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

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Donald Trump As One Of Us - How Class Is Always More Important Than Race, Gender, And Ethnicity

America is a classless society, or so the myth goes.  Democratic, populist, egalitarian, universalist we suspect those who fly first class – the One Percenters who acquire 90 percent of the nation’s wealth and spend it promiscuously. St. Bart's, Gstaad, summers on the Vineyard, skiing at Val d’Isere, dinners at Lutece and Noma for foraged urchins and sea kale.

In principle we ignore First Class as we make our way down to Economy – such a waste of resources which could be spent on supporting the Environmental Defense Fund. Thousands of dollars for a bit more recline.

Yet, if we were honest with ourselves, we would admit our wish to be in the front of the airplane where the stewardesses are trimmer, younger, and sexier; where the food is French, the wines Californian, and the entertainment package foreign and independent.

We may be headed for 45D but our hearts, aspirations, and American loyalties are to 3A.

The big difference between Europe and America is that there class is a fixed, stable, and predictable commodity.  Although modern EU configurations have facilitated  inter-class movement, a plumber is still a plumber and his son will join the trade, the union, and the working class with pride and reward.

In America, members of the upper middle class – professionals, senior managers, administrators – who aspire to but will never attain real American heights have made the One Percent their shibboleth, a totem to be discarded, a fortress to be stormed.  Safe in tenure they have made classlessness a cause and the redistribution of wealth their mission. Screeds against capitalism, the unequal distribution of income, the elite, the privileged, and the advantaged are their war cries. Short of social revolution, America must be reconfigured to reward the disabled, the disadvantaged, the poor, and the minorities.

The same liberal reformers, however, look with the same envy at those comfortable in First Class, those with homes in the Caribbean, Europe, and Park Avenue as the rest of us.

Now that Donald Trump is about to take residence in the White House – the  Donald Trump most at home in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the glitz and tinsel of runways, casinos, mansions, and conspicuous wealth – progressives are at sixes and sevens.  They who have sniffed at  First Class privilege now have the essential bourgeois American as President.

How to deal with such a betrayal?  No more Camelot, Kennebunkport, or Hyde Park; no more Renaissance Weekends, summers on the Vineyard or even vacations in Maui; but a full-blown, tinsel-bedecked, Rockettes, over-the-top Hollywood extravaganza.  Impossible to have envisaged by the coastal elites, a true American has acceded to the White House.

Obama was a cultural interloper.  A black man, Harvard-trained professor of law, husband to a professional wife and father to two dutiful children, he was all that the liberal establishment could have ever wanted.  The loss of Hillary Clinton, his all-but-anointed successor, to Donald Trump the epitome of bourgeois excess and extravagance, was a visceral, existential blow.  It simply couldn’t be!

Yet, Trump is here with his model-gorgeous wife, his starlet daughter, and his coterie of white, happy, privileged, and ambitious family are here to stay, at least for four years.

Except for the disillusioned many who assumed, wrongly, that the time had come for a woman President who espoused progressive values, internationalism, civil rights, and environmentalism; most Americans are delighted with the surprising ascendancy of Donald Trump.

They embrace his braggadocio, his New York-Las Vegas-Hollywood tinsel and bauble glitz, his outspoken materialist patriotism, and his beautiful family.

He is unashamedly white, privileged, wealthy, successful, and wildly popular.  He has even eclipsed Ronald Reagan who only managed B-movie status.  Donald Trump who, in all his high-finance, showy middle-brow real estate, and low-brow television personality, is far more popular.  Ronald Reagan never made the cover of People Magazine or E!.

So, now that Trump is about to take over the White House, passengers headed down to Economy are a bit less envious of First Class.  One of their own – an ambitious, socially unpretentious, confidently middle class American has made it to the White House.  It makes no difference that they cannot sip Dom Perignon, or taste Beluga caviar.  It is enough that Donald, Melania, Ivanka, and Barron can.

