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Cooking good food fast is key for Ramadan

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Cooking good food fast is key for Ramadan
Chickpea and Artichoke Tagine. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Goran Kosanovic for The Washington Post.

When a cook such as Rima Kasm prepares for Ramadan - the month-long period during which Muslims fast during daylight hours - she knows that planning is even more essential than usual.

"I will write down what I want to cook each day and get everything I need," says the Newport Beach, California, resident who came to America from her native Lebanon 25 years ago. She will rise before dawn to make and share the morning meal known as suhoor, and cook the evening meal, iftar, without tasting it, before the sun sets.

"Following my good recipes makes it okay for me," Kasm says. "I rely on them."

At the top of the list: foods that hydrate and don't take long to make, such as soups, because the fast also prohibits the intake of any liquids. Spicy dishes such as curries are avoided, since they bring on thirst. She makes a soup almost every day, as well as the pita and vegetable salads known as fattoush. Dates and dessert sweets are on her daily menu, which begins Friday at sundown this year.

Kasm says you'll find a pressure cooker in many Ramadan kitchens, an invaluable aid that allows her to make bean stews, lentils and fragrant chicken with rice and warming spices in as little as 20 minutes. For cooks who might not be quite as organized as she or are looking to add variety to their pressure-cooker repertoire for the holiday, here are four recipes that work for the holiday - including dessert.

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Chickpea and Artichoke Tagine

4 to 6 servings (makes about 10 cups)

This makes a lovely and inviting meatless meal; starting with dried chickpeas really improves the overall texture of the final dish.

You'll need a 6-quart pressure cooker or Instant Pot.

Serve with rice.

MAKE AHEAD: The dried chickpeas need to be salt-soaked for 8 to 24 hours.

Adapted from "Pressure Cooker Perfection: 100 Foolproof Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook," by the editors of America's Test Kitchen (ATK, 2013).

Ingredients

2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

8 ounces dried chickpeas, rinsed and picked over

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

1 medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced

Four 2-inch-long strips lemon peel (little or no pith)

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground za'atar (may substitute ground cumin)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons flour

1 pound carrots (trimmed and scrubbed well), cut into 1/2-inch-thick coins

One 15-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted

3 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth

9 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted and patted dry

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, each cut in half

Leaves from about 25 cilantro stems, chopped (packed 1/2 cup)

Freshly ground black pepper

Steps

Dissolve the salt in a large mixing bowl filled with 4 quarts of water. Add the dried chickpeas. Let sit for 8 to 24 hours, then drain and rinse.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in the pressure-cooker pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion; cook for 5 minutes until just softened, then stir in the strips of lemon peel, garlic, paprika, za'atar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Cook for 30 seconds, then stir in the flour, using a wooden spatula to dislodge any browned bits. Add the carrots, diced tomatoes and drained chickpeas, stirring to coat, then pour in the broth.

Lock the pressure-cooker lid in place. Increase the heat to high; once the pot reaches HIGH pressure, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 25 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain pressure, as needed.

Remove the pot from the heat. Release the pressure, then carefully remove the lid.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the artichokes and stir to coat. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until golden brown at the edges.

Discard the strips of lemon peel from the vegetable stew mixture in the pot, then stir in the artichokes, olives and cilantro. Taste and season lightly with more salt and black pepper, as needed.

Divide among individual wide, shallow bowls; drizzle each portion with oil. Serve warm.

Nutrition | Per serving (using 1 tablespoon salt): 290 calories, 11 g protein, 44 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 850 mg sodium, 13 g dietary fiber, 13 g sugar

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Pressure Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken

4 to 6 servings

Chances are good you'll have the sauce ingredients on hand to make this easy, kid-friendly meal.

Serve with rice.

Adapted from a recipe at PressureCookingToday.com.

Ingredients

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-size chunks

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 medium onion, diced (1/2 cup)

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup ketchup

1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1/2 cup honey

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons water

Toasted/roasted sesame seeds

2 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped, for garnish

Steps

Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper.

Preheat the Instant Pot using the saute setting, or heat the oil in a stove-top pressure cooker over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic, onion and chicken; cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onion has just softened.

Add the soy sauce, ketchup and crushed red pepper flakes (to taste) and stir to incorporate. Lock the pressure-cooker lid in place. Increase the heat to HIGH; once the pot reaches pressure, cook for 3 minutes.

Once the timer beeps, turn off the heat. Carefully do a quick-pressure release.

Uncover; add the sesame oil and honey to the pot, stirring to incorporate.

Dissolve the cornstarch in water in a small bowl, then add to the pot, stirring to form a slightly thickened sauce. Stir in most of the sesame seeds.

Divide among individual plates; sprinkle with the scallions and remaining sesame seeds. Serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 6): 260 calories, 37 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 870 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

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Carrot Coconut Cake

4 servings

There's not much of a rise in this cake, but its texture does approximate that of a baked carrot cake with a moist, dense crumb. And it couldn't be easier to make.

You'll need a 6-inch round cake pan.

Adapted from "The 'I Love My Instant Pot' Recipe Book: From Trail Mix Oatmeal to Mongolian Beef BBQ," by Michelle Fagone (Adams Media/Simon and Schuster, 2017).

Ingredients

1/4 cup liquefied coconut oil

1/3 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup packed peeled, grated carrots, plus a few shavings for optional garnish

1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, plus more, toasted, for optional garnish

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup chopped pecans

Cream cheese frosting (optional; see NOTE)

Steps

Whisk together the oil, sugar (to taste), egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, carrots, flaked coconut, flour, baking powder and pecans in a medium bowl; do not over-mix.

Pour a cup of water into the Instant Pot and then set a trivet in it; place the mix in the cake pan and place the pan atop the trivet. The water should not come up higher than the bottom of the cake pan.

Lock the Instant Pot lid. Press the MANUAL button and set the timer to 20 minutes.

