Not I

April 18, 2014

I recently read a Not I, by Joachim Fest, a memoir of the author’s ( a well known German journalist and historian) childhood, which spanned the rise of Hitler and World War II. Fest’s parents, most notably his father but his mother as well, did not support the Nazi regime, and at considerable personal risk, did not hide the fact. They never joined the Nazi party. They did not greet neighbors on the street, as they were supposed to, with a “Heil Hitler!”. They read forbidden books and listened to forbidden music. They refused to let their children join Hitler Youth. They retained Jewish friends, counseling them to leave the country (some did, some refused until it was too late), doing favors for them, sheltering them when they were out after curfew, and (at their request) burying their possessions until “after the war”.
The Fests paid a considerable price for their courage. Mr. Fest not only was fired from his job in 1933 for failure to join the Nazi party, he was forbidden to take any paid employment, throwing their formerly well off family into, if not poverty, a drastically lower scale of living. The family was shunned by neighbors and their house repeatedly searched by the SS. Joachim was expelled from public school for drawing a caricature of Hitler on his desk. (he was then sent to boarding school) After the actual outbreak of war many of their family members were killed by the Russians, and the women raped and tortured, including a relative disabled by polio. Their home was reduced to rubble from bombing and all their possessions destroyed. Joachim was forcibly drafted (at the age of 16) in the last days of the war and spent 2 years in an American POW camp. His father was imprisoned, under much worse conditions, in a Russian POW camp.
Yet, of course, all this suffering pales in the face of the Holocaust. And all these acts of resistance, no matter how admirable, remained essentially personal at a time when the only effective action was massive, probably violent,political action. Fest’s father realized this, and both he and his wife, though they survived the war,did not survive their guilt, and died broken people. As the book states: “I asked him when he had learned for the first time of mass crimes in the east….my father stared silently into space for awhile…”There were rumors, and a BBC broadcast. Alarmed by these hints I spent almost three months at the beginning of 1943 looking for irrefutable evidence. Then I was sure: they were murdering as if possessed….I didn’t want to talk about it then and I don’t want to talk about it now. It reminds me there was absolutely nothing I could do with my knowledge. Not even talk about it. In the face of a whole battalion of hangmen it is better to remain silent!”
I read this, as a Jew, and think, yes, there is something he could have done. He could have talked. He could have fought. He could have stormed the concentration camps. This of course would have required massive support, and Fest, the father of five young children, was operating in an environment where most of his neighbors would have readily turned him into the SS for listening to the wrong music. How critical a mass of people do you need before an act of martyrdom becomes an act of revolution? I realize I can’t honestly say.
I realize that in the face of all kinds of unspeakable horrors that have go on all the time–Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia–in the face of the (admittedly lesser, but still inexcusable) crimes of our government, such as Guantanamo, I also tend to fall back on living with personal integrity and raising my children to do the same. I also think of the quote I’ve had on my bulletin boards since the Vietnam war, from Phil Ochs: “Ah, in such an ugly time, the true protest is beauty”. The Fests, living in a horribly ugly time, took refuge in beauty–music, literature, the fruit from their trees. They believed that if they toughed out these awful times as decent human beings, the Nazis would burn themselves out. They believed that a country that produced Bach and Beethoven would not be reduced to barbarism. And once they realized, to their horror, that they’d been mistaken , they felt impotent to do anything about it.
In the face of considerably less repression, I feel that the vast majority of Americans–and most especially those that should know better–suffer from a similar impotent malaise.
Joachim Fest admits that while the war broke his parents, for him it was, ultimately, his formative years. Traumatic as they were, he was a child for most of them. He was poor but never starving, he had a loving family, he went to school, played games, took piano lessons. He was shielded from the worst of it until he was almost an adult.
In the years since WWII the Nazis have deservedly become the representation of the worst evil man is capable of. Contemplation of that evil has spawned such studies as the famous “buzzer” one where people, subjected to various stresses, are ordered to deliver electric shocks to other participants in the experiment. A disturbing number of people, of course, do press the buzzer. I’ve always been able to tell myself comfortably–and I really do say this with assurance–that no matter the pressure, I would never press the buzzer. I am not a buzzer presser.
What makes Not I so disturbing is that the Fests were not buzzer pressers either. But that, in the context of Nazi Germany, wasn’t nearly enough.

warren weinstein still alive; pleas for help with release

December 27, 2013

If you click on the following link:  you will see and hear a heartbreaking video from Warren Weinstein pleading that American public place pressure on the Obama administration for his release.

