My Disaffection with Biden

In a nutshell it’s this: He is still arming Israel to the teeth while that country commits flagrant genocide in Gaza. A recent story in the New York Review puts it this way: “Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza are at the brink of famine—a human-made disaster with roots in Israel’s history of using food as a weapon.”

Many, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the United Nations, have accused Israel of genocide in Gaza, deliberate and planned. We’ve all heard statements by the jingo Netanyahu and other Jewish leaders to that effect. Sen. Schumer calls for new elections but still supports military aid to Israel. Some Jews like me think this is a spectacularly wrong approach.

Others in Congress oppose the aid or at least question it. Outrage over the murder of food aid workers by the IDF has made the situation much more volatile. President Biden wants the House Foreign Affairs Committee

to approve a package that includes 50 new F-15 fighter jets valued at $18 million [each], 30 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles and a number of Joint Direct Attack Munition kits, which turn dumb bombs into precision-guided weapons . . . .

Last month,

the State Department authorized the transfer of 25 F-35A fighter jets and engines worth roughly $2.5 billion, U.S. officials said. The case was approved by Congress in 2008, so the department was not required to provide a new notification to lawmakers.

And then there are the US-made 2000-lb bombs that have caused that horrific death toll in Gaza. Most countries proscribe them.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently told the committee: “’We don’t have any evidence of genocide being [committed]’ by Israel in Gaza.” This from the man who could not admit he had a prostate problem. Biden has a reelection problem, and he’s alienating thousands of voters, including me. Do you want to placate Israel’s right wing, Joe, or lose in November? For many, it’s become a Hobson’s choice.

Jewish agitprop organizations like AIPAC and the AJC will rise at every opportunity to defend anything Israel does. I’ve written before about this: “One does not expect proportionality in warfare but Israel’s violent response has cost it dearly with a preponderance of people around the world. The conflict has pushed many down the rabbit hole of partisan madness.”

If Biden doesn’t come to his senses about the rearming, he will turn off a great many voters in November. The growing protests, particularly among younger people, show that many will sit out the election if the president doesn’t change course. AIPAC’s talking points in fact support exactly what many Republicans are saying about the conflict. Read them here.

Jewish support for Israel has always been a fraught issue for those who have observed the country’s history with the Palestinians. Peter Maass, a journalist, recently wrote a fine piece about this in the Washington Post that resonated with me. “My Jewish identity was always a bit vague because my ancestors were German Jews who assimilated at the speed of cultural sound; when I was growing up, we even had a Christmas tree.“ Same here, Peter, and I’ve written about that too.

Some of the protests against Israel’s actions have been antisemitic. Still, many if not most Jews recognize the idea that it is not only legitimate to defend the lives of innocent Palestinians; it’s part of what we recognize as the morality of being Jewish. One continues to hope Biden will come to his senses.

Gas Explosion in the Media

On Monday the Washington Post broke new ground with this news flash on its internet “front page”: Why is my gas so smelly? Gender, diet and plane rides can play a role. Yesterday they ran it again, putting it now “below the fold.” So the smell of your farts is now right up there with Gaza horror stories and the Trump trials.

It’s part of major media’s efforts to diversify their content and change course from strict news to “human interest” and entertainment. The NYT is doing the same thing, and continues fracking for gas on Tuesday with Why Do I Feel Gassy on Airplanes? The Post story—which clearly got their attention—was explicitly directed towards women, who would be most likely to find it disgusting for its fulsome prominence. My mother, who never discussed farting, would be appalled. So, I imagine, would most women of her generation.

The idea that this is a serious problem for women on airplanes never occurred to me. Such is our obliviousness to the female world. When I’ve felt the urge to break wind I sneak one off into the cushion, like everyone else does, hoping the odor won’t be broadcast. I guess women do that too, so what’s to talk about?

I broached the subject of bathroom humor and scatology in my November blog entitled “The Bowels.” The point was not to “break the centuries-old taboo about the subject of poop. Rather, the idea is to justify its importance since everybody does it.” Kids especially are into poop and its trappings, as I tried to document. In grade school after a football game, we undressed in the locker room and undertook the classic experiment of trying to light farts. Dangerous, though it can be done.

Farting, of course, is an intimate and alleviating part of life and, like sex in the media, it’s now going to become a commonplace subject for public investigation. The Post story, written by a doctor, puts farting into a medical frame, which is like bowdlerizing good literature. See reader comments on the story. In my blog I put it this way:

Sex and porn are now all over the internet despite the efforts of right-wing Christians and others to stop them. Scatology, I predict, will be the next meme because poop is part of our under-culture and, like all “bad” things, it cannot be suppressed. The whole idea of breaking taboos is part of what created the internet. Trump’s gold toilet could well become the new symbol of our age.

