"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Silas Marner–A Moral Tale

Silas Marner, written by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) in 1861 is a tale of money, greed, and the divisions of class in early 19th century England; but it is also a profoundly moral and Christian story where people do the right thing.

Silas Marner

Silas Marner was forced to leave his village because he was wrongfully accused of theft.  A Calvinist and man of strict rectitude and moral principle, he left Lantern Yard a bitter and resentful man.  He  settled in Raveloe, another small town to the south where he became a weaver.   He lived alone and never forgot the injustices done to him.  He mistrusted everyone, refused all but commercial engagements, and as a result began to be thought of as a conjurer.  His seemingly miraculous cure of a villager thanks to his knowledge of the medicinal properties of herbs gave him immediate respect and social status; but because he refused all requests for assistance, only wanting to return to is solitary life, he became even more suspect and then once again shunned.

He was a talented weaver and his embroidered linens were in great demand; and over the years he became moderately wealthy; but choosing to live frugally he spent little of it.  Instead he kept his gold hidden in the floor of his cottage; and every night he spread the guineas on the table to look at and feel them.  Although Marner is often portrayed as a miser, he is a much more nuanced and complex character.  The monetary value of the gold meant nothing to him.  It was marker like stripes on a prison wall which delineated his limited and painful life.


                www.ebay.co.uk
Gradually the guineas, the crowns, and the half-crowns grew to a heap, and Marner drew less and less for his own wants, trying to solve the problem of keeping himself strong enough to work sixteen hours a-day on as small an outlay as possible. Have not men, shut up in solitary imprisonment, found an interest in marking the moments by straight strokes of a certain length on the wall, until the growth of the sum of straight strokes, arranged in triangles, has become a mastering purpose? Do we not wile away moments of inanity or fatigued waiting by repeating some trivial movement or sound, until the repetition has bred a want, which is incipient habit?

The gold was also a companion,  the only bright thing in his life.  After a long day of weaving, he removed the bags of gold which he had secreted in the cottage floor, spread them out on the table, ran his fingers through them.  He loved their weight, their color, and their shape.  They were to him what a wife and children were to others.
He began to think it was conscious of him, as his loom was, and he would on no account have exchanged those coins, which had become his familiars, for other coins with unknown faces. He handled them, he counted them, till their form and color were like the satisfaction of a thirst to him; but it was only in the night, when his work was done, that he drew them out to enjoy their companionship.
His money is stolen, and once again the injustice of theft returns.  Only his work keeps him sane although there is now no purpose to it.  At least in his lonely, solitary life, there was the gold; but now there was nothing.

By chance an opium addict falls asleep in the snow with her young child and dies of exposure.  The child, however, finds her way to Marner’s cottage.   She is the gold he has lost and he becomes a loving, devoted father to her.

The real father of the child, Godfrey Cass, a wealthy landowner of the region, has never acknowledged either his daughter or her mother – a low-class wife whom he disavows and keeps secret from everyone including his new wife whom he does not want to drive away because of the scandal the revelation would cause.  Only near the end of the story does he feel it time for honest and amends.  He and his wife have been childless for fifteen years, and they both hope that by reclaiming his daughter and giving her a well-to-do life will be right and just and will finally fill the empty space in their home.

Family matters become more complicated when the thief of Marner’s gold is discovered to be Godfrey’s wastrel brother; and when the gold is found and returned to Marner, Godfrey decides to make his appeal to take his daughter to live in his estate.

As a younger man Godfrey was as irresponsible, weak, and immoral as his brother, both cheating and lying to their father about their management of estate funds.   His offer to adopt Eppie, his biological daughter, give his wife the child she has always wanted, and to make  amends for his brother’s crime are his chance for moral redemption.  Marner and Eppie of course refuse.  Godfrey acquiesces but continues to provide financial support to Marner and his daughter.

The novel, like those of Thomas Hardy and other 19th century realist writers, relies on chance and circumstance to further both plot and character development. If Eppie had not wandered into Silas’s cottage, his life would have been irretrievably unhappy.  She, however, resuscitates the goodness that was always in Marner before his unjust accusation in Lantern Yard ; gives him purpose; elicits love and compassion; and returns him to path from which he was deprived.   Marner is a good person whom circumstances have condemned and redeemed.



Godfrey was a moral reprobate in his younger years, and the circumstances of his first wife’s death and the survival of his daughter reveal the goodness in him.  He finally is able to reveal his secret, live more openly and intimately with his second wife, and do the right thing.  At first he justifies his selfish ambitions by saying that taking Eppie will be good for her when in fact it is only to satisfy his wife who has for years pleaded for adoption and his long-hidden desire for reconciliation. Finally, however, Godfrey does the real right thing, renounces his claim to his daughter, and generously but quietly supports her and her adoptive father, Silas.

Godfrey’s wife, Nancy, has always been a moral person, although more because her limited intelligence has prevented her from observing anything but the few social and religious principles she has been taught as a child.  Nevertheless, despite her near implacable desire for an adopted child, she sees how wrong taking Eppie would be, and her understanding, compassion, and strength, helps Godfrey to find his moral ground.

Eppie is less a girl than a gift from God.  She is all love, obedience, loyalty, and respect for her father.  Silas Marner is a profoundly Christian book.  Eppie is a gift of grace.  Marner did nothing to earn it or merit her.  She was bestowed. 

In many ways she is similar to Pearl, the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter who represents more than she exists. Pearl is precociously alert, intelligent, and for Puritanical Salem, dangerously elfin and otherworldly.  She is exuberant where Hester and Dimmesdale are unhappy, regretful, and guilty.  She is what God intended, not the spiteful, angry, witch-hunting Puritans.   In both books little girls, both innocent in their own ways, are the agents of change and denouement in the world of adults.



At the end of the novel when Godfrey and Nancy are adjusting to the new realities of their lives, she reiterates this sentiment, although couching it within a very different context - God’s will:
Nancy was silent: her spirit of rectitude would not let her try to
soften the edge of what she felt to be a just compunction. He spoke
again after a little while, but the tone was rather changed: there
was tenderness mingled with the previous self-reproach.

"And I got _you_, Nancy, in spite of all; and yet I've been
grumbling and uneasy because I hadn't something else--as if I
deserved it."

"You've never been wanting to me, Godfrey," said Nancy, with quiet
sincerity. "My only trouble would be gone if you resigned yourself
to the lot that's been given us."
Silas Marner is a moral book about good people, how they fall away, and how they are redeemed.  It is an optimistic book about goodness in the world; and it is a book that reconciles ideas of grace, morality, and the inevitable unforeseen circumstances of character and environment. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Recipes–Filet Mignon In A Cognac, Thyme, And Dijon Mustard Cream Sauce

Filet mignon is usually good enough by itself; and I have never been a fan of gussying up good meat; but I thought a complex sauce would be a good complement.  The recipe is simple – cognac (or bourbon), thyme, dried mushrooms, and spicy Dijon mustard in a cream sauce – so very little preparation is required.

