warren Weinstein killed by US government

April 23, 2015

This morning I awoke to the news that my mother’s friend, Warren Weinstein, was killed by a US government drone.

Over three years ago Weinstein, an economic aid worker in Pakistan, was captured by Al-Qaeda  a few days before he was to leave the country.  Weinstein was in his seventies, with a heart condition.  He then continued to languish in an unknown–but surely hardly obscure–location for the ensuing years while the US government did exactly….nothing.  I suppose this is not too surprising in a country that took ten years to find Osama Bin Laden hiding in plain sight.  I publicized this situation several times in this blog because I was so appalled.  Weinstein spends a career supporting  American interests in this dangerous region, he’s captured by terrorists who are our supposed enemies, and the government does nothing.  REfuses to publicize the case.  Does not negotiate for his release.  Nothing.  They completely hung him out to dry.  Last year his wife and children’s patience finally ran out and they publicized his plight in a website, also reported on in this blog.

It did no good.  His case never gained traction in a population that barely has the attention span of a fly.  That no doubt pleased the powers that be in the US Government, who obviously felt no responsibility towards their citizens abroad.  Now he finally makes the news because he’s killed–not by Al-Qaeda or ISIS but by one of our own drones. In January.  THREE MONTHS AGO. The Obama administration concealed this knowledge from his family and the public for three months until something or somebody (a Wiki leak?) obviously forced their hand.

So I don’t know whether Weinstein was killed by American incompetence or deliberately for reasons unknown.  The truth is out there, and it would behoove the American people to demand a full investigation.

Please, people, pay attention.  This is not the country we believe it to be or want it to be.

blogging for books: capture the moment, by sarah wilkerson

April 17, 2015

This is a lovely, useful, inspiring book for the amateur photographer who wants to do more than snap mediocre photos with their cell phone.  While it is especially aimed at women capturing the essence of children and domestic life, the book will help anyone who wants to take more beautiful, evocative photos.

About 100 photos illustrate helpful hints concerning the basics of photography:  natural light; composition; storytelling; fine art; low light; and black and white.  Creative prompts for exploring each of these categories enrich each chapter.  The approach is more visual and verbal than mind-numbingly technological.

In addition, the illustrative photographs are so breathtakingly lovely, this makes a great coffee table book even if you never pick up a camera.

My only suggestion regards the f stop, exposure, and ISO info that accompanies each photo.  if you own a Nikon SLR like almost all these photographers seem to do , these are easy to replicate.  but if you own a different type of camera (like my hybrid Lumix) it would help to include more guidelines on how to translate this data.


blogging for books: salad love, by David Bez

April 2, 2015

Salad Love is more of a guidebook and an inspiration than a cookbook:  300 pages of imaginative salad combinations, accompanied by beautiful photographs.  Each salad contains a simple mixture of ingredients, complementing one another in color, texture, nutrient content and flavor.  Ingredients encompass a range of greens, other vegetables, dried fruit, meat, tinned fish, cheese, grains, nuts, and herbs.  In most cases the dressing is a simple vinaigrette, differing only in the choice of tartness (cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, lemon).  Occasionally Bez adds a richer flavor note–coconut cream, hummus, truffle oil–but none of the dressings are of the creamy mayonnaise-based variety. All the recipes are templates at heart.  For example, I couldn’t find scamorza, a smoked cheese, in my supermarket (Bez is English, and some of the ingredients he calls for are obscure here) so I substituted dill Havarti.  Similarly, I forgot to buy baby corn for the shrimp, baby corn, tomatoes, and chile salad so I substituted cooked frozen corn.  My only dud so far was “anchovies, cucumber, red, pepper and black olives”, which was marred by soggy cucumber shreds and an overly pungent anchovy component. Bez is a designer, not a professional cook, and this shows in the artistic composition of his salads.  He’s also really skinny, which shows in his minute portion sizes (2 oz of lettuce??) .  All recipes are for individual (small!) portions as Bez developed them as work lunches to eat at your desk.  If you’re cooking for a family you will need to increase ingredients proportionately.


