Saturday, April 22, 2017

Square Peg Seeks Square Hole

Monday, April 17, 2017
I was moved by a comment in this short essay about mathematics.   https://nyti.ms/2oepdry    The author describes his engagement with KenKen, a kind of puzzle involving putting numbers in boxes, "when . . . all the pieces fit nicely together and you get this rush of harmony and order."  I get that same feeling from my regular bouts with crossword puzzles and Free Cell, a computerized card game, as well as my occasional games of KenKen, Sudoko and their variants.  For a moment, the complex and weird world assumes an order, a pattern, a rhythm that you can move to fluidly.  Without these moments and the accompanying feeling of accomplishment, I think that my ability to deal with the many daily stresses and strains would be substantially diminished.  I cherish the reassurance, if only for a moment, that things can fit, that there are answers.

Which brings me to this past Saturday's crossword puzzle, 43 Down: School closing?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Sundown brought the end to Passover, 8 full days, not Lent's 40 days or Ramadan's month-long duration.  Each has its own guidelines; Passover excludes broad varieties of food and requires certification of those allowed; Lent requires the giving up of luxuries; Ramadan involves daily fasting during daylight hours.  Religious services attach to at least part of each holiday.

Sundown, the usual beginning or end of Jewish holy days, was officially 7:39 PM in New York City today, a point at which the New York Rangers held a 1-0 lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the fourth game of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Just as the journey across the Sinai Desert was perilous for the Israelites, the Rangers faced difficult moments until they eventually succeeded by a score of 2-1.  The Passover story contained in the Haggadah, read at each of the two seders that begin the holiday, directs us to see ourselves as though we left Egypt, to experience the feelings of slavery and liberation that characterize Exodus.  Well, it might not be the same thing, but I was at Madison Square Garden for the game. Amen.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Wednesday is the day that the New York Times includes a food section in the daily paper, including restaurant reviews and recipes.  Today, it has a feature on the typical day of a local food cart vendor.  https://nyti.ms/2oS2Lrt

The article claims that there are "more than 10,000 people, most of them immigrants, who make a living selling food on the city’s sidewalks: pork tamales, hot dogs, rolled rice noodles, jerk chicken."  To celebrate this, I had lunch today by Skyway Halal Foods, west side of Broadway between West 70th Street and West 71st Street.  Actually, the use of a name is pointless to identify the food cart, just as the old-fashioned shuls in Brooklyn were known simply by location, such as, the Sutter Avenue shul or the Fountain Avenue shul, regardless of any name that might appear on or above the door.  

In this neighborhood, I patronize the guys between 70th and 71st or the guys at the northwest corner of West 67th Street and Broadway.  The problem they present, however, is the lack of a place to sit down and eat.  My typical order is a combination (chicken and a hybrid beef/lamb mixture) over rice and chopped lettuce with a pita bread on the side.  This costs $6 or $7, maybe $1 more in dense business areas.  Add $1 for a Diet Coke and I usually head to a bench on the islands separating northbound and southbound traffic on Broadway.  

It would have been particularly interesting if the two guys in the cart between 70th and 71st were Egyptian so soon after I celebrated my flight from Egypt, but I only know that they are Muslim, maybe from South Asia, not even Arabs then.  Since Islam emerged thousands of years after the Exodus, there were no hard feelings on either side.

A new book about Hillary Clinton's campaign has just been published and the   review was very illuminating.   https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/17/books/shattered-charts-hillary-clintons-course-into-the-iceberg.html

The book is entitled "Shattered," written by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, who have written favorably about Clinton in the past.  After reading the review, I rushed over to my New York Public Library app to line up for an electronic copy of the book.  Well, I beat the rush.  In fact, I beat the library to even offering the book electronically.  Instead, I found that there are twelve other books entitled "Shattered" available for electronic distribution, ranging from a tale of Atticus O'Sullivan, the Iron Druid, "whose sharp wit and sharp sword have kept him alive as he's been pursued by a pantheon of hostile deities" (Kevin Hearne, author) to a novel about criminal psychologist Dr. Sarah Jacobs and the New Orleans underworld figure Jax Fontaine, who "may be worlds apart, but when they're skin to skin, nothing matters but the heat between them" (Cynthia Eden, author).  I'm sure that a fascinating article in The Atlantic or The New Yorker could result from reading, comparing and contrasting them all.  

