but the way things are set up we’re going to have out-of-control fires in areas where people live.

The politics in the United States have crossed over into absolutely insane. We don’t ever get a reasoned debate on how to solve problems because the right wing extremists keep making up absurd claims that are irrelevant to everything we need to do. Much of that is rooted in racism and misogyny and is being used to disguise all the ways they want to make the rich richer.

Meanwhile, more and more people are living on the streets. And despite the fact that renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels even if you don’t take into consideration all the benefits given to oil companies, we’re still refusing to take action to shut down coal mines and fracking for gas and oil.

So the pandemic continues, now combined with with a pretense that it’s over. Authoritarianism runs wild. No one’s doing anything like enough to address climate change. And even in progressive places like Oakland it seems to be impossible to actually fix the problems in our everyday lives.

I have a bad feeling that the rest of my life will continue to be pockmarked with all these things. And it makes me very angry. Continue reading “March 769, 2020”

In Times of War: A Flood of Horrific News

After the 2016 Presidential election, I wrote a series of blog posts, “In Troubled Times.” In them I explored my evolving feelings of disbelief, shock, horror, despair, fury, and rising determination. “Nevertheless, She Persisted” became our mantra. I hoped that my words provided solace and inspiration to others, and the process of putting them down did for me.

Now we face new, often overwhelming challenges to sanity. I find myself reacting to the news of the war in Ukraine, and yet being unable to look away. Then my friend, Jaym Gates, wrote this on her Facebook page, posted here with her permission.

Be really careful on social media for the next few days, friends. A lot of footage of Russian Federation war crimes, torture, rape, and murder just came out from Mariupol and other occupied cities. It is *horrific.* While it needs to be seen, shared, and remembered, it is going to be extremely traumatic to engage with.

If you’re a survivor of abuse or trauma, in particular, please be especially careful.

And send support to Ukraine if you can. What’s happening there is awful beyond words.

 My daughter, a psychology student, spotted this article by Heather Kelly in the Washington PostHow to stay up-to-date on terrible news without burning out.

It can be hard to look away from your phone and live your life while terrible events are unfolding, Kelly writes. There’s an unrelenting flow of images, videos and graphic updates out of Ukraine, filling social media, messaging apps and news sites.

It’s important to stay informed, engaged and even outraged. But it’s also important to pay attention to our own limits and mental health by taking breaks, looking for signs of burnout and consuming news in the smartest way possible.

That means setting some ground rules for the main portal connecting us to nonstop tragedy: our phones [or computers]. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Give yourself permission to take a break

It is okay to hit pause on the doom and go live your life, whether that means going outside with the kids or just losing yourself on the silly side of TikTok. It’s necessary for everyone’s mental health.

  1. Take time for self-care

A break is not a few minutes away from Twitter. Start with real breaks of at least 30 minutes to an hour so that your brain has time to come down from what you were last watching or reading. Ideally, you’ll put your phone down and take a technology break … or do some activities known to help with stress reduction, including exercise, mindfulness and meditation, journaling, engaging in hobbies and other activities you enjoy, spending time with family and friends, and doing faith-based activities if you practice.

  1. Change your news habits

Disinformation like propaganda is designed to capture your attention and elicit strong emotions, which can contribute to any anxiety you’re already feeling. Instead, stick with reputable sources. If you can wait, opt for deeply reported stories at the end of the day over constant smaller updates. Avoid using social media for news, but if you do, follow sources and people that contribute to your understanding of an issue rather than those that just generate more outrage.

  1. View your phone in black and white

In your smartphone’s accessibility settings there is an option to make the screen black and white instead of color. Some studies have indicated that turning this on leads to less screen time.

  1. Know when to ask for help

Look for signs that you are burned out or experiencing serious anxiety. First, consider whether you’re predisposed to reacting strongly to a particular issue. Anyone who has personally dealt with similar trauma or war in the past might find constant vivid social media posts about Ukraine to be triggering. [Italics mine.]

In conclusion: be kind to yourself, friends. Practice healthy boundaries and filters, and good self-care. Ask for help, whether it’s a friend or family member screening news for triggers, or a companion on a hike through the redwoods. Find safe people to reach out to. I’ll be writing more about our journey together.

 

Some Thoughts on Commas and Rules

I have a confession. I don’t care about the Oxford comma.

It’s OK with me if you want to use it. It’s also OK with me if you want to follow what I think of as the newspaper rule (because it’s in the AP stylebook) and only use it if the sentence would otherwise be confusing.

For those who are not of the writing or editing professions and who do not follow the heated debates about this issue on Twitter, the Oxford comma is the comma that appears just before “and” or “or” in a list of three or more items. It’s also called the serial comma.

Under the newspaper rule, you generally don’t put a comma there.

Here’s a sentence with the Oxford comma:

I like persimmons, strawberries, and grapefruit.

Here’s the same sentence without it:

I like persimmons, strawberries and grapefruit.

As far as I’m concerned, either version is fine. There’s no confusion either way.

