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

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Biden, Israel, And Ukraine - Uncertainty, Indecision, And The Failure Of American Foreign Policy

Joe Biden is a wartime president.  As implausible as that sounds, he is presiding over two wars and many skirmishes.  However none of these military enterprises are serious, committed uses of American political and military firepower.  Biden has not entered the war in Ukraine or in Israel, has used popgun exercises against Iranian-backed militias in Syria, and has limited his support for wars against ISIS in North Africa and the Sahel and al-Shabab in Yemen.  American foreign policy is tepid, noncommittal, and lost in the weeds of American domestic politics. 

Israel, fighting for its life against an implacable enemy outspoken in its hatred of Jews and unshakeable commitment, fights alone.  There is no doubt that Hezbollah incursions into Israel from the north and a stepped up guerrilla attacks from the West Bank will be met alone.  The United States, fearful of 'a wider war' will keep its warplanes on the ground, safely on carriers in the Mediterranean.  It will continue to supply Israel with arms and materiel, but will stay clear of the fighting. 

The shameful irony of all this is that Israel is the United States' only friend in the region; and as importantly the only ally which will without hesitation or restraint defy the Iranian mullahs and defend itself against that country's military and nuclear ambitions. 

Israel stood alone in opposition to Barack Obama's naive nuclear peace agreement with Iran.  The treaty focused only on deferring - not eliminating - that country's nuclear weaponization; and ignored its far more destabilizing and dangerous support to Islamic terrorism in the region.  Iran was sure to continue its clandestine nuclear production until the ten-year period of caution expired and full production could be resumed; and during the period provided its client insurrectionists military, economic, and political support.  Iran is now a threat to Israel even more than it was before the treaty. 

So America, now facing a much more militant, stronger, and more defiant Iran, has Israel to thank for standing indomitably firm - or, to put it much more crudely, to let Israel do America's dirty work. 

And yet with all that, the United States is intent on putting the brakes on Israel's military reply to Hamas' savagery.  Negotiation, truce, talks, compromise, civilian welfare all are instruments of weakness and geopolitical ignorance.  Unless Hamas is destroyed and its civilian population intimidated enough to never again turn to terrorist rule, Israel will not be safe.  Israel, taking a lesson from America's own General William Tecumseh Sherman, knows quite well that the civilian population is not only complicit in Hamas' terrorism, it is as harshly and brutally anti-Semitic as it is.  Years of Islamic radical propaganda has turned a failed state into an intractably hostile one.  

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Berlin, and Tokyo are the right lessons. Vietnam's hearts and minds, the pullout of  Iraq to 'the people', leaving it to Islamic insurgents; and the complete abandonment of Afghanistan are exactly the wrong ones.  With American 'persuasion' - i.e. the weight of its billions in economic and military aid - Israel is being forced to pull up, be nice, and assure the rearmament and revitalization of Hamas. 

The war in Ukraine is a senseless, useless war, fought over a vague idea of democracy.  Ukraine is no staunch American ally nor economic partner.  'This shall not stand', is the only excuse for US support to Kyiv; but unwilling to become involved with Russia and its supreme, defiant, and unshakeable leader Putin, the US sends weaponry and pours billions of unaccountable dollars into Ukraine's questionable coffers.

Ukraine cannot win the war unless the US commits itself to the use of defensive and offensive airpower and land support.  The end result will be Russia's victory, if not submission of Ukraine but total sovereignty over Donbass, the only real reason for Russia's incursion in the first place.  Intimidation - assuring that it would not join NATO was never part of the military algorithm - because it would never happen even under the best of conditions. 

As far as the minor skirmishes in the world, the US has decided they are not worth it.  Is some scrappy piece of the Sahelian scrub and Saharan dunes really worth replacing the French in Mali and taking on ISIS?  Yemen is already torn apart by civil war - savages vs savages in a play of Third World hopeless underdevelopment - so why should America waste firepower on a political wasteland?

Biden and his progressive supporters think only in terms of peace, conciliation, and concession - a liberal ethos based on idealism, Utopianism, and a new age assumption of world harmony.  He cannot possibly understand the likes of Putin, Xi, Kim, Erdogan or the Ayatollahs who have been demonized and branded as anomalies.  Their kind will not last and will eventually be replaced by congenial, inclusive liberal democracies. 

