Friday, September 19, 2014

Home and Away

Monday, September 15, 2014
Jews are considered People of the Book. These days, it is more typically People of the Newspaper, more particularly People of the New York Times. Therefore, you might understand the mixed emotions that accompanied the (ultimately unpublished) letter to the editor that I sent off this morning.

"I consider myself a careful reader of your newspaper, so I was confused by the following opening paragraph of an otherwise heartening story:

‘BERLIN — Thousands of Germans, many wrapped in Israeli flags, gathered at Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate on Sunday for a rally against anti-Semitism, which has flared up in Europe following Israel’s invasion of Gaza.’

I’ve read about the extensive damage done by the exchange of missiles, rockets and artillery by the contesting forces. However, I simply missed the news of an invasion of Gaza by Israel. When did you publish this story, which presumably was more than a one-day affair? Or, were you referring to the infiltration of Israel by Palestinians through tunnels under the border between Gaza and Israel? If so, haven’t you confused your proper nouns? Please clarify."

I had to check my notes to find that I had been to Hong Kong Station, 45 Bayard Street, before on August 10 2010, so long ago that I forgot. I wasn’t sorry that I returned. The bright, airy space had leaf green paint and tiles accenting the white interior, containing about 25 two-tops. The menu basically offers you the opportunity to create your own dish, choosing among 10 noodles or rice, 32 toppings (tofu, beef balls, fish skin, Spam, shiitake mushrooms, and so on) in one of 6 sauces or soups. The exhaustive possibilities exhausted me, and I chose one of a handful of organized efforts, spicy chicken fried rice ($7.25). It was very good, carefully cooked for me in the open food preparation area at the back of the restaurant. The spicy rice contained egg, small chicken chunks, pieces of chopped choi sum (poetically translated as Chinese flowering cabbage), and boiled peanuts. It was the sort of dish that would go well with a variety of 6 or 8 others on a table surrounded by hungry friends.

Joseph Berger, distinguished reporter for the New York Times and a fellow Feingoldian, is about to publish a book about the Hasidim, the very orthodox Jews who are both a mystery and an embarrassment to many (most?) other American Jews. After reading a short essay on the subject in yesterday’s paper, my anticipation of his book is heightened.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/sunday-review/are-liberal-jewish-voters-a-thing-of-the-past.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=MostEmailed&version=Full&region=Marginalia&src=me&pgtype=article#

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
I went to my last Mets game of the season yesterday, and, too predictably, it ended the same as the first game that I attended this season, a one-run loss after they lead most of the game. I will soon face the test of my loyalty to lost causes when asked to renew my subscription to 20 or so ball games. This is the sixth losing season in a row for the Mets, all of which I’ve attended. However, Gil Glotzer, attorney to the stars, my faithful companion throughout this fruitless period, is relocating (not because of the Mets, it should be noted), leaving me to face the next drought alone. I must think long and hard about this.

Today, doctor-lawyer-rabbi Traube examined my kishkes from the inside while I was dispatched to Dreamland. He reported that all was essentially well with my GI system, even after eating haggis in Edinburgh, a fact that I kept from him.

I haven’t been in Illinois since July 2013, but the Greek Bookstore appears to be only a web site based in Chicago, not a physical presence. In any case, I received an alert this evening that someone, using my credit card, was trying to spend $125.55 there. No, I said, resulting in the cancellation of the card all together in light of its compromised position. Unfortunately, I have no information about the nature of the suspect purchase – poetry, pornography, Plato – and can only wonder how I was selected for this dubious transaction.

Thursday, September 18, 2014
For those, such as Stony Brook Steve, who worry, as taxpayers, that I may not be devoting my time and energy to public employment, allow me to note that this commentary (about Scotland’s independence vote) is being written before 9 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.

Today, Scotland votes on its independence, whether to leave the United Kingdom. Our trip to Scotland and England ended just one week ago and, while politics played no role in our scheduling, it was exciting to be in the midst of this historic event. It was especially interesting as the London political establishment woke up to the ineffectiveness of its campaign for continued unity, the No vote. While the political party dynamics involved are complex and ambiguous, the leadership of the two major parties realized that they had a lot to lose and were, according to the latest polls, losing. Their sudden devotion to their even funnier-talking brethren to the north was amusing at times, since an element in Scotland’s move towards independence is the benign neglect shown by Westminster (the shorthand for the British government) towards Scotland. It was even suggested that the announcement of the pregnancy of Kate Middleton, future Queen of England, was timed to evoke feelings of avuncular (what’s the word for auntiness?) pride throughout the land(s).

An interesting procedural note about this election: Voting is limited to physical residents of Scotland. A kilt-wearing, haggis-eating, bagpiper who moved to London from Glasgow weeks ago cannot vote, while any citizen of the European Union living in Scotland may vote. That includes Poles, Italians and Germans, for instance, since they might be expected to benefit or lose by the results of the election. Personally, as a graduate of CCNY, I would vote for independence, because Scotland, like New York City until the late 1960s, offers free college tuition, while England does not. The legacy of Scotland’s free tuition may not rival CCNY’s, but it is a building block for a better, more equal society.

Finally (at 8:57 AM), I predict a narrow victory for independence. See you tomorrow.

Friday, September 19, 2014
I was wrong about Scotland, but not too disappointed in the result. I believe in pluralism as an organizing principle of civil society. Living alongside someone different in relative peace and harmony is a substantial challenge and tests our values as a person and a people. That’s what marriage is about, after all.

There were already sounds of discontent with the prospect of an independent Scotland. Orkney and Shetland Islands, which voted overwhelmingly for remaining in the United Kingdom, threatened to leave an independent Scotland for many of the same reasons that 45% of the voters wanted Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. No doubt, some village or two on those islands might have been disgruntled, in turn, by incorporation into an autonomous region.