Generally, the only sentences where you need to deliberately include or omit that comma are ones where the words divided by the “and” could be taken as describing the previous words.

So for example:

“I only go to the movies with my cousins, Dick, and Jane” does not mean the same thing as “I only go to the movies with my cousins, Dick and Jane.”

In the first sentence, “cousins,” “Dick,” and “Jane” are all separate categories. In the second, Dick and Jane are the names of my cousins.

If you mean the first, you need that final comma. If you mean the second, that final comma is wrong.

Actually, this rule isn’t really about commas. It’s about the fact that sometimes something that looks like a list isn’t. And if it’s not a list, then you need to use commas differently. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Commas and Rules”

A Plea for Better Movies

In a December piece in The New York Times, Nikita Richardson ( a Times staffer) says that The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies was for millennial women what Star Wars was for an earlier generation.  She cites the gentle scenes between characters — not just Aragorn and Arwen, but between Sam and Frodo as well as other male characters — and notes that she and her sister and her friends rewatched it countless times.

I gather  she means that both series were a touch point for those who were teenagers when they first saw them. Both series were compelling, so this makes sense.

I was older than that even for Star Wars, and in truth my love of the first three of those movies had a lot to do with them being well-made space opera with incredible special effects at a time when the movies didn’t do that.

My fondness for the Lord of the Rings movies had more to do with my love of the books, which dates back to my college years. (I re-read the entire trilogy every semester during law school finals. I am not exaggerating. It kept me sane.)

Plus I’m a fantasy and SF writer and reader and remember all too well when those things didn’t get noticed beyond the cons. So it makes me happy to see them shared far and wide.

But on the whole, her essay broke my heart, because if teenage girls fixated on Lord of the Rings — a story in which there are only three women of any note among a multitude of men — it is one more reminder of how utterly our popular culture has continued to fail women. Continue reading “A Plea for Better Movies”

On Not Tolerating the Intolerable

The pandemic buzzword these days is “endemic,” which is being used to mean Covid’s going to stick around so we might as well just go back to normal lives.

That is not what endemic means, of course. Endemic means an illness that constantly exists at a baseline level of some amount in an area without being brought in from elsewhere. The common cold is endemic in most places. So are a few more dangerous illnesses — the plague, for example.

The other key thing about endemic disease is that the illness doesn’t spread at an epidemic pace. Covid’s clearly not close to endemic. Here’s a piece in Nature that explains that better than I can.

Also, just because an illness becomes endemic doesn’t mean everything is rosy. In the Nature article, Oxford Professor Aris Katzourakis points out:

A disease can be endemic and both widespread and deadly. Malaria killed more than 600,000 people in 2020. Ten million fell ill with tuberculosis that same year and 1.5 million died.

I recall a doctor who was working for a pharmaceutical company telling me years ago that no companies wanted to work on TB drugs because there wasn’t any money in it. That’s why those people are dying.

Coming back to the virus at hand: what endemic does not mean and should never be used to mean is letting people die so we can get back to “normal.”. But in many corners of the U.S., people are using the term to mean precisely that. Continue reading “On Not Tolerating the Intolerable”

A difficult post to write, about a subject that’s almost impossible

Several kind (non-Jewish) friends tried to share Holocaust stuff with me last week. It was Holocaust Remembrance Day, after all. I’m afraid I hurt them by saying I wasn’t going to look, not at the article and not at the television. I didn’t need to be told that a large percentage of people who aren’t as bright or as human as they think don’t believe the Shoah existed. I don’t need to revisit the numbers nor the deaths. They are with me every day. My friends are (seriously, not sarcastically – and this has to be explained because, honestly, it sounds sarcastic) being kind. They’re including me in their own learning curve about one of the most difficult subjects around. My learning curve is, however, vastly different from theirs. I’ve been dealing with it all my life, because I’m Jewish and have always had non-Jewish friends.

I’ve been asked to explain it to people since I was seven. Be thankful I asked my father before showing my friend the picture in the book, because I didn’t have words but I did have pictures. The picture was of a pile of dead bodies on the day Auschwitz was liberated. I told Dad, “I was just going to explain about cousins.”

“Wait until she’s old enough,” I was told. I was old enough at six. Most of my friends took a few decades before reaching that moment. I was the only family member who learned things that early, if that’s any consolation. I needed to understand things, and so I’ve spent most of my life trying to understand the Shoah. I’ve done so much explaining over the years. I’ve had a responsibility to explain, because my family wasn’t hurt. If we had not left Europe, I could have been Anne Frank, I thought, when I was twelve.

Some years, I have discovered, I need a break from being the person who can share someone’s learning experience or who explains everything. This year is one of those years, because this year antisemitism is so much worse than it has been. The Shoah feels too close.

I’m one of the lucky ones, I used to say, because all of my grandparents were in Australia long before the murders began. My father’s mother was, in fact, born in Australia. I only lost the family of my European grandparents: this is a massive privilege. No relatives surviving in three cities and a country town is easier to handle, emotionally, when I had all my next-of-kin.  Recently I’ve taken to handling my good fortune by talking about the one surviving member from the whole of the Bialystocker family that had not migrated to Australia by 1938. I’ll introduce you to him if you ask me, in conversation. Not in a blog post. Not yet.