Once the timer beeps, let the pressure release naturally for 5 minutes. Carefully quick-release any additional pressure until the float valve drops, then unlock the lid.

Transfer the cake pan to a wire rack to cool. (Drain the Instant Pot.)

To serve, invert onto a platter. Spread the frosting on top, if using, then garnish with the optional toasted coconut flakes or optional carrot shavings.

NOTE: To make just enough cream cheese frosting for this cake, whisk together 4 ounces room-temperature cream cheese, 8 tablespoons (1 stick) room-temperature unsalted butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 8 tablespoons confectioners' sugar and a pinch of kosher salt in a mixing bowl, until smooth.

Nutrition | Per serving: 300 calories, 3 g protein, 20 g carbohydrates, 23 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 25 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 17 g sugar

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Chicken and Lentil Soup

8 servings (makes about 10 1/2 cups)

Lentils are a go-to ingredient for Ramadan soups; this one's quite flavorful and all done in a single pot. It's also filling without being heavy.

We noticed in testing that this soup thickens upon standing; feel free to stir in 1 to 2 cups additional water when you reheat it.

You'll need a 6-quart pressure cooker or an Instant Pot.

Adapted from a recipe at SkinnyTaste.com.

Ingredients

1 pound dried brown or green lentils

12 to 15 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs (fat trimmed)

7 cups water

2 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon (paste) chicken flavor

1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped

2 scallions, white and light-green parts, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium-size ripe tomato, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

1 teaspoon granulated garlic (powder)

1 teaspoon ground sumac (may substitute cumin)

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed

Steps

Combine the lentils, chicken (to taste), water, bouillon, onion, scallions, garlic, tomato, cilantro, granulated garlic, ground sumac, oregano, paprika and salt in the pressure cooker or Instant Pot.

Lock the pressure-cooker lid in place. Turn the heat to high; once the pot reaches HIGH pressure, cook for 30 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain pressure, as needed. For the Instant Pot, lock the lid and press the SOUP button and cook for 30 minutes. Use the pressure releases, then unlock and open.

Transfer the chicken to a cutting board; use two forks to shred it, then return it to the pot, stirring to incorporate. Taste, and adjust the salt, as needed.

Serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving: 320 calories, 23 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 620 mg sodium, 18 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

A giant ark is just the start: These creationists have a bigger plan for recruiting new believers

By Karen Heller
A giant ark is just the start: These creationists have a bigger plan for recruiting new believers
Ken Ham, founder of the creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, wants to attract both believers and nonbelievers to his family-friendly attractions. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Luke Sharrett

WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. - Ken Ham built an ark, a Noah-sized ark, in the verdant, landlocked hills of the American heartland.

At the sight of the wooden vessel, tourists - decidedly more than two-by-two, a caravan of buses surrounding the site - gasp in wonder. Christian school students storm the ramps, many completing science quizzes based on anti-evolutionary teachings.

The founder of Answers in Genesis, an online and publishing ministry with a strict creationist interpretation of the Bible, employed 700 workers to erect the $120 million Ark Encounter, which is five stories high and a football field and a half in length, and packs a powerful "whoa" punch. He had the massive boat designed by a veteran of amusement park attractions, commissioned an original soundtrack to enhance the experience, and stocked the interior with an animatronic (and freakishly real) talking Noah, along with lifelike models of Earth's manifold creatures. Including dinosaurs.

And he saw that it was good.

The ark opened last summer and is on target, Ham says, to attract more than a million visitors in the first year.

But Ham did not rest.

The 65-year-old Australian and his partners, Mike Zovath and Mark Looy, have launched an ambitious 10-to-12-year plan to re-create a walled city from the time of Noah and a first-century village from the time of Jesus.

Also, a Tower of Babel, concept snack shacks, a 3,200-seat amphitheater and a 10-plagues-of-Egypt thrill ride. Frogs! Fiery hail! Locusts!

Instead of building a church, Answers in Genesis is sharing its teachings through a controversial biblical theme park designed to attract believers and nonbelievers alike.

"How do you reach the general public in a bigger way?" muses Ham rhetorically, sitting in his expansive corner office at the Creation Museum, his first, more sober foray into the family entertainment business, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on Memorial Day. "Why not attractions that people will come to the way they go to Disney or Universal or the Smithsonian?"

Why not, indeed?

Answers in Genesis is certainly adopting a different approach from the Museum of the Bible, which is scheduled to open in November in Washington, D.C., and aims to attract all religions. AiG wants to attract all tourists and introduce them to its specific brand of faith.

Ham and his brethren are creationists and Christian apologists who believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. (Contrary to scientists who say that it's more like 4.5 billion years - or older.) Apologetics is a branch of Christianity whose adherents actively defend their faith, and Ham is a robust debater.

The author or co-author of 50 or 60 books - he's not sure, a rare instance of uncertainty - he argues that the Bible is a historical narrative and that "the whole gospel message is found in Genesis." He believes that dinosaurs prowled the planet alongside humans and that the biblical flood created the Grand Canyon. One of his books is titled "The Lie: Evolution." He maintains that Noah labored seven decades to construct his vessel and was 600 years old when the storm surged. (By comparison, the AiG team took only seven years to build the Kentucky ark.)

Ham - is it coincidence that his name is the same as one of Noah's sons'? - began his career as, of all things, a science teacher in a tiny Australian town. But evolution didn't sit right with him as the son of parents who subscribed to creationist beliefs.

"I took students to museums and saw that all the museums were totally from an evolutionary perspective," he says. He began researching the creationist view of science, and ultimately began lecturing on the subject and was invited to speak at the Institute for Creation Research, then based outside San Diego.

And he realized that America was the best location for getting his message out to the world. "It's the center of the business world, the center of the Christian world," he says.

He acknowledges that his views aren't commonly shared.

