The Blog Returns

Well, I never promised to dump it forever. But it will take a somewhat different tack and I may not post regularly. I’ll cover some set subjects, namely: politics, music, media, business, aging, culture, etc. And the tone may be more acidic and whimsical, which seems to be the only way I can deal with current affairs.

 I may also redo a few old pieces if they seem worthwhile and, if things work out, make a book out of all this. So we’ll start, naturally, with politics. Anyhow, please keep reading and hit me with your comments. 

Dispatches from the Fantastical Political Front

Biden and Trump Both Killed in Drone Attack

Well, the shock for some was countered by celebrations around the world. A missile struck during the two candidates’ recent debate in a hall at Wake University, a woke stronghold. There was no warning and fourteen students in the audience also lost their lives. (Only seventeen had bothered to attend, and faculty boycotted the event.)

The White House confirmed that Russia was likely responsible, though others blamed Kim Jong Un, who had lately been making loud warlike noises. The White House press room, you know, moves at its own glacial pace even in a case like this. As Kamala Harris took the oath of office, a massive protest materialized at the Capitol. Both racist and antisemitic shouts filled the air. Harris’s Jewish husband waved his fist, and the new mixed race President vainly called for order.

And yet there were many joyous fiestas in countries from Denmark to Lesotho. “We are so damn glad these two have been vaporized,” said former prosecutor Jack Smith, the man recently fired by Merrick Garland, who in turn was due to be sacked by President Biden. Special Counsel Bob Hur was not available for comment.

Eric Trump instinctively fulminated, “We’re going to get the bastards who did this, string ‘em up by their balls.” Other Republicans were incensed that their leader, who was smearing Biden at every opportunity in the debate, had lost the opportunity to win it. Jim Jordan called for an investigation. A few Biden supporters were secretly glad the aging issue had ended. “Martyrdom for neither of these clowns is appropriate,” said John Bolton, whose hawkish views and soup-strainer mustache have made him the constant butt of Washington jokes.

Where will all the MAGAs go now? Prices for Trump’s gold sneakers are going crazy. The stock market drops 80 points. Jim Cramer proclaims a buying opportunity. Putin cheers.

As most of you know, Trump had several serious cases pending against him. Maybe he will be tried in absentia, maybe not. What will happen now is anyone’s guess, and one might say the jury is still out. The November election is still on, of course, though the GOP is at a total loss on who to nominate. Once again, they have no credible candidates, though Elon Musk has offered to run for president.

Democrats have begun bitching at Kamala and each other. “What happened to our air defenses? Was Austin in the hospital for his goddamn prostate again?”

Many unaffiliated voters are celebrating, getting drunk and firing their guns in the air and sometimes at people. They are thrilled that the perplexing decision of who to vote for is now off their table.

Fani Gets Fired

It all came down to what Charlie Parker (and Tiny Grimes) said years ago on a jazz record in 1944, “Romance without Finance.” This could have been Prosecutor Nathan Wade’s theme song.

You so great and you so fine
You ain’t got no money you can’t be mine
It ain’t no joke to be stone broke
Baby, you know I’d lie when I say
Romance without finance is a nuisance
Please, please baby give me some gold.

Instead we got a bravura court performance by District Attorney Willis, whose tough-broad testimony in the Georgia case against Donald Trump and friends went sour with many, finally including the judge. Some prominent Democrats spoke up to support Willis to no avail. She blew it by downplaying her affair with Nathan Wade, the sharp-dressed but unqualified prosecutor she appointed and financed with a lot of public money.

Fani pompously defended her private life, paying for fancy foreign trips with cash and leaving no records. The two of them spent wildly. This was not only unseemly but dumb for a public prosecutor in the most high-profile of cases. As they say, what was she thinking? She was thinking, I suppose, about defending her own fading reputation.

Judge McAfee was not unsympathetic but found her unfit to continue this scatter-shot case against Trump and his eighteen allies, even though the principal target was now of course dead, which in itself could blow up the case. During the trial Fani observed, “I don’t need anything from a man. A man is not a plan.” Nobody’s quite sure what that meant.

Fani’s big mouth did her in. At a historic black Atlanta church she told the crowd that the defendants in the case (the Trumpists) had raised questions about Wade because of his race. Jesu Maria, aren’t we tired of black people playing the race card when they get in trouble? As Toni Morrison once put it, “The very serious function of racism is distraction.” And this whole schmear was a total distraction from the one case that could have put the big blowhard in the slammer.