Back to Hillary's "Shattered."  I was able to reserve a print copy, along with half of the registered Democrats in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island.  NB -- Brooklyn and Queens each have their own library system.

Thursday, April 20, 2017    
Every so often, I forget my roots and aim for a bit of respectability.  Today, I led Stony Brook Steve and Michael Ratner to Pinch Chinese, 177 Prince Street, a restaurant located in a neighborhood now of fashionable boutiques and exclusive galleries, once simply the lower end of Greenwich Village.  Pinch has garnered some very good press and appeared on some prestigious lists.  I found the long rectangular room very attractive, with a bold mural against one wall, red painted chairs on one side and black opposite.  However, lunch may not be the time to really enjoy this place.

A 4" by 11" card is offered to each diner, with a cup of pencils on the table to mark your choice among a very simple set of alternatives.  Three "Mains" set your base price: Taiwanese beef noodle soup ($18), Chicken Sao Bing Sandwich ($18) or vegetarian fried rice ($13), with an optional pork chop at $5.  Then there is a choice of dumplings and salad.  I started with the chicken sandwich, which actually came last, and chose pan fried beef dumplings, very good, and cauliflower and scallion salad, not what I usually dream about, but more desirable than seaweed and tofu, for instance.  Extra dumplings, $5 glasses of iced tea, and $7 half glasses of wine were the only other items on the menu.

My sandwich was good, strips of chicken, shiitake mushrooms, and scallions between two flaky, sesame-coated pieces of flatbread.  The problem was getting it into your mouth, as the floppy flatbread couldn't stand up to the contents.  Eventually, the chopsticks (it would have been cowardly to ask for knife and fork) were used to pick pieces off the plate.  The  on-line and professional reviews of Pinch describe dishes that obviously cannot be seen by light of day, so consider that when headed this way.  

Friday, April 21, 2017
The day started murky, but I anticipated going to my first Mets game of the season with the 48th President of the United States, William Franklin Harrison.   He is only 16 now, but his name alone is worth 200 electoral votes.  Before heading out to the ballpark, we went to Hell's Chicken, 641 Tenth Avenue, an establishment focusing on the Korean method of frying chicken.  Service was very attentive in the long, narrow space, just one storefront wide.  Of course, we were the only customers at 5 o'clock, but I think that our waitress was pleased to have the chance to discuss living in New York after growing up in Seoul.  

William and I shared a 14 piece order of fried chicken, 8 wings and 6 drumsticks ($22, a couple of dollars cheaper at lunchtime).  We got two sauces with that, spicy soy garlic and spicy soy ginger and both lived up to their name.  We added sides of rice, $2 for white and $3 for brown.  The food was very good; it's worth returning to.  Additionally, the menu has a nice selection of Korean specialties that I would like to try, including japche, glass noodles that have thrilled me at other joints.  

[Answer] DOTEDU

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mind The Gap

Monday, April 10, 2017
Having recently finished reading Tim Weiner's fascinating book about Richard Nixon, One Man Against the World, I've just begun his history of the FBI, Enemies.  I found this interesting observation in chapter 6, electronic page 56 (different in the print edition):  "The Harding Administration, from the top down, had been led by men who worshiped money and business, disdained government and law, and misled the American people."  Can you believe it?

The weekend New York Times has a special section on education, featuring articles on the "gap year," usually taken between high school graduation and college entrance.

While I appreciated reading about young people's experiences in Senegal, New Zealand, and Thailand, I reflected on my gapless, homebound education path from high school through graduate school.  Money (the absence thereof), the Vietnam War, a narrow worldview, and cultural inhibitions kept me on Woodhaven Boulevard until college graduation.  Moving to Ithaca, New York for graduate school did little to change the other factors and, in fact, I secured my first passport seven years after being thrown out of graduate school.  While I was very much in need of "finding myself" back then, I traveled no further than Minneapolis, Minnesota and Mount Carroll, Illinois on separate occasions.  I am certain that a gap somewhere along the way would have been very beneficial to me for the same reasons that I never had it.

