Friday, April 18, 2014

Let My People Eat

Monday, April 14, 2014
I don’t know where you were on Saturday, March 29, 2014, but, after reading the report in yesterday’s Times about the wedding of Sofia Alvarez and Adam Squires in Baltimore, the bride’s hometown, I’m glad that I missed it. The couple sounds perfectly pleasant, she is a playwright and he is a graphic designer. Of course, I find it trying to go to a large wedding (over 200 guests) where you know few other guests. That usually induces a need in me for more than the usual amount of alcohol. However, an alcoholic fog might not have been sufficient to blot out one vivid image, one that emerges from the printed page almost as stunningly as if I had seen it in person. Quoth the Times: "The wedding dinner, catered by Clementine, a Baltimore farm-to-table restaurant, featured a whole roasted Whistlepig Hollow Double Cross pig, the head of which was displayed on a platter near the wedding cake." No dessert for me.

For sure, the touchy-feely left is able to come up with nonsense that can compete with our Domestic Enemies of Sanity. It seems that a bunch of students in and around San Diego State University and UC-San Diego have been publishing a raunchy and irreverent humor tabloid called The Koala. See The aggressively offensive publication has upset any number of people at the unofficially-affiliated institutions. My favorite comment in the article above came from a professor in San Diego State’s women’s studies department: "I dread when it comes out. It makes students terrified and uncomfortable and not proud to be here." Those poor kids. War and senility and earthquakes make me terrified and uncomfortable, but those San Diego student have to cope with "jokes about homosexuals, Jews, Latinos, African-Americans, cancer patients and injured orphans." I bet that they just can’t wait to graduate and go to work.

Lent and Passover have some crude parallels besides arising more or less simultaneously each year. They both involve changes to eating habits as a sign of devotion. Lent is five times longer, but Passover, which begins tonight, is far more restrictive. It’s well known that my adherence to Jewish ritual and observance is, to say the least, eclectic, for which, I believe, there is no word in Hebrew. One rule that I adhere to during Passover is No Sandwiches, bread being the Kryptonite of Passover, after all. So, for my last pre-holiday meal I went to Hanoi Sandwich, 224A Canal Street (August 14, 2013), for a delicious banh mi, the signature dish of the Viet Cong.

This tiny space, where as many people squeeze in to buy lottery tickets as to get food, has three small, knee-high metal tables and six chairs on the sidewalk if you care to eat in, that is out really. In any case, I had a Hanoi barbecue meatball sandwich ($5.50) on a just-warmed, foot-long baguette, containing "BBQ soy [sauce], chicken meatballs, herbs, carrots, pickles, special dark sauce, jalapeno." Yummy. I was careful not to drip anything on my nice duds, since the low table was about one yard below my mouth. An extra surprise is the decrease, yes, I said decrease, in price of sandwiches from $5.95 to $5.50 since my last visit. There’s the making of a religion right there.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014
As always, we are fortunate to have our Passover seders at Aunt Judi’s and Uncle Stu’s in Englewood, New Jersey, where they still make Jews like they used to. Some cynics might claim that my faithful attendance at these seders is entirely attributable to Aunt Judi’s cooking. It is true that, year in and year out, I come away rhapsodizing about her inventive (strictly Kosher for Passover) menu and its faultless execution. However, I think that the tale of the Exodus (with or without Paul Newman), a tale of liberation from slavery, is worthy of repetition by all regardless of what’s for dinner. But, when Aunt Judi prepares and serves fried gefilte fish, beef brisket (so tender that thinking about a knife was all that was necessary), baked chicken in French dressing with a panko crumb crust, confetti vegetable souffle, matzoh jam kugel (hard to explain, but a great favorite even with the fussy little kids), cous cous with onions, health salad, strawberry-rhubarb compote, brownies, chocolate chip mandel brot (always at the head of my class), cinnamon and sugar mandel brot, and wonderful meringue nut cookies (feather light and full of slivered almonds), as she did last night, I can’t help but be more pious than usual.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Snow! Snowing! Last night, when we completed our flight from Egypt, we found our car covered with almost an inch of wet snow and more falling. That was April 15th in northern New Jersey, not northern Saskatchewan. Actually, it was April 16th by the time we were able to breath the air of freedom in Bergen County, which made this weather phenomenon even stranger. Fortunately, I was fueled for the journey out of Egypt and across the George Washington Bridge by fried gefilte fish (I could have this with every meal I will ever eat), veal brisket, Aunt Judi’s Famous Sweet and Sour Meatballs, chicken with garlic in wine sauce, vegetarian kishke (an attempt to gentrify one of the classic artery-clogging dishes of Jewish cuisine), three mushroom pilaf, red cabbage salad, broccoli souffle, chocolate chip mandel brot, cinnamon and sugar mandel brot, zebra cookies (chocolate cookies heavily dusted with powdered sugar) and chocolate cookies. On both nights, fresh fruit salad and commercial cakes and cookies were also available to pick up the slack.