"Obviously, we're in a minority," he says in his pronounced Down Under accent. But "just because a majority believes in something doesn't mean it's right. People love darkness rather than light. If a majority believes something, I'm naturally suspicious because of the sin nature of man."

Ham has twice debated evolution with television science star Bill Nye, at the Creation Museum in 2014 and two years later at the Ark Encounter, events that Answers in Genesis touts as akin to a modern-day Scopes trial - and that Ham believes he won. Otherwise, why sell the videos and book to believers in his museums' large gift shops? (Nye declined to comment.)

How did a former science teacher, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel (Zovath) and a former radio reporter (Looy), all based in Southern California and with zero tourism experience, come to build a museum and an enormous wooden boat to promote creationism in northern Kentucky?

The founders say they looked at multiple locations in several states and chose the region because of its proximity to the Cincinnati airport, once a Delta hub, and because it's within a day's drive of two-thirds of the nation's population. But the sites are also situated firmly in the Bible Belt, where there's less competition from other tourist attractions. Plus, AiG was able to negotiate attractive incentives to locate there.

Ham proudly points out that where many museums and attractions "are reliant on government subsidies or a few large donations," the ark was funded by 42,000 small donors. "The average donation was $230," he says.

But the project's largest source of funding was actually $62 million in junk bonds floated by the town of Willamstown, population less than 4,000, home to the Ark Encounter and the county seat of Grant County, which faced bankruptcy this spring.

"In terms of revenue for the county, we don't get too much from them," says the county's chief executive, Stephen Wood. The Ark Encounter negotiated a vastly discounted 30-year rate on property taxes in 2013 under a previous administration. "I hate it, but that's the deal," says Wood.

Unsurprisingly, the Ark Encounter and Answers in Genesis have attracted a loud chorus of critics who question this financial backing.

"Why would the state indirectly subsidize a nonsensible alternative to evolution?" asks Barry Lynn, an ordained minister who is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a frequent critic. "It's not good science. It's not good anything. It ought to be unacceptable for a state at any level to treat this like one more bond-funded enterprise. Most Christians do not accept this as a literal or natural interpretation of the Bible."

Ham argues that his organization received a tourist tax break while creating jobs in a region battered by the economy.

Kentucky residents "should be thankful we're here," he says. "We're creating all these extra jobs in the community, which wouldn't be there if we weren't here."

Perhaps, but a year after the Ark opened, downtown Williamstown, about two miles from the tourist attraction, still isn't much more than a collection of resale and "antiques" shops and shuttered storefronts. At lunchtime on a spring weekday, Main Street was devoid of pedestrians, tour buses or open restaurants, except for a coffee shop with a tattoo parlor in the back.

Moreover, AiG limits who can fill its jobs, leading the ACLU and other groups to charge the organization with discriminatory hiring practices that should make it ineligible for state and local subsidies.

As a condition of employment, the museum and ark staff of 900, including 350 seasonal workers, must sign a statement of faith rejecting evolution and declaring that they regularly attend church and view homosexuality as a sin. So any non-Christians, believers in evolution, or members of the LGBT community - and their supporters - need not apply. (Although, due to less stringent hiring requirements for contractors, an actor who allegedly operated a gay porn site was hired to portray Adam in one of the Creation Museum's original videos.)

Beyond the boat itself, the Ark Encounter attracts visitors - read kids - with reproduction dinosaurs, a petting zoo (those would be live animals), an insect exhibit (very dead), camel rides, zip lines, and fudge stands.

The goal is for the ark to become "something on people's checklist when they're traveling, like seeing the biggest ball of twine," says Zovath, who supervised the encounter's construction. "That gives us an opportunity for people who might never go to church to see something that is mind-blowing and get some information that could change their lives for the better and point them in the direction for a secure eternity."

The partners are confident that they can achieve this soul-saving objective because, Zovath says, "God provided us with some incredibly talented people."

Chief among these is Patrick Marsh, vice president of attractions design. A former Beverly Hills fashion designer, he helped create the opening ceremony at the 1984 Olympics, Universal Studios' King Kong and Jaws attractions, and a Hello Kitty theme park outside Tokyo.

Marsh oversees a 65,000-square-foot warehouse that is part design studio - his team was busy finishing 10 biblical steles for the ark's lake and the bus arrival area - and part Ikea warehouse stuffed to the rafters with building materials.

When the founders first suggested building a Noah-sized ark, Marsh told them, "If you want to attract people here, you need to do it at a Disney level. Kids are so used to high-quality things."

The ship includes 55 elaborate exhibits in 120 bays, including the recent "Why the Bible is True" done as an art installation in the style of a graphic novel, and two theaters with separate Noah movies. The first is set in Noah's time, the other in the present, featuring professional actors, including one who portrays an incredulous female reporter who undergoes a conversion experience in both films.

Marsh is proudest of the ark's intricate family living quarters, which resemble a wealthy Middle Eastern retreat. The exhibit panels note that Answers in Genesis took "creative license" in developing backstories for Noah and his family. Noah's daughters-in-law, unnamed in the Bible, are each assigned a different race to explain the varying physiognomy of the world's inhabitants.

By comparison, the Creation Museum, 45 miles away, seems modest and antiquated. It features a buff Adam, a comely Eve, dragons - Answers in Genesis views dragons as a variation on dinosaurs - and more dinosaurs. Ham acknowledges that its visitors are mostly creationists. Recently, the facility was packed with church and Christian school groups, retirement communities and a German group meeting with Looy to discuss building their own creation museum.

The Ark Encounter doesn't get public school groups, either, "though there are some that come under the radar," says Ham. "They get threatened by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ACLU or Americans United."

But Ham believes that more than a third of the Ark's visitors do not share his beliefs. "It's not unusual to meet someone who says 'I'm not a Christian,' or 'I'm an atheist,' or whatever,' but the comment that we get over and over again is, 'You really present your message very tastefully.' "

The ark is not yet completed. Still to open is an 800-seat restaurant on the top deck, where guests will be entertained by Noah-era re-enactors, a Bible-inspired dinner theater.

