Saturday, January 21, 2017

Is There A Cardiologist In The House?

Monday, January 16, 2017
They voted for him because he tells it like it is, and then Kellyanne Conman tells them to judge the president-neglect based on “what’s in his heart” rather than “what’s come out of his mouth.”

Professional football has never had a profusion of Jewish players, no less Jewish stars.  While I had no reason to suspect that Aaron Rodgers, star quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, was Jewish in spite of bearing the name of Moses's brother, a story this weekend entirely buried the prospect.

It seems that Rodgers maintains close ties with his hometown of Chico, California, delivering a video pep talk to his high school football team before a championship game, buying equipment for the team, dining locally with his junior college coach.  What's wrong with this picture?  He has not spoken to his parents, who continue to reside in Chico, since 2014.  A nice Jewish boy could never get away with that.  

I recall a conversation that I had with a female colleague at a professional services firm, who came from Seattle.  When I asked her how often she spoke to her mother, I was shocked at her answer of about once a year.  At that time, my mother was only in her seventies, so I could expect that she would personally lead the search party rather than allow the state police to proceed on its own if I had not telephoned in more than three days. 

The Sunday book review carries several pages of advertising for vanity presses, companies that publish books at the author's expense.  Yesterday, one work, which shall remain nameless, carried this promotional message: "Copies of this book were sent to US President Obama, England's Queen Elizabeth and India's Prime Minister Modi."  Don't feel bad if you did not also receive a copy of the book.  The author is an only child and unmarried.  The initial print run was probably seven copies.

When I go to Chinatown now, no longer working in the vicinity, I'm faced with a strategic choice.  Return to one of my tried and true favorites or seek out a new place?   Today, I went to a new joint, Lian Jiang Restaurant, 88 Division Street, a very small space on a triangular corner, which had previously housed Reach House (November 17 2010).  I noted at the time that Reach House's menu included "Lucky Intestinal," but I didn't press my luck.  

Lian Jiang resembles your basic high school cafeteria or Army mess hall, plopping things down on your plate as you move down the line.  However, there is no room to move, so you stand in one spot and the server picks 4 items from 16 chrome steam table pans.  There is also a menu of about 50 items, but no one seemed anxious to order or serve from it.  And, the place seemed so small that I thought that they would have to order out if asked for anything not sitting in front of our nose.

I sat on a stool at the ledge that, along with one small table, provides the only seating.  A big mound of white rice and a bland, colorless broth are included in the $5 price, regardless of your choices.  In fact, I put a heaping cup of rice into the hot soup, making a satisfying porridge.  I ate chicken stir-fried with onions in soy sauce, grilled shrimp with head and tail attached, something chewy on a bone, and something chewy without a bone.  It was just about worth the $5.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017
C Bao, Asian Buns & Bubble Tea, 197 Worth Street, is brand new and succeeded a flower shop, not another restaurant.  It's only similarity to Lian Jiang is the tiny, triangular floor space it occupies.  Its attractive interior has walls that are either exposed brick or unfinished pine planks.  Seating is limited to a short ledge with four stools and a mezzanine with three small tables up a few stairs.  It is all about baos, a term often interchanged with buns in China and Vietnam.  I think of baos, though, as the spongy discs that are folded over their contents.  For instance, some restaurants serve baos instead of pancakes with Peking duck.    

C Bao offers 12 baos, duck, pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, fish, tofu, some fried, some grilled, some roasted.  9 out of 12 are $5.95, soft shell crab peaking at $9.95.  "Meals" combine a bao and a drink, saving about two bucks.  This month, C Bao is featuring a grilled chicken bao, with shredded cabbage, shredded carrots, and "black pepper sauce" tasting like bottled teriyaki sauce, at $5.95, buy one get one free.  Obviously, I started there and added a Korean bulgogi beef bun meal, with unsweetened peach oolong iced tea ($9.25 total).  While the chicken was okay, the beef was excellent, marinated in soy sauce and rice wine, cooked with green and yellow onions.  Best to wear a short sleeve shirt, so that you might lick the sauce off your forearms.  Note two baos would amply serve a normal human being.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017
Today's New York Times quotes a Republican woman, who voted for the president-neglect.  "I think he's going to put his money where his mouth is."  That's not my concern.  I want him to put his money where I put my money -- the IRS.  

Fortunately, the newspaper had more to offer than clichés today.  A too brief print article describes a survey of the economic status of students at elite colleges.  While I was not surprised that the haves typically outnumber the have-nots, the gaps are eye-opening.  "At 38 colleges in America, including five in the Ivy League – Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Penn and Brown – more students came from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent."  Get the math? 1 > 60.  That's like 62,979,636 > 65,844,610 votes.

The on-line version of this article gives a more complete picture.

Ironically, this brings me to a column in the Sunday paper which "harks back to the mid-20th century, when City College of New York cost only a few hundred dollars a year and was known as the 'Harvard of the proletariat.'"  

