Thursday, October 27, 2011

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF SHLOMO SANDS' THE INVENTION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE


This is one of the most important non-fiction books (outside of science) published in years, dealing as it does with a topic which has caused immense pain and difficulty to so many, particularly in the last century. 

A great many non-fiction books today are little more than essays or magazine articles padded into the size of books. Many are true disappointments to read, let alone failing to be genuine contributions to thought.

Here, though, is a book in which every chapter says something challenging and interesting.

And do not skip the introduction – something of which I am often guilty, being anxious to get to the heart of the matter – for in this case the introduction is fascinating, and Mr. Sand could not have provided a subtler or better way to introduce the nature and complexity of his topic.

The book was written in Hebrew – I know it caused quite a sensation in Israel a couple of years ago – and only now has been translated into English. Just one of the things which surprised me was the clarity and flow of the language, something for which social scientists are not noted, Mr. Sand being a historian. I don’t know whether Mr. Sand is that unusual thing, a social scientist who is a truly excellent writer or whether he has found a gifted translator. Perhaps it is both.

Mr. Sand has not done original research into the topic, but he has done a massive and perceptive review of the literature, the kind of effort which in medicine often proves extremely valuable in bringing together the results of scores of scattered original studies, and, as the reader will discover, the author is an impressive scholar.

I knew just one of the topics which caused such upset in Israel was the idea that today’s Palestinians are at least in part the actual descendents of the children of Israel, it being a well-known fact that Rome in her conquests never disturbed the original people of a place unless they refused to acknowledge Rome’s authority. While Roman Palestine did have a couple of revolts, they were by zealots and not the population as a whole, and there is absolutely no historical record of the resident Hebrews having been expelled.

But the author covers much more of interest than that one topic and weaves a cohesive story of the history of the Jewish people which is both challenging and fascinating. He covers the Khazars, the people of a ninth and tenth Jewish kingdom in what is today the Crimea and part of Ukraine. There is no evidence of their having any ancient Hebrew ancestry, and, on the contrary, there is good evidence that the kingdom was the product of Jewish evangelism.

Jewish evangelism sounds mighty odd to a modern ear, but the evidence is there. After all, Christianity started as merely a sect of Judaism and has evangelized much of its history. Christianity’s first great evangelist was Paul, a converted Jew. And we know there were even different early sects of Christians, such as the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, documents which show considerable differences with the content of the accepted Gospels.

There is also the fascinating possibility that Khazar migrants settling in Poland and Germany and other places in Europe are the actual source for the European Jews we call the Ashkenazi. The author cites many clues which suggest this, including clues in the Yiddish language, and in the dress and customs of Eastern European Jews. And it is an idea of which some determined Zionists were aware but chose to ignore or excuse away.

The book is dotted with interesting anecdotes such as quotes from early documents which show Jewish warriors fighting for the Moors in Spain, being perhaps part of the substantial Jewish population from North Africa – again a people with no ancestry to ancient Israel - as well as providing the foundation of what would come to be the Sephardic Jews, later deported from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella.

This is a book which will stimulate discussion and additional research for a long time, and what is a more important criterion for a truly important book?

Mr Sand has a few pretty hair-raising quotes from some Zionists which in almost no material way differ in attitude and outlook to the early gutter literature of the Nazis – stuff about blood and destiny. It is one of the author’s major themes that a combination of Zionists and modern Israeli history professors, conspiring to justify the foundations and practices of modern Israel, have worked assiduously to promote the old idea – he calls it a myth - that the Jews were thrown out of their ancient land and have wandered for centuries without a home.

Small wonder the book stirred a controversy in Israel. I can only say that were Mr. Sand any less a scholar and writer, he would have been crushed, but here his research and ideas spring to life for readers everywhere to consider.

The book is highly recommended to all those with an interest in the affairs of the Middle East, the history of Europe, the history of religion, the history of ideas, the nature of political movements, the eccentricities of human nature, human psychology, or those who just enjoy a stimulating read.       



Thursday, October 20, 2011

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF MARK NORTH'S BETRAYAL IN DALLAS



There are so many bad books on the Kennedy assassination - and that statement spans the whole breadth of views - when a new one comes along, I need a special reason for reading it.

Years ago, I read Mark North's Act of Treason, and, while it does not stand out as a major contribution to understanding the assassination, it did cover some new ground and it documented its central theme that J.Edgar Hoover almost certainly knew in advance of a planned attempt on Kennedy and did nothing to prevent it.

Of course, that does not mean Hoover directly had anything to do with the assassination. We already knew that Hoover hated the Kennedy brothers, and that the Kennedy brothers hated him. Animosities do get in the way of duty for many people with great power, and how easy it might be for Hoover when his agency isn't the one charged with presidential protection.

