Trail-ready paleo coconut macaroons



I made an entire bag of chocolate-coconut macaroons that we took hiking with us, small treats that combined the caloric punch of fatty coconut and coconut sugar with the protein of egg whites and the buzz of chocolate. Because space was an issue, I didn’t whip the egg whites, opting to food-proccess them instead. They were probably the best trail food I’ve ever had.

I adapted this recipe from Smitten Kitten, halving the chocolate on the assumption that I was going to be eating about five of them in a row. I also added another egg (extra protein) and a dab of coconut oil (extra fat) and adjusted the sugar. Note: if you want a really decadent treat, use the Smitten Kitten version.

Yield: About 2 dozen tablespoon-sized cookies

About 2 ounces (115 grams or about 1/3 cup) unsweetened chocolate. I used half of Ghirardelli’s unsweetened baking bar, and also added a tablespoon of coconut oil.
About 14 ounces (400 grams) unsweetened flaked coconut. I bought mine from the organic bulk section.
1/2 cup (130 grams) coconut sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 large egg whites
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon flaked sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325°F. Oil a glass baking dish well.

Heat chocolate chunks and the tablespoon of coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat until almost melted, then stir until they’re smooth. You don’t want to overheat the chocolate.

In a food processor, blend the coconut. Add the sugar and cocoa powder and blend another 30 seconds or so. Add egg whites, salt and vanilla and blend until combined, and then blend in the melted chocolate. With a tablespoon, scoop batter into 1-inch mounds on the baking dish. You can arrange the cookies fairly close together as they don’t spread, just puff a bit.

Bake cookies for 15 minutes, until the macaroons are shiny and just set. Let them rest on the tray for 10 minutes after baking, and let cool completely before putting them in plastic baggies for the trail.

Glacier in September



BIMG_9085ackpacking IMG_9156Glacier was less rugged than I thought it would be. I was sort of envisioning cutting cross-country with the bear spray primed and ready, while stumbling over branches and weeds with 30-plus pounds strapped to my back. Instead, there were well-maintained trails and flat dirt campsites with tall metal rails to hang your food over and thus keep it (and the bears) out of your campsite. You could explore and picnic and leave your gear in the campsites without worrying.

IMG_9194We had hiked two days and 14 miles in up to Brown’s Pass when the weather decided to change. The wind picked up to a slow howl and freezing fog rolled in. We made camp quickly and crawled into our down sleeping bags. “The jewel of the continent, from the confines of a tent,” joked my boyfriend. We made hot tea with a Jetboil and fantasized about hot food, because we apparently hadn’t packed quite enough calories for the journey. We talked about a Mexican restaurant we had seen on the drive to Glacier. My boyfriend made me really mad by bringing up La Rosa’s pulled pork shoulder with polenta and fried kale. However, in my layers of wool and spandex and down I was my own personal toasty burrito, and I slept well, breathing through a small tunnel of down.

We got up early the next morning and shook off the snow that had accumulated on the tent, and hiked the 14 miles back in less than six hours. We stopped in Kalispell to find a place to eat, and flopped from the car, unwashed, travel worn, our bodies stiff and sore. We walked like zombies, slowly, painfully, across the street. We were supposed to be looking for good restaurants, but ended up just picking the closet one. We stumbled in and ordered: one hamburger, one New York strip. I had been talking about how good food tasted when you’d been eating nothing but dehydrated meats and trail mix, and I was prepared to be delighted even if it wasn’t objectively the most delicious fare on the planet. However, the mediocrity shone through our hunger — the fries tasted like they’d come out of a frozen bag and been reheated without salt, and my boyfriend said his steak was the toughest New York strip he’d ever had. “We’re foodies,” he said, and he laughed.

Non-resistance to evil



The images of police in riot gear advancing on unarmed US citizens is nothing new. But for the first time, with Ferguson and the police crackdown on protests, including the arrests of journalists and the gassing of a senator, the wider population is starting to pay attention. For the first time, they aren’t widely dismissing police violence with “well, obviously, the police are just doing their job.” For perhaps the first time, the protest is nonpartisan; it’s not only some of the right or some of the left that is upset about the conduct of the police. It’s almost everyone.