There is an evident gravitational pull among like-minded, ethnically-similar people. It’s just easier to understand and tolerate those whom you recognize as versions of yourself, at least on the outside. Fun, risk, frustration comes with moving beyond the similar and familiar. Breaking up homogeneous populations in Africa and the Middle East by the arbitrary imposition of borders resulted in turmoil that remains today. Minorities usually suffer at the hands of empowered majorities everywhere you look. However, Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority dominates the Syrian Sunni majority even as the Koch brothers attempt to rule their fellow citizens.

With increased mobility and the ultimate futility of trying to keep people within borders or settings that they find unbearable, the need for pluralism arises, even if undesired or unanticipated. Without going all Emma Lazarus, I thing that the United States has done a better job than most other nations in coping with disparate populations, even though the ebbing of white, Christian power has been so disturbing to many Americans who mistake the accident of birth for virtue.

From the New York Times today: "Jackie Cain, who teamed with her husband, Roy Kral, to form probably the most famous vocal duo in jazz history, melding popular tunes and sophisticated harmonies for more than half a century, died on Monday at her home in Montclair, N.J. She was 86." They were wonderful performers, who recorded together for over 50 years. If you don't know their work, beg, borrow, buy, stream or download "Storyville Presents Jackie And Roy" (1955) (also released as "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most"), and anything else they did later. I'm partial to their "Sondheim" album (1982). Be warned, though -- you'll fall in love or more deeply in love with whomever is in the room listening with you.

Friday, September 12, 2014

UK and Us

Scottish Consensus
 [Click to enlarge]
 
Monday, September 8, 2014
This trip is strongly colored by memories. The main event for us was the 50th wedding anniversary of David and Kathleen (McConnell) Mervin, which was celebrated with a big party in their home community of Arnside, Cumbria, on the northwest coast of England. Along with Kathleen's three lovely sisters, I was the only other guest to have attended the wedding, held in Durham, New Hampshire, at the home of the president of the University of New Hampshire, who conveniently happened to be Kathleen's father.

Of the 70 or so guests this weekend in Arnside, I counted 4 adult Jews, several hundred percent more than can usually be found in Arnside or anywhere closer than 100 miles.

We arrived in London yesterday afternoon, and checked into Fleming's Mayfair, 7 Half Moon Street, reputedly the oldest hotel in London. Even if it proves to be a Johnny-come-lately, just being situated on Half Moon Street qualifies it as a place to stay. However, memories powered my selection of this hotel. In March 2002, America's Favorite Epidemiologist, with me in tow, brought her son and daughter to London to celebrate their upcoming graduation from law school and medical school, respectively. The busyness that would immediately follow the end of their formal studies required us to take this trip a few months early. And, sure enough, we stayed in Fleming's Mayfair, one entire renovation before its current manifestation, but thoroughly pleasant at the time. We saw plays; had nice meals; met dear New Jersey friends, also on vacation, for tea at the Connaught, where Bibi Netanyahu was hustling a blonde in the lounge, not yet burdened with the mantle of leadership.

I don't know how Bibi made out, but I recall the trip as one of the best that I've ever taken, the hotel, the diversions, and, mostly, the company.

We spent a few hours in the Victoria & Albert Museum today. It has remarkable collections of stuff. I spent much of the time in the large area devoted to Islamic art. I realized that I enjoyed it far more than the typical array of pre-Impressionist European art, because it ain't churchy, no saints, no martyrs, no angels, no saviours. Just beautiful shapes and colors adorning walls and clothing and ceramics and rugs. I imagine that Islam, like classic Judaism, eschews the graven image, and thank God for that. However, after looking around for quite some time, I had to ask (myself), is there current Islamic art of this caliber? Or, an even more difficult question, where is the spirit that produced such beauty? Islam once swept over much of the known world with the power of its message. What does it bring today?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
We went to see the Book of Mormon last night, and cannot help but agree that it is a great show. It was even greater by virtue of only costing £52.25 a ticket for orchestra seats, about 1/3 of New York prices. (Note that the issue of the 2 extra tickets that, at first, we were not allowed to buy, and then could not get rid of, was resolved in our favor. Thanks for asking.) Of course, waiting on line at the box office to pick up our tickets, we were hardly surprised to be standing next to Nicolai V. and his wife, the only two people from Bulgaria that we know. Why not?

For all the noise that I made last week about Zephyr Teachout as my preferred candidate for governor of New York State, I find myself comfortably installed in downtown England on the day of the Democratic primary election. I hope that the margin of victory/loss is more than one vote. Mostly, I hope that Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent, realizes that many voters took his promise to deal with corruption in Albany somewhat seriously, more seriously than he has.

I am facing another dilemma, that might last longer than today's electoral oversight. I've taught Boaz, born on the day that the New York Giants won Super Bowl Zwei und Fertzig, that there are two professional football teams to root for -- the New York Giants and whoever is playing the Dallas Cowboys. Well, the Dallas Cowboys have picked up Michael Sams -- the Michael Sams -- after he was cut by the St. Louis Rams. I hope that he succeeds as a professional football player, as long as it is in a losing cause.

We had lunch today with David and Katherine Brodie, who hosted a delightful dinner for us Sunday night, to which David allegedly contributed more than commentary. They also went to the theater with us last night, qualifying as stalwart friends and companions. We ate at the Capital, 22-24 Basil Street, an exquisite small hotel very near Harrod's, where my young bride and I have eaten a couple of times in the past, always feeling and being treated as lottery winners. If I were to win, I might actually be able to stay there overnight, not just showing up for lunch. Just showing up for lunch, however, resulted in one of the finest afternoons that we have spent in ages. The Capital has a three-course lunch for £27 and worth every nickel. I had quail as an appetizer and then duck, sticking to the fowl side of the menu. Dessert was a poached pear with small scoops of stem ginger (not stem cell, as I suggested) ice cream and dark chocolate mousse. A few glasses of rosé helped wash everything down and kept the conversation going for 2 1/2 hours.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
By 8:30 last night, the physical effects of our wonderful lunch had subsided, so we ventured forth into Chinatown, an area in London that has remained pretty compact over the years compared to the vast expansion of New York's Chinatown, not to say anything about the emergence of other Chinatowns in Brooklyn and Queens. We went to Canton Restaurant, 11 Newport Place, the first London Chinese restaurant that I ever went to, 29 years ago. We didn't order much, sharing Thai style fish (£8.80) and egg fried rice (£2.80). The small portion of fish consisted of deep-fried fingerlings, tasteless themselves, but served in a delicious sweet and spicy sauce. The fried rice was not cooked with soy sauce, leaving it white. Yet, together, the two dishes made for a satisfying snack. Canton was the place where I first ate Singapore chow fun (called ho fun here), a turning point in my life.