No one who has paid any attention has ever dismissed the idea of class in America.  We are a class-bound, socially ambitious society which occludes class issues with race, gender, and ethnicity.  We are social strivers and climbers who stumble and bumble but who want to be like those who we are not.  We might have admired the Bushes, the Kennedys, and the Roosevelts, but we love the Trumps.  They are the closest we will ever come to cultural arrival.

This is what the Trump revolution is all about; and why Donald Trump has been so successful.  We know that we are all Bargain Basement shoppers, but we are at heart Trumpists who want not sedate intellectual weekends on Nantucket but high-octane trips to the Bahamas on private jets with trophy women.  We buy cheap but aspire dear.

The progressive Left has missed the point entirely.  Trump’s accession has less to do with geopolitics than with class and culture.  Less to do with white-black issues than with socio-economic aspiration; and nothing to do with race, gender, and ethnicity.

Donald Trump’s presidency is the most revolutionary in American history because it represents a true cultural revival.  For too long American bourgeois, middle class, religious fundamentalist ideals have been ignored or overlooked; and cultural contradictions dismissed.

American Airlines may be the first to offer ‘Last Class’ but not the last.   The race to the bottom while aspiring to the top is the essential American dilemma.  We will always be unwashed but hoping to be dressed in finery.

Such is the American saga.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Recipes - Lamb Curry With Cream

There are a variety of ways to make lamb curry, but I prefer this recipe which includes all the traditional curry spices but which uses a cream/yogurt/sour cream sauce base which provides texture and richness.


Lamb Curry With Cream
* 1 1/2 lbs. lamb shoulder, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2” pieces
* 1 med. onion, chopped
* 2 Tbsp. curry powder
* 5 cardamom seeds, crushed
* 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds, crushed
* 2 tsp. cumin powder
* 1 very small piece stick cinnamon
* 5 whole cloves
* 10 shakes hot pepper flakes (approx.)
* 5 shakes poppy seeds (optional)
* 6 Tbsp. olive oil
* 2 tsp. garlic flakes
* 1 cup half-and-half
* 2 lg. Tbsp. sour cream
* 2 lg. Tbsp. whole milk Greek yogurt
* 1 Tbsp. sugar
- Place the lamb pieces in a lg. pot with enough water to cover

- Add onion, 3 Tbsp. oil, 1 Tbsp. garlic flakes, 5 shakes hot pepper, 1 Tbsp. curry powder.  Stir

- Cook for approx. 1 hr. or until lamb is very tender, easily broken with fork

- Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and reserve

- While lamb is cooking sauté the remaining spices in 3 Tbsp. oil for approx. 10 min, stirring constantly, until fragrant

- Add the cream, sour cream, sugar, and yogurt; stir, and mix well

- Add the meat, mix, and place all in covered ovenproof dish

- Heat at 275F for approximately 30 min. (mixture should be bubbling)

- Taste for salt, stir, place in serving dish

- Garnish with sliced toasted almonds or parsley and serve.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The United Nations–The Singular Failure Of International Idealism

War is not a pretty thing, and to many it is surprising that it still exists at all in the 21st century.  It seems such a primitive way of solving conflicts and disputes.  Although battle armor, weaponry, and battlefield strategies have evolved over the millennia, photographs of today’s wars are little different from paintings of the Crusades, the War of the Roses, or the Hundred Year War.

Image result for images battle of bosworth field
                      Battle of Bosworth Field

The wars the Romans fought against the Visigoths were fought with buckets of boiling oil catapulted across the plains of battle onto the amassed enemy; with swords, lances, and bows-and-arrows; with cavalry, phalanxes of foot soldiers; with frontal assaults and hand-to-hand combat.   The Napoleonic Wars were fought with more strategy and deception and caused more death, destruction, and mayhem thanks to cannon artillery; and although they were more bloody and devastating than wars past (over 70,000 casualties in one day alone at the battle of Borodino).