And for good reason. Which means it’s a good time to revisit just how widespread and ongoing this problem is. You’ve probably heard of the WTO protests. You’ve probably heard about SWAT teams accidentally bombing infants and swarming the wrong houses looking for drugs. But there’s more — there’s always much more of this sort of thing that got ignored because the people who were targeted didn’t appear sympathetic enough. For example: you’ve probably never heard of the incident on July 18 1993, in Portland, Oregon. On that day, police in riot gear preemptively blocked off the X-Ray cafe in downtown Portland, having been (probably incorrectly) tipped off that in the crowd of people exiting the venue after a punk rock show, there were going to be instigators of violence.

According to multiple eyewitness sources, some of which I won’t be citing, the police refused to let anyone leave or even tell anyone why they were there, and they blockaded Burnside to ensure nobody snuck away. They did mention something about the crowd “filling up the sidewalk,” which was apparently bad, but not so bad they would let them disperse. If this sounds like a recipe for disaster, well, it’s because it is. Some of the crowd did the hokey pokey in front of the police line to try to diffuse the situation. Some started shouting at the police: they were “working-class sell-outs,” they oppressed their fellow man at the behest of those in power. Some started digging bricks out of the side of the wall they were being held against in case things got ugly. Many of the crowd were punk rockers and anarchists, replete with dreadlocks and piercings. There’s a brief documentary of this with several minutes of footage and interviews starting at the 3:16 mark of this video. At some point, the police decided the crowd was getting too agitated, and decided to remedy the situation by spraying everyone with tear gas — or gas of some kind, mace, possibly. The crowd tried to walk away collectively and pandemonium broke out; someone broke a window, then two. Most of the crowd tried to run from the police, and many were chased down, bashed with batons and combat boots, and arrested. There were so many arrests, the police chartered a bus to hold everyone.

They were charged with rioting, which is a Class C Felony in the State of Oregon. The newspapers reported the only facts about the defendants that they appeared to find salient: the defendants were “self-styled anarchists.”

The word, used as a pejorative, dehumanized and cast these young people as lawless criminals. However, anarchism is nothing more or less than a (largely misunderstood) political theory. Leo Tolstoy was a Christian anarchist who strongly believed in “non-resistance to evil,” and his writings on the subject influenced Gandhi — specifically the call for nonviolent protest of the British occupation of India. Though there are some anarchists who call for using any means necessary to gain ground, just as in any political movement, many or most of them currently are devoted to peace. Though there are some anarchists who take a more individualistic view of politics, many are more accurately called anarcho-syndicalists, in that they aspire to a communal society with no overlords. This is different than libertarianism because anarchists do not believe in the authority of the state, not even to grant liberties. This is different than communism because anarchists are suspicious of power, and believe that if you give anyone the power of the people, the power will begin to supersede the people. Anarchists theorize about a society where intellectuals are not considered to be better than craftsmen or workers, and propose a sort of rotating system where everyone shares the burden of decision-making. Cops, for example, are taken from the general population; everyone takes a turn patrolling. Anarchists tend to be fond of George Orwell and Henry David Thoreau.

Anarchists tend to identify with (and some even are) homeless people; the aforementioned Portland anarchists had, in fact, had run-ins with police previously — over feeding the homeless without a permit.

Which brings us back to the legal trouble the “rioters” found themselves in. They were held, and some were released on bail, though not before they’d lost their jobs due to not showing up to work for a couple of days. Some pleaded guilty to diminished charges. Some demurred; five were subsequently taken to court in State v. Chakerian. The case notes that “A person commits the crime of riot if while participating with five or more other persons the person engages in tumultuous and violent conduct and thereby intentionally or recklessly creates a grave risk of causing public alarm.” Judge Janet Wilson dismissed the case on the grounds that the statue was “unconstitutionally overbroad,” and the demurrers were free to go. Of the five charged, I tracked down two; one is married with two children and is now a Jack Johnson fan; the other is divorced with two children and runs a small business. They both look entirely middle-class. The statute, however, was upheld in an appeal and is still part of Oregon law.

What is interesting about the Oregon statute is that by that standard, the police should have been charged with rioting; they moved in unprovoked in riot gear and gassed people. That seems to fit the standard of recklessly creating “a grave risk of causing public alarm,” at a bare minimum.