life is difficult so file a lawsuit

March 5, 2015

The February 15 issue of the New York Times Magazine (http://www.nytimes.com/pages/magazine/index.htmline) featured an article entitled “The Accusation”.  Basically, this is how the story goes, as best as I can summarize.  A brilliant, beautiful and very sheltered 21 year old Stanford student, Ellie Clougherty signs  up for a class where she will be mentored by a Silicon Valley tech exec.  Joe Lonsdale, a wealthy 29 year old tech entrepreneur who was already acquainted with Clougherty through mutual friends volunteered to be her mentor.  She accepted.  The mentorship proceeded essentially on schedule, but also evolved into a  romantic relationship.  Lonsdale was a pretty showy nouveau riche guy, and he introduced Clougherty to a glitzy, fast lane lifestyle:  town cars to pick her up on dates; trips to Europe; a 30th birthday party at the Hearst Mansion.  The relationship was completely out in the open and involved visits with both families.  Clougherty’s mother in particular insinuated herself into the Lonsdale family, attending family parties and asking Lonsdale for business advice.  But the relationship grew troubled, as relationships often do.  After a tempestuous Christmas break (visiting the Clougherty family) Lonsdale broke up with Clougherty via email, but they got back together.  After  a couple more months, Clougherty broke up with Lonsdale.  He began dating someone else.  OK.  How many people on this planet have experienced the break up of a relationship, especially in college?  End of story, right?  Clougherty assimilates this experience into her life, regrets the bad times, remembers the good times fondly, learns from her mistakes and moves on?


Apparently after the breakup, which she initiated, Clougherty fell into a deep depression.  A prior eating disorder resurfaced, she lost interest in her studies, she sat around and cried all the time.  She withdrew from school.  Her mother showed up, took her home, started her in therapy, and that’s where things get really crazy.  Clougherty filed a lawsuit alleging that Lonsdale RAPED HER FOR A YEAR.  You heard that right.  Lonsdale was stripped of his mentoring privileges, which he accepted without argument, but when that wasn’t enough, more abuse allegations, still continuing, against both Lonsdale and Stanford University, were filed in the courts.

I’m trying to figure out why this story made me as angry as it did.  I’ll boil it down to a few basics:

1)  It rolls back female accountability, responsibility, and personal agency back to the Victorian Age.  Personally, Lonsdale strikes me as somewhat of a jerk.  A vocal “libertarian”  who made a fortune developing software that mines people’s personal data for the NSA?  Not my type.  And from the immense number of personal anecdotes and emails released for these lawsuits, he strikes me as narcissistic and controlling, as people who meet such success early in life often are.  I also think he showed poor judgement mingling the mentor/mentee experience with a romantic relationship.  But a jerk does not an abuser make.

Much is made–especially by Clougherty’s mother–about her tender age.  But she was 21, three years past the age of consent, old enough to vote, to serve in the armed forces, to sign a contract, to have a drink in a bar.  Many people her age are married, have children and jobs. At 29, Lonsdale was older than her but not by a huge amount.  They were in the same decade, for God’s sake.  I’ve known many couples with bigger age differences.  Apparently she was a virgin when she met Lonsdale and now we are expected to believe that her precious virtue was stripped from her innocent self by this evil man?  Again and again, for a YEAR?   PLease.  I think a grown woman can be in charge of her own sexuality, and take ownership of her own regrets.

2)  Throwing around terms like rape and abuse casts doubt on the legitimate claims of the many women who are actually raped and abused.  Nobody got Clougherty drunk at a frat party, or slipped a roofie in her drink, or pointed a gun at her head, or physically abused her in any way.  Why is she getting the court time when so many abusers go free?

3)  It takes the personal and makes it public. I cannot believe the extent of the private information this woman was perfectly content to get splashed all over a national newspaper.  I get the feeling that people like this, people who are talented and gorgeous and rich, who have had everything go their way in their young lives  assume life should be a smooth ride for their perfect selves.  Is something goes wrong and they suffer psychic pain, then it has to be someone’s fault.  Someone or something else must bear the blame.  Their helicopter parents all too often go along with this fantasy.  Yet the only way to grow up is to experience life, to make mistakes, to suffer, sometimes unfairly, and from that suffering learn and grow.  That can’t be legislated in a court.



blogging for books: soul food love, by Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams

February 26, 2015

After reviewing The Paleo Chef I needed some food love!

Hands down, Southern cooking is my favorite food.  However, as I learned from a 7 day, 5 pound tour of the South, if I ate that way every day I’d weigh 200 pounds.

Soul Food Love offers excellent ways of coping with this dilemma.  The recipes in this cookbook incorporate the essential flavors of Southern cooking while throwing in more fresh vegetables and ditching most of the refined carbohydrates and fat.  The recipes are super-easy too:  great for busy people managing large households on a limited budget.  In many ways this is a more soulful take on another cookbook I reviewed, Martha Stewart’s “One Pot”.  You throw a bunch of readily available, relatively inexpensive ingredients in some type of cookpot and then leave them alone in the oven or the stovetop to do their thing.

