Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Saturday, July 28, 2007

On American Politics: Three Cheers for the Red, White & Blueberry Crisp

I am weary of politics.

I despise propaganda which is what all the rhetoric being spewed by reactionaries in the media is on "both sides" ("both sides": as though we can really distill an entire nation's views down to only two distinct representative philosophies).

I think politics & religion are the two most polarizing subjects known to man (which is probably why Emily Post, if she ever really existed, prohibited their mention during polite conversation).
Rifts caused by differing views on these topics have always caused needless & irreparable damage to the relationships between individuals, families, communities and nations.

To what end? The destruction of the very harmony the tenets of each purport to create & preserve.

On a macro-level, I believe most reasonable people have the same basic goals: Life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. The framers of our constitution have said it best.
We want safe streets, clean air & water.
We want equal treatment under the law.
We hold dear our personal freedoms of speech, of assembly, of owning property & of religion.
We care about our personal security & in so far as it affects our personal safety, we now care about our national security, a thing we've always taken for granted. Until, of course, Pearl Harbor & most recently 9/11/01 reminded us that we are not impregnable to those who wish to destroy or overpower this 230 year old experiment known as a democratic republic.
Representative democracy was a revolutionary idea at the time our nation was formed. It's peculiar form is uniquely American & one which the fathers of this country were unsure could survive but still tried to insure it's longevity by drafting a constitution they hoped would withstand the test of time.

On a micro-level, many perfectly nice caring people are apathetic as to the means of accomplishing these political ends (freedom, safety, equality etc.).
Their views on how the government should function and their personal political affiliations are largely influenced by demographics: age, geographic location, socio-economic background, education level, religious beliefs etc.
It is often nothing more than an accident of birth.
Most people have never explored the possibilities of the alternative views that exist outside their own social sphere. It makes life easier for them to go with the flow. Their "conservative" or "liberal" views are reflexive requiring no more cognitive function than breathing. It's a conditioned response rather than a well reasoned opinion.
Many have been predisposed to their beliefs by their nurturing; not because they have researched & studied varied socio-economic theories with an active interest in formulating a truly educated point of view.
In summary, the majority of people's viewpoints are no more than a reflection of their surroundings and their natural desire to remain comfortably within the accepted social mores of their particular enviroment. They just want to be liked by their friends & families.

Are they wrong for not taking their civic responsiblities more seriously?

Not if they are happy with their lives. Hey, it's a free country.

Complacency is often the result of a general feeling of contentedness.
Those who are mostly satisfied with their lot don't usually sit around pondering why.
If, however, they are discontent then before they start vociferously bellyaching about it, they have an obligation to themselves (and to the society they keep who are very likely to be subjected to the company of the malcontent) to step out of their comfort zones; and, with open minds, arm themselves with something more than the shallow knowledge base informed by their unique cultures which often can be so profoundly limited to the current trends and propaganda of their day.
They should look for resources with wider, more historical perspectives.

Politics has become very fashionable. It always has been in some sectors of society. It's likely that it always will be. As such, it is subject to the whims and vicissitudes of all things fashionable.
That's why sources of information pooled mostly from entertainment outlets are so incomplete & unreliable.
People who get their news and formulate their opinions from "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report"...beware... what you are watching is topical satire at its most trenchant not an accurate, objective accounting of today's history! That's not the shows' intent or, frankly, their responsibility.
All they want to do is make you laugh & keep you watching their shows which is a perfectly legitimate and highly necessary ambition for comedic programs on Comedy Central.
They know their demographic audience & play up to them. Having politicians on their shows doesn't make them a legitimate news source but it does show the circus that today's politics has become.
Even those outlets that label themselves as "news shows", whether "liberal" or "conservative", are often nothing more than editorials being passed off as unassailable facts and evidence against those viewpoints they oppose. "Crossfire", "Bill O'Reilly" and "The Chris Matthews Show" are some of the many that come to mind.
But it's not just limited to television or radio, the print media also passes off propaganda as facts in their news coverage and to cover their tracks they sometimes cleverly put in tiny print the words "news analysis" under the byline (you'd have to know the words are there to actually notice them) when the story is in the front page section and not in the editorial section where it clearly belongs.
It really is insidiously but brilliantly done and thoroughly reprehensible!!!
I won't even get started on how they word headlines to skew the story and give a false impression of what's been written because they know few people do more than skim through the headlines when they read the paper.
Blogs are no better as unbiased news resources. They are notorious for their rumor-mongering inaccuracies.They really are just electronic pulpits and soapboxes but it is easier to search for more varied content and viewpoints, and, like the shows on Comedy Central, they are certainly entertaining.