Weinstein, now 72 years old and suffering from a heart condition, was captured over two years ago by Al Qaeda in Pakistan.  He had been scheduled to leave Pakistan, where he had been working for the US government, in the next few days. His capture made minor headlines and then fell from the news.  Mr. Weinstein and his family are long time friends of my mother’s and in the year following his capture I publicized any news updates about him that I could find, but they were few and far between and mostly in the Indian press.  While theoretically the Obama administration was negotiating for his release, I could find no evidence to indicate this.  The only government that seemed to remember his existence, was again, India, who has seen quite a few of its citizens captured by the same branch of Al Qaeda.  Over the past year, I have not posted much about Warren Weinstein because I’ve had nothing to say.  Now at least there is proof that he is alive.

   We may not know the full details of Weinstein’s work or the details of his capture.  Obviously any video emanating from a prisoner is generated under duress and its contents are suspect.  None of this matters, really.  Weinstein was working for the US government.  He willingly put himself in a dangerous position for work that he believed in, for work supported, presumably, by the Obama administration.  His friends, family, and co-workers know him to be a kind, sweet, intelligent man.  But now, in his time of need, the Obama administration obviously finds him inconvenient.  They prefer to pretend he does not exist.

Please do not allow Warren Weinstein to be forgotten!  Please use the power of social media to get the word out about his plight and pressure Obama to negotiate for his release.  

banal news update: organic milk is better for you

December 20, 2013


Late Afternoon Sunlight on Mt. Hood

“Study shows organic milk could be a healthier choice,” states Katy Muldoon of the Oregonian.  In a study conducted by Washington State University, researchers tested nearly 400 samples of organic and conventional milk and found that the organic milk had a much healthier ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids than conventional milk. the difference is believed to be the result of the pasture and forage-based feeds used on organic dairy farms.  Wow, grass.  Isn’t that what cows are designed to eat.

A healthy ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 acids protects against cardiovascular disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, and inflammation (which is probably at the root of all these other illnesses) This ratio held up consistently through all fat levels of organic milk, rendering whole organic milk more protective against heart disease than conventional skim milk.

This study is illustrative of a problem with most mainstream dietary recommendations, which are issued on the assumption that one is eating the degraded agribusiness version of a food, rather than the whole food as nature designed it to be.  You will find similar fatty acid ratios in free range eggs and free range beef, both food categories that are conventional no-nos for people looking to lower their risk of cardiovascular and other illnesses.

The problem is not the food.  The problem is what conventional agriculture does to these foods.  Big agriculture and processed food companies would like nothing better than to demonize an egg and sell you an eggbeater, or demonize whole milk and sell you low fat this and low fat that.  You don’t need these fancy products!  Just eat (or drink) the real thing.

wendy’s recipe file: leftover chicken tortilla soup

December 11, 2013

mushrooms on the coastdon’t eat these!

This is an experiment. I have attached a photo of mushrooms that should appear with this text. It seems like every blog except mine features multiple photos, and I do like to take photos, so I’ll be putting some of my favorites up. However, the recipe that follows has nothing to do with mushrooms. It is a recipe for tortilla soup, that is another example of how soup has the capacity to create something from virtually nothing. What does the soup look like? Do you really need a picture of a bowl of soup any more than you need a thousand pictures of a sandwich someone is about to eat? The soup is slightly thick, with a mild red color, sprinkled with green avocado, rust-yellow tortillas, and brighter yellow grated cheese. It’s great on a chilly winter evening and comes together really quickly.
Serves sux
Chicken broth (half of mine came from boiling the leftover bones of a large roast chicken; I added an aseptic container (approximately 5 cups) of Imagine brand chicken broth. Whatever mix of broths you use, you will need approximately 10 cups)
Leftover chicken (at least 2 cups, chopped into bite size pieces)
1 large jar roasted peppers (I used ones I roasted and froze last September when organic red peppers were at their lowest price)
1 onion, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen brand)
2 jalapenos chopped or hot sauce to taste (I used my homemade hot sauce, made from Hatch chili peppers grated and mixed with salt and vinegar–again, dating back to the glory harvest days of September)
2 avocados, diced
1 cup cilantro, destemmed and lightly chopped
approximately 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 package corn tortillas
2 T olive oil

