Saturday, September 16, 2017

Not Germany

Google's heightened security concerns prevented me from adhering to my normal publishing schedule while traveling abroad.  I have divided the accumulated material into two articles, Germany and Not Germany.

Monday, September 4, 2017
I came across another best of restaurant list, in fact, a collection of such lists. 
The one that I found most relevant was the oxymoronic top 100 "Gourmet Casual."  It's an extremely rare American restaurant today that expects its patrons to appear as if they are about to engage in a serious, adult activity.  While some might balk at bare feet, there's little else that might be recognized as other than casual, regardless of the hefty price tag at the end of the evening.

Ironically, the only one of the first 10 of this oddly-named group that I was familiar with is Pêche Seafood Grill in New Orleans, where we ate (very well) in early May.  I didn't even recognize the names of the two local entries in the top 10, placing second and third: Roberta's, 261 Moore Street, Brooklyn, not to be confused with our longtime favorite Roberto's, 603 Crescent Avenue, Bronx, and Wildair, 142 Orchard Street.  Maybe I shouldn't complain (as if you could stop me), since 29 of the 100 are located in the Holy Land.  

To be fair, as I went down the list, I noticed that none of the fabled la-di-dah joints were present, thus somewhat justifying the label "casual."
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If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, North and South Korea have good reason to cooperate, even seek unification.  "Why Trump, After North Korea’s Test, Aimed His Sharpest Fire at the South."
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Today, with a plane to catch early in the evening, I stayed very close to home in the company of Stony Brook Steve.   We went to Empire Columbus Avenue, 193 Columbus Avenue, which has been around since 1976, but today may have only been the second time that I have eaten there even though no other Chinese restaurant is closer to Palazzo di Gotthelf.  My lack of enthusiasm in the past was a matter of distance, not how close to my residence, but how far from Chinatown.  With few exceptions, tam, the Yiddish word for flavor, decreases as you move north on Manhattan Island, even as prices increase . 

We shared a scallion pancake ($4.95), Crispy Beef w. Orange Flavor ($15.95), and Walnut Chicken ($13.95).  The beef was among 3 dozen items available as a lunch special at $8.25 - $10.75, which gets you a choice of rice -- white, brown, plain fried -- and soup, egg roll or spring roll.  The scallion pancake lacked crispiness and scallions.  I liked the beef very much, especially its goopy sauce.  Steve enjoyed the chicken more; I found it too salty.

Should I have sought a more exalted experience before leaving the Holy Land for downtown Europe?  Maybe, but time was flying before I had to, and, after all, it was still Chinese.
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It took three taxicabs seriatim to get us to the airport for a far less dramatic journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  

Thursday, September 7, 2017
The New York Times announced the winner of the New Yorkest New York film -- Crooklyn by Spike Lee.  I can't properly criticize the choice, since I never saw it.  Everyone will have the opportunity to see it on September 13th, when it will be shown all over the city, except me because that's the day of our return flight.
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My problems with the Internet while traveling did not extend to receiving messages and material.  Thus, I was able to read this appraisal of America's First Daughter.  "She is more a logo than a person, a scarecrow stuffed with branding, an heiress-turned-model-turned-multimillionaire’s-wife playacting as an authority on the challenges facing working women so that she can sell more pastel sheath dresses." 

Saturday, September 9, 2017
Overnight, I received photographs of dear Donna J.'s lumberyard on St. Martin, which two days ago had been a hotel.    

Wednesday, September 13, 2017
High winds over Germany, sounds like a WWII movie, but it was the reason that our departing flight sat on the ground one extra hour before taking off, just enough to have us miss our connecting flight in London.  However, we were booked on British Air and they had ample alternatives once we got to London.  

The actual transatlantic leg was quite pleasant and edifying.  I read for hours, finishing another Donna Leon crime novel, featuring Guido Brunetti, Commissario of Police in Venice.  Following my young bride's suggestion, I then watched some episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the language and neuroses left intact, something rare in airplane entertainment.  The episodes dated from 2009 and were only partly familiar.  But, I found them very educational.  What a jerk!  Am I that big a jerk?  I'm not going to be such a big jerk.
. . . 

The New York Times restaurant critic is asking for big trouble with the headline "Is New York’s Best Pizza in New Jersey?"

While he makes a good case, I am duty bound to investigate this personally, probably in the company of my fresser friends, and you know who you are.

