Every week, when my New Yorker magazine arrives, I find myself diving head first into the weekly restaurant review titled, “Tables For Two”. Somehow, I’ve become drawn to this section- perhaps even addicted. Why? It’s hardly because I’m a gourmet, or even a gourmand. Nor is it because the reviews of these restaurants (hot, haute, chic, suave, cool or whatever else they may be) inspire fantasies of breaking out of my reclusive rut and storming the exclusive eateries of the Big Apple, perhaps encountering smart, discriminating celebrities who are closet fans of my literary product. No, the reason is a bit dark and a lot cynical.
It’s because restaurant reviews reinforce a theory of mine that the great restaurant critics- the Craig Claiborns; the Jonathan Golds- are, above and beyond all else, great bullshit artists.
They are akin to alchemists- not turning base metal into gold, but, in their stead, transforming gruel into ambrosia. They have a genius for taking a sow’s ear (which may indeed, literally, appear on many a Manhattan menu), into a silk purse, which, with creative seasoning and delirious haute (that word again!) presentation, may also appear on the menu. Are there doubters among you? Those who would dismiss me as another West Coast boor with moribund taste buds? Submitted for your perusal, from the current New Yorker, a rhapsody on the virtues of a restaurant called Da Long Yi Hot Pot:
“…you might as well go bold. Begin with the pig artery, which is served in pearly-white, curling slices that absorb a nice amount of whatever soup you choose without being held hostage to the oils and spices. If the crunch of the artery pleases you, move on to the pork kidney, which is cut into into flowery shapes that vaguely resemble miniature porcupines and lands on the tongue with an umami-forward bounce. Take a break from the heavier ingredients with enoki mushrooms, lotus-root slices, and taro, which should take half as long to burble to the surface as the meats. And, if you want something that a Chengdu local might order, go for the pig brain, which tastes like a pleasant hybrid of silken tofu and sweetbread, or the beef tendons, which one patron described as “deliciously meaty gummy bears” “.
So call me a boor, a philistine, a member of the unwashed masses- call me anything- but don’t call me late for dinner.
Bon appetit, and, of course, compliments to the chef.
Someone once asked me if I have any living heroes. I had to pause and consider the question. There are many men and women who I deeply admire for their intelligence, integrity, character, talent etc. But a hero? How many of us are truly heroic? Then it hit me. Of course- Georgia Congressman John Lewis. Allow me to share with you a handwritten letter I sent to an authentic hero.
Dear Congressman Lewis,
I have been meaning to write you a letter for a very long time and I am finally putting pen to paper (I am very old school regarding communication.)
The word hero gets bandied about in our society and I feel that is unfortunate. We often see the word hero in describing athletes. Although winning the game with a last minute touchdown or a three pointer is admirable, it is not heroic. Saving other peoples’ lives in the process of saving your own, I would suggest, is also not heroic. Taking an unpopular stand and risking one’s reputation or livelihood is brave, but even that, in my mind, does not meet the standard of heroism. What would I consider heroic?
A young man, barely out of his teens, with his entire life ahead of him risking life and limb for a higher cause. A young man, meeting injustice and oppression head on (literally, as attested by a fractured skull). A young man who crossed lines and bridges, who was beaten near death but kept getting up, broken but never beaten; a young man who fell but never faltered, riding and marching for freedom and justice for all, never flinching or backing down. A young man who made the struggle for justice for all people his life’s work, and continued that struggle without compromise as the years and decades passed.
You, sir, are that man. John Lewis is the man I think of whenever the word hero is spoken.
This month marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which finally granted American women suffrage- the right to vote.
For many today, the sad fact that roughly half of our country’s citizenry were not allowed to exercise this basic franchise as an inherent and unalienable right may seem incredible. History forgotten is history repeated. Rights of any kind are not permanently etched in stone. What might seem to be a basic and impermeable right could prove to be fragile and vulnerable to regression, and ultimately extinguished all together.
After Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retired and was replaced by Brett Kavanaugh, legal scholar and commentator Jeffrey Toobin predicted that within months a number of Red States would move aggressively to outlaw abortion. Mr. Toobin’s words were prophetic. The Supreme Court now has a decided five out of nine justices who have a history of questioning a woman’s sovereignty over her own body. Since Roe V Wade was ratified forty six years ago, the Religious Right has been fixated on reversing it. Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia were quick to react, but the true opening salvo to the broadside of Roe V Wade was fired by Alabama, where virtually all abortions are illegal, including where pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Unbelievably, abortion laws in Saudi Arabia and a number of other Muslim countries are less restrictive and punitive. It quite literally is a religious war waged within our own country. The anti-abortionists believe that human life begins with conception, and that a zygote should have the same right to life as a fully mature, autonomous person. Any doctor who performs an abortion in Alabama has committed murder, and could spend the remainder of his or her life in prison. Alabama’s new abortion law, incredibly, has even been described as Draconian by no other than Pat Robertson (yes, that Pat Robertson, who in the wake of the 9/11 attacks opined that New York City was being punished by God because the Big Apple was a haven for gays, atheists and, yes- abortionists).
The Alabama law has been challenged with law suits and will undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court. As other states follow in Alabama’s footsteps, there will be other litigation. Roe V Wade may go down, not in one fell Supreme Court swoop, but in increments, until it is whittled down to nothing. It would be a great day of glorious celebration, not just for the Religious Right, but for back alley quacks wielding rusty coat hangers.
And so the struggle continues. The warped patriarchy that wanted women in the kitchen but not in the voting booth is the same that would shackle women who want freedom and autonomy over their own bodies.
Framing the battle as between Progressives and Conservatives is a misnomer. It is a battle between Progressives and Regressives. And as the slippery slope of regression grows steeper, those of us on the side of reason and justice must remember: Achieving freedom is only half the battle- keeping it is the other half.
I must admit, for as long as I can remember, I have been smitten by attractive, intelligent and powerful women. There was always that certain teacher, den mother (yes, incredible as it may seem, especially to me, I was a cub scout,) librarian or nurse (this was pre-second wave feminism, and there was a dearth of women doctors, hence their omission on my list) who activated a clarion call to my burgeoning hormones. I thought from time to time I would pay homage to some of them, and who better to start with than that lady who makes the word Progressive sound like a mating call- the one- the only- Rachel Maddow!
Is it her towering height? Her preternaturally long fingers? Her Modigliani neck; her incessant and completely incongruous girlish giggles? Her dark eyes- her brazenly progressive politics?
Is it her lesbianism, making her infinitely unobtainable? Is it the knowledge that, if for some inexplicable reason she deviated from her norm for a day, an hour, even a few minutes, and we somehow, through some fluke, were to couple, that she would destroy me- that within two minutes into foreplay, she’d break every bone in my body? That one sharp contraction of her thigh adductors would be like the Heimlich Maneuver applied to my entire body, and all of my internal organs would jettison out through my mouth in one fell swoop?
Whatever the Hell it is, Rachel Maddow is HOT, HOT HOT!!
Since the dawn of humanity, there have been, I suspect, conspiracy theories. I might go a step further and postulate that there is a human need for conspiracy theories, just as there appears to be a human need for religion. Various explanations for this need are almost as plentiful as the theories themselves. One explanation for a type of conspiracy theory is a need to rationalize and externalize blame for our short comings and failures. If one’s life is not what one had hoped it would be, ah, so easy to eschew personal responsibility and cast blame on some outside group or cabal. Feel like a loser? You shouldn’t. The “Other”- that all powerful group- has been holding you back since day one from getting that promotion, that acceptance letter, that man of the year trophy or the girl or guy of your dreams. This type of conspiracy theory occupies its own niche and is paradoxical. On the one hand you’re an underachiever and “loser” (low self-esteem) but by the same token you’re so important and powerful that you represent a threat and “They” are out to get you (delusions of grandeur).
Another brand of conspiracy theory also has paranoid elements, but the conspirators are not singling out an individual but an entire group or race of individuals. One of the most enduring of these is that for hundreds of years Jews have been pulling the strings as the puppet masters of non-Jews. The various incarnations of global Jewish control may be an outgrowth of a general antisemitism that at least goes back to the early days of Christianity, and was memorialized in the fabricated text “”Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion” which was “discovered” in the early 20th Century and vigorously promoted by Henry Ford. This supposedly ancient tome mapped out the path to Jewish world hegemony. Powerful Jews, like the Rothschild family which emerged later, will take over the banking institution and control the World’s economy, or so say the theorists.
