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

Monday, February 10, 2020

Valentine’s Day Cards And The First Taste Of Girls - Gender Politics And The Loss Of Innocence

Valentine’s Day is a day of perfunctory remembrance for most husbands  - a bouquet of flowers at the subway kiosk on the way home; and a marker for wives who expect a little special attention on this day to compensate for the desultory kisses on the other three-hundred-sixty-four.

Valentine’s Day for many, however, has never meant candy and flowers, only remembrances of childhood - sharing cards with kindergarten classmates – cute, flowery, Springy cut-outs of boys and girls with lambs and apple blossoms in meadows.  “Will you be my Valentine?”, the cards all said.  Even though we were very young, even as kindergartners we knew that sex was in the air – or at least pairing, or mating, or some special event that no one had prepared us for.

We were too young to know what frilly pinafores meant, or hair ribbons, or pretty shoes; but something happened when we saw them, something that had nothing to do with playing catch, marbles, or riding bikes.  Valentine’s Day was our first initiation, our first sensibility to the difference between girls and boys.  We didn’t give Valentine’s Day cards to boys.  They were our friends, our partners, our teammates. We gave them to girls, this surprisingly attractive lot of other humans whom we didn't understand but who had our undivided attention.

Image result for image old childrens valentanes dah cards      
It was an era of unquestioned sexuality – sexual feelings which were translated into romantic sentiments which were returned in kind.  From the earliest age and without being taught, we knew – or at least surmised – that our lives would revolve around these pretty, lacy creatures.

Kindergarten and primary school were only the beginning, the first taste of sex.  There would be dancing school, sliding across the floor to choose the girls who were the prettiest; a choice without adult vetting– girls who were Lolitas, desirable and available even though sex had not yet occurred to them.  Then there would be first dates, movie dates, an irresistible feeling of sexual interest; then ‘parking’, exploration, and finally the real thing.

So this is what it is all about, we said, wanting more, never possibly understanding how such feelings could possibly become our battlegrounds, our court dates, our complete loss of innocence; and the be-all and end-all of our short lives.

Ah, but this is a tale of an earlier, romantic, and unevolved sexual history.  Valentine’s Day cards today are given willy-nilly, regardless of sex, indifferent to the sexual intention behind them.

Mandy Phillips had been brought up in a woke family.  Both parents were unconvinced that heterosexual desire was innate, hardwired, or inevitable.  On the contrary, they believed that although sexual desire was natural enough, its directions had been directed in heterosexual ways – ways that had been predetermined and encouraged by a white, male elite which had been interested only in progeny, legacy, and heritage.  There was nothing in any scientific literature which suggested that heterosexuality was anything more than a procreative imperative; and that once that inconvenient determinant had been eliminated via genetic manipulation, it would become irrelevant, a remnant of an earlier age, a bit on the scrapheap of history.

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So it was with some surprise that Mandy had doubts about who he was sexually since his sexual re-education had been so complete.  So many woke parents encouraged their children to dress ‘inappropriately’ and sent their boys to school in dresses and their girls in factory floor denims and work boots.   In short, everything in these evolved schools favored transgenderism – or at the very least a fungible place on the gender spectrum.  This alternative, short of physical transformation, was ideal; for anyone could pick and choose where they thought they fit or where they would like to fit; but nothing held them to that choice.  It would be a gender free-for-all.

Mandy was not a very bright child, stumbled through arithmetic and mathematics, had a hard time remembering dates, got confused every time teachers referred to Kant, Russell, and Plato; and was thoroughly befuddled by anything more than linear thinking.  He, in short, was the ideal candidate for radical gender re-assignment.  His parents – died-in-the wool progressives, grandchildren of the followers of Samuel Gompers and the Labor Movement of the early 20th century, acolytes of Saul Alinsky, Paolo Freire, and Noam Chomsky, and activists in the struggle for civil rights, the environment, and a more peaceful world – were delighted that their son had been favored with such gender attention, and followed every prescription that Movement leaders recommended.  Mandy, slow as he was, never protested, and went along with whatever his parents and teachers had in store for him.

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It was only after he had reached puberty and then some, and was well on the way to transition through hormonal adjustment, that he began to have these conflicting thoughts.  Sex after all, is hardwired, no matter how fervently transitionists disagree, and so it was not surprising that the boy still got an erection every time he got within fifty feet of a girl.  As hard as he tried to conform to the adjustment program and accept treatment, the more confused he became.  Before long he was masturbating to images of hot girls in leggings and singlets.  What was that all about?