While many British people speak funny, they are often eloquent, even poetic in their utterances. However, I've noticed even before this trip, by watching British crime shows on PBS, cable and Netflix, that the British are as promiscuous in their use of the word Brilliant as we are with Awesome. It often sounds so inappropriate, having nothing to do with a person, place or thing's index of refraction. Also, British folks of almost any age seem unashamed to use Brilliant, while I think that Americans begin to limit their use of Awesome as they approach full height and weight.

The upcoming vote on Scotland's future has been the first or second most prominent news story ever since we arrived. In fact, with the young cancer victim reunited with his family after his parents were temporarily jailed for removing him from a hospital without permission, the front pages now are devoted to the fate of the United Kingdom. An interesting byproduct of this situation, regardless of its outcome, is the strengthened interest in autonomy for other groups -- the Basques and Catalonians in Spain, the Walloons in Belgium, the Kurds embedded in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, for example. May I propose something closer to home, a reconsideration of the Civil War, allowing the Confederate States to go their own way. I, for one, will not miss the whole Bible thumpin', gun totin', stock car racin', science denyin', gerund mispronouncin' lot. Of course, I would grant Cindy and David McMullen compassionate asylum before I line our side of the Mason-Dixon Line with specially-trained Mexican, Honduran and Guatemalan border guards.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
It was admittedly a strange day to be flying into New York, but it met our needs otherwise. The flight was thoroughly uneventful, noticeably less crowded than the flight to Edinburgh. We got to Heathrow by simply riding the Piccadilly Line, with a station three blocks from the hotel, probably the easiest (cheapest) trip to an airport that I can recall.

Friday, September 12, 2014
Back home and safely in the hands of those nearest and dearest to me, the waiters at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Over There

 
 
Monday, September 1, 2014
America's Favorite Epidemiologist is #1 in my book in almost all imaginable categories.  However, I believe that she must defer to Zephyr Teachout in the area of unusual names.  At first, I thought that this was a child of the late Frank Zappa.  Then, I learned that Ms. Teachout is a Fordham University law professor, which places her place of employment just a few hundred yards from the Palazzo di Gotthelf.  However, it is her proximity to the governor's mansion in Albany, New York that interests me.  She is running against incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination. 

While Cuomo has had a successful record overall, in my eyes, as governor, I plan to vote for Teachout.  I don't think that I'll be the only progressive (pinko, limousine liberal, America-hating, warrior against Christmas) Democrat taking that path.  I recognize that Cuomo, as any politician faced with the realities of governing and reelection, has had to take stands that I disfavor.  However, his conduct surrounding his signature issue -- corruption in Albany -- has been appalling.  After appointing a commission to deal with the issue, possibly no greater here than anywhere else, but here nevertheless, he retreated quickly and publicly when the group opened an inquiry that might have led to activities near to the governor, although not the governor himself. 

Last year, Cuomo said, "Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.”  When disbanding the commission preemptively a few months ago, in rhetoric that evoked Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, he said, “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive.”  So, the winds of reform that we anticipated with Cuomo must now come, if at all, from a Zephyr.
 
We are putting aside domestic election concerns for the time being as we set off tonight for Scotland, where a vote on independence is scheduled for September 18th.  One commentator wrote that "a significant number of Scottish people have a dream where statehood, social justice and cultural self-confidence fit together into a clear and popular project." This seems to combine disparate elements that are also found in our national politics: opposition to a remote big government that is unwilling or unable to effect economic reform.  I venture that, in the US today, the left touts social justice and the right touts culture.  Do we need Woody Guthrie to have an effective blend of the two?
 
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
We arrived in Edinburgh this morning and our hotel took pains to get us into a freshly-cleaned room without too much delay.  The flight was uneventful, but I didn't find the skies of United that friendly, rather more dispassionate and business-like.  In contrast to the two other trans-Atlantic flights that we took recently (and the easiest to recall), to Sicily and Portugal, United was notably ungenerous in small but telling regards.  Alcoholic beverages had to be purchased; no free wine or beer.  And, the beverage service came with nothing, not a peanut, not a pretzel, not a Pepperidge Farm goldfish.  This might seem like the least consequential matters to complain about, but we paid over a thousand bucks a ticket.  For that much money, throw in a small bottle of Chateau Schwartz, or a fraction of an ounce of potato chips. 

We are staying on Bread Street, a central location in Edinburgh, but it is sort of a misnomer.  Although only two blocks long, it might be more appropriately named Rice Street, because the otherwise respectable neighborhood is rife with Chinese, Indian, Mexican and miscellaneous ethnic restaurants, and several "gentlemen's clubs," for which I don't qualify.  However, our first lunch this afternoon was at the White Hart Inn, 34 The Greenmarket, reputedly Edinburgh's oldest bar.  It had haggis on the menu, but I settled for steak and ale pie, a very modest, but satisfying, dip into local cuisine.  I intend to try haggis for sure, once my head, stomach and mind all agree to meet in the same time zone.