Filet mignon

- 2 6 oz. filets filet mignon

- 1/2 small red onion, chopped

- 1 Tbsp. olive oil

- 1/2 cup cream

- 1/4 cup Cognac or bourbon

- 2 tsp. thyme leaves (approx.)

- 1 Tbsp. dried mushrooms

- 1 Tbsp. imported Dijon mustard

* Sautee the onion in the olive oil until soft

* Add the cognac, and cook for 2-3 minutes, low heat

* Add the cream, thyme, mushrooms, and mustard; mix well, stir

* Cook over low heat for approx. 5 minutes or until blended, stirring frequently

* Add salt, ground pepper to taste (lavender salt is wonderful)

* Grill the meat.  I sear it in very hot iron skillet; then turn heat down and cook

* Plate the meat, and serve with the sauce

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Imaginary Friends–How Ellis Marks Found God

Ellis Marks, like many young children, had an imaginary friend who was as real to him as any one of his classmates, brothers and sisters, or cousins.  Ellis’ imaginary friend was named Frankly, pulled from his father’s peculiar manner of speaking.

Imaginary friend

       www.missryansgcseenglish.wordpress.com

“Frankly”, said Norville Marks, “I would rather be in Philadelphia”; or “Frankly, Esther, I wish you wouldn’t dry your underwear in the bathroom.”  ‘Frankly’ was as much a part of Norville’s verbal repertoire as “Actually”, “You know what I’m saying?”, or “Admittedly”.

Ellis’ mother had gently suggested to her husband that he might think of changing his vocal entrance to be more emphatic – stage left instead of right, something more orotund; or better yet, just dropping the word ‘frankly’ altogether.  Esther Marks had been brought up in a strict household, one in which manner of speaking had no place.  One did not hesitate, hem and haw, or go through orchestral overtures.  If you had something to say, you said it.

Now, Norville was by no means a stumbling speaker; and once his cognitive engine had warmed up and the sticky tappets quieted, he was fluent and persuasive.  He simply needed a few seconds to gather his thoughts before pronouncement, and ‘Frankly’ was just enough.  Over the years it had become a habit, and later on in his marriage an annoying one.  “Frankly, the roast could have used a few more minutes, dear” was enough to give his wife fits.  ‘Frankly’ in her mind was not a momentary pause of a thoughtful man; but a pretentious shot across her bow.  ‘Frankly’ meant that criticism was coming.  If it wasn’t the meat or the bras in the bathroom, it was about punctuality, fitness, or manners. He could be insufferable.

So it was ironic that her young son adopted the name Frankly for his imaginary friend.  Not only was her husband saying frankly this and frankly that, but her son kept up the  irregular roll call all day long. 

Not only that but Frankly seemed to take the place of real flesh-and-blood friends.  When the boys gathered on the green for after-school baseball, Ellis sat under a tree and talked with Frankly. He never wanted to invite friends over, and never even walked across the street to play with the Popper twins, both boys and exactly his age.  He asked his mother to set a place for Frankly at the dinner table, arranged a rack of invisible clothes for Frankly in his closet, and reserved one whole drawer for Frankly’s socks and underwear.

Fifties boys baseball

                 www.fhs1961.com

“This is getting out of hand”, his mother said to his father. “What do you think we should do?” She was getting annoyed with having to set the table for four instead of three, to leave extra space in the already crowded hall closet for Frankly’s galoshes, and to ask Frankly’s opinion about the weather and schoolwork.  An imaginary friend was cute in The Shining, but Frankly was becoming a pain in the ass.

                         www.screeninsults.com

“He’ll get over it”, said Norville indifferently at the breakfast table. The stock market was getting edgy about recent events in China, and he was more concerned about his overseas investments than his infantile son.  Fathers are notoriously indifferent about these things, so Norville’s response was typical.  Which was an added source of aggravation for Esther Marks.  Not only was her husband responsible for Frankly’s name; and not only did he drive her increasingly crazy with his impossibly predictable speech patterns, he was unaware that Ellis was becoming weird.

Esther Marks hated to use that word about her own son; but there was no other way to describe it.   An imaginary friend was OK at three,  understandable at five, but totally unacceptable at six going on seven.  It was time to grow up and get real.

Ellis, however, had no intention of abandoning Frankly, and when he  eventually realized how childish his behavior seemed to others, he simply internalized all conversations with him.  His mother, always attentive to changes in her son, noticed that although he no longer talked directly to Frankly, he was  moving his lips as though in silent prayer; and she knew that he had simply taken the game indoors.

As Ellis grew older, Frankly did not disappear, but changed character.  He was no longer an imaginary friend, but a trusted advisor – not a conscience exactly, but a moral arbiter.  By the time Ellis was about to enter college, Ellis had elevated Frankly to a spiritual plane.  He had become a guardian angel, and in a final incarnation, the voice of God.

                www.samuelanand.wordpress.com

Not all children with imaginary friends have this same trajectory; nor do all people who hear the voice of God start off with them.  Although even his very perceptive mother had no inkling that Frankly was or would turn into a revered celestial spirit, she had to admit that she had missed the clues.  When Ellis, deep into his religious phase, told her about the very tangible relationship he had with God, and how He was not only with him in spirit, but actually by his side every moment, she was surprised and not a little concerned. 

No one in her family or her husband’s had any religion in their makeup.  Grandfather Marshall had been an outspoken atheist.  Her father was a secular humanist to the core; and all her brothers, cousins, and uncles were dismissively snide when God or Jesus Christ came up in a discussion.  So when her own son started oozing treacle about God and Jesus Christ, she was flabbergasted.  Ellis had started to sound like a born-again Pentecostal from Mississippi.

                            www.thestate.com

Ellis, however, despite his mother’s concern was no different from other deeply spiritual pe0ple who had found Jesus or had a religious epiphany.  There had to be thousands of men and women who had had epiphanies – perhaps not as dramatic as Saul on the road to Damascus, but as important to their own much more modest lives.  Thousands more declared Jesus as their personal savior. 

Battlefield and deathbed epiphanies where the fallen and mortally ill see visions of God, Jesus, and their angels are as common as pear blossoms in the Spring.  Ellis had simply been born with a special intimation of the divine.  Although he didn’t know it at the time – his companionship with Frankly was as scratched and ragged as any five-year old – he had come equipped with a unique and special set of spiritual gears, wires, and electrodes. 