What is also interesting is that, as far as police and public opinion went, the youth were largely presumed guilty due to their political beliefs, their taste in music and their clothing. Try to imagine the same amount of stigma being attached to being a Christian, a metalhead, or even an Abercromie-wearing frat boy. Try to imagine being arrested for, essentially, attending the wrong concert and thinking the wrong things. In the United States of America.

This stigma is not isolated; public records, again in Oregon, show agents trailing totally peaceful anarchists and even random Subarus and participants of organic grow-op markets because of their loose association with anarchism. Again, try to imagine the same amount of stigma being attached to being a Christian, a metalhead, or even an Abercromie-wearing frat boy. Imagine being followed by the FBI because you shop at the Christian bookstore instead of the local co-op.

For most of the population, this has yet to happen. For the lowest on the totem pole, however, this has been happening for years. There’s no crime that people accept so readily as the crime of looking just a little too weird.




Easy paleo Thai iced tea



I’m sitting here drinking possibly the most delicious Thai iced tea I’ve ever had. And it was kind of an accident. You know that flavor that you can’t quite place that is definitely not present in regular black iced tea with milk, the one that reminds you of walking around the hot, bustling streets of Asia with a frosty plastic cup of milky tea? Well, you can replicate it by adding a splash of vanilla and a reasonable helping of coconut sugar to super-strong black tea.

Here’s the recipe:

Medium-sized saucepan of water about 3/4 full

8 or 9 bags of mostly-black tea (what I used: 2 English Breakfast, 2 decaf English Breakfast, 2 Vanilla Almond, 2 Chocolate Rooibos, 1 Chai. I strongly recommend using at least half decaf bags. Subtly mixing in vanilla, rooibos and chai flavors seems to work well)

A splash or two of vanilla extract

Heat these ingredients until they begin to boil slightly, and then turn the heat off. Add in about a cup of coconut sugar, and stir until dissolved. The coconut sugar has a relatively low glycemic index and a smoky, syrupy flavor.

Let the tea cool and steep in the saucepan, about an hour. Transfer the tea to glass jars to keep in the fridge, wringing out the teabags and then discarding them. The tea should be more or less opaque.

You can serve the tea over ice, or if you don’t want to dilute it, in frosty mugs from the freezer. Pour 2/3 of a glass and top off with whole milk, cream or even coconut milk (I use fresh raw whole milk, and it’s amazing).

Now, I’m guessing you could substitute the sugar/milk with sweetened condensed milk, which is what all the Thais I saw making iced tea used. But this way, you get the additional fun of being on a trendy American diet that’s no doubt better for you than the real thing.

Of goats and men


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Scotchman’s Peak is the tallest in the Idaho portion of the Cabinet Mountains, and yesterday I trekked up it for the first time ever, with my boyfriend Cole and his two daughters, Ada (age 15) and Lina (age 10). Note: their actual names have been changed for reasons that may soon become apparent.

It is blisteringly hot, and slow going due to the steepness of the trail. Only four miles up and four miles down, but not what you’d call easy. The girls provide entertainment, however, by informing us of their various hiking-induced woes, which range from being too hot to not being allowed to listen to their iPods. “I got a text!” Ada announces triumphantly. “I want a text!” says Lina. “Daddy, text me! Nobody ever texts me!”

In short order, their socks soaked in sweat, they both get blisters and resort to hiking in their socks or shuffling along with the heels of their tennis shoes turned down. “I’m pretty sure you could get arrested for child torture,” Lina tells Cole darkly. Cole makes her drink extra water and we take plenty of stops; Lina has a small pack full of candy and chocolate and organic beef jerky she’s been allowed to get at the store, and she doles these out to herself in the shade. I’m stoked on the stops and pick huckleberries from the surrounding bushes, shoving them into my mouth like I’m some kind of rare white spirit bear on the verge of extinction. Neither am I beneath wheedling candy from Lina.

hikingThree hours into the trip, we emerge into the shale fields and rocky outcroppings of the high alpine. We spot a mountain goat immediately. Ada and I think it’s cute until it starts to follow us, and then we scamper away after Cole and Lina. “Maybe it can smell the salt on our skin,” I say.

Cole says we shouldn’t be afraid of them. “Hikers come up here all the time,” he says “the goats know what we are.”

“Yeah,” I add “human salt blocks.”