NYTimes.com is coming in loud and clear over here. That's how I learned today that Eric Cantor, former leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, rejected by voters in his party's primary, has taken a job at a Wall Street investment bank as vice chairman and managing director.  According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he will receive a base salary of $400,000 and an initial cash payment of $400,000.  The firm is also granting Mr. Cantor $1 million in shares that vest over a five-year period.  The Wall Street Journal commented that Cantor will be "learning the investment banking business."  It's such good news that American workers are being afforded job training opportunities, when unemployment affects so many households.  This puts an end to the rumors that he would enter show business reviving the song and dance routines of his grandfather Eddie Cantor, although that was a prospect that I personally looked forward to.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
I read on NYTimes.com that "[t]he trend away from classes based on reading and listening passively to lectures, and toward a more active role for students, has its most profound effects on black students and those whose parents did not go to college, a new study of college students shows."  This was the genius of CCNY, at least in the rosy past.  All of our classes were taught by the Professor, in front of a group of 20-30 grubby kids from the four boroughs.  (I never met a kid from Staten Island at CCNY in my four years.)  Not all teachers took a participative approach to the subject, but the most memorable did.  That accounts for the loyalty that a group of us display towards Stanley Feingold, of the Government Department, more than 50 years after our graduation.  He worked the class; he did not address the class.  Some students cowered and tried to avoid his attention, but many of us couldn't wait, in the words of Rumpole, to get up on our hind legs and offer our thoughts -- baked, half-baked and sometimes still in raw ingredients.  Of course, in those days CCNY was not considered a research institution and the model of the Great Mind surrounded by eager graduate students, occasionally entering the lecture hall, did not apply.  And we were so lucky for that.

We took a tour of the Scottish parliament at midday.  The building is new, befitting the emergence of the parliament about 15 years ago.  The architecture tries a little too hard to evoke images of land and sea, and transparency in the conduct of affairs.  However, the actual legislative chamber was quite interesting and a model of efficiency.  It resembles a very up-to-date law school lecture hall, roomy, airy, equipped with sophisticated electronics.  The obvious contrast is with the British House of Commons, crowded, noisy, only seeming to lack tankards of ale and spitoons.  Of course, the US Congress also meets in relative comfort, supported by modern technology, but that hasn't prevented legislative constipation.
 
Tonight, we ate at Kama Sutra, 105-109 Lothian Road, two doors off of Bread Street, an Indian restaurant that deserves a better name.  There are many dozens of Indian restaurants in Edinburgh, but in our wanderings for the last few days, the local population seems to fit the stereotype of the rosy-cheeked, ginger-haired Scot, so Indian food must have passed into general circulation.  We shared an onion bhaji appetizer (£4.25) and I made a meal of three other appetizers, lamb chop adriki, 3 medium chops marinated in spices and yoghurt (£5.95); lahsuni tangri, 2 chicken drumsticks also marinated in spices and yoghurt (£4.25); and 4 grilled scallops (£4.75).  All of them were good, and more or less worth the price converted to good old American dollars, at $1.65 a pound.  I had a lot to eat, for sure, which deterred me from going 5 blocks in the wrong direction to an artisanal gelateria, after dinner, that we passed earlier, that had fig ice cream, among other interesting flavors. 
 
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Haggis was right under my nose, it turns out, a staple of the hotel's breakfast buffet.  I may have been too busy with the fresh croissants to notice until this morning.  I put a scoop alongside my scrambled eggs and found that it resembled a minced hash, just a tad wetter.  Haggis will not play a role on my vote on Scottish independence.  There are, apparently, bigger fish to fry, which reminds me that we haven't had fish and chips yet, although, unlike haggis, it will be available as we head south into England.

Our 24-hour hop-on, hop-off bus tour lasted until late morning and we headed out for one last loop of local attractions.  Working backwards, after a fashion, we wound up at Edinburgh Castle, the very foundation of the city and its most popular tourist attraction, as the 20-minute wait to buy a ticket attested.  At one of the highest points of the city, on a long-dormant volcano, it has a history of royal and military occupation, most of which is completely lost on an American.

Dinner tonight was at the Galvin Brasserie, in the Caledonia Hotel, once a grand railway station, now repurposed as an even grander hotel, with several dining rooms.  We had a lovely meal, but skipped dessert in order to walk over to Affogato, 36 Queensferry Street, for that fig gelato.  Of course, there was none left from yesterday, so I had to make do with Valhrona chocolate and hazelnut, while my young bride had coconut and salted caramel.  Two scoops were £2.80, a bargain by local standards.  Looking into any retail store around here makes New York look like John's Bargain Store.  I told Johannes, a young German working in a bookstore up the street for the summer, who has never been to the US in spite of near-perfect English, to take an empty suitcase to New York and fill it with Levi's at £20 a pair and sell them at £50 to his eager friends.  The result will be one all-expense paid vacation.
 
Friday, September 5, 2014
We leave Edinburgh today on a three-hour train ride to the village of Arnside, Cumbria, on the northwest coast of England.  This spot is the focus of our trip, to mark the 50th wedding anniversary of Kathleen McConnell and David Mervin, joined as graduate students at Cornell University, in my presence. 
 
One last observation on Edinburgh.  This week, the first week in September, several restaurants are promoting their Christmas parties and dinners.  Fortunately, there are no trees, wreaths or ornaments on display, yet, but this reminded me of the idea that one ages differently during space travel, an application of Einstein's theory of relativity.  It seems that in Edinburgh, three months pass at a much faster rate than in the rest of the world (except where we are waging a war on Christmas, as Fox News has detected).
 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hard To Digest

Monday, August 25, 2014
One of the most disturbing aspects of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the animus that many responsible (Jewish) people are showing towards the New York Times. I have not been aroused by a perceived imbalance of coverage, and have generally defended the integrity, if not the impartiality, of the words and images published daily. Today, though, I tilted. Here is a copy of the letter that I sent to the editor this morning (that went unpublished):

"A Palestinian youth’s ordeal, last month, that ‘could not be independently corroborated,’ is given prominent display in today’s paper. If true, it was a bad thing. However, by any measure, it falls far below the level of outrageous behavior by military and police forces displayed at almost every spot on the globe. So, what’s the point? Were you swimming in open column inches that needed filling? Why not a follow up on the murder of 18 alleged Palestinian informants? That’s 18 dead people, not just one abused teenager. How disappointing."

Yesterday’s newspaper had an article with the unpromising title "Rethinking Eating." It describes how "a handful of high tech start-ups are out to revolutionize the food system by engineering ‘meat’ and ‘egg’s from pulverized plant compounds or cultured snippets of animal tissue." Chew on that.