                                       www.colbymartinonline.com

Whether or not Ellis actually had a dedicated line to Jesus was irrelevant.  If he felt that he was in heavenly company, that’s all that mattered.  Some scholars who study the historical Jesus have concluded that there is too little evidence to conclude that he was who Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John said he was; but have dismissed the debate as irrelevant and unnecessary.  If the early evangelists created the Resurrection story out of myth, legend, and Jewish and Roman theology; and if they developed key elements of the new religion (compassion, redemption, remission of sins, brotherhood, etc.)  to satisfy the unmet needs of both Jewish and Gentile populations and expand and extend its reach, so be it. It is a moot point whether or not Jesus Christ is God or whether God in fact exists.  Billions of people believe both, and for them no proof is needed.

Ellis’s communication with God came not via actual faith but peculiar secular circumstances.  If he had not had Frankly as his imaginary friend; had he not had a naturally reclusive personality; and had he not been a very sensitive boy, he would likely have stayed with Frankly until he was laughed out of class. Such is the nature of faith – it comes from places you’d least expect; and it is not less meaningful for it.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Passion of Madame Bovary–Much To Understand, Little To Admire

Madame Bovary, the story of the frustrated wife of a simple doctor in rural France, was written in 1856.  When it was first serialized between 1 October 1856 and 15 December 1856, the novel was attacked for obscenity by public prosecutors. The resulting trial, held in January 1857, made the story notorious. After Flaubert's acquittal on 7 February 1857, Madame Bovary became a bestseller when it was published as a single volume in April 1857.  Its story of adultery and explicit sexual passions were considered unique and groundbreaking.

Madame Bovary

www.pethistoriaufs.com

The story is familiar enough – a woman marries for conventional reasons but soon finds herself trapped in a small, narrow-minded community with an honest but dull and clueless man.   After much doubt and self-recrimination and guilt, Emma Bovary acts on her desires and takes a lover.  After the long affair with Rodolphe ends, she soon takes another.  Now that her passions have been awakened, she cannot live without a man who can satisfy them.  She is infatuated more than in love with both Rodolphe and Leon, and more than anything views them as instruments of sexual pleasure.  Neither one is the  dashing, chivalrous lover she has always dreamt of,  but they are available, interested, and well above the sexual, social, or intellectual caliber of her husband.

She is so consumed by her sexual desire, so demanding of her lovers, and so insistent on their reciprocal love and attention, that they grow impatient and disillusioned with her, and eventually leave. 

Emma was like all his other mistresses, thought Rodolphe; and as the charm of novelty gradually slipped from her like a piece of her clothing, he saw revealed in all its nakedness the eternal monotony of passion which always assumes the same forms and always speaks the same language.

Enough of the book’s notoriety has remained so that it is still considered an important work of French literature; but in fact it is a very familiar but one-dimensional portrait of a discontented and unsatisfied woman.  Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a far more complex woman.   Although she also finds herself married to a similarly dull and passionless husband, she is not compulsive in her sexual desires.  Both women are intelligent, strong, and willful, but Anna , very aware of the moral, ethical, and religious implications of her love affair with Vronsky, pursues it nonetheless.  She is less rebelling against her husband’s oppression than searching for a more complete emotional relationship than he can provide.  One admires Anna because of her respect for her husband, her love for her son, and her devotion to Vronsky. 

                   www.leitoresdepressivos.com

Although life is not easy for either woman , we feel empathy and respect for Anna just as we do for Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.   Nora is patient to a fault and suffers her obtuse husband  Torvald for too long.  Finally, the exhaustion of surviving such a suffocating relationship becomes overwhelming, and she walks out.  Anna is patient with Karenin, but for her forbearance has its limits.  She too walks out on the marriage but can never assuage the guilt of having abandoned her son by so doing.

                                   www.stolaf.edu

Emma Bovary has no such compunctions.  Her daughter Berthe is a second thought in her life.  The young girl is suckled by a wet nurse and cared for and brought up by nursemaids and nannies.  Emma is indifferent to her, and as she pursues her love affairs, her daughter is the last thing from her mind.  She wants only to satisfy her sexual desires and to defy her ignorant, plodding husband.

Carrie Kennicott, the heroine of Main Street is much more like Anna than Emma.  She marries for the same conventional reasons, moves to a small prairie town in Minnesota, and becomes increasingly frustrated with her husband, a rural doctor like M. Bovary, and the confines of the bourgeois society of Gopher Prairie. 

Main Street

At first Carrie has no thoughts of taking a lover.  Introducing ideas, books, art, and culture to the provincial and unlettered town is challenge and satisfaction enough.  Only when she realizes that even her modest initiatives to form a local theatre group, to enhance the library collection, and to encourage intellectual discussion groups, are ignored does she think of new personal relationships.  She does not permit herself to think that her male friendships are anything more than stimulating and Platonic, she eventually realizes that her frustration with Gopher Prairie is far more personal and intimate.  It is a question of her lack of sexual fulfillment and realization as a woman.

Emma has none of these concerns.  While all three women share a common frustration, only Emma is single-minded in her pursuit of of sexual satisfaction.  Her affair with Leon devolves into a purely animal coupling.  All pretense of a renewed womanhood or feminine expression is gone.  She becomes defiant in her sexual obsession.  She wants to be caught in her adultery, not to expiate or atone for her guilt, but to show up the bourgeois piety of the town.

She and Anna Karenina commit suicide; but it is for Anna that we have sympathy and compassion.  She has tried everything to accommodate her life within accepted social principles, but has failed.  She has lost her husband, her son, and is afraid of losing Vronsky.  Bitterly unhappy with herself for being unable to extricate herself from her dilemmas; and angry at a world which has no give or accommodation, she kills herself.

Emma has been profligate and irresponsible in the pursuit of her passions.  She has deceived her husband, ignored her child, and accumulated ruinous debts.  She feels sorry for herself when Leon and Rodolphe want  nothing more to do with her, and rather than accept a return to the rack of her marriage, she resorts to a painful, agonizing death by arsenic poisoning.

Feminists have always admired Emma Bovary for her independence, will, and determination.  Yet, while one can understand and commiserate with her plight – life for women in 19th century Europe and America was not an easy one – it is hard to admire her.  She is a self-centered, callous, dismissive woman only concerned with herself and her own satisfaction.  She has none of the dignity of Anna or Carrie Kennicott; none of the principle of Nora; or none of the strength, canniness, and ability of Shakespeare’s women.  She is shallow, insensitive, and deeply immoral.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter in 1850, only six years before Madame Bovary; and it is a far more complex, nuanced story of ‘adultery’ than Flaubert’s work.  Hester Prynne, the protagonist of The Scarlet Letter has an adulterous relationship early in her life.  Hawthorne chooses not to describe the circumstances of the affair, preferring to focus on Hester’s absolute commitment to secrecy to protect the reputation of her lover.   She has risked death at the hands of the Puritan clerics of 17th century Salem because of her adultery, but she refuses to name the man with whom she has had her child, Pearl.  

