Cat in Times Square

George in Times Square / © Deborah Julian

Traveling with George in New York City

Of course, I was aware as you would be that a cat’s reaction would be different than mine. Until George walked into Times Square on a leash and told us about it, it wasn’t as dramatic. 
In the illustrated cat books, Travels with George – which I was lucky enough to transcribe for him, having the advantage of fingers and prehensile thumbs – he shares what it was like to visit Paris and New York City with his human tour guides.

His friend, Billy, a black cat, comes along for the the ride.

The trip to France happened first. It was accidental. George sneaked into luggage because he hated the idea of being left behind with cat sitters.

He did not know what a “Paris” was. By the time he returned to America, he acquired the same passion for travel many of us in the other species have.

When costs convinced his people that a “staycation” made the most sense when vacation time came around again, the New York he’d only glimpsed from this apartment window grew much larger and more real.

Getting Around the Big Apple

Because he wouldn’t know where to begin or what to look for in the city, George got to see the places people want to see. He enjoyed Central Park the most, with all the grass and trees. Less noise and crowding let him savor the smells and revel in the feel of grass beneath his paws.

At Conservatory Water, he and Billy discovered a duckling piloting a boat.

After lunch, they lounged in a rowboat, recalling their first boat ride on the Seine.

The rest of New York City had his brain racing, trying to take it all in and understand. It was exciting, sometimes too exciting.

A Stroll Down 42nd Street

Cats and Library Lion / © Deborah Julian

On the day George and Billy ended up in Times Square, they were taken on the subway to 42nd Street.

The NYC Subway was not George or Billy’s favorite adventure.

Oh, it was filled with smells, a cat’s most trustworthy guides, but they were strange.

“Look at that,” one of his human escorts said, “he’s thrilled when you open a can of smelly fish, but the subway station, yuck!”

“I’m with him,” the woman answered.

And it wasn’t just the smells. George hated the noise too. It was louder and screechier than anything he’d heard before.

Soon, he found himself being humanlike, impatient for the next subway train to arrive and get him out of there.

Hurrying up the steps on 42nd Street, he was relieved to see sunlight again. It was  noisy still, but not as much, and the smells were nothing to rejoice about. But after a trip through the underground, it was almost a rose garden.

Billy saw the lions guarding the entrance to the New York Public Library. He jumped on a chair and looked at the giant. Unable to resist the highest available point, George got all the push he could from his hind legs, making the leap from tabletop to lion on his first try.

A safe distance made people watching enjoyable. George surveyed the scene from atop a lion while Billy, as he so often did, looked on with envy.

Another Day Another Park

Cats on a Carousel in Bryant Park, New York
City © Deborah Julian
Finally persuade to dismount the ferocious lion guarding the New York Public Library, their people walked them a short distance to a surprising park tucked in between towering buildings behind the library. 
They found a shady spot on the lawn, and his people got out the water and plastic bowls. Everyone had a good drink. George and Billy took catnaps while the people did what they seemed to have a bottomless appetite for: they talked.
George always found waking up easier than Billy did, easing from there to here with barely a stutter.
Billy, on the other hand, staggered along behind with the woman while they made their way to the merry-go-round. 
“How would you guys like to try this?” the man asked.
George blinked, confused by the question. Try what?
“Come on. It’ll be fun.”
“You taking those cats on the ride?” an unfamiliar woman asked when they approached the carousel.
“Yes,” the man said. “We think they’ll like it.”
“No rule says you can’t,” she conceded.
Soon, Billy was settled enough to consider a nap beside George on a brightly colored, upholstered bench.
“I think getting on a horse might be too much,” George’s woman said, giving his chin a stroke.
She seemed to think his climbing up on a lion, the king of beasts and his ancestor, meant he might want to ride a horse. But no, the bench was soft, and the carousel was full of colors.
Then, it began to turn. Twisting to orient himself to this strange experience, George discovered something shocking: a very large cat bobbing up and down behind him, with a saddle.

End of a Long Day in New York City

After eating some snacks and relaxing in Bryant Park, appreciating how far the buildings reached into the sky, George noticed it was getting dark.
“Wait until you see this,” the man teased. “Nothing else like Times Square, anywhere else in the world.”
But George felt an increasing fear as they walked the next block. Maybe it had been too long a day, or maybe he would never be prepared for the flood, the rush of lights, sound and movement that came over him like a kind of avalanche.
Suddenly, colors began flashing overhead, beaming off the walls. Boom-boom noises meshed with people’s voice as if every human in the world was talking at once to penetrate the explosions. Cars and people and lights on the walls raced in every direction at the same time.
“Oh, dear, Times Square seems like a little too much for Georgie,” the woman said. 
She picked him up and embraced him protectively.
“We better catch a cab from here.”
And so, rescued, George and Billy’s day in New York ended with a cab ride whisking them from the insanity of Times Square to the comfort of home.
“Maybe we’ll try Times Square again when you’re more rested,” the man said.
But the woman gave him a look.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
And neither did George.
******
George and Billy invite you to check out their books and pictures from their travels by clicking here.
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Pierre Bonnard Cats, an Impressionist Afternoon

After Lunch with Pierre Bonnard / © Deborah Julian

Pierre Bonnard Cats

French impressionist Pierre Bonnard didn’t paint many cats, at least not as many among his canvases as I’d have liked.