This vital essay looks at the class/wealth divide from the perspective of public institutions of higher education, which did so much to bring low-income students into the middle class (Hello!), now being squeezed (choked) by legislatures obsessed by bathrooms.

Tom Adcock, in early years often confused with Jimmy Olsen of the Daily Planet, Stony Brook Steve and I had lunch at Le Soleil - Haitian Cuisine, 858 Tenth Avenue.  It's a small, casual   place, with 5 four tops and 2 two tops.  The kitchen struggled to keep up, even thought there was only one other customer most of the time that we were seated.

The menu is bilingual, with three or four specials for every day of the week, although a couple for jeudi were unavailable.  I had turkey stew ($12), which contained pieces of meat that I could not identify as parts of a turkey.  They were in a tasty sauce, however, and fried plantain discs, lettuce and tomatoes, and a big plate of brown rice and kidney beans were served along side.  

Friday, January 20, 2017
I'm a coward.  I can't read past the headline on most newspaper stories about our current national politics.  I mute the nightly news when certain faces appear.  I kept the television off throughout the daytime today.  I haven't retreated to alcohol or opiates to dull my senses, just bobbing and weaving to avoid the slings and arrows of a deluded populace and its clown-in-chief.  How does one proceed in the face of DT's "spiritual advisor" claiming that he has "a heart for God, a hunger for God”?  

I hope that I soon recover the will to act, to do more than write checks to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and  Please keep your courage, while I try to revive mine.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Filling The Gap

Monday, January 9, 2017
Even a large snowstorm in the Boston area did not lessen our enjoyment of the weekend in Massachusetts with our second and third generations.  However, the ride home, while only briefly through swirling snow squalls, held a major disappointment.  About halfway through the trip in the middle of the afternoon, we pulled off I-84 at exit 25, near Waterbury, Connecticut, to have lunch at Nardelli's Grinder Shoppe, 540 Plank Road, one of the Western Hemisphere's major culinary destinations (May 2, 2014, December 23, 2015).  Lo and behold, it was closed.  Never on Sunday.  

Many of you were probably not yet born on August 7, 1964, when Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, authorizing wide expansion of the US role in Vietnam.   Now, "the evidence suggests a disturbing and deliberate attempt by Secretary of Defense McNamara to distort the evidence and mislead Congress."

An article this weekend that I found insightful maintains that the Vietnam experience altered a fundamental basis of our democratic politics, trust in government and its leaders, which continues to haunt us.

The article incidentally illustrated the ever-growing gap between the haves and have-nots by looking at the military service of Yale students over time.  In World War I, 227 died in combat; 514 in World War II.  Apparently, only 3 Yale students died in Vietnam and none in combat since then.  I certainly don't suggest that CCNY students made up the difference.  The too many dead came from places and families far removed from our own and the end of the draft seems to ensure that future American combat deaths will not touch our friends and families.  

A seemingly unrelated statistic is the claim that 1 in 8 Americans have worked at McDonald's.  The origin of this factoid is somewhat obscure, but what I find significant is my inability to name anyone that I know who has ever worked at McDonald's.  That is a notable gap, too.  While I have been unemployed in the past, going back as far as parttime work in college, I never held a job at the minimum wage, which is where many fast food workers are stuck.  What do we really have in common?

Wait a minute!  Enough of this soft-hearted, liberal, empathetic navelgazing.  Maybe there's a problem in the gap between me and the kid working at McDonald's.  But, what about the gap between me (and you and almost everybody else) and the coterie of billionaires descending on Washington to repopulate the swamp?  CBS News reported that, "Mr. Trump is surrounding himself with a historic level of wealth that’s at least 50 times greater than the Cabinet that George W. Bush led."

Pop quiz -- The following was written by the Communist Daily Worker or Forbes (a/k/a the Capitalist tool)?  "A populist wave may have propelled Donald Trump to the nation’s highest office, but he is proving to be no man of the people. Trump has already proposed what appears to be the wealthiest Cabinet in modern U.S. history, a collection of elites that includes a billionaire heiress, ExxonMobil’s CEO, a former Goldman Sachs partner and an investor who made millions off underwater mortgages during the financial crisis."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017
The New York Times says, "Why Mr. [Oliver] Schmidt [formerly Volkswagen’s top emissions compliance executive in the United States] risked arrest by traveling in the United States remains a mystery."  Not to me.  I heard  that he was looking for a position with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017
In an article about WBGO, 88.3 FM, the Newark public radio station devoted to jazz, I learned that it is only the country's second largest jazz radio station.  KKJZ, 88.1 FM, in Los Angeles has almost 40% more listeners, although it serves a smaller population; LA 18.68 million in 2015  vs. NY 20.2 million.   Also, New York is far hipper than Los Angeles (hard to quantify, but readily experienced) with a much richer jazz history.  I see one reason for the disparity.  Cars.  The sprawl of Los Angeles and the lack of a mature rapid transit system put people in automobiles for hours at a time, encouraging radio listening and drive-by shootings.  
In any case, I listen to WBGO now more frequently than any other radio station, even sports talk stations.  Am I finally growing up?