Probably the Granddaddy of conspiracy theories concerns the JFK assassination. Hundreds of conspiracy books were spawned by this singular event. For those of us old enough to remember, at some point it was difficult to not get drawn into the conspiracy vortex, and within a few years those who adhered to the “Lone Gunman” theory became outliers. How could one person (Lee Harvey Oswald) possibly commit the crime of the century alone? But as time passed, and the evidence of a wide ranging conspiracy grew specious upon further and more modern forensic examination, the Warren Commission’s conclusion of a single assassin gained greater credence. And then there are those pesky elements of logic and common sense. If dozens, if not hundreds of co-conspirators were involved, as most of the theorists posited, after 54 years one might expect a death bed confession, or a tell all to the tabloids.
The theories come and go. Some lie dormant and resurrect depending on the times and the players. Bill Clinton, a White male from Arkansas with basically centrist positions (did he not take a Republican deficit and create a surplus? Did he not work in unison with the Republicans to affect a paring down of welfare that was arguably draconian?) , somehow was vilified by every disparate far right group or polemicist imaginable ( to say nothing of his wife, his “partner in crime”who fell again into their cross hairs twenty years later). The Clintons, they maintained, were mass murderers who for some reason had a penchant for dispatching their friends (i.e. Vince Foster, Ron Brown, James Mcdougal et al.) while not laying a finger on their enemies (prosecutor Ken Starr, etc.). This period in the Nineties spawned militia groups, a belief in sinister black helicopters and the United Nations internment camps on U.S. soil. Again, why Clinton, moderate bubba that he was?
The Birther Theory (Obama was really born in Kenya) may have been a turning point in conspiracy theories. For the first time, a conspiracy theory was given “birth” by a non-event, as opposed to a tragedy or calamitous happening. Barack Hussein Obama. His name alone opened the floodgates of both xenophobia and racism. The first Black president with the added authority of having an Islamic name that even his supporters often stumbled over (Obama- Osama?) The rules of the conspiracy game were about to change. Traditionally, the accuser will have some evidence to support the accusation (i.e. I accuse you of sleeping with my wife last night, and I have a picture to prove it.) With the Birthers, with Donald Trump as point man, the conspiracy theory required only an accusation (I accuse you of sleeping with my wife- now prove that you didn’t.) With prior conspiracy theories, as absurd as they were, there was at least some grouping of facts (Vince Foster and Ron Brown really did die.) The purported causes of their deaths may have been unfactual (homicide), and the theories’ conclusions fallacious, but at least there was some theoretical underpinning.
But the theories became more absurd and stomach turning. The despicable Sandy Hook conspiracy theory, promulgated by the sublime Alex Jones, postulated that 20 children and six adults were not slaughtered at the elementary school; it was in fact a hoax utilizing “victim” actors. Based on what smoking gun? What series of facts leading to a logical conclusion? The conclusion came first, independent and apart from facts.
Pizzagate? Hillary Clinton and Democratic operatives were running a Satanic child sex slave ring out of a D.C. pizzeria during her presidential campaign. Preposterous at face value? Not for thousands, including a man who opened fire on the pizzeria with an AR-15. Support for the theory? A twitter account that posted White Supremacist rants stated that John Podesta’s hacked emails contained codes spilling the beans on the true goings on at the pizza shop. It soon went viral.
And so it has become. Welcome to the new world where any hate monger, yahoo or idiotic bigot can pop lunacy into social media and it becomes true simply because it’s there. All are welcome on the World Wide Net, without examination or vetting. Critical thinking is a dying art and logic is no longer relevant.
Life involves a series of decisions- one of which is- how stupid do we choose to be?
Back in the early nineties there was an odd phenomenon called “The Iron John” movement, spearheaded by the poet Robert Bly. It was composed of men, middle aged and older; men who harbored a deep spiritual yearning to connect with their ancient, archetypal manhood, and to attain “self hood”, not unlike the feminists who were on their own search.
These men would form groups and meet out in the woods and make bonfires, then strip to their skivvies and retreat to makeshift sweat lodges, emerging cleansed and glistening. They would then form circles and beat tom toms, their breasts and bellies flopping in sync with the primitive beat; they would wail and cry and and hug each other, trying to heal and fill the void created by their fathers who didn’t spend enough time with them. Then, the climactic moment. Holding hands with fervent solidarity, they would perform the Heron Dance.
I don’t like to sweat and I don’t like other men sweating on me, especially when they wail. I wish I had never met my father.
And if you ever catch me doing the god damned Heron Dance- shoot Me!