Bonnard is one of my favorites. So are cats. I wish they’d gotten together more often.

Bonnard’s artwork is enhanced by his practice of taking photographs he could work from slowly and deliberately, instead of relying on live models.

The results are lush, colorful paintings that show how his methods gave his brilliance free rein to create.

The White Cat is his best known cat painting. It’s an early work, though, finished before his colorist abilities were well-developed. It’s still shows a wonderful awareness of what it means to be a cat.

Later, Bonnard depicted his family’s pets, then thriving in his country home. Most often, the dogs got the best of the show, but if you’re lucky enough to spend as much time looking at Bonnard’s work as I have , you find cats inside the tapestry-like pools of mingling colors too.

It’s all in the nature of the beasts. Dogs are out there brazenly looking for attention while cats make you earn it. Or maybe they shared a belief that, in photography’s earliest days, an image captured  sucked away their souls.

Cats certainly don’t feel that way now. They must have gotten over their inhibitions. Almost every one of them I know is either a camera hog or indifferent in pursuit of something grander, like string.

After Lunch with Pierre Bonnard

Call After Lunch with Pierre Bonnard a corrective, a decision by cat artist Deborah Julian to right a wrong. It’s neither thing, of course, but both sound so much more heady than the truth.

The “truth” is that Deborah began creating her Famous Artists’ Cats as a way of easing domestic tensions.

Working as a fine art photographer, she battled in turf wars with her cats, George and Billy, retarding her ability to create, print, cut and mat her street photography. Both found her efforts so interesting, the needed to help or at least inspect the activity closely.

At the intersection with her education in Art History, she asked herself, what if famous artists had my cats?

A simple question launched a cat art project that has gone on to include multiple parodies on Matisse, Degas, Lichtenstein and Bonnard as well as Monet, Van Gogh and Cézanne. Among them, After Lunch with Pierre Bonnard is one of the best.

Deborah makes full use of the richness in Bonnard’s colorful palette as she finds a place at the table for Sam and Billy. The family has finished eating and gone off for strolls and naps, leaving the palace in the hands, excuse me, paws of the cats.

The color and composition in the picture are thrilling to look at. As wall art, it’s as interesting to me as the non-parody artwork by Rauschenberg, Boborelus and Popoius we already have hanging in our home.

What kinds of art do you enjoy seeing on your own walls?

David Stone
Find all of my cat books, including Deborah Julian’s illustrations, on my Amazon Author Page.

Bernie Sanders Pisses Me Off – Here’s Why

What’s Wrong With Bernie Sanders?

Bernie Sanders on CNN 

The political awareness of the average American can be sized up in the length of their attention spans: about a nanosecond longer than your cat’s.

Bernie Sanders has seized on that willful inattention to roll out a sound bite campaign that’s perfect for those who think watching the news on television is a great way to get their information.

Sanders pisses me off because he’s appealing to the worst in Americans, coughing out slogans dreamed up in the shower, favored for their visceral appeal, giving our fellow citizens one more opportunity to think small and vote badly. While feeling self-righteous, just as Bernie does.

But there’s something worse, something ugly and insidious. He tells audiences steeped in mass media cynicism that the system is “rigged” against them.

Did they need another reason not to become active, to dig deeper into the issues, to vote as so many already fail to do?

Sanders’ negativity and cynical approach is bound to turn off a sizable number of voters who will see his inevitable defeat, not as a referendum, but as proof that he was right all along. It’s rigged, even though each of us has an equal opportunity to pull the lever in the voting booth, according to Bernie. So why switch off the TV and get out of your chair? It’s rigged!

Bernie Sanders on the Issues

Race

For my money there is no more critical issue woven into our social fabric than our centuries long failure to deal humanely with race. Race, as any good biologist knows, is not real. It’s an inflated distinction, skin deep, not anything significant in our DNA. But because Americans have never resolved our history of inequality toward minorities of any color, divisions are deep and raw.
Those divisions enflame conversations about the safety net, employment, crime and education. 
Sanders is not silent on these issues. He takes the time to blow them off, acknowledging that minorities barely know who he is let alone support his campaign. His Twelve Steps Forward manifesto says nothing about the racial divide that has been so clearly exposed with our first black president.
You could say the same about gender. Let’s assume that his asinine opinion articles written decades ago reflect ideas he outgrew. Let’s not assume they’ve been replaced by any greater awareness of the problems of gender that tear at our social fabric as badly as those of race, until he shows us they have. 