He confided these troubling desires to both his physician and psychiatrist; but they, good soldiers in the just war, refused to listen.  They were sure that with patience and staying the course, Mandy would remain a girl.
They guessed wrong, and sooner rather than later, the boy said, “Bullshit” and pulled the plug.

He had been had, and he wanted no more part of it.  He tossed the red, yellow, and blue tablets down the toilet, refused any more injections, and told the psychiatrist that his treatment was finished.

His parents were at first disappointed, but his father, once he saw his son looking like a real man – a handsome, muscular, alluring, and seductive male (much as he secretly thought himself to be) – he was delighted.  He regretted putting the boy through it all, but never blamed anyone.  He was only glad that he had seen the light before it was too late.

“Bullshit”, Mandy said repeatedly when asked where his frilly dresses were and why he no longer sashayed down the corridors.  “Bullshit”, he repeated.

There were no Valentine’s Day cards in woke children’s childhoods.  Parents in their Upper Northwest Washington community, had rejected any suggestion of introducing such retrograde reminders of America’s sexist past.  Sexuality had nothing to do with heterosexual polarity; and that even something so apparently innocent as Valentine’s Day cards was dangerous– an early elitist attempt to force children into a discredited heterosexual box.  Sexuality occurred on a gender spectrum where heterosexual maleness or femaleness occurred only as points among others without salience or permanence. There would be no Valentine’s Day cards, dancing school, no distinction between sexes.

If the world were to progress to a more fair, just, equal world, then sex, the most determining factor in the equation, would have to be neutered.  It was such sex, after all, that drove men to conflict, combat, and slaughter.  The Medieval cult of chivalry was nothing but a convenient romantic cover for male predation and territorialism.  Petrarch was not a poet of romantic love, but one of conflict and conquest. 

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There is a movement to bring back Valentine’s Day cards, but promoted as it is by politically conservative and therefore suspect parties, it is likely to fail, at least in the progressive neighborhoods of Cambridge and San Francisco.  The residents of Trump country cheer the initiative as the beginning at least of the closing of the eyes of the woke generation and a return to saner, more traditional, more Biblical, and  more obvious principles; but such anti-establishment views are rejected out of hand.

There were no Valentine’s Day cards at Mandy’s grandchildren’s Pre-K, and as much as he encouraged his son and daughter-in-law to reconsider their choice of schools, and as convinced as they were of the principled rightness of his arguments, they could not resist the zeitgeist juggernaut.  Valentine’s Day cards were sexist, elitist and inherently racist and had no place in progressive Cambridge.

The tide will eventually turn.  The gender spectrum will be realized for the temporizing, political artifact that it is, and sexual games and boy-meets-girl drama will inevitably return; but in the meantime, little, sweet, kindergartners will have to make do with animal stickers.

Populist Nationalism – Charlemagne, Brexit, And The Preservation Of Cultural Identity

The world is becoming a smaller place, and the tide of cultural integration, for better or worse, cannot be turned back.  However, many countries in Europe are feeling what they consider an erosion of historical national identity. The EU has facilitated cross-border travel, residence, and economics; and the laws of the Union have been constructed deliberately for this purpose.  Those who envisaged a Europe-wide community saw the eventual dissolution and disappearance of individual nations; and given the region’s history of aggression, violence, and territorialism, a common market and unified cultural union could only be a good thing.  Nationalism, it was thought, was an old-fashioned, discredited notion which was at the root of international conflict.  If nations relinquished their xenophobic ambitions and instead adopted a more cooperative and mutually beneficial approach to international affairs, the region and the world would be a better place.

Of course such radical integration has a downside. The French are not particularly happy with the erosion of their language, pushed aside and corrupted by English; nor are they happy that their premier place in Europe, the country which has always been the center of Western civilization, arts, and culture; the country which brought civilization to its African colonies – is being forgotten.  France has become a place of employment, of finance, and of trade; and its unique culture eroded by Eastern Europeans, North and Sub-Saharan Africans, and increasingly religiously fundamental immigrants from the Middle East.

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France carries the legacy of empire, kings and kingdoms, art, literature, and music – much of which is derived from Christian tradition.  The cathedrals of Notre Dame, Chartres, and Rouen were ‘the stone books of the Middle Ages’, created as monuments to Christ.  Every element glorified him and told the story of his birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection. The naves were high and vaulted to symbolize the heavens, the stained glass windows to depicted the lives of the saints, the vast interiors reflected the power and glory of God and his kingdom. Bach’s cantatas and fugues were religious in origin as were the paintings of Giotto, Botticelli, and Fra Angelico. The Vatican is not just the seat of Catholicism, but the home of God’s representative on earth. 