The biblical theme park, ultimately featuring 80 structures, will be built gradually. The founders hope to open a new attraction every year. Next up is a 2,500-seat auditorium for events at the Ark Encounter, scheduled to open next spring. The Noah-era walled city comes after that. "Picture Disney Main Street with lots of shops, food and fun things to see," says Zovath.

Then the plans are to build a village set in the time of Jesus, who is currently a lesser player in the Answers in Genesis sites, rooted as they are in the Old Testament.

When he looks around at his progress, Ken Ham sees that it is good.

A full summer of tourists awaits. The ark, he believes, will attract twice as many visitors in its second year of operation. That will help fund future projects.

"You've got to be risk takers to do something like this," Ham says. "But I see it as stepping out in faith. There are people you couldn't blow into church with a stick of dynamite that will come and visit an ark."

And, quite possibly, embrace the Word.

Somalis fled famine, only to lose their children to cholera

By Max Bearak
Somalis fled famine, only to lose their children to cholera
Bashir Bille, 40, looks at the body of his son, Noor, 4, as men pray before burying him at a camp for displaced people in Baidoa, Somalia. Noor died from complications from cholera, and this was the third burial of the morning. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Andrew Renneisen

BAIDOA, Somalia - Aftin Noor stepped back from the tiny graves he'd been digging and surveyed his work. Exhausted, he turned his palms skyward, squinting into the relentless midday sun, and asked God for an answer.

"I dug three children's graves this morning," said Noor, his voice cracking, his undershirt soaked with sweat. "And I have dug 20 or more this month. Why?"

The immediate answer is cholera. The waterborne disease is sweeping through this city's sprawling refugee camps, which are filled with people driven from their villages by a vicious drought. Spotty, tantalizing rain showers have left fetid puddles, speeding the infection's spread. Like a desperate predator, cholera often picks off the weakest targets: children.

The drought and the looming specter of a famine have brought nearly 160,000 people to Baidoa from the baked countryside. They have come to save themselves from almost certain starvation. But an outbreak of cholera is spreading death through this place of refuge.

The exodus to Baidoa began last November when stores of food began to run out following two years of limited rains. More than 55,000 people arrived in April alone. Whole villages have relocated here.

Somalia is no stranger to famine. Between late 2010 and early 2012, about 260,000 people perished, mostly around Baidoa, about 120 miles northwest of Mogadishu. Then, as now, the militant Islamist group al-Shabab, which controls almost all rural southwestern Somalia and is hostile to aid agencies, made it nearly impossible for lifesaving food and water to be delivered anywhere but to the few cities under government control.

Baidoa was al-Shabab territory then. People starved while walking from their homes near here to camps in the distant capital Mogadishu, or in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. Now Baidoa is an island of government control. Aid agencies have established a presence here.

Half of Somalia's population, or roughly 6 million people, are now dependent on humanitarian aid. The United Nations and a constellation of international and local aid agencies and donors believe they are better prepared to address the crisis. Most think 2017 will not mirror 2011, even if the rains fail again.

But the rapid coalescence of squalid camps has complicated the picture. More than 20,000 cases of cholera or related waterborne illnesses have been registered in the Baidoa region since January. Unlike the giant U.N. camps in, say, Jordan or South Sudan, Baidoa's are new and not directly U.N.-administered, with the displaced responsible for building their own shelters and buying their own food, mostly with cash they receive from international aid groups. The camps have sprung up on vacant land owned by locals. In that vacuum, sanitation facilities fell behind more immediate needs - like getting food - and now aid workers are trying to stay ahead of the outbreak's curve.

"We are trying to negotiate with the landowners to allow us to build pit latrines, but some of them are being stubborn," said Peter de Clercq, who oversees the U.N.'s humanitarian mission in Somalia. Cholera, which is endemic in Somalia, spreads quickly in places where people defecate in the open, and the waste ends up in food or drinking water.

"There is still a significant advantage to being in the camps. People can access cholera treatment centers at hospitals. Cholera is easily treatable - it is a matter of catching it before it is too late," said de Clercq. "From what we know, [you are] four-and-half times more likely to die from cholera if you live in an al-Shabab-controlled area."

Around 200 deaths from cholera and related diseases have been recorded in or near Baidoa, but aid workers caution that the toll in al-Shabab-controlled areas might be 10 or more times higher.

Bashir Bille, 40, witnessed cholera's terror in his village. In just a few hours, a body already weakened by hunger could lose all its water, effectively drying out from the inside.

When Noor, Bille's 4-year-old son, developed incessant diarrhea sometime after his family arrived in Baidoa two months ago, the father quickly sent the boy to the Bay Regional Hospital.

Noor was a symbol of hope for Bille's family. During the last famine, in 2011, they had fled with hundreds of thousands of others to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. They returned to their village near the town of Qansax Dheere only when they heard rains had fallen in 2013.

They had survived, amid so much death. Bille's wife, Oorow Madsheikh, gave birth to Noor.

He was admitted to the hospital in Baidoa during a time of growing alarm. The patient ledger at the cholera ward had started off with neat, single-spaced names, but after a bout of rain hit the camps, its pages became crowded, disorganized.

Oral rehydration salts strengthened Noor enough for the hospital to release him after a few days. But a week later, on a Saturday morning in mid-May, he suddenly relapsed. He died in an hour.

Two of his brothers are hospitalized with cholera symptoms.

"I don't know exactly how they got sick," said their ashen-faced father, staring blankly ahead as Aftin Noor and his team of diggers took turns with a shovel and a pick ax, excavating Noor's two-by-one-foot grave. The diggers were from Bille's village - everyone from there was here now. "Children run around. They touch things. They suck their fingers. We can't watch them all the time."