We are attending the first Passover seder tonight in Massachusetts, at the home of the second and third generations, the first time that they are hosting this event.  America's Favorite Epidemiologist, drawing upon her vast skill set, aided our daughter-in-law Irit in mounting a fabulous meal, in spite of facing the massive handicap of keeping it strictly vegetarian.  I realize that that skirted the outer fringes of Jewish customs and practice, but the presence of four different chocolate-based desserts picked up a lot of the slack.  The menu included vegetable soup with matzoh balls, matzoh lasagna (matzoh replacing the noodles), "Sfongo" (potato and spinach casserole topped with parmesan cheese), butternut squash soufflé, and eggplant moussaka.  Note that Law Professor David's masterful conduct of the ceremony could lead him to be mistaken for an Elder of Zion.  
   
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
We packed up and headed for the Holy Land in order to enjoy the second Passover seder at Aunt Judi's and Uncle Stu's in Englewood, New Jersey, as we have in the past.  Aunt Judi approaches her menu in a more traditional fashion, so, after beginning with the deep-fried gefilte fish (something that reaffirms my Zionism year after year), we were served her famous sweet and sour meatballs; beef ribs, cooked with cranberry sauce, bouillon and onion soup mix; chicken, cooked with French dressing, apricot jam and onion soup mix; vegetable kishke; matzoh kugel with apples; broccoli soufflé; Israeli cous cous, bigger and more assertive than ordinary; rhubarb and strawberry compote.  Desserts included chocolate mousse, chocolate chip mandelbrot, chocolate chip cookies, and almond drop cookies.  It was almost worth 40 years in the desert.  

Speaking of Passover, the New York Times had an essay entitled "Don't Make Passover Too Easy."   https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/08/opinion/sunday/dont-make-passover-too-easy.html
It makes the interesting point that the explosive growth of Passover food items, "more than doubl[ing] since 2011, to 52,000 from 23,000," have "made the holiday far less onerous," and thus less genuine.  This parallels the development of products that emulate some of the forbidden fruits of non-Kosher (treyf) cuisine, such as bacon and shrimp substitutes, and products that allow the evasion of the rules, such as non-dairy cheese and non-dairy ice cream which may be eaten alongside meat dishes.  

These trends are consistent with other modern innovations to ease the burden of Jewish observance, for those who take their observance seriously, maybe to an extreme.  For instance, hotels in Israel as well as apartment houses in Brooklyn have Shabbos elevators that stop at every floor, obviating the need to push a button, considered work not allowed on the Sabbath.  Similarly, timers turn on and off lights and appliances on the day of rest, because the ignition of an electrical circuit, akin to lighting a fire, is also banned.  

Why take the trouble?  The essayist says the "challenge of making a meal with so many restrictions serves as a reminder of where Jews have come from and the importance of retelling the story of a time when they were not so fortunate."  This is perfectly reasonable to me and I would honor this as I honor fasting on Yom Kippur, bringing a touch of humility and continuity into modern life.  But, I think that many Jews follow the Passover and Kosher strictures, because that's the way it always was, not unlike our originalists in Constitutional law.  If it was good enough for Rabbi Gamliel, a leading Hebrew scholar of the first century, or Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, signer of the Constitution from South Carolina, it should be good enough for you.  While I cannot claim to channel either the rabbi or the delegate, I would hope that both would accept, if not welcome, change, without abandoning their overarching values, as the world that they knew moved ever faster into new and unpredictable directions.  Overarching values, after all, should not be tied to a time or place.  

Thursday, April 13, 2017
Law Professor David not only led Monday's night's seder masterfully, today he has an essay published in the Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/voter-suppression--corporate-style/2017/04/13/bbe62880-1ed5-11e7-be2a-3a1fb24d4671_story.html?utm_term=.2c95d6ec4309

I won't spoil it for you, but our family's legal eagle indicates that some big companies are trying to keep their owners (shareholders) from exercising any control over their property.  Sounds un-American to me.

Friday, April 14, 2017
I can't attest to all of Time Out New York's recommendations for cheap eats, but many are familiar and worth a visit. https://www.timeout.com/newyork/restaurants/best-cheap-eats-in-nyc   Of course, omitting Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, is a near-fatal deficiency, I'm not a fan of Shake Shack and I suggest that you purchase knishes at Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, 137 East Houston Street, to take home because they usually reheat them in a microwave which eliminates the crispiness of the wrapper.  A few minutes in a hot oven brings out their exceptional character.  

This is the time of year that Jews and Christians alike celebrate enduring traditions -- the Stanley Cup playoffs.  