The College Board announced details of the revised SAT today. Most disappointing to me was that "[o]ne big change is in the vocabulary questions, which will no longer include obscure words. Instead, the focus will be on what the College Board calls ‘high utility’ words that appear in many contexts, in many disciplines — often with shifting meanings — and they will be tested in context." Those couple of lines themselves present a test of reading comprehension that, I fear, many of us would fail. I have to admit that I never heard of high utility words; it’s enough that I am coping with New York Giant quarterback Eli Manning’s high ankle sprain, although I’m not sure where anyone’s high ankle begins. Maybe high utility words are to linguists as high ankle sprains are to orthopedists? It is beyond cavil that the College Board’s penchant to agglomerate a bevy of ostensibly arcane, obfuscatory, or nebulous words and proscribe them to lexical desuetude is demeritorious. Fie!

Friday, April 18, 2014
What bitter medicine to end this otherwise festive week. The headline reads:
Enrollments Exceed Obama’s Target for Health Care Act
Its sickening to think that millions of people now have health insurance thanks to the Socialist-In-Chief.  They might actually go to doctors when something ails them instead of merely molting in private.  This also contradicts the compassionate prescription once offered by George W. Bush, a real American President.  "People have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room."  Will we recover?

Friday, April 11, 2014

40 Years, 4.5% and 44.98 Euros

Monday, April 7, 2014
I can’t think of a medical test that is enjoyable, or even slightly amusing. They may hurt you with needles. They may be life threatening, such as the cardiac stress test which is intended to see how long it takes to induce a heart attack. They may be introduced by an ugly 24-hour preparation period, such as a colonoscopy. Of course, the good results of a medical test should produce good feelings, possibly enough to outweigh the annoyance, inconvenience or discomfort of the test itself.

This morning, I had to take a visual field test to detect glaucoma, which may measure psychology more effectively than vision. With one eye covered by a patch, you place your head into half a dinosaur egg. You are directed to stare at a small light straight ahead. You hold an electric buzzer (silent actually, it doesn’t buzz). When you see little pinpoints of light anywhere in your field of vision, you press the buzzer. Eventually, a diagram of your hits and misses is produced, presumably showing how good your vision is, at least at detecting little pinpoints of light.

Each eye takes about five minutes, and as it goes on you get weary, hitting the buzzer because there should have been a pinpoint of light, maybe where there wasn’t. Worse is the challenge presented to a competitive sort like me, someone who usually did well on standardized tests even after an extended period of academic sloth and indolence in the normal learning environment. With my head inside that scooped out dinosaur egg, I know that I’m missing some flashes. I’m old and I’m there because of deteriorating vision. But, I don’t want to get a bad score. I want to hit all those damn lights; I want to produce a test diagram that looks as dense as the stars in the sky.

No physical pain, no hours of purging, no gasping for breath, but this is a rotten test.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Forty years ago today, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, thereby beating Babe Ruth’s record. Since my memory is one of the too-few-to-begin-with virtues that I cling to, I sat for a few moments and was able to recover the experience. I was living and working in Los Angeles, managing a staff of computer programmers and analysts teamed with a sales force. A group of us, almost all salespeople (our office employed the first woman in sales nationally, I think) went to the Cock’n Bull Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, opened in 1937 and closed in 1987. No, I am not kidding; I am not signifying that all that follows is bogus.

The Cock’n Bull was, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, "a mock British tavern favored by notables ranging from author Somerset Maugham and actor Richard Burton (who changed his favorite table each time he changed wives) to rock singer Rod Stewart and his soccer team." We favored it because it was noisy and crowded, poured good drinks and featured all-you-could-eat roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, with trifle for dessert. In those days before the existence of sports bars decorated entirely with Japanese television screens, Cock’n Bull was the perfect place to watch this important baseball game on one or two small television sets over the bar. I don’t think any of us watching (including other expatriate New Yorkers) were ever Atlanta Braves fans, an onerous label under any circumstances, but we were all rooting for Aaron. Fortunately, unlike some other celebrations that we had at the Cock’n Bull, all of us eventually made it home without the intervention of the LAPD.

A long walk got me to New Great Bakery, 303 Grand Street. It was new and a bakery, and fairly large. The left side of the joint was entirely taken by counters, with the hot food dispensed at the end. The other 2/3 of the space was taken by tables where one person sat in every other chair.

I had four buns ($2) filled with chopped indeterminate meat, and a dish of mei fun ($1.75), angel hair pasta, cooked with slight amounts of onion, celery, carrots and a few teeny slivers of meat. Put it this way, it would keep you from starving.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
I was doing a little daydreaming and recalling the excellent meal that America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I had three years ago at Taillevent in Paris, a Michelin 2 star restaurant. Out of curiosity, I looked up the restaurant in Trip Advisor and found that it rated 4+ stars of 5, and sat 62 out of 11,984 restaurants reviewed in Paris. Since I seemed to never have eaten at the 61 restaurants preceding it, I can’t rightfully complain, but they should be awfully damn good by comparison. I’ll try and close the gap as soon as possible.