World War I was no less brutal.  Poison gas was added to the German and Allied arsenals, but the two armies still fought in pitched battles on bloodied ground.

World War II, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars were no different.  Although in each successive war new hardware; improved surveillance and battlefield intelligence; superior air power; and chemical weapons were added to military arsenals, the basic strategy remained the same – attack, defend, and kill.

In all wars civilian casualties have accounted for a significant proportion of deaths.  The United States in World War II firebombed Dresden and dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The civilian losses in the current war in Syria are even higher since both sides have shown little restraint and have bombed residential areas of Aleppo and other cities on the assumption that enemy fighters were using them as bases.

Image result for images firebombing of dresden

                     Aftermath of the firebombing of Dresden

Why, then, given the death, maiming, destruction, and inhumanity of war do we continue to wage it?  How is it that after three millennia of military conflict we have not learned how to avoid it?  And how is that with all the advances in technology, psychology, and historical analysis we continually fail at negotiation?

Francis Fukuyama, a Harvard- and Yale-trained political scientist, wrote The End of History (1992) a book which predicted a new world order of peaceful accommodation after the fall of the Soviet Union.  Once the the threat of nuclear war had been eliminated and the world’s two superpowers put down their weapons; and once the geopolitics of hegemony had ceased; and once client states were freed from the yoke of Communist influence the world would prosper under liberal democracy.
What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
Under such a system based on a respect for civil liberties, free markets, and open borders, war would cease to be a reality.

Of course just the opposite was true.  Once the Soviet bloc dissolved, long-repressed ethnic and religious nationalism emerged.  The Balkan Wars were the first example of how autocratic hegemony had kept the lid on antipathy and violence; and how old hurts, resentments, and insults never die.

Image result for images tito

                  Josip Broz Tito

The wars in Iraq and Syria, and rise of jihadist Islam are unsurprising further examples of how the Cold War only suppressed antagonisms.  The real nature of human society is, as it has always been, territorial, self-interested, aggressive, and implacable in its ambitions.

It is likely, given the course of history, that wars will be fought between the United States and Russia and/or China.  Already familiar markers to the run-up to war can be seen.  Russia’s annexing of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are clearly precursors to further neo-imperialist expansionism.  China, now an economic and growing military superpower, is less shy about showing its muscle and will never back down on its own territorial claims and global economic ambitions.

Why is this not surprising? Not only are wars an integral if not defining feature of human history, they express something even more fundamental – an aggressive, self-protective, territorial, combative, and implacable human nature.  At every level of of human society – family, tribe, ethnic group, region, and nation -  disputes are rarely settled amicably.  Lawsuits have replaced Hatfield and McCoy feuds, but the purpose and strategies remain the same.  Get yours through whatever means.

The League of Nations formed in 1920 after the conclusion of World War I was intended to provide a forum for discussion and rational debate for the resolution of geopolitical disputes before they escalated into war.  The Charter was explicit:
In order to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security
By the acceptance of obligations not to resort to war; by the prescription of open, just and honorable relations between nations; by the firm establishment of the understandings of international law as the actual rule of conduct among Governments, and
by the maintenance of justice and a scrupulous respect for all treaty obligations in the dealings of organized peoples with one another,
Agree to this Covenant of the League of Nations.
Noble but hopelessly idealistic, World War II broke out less than twenty years after its inauguration.

Image result for image league of nation founding members


The Charter of the United Nations, an organization formed in 1945 immediately after World War II had the very same ideals:

To  save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


To  practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

Noble but like the League of Nations hopelessly idealistic the UN could only watch the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the two Iraq Wars, the War in Afghanistan, and is currently watching the war in Syria.

Because the United Nations has been singularly ineffectual in meeting the conditions of its charter – to prevent war – but because it, like all bureaucracies, once formed has an organic imperative to grow and to appear successful.  As a result the organization has become highly politicized and far from the neutrality envisaged by its founders. 