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Christianity is not just a religion in Europe, but the living legacy of a storied past. To say that France is a Christian country because most of its residents are Christian misses the point entirely.  France is Christian to its core, calls itself fille aînée de l'Eglise because of Roland and the armies of Charlemagne which defended Europe from the infidel, and it is no surprise that it defends its Christian identity without reserve.

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Of course the new immigrants have little interest in France’s cultural and religious history.  They are simply happy to be in a more economically congenial country than the ones they left and see it as a neutral residence, a place where they can profit from its economic well-being while being left alone to continue to practice their own religion and follow the dictates of their own culture.  France is becoming more and more a cultural patchwork – individual ethnic communities separate and separated from ‘La France’. The maxim “We are all French” doesn’t apply to them.

Traditional ethnic French see this facile dismissal of French history and culture as disassembling.  France might itself disappear.  They are concerned, angry, and frustrated at government’s indecision and pusillanimity. It may have taken a stand on headscarves, a small effort to assert French secularism, but has done too little to stem the tide of immigrants from non-EU countries, those with little cultural affinity and hardline religious and cultural beliefs.

France is not alone in its concern about ‘inclusivity’.  Even Scandinavian countries which have always prided themselves on their tradition of liberalism, tolerance, and welcome have begun to question what their compassionate open-door policy means.  Is it not the first chink in the wall? The first breech of cultural borders? The first threat to national identity?

Of course European progressives like their American counterparts see no threat whatsoever.  What is culture, after all, they ask?  It is not a fixed, historical entity.  There is no such thing as a permanent zeitgeist or an irreplaceable cultural core  A culture is no more than the collective expression of those who live within it. If France becomes Muslim, mosques replace churches, and strict, fundamentalist traditions replace more accommodating Western ones, so be it.  There is nothing inherently valid about Christianity, French cuisine, haute couture, or language.  The writings of Montaigne, Rabelais, Descartes, and Voltaire, say radical Deconstructionists, are nothing more than expressions of the cultures in which they were written.  They are no more valid or permanent than the African European or Muslim French writers writing today. If traditional French culture disappears, so be it.

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Most others dismiss this argument out of hand. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and the Church are not simply incidental thinkers, interpreters of secular times, insignificant characters on history’s assembly line.  Without them the civilizations that have created the modern world, contributed to intellectual insight, science, economics, and political philosophy would never have existed.  As importantly, the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, the diptychs of Cato the Elder; and the Bible have not been replaced by post-modern texts and they never will be.

Brexit was about legitimate populist nationalism – a term which have been interpreted by the Left as pernicious xenophobia, but which is anything but.  Leaving the EU was both a political statement – voters wanted to be independent of what they saw as the EU’s restrictive laws and legislation, rules that neutered UK independence – and a cultural one.  British voters, like their counterparts in France and Scandinavia, had a concern about the erosion of culture.  While cultural transformation cannot be stopped, it can be controlled.  There are ways to welcome newcomers without conceding national identity.

The case of the United States is different.  We have no long cultural history.  We have been a country more defined by procedure – our laws, Constitutional rights and responsibilities, legislative procedures, and economic system – than culture.  We are inheritors of the Church and Martin Luther not originators of religion.  We are descendants of the Enlightenment, not philosophers.  We are a country of artists and musicians, but our earliest painters and writers are held to no higher or more universal standard than any today.  Culture for us follows the same ethos of procedure – what ever comes, comes, is recognized for its temporary value, and shelved.

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So why does immigration raise the same hackles here as it does in Europe?  If we are a nation which has no real culture to be eroded or destroyed; and more importantly a nation which respects process and procedure more than any inherent cultural values, then why should we be upset if Spanish is replacing English, or black culture replacing white?

Those who dismiss American culture in this way do so with a modern, progressive bias.  The culture of the Enlightenment; of Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, and Adams; of entrepreneurship, individualism, and religious faith all combined, is culture.  America took the democratic revolution of France and the civil traditions of England but rejected theocracy, the divine right of kings, nobility, aristocracy, and autocracy.  It is because of both European underpinnings, and rugged frontier individualism that we are the unique country that we are.