Hunting Wild Boar in La Pampa

There was nothing left for me to do in Oaxaca. Erstwhile friends had fled north—where they encountered really bad weather while the days here were scorching. Talks at the Library I found totally uninteresting. The news media (CNN and Fox) had become so fixed in their political opinions that their comments were predictable and repetitive.

Movies on Netflix were as dreadful as ever, and the audio was the usual sonic blur. I was out of Bonne Maman cookies. I had begun to read again the fantastical stories of Donald Barthelme, the only inspiration I could find to continue writing. A total break from all this, I thought, might improve my digestion and my spirits.

The service desk at LATAM put me on long holds, giving me time to think about why I’d want to book with them after a recent flight suddenly dropped 500 feet in a dive, throwing people to the roof of the cabin and injuring 50. Still, it was the best way to Argentina where I would join a posse of rich Americans on a wild boar hunt.

“What the hell is the matter with you?” a friend asked. “You can’t afford this and you hate the idea of hunting. Have you been talking with Al Z. Heimer again?”

“I have no bucket list, whatever that is, and boredom has taken over my life here since I gave over volunteering for badly managed organizations, taking falls on broken sidewalks, and eating tacos stuffed with grossly hot jalapeños. Nor can one subsist on old jazz and schmaltzy Sibelius symphonies alone, as some have advised. Even curmudgeonry gets tiresome after a while.”

I told him I’ve never wanted to kill wild animals, or any animal, before now. I don’t like guns. And yet the urge to murder shitheads like Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan became such a preoccupation that it scared me. I decided to invoke what the psychologists call displacement—avoiding the unacceptable and dangerous delusions of seeking death to those lunatics by taking out my aggressions on other beasts.

Of course, the trip to La Pampa never came off. The hold times were too long, and while waiting I read enough blurbs from the hunting lodge that I could hear the bangs of the AR-15s and feel the soggy mattresses in our tents. Not to mention associating with the Harlan Crows, Clarence Thomases and their ilk who would make up the party. Travel is for those with no imagination.

Live to Eat or Eat to Live?

foodiesfeed.com

Eating can be a joy, a repeatable pleasure, or a necessary fuel stop. How you feel about it will be the product of many innumerable factors. Here I offer an overview of my thoughts, at least on the day I wrote them. Some of these comments come from past postings which you may recognize.

Those of us lucky enough to be brought up in a genuine gastronomic culture can be either snooty or appalled by American food—or at least the diet that most Americans eat. Authorities keep warning us that such food is not only unhealthy but dangerous.

I grew up in a foodie family devoted to great food and lots of it. 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.

We all seem to be captive to our childhood preferences in food. For many years I had a thing for French toast and bacon in the morning. Those associations with breakfast die hard. You know about Proust and the madeleine dipped in tea? Taste, memory and associations together make us into creatures of the past. So sometimes, as I said here, we simply have to give way to our built-in historic preferences. The alternative is food guilt, and who needs that?

The wizards of the food industry are constantly bombarded by the food police and the advocates of organic food. I think the only thing wrong with organic food is the folks who promote it and their high-handed convictions in the cause. They feed on many platitudes and attitudes about food.

Poor people do eat more junk food. It fuels obesity, but it’s cheaper and provides instant gratification. Do the hordes of MAGA supporters eat anything but junk food? Look at the way Trump eats here.

Researchers claim that fat (but not obese) people live longer. So, how much weight is too much, guys? Another elaborate study on fruit flies tells us that human taste buds operate like those in the flies to make up for diet deficiencies.

You want science like this to control your diet and your life? I mean, what’s wrong with sandwiches? Stuff ‘em with lettuce if you want your greens. Did you know that pizza is the best-liked food in the world? How frightening is that? I live around the corner from a great farmers market so I’m fortunate not to be subject to the onslaught of the packaged, processed, fatty foods that outrage the food police.

Recent gastronomic traditions in American cooking can compete with the best in Europe and Asia. And the fact that we have incorporated the traditions of French, Italian and Asian cookery in our food provides variety and nourishment of a different and welcome sort. The best food in Mexico, as in the U.S., is the freshest and most nutritious. Beans, vegetables, fruits and corn tortillas are everywhere. The better restaurants here serve up endless variations on these staples, often with great flair.

But not everybody everywhere gets to eat. The horror stories in Gaza keep on coming: attacks on the food truck convoys, Israeli soldiers killing the attackers, near-famine conditions, air drops of insufficient food falling into the sea, photos of kids starving. I read a report that people resorted to eating animal feed.