The Scarlet Letter

Her lover suffers far more than she because he is too weak to admit his guilt and to at least share the town’s censure with Hester.  The story is more about the psychological torment of  her lover, Rev. Dimmesdale , the vengeful actions of her former husband Chillingworth, and the frighteningly otherworldliness of Pearl than Hester; but Hester is an admirable, fully-realized woman.  One has far more admiration for her than for Emma Bovary.

Flaubert never suggests why Emma is the way she is, tells very little about her childhood and adolescence, her relationships with her parents, or her growing up.  The reader has no clues as to what turned her into such a libidinous, immoral destroyer.   She is no more than a week into her marriage when she realizes she has done the wrong thing; frustration and anger set in quickly, the love affairs follow; she is abandoned and bankrupt; and she commits suicide.  But why?  We understand Anna, Carrie, and Nora; but not Emma.

Is she the stereotypical woman who always falls for the wrong man?  At her first ball at the estate of the local aristocrat, her childhood ambitions became much more real. This is what she wanted – wealth and the love of a powerful, confident, sexually mature man.   Yet she had no inkling that Rodolphe was a manipulative womanizer? How was this intelligent woman so ignorant of one of the most common masculine traits?  Why did she assume that there was a future in the relationship when there clearly was none?  Anna knew precisely what she was doing, and always felt that she would be able to negotiate a reasonable compromise with her husband; but Emma was ignorant of men, society, and life itself, blinded by her own self-centered passions.

Hester Prynne, Anna Karenina, Nora Helmer, and Carrie Kennicott are my heroes – not Emma Bovary.

Friday, November 20, 2015

What’s In A Name? Too Much For It To Be Given At Birth

Sprightly Tribble was Eleanor until she was three when her parents decided that this beautiful sylph of a girl who pranced and tip-toed around the house in her ballet slippers, did pirouettes and arabesques in the living room to Tchaikovsky, and whose heels never touched the floor was no Eleanor.

Sprightly had been named Eleanor after Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II, mother of kings, regent of vast lands in France, and a powerful, indomitable woman.  It was a proud name, Sprightly’s parents agreed, one which any woman of the Tribble family would carry with honor.  But ‘Eleanor’ was far too weighty and serious for Sprightly; and her parents, who felt that names and naming were not at all insignificant, wanted synchrony between their daughter’s name and her personality.  Too few names corresponded with character because they were given arbitrarily, as they had unknowingly done at their daughter’s birth.  Now they knew better.  They knew that by three years old Sprightly’s character was a given.  She had been born with the genes of her Great Aunt Liza who had been a dancer in the famous Broadway reviews of the 20s and was so talented that she could just as easily dance a Virginia reel as Swan Lake. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine

                    www.gopixpic.com

Yes, it was possible, the Tribbles agreed, that by naming her Sprightly and by judging her character so summarily and early they might be predetermining her life – that she, in fact, might be a brilliant mathematician beneath the tutus and princess costumes.  Yet they were so convinced of their judgment and so certain that Sprightly had come out of her mother’s womb a happy, delightful, joyful baby; and that she never lost one bit of innocence, enthusiasm, and energy in three full years, that they did not hesitate.

Herman Tribble loved his daughter even more than most fathers love their daughters.  Sprightly was a perfect complement to his own serious and rather somber nature.  He was not unhappy, never depressed or morose, nor even seriously reflective about life and death.  He was simply of a different ‘humour’ than his daughter, the exact opposite in fact; but rather than collide with her, he adored her. 

She danced for him, pirouetting around the living room in her ballet clothes and shoes, touching all the Chinese vases with her magic wand,  turning them into flowers, then spinning towards her father, touching him on the forehead, and then giving him a big kiss. “You are my prince”, she said.

Herman had hated his name from the beginning.  Because he was not the most popular boy in the school, nor the most athletic, nor the most handsome, he admired those who were.  He wanted to be called Ray like Ray Cummings whom all the girls fell for; or Sandy, like Sandy Evans, the quarterback of the varsity who ran with the grace of a gazelle and threw like an Olympian.  Herman was a dismal name and he resented his parents for it.

                            www.athenshash.com

Even as an adult in late middle age Herman thought of changing his name after one of his heroes.  Winston, after the great Winston Churchill, statesman, warrior, man of letters, a model of courage and leadership; or Augustus, the greatest Roman Emperor of all time, a man who laid the foundations for the fifteen hundred year reign of the Roman Empire; or Saint Augustine, philosopher, theologian, autobiographer, pillar of the Church.

Augustus

Of course he knew he never could change his name; but why should anyone stick with a name that was arbitrarily selected in the first place, has long outlived its usefulness, and is no more than an an ID, and a worthless one at that?  Over his fifty-five years, Herman felt that he had learned a lot, and his hero-worship was less frustrated idolatry than a genuine respect for the men who shaped history and knowledge.

In very small ways, Herman tried to become like Churchill or Herman’s close second choice, Sir Richard Francis Burton, who spoke twenty-five languages fluently, was a prolific writer, fearless adventurer, ethnographer, and diplomat.  Herman had travelled to fifty countries, mastered 7 languages, wrote often and well, and felt that he would be just as fearless as either Burton or Churchill when and if the challenge presented itself.  Why not take their names to honor them and to project something of them through him to others?

            www.oldfloridabookstore.blogspot.com

Herman looked over the names of the girls in Sprightly’s class.  There was little variation from the mean.  When Jennifer was the most popular girls name based on large data bases, over a third of the girls in the class were called Jennifer.  In the 90s there were more Brittanys and Elizabeths. Not only were names assigned by parents too early to have even an inkling about character or personality; they simply copied everyone else.  For all the good that a name did, one might just as well have a number.

“The Jews have the right idea”, Herman thought. Jews had always named their  children after figures in the Old Testament – Isaac, Isaiah, Abraham, Esther, Beulah, Saul – and after the last close relative who died.  These names were conferred on Jewish children, not just given.  A man could carry the name Abraham and know that he represented the patriarch of Judaism, a man of such devotion to God that he was ready to kill his son at his command.

                 www.christianimagessource.com

There was nothing inherently wrong about naming at birth, if there was a point; but for all the rest, parents should wait to see how their children turn out.

Of course this theory had its limits.  Lance Ravenhood, despite his dashing name, was a dorky kid from the very beginning.  He was a clueless, clumsy, and unfailingly dense child, boy, and man.  His name was so far from what he was that it became its own humiliation.  He wished he could have a less conspicuously heraldic name so that he could be left alone.