The Twelve Steps

As these make up Sanders’ manifesto, let’s look at them one at a time.
Bernie Sanders on Twitter
  • Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure. Hooray! President Obama and others have been making this appeal for years. Sanders wants to spend $1 trillion on it. Anyone holding their breath as they cross one of our aging bridges would agree, but Sanders says nothing, as usual, about how. Where would the money come from? He contrasts it with the money wasted on the Bush wars a decade ago and their lingering costs. That aging burden does not resolve this one. And as he surely knows, the American public has recently voted into office representatives far more interested in pouring your tax dollars into the military than into upgrading our aging infrastructure. How will he fix that? Sanders doesn’t say, but his polarizing rhetoric certainly makes the compromises necessary harder to obtain.
  • Reversing Climate Change. Sanders says we should lead the world. Well, we do, but in the wrong direction. Voters have been convinced, according to their actions at the ballot box, that improving the environment will cost jobs and the tradeoff isn’t worth it. How will he convince them otherwise and get them to elect partners willing to work with him? How will he respond to the Third World nations now demanding their right to pollute at will as we have in building their own economies? Here, as in so many other place, Sanders does not recognize much of a universe outside our borders.
  • Creating Worker Co-ops. Here, Bernie strains to infuse the future with his Sixties hippie dreams. I was a hippie too. I love co-ops. I love them so much, I want the the government to keep as far away as possible. Talk about government overreach? Sheesh. Will Bernie get someone to launder my jeans too?
  • Growing the Trade Union Movement. Wouldn’t that be great? But are the workers really interested or should we just mandate it? Many people like me learned from hard experience that the labor unions were not going to help us. The unions lost membership as much from losing our faith as anything else. The monumental corruption was bad enough, but on the street, the self-serving disinterest in the real issues of members turned us off. We weren’t forced out of unions. We left. Sanders needs to sell us on what the unions have to offer that will serve us better than we already do on our own.
  • Raising the Minimum Wage. There are two issues here that Sanders’ oversimplification ignores. First, the congressional budget office has reported that even a raise to a meager $10.10 would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. Are they wrong? If so, how? If not, what will Sanders suggest to counter the job loss? No answers, of course. The second issue is so obvious, it should be in bold: Don’t Americans already support substandard wages every time they walk into Walmart or McDonald’s. If this issue really mattered to most of us, why are we voting with our feet in favor of wages that force full time workers onto welfare? I listened hard but didn’t hear Bernie chastising any of those liberals rallying around him for their spending habits? (I did hear my old hero Phil Ochs singing, “Love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.)
  • Pay Equity for Women Workers. We already have a law that requires it. It fails. Women earn nearly 25% less for the same work as men. What’s he going to do about it besides sloganeering that’s already been done a thousand times? This issue has sickened me for a long time. I want solutions, don’t you? As they say, even the generals claim to hate war. But who does anything  to change it? In the war for fair wages, not Bernie Sanders.
  • Trade Policies that Benefit American Workers. Here, Sanders exposes his naiveté and his isolationism. He rails against international trade agreements without nodding to the fact, demonstrated in studies, that they have been the single most beneficial influence in improving world poverty levels. He also ignores the fact that these agreements have made American companies more competitive. Does he prefer to see workers lose jobs because of declining revenues instead? Apple is the most highly valued company in the world and America’s greatest taxpayer. That would not be so, were it not for trade agreements that make it feasible to operate outside our country, but since Apple sells tons of products to China, shouldn’t they be allowed to employ workers there on a competitive basis too? Join the rest of the world, Bernie. American can’t hog it all under false pretenses anymore. Those days are over.
  • Making College Affordable for All. The simplemindedness of this slogan is dizzying as much as it is disingenuous. Of course college should be affordable for all and probably free. How does he propose to pay for it? He actually does have a plan here, a subtle set of fees on stock transactions. Will it be enough, and what are the real costs anyway? Bernie fails to note that the primary forces driving the skyrocketing cost of education are 1) expanding administration and compensation for it; 2) too many programs offered than make sense or can be paid for; and most subtly 3) the education lobby’s success in convincing Americans that they must go to college, no matter the cost. By the way, a small chunk out of the so-called defense budget would cover it easily, even more easily if anyone clamped down on administrative excesses.
  • Taking on Wall Street. The liberals’ favorite whipping boy or a straw man masking the greed of Americans in general that have led to excesses. It’s a standard with this candidate to blame the big dogs while treating the rabble as made up of innocents. Sanders whines that six Wall Street financial institutions underwrite more than half the mortgages in American and issue two-thirds of the credit cards. Well, so what? Somebody has to. Where specifically is the harm? How would we be better off with others providing these services? Financing homeownership and offering credit to working families used to be considered a service. Sanders fails utterly to explain why it is now an evil. He seems to be attacking success, unless proven otherwise.
  • Healthcare as a Right for All. I couldn’t agree more. He wants a single-payer, Medicare-style system. So do I? But a huge chunk of my fellow citizens disagree and elect representatives who want to repeal what we have, not improve on it. How will he make that happen? President Obama got the best he could, fighting his own party much of the way. How will a polarizing slogan-generator do better? My guess is, he’d do worse because he turns too many key segments of the voting public off with his airy rhetoric.
  • Protecting the Most Vulnerable Americans. He’s talking my language when he says he wants to strengthen the safety net. Many disagree. How do we overcome the obstacles, like the belief that help weakens, rather than strengthens the disadvantaged? Here is where Sanders’ failure to understand the issue of race becomes most apparent. It should be clear to anyone that the reason we don’t have the strong safety net of the Scandinavian countries he adores is the tensions created by our diversity. A huge segment of the voting public does not support increasing the safety net because, from Reagan, “the great communicator,” on, they have been convinced that the benefits all go to “those people,” the “takers” who are undermining our values and stealing from the “makers.” It’s baloney, but Reagan and the Republicans who followed have sold it effectively. How do we get around the hump of embedded racism and class discrimination? How would Sanders do that when he’s barely aware of its existence?
  • Real Tax Reform. Here’s something we’ve heard about for a long time. The tax system needs to be more fair. Sadly, Sanders defaults to the standard liberal line of bagging corporations “and their CEOs,” stimulating class warfare without so much as a nod at the vast complexity of the problem and what a fair system might look like – except the standard, liberal “tax the rich” mantra. Once you’ve sown distrust in government, as Bernie Sanders has: “It’s rigged.” – you’ve polluted the conversation about fairness. If it’s all rigged, how can anyone trust the government to use whatever they pay wisely?