Stony Brook Steve would insist that I haven't grown up, but he agreed to have lunch with me at the awkwardly named Hao Noodle and Tea By Madam Zhu's Kitchen, 401 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue), a very well-reviewed restaurant at a classic Greenwich Village location, just below West 8th Street.  The boxy space was very attractive, mostly occupied by communal tables.  The two long walls are exposed brick, keeping the sound level high.  A pretty ceiling light fixture resembled a cloud of tiny lights.

As I replied to the hostess when asked, the food was interesting.  Expensive (left unsaid to her), but interesting.  We shared spicy beef with dried orange peel ($16), a small portion of one of the hottest spicy dishes that I have ever had; "Eight spice crispy tofu" ($10), squishy cubes that could have been marshmallows as far as I could tell; sticky rice bacon siu mai ($8 for 4 pieces).  The cheapest pot of tea was $6, which we skipped; a small bowl of white rice was $2.  Had the beef not been so spicy, we might have noticed that we did not have that much to eat.  As we walked through the old streets of Greenwich Village afterwards, we agreed that, in the words of Mother Ruth Gotthelf, this was not "real Chinese food."  

Thursday, January 12, 2107
I was wrong.  It seems that it wasn't a few Russians who determined the results of our presidential election, but one FBI director.  J. Edgar Hoover would be proud.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Tennis Anyone?

January 2, 2017
Saturday was the last day of 2016, but you don't need me to tell you that.  I said last week that I was reluctant to see 2016 end, because of my miserable expectations for public life under the incoming administration.  But, Saturday became particularly challenging and enigmatic when I managed to complete only about half of the New York Times crossword puzzle.  While Saturday's puzzle is the hardest of the week, I haven't failed so badly at it in many years.  And then I had to contemplate the implications of this.  Was it a signal to let the year go?  Was it it a sign of a bleak future?  Or, worse, was it a message that my gray brain cells were retreating as fast as my gray hairline?  

I returned to the puzzle several times until admitting defeat this morning and examining the solution printed with today's puzzle.  39 across -- Strips to pieces? Answer = baconbits.  I got stuck with ba__nai_s, because, going down, I put "cara" instead of "lamb" as an answer to the clue Term of endearment.  I must admit, however, that I also missed much easier clues.   

On the bright side, today starts the eighth year of this (ad)venture, which I began when I changed location for my job with the court system.  From 2002 through 2009, I worked at 71 Thomas Street, an address I never would have found on my own.  In January 2010, I moved to 60 Centre Street, the mother ship for New York County's Supreme Court, and, more important, immediately adjacent to Chinatown.  With access to this patch of Heaven on Earth, I started eating at restaurant after restaurant, recording my informal impressions as I went.  

Four different Chinese lunches a week were not unusual, even five.  I reached my 72nd place on May 28, 2010, choosing the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, 65 Bayard Street, to celebrate, where my lunch consisted of three scoops of ice cream, lychee, Zen butter and almond cookie ($6.50 then).  The number 72 was homage to the fabled number  of virgins awaiting the Islamic martyr in Heaven.  Isn't that sexist, though?  Should a female martyr have to endure the fumbled efforts of 72 inexperienced men?

I stopped counting restaurants when I retired at the end of 2015.  By then I had eaten lunch at over 320 different East Asian restaurants within walking distance of the courthouse.  They were mostly Chinese, with some Vietnamese, Malaysian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, as well.  There were no Cambodian, Laotian or Singaporean restaurants in the area; one place had some Indonesian items on its predominantly Malaysian menu.  For no good reason, I excluded Indian (really Pakistani/Bengali) restaurants from my count, although I recall less than half a dozen in the vicinity.   

I owe those years of rewarding employment and enjoyable lunches first to Justice Marjory D. Fields, now retired from the bench, who gave me my initial position, and then to Joe F., who offered invaluable assistance when the ground shifted out from under me.  I am forever grateful to both of them.

By the way, congratulations to Monte Wasch, formerly married to one of the people named in the paragraph above, with another letter to the editor of the Sunday book review published yesterday.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017
Stony Brook Steve, Paul D., a recent transplant from Rochester, NY, and I went to Red Farm, 2170 Broadway, for lunch.  It has a rough-hewn interior, which might resemble a Chinese barn or even an American barn, if I could even tell the difference.  It features somewhat uncommon dim sum at somewhat uncommonly high prices.  The quality of the food is generally high as well, but I am uncomfortable when dim sum starts to add up to what you would pay for real food.

We paid $33 each to share Gold Coin Scallion Pancakes with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Katz’s Pastrami Egg Roll, Crunchy Vegetable & Peanut Dumplings, Five Flavor Chicken Dumplings, Crispy Duck & Crab Dumplings, and Pan-Fried Lamb Dumpling Shooters.  Most of the dishes were accompanied by a unique and especially tasty sauce.  Still?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Time really seems to be flying.  Soon, it will be 2020.