Thursday, September 14, 2017
Ron Goldbrenner said it best: "We have all now finally graduated from City [College].  Stanley Feingold passed away today."
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The newspaper has a provocative story today that poses basic questions of crime and punishment.

In 1996, Michelle Jones was sentenced to 50 years for murdering her infant son.  In prison, she apparently devoted herself to education and self-improvement.  She eventually received a bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in 2004, and audited graduate-level classes at Indiana University.  She was recently paroled in recognition of her rehabilitation.  

She applied to several graduate schools, including Harvard, which at first admitted her to its History Department.  Then, "the university’s leadership — including the president, provost, and deans of the graduate school — reversed."  According to the New York Times, there is evidence that the administration was "concern[ed] that her background would cause a backlash among rejected applicants, conservative news outlets or parents of students."  I know, at least, how to have mollified conservative news outlets.  Ms. Jones would have to declare herself as a Republican who found Jesus.  Instead, she decided to go to N.Y.U., starting classes last week.  


Friday, September 15, 2017
Tradition holds that Jewish ritual objects and prayer books are not to be simply discarded, but buried in a Jewish cemetery.  So, today, humming the Rolling Stones' song "Beast of Burden," with the able assistance of Jeff Heller, humanitarian and first class schlepper, I collected 20 boxes of early vintage prayer books, no longer in use, from one of West End Synagogue's overstuffed storage rooms for delivery to Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, slightly over one mile north of the synagogue.  May they rest in peace.

Friday, September 15, 2017


Google's heightened security concerns prevented me from adhering to my normal publishing schedule while traveling abroad.  I have divided the accumulated material into two articles, Germany and Not Germany.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017
After a 2-hour layover in Dublin, we landed in Berlin at 10 AM local time.  Passport control, baggage claim and the taxicab ride to our hotel all moved apace and we were taking a nap in our room before noon.

We walked to Sets, Schlüterstraße 36, taken from a list of the alleged best lunch and brunch places in the vicinity.

It proved to be a good choice.  The midday rain showers ended, at least for a couple of hours, and we were able to have a very good meal sitting outside, immediately opposite a perpendicularly parked Tesla.  I had an omelet containing mushrooms, green onions, bacon and potatoes, while my young bride had lox, cream cheese and spinach in a wrap, which she pronounced far better than the sum of its parts.  The milchkaffee (do I hear echoes of covfefe?) was particularly good, that's coffee with steamed milk, and served in real drinking vessels, not repurposed egg cups.  

Our walk to and from Sets revealed this neighborhood, Charlottenburg, to be loaded with ritzy boutiques, designer furniture stores and, more importantly, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Thai restaurants.  

Thursday, September 7, 2017
We met Marianne Motherby for lunch.  She recently stepped down from the post of general counsel for Deutsches Bahn, the national railroad system.  We came to her via Barbara and Dean Alfange, who have remained in contact with her since she studied American constitutional law with Dean during a one-year USA stay in 1979-80.  She was charming and well informed in so many areas and in English.  

I erred badly, however, when I marched off in a different direction as Marianne and America's Favorite Epidemiologist went for a stroll leading them to Eisbox, Knesebeckstraße 21-23, one of Berlin's best ice cream parlors.  When I went there after dinner, the joint was already closed.  Who ever heard of an ice cream parlor closing at 6 PM?  That's plain un-American.

Dinner, on the other hand, was a huge success.  As part of this Let Bygones Be Bygones tour, we ate at Saigon Green, Kantstraße 23, a crowded, casual Vietnamese joint.  We shared Crispy Lucky Rolls, finger-sized, fried vegetable rolls, and proceeded separately through Thuha's Favourite, tofu in a buttery curry sauce (she), and Bun Bo Nam Bo, slices of beef on vermicelli in a spicy lime sauce, and Duck 'N' Roll, shredded duck and hoisin sauce wrapped in a thin crepe (me).  We agreed that this was great food, helping me cope with the later disappointment of encountering Eisbox's ridiculously early closing time.

Walking in the neighborhood of our hotel, in the traditional center of West Berlin, we immediately learned of one major gap in Teutonic efficiency.  Opposite sides of the street are independently numbered.  As far as I can tell, on a north-south street, the numbers go from low to high on the west side of the street and from high to low on the east side, while something equally confusing is happening on east-west streets.  This weird system seems to be limited to Berlin, although several knowledgeable locals could not explain why.  