While I can still eat real food, I went to Grand Harmony Restaurant, 98 Mott Street, for dim sum (April 21, 2010, November 25, 2013, March 19, 2014). As usual, the place was very busy, mostly with Chinese patrons. I chose, from the many offerings being wheeled around, shu mei (twice), shrimp dumplings, fried spring rolls and pork buns. Each plate was apparently $2.25, so I made it into the two digit territory.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Gary Berger was born in Shanghai, China, two years after his sister, my ex-wife. He left the country as a small child, when Mao expelled almost all foreigners in order to sanitize his new revolutionary regime, even though the Bergers, along with thousands of other Jewish refugees, were victims of fascism. Since Gary left China when he was barely eating solid food, his later devotion to Chinese cuisine evidently was not rooted in his birthplace. After all, while he may have been my match in consuming Chinese food, I was born 7,399 (air)miles away.

I just learned that he died of a sudden heart attack 10 days ago, one day after returning from a European vacation. We stayed in touch after my divorce, and, on an occasional business trip to New York (from California), he would have dinner with me. I recall that, at least once, he stayed in my fun-filled, Turtle Bay bachelor pad. We last spoke after the death of his sister, almost exactly one year ago. However, on July 28th, I wrote him a note about Ten Green Bottles, the memoir that broadly paralleled the Berger family’s Shanghai experience and on August 23rd, unaware of his fate, I asked "What’s up?" without a reply.

With my parents gone, 4 of my 7 first cousins dead, and the passing of so many good friends and interesting acquaintances, I’ve reflected briefly on loss. I say briefly, because giving proper regard to the many that I now miss would leave me little time for anything else, or room for any emotion except sadness. Instead, I delight in Boaz, Noam and Eliane, our buoyant grandchildren, and the on-going friendships that began in boyhood, high school, college and graduate school; then, I consider a few special people whom I first knew as work colleagues, the diverse array of West End Synagogue folks, a wonderful next door neighbor, and a few other random souls that I’ve met along the way. I can’t expect a one-for-one replacement of the lost, but, I hope, I can appreciate and enjoy those who are with me now, and maybe a few more aiming in my direction.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
As almost a perfect example of my point of view expressed above, I was fortunate last night to have the company of William Franklin Harrison, my candidate for president in 2036, when he reaches the age of eligibility, his delightful father Peter and beautiful sister Francesca, at CitiField, as the Mets beat the Braves 3-2, in a surprisingly well-played game. The Mets provided the tickets in recognition of my foolish devotion to them over the years. The evening was balmy, the seats were very good, and there was no sign of sibling rivalry. In sum, a good time was had by all.

With the temperature at 89 degrees today, much hotter than we have been experiencing lately, I thought that cold sesame noodles was the right dish for lunch. So, I was surprised that Noodle Village, 13 Mott Street (February 6, 2010, August 9, 2012, October 31, 2013), did not have as many noodles as I might have imagined. Instead, I ordered Shrimp Wonton, Shrimp Dumplings, Cilantro w/Black Egg Dumplings Lo Mein ($7.95). That sounds like a full plate. While not overflowing, it held very narrow, flat noodles (more fettuccine than lo mein), a few pieces of Chinese broccoli, and six lumps that I could only divide into two groups -- shrimp won tons and shrimp dumplings -- without a visible trace of black egg dumplings. Additionally, I was served a small bowl of a bland, clear broth. The food was satisfactory, but not satisfying.

Thursday, August 28, 2014
The Boyz Club met for lunch today at Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, probably the best place in Chinatown for such a gathering. The space is so big that there will always be room for you, and the vast number of dim sum carts circulating will offer something for everyone (with a few notable rabbinical exceptions). We had 13 discrete items. Since the items were 3 or 4 to a plate, we actually had 22 plates so that each of the six of us had almost everything. Bottom line was $14 a pop (or grandpop in some cases).

Friday, August 29, 2014
Besides being a Mets fan, I belong to another beleaguered minority, liberal Zionism. This is a bit of a vaguely defined position, centered on the belief in a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Until the regime of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli leaders left and right (hard right in the cases of Begin and Sharon) moved in that direction, often fitfully, reluctantly, awkwardly, but recognizing that We want to be with Us and They want to be with Them. While just shy of explicitly denying the possibility, Netanyahu has consistently taken steps to frustrate any efforts, especially those taken by our current president, to move towards a two-state solution. By the way, the movement of Jewish settlers into territory likely to be incorporated into a Palestinian state, possibly the most difficult issue to be resolved, began and continued under the most liberal of Israeli regimes. It would be unfair, therefore, to lay the entire problem at Netanyahu’s feet.

The dilemma for liberal Zionists now is the nature of the enemy. Hamas is a movement that destroys life and freedom wherever and however it chooses. (I marvel at how European intellectuals, especially, ignore the brutality and primitivism of Hamas in their haste to condemn Israel). Its hard to conduct a civilized examination of geopolitical options while faced with the existential threat from such an inhumane source. Under those circumstances, revenge and punishing instincts emerge too easily, and nuance is eliminated. What Israel needs is to be at war with Minnesota. War is always hell, but, somehow, I imagine that a nicer enemy would allow room for the exercise of Jewish ethical values even during hostilities.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wet and Wild

Monday, August 18, 2014
Once back on dry land, our weekend in Massachusetts proceeded swimmingly. However, upon our return to Palazzo di Gotthelf, we found water underfoot again, this time all over our kitchen floor and adjacent areas. Our brand-new refrigerator, which took two full days to go from the back of the delivery truck of the building into our kitchen, unable to fit at first through the building’s front door, into the elevator and then through our front door, shpritzed water everywhere but into the ice water-ice cube device in the refrigerator door. Had we denied ourselves the pleasure of visiting the two wonderful adults and three gorgeous children in Massachusetts this weekend, we would have discovered this defect earlier. I only hope that our neighbors directly below us also had an equally delightful experience before they returned to their reconfigured ceiling.