It takes forever to reach the summit, another hour at least. We’re picking our way through shale and the sun is unrelenting. There’s a breeze, but I’m worried that my shoulders are frying. I left my sunscreen in the truck. Also, there are more mountain goats. We’re 50 feet below the summit, and one steps forward, right on the peak, and looks down on us. His chest is massive, and his white fur blows lush and gentle in the mountain air. His black horns curve up pointed, lethal, above his giant skull. “He’s huge!” says Cole “Look at him! He’s the real deal!”

“Dad,” says Lina “I am not going up there.” Ada and I agree: we sit down in the shade of a shrub, and get out our assorted treats. Cole advances upwards, skirting the goat slightly. He stops on the ridge, and turns to face the goat. Outlined against the blue sky, with cliffs a few feet on either side, we see a man and a goat sizing each other up. The goat’s head looks nearly level with Cole’s, or at least his horns end somewhere around Cole’s brain. The goat steps towards Cole. The three of us don’t like this, and start yelling helpful things at Cole:

“Dad! Get down from there! I’m serious!”

“Babe, if that thing butts you, he’ll knock you off the cliff! And you’ll die!”

“Dad, Dad, I’m serious! He’s an alpha male!”

“He’s fine,” says Cole “He’s just hot. Look at him. He’s curious.”

The alpha male apparently decides he’s going to check out this trio of screaming women, and starts taking the path downwards towards us. “Dad!” Lina yells “I don’t like this!”

“He’s just checking you out,” says Cole “Get up and go around him.”

goatLina jumps up and starts crying in fright: the goat is still coming. It’s substantially bigger than she is. I take her hand and lead her behind the shrub, telling her the goat can’t charge us that way and we’ll just go around the tree if he tries to get us. Ring around the rosie with an enormous horned animal, like a fun little game. But Lina is too scared for this game: she tries to run back down the trail, but I stop her and take her a different way, higher up, since I’m hoping the goat just wants to use the trail we’re on — or possibly investigate Ada’s shoes, abandoned in her own flight. But he starts heading towards us again instead. Lina is sobbing by this time: obviously the goat wants to get us. It lumbers along, panting in the heat, its expert hooves picking across the shale. “You’re scaring her!” Cole yells at me from the ridge. “Just go around him!”

“I’m helping her!” I yell back. “That’s what we’re doing!” I make Lina go back down towards the tree again, and then up the ridge towards her father, and Lina calms down. Of course, the goat comes back up again and stares at us, but after awhile he turns around and goes away. There are two more goats on the ridge, just hanging out in the breeze. But they are smaller and they stay where they are.

We take some photos on our iPhones and then we walk back down. I discover I’m getting a migraine, probably from dehydration, since I’ve been rationing my water and since my skin is dusky pink by this time. I charge down the trail, half-running, hoping to beat the migraine before my vision goes black, sucking water from my camel back, yanking berries from the bushes as I fly past for electrolytes. I only twist my ankle twice. In the truck, I wrap my eyes in a shirt and blast the AC on my skin. I fall asleep in this unlikely position, and then further cure my headache with ice water and salted steak.

Once my headache is cured, Cole tells me: “I’ve been called a goat before.”

“That makes sense,” I say “you’re stubborn, and you’re a Capricorn.”

Navigating history: Dominion worldview and Christian jihad.


I’ve just finished reading through the book “Navigating The Worldviews of Egypt,” written by my cousins Anna Sophia, Elizabeth, Isaac and Noah Botkin and a variety of their colleagues (and parents and in-laws). I read it at various intervals and in small chunks, because it was difficult to consume at any length without it hurting my brain. The book is dedicated to pointing out the inferior worldviews of Egypt, starting with its pagan decadence and finishing with the more recent uprisings. Large portions of the text are dedicated to explaining that Islam is terrible and that often, Muslims will lie to you about what they actually believe (p. 93). The authors concede that there are some moderate Muslims in the world, but they insist these people aren’t really following the Koran and Mohammed’s example.