What interested me especially were the 17 "Poor" or "Terrible" reviews of Taillevent, out of the 373 recorded, about 4.5%. What went awry? I noted that the basic flaw among the disgruntled, as opposed to the giddy delight of the Upper West Side’s Power Couple, was going for dinner, not lunch. Taillevent offers a priced fixed lunch at a fraction of the cost of its à la carte dinner prices. This is typically the case in the finest restaurants in London, Paris and New York, allowing you to splurge without insolvency. Some of the negative reviewers hit one thousand bucks at dinner for two, although serious wine drinking was likely involved. I know that I could not be happy spending that much money at dinner with less than a minyan.

One of the unhappy few wrote in Japanese. Google offered to translate and here is an exact copy of a portion of Google’s translation:

"I chose the menu degustation the plunge is also Japanese menu, because it is quite likely to take in a la carte. Potion of Ichi-sara but ... I was impressed big fine (was great more a la carte but), and Yes with cream or butter all dish out dish out, Cry large in taste and beautiful dish at first completely give up by the time of the main meat in our couple to admission."

If you use Google to look up ichi sara, you encounter this lovely young lady modeling the Ichi Sara cape, on sale at 44.98 Euros.

In conclusion, Google should not quit its day job.

Friday, April 11, 2014
Arthur Dobrin trekked in from Westbury, New York to attend a conference and give a poetry reading at Poet’s House, " a national poetry library and literary center," located in Battery Park City. Situated on the lower western tip of Manhattan Island, this area was still the Hudson River when Hank Aaron hit his record-breaking home run. However, over 3 million cubic yards of soil and rock excavated during the construction of the World Trade Center and other projects, along with sand dredged from New York Harbor, created this new space. Stuyvesant High School relocated there in a building that is just about everything that the old one was not.

Since Arthur, who has the dubious distinction of being my oldest (in duration) friend, would be in downtown Manhattan in daylight, this gave us an opportunity to have lunch together. Because he expressed a preference for Asian food, I chose Kori Tribeca, 253 Church Street, the very good Korean restaurant where the Boyz Club met most recently. An additional coincidence is that Kori is the name of his daughter from long before the restaurant opened. We both had the Bulgoki lunch box, ($13.50), thin sliced marinated beef, salad, glass noodles, one fried dumpling, a slice of omelette, potato salad (!) and rice, he white, me brown. This is the fourth time I’ve been to Kori and it gets more crowded each time, deservedly.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Opening Day and Closing Ceremonies

Monday, March 31, 2014
In spite of our delight at celebrating the birthday of Professor David today, this is still a very sad day. It’s the opening day for the New York Mets baseball season, and I’m taking off to go to the stadium. Although the Mets have an overall losing record throughout their 52-year history, they typically perform well on the first game of their season, 32 wins versus 20 losses, but that’s insufficient to have me greet this day cheerfully.

Today, and henceforth, if I wish to listen to the Mets on the radio, enjoying particularly the professional broadcasting skills of Howie Rose, I have to turn to WOR, 710 on the AM dial. There are six radios in the Palazzo di Gotthelf, four under my total control, and one in shared custody. My four radios are tuned to WFAN, 660 on the AM dial, with occasional excursions to ESPN radio, 98.7 on the FM dial. At one time, there was never a reason to leave WFAN. It broadcast the Mets, the New York Giants, the New York Rangers and the New York Knicks, with Steve Sommers, the Schmoozer, doing the overnight broadcasts.

During 1993-1994, when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup and the Knicks were one game shy of winning the NBA championship, I had the good fortune to be unemployed much of the year, allowing me to sit and listen to my radio (tuned to WFAN) most of my waking hours. That was during the 23-year period that I lived without a television set by choice. Of course, when there was a lull in the sports schedules, I had ample time to read, often a book a day. Marriage, among other benefits, brought a television set (two actually) back into my life. However, these days, even after replacing the original two television sets in my bride's dowry, I still turn on the radio to catch at least part of a game when I cannot sit still in front of the television.

Over time, the Rangers and Knicks left WFAN, migrating to ESPN radio. A few months ago, and here's the source of my great sadness, WFAN announced that it was going to be the radio voice of the Yankees. I understood the attraction of broadcasting the deep-pocket Yankees, but I was quite distressed. Word of the Mets new destination was delayed, at first. I hoped that they were destined for ESPN, which would require me to return to WFAN only for the Giants, usually on Sunday afternoons. Then, the cruel news. WOR, radio home of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, two of the most prominent Domestic Enemies of Sanity, would broadcast the Mets. Now, besides the challenge of moving about three different radio stations on four radios during the year, there was the prospect of tuning into Limbaugh or Hannity because of a rain delay or other scheduling mishap.

For the time being, I'm tuning my four radios to ESPN, at least through the end of hockey season, and will simply attend Mets games in person. Of course, if a lot of free time becomes available as a result of eschewing the Mets on the radio, I can always return to reading or even talking to my wife.

You might say that Leo Bretholz was my first client as a lawyer. I never met him and only learned about him in the obituary printed in the Sunday Times, after he died at age 93. He left Vienna as a Jewish teenager, fleeing the Nazis, and made his way to Belgium. Once the Blitzkrieg overtook almost all of Western Europe he dodged and weaved through Jewish ghettos, Roman Catholic religious residences, and ditches in the woods. His luck lasted only so long and he was caught in France and put on a transport to Auschwitz. With another prisoner, he managed to leap from the train after prying open a small window, and kept on the run for another two years. Once the war ended, he came to the United States, raised a family and owned a couple of businesses.

