Nov 222018

On this date in 1963, president John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and the world took notice. His death overshadowed the deaths of Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis on the same day, and it feels now as if their deaths went unnoticed. Obviously, close friends and family paid attention to their passing, but few others did. Why was the death of one U.S. politician more important around the world than the deaths of two English writers? The unfortunate coincidence of Huxley and Lewis dying right around the time JFK was shot did not escape some people’s attention and is the subject of Peter Kreeft’s book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley.  Did JFK’s death merit more attention than the other two? I’d like to tease that question apart.

People of my generation, especially in the US, can recall the details of what they were doing when they heard the news of Kennedy’s assassination. It was as game changing in its day as the events of 9/11 were to a later generation. I was 12 and living in South Australia at the time. I heard the news on the morning of Saturday, November 23rd on the way to play cricket, but because of the time difference between Dallas and Adelaide (16 hours), the news was only a few hours old, and very little was known about the precise events in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Then events seemed to happen in lightning succession. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, then when he was being transported, he was shot by Jack Ruby in front of television news cameras. Then there was the funeral, and the investigation which brought to light some grainy photos and amateur movies. It was all a hailstorm of incomplete information that added little to what we already knew, but fueled endless conspiracy theories. Was this retaliation by Cuba or Russia? Was there more than one shooter? Were shots fired from the grassy knoll? Etc. etc. Some of these conspiracy theories won’t die, but it is unlikely that any new information will ever come to light at this stage to change the conclusions of the Warren Commission that Oswald acted alone, even though doubts linger.

In some ways, the prominence of JFK’s assassination in the news cycle, more or less to the exclusion of other news, is no great mystery. The US was certainly no stranger to the assassination, and attempted assassination, of presidents, but there were few people alive in 1963 who could remember the assassination of William McKinley in 1901 – the last successful attempt, although virtually every president thereafter had been the subject of at least one attempt. It still came as a profound shock because Kennedy represented something new. He was a new kind of president for a new decade – bringing a sense of youth and vitality to the White House which many called Camelot. Perhaps he was the best that the US had to offer in the way of royalty – a blue blood, war hero (young and energetic: not a seasoned veteran general like Eisenhower, but a decorated naval lieutenant PT boat commander who was in the thick of fighting in the Pacific theater with tales of bravery surrounding him). Jack and Jackie presided over a glittering spectacle at the White House brimming with artists, musicians, and actors for their courtiers.

Kennedy was also a knight in shining armor in the Cold War. He had faced down Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and when Sputnik showed the Russians up to be the leaders in the Space Race, he vowed that the US would have a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Of course, there was a downside: the Bay of Pigs, and the full throated approach in Vietnam being the most salient.

All in all, Kennedy’s era was one of renewed hope, with the post-war Baby Boom coming of age and expecting great things to emerge. A bullet from Oswald’s rifle ended that hope, and replaced it with a brutal reality. There is no need to wonder why Kennedy’s death pushed Huxley and Lewis off center stage. They were not world leaders, and they had died in their beds. Admittedly Huxley died tripping on two doses of LSD administered by his wife as he lay dying, but this fact was not made public until some time afterwards. It was certainly a fitting end for the man who had blazed a trail in the realm of the psychedelic. Lewis seemed to be improving from kidney problems that had plagued him for a few years, but then suddenly collapsed and died in his bedroom in his home in Oxford. In that sense the deaths of Huxley and Lewis, although tragic, were not unexpected, and they had left a stack of completed work. Kennedy, on the other hand, was in the prime of life – a father of young children, with much left to be accomplished. He was cut short with a great deal of unfinished business.

So, yes, there is a reason that Kennedy’s death overshadowed the other two. But should we remain in the same pose we were in back in 1963, 55 years on? I think not. We have had time to let the dust settle and assess the three men dispassionately. What did they leave behind that is lasting?  We have to be fair to Kennedy in arguing that he might have accomplished great things if he had lived. He may not have ratcheted up the Vietnam War in the way that Johnson did, and he might have presided over Civil Rights and the landing on the moon. We cannot know now. However, we can say that his legacy has not endured to the same extent that those of Huxley and Lewis have.