Conclusion

Bernie Sanders can’t and shouldn’t be elected president. Just among Democrats, Martin O’Malley and Hilary Clinton far exceed him in experience, savvy and effectiveness in office. 
What he can do is continue to damage  the process with his cynical sloganeering and empty suit approach to solutions. This pisses me off. My generation and our values are badly represented by this man. We can do better, and the last thing we need at the head of the pack is deliberate polarizer.
Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page.

Wikipedia: Esther Hicks’ PR Page

Esther Hicks 2009 / Flickr

Esther Hicks Versus Wikipedia

The trustworthiness of Wikipedia as a resource for objective information has been questioned, almost since the online encyclopedia’s invention. Their page devoted to Esther Hicks is a yummy banquet for doubters of the online encyclopedia’s reliability.

Recently, news stories exposed tactics used by some of Wikipedia’s volunteer contributors that boost celebrity standings by messing with history as if rewriting a problematic novel.

None of the so-called volunteers were paid by Wikipedia. They were paid by the public relations firms the celebrities hired to spruce up their images.

When I read that story, I remembered how sad it was to see how badly the encyclopedia misrepresented Esther Hicks’ story, skipping more facts than inserting untruths, but deliberately legitimizing her by anointing her claims as unquestioned facts.

Going back for a fresh look, I found a situation even worse than I remembered.

Some History

Struck by the extreme nature of “truths” claimed by Esther Hicks and her husband Jerry, who died in 2011 – but never on their website, I began researching their history, sharing with other skeptics and, more significant, talking with people who worked with them and knew them well.

Few public figures are in private what they seem in public. That’s obvious. We all have our public and private faces. With celebrities like Esther and Jerry Hicks, the contrast can be considerable. In few such situations is the difference as great.

I followed a conversation thread on Wikipedia, at a time when Esther Hicks’ popularity was soaring, where a representative from the Abraham-Hicks organization relentlessly argued for a positive portrayal of the couple. Her nearly religious zeal seems to have worked, the result being an encyclopedia page that isn’t just inaccurate, but turned to a virtual ad for Abraham-Hicks Publications.

Inaccuracies are posted as truth and Esther Hicks’ claim to channel “Abraham,” a group of “nonphysical entities” is verified by Wikipedia with actual quotes from “Abraham,” as if the editor actually spoke to the spirits personally.

The thrust of the encyclopedia page is straight out of the Abraham-Hicks playbook.