Thursday, January 5, 2017
I have stated that I am turning increasingly to fiction and sports in order to endure or at least be distracted from the incoming regime of the clown.  Tonight, after the Upper West Side's Power Couple drove up to Massachusetts to visit the second and third generation, Grandpa Alan accompanied Daddy David and the two boychiks to a hockey game between the Boston University Terriers and the Union College Dutchmen at the very well appointed Boston University ice hockey rink.  The skill level was no worse than displayed at some National Hockey League games.  More important, my attention was successfully, if temporarily, distracted from our politics.  

Now, I am looking forward to the U.S. National Collegiate Ice Carving Championships at Frankenmuth, Michigan, later this month.  Then, there is the spring schedule of the CCNY swim team.  And warm weather will see the return of the Broadway Show League Co-ed Softball season in Central Park.  This all might make for a brighter future.

Friday, January 6, 2017
I am reading The Silent Man by Alex Berenson, one in a series of thrillers about an undisciplined CIA agent.  It was published in 2009.  Here is an excerpt from chapter 11 (my electronic version paginates only within chapters), with our hero looking around a glitzy Moscow nightclub:
The worldwide cult of fast money spent stupidly.  The worldwide cult of trying too hard.  Moscow, Rio, Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York, London, Shanghai -- the story was the same everywhere.  The same overloud music, the same over promoted brand names, the same fake tits, about as erotic as helium balloons.  Everywhere an orgy of empty consumption and bad sex.  Las Vegas was the cult's world headquarters, Donald Trump its patron saint.

Friday, December 30, 2016

I Still Have My Appetite

Monday, December 26, 2016
Many American Jews go to Chinese restaurants on Christmas.  There is a new article on the topic and a more analytic older one.   

We did this last year, but were overcome with laziness this year.  We did not turn our back entirely on this modern tradition.  We had Trader Joe's scallion pancakes for dinner last night, a tasty version of this Chinatown staple.  (I recall asking for scallion pancakes in a busy Chinese restaurant in San Francisco about 15 years ago.  The annoyed waitress told me to go to IHOP.)  

Even more than Chinese food, the attention of many American Jews this weekend was on the United Nations Security Council vote Friday condemning Israeli settlements, 14-0-1, the United States abstaining rather than vetoing the resolution.  The Israeli government was furious, along with many American Jews and politicians of all stripes.  I had two arguments on the subject; one, not surprisingly, with a young man who is a senior at an Orthodox yeshiva.  The other disputant, however, was a wise older man, with a thoroughly cosmopolitan view of the world.  His anger at the US position was unexpected.  

I realized that this time, unlike other situations where the UN or other groups have taken shots at Israel while blithely ignoring the more serious crimes of other states near and far, I could imagine myself acting as President Obama did.  There are illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank, according to the Israeli Supreme Court, not just according to some morally-dubious foreign sources.  “Israel's Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an unprecedented ruling ordering the state to dismantle the largest illegal settlement outpost in the West Bank by April 2012.”  Haaretz, 08/02/11.  “Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that an illegal Israeli settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem be demolished by March 2018.”  Ma’an News Agency, 09/02/16.

While the development of Jewish settlements in previously Arab-occupied territory began under the liberal regimes of Peres and Rabin, the Netanyahu government has aggressively fostered their growth seemingly as much a provocation to the local Arabs and the world at large as to satisfy the housing need of Israelis.  Yet, the US vetoed similar resolutions in the past and has been more generous in providing foreign aid to Israel than to any other country.
The result -- more illegal settlements, more efforts to dodge the rulings of the Israeli Supreme Court and more gratuitous insults to Obama.  

I recognize that the UN vote has both manifest and latent implications.  Yet, there comes a time to keep it simple.  I believe, in the words of the resolution, "that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution."  I also firmly believe that the uncertain existence of my friends and family in Israel will be substantially improved by a two-state solution.  Israel is an answer; it should not be a question.

Throughout the year, the New York Times asks "creative people [to] share the 10 titles they would most want with them if they were marooned on a desert island."   Yesterday, it published a brief collection of eight responses for "the books that have stuck with them."

My first reaction was egocentric -- how few of these creative people I recognized.  More generally, I noted the uncontemporary character of their choices.  Only three date from the 20th century, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Gabriel García Márquez, 1985; “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925; and “The Golden Bowl,” Henry James, 1904.  