The enlightened person should keep in mind that all these sources run with balance sheets that track profit & loss margins.
They have sponsors or producers to please and bills to pay which is why their content is often so sensational & hysterical: in order to entertain their subscribers. These entertainment/news businesses must make every political discussion an epic battle between good & evil. Sometimes, one party plays Luke Skywalker to the other party's Darth Vader, and other times, the respective parties switch roles; depending on who is writing the script & casting the parts in these live passion plays.
Otherwise, who would watch or read them?
Not the average American who would rather watch Simon Cowell rip some poor schmo to shreds on American Idol than hear what our federal representatives are really saying and doing on C-Span.
Unfortunately, these entertainment conglomerates have become the favorite go-to resource for those precious few who are seeking to be better informed.
Once again, it's easier to do than watching hours of C-span or reading Locke, Rousseau, Weber and Tocqueville and their theories of democracy.
They have little or no interest in making themselves familiar with the works of todays philosophers like Paul Berman, Andre Glucksmann or Christopher Hitchens. The average American is much too comfortable in his little cocoon to step outside & spread his intellectual wings wide enough to broaden his thinking.
Few will ever read or listen to anyone whose views differ from their own. Instead they will label them as "leftist" or "neo-con" depending on their political views and dismiss those opinions sight unseen or sound unheard and still consider themselves well informed on the issues facing our nation.
It's a sad plight for our country. Too many people think they are informed when in fact they haven't even scratched the surface of the issues. What's worse, they are allowed to vote.

Todays politicians know all this.

They prey on the excitability of a good sound bite especially when peppered with a healthy dose of moral indignation.
Politicians use pollsters to formulate their policies & then they run successful, lucrative, multimedia-blitzed campaigns based on those results; filling their coffers by stirring up the worst fears about the opposing side in their constituencies; and manipulatively playing to our baser natures as opposed to raising our loftier ideals.

Those running for the highest level of office are often the worst.
They have no ideals, no belief in the strength of their convictions because they have no convictions.
They can't afford to, if they want to win elections outside of their local governments. The heads of their parties won't fund them.

Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. It has become a long-standing political tradition handed down for generations to both sides of the aisle.

Which is why after all is said & done, it never really matters what party is in so-called power.

Despite all the heightened hysteria, all of the aspersions cast, all of the vitriolic rhetoric (especially as national elections draw nearer), once elected, both parties after consolidating their bases, do nothing more than maintain the status quo.
Oh, policy may seem to shift a little "right" or "left" but never meaningfully in any one direction.
Even the definitions shift of what is a so-called Democratic or Republican policy as the line between the parties become more blurred & indistinct; and the race to collect money from the wealthiest lobbyists & special interest groups grows ever tighter.
Nothing short of a massive uprising on the scale of the American Revolution, the Civil War or the fight for Civil Rights will stir these politicians from their cushy places in the middle of the road.

They all hang out together in Washington, go to the same parties, laugh at the same jokes & thank their lucky stars that most of us are so disengaged we swallow their party lines without question.

The changing of the guard next year will bring no dramatic differences in important policies.

It is only the way those policies are perceived and characterized by the opposing factions that will change.

Politics is a tale told by an idiot, all sound & fury signifying nothing.

In the immortal words of the rap group, Public Enemy: "Don't believe the hype..."
I never have and I never will.
I refuse to let these plutocrats insult my intelligence.