To give legitimacy to its cause, United Nations specialized agencies have proliferated.   They are intended to provide support to the world’s nations in need, but have done so with highly selective agendas, programs, and policies. UNESCO, UNFPA, and the ILO are but a few examples of how United Nations agencies develop their own particular ideological positions regardless of world consensus.

To keep the flame of internationalism alive, the United Nations has sent ‘peacekeepers’ to world trouble spots, but have been ineffective in keeping warring parties apart and have been accused of everything from minor misdemeanors to high crimes.

The point is that conflicts will be resolved as they always have been – one party will come out on top, rule over the conquered until the day it is challenged.  The cycle of dominance and submission will continue to turn as long as human nature still rules human behavior.

The latest (12/16) UN debacle – the Security Council resolution to censure Israel for its settlement policy – is but the latest case in aggressive, politically-driven decisions cloaked in the mantle of righteous patronage of the world’s peoples.

The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis runs so deep, with so many historical, social, and cultural imperatives; and with so many deeply-felt suspicions and hostilities, that there is not even a scintilla of hope or evidence that a Security Council resolution will have any impact or influence whatsoever.  What it will do is harden Israel’s position; and as of this writing it is already accelerating its settlement program.

The dispute between the Palestinians and the Israelis will not be resolved by any negotiation, international pressure, or persuasion.  Israel will only consider itself safe from the enemy only after it has expanded its territories far enough into hostile lands around it.  The Palestinians will not cease its aggression until it has wiped Israel and all Jews (Hamas charter) off the face of the earth.  Israel clearly has the upper hand and will use all its military might and economic power to succeed.

There is no way that ISIS will stop its territorial and geopolitical expansionism because of negotiation.  It believes so strongly in the power and supremacy of Islam as a religious and political institution that it will not give up its war until it is beaten and destroyed.

The war in Syria will not end because of negotiation but only after one side wins.  Now that Russia has entered the conflict on the side of the Assad regime, its victory is now certain.

Russia will not stop its own expansionism unless and until it is met with military force; and China when pushed will do the same.

The days of geopolitical idealism are over, and only the United States has continued to base its foreign policy on moral exceptionalism, an idealistic faith in the rightness of liberal democracy and free markets.  The rest of the world, increasingly divided into separatist, imperialist, or jihadist movements has for better or worse moved on; and unless the United States finally, once and for all, gives up its idealism and supercilious righteousness can it get what it wants.

And ‘get what it wants’ is what the international game is all about.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Islam vs The West–A War Against Secularism And The Restoration Of Spiritual Values

Much has been written about radical Islam and the establishment of a Muslim Caliphate; but the focus has been more on geopolitical issues and ambitions rather than on what is far more central – the increasing secularization of Christianity.  It is not so much that Islam wants to replace Western liberal democracies with a theocracies; but to turn them away from secular expediency and return them to the spiritual values which have always been at their foundation

Catholic Popes have repeatedly warned against this expediency.  Pope Paul II was the first to  frame the argument against abortion in these terms.  Focus on the secular premise of a woman’s right to choose ignores more fundamental moral and ethical issues.  It is too easy, John Paul admonished, to dismiss life as a  biological accident.  To put spiritual issues aside in the pursuit of a more equal civil society may seem reasonable and just given women’s fight for full participation in society; but to do so ignores the mystery of life, its divine origins and purpose.   Focusing only on issues of equality and civil rights serves to distract men and women from the more fundamental issues of being and purpose.

Pope Francis has taken up John Paul’s argument and expanded it.   In his latest encyclical, Laudato Si he stressed how a rejection of the absolute value of human life erodes respect for all life. 
“How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” he asked.
Once the ability to welcome a new life is lost on the part of individuals and society, other forms of acceptance also “wither away,” he said, warning against a “culture of relativism” that sees an absence of any objective truth outside of our own immediate wants and needs.