Then, I considered the inquiry: books to be stuck with vs. books that stuck.  Not the same thing.  While I might have gotten a big zetz from Tolstoi, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Salinger or Mailer, I would prefer to spend my days chewing palm leaves in the company of Calvin Trillin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016
In its move from West 38 Street to 128 West 36 Street, Lan Sheng, Szechuan Restaurant, lost its Michelin star.  That did not deter a big crowd, including Michael Ratner and me, from enjoying a very good lunch there today.  We skipped the 49 lunch special items at $8.95, accompanied by choice of soup or spring roll, and white, brown or fried rice, and picked from the full menu.  Mind you, there were many fine choices among the lunch specials, but we headed for the camphor tea smoked duck ($18.95 half), tangerine beef ($16.95) and house special fried rice ($11.95) and landed successfully.  The duck was really special, a large portion, very little fat.  

One choice that sounded more special than it turned out to be was the fish maw chowder soup ($13.95).  It contained shrimp and crab meat along with something squishy that might have been the fish maw.  A quick look later on the Internet showed that fish maw is "the dried swim bladders of large fish."  This must be exotic enough to arrive at the high price for two small bowls of soup, but I suggest that you stick with something more mundane.

Lan Sheng is medium sized, pleasantly decorated, although 5 crystal chandeliers are a few too many.  It is located in the middle of the garment center, surrounded by stores selling bright fabrics, zippers, buttons and bows.  It doesn't just try to be a "nice" restaurant, however.  The menu offers duck and ox tongue, pig brains, pig ears, and (watch out) tofu.  It's pricey, but the location and white tablecloths account for some of this.  In all, Lan Sheng is one of the best choices above Canal Street.    

December 28, 2016
In case you are not tired of being reminded of how different "us" and "them" are, the New York Times has interesting graphics illustrating the divide.    
I accept the idea generally of looking for cultural signifiers, although the pattern of my television viewing, centering on sports and foreign crime shows, falls off the bell curve.  

Thursday, December 29, 2016
The Boyz Club convened for the last time this year at Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street.  For some standard items in the Chinatown repertoire, SAM can't be beat.  Its scallion pancakes, soup buns and cold sesame noodles are all top rank.  We started with this trio to everyone's delight.  We then found room for tangerine beef, sliced chicken with eggplant in garlic sauce, and salt and pepper fried shrimp.  The shrimp were peeled and deep fried, rather than broiled in the shell, the more typical version of this dish.  All went down very, very well, accompanied by conversation that focused mostly on old movies, not new politics.  

We also discussed 2016 -- Love it or leave it.  We were not entirely overtaken by the ill-feelings about current events that we limousine liberals (feeling more like subway socialists) harbor.  My personal position is somewhat counter-pollyannaish; I expect so much merde in 2017 that I want 2016 to stay with us as long as possible.  Of course, some of the merde has already arrived.

Total cost for lunch came to $16 per person, more than reasonable considering the quality of the food and the time we spent sheltered from the rain.

Friday, December 30, 2016
Seems like a few Russians are more powerful than 65,844,954 Americans.

For a moment, let's ignore the nutsyness and craziness of this past year and conclude with a surprisingly easy and delicious recipe.  Withhold your skeptical reaction to its key ingredient.  Last week, I had this for the first time, thanks to the lovely and talented Shoshana P., and I urge you to try it.  It's really good.  Note that this is strictly for carnivores.

The name of the dish originated with a style of food preparation at the Restaurang Hasselbacken, Hazeliusbacken 20, Stockholm, Sweden, but you don't have to go that far to end this difficult year on a delicious note.  

Friday, December 23, 2016

Black and White

Monday, December 19, 2016
It's the holiday season and, realistically, what I might wish for will not come to pass.  However, the New York Times gave its reader a good gift this weekend, a 16-page section devoted entirely to puzzles, the first time that it has ever done this.  The centerpiece of this effort is a two-full-page crossword puzzle with 637 clues (yes, 637), which take so much space that they are printed separately on another page.  There is also a variety of word, number and visual puzzles, which, with any luck, will keep me distracted for the next four years.

Stephen P. Cohen has published The Go-Between: Memoir of A Mideast Intermediary, a title that fairly represents his heroic efforts to bring reason, if not peace, to the Middle East.  It's a slim volume of anecdotes describing some of his almost countless meetings with Anwar Sadat, Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin,  Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and so many of their emissaries, building trust and forging lines of communication between Arabs and Israelis.  The book is available through Amazon.

Mary McCarthy was a successful novelist (The GroupThe Groves of Academe) and critic; Lillian Hellman was a successful playwright (Toys in the AtticThe Little Foxes) and screenwriter.   Both had been supporters of the Communist Party USA in the 1930s.  McCarthy eventually turned away from Stalin and toward Trotsky, dividing the women for most of the rest of their lives.  Famously, in a 1979 television interview, McCarthy said of Hellman that "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."  

I think that McCarthy somewhat overstated the case against Hellman, who certainly ignored the uglier implications of her politics at times, but we have a guy today who comes close to a perfect fit for McCarthy's description.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Joe Berger, distinguished alumnus of CCNY and the New York Times,  published The Pious Ones in 2014, examining the growing presence of Hasidism in the American Jewish community.  Today, I heard him speak on the subject at a local synagogue, where I was joined by Mossad Moshe, Stony Brook Steve and the Goldfarbs, constituting Chapter 7 of the Joe Berger Fan Club.