Forget for a moment the question of why a celebrity whose presentations are claimed to be enriched by “infinite intelligence” needs to fudge the records, but ask yourself what an encyclopedia is supposed to do.

I always believed that an encyclopedia is a reliable source of factual information on a topic or a person, objective and well-rounded. In this, Wikipedia fails, at least with Esther Hicks and other subjects diluted by public relations.

Wikipedia’s Romance with Esther Hicks

I started out with an advantage. Having researched Abraham-Hicks over the years, the gaps in the stories, the contradictions and dubious claims are mostly well-known to me. Wikipedia takes the Info-romance to a new level of dishonesty.
To be clear, neither Esther Hicks nor anyone else in the Abraham-Hicks organization is responsible for what appears in the online encyclopedia. Wikipedia is. If the organization has insufficient controls to ensure accuracy and reliability, the flaws aren’t confined to Esther Hicks. 
Let’s start with the obvious untruth in the first sentence. Esther Hicks, Wikipedia tells us “…is an American inspirational speaker…” That she is not.
Rather than the Tony Robbins style presenter this makes her appear to be, Esther is much more like an medium presiding over a mass seance. After a brief prep before a live audience, she pauses to take deep breaths on stage that usher “Abraham” into her brain. She calls this, “letting them in.” She no longer speaks as Esther Hicks, according to her, but as “Abraham.”
The concept of Abraham is squishy and has changed over time, but Esther Hicks’ claim is that this group of roughly one-hundred nonphysical entities (dead people, including Jesus) coalesce to deposit “blocks of thought” in her mind, which she then, faithfully if unwittingly, interprets live. 
That’s not inspirational speaking. That’s mediumship and spirit channeling. 
Since we are not concerned with Esther Hicks’ credibility here, we will leave it at that. Wikipedia throws its own credibility in the gutter with a major misrepresentation in the first sentence.
Next up is a spurious claim that adds to its inaccuracy by what it leaves out. “In 1980,” Wikipedia tells us, “she married Jerry Hicks, then a successful Amway distributor.”
Jerry was certainly not “then a successful Amway distributor.” That’s a puff. The truth is that Jerry married into that success with his fourth admitted wife. With the end of that marriage, Jerry’s Amway “success” went away. 
Shoring up Jerry Hicks’ credibility, Wikipedia continues, “In his early life Jerry Hicks had been a circus acrobat for two years in Cuba, and then, beginning in 1948, had toured for 20 years as a musician, MC, and comedian.” 
All this comes from claims made by Jerry and Esther Hicks in the few interviews they granted. No one has been able to independently verify them, and when the Independent followed up on a suggestion from Jerry about another celebrity with whom he’d been acquainted during his performing career, Rip Taylor said he’d never known Jerry Hicks. The comedian added that he remembered everybody he met.

A Conversation with Spirits, as Reported by Wikipedia

Probably the most startling section from Esther Hicks’ Wikipedia page is this one:

“Jerry and Esther never used the word channeling,” Abraham clarifies. “It is used when applied to them, but they have never used it, because it means many things of which they are not, you see.” 

“You could leave the channeling out of it. Call it inspiration; that’s all it is. You don’t call the basketball player a channeler, but he is; he’s an extension of Source Energy. You don’t call the surgeon a channeler, but he is. You don’t call the musician, the magnificent master musician, you don’t call him a channeler, but he is. He’s channeling the broader essence of who he is into the specifics of what he is about.”

Note: There is no caveat here. Wikipedia is quoting directly from “Abraham,” as if a conversation with spirits had actually taken place. In reality, these words were delivered by Esther Hicks, posing as the alleged channel for spirits she has named, collectively, “Abraham.”
Wikipedia has verified Esther Hicks’ claims without a shred of doubt or skepticism – or proof.
As a funny aside, you might find it useful to know that, early in her channeling career, Esther Hicks spoke with an eerie accent when performing as Abraham. That’s a little strange, since she said she was interpreting blocks of thought delivered by the entity, not surrendering her vocal chords. She has since dropped the accent, no explanation offered.

Conclusion

There’s more, including Wikipedia’s casual claim that Esther Hicks has “…co-authored nine books with her husband Jerry Hicks,” when she has said that at least the first law of attraction book was virtually forced on her by Abraham and Jerry insisted that no editing is allowed by their publisher, Hay House, is misleading at best. 
In explaining the dust up over Esther Hicks’ being edited out of The Secret, Wikipedia happily accepts the Hicks’ version of events without question, concluding the entire encyclopedia page as a marketing coup for the spirit channel.
Have you experiences with Wikipedia you can share, pro and con?
Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page.

Monet Cat: Visit From a Black Cat

Monet Cat in the Garden / © Deborah Julian Art

I love Claude Monet, not as much as I love cats, but enough to have appreciated his paintings in more museum visits than I can count.

