Friday, August 29, 2014

Hard To Digest

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 Here is a copy of the letter that I sent to the editor this morning (that went unpublished):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wet and Wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ahoy, Matey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, August 8, 2014

Give Peace A Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fruitful Memories

Monday, July 28, 2014
The author of a letter to the business section in the Sunday Times was identified as a “professor of communication sciences and disorders.”  I couldn’t make sense of that until going to her institution’s web site, which discussed its department of communication sciences and disorders.  I learned that they were talking about speech pathology, a familiar term, possibly too familiar in this world of grandiose labels and grade inflation.  What threw me off, and still strikes me as inapt, is the use of “communications,” such a broad term, in which speech is only a small part.  Arguably, communications sciences could be devoted entirely to telephony, satellite transmissions, fiber optics and/or emojis, those overly precious symbols appended to text messages, themselves the subject of an article in the paper yesterday as well.  But, in this case, the communications disorder is found in the college’s use of language, its apparent need to disguise an easily and widely understood subject behind a sexed up label. 
As soon as I sat down at Jing Star, 27 Division Street, for dim sum, I started reading Ten Green Bottles, the story of a Viennese family that fled to Shanghai to escape the Nazis, that I just got from the library around the corner.  It broadly echoes the plight of the Bergers, my former in-laws.  The author, Vivian Jeanette Kaplan, was born in Shanghai, as was my ex-wife.  She calls her work “a memoir in the creative non-fiction genre,” because she writes entirely in her mother’s voice.  

The (parent) Bergers were very close-mouthed about their Shanghai experiences, and my wife and her brother seemed to learn more from family friends who had shared the journey physically and emotionally with them.  In the 1970s, very little was known about the expatriate Shanghai Jews, and I have since tried to gather information as it became available through books, documentaries and exhibitions.  

As I read, I had wide rice noodles wrapped around shrimp, shu mei, tightly rolled up strips of chow fun topped with ugly pieces of pork belly, steamed buns containing diced pieces of a pale root vegetable, ground meat and peanuts, and baked triangular barbecued pork buns ($12 before tip).  The place was about half full, but very lively, in contrast to the low energy, and lower prices, that I found on a prior visit (February 15, 2012).  
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 
Reuters – “More than a third of U.S. adults have bad debt that has been handed over to a collection agency and their average debt in collections is $5,178, according to a study published on Tuesday by the Urban Institute.”  Maybe I’m naive, but that’s shocking news.  I’m not sure whether I am more worried about the hardships faced by this large number of people who are unable/unwilling to control their financial affairs, or their potential for social and/or political disruption.   
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
The sports section of the Times this morning sadly described my visit to the ball park last night: “A grand slam by [Philadelphia Phillie] Chase Utley off [Mets] reliever Josh Edgin in the seventh sent fans to the exits early.”  
On the other hand, lunch with Stony Brook Steve was not cut short by any adverse heroics.  We went to Thai Son Vietnamese Restaurant, 89 Baxter Street.  We shared a large order (8 pieces) of  cha gio, fried spring rolls ($7.25).  I had bun bo lui, grilled beef with sesame seasoning & lettuce on rice vermicelli ($6.25); Steve ordered bo xao bong cai, beef with broccoli in oyster sauce ($9.50).  Food was OK, but the company was far better.  
The following headline popped up on NYTimes.com late this afternoon: “Arab Leaders Silent, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel.”  That seems to leave only the good Christians of Western Europe to be convinced.  
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Speaking of communications disorders, my letter to the elderly mother, in Denver, of the deceased Alan Gotthelf has gone unanswered.  In it, I introduced myself, enclosing printed evidence of my existence, and suggested further communications without explicitly expressing my curiosity about Alan’s life and very premature death at age 37.  While I have not found any evidence of marriage or children for him, I’d like to validate this information.  Nothing indicates that he had any siblings either, so I may have to let Alan simply rest in peace. 
I met Mark Nazimova, poet and seeker, for lunch at North Dumpling, 27A Essex Street, just doors away from where my mother was born almost 105 years ago at 13 Essex Street.  North is one of Mark’s favorites, but new to me.  My guess is that Chinese takeout was not a regular feature of the Goldenberg (nĂ© Chelchowsky) household in its first American home back then.    
Mark and I shared one order of 8 steamed vegetable dumplings ($3); two orders, 10 each, of pan fried pork and chive dumplings ($2.50); chive pancakes (2 for $1.50), 3 ½" discs filled with chives and fine rice noodles (mei fun, vermicelli, angel hair pasta); 1 sesame pancake with beef, a triangular wedge very close to focaccia, sprinkled with sesame seeds, with a thin slice of beef, shredded carrots and slight amount of a pungent sauce in the middle ($2).  
North is small, 2 tables, 6 chairs, one ledge and 2 stools.  While we lingered, many people came in and out for takeout orders.  When we left, I regaled Mark with stories about the old neighborhood that I learned from my mother and her older sister Sophie.  Had the weather been a little cooler, he might have walked away faster.
Friday, August 1, 2014
I’m having great success on my new diet, which limits me to fresh fruit when I am not eating Chinese food or chocolate chip cookies.  So, I’m happy to give my latest Chinatown sidewalk fruit report for the corner of Mulberry Street and Canal Street: donut peaches, $2 for 20 oz. package; blueberries, $1.25 a pint; raspberries, $2 for 6 oz.; blackberries, $1 a pint; pineapple, $1.50 (never saw such a low price).  I purchased all but the pineapple for dessert tonight and should thereby be able to avoid scurvy at least through the weekend.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Customer Disservice

