Camera: iPhone 8
Location: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site; Washington, District of Columbia, USA
Camera: iPhone 8
Location: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site; Washington, District of Columbia, USA
As we go into the month of December, the winds start to blow, the snow starts to fall, and the cold begins to set in, it’s no better a time during the year to crack open a book to catch up on some reading. The three books I’ve read at this time and am highlighting in this ‘Book Recommendations’ post focus on current events. I tend to stay away from politics but these books do a good job of reflecting upon the political moment we are living in here in the United States.
All three of these books come from authors who have a wealth of life experiences and are considered to be experts in what they do. If you’re not into non-fiction books, you may want to skip these ones but if you want to understand more about the United States in 2017, you should give each of these books a honest read.
1. The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward G. Luce is an excellent take on the current state of liberal democracy in Western countries. Due to growing income inequality, the failure of institutions to handle complex issues involving immigration, health care, infrastructure, etc. causes more and more citizens to doubt the benefits of the current democratic system. Luce pulls no punches and does a good job summarizing the pressing problems that ail the United States and Western Europe.
While not the cause of these problems that have been building up for decades, Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties throughout Europe are symptoms of a virus that is weakening the fundamentals of liberalism. For every action, there is a reaction and the negligence shown by political and economic elites in the Western world has caused there to be a backlash against our system of governance. Luce believes that there has been a lot of doing away with the principles that made democracy work for the past couple of centuries. In the 21st century, the current political system has not adapted to technological, economic, and social changes that have occurred at a quickening pace. Unless more attention is paid to those men and women not succeeding in today’s globalized economy, there will continue to be political dysfunction within the democratic system.
Unless the Western countries can guarantee that political liberties and freedoms can go hand in hand with an economic system that works for the many and not the few, the status quo will not last. Mr. Luce is not hesitant in using the rise of authoritarianism in countries such as Russia, Turkey, and the Philippines to draw a distinct parallel as to an alternative form of government that is becoming more prominent. The Western system used to be an example of good governance to the rest of the world but is that still the case today?
2. Tribe by Sebastian Junger deals more with modern psychology than modern politics but you can gain a lot of insight into what drives us as human beings from reading this book. Mr. Junger is a war correspondent that has covered the front lines for over a decade in America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. From his experiences, he was able to form the hypothesis that there are certain living conditions that bring out the best of us. When a person is surrounded by the members of the same ‘tribe’, usually about 20-30 people, who he or she has something in common with and for whom survival is not guaranteed but fought for every day, that goes back to our early days on the planet as hunter-gatherers.
Mr. Junger makes excellent points throughout the book that we started out thousands of years ago as a communal society moving from place to place and relying on each other to survive against the elements and against other creatures. He argues consistently that we may do best when we work with each other instead of against each other for a common goal or purpose. The alienation, individualism, and me-first culture in modern Western societies is out of line with our evolutionary history and may be the cause of the mental illnesses and anxieties that have been shown to be on the rise. Combat veterans who come home from war often miss the bonds of brotherhood that were formed from fighting for the guy or girl on the left or the right of you. They often miss the bonds created during battle that are impossible to recreate after re-entry into modern society.
The author uses an example from early American history when some English settlers would leave the colonial towns to join the Indian society, which was exactly like the tribal lifestyle, and the reverse would never be the same. There were no Indians who would leave their tribe to join the English settlers in their more modern colony set-up. In tribal communities where everybody has a say and where everybody has a role to play, it’s easy to make the argument that there would be less stress, less anxiety, and more purpose for those apart of it. Mr. Junger also brings up the example of Great Britain’s citizens during World War II and how only adversity would bring that modern society together.
A lot of Britons felt more patriotic and more cooperative each other during the war than compared to before and after the war. Adversity, struggle, and the fight for survival can be more meaningful to people than the safe and sanitized existences that make up the modern West. The time spent living through natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes can stir up people’s memories more than the average vacation or wedding. Tribe is an excellent, must-read book that pulls different elements of history, anthropology, and sociology to make a compelling argument that the average person should think deeply about.
3. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire – A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen is not your average American history book. Mr. Andersen spends about 500 pages summing up 500 years of American history through the lens of what’s fantasy and what’s real. Fantastical thinking, Andersen argues, has been apart of American culture since the first pilgrims arrived on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. In order to understand what’s going on in the America of 2017, he does a good job of bringing out examples from past centuries to explain how we got to this unique point in our history.
The ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’, and other fantastical phrases that have become part of the national dialect are not outlandish in the sense that they have always been apart of the national character. Citing examples such as the extremes of Puritan beliefs, the Salem witch trials, P.T. Barnum and show business, the anything-goes ‘cultural revolution’ of the 1960’s, the spread of Hollywood and celebrity culture, etc., each century in America has brought about new fantasies to become part of the national fabric.
The individualistic nature of American culture has led to dreamers, believers, and magical thinkers being indulged rather than the other way around as done in other countries. The idea that you can be whom you want and believe what you want in America has become a national rallying cry, especially in recent decades. Our belief in the stuff of fantasy (ghosts, extraterrestrials, is the Earth flat?) has made America an international outlier among the industrialized nations.
Mr. Andersen argues that with the rise of Donald Trump and the excessive polarization along cultural and political fault lines that we may have hit a point of no return. The lines of fantasy and reality are becoming increasingly blurred whereas in our past, fantasy and reality were competing ideas in American society but never overtook each other to reign supreme. An amazing and timely non-fiction book that is an easy page-turner, Fantasyland is a must-read in 2017 and will help you understand how we Americans ended up here over the span of centuries.
Camera: iPhone 6
Location: Massachusetts State House; Boston, Massachusetts
Camera: iPhone 6
Location: Boston, Massachusetts; Cambridge, Massachusetts
Why are traditions important? Why do we continue to pass down certain rituals, celebrations, customs, etc. from generation to generation? This is not a simple question to answer but I’d like to discuss my reasoning as to why traditions are important and why they should stick around in this article. In this day and age, there seems to be a movement against traditions and a counter-movement to think only about the present and what’s to come in the future.
I think that this view on traditions is shortsighted and inconsistent with human nature. While not all traditions are sustainable, useful, conscientious, or inclusive, there are numerous reasons as to why traditions should stick around, and why people should embrace traditions as being apart of how they live their lives. While people love to look forward into the future, it’s important to heed the customs and the ways of the past.
By observing traditions and celebrating them at times, we connect ourselves to past generations and rekindle the flame of days gone by. This is especially pertinent when it comes to the traditions instilled within us by our families and our communities. If we choose not to uphold those traditions instilled in us by past generations of family and friends, then we are doomed to lose traditions and the value that they held in our hearts and in our minds.
Each person must decide how much to incorporate the traditions of the forefathers into their lives and to what degree. However, to completely disavow of those traditions that lift the human spirit and are positive, and rewarding is to disregard one’s ancestry and upbringing in a sense. Not all traditions should make it from one generation to another but if there are traditions that are meaningful to you, and connect you to the past in a good manner, then those traditions should be continued and passed on to the next generation if that is the road you wish to take.
Having a tradition or traditions also helps you to create memories whether its’ with acquaintance, friends, or family. The memories around traditions are likely to be good ones and you’ll look back on them one day thinking about how special it was to celebrate or observe that tradition with the people you most care about in the world. While the tradition may only take an hour, a day, or a week, the memories of it will stay with you for a lifetime.
Also, it’s important to remember that traditions only come around every now and then whether it’s once a year or sometimes less than that so it gives you something to look forward to. Traditions give people a chance to relax, to enjoy, to reflect, and to be at ease in their lives surrounded by people who feel the same way. While the planning and the execution of traditions can be stressful and filled with anxiety, the payoff is worth it in the fact that you’re carrying on what’s been done for years, decades, or centuries beforehand, and that fact is something to really be proud of. Good and worthwhile traditions will likely lead you and others to count down the weeks and days until you can observe, celebrate, and reflect upon the special occasion.
It can be very difficult to get family and friends together under the same roof and near impossible especially if you live in different states or in different countries. Traditions give families an excuse to get together, laugh, talk, eat good food, and enjoy time together. Once your family starts a shared tradition together, it can be hard to let go of it. When traditions are observed, everybody has a role to play so it gives a chance for family members to connect with each other by having a personal stake in making sure that the tradition is observed in the correct manner. The ability to bring families together is a beautiful thing in life and sometimes it is only possible through the observance of a shared tradition. It can be difficult for family members to agree on everything but it’s likely that the thing they’ll all have in common is a desire to keep the tradition going, and make it a successful one.