UNICEF says that more than 275,000 children across Somalia are facing severe malnutrition, making them nine times more likely to die of diseases including cholera or measles. In Baidoa, 72 percent of households in the camps have a child younger than 5, according to the United Nations.

The local hospital, which gets support from aid groups, has certainly saved many lives. But some people are not comfortable sending their children there, believing instead in traditional medicine. When Faduma Abdirahman's six grandchildren, entrusted to her by her daughter, fell ill in a camp in Baidoa, she decided to return to her starving village about six miles away rather than have them admitted.

It had taken only a week in the camp for two of the children to develop uncontrollable diarrhea, and the four others to fall prey to a less widespread outbreak of measles.

Abdirahman, 50, can barely speak now, her face frozen in an expression of unimaginable sorrow. "I tried to save them by bringing them back to the village," she whispered, her gaze on the scorched ground outside her home. "I didn't know what else to do. They all died."

The only lasting respite from the drought will come in the form of rain. The season, which usually starts in April, is off to an uneven start. From a plane, one can see parched, sandy stream beds intersect with timeworn footpaths, giving the land the cracked look of dry skin.

Noor's body was brought to its resting place in that cracked land wrapped in a white shroud, which was in turn wrapped in a blue tarp. Aid agencies recommend double-wrapping for cholera victims. Noor was thus deprived of the traditional Islamic pre-burial cleansing, but a group of men still gathered to murmur his last rites.

With a final "God is Great," the men lowered the boy into the earth, covering his body first in wet mud, then flat rocks, then dirt, but it was not enough to fill the grave. Only by skimming some soil off the top of another grave, dug that same morning, did they manage to fill it.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

No, America is not facing a race war

By esther j. cepeda
No, America is not facing a race war

CHICAGO -- For the past decade, the narrative of an upcoming Hispanic demographic tsunami has been alternately energizing and scaring people into believing that America will eventually become Latinized beyond recognition.

Don’t worry, it isn’t going to happen.

I recently attended a Latino studies forum at an urban university boasting a student population that is 39 percent nonwhite. The diversity in the room was astounding: Latinos 17 to 60 who represented families living in this country since the 1600s, as well as those who have been here for only a few years.

There were Hispanics of every race, many that were biracial and more that were merely bicultural, with delightful combination names like Bruce Hernandez and Esmeralda Rosenstein or names that didn’t “sound” Latino at all.

This is the trend.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released an analysis of census data showing that in 2015, one in six American newlyweds married someone of a different race or ethnicity.

This represents a fivefold increase in the past 50 years, with Asian and Hispanic newlyweds representing the most likely to have intermarried -- nearly three in 10 marry someone of a different race or ethnicity.

According to Pew, the most common intermarriages in 2015 were between someone of Hispanic ethnicity and someone who wasn’t Hispanic. Those marriages accounted for more than half the total, with most of those Hispanics marrying non-Hispanic whites.

These intermarriages are ushering in changes to how society perceives ethnicity and race.

“Demographers have not taken into account how the perception of race is likely to change in the coming years,” wrote Herbert J. Gans, a professor emeritus of sociology at Columbia University, in The New York Times, in reference to the U.S. Census predictions of a majority-minority population as soon as 2040. “For example, whites are already seeing the descendants of some Asian and Latino immigrants as being similar to them. Consequently, whites treat them as white. This ‘whitening’ process will only increase in the future.”

But if there’s such a thing as reverse-whitening, that’s happening, too. People are increasingly deciding for themselves what ethnicity or race they identify as.

For instance, a January 2012 Census Bureau report titled “The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010” says 175,494 Mexicans (Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano) self-identified as American Indian, making Mexican-American Indians the fourth-largest tribal group in the country.

There are other variations on this idea of ethnic identification fluidity.

In 2015, Mark Hugo Lopez, the director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center, told me that there were approximately 2.1 million to 2.5 million people who say they have an ancestry that is Hispanic but don’t identify as such. And the opposite can be true: If anyone wants to be Hispanic, they need only say so. “There are no genetic tests; it’s a self-labeling thing,” Lopez told me.

There are even some who are starting to consider whether racial identity can, or should be, as changeable as gender identity.

Writing in the spring issue of the academic feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, wonders whether it is possible or acceptable to change one’s race in the way some change their sex.

In her article, “In Defense of Transracialism,” Tuvel says, “I argue that considerations that support transgenderism extend to transracialism. Given this parity, since we should accept transgender individuals’ decisions to change sexes, we should also accept transracial individuals’ decisions to change races. I entertain and reject ... objections that suggest a society should not accept an individual’s decision to change races. ... I conclude that if some individuals genuinely feel like or identify as a member of a race other than the one assigned to them at birth -- so strongly to the point of seeking a transition to the other race -- we should accept their decision to change races.”

This dissatisfaction with the traditional ways to self-segment and build identity is at the root of why, in the years to come, America will not be embroiled in a race war: The races will find a way to intermingle.

Just as was the case back in 1967, when the Supreme Court decided in the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, which recognized the right to intermarriage, some people will be open to and comfortable with the melding and mixing of different ethnicities and races.

Others will have no choice but to deal with the opportunities and challenges of a thoroughly interracialized society.

Esther Cepeda’s email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

The wider Trump scandal

By e.j. dionne jr.
The wider Trump scandal

WASHINGTON -- President Trump’s budget demonstrates the costs of accepting lies as a normal currency in politics, broken promises as a customary way of doing business, false claims of being “populist” as the equivalent of the real thing, and sloppiness as what we should expect from government.

Trump’s fiscal plan was described as dead before arrival, but approaching it this way is a mistake. Many of the steep cuts in programs for low-income Americans mimic reductions passed before by Republicans in the House of Representatives. There’s more life in this document than the easy dismissals would suggest.