Friday, September 8, 2017
We spent more than 4 hours visiting sites of Jewish interest today guided by Roey, an Israeli artist who has lived in Berlin for 7 years.  His knowledge of history was strong, but he added an aesthetic dimension as well.
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We were pleased with dinner at Pratirio, Knesebeckstraße 22, a Greek restaurant.

Saturday, August 9, 2017
Saturday morning, we attended synagogue services at Pestalozzistraße Synagogue, a "Liberal" congregation as locally denoted.  The building was completely rebuilt after the war, suffering more from British air raids than Kristallnacht, because it was immediately surrounded by multi-unit dwellings occupied by good Germans.

In spite of the local Liberal label, we regarded the service as conservative Conservative, the men and women seated separately, all Hebrew right out of the book, no interpretations or interpolations in German.  Yet, discordantly, there was a booming organ and a professional choir. 
A more welcome surprise was Lew (pronounced Lev) Norman, whose Bar Mizvah day this was.  He was a very poised young man, reciting his Hebrew prayers and German speech with confidence and ease, although I could not judge the content of either.  One aspect of the service was unfortunately familiar.  About halfway through, a cellphone started ringing, causing someone to jump up and hustle out of the sanctuary.

As we joined the congregation for Kiddush, the after-service meal, we had another surprise.  Jane an actress and Fred a lawyer, from Needham, Massachusetts, were in attendance, inspired by the same curiosity that we had.  Of all things, they are also staying at our hotel and (drumroll) used to live at 180 West End Avenue, the neighbor to the Palazzo di Gotthelf at 170 West End Avenue.  How about that?
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We visited the Jewish Museum Berlin, in the afternoon.  Besides the material displayed, illuminating 1,500 years of German Jewish history, Daniel Liebeskind's design has some interesting architectural features to establish and disturb mood, darkness and light, sloping and tilted flooors.  

To my trained eye, Jews made up only a very small portion of the many visitors.
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We choose Delhi6, Friedrichstraße 237, for dinner, partially because it was only one block from the museum.  That is according to the map it is only one block.  Walking on feet required more than three blocks because of construction.  It was worth it, however.  My large portion of Delhi6 Mixed Biriyani had enough lamb, chicken and prawns to warrant the 13.90€ price.

Sunday, September 10, 2017
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and its information center are not connected to the Jewish Museum Berlin.  The memorial was opened in 2005, funded by the Federal Parliament.  It is an open space, measuring over 200,000 square feet, just opposite the American Embassy.  It is covered with 2,711 concrete blocks of varying heights, but the same length and width.  People sit on the lower ones; children run up and down the alleys formed by the higher ones.  It's not a maze, but with a couple of turns you can lose your companions.  A graveyard comes immediately to mind; I thought also of people, children and adults of all sizes, whose growth had been halted.  The above ground site carries not a hint of meaning, no words, no facts are attached to the 2,711 blocks, a number itself that goes unexplained.  I was reminded somewhat of a Harold Pinter play, said to reflect "the volatility and elusiveness of the past."
This level of abstraction has been the focus of much opposition to the memorial.  A review in the New Yorker said: "Without that title [Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe], it would be impossible to know what the structure is meant to commemorate; there’s nothing about these concrete slabs that signifies any of the words of the title, except, perhaps, 'memorial'—insofar as some of them, depending on their height, may resemble either headstones or sarcophagi." 

The Holocaust Information Center directly underneath the array of concrete blocks is everything they are not.  It is detailed, specific, declarative.  Names have faces, birth dates, dates (sometimes approximate) and manner of death.  Victims are not merely identified as victims; photographs of family gatherings and celebrations introduce them as human beings long before they became prey.  I believe that the sterility of the open field is more than balanced by the richness of the underground vault.  

Need I say that this memorial is another vivid reminder of Nazi evil and demonstrates the impossibility of decent people associating themselves in any fashion with Naziism, past or present.  There are no two sides to genocide. 

Monday, September 11, 2017
By careful scheduling, I was able to get to Eisbox, Knesebeckstraße 21, well before its absurdly early closing time.  It's a simple joint, one dozen ice cream, sorbet and frozen yoghurt flavors, and some beverages.  

I had scoops of chocolate and strawberry (erdberre) mint sorbet in a cup for 3.50€.  That's not as simple as it sounds.  Many flavors have their own price, not the normal 1.50€ per scoop.  In fact, the very appealing blood orange (blutorange) flavor has to be weighed separately and then charged per 100 grams, which proved too complicated for me.  