1) Saute the onion, peppers, and jalapeno (if using) in the olive oil until soft and fragrant.
2) Add the broth and tomatoes, cook for approximately 10 minutes.
3) Puree with an immersion blender. Cook down for approximately 10 minutes more and adjust for taste. You may with to add some salt and/or more hot sauce.
4) Meanwhile, oil 1-2 baking sheets and cook the tortillas at 350 until crisp. Cut into strips.
5) Serve soup, garnishing bowls with cheese, avocado, and cilantro.

life of pie

December 10, 2013

Portland has two types of pizza: the austere, thin crusted kind with a discreet sprinkling of artisanally sourced ingredients, and the ebullient thick crusted kind with gobs of gooey cheese and pepperoni of unknown origins.
My loyalties fall somewhere in between the two. But Life of Pie, a new addition to Portland’s pizza scene, does the austere kind well. I predict it will give Apizza Scholls, currently the leader in that category, valid competition.
Located on the hot N. Williams restaurant strip, Life of Pie has an casual, upscale pizzeria look. A huge wood-fired oven, imported from Italy, dominates the area behind the counter. The menu is limited, featuring eight 11″ pies ( large enough to feed one hungry person or two dieting ones) with well-conceived toppings that are creative but not bizarre. The crusts, made with local Shepherd’s Grain flour, are crispy but still toothsome, the tomato sauce delicious but not excessive, the homemade mozzarella cheese creamy but not dripping off the pie. My favorite was a seasonal mushroom pie with an intoxicating scent of truffle oil. It was rich, but unlike many white pies, not overwhelmingly so. The fennel sausage and Mama Lil’s pepper pizza might give Apizza Scholls’ a run for its money, though I could have used a few more peppers. Sweet oven roasted leeks were the star of the bacon, goat cheese, and leek pizza; the goat cheese was good too, but the full slices of bacon, albeit generous, were a mite fatty and chewy.
Their arancina, crispy deep fried rice balls with a luscious mozzarella center, were some of the best I’ve had short of Italy. And if you want a healthy offset to all this cheese and sausage, start your meal with a kale salad in a gentle honey lemon vinaigrette with a yummy breadcrumb garnish.
The house Portuguese wine set off everything very nicely.

wendy’s recipe file: green beans with roasted garlic, anchovies, olive oil and almonds

November 19, 2013

Sometimes it seems like all Thanksgiving recipes–even the vegetable sides–are overloaded with an excess of butter, cheese, and breadcrumbs.  All that richness can be very tasty, but totally apart from nutritional considerations, I think rich dishes taste best contrasted with other flavors.  This green bean recipe derives its interest from the intense flavors of garlic and anchovies, set off with a vinaigrette style sauce and some tasty garnishes.  Green beans freeze well, so maybe you have some leftover from your summer garden!  At any rate, the frozen variety make a decent substitute for the fresh.


2 pounds green beans, halved if needed

1 garlic clove

1 2 oz can anchovies, chopped

1/2 cup roasted almonds (marconas are good)

1/2 cup olive oil

2 T red wine vinegar

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup roasted red pepper, cut into strips.

1)  Roast garlic by cutting off top I/2 inch of the whole head with a serrated knife.  Rub the outside of the head with olive oil and bake at 375 degrees for about half an hour or until the garlic is soft.  When cool, squeeze the roasted garlic pulp from the individual cloves.

2)  Steam green beans until crisp-tender.

3)  Combine the roasted garlic pulp with the anchovies, olive oil, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce. 

4)  Toss with the green beans and let sit for at least an hour at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld.  Garnish with roasted red pepper strips and almonds.


banal news update: cargill to label beef containing “pink slime”

November 16, 2013

Yep, you heard that right.  The Wall Street Journal reports that meat packing giant Cargill will label tubes of ground beef as containing “pink slime’, in other words the infamous filler made of scraps left over after cattle is butchered into other cuts.  The meat is often treated with ammonium hydroxide to destroy bacteria before being mixed into the ground beef.  For decades this substance was quietly added to packaged ground beef, premade hamburgers, and some school cafeteria food.  But once this fact was publicized in early 2012 it gained the moniker “pink slime” and–wow!–lots of people no longer wanted to eat it.