Political writer Ed Kilgore summed up the debacle:

By admission of the parties, Willis hired an underqualified lead prosecutor (though, without much evidence, she has described him as a “legal superstar”) for the most important case her office has ever pursued; compensated him disproportionately (over $728,000); had (even if it wasn’t earlier initiated) an intimate relationship with that attorney, taking a number of vacations with him; and then stonewalled inquiries into that relationship until the judge forced testimony on it.

Now new phone records reveal that Fani and Wade were playing around long before she claimed in her testimony. Her big case, a slam dunk against the man who called to demand 11,780 votes from Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, is now likely as dead as a doornail. You know how dead that is?

Nikki Haley and the “Dog Sperm Is a Puppy” Argument

By my logic the decision of the Alabama Supreme Court—that frozen embryos are children—should well apply to all mammals, even though we don’t freeze dog embryos. “Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.” So wrote the Court’s Chief Justice, Tom Parker. OK, Tom, so why not animal life too?

God doesn’t like animals, I guess, as much as He favors humans. The Judge wrote that “human life is fundamentally distinct from other forms of life and cannot be taken intentionally without justification—[and] has deep roots that reach back to the creation of man ‘in the image of God.’” You’ll be glad to know that even Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were so created.

Nikki Haley did have a child by artificial insemination. Politically, she has become well known for her fence-straddling. After proclaiming that “embryos, to me, are babies” and thus endorsing the Alabama edict, she said that parents and their doctors need to make their own decision about IVF and so forth: “Every woman needs to know, with her partner, what she’s looking at. And then when you look at that, then you make the decision that’s best for your family.” But since she’s not about to endorse homicide this is a classic example of catch-22. What kind of decision can one make if it’s against the law?

If Nikki gave birth to a dog after she had artificial insemination, that might have changed the picture.

The Blog Passes On

Dear Readers:

It’s time for me to give this blog a rest, at least for some time. I’m frankly burned out since this venture has been going on for over four years. I’ll be working on a larger book project, likely not for publication, but I’ll keep in touch. The blog will remain up in case I find some brilliant thoughts to share with you. But I need to embark on a new voyage, and my health has been a factor.

Many thanks for all your great comments and support!

JG

Play what you want. The public will catch up.

“I say, play your own way. Don’t play what the public want—you play what you want and let the public pick up on what you doing—even if it does take them fifteen, twenty years.”—Thelonious Monk

Monk is right about music but politics is a different story. We are going through rough political times where far too many are just playing what they want. Trump says kill the compromise border bill, and the Party of No complies because governing means play what you and the boss, not the people, want. Congress and the Senate are split on this, and we remember what Lincoln said about a house divided.

Jennifer Rubin keeps on slamming them:

Republicans overwhelmingly were against Biden’s popular infrastructure bill and in favor of shutting down the government, defaulting on the debt and conducting bogus impeachment hearings that the voters do not want while opposing a tough border control bill.

Trump says he’s more popular than Taylor Swift and, yes, he’d certainly like to be. The GOP is doing its best to blow its chances to win the upcoming election. They did that with Roe v. Wade and are now doubling down on the issue. We could go on but it’s clear that their political actions are all self-serving.

The Democrats are not exempt from the stupidity of playing whatever you want. Senator John Fetterman, parading on the Senate floor in his gym clothes, demonstrates massive support for Israel while “simultaneously cheerleading the bloody bombardment of Gaza.” He wants no ceasefire because he’s too busy trolling antiwar protesters. Then we have the spectacle of Fani Willis, who should be deposed for ignoring the consequences of doing what she wants, namely messing up a serious case against Trump and his defenders.

But Monk was right about music. The public indeed will catch up if the music merits it. This was true of Monk’s music, Ornette Coleman’s, Mary Lou Williams’, Sonny Clark’s, and that of a number of contemporary players. Classical musicians were often late to be recognized by their publics. Among them, Antonio Salieri, Alexander Scriabin, Franz Schubert, Charles Ives, and of course Gustav Mahler.

Monk was also talking about his own reception, which took some years to flourish. His eccentric personality got him laughed at; his technical approach was misunderstood; and he had his run-ins with the police. Musicians appreciated his ground-breaking music in the 1940s but it took him 20 years to get famous with the public.

Other artists have understood what Monk was saying. Longfellow put it this way: “Art is long, and Time is fleeting.” Van Gogh: “If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”

My favorite quote about art, which also applies to music, comes from Picasso: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Monk’s genius made a music that was totally fresh and indeed washed away that dust of everyday life.