While the price still was modest, so was the size of the scoops.  The taste of the strawberry mint was better than expected and my expectations for ice cream are high.  I'm not sure how many scoops they offer as their biggest serving, but, if I ever return, I may aim for my personal best, achieved in the Hague in 1989, six scoops in one cup.

Tuesday, September 12, 2107

These are stolpersteine, literally stumbling stones, found on sidewalks throughout Europe now.  Each one has the name, birthdate and fate of a Jew who lived in a nearby building.  Commemorated here are Ernst and Kathe Wrzeszinski, Anna Misch, and Margarete and Richard Ernst Rothenberg.  These and more were on the avenue around the corner from our hotel.  According to Wikipedia, at the start of this year there were over 56,000 in 22 countries.  The project originated in 1992 by a German artist and continues under a non-profit organization.
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By chance, we had tickets to a Berlin Philharmonic concert that is part of Marianne's subscription, so we joined together for the evening.  Berliner Philharmonie, the concert hall, was unattractive from the outside, but brilliantly designed on the inside.  The audience sat in odd-shaped tiers surrounding the orchestra, an unusual arrangement for a classical venue.

Susanna llki, a young Finnish woman, conducted a program unfamiliar to me, Busoni, Bartok and Sibelius, but all the more exciting when performed so well.  Gil Shaham, an Israeli violinist, was the soloist in the Bartok concerto.  

Monday, September 11, 2017
Marooush, Knesebeckstraße 48, has belly dancing on the weekend, befitting its Egyptian character.  Tonight, there was only hookah puffing to evoke the old country, although we asked for a seat as far removed from the smoke as possible.  Safely positioned, we had a pleasant meal, forgetting for a time what we had endured under Pharaoh.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Beginning to wind down, I spent a lovely hour this afternoon sitting on a bench near a cluster of world famous museums without entering any one of them.  
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For our farewell diner, we met Marianne at Anabelas Kitchen, Pestalozzistraße 3, an excellent restaurant owned and operated by a Portuguese woman chef.  
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I offer my summary observation of Berlin, if you get the crap knocked out of you, you get the opportunity to build a bunch of exciting buildings.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Keep Kinky Friedman Dry

Monday, August 28, 2017
Last week, I was regarding my legacy, unwanted books, LPs and various collectibles that few others might consider collecting.  Now, Rudi G., my favorite Latvian, informs me that my pile of expendables, what others might cruelly label junk, has swollen.  His new Toyota and other 2017 model vehicles that he examined no longer have a CD player.   That made me realize that our 2016 Lexus has a single CD player instead of the six CD player in the 2006 Lexus that it replaced.  Suddenly, the future of my 800 CD collection looks very bleak.  It apparently has been Pandoraed and Spotifyed into obsolescence.

Meanwhile, Rudi and I are considering giving our stuff to each other, eliminating the concern that it will suffer an anonymous fate.  
. . .

I am agonizing over the old axiom "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."  Jeff Sessions as my new BFF?
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Yesterday's real estate section had some interesting figures on new home construction.

Comparing year-to-date residential construction permits to historic averages, the survey found that Austin, Texas leads the nation, with 5 of the 10 top spots in the Sun Belt.  Worcester, Massachusetts, Allentown, Pennsylvania and New Haven, Connecticut show the greatest decline, which might reflect their age as municipalities, long built up with limited room to grow.  However, Philadelphia and Boston are fourth and fifth in new home construction.  Maybe it's better to be a big old city than a not-so-big old city.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017
The New York Times today writes about DNA ancestry testing.

Our dear friend and Commendable Citizen Marcia Hadad Ikonomopoulos has just had a very interesting result for her ancestry testing.  Rather than using DNA, she submitted a full face photograph to an outfit that uses software recognition to discern ethnic patterns and origins, or so it would have you believe.  Marcia, as her last name indicates, has a strong Greek connection and, in fact, is an authority on Greek Jewry past and present.  However, this arose through marriage.  She actually is able to trace her Sephardic roots to the Iberian Jews expelled in 1492.  So, it was quite a surprise for the analysis of her visage to yield the following results:
Puerto Rican                   53%
Han Chinese                   24%
Native American            18%
European Jewish              5%

To me, it sounds like the making of a great restaurant.
. . .