Luckily for Sprightly, her parents were right.  She remained a sprite until she was very old, and even her irrepressible spirit got lost under layers of age and flaking skin.  A long run by any estimation, and a good one.  She never made it onto the professional stage, but was quite happy as an amateur.  She danced for the pure joy of it, still danced for her father when he asked her, and retained a childlike innocence and eagerness that everyone found irresistible.

Had she turned out differently and had become a logician, lawyer, or CIA analyst, her name might well have been a drawback.  How seriously would a Sprightly be taken on K Street, the Hill, or in the war rooms of the Pentagon?

The closest Herman ever got to changing his name was when he adopted a nom de plume – Thomas Sutpen, the main character of William Faulkner’s greatest novel, Absalom, Absalom which chronicles the life of a man who moved to Mississippi from the hills of West Virginia to clear 100 square miles of brush and swampland to grow cotton, to realize the American dream, and to attain stature, wealth and privilege. It is a story of ambition, family, and the complexities of race; and its language is luminous.

So Herman’s blog on which he wrote about literature, culture, and social trends was called Thomas Sutpen’s 100 and whether because of the name or more likely his insightful stories and lively prose, had thousands of followers.

Herman Tribble and his daughter remained very close until the day he died at 90.  She was far more than a dutiful daughter, although Herman, a widower, was grateful for her attention and care.  She was a loving, beautiful daughter who made him laugh and who still danced for him in her imagination and his.

She was always Sprightly, never Eleanor; and neither she nor her parents ever referred to her by that archaic although noble name.

 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Epiphanies–Just One Little One Would Help

Margot Fillip hoped for an epiphany.  Not a major one like Saul on the road to Damascus. Not even one like that of Count Andrei Bolkonsky, hero of War and Peace who lay wounded on the battlefield of Borodino, looked up, saw the scudding clouds of a wintry sky and felt an all-encompassing beauty and peace.  No, Margot would settle for a lot less.  A door opened a crack to get a glimpse of something promising would do.  As it was, she plodded along making breakfast for her husband, and just like Emma Bovary, felt that her husband was as dull as a flat sidewalk.

Andrei at Borodino

            www.theguardian.com

Margot, however, was not simply frustrated by her lumpen husband, and her predictable, routine life in New Brighton and on the lookout for a paramour.  She was existentially challenged and saw herself as a latter-day Tolstoy who spent his whole life looking for meaning; or a Nietzsche who was able to find meaning in a meaningless world by rising above the herd as an Ubermensch.  No, she could quite easily find a lover, if not in New Brighton then certainly in Farmington or West Hartford, tony little towns of the upper-middle class whose young men had leisure, sexual ambition, and money. And, if for some reason she was unlucky, there was always Plainville or Bristol.

tolstoy

At one point in her mid-married life, she did take a lover; but not out of any great passion or adventure, but just to know what it was like to have another man. After one afternoon of Happy Bickle grunting and flapping about on top of her at the Super 6 on the Berlin Turnpike, she had found out all she needed to know.  Sex, if anything, was a younger woman’s game; and besides, auto-eroticism was more than enough for anyone.

Konstantin Levin wondered at God’s irony in creating intelligent, sentient, creative, human beings; permitting them to live for a few decades; then consigning them to eternity in the cold hard ground of the steppes. What was his purpose?

                     www.formulatv.com

Worse, thought Levin, he gave us no inkling about life after death, and thus equally consigned us all to a life of terror at the unknown.  “Too soon old, too late schmart”, say the Jews, and both Tolstoy and Margot Fillip wanted to be sure that they didn’t end up old, feeble, frightened, and still not knowing what’s what.

Tolstoy himself, in his long pursuit of the truth chronicled in A Confession, hoped that he would have an epiphany like those he wrote about – Andrei on the battlefield of Borodino; Andrei on his deathbed; Pierre in Moscow; Anna Karenina just before her death – but he never did.  The great man slogged along for his 82 years, more than thirty years after writing his religious autobiography without having the heavens part. It simply wasn’t to be.

Tolstoy A Confession

Margot knew that real epiphanies happened infrequently.  Yes, there were the famous ‘Aha!’ moments of scientists when the solution to a troubling problem suddenly becomes clear; but that is just a function of the brain finally digesting all that it has been fed letting the nutritive juices flow through the synapses and finally cause that moment of electrical-psychological whizz-bang called understanding. But there were millions of such moments. Archimedes (“Eureka!”) was only the first and best remembered.

“I saw God”, said Linnette Parsons one morning as she and Margot met on the way to school. “He was a chipmunk with a mouthful of hickory nuts.  When he saw me, he spit them out, said, “I am the way”, and ran off into Mrs. Brierley’s hedges.”

She pulled the hickory nuts out of her pocket and said that at night she placed them on her dresser next to a picture of Jesus and lit a votive cinnamon candle.

“What did he mean?”, Margot asked about God. “He meant for me to follow him; and since that day, I always have; and I always will.”

Linnette Parsons, of course, had just had an early adolescent romantic dream.  She was one of the most unattractive girls in the class, so it was no wonder that she would be seeing God on her doorstep instead of Ray Cummings or one of the other cute boys in the 7th grade.

Mrs. Kimmer, the Fillips’ maid was a born-again Christian who said that she had seen Jesus Christ come down on the cross during a Pentecostal ceremony at the New Hope Baptist Church in Aberdeen, Mississippi.  The Reverend H.P. Last presided over the ceremony, and just at the moment when the choir was singing the most powerful verses of “Oh, Come to Me, Sweet Jesus”, Our Lord and Savior appeared in white robes and a beard right there a few feet above the congregation  “Hallelujah!”, said Mrs. Kimmer to Margot, “for I have been saved.”

                    www.tuningpp.com

That cockamamie born-again nonsense was only for dummies, Margot thought; and once again turned back to her hero, Tolstoy, who had never given up his intellectual discipline  and logical rigor, even after his conversion.  “I don’t care if it is faith”, he said. “I want it on my own terms”, which meant with at least a dash of rationality.

The priests and nuns at St. Matthew’s parish in New Brighton had not even mentioned the Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the most famous logicians of the early church.  They gave Catholicism its rational foundation and its imperious power; and it held the fort for many centuries until Luther upset the applecart with his doctrine of grace and individual salvation.  No matter how desirous of a religious epiphany would she ever become a Charismatic, Pentecostal, or any other brand of theatrical religion. if an epiphany were to come, then let it come without the mediation of some sappy hustling preacher.

                      www.biography.com

By the time she was forty and still had not had anything resembling an epiphany, she concluded that perhaps they didn’t happen all by themselves, but resulted from some kind of partnership between the mystical and the ordinary.  In other words, she had lots a lot of time sitting back and waiting for revelation to come; and it was time to be proactive. She was badly nearsighted and myopic, and whenever she took her glasses off at night, every streetlamp had an aura.  She knew that this was simply because of a serious distortion in her corneal lens, but still, such visions of distorted reality had always been behind the visions of mystics and seers. “Go with the flow”, a hippy friend of hers had told her back in the Sixties.  “Whatever will be will be”; and seeing the world as a haze of indistinct shapes, auras, and interceding sounds might indeed be just the disassembly and deconstruction she needed to provoke a vision.