C.S. Lewis

We cannot lay the whole of fantasy fiction at Lewis’ door, but he was a giant in its creation, and the many tales of Narnia are still big sellers as books and on the big screen. His popular apologetics for Christianity should probably be consigned to the trash can of history. I suppose it’s all right for people who don’t think too much about religion, and want easy answers, but it’s amateur stuff at best – “God can’t make beautiful sculptures of us without chiseling bits off which hurt” – that sort of thing. All lame thoughts of someone who has not read theology deeply, nor knows anything about world religions.

Aldous Huxley

Huxley explored pain from a somewhat different, yet related, angle. Brave New World describes a world without pain. I don’t know if it is read much any more. It does not have the insight of Orwell’s work, partly because it envisages a world that cannot exist because he has his facts all wrong about the possibilities of eugenics and psycho-social conditioning. But he does raise the key theological question: “What is the point of life if it is mechanical?” Pain and suffering are what inspire artists and poets to great heights. If you give up the one, you forfeit the other. Is it worth it? Very good question. The Doors of Perception not only gave us Jim Morrison and The Doors (in more than name only). It gave us Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, and a generation intent on exploring the limits of perception and consciousness.

While I would not say that Kennedy’s legacy in the political sphere has endured well, his and Jackie’s tastes did change White House kitchens. Previous White House meals were a rather dull affair. None of the recent occupants had been what could be considered gourmets. Calvin Coolidge inexplicably referred to any and all meals as “supper,” even if it were breakfast time; the Roosevelts famously served hot dogs to the king and queen of England; and a menu for the state dinner for the crowned heads of Greece given by the Eisenhower administration is depressing: “toasted Triscuits, fish in cheese sauce, sliced lemmon [sic].”

Not long after the inauguration, Jackie Kennedy hired a French chef, René Verdon. Quickly, the White House menus changed from featuring saltines and beef stew to more sophisticated fare, such as sole Veronique and strawberries Romanoff. Verdon’s influence was felt throughout the country, as magazine and newspaper articles went crazy for all things Kennedy. Julia Child’s celebrated public television program The French Chef began about this time, too.

Perhaps the most celebrated White House dinner of the Kennedy years was held at president Washington’s grand house, Mount Vernon, in honor of the president of Pakistan. Guests were transported down the Potomac on yachts, with dance music played and champagne freely poured. The French meal was prepared in the White House kitchen, and trucked the 15 miles to Mount Vernon in specially modified military vehicles. Guests were treated to a crabmeat and avocado mimosa, poulet chasseur and fresh local raspberries with whipped cream. You can find my recipe for poulet chasseur here  Fresh raspberries and whipped cream scarcely need a recipe. Here is crabmeat and avocado mimosa:

Crabmeat and Avocado Mimosa


2 ripe avocados
1 scallion, minced
2 tsp lemon juice, divided
¼ tsp salt (or, to taste)
hot pepper sauce
3 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp chili sauce
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
white pepper
8 oz cooked fresh crabmeat
2 cups watercress
2 hard cooked egg yolks
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley


Peel half of one avocado. In a small bowl, mash avocado half. Add scallion, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon of salt, and hot pepper sauce to taste. Stir until well combined. Reserve.

In separate bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, chili sauce, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and remaining teaspoon lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Reserve.

Peel the remaining 1 ½ avocados, cut into half-inch cubes, and place them in a large bowl. Squeeze the excess moisture from crabmeat. Add to cubed avocado and gently combine. Fold in the mayonnaise.

Line the bottoms of 6 chilled open champagne glasses or small glass serving dishes with watercress. Divide crab mixture evenly among glasses. Top each with a dollop of mashed avocado mixture.

Press the egg yolks through a fine mesh sieve and combine with the parsley in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yolk/parsley mixture evenly over each portion. Mimosas can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 hours.

Serve chilled.