I had lunch with three courthouse colleagues at Aux Epices, 121 Baxter Street (April 16, 2013), which calls itself a Malaysian, French bistro. It is quite pleasant, small, open to the street in this nice weather, with exposed brick walls. I had two items from the Small Plate section of the menu, actually hoping that together they would equal or exceed one large plate. I had a curry puff ($3.50), a chicken enchilada by any other name, and a crispy quail ($6.95), tiny but tasty. I did not sample the other folks’ food, rendang (shredded) chicken and sweet and sour noodles with grilled salmon, not out of self-restraint necessarily, but because of the pace at which they made all gone.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Your answer to the question of the day probably resembles mine. Aside from rarely being entertained by Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Usher, what else do they have in common? They all have perfumes named after them that I have never worn, purchased or encouraged America’s Favorite (and possibly Most Fragrant) Epidemiologist to wear. Elizabeth Arden has invested heavily in their products and has just experienced the worst quarterly decline in earnings in a decade as a result. I don’t think that they can count on me to turn things around in the near future.

Stony Brook Steve ventured forth to keep me company and together we went to a brand new restaurant, Sichuan Hot Pot Cuisine, 34 Pell Street, replacing ABC Chinese Restaurant.

Fortunately, hot pot was not the only alternative on its extensive menu. Hot pot, as I've noted before, is a Chinese variant on fondue, whereby you are sure to burn your mouth, lips and tongue as well as spattering the front of your shirt/blouse with the bubbling liquid.

The new premises are nicely furnished with about 20 light pine tables, sitting on hexagonal beige ceramic tiles. The pale tan walls have a dozen large, brightly-colored photographs of favored dishes, normally a tacky display, but well executed here. The wait staff all seemed to be followers of Seurat, the Pointillist, in that you needed to point to what you wanted on the glossy new menu.

We had fried dumplings (6 for $4.99), sliced beef rice noodle ($4.99), where the soup was silent, and lamb with cumin ($7.99 small, $13.99 large portion). The dumplings and lamb were especially good; we had the small portion of lamb which proved large enough with the other food. We were surprised by the soup, but treated it as a wet noodle dish.

Thursday, August 21, 2014
I left work at midday to meet with a water damage fixer-upper to assess the damage to our floors and plan for their restoration. However, once I told him that, according to Gary M., a neighbor, devoted Rangers fan and licensed contractor, the wooden floor may be held down by an asbestos-based adhesive, confirmed by the management office, he stopped in his tracks. His company does not work in an asbestos-tainted environment. We await the return of Boris, our building's highly-experienced manager, from vacation on Monday, to determine our next steps. Meanwhile, we have heard nothing from our downstairs neighbors, who may now be harboring a stalactite collection, a week or so after the flooding began.

Friday, August 22, 2014
Pick the real quote from a responsible local party:

(A) "If you speak to any regular citizen in Israel, nobody is looking with mercy on these people. Why? Because people are being bombarded."

(B) "If you speak to any regular citizen in Gaza, nobody is looking with mercy on these people. Why? Because people are being bombarded."

While Legos were introduced in Denmark in 1949, the modern version was patented in 1958. Accordingly, I never encountered them in any of my earlier childhoods. However, I have marveled at some of the creations using these colorful plastic bricks, recreating famous buildings and structures, or original whimsical designs. In Chicago last year, I was dazzled by a wall containing bins of pieces of every imaginable color on sale for the more creative types. That’s why I found at least one encouraging news item this morning, the announcement that a special series of kits, aimed at girls, called the Research Institute, was a big hit, selling out at major retailers around the country. Lego responded to criticism that its typical play characters were construction workers, policemen and firemen, while females appeared in fashion and beauty contexts. The Research Institute is populated by a paleontologist, an astronomer and a chemist. While this effort is commendable, I must note the critical absence of an epidemiologist.

I rarely agree with Texas Governor Rick Perry, but I am heartened by his alertness to danger, as reported today. He warned Thursday that vegetarians from Scandinavia may have already slipped across the Mexican border.  Mr. Perry said there is "no clear evidence" that vegetarians have entered the United States illegally across the southern border. But he argued that illegal immigration should be considered a national security issue as well as a social and economic problem, and as evidence he cited the decrease in beef consumption, a critical element in Texas’s economy.

Having had a good experience at Sichuan Hot Pot a couple of days ago, when they buried the hot pot, I thought to give one last chance to Division 31, 31 Division Street, where, on multiple visits, they insisted on hot pot or not pot. Today, the joint was closed and out of business, with no sign of who or what will succeed it. More distressing was the locked tight appearance of Gold River Malaysian Cuisine, 21 Division Street, which I hoped would be a good alternative for interesting Malaysian food. So, I settled for Lunch Box Buffet, 15 Division Street (September 14, 2010), which offers a cafeteria line of about 30 items, $4.75 for four with white rice. I had sesame chicken, curry chicken, spicy chicken and lo mein. The chickens were distinguishable primarily by color. I suggest that, if you visit Lunch Box, you keep your eyes on your plate also because the condition of the walls, floor and ceiling may serve as an appetite suppressant.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ahoy, Matey

Monday, August 11, 2014
The day started well enough with a visit to Dr. Traube, rabbi, attorney and fabled gastroenterologist, who has traveled up and down my digestive system.  After showing me some lovely photographs of irritated sections of my gullet, taken in 2012, he suggested that he plumb the depths again in a few weeks.  He has no particular concern about the state of my kishkes, but, as an Orthodox Jew who strictly observes the Kosher laws, he is apparently more fascinated by the weird things that I eat on a regular basis.  Unlike a colonoscopy, which Dr. Traube performed on me late last year, an upper endoscopy only requires fasting in the waking hours before the procedure without the need to ingest the devil’s brew that aids visibility in the nether regions.  No problem.

The first disappointment today came when Gil Glotzer, attorney to the stars, called to cancel our lunch date.  That left me to eat vaguely Middle Eastern food from a sidewalk cart on a Styrofoam tray at an outdoor plaza just south of the Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse on Centre Street.  It was pleasant enough, but not what I had looked forward to.