Flaubert Predicts Trumpworld

Flaubert circa 1865

“The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeois.” He also wrote, “Nothing is more humiliating than to see idiots succeed in enterprises we have failed in.”

Such thoughts are part of Gustave Flaubert’s lifelong diatribe against the bourgeoisie and the society brought about by the 1848 Revolution in France. I’m now reading his letters which are fascinating on several levels. Many are oddly relevant to our present sociopolitical troubles.

(I devoted much of my academic study to French literature, particularly the 19th century poets. My dissertation focused on how Symbolist poetry came to be absorbed in England. And its forebears, including Flaubert and Baudelaire, always pervaded my thoughts. Maybe I unduly glorified French rationalist thinking and its artistic renderings, but they have become subsumed into my life.)

I consider the MAGA fanatics to be part of the new bourgeois society that has come to dominate much of the American scene. These folks are the newest iteration of how capitalism and its aspirations and fantasies have transformed middle-class life. The zealots now want to break the system that gave them strength. Stupidity is their dominant characteristic.

By now, we all know what they believe. That’s summed up here. In an explanation of why they believe this way, one author attributes it to basic white supremacy:

Many of these bigoted beliefs and attitudes represent implicit biases that are outside the level of conscious awareness. It couches the rhetoric of white supremacy in the language of individual freedom and individual rights. Hate speech is justified as “free speech,” gun control is an attack on “the right to bear arms,” criticism of offending marginalized group members is seen as “political correctness” and vaccine mandates are seen as governmental intrusion.

These people, in other words, have romanticized their deceptions just as the characters in Madame Bovary did. In that book Flaubert crucified the delusions of his characters through irony, evocative description and, at the same time, narrative detachment. This brought a new kind of realism to the novel. Its withering portrayals of small-town life and its stultifying effects have all kinds of echoes in today’s MAGA followers.

The people of Madame Bovary are limited intellectually and culturally; they are sometimes sincere and well-intentioned, sometimes petty and vulgar, sometimes pathetic and confused, and sometimes unaware of the most obvious things or unable to take the most obvious action.

One of these characters struck me as a sort of analogue for Donald Trump. Homais, the garrulous pharmacist in the book, is forever making egotistical and pompous speeches, always inspired by his self-esteem. He indulges in shady medical practices but never gets caught out. In the last line of the novel Flaubert wryly records that Homais was finally awarded the Legion of Honor he had always sought.

If only the force of art and the achievements of a powerful style could protect us from such real charlatans. Flaubert brilliantly maligned them in his day; as writers we must continue the struggle.

Bill Evans, Waltz for Debby

I’m out of words today. Trump is too much with us, he makes our brains febrile. In Iowa he said, “You can’t sit home. If you’re sick as a dog . . . even if you vote and then pass away, it’s worth it.” Music may be the best way to tune this crap out.

Waltz for Debby is one of the great jazz albums. Put this music on and bathe in it.

Hamburgers

The only bad thing about hamburgers is that Trump eats them. I love them even though they are America’s favorite food. My father, a big red-meat eater, cooked them over charcoal, crispy on the outside, red to pink inside. That to me is still the standard.

The recent fuss about not eating red meat is entirely overdone. Health foodies all say cut down on red meat; my Anemia problems call for more of it. One can never please the health Nazis who, like the other kind, are taking over the world.

You start with first-class red meat, coarse-ground steak is best, no chopped onions or other crap added in to adulterate the flavor. Salt and pepper only, a very hot fire on pan or grill, and of course a decent bun. The additions or toppings we will discuss below. Ketchup for Americans is pretty standard and so is cheese.

To my taste, fast food burgers are mostly bad, especially the McDonald’s offerings. The Big Mac is a joke of a hamburger: two thin badly cooked patties, lettuce, 100-island sauce and three pieces of bun. More bread than meat. Mi compañera and I were discussing why a club sandwich has a seemingly unnecessary third slice of bread. I said it was to hold things together. But the Big Mac has no such excuse. McD’s new offering, the Double Big Mac, has four beef patties.

The regular Big Mac in the U.S. has 590 calories 34 grams of carbs, and 1050 milligrams of sodium. If the Double Big Mac turns out to be the same in the U.S. as the Canadian version, it will have about 740 calories, 48 grams of carbohydrates, and 1020 milligrams of sodium.

Americans will now get even fatter. The best of the junk food offerings, I think, is Burger King’s Whopper: the meat is flame broiled, and you get a “4 oz (110 g) beef patty, sesame seed bun, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup, and sliced onion. Beats the Big Mac every time.