Two vegetable recipes–a “mess of greens” and a sweet potato salad–incorporated a sweet/sour tang, and lots of onion, garlic, and hot peppers.  The sweet potato salad, tossed with dried cranberries, was an especially big hit with my family. Shrimp stew, a New Orleans classic minus the roux and the bacon, gained its flavor from a heap of peppers, celery, tomatoes, and parsley, simmered for an hour and a half.  African chickpea stew was incredibly easy (throw a couple bunches of greens in with a couple cans of chickpeas, a can of coconut milk, and an aseptic container of broth) nutritious, and totally free of saturated fat.

My only criticism of Soul Food Love is the same as for One Pot.  In both, the recipes tend to lack complexity of flavor.  The chickpea soup, for instance, benefited from a heaping tablespoon of garam masala.

Another feature of this book is the authors (mother and daughter, both fiction writers) fascinating introductory chapters detailing their family history and culinary heritage.

if guns are lawful, then idiots have guns

February 25, 2015

I meant to write about this two weeks ago, but got distracted by the joyful birth of my two granddaughters.  Now returning to regular life and opinions, I see that the Chapel Hill murder of three Islamic graduate students by a disgruntled neighbor has already disappeared from the news cycle.  If you check out this article in the Boston Globe  http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/02/20/chapel-hill-murders-weren-about-religion-but-about-guns/G88frA584lFpsycgrbhXpK/story.htmlbe (  you’ll see why:  random gun violence in America is nothing out of the ordinary.

The students murdered may have been Muslim but religious intolerance did not seem to motivate Charles Hicks, who voiced his distaste for all religion regularly on Facebook (when he wasn’t bragging about his gun arsenal).  Rather, the shooting was motivated by a parking space dispute.

We’ve all had obnoxious neighbors, those people who have nothing better to do with their time than provoke fights about trivialities.  I’ve had several, starting with  an old lady who deliberately ran out into her backyard to snatch up every baseball my brother and I accidentally hit over the fence.  Then came the  old lady who banged on the ceiling with a broom every time we made too much noise in our apartment (vacuuming, pounding chicken breasts, playing Michael Jackson’s Thriller at an admittedly high volume; a neighbor who obsessed about the exact location of our property line, down to the inch; another one who sent a letter to the city complaining about a basketball hoop ON OUR PROPERTY as well as sending inspectors threatening legal action every time our weeds grew higher than his tender sensibilities.

The thing about these people, I basically feel sorry for them.  They’re the ones that are wasting their lives obsessing over this nonsense.  They are nuisances that might raise your blood pressure momentarily, and when you (or they) are no longer neighbors they become only a funny story.

Unless they have guns, apparently.  Then they might kill you.

blogging for books: The Paleo Chef, by Pete Evans

February 6, 2015

I don’t understand the paleo diet, and after reviewing this book, I understand it less.  We don’t know exactly what our Paleolithic ancestors ate, but my guess is that that they ate whatever they could lay their hands on.  Their average lifespan was 25 years.  Only when man developed agriculture did complex civilizations develop.  Today Mediterranean countries, with their largely grain-based diets, have some of the longest life spans in the world.  But even indigenous Amazonian tribes practice agriculture.

Some tenets of the Paleo diet make sense.  Modern Americans do eat way too many refined carbohydrates, sugar, and processed food.  Meat should be grass fed, and eggs from pastured hens.  Fermented foods provide valuable probiotics.  But what on earth is wrong with whole grains, organic fruit, sheep and goat cheese?  The Paleo diet, as interpreted by Evans, consists of free range meat, raw or lightly cooked vegetables, eggs, “natural fat”, and “optional” small quantities of seasonal fruit.  Banned?  All grains, legumes, dairy, soy, and evidently salt, as there’s none in the recipes.  The Paleo diet is nothing but another iteration of the low carb diet–we had Atkins, we had Zone, we had Stillman, and now we have Paleo.  At no point in the Paleo Cookbook does Evans provide any scientific rationale for Paleo’s supposed health benefits.

But enough of this.  How good are the recipes?

Here my verdict is mixed.  Paleo man must have lived on a tropical island, given the amount of coconut products these recipes call for. They ate marinated artichokes and had ready access to food processors too.  A lot of the recipes sounded perfectly pleasant, but nothing I couldn’t find in a nonpaleo cookbook:  tuna rolls, grilled wild salmon with artichoke salsa, jerk chicken.  Others hardly required a cookbook at all:  sautéed greens, roasted vegetables.  Eating Paleo is expensive!  I normally buy grass fed meat but mitigate the cost by not eating much of it.  Here meat is the center of the plate. Out of season, nonlocal organic veggies and all the coconut and macadamia nuts aren’t cheap either.