So traditionalists who view the new culture of diversity, inclusivity, and identity as dangerous and corrosive, threatening to the culture of America, are as concerned as Europeans, but in their own way.  Similar sentiments, different situation, same reaction.

Populist and nationalism are not dirty words, for they express important cultural sentiments – sentiments which reject the idea of cultural relativism.  Western, Japanese, Chinese, and Persian civilizations are indeed more remarkable than others and represent the highest and best expressions of human intellect, ambition, and creativity.  The preservation of the essential philosophical principles underlying these cultures and a respect for the human expressions made possible because of them is normal and necessary.

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Sunday, February 9, 2020

RECIPES–Pasta With Mussels In Cream With Saffron And Thyme

I have always like mussels and bought them from the Maine Avenue floating fish market in Washington, DC when I first came to the city.  They were large, bearded, and hard to clean.   Also in the days before mussel farming, they could come from anywhere, and since they are like barnacles which attach to piers, pillars, and underwater tires, they were often deadly. 

My father always said that they were the Italian (American) oyster because they were so cheap and plentiful.  Now, however, they are farmed in Maine, clean, no beards, and safe.  They are delicious steamed in white wine with tomatoes, garlic, and onions; or Asian style with soy sauce and ginger.

I thought I would try something different, and saw a post about mussels in cream with oregano.  I thought this spice might be too much, so I substituted thyme and saffron, and the result was excellent.  A truly tasty, marvelous dish.  Simple to make.

Image result for images pasta with musssels and cream

Pasta with Mussels in Cream with Saffron and Thyme
* 1 bag mussels
* 1-2 tsp dried thyme
* 1 tsp (approx.) saffron
* 1/4 cup heavy cream (liberal portion)
* 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 Tbsp. unsalted European style butter
* 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
* 3 med cloves garlic, chopped
* 1/4 lb penne rigati (or any other pasta)
- Wash the mussels carefully
- Place in large pot with about 1-2” water
- Steam until open (about 5 min)
- Remove the mussels from shells and reserve
- Saute the garlic in the butter/olive oil
- Add the cream, saffron, and thyme and stir well
- Let simmer over very low heat for about 10 min, stirring often
- Add salt to taste
- Add the mussels, stir, add milk if too thick
- Serve over penne

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Love In The Time Of Trump–Sex, Fantasy, And Existential Romance

Macy Feller was not exactly young, but certainly ‘old enough to know better’ as her parents kept reminding her – a suggestion that her life and career paths had been not exactly either fruitful or they way they had planned.  She, now thirty-something, well-off but not accelerating, not on any particular career path but not forgotten either. In fact it was her parents’ fault – if blame were to be laid anywhere – for her diffidence.  Careers were not all they were cracked up to be, and her apprenticeship in a K Street law firm did nothing to abuse her of that notion. 

As dry and unpalatable as torts, contracts, and liability seemed at first blush, they were nothing of the sort.  There was a bit of the Roman arena in court.  There was nothing like watching the defense squirm as she taunted, feinted, sidestepped, attacked, and delivered  coup de grace, a sword driven up to the hilt as her opponent slowly toppled to the courtroom floor, defeated, and dead.

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This joy of bloody combat was of course not enough to make partner.  It was too in the moment, too joyful.  The firm cared little for theatrics or the dance of the toreadors. It only wanted a winner’s score sheet, full billing, and far more wins than losses.  Nevertheless, Macy felt lucky to have chosen a career which was suited to her personality and character.  Most lawyers get into the profession for the wrong reasons – parental influence, peer pressure, money, consistency, and career longevity – but Macy knew that the law had little to do with any of the above; east of all a stone in the pillar of liberal democracy as her Harvard professors had limned.

No, it was the gladiatorial arenas of fallen warriors and the unmatched vaudevillian, side show antics of the courtroom that appealed to her.  Winning was of course important - she had much in that column to show for her courtroom shows – but it was the bloodied sand, the staggering, defeated enemies, and the absolute, willful pursuit of total victory which excited her.

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Henry Kissinger once said that power was the greatest aphrodisiac, and Macy Feller knew exactly what he meant.  She interpolated of course – she would never ‘sniff at the hems of power’ as Arthur Schlesinger rudely criticized politicians manqué – but still felt that Kissinger was on to something.  There was something exhilarating if not sexual in watching the disassembly of an opponent, reduced to stumbling, mumbling, and collapsing before her attack. 