Mexicans put everything or anything in their hamburguesas, always served with fries: “beef patty, american cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onions, pickles, avocado, jalapenos, mayo, mustard and ketchup on toasted buns. Optional to add fried egg or ham.” The meat is invariably overcooked and tasteless.

I had a pretty good hamburguesa on the beach last week. It featured real meat, lettuce, tomato, mayo, avocado and a bit of red onion. Sometimes all the added stuff works, especially if it’s fresh.

In 1954 Ray Kroc bought into the McDonald’s franchise and established the first of the McDonald’s chain in Des Plaines, a suburb of Chicago. My wife and I used to stop there en route to Madison where I was then in grad school. In 1958 we had never eaten anything like it, a novelty food. Note the price; we were hungry and it was cheap.

Calling a Spade a Spade

The expression dates back to Greek times, and it’s been pretty common ever since. When I was growing up “spade” was a nasty way to refer to black people, but of course that usage has grown toxic for obvious reasons. So let’s take the original meaning—telling it like it is—to run down a few recent controversies.

Claudine Gay cooked her own goose with Harvard’s rich right-wing donors who are increasingly calling the shots and twisting the Corporation’s arm. (There you have it, three clichés in one sentence–like saying Happy New Year all over again.) Rep. Elise Stefanik, the noisy Harvard grad, thinks she is responsible for Gay’s demise. But really it was the plagiarism, not her insensitivity to antisemitism, that did Gay in. Harvard’s lagging response was shameful.

In academia, plagiarism is serious business and rightly so. You are stealing another person’s work, ideas and research, acting as though it were your own. It’s like violating copyright. Penalties should be severe, as some Harvard students pointed out in the Crimson newspaper. Some of them have been expelled for far less than what Gay did. You don’t want a president who’s a cheat.

It tickles me that right-wing media pointed much of this out, and now we have one Moira Donegan ranting in The Guardian that plagiarism had nothing to do with it. It was just another assault by the right on education. Moira, the doppelganger of Stefanik, is one of the more obnoxious and loud ultra-libs. She recently said, “‘Why are you booing me? I’m right!!’ I yell, fleeing the stage as I am pelted with tomatoes.”

Most of us are tired of these relentless culture wars and the people who prosecute them. Racism, vile as it may be, is not lurking around every corner. The left should be pointing out the right’s specious tactics rather than constantly playing defense of the indefensible. Two instances of this: knee-jerk reactions to the war in Gaza and Trump’s disqualification via the 14th amendment.

How can a sane person, Jewish or not, fail to protest the indiscriminate bombing that’s obliterating Gaza? Jewish people everywhere should be appalled at the IDF’s tactics. Gaza’s people are starving and the situation is close to famine. One can recognize the enormity of what Hamas did on Oct. 7 without condoning the vicious response of Netanyahu’s government. Even most Israelis are horrified by that.

And finally, how is one to think about the 14th amendment’s case against Trump? “The Case for Disqualifying Trump Is Strong,” says David French in the NYTimes. The Colorado Supreme Court got it right but that, as usual, is not the end of the matter. Failing to respect the Constitution’s plain words is just cowardice, says French:

At the heart of the “but the consequences” argument against disqualification is a confession that if we hold Trump accountable for his fomenting violence on Jan. 6, he might foment additional violence now.

Yes, it can take guts and determination to enforce the obvious. The Supreme Court is not the place to find these qualities, and certainly not the place to call a spade a spade. “Peace at any price” is how Neville Chamberlain put it.

How Bad Taste Dominated 2023

I first broached the subject of bad taste (about which there’s no disputing) back in July here. My point was basically this: “If culture is enlightenment, the new bad taste glorifies most any excess and flouts the most accepted of values. Are the Barbarians at the gates?”

They’re not only at the gates, they have sacked the city. Well, you say, one person’s bad taste is another’s flair or style. True, but relative standards of discernment have all but disappeared, if they ever truly existed. The Guardian’s fashion editor recently said the following:

The notion of good taste has always been problematic. Taste gets tangled up with class, status, knowing the unwritten rules, even with breeding. It doesn’t have to be. Having a good eye and a discerning sense of taste is nothing to do with snobbery, although the two are often lazily conflated.