Nada. One afternoon on the way to the dentist on the Metro, she had taken her glasses off.  There was something dark and brooding about the empty train station, the long dark, forbidding tunnels, and the silent vault of the soundproofing; and something special might happen here.  She took off her glasses, peered around her, and watched the penumbra of lights as the Silver Spring train came into the station. The suddenness of the train’s arrival had surprised her, and in the rush of air and noise, she dropped her glasses onto the tracks.  No more glasses, and no epiphany either.

That did it; and the last vestiges of a hopefully spiritual life left her as quickly as the westbound train.

Not entirely. Upon reflection, she realized that she had spent far too much time and had placed too much importance on these transformative moments – God appearing to the Israelites, Christ appearing to John the Baptist and the disciples – and not enough on the progressive, deliberate searches for meaning.  She had meandered too far from the path of her hero, Tolstoy.

He and his character Levin had realized late in their lives that there would never be any fireworks when it came to revelation.  That, if one could believe the Bible, would come sooner rather than later:

And the fifth angel sounded…and he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power….

And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses…and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months…

And so on and so forth, none of which Margot believed; but even so, she still saw silhouettes of Durer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse when she stared at the clouds.

                                 www.hydramag.com

So, plodding academic study would have to do until the Second Coming.   Just like Tolstoy and his character Levin, she would have to either give it up entirely or keep on plugging; although the older she got, the less she knew what she was looking for or what was the point.

Tolstoy ended up by saying that if billions of people had had faith over the last ten millennia, then why shouldn’t he?  How could so many people be wrong?  Levin decided that to do good was the only act that gave meaning to life.  Andrei waxed eloquent on his deathbed about the all consuming power of love.  Pierre embraced the inclusiveness of Man and Nature.  Simple, obvious, easy answers.  Why, they all asked, did they spend so much time looking?

Tolstoy in A Confession described the different categories of people in the world relative to spiritual revelation.  There were those too dumb to even understand the question; those who understood that life was meaningless, so why fret.  Eat, drink, and be merry; those who saw that life is evil and must destroy it; those who are weak and who know that life is evil, but simply roll over or hide.  Tolstoy of course was none of the above; and therefore was always unhappily frustrated.  No matter how he searched, answers never came.

Margot’s children were the reason she finally shelved Tolstoy and got on with her life. A little sense of humor, they chided her, would go a long way.

Dostoevsky created one of the most fascinating characters in literature – Ivan’s Devil, a dapper, slightly shabby old gentleman who describes himself as a vaudevillian. “Without a little evil in the world”, he said, “Life would be very boring indeed.”  I spice things up, Ivan’s Devil said, never take anything seriously, and enjoy every minute of my eternal time on earth.

Dostoevsky

“Lighten up, Mom”, they chimed; and so she did.  Finally neither too old nor schmart, but better off for finally giving up the quest.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Youth And The Consequences Of Knowing It Was The Best Time Of Your Life

Eleanor Trowbridge kept scratching her skin until it began to flake and come off on the dining room table. “Stop it, Mother”, said her daughter Leona. “I don’t care how much you itch, it’s disgusting when you shed just as I’m about to put the food on the table.

“I can’t help it.  A hundred spiders are crawling up and down my arms.”

Leona felt – or wanted to believe - that there was nothing seriously wrong with her mother. No schizophrenia or advanced dementia.  She did not scale, peel, or turn blotchy like old ladies did with eczema, nor did she have allergic wheals and welts caused by stress, peanuts, or shrimp. “Mom, we’ve been through this before. There’s nothing organically wrong with you, no allergies, and certainly no psychosomatic immune reactions. You’re fine.”

“I am not fine”, Eleanor shouted. “My skin is crawling”. So off they went to the bathroom where Leona drew a bath full of Epsom salts and bubbles – the first to calm down whatever it was that was irritating her mother’s skin; and the second as a playful ploy to get her mind off her itches and her obsessions.

As she stepped into the bath, Eleanor said, ‘”How did I get so old?  I don’t even remember how I got here.”

Eleanor Trowbridge had been born in the late 20s, and by the time WWII came around, she was considered the most beautiful woman in New Brighton – as beautiful as Betty Grable, Lana Turner, or any of the Hollywood pinup girls GIs carried with them to Europe. She had so many offers of marriage by soldiers off to fight the Nazis that she couldn’t keep them straight; but since most of these boys would never come back alive, she didn’t have the heart to say no. 

Betty Grable

    www.thetraditionalway.blogspot.com

Most of the boys, however, did come back, and Eleanor had a tough time shooing them away from her front porch. “Like bees to a sweet flower”, said Eleanor’s mother, remembering her own youth. “Just pick the one you like, honey; and if none suits you, there will be plenty more.”

Her new standoffishness only riled the boys up even more.  There was nothing more exciting than to pursue a reluctant woman whose charms were somehow made even more desirable by her diffidence.  In a way she liked this phase, and imagined herself courted like a lady by a medieval knight; but there was nothing dashing or chivalrous about her pimply suitors.

Knight and Maiden

“Just don’t wait too long”, said Eleanor’s mother who would never be happy until her only daughter was married and hopefully married well.  As time went on and Eleanor still had found no suitable mate, her mother’s high standards were progressively lowered. “What about the Fletcher boy?”, she asked. “Her family is very well off”.

The ‘Fletcher boy’ was indeed from a family of means.  His father was the son of one of New Brighton’s captains of industry, lived in the fashionable West End, belonged to Green Meadows Country Club, and was the biggest supporter of the New Brighton Museum of American Art.

It was Harold Fletcher, the prospective suitor, who was the problem. Harold had none of the multiple intelligences that one could pick from today. He stumbled over passages from Hemingway, the simplest writer in English, never had gotten beyond sums and simple division, couldn’t remember even the  most celebrated  events of American history. Latin began with sum, es, est and there it remained.

He was unattractive, clumsy, and inept.  He was so bad an athlete that he was never more than water boy or coach’s gofer. Since no 9th-grader could be left out of important school activities, such as publishing The Meadows, the class yearbook, Harold was assigned the job of Business Manager which meant delivering the draft to the printer and picking up the copies when they were ready.