And then against all odds and presumptions Donald Trump won the 2016 election.  He was not supposed to win.  Hillary Clinton, groomed with an Ivy League pedigree, married to a two-term President, a stint as Secretary of State, and a term in the US Senate, was the anointed and all but sure victor in November; but out of nowhere came this dirty street fighter, squire of beauty queens, television prima donna, New York real estate mogul, Las Vegas showman with nothing to lose.

He was not only a political outsider, but the outsider, the man who cared nothing about Capitol Hill or Pennsylvania Avenue propriety.  ‘Drain the swamp’ he said, dismissive of Washington and the incestuous insiders that had ruled both parties for generations.

Trump beat Hillary soundly, and for the next three years her gob-smacked, gut-punched, disillusioned supporters first dropped to their knees in disbelief then rose up in anger and hatred, vowing to dismember and dismiss the new president.

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They had no idea, however, whom they were up against.  Progressives thought that if the ‘truth’ were told, the poseur in the White House would be dismissed for the charlatan, the misogynist, racist, homophobe that he was.  They challenged and expected him to respond in kind, to defend himself, citing chapter and verse from his own playbook; but to their surprise, his  response was nothing of the sort.  Trump answered with scurrilous tweets, ad hominem attacks, distortions, and shameless innuendo.  He called Elizabeth Warren, the darling of the progressive Left, ‘Pocahontas’ for her self-interested claim to be an American Indian.  He mocked disabled reporters, went whole hog on hairdos, fat shamed, and paid no respect to the ‘diverse’ crowd of political pretenders.   No gay man, Latino woman, or old socialist would get any respect from him.

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The more progressives shouted in hysterical wonder at the man’s irredentism, his shameless dismissal of modern liberalism, and his downright cracker, backwoods, inbred, genetic ugliness, the more he piled on.  They thought of Trump as a circus sideshow freak, an aberration in the Utopian trajectory.

Yet Trump did not go away.  In fact with ever charge of misogyny, racism, and historical ignorance leveled at him, the President had responded in kind and then some; but progressives, brought up in a culture of tolerance and inclusivity, did not know what to make of his use of gutter language.  They had no response for an unreconstructed, politically incorrect, politician who not only disagreed with their idealistic views of Utopia and a grand, inclusive future, but who laughed at them.   They were unprepared for a populist vaudevillian with not an academic bone in his body who mouthed the existential interpretations of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Sartre.  Utopia?  Bullshit.

All of which is to say that Macy Feller was in her element.  She was living in a country whose President, for the first time in her memory, thought like she did.  Trump was unconcerned about position papers, courthouse rectitude, geopolitical compromise, and nostrums about the poor.   He was a Nietzschean nihilist after her own heart.

Of course there were thousands of Macy Fullers, men and women who were just as disengaged from politics as she, just as amoral in attitude and philosophy, and just as happy to live and let live as long as they could lead an unencumbered life; but it did take a special twist of serendipity for her and her lover to meet.  It was a genius cluster, a coincidence of genes and upbringing, and a particularly unusual correspondence. 

D.H. Lawrence wrote of sexual epiphany , a sexual coming which, when achieved by the perfect symmetry of dominance and submission would lead to an existential understanding.  While many critics have dismissed Lawrence for his excess – his windy prose and his over-claims of sexual potency – others have thought him right.  There is nothing like sexual symmetry for good sex.

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Macy and her lover did not match Lawrence’s sexual equipoise.  Neither he nor she had pronounced dominant or submissive traits; but it was the perfect harmony of their ‘spiritual indifference’ which made them sexually complicit.  It was they against everyone they knew and could imagine.

When a circus performer shows up in a political arena, only the defensive, the arriere garde bay at the moon.  The very few open the flaps of the big tent and welcome him in.  He is one of us, ‘one of us’, goes the refrain of the movie Freaks.  Only the insiders, the ‘freaks’ who see his native intelligence and spontaneity, say 'Come on in'.

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Macy and her lover were too engaged with each other to consider political sexual maturity; but had they had the interest, they would have concluded that no Lawrentian existential spa would be right for true believers.

The affair between Macy and her lover lasted only a few months.  Love affairs, even concluded within a unique supra-sexual context, cannot exist forever; and in fact by their very nature they are temporary. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley, having found sexual union and complementarity with the gamekeeper, Mellors, assumed a lifetime of continuing satisfaction with him; but life intervened, and she had to be content with knowing that even though such complementarity could exist, it was beyond reach.  Macy knew it could exist, had it, and had no regrets when it ended.