Hasidism started almost 300 years ago in response to the formality and intellectuality that then characterized Judaism in Eastern Europe.  Hasids believe that there can be or should be a spiritual dimension in even everyday activities.  Appearing austere to outsiders, Jewish and gentile alike, Hasidic worship and rituals are rich with song and dance, but restricted to men alone.  Women are also kept at a distance in many ordinary situations out of fear of their menstrual "uncleanliness" or the seductive power of their presence.

I learned that the scattered handful of European Hasidim who came to the US after WWII have bred a population here estimated to be about 300,000, in 30 major clusters. Comenetz_Hasidic_Pop2006.pdf is a detailed demographic study of Hasidic Jews in the US, although 10 years old.  The largest group are the Satmars, very reclusive and rabidly anti-Zionist, believing that you can't have Israel without the Messiah (and they don't mean Handel).  The Satmars originated in 1905 in Satu Mare, Transylvania, from which they derive their name.  I chuckled for a while when Joe told us that Satu Mare means Saint Mary.
Opposed to birth control, Hasidic families often include 10 or more children, not bad for couples who might spend only minutes in each other's company (with their parents present) before marriage.  

The "success" of Hasidism poses a challenge to me and probably many other American Jews with more relaxed levels of observance.  While I want to see Judaism propagated into the future, I don't want it to be a Judaism that never progressed into the Enlightenment and beyond.  But, what have I contributed to my side?

Thursday, December 22, 2106
I went for my annual physical examination today.  My doctor, pressed for time, borrowed from another historic medical evaluation and concluded that my "laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent . . . [and my] physical strength and stamina are extraordinary."

Friday, December 23, 2016
Looking back on this week, I saw that I ignored the critical issue of food, not in practice (I didn't miss a meal), but in this narrative.  Accordingly, I sought out a new place today, Radiance Tea House & Books, 158 West 55th Street.  This Japanese restaurant takes at least part of its name very seriously, offering 80 different hot teas, starting at $7 for a one-person pot of a relatively familiar variety and climbing.   Tea pots, tea sets, and tea canisters are attractively displayed on many walls.  The book section also seems to be arranged for visual effect, with most of the works dealing with tea, food, travel and Falun Gong, the controversial Chinese sect.

The food was very good.  I had hot and sour seafood soup, ($9), exactly and excellently fitting its name.  Then followed a spicy chicken noodle box ($13.95), including two chicken gyoza (dumplings) and edamame (those short, fat peapods).  The largish portion of noodles was very good, and spicy as claimed.    

Walking back and forth to Radiance, I passed the corner of Seventh Avenue & West 55th Street, where the Carnegie Deli is located.  Whether the holiday season, the mild weather, or its announced closing on December 31st, the crowd waiting to get in at 1 PM stretched halfway down the block.  Appearances (and accents and demeanors) may be deceiving, but I think that most people on that line were not from around here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

What's In A Name?

Monday, December 12, 2016
An article in the Sunday business section of the New York Times evoked the following never-to-be-published letter to the editor: "You quote Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the NRA’s lobbying arm, saying, 'The gun control lobby made this election a referendum on gun control, and they lost because the majority of Americans support the Second Amendment and they vote to protect their constitutional right to self-protection.'  Are Ms. Baker and the president-elect the only two Americans that think that 62,851,436 is a larger number than 65,527,625?"

It was just for a moment last night when I walked through the trashy remains of Pennsylvania Station, on the way to the Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.  Besides others headed in my direction and the normal weekend travelers coming in and out of New York City, the crowd was swelled by many people taking the train to the Giants football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  Descending an escalator parallel to the one on which I was ascending, I saw ten tuba players in a row, with their shiny instruments.  I couldn't manage to turn around and question their purpose and destination, but just the sight of ten tuba players riding an escalator elevated my mood.  It's not high yet, but it improved.

It's Frank Sinatra's 101st birthday and we are celebrating over bagels and lox with David and Kathleen Mervin, who have come from metropolitan Arnside, Cumbria, UK (pop. 2,334) to visit the Brooklyn wing of their family.  I've known them since graduate school days, attended their wedding (at the home of the president of the University of New Hampshire a/k/a Kathleen's father) and their 50th wedding anniversary celebration in Arnside.  

While bagels and lox are not entirely unknown in northwest England, at least by reputation, we had the pleasure of introducing the Mervins to bialys and rugelach.  This might not be life changing for them, but it should encourage them to return here early and often.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Today is my brother's 80th birthday and, to honor the event, we are going to the second Rangers game in three days, Sunday having been a triumph of virtue.  However, by the end of this evening, our celebration was somewhat dampened by a Ranger loss in a very tightly played game.  But, for the first time ever, I caught one of those T-shirts that they shoot into the stands at Madison Square Garden.  It became his final birthday gift. is a convenient way to make restaurant reservations or merely identify restaurants in a neighborhood.  It has its flaws; see its attempt to seat us in and then measure our satisfaction with a closed establishment (  

I generally pay little attention to its ratings, but it is interesting to see its "best of" list.