Eleanor’s family insisted that she go away to a New England preparatory school, and she spent three frustrated years at Alford Academy, one of the foremost girl’s school in the region, but one of the strictest. It was about that time, that Eleanor felt like she was coming into her own; and like many girls her age, she fell in love with Emma Bovary  who all her life dreamed of being swept off her feet, dancing until midnight, married in a great cathedral, honeymooning on the Mediterranean, and coming home to a chateau on the Loire; but who quickly found that Charles Bovary was “as flat as a sidewalk”, uninspiring to say the least, and a dull, pedestrian man whose devotion to his rural medical practice kept him away for most of the day, dog-tired at night, and unwilling or unable to move past the confines of their village.  No wonder Emma took a lover.

                  www.businessinsider.com

If there was anyone who lived an F. Scott Fitzgerald life, it was Eleanor.  She was the belle of the Mistletoe Ball, Holly Ball, and Christmas Ball, danced until midnight, drank bourbon in the clubhouse and drunk and happy, whirled and pirouetted until she went home with the handsomest boy at the dance, made out with him in the back seat of his car, and finally, flushed, ecstatic, and feeling finally like a woman, sank into bed and slept until noon.

            www.brunswick.k12.me.us

Once again her parents insisted on propriety, status, and history when choosing a college for Eleanor, and Wellesley was it. Not as feminist and anarchic as Vassar, not so dykey (even then) as Smith, and not so intellectual as Radcliffe.  It was just right.  Rigorous enough for serious academic pursuit, but attentive to the girls social needs.

Eleanor had long ago arranged her priorities.  She knew she was smart enough to get a Gentleman’s C which would leave her more than enough time to step out, be noticed, and have fun.

Unfortunately, Eleanor was bored by Wellesley and even more by Boston.  New York City had always been her cultural pole, and her first choice of schools had been Barnard.  Her parents refused.  New York might well be the artistic, intellectual, and artistic capital of the world, but it was a dangerous environment for young, impressionable girls.  Which, of course, was why Eleanor wanted to go there.

After a year of moaning to her parents about Wellesley, she was able to convince them to allow her to transfer to Barnard; and her life was never the same.  For the first time in her life her character, personality, and energy were in perfect synchrony with her environment.  New York was FAO Schwartz all grown up – dazzle, more toys that anyone could ever imagine, bright lights, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, bows and ribbons, bustle, and excitement.  She was indeed in her element.

                        www.nanawell.com

Eleanor sampled every morsel of New York.  Through her parents New England connections and the social register, she was invited to formal dinners on Fifth Avenue. By sleeping with Leonard Steinberg, the famous artist-in-residence at Barnard and a world-renowned lithographer, she was introduced to SOHO arts crowd; and through them Off Broadway.  The West Village was still bohemian, artsy, and intellectual; and she felt right at home.  The East Village was just beginning to transition from a hard, tough, and crime-ridden neighborhood  to one which was showing signs of the hip, off-center, and very desirable neighborhood it would soon become; and even in her mid-thirties, Eleanor found a place.  The area was still very sketchy – Indian Country down by the projects and Avenues B and C - but closer to Tompkins Square and 8th Street it was edgy, demanding, and the place to be.  She was never happier.

          www.quoteshindiphotos.blogspot.com

Halcyon years, salad years, unforgettable years never to be repeated.  Eleanor knew that they would be the happiest years of her life, an insight that doubled and tripled the experience. To be happy and to know that you are at the very zenith of your emotional life is exhilarating, transforming, and permanent.

By the time she was thirty-five, the downside of this unique euphoria hit home.  Since she had been on the top of the highest pinnacle, perched on a steeple like Ibsen’s Master Builder, defying God, but aware that he would fall, she knew that the rest of her life was with the herd below.

“Jesus should have taken Satan’s offer”, she often thought. During her New York years she felt that she could do anything, have anything and be anything. It was a perfect confluence of luck and inspiration.   Not only did nothing go wrong, but everything went right.  The right lover in an unsuspecting corner; the right party; the right, and absolutely most resonant piece of music.  The most perfect Spring, the mildest Winter.

Either because of that one, unique, and particular insight in New York; or because of the inevitability of tarnish and rust  that has to come with age, Eleanor’s life became more and more disappointingly routine.  Nothing seemed to satisfy.  How could after the extravagant life of Broadway, Park Avenue, and the Upper East Side; after acid trips, sex behind meth and Bombay Black, could anything else satisfy?

She had a child by a lover she had handpicked.  She had no interest in him per se, but in his pedigree and genes.  She left him and San Francisco when she found out she was pregnant, moved to Montana in seclusion just like any unwedded mother of Hawthorne of Flaubert; and finally settled in Washington, DC, a city she had always considered dull, prosaic, and stifling; but now a reasonable choice for her and her daughter.  Washington was all about government jobs and good schools and she consigned herself to a phase of life which she hoped would have a quick end.

                   www.myinterestingfacts.com

It did not. After a certain age, change is no longer possible, let alone one which might recapture some of Eleanor’s former confidence and social brilliance.  The sense of consignment passed and was replaced by diffidence, then regret, and finally crotchety, abrasive old age.

“Mother, you simply must stop scratching yourself on the table.  Look at how you have messed up my place-settings, and right on Aunt Julia’s dinner plate!”

Leona took hold of her mother – a firm, purposeful embrace, but softened by her words.  The problem was that not only was she scratching flaky, dry skin, on the holiday place settings, but she had no idea she was doing it. 

This late in her life Eleanor could not even recall New York or  the cotillions in New Brighton, Farmington, and West Hartford.  Fragments of them – a phrase from a Strauss waltz, Bobby Nichols’ bow tie, the Christmas decorations on the green – came to her at odd moments; but just as she started to related them, they were gone.

In one way it was a good thing that Eleanor Trowbridge couldn’t remember the disappointment she felt after ‘the pinnacle’.  Better to forget the years of ‘flat sidewalks’ even if it meant occluding the few bright years of her youth.

The expression of one’s individual will was the only validation of the individual in a meaningless world, said Nietzsche; and Eleanor would have made him proud, for she was an Ubermensch.  Nietzsche never considered the downside of Will and how it erodes and dissipates over time. He never anticipated Eleanor Trowbridge and her descent.  For him Will was a permanent, inherent quality which had no phases of ascendancy and disappearance.  Eleanor Trowbridge, however, was real.  It was not enough to look at her epiphany, but her trajectory.  Like all of us, she started off well enough, but ended up badly.

Nietzsche

 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Recipes–Curried Spinach And Onions

Many Indian dishes are based on spinach (sag), and this one is authentic, but simple to make.  Fresh spinach and freshly ground spices make all the difference. While it is possible to shortcut this recipe, i.e. by using curry powder instead of the individual ground spices, the difference is significant.  Use freshly ground spices whenever possible.