In other words, as heinous as abortion itself is, intervening in the natural process of procreation to end embryonic human  life erodes the absolute sanctity of the rest of God’s creation.
When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”
This thesis has been defended and expanded by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn:
Pope Francis hasn’t conceded an inch on the Church’s pro-life stance, and in October he assailed postmodernist gender theories that pretend that human sexuality is a social construct and therefore infinitely malleable to personal and political whimsy. Such theories, Francis said, are part of a “global war” aimed at destroying marriage and the traditional family (WSJ 12.24.16)
The Church’s position on the centrality of family, procreation, and human life has not changed since the days of the Early Church.   Not only does procreation fulfill the divine mandate to be fruitful and multiply, but unites man and woman in a special indissoluble bond.
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,  and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:7-9)
The Old Testament’s exhaustive genealogy is a chronicle of families and  the importance of lineage and ties to the Hebrew patriarchs.   God the Father and God the Son add a new, more profound spiritual dimension to the concept of family.  Early Christianity was based on community the center of which was the family.

Abortion and homosexuality are repeatedly condemned for their interruption of the natural order of life.  The act of Creation is central to Christianity – God’s creation and man’s.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ restored the Trinitarian family and united humanity (Christ as Man) and divinity (Christ as God).  The acts of divine creation and resurrection were over but those of human creation would continue within a new, promising context.

The references to homosexuality and abortion were not condemnatory per se but made within the context of creation, procreation, and rebirth; and were meant to emphasize the integrity of the human-divine community.  The Church’s teaching about contraception is essential to this conception of creation and life.  The artificial and arbitrary interruption of the natural procreative cycle is no more than an expedient dissolution of the divine historical imperative.

It is too simplistic to criticize the Church’s teachings on abortion, homosexuality, and contraception as antiquated, anti-progressive, and retrograde.  It is only the Church which stands between a completely expedient and secularized society and one which retains its spirituality.

Pope Paul II knew that his conservative interpretation of doctrine would go counter to the increasing secularization of  the West where  morality was increasingly discussed only within the context of civil rights.  Unless the Church framed the argument in a more persuasive way, men and women would continue to treat human life as fungible, relative, and ultimately insignificant.
A spiritually unmoored West is vulnerable to its own demons, Schonborn noted, chief among them…various ideologies that treat human beings as means to and end. Threats to the dignity of life on the Continent, such as the relentless expansion of euthanasia…suggest that the demons of Europe are still around” WSJ, op.cit.)
All of which is a preamble to the Cardinal’s central point – that Islam as a religion offers a return to fundamental spiritual values that Christianity is losing:
“Will there be a third Islamic attempt to conquer Europe?”, he asked…”Many Muslims think this and wish this and say that Europe is at its end”.
The Left pounced on these words and accused him of thought crimes, and his message was lost in the acrimony.
[His message] was not mainly aimed at Muslims.  “I can fully understand Muslim believers – authentic believers whom I profoundly respect in their beliefs – who see evident signs of decadence in Europe…They think that Islam will be a good thing for Europe, to bring Europe on a better path to morality or faith in God.   So for me the threat is not believing Muslims (WSJ, op.cit.)
The Cardinal goes on:
But these things are byproducts of the West’s own existential confusion. “The real challenge is: What does it mean for the Christian roots of Europe?  Christianity is a missionary religion by its founder.  Jesus Christ said, Go and make all nations my disciples, teach them what I said, baptize them.  And a similar thing is true for Islam.
Only many in the West have  relinquished their inheritance, let alone any desire to share it.  Meanwhile Muslims remain devout and are growing more so.  The clash between a secularized, doubt-ridden West and a missionary Islam is Europe’s central crisis in a nutshell (WSJ, op.cit.)

His is a profound understanding of the clash of Muslim and Western cultures.  He has gone beyond the geopolitical rhetoric and the historical imperatives of expansionism, and looked at the fundamental reasons why Islam has such an allure and why its spiritual convictions will conquer the West in more complete and universal ways than ISIS or al-Qaeda ever could.