Sad to say, but the following states failed to place any joint on the list: Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.  They also constitute the heart of the president-elect's electoral majority.  

13 of Open Table's top 100 are in New York State; 8 of the 13 actually in the Holy Land.  By good coincidence, we, in the company of the Spars, enjoyed an evening at the honored Trattoria L'Incontro, 21-76 31st Street, Astoria, on Sunday, December 4th, as I reported last week. The other good news is that several of the 8 local restaurants do not impose a 37-course meal of microscopic portions upon you.  Where this is the case, do not expect an appearance by Grandpa Alan.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2106
Speaking of food, today's New York Times is full of its own "best of" lists -- top 10 dishes, top restaurants, "Top 10 Cheap (and Astonishing) Places to Eat" -- respectively.

These places are all in the Holy Land, with the outer boroughs (except Staten Island, the only place where the president-elect led in the popular vote) showing a strong presence.  Only 2 of the "cheap" places are in Manhattan and 4 of the 10 "best" are in Brooklyn.  This movement outward corresponds  to the heat of the real estate market in Manhattan, which is also inflaming parts of Brooklyn and Queens.  

I must confess that, for all my essing and fressing, I've seen the inside of only a   few of the places cited.  On the other hand, it gives me something to live for.

Compiled by J. Hoberman, a very well-regarded film critic, this list was hardly helpful.  One of the 10 was a book, not a movie; several are far from contemporary, one dates from 1970; and, most of them are pretty obscure.  Since Jews have always had an important role in the (American) film industry, you would think that Hoberman could give us some better food for thought, produce a meatier list, something more to chew on.  

Thursday, December 15, 2015
I believe that misogyny played a key role in the recent presidential election (can you remember that far back?).   With any luck, we should be able to test this view (and bury it) four years from now.  

Friday, December 16, 2016
David Friedman is a sweet guy, an accomplished information technology professional, a talented musician and composer, and a selfless volunteer in many of our anarchic synagogue's endeavors.  But, he is not that David Friedman, next US Ambassador to Israel, who seems devoted to heightening tensions and breeding antagonisms.  Last year, for instance, he criticized "the blatant anti-Semitism emanating from our President," Obama that is, the one who got the most votes.  

Believe it or not, "artificial, clichéd, mawkish, preposterous, incompetent, sexist, laughable, insulting" was not a description of the president-elect, but, rather, part of a review of the movie "Collateral Beauty," released today.  Enjoy.

I have avoided writing the name of the president-elect for many weeks, possibly a foolish effort to deny reality, something I may have learned from him.  But, I know that I have to get with it, bite the bullet, bell the cat, keep a stiff upper lip, face the music, grin and bear it, take my medicine, make hay while the sun shines, pay the piper and get down to brass tacks.  So, I will now refer to President Oscar Wilde, who was, after all, involved in the "love that dare not speak its name," although not the author of the phrase.  It's certainly not love that inspires me, rather a modest attempt to avoid triggering panic attacks, temper tantrums or fits of depression at the sound of the inconceivable.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Save The Children

Monday, December 4, 2016
Yes, it's true.  I voted two-and-a-half million times.

This excellent article discusses the parallel retreat into nationalist cocoons in Britain and the US.

Many people, commentators and clergy for instance, are calling for us in the popular majority to listen to the popular minority a/k/a the electoral majority, respect their concerns and find common ground.  To which I say "horse feathers."  While grievances may be found in any population segment, the other side seems to be prone to exercises of the imagination that leave little room or inclination for bargaining.  Example "Pizzagate."  [When I wrote this on Monday, this subject was hardly known to most of us who are able to walk and chew gum at the same time.  However, by Tuesday, the tortuous thinking that animates some of the minority of voters who chose our next president had produced one known criminal act that made it to the front page of the New York Times - - and a host of threats.]  

As if pizza and pedaphilia weren't enough for some of our fellow citizens, here is another headline: "What Is Pizzagate Telling Us About Wikileaks, the CIA, the Illuminati, and the New World Order?"  (If you want to read the article, I'll send you the link upon receipt of a self-addressed envelope and a new £5 note, the plastic one with the embedded tallow, offensive to Hindus and vegetarians alike.)

Speaking of vegetarians, I am told that the beet salad and tagliatelle with cherry tomatoes and breadcrumbs at Trattoria L'Incontro, 21-76 31st Street, Astoria, were particularly delicious last night, even as I consumed the baked clams and lasagna.  Although we (Art and Shelly Spar joined the Upper West Side's Power Couple) all delighted in our choices, the food was almost upstaged by our Ecuadorian waiter's 5-minute recital of the day's specials.  You might just order a drink, hear the performance and go home.  Whether for a long or a short visit, put L'Incontro on your hit list for excellent Italian food; reservations needed.  Driving to get there is easy, so you don't need me to tell you.  Else, one block past the last stop of the N train (Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard); catch it at Times Square.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Rudi, my favorite Latvian, has come through again.  Feeling my pain at having my jury duty, and the attendant opportunity to lunch in Chinatown day after day, so abruptly ended, he forwarded this classic episode of "The Odd Couple," where Felix and Oscar first meet as jurors in New York Supreme Court.  