When I was discussing these issues with a friend of mine via email, she wondered how someone who advocated education could have such a nihilistic viewpoint. Why I had no faith in the political system's ability to take small progressive steps forward & why I thought that we were destined to maintain the status quo unless a revolution was staged. She also expressed her outrage at what she perceived as conservative politicians willfully manipulating legislation and intentionally harming the public. She said, being a wealthy woman, she has trouble reconciling the choices she makes with regard to her lifestyle vs, the suffering of those in need but at least, according to her email, she feels compassion for the unfortunate, remorse in her situation and does struggle to evolve from her moral dilemma unlike the conservative politicians she abhors who are pitiless monsters disingenuously concealing their intent to harm with sanctimonious rhetoric that was ultimately crippling social evolution. She was also shocked and appalled to hear the word democracy is never mentioned in the constitution but felt that advocating democracy was nothing more than a ruse by those few in power to remain so to the detriment of the people.
The following is my response:

I'm not advocating nihilism, although if I were advocating it, being both educated and nihilistic are not mutually exclusive. Many intellectuals have been nihilists.

Nor was I suggesting that revolution is the only way a government would be motivated to satisfy the needs of its people.

We as a nation have taken many baby steps in our history that when combined have amounted to significant strides in the social justice & equality for all citizens in our society despite what all the latest crop of cognoscenti like to believe. It's oh so chic for them to bash everything American right now.

I am saying that many politicians are self-serving & complacent by the servile nature of their vocation. This year's lack of real productivity (as is usually the case in too many sessions of Congress) illustrates my point, only during the most extraordinary circumstances and national disasters has Congress rallied together for meaningful solutions.

The fact is no one wants to rock the boat. They couldn't stay in national office if they did.
Politics is big business. Not a lot people would pay $1000 a plate to show up to a party fundraiser for someone who's going to piss them off.
Don't kid yourself, no nationally elected politicians raise money to finance public debate for the sake of presenting an oppositional point of view. They raise money to win elections. How much money do you think the Democratic National Committee gave the Green Party?

Hypocrisy & yes even duplicity are tools of the trade in politics. You think these guys , any of them, are really going to tell you what they think or why? They just tell you what they think you want to hear if you are one of their constituency, especially in an election year. They need your vote.

Ideologues are few and far between. The last guy to tell the people what he honestly felt was Newt Gingrich. ( I can see your skin crawling at the mere mention of his name.) He's now a political pariah in his own party because, whether you agree with him or not, he had the temerity and the moral courage to adhere to his convictions . Who became the Speaker of the House after his demise? Dennis Hastert: quiet, speak no evil, hear no evil, kind of non-committal guy. Perfect politician. He's still in office. What a surprise!!! (Of course, he's no longer the Speaker since the last election)

The middle of the road governance taken by elected leaders is not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, the system of checks & balances between the branches of government created by our constitution was created to ensure that no one radical personage, idea or movement (radical being defined as some concept not embraced by the majority of the citizenry) supplant the will of the governed who express their collective desires every two years in the ballot boxes.
People are, quite properly, opposed to sweeping changes in their lives. Small incremental changes in policy on the other hand allow them to adjust & also gain perspective.

The problem is our elected officials are not much more than political marionettes, incapable of thoughts or actions without some committee to pull their strings. There are no real leaders anymore just good party members.

That's why I say it doesn't really matter what party governs.
The vast silent majority of the American people have votes that appear to mandate their elected officials to govern down the middle of the great left- right divide.
No politician is going to seriously buck that tide if he or she wants to be re-elected (unless she's the representative from Berkeley or San Francisco then they better go straight left or else; ask Nancy Pelosi who had protesters camped out in front of her Pacific Heights mansion because she's not "liberal" enough to suit their tastes). This centralist mentality also extends to the Judiciary whose Supreme Court Justices are indeed nominated by the standing President but, ultimately, are approved by Congress after undergoing a rigorous & often contentious process. Congress has a long history of dismissing presidential nominees they consider too partisan.