Having a sense of identity is another reason why traditions are powerful. By connecting people to ideals, values, and beliefs, greater than themselves, your identity can truly feel whole. Being able to belong to a certain group, or a certain place can be quite healthy for most people, and to celebrate a healthy tradition as a group can really help to create a good sense of identity within an individual. It can be easy to lose your sense of identity nowadays, but by tying your identity to a set of values and ideals related to a group or your family through different traditions can help you feel like a whole person.
In a world where the present and the future take precedence, traditions can connect us deeply to those who came before us and to the past itself. Traditions from the past are important to preserve and uphold, and it’s a way to connect generations to each other. For myself, my traditions involve thinking about those who came before me and the sacrifices and struggles they went through in their own lives. Traditions are always passed down from generation to generation so that others and I in my family could celebrate and observe the traditions that are rich in history, religion and culture. If traditions are not followed and maintained in the current generation, then they are doomed to die out before being passed on to the next generation. If you or other family members refuse to pass on traditions to a member of the next generation, they will go extinct one way or another.
Finally, not all traditions are worth keeping or observing. Certain traditions can be harmful and carry a heavy height that people should not be forced to burden themselves with. Not every tradition created by humans is worthwhile, fair, or just. You don’t need to follow traditions if they don’t align with your moral conscience. Traditions can be good or bad, and they reflect upon our human nature.
The beauty of traditions is that you are given the choice, which traditions you would like to uphold to preserve and pass on to other people. If a tradition is aligned with the core values, beliefs that you have as an individual, then you should feel at ease with continuing it into the future. However, you should not seek to force your traditions on other people, and you should not preach about the superiority of your traditions when compared to the traditions of others. When it comes to traditions, use your best judgment and figure out which ones would be best to observe and celebrate with your family and friends.
Our ties to the past whether its’ through our ancestors, our family history, or our understanding of the world as it once was, is tied to our traditions. If you decide to forgo all traditions, then you are doomed to forget the past. Having a connection to the past through our traditions is a powerful thing and being able to celebrate them in a healthy manner should be encouraged. The memories we make with family and friends, the identity we gain from them, and the values and beliefs we pass on to the next generation make traditions a beautiful part of our existence on this planet. Whether its’ sitting down to a yearly Thanksgiving dinner, going to church weekly, or marching in a parade to celebrate your heritage and culture, traditions are apart of both who we are now and who we once were.
Similarly to the months to come during the heart of wintertime, the current summer season is a great chance to catch up on reading new books or books you have yet to finish. Whether you’re at the beach, hanging out in the backyard, or are going on a long road trip, reading a good book is a good way to pass the time.
My last ‘Book Recommendations’ post came in February so it’s time for another volume of recommendations for you to consider when it comes to your next book purchases. While you may not be interested in the same book genres or same authors as myself, I still encourage you to read a book before the end of the summer. Whether it’s through Amazon, your local mom and pop bookstore, or at a book fair, you owe it to yourself to put down the iPhone and pick up a good book instead.
1.) Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden (2001) is a non-fiction, and detailed take on the combined efforts by the Colombian and United States governments to bring down the infamous Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel. Mr. Bowden, known foremost for his take on the Battle of Mogadishu between U.S. special forces and Somali militants in the critically acclaimed novel, Black Hawk Down (1999) is a great journalist with over thirty years of covering recent events involving war, peace, and international affairs.
Mr. Bowden is a reporter and a journalist who does his research when it comes to Killing Pablo, and this book is a real page-turner. The author covers both the early years of Pablo’s empire to his international rise as the #1 drug kingpin in the world to his eventual downfall at the home of Search Bloc and Los Pepes. With many interviews from U.S. and Colombian government officials, as well as a lot of research into the terrible events that transpired in the 1980s and 1990s, Mark Bowden gives a comprehensive account of the manhunt for Pablo Escobar, and how his eventual death came to be.
There is often a lot of speculation and rumors surrounding the Medellin cartel that are unfounded which is why reading ‘Killing Pablo’ is a refreshing take on what really happened and who was involved in the drug kingpin’s demise. This is a great book if you’re interested in learning the true story behind the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar.
2. Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans by Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.) is an excellent and comprehensive look at each of the world’s major bodies of water, and how they each affect world geopolitics in different ways.
With over thirty years of experience in the United States Navy having commandeered every kind of amphibious vessel that you can think of, Admiral Stavridis has the life experience and intellectual background necessary to make this book quite a compelling read. As the only admiral in the history of NATO to serve as its’ Supreme Allied Commander, Mr. Stavridis is well poised to look at the state of the world through its’ largest and most valuable commodity, the oceans and the seas that make up over 70% of this planet.
If you’re new to geopolitics or don’t know much about the significance of the world’s oceans, Admiral Stavridis breaks down the history, the culture, and the geopolitical importance of each body of water throughout the book. From the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, the author discusses who are the countries involved in the area, what should the role of the United States be, and how can we ensure that this body of water stays conflict free, and friendly to international commerce into the far future.
Since the release of this book in June of 2017, it has risen to the top of many best sellers’ lists and for good reason. In a geopolitical area that doesn’t get much focus, Admiral Stavridis reminds us of the sheer importance of the world’s oceans and seas. In a 21st century world filled with uncertainty and ambiguity, The admiral’s book is a clear-cut, well-reasoned take on the geopolitics of the oceans, and how their collective future is tied to each and every one of us.
3. The Quiet American by Graham Greene is an exceptional book that is well written, has deep and complex characters, and involves a time period in world history that is often overlooked. The novel takes place during the early 1950s as the French Army is entangled in skirmishes and indirect conflict with the Vietminh. Meanwhile, the new presence of American aid workers including a young economic attaché, Alden Pyle, whose motives for being in French colonial-era Vietnam are considered to be suspect to the narrator, a British journalist named Thomas Fowler. Not only do the two men come into conflict regarding the future of Western influence in Vietnam but they also are at odds in a romantic triangle with a Vietnamese woman known as Phuong.
The two main characters, Fowler and Pyle, could not be more different in their outlook. Fowler is cynical about the West’s involvement in Vietnam, and is jaded by politics and war. Pyle is a young, idealistic, and naïve American who is reserved in his personal manners, but is unafraid to interfere in Vietnamese affairs by acting as a ‘third force’ to help bring change to the country by economic and military means.
Phuong is the young Vietnamese woman who is caught between Fowler and Pyle, as she is desired by both men but for different reasons. While Fowler regards her simply as his lover, Pyle wants to protect her. It is implied in the book that Pyle’s desire for Phuong is reflected in his desire to have a non-communist South Vietnam through any means necessary. Fowler does not go along with Pyle’s thinking and regards his belief in ‘American exceptionalism’ to be shortsighted.
An interesting novel and an engaging read, The Quiet American has become a mainstay in popular fictional literature and has been adapted into two major motion pictures, one in 1958, and more recently in 2002, which starred Michael Caine (Fowler) and Brendan Fraser (Pyle). This fictional novel is based off of real events in the 1950s when French colonial rule in Vietnam was coming to an end.
While reading books during the summer season may seem like a chore to some people, for others, it’s a great time to kick back, relax, and dive into different genres, and characters that offer a refreshing reprieve from the humdrum of our busy lives.
A delicious yet underrated popular dish here in Colombia that is hearty, tasty, and has a lot of flavor to it is one you may not be familiar with unless you come to the country to experience it firsthand. You may be able to experience this food outside of Colombia but you have to go to the source of where it’s made to perfection in order to get the most out of the dish. While not as hyped up as ‘Bandeja Paisa’ or ‘Sancocho’, Aijaco is just as delicious if not more so and is pretty easy to make if you can collect all of the necessary ingredients.
Ajiaco is a popular food dish not only just in Colombia but different versions of it can also be found in the countries of Peru and Cuba. Ajiaco has been around since the 16th century but it is unsure as to which country the food originated in first as to whether it was Colombia, Peru, or Cuba.
When it comes to Colombia, Ajiaco is most popular in the capital city of Bogota where it is made mainly with big pieces of chicken breasts that have been sliced up, fresh corn ears that have been cut into smaller pieces, scallions, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, three different types of potatoes such as red potatoes, white potatoes, and Andean potatoes (papa criolla). In order to complete this recipe for ‘Ajiaco Bogatano’, you’re going to need to add some guasca, which are dehydrated herbs as well as capers and heavy milk cream to top it all off.