Friday, April 7, 2017

Don't Bother, They're Here

Monday, April 3, 2017
If you can remember back to election night, the minority president promised that "[t]he forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."   http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/full-text-donald-trumps-2016-election-night-victory/story?id=43388317

Indeed, the president has made heroic efforts to unforget the forgotten, that woeful sliver of society that is left holding most of the money.  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/04/01/us/politics/how-much-people-in-the-trump-administration-are-worth-financial-disclosure.html?_r=0

Let's not forget Betsy DeVos, whose net worth is no less than $580 million.  Tie a string around your finger to keep in mind Gary D. Cohn, worth no less that $253 million. Remember Steven T. Mnuchin, worth at least $154 million.  Promise kept.

Stony Brook Steve and I headed to Auntie Guan's Kitchen 108 (sic), 108 West 14th Street, a bright new restaurant in a neighborhood that continues to be upgraded.  The floor space is awkwardly configured, with 5 booths, 3 round tables and more than a dozen two tops variously pushed together.  All the tables were covered by white butcher paper on top of white tablecloths.  No crayons were supplied, however.  The random arrangement of the tables left a narrow path to get from front to back.  Maybe this was the reason that service was uneven, patience and waving of arms needed to get a pot of tea refilled.   

The food, on the other hand, was commendable.  The menu is an illustrated laminated sheet with pictures that don't always correspond to the captions.  While there were lunch specials, we made a meal of individual items, Fried Dumplings (6 for $6.99), Sliced Lamb w. Cumin & Chili Oil ($15.99 bought a large portion), and Scallion Pancake w. Shredded Meat (chicken) ($7.99).  The scallion pancake was a particular treat, a lot of chicken chunks cooked in cumin and hot oil wrapped in a scallion pancake, much spicier than the lamb dish which advertised its spiciness.  All good.     

Tuesday, April 4, 2017
I had an appointment with my periodontist today.  Having gotten his kids through graduate school, I am now working on a modest villa in Tuscany for him.  The visit, however, was not entirely to my disadvantage.  It gave me the opportunity to go to Mr. Bing's, 230 Park Avenue, a new establishment that offers jianbings, Peking-style pancakes.  Ignore the Park Avenue address if you head that way.  Mr. Bing is one of about a dozen stalls in a food court at the northeast corner of Vanderbilt Avenue and East 45th Street, providing Thai, Italian, burgers, chicken, German, Japanese, soup, coffee, smoothies, pizza, "sushi burritos" and donuts.  

Mr. Bing (apparently a translation of the name of its founder Brian Goldberg), occupies an 8' x 8' booth preparing jianbings to order by spreading a thin film of mung bean and rice flour batter onto a griddle, break an egg on it, add herbs, crisp noodles and roast duck, marinated chicken or roast pork, flip it, roll it and cut it in two.  Three levels of spiciness are available.  I had the roast duck version medium spicy ($15), interesting but not compelling, and only large enough to satisfy a modestly-sized woman.  

Speaking of satisfying a modestly-sized woman, I wonder if Roger Ailes would share the secret of his sex appeal?

Thursday, April 5, 2017
My wife left me today ------- to go to Massachusetts to assist our second and third generations prepare for their very first Passover seder at home.  I will follow in a few days to conduct a final inspection and enjoy their culinary efforts, as Jewish men have done through the centuries.

Alone on this cold rainy day, I followed the path of least resistance, took the subway to Chinatown and had lunch at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street.  Fortunately, they had their lunch soup special, so I was able to have a large bowl of egg drop won ton soup for $2, hot, delicious and brimming with 7 plump won ton.  If I ordered Wo Hop's world class crispy noodles, I could have stopped there, but I chose as my starch shrimp fried rice ($7.95), with hot mustard and soy sauce to add some complexity to the flavor palette.  

Friday, April 7, 2017
I've never liked David Brooks, one of two conservatives regularly publishing op-eds in the New York Times, normally the voice of limousine liberalism.  Too often, his writing strained to add intellectual embroidery to Republican nonsense, rather than offer an independent conservative perspective.  Today, however, I have to admire his piece on the clown-in-chief.  I wish that I had written some of it.

"[T]he personnel process has been so rigorous in its selection of inexperience that those who were hired on the basis of mere nepotism look like Dean Acheson by comparison."
"I worry that at the current pace the Trump administration is going to run out of failure."  
"Trump’s greatest achievements are in the field of ignorance."