Nov 242016


On this date in 1963 – in the first live, televised murder – night club owner Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of John F. Kennedy, in the basement of Dallas police department headquarters. I remember it well. I was 12 years old at the time and living in South Australia. This means that my personal timeline is off by a day because all the momentous events of the time were delayed in reportage on Australian television. So, for example, I did not hear about the assassination of Kennedy until I was on my way to a cricket match on the morning of Saturday the 23rd of November, and news of Ruby’s murder of Oswald did not reach us until Monday the 25th. Still it was a shocking, breathless time and seemed to be the launch of a decade of political murders in the U.S. –  Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X – amidst all the general turmoil of the civil rights movement, which to me seemed incomprehensible at the time. Scarcely had we assimilated the death of a president than we had to take in the murder of his accused assassin in front of television cameras. For days and days the indistinct images of Kennedy’s and Oswald’s murders were played over and over, followed by the state funeral with more flashbacks to the murders.

Here’s the Oswald murder:

In the case of the Kennedy assassination there was very little to show at the time. It reminds us of how different those times were. Nowadays, a presidential motorcade would have blanket video coverage, both official and by personal phones and cameras, so that you’d have all manner of angles. In 1963 there was no official video of the moment of assassination, and only some grainy home movies. Lack of good video evidence has led to an endless stream of conspiracy theories that cannot be laid to rest, no matter how many times the evidence is raked over.

Conspiracy theories are further fueled by the fact that we never got to hear from Oswald. He made a few brief statements to the courts and to the press, essentially denying everything, and then he was murdered. This time it was caught on video, so we got to see it all (again and again and again). But the murder only deepened the mystery of the original assassination. We barely knew who Lee Harvey Oswald was or why he had been arrested so soon after the assassination. Now we had to wonder who Jack Ruby was, why Oswald was being paraded out in public for all to see, and how Ruby had managed to walk up to Oswald without interference, pull out a gun, and shoot him at point blank range. Those are my boyhood images of the United States, and they have not changed a whole lot.


I’m not sure how much sense it makes to rehash what we now know, over 50 years later, about Ruby and Oswald. There’s still a great deal of murk covering the light. In my mind the enduring mystery is why Ruby shot Oswald at all. His overt motive, which he stated repeatedly, was that he was devastated by the assassination of Kennedy, and wanted to spare his widow the trauma of returning to Dallas to testify at Oswald’s trial. But also, over and over, as Ruby was interrogated and then tried, he asserted that he knew “true facts” (I’m not sure what other kinds of facts there are), and these “true facts” would shock the world. Ruby never revealed in oral testimony or in writing what it was that he allegedly knew, so conspiracy theories abound. Was Ruby a hit man for organized crime or union bosses, paid off to silence Oswald before he could reveal his true motives in killing Kennedy? Was Ruby paying off a debt without clear understanding of why Oswald needed to be silenced? Or was he just your average Texan with a gun in the right place at the right time?


Just based on gut reaction after sifting the most commonly available data I’m inclined to apply Occam’s Razor to it all. In both murders dumb luck and coincidence seem to have played a part, and, unfortunately, neither sit well as explanations when it comes to world shattering events. Oswald’s movements and actions on 22nd November seem pretty firmly established by eye-witnesses. It’s also reasonably well established that he bought the murder weapon, he was a trained sniper, and he was working in the book depository (and was seen there) on the day of the assassination. It does not take much brain power to put 2 and 2 together. Add to this the fact that Oswald was not well educated, had well documented sympathies with Russia and Cuba, and could be impulsive. You don’t need to look further for motive and opportunity.


When it comes to grand conspiracy theories things come unstuck very quickly. Oswald could not have secured a job at the book depository a month earlier because he knew about the motorcade passing by on the 22nd – it had not been planned yet. Kennedy’s visit and the parade route were last minute affairs. Of course there are always loonies intent on assassinating presidents and popes and kings, and often a conspiracy is necessary, as in the famous cases of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Abraham Lincoln. Maybe there was a conspiracy afoot to kill Kennedy. Who knows? But even if there were one in the making, I can’t see how Oswald was involved in the affairs of shady union bosses or mobsters in Chicago. I can see a methodical, intelligent, uneducated, skilled marksman with a grudge taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and then getting caught because of lack of sufficient planning.