To believe this shows a complete ignorance of history - the history of Emperors, Shoguns, kings, popes, and ayatollahs; and the history of expansionism, territorialism, and power - and a belief in a fairytale, imagined place of warm lighting and crackling fires. 

Either go all-in in Ukraine or get out; either commit planes to the skies and boots on the ground in Israel, or admit that in its heart of hearts America is just as anti-Semitic as the rest of the world. The Jewish lobby isn't what it was, and the race-gender-ethnicity inclusivity claques have more political influence now than ever before. 

As far as the terrorist Iranian-supported Islamic extremists is concerned, we neutralized ISIS and buried its claims to a regional caliphate, so a few splinter groups in the desert really are really not our concern. 

It's not like fighting Imperial Japan or Hitler, accommodationists say.  Those days of bombing the daylights out of our enemies are over.  We live in a more integrated world.  Wholesale slaughter and victory at any price are not in the cards. 

Of course these revisionists are blinded by the idea of the world as musical comedy.  They may well have had their day, and defiant, militant, Machiavellian former President is in the electoral wings and likely to be re-elected. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Black Widow Spider– A Tale Of The Sexual Will Of A Devouring Woman

Brent Lively had known since the beginning that his marriage to Beth Parker, daughter of an Iowa farmer, successful investor in iron works and copper, would never amount to much.  She was the classic calm, practical reasonable anodyne to the tempestuous relationship with Lacey Thomas, a woman who had eaten him to an inch of his life.  An inch was enough to survive, and although his sexuality was almost indistinguishable from what it was before her, so neutered was it; he was still alive, his sexual fires banked, his sexual soul temporarily under wraps, both waiting for an opportunity to reignite and emerge.

Image result for images black widow spider

Lacey had devoured him out of lust, ambition, and Lawrentian purpose.   She was woman who considered orgasm her birthright, the defining element of womanhood, the only event worth noting in an otherwise humdrum evolution; and the fact that Brent had been the first lover of any promise – a confident, strong, and equally sexually purposeful, desirous Mellors to her Lady Chatterley – was incidental.  She cared little who the gatekeeper to her sexuality was, only that he perform as was expected. Her great beauty – classic, imperious, and perfect was both a source of sexual power and a foil to her ultimate interests.  Physical beauty distorted the sexual calculus – too many incompetent men were drawn to her; and too many competent men were distracted by it.

Her previous lovers had been promising but inept, desirous enough, male enough, but without the will to make love as existential as Lawrence saw it, central to everything, incidental to nothing. Maleness and femaleness, Lawrence thought, were absolute, clearly defined, and primal, and true sex was the way for men and women to realize, appreciate, accept, and fulfill their sexuality.  The phallus might be the initiating instrument of sexual union, but a woman’s sexual energies stimulated and released by it were no less valid and important to physical and spiritual consummation.

Two rivers of blood are man and wife, two distinct eternal streams that have the power of touching and communing and so renewing, making new one another, without any breaking of the connecting link between the two rivers, that establishes the two forever.  And this, this oneness gradually accomplished throughout a lifetime in twoness is the highest achievement of time or eternity.  From it all things human spring, children and beauty and well-made things, all true creations of humanity. And all we know of the will of God is that he wishes this, this oneness, to take place, fulfilled over a lifetime, this oneness within the great dual blood-stream of humanity (Lady Chatterley’s Lover)

Image result for images lady chatterley lover book cover

Brent had had the sexual confidence, the purposefulness, and the desire to mate with Lacy; but he teetered on the edge, balked at her sexual omnivorous appetite, pulled away before he was consumed, unsatisfied, wanting more, but too fearful to give up and give in.

Lacey, like Lady Chatterley reviewed her options.  Mellors was as sexually sophisticated as Lady Chatterley and as aware of the sexual premium of mutual ‘finality’ but too diffident, too concerned with social class and propriety – like Miss Julie’s valet who needed to do the right thing, and was always chattel to it – and Brent was no different.  A likely candidate, a good choice, but ultimately too timid and withdrawn to perform.