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Driving Mr. Daisy

Monday, March 27, 2017
I'm not quite sure how they arrived at this list, but Trip Advisor has come out with another "best of" lists, best travel destinations.
In contrast to some of the lists of the most outlandishly expensive, pretentious restaurants, I fare pretty well here.  I hit 7 of the top 10, missing Bali, which I don't miss at all, Crete and, you'll pardon the expression, Phuket, Thailand.  

As you scroll through the whole 25 locations, you'll notice the absence of Washington, DC.  Maybe folks feared getting stuck in the swamp.  In the future, it's possible that it will come to rival Pompeii as the site of a ruined civilization.

The chasm between Republicans and Democrats in this country is well known, but there is another division, not as rancorous, but equally profound -- pet owners and the rest of us.  This is clearly illustrated by the following story, dealing with pet custody disputes in divorce cases. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/23/us/divorce-pet-custody-dog-cat.html?_r=0

As a confirmed animal ignorer, my admittedly cold reaction to these struggles is "Knock it off."  Yet, when I worked in "divorce court" for 3-1/2 of my almost 14 years in the court system, I occasionally encountered one of these Fido fights and witnessed the emotions aroused.  Unfortunately, professional considerations kept me quiet, but privately dubious.  

An article this weekend compared the nutritional value of blueberries vs. red cabbage at a reader's request. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/well/eat/ask-well-red-cabbage-vs-blueberries.html
Blueberries prevail in what has to be a purely academic comparison, since there is no way that I am putting red cabbage on my corn flakes.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Nate Cohn, thought to be a reliable political prognosticator until the 2016 election, revisits the scene of the crime and concludes that the winner  "flipped millions of white working-class Obama supporters to his side."  

A very interesting study suggests a motive for this change of attitude.   https://www.brookings.edu/bpea-articles/mortality-and-morbidity-in-the-21st-century/
The authors found that "while midlife mortality rates continue to fall among all education classes in most of the rich world, middle-aged non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less have experienced increasing midlife mortality since the late 1990s. This is due to both rises in the number of 'deaths of despair'—death by drugs, alcohol and suicide—and to a slowdown in progress against mortality from heart disease and cancer, the two largest killers in middle age."  When Trump called out to African-Americans "what have you got to lose," he seems to have been heard best by white working class voters.  Ironically, many of the new administration's policies seemed destined to exacerbate the ill health and living conditions of these swing voters.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017
One group that seems dedicated to Trump is professional golfers.  When a New York Times sports writer conducted "an anonymous survey . . . in February of 56 players on the PGA Tour, 50 (or 89 percent) said they would play with Trump if extended an invitation. Three said they would not, and three declined to answer."   The attitudes of women golfers were different, but not dramatically.  "[I]n mid-March, [at] the first L.P.G.A. event of the year held in the United States, I conducted an anonymous survey of 40 players.  Twenty-four (or 60 percent) said they would play with Trump, nine said they would not and seven declined to comment."  Fore!

I hit the road on my own today to visit Francesca H., Smith College '19, and Alex G., Amherst '18, in my on-going quest for a peer group.  Both kids are doing fine and we enjoyed a good meal at Paul & Elizabeth's, 150 Main Street,   Northampton, MA, a pescatarian restaurant serving large portions at low prices.  After sharing three appetizers, two of which were large enough to be a main course, I had fish and chips ($15), scrod (the official fish of New England) fried in a tempura batter.  Additionally, I picked fish chowder rather than salad to start, and got a creamy bowl (not a cup) with white fish, potatoes and carrots.  Confession: I left food over.
Miraculously, by the time we left the restaurant and walked around the corner, I was able to find room for ice cream at Herrell's, 8 Old South Street, a local institution for over 40 years.  I counted 40 ice cream flavors plus some sorbets and frozen yogurt.  I had two scoops, "Emerald City," peppermint ice cream with Andes (chocolate) mints and green sprinkles, and mudpie, espresso ice cream with Oreos and a fudge swirl.  Alex had a scoop of coffee with chopped chocolate on top; Francesca ventured into "Hamentashen" (I would include a "c"), vanilla ice cream with the traditional Purim cookie mixed in.  
Thursday, March 30, 2017
I left the motel in Hadley, MA,just after ten this morning, expecting to have an early lunch at Nardelli's Grinder Shoppe, 540 Plank Road, Waterbury, CT, where I had stopped on the way up.  Yesterday, I had an excellent roast beef hero (Nardelli's uses the term grinder, which makes no sense at all), and even as I drank a free cup of coffee in the motel lobby, I was running through the possible alternatives that Nardelli's offered, meatball or eggplant parmigiana, shrimp salad. maybe "Barbecue Bacon Cheddar Chicken."  However, just after 1 PM I was first   finishing my eggs and toast at the counter at the Blue Bonnet Diner, 324 King Street, Northampton, 6 miles from where I started.  I won't bore you with the details now, although I'm certain that I'll do so on future occasions.  Let me just say that you can't drive from Massachusetts to New York on three tires.