"[W]hen it was New York and New Jersey hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, all but one Texas Republican in Congress ― Rep. John Culberson ― voted against a $50.5 billion package to help people in those states."  

How exciting that the good Republicans should be able to implement a small government, market-driven solution to Hurricane Harvey relying on personal responsibility.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017
As the waters keep rising in Texas, the New York Times reports that "Parts of Houston might receive 50 inches of rain before the storm ends.  That's equivalent to all of the precipitation from the past 13 months in the Manhattan area — in just one week."  
. . .

My brother has been digging up old publications; possibly he is finally trying to see the floor of his apartment.  He just came up with this item from the Observation Post, one of CCNY's two student newspapers, from April 19, 1956.  

Inline image 1

Besides the quaint thought that admission to a concert might be only $1, this event was very special to me.  It was the first jazz concert that I ever attended, and maybe the first live concert of any sort, barring a performance of the Berriman Junior High School Orchestra.  

I remember it distinctly after these few years.  I still marvel that my brother agreed to take me where I might mix with his college friends; then, the excitement of the event itself.   Aside from Charles, né Cohen, the leader, I recall three members of the group, Hall Overton, piano (the name stuck with me), Don Butterfield, tuba (so unusual that it was easy to remember) and the immortal Charlie Mingus on bass.   Mingus confirmed his presence in a conversation that we had in 1964, after a concert in Ithaca.  While the group made only one recording, its personnel shifted track to track and I am trying to avoid conflating musicians on the album with those on stage that night.    

Back to economics for a moment.  The subway fare in 1956 was 15¢, about 1/18 of the current rate, necessitating the first subway token in New York, while "[t]he average price of a concert ticket during the first six months of the year [2017] was $46.69." 

Thursday, August 31, 2017
For the almost 14 years that I worked downtown in the court system, I relied on my eyes and ears to pick out places to have lunch as I wandered around the fertile neighborhood surrounding the courthouse at 60 Centre Street.  Now, I have to read about and research places and make a plan to get to them.  I just came across First We Feast, a web site given to making lists, my second favorite thing to do with restaurants.  I found their list of best local sandwiches interesting and I took a suggestion from it today.

I took the subway to Chambers Street, the station that I got on or off just about every weekday when working, and headed to Hank's Juicy Beef, 84 Chambers Street.  It's been open about a year, but went unnoticed on my rare post-retirement trips.  It's an airy cube about 15 feet a side, with an almost entirely glass facade.  Waist-high black subway tile waist-high runs around the interior.  There is little else in the way of decor.  Six two tops and four stools against a ledge leave a lot of empty floor space.  Orders are placed at the counter opposite the entrance, and, if you're staying, delivered to your seat.  

The menu is very simple, featuring "Hank's Juicy Beef," shaved roast beef, topped with "giardiniera," Italian-style pickled vegetables, on a roll.  You have a choice of hot or mild versions.  A quarter-pounder is $7.95, a half-pounder is $10.95.  Other sandwich choices are sausage, hot dog or eggplant parm.  Four dollars adds fries, curly or steak, and a fountain drink with free refills, a real bargain.  

I had a half-pounder, mild, with superb curly fries.  I liked the sandwich, but allow me to recommend that you wear a lab coat when eating it.  It's messy.  The "jus" runneth over.  That may explain why only one woman came into the joint while I was there and she was waiting for her order when I left, so she might have only asked for a cup of coffee.  Fortunately, the clean, single-occupancy bathroom allowed me to scrub up before hitting the street.  

Friday, September 1, 2017
To prevent myself getting entirely disoriented, I sought out Di Di Dumpling, 38 Lexington Avenue, a hole in the wall, the wall itself actually on East 24th Street, right off Lexington Avenue.  The room in front of the counter to order, wait and eat in on the six stools at either the tiny ledge or the very small ledge is five feet deep by 12 feet wide. Fortunately, most customers seem to take their food to go, allowing some space to chow down, but certainly not linger.  

Di Di does dumplings, I should have resisted saying.  Fillings are pork, beef, chicken or vegetable and they may be boiled (called juicy dumplings) or pan fried (called pot stickers).  In all instances, 5 pieces are $3.95, 10 pieces $7.25 and 15 pieces $10.25, a big bargain by non-Cbhinatown standards.  Soup and vegetarian lo mien are also regularly available.  After I ordered 5 chicken juicy dumplings and 5 beef pot stickers, I saw a paper sign for cold sesame noodles with chicken for a mere $3.95.  Next time.