We all have images in our mind’s of Monet’s art, especially the water lilies, but I can remember when I saw one of his paintings up close for the first time.

It was a mural-sized lily pond occupying a wall at the old Museum of Modern Art in New York City. A whole section was then dedicated exclusively to Monet. Because another was given over to Henri Matisse, a visit there was like a stroll through heaven.

I can also remember the first time I met the cat my wife brought home to live with us. In the middle of an inspection tour, George peered over the top of our bed when he heard me step in. His look said, “Oh, you live here too?”

I wasn’t sure he was willing to share my wife.

But I also remember, vividly, the first time I saw Billy, the ultra sweet black cat making up the feline part of the art in the picture above. There he was, an abandoned waif, recently rescued by some wonderful people in Irondequoit, New York, in a cage waiting to be adopted.

He had big, soft eyes. And his tail was in his water dish.

Claude Monet Meets Billy the Cat

Deborah Julian’s original creation of images for Famous Artists’ Cats needed a Monet to join the popular cat art pictures of Van Gogh’s Bedroom, Matisse Goldfish, Cezanne’s Still Life and more.

What could be more perfect than a black cat contrasted with the delicate, floral tones of Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France. Monet spent the final decades of his life there, not just painting but also designing the gardens. We owe most of Monet art we love to his years there.

Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Museum once hosted a fantastic show of just his last works, nothing more, showing his evolution toward expressionism.

Picking Billy for this challenge was right for two important reasons. First, he liked looking at art on our walls, especially Matisse. We don’t have any Monet prints, but he stared at Matisse. Did he appreciate it as art? Who knows? He definitely liked looking at it.

Another quality of Billy’s, unique among our cats, was a habit he had of looking at himself in our bathroom mirror. Up he’d jump from the toilet seat onto the sink and give himself a long look.

We joked that he was admiring his own beauty, but we have no way of knowing what inspired him. But self-admiration is as good an explanation as any other.

So, there Deborah put Billy, admiring his own reflection in a pond in Monet’s Garden. The whole scene is filled with beauty.

Who could blame Billy for appreciating his own unique contribution?

American Black Cat Becomes Chat Noir

Chat Noir / © Deborah Julian

How My Black Cat Became French

I usually don’t remember where the ideas for my stories originate. Mostly, they emerge out of a disorderly mess of inspirations, successful because they have a little more heft.

But I remember where the story that resulted in Chat Noir originated. It wasn’t, as you might expect, in France.

We spent a week in Amsterdam one year, excited about its canals, history and freewheeling atmosphere. Art freaks that we are, we planned to devote lots of times to the historic Rijksmuseum and, of course, to an otherworldly walk through the art of Vincent Van Gogh.

Strange it is, then, that what I remember most vividly about Amsterdam is the cats. Yes, the cats.

We’re cat freaks as much as we’re art freaks. I proudly claim the title of First Crazy Male Cat Lady. And missing our own two cats, Billy and George, might have influenced us unduly, but it seemed like Amsterdam was the most cat friendly city we visited.

Cities in Italy, Rome and Florence especially, are great for cats, and stateside, San Francisco harbors a rich population of felines. But Amsterdam stood out.

Not only did we see cats doing their thing when we walked in the neighborhoods, but we saw the accommodations people made for them. Outside many second story windows were small platforms that looked, as far as we could tell, like sentry posts for the resident cat.

Like I said, missing Billy and George might have made us borderline psychotic, but if not crazy for cats, what insanity is more worthy?

Travel With Cats

You can see what a short stride it was from there to made up stories about cats who travel. My first book, about cats who become accidental tourists, takes place in Paris. I picked Paris because the sites where I could bring the cats were more popularly known. That is, I was compromising because I thought (rightly) that it would be better for sales.

The story done, I knew great illustrations would make it so much better, and although she’d never done illustrations before, more different than you’d guess from her popular cat art, I persuaded Deborah to bring the book to life with over a dozen full page illustrations of the guys viewing the rooftops of Paris on their first morning, cruising the Seine in a bateaux and, of course, what became the big star – discovering the cat posters in a kiosk one evening while strolling along the Left Bank.

We went on to create a sequel together, Travels with George: New York. It all started with the happy cats roaming around Amsterdam.

Brighton Beach Boulevard: How An El Makes A Neighborhood

Met Foods / © Deborah Julian 

Few places in New York City or elsewhere are as completely defined by an architectural element as is Brighton Beach, especially the eponymous boulevard bisecting it unequally.

Elevated subway tracks darken every one of the four lanes, making an unofficial border in this part of Brooklyn, as they have for nearly a hundred years. Subways define something important about Brooklyn. Forget for now that an elevated track doesn’t fit the definition of “subway” anywhere but in New York.