Friday, March 31, 2017
Happy Birthday to Law Professor David.  

Stony Brook Steve and I ventured forth on this crummy rainy day to Café China, 13 East 37th Street, a well-reviewed establishment.  Improbably, enough other people had the same stupid idea, so that there was at least a 30-minute wait to sit down, an unacceptable alternative for these two alte kockers.  We quickly located Evergreen on 38, 10 East 38th Street, a reputable Chinese restaurant just around the corner.  While nearly fully occupied, Evergreen's large premises offered us room to sit down right away.  We shared six steamed pork dumplings ($5) and then each had a lunch special, Steve sesame chicken ($10.95) and me Singapore rice noodles (mei fun) ($8.95).  We both started with wonton soup, a perfect example of its type, looking like beef bouillon and tasting like China.  My noodles were very good, the mild curry flavor surrounding shrimp, pork, eggs, green and yellow onions.  After a good meal, you'll only be a half block from Lord & Taylor to replenish your wardrobe.       

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It's Not You, It's Me

Monday, March 20, 2017
A couple of times in recent weeks, my blog blasts have produced hundreds of error messages, reporting delays in getting the word to many of you.  This has, in the spirit of the times, turned out to be fake news.  In fact, my weekly messages seem to have gone out trouble free hours before the barrage of error messages even began.  If this confusion spilled over and you have been inconvenienced in any way, I apologize.  It's not you, it's me.   

Time Out New York offers a list of the best local vegetarian restaurants.   https://www.timeout.com/newyork/restaurants/best-vegetarian-restaurants-in-nyc  
It includes B&H Dairy, 127 Second Avenue, a favorite of mine for decades.  I never considered B&H a vegetarian restaurant and I never will and neither should you.  It is a milchigs restaurant, following the ancient and obtuse Jewish proscriptions separating milchigs and fleischigs, dairy and meat products.   

Vegetables play a minor role in milchigs cuisine, which is about eggs, which is about cheese, which is about sour cream, which is about butter.  The premier dish at B&H is French toast, made with thick slices of challah baked in house.  When B&H reopened after being damaged by a fatal gas explosion two doors down, Tom Adcock and I rushed back to eat French toast in celebration and solidarity (September 1, 2015).  A glob of butter, maple syrup (well, they say it's maple syrup), a cup of coffee.  Not a carrot in sight.  Nothing green on the plate.  That's milchigs, not vegetarian.  

Our thrifty president has proposed a budget that's a Republican wet dream.  Except some Republicans are beginning to discover that not every government program is the spawn of Satan.  Even some low-hanging fruit might have firm attachments.  https://nyti.ms/2nAQioL

This article lists current artsy fartsy federal funding per capita by state.  And, Alaskans get almost twice as much as New Yorkers and about six times what Californians get.  I don't begrudge underwriting Alaska's cultural efforts, but I think that California needs it more.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Francesca H., a lovely college student, educated me this weekend about the presence of a first-rate Sri Lankan restaurant downtown, Kottu House, 250 Broome Street.  I knew of no Sri Lankan restaurant in New York or anywhere in the US, so, it was a happy revelation.  However, I am not entirely humbled by this information gap, because an Internet search uncovers very few Sri Lankan restaurants anywhere in the country.  

In any case, the Boyz Club rushed off to Kottu House for lunch.  It is a very small place, 3 two tops and 6 knee-high stools plus a ledge with 4 tall stools.  Weekday lunch until 4 PM offers a particularly good deal.  Choice of a chicken, chicken sausage, tofu or vegetable kottu, a "street style dish from Sri Lanka made with godamba roti, freshly chopped and stirfried with a blend of curry, eggs and vegetables," with a side of lentil patties, tuna fritter or South Asian fries (plain or spicy) plus a can of soda for $11.  