Particularly astounding from a president who promised better health care for Americans who can’t afford it is the $1.85 (BEG ITAL)trillion(END ITAL) reduction over a decade from Medicaid and subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. But didn’t Trump promise not to cut Medicaid? Never mind, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CNBC’s John Harwood. That pledge, Mulvaney explained, had been overridden by his promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Right, and my commitment to losing weight was overridden by my insistence on eating anything I want. We demean ourselves if we cynically normalize the reality that every Trump promise is meaningless claptrap aimed at closing a deal -- and that the vows will be forgotten even before the ink on the agreement is dry. Many who did business with Trump learned the hard way not to trust anything he said. His supporters are being forced to earn the same dreary wisdom.

Trump lies so often that journalists tied themselves up in an extended discussion of when it was appropriate to use “lie,” and when it was better to deploy such euphemisms as “misstatement” or “fabrication.” We should stick to the short and simple word. Allowing Trump any slack only encourages more lying.

Although fibbing with numbers is an old trick, the etiquette of budget discussions leans toward references to “rosy scenarios” and the like. But how can you explain a budget that counts $2 trillion in claimed economic growth twice? It’s used once to “pay for” massive tax cuts for the wealthy, and another time to paint Trump’s budget as reaching balance in a decade.

This can’t just be careless math.

Companies that make comparable errors in their prospectuses for public offerings can face legal action. No wonder former Obama administration economic adviser Seth Hanlon called this plan “the Bernie Madoff Budget.”

Another sign of fiscal fraud: the budget’s blithe assumption that we will hit 3 percent annual GDP growth over an extended period. That would be nice. But no respectable economic forecaster thinks this is credible. Trump is asking us to bank our country’s fiscal future on his signature catchphrase, “Believe me.” We should know by now that we can’t.

But there are also philosophical lies, and these may be even more offensive. Trump and Mulvaney are selling this budget as good for hardworking taxpayers by leading us to believe that it would really only hurt moochers and layabouts. Thus did Mulvaney claim that a $192 billion reduction in food stamp spending over a decade was directed at “the folks who are on there who don’t want to work.”

Well, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported, it turns out that in food stamp households with at least one working-age, nondisabled adult, more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving benefits, and more than half work while getting them. This is a program aimed primarily at easing the lives of the working poor.

And it is worth noting, as Ron Brownstein did in The Atlantic, that in the five Rust Belt states that swung from Barack Obama to Trump, whites without a four-year college degree -- the heart of the Trump constituency -- “constitute most of those receiving assistance” from food stamps and the parts of Social Security that Trump would also slash. If Trump really wants people to go to work, how does he think taking money away from job training and college assistance will ease their path to self-sufficiency?

Martin Wolf, the Financial Times columnist, captured Trump’s ideology with precision when he called it “pluto-populism.” It involves “policies that benefit plutocrats, justified by populist rhetoric.”

Trump’s seriousness about the details of governing can be measured by his decision to be abroad when his budget was released. This is a man who sees his job as little more than spectacle, his word as negotiable and all numbers as fungible. The scandal of his presidency extends far beyond the Russia story.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN for May 25, 2017Page 2

A portentous election in the Peach State

By george f. will
A portentous election in the Peach State

ATLANTA -- By the time Georgia’s 6th District votes in the June 20 special congressional election, $40 million -- perhaps more than $130 per ballot -- will have been spent to pick one-435th of one-half of one of the three branches of one of America’s governments. This is an expensive funeral for Tip O’Neill’s incessantly quoted and increasingly inapplicable axiom that “All politics is local.”

If the slender shoulders of the Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, occasionally sag, this is not just from understandable fatigue -- on a recent morning he had just deplaned from an 18-hour fundraising sprint to New York. They bear the weight of his party’s hopes of recapturing a portion of national power -- control of the House of Representatives -- almost 18 months from now.

Democrats’ shoulders should slump if they cannot win at this propitious moment and in this congenial place. Republicans are tethered to the serial pratfalls of a president who preens as Zarathustra but emulates Buster Keaton. Last November, while Hillary Clinton was losing Georgia by 5.1 points, she lost this district by just 1.5 points. (Sixty percent of Americans live in districts that Clinton or Donald Trump carried by at least 20 points.) Ten times this district made Newt Gingrich its gift to the nation, and seven times it elected Tom Price -- twice unopposed -- with an average of 76.1 percent. (His departure to be secretary of health and human services occasioned this election.)

It is, however, the sort of place Democrats must win -- affluent, more than 70 percent white -- if they are to achieve the net gain of 24 seats necessary to retake the House. Republicans represent 23 districts that Clinton won. Nationally, the generic congressional poll -- asking: Would you prefer Congress controlled by Democrats or Republicans? -- favors Democrats, 46.2 to 39.2 percent.

Ossoff began his campaign with a vinegary slogan -- “Make Trump Furious” -- but has become militantly vanilla, standing foursquare against government waste and for (herewith a smattering of anodyne rhetoric from his conversation) being “calm,” “dignified,” “level-headed,” and “not just another rock thrower,” and advancing “core values,” “fiscal responsibility” and “unity.” Apparently, Democrats’ learning curve is not quite flat: They have learned from Clinton’s debacle that the cohort of people who are undecided about Trump is vanishingly small, so talk about something else.

Ossoff, who someday will look his current age (30) and is proud that he owns only two suits, moved four miles from undergraduate life at Georgetown University to a congressional staff job. His Republican opponent, Karen Handel, 55, is what a pro-Ossoff ad stigmatizes her as, and what he might aspire to be, a “career politician.” She has lost more elections than she has won, but has been elected statewide as secretary of state.

The average voter turnout in the last six presidential elections (1996-2016) was 58.6 percent, and it was 39.1 percent in the last five midterm elections (1998-2014). But because dissatisfaction is a more powerful motivator than contentment, the party not holding the presidency usually sees improved turnout. Trump might resemble Barack Obama in one way: Many of his voters might not show up when his name is not on the ballot.