My same thinking applies to Ruby. He could not have timed the murder precisely and been on the spot at just the right moment because of elaborate advanced planning by conspirators because Oswald’s movements were not carved in stone, nor well known ahead of time. True, press were on hand for the move from the police department to the jail. That part was well known. Timing was not, and the move was, in fact, delayed by circumstances. Ruby’s ability to get into what was supposed to be a secure area and mingle with reporters was largely happenstance. All of the talk afterwards about shocking “true facts” (adding fuel to conspiracy theories) seems to me to be nothing more than the throwing out of possible bargaining chips as his trial, sentencing, and appeals were underway. Ruby claimed to be in fear of his life after Oswald’s murder, and would not talk without adequate protection, which he claimed repeatedly he was not receiving. Why then would he not have talked on his deathbed when the threat no longer had force? It seems much more likely to me that he was playing the system with loose talk that had no substance. I don’t think luck, impulsiveness, stupidity, not to mention poor judgment and irrationality are given near enough credit in the analysis of historical events.

The anniversaries of these events often coincide with Thanksgiving. This year today is Thanksgiving Day which seems to me to be another lucky coincidence when it comes to food. Finding a dish suitable for celebrating murder is a trifle macabre. Talking about Thanksgiving is a lot simpler, and both turkey and JFK are national symbols of the US. I’ve said my piece about Thanksgiving turkey here  No need to repeat. I don’t like turkey all that much, and U.S. cooks have precious little idea how to cook it. My “secret” for roasting all poultry so that it is succulent is summed up in three instructions: highest possible heat | quickest time |smallest bird. That’s it. I used to cook an 8 lb turkey at 500°F for 2 hours. The skin was crisp, the breast was juicy, and all the meat was succulent. If you need more meat cook 2 or 3 small birds. Gravy should enhance the dish, not be the replacement for moistness in the meat. Would you eat cardboard if it had gravy on it? Long, slow cooking at ultra-low temperatures has an intuitive feel about it, but it is the classic recipe for dried out breast. When simmering in liquid, long and slow works; when roasting it does not. Get it through your skull.

Let’s turn to the venerable turkey sandwich, the favored after-Thanksgiving snack whilst watching football. With dried-out roast turkey breast as your basis, how do you compensate? Lots of people slather the sandwich with mayonnaise. For me that’s the same as using gravy for moistening. Ross Geller from Friends makes a big deal out of his sister Monica’s sandwich which includes the “moist maker” – an extra layer of bread in the middle soaked in gravy. Yuck !! Add soggy bread to an otherwise tasteless sandwich. My answer: don’t dry out the turkey in the first place. Succulent breast makes excellent sandwiches, and the trick is not to try to add moistness but to find a way to add to the flavor. Here’s my lunch sandwich for work today. I made roast turkey and roast potatoes with gravy for breakfast to tip my hat to the celebration.


My sandwich is a big slab of juicy breast dotted with mostarda di Cremona (sweet, sour, spicy, and fruity). I have no doubt that it will go down a treat between morning and afternoon classes.



Aug 282016


The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the March on Washington, or The Great March on Washington, was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history and demanded civil and economic rights for African Americans. Tens of thousands of people headed to Washington D.C. on Tuesday August 27, 1963, and on Wednesday, August 28, 1963, the “march” officially took place culminating in a rally on the mall with speeches and songs. The final scheduled speaker of the rally was Martin Luther King, Jr. who, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, delivered his now historic “I Have a Dream” speech.