In 2000, Leo Bretholz became a plaintiff in a federal class action suit aimed at SNCF, the French national railroad system. That’s where I come in. When I graduated from law school in 2001, the legal job market was collapsing along with the dot com economy and the towers of the World Trade Center. As a result of some research that I did in a third-year seminar, I was asked to work as a researcher for a group of lawyers mounting a class action suit against SNCF for its role in transporting French Jews to their death in Auschwitz. We had evidence that SNCF took on this role as business-as-usual, showing no reluctance to cooperate with the Nazis. SNCF’s most appalling conduct, to my mind, came once the Nazis were thrown out of France and General Charles DeGaulle established a new regime. SNCF billed the new government for the rental of the boxcars in which Jews were packed to the point of suffocation.

My job, for which I was promised compensation if and when we ever recovered damages from SNCF, was to research the US law that could be used to bring SNCF into an American court. I found ample support for our position, but the federal courts held that a federal statute enacted 31 years after the end of WWII eliminated the grounds to prosecute SNCF. Until passage of that statute, SNCF’s conduct was vulnerable under US law. In our case, the courts applied retroactivity even though unmentioned in the statute itself, although that’s not always the rule.

So, Leo Bretholz told his story to schoolchildren in the Baltimore area where he lived, testified before the US Congress and state legislative committees, but only heard from SNCF that it was following orders. I got a job with the New York State court system at about the time that the SNCF suit was first rebuffed in the federal courts. Since then, my role has been to stand between plaintiff and defendant, acting only on behalf of the judge who has to decide between the contesting parties. Therefore, Leo Bretholz became my last client, just as he had been my first.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Melanie L. sent me an article providing another measure of our success in the war on the poor, identifying how far the prevailing minimum wage goes to paying rent by locality. Metropolitan areas are the reporting unit, and the Big Apple doesn’t even make the Final Four. San Francisco, Honolulu, Silicon Valley and Orange County, CA come before Nassau-Suffolk (Long Island), the closest that my neighbors and I get to thorough economic cleansing. In fact, New York City isn’t even in the Top Ten.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. issued an opinion this morning that said: "There is no right in our democracy more basic than the right to participate in electing our political leaders." Was this eloquence in behalf of turning back attempts to limit voting and restrict access to the polling place? Gee whiz, no. He was in the process of striking down limits on campaign spending. You see, everybody, rich and poor alike, has the right to spend millions of dollars to elect our political leaders. According to Roberts, spending limits "intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities,’" that is, to rent a politician. Of course, some of those "citizens" are multinational corporations who don’t pay taxes like you and me ( or even have jury duty.

I went to the Lobster Boat Restaurant, 11 Mott Street, when it first opened (June 3, 2010). I enjoyed the food that I ate, although I turned back some unusual side dishes – garlic bread with everything? The service and hygiene, on the other hand, were well below par. Today, accompanied by Ilana M., my courthouse colleague, I returned, hoping for a more consistent, high level of performance. And, we found it closed.

Thursday, April 3, 2014
Not easily deterred, I returned to the Lobster Boat, alone. This turned out to be a mistake, not, however, because of what I ate, half a small fried chicken ($7.95) that really seemed roasted, but because of what I didn’t eat. Going alone and not very hungry, I skipped the multi-course one person lunches ($12.95-16.95) still including garlic bread, and had no reason to venture into the more-elaborate two person lunches (around $30.95). The chicken, served with a piece of lemon and a small dish of sauce, made of rice wine, soy sauce and garlic I’d guess, was good and satisfied my limited hunger.

I was the only customer in any of the seven booths, one large round and one large square table, so service was prompt. All the tables were covered by black oilcloth printed with an overlay of yellow squares. Unlike my experience with the red checked oilcloth on my previous visit, just after the restaurant opened, the oilcloth was free of the sticky residue of a past meal.

Friday, April 4, 2014
Finally, a farewell to Bill Tong, who had a big funeral at lunchtime at the Wah Wing Sang Funeral Corp., 26 Mulberry Street. I couldn’t help but notice this as I headed to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for the second time this week. There were two bands playing as the very expensive- looking, burnished copper coffin was carried to the hearse – the six-piece Italian group, 3 trumpets/cornets, 1 trombone and 2 drums, and the four-piece Chinese group, 1 cymbal, 1 gong and two men playing brass horns that looked like reduced-size vuvuzelas. That’s a first. I’ve seen each group before, the Italian group much more often, oddly enough, but never the two together. Not surprisingly, there was no attempt to coordinate the music-making.

By the way, I don’t think that Bill Tong was the right name, although that’s what I was told by a Chinese man standing in the crowd. After I ate, I went back to the funeral parlor and looked at the list of names posted on the front door, its cast of characters, so to speak. None approximated Bill Tong and the Internet only turned up the death of Bill Tong, 81, of Canon City, Colorado on March 3rd. That Mr. Tong was buried without services, at his request, according to the Canon City Daily Record. Now that I think about it, maybe the man on the street misunderstood my question and responded with his own name, Bill Tong. I hope that’s not bad luck.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bridge Over Troubled Waters?