I dealt with Yom Ha’Shoah this year by reading something that shows how different things can be when someone gives us permission to step outside the stereotypes. The War was different for those who were given choices other than being victims.

Previously, when people told me, “Your relatives should’ve fought,” I’ve told them about my great-uncle who lived and the one who died, and about my cousin, all of whom were part of the army and air force and… Australian. Australia fought Germany in World War II and quite a few of my relatives were part of those battles. I don’t want to talk about Les or Uncle Sol or even Uncle Max this year, either. Their choices help me personally deal with those who inform me that Jews are meant to die and never try to help themselves or others are part of the problem. They don’t know my family, Jewishness, or any history. People who talk about ever-victims are themselves part of the problem.

There’s a book being talked about right now in the Melbourne Jewish community. My mother’s best friend read it and told her, “You must!” My mother was reading it when I rang and said, “I can’t put this down. Can we talk later?” When she’d finished I got the name of it and the author and I’m nearly finished.

It’s not a happy book. It doesn’t hide the horrors of war. It is, however, a powerful volume. It shows that all the deniers are denying even more than they think. Not only did Jews fight the Axis Powers (as we know because my relatives were part of those battles) but some of them were… extraordinary. And of those extraordinary people, some tried very hard to create outcomes (on the very rare occasions when it was possible) where fewer people died.

While their families had been murdered or were being murdered in death camps, these men fought back. It was a British thing…

The book is X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos who helped defeat the Nazis. Not all of X-Troop was Jewish. Some members were defined as Jewish by the Nazis, but were actually Christian. The single rampant atheist described was, of course, Jewish – it’s much harder to be Christian and to be an atheist.

I didn’t want to revisit the Shoah last week. People telling me about it to match their discoveries is uncomfortable. It reminds me that this is part of the present, right now. I may really hate war stories, but right now, this war story gives me permission to keep fighting prejudice. That permission comes from such an extraordinary quarter.

I Survived a Nigerian Scam. Part I: Setting the Hook

I don’t consider myself naïve about scams. I know to never give out any my bank or credit card numbers, Social Security number, or date of birth to anyone who phones me out of the blue. In fact, when I am in a cranky mood, I might lecture the caller about how what they’re doing is fraud. I read articles about romance, grandkid-in-jail, phony arrest warrants, and other scams. As 2021 drew to a close I realized that I had fallen into a scam I hadn’t heard of: befriending a person on social media and then inducing them to set up a GoFundMe for a medical emergency. Fortunately, I came to my senses before I sent any money from that campaign. Until then, it had never occurred to me that I had been manipulated over a year and a half. As embarrassing as the experience was for me, I’m going public in the interests of educating others.

It all began in July 2020 with a Facebook Friend request from a young man in Nigeria. I didn’t believe that all Nigerians were scammers. Some very fine science fiction writers are Nigerian Americans. I accepted his request. Here’s his response.

 C (the Nigerian): Where are you from? I’m from West Africa. Nigeria precisely! I know not every white lady likes comunicating with a black man  and i hope in your own case it’s different. I have had couple of friends here on fb and when ever i tell them i come from Africa and Nigeria they see you as an asshole and stop talking to you because am black and i come from Africa. I still have good white friends that has influence me positively and i respect them so much. I wish every white lady out there can see things the way you do.

Commentary: From the first, C tackled the issue of Nigerian scammers and put me on the defensive about his race. On face value, this seemed to be reassurance that he is not a scammer. In actuality, he was fishing for a response of, “I’m not racist, so I will trust you.” Then he added another layer of what an admirable person he is. This will be a recurring them. He used praise as a manipulative tool.

Over the next couple of months, C sent messages like these:

8/3/20, 10:59 am. You stopped writing

8/16/20, 2:29 pm. Hello

9/2020: Things are really deficult for i and my family right now and i was thinking about starting a frozen food bussinss here but i don’t have the capital to start with. I discussed it with a friend in the US and he said he was going to help me. So, he helped in set up a gofundme campaign and here is the link. He’s name is M a very good friend of mine i met on fb.

C: Life over here in Nigeria is really not easy. I’m a graduate of civil engineering but ever since i finished school no firm wants to hire me for my service. It is more political over here searching for a job because jobs are only given to relatives, family members and well wishes. If you don’t have someone who has connection to help you, getting a job becomes difficult.

 Commentary: First, C demanded my attention. He elicited reassurance as well as the commitment of my timely responses. Then he segued into how hard life is for him, what an admirable person he is, and how an American friend is trying to help him. (This was one of C’s tactics to convince me that it was okay to act on C’s behalf because others have done it.) This GoFundMe ended before reaching its goal.

 Later in September, 2020, came the first request for money. Continue reading “I Survived a Nigerian Scam. Part I: Setting the Hook”