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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Recipes–Baked Beets And Fresh Fennel

The simplest of all possible recipes, but delicious. Beets and fennel are always at their highest flavor when baked, and the combination of the two is unbeatable.  You can use standard red beets or a combination with the new yellow varieties.


Baked Beets and Fresh Fennel
* 5-6 small (or 3 medium-large) beets, peeled
* 2 bulbs of fennel, trimmed
* 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
* Salt, pepper to taste
- Slice the beets into quarters (or eighths if large)

- Be sure the bottom and the stalks of the fennel are trimmed

- Slice the fennel into large pieces

- Place the beets and fennel into a large mixing bowl

- Coat with olive oil, add salt and pepper, mix well

- Spread out on large baking sheet

- Bake at 400F for approx. 45 min

- Check at 30 minutes.  Vegetables tender, not overcooked

- Serve

Recipes–Spicy Rice Salad With Mango and Coriander Chutneys

This is simple but tasty recipe.  The combination between the sweet mango chutney and the spicy coriander chutney is perfect.  The fresh (refrigerated) green coriander chutney is available at all Indian stores, and most have a variety of sweet mango chutneys. Avoid the more commercial varieties (Patak), more local Indian-made are best.

Spicy Rice Salad with Mango and Coriander Chutney
* 1/2 cup dry long grain rice
* 1/4 cup sweet mango chutney ( Mrs. Ball’s Chutney best)
* 1 Tbsp. fresh green coriander chutney
* 1-2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
* 1/2 cup raisins
* 1/2 cup lightly chopped fresh basil leaves
- Boil the rice until done, set aside until cooled room temperature

- Mix all the ingredients with the rice

- Adjust for taste (more chutney, more vinegar, basil)

- Mix well, and SERVE 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Surviving Politics - When Is It Time To Disengage Entirely?

There is a post circulating on the Internet addressed to people ‘sick of politics’.  It suggests that disengagement is ‘privilege in action’.
Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence.  your wealth, your race, your abilities, or your gender allow you to live a life in which you will likely not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide.  You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake.
The assumption that privilege is behind disengagement has some salience, but it misses a much more important point - history repeats itself in predictable ways. 

As long as a hardwired, innate human nature fuels human enterprise, how can we all not be as self-protective, territorial, ambitious, and aggressive as we and our animal ancestors have been for millions of years?

And if history is and will always be cyclical, repetitive, and entirely predictable, what is the point of engagement? 

In a life that is ‘solitary, poor, brutish, nasty, and short’ such parochial concerns should be more than enough. Yet for many this concern over family integrity, economic well-being, and social welfare expands; and it doesn’t take long before such individual engagement in practical management becomes collective, determined, and aggressive.

At this moment personal integrity is subsumed within a larger group.  Solidarity may produce temporal results but it compromises both one’s individuality and spiritual aspirations. 
Traditional Hindus believe that since the world is illusion, then the only validation of existence is the individual soul and its only purpose spiritual evolution.

On other end of the philosophical spectrum Nietzsche wrote that the only validation of human experience in a meaningless world is the exercise of pure will.  Nihilists like Tolstoy echoed these sentiments in his second Epilogue to War and Peace.  Historical events are simply produced by the billions of purposeful and random actions that precede them. 

Napoleon may have lost the Battle of Borodino because of a bad cold which was caused by the negligence of his valet who forgot to bring the Emperor’s gum boots to the battlefield.  This negligence was caused by the valet’s obsession over his wife’s infidelity which was provoked by the valet’s absence and indifference.

Both schools of thought acknowledge the questionability of determined, purposeful engagement in social enterprise.  Napoleon may have been a great general, but it was others and their purposeless actions which made him.

Sartre offered a middle ground.  Human beings have no essence before their existence because there is no Creator. Thus "existence precedes essence".   Since one cannot explain one's own actions and behavior by referencing any specific human nature, one is necessarily responsible for those actions. "We are left alone, without excuse”, he said.  "We can act without being determined by our past which is always separated from us."

Sartre did not suggest activism or engagement; but insisted that there was a secular moral imperative – responsibility - which everyone must respect.

Wherever one falls on the spectrum there is no way to keep one’s mind focused on the kingdom of God, moksha, spiritual evolution, or even Existentialist responsibility, if one is consumed by secular, social, and idealistic concerns.