Which is why he escaped Lacey and retired to the arms of a woman who had no such designs, no such hunger, and no such sexual designs.  Life with her, while ordinary, would never be feral or dangerous; and sex while never existential and always predictable, would always be procreative, physical and uncomplicated.  Neither she nor sex would change anything. 

Of course Brent quickly tired of the routine and longed for Lacey, although she was long dead and buried in an Amboy cemetery, visible from the Garden State Parkway, unceremoniously laid to rest with only a few mourners by the graveside and none of her lovers.  His failure with Lacey, his non-compliance with her non-negotiable sexual demands, and his being left on the curb did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm and his awkward sexuality.  Lacey would always be his Marilyn Monroe – a sexual icon, unattainable but more desirous because of it.

Beth was temperate, forgiving, longsuffering, and loving; and no matter how often or how far Brent strayed, she took him back; and he always came back, never contrite but exhausted.  Beth was always a safe haven.  Burton, Mungo Park, and Speke all had homes to which to return; or at least the dream of having one.  For Brent, he could never have had his own adventures without the guarantee of safe return and safe haven. 

Image result for images burton richard explorer

Why, one might ask, would a man like Brent Lively seek another Black Widow, a woman whose sexuality was impossible to satisfy and whose demands were intimidating and threatening?  Yet most men are like Mellors and see sex as metaphysical as Lawrence did.  While sex might be incidental and forgettable, without significance, a burnishing of ego at best, and a drunken and clumsy event at worst, the idea of sexual balance - an expression of complementary wills -  an ineradicable  piece of memory, and a defining experience was irresistible.

From this perspective Brent’s affairs were desultory and predictable.  There were sexually hungry women but whose voracity came from some petty psychological and all too familiar twist – an indifferent father, a demanding mother, a bad marriage, an overactive ego, or a distorted self-image – and never from the Nietzschean lust described by Lawrence. 

All the great words, it seemed to Connie, were cancelled for her generation: love, joy, happiness, home, mother, father, husband, all these great, dynamic words were half dead now, and dying from day to day. Home was a place you lived in, love was a thing you didn't fool yourself about, joy was a word you applied to a good Charleston, happiness was a term of hypocrisy used to bluff other people, a father was an individual who enjoyed his own existence, a husband was a man you lived with and kept going in spirits.

As for sex, the last of the great words, it was just a cocktail term for an excitement that bucked you up for a while, then left you more raggy than ever. Frayed! It was as if the very material you were made of was cheap stuff, and was fraying out to nothing.


Sex without something more than simple physical satisfaction or the temporary resolution of old, minor sexual issues was never worth it.  There had to be something more.  Connie found it in Mellors, a sexual twin, an ontological partner, but few other women or men ever do.  Lacey was too devouring, too insistent on reaching a transcendental orgasm, to emasculating to find complementarity.  Brent was too timid, and although sexually aware, was reluctant to be devoured and consummated.

For Lawrence sexual complementarity was far from today’s sense of mutual respect, patience, and carefully-balanced parity.  It was the complementarity of wills – one dominant, the other submissive, regardless of gender.  Women in Love, Lawrence’s long, often preachy, and windy book about the sexual dynamics between the partners of two couples, gets at this idea of will.  

Each of the characters struggles to come to grips with their sexual will or lack of it; and most are conflicted between desires of submission and desires of dominance.  They challenge all the social conventions,  parental authority and patriarchy, feminine and masculine expectations to try to achieve sexual independence and identity.  They stumble and get so caught up in their intellectual pretensions to follow their natural instincts.


In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a book published after Women in Love and Lawrence’s last, he creates in Connie a woman without such pretentions.  Connie is as desirous as Gudrun and Ursula and as motivated, but far more mature and honest.

The beautiful pure freedom of a woman was infinitely more wonderful than any sexual love. The only unfortunate thing was that men lagged so far behind women in the matter. They insisted on the sex thing like dogs.

And a woman had to yield; but a woman could yield to a man without yielding her inner, free self. That the poets and talkers about sex did not seem to have taken sufficiently into account. A woman could take a man without really giving herself away. Certainly she could take him without giving herself into his power. Rather she could use this sex thing to have power over him. For she only had to hold herself back in sexual intercourse, and let him finish and expend himself without herself coming to the crisis: and then she could prolong the connection and achieve her orgasm and her crisis while he was merely her tool.