Last month, in the 18-candidate jungle primary, Ossoff received 48.1 percent, just 1.9 percent short of the 50 percent that would have given him the seat. He won more votes (92,390) than the Democratic candidate received in the 2014 general election (71,400). Handel endorsed the House bill to replace Obamacare, a bill that helped to make Obamacare more popular than Obama’s campaigning for it did. Neither candidate is dwelling on health care, probably because, as a certain savant has said, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

Handel finished second in the primary with 19.8 percent. Ossoff captured 64 percent of early and absentee voters -- those who could not wait to express their dismay about things. What Clinton largely failed to do last year, her 2016 opponent has done this year -- energize Democrats.

And Democrats, who are situational ethicists regarding money in politics, provided Ossoff enough to enable him to provide free Lyft rides for some primary voters. If he wins on June 20, Democrats probably will benefit in fundraising and candidate recruitment, giving them high hopes for big gains in 2018. The last time a party holding the White House and both houses of Congress did not lose seats in a midterm election, Dizzy Dean and his brother Paul each won two games for the Cardinals in the 1934 World Series.

George Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

A not-so-innocent abroad: Trump bumbles across the Middle East

By dana milbank
A not-so-innocent abroad: Trump bumbles across the Middle East

WASHINGTON -- President Trump arrived in Jerusalem this week with a most curious bit of information for Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

“We just got back from the Middle East,” Trump announced. “We just got back from Saudi Arabia.”

At this, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, put his forehead in his palm.

Did Trump not know Israel is in the Middle East? Did he not know he was in Israel? There was little time to contemplate this mystery, because Trump was moving on to generate more puzzlement at his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

The two men had wrapped up a news conference and reporters were shouting questions when Trump volunteered a confession. “Just so you understand,” he announced, “I never mentioned the word or the name Israel in conversation. Never mentioned it during that conversation. They are all saying I did. So you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.”

Thus did Trump apparently confirm that Israel was the unnamed ally that had provided sensitive intelligence to the United States that Trump then handed over to Russia. U.S. officials were concerned that if the ally were identified, Russia might try to disrupt the source.

Mark Twain wrote “The Innocents Abroad“ in 1869 while traveling through the Holy Land and Europe. This week, Trump wrote his own chapter as he bumbled his way through Saudi Arabia and Israel before heading for Rome. Americans by now have become accustomed to perpetual chaos. Now lucky friends and allies are seeing the Trump tornado firsthand.

After Monday night’s attack at a concert in Manchester, England, Trump reacted with outrage and sorrow for those “murdered by evil losers in life.” But then he made this aside: “I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. … I will call them from now on losers because that’s what’s they are. They’re losers.”

Thus did the president apply the same label to murderous terrorists that he had previously bestowed on Rosie O’Donnell, Cher, Rihanna, Mark Cuban, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Maher, Ana Navarro, Chuck Todd, the attorney general of New York, an astrologer in Cleveland, Gwyneth Paltrow, Howard Stern, Jeb Bush, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Karl Rove, Megyn Kelly, the Huffington Post and the New York Daily News -- among many others.

Beyond that, did Trump run a focus group to find out terrorists prefer being called “monsters” to “losers”? And does he suppose that taunting them as losers will be an effective counterterrorism strategy? If so, he might form an “L” on his forehead with thumb and forefinger when he invokes terrorist losers.

Presumably Trump didn’t think it through. Likewise, he didn’t mean to offend his hosts in Saudi Arabia by referring to “Islamic terror“ rather than “Islamist terror.” He was “exhausted,” an aide explained. Perhaps fatigue also made him turn Saudi Arabia’s King Salman into “King Solomon“ -- he was off by 3,000 years -- and expand the Strait of Hormuz into the “Straits of Hormuz.” Less clear is what made him leave a cheerful message in the guestbook at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem: “so amazing and will never forget!”

Trump does best when he sticks to the script others have written for him, as he did in his well-received speech in Saudi Arabia. It’s when he ad-libs that he gets in trouble, as when he proclaimed recently that peace is “maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.” Diplomats of the past 70 years must have been losers.

Problem is, Trump has trouble sticking to the script. The White House distributed Trump’s prepared remarks for his meeting with Rivlin, making it possible to identify his ad-libs, a clutter of asides and superlatives. “Amazing.” “Very holy.” “And that’s No. 1 for me.” “There’s no question about that.”

Had the president’s predecessors employed such filler, these immortal words might be etched in marble on the Potomac:

“Four score and seven years ago -- that’s a long time ago, very long -- our fathers, who spoke about this at great length, did what perhaps has virtually never been done before: brought forth on this continent, a new nation, a very great new nation -- there’s no question about that -- conceived in liberty -- and that is so important! -- and dedicated to the amazing proposition -- and they felt very strongly about this, I can tell you -- that all men are created equal. No. 1 for me.”

The world, hopefully, will not long remember the gaffes Trump made over there. But it can enjoy a good chuckle.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

Trumponomics: The philosophy that it doesn’t suck enough to be poor

By catherine rampell
Trumponomics: The philosophy that it doesn’t suck enough to be poor

For months, pundits and political advisers have tried to figure out what “Trumponomics” really stands for. Even President Trump himself struggled to characterize it, saying, “It really has to do with self-respect as a nation.”

Now that we have the president’s budget in hand, we have a more definitive answer: Trumponomics -- like Ryanonomics -- is based on the principle that living in poverty doesn’t suck quite enough. That is, more people would be motivated to become rich if only being poor weren’t so much fun.

Presidential budgets should be read as statements of political ideology, not determinations for what will ultimately become law. (Congress, after all, does the appropriating.) In this case, the political ideology is reflected in major cuts to anti-poverty programs and the social safety net, all in the name of not “discourag[ing] able-bodied adults from working.” And so, with the “compassionate” goal of making the poor a little less comfortable and a little more motivated, this budget savages nearly every anti-poverty program you can imagine.