Americans find it particularly hard to retreat from the notion of progress and a better world.   Can-do entrepreneurial individualism is what most describes us.  There is no problem that cannot be solved nor none too big for resolution. 

There are two ends to this spectrum like any other.  On one end are progressives who, thanks to moderate wealth, education, and traditional religion, can afford to invest energy in ‘making the world a better place’.  At the other are the working poor and marginalized for whom their might be a better place somewhere in the universe, but it surely is not here nor within reach. 

In between are those who muddle through.  They work hard, keep up with national and international affairs, have little faith in public institutions but are resigned to rely upon them. 

All share one thing in common – growing disengagement with age.  At some point both rich and poor and all those in the middle realize that activism, idealism, or just plain hope are self-imposed vanities.   Life has has gone on, goes on, and will go on without them, as true to historical form as ever.  Even when the world seems to be becoming more stable and less contentious, it doesn’t take long before such equanimity begins to crack and fall apart.

In perhaps the greatest intellectual vanity of the 20th century the historian and political philosopher Francis Fukuyama declared ‘the end of history’.  The downfall of the Soviet Union would usher in a new world order of democratic enterprise and international harmony. 

So as the years until one’s death grow fewer, there seems to be little utility in continuing to march, petition, debate, or even discuss national and world events.  Not only do those who have lived long understand the inertia of history and the impossibility of changing its course; but they turn inevitably to personal, very individual matters.

Ivan Ilyich, the character in Tolstoy’s story of the same name, feels that he has life under control and to his measure.  When he begins to suffer from an incurable disease he feels betrayed.  How could it be, he wonders, that life has come to such a disappointing and frightening end?  He was not counting on dying.  Once he reluctantly faces the fact of his death, he can think of nothing but.  His past has no relevance whatsoever as he faces eternity.  “We all die alone”, he said.

There are those who deal with old age in denial.  Like Ivan Ilyich, death cannot happen to them, and the years past retirement offer limitless possibilities for study, research, and personal development.  For them it is an end in itself – keeping productively busy, maintaining the same self-image of intelligence and intellectual ambition of their younger years. 

For others who do not deny death but are afraid of it, years with fewer responsibilities offer a chance, like Tolstoy’s (A Confession) to figure out being and meaning before it is too late.

Still others spend time with family and friends, enjoy whatever life remains to them.  Why worry about the inevitable, they ask?

All of them, however, have disengaged to varying degrees from what appears more and more inevitable, but avoidable complexity.  Debate holds no interest.  If after 70, 80, or more years, what is there to learn.  Better let younger, more impressionable, and more idealistic people pay attention. 
Many older people stop reading newspapers and journals entirely.  They no longer listen to NPR or even the BBC which they had faithfully followed for decades.  The news was all so familiar, so expected.

What about civic responsibility? Doesn’t an American citizen have the duty to follow current affairs, to be informed about issues in order to vote and act responsibly? Regardless of age?

Continued engagement in civil affairs and performing the duties of a citizen implies a belief in positive change.  One’s vote does count, because there are good outcomes and bad ones, and therefore voting, more than an obligation, is an execution of progressive choice.

For those who have never subscribed to this positivist philosophy, who have turned to more personal concerns, and who at best can hope that the cycles of history will always include filling potholes and public works, disengagement is not a big deal.  In fact, it seems like the only reasonable option.

The recent (2016) presidential election has made it easy for those people on the fence – who cannot not decide between one final burst of progressive activism and unmooring the boat for final sail.  The campaign was such a vaudevillian burlesque and a sideshow; and the first post-Inaugural months such a Fun House of suspicions, allegations, innuendos, and charges that it is hard to take any of it seriously.  If there was ever a moment in modern history which illustrated the perpetual circus of politics, the self-interest, aggressive ambition, and petty territorialism of human nature, this was it.