Monday, March 24, 2014
There are a couple of things to note since my last publication. First, Dean Alfange, Jr., distinguished United States Supreme Court scholar points out that the WASP-less panel discussing (the uber-WASPy) John Lindsay's tenure as Mayor of New York, while out of line with overall American demographics, is a near-perfect reflection of the current Supreme Court, Jews, Italian-Americans, a Latina, an African-American -- no Protestants of any flavor or color. How interesting.

Secondly, while I devote myself almost entirely to discussing eating lunch in Chinatown, I feel obliged to report on the excellent meal that we (in the company of intrepid traveling companions Jill and Steve) had Friday night at MP Taverna, 31-29 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria. It’s a very busy two-story place, with a long bar, properly equipped with television sets tuned to sports events, on the first floor. Many more tables are upstairs, where, although slightly further from the kitchen, service was prompt and generally efficient.

The menu was slightly off-putting at first. It seemed more Greekish than Greek, with either the chef reinterpreting classic dishes or omitting them altogether. Additionally, prices for the appetizers (mezzes in the local lingo), the first things seen on the top of the menu, were pretty high, $9.50 to $13.95. But, then I saw that main courses, such as roasted lemon chicken ($15.95) and grilled branzino ($20.95) were much more down to earth. I had a lamb burger, nearly a 1/2 pound of meat with bacon, smoked mozzarella and trimmings, with a side of "smashed fries," potatoes that had been smooshed flat before frying, an excellent execution. Two others ordered the branzino, and Jill ventured into a special concoction of orzo, mushrooms, and other vegetables that was pronounced delicious. Hot, thin pita wedges, a plate of three dips -- yoghurt with cucumber & dill, chick peas with sundried tomato & herbs, and eggplant with roasted peppers & garlic -- a glass of sauvignon blanc, and a chocolate halvah brownie for dessert. This meal would certainly soften the blow of moving to Queens, if we were ever pressed to leave the Palazzo di Gotthelf.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
"2 Killed in Shooting at Virginia Naval Base," reads one story this morning, right next to "Georgia Proposes Sweeping Pro-Gun Law." I’m convinced that the gun nuts (distinct from some hunters and competitive shooters) are ultimately afraid of the people (world) around them, and, imagining their inability to cope with the hustle-bustle of modern life, turn to firearms to provide the illusion of safety and control. Of course, the irony (unfortunately, a concept that seems to be totally absent from the gun nuts’ mentality) is that the greatest danger here – not Cairo, not Caracas, not Kiev – comes from other gun nuts. We only have to go to today’s newspaper, and tomorrow’s and tomorrow’s and tomorrow’s, to learn that guns kill people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported for 2011: Number of firearm homicide deaths, 11,101 (out of 15,953 total homicide deaths); number of firearm suicide deaths, 19,766 (out of 38,285 total suicide deaths). Now, do you feel safer?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
The Boyz Club ate today at Kori Tribeca, 253 Church Street, an excellent Korean restaurant, and apparently the only one nearby, now that Jup She, 171 Grand Street, closed. We riffed on the topic of "If a corporation, enjoying the privileges and immunities of the corporate form, is owned/controlled by people professing ________________ religious beliefs, it should be able to treat its employees like crap."

Thursday, March 27, 2014
Noodle Q Inc., 2 East Broadway, has a bright new sign on both sides of its corner plot. The interior also appears fresh and bright. However, the menu still reads Food Sing 88 Corp., although the prices have been raised from a previous iteration (December 6, 2010). I’m treating this, therefore, as a new restaurant, adding to my count.

Noodles, hand-pulled and otherwise, are the focus here. I had lamb with dry noodles ($6.75) which was accompanied by a bowl of dark, rich (fatty) beef broth, served piping hot. The lamb was in small cubes, sometimes attached to a piece of bone, sometimes with a little gristle, but not cooked beyond recognition or digestion. Eggs, celery, onions, and bok choy were cooked in with the lo-meinish noodles. Quite tasty. I eschewed the waitress’s offer of a fork and made all gone with chop sticks.

Friday, March 28, 2014
"How to Investigate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie," by Randy (Big Shot Lawyer) Mastro: 

1. Ask Governor Christie if he was involved with the punitive closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
2. Don’t ask anyone who was likely to have been involved with the punitive closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge whether Governor Christie was involved with the punitive closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
3. Announce that Governor Christie was not involved with the punitive closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Remember When

Monday, March 17, 2014
A federal district judge, sitting in Brooklyn, has been removed from a case involving handicap access to a Subway restaurant. The judge sent staff members to the location to examine its wheelchair-accessibility. The judge was skeptical because the plaintiff commenced eight law suits asserting the same charges in identical language, on the same day, against eight different Subways. The judge’s problem was the absence of the lawyers on the case at the site visit. In fact, the judge had his guys go to all eight restaurants, where they allegedly found conditions that did not comport with plaintiff’s claims. Even though empirical observations were being gathered "for judicial notice," it wasn’t kosher to do so without the benefit of counsel to obfuscate and distort the obvious physical conditions at issue. While there is no question that the Federal Rules of Evidence require notice to the lawyers of what the judge was up to, I can’t help but be sympathetic to the judge in his search for truth.