The new book is a very thin one physically, and, as far as this reviewer goes, it is even thinner in terms of genuine information, making no contribution to the case.

Basically, the author sets out one somewhat plausible set of events and participants and pats himself on the back for solving the case. There is no proof here of the author's overall thesis that the local Dallas Mafia, aided by the New Orleans' Mafia and some French drug contacts, carried out the assassination. The author further believes, again without proof, that they did this in some unspecified manner in secret collusion with Lyndon Johnson. 

Many have come to the conclusion that the assassination was a mob hit, although I still regard the idea as only one of three candidates and not the strongest, but few have thrown Lyndon Johnson into the mix, although there was a now-forgotten play written a few years after Kennedy's death called MacBird!. The title says everything you need to know.

Johnson was a hateful and crooked politician, and the Kennedy brothers had the same kind of relationship with him that they had with Hooover, and Johnson was facing possibly career-ending revelations from aggressive investigations into the Texas way of doing business and politics. That said, it is a very long way to go to asserting that Johnson entered into a plan to kill the president. Five days left blank and unaccounted for in Johnson's diary which the author discovered prove nothing in a court of law.

I have no hesitation in saying Johnson's ethics would allow him to do such a thing - he was an unholy piece of work - but I have always regarded Johnson as quite a coward for many reasons, and cowards do not act so boldly.

The author has several annoying habits apart from reaching the most extreme conclusions with little or no direct evidence. He keeps writing about all the powerful individuals who "betrayed America" in Dallas. I find that kind of whining quite unpleasant, and I have no idea what it even means to "betray America" in this context.

One of the reasons I have against the "mafia theory" is simply that there are many indications that Jack Kennedy was on good terms with the mob. We know he received a briefcase with a million dollars in cash from them during his campaign for president, a gift reportedly in recognition of his father's past long association. We know that Jack Kennedy enjoyed friendships with the likes of Peter Lawford, a member of the "rat pack" often associated with mob-run casinos. Lawford is also said to have acted as a major procurer of women for Kennedy.

We also know that Kennedy had an intimate relationship with a woman named Judith Exner who just happened also to be the girlfriend of Chicago's mob boss, Sam Giancana. There was also the relationship with Marilyn Monroe, a messy one involving both Kennedy brothers, and Marilyn was a woman who also knew Sam Giancana.

So the total relationship between the Kennedy brothers and the mob remains murky and complex. Yes, Carlos Marcello, New Orleans boss, definitely had it out for brother Robert who embarrassed and hounded him. But mobsters do not take on gigantic earth-shattering tasks like assassinating a president without overwhelming general approval from their major associates. The act would put all their assets at risk.

The book lacks even an index, an important part of any book purporting to deal with history.

Recommended only to be avoided.

JOHN CHUCKMAN'S BAKED ACORN SQUASH STUFFED WITH FRUIT


CHUCKMAN’S SPECIAL BAKED ACORN SQUASH

A truly beautiful and tasty dish.

INGREDIENTS

1 large Acorn Squash – cut in half and remove seeds
Butter or Margarine – enough to generously coat insides of Squash with a bit to spare
Salt - to taste
Cinnamon – at least 2 Tablespoons
Apples – Granny Smith - 1 or 2 depending on size of Squash and Apples
   cut into eighths and cored – you are going to stuff the Squash with 
   them and you want a generous pile to start since they cook down
Cranberries – frozen or fresh whole – about a small handful
Raisins – Golden – about a small handful
Jam – any red fruit jam or use Swedish Loganberry Preserve – at least 4 Tablespoons

METHOD

Butter all inside surface of Squash. Reserve some Butter for last step. Lightly Salt and sprinkle with Cinnamon, reserving a little Cinnamon for use when Squash is all stuffed.

Cut Apples and core – peel if you prefer. Arrange them inside the Squash generously. Then add Cranberries, Raisons, and top with Jam. Sprinkle remaining Cinnamon over top. Place little dabs of butter over fruit.

Bake in a 350 degree oven in a baking dish uncovered. Bake until top is getting golden with touches of brown – usually about an hour.

VARIATIONS  

Nuts – walnuts or pecans – are delicious additions. Add them – chopped – over top in last ten minutes or so of cooking.

Currents are a nice alternative to raisins.

You may also use Brown Sugar either instead of or in addition to Jam if you like more sweet.

JOHN CHUCKMAN'S FAVORITE MEAT LOAF


CHUCKMAN’S FAVORITE MEAT LOAF

Again an adaptation, after many experiments, of one of my mother’s old recipes, a Sunday dinner we always enjoyed as kids.