Monday, July 21, 2014
Just hours after buying two tickets to see the Book of Mormon in London in September, at about 1/3 the Broadway price, the (London-resident) Brodies sent me an e-mail that they would like to see it too. I got back on-line to Ticketmaster UK (TUK) to order more tickets and found the two seats next to us still open. However, when I tried to purchase them, the computer wouldn’t allow it, because it would leave one more seat in the cluster vacant. In other words, I could purchase one seat of the three available or all three seats, but not two seats. I repeat, TUK refused to sell me two seats, because a third seat was left over with 54 days before the performance to sell it. I immediately sent an e-mail to their customer service desk and got a form response requesting patience. 

Patient I’m not, so yesterday I called Over There and explained the situation to a TUK rep, who claimed that the theater imposed that policy on them. After several minutes of my eloquence, inspired by Rumpole of the Bailey, he agreed to take my appeal to higher authority, and promised resolution in the indeterminate future, either unlocking the two adjacent seats, or placing us in another array of four seats. With that, the prosecution rested, temporarily.

Today, I e-mailed David Brodie and, with silence from TUK, I urged him to go the theater and buy the available seats, just as any normal human being would without the unholy intervention of irrational microcircuitry. Good thinking, right? Well, the theater, even though named for the Prince of Wales, successor to the Throne, would not sell him the tickets because, they informed him, those seats are allocated to TUK. Checkmate?  We'll see.

I spent much of my senior year at CCNY reworking a paper on the confirmation battle over Clare Boothe Luce’s appointment as ambassador to Brazil in order to submit it simultaneously to several different government courses that I was taking, that is the small portion of my senior year that I actually devoted to academic pursuits. A new biography of Luce was reviewed in the Times yesterday by Maureen Dowd, a woman with an almost equally sharp tongue. Dowd recalled the only time she ever met Luce, who died in 1987, Luce greeted her with "Did you know all the mischief in the world was caused by five Jewish men?" This was coupled with another Luce remark meant to illustrate where she stood on the International Jewish Conspiracy.

However, I found the comment about five Jewish men, which I don’t think originated with Luce, fascinating, and not necessarily unflattering. First, of course, we need to identify the starting lineup. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Marx and Freud, a powerful collection, immediately came to mind.  Although not Jewish, Hitler, Stalin and Mao could surely qualify as mischief-makers. They might be on the second team, though, because they were specific to their time and place, not shaping the future, only destroying it for many in their path.

I am reconsidering Abraham’s place. While his monotheism was radical, I’m not sure of its value today. The monotheistic religions still battle (often literally) over whose God is the one and only God. So, I have a slot open. "Major Male Jewish Mischief-Maker Wanted." Theodore Herzl, Bob Dylan, Baruch Spinoza, Lennie Bruce?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
After numerous e-mail exchanges with TUK, and my suggestion that American Express has proved very cooperative with me in the past when dealing with unreasonable vendors, I received the following message shortly before noon: "Thanks for your reply and I’m sorry to hear of any frustration. However, I can see from the notes on your order that we’ve added 2 tickets to your booking in row S and seats 14 -15 to your order." Indeed, just before 2 PM, I got a telephone call from the Mother Country completing the transaction. Game, set and match.