Look, no one savvy in American politics intentionally wants anyone to suffer. It's not in our modern collective conscience (& yes there is a collective American zeitgeist of the 21st century).
That's just a type of argument advanced by those intellectually bankrupt, hired character assassins seeking to disparage political opponents.
Demonizing the opposition has become stock in trade to those who lack real ideas. It's easier to resort to that than engage in meaningful discourse

Also, I'm pretty sure there are politicians that do believe they are trying to do what's right for the people of this country. Delusional though some may be.

Maybe some of them do realize that they fail & feel the remorse of falling short of their ideals.
Unless you can see into someone's heart you don't know how they feel.
One cannot assume an individual is lacking in compassion for others just because one disagrees with their philosophy.
Just as one should not necessarily believe someone has real compassion for others just because they claim they do.

No one person, party or ideology can claim complete moral superiority. Those that do are often the dangerous and disingenuous ones.
There are very few absolutes in this world and there are always at least two sides to every story.
It would be more useful for us to try to consider issues from someone else's vantage point rather than just dismiss them unheard outright.

We might actually learn something in the exchange.

This country needs more dialogue. People have become too reactionary.

Did you know that the words marriage, family values & natural family were banned by the city of Oakland? A group of African American christian mothers were engaging in a city government forum that allows a variety of groups to exchange ideas & information in the form of bulletins on the city's website. Their bulletins were not only removed from the website for describing their group as "a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values." but it was accused of being "hate" speech and the city government has banned the use of these phrases.
You want to talk about denying people their rights!
Freedom of speech and religion are guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The wacky 9th District Court of Appeals ratified Oakland's bill and now they are headed to the Supreme Court where I'm sure it will be repealed.
It is frightening the extent to which those in power will go under the guise of the greater good to squelch that with which they do not agree.

By the way, the people in power who are trying to cripple social evolution are ruling in many Muslim & Asian nations. Have you read the book Infidel yet?

As to the question of Democracy being just a present day promotional ruse by those trying to usurp or sustain political power, I say....huh? While there are some totalitarian regimes like North Korea who wrongfully label themselves democracies, since the time of the ancient Athenians, a government ruled by the people for the people has been the rarest example of liberty, rights, social justice & equality known to mankind.
The failings of today's American system of democracy are nothing when compared to the atrocities and iniquities suffered by masses of humanity under other systems of government such as anarchies, monarchies, oligarchies, theocracies, feudalism, fascism, communism & other dictatorships.
You think those systems have better served their citizens? We have freedoms and opportunities that those from truly oppressed nations don't even dare to think let alone speak of.
My husband Garrett & I both have traveled to a few of these places. The conditions were heartbreaking.
I know "liberals" hate the Bush administration & the president often speaks of the desirability of spreading true democracy & freedom to oppressed people around the world but his espousal of it doesn't automatically negate the concept or make democracy an evil goal.
American Democracy isn't perfect but it's a hell of a lot better than other present day alternatives. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let's towel him off, put a little talcum powder on his body & dress him up.

Let's read the American constitution. After reading it, please tell me why anyone thinks it necessary that this document, which so clearly frames the structure for a government which defined the democratic republic, needs to actually use the word democracy to further describe itself.
Will it somehow legitimize the use of the word in defining our system of government to them? It was coined in the 16th century France, democracie, from the Greek demokratia: "demos" meaning "the people", and "kratos" meaning "rule". These two words were joined together to form the word democracy in English; literally meaning "the people rule". A fair though not complete description of our type of government, I think.
Some prefer to call our government a representational democracy since (unlike the ancient Greeks whose small population in their city-states allowed them to practice a more direct form of democracy) we elect representatives to govern for us but as the Bard says "...a rose by any other name would smell as sweet...."

In thinking of a recipe that conveys the state of American politics and the need to bring opposing factions together not necessarily with the purpose of forming one political philosophy, after all it is embracing our differences that keep us from totalitarianism, but instead with the idea of promoting civility, balance & tolerance in our national discourse, I almost found myself stumped.