This is juxtaposed with various comments about the right way to do things, such as the right way to have adventures and take dominion over the earth. The right way to adventure is seen, for example, in the exploration and dominion of Christopher Columbus. The right way to take over a nation is seen in the example of Oliver Cromwell, whom the book speaks very fondly of. That’s right, Oliver Cromwell. The same guy who invaded Ireland and slaughtered thousands of Irish Catholics, some of them even after they’d surrendered, on the assumption that their religion would pre-dispose them to be pesky and possibly belligerent. The authors additionally pitch Cromwell killing his king and taking over the country as a good thing: “When Charles I began ruling as a tyrant and violating the common-law liberties of Englishmen, Oliver Cromwell and other Puritan men used these scriptural principles to dethrone and execute him in a lawful and orderly way which demonstrated to the world the responsibilities of Christian magistrates” (p. 168). Executing your rulers because you don’t like their tax policies: totally contrary to the words of Jesus, but apparently still part of “the responsibilities of Christian magistrates,” according to the dominion mandate.

The book explains that Islam isn’t very good to its women, as can be seen in their overly restrictive gender and dress codes. The authors quote a passage by Bojidar Marinov that seems a little ironic given recent events: “Islam leaves it to women to protect themselves and society from destruction by choosing their clothing in such a way to completely shut them off from the world… In the Shariah legislation, a woman is guilty of adultery even when raped. It must be her fault, and the man is very often absolved, as being an innocent victim of his own overwhelming lust and the woman’s lack of prudence” (p. 89). Compare this to aforementioned favorite Puritan Oliver Cromwell, who is clearly so different in his opinions about female dress: “Cromwell believed that women and girls should dress in a proper manner. Make-up was banned. Puritan leaders and soldiers would roam the streets of towns and scrub off any make-up found on unsuspecting women. Too colourful dresses were banned. A Puritan lady wore a long black dress that covered her almost from neck to toes. She wore a white apron and her hair was bunched up behind a white head-dress.”

A big part of why Islam is bad, according to the authors, is jihad. Jihad in the American vernacular is synonymous with holy war, but it isn’t interpreted that way by all Islamic scholars. In fact, one medieval Islamic scholar states that part of jihad is the improvement of society: “one of the collective duties of the community as a whole [is] … to solve problems of religion, to have knowledge of Divine Law, to command what is right and forbid wrong conduct.” Of course, the debate rages as to how far one is to go to make this happen. Should it be done with laws, with discourse, or with military might? Regardless, the authors warn that “[Islam's] adherents have a deep sense of Islam’s moral superiority over other ethical systems, and of their authority and duty to bring the world into Islamic order… The goal of Islam is to rule the entire world and submit all of mankind to the faith of Islam” (p. 92).

Compare this to the dominion mandate, which is crucial to the Christian worldview, according to the authors. Man is “to ‘subdue’ the earth, taming it and bringing it into submission to his will under God. He acts as God’s administrator to manage creation and bring forth its treasures, cultivating its soil, mining its gold, silver, and precious stones, naming and utilizing its creatures… In summary, a biblical view of progress encompasses man’s advancement of God’s rule over every inch of the globe and over every thought and idea of man” (pp. 15-16). Put more succinctly, “The entire world has been given us to study, explore, and civilize” (p. 121).

Now compare this in turn to the people the authors state have fulfilled the dominion mandate. They state that in the 1500s, Christians were the most adventurous people on earth, which was only right and fitting (p. 121). They specifically mention Christopher Columbus (pp. 83, 121). Perhaps they are ignorant of the fact that, according to his own letters, Columbus enslaved the people he encountered and claimed everything they had as his own. Ultimately, his expedition led to forced conversions to Catholicism, rape, pillage, and often death under the so-called Christian adventurers who followed him in the 1500s. In the words of the Conquistadors’ own Requirement:

“We ask and require you … that you acknowledge the Church as the ruler and superior of the whole world,

But if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him: and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.”

Perhaps the authors are ignorant, or perhaps this fits well with their idea of the dominion mandate. Change the name Don Cristóbal to Mohammed al Hussein, and you’ve got something that looks like the worst kind of jihad; but since Columbus and the Conquistadors were ostensibly Christians, it’s called “taking dominion of the earth,” and celebrated.

The authors also point to the bloodshed and in-fighting of warring tribes and factions within Islam, saying “It is not an accident that the political legacy of Islam, when examined as a whole, has been a series of autocratic tyrants replacing each other by bloodshed” (72). The same thing could be said for the vast majority of Europe’s history, and yet the authors do not even seem to imagine a world where Europe’s wars of religion and family feuding besmirch the “political legacy” of Christianity in the slightest. Apparently bloodshed, and specifically beheading your king, is fine as long as it’s done by someone with the correct theology. Of course, this is exactly what Islamic militants believe also.