Mellors, while sharing sexual experience with Connie, follows her.  The women in Lawrence’s novels are always sexual leaders.  They are the ones with will, determination, and purpose; and the men in their lives rarely match up.  From Margaret, Paul’s mother in the autobiographical Sons and Lovers to Connie Chatterley, it is the women who have an insight into the limitless potential and power of sex. 

While Mellors and Brent may have sensed the importance of mating with powerful women, they were not always up to it.  Brent was nearly devoured and Mellors lost his way.  Strindberg’s Miss Julie was another sexually powerful, determined woman who used Jean, her valet for her own sexual ends; but both were too confined by society, culture, and bourgeois expectations to fulfil them. Ibsen’s women succeeded in realizing their power, but – like Lacey – destroyed the men they sought to manipulate.

In Women in Love after Birkin and Ursula have finally made love, Birkin expresses Lawrence’s central idea:

He knew what it was to have the strange and magical current of force in his back and loins, and down his legs, force so perfect that it stayed him immobile, and left his face subtly, mindlessly smiling. He knew what it was to be awake and potent in that other basic mind, the deepest physical mind. And from this source he had a pure and magic control, magical, mystical, a force in darkness, like electricity. It was very difficult to speak; it was so perfect to sit in this pure living silence, subtle, full of unthinkable knowledge and unthinkable force, upheld immemorially in timeless force…

Yet Birkin like Gerald cannot retain the focus, and have mated with imperfectly sexual women.  Neither Ursula nor Gudrun have achieved the sexual maturity of Connie Chatterley and therefore are distracting.  Although Birkin has an intimation of the power of sex, without the clear singularity of purpose of his lover, his intentions are diverted.

Lawrence’s idea of complete sexual parity, a complementarity of sexual wills, and the epiphanic nature of a perfect sexual union, is Platonic at best and romantic at worst.  Yet Brent like most men understood it well. Being nearly devoured by Lacey was only the beginning of his sexual maturity; and he had the resolve to keep looking.

Most men keep looking well beyond their ability to attract and keep a mate.  God’s greatest irony was to create men with a limited sexual life but condemned to an obsessive perennial fascination and desire for women.  A sexual Sisyphus, doomed to desire and flogged daily for it, almost reaching their sexual ideal, but turned back near the top.

Brent, like most men, returned to his wife and their predictable, comfortable older years.  At least he had tried, although that was cold comfort since he never stopped looking for another Lacey, albeit from his armchair. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Northern Slave Trade - Everyone Made Money And A Lot Of It

According to most Northerners and Northern progressives in particular, slavery is a Southern institution, and the South should be forever reviled and marginalized for its participation in an immoral if not inhuman activity.  The South in this view is retrograde, fundamentalist, and ignorant – all due to the legacy of slavery.  The mark of Cain has been indelibly branded on to the South’s collective forehead, and Northern idealists are determined that the South will never, ever rise again.

Northern liberals come by this jaundiced view honestly.  Abolitionists took a principled but inflexible moral position – that slavery was against the laws of God and man – and significantly set back Lincoln’s efforts at reconciliation and reunification. In league with Johnson and the Radical Republicans they did their best to destroy the South once and for all and to complete the job that Sherman’s march had begun.

Out of the War and Reconstruction to follow, Northern opinion hardened. Not only had Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy, but a superior moral system had prevailed. Free labor – the right and duty of every man to reap rewards from his own toil – won out over indentured and forced servitude.  Enlightenment principles, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and in the Bill of Rights, were never endorsed or embraced by the South, and its defeat in the Civil War was a vindication of the righteousness of the North.

The ascendency of the industrial North after the War assured the muscular application of these ideals, and despite the reestablishment of many of the traditions and policies of the Confederacy, it was for a century the backward, country cousin of the North.  Not only had the North prevailed in the War, and become a world economic power after it, the South had never learned its lesson.  It is quite understandable, then, that Northern liberals continue to disparage the South as a region, consider Southerners an inferior social and intellectual class, and keep them far more isolated and marginalized than Lincoln ever intended.