Then like a flash it came to me...a berry crisp with a layer of cream cheese & mascarpone between the tangy strawberry, blueberry fruit & the sweet crusty topping!!! Do you see what I mean? The red strawberries, white cream cheese and blue blueberries representing our American flag. The crusty topping representing the state of national politics. All of it (the disparate individual components) coming together, yet still keeping each ingredients individual integrity, to form a delicious dessert.

Ah, if running the union were only so easy!!!


The addition of the cream cheese really makes this dessert feel like something halfway between a tart and a crisp.
You can easily turn this recipe into a classic tart by using 2 cups of shortbread or graham cracker crumbs (made by tossing whole cookies in the food processor & whirring until crummy) then adding 1/2 stick of melted butter to the crumbs & processing until clumps form.
Turn the crumbs into a generously greased 9" tart and firmly press evenly down the bottom and up the sides of the pan making sure the finished crust is looks thick enough to hold up to the filling.
Add to a preheated 375 degree oven and bake blind for 7-10 min until lightly brown & sturdy looking. Remove from oven & place on a wire rack until cool to the touch (about 15 min.)
Then lower oven temperature to 350 degrees, add the filling (without the crisp topping, no sense in exacerbating those other modern American traits-- tooth decay & diabetes) & bake 40 minutes...presto.

Those who don't like cream cheese or mascarpone can, of course, omit them & add some cool vanilla ice cream to the cooked warm berry crisp instead; thereby keeping the red white & blue American theme alive in the dessert and adding a much needed cooling off of the hotbed that has become American politics.

This recipe serves 8-10 fellow Americans.

Three Cheers for the Red, White & Blueberry Crisp


For the berry filling:
  • 5 cups of fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried
  • 5 cups of fresh strawberries, hulled & sliced thickly
  • 2 Tablespoons of flour or cornstarch
  • 1 vanilla bean scraped or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons of granulated white sugar
For the cheese filling:
  • 4 ounces of mascarpone cheese, at room temperature until soft (not refrigerator cold)
  • 4 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature until soft (do not use whipped cream cheese but feel free to use the reduced fat version)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup of granulated white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
For the topping:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups crushed gingersnaps, amaretti or plain oatmeal cookies (without raisins)
  • 1-1/2 cups unsalted, chopped nuts such as walnuts, pecan or almonds
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, cubed & chilled
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease & line the bottom of a 9"x 13" baking dish with parchment paper cut to fit.

For the berries:
Place the strawberries & blueberries in a large mixing bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice together with vanilla & pour over fruit; toss fruit gently to combine evenly.
Combine sugar, flour & cinnamon into another small bowl & sprinkle mixture over fruit, tossing to combine well then set aside while you prepare the cheese mixture.

For the cheese mixture:
Place cheeses in a food processor or large mixing bowl. Use pulse or mix to combine until smooth. Add the egg, incorporate well. Then add the sugar mixing it in before finally adding the vanilla extract. Continue to process until filling is completely combined. Set aside while you make the topping.

For the topping:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour & sugars with a large wire whisk. Add the chopped nuts, stir to combine. Add the cookie crumbs, combining well. Then add the butter cubes, cutting them into the dry mixture with two small forks, a pastry cutter or cold, dry fingers until wet clumps form. Now assemble the dish.

Assembling the dish:
Add the cheese mixture to the well-greased, 9" x 13" baking dish whose bottom has been lined with parchment paper that has been buttered on top. Smooth out the mixture with a spatula to evenly distribute.

Gently pour off any accumulated juices from the fruit mixture using a colander, if necessary. Ladle fruit carefully & evenly onto the cheese mixture.

Sprinkle topping evenly over the fruit. (There may be some leftover topping which can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for future use.)

Place baking dish on a large cookie sheet (for easier clean up in case filling overflows) in center rack. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until topping is browned & fragrant.

Let dish sit on wire rack for 30-35 minutes until cooled but still slightly warm.

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