“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs,” said Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, describing massive safety-net program cuts that would not “help” people “get off” safety net programs so much as eject them violently and immediately, regardless of where they land.

Under the proposed budget, Medicaid loses $610 billion over the next decade, which the administration suggests is (BEG ITAL)on top (END ITAL) of the $839 billion expected to be cut from Medicaid by the American Health Care Act. That means Medicaid funding would be cut nearly in (BEG ITAL)half (END ITAL)by 2028.

The budget not only slashes funding for food stamps by $191 billion over the next decade -- that is, by more than a quarter -- but also proposes charging retailers a new fee if they want to accept food stamps from customers. Seems like a good way to discourage grocers from even participating in the program, so food stamp recipients’ lives can get a little less convenient.

Trump proposes to completely eliminate funding for lots of other programs. These include before- and after-school programs for poor students; the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps poor people pay for heat; Community Development Block Grants (which help fund Meals on Wheels, homeless services, blight removal and other initiatives); and the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income families increase the energy efficiency of their homes.

The administration would hobble if not zero out lots of other programs too, such as rental assistance programs that help 4.5 million very low-income, disabled and elderly Americans afford housing, in order to ”encourage work and self-sufficiency.”

Note that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has similarly argued that subsidized housing should not provide “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’” Apparently one way to achieve this goal is to throw people out of affordable housing altogether.

Perversely, this budget also includes lots of cuts to job-training and other programs that help people acquire human capital and improve their employment prospects -- again, in the name of encouraging people to become self-sufficient and find jobs on their own.

Funding for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act job training and employment service programs, for example, would fall 39 percent next year. The federal work-study program gets slashed in (BEG ITAL)half(END ITAL). So much for the Republican fetishization of working one’s way through college.

Or compassionate conservatism, for that matter.

Catherine Rampell’s email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

An orb, a sword and a slap

By kathleen parker
An orb, a sword and a slap

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- By now you’re exhausted by all the head-swiveling news -- the terrorist slaughter in Manchester; the president’s trip to Everywhere; and investigation upon investigation of the possible collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice, and liars by the dozen.

Which is why I’m sitting in Palm Beach practicing Lilly Pulitzer’s dictum: “Being happy never goes out of style.”

Also, President Trump is not here, which seems to please everyone since his frequent forays to his “southern White House” have meant nothing but roadblocks, impenetrable traffic and lousy retail sales.

The otherworldliness of the nation’s most glamorous beach town makes current events seem at times remote. This sense was magnified recently by visions of Trump’s sword-dancing, orb-fondling, and demonstration of ugly Americanism in its latest iteration of massive wealth, arms deals and blind-eye talking -- the president’s uncanny ability to see only what he chooses and to speak in terms compatible with that vision. Witness: His condemnation of Iran, which recently re-elected a moderate president, while schmoozing in autocratic Saudi Arabia, whence came 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 terrorists.

Other-awareness has never been Trump’s strong suit, especially as concerns his wife, Melania, who forever-famously appeared to flick away the president’s hand when he reached toward her, seemingly trying to mimic Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was holding his own wife’s hand.

Captured on film, it was the flick (or slap?) seen ‘round the world -- and in many cases, cheered. In that instant, the first lady became every American woman who donned a pink-kitten hat to protest the then-new president -- and cemented her status as star of the show: “Melania of Arabia, High Priestess of the Testosterone-Intoxicated, Tiny-Hands Revue.” Or something like that.

All politics aside -- Melania and Ivanka Trump stood as beacons of light in a part of the world that remains cloaked in the darkness of religious fundamentalism and oppression. Preternaturally beautiful, they seemed to glide as apparitions above the sea of dark suits and white robes and must have struck fear in the hearts of men whose culture demands that women be publicly invisible.

Yes, they were relegated to traditional role-playing in Saudi Arabia. Some might have wished they’d had more significant roles, though surely Melania and Ivanka were grateful to be excluded from the all-guy Toby Keith concert. Otherwise, the importance of adhering to protocol can’t be exaggerated in diplomatic relations.

Many also noted that Melania declined to cover her head, which isn’t required of visiting dignitaries. Nor is going bare-headed considered insulting despite citizen Trump’s tweet criticizing Michelle Obama when she chose to leave her head uncovered. For the record, Laura Bush didn’t cover her head either while in Saudi Arabia 10 years ago, despite breathless headlines to the contrary. Both Greta Van Susteren and I were present and can attest that Bush only briefly donned a black scarf festooned with pink ribbons as a gesture of gratitude for the gift. It came from Saudi women showing their appreciation for the first lady’s efforts to raise awareness for breast cancer prevention and treatment in the Middle East, where, at the time, 80 percent of women with breast cancer died of the disease.

It is true that Western women are encouraged to dress modestly, as Melania and Ivanka did. It helps that both are beautiful and have fathomless wardrobe budgets. Despite their apparent ornamentalism, there’s little doubt both women made a lasting impression on Saudi women, who would have recognized and identified with their feminine power. Wordlessly, they projected strength, intelligence, grace -- and a timeless wisdom that all women share.

This was also the impression of a Palm Beach image consultant I interviewed here, Susan Bigsby, who for 30 years has dressed an elite, diverse clientele -- from a transgender executive to first ladies to a Syrian Muslim seeking to Westernize her wardrobe with attention to her cultural modesty. Following the petite Bigsby up and down Worth Avenue as she shopped for a client was like tracking a hummingbird on a sugar spree.

“Perfect and stunning,” she said of Ivanka and Melania. “Muslim women, while respecting their religion, also love glamour. You can be sure they were studying -- and appreciating -- Melania and Ivanka. ... They represented the American woman with appropriateness, elegance and style.”

Thus, as your long-suffering Palm Beach correspondent, I propose a toast to America’s first ladies for showing the world that despite our coarse, ham-fisted president, we have not completely forsaken class.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

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