As further balm to my soul, Michael Ratner asked me to go to Chinatown with him for lunch today, an offer I couldn't refuse.  We headed to Oriental Garden, 14 Elizabeth Street, a restaurant that often sits at the top of best Chinese lists, and gets favorably reviewed in the Michelin guide.  However, I have never warmed up to it and averaged one visit every three years.  Today, at lunchtime, when it focuses on dim sum ordered from an illustrated menu, only 4 of the 16 tables (holding 4 to 8 people) were occupied.  Although the staff were personable and efficient, the atmosphere wavered between dull and low-key.

The food mostly can't be faulted.  We had a small plate of roast duck ($11.95), chicken sticks (3 skewers for $5.95), seafood dumplings, chicken shu mei and fried shrimp won tons ($4 each plate).  I could have used a little more duck, with a little less fat, but the other dishes tasted very good and were worth the price.  Dinner is probably much different at Oriental Garden, with its reputation drawing big crowds, I imagine.   Still, it might be three more years before I return, given all the alternatives in Chinatown.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016
75 years and the date still lives in infamy, as FDR declared in a speech to a joint session of Congress the next day.  I wonder how long it might be before we apply a similar label to November 8, 2016.

There has been a Thai restaurant on the corner of Baxter Street and Bayard Street, directly across from the Tombs, the jail connected to the criminal courthouse, for forty years or so.  It was identified as Pongsri Thai Restaurant, 106 Baxter Street, until it underwent a complete renovation this year and was renamed Thai Jasmine Restaurant.  Stony Brook Steve and I went to lunch there today, part of my relieve- the-grief tour after being cut off from jury duty so abruptly last week.  

The new interior is neat and clean, not particularly Asian.  While it always was and remains crowded at lunchtime, the restaurant was not especially noisy and did not feel claustrophobic.  The food was very good. I started with Roti with Masaman Curry ($5), a cup of spicy curry containing two pieces of potato and some small slices of chicken, with an Indian pancake to dip.  Then I had Pad See Ew ($9), their version of beef chow fun.  At dinner time, the price of most of the main courses goes up $2 or $3; look for the "Lunch Specials" at the back of the menu.  My quibbles -- no chopsticks and tea only by teabags  

Thursday, December 8, 2016
Attention adults!  The New York City Transit Museum gift shop in Grand Central Terminal has a wonderful, compact model train setup that squeezes city and country landscapes together, even including an elevated subway line.  The display is small, but very carefully designed and constructed, and will be running until the end of February.  

Since you don't have to rush out of the house to see the trains, you should spend some time with  
This is a veritable Hit Parade of Chinese cooking, including several vegetable dishes and only a few in which pork and/or shrimp are so intrinsic that the Kosher cook would have to pass.  Of course, I am available, with proper notice, for food tasting.
I just learned that Don Elliott, a great friend, died two weeks ago in Park City, Utah, where he continued to ski aggressively into his late 70s.  While both of us were Brooklyn boys, we had substantial stylistic and philosophic differences.  Yet, we worked together almost seamlessly and developed great respect and then affection for each other.  I was fortunate to know him.

Friday, December 9, 2016
27 Down - Home security measure.  4 letters, starts with L.

This morning, I got one of those annoying telephone calls from a man allegedly from the "Technical Department."   When I began to discuss the meaning of "scam" with him, he hung up.  My telephone displayed his number with an area code of 648.  I thought, possibly naively, that area codes were unique, one vast chain of numbers circling the world.  Asking Google about area code 648, I learned that it is found in Fuga, Sudan, Camargo, La Cruz and San Francisco de Conchos, Mexico, and Dormaa Ahenkro, Ghana.  Had I known this at the start of the conversation, I would have skipped scams and asked instead for restaurant recommendations for wherever he was.

I am considering demanding a recount of the poll that ranked Stuyvesant High School only third in the nation among high schools.  However, I was initially startled to learn that 47.3% of its students live below the poverty line, none of its nearest competitors even close (#1 and #2 have poverty rates of 2.2% and 0%).  Upon reflection, it became more obvious that the current Stuyvesant student body, a majority the children of Chinese immigrants or immigrants themselves, are still a few steps away from living a comfortable, middle-class existence, although it is inevitable that most will, as did their predecessors, with advanced degrees from first-class institutions.  Arguably, their parents are no better off than the prototypical, disgruntled, opportunity-has-passed-me-by DT voter, but the former spend much of their time urging their children to better themselves instead of reading Tweets.