I was a management consultant for years before I became a lawyer. I saw myself as a problemsolver, trying to find reasonable solutions to business issues dealing with information and financial management. When I became a lawyer, these instincts did not leave me, and, admittedly, have sometimes interfered with the proper conduct of my job. Never have I taken it as far as the Brooklyn federal judge, sending Nancy Drew out to the scene of the crime. Also, when I have taken unauthorized "judicial notice" of some salient factor, I usually confessed it to my supervisor. As a result, the forbidden fruit never, maybe never, got incorporated into the resolution of the legal dispute at hand. Still, I am tempted to peek at information available to the general public, but withheld from the court for any numbers of reasons, ranging from the strategic to the incompetent. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
I have commented before on the eagerness of the Domestic Enemies of Sanity to convert the War on Poverty to a War on the Poor by imposing drug testing on public assistance recipients. I thought that it was all wrong, backwards in fact. Major harm is really threatened by the coked-up top dogs who command vast resources and govern the health and welfare of so many of us, not the field mice scratching for an existence. Case in point – Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts professional football team, arrested late Sunday on suspicion of intoxicated driving, and now facing four felony counts of possession of a controlled substance. Members of his team, and all other NFL players, are subject to regular drug testing. After all, a pill-popping running back is perceived as a threat to all we hold near and dear. Team owners, and other better members of American society, however, are spared the indignity of aiming for the bottle, so they may concentrate on the management of their non-liquid assets.

I realize that I might seem to be harsh on Irsay and the other vaunted job-creators (who have done a lousy job of creating jobs for several years now, in case anyone didn’t notice). After all, Irsay worked very hard to reach his current position. When his father died in 1997, leaving ownership of the Indianapolis Colts in dispute, Irsay waged a legal battle against his stepmother to gain control of the team. And, that wasn’t a walk in the park. Word has it that Irsay lost several pairs of cufflinks in the struggle.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
As I finished my dim sum at Grand Harmony Restaurant, 98 Mott Street, I looked around at the dozens of tables in the crowded restaurant. I spotted only two other non-Chinese(ish) faces, which is, of course, a powerful endorsement. I enjoyed shrimp dumplings, sticky pork buns, shu mai and something I've never seen before, broad rice noodles wrapped around a crispy middle (fried cotton candy?) with a dab of meat or vegetable in the center. That’s not a very helpful description, but the server spoke a dialect that I haven’t fully mastered. This collection cost $10.50 before tax and tip.

Thursday, March 20, 2014
It may have been unconscious, but I drifted over to Gold River Malaysian Cuisine, 21 Division Street, without thinking about the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The staff was very pleasant and attentive, so I didn’t think to engage them in speculation about the missing airplane. Instead, I merely ordered curried chicken over rice ($6.25) and worked the crossword puzzle. The food was good, the mound of rice much larger than the portion of chicken. The plate also had about half a dozen fresh cucumber spears to balance the spicy curry sauce.

When I finished, I walked down the block to see how Division 31 Restaurant was faring. It seems that they still insist in offering hot pot only at lunchtime to no customers. This was at least the fourth time that I found the joint empty, but unwilling to serve any other food. The difference this time was the removal of their lunchtime special menu from the window, so that no one might ask for what they were never willing to provide.

Friday, March 21, 2014
Last night, I went to a forum at Hunter College on John Lindsay, held in conjunction with the publication of a new book "Summer in the City: John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream," edited by Hunter College Professor Joseph P. Viteritti. About a dozen politicians, staffers, reporters, and historians participated, including the formidable Sid Davidoff, CCNY ‘60, Lindsay’s then young, aggressive street operative. The hall was packed; several hundred people attended, almost all of whom old enough to have voted for Lindsay at the time. It was suggested that a more contemporary audience might benefit from the discussion of the successes and failures of municipal governance nearly 50 years ago.

There was one aspect of the evening that I could not help but observe through the lens of ethnicity, the quintessential New York lens. Lindsay was the perfect WASP. Born into an upper-middle-class family, Episcopalian, educated at St. Paul’s School, Yale and Yale Law School. He was the last white Protestant mayor of New York, maybe forever. The only other white Protestant mayor before him in the last 100 years was Fiorello H. La Guardia, son of a lapsed Roman Catholic father and a Jewish mother, who somehow emerged as an Episcopalian. By no accounts would La Guardia be considered a WASP. In any case, no one on the stage last night was a WASP – Jews, African-Americans, Hispanic, Italian-Americans. How interesting.  How unlike so much of America we are. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Cake Walk

Monday, March 10, 2014
“All the News That’s Fit to Print” is the famous motto of the New York Times, but I’m disappointed to say that, at least yesterday, they failed terribly in meeting this goal.  It was not a matter of some rush-rush, breaking story where exactitude had to be sacrificed in order to get out the basic details.  Instead, a small feature piece entitled “Stolen Recipe?  No Little Old Lady?” describes a bustling Brooklyn bakery named Mrs. Maxwell’s Bakery omitted critical information. 