Image result for images curried spinach

* 1 lb. loose fresh spinach leaves

* 2 lg. onions, chopped

* 3 Tbsp. olive oil

* 5 whole cardamoms, crushed

* 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds, crushed

* 1 Tbsp. fenugreek seeds, crushed

* 2 tsp. cumin powder

* 1 small sliver stick cinnamon

* 5 cloves, whole

* 10 peppercorns, whole

* 5-6 shakes hot pepper flakes

* 2 tsp. mustard seeds, crushed

* 2 tsp. poppy seeds

* 2 tsp. ground turmeric

* 5 slices fresh ginger, chopped

* 5 cloves garlic, chopped

- Sautee the onions, spices, ginger until slightly browned

- Steam the spinach, drain, chop

- Add the spinach to the sautéed spices and onions and mix well

- Add salt and pepper to taste

-Serve

He Hath Loosed His Terrible Swift Sword–Righteous Anger After Paris And The War Against ISIS

After the massacre in Paris (November 2015), President Hollande announced that France was at war, and its fight against ISIS would be ‘pitiless’. It was noteworthy that he chose this particular word to express his sentiments.  Grief was natural and understandable; but the most logical and human feeling was righteous indignation. Mourning without resolve means nothing.

ISIS FLAG

The Battle Hymn of the Republic, written by Julia Ward Howe and published in 1862, was about the Civil War and the Union’s resolve:

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal";
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel…

The song, one of Biblical vengeance, was based on Isaiah 63:

For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and the year for my redeeming work had come.
I looked, but there was no helper;
I stared, but there was no one to sustain me;
so my own arm brought me victory,
and my wrath sustained me.
I trampled down peoples in my anger,
I crushed them in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”

Although the Old Testament is especially known for its vengeful, retributive God, the New Testament is more pitiless when it comes to the enemies of God:

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against the rider on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.  And the rest were killed by the sword of the rider on the horse, the sword that came from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh (Revelation 19)

It is surprising to note than in the days following the Paris massacre when ISIS terrorists killed at least 130 innocent civilians in 7 sites around the city, the principle sentiment expressed in social media was one of grief, compassion, and solidarity.  Very few posts responded with anger or with the same vengeful passion expressed in The Battle Hymn, Isaiah, and Revelation.

The President of France, Francois Hollande, had different sentiments altogether.  He made it clear that France was at war with ISIS and it would be merciless. In the West’s current but largely ineffectual war with this terrorist group, there have been both military and civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq, and now there have been casualties in France.  While grief is understandable, the anger, resolve, and commitment to destroy an enemy expressed by Hollande is even more appropriate.  ISIS after all attacked the sovereignty of a nation and by so doing tried to destroy the democratic, secular culture which it espouses

Image result for francois hollande images news conference

                   www.thetimes.co.uk

Why is it then, that many Americans have no such righteous anger? Why are they not marching in front of the White House to demand that the Obama Administration take up its sword and loose its fateful lightning against ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, Boko Haram and all other radical Islamic organizations that have avowed to destroy us?

Much of the reticence has to do with political intimidation. We have been so cowed by an insistence on diversity, that we are fearful of offending anyone – even the enemy and his supporters. It is all well, good, and important to maintain one’s respect for religion; but another to hide under a cloak of inclusivity and religious tolerance and choose to ignore the fact that religion-based extremism is responsible for death and carnage everywhere.  

ISIS itself has made very clear its desire to establish a caliphate and to do so by any means necessary. ISIS has also avowed to continue to recruit new jihadists wherever it can.  There is no way to avoid these facts; and the West must counter these hegemonic ambitions and engage the enemy with force, and meet, terror with terror.

ISIS

          www.counterjihad.com

The point is not about religion.  It is about the importance of naming, describing, and fully identifying the enemy whoever he may be. Without understanding the enemy’s roots, principles, philosophies, tactics and strategies, and goals and objectives no alliance of nations can ever mount the resistance and offensive necessary to defeat him. Our reluctance to confront the very nature of ISIS is neutering our fight against it.

One of the reasons the United States lost the war in Vietnam was because of a failure to understand Vietnamese history, Ho Chi Minh’s nationalism, and most of all the absolute, resolute, unshakeable resolve of the Vietnamese to rid their country of a foreign aggressor by any means possible. The Vietnam War in many ways was the first step towards a fearful foreign and military policy.

We misunderstand ISIS in the same way that we misread North Vietnamese history; and we misjudge ISIS’s commitment, resolve, and appeal just as we did the Viet Cong in the 60s.

There was never any political correctness when it came to the Nazis or the Japanese. They were depicted in vicious stereotype and in hateful language because they were our enemies. No one had issues with the German people, their long and storied history, their religious and cultural principles over time.  We hated the Nazis for a corruption and distortion of Christian German culture. We had no fight with medieval shoguns or the early Japanese dynasties; but we hated the Japs who bombed Pearl Harbor and killed tens of thousands of American soldiers throughout the Pacific.

Religion, culture, and history were not the issues. The narrow socio-political construct of The Nazi or The Jap was.

Jap posters IImage result for images WWII posters of Japs 

       www.pinterest.com                               www.crazywebsite.com

President Obama has often used the word ‘evil’ to describe ISIS.  While this is not technically correct – history has winners and losers, all of whom have fought for some objective and have used any and all means to achieve it; and ‘evil’ is only assigned to one’s enemies – it is a good starting point for qualifying and characterizing ISIS in a campaign which must be as vilifying, unremitting, and abusive as those of WWII.  An enemy is an enemy, after all, and – as President Hollande said - deserves no pity.

What does ‘no pity’ mean? It means abandoning our self-righteous exceptionalism; and realize that in a war with an implacable enemy who does not abide by our moral codes or cultural rules, we must be as ruthless and determined as he is.  There are no right or wrong means to victory.  Only victory.

Since the ‘hearts and minds’ campaign of the Vietnam War, the United States has been skittish about civilian casualties.  We hamstring our military by restricting them to military targets – despite the fact that in Syria and Iraq civilian neighborhoods have been convenient refuges for the enemy from which he can mount his military assaults.

The United States had no compunction about firebombing Dresden, dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killing tens of thousands of civilians.  The end of the war and the defeat of Germany and Japan was all that mattered.

Image result for images hiroshima bomb

Our own Wm.Tecumseh Sherman understood strategy well.  Not only did he want to defeat the South, he wanted to completely destroy and humiliate it so that it would never rise again.

Image result for images wm tecumseh sherman

            www.biography.com

Either ISIS is an enemy or it isn’t.  President Hollande has made up his mind; and we can only hope that President Obama will do so soon.