Out of this moral certainty has come arrogance, sanctimony, and self-righteousness.  In a recent blog post (Boycott the South!), this author wrote of the continued censure of everything Southern.  An American pop singer had chosen the Nottoway Plantation, an elegant antebellum home in Louisiana, to hold an artistic retreat organized to bring together artists and musicians to discuss creative production.  She was forced to cancel the event because of the loud hue and cry from the progressive community.  How could she even think of holding an event in the home of a Confederate slaver?

It is hardly worth mentioning that if one is to boycott Southern antebellum homes because of their link to slavery, then one should certainly boycott the Pyramids of Egypt, built with thousands of slaves who died by the hundreds in brutal conditions.  Or the Taj Mahal built by the cruel and heartless Emperor Shah Jahan.

One should avoid the Capitol Building in Washington, built in part with slave labor; and never walk on the C&O Canal, its towpath and locks built with slave and indentured labor, or visit the Smithsonian Castle. These and many other buildings and public works in the Nation’s Capital were built with slave labor.

One should certainly not visit Angola, Gambia, or Sierra Leone where African slavers provided human capital to Arab middlemen who then traded with European businessmen.  The Great Wall of China was not built by well-paid, well-treated in the First Dynasty of  Qin Shi Huang but by slaves, so visits there should be off-limits. The great cathedrals of Europe were built by serfs, another name for European slaves.

All of which brings us to the North and its role in the slave trade – a history which Northern liberals conveniently overlook.  First, while slaveholding in the North was minor compared to the South, it was common and widely accepted 

Slaves were auctioned openly in the Market House of Philadelphia; in the shadow of Congregational churches in Rhode Island; in Boston taverns and warehouses; and weekly, sometimes daily, in Merchant's Coffee House of New York. Such Northern heroes of the American Revolution as John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin bought, sold, and owned black people. William Henry Seward, Lincoln's anti-slavery Secretary of State during the Civil War, born in 1801, grew up in Orange County, New York, in a slave-owning family and amid neighbors who owned slaves if they could afford them. The family of Abraham Lincoln himself, when it lived in Pennsylvania in colonial times, owned slaves (Slavery in the North, Andrew Harper)

Second, while slaveholding in the North might have been relatively small compared to the South, huge wealth was generated by its participation in the slave trade. In 2006 a team of Hartford Courant journalists wrote a series called Complicity in which they chronicled the North’s role in slavery.

New York slowly and reluctantly abolished slavery; federal census figures showed slaves in the state until 1850. But the death of slavery in New York scarcely impeded the city’s business in the slave trade. In the peak years of 1859 and 1860, two slave ships bound for Africa left New York harbor every month. Although the trade was technically illegal, no one cared: A slave bought for $50 in Africa could be sold for $1,000 in Cuba, a profit margin so high that loss of slave life was easily absorbed. For every hundred slaves purchased in Africa, perhaps 48 survived the trip to the New World. By the end of the voyage, the ships that held the packed, shackled and naked human cargo were so filthy that it was cheaper to burn some vessels than decontaminate them (Reported in The Northern Slave Trade, Phyllis Eckhaus, In These Times)

                              New England Slave Ship ca. 1825

The slave trade in particular was dominated by the northern maritime industry. Rhode Island alone was responsible for half of all U.S. slave voyages. The DeWolfs may have been the biggest slavers in U.S. history, but there were many others involved. For example, members of the Brown family of Providence, some of whom were prominent in the slave trade, gave substantial gifts to Rhode Island College, which was later renamed Brown University (Traces of the Trade – A Story from the Deep North)

Money was certainly made by the transatlantic shipping of slaves; but the greatest Northern wealth was generated from the cotton trade.  Northern textile mills flourished in the antebellum period largely because of Southern, slave-picked cotton.  Industrialists in the booming New England and Mid-Atlantic states thrived, and the basis for a vigorous American capitalism was established.

“King Cotton” was to antebellum America what oil is to the Middle East. Whole New England textile cities sprang up to manufacture cloth from cotton picked and processed by millions of slaves. In 1861, the United States produced more than 2 billion pounds of cotton, exporting much of it to Great Britain via New York (Eckhaus).