The Times tells us that “a procession of cars and minivans began to stream into the bakery’s parking lot” on a Sunday morning as church services ended.  Later, “the place was packed with boisterous families.”   By now, my antennae were throbbing -- a great bakery operating for about 85 years located in East New York, my boyhood neighborhood, “on Atlantic Avenue on the way home from Kennedy Airport.” 

Let’s turn for a moment away from gastronomy to geography.  Atlantic Avenue starts at the East River, runs the entire width of Brooklyn into Queens, ending at 147th Street in Jamaica.  About 3/4 of the distance of Atlantic Avenue is in Brooklyn, roughly 9 of 12 miles, all of which could be on your way home from Kennedy Airport.  Now, I grew up in East New York, a neighborhood not widely known, on Pitkin Avenue, two long blocks south of Atlantic Avenue.  I never heard of Mrs. Maxwell’s, so I read the article very carefully.  In many column inches, the Times was unable to fit in the address of the bakery.  Where in Hell is Mrs. Maxwell’s?  It’s easy to get confused, especially when West New York is in New Jersey.  Even if you knew the relative location of East New York, it is a designation that extends several miles itself.   

This is where Grandpa Alan comes to your rescue.  A quick inquiry, which should not have been beyond the research skills of the Times, reveals the address of Mrs. Maxwell’s as 2700 Atlantic Avenue, between Vermont Street and Wyona Street, much closer to the Queens County line than the East River.  There are a couple of subway stops nearby, Liberty Avenue on the A and C lines, and Alabama Avenue on the J line.  While it’s not that hard to get there, please note that Mrs. Maxwell’s is situated well off the beaten path, miles from the newly-gentrified neighborhoods of Brooklyn that have drawn your suburban-raised children.  

An address that I’ll never forget is 17 Mott Street, where Wo Hop thrives below street level.  I had a (large as always) plate of chicken chow fun ($6.50) that held a delight in every bite.  The balance of flavors that Wo Hop manages with its chow fun dishes is remarkable, with the noodles a little Far East of al dente.  I’m again reminded of why I eat there once a week.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014
The e-mail message from Lexus of Manhattan reassured me that fixing our car will cost less than I spent last year fixing my teeth.  Although, as Stony Brook Steve sagely observed, “There goes your Spring vacation.”  Admittedly, our automobile had performed near-flawlessly for over 6 years, although not much was demanded of it as we both take the subway to work every weekday.  However, last week, the vehicle decided to declare its independence from the orderly affairs of the friendly Gotthelf family.  Given the gravity of the indicated problem(s), we had no choice but to fund the Spring vacation of Vito Perremuto, a service department manager at Lexus of Manhattan.  I hope I get a postcard.

Yesterday’s visit to Wo Hop was so satisfying that I returned today with Stony Brook Steve, who ordered the chicken chow fun. 

This week’s New Yorker magazine features an interview with the father of the Sandy Hook school executioner.  The father, who had not seen his son for two years before the terrible events of December 2012, describes his son as “evil,” and expresses the wish that his son, the younger of two boys, had never been born.  

The father’s painful thoughts brought to mind Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac, a biblical tale oft examined by clergy and psychotherapists alike.  Conventionally, the story is taken as a test of Abraham’s faith in God.  Abraham, doing God’s bidding, binds Isaac, lifts a knife to him, but is deterred at the last moment by an angel.  My lifetime is too short to begin contemplating whether the angel was rebelling against God, acting under God’s direction, God herself or simply Abraham’s conscience. 

And, what of that voice that guided Abraham to the brink of a terrible crime?  Did the young, alienated Sandy Hook killer hear a compelling voice also?  Abraham stopped in time, while the killer did not.  At a critical juncture, he stopped taking the medications which apparently temporarily substituted for an angel or a conscience.  

The other night, as America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I were watching a string of Homeland episodes, she commented about my antagonism toward the fictional character Carrie Mathison, the brilliant but emotionally unstable CIA agent.  She, my bride that is, pointed out the similar feelings aroused in me by some people we know, as well as other fictional characters and celebrities, who go too far in one fashion or another.  Whether seduced by any of the Seven Deadly Sins or heavenly voices, I hope that those around me can pull back in time, as Abraham did.  If not, don’t expect me to be a source of comfort and understanding.  I know my limitations.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Driver's Test

Monday, March 3, 2014
A bitcoin for your thoughts?