So we float free.  Not above it all by any means, just airy and unconcerned.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Over-Regulation Of American Society - The Trump Populist Revolution And ‘Enough Already’

Two hundred years ago, criminal behavior was that which was intuitively wrong: murder, robbery, rape, trespass, fraud, etc. But the law has grown expansive and complicated to the point that legal scholars have posited that, on average, Americans unknowingly commit three federal felonies per day. Those complications explain how a Florida fisherman, John Yates, was convicted under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a 2002 statute passed in the wake of the Enron scandal, for allegedly throwing fish back into the sea before authorities could measure them (Rafael A. Mangual, National Review, 3.25.17)
While most Americans would agree that such legal overreach is the worst example of public intervention into private lives, it illustrates the conflict of political philosophies which lies at the root of civil disunion today.

The Right has always valued individualism, private enterprise, freedom of expression, and entrepreneurial spirit, all of which have provided the energy and the foundation for American liberal democracy.  They have accepted the excesses of such a laissez-faire society – social and economic inequality; a no-holds-barred, brutal, dismissive marketplace; and a might-is-right foreign policy – as necessary concomitants of a political philosophy which ultimately raises all boats and projects right and justice.

Human nature is the engine of such enterprise, the Right contends.  We are all territorial, self-interested, aggressive, and self-protective; and no matter how many critics may wish to deny what history has shown to be ineluctable facts, they cannot deny history or deter its momentum.

The Left has insisted that man and societies are indeed perfectible. Human nature may be consistent and innate, but by no means insuperable.  The human communitarian spirit of Christian charity and goodness also cannot be denied.

Thomas Jefferson understood the need for both when he wrote “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.  Such pursuit he went on to explain did not refer to selfish pleasures, but achieving individual satisfaction within the context of community.

It was not enough to respect the will of others, he wrote, but to act with community interests in mind and at the foremost.  The nation was built on individualism and personal enterprise; but it could never prosper let alone survive on this alone.  There had to be a balance between the God-given right of personal and economic expression and the Christian respect for community.

The Gospel of John was particularly relevant in this regard.  The new Christian community could never survive unless it maintained an absolute solidarity.  There could be no diversion from the principle values of the new faith nor apostasy.  Individual desires for the Kingdom of Heaven were no different from the new movement which purported to spread the ‘good news’ about Jesus Christ and salvation.

So how have the Johannine interpretation of community and the Jeffersonian model of individualism within a social context gotten so distorted?  How is it that the State has arrogated to itself so much patriarchal power?  How is it that citizens have willingly given up so much individual sovereignty into the hands of so few?

Christ in the Synoptic Gospels echoes a similar sentiment.  Mosaic Law was not wrong, he said; but it has been twisted and replaced by meaningless sacrifice and ritual. He, like Jefferson, would be sorely disappointed at the almost total ignorance of the essence and meaning of law and justice.


The Trump populist revolution is all about ‘enough!”.  The interventions of the State into private, personal, and intimate affairs has gone far beyond the suggested parameters of the Founding Fathers.  Slowly, but progressively and seemingly ineluctably, the lives of individual private citizens have become matter of public dominion. 

A colleague of mine took his summer vacations in Italy in the early 90s and took his children bathing at Lake Trasimeno. Italian traghetti,  ferries between the islands and the mainland plied the Lake and made frequent stops, tying up at local piers for a few minutes to load and unload passengers.  Before the boat arrived and immediately after it left, young Italian boys dived off the pier and rode the waves generated by its motors.  Occasionally a carabinieri would come by and wave the boys off; but the warning was desultory and admiring.

Back in the United States, recounted my colleague, he took his children to the local public pool.  There, lifeguards enforced every rule to the letter – No Running, No Horseplay, No Food, No Jumping, No Diving.  It was a summertime gulag of total enforcement. 

Yes, parents said, but surely the lifeguards saved lives.  Such impositions were necessary if not essential to public well-being.

My colleague also mentioned how he noticed the strict traffic rules in the United States– strict adherence to the speed limit, rules of the road, and parking regulations – so different from Italy where drivers were on their own, pedestrians made do, and life went on.

“The United States is a more evolved society”, said one social commentator.  In complex, diverse societies, it is only the law and its regulations which can provide the framework for right behavior.  Italy has yet to learn this lesson.

If this is true – and such an ‘if’ is a big supposition – then where does such legalism stop?  At what point does government paternalism become oppressive and inhibiting of individual expression? 
Why indeed?  Paternalism is precisely the issue. 