For Brighton Beach in its earlier phase, the subway connected it with the rest of New York City, bringing sunbathers to its deep, white sand beaches, and carrying them away after dark. Quieter than its rowdy neighbor, Coney Island, Brighton Beach was a place for wealthy Manhattanites to escape the urban heat and odors.

Across the water, New Jersey’s shore is visible. Cruise ships and freighters slip by, into and out of the Atlantic.

But for people who live here, perceptions are much different.

Glimpse of the Past / © Deborah Julian

El on the Border

When you live in Brighton Beach, one border, unofficial, is the boulevard with the huge footprint of steel, noise and shadow extending from one end to the other.

As the fine art photo on the left shows, the division is clear. Although more residents now are Russian, the neighborhood seems rooted, changeless, in the shadow of the El.

Fashions have changed, but it’s unlikely the street scene was much different sixty years ago.

Sixty years ago, Brighton Beach was a community of formerly European Jews, many of them holocaust survivors. Once popular music idols, Neil Sedaka and Neil Diamond, grew up with the elevated railroad as part of the community consciousness.

There is no right or wrong side of the tracks in Brighton Beach. What you have is an oceanside retreat, a broad boardwalk lined with restaurants where you can enjoy food and and drinks while  watching waves afloat over the blue Atlantic, and on the other side, a steadier community that has been home to the city’s most powerful feature – its melting pot.

Europe has rarely and only in isolated pockets been safe for Jews, but when the situation became completely intolerable, survival at stake, Brighton Beach offered a home. Russians fled here when the Soviet Union’s collapse left their homeland chaotic and impoverished.

Elevated All the Way

Going to Brighton Beach / © Deborah Julian

Not long after the Q Train settles underground after crossing the Manhattan Bridge, it finds its way into daylight, making a trail across Brooklyn.

Reminding us that these tracks originally offered passage for a railway, the Q avoids grade crossings by running below street level, although not under cover.

Riders pass Prospect Park and several neighborhoods, each distinguishable by building styles and suggestions of poverty, affluence and stations in-between.

I always enjoy this ride, watching Brooklyn like a travelogue, on a subway without the characteristic I like least – the confinement and darkness of tunnels. Above ground seems cleaner too. The air is definitely fresher, light streaming in the window during the day relaxing. Even at night, the city lights lend a sense of freedom.

Before the line turns sharply west to meet the ocean, you’ve been lifted above the surrounding buildings. The sense of arrival makes announcements unnecessary.

Brighton Beach Boulevard

You will want to see the beaches, the boardwalk only occasionally disrupted by obese people defiantly in bikinis. You might take a stroll on down to Coney, an area undergoing a renewal.

But don’t miss the boulevard. The Russian stores are little adventures, and in the markets, unfamiliar foods will tempt you. My recommendation is: save room for pickles. If you’re one of those unfortunate types who don’t appreciate a perfectly developed pickle, you have my sympathy. Albeit a small one, you’ll miss a bit of paradise.

Enjoy the deep shadows of the El as it shadows the way and frequently fills the blocks with the rumble of trains. Understand how much this is like it was once upon a time and, more than almost anywhere else, still is.

Brighton Beach remains an attractive mix of past and present, grime and clarity, routine and beauty.

Passing: Brighton Beach / © Deborah Julian

David Stone
Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page.

Why Science Has a Problem with the Afterlife

The Bill Nye Problem 

It’s unsettling. I love science. It bothers me to hear respected scientists take the most unscientific approach to considering what is generally called “the afterlife,” although the idea covers a much broader ground than the old religious belief in life after death.

This morning, I was listening to a really enjoyable book about evolution, Undeniable by Bill Nye, the “science guy” from television. The kick start for this generally delicious book was a debate Nye had with a proselytizer of “creation science,” which he explains has little relationship to science, but a lot to do with “the book.”

Related: David Stone’s Bookshelf on Amazon

Nye has an engaging style that comes off well in an audiobook, like it does on television. He has fun wondering who Noah, his wife and children mated with to repopulate the world after the flood since, being the only humans still living, their choices were extremely limited.

He also wonders how that pair of kangaroos who survived the flood on Noah’s arc, along with only 14,000 other animals and 6 caretakers, hopped all the way from Mount Ararat in Turkey down either Africa or the Arabian Peninsula or across Asia before bouncing over the vast, empty ocean to Australia. How did they do it without leaving a single trace of themselves along the way, no bones, no colonies, nothing?

Most of what he has to say is more scientific, of course, and he finds his way to a bottom line about science. That is, scientific discoveries in evolution may be exciting, but the real proof of evolutionary discovery is in how it leads us to predict the future. Creation science is not science because it can’t be used to predict anything, but real science shows us how evolution brought us and the world around us to its current state of development. More important, it points out where we are heading with bracing accuracy.