Service was efficient, one woman taking orders another cooking.  The boiled chicken dumpling was well prepared, but bland.  The beef in the pot sticker was nicely spiced and, I'll let you in on a secret, I like fried food.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Can't Give It Away

Monday, August 21, 2017
"I can't remember the last time I went to a Broadway show that didn't receive a standing ovation -- even though, in my opinion, many didn't earn it."

I not only agree with the author, but with her earlier pronouncement that "I don't give entrance applause."   I remember my brother's out loud reaction many years ago to the applause at the entrance of a noted actress in a Broadway play, "She hasn't done anything yet." 
. . .

Viviane T. had a reasonable reaction to reading the weekend's reports of demonstrations and counterdemonstrations, protests and counterprotests, all supposedly centered on the issue of free speech.  "Who's on first?"

I am beginning to think that "free speech" isn't worth the fuss.  For us, the concept is rooted in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  It, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, was intended to rebuff tyranny by a national government crafted by the Founding Fathers, a construct without precedent.  But, from the outset, free speech wasn't free.  The unamended constitution included the explicit limitation on free speech by protecting an author's copyright in Article I, § 8, ¶ 8.  What could be a better example of free speech than repeating something you read or heard?

Since those early days there have precedent shattering, precedent bending and precedent discarding rulings by the United States Supreme Court about free speech, including granting corporations the right to free speech without obliging them to otherwise act like good citizens.  In fact, it is corporations, our employers, who more effectively muffle speech than our government.  There is no constitutional protection from your boss, since "free speech" is a matter between the citizen and the government.  What you might say about the president on a street corner without reprisal will probably put you out onto that street corner if said in the office about management.   

Admit it, only your speech should be free, the other guy's speech is dumb and unnecessary.  We don't wake up in the morning anxious to be contradicted.  Sean Hannity doesn't tune into Robert Reich at the earliest opportunity nor do I imagine that Reich seeks out Hannity's opinion on the issues of the day.  

What good is free speech anyway?  There are many sources for the concept of civil society in Western civilization.  They are far from consistent on whether we should come together to seek pleasure or avoid pain, to regain the state of nature or flee it, but I can't think of one proposing the creation of civil society in order to sit around and talk.  No, people assemble to get things done, build shelter, kill wolves, collect fresh water, trade things.  With those goals, you are more likely to hear, "Shut up, and get busy," rather than "Is there another opinion?" 
. . .

Personally, I was much more interested in the article, "Aging Parents With Lots of Stuff, and Children Who Don’t Want It."

This reflects a long-standing personal dilemma.  Over the many decades, I have collected things, not old, dusty, broken down things, but attractive, special things.  Of course, that includes books and recordings, much like almost anyone else.  I am more concerned about less common items, special to me, but holding little interest to others, relatives and friends alike.  Whether I am remembered fondly or not, some of my possessions might well be regarded as, shall we say, a bit focused.  For instance, my ten volumes of first day covers of U.S. commemorative stamps from May 1993 through September 2013, or one toe shoe worn by Darci Kistler in 1981, when she first danced Dewdrop in The Nutcracker for the New York City Ballet.  Is eBay my only hope?  Would any of you like to be in my will?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
I must admit that, to a large degree, I am sustained by nostalgia.  So, the news that the Village Voice will no longer be actually printed brings back many memories even though I have not been a reader for years.  In late 1968, I moved to Greenwich Village.  The nearest subway station was Christopher Street-Sheridan Square where a hodge podge of streets intersect.  At the time, the Village Voice was located at the 12 o'clock position in this big open space.  After I went to work daily by subway for a couple of months, I noticed strange behavior, but only on Wednesday mornings.  A lot of youngish people, my contemporaries then, probably Gen P, would be hovering around the subway entrance, clustered at the newsstand right there.  Looking around, I saw others lurking in the telephone booths on the several corners of this complex intersection.  The prized location was the classic wooden telephone booths in the cigar store that still stands at the 9 o'clock position.