I settled on 3 recipes that were distinctly Paleo.  Kale hummus substituted macadamia nuts for the verboten garbanzo beans.  The resulting spread had a zippy kale/lemon flavor but was heavy and rich, more a pesto than a dip.  I brought it to a Super Bowl party with moderate success.  The second dish, a chicken/veggie stir fry utilizing cauliflower “rice”, was a complete dud.  The recipe called for a mélange of vegetables that did not combine well (brussel sprouts?  okra?).  And, sorry, I know rice.  Rice is a friend of mine.  And cauliflower is not rice.  What a gloppy mess.  Evans is fascinated with okra, which in my opinion is best deep fried and served with remoulade.  Many times he incorporates undercooked or raw veggies that are not lettuce–root vegetable slaw, raw zucchini lasagna.  Maybe Paleo man could digest these but my 21st century stomach cannot.

For my last recipe, I made meatballs in chipotle sauce. Paleo only in that they omitted breadcrumbs (which weren’t remotely missed)–these tasted very good.  At my family’s request I skipped the accompanying “crema”, a puree of raw cashews, lemon, and lime.

I made these meatballs with a side of broccolini.  Tasty as they were, my family found themselves unsatisfied.  The meatballs would have benefited from a bed of polenta (corn formed the staple diet of indigenous South Americans).  Still hungry, but not wanting to eat more meat (I’d already consumed half a pound) I sopped up the sauce with a slice of lovely, gluten-filled whole grain bread.

the truth is still out there on 9/11

February 5, 2015

Last Sunday, I watched the film American Sniper, which has become a national phenomenon, selling out even during the Super Bowl.  I expected to dismiss it as rah-rah American propaganda, but could not.  It did not glorify war.  While it was superficial and reduced the obviously complex character of sniper Chris Kyle to stereotype, it did illustrate how killing destroys the soul.  It honored the emotional conflicts and physical and emotional sacrifice of the men who volunteer to fight our wars.  What it didn’t do–and this is a gaping failing–was explore why America invaded Iraq in the first place.

I’m thinking about the movie again as I read an article, “New Light Cast on Secret Pages in Sept. 11 Report”, in the Thursday Feb. 5 New York Times.  Fourteen years have passed since 9/11 yet the circumstances surrounding it remain as impermeable as ever.  Think on it.  All the hijackers were Saudi.  Bin Laden was Saudi.  Yet we initiated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and remain as buddy buddy with Saudi Arabia as ever.  This policy has remained consistent through both the Bush and Obama administrations.   Twenty-eight pages of the congressional investigation into the attacks–pages that examine crucial support given to the hijackers and that “by all accounts”–according to the Times–implicate prominent Saudis in financing terrorism, were classified by George W. Bush.

Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted former member of Al-Qaeda, has for years been pressuring to testify in a suit filed by relatives of those killed in the attacks.  He has written countless letters to judges, and despite attempts to declare him insane, has finally been given the opportunity to speak.  Moussaoui claims that he met with high level officials of the Saudi government prior to 9/11.  Yet Obama–despite promises to the 9/11 relatives–is still dragging his feet about declassifying the pages in the report that will most likely support Moussaoui’s accusations.

There’s obviously people in power in the US that have an agenda, and that agenda has nothing to do with the safety of the American people.  It’s interesting to note that the legislators pressing for the release of the missing report pages represent both Democrats and Republicans, and, most importantly, relatives of those killed on 9/11.  These people in power send soldiers to kill and be killed in the wars they initiate, and for the most part those soldiers, however misguided, sincerely believe they are acting in the name of truth and justice.  Is it too much to ask that our government for once act in support of truth,  identifying the actual perpetrators of 9/11 and bringing them to justice?

six seconds of fame

January 31, 2015

I am approaching what I prefer to term a “milestone birthday”, and I certainly don’t feel anything like what that milestone implies.  I’m fit, have plenty of energy, still like to go out late at night, and retain unjaded enthusiasm for new experiences, ideas, and adventures.  One thing that makes me feel old, though, is the media’s insistence on turning baby boomers out to pasture. I am getting so sick of old media fawning over new media.