We passed around one of everything.  All the other gents opted for the least spiciness in any of the dishes, which resulted in well-prepared, filling, bland food.  I think that a joint should be allowed to present its flavors in relatively authentic fashion, with Tums to the rescue.

It must be catching.  Stony Brook Steve was one of today's fressers and he is widely renowned for his ability to spot the famous, near-famous and once-famous on the streets of New York.  When I went into Fairway for some grocery shopping after he headed home, I recognized Stan Beeman, the FBI agent who lives across the street from the Russian spies on "The Americans."  As far as I could tell, he wasn't being tailed. 

Listening to the Republican opponents of Obamacare, you would think that we face a binary choice -- taxpayers vs. sick people, as if there is no common ground or overlap.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
You have to give Michael Ratner credit.  As I have said in the past, he is the most honest businessman that I have ever met.  But, it was his willingness to go to lunch with me two days in a row that now distinguishes him.  Yesterday, it was Kottu House, today Tri Dim Shanghai, 1378 Third Avenue, a surprisingly good Chinese restaurant in a neighborhood that sorely needs one.  Befitting the area, the space is attractively decorated, with a combination of modern Asian elements against a large exposed brick wall and a reproduction of a Xi'an warrior standing near the front door.  Service is polished and efficient.  With that, prices were still reasonable, uptown reasonable that is.

We ordered two lunch specials at $8.50, tangerine beef and baby shrimp with bean curd.  The lunch specials also included a choice of soup or spring roll and rice, brown for us.  Portions were generous and each tasted good.  Additionally, we shared a scallion pancake ($6), a great example of the art, and chicken soong ($9), diced chicken, water chestnuts, celery, green onions cooked in soy sauce and served on iceberg lettuce leaves.  Count me lucky; I had Michael's company and a high quality lunch.

Thursday, March 23, 2017
The news these days is a torrent of absurdities, tragedies, and malevolence, but one item just made me sad.  The results of the competitive test for admission to New York City's eight special high schools show that 13 African-American students will be admitted to Stuyvesant High School, my alma mater, in the next class of nearly 1,000.   https://nyti.ms/2nBCHjV 

In 2011, I wrote about Stuyvesant's newly-admitted class of 2015.  It contained 569 Asian-Americans (thought to be mostly Chinese with some Koreans, Japanese and South Asians), 179 whites, 13 Hispanics, and 12 blacks.  That motivated me to examine the yearbook of my 1958 graduating class, where I found 700 white, 13 black, 5 Hispanic, 3 Chinese and 1 Japanese senior(s), relying on memory, facial and name recognition, leaving only a few uncategorized. We were all male and mostly Jewish.  (My memory was good enough after all these years to identify Anthony Kelly as Jewish.  His father escaped the Nazis, came to America and changed his name hoping to avoid future threats.)

Much of this data has been turned on its head over the years, specifically by the introduction of women in 1969 and the influx of Chinese students.  I don't have the details, but I would surely bet that the record of accomplishment of these more recent students far outstrips my contemporaries, measured by Ivy League admissions, academic honors and awards and other fodder of U.S. News & World Report's rankings.  With a moral certainty though, I know that we were funnier.

So, after three generations and the vast changes in this city, this country and the world, one things remains dead constant -- the number of black students admitted to Stuyvesant.   While some top prospects may have been siphoned off by elite prep schools, unlikely in my time, the numbers here are woeful.  Damon Hewitt, author of the essay above, believes that the standardized test is the problem, inherently unfair when viewed by the results.   The test, which always dealt with verbal and mathematical skills, has changed particulars over time, and is being significantly changed this year after a long period of stasis.   http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/nyc-parts-specialized-high-school-entrance-test-article-1.2949937 

Hewitt recommends a reliance upon "consistently excellent grades, critical analysis skills, leadership and even performance on other state-mandated tests" as substitutes or supplements to the standardized test.  Note that the first and last of these are just other tests.  While I heartily agree with the importance of critical analysis skills, how would that be tested without a test?

Hewitt complains that "the material on the [standardized admissions] test is not taught in the city’s middle school classrooms," as if high school will be no more than an extension of lower grades.  A virtue of one standardized test also allows the slacker a chance to catch up, something some of us should be thankful for.  