Here's the story -- Back then, the Village Voice was the premier vehicle for, among other things, classified real estate advertising, how to locate that hidden treasure of a rent-controlled apartment with exposed brick walls, high ceilings, maybe a fireplace, somewhere south of 14th Street.  It was published Wednesday morning and delivered first to the newsstand in Sheridan Square, explaining the crowd gathered to pounce, protecting the nearest telephone (really the good old days).  My own tiny roach-ridden apartment renting at $105 monthly was passed on by someone I knew, obviating the need to rely upon the Village Voice.  However, I read it regularly and when I moved to Los Angeles (don't ask) in 1971, I took a subscription and continued to read it in an attempt to maintain my New York hipster pose.
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Thursday, August 24, 2107
Stony Brook Steve accompanied me to Chinatown today, where we predictably had lunch at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street.  We shared an excellent plate of beef chow fun and a somewhat bland chicken with spinach, at least bland until adorned with hot mustard and soy sauce.  

While Steve's company is always desirable and Wo Hop always excels, I had an ulterior motive for the trip today.  Fortune cookies.  The delightful Melanie S. asked if I could get her a bunch of fortune cookies on my next sojourn to Chinatown.  I didn't ask why, just headed downtown.   

Golden Fung Wong Bakery, 41 Mott Street, is only a few doors from Wo Hop and offers bags of fortune cookies, about 40 to a bag, for a mere $2.50.  Prudently, I took 2 bags.  I hope that Melanie will tell me of any life-altering revelations emerging from the cookies.  

Friday, August 25, 2017
The issue of New York-themed movies aroused many of you to challenge the New York Times's list (August 7, 2017).   With the all-city show date for the winner approaching, the paper explained its choices today.

I understand some of the reasoning, such as, avoiding excessively adult language or themes (Midnight Cowboy) for an intergenerational audience, but we're talking New York here.  
. . .

You will have to squint to read the 100 or so graphs representing the literal complexion of American undergraduate education, but the headline tells the story: "Even With Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics Are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago"

The continuing inability of our black and Latino population to garner even a semblance of their share of educational opportunity is shameful.  I admit that sometimes I default to blaming the victim, a position probably held by too many white Americans.  Arthur Ashe, the African American tennis star, observed that top athletes demonstrate tremendous discipline and focus in developing their talents, yet black youth are rarely required or directed to apply the same rigor to academic pursuits.  What he said over 25 years ago remains true today, "I strongly believe the black culture spends too much time, energy and effort raising, praising, and teasing our black children about the dubious glories of professional sports."  This seems to suit the rest of us just fine.    

The only good news that I found among the data was the ascension of Asian Americans at many of the toughest education institutions, notably Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins and MIT, and throughout almost the entire University of California system.  On the other hand, the Ivy League and most of the top liberal arts colleges seem to be wary of a new race of greasy grinds.
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Just as I was about to lay down my quill for this week, the New York Times released on-line a story that reflects on the sad state of our race relations.  It will probably reach print over the weekend.

The article states that "new research reaffirms the role of government policy in shaping racial disparities in America in access to housing, credit and wealth accumulation.  And as the country grapples with the blurred lines between past racism and present-day outcomes, this new data illustrates how such history lives on."  
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What follows is for pedants and triviameisters only:
I recognized the headline of the story above, "The City So Nice They Can't Stop Making Movies About It," as an hommage to the song lyric, "the city so nice, they named it twice."  While several internet references point to a 1978 recording by an expatriate American musician, the phrase originated in a 1959 orchestral work, New York, N.Y., by jazz composer George Russell, featuring Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Art Farmer, Milt Hinton, Bob Brookmeyer, and Max Roach, a great collection of musicians, with Jon Hendricks in a speaking role.  Of course, I have the album, stuck in the bottom of a closet, unplayed for 25 years or more.  Which brings us back to the disposition of the loved one's unloved possessions.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Flavors of Justice

Monday, August 14, 2017
The Upper West Side's Power Couple hit the road yesterday, first stop Northampton, Massachusetts, in order to visit friends in the area.  We had a lovely lunch today at the home of Barbara and Dean Alfange, with other friends dating back to my graduate school days.  While such a gathering can be an occasion to lament the passing of time and the personal losses along the way, I reacted otherwise.  I vividly remembered the good old days, ignoring the old part and delighting in how much and how well we shared.  

Later, America's Favorite Epidemiologist got equal time when we had dinner with Shelley and Richard Holzman, her friends for many decades.  We ate at Amanouz Cafe, 44 Main Street, Northampton, which features Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine.  While this is a small, very casual joint, the cooking proved to be relatively authentic.  I had chicken tagine, basically a chicken stew cooked in a traditional conical clay pot, including olives, zucchini, green peppers, red peppers, rice, potatoes, and lemon ($14.95), as good as it sounds.