Those Northern traders, industrialists, and shippers invested the money realized from the slave and cotton trade back into America.  Wall Street made millions thanks to the investment of New England and New York capitalists, and lent that money out to thousands of large and small entrepreneurs throughout the rapidly growing country.  In other words, slave money infiltrated everywhere in the new United States. Looked at from the modern PC perspective of disinvestment, we should boycott everything.

The network of slavery extends throughout the world; and those who refuse to stay in an antebellum Southern home or even visit one should stay away from Portugal and the Netherlands, the countries responsible for the trading and shipping of at least 10 million African slaves.  Without them, the transatlantic slave trade would not have been possible.

The point is not to demonize the South and characterize it as the devil within, but to understand its history, to learn how and why it developed as it did, and to derive lessons from its past.  The history of the North is intimately linked with that of the South; and it is certain that without the harsh, punitive policies of the Radical (Northern) Republicans during Reconstruction, the South might not have been so determined to re-establish its old ways.  Without Northern shipping and textile mills, cotton and its slave economy would never have flourished as it did. 

History is neither good nor bad.  Every event or period has antecedents, some hundreds of years in the past. Moral principles, scientific inquiry, and political philosophy all change with the times. The great civilizations of Egypt, Rome, Persia, and China were built on the backs of slaves; but is this enough to condemn them?  Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao were responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths, but should we never set foot in Mongolia, Russia, or China?

The study of history encourages understanding.  The point is not to keep blaming the South for its past, but to address the present.  If we can forget the horrors of the Portuguese slave trade and eat well in Lisbon; forget the thousands of Nubian slaves who died at Giza building the Pyramids and enjoy Ancient History; or pretend that Mao never killed millions of his own people while we marvel at the vibrant, modern, forward-looking cities of China, then we can fast-forward our Southern movie reel to the present.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

'Pass The Lasagna' - The Real Meaning Of Christmas

Joseph Ponti  had never been a fan of Christmas.  The Holidays were supposed to be happy times, but they never were. No matter how much his family tried, they always ended up squabbling, drunk, and pissy.

His Aunt Leona did all the right things.  She and her sister cooked all the right things -ham, turkey, sweet potatoes, and mince pie.  Uncle Eddie strung the lights on the yews and in recent years went upscale and wound blue LED lights around the dogwood. All the cousins were there, great uncles and neighbors.

Everyone started off on their best behavior until Myrtle Bottoms just couldn’t help making a crack about her brother’s trophy wife. “A tart”, she hissed to her husband but loud enough for half the living room to hear; and then went on to lavishly and sarcastically praise the outrageously inappropriate outfit that she wore – oversized breasts pushed up and out in a wide décolleté, spiked heels, retro-bouffant hairdo, and diamonds as big as the Ritz on four fingers.

Joseph’s second cousin Margaret was drunk before the last guest arrived and started in on Lou Layman, the only Jew in the house, the aging consort of the maiden aunt of someone.  “Read Acts”, she shouted at him, “if you still want to deny the role of Jews in Christ’s death”. 

Religion for Lou Layman ended at the last book of the Old Testament; but he had read Acts out of self-defense. Luke had it in for the Jews, he knew, never let up on the scribes and Pharisees, and after the crucifixion, went after Jews with a vengeance.  Of course Jewish kings, courtiers and lieutenants wanted him dead.  All a matter of politics, thought Lou, not rising to the bait of drunk Margaret Grillo who looked around the room for someone else to badger, but vowing never ever to have Christmas in New Haven again.    “Next year I’ll do a Shylock”, he said to himself. “No dinner with Italians.”

“Very nice ham pie”, said Great Aunt Mary who made a great show of chopping  her slice into little pieces and eating them with a spoon. “Very nice indeed; but next time you might want to be more generous on the eggs.” Leona had slaved in the kitchen since five in the morning, she was never too shy to tell us, and she had finally had it with Mary, an old crone who should have been boxed up and buried long ago.  She went into the kitchen, pulled a potato-masher out of the drawer, and hammered the pie down to glue and ham bits and dumped the mess on Mary’s plate.