The march was organized by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who built an alliance of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations that came together under the banner of “jobs and freedom.” Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 to 300,000. The most widely cited estimate is 250,000 people. Observers estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were Black, which means that a substantial number of marchers were White. The march is credited with helping to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and preceded the Selma Voting Rights Movement which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


OK, if you know your history this is old news to you. If you were alive at the time and living in the US it is even older news, and should be a powerful memory. I was alive at the time but living in Australia, so the event had no impact on me when it happened. When JFK was assassinated later that same year, it made the headlines and I took notice. Segregation in the US, and other Civil Rights problems worldwide, such as apartheid, were what they were and we debated them in school occasionally (in the abstract). Australia had its own racist policies and problems, but they did not have much impact on me. My town was a heavily White town, populated by European immigrants or people of European descent.  There were aborigines living there, and some attended my school. Australia’s racial problems, that eventually exploded, had to do with colonization, not slavery, so I could not relate to racism in the US until I moved there.

To be clear, I’ll use the words “Black” and “White” (both capitalized) for simplicity, not because I think the terms are unambiguous or neutral. Words matter, and sensitivities change over time. Martin Luther King was comfortable using the word “negro,” but it’s offensive to many now.  Also to be clear, “race” is a cultural term not a biological one. There is ZERO way to define race biologically.  The term “race” can only refer to how you identify yourself, not what your biology reveals about you. One more thing to be clear (especially in light of current political tensions in the US), if you think the color of a person’s skin has ANYTHING to do about ANYTHING (except degree of pigmentation), you are a racist.

The background and content of the March is now mostly forgotten or overshadowed by the lingering legacy of “I Have a Dream” and King’s murder.  The organizers themselves disagreed over the purpose of the march. The NAACP and Urban League saw it as a gesture of support for a civil rights bill that had been introduced by the Kennedy Administration. Randolph, King, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) saw it as a way of raising both civil rights and economic issues to national attention beyond the Kennedy bill. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) saw it as a way of challenging and condemning the Kennedy administration’s inaction and lack of concrete support for civil rights.


Despite their disagreements, the group came together on a set of goals:

Passage of meaningful civil rights legislation;

Immediate elimination of school segregation;

A program of public works, including job training, for the unemployed;

A Federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring;

A $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide;

Withholding Federal funds from programs that tolerate discrimination;

Enforcement of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by reducing congressional representation from States that disenfranchise citizens;

A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to currently excluded employment areas;

Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when constitutional rights are violated.

Although in years past, Randolph had supported “Negro only” marches, partly to reduce the impression that the civil rights movement was dominated by White communists, organizers in 1963 agreed that Whites and Blacks marching side by side would create a more powerful image.

The Kennedy Administration cooperated with the organizers in planning the March, and one member of the Justice Department was assigned as a full-time liaison. Chicago and New York City (as well as some corporations) agreed to designate August 28 as “Freedom Day” and give workers the day off. The march was not universally supported among civil rights activists. Some, including Rustin (who assembled 4,000 volunteer marshals from New York), were concerned that it might turn violent, which could undermine pending legislation and damage the international image of the movement. The march was condemned by Malcolm X, at the time spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, who termed it the “farce on Washington”


Organizers pushed hard for an expensive ($16,000) sound system, saying, “We cannot maintain order where people cannot hear.” The system was obtained and set up at the Lincoln Memorial, but was sabotaged on the day before the March and its operators were unable to repair it. They contacted Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his civil rights liaison Burke Marshall, demanding that the government fix the system. Organizers reportedly told them: “We have a couple hundred thousand people coming. Do you want a fight here tomorrow after all we’ve done?” The system was successfully rebuilt overnight by the U.S. Army Signal Corps.


The march commanded national attention by preempting regularly scheduled television programs. As the first ceremony of such magnitude ever initiated and dominated by Blacks in the US, the march also was the first to have its nature wholly misperceived in advance. Dominant expectations ran from paternal apprehension to dread. On Meet the Press, reporters grilled Roy Wilkins and Martin Luther King about widespread foreboding that “it would be impossible to bring more than 100,000 militant Negroes into Washington without incidents and possibly rioting.” Life magazine declared that the capital was suffering “its worst case of invasion jitters since the First Battle of Bull Run.” The Pentagon readied 19,000 troops in the suburbs and the jails shifted inmates to other prisons to make room for those arrested in mass arrests; the city banned all sales of alcoholic beverages; hospitals made room for riot casualties by postponing elective surgery. With nearly 1,700 extra correspondents supplementing the Washington press corps, the march drew a media assembly larger than the Kennedy inauguration two years earlier.