Wait! Stop the presses! Not two minutes after the telephone call from TUK, David Brodie sent me this e-mail: "I have two tickets just in front of you R14 & R15 bought and paid for." As of now, we have 6 tickets for Book of Mormon, when moments ago we were beseeching TUK to allow us to have four.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Boyz Club ate heartily at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street – fried won tons, spare ribs, duck chow fun, beef chow fun, eggplant with garlic sauce, honey crispy chicken, shrimp egg foo young, string beans with black bean sauce, mushroom fried rice and toothpicks for dessert @ $16 each complete.

Thursday, July 24, 2014
First message in my in-box this morning is from David Brodie telling how theater box office is unwilling to correct our trans-Atlantic communications breakdown. This might be a good time for you to consider a few days in London in early September. I can guarantee good seats to a hit show.

My role as a cutting-edge observer of the passing scene is subject to the vagaries of time, that is, when you get to my cutting edge, it has often been dulled by the inexorable movement of time and tide. But, I have an obligation to report what I see, and I see fruit prices in Chinatown in a very favorable position. Cherries, both Bing and Queen Anne, are at 2 pounds for $4, blueberries, $1.25 a pint, strawberries, $1.25 a pound. Champagne mangoes are running out, and have risen to about $1.25 each for hefty sizes, but juicy sweet when ripe. For one day only earlier in the week, I found white donut peaches at $3 for 20 ounces, a rare treat. While not a bargain, Fairway has been featuring pluots (plum/apricot hybrids) at around $3.99 a pound that are consistently delicious. Indulge.  After all, think of all the money you saved in Chinatown.

Friday, July 25, 2014
These are troubled times, and it’s not easy finding and holding onto manifestations of certainty and reliability. One comforting beacon has been the accuracy of the reporting at the New Yorker magazine. Their fact-checking is legendary. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/02/09/checkpoints
Even their cartoons are reputedly fact-checked.

Which means that I have to report the following with some regret. This week, in a story about a family of young dealers in antique musical instruments, the writer describes a visit to their new apartment/showroom in the Plaza Hotel, which was graced by a table they had just purchased on auction at Christies. The three sibling’s mother "set a plate of pastel macaroons on it." Even if it were Passover, everyone knows that macarOOns, a corrugated, conical-shaped confection made of sugar, egg whites and either ground almonds or coconut, appear in shades of tan, unless mixed with cocoa, or dipped in chocolate. Cf. the good works of http://dannymacaroons.com/.

Given the fancy schmancy setting of the Plaza Hotel, the likelihood of serving macaroons of any hue was remote, at best. What are available in a rainbow of vivid pastel colors (actually ROYGBIV doesn’t leave much room for pastels) are macarOns, a French merengue sandwich cookie. I have fulminated on this subject before (March 21, 2011). How could the New Yorker make such a mistake?  Is there nothing left to hold on to?



Well, apparently not, because I found even the New York Times crossword puzzle today to be fraught with error.  36 Across - Polish rolls (7 letters).  I don't mean to be ethnocentric, but, as my friends at Wikipedia tell us, bialy is "a Yiddish word short for bialystoker kuchen, from Bialystok, a city in Poland."  In Poland, where there are few if any Jews left to speak Yiddish or anything else, the locals say cebularz.  The correct clue for BIALIES is Jewish rolls.  I realize that the current publisher of the New York Times was raised Episcopalian, but even he won't walk into a bakery or coffee shop in New York and ask for a Polish roll.













Friday, July 18, 2014

Ringo, George, Paul and Justin?

Monday, July 14, 2014
More than 20 years later, I can’t bring myself to repeat the stupidest thing that I ever said out loud; it was that stupid.  Not surprisingly, it came during a heated discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  I won’t be surprised if the next time I get involved in that toxic topic I say something stupid again.  I am a Zionist and I support Israel tangibly and emotionally.  However, the legacy of the brilliant strategic and tactical victories of the Six Day War should not be the imprisonment of Israelis, by which I mean that obliging Israeli military and police forces to serve as wardens and keepers of an admittedly hostile Arab population imprisons the Israelis along with those they aim to control.  If Arab-Israeli relations is a zero-sum game, I have no hesitancy about how to tilt the playing field.  My primary concern is the safety, health and sanity of the Jews in Israel.  I simply don’t trust anyone else to protect them, and, by extension, Jews in any other land.  History has taught me, as a Jew, to be quite selfish in this regard.  Yet, our survival should incorporate our values as well as our physical well-being.
 