Using food as a weapon is one of the most barbarous things countries can do, and we see it happening over and over again. Our politicians seem powerless to do anything, but they all enjoy a good breakfast.

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

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.

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

 

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.

Down the Rabbit Hole in Gaza

I guess I’m one of those Jews who doesn’t support Israel in its mad recriminative effort to uproot Hamas at all costs. Yet the terrorists may have provoked their own eventual demise. So thinks Netanyahu and his government. Or maybe, as others have said, they are just creating more terrorists.

These butchers brutally murdered some 1,200 Israelis on October 7, and one month later over 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza had been killed. One does not expect proportionality in warfare but Israel’s violent response has cost it dearly with a preponderance of people around the world. The conflict has pushed many down the rabbit hole of partisan madness.

I grew up in a 1950s environment of strong anti-Zionist feeling, when the establishment of the new nation and its purpose were hotly debated. I could never understand why some Jews were so against establishing a homeland, given the horrors of the war just ended.

In the many years since, the messy history of Israel’s relations with Palestine has rendered Israel dominant at every turn, and there have been countless rabbit holes in that adventure. The Guardian just published a strong piece on how the West (mainly the G7 countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the European Union, and the United States) “represents a long history of racial and imperial arrogance.”

When the Israeli defence minister declared on 9 October a “complete siege” in which “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” would be allowed into blockaded Gaza, and called its 2.3 million inhabitants “human animals”, there was not a single protest from an official in a western capital.

Leftists everywhere are now protesting en masse, and so is much of the rest of the world, some calling Israel an apartheid state. To them, President Biden, staunch defender of Israel, has fallen down his own rabbit hole.

I think we’re all victims of very partial media reportage about this war. Just contrast what you see on CNN and Al Jazeera. I watch a lot of CNN but often mute or turn off much of its constant, repetitious coverage of Gaza and the endless interviews with survivors and the hostage families. Some would say these people are being exploited. Others just love the CNN coverage. Al Jazeera is less biased but still avoids any such interviews, and the Israeli stance is hardly mentioned. Arab media is for the Arabs.

A former CNN’er, Arwa Damon says:

Space needs to be made for Jewish and Israeli voices on such [Arab-funded] outlets. Not all Israelis support their government’s policies, the illegal settlements, or the oppression or occupation of Palestine. And not all Jews across the world support Zionism or what Israel has done.

The pictures and the accounts of the war on most American media are repetitive and sometimes just played for their histrionics. Such images are appalling but that approach seems to work, as most Americans are sympathetic, believing the Israeli response to Hamas is in some degree justified. While a large, growing contingent—and not just those on the left—judges quite differently. The world faces another huge moral challenge.

The Bowels

You might call this the inside story. It’s not my purpose here to break the centuries-old taboo about the subject of poop. Rather, the idea is to justify its importance since everybody does it. And many of us enjoy talking about it—despite others like my mother who found it disgusting.

I heard a lot of toilet humor growing up, much of it generated by my father. He once brought home a record album called “The Farting Contest,” which featured remarkable noises and bawdy British humor. For that moment, at least, shit brought us together.

A college friend, John, told how when he was young he set fire to the toilet seat while lighting toilet paper to disguise the smell of what he called “stinkies.” His father was not pleased. Kids, we know, are into poop from an early age. In high school, Ed remembered his sister’s son coming down to a breakfast of pork sausages: “Look, mommy, grunt-grunt for breakfast.” Such stories remain blithely commonplace. My friend Phil once described an aristocratic fat woman devouring hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party: “She was eating like she had seven rectums.” And so it goes.

Scatology in literature goes back to medieval times (see Pantagruel and Rabelais, for instance) and, before that, Aristophanes. In modern high-brow literature it became increasingly taboo, though not for present-day comedians. Serious writers have seemed to avoid it, though Nathaniel West wrote a crazy satire in The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931) in which the hero journeys through the intestines of the Trojan horse.

Personally, as some of you know, I’ve been afflicted with Irritable Bowel Syndrome for many years. OK, I’ll invoke the taboo here so as not to go into details. But I will say that the situation has made me very aware of how our gastro organs work and don’t work. We still don’t understand much of this.

Sex and porn are now all over the internet despite the efforts of right-wing Christians and others to stop them. Scatology, I predict, will be the next meme because poop is part of our under-culture and, like all “bad” things, it cannot be suppressed. The whole idea of breaking taboos is part of what created the internet. Trump’s gold toilet could well become the new symbol of our age.