In spite of these obvious similarities, the authors go to great pains to point out the specific differences between Shariah and Biblical law. They claim that, for example, “Biblical law is consistent, reflecting the unchanging character of God,” whereas “Shariah law changed with Muhammad’s changing moral opinions” (p. 75). I suppose this would explain why the authors quote Old Testament law so extensively, and why they reference passages such as Deut. 22:13-19 (p. 88) as being more beneficial to modern women than the current laws. However, the authors are not intellectually honest, since they claim that, for example, the Koran requires whipping for a raped girl, while the Bible demands that she go free and the man be punished (p. 75). Obviously, however, Muslims have a different take on this, and the Koran actually says that whipping is for fornication, applied equally to both parties — although in some traditional societies, a woman must prove she was raped by producing four eyewitnesses, which rarely seems to work out well for her.

Additionally, the Biblical mandate the authors quote is only for certain rape scenarios, which I’m sure the authors know very well. There are other scenarios in the Mosaic Law where this isn’t the case: if the raped woman is not betrothed, she is handed off to her rapist permanently, as his wife, after the rapist pays her father. There is also another passage in the Mosaic Law where women who are raped in the city and “do not cry out” are required to be stoned to death, on the assumption that the burden is on the woman to get someone’s else’s attention — presumably someone who will testify on her behalf, like in the Koran — or it’s not really rape. In a recent webinar, Anna Sophia and Elizabeth reference this passage, saying if you are being molested, you must cry out or the burden of sin is upon you also. They say this even after admitting that most women naturally freeze up under such circumstances.

In another passage within the book, the authors state that the Koran promotes killing people who don’t believe the same things they do, while the Bible commands that strangers are to be welcomed as guests. Of course, the authors have once again cherry-picked their verses, since there are a host of them in the Old Testament about God’s chosen people being commanded to wipe out all the men, women, children and even livestock of heathen nations.

So who’s being disingenuous about what they believe now? Or, alternately, is Biblical law and precedent something the authors think changes?

Throughout the book, the idea that culture is an expression of religion, and that all people are religious, is touted over and over again. Religion is defined as “A person’s network of pre-theoretical assumptions about God, self, and reality. Every person has one and every action of a person flows from these core beliefs” (p. 44). By the authors’ own estimation, the mass killings of other populations by Christians, then, are part and parcel of their Christian faith. There could be no other possible motivation, since religion is your “pre-theoretical assumptions” and all of your actions. It’s a bizarre statement, but it must be followed to its logical end. Additionally, in a section called “What Long-Term Judgement Can Look Like,” the authors state that Coptic Christians are to blame for their persecution by the Muslims, because they have not fulfilled the Great Commission (pp. 108-109). So there you have it: not only are all of your actions part of your religion, what is done to you is part of your religion also.

Armed conflict escalates as death toll rises in Salem


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July 21, 1694, Reuters staff writer

SALEM, Mass — Over 60 Puritans have been killed today as the death toll rises on both sides of the conflict in Essex County. The Naumkeag people have also suffered, having lost 14 warriors and two other members of their tribe since the fighting began a month ago.

“We were here first,” said a Naumkeag warrior who spoke with us on the condition of anonymity. “The Puritans are terrorists who oppress and kill us as well as their own kind. Their women are tortured and hanged and made to wear funny bonnets. Their morality is positively medieval.”

According to a treaty created by the sovereign state of England, the Naumkeags are entitled to most of Essex County. The Puritans are allowed to remain within Salem city limits, but in practice have been regulated to Gallows Hill as the Naumkeags have moved in on the other neighborhoods after carpet-bombing them with pig’s bladder balloons full of poison gas, as well as long-distance trebuchet shrapnel bombs. Pickering Wharf is now blockaded by the Naumkeags.

“They were asking for it,” the same warrior said. “They elected a mayor who is known to be hostile to our kind, and they refused to come to the peace talks in England. It all started because a white person killed three of our teenagers, so it’s really their fault. All we want is peace. We tell them we’re going to bomb them, and they still don’t leave their homes. They keep shooting muskets in the air instead. One of the bullets actually hit someone. They will not rest until we are all dead.”