So now we’ll have truth in advertising, and I guess that is a small victory.   A plastic tube stuffed with meat from a thousand cows does not strike me as a substance I want to put in my mouth.  And now that we’ll have conclusive proof it contains, as an extra treat, pink slime, well…any one who still chooses to eat this deserves what they get.

going where the weather suits my clothes: sacramento

November 13, 2013

I’ve flown into the Sacramento airport several times over the years, en route to San Francisco, Mendocino, or Lake Tahoe. But I’ve discovered there are reasons to visit Sacramento other than as a central location for arrivals and departures.
–Apparently the Sacramento Valley is home to over 200 wineries! Due to Central California’s long hot summers, these wines tend to be luscious jammy ones reminiscent of the wines of similarly toasty Eastern Washington. Think of Merlots or Zinfandels, or whites with character and body. Less well known than touristy Napa and Sonoma to the West, Sacramento’s wineries are informal and friendly, with most winemakers happy to share their wine without tasting fees and pretension.
–The Central Valley of California feeds most of the country. But did you know that it is a major producer of sushi rice? Or more interestingly, caviar? Apparently sturgeon is native to the Sacramento River, and like salmon, spends most of its life in the ocean but returns home to spawn. Sterling Caviar, of Sacramento, produces farmed sustainable caviar that is gaining an excellent reputation.
–The general abundance of this hot, sunny, fertile region has led to an explosion of farm to table restaurants in the Sacramento metro area.
Check it out. I certainly plan to.

statin silliness

November 13, 2013

Back in the early seventies cholesterol became the poster bad boy for heart disease.  En mass people replaced eggs with eggbeaters, butter with soft margarine, beef with chicken.  In the late 1980′s, statin drugs, which work by preventing cholesterol synthesis in the liver, were introduced, and rapidly became one of the most prescribed drugs in America.  Now, it looks like their use is about to double.  The American Heart Association released a study this week suggesting that a third of the US population take statins for the prevention of heart disease  (currently they are recommended for 15% of the population, though not everybody follows through on the recommendation).

This is foolish, and potentially dangerous. Firstly, cholesterol has never been proven to have more than a correlative relationship to heart disease.  That is, excess cholesterol is found in the arteries of people with heart disease, clogging them up and increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.  But that cholesterol “sticks” to the arterial wall only after that wall has been damaged by an initial injury.  What causes that initial injury is a still unanswered question, but much evidence points to inflammation.  Whether that inflammation is caused by diet, environmental stress, infection, or–,most likely–a combination of genetic vulnerability and several environmental factors–also remains unclear.  Cholesterol is a vital substance that is made by the liver as well as taken in through diet.  It is an integral part of many essential bodily compounds, including sex hormones and the myelin that lines nerve cells.  That is why statins, when they interfere with the liver’s natural cholesterol production, have side effects;  liver damage, muscle problems, cognitive loss.

Now if you have a patient with congenitally very high cholesterol, or a person with serious heart disease, the potential benefits of lowering cholesterol may outweigh the potential side effects of statins.  At that point, the initial injury to the arteries may be irrelevant, or at least outweighed by the damage caused by the cholesterol buildup.

This is not the case with 33% of the US population!!!  The Heart Association says, in its new recommendations, that physician’s focus should be on a constellation of factors that promote heart disease:  age, sex, race, cholesterol (the simplistically labeled “bad” cholesterol–LDL), diabetes, smoking, and obesity.  All well and good.  Then they go and recommend–for any person who is at risk given this formula–even those with normal cholesterol levels–take statins, which, in their heavy handed way, deal with only one of these risk factors–cholesterol!!!
How does this make any sense? Seems to me all it does is place millions of people at unnecessary risk while making millions for Big Pharma.

something new on warren weinstein

November 7, 2013

I haven’t reported on Warren Weinstein in a long time because there’s been nothing to say But today, in Pakistan Today there is a report that an Al-Qaeda operative, Saifullah, has been arrested in his kidnapping and is being questioned. Two other suspects have also been arrested. So, while the US may not care (note that none of this is in the US press) at least Pakistan does, and we can hold out home that maybe this will lead to a breakthrough in his case.


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