A good example of this was an article in last Thursday’s New York Times Style section, “Perfecting the Goofy Vine”.  “Mention ‘ that French guy’ to typical teenagers today and they will know exactly which French guy you are talking about”, the article begins.  The French guy, apparently, is a 24 year old, Jerome Jarre, who’s gained fame by making six second comic videos on a phone app called vine.  These brilliant blips feature such exciting videolets as Jarre dancing in front of a bathroom mirror (he is boy band cute) or deep insights such as “spend your life doing strange things with weird people”. His posts have over a billion views.  All of this is described breathlessly in a tone that implies that if you haven’t heard of Jarre you must have been hiding under a rock for the past year.

In that I am evidently uncool I decided to test out this theory with cool millenials.  I asked my 32 year old daughter if she had heard of Jarre.  She’d heard tell of Vine (never seen it) but not Jarre.  I asked my 29 year old son.  Jarre?  Nope.  At first he said he hadn’t heard of Vine, but then he thought about it.  “Isn’t that a video streaming app?” he asked.   When I informed him it streamed six second videos he was appalled.  “I don’t watch that crap,” he said.  It occurred  to me that maybe even these children of mine were too old to be cool, so I asked my youngest son, a genuine 14 year old teenager.  I guess he’s not “typical” because he’d never heard of Jarre.  He had heard of Vine, though.  Some of his friends watched it, though he hastened to add, not his good friends.  “It’s the stupidest thing ever,  ” he added.  “It’s like Twitter for videos.”

Our whole family had a good time with coming up with ridiculous six second videos.  Our favorite was an “artsy fartsy” series, featuring six second displays of fashionable flatulence.  Unfortunately, our cumulative stupidometer is set too high to allow us to actually move forward with this potentially profitable idea.  Watching all these media people desperately trying to appear cool and relevant reminds me of when I was a cool teenager and adults wanted to “rap about groovy things” with me.  Just because something has one million views doesn’t mean its not trite and banal. There is not much one can get across in six seconds.  At most, you can create a momentary sensation, as profound as scratching an itch.  Isn’t anyone brave enough to admit that the emperor has no clothes?     Now that I know I’m not an isolated curmudgeon, let me note:  there is a vanishing point beyond which the succinct becomes meaningless.


what’s with the WWII fixation?

January 29, 2015

Book and movie topics go in fads, just like recipe ingredients or baby names.  I’ve noticed in the past couple years a profusion of WWII titles.  So I wonder what in our contemporary culture is driving this.

Part of it, I think, is that a large proportion of  writers and readers are now the grandchildren of actual witnesses to WWII.  WWII was a huge event.  It convulsed the entire world, and the world post war was very different than the world pre war–not just politically, but technology, architecture, music, food, everything.  In WWII, unlike the amorphous conflicts of today, an evil empire did attempt to rule the world.  There have been horrific genocides since WWII, but the brutality has arisen from the chaos of war.  Only in WWII do you see calculated, organized genocide, carried out by supposedly ordinary citizens.  That depth of evil remains unequalled.  Maybe there is a compulsion among younger generations to try and understand this huge event and the depths supposedly civilized humans can sink to before the WWII generation dies off and the experience vanishes into history.

You’re always shaped by the world you grow up in, which always seems to include some kind of war.  For me, the Vietnam War provided that shaping, but WWII was definitely the backstory.  Being Jewish, I focused almost entirely on the European branch of the war, though in retrospect the Asian conflict was huge too.  I formed a basic belief early in life–never give in, never blindly listen to authority, never file into trains or sew yellow stars on your sleeves.  As I child I fantasized what I would do if Nazis came to my door–dump bleach on them!  stab them with a kitchen knife! As an adult I still retain a subtler, creepier image, probably derived from movies like the Garden of the Finzi-Continis and the Pianist:  an upper middle class family living in a lovely, large apartment , furnished with heavy wooden furniture, filled with books, Bach on the record player, eating their weinerschnitzel, too comfortable to fully comprehend the world collapsing around them.  It’s an image that could be so easily be transposed to the current day, as we watch our constitutional freedoms slowly erode.

Ironically, most of the WWII books/movies I read and watch lately expand the shades of gray in this black and white narrative.  I find the ones from the German perspective most interesting, as the children and grandchildren of Nazis struggle to come to terms with their bloody ancestry.  There were such huge degrees of variation in complicity and resistance everywhere:  Germans, other Europeans,  Americans, even Jewish citizens of these countries.  But all these shades of gray pertain to their reaction to the evil around them.  The evil itself remains unequalled, and I think its that black hole of uncomprehension that fuels our fascination.


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