Since we were in downtown Northampton, it was a two block stroll to Herrell's Ice Cream & Bakery, 8 Old South Street, for an extra treat.  I had two scoops, coconut chocolate chip and the aptly named "More cookies than cream" and felt amply treated.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017
We drove to Natick, Massachusetts to present ourselves at the most important Seventh Birthday Party held in North America today.  Besides the general joviality, we enjoyed a dinner of pizza and chocolate cake.  
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The high spirits of the celebration went a long way in helping us contend with the moral and intellectual vacuum that passes for presidential leadership.  Answering questions about his "fair and balanced" initial response to the Charlottesville tragedy, the loser of the popular vote said, "Before I make a statement, I need the facts."  Yeah, but what do you do with the facts then, fella?
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I was surprised by the survey that claimed that 83% of Bay Area renters plan to move out of the area, probably the most expensive real estate market in the country.

When I turned to the Oakland Heartthrob, my source of Bay Area real estate expertise, he said for everyone who leaves, two more show up.  Census data are a bit more conservative, but the market remains hot, hot.    

Wednesday, August 16, 2017
On the other hand, there is cool news from the ice cream front.  Ample Hills Creamery, a source of excellent ice cream, is expanding and going national.  

It is moving from a 900 square foot facility to a 15,000 square foot plant.  May their tribe increase proportionally.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017
I am reading The Chosen, by Jerome Karabel, a detailed study of the admissions (and rejection) process at Harvard, Yale and Princeton in the 20th century.  Since I am only halfway through the 557 pages of small print plus 116 pages of footnotes, I remain immersed in the "Jewish problem," the result of taking merit seriously.  You don't know whether to laugh or cry when you read "that only seven students from the large and heavily Jewish Bronx High School of Science -- arguably the nation's most academically distinguished high school at the time -- entered Yale between 1950 and 1954.  In contrast, Andover sent 275 students to New Haven during the same period."  

Now that the Jews have gotten their disproportionately large seat at the table, it is Asian Americans who are sometimes denied the benefits of academic rigor, with the old arguments against the Jews retooled.   

Through all this is the tragic exclusion of African Americans from equal enjoyment of educational opportunity.  The irony is that, while Princeton University barred enrollment of African Americans until the 1950s, its class of 2021 reports itself as 8% African American and 5% multi-racial (non-Hispanic). 

Meanwhile, the current first-year class at Stuyvesant High School, which never had institutional barriers to diversity, is 1% African American.  At Princeton, which attempts a holistic approach to admissions, the "others" are 57% not "students of color" and 22% Asian Americans, while at Stuyvesant, relying solely on one written examination, they are mostly 20% white and 77% Asian Americans.  

I am plagued by the issue of affirmative action. The "intangible qualities" of character, leadership, and well-roundedness that the Protestant establishment governing the Ivy League found lacking in Jewish applicants (examples drip off almost every page until the 1960s in Karabel's book), are often the current basis for increasing diversity of student bodies.  In the latest, but certainly not the last, word on affirmative action, the United States Supreme Court held by a 5-4 vote that "[c]onsiderable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission."  Fisher v. University of Texas, 579 U.S. ___ (2016).  By the way, save the lamentations for Ms. Fisher, the white plaintiff.  "The claim that race cost Fisher her spot at the University of Texas isn't really true."

The ugliest part of the affirmative action debate is the cynically ahistoric view of many conservatives, pretending that our racist past contributes no insights to the on-going quest for equality.  "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in 2007, “is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."  This pristine statement accompanied his decision that two urban school systems could not take account of the race of students, even in a small minority of cases, in order to prevent certain magnet schools from becoming racially isolated because of neighborhood housing patterns.  Hey, the world began this morning and what's fair is fair.  

Of course, fair was never fair.  One year ago, I extolled Ira Katznelson's work, When Affirmative Action Was White (July 12, 2016).  This weekend, Katznelson offered a brief summary in the New York Times, to the effect that a big, fat white thumb was on the scales when economic benefits were being doled out through much of the 20th century. 

Friday, August 18, 2017
Jue Lan Club, a new restaurant, describes itself as "[a]rtistically minded and ultra-trendy, this famed Flatiron eatery is the place for elevated Chinese." That's enough to keep me away.
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Just in --- The South lost the Civil War.