Scientist Hangup: If I Can’t See It, It Ain’t There

Bill Nye, Science Guy – Wikipedia

Like I wrote above, I love science. But most scientists have a problem with nonphysical realities. This may be natural because only physical realities that can be observed are in their realm. What’s unnatural is how readily so many abandon the scientific approach when it comes to matters outside their areas of concern, but touching or integrating with them.

I was dismayed to hear Bill Nye fall into that trap.

The first claim that made my critical faculties light up was Nye’s denial of the validity of personal experiences that don’t match his notions.

For me, the most salient feature of science is a commitment to keeping an open mind to the evidence, whether we like what it tells us or not. That’s how a brilliant young man named Charles Darwin came upon evolution, after all, and how Einstein found gravity waves. If you keep your mind open to the best evidence, it leads to the truth.

So it was that I was startled to hear Nye’s response to people who tell him they are not afraid of death.

If It Doesn’t Fit, I Don’t Buy It

“I just don’t buy it,” he says.

Why? Because fear of death is a cornerstone of his ideas about evolution. He thinks that fear drives people to live longer than their natural breeding cycles, unlike a salmon, and further into delusions about eternal life.

So, Bill Nye decided that his belief trumped reported experience. Those claiming they don’t fear death must be wrong. Bill Nye, the science guy, says so.

Well, think again, Bill. I’m one of them. I have no fear of death, but faced with some of the circumstances he postulates as proof that we all fear death, I totally dread the idea of pain and injury from being smashed into by a car. Of dying, not so much. I figure I’ll be gone, one way or another, and fearing it wastes time and good will.

Although there have been times in my life when I dreaded death, as in – I hate the idea that the world will go on and I’ll miss all the good stuff that’s coming. I’d dearly miss the first green leaves of spring and the warm hug of someone I love. That’s not fear. That’s life loving regret because I know that time will come.

Taking it further, Nye reports on his aunt and a respected colleague who experienced dementia as they neared death as proof that death itself can easily be explained as a winding down of the machine, its functions failing. He misses two important points.

Many people, my father included, remain mentally clear until entering the final days of the death process, and others whose minds deteriorate remain physically sound. So, if the machine fails, it does so unevenly. But I do think the cop out to aging as a long, slow deterioration is narrow and too simple.

People rebound. Cancers clear up. Minds clear. It’s not the primary narrative, but it happens.

A Flaw In Their Thinking, A Big One

The other point is, I believe, a more dangerous and poisonous thread within science that, unable to deal at all with nonphysical realities, declares certainly that they don’t exist. In other words, dead is dead because there aren’t any nonphysical components because… well, because science can’t see them.

On the other hand, and this is the troubling part, mainstream science simply refuses to observe the evidence. But as the prosecuting attorneys like to say, there are mountains of it.

In Spirit on the WaterBob Dylan wrote, “You ever seen a ghost? No. But you have heard of them.”

Haven’t we all?

Does any serious person with an open mind – okay, there aren’t that many – does anyone fitting that description doubt that the thousands upon thousands of ghost stories and sightings over the centuries have some basis in reality? Having seen a ghost myself, verified by a second person independently, I know they are there. So do millions of other people.

But mainstream science, and specifically Bill Nye, says, “No.”

Thousands of documented near death experiences, statistically shown to be consistent across time and continents by Dr. Jeffrey Long? All hallucinations.

Why? Because they can’t be proven by investigation or observation, which needs a kind of Catch 22 working for it. Since these experiences are nonphysical with spirits leaving the bodies they’ve shared, they aren’t observable as physical events. Ergo, they never happen.

Is this science or closed-mindedness?

Probably the biggest Mount Everest of evidence that science has refused to observe – the intriguing, voluminous histories of life between lives collected by Dr. Michael Newton and his followers. In three engaging books, Newton and others report in digested form what they have learned from hypnotic regressions, not just into past lives but into the crucial interstices between them.

There’s a lot more to learn, but over 10,000 recorded sessions, we are supposed to believe, from a scientific point of view, don’t amount to a hill of beans. The beans, of course, are always physical.

Conclusion

I singled out Bill Nye only because reading his book got me thinking. Nye is one of the most readable and entertaining science writers I’ve ever read. I will buy and read more of his books. But it continues to strike me as so odd the he joins the lockstep march as if it is terribly important to science to go into denial about the evidence supporting the idea of an afterlife and other related nonphysical conditions.

The closed-mindedness keeps capable thinkers and researchers on the sidelines. It’s a waste I think, as is all deliberate abandonment of learning.

Do you have an opinion on this topic?

David Stone
Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page