It is commonplace to speak of a failure of leadership in the Middle East, but let us not absolve the vaunted “man in the street” of responsibility.  It was that building block of democracy who assassinated Anwar Sadat, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, murdered Naftali Fraenkel, murdered Gilad Shaer, murdered Eyal Yifrah, and murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir.  Is it that the current leaders lack the will (or vision) to challenge those that they lead, or, having assessed the likelihood of failure, have retreated to the familiar paths of resentment and revenge?
 
This article examines Stormfront.org, arguably America’s most popular on-line hate web site.  The author, with the telltale name of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, analyzed tens of thousands of the site’s profiles, which get several hundred thousand “hits” each month.  The two most popular subsets for registered members are “Union of National Socialists” and “Fans and Supporters of Adolf Hitler.”  
 
Just a couple of extracts before you read about it yourself.  Members “often write about crimes committed by African-Americans against whites; they complain about an ‘invasion’ of Mexicans; and they love to mock gays and feminists.  But their main problem appears to be with Jewish people, who are often described as super-powerful and clever — the driving force, generally speaking, behind the societal changes they do not like.”  While the overall highest membership rates are in Montana, Alaska and Idaho, states that are almost as people-free as Jew-free, the author-with-a-very-Jewish-name makes a somewhat attenuated claim that there is otherwise a correlation between membership and Jewish population.  The hardest thing to explain, for him and me, is the high level of participation by young people; “76 percent of Americans on Stormfront.org who identify their age are under 30.”  What’s up with that?   
 
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Here’s a fascinating headline that just came over the wire that will prove incomprehensible to many of you: “Wolves, Warriors Restart Love Talks.”
 
I made a big mistake last week by informing you that Whataburger (one of Consumer Reports’s best hamburger chains) has a local (New York City) presence.  Yes, they are in Manhattan – Manhattan, Kansas.  Forgive me.  However, it further underlines my conviction that one major reason, of many, to visit me here is to be able to eat in a real restaurant, owned by a real person.  At first, it may be scary to walk into a place that’s not the same as the one back home, but you’re here, not there.   
 
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
If, on the other hand, you want to lose your appetite, read Mark Bittman’s (New York Times food columnist) analysis of what everyone else pays for when you buy a cheeseburger, forgetting the loss of your soul for mixing meat and dairy.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/opinion/the-true-cost-of-a-burger.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region&region=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region
 
Thursday, July 17, 2014
I mustered the courage to go into Sun In Bloom Takeaway, 165 Church Street, even though it wasn’t lunchtime and there is nothing faintly Asian about it.  Possibly a greater deterrent is its characterization as “Hand-crafted, Gluten-free, Organic, Vegan, Kosher.”  I thought that I might be arrested for just walking in the joint.  However, keeping a low profile, I went in and ordered a cup of coffee ($2.50 plus tax, 12 oz.), which I drank at my Khazak shoemaker’s shop, a few doors north, as he made some minor adjustments to my footwear.  Only the price distinguished the allegedly organic and fair trade coffee, although the server was very bright and cheery at 8:15 AM.  They also serve salads, sandwiches and baked goods, proclaiming that they “specialize in organic, vegan, raw food cuisine and macrobiotic dishes, along with gluten-free vegan baked goods and raw desserts.”  Proceed at your own risk.

Friday, July 18, 2014
My brother sends along an interesting article on technology’s effect on the contemporary spy novel, outlining the difficulties in outwitting digital detection.  Creating a false identity, for instance, now requires more than attention to clothing labels, passport photos and wallet contents in this age of Facebook, LinkedIn and Google.  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/16/has-modern-technology-killed-spy-thrillers

Having recently commended the scallion pancake at Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, I made that my destination at lunch.  Besides the ever-reliable scallion pancake ($2.25), I had Singapore rice noodles a/k/a vermicelli, mei fun, angel hair ($7.95).  The very large portion of noodles was cooked with green peppers, red peppers, shrimp, onions, egg, pork and bean sprouts spiced with an assertive curry powder.  The relative airiness of the fine noodles made me feel as if I was eating less than my usual chow fun, the wonderfully dense, wide noodle.  In fact, I could only plow through 2/3 of the dish, even after leaving over one slice of the scallion pancake cut into sixths.  

The British Open Golf Championship is being held in Liverpool, England this week and several of the world’s leading golfers demonstrated shocking ignorance about our life and times.  They could not name all four Beatles, who came from Liverpool, after all.   http://www.espn.co.uk/espn/sport/video_audio/324965.html?genre=14;sport=6
I realize that achieving success in a competitive sport requires preternatural focus and dedication, but, come on now, they weren’t asked to name the Andrews sisters.