Then, my manager told me that I was more judicial in my writing, than judicious.  That is, reaching conclusions, sometimes stretching a bit, rather than considering all the angles and exhaustively weighing the alternatives.  I don't really disagree with that assessment, but, overall, I'm not sure that I consider it a personal flaw, even if it occasionally takes me outside the boundaries of my job description.  Ultimately, my judgment isn’t being criticized as much as the route that I seem to take arriving at it.
Late afternoon brought the news of Robin Williams’s death, a suicide at age 63.  I loved his comedic presence in Mork and Mindy, his breakthrough television series; Good Morning, Vietnam, with his manic behavior in the midst of the absurdity of Vietnam; and Birdcage, brilliantly improvising at times.  On the other hand, I avoided all those movies where he portrayed a purportedly wise or serious character.  Their sentimental aura kept me far from the box office, and unwatched, even today, when shown on home television.  But, that's me.      

Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Some sense of proportion was restored today when I finished reading Ten Glass Bottles at lunch today at Wo Hop, the story of a prosperous Viennese Jewish family that escaped the Nazis in 1939 by going to Shanghai, the only place in the world that would accept stateless Jewish adults.  As I’ve said before, their story roughly parallels the Bergers’, my former in-laws.  

An especially interesting passage caught my eye near the end of the book, when the war has ended, all strictures removed from the ghettoized Jews of Shanghai, and American soldiers, food and money are circulating through the community.  The author, writing in the voice of her mother, says: “We have vowed to ourselves not to tell the children we may nurture one day, not anyone in the outside world, what we have suffered.  No one needs to know.  How else can we go on?  If we have to relive it, we will all go mad.”  This was the attitude of the Bergers, who never reminisced (in the 8 years that I was around) in front of their daughter and son about their life in Shanghai, or the comfortable existence in Vienna preceding it.  Reading this book, with its vivid descriptions of the degradation, disease and cruelty these refugees endured, even while facing typhoons and American bombing in vermin-infested, ramshackle living space, I could appreciate the instinct to leave it all behind.  Yet, Gerda Karpel Kosiner, unlike the Bergers, eventually told her story to her daughter, who recreated it in this book.    

WATER MILL, N.Y. (AP) — A street sign memorializing a nun killed in a New York hit-and-run has been removed after local residents called it depressing.  Newsday (http://nwsdy.li/1uCPFbm ) said Monday that the sign designating “Sister Jackie’s Way” in the Hamptons was removed last week.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Last night, the Poloner kids got together for dinner for Uncle Myron’s birthday.  When we gather thus, we favor the guidance of Leviticus and Deuteronomy over Michelin and Zagat’s.  The underlying principle is found at Exodus 23:19, in the spine-chilling prohibition that “You shall not cook a kid (young goat) in its mother’s milk.”  Therefore, we dined at etc. steakhouse, 1409 Palisade Avenue, Teaneck, NJ, a strictly Kosher restaurant.  Kosher dining is consistently more expensive than its “American” counterpart, but our party of six had some advantages that kept us from gasping at the bottom line.  First and foremost was the underlying real estate.  We were in New Jersey, not midtown Manhattan where outstanding steakhouses are concentrated.  So, while steaks at the Palm, my favorite, run $46 to $59.50 at dinner, etc. was in the 40s for slightly smaller portions.  Second was its BYOB policy.  We brought and finished 3 bottles of wine, strictly Kosher of course, that totaled $60-75 retail.  If etc. sold the wine, we would have spent $200 at least.  As a result, a good time was had by all, gastronomically, socially and economically.

I certainly have blind spots, but one that I have knowingly cultivated over the years is medical economics – healthcare and its costs.  Fortunately, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist is not only able to tell me who is likely to catch what, but who will pay for it.  However, my willful ignorance is periodically tested by baffling information.  Yesterday, I received a refill of my blood pressure pills, which, I am happy to note, have contributed to a reading on Monday at Dr. Truabe’s office of 72 over 110.  The cost for 90 pills was $654.63 entirely paid for by my health insurance plan, not even a co-pay.  This is so good, that I guess I understand why Republicans want to keep it away from poor people.  

Carol’s Bun, 139 East Broadway, sits next to a yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish school, that dates from the early 1900s.  It is the remnant of a neighborhood that used to teem with Jewish schools, publications, social groups and political associations, reflective of the local population.  

Carol’s has a regular menu with sections devoted to reputedly Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong cuisine, along with a small sectioned labeled “spaghetti,” not noodles.  To save time, however, I accepted the suggestion of one of the two ladies in the front of the small store standing over a collection of a dozen or more prepared items.  I choose fried rice, sweet and sour pork, asparagus with beef, and roast chicken, served on pristine Styrofoam for $4.75.  Even though the space was small and close, I was comfortable seated at one of the three tables placed among tall refrigerated cabinets and the serving area, with enough room to do the crossword puzzle.
 
Friday, August 15,2014
We are in Massachusetts today, celebrating Noam's fourth birthday.  A party was held for friends and neighbors earlier in the week,but a special treat was reserved for the visiting grandparents -- whale watching.  This entailed almost four hours at sea on a large ship out of Boston Harbor.  It was very exciting when we spotted two male humpback whales diving up and down as they fed on schools of fish.  It must be noted, however, that it took almost 1 1/2 hours to get to whale-land, or whatever the proper term is.  Much of that time was spent running at high speed over 3 foot swells (waves).  So, I think that it was a perfectly reasonable response to those conditions for a person to throw up.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Give Peace A Chance

Monday, August 4, 2014
I don’t want to talk about Hamas. They are vile, without allies among the many Arab states in the Middle East. I have no sentimental attachment to their preservation or the maniacal bloodlust that pretends to be their religious doctrine. I am a Zionist and I believe in the need for a vital, safe and secure Israel. That’s why, these days, when I think about the current Arab-Israeli conflict, I think back to my divorce. No joke. I don’t mean the discord and discontent that engulfed my first wife and me over several years. It was the problem with me.