Some people also like to add white rice to their Ajiaco dish in Colombia as well as some avocado that you can mix in with the rest of the ingredients. In order to get some more flavors out of this dish, you may want to add some salt and pepper to add to the taste. With all of the necessary ingredients to this recipe being added and mixed together, you will need to use a big pot to cook it all in. Ajiaco, Colombian style, will take a couple of hours to prepare, cook, and serve to you and your guests but the end results are delicious. When it comes to Ajiaco, it could be the only meal you have in a day and still come away from eating it feeling full and satisfied.
There is so much to the Colombian version of Ajiaco that it easily one of my favorite dishes to have here. It’s got vegetables, meat, and grains all loaded into one big bowl of deliciousness and if you make enough of it, you’re likely to have seconds and even thirds if you’re lucky. Like many other popular dishes from Colombia, Ajiaco is a great food to share with your friends and your family. It’s the kind of dish that you can serve to five, ten or more people depending on how big of a pot you want to use and how many hours you have free to cook all of the ingredients together.
Ajiaco can be an ideal dish that you can serve at a wedding, a birthday party, a family gathering of some kind, or for celebrating a religious ceremony. Have patience though because Ajiaco takes a while to get ready and serve to your guests. Because it’s got chicken, corn, rice, avocado, potatoes, there’s not much that you won’t like in your Ajiaco serving when it’s finally ready to eat. If you’re feeling a little down in the dumps or are feeling sick, I believe that Ajiaco would be a good way to start to make you feel better and improve your mood.
‘Ajiaco bogotano’ is not the only version of Ajiaco out there in Latin America as there are variations on this popular dish that are available in Peru and in Cuba. When it comes to Peru, Ajiaco is a dish mainly of different kinds of potatoes along with garlic, a mix of yellow and red chilis, yerbabuena, huacatay, that is accompanied with rice on the side and a choice of meat that is either chicken or rabbit stew.
Similar to Ajiaco from Colombia, you can add and mix together as many of the ingredients as you want when it comes to Peruvian form of Ajiaco in order to get the most taste and flavor out of the dish. The Cuban Ajiaco is also distinctly unique from the Peruvian and Colombian versions in its’ own rights. In Cuba, Ajiaco is much more of a stew, which is made up of a lot of different meats such as chicken, beef, pork, rather than just one or two kinds and many vegetables like carrots, onions, scallions, rice, potatoes, tubers, and starchy roots. ‘Viandas’ are also a unique aspect of Cuban Ajiaco that adds a lot to the dish.
As to the origin of Ajiaco as mentioned earlier, it is still debated by different scholars on the subject. It is estimated that the food dish originated with the indigenous tribe of Taino who inhabited parts of the Caribbean including modern-day Cuba. The word ‘Aji’ in Ajiaco is said to have originated from the Taino tribe’s language and the meaning of ‘Aji’ in their language is ‘hot pepper.’
It is believed that Ajiaco first originated in Cuba due to the fact that it is quite a diverse dish of different ingredients reflecting how Cuba was a melting pot of indigenous, African, and European cultures mixed together. Ajiaco has been served in Cuba since the 16th century, which is longer than the food’s origin in both Colombia and Peru. From the city of Havana to the village of Camaguey, the tradition of making Ajiaco was born and continues to thrive today. Farmers, slaves, traders, and regular people would exchange and buy ingredients from each other in order to put their own mark on this popular food dish over the centuries.
Regardless if its’ Cuban, Colombian, Peruvian or just homemade from scratch, Ajiaco is a delicious food dish that has a variety and a flavor that is hard to beat. It doesn’t matter what social status you have or what your cultural background is, Ajiaco is a dish that is deeply loved in Latin America and around the world. If you are curious about trying it out, there are many recipes available on the Internet depending on which kind of Ajiaco you would like to try out.
If you come to any of the countries where Ajiaco is popular and has a known history, I promise you won’t be disappointed when you eat it. Just remember to have an empty stomach when you dig in to eat because you’re going to need extra room for this plentiful and fulfilling dish of goodness. Buen Provecho!
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