INGREDIENTS

Ground Beef – about a pound
Ground Pork – about a pound
3 medium Onions
4 Tablespoons Tomato Ketchup
Panko Breadcrumbs – about three handfuls – you may use ordinary 
     breadcrumbs, but texture will suffer.
2 Eggs
Salt and Pepper to taste
Oil for sautéing onions
Cup of Beef Stock

ALTERNATIVE INGREDIENT
2 pounds of Ground Beef/Pork/Veal often sold today in supermarkets
In any case, you must have Pork for a great meat loaf.

METHOD

Salt and saute Onions until beginning to brown slightly. Add Beef Stock, bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium. Allow Beef Stock to reduce away, leaving Onions to absorb the intense flavour. Set aside to cool.

(The above, by the way, is an excellent method for other uses of cooked onions, especially as a hamburger topping.)

Mix Beef, Pork, Breadcrumbs, Eggs, Ketchup, Salt and Pepper in a bowl. When Onions are cool, add them.

Form mixture into a nice loaf about three inches high in a baking dish. 

Bake at 350 degrees about one hour.

Delicious with Baked Potatoes made in the same oven and a green salad.

Also delicious with my special Acorn Squash recipe found on this site.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

JOHN CHUCKMAN'S FAVORITE ROAST PEAR SALAD


CHUCKMAN'S FAVORITE ROAST PEAR SALAD

I’ve developed many salads and salad dressing over the years, but I think this is my favorite, and everyone who has ever tried it enjoys it.

INGREDIENTS – FOR TWO INDIVIDUAL SALADS

2 large Bosc Pears – sliced into thick slices – at least a ¼ inch
1 small head Leaf Lettuce – green or red – enough to cover two salad plates
1 handful of Walnut pieces
Fontina Cheese – grated – at least enough to lightly cover each salad, or more

METHOD

Place Pear slices on a cookie sheet – best to use parchment paper underneath – rub tops with a bit of oil. Roast in oven at 350 degrees until getting a bit golden, just browned edges – likely in the range of 40 – 50 minutes, depending on thickness of pears and accuracy of oven temperature.

Note: if you prefer, remove seeds from pear slices, but you do not need to do so as they will virtually disappear during cooking.

In the last 10 minutes or so of pears cooking put walnuts in oven on a little tray.

Rip Lettuce and spread on plates. Place roasted Pears on top, then sprinkle on Walnuts. Sprinkle Cheese. Drizzle with desired amount of Dressing.

Salad is nicest with Pears and Nuts warm, but it is still delicious when they are cool.

DRESSING

¾ Cup Canola Oil
¼ Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
Light Soya Sauce – about 1 Teaspoon

I like to use an old glass bottle with a screw cap for mixing dressings, and I save nice ones for the purpose. Just put all ingredients into  the bottle, close cap, and shake vigorously. Or, if you prefer, wisk in a bowl.

VARIATIONS

A Blue Cheese, instead of Fontina, is also good.

Real sautéed bacon bits, instead of Walnuts, are delicious, but I think over-the-top.

JOHN CHUCKMAN'S SAUERKRAUT SOUP - A VARIATION OF MY MOTHER'S RECIPE


CHUCKMAN'S SAUERKRAUT SOUP

This is a slight variation of a childhood favourite which my mother made regularly. I’ve tried various experiments over the years, and this is the version I like best.

INGREDIENTS

1 Large Can of Sauerkraut
1 Medium Can of Lima Beans.
1/3 Pound of Bacon or more – cut into bits
1 Medium Onion – diced
3- 4 Cups of Chicken Broth
1 Tablespoon or more Caraway Seed
3 Tablespoons Flour
2 Tablespoons Oil for frying – Canola is my everyday

METHOD

Saute Onion and set aside.

Fry Bacon gently with oil until golden. Remove Bacon pieces from pan and retain Oil-Bacon grease mixture. Add Flour to mixture and make a roux that is nutty brown. Do not stop before you have a good browning or you will lose half the flavour.

Start adding Chicken Stock to roux and stirring until all incorporated. Add fried Onions, Bacon pieces, Sauerkraut, Lima Beans, and Caraway.

Simmer for at least half an hour with lid on pan. I tend to simmer all soups longer for full blending of flavor.

TASTIEST VARIATION FOR A COMPLETE DINNER
The way my wife and I usually have it.

You may eat the soup as is above with anything you like, such as pork chops, or, before starting to simmer, add about 2 pounds of Pork Spareribs, cut into reasonable-sized sections.

In this case you simmer the soup for at least an hour, or until meat is almost falling off the bones.

Ideally served with rye bread and butter.

ANOTHER VARIATION FOR COMPLETE DINNER

Instead of Pork Ribs, add about 11/2 pounds of Polish Sausage before simmering. Simmer for about an hour.

A few chunks of potato boiled in the soup/stew are also good.