I filed for divorce because of how I dealt with the stress and strain of a failing marriage. I realized that I had changed for the worse. I did not like the person that I became. It didn’t matter who treated the other worse. I was conducting myself in a manner that I could not reasonably justify. That did not necessarily result in my abandoning my legal rights, or make excessive concessions to my wife, who, in fairness, asked for little that I was unwilling to provide, clearly not a parallel to the professed bargaining positions of the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The lesson is that it’s about Israel, Jews in the Diaspora and the Jewish values that we have maintained in spite of a tragic history, longer, wider and deeper than any other group has ever faced. I think that we have demonstrated remarkable virtues over cruel centuries, and, even under extreme duress and provocation, we must not falter now.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane, at 59E59 Theater, is a thrilling work. Go get tickets right now, before you even finish reading this, if you are within commuting distance of 59th Street. It ends its current run on August 24th, and should not be missed. It is the story of Lisa Jura, a Viennese Jewish girl who went to London on the kindertransport, at age 13, never to see her parents again. Through chance, devotion and pluck, she pursued a musical career and trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London. What makes the work thoroughly compelling is the one-woman performance of Mona Golabek, Jura’s daughter and a concert pianist herself.

We saw the performance yesterday, and with the backdrop of the renewed vigor of European anti-Semitism (let’s not kid ourselves, it’s not about geopolitics) and my reading of Ten Green Bottles, a memoir of a Viennese Jewish family fleeing to Shanghai in the face of Nazi terror and brutality, akin to the story of the Bergers, my former in-laws, I was especially moved. Please see The Pianist of Willesden Lane.

59E59 Theater is one of four theatrical companies that we now subscribe to, attending 3 to 6 works a year, Off-Broadway and beyond. In addition, I regularly receive discount ticket offers, by electronic and ordinary mail, for works, usually in advance of their opening or late in their run. As a result we see a lot of theater, but usually not the "hot tickets," at their popularity peak. So, I was jarred a bit by regular ticket prices for It’s Only A Play, a limited-run revival with a cast headed by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, at $147 each, which I purchased for a friend, and The Lion King, the giant hit, at $154 each, for us to entertain a special guest in the Fall. By the way, I could have spent more in both cases, but I managed to stay within the realm of the extravagant without crossing into the absurd.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
James Brady died yesterday. He was Ronald Reagan’s press secretary and the most seriously wounded person when a demented young man shot Reagan, a Secret Service agent and a District of Columbia policeman in the hope of gaining the attention and affection of Jodie Foster, the young actress, in 1981.

Brady, who was shot in the head and suffered paralysis, speech impairment and loss of memory as a result, went on to lead the battle for gun control. Reagan took a bullet in his chest, puncturing a lung, and requiring surgery. Yet, Reagan found no reason to support gun control laws that, if in effect, might have spared him a near-death experience. There are heroes and then there are heroes.

At least I’m not working in the Orleans County Courthouse, outside Rochester, containing state Supreme Court, Surrogate and county courts, which is closed for the second day because of an infestation of fleas. Even troublesome litigants might look good by comparison.

On the way home from work today, I intend to go to the Modell’s Sporting Goods store one block from Madison Square Garden, which is having a big closing sale. So, if you are on my Hanukkah gift list, don’t be surprised if you receive a hockey puck.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
If you happen to have an empty courtroom to eat lunch in all by yourself, you might consider Mulberry Meat Market, Inc., 89 Mulberry Street, which contains a butcher shop, grocery and prepared food counter (August 31, 2010). You need the courtroom because the store has no seating of any sort. I ordered 4 pieces of fried chicken ($3.14 @ $3.79 lb.), all meaty thighs, and a portion of fried rice ($2.25), called small, but generous. The rice had peas, carrots, corn, scrambled egg, pork and pineapple, but wasn’t really fried the way I like it, brown and greasy. Instead, it was young chow fried rice, white because it was not cooked with soy sauce. Still, it was a good deal for just over $6 (including the traditional Diet Coke) and I was satisfied.

Thursday, August 7, 2014
Beans & Leaves, 105 Canal Street, is a new joint, standing on a corner, with lots of light from the large glass windows on the two exterior walls. The color scheme is white, with lime green trim, adding to the brightness. The menu is almost entirely devoted to beverages, hot and cold. 5 sandwiches and waffles are the only food items listed on the menu, but the wall above the order taker/cashier lists about a dozen dishes, mostly Japanese. I had teriyaki chicken over rice ($5.50), a large piece of dark meat, cut into strips, coated with commercial teriyaki sauce. It was good enough. While I sat at one of the three small tables (6 chairs), several people walked in, saw the limited non-liquid offerings and left. Only two adolescent Chinese boys bought drinks and sat on 2 of the 4 stools at a counter under one of the windows. Under those conditions, it was near ideal for doing the crossword puzzle.

Friday, August 8, 2014
In spite of my opening sentence this week, I have to talk about Hamas. It was announced this morning that the current cease fire in Gaza was broken, inevitably, by Hamas. While I lament the collateral damage done by Israel in response to Hamas’s attacks, there is no doubt that Hamas deliberately seeks to place its own people in harm’s way. While family and friends of the killed and wounded in Gaza express their pain, Hamas apparently makes no attempt to focus its dispute with Israel in a manner that might lessen its own casualties. Anti-Israeli voices speak of the disproportionate casualty toll, which, in most cases, only disguises their yearning for more Jewish deaths. Consider that Israel takes pains to protect its civilian population, certainly one of the basic organizing principles of civil society going back to Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau.

Hamas, as with so much of Islamic thought, trapped in the Seventh Century, states in the preamble to its charter: "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp  In case you try to find a bright side to the word "obliterate," consider the charter’s Article Thirteen: "Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement."

I can understand the antagonism for Israel held by Arabs, who feel a kinship with their fellow Arabs facing hardships in the occupied territories, and still bristling from their military defeats. However, my loathing only grows for those Westerners who, unable to distinguish Boko Haram from a Boy Scout troop, remain silent about Syrian-on-Syrian violence, Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence, among other lethal intra-Islamic disputes, while continuing their centuries-old practice of demonizing Jews.