A new month, and a new restaurant.  85 Chinese Restaurant, 85 Chrystie Street, obviously gets straight to the point.  It is medium sized, holding 4 round tables and about a dozen two tops pushed together as needed.  The walls and the furniture are mostly blond wood, giving a bright, airy feel to the joint.  I ordered Singapore chow fun ($7.50), one of my favorite dishes.  As with many restaurants, it does not appear on the menu, but, once you see beef chow fun (the wide noodle) and Singapore chow mei fun (the thin noodle), you know that you can get them combined.  The portion was very large.  In fact, my only complaint is how the dish cooled down as I soldiered through the heap of shrimp, pork, egg, scallions, onions, green pepper, bean sprouts and noodles cooked with curry.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Today is Mardi Gras.  However, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, unlike other parts of the U.S. or the world, you are unlikely to see half-naked drunks throwing jewelry to bystanders, in spite of my urging.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
I was reminded of my first car this morning.  It was a 1958 Dodge sedan, purchased used from a Dodge dealer in Queens, during my second year of graduate school.  We were a Dodge family.  The first car in the family that I knew of was a 1937 mouse-gray Dodge.  In 1950, my father traded that in for a pea-soup green Dodge sedan, which we inaugurated by taking a trip more or less around the perimeter of New York state.  I remember stops in Binghamton, Buffalo and Glens Falls where, at a firemen’s carnival, my father and I won consecutive Bingo games on the same card.  My father replaced that car with a blue and white 1957 Dodge, which influenced my purchase about 6 years later.

Dodge, as most other domestic automobile manufacturers, was then in thrall of tail fins, so the chrome trim and the two-tone paint jobs on both the 1957 and 1958 Dodges emphasized the faux aerodynamic lines of the automobile.  I paid $600 for the car, I think, which was painted cream and gold, quite stunning at the time.  It also featured a push-button automatic transmission, another touch of modernity.  My reverie did not last long, however.  On my first trip from Queens to Ithaca, the car blew up or something like that.  Pardon me, but the fine education that I had at Stuyvesant High School and CCNY unfortunately omitted automobile mechanics and repairs.

Time and pain have obscured a lot of the subsequent details, but I managed to get the car fixed at a garage somewhere along Route 17, the major link between New York City and Ithaca.  I paraded about Ithaca for a bit, before heading back to New York.  About halfway, the car blew up again.  I had already reached the area known as the Borscht Belt, because of the density of Jewish summertime visitors, and was able to find my way late at night to the bungalow where the Friedmans, very close friends of my parents, were staying.  I arranged to have the car towed back to the dealer in Queens, and rolled (pushed) it onto his lot, demanding a refund.  Years later, I got $200, although my lawyer, a relative, may have done better than me in the transaction.

All of this comes to mind because of the news that a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 NART Spider sold at auction for $27.5 million last summer, while, a few days ago, a 1958 Ferrari 335S sold privately for $21.5 million.  Now, if somehow I managed to retain and preserve my father’s 1957 Dodge and my 1958 Dodge, and sold them as a set, which the Ferrari owners were unable to do, I would likely have become a Republican.

Max K., once the Belarus Wonder Boy, now an American real estate investor, came to lunch with me.  We went to Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, which feeds dim sum of the highest quality to enormous crowds  in a wonderfully garish setting.  We ate and ate and ate, and managed to spend just over $20.  The pleasure of Max’s company distracted me from keeping count of the number of dims that we summed, but it seemed to have been about 9 or 10.

Thursday, March 6, 2014
The College Board has announced a major revision of the SAT, the great hurdle to college admissions, because it had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.”  The College Board claims that only 20% of classroom teachers see the SAT as a fair measure of the work their students have done.  Or, is it possible, that the work that their students have done is only 20% of what they should have done?

I admit a certain bias in this regard, representing the reverse side of this formula.  Throughout my 20th century school years (law school was mostly a 21st century event), I usually went through an extended period of academic sloth and indolence, only to pull many of my proverbial chestnuts out of the fire by wielding a #2 pencil accurately between those narrow parallel lines.  My test scores, therefore, seemed to demonstrate academic diligence and rigor that had no basis in reality.

I agree with the College Board’s attempt, however, to deflate the SAT prep and tutoring industry, with its distinct flavor of “money talks,” the secular religion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing bloc.  I am all for rewarding practice and concentration, but it seems that test-taking tricks and strategies were often being peddled as keys to SAT success.

The best news concerns the character of the SAT essay section.  Quoth the New York Times: “Students now write about their experiences and opinions, with no penalty for incorrect assertions, even egregiously wrong ones.  In the future, though, students will receive a source document and be asked to analyze it for its use of evidence, reasoning and persuasive or stylistic technique.”  Oh my!  Quite unlike television reporting and commentary, students will be penalized for “incorrect assertions, even egregiously wrong ones.”  Applied to the communications industry, a thrice-married Australian media magnate might have to retire to raising kangaroos.  

Friday, March 7, 2014
Speaking of looking out for your own, the lead article on the front page of today’s New York Law Journal deals with the charges against four big shots of the now-defunct law firm Dewey & LeBouef, all of whom earned more than $1 million annually.  The New York County District Attorney indicted them for “concocting and overseeing a massive effort to cook the books.”  Making it a bit easy for the prosecutors is a trail of e-mails by these perps, which included such gems as “I don’t want to cook the books anymore” and a list of “Accounting Tricks.”  Accompanying the article is a photograph of the four no-goodniks walking down the hall of the Criminal Court building.  The photo caption politely identifies them as “[f]rom left with hands folded: . . .”  Well, their hands are folded out of necessity because they are all wearing handcuffs, a departure from their usual cufflinks.