“We could not make it to the peace talks,” Puritan mother Chastity Brown explained from her kitchen near Gallows Hill. “They blockaded the port and took our boats. They bombed our gardens. We have no food now. Over a hundred of our children have been killed by the airstrikes. They tell us to surrender, but if we surrender we don’t know what they will do to us. They have already taken so much of our land and killed so many of our people. They tell us it’s their land, but I was born here too. My father was born here.” Brown stops and begins to sob. “They shot my son as he was playing kickball in a field.”

Over 500 Puritans have died since the conflict in Essex County started. A Naumkeag chief recently called for “the killing of all mothers who breed little Puritan snakes,” and about 50 Naumkeags have recently taken to a hilltop to watch the long-distance bombings with a spyglass and cheer when something or someone gets hit. “#bloodforblood,” one Naumkeag elder wrote in the sky via smoke signal.

The English government has provided the pig’s-bladder balloon bombs and trebuchets, and several English banks have made agreements to invest in experimental weapons and land-clearing devices, since the Naumkeags are excellent innovators.

A faction of high-ranking Anglican dispensationalists believe that the Bible foretells the second coming of Christ to Salem, but that this will only happen if Salem is not populated by the Puritans, who are their enemies.

Christian Zionism and Judas Iscariot



I grew up hearing a lot about the Israeli-Palestian conflict, and it was always the same story: the Palestinians were the aggressors, Israel barely holding its own and hoping to eventually settle conflicts that had been there for thousands of years. But Israel was for Jews, that much was clear. Because the Babylonians took their land, then the Romans, then all kinds of other people. And, most importantly, because the Bible foretold the Jews returning to Israel (or something) and because this would have something to do with the second coming of Christ. But it was complicated. There was a lot of fighting. War In the Middle East. Peace Talks. All those headlines.

In brief, Israel needed its land back and was fighting to make that happen, which was good progress as far as most people I knew were concerned. But when I actually read the Bible, that seemed a little weird. Or at least when I read the gospels. Jesus was teaching during a time when many Jews, including at least one of his own disciples, were Zealots. Zealots wanted the Roman invaders off their land, and were willing to fight to make that happen. But Jesus said things that were completely anti-Zealot. Such as “render unto Caesar,” “if any man compels you to go one mile, go with him two,” and “love your enemies.” In the context of a people group oppressed and frequently compelled by invaders, this was anti-intuitive, and not all his disciples were keen on it.

Some historians and theologians, in fact, argue that Judas Iscariot was a Zealot, and not just any kind of Zealot, but a sicarious, an assassin who was willing to kill not just the Romans, but Jews who didn’t go along with getting rid of the Romans. Read this way, it certainly puts an interesting spin on things. Alerted by the authorities, who in turn have been alerted by Judas, Roman soldiers and temple guards show up to take Jesus prisoner, Judas in tow. Peter fights back by whacking someone’s ear off. Before anyone can do anything else, Jesus rebukes Peter, and goes off with the soldiers. Judas is upset and hangs himself. A very quick change of heart for such a heinous action, unless you assume Judas was betting on the other disciples fighting back, betting on Jesus acting in self-defense and from there sparking a larger Zealot following to rise against the Romans and re-gain Israel. Jesus could do it: Judas had seen the crowds adore him. But that wasn’t Jesus’ style.

So this is why it is puzzling that Christians are defending civilian killings of Palestinians in the recent Gaza airstrikes. It’s puzzling even if you accept the premise that all of Israel should belong to the Israelis. It’s even more puzzling when you look at the map of Israel over the last 60 years and see how the Palestinian territories have shrunk — it’s not the Jews who are being invaded this time; this time, they’re the invaders.

So it seems to have less to do with theology than with religious propaganda. If you can convince a group of people that something is a necessary part of their religion, they’ll go along with it, no matter how many children are being killed in the process. Of course, this is easier if you label the Palestinian extremists who kill two citizens “terrorists,” while maintaining that Palestinian death tolls of hundreds of children, bombing of hospitals, using chemical weapons on neighborhoods, calling for the killing of Palestianian mothers and so on, are all part of a war, a two-sided conflict. And justified, at that. Jesus would have wanted it that way. Someone in your territory kills one of ours, well, our military will kill a hundred of you. The true meaning of “turn the other cheek,” no doubt. A hundred eyes for an eye.