Really, it’s more complicated than that, which is why I am trying to write a book about it. Bad taste now moves the world, as we saw all through 2023. It is the new cultural standard, and our complaining or ranting won’t change that. Trump offers a thousand examples. So does celebrity culture and the false status it accrues. Traditional education has caved to the world Claudine Gay represents. Pop culture could well be considered the godparent of ChatGPT. And so on.

Whatever cultural bona fides I have came through a lot of education and a lot of communications work in different fields. The late 1950s were my incubation period. American class and culture changed radically after World War II, becoming more democratic in word if not in deed. The war created an economy that floated a lot of boats in a culture that sustained them—for a while.

As an example, in that era the art world of Jack Kerouac, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and the abstract expressionists represented a culture that aligned itself against the world of money, which happened to be the province of their patrons. A few like Warhol got rich, while others created a taste for the new that reflected or ignored the personal poverty their producers had to live with. Most musicians also lived “on the edge” and still do. But wealthy buyers created that taste for the new art even while its creators looked down their noses at money and the money culture that supported it. The art world is still dealing with the aftereffects of this.

In other words, the money culture, or consumer capitalism, now more than ever dominates our lifestyle and, I think, has produced the recent epidemic of what old traditionalists like me call bad taste. The digital world has enabled it to thrive, and our complaints and protests won’t change anything. Our culture now provides us with everything—and nothing.

The kitschy and the tacky are all around us, and they have defined much of pop art for a long time. This won’t last forever, but old-fashioned culture-lovers like me are hiding out until it’s over.

“Fear of bad taste envelops us like a fog.” —Gustave Flaubert

 

Merry Christmas to the Zieglers

Holiday greetings to Christian and Bridget Ziegler, two hypocrites who represent the dark farce that MAGA has become. Accused of rape by a former partner in their three-way sex frolic, Christian has finally been suspended as head of the Florida GOP after railing against the charge and trying to hijack the party for millions to leave office.

Christian reportedly said, in the spirit of Christmas, “You can’t call that rape. It was the gift that keeps on giving.” And two sex videotapes have surfaced, giving further cause for ridicule of Bridget. She serves on two ultraconservative anti-LGBTQ boards and the Sarasota School Board. No hypocrisy is too ballsy for these folks.

Merry Christmas also to the Colorado Supreme Court and those who defended its decision. Which of course may not stand, as Samuel Moyn carefully pointed out. Like Santa coming down the chimney, SCOTUS will come bearing gifts for some but not others.

Finally, Merry Christmas to Joe Biden, who is winning no new friends in his pre-election polls. There appear to be no Wise Men in the White House who can get Joe to change course on Gaza/Israel, oil drilling, and his generally realpolitik approach to crises. The spirit of Henry Kissinger lives on.

Food Keeps Me Alive

Dobosch Torte

I read on Google that lemons are the world’s healthiest food. Imagine that! Go suck on a lemon if you’re hungry. Mexican food can be dreadful or delicious, as most expats here know. And all foods are a constant source of pleasure and controversy.

I grew up in a foodie family devoted to German, American and Continental cookery. Our guru was Grandma Elsie who ran the food fest with skill and laughter. I said the following about her in my memoir. When we ate weekly at her house,

the food was invariably superb. I would describe it as Continental-American-Jewish. Feather-light matzoh ball soup was a favorite. Latkes, extra-thin and crisp, were called German potato pancakes. A rare specialty of the house was Dobosch Torte, a rich sponge cake with twenty-one very thin layers interspersed with frosting of Maillard’s chocolate (ordered special from New York). This left everyone groaning. Elsie ran the show with humor and love. “Eat up,” she would say, “there’s another one (turkey, roast, etc.) out in the kitchen.”

Elsie’s pickles were famous and inimitable. She made them in big crock pots and passed the recipe on to my mother and sister who unfortunately could never quite duplicate her results. Food and its preparation is often the source of some mystery.

When you’re retired and looking for things to engage yourself, cooking is a welcome creative activity that gets your mind off everything else. In fact, cooking is therapy. A good friend brought me some nutless pesto that she had made. (I have a serious allergy to nuts.) I put some in a spaghetti sauce I was making, and it was a revelation.

At the supermarket the plastic-wrapped hamburger meat looked awful—pulpy and full of fat. I found some beef chunks and ground my own, so much better. The other night some folks came over for white chicken chili—beans, broth, chicken, corn, lime, onion, poblanos and spices. It was the first time I had made it, and fortunately it evoked compliments.

Over the last year or so I lost some weight, mostly because I was cooking better and eating better. The joy of cooking is more than the name of a famous old cookbook. It’s the essence of gastronomy.