Yet the State has taken its charge far too seriously, and it is those very laws which now inhibit our freedom. Government has overreached, and freedom of choice – the fundamental principle behind all others, has become more and more limited. Every aspect of our lives is regulated. Economic and financial activity, education, transport, social community and preference, sexuality, and religion all come under State scrutiny and in the name of civil protection, more and more regulation is added to an already long list.

It is not a free country when your car, your house, your school, your church, and your work all fall under the authority of the State.  One may have the ‘freedom’ to choose among alternatives, but since they are all regulated and in one way or another determined by the State, the ‘freedom’ is fictive.

Laws to promote equality, while in principle important for assuring the extension of rights to all citizens, have also eroded personal freedoms. The legalization of gay marriage, favoring what many Christians consider a Biblical ‘abomination’, has infuriated many.  Instead of guaranteeing all legal rights through civil contract, the State has determined that only marriage will do. 

The protection of gay and women’s rights – important and required by law – has become an Anschluss in universities, offices, and public institutions. A culture of victimhood has replaced true respect.  The fight between individuals and their enterprises constrained by law and the demands of newly-empowered sub-groups have created an atmosphere of divisiveness and hostility. Affirmative action, now finally in its death throes stepped on the freedoms of some to supposedly promote the freedoms of others.

Since 9/11 the State has been increasingly invasive of individual privacy.  In addition to universal regulation, government now seeks to widen the net even further.  While one in principle has freedom of speech, one wrong word on the Internet can lead to investigation, detention, and arrest.

Image result for logo NSA

The Trump populist revolution seeks to roll back such government interventionism.  What many think is simply a reversion to Ronald Reagan’s “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem” homily, are mistaken.  Trumpists not only want to force the retraction of government arms, eyes, ears, and hands from private affairs; they want to restructure the way American society operates. 

Populists reject the notion of government paternalism and are willing to take the risks of individualism.  Nothing is worth oppressive regulation of and intrusion into the affairs of private citizens. 

Is there any value to civil laws and monitoring of individual behavior?  Of course.  A police and immigration force are required. Some environmental provisions make sense.  Additional inclusiveness under civil rights protection is advised.

Yet, the tendency of government is to overreach, to overstep its bounds, to tread where it is unwanted.  No one said that inclusivity meant a codified, absolute, right to homosexual marriage or abortion.  Who ever said that minority rights trumped the right to free speech and assembly? 

Ivan Karamazov (The Brothers Karamazov) argued for theocracy.  What better way to control anti-social elements of society than by proscribing crime because of moral dereliction and guilt?  There would be little crime if perpetrators felt they were sinning against God and just defying Man.

In other words, there would be no need for a secular authority to impose its arbitrary in invasive regulations if a moral authority were indwelling and innate.  The individual would police his own actions thanks to adherence to a higher principle.

The point is that there are no such things as ‘inalienable rights’, for even in the supposedly freest country in the world – the United States – freedom is little more than a vain promise.  Every citizen’s ‘freedom’ is limited by the State and by powerful commercial-political alliances.  Capitalism which does indeed allow people to go from rags to riches, also assures the almost permanent immobility of large proportions of the population.

Thomas Jefferson’s aspirational quote is well-known:
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.
What Jefferson did not know – and could not have known – was that ‘the law’ would be transformed from a narrow institution of government into a universal legal-corporate-economic-social hydra. 

The Left’s assumption today is that the individual cannot be trusted to act responsibly or in the interest of the Republic.  Especially in a complex, diverse society, he will be increasingly flummoxed by the bevy of moral and ethical choices confronting him.  Only the State can act on his behalf and that of his colleagues and fellow-citizens – i.e. the collectivity that is America.

Populists loudly disagree.  Who better to make decisions about morality, family, life, and sexuality than the family and the individuals within it?  How can government, or any supra-national entity, ever presume to speak for individual citizens. 

There is a private sector of ideas, principles, and morality in the United States and in any society; and issues will get thrashed about within it.  Common values will remain standing.  There is no need for a partial overlord.

Whatever comes of the Trump Administration, populism will not go back underground.  The genie is out of the bottle and cannot be ignored.  Individualism, the principle tenet of the 19th century, eroded during the 20th, will have to be reckoned with.

Progressive liberalism, statism, and government patriarchy are finished.