But maps of invasions don’t lie. Civilian casualty numbers don’t lie. They’re cold and hard, removed from the spin of either side, and they should trigger appropriate condemnation from all people — Christians included.



Halcyon Heline Botkin


IMG_8457My grandmother died today. It was strange, in a way, because I had just witnessed by first-ever live birth, racing my sister’s contractions in my red Subaru the two-plus hours to Moscow. I saw the baby’s name for the first time inked on the whiteboard and my eyes got a little misty: Norah Katherine, keeping the tradition of having family names as middle names. Norah followed Chloe Ann (after her paternal grandmother) and Elaina Halcyon (after her maternal great-grandmother).

My name is Katherine Heline Botkin. Heline is my grandmother’s maiden name, because my grandmother’s brothers died before they could pass on the name. Perhaps it was this, or perhaps it was the many other reasons that I thought we were alike, but I always felt a keen kinship with my grandmother. She had stories — so many stories, from so many places, especially given the time period. She loved her stories, and she used to tell me: make memories, because they will keep you company when you are old and blind. In the end, even her memory failed her, but until that point she was cheerful and happy — blithe, my grandfather called her.

She told us stories about growing up on the farm in Iowa, the depression, about the war, about going to the city and to carefully-chaperoned dances with soldiers. She told us about working in the fashion industry in New York, and how it was not quite as glamorous as she expected. She told us about going to Europe after the war, and staying there to work for two years. She told us about zipping around Paris on the back of a moped, about traveling the ocean by steamer, about galavanting around the United States and then getting married in her 30s and having four children in quick succession. She showed us the gowns she designed and made, using silk given to her by one of her suitors before she married. She wrote letters to the soldiers, many, many letters — among them her brother, who died, and the man who became her husband and eventually my grandfather.

Before I was old enough to be interested in her stories, she showed me how to sew, how to make paper dolls, even how to drink beer — she gave me my first taste of beer, which at the time I thought was horrid. But most of all she showed me kindness and love, and I used to sit on her lap and trace the veins on her hands, look at her turquoise rings, push at her wrinkly skin. She let me do all this, smiling at me. She wrote me letters, many, many over the years, and I saved all of them because I knew one day she would be gone, and all I would have of her would be our memories.

Kilmainham Gaol


I’m IMG_7705goingIMG_7722 to visit my friend Emma, who married an Irish guy a few years ago and is now living in London while he goes on TV to talk about his father and the corruption that took place in Dublin not long ago. I know Emma pretty well, and she’s more passionate about Irish independence than anyone I’ve ever met. So in preparation for my visit with her, I took the bus down to Kilmainham Gaol, and toured the facility where the 1916 executions of political prisoners took place. Those executions turned the tide of opinion for Irish independence, particularly the last one, James Connolly, who had severe gangrene and had been given a day or two to live. Not to be denied their execution, the jailers had him delivered from the hospital, carried in on a stretcher, propped up and shot by firing squad.

The jail housed a number of other political prisoners, among them Grace Plunkett, who married her fiancé Joseph Plunkett in the jail’s chapel a few hours before his own execution. Grace was imprisoned during the civil war of 1923 in the same jail, and, being a talented artist and cartoonist, smuggled in paints that she used to decorate the walls of her cell.

The jail operated over a period of over a hundred years, beginning in the late 1700s, and a number of the prisoners were thieves who stole food during the Great Hunger. Women and children were brought in by the thousands then, and had to sleep crowded together in the damp limestone hallways. They were allotted food in jail, however, so they did not starve, although some of them did die from the filthy conditions.

IMG_7741The jail’s museum contained a number of notable items, among them an executioner’s business card. This particular executioner was apparently quite proud of his ability to calculate the proper drop in a hanging, and would pass his card out to the press at the public hangings.

One of the political prisoners of 1916 who was condemned to the firing squad, and subsequently pardoned after public opinion met James Connolly’s death with such horror, went on to become the prime minister of Ireland. The last to leave the jail at its closing, Eamon de Valera was the first to tour it when it was re-opened to the public in 1966, 50 years after the 1916 uprising.



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