This is the full agenda for the day (click to enlarge):

MS 2003-36 March on Washington Program - front

You can see that there was a lot going on, and King’s speech capped a very full event. Here’s footage of the speech beginning with some images of participants:

Analysis of the speech has pretty well been done to death. It’s hailed as a “masterpiece of rhetoric” etc etc. Stripped of its context I don’t see it as any great piece of brilliant oratory. It’s more or less stock stuff I’ve heard from countless Southern preachers with way too much metaphor for my tastes. It’s been well documented, also, that King had delivered similar speeches before. The point that grabs my attention is that if you watch the video, and don’t just hear the words or read them, you see the key transition. He starts out reading a prepared speech and he glances between it and the crowd. But then he gets to the “I have a dream” section and his prepared speech is in the dust. From then on he speaks from the soul. Supposedly the switch happened when Mahalia Jackson shouted from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” Who knows what the speech would have been like if not for that moment?

Of course, the context is all important. People had been traveling days under harsh conditions, the city and the nation were on edge, people had been singing and praying, followed by countless speeches . . . and then King took the stage, and he electrified the crowd and the nation. His speech was a turning point. Even though JFK was assassinated, LBJ kept up the pressure and got key legislation through congress, and leaned on states to pass civil rights laws.

Wouldn’t it be nice if passing laws changed people overnight? Racist laws got struck down, but racism remained . . . and still remains in the US. It’s depressing to think that we are more than 50 years on from the March and we still have to contend with rampant racism, even though there’s a fair element of the privileged White who want to deny its existence.

It’s very easy to sound racist when recommending food for today, so, instead I give you this site that a Black woman from Tennessee posted:

There’s plenty here to chew on. Her claim is that King enjoyed fried chicken with collards, black-eyed peas, and corn bread on Sundays, growing up in Atlanta. Sounds good to me.


This comes from the site:

Time to hit the kitchen.

Blackeyed peas can be one of the greatest southern foods you will ever be fortunate enough to put in your mouth. We make an insanely delicious version that is known as Hoppin’ John.

Growing up in Kentucky means you better have a good fried chicken recipe in your arsenal. This is one of the best ones we’ve ever implemented.

Collard greens is another southern staple. We’ve never penned a recipe, cause they are so easy to cook it’s just silly. First and most important, you’ll need a pint of pork stock. This is crucial. Here’s how we make it.

After you have your pork stock ready prep four bunches of collards by washing thoroughly and roughly chopping. Bring pint of pork stock to boil and place collards in kettle. Simmer with lid off til collards are done. You may like them al dente, but we like them “cooked down” which is to say extremely tender. By this time your stock should be almost completely evaporated. Add one cup whipping cream and 1 tablespoon dried red chile flakes to kettle. Cook 20 minutes more. You now have creamy, spicy collards that are so deliciously piggy they will turn even the most ardent hater of greens into a stark raving mad collard green addict.

Cornbread. Once again, we’ve never penned a corn bread recipe cause we can make a pone in our sleep. We’ve done it a thousand times. Here’s a quick primer. Take a cup of self rising corn meal. Add buttermilk til thick batter forms, now add tap water til batter is runny, pour into cold, greased (we use clarified bacon fat) cast iron pan, bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

There are links within the text to recipes. One caution – having a recipe isn’t all you need. To make great Southern fried chicken you have to be born knowing how to make it.  My wife was born in Kentucky and made excellent fried chicken. But she always bowed to her mother whose fried chicken was, indeed, superb. There are a few “secrets” that cooks swear by – such as soaking the chicken pieces overnight in buttermilk – but when it comes down to it, experience is what matters.