The children whined about their presents, the adults belched and farted after way too much lasagna, corn fritters, and eel, and Joseph listened to the car radio wrapped in the horse blanket his father kept in the trunk for winter emergencies.

Christmas morning always started right.  Everyone in the family went to church, received Holy Communion, and wanting to preserve their State of Grace for as long as possible avoided every occasion of venial sin.  Joseph’s father was mild and considerate to his mother instead of ordering her around. His older sister helped set the table without bitching and moaning; and his mother smiled through the eggs benedict and cheese toast, her one English, non-Italian meal of the year. 

Joseph Ponti had never been religious.  Although he was raised Catholic, the religion never took.  He simply never believed the cant, ceremony, and injunctions.  Despite the Carmelite nuns, the wild ravings of Father Brophy, and the censorious priests in the confessional, he emerged relatively untouched and, unlike a lot of Catholics, unscathed.

Catholics don’t pay much attention to the Bible, for the Church has always asserted its right to mediate between man and God, to interpret Christ’s teachings, and provide a strong institutional home for the faithful.  ‘Tradition’, as Catholic teaching stressed, was as important as Scripture; and although Biblical references could not be avoided, the Bible itself was not seen as the sine qua non of religious enlightenment.

As a result, Joe had never read the Bible; and although Harold Bloom had made extensive references to the Book of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah in his course on Romantic Poetry, Joe skipped over them and parsed Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright and Mt. Blanc on what he thought were their own merits.

Only in later life did Ponti return to Bloom, Blake, and the Bible - the Via Dolorosa, crucifixion, and resurrection, ideas taught by the nuns on Sunday mornings, but only catechetical verse and response (Who made you? God made me. Where is God? God is everywhere).  The signs of the cross, the statues on the altar, the blandishments of Father Brophy, and a quick grace before Sunday dinner were all there was to religion which, for his father and mother, was necessary finery, proper dress to belong in a modest, simple little town. 

Coincidentally Joe’s study of the New Testament coincided with Christmas. “It was not a good time to read the story of Christ”, he said. Aunt Leona’s Christmas dinner was never pretty, he said, but this time every mouthful of food reminded him of poor Lou Layman, dead and gone, sloppy eater, Jewish table manners, a guest at the dinner of the year, all to do with Leona's ham pie, Angie's eggplant, and Emil's Ferrara nougats, and nothing to do with Jesus except the creche on the mantelpiece, a bit of pop art  bought to help out the old Italian vendor on the boardwalk at Atlantic City. 

"Pass the lasagna", said Lou across the table as Joe tried to formulate something appropriate - the dinner at Cana, the loaves and the fishes, the fisher of men - but nothing took as the crowd pushed back from the table and turned to anisette and coffee.  He waited for an epiphany, some bit of grace at for all his efforts.  Forget the tinsel, the plastic Walmart wreath, and the cheap ties - those were expected. It was the pedaling without progress, the images of the saints which came and went with the mashed potatoes and corn fritters, Mantovani and Perry Como that derailed him.  

All for naught. Where was Harold Bloom when he needed him? He, old Jew like Lou Lehman and dead and gone as well, could have made a difference.  A word about Tyger Tyger or Mont Blanc would have raised the discourse. Even oblique spiritual references would do to change the subject. 

It is easy to be in the right frame of mind at Christmas mass at St. Sulpice, the music of Bach on the grandes orgues, reverberating for what seems like minutes through the cathedral.  Not so easy at Aunt Leona’s exactly where Jesus was meant to be found amidst the clutter and soup stains.   

'Don't be so morose', said Auntie Angie, used to Joe's wet blanket and always there with another piece of ricotta pie; but one bite of that delicious, creamy, delightful pie would have sent him drifting farther and farther from Jesus and the miracle of his birth. 

And so it was that Joe Ponti kept accepting Leona’s invitations to Christmas dinner - it was a matter of pride.  Even through all the gravy, stuffing, antipasto, and Valpolicella, he would find Jesus.  

And so it was that 'Pass the lasagna' derailed him yet again and the ricotta pie finally got him to succumb. Christmas at Leona’s was Falstaffian - there was Harold Bloom again - and maybe that was enough.