Finally, leadership is a vague concept that may allow subjectivity to override merit.  For instance, a bench scientist may be distracted in a group setting, prospering in a quiet corner.  Early in the 20th century, the search for the well-rounded man kept little Jewish boys and all women out of most of the best colleges and universities.  That led to the introduction of the College Board exams, putting merit first.  It's no accident that auditions for our best symphony orchestras are now held behind screens, leaving the music as the determining factor.

There's no one answer to getting more African-American and Latino students into Stuyvesant.  Parents are probably the most vital influence in getting students onto the right track with the help of a concerned teacher or two along the way, while peers and the neighborhood may serve as impediments.  Of course, the burden of racial discrimination, past and present, takes it toll on current generations, and society has a long way to go to level the playing field. However, very few of us not living at the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue have been given a free ride, a cheap ride or an easy ride.  While a standardized admissions test is probably a daunting challenge to many eighth graders, I support it because it is no more than a peek at what may lie ahead.  

Cheery headline of the day: "Late G.O.P. Proposal Could Mean Plans That Cover Aromatherapy but Not Chemotherapy"

Friday, March 24, 2017
Joe Forstadt died yesterday.  He was my "rabbi."  When my legal career stalled, Joe counseled me, reassured me and, most critically, made a telephone call to someone who knew him to be a trustworthy source.  As a result, I spent my last six working years in a very satisfying position.  I fear what those years would have been like without Joe's assistance, freely given.  You couldn't have a better friend.

Just in: The White House insisted that Paul Ryan stop   Trumpcare from going to a vote in the House of Representatives, because it heard that millions of illegal immigrants snuck into the Republican Congressional delegation.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Real George

Monday, March 13, 2017
I wonder which makes Republicans feel better as they contemplate the repeal of Obamacare, the big tax breaks for the very rich or the removal of health insurance from 24 million Americans? 

It was an odd coincidence yesterday when we saw the matinee performance of "Sunday in the Park With George," one of Stephen Sondheim's masterpieces.  It wasn't the presence of George Stephanopoulos in the audience, although I was surprised to see how small he is.  Rather, it was the presence of Mandy Patinkin, who created the role of George Seurat, the George in the title.  I saw the original cast version, but both Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, the two leads, were absent the night I attended.  Yet, even though I saw two other subsequent  productions, their voices and personas have been ingrained in me by listening to the original cast recording innumerable times.  I can report that Patinkin, seated a few rows ahead of us, applauded the whole cast and his successor vigorously.  In this instance, I imagine that the new guy listened avidly to tapes of the old guy.

Many people in the northeastern US are anticipating the arrival of a blizzard, due to hit the Holy Land at midnight tonight.  As a prophylactic measure, I went to Chinatown for lunch and discovered a great fortune.  Well, the Great Fortune Chinese Restaurant has recently opened at 5 Catherine Street, replacing QJ Restaurant (January 28, 2010).  In classic style, the front of the restaurant is taken up by a couple of men cooking in the window, with roast ducks and barbecued ribs hanging near their heads.  In back are ten 2 tops pushed together in pairs and one round table.  The walls are covered by 9" x 24" ceramic tiles with a wavy surface pattern.  Six rows of white tiles sit over five rows of black tiles, lending a clean, spare feeling to the space.

The menu is enormous, 315 enumerated items, another 34 by weight or piece for takeout, and 15 in Chinese only.   Speaking of Chinese, speaking Chinese is an advantage when ordering here, unless you hold your finger very steady when pointing to the item on the menu you want.  Additionally, a sign in the window for Peking duck buns at $1 each, not found on the menu, held a strong appeal for me, but, since I was unwilling to pull the waiter outside into the very cold air to show him what I want, I went without.

In spite of the number of options on the menu, I kept it simple: Three dumpling soup ($4.25), identified as shrimp, pork and mixed vegetables; "Three Precious Ingredients" ($5.50), roast chicken, roast duck and a fried egg over a mound of rice and boiled cabbage.  The soup was piping hot and aromatic, holding 8 dumplings, whose contents were not easily distinguished, but rather seemed to combine the three different fillings in varying proportions.  The rice dish was hearty, with small, tasty portions of chicken and duck.  It all added up to a filling and reasonably priced winter lunch.  Bring on the storm.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017
I recollect that, with the exception of Spiro Agnew, the Nixonians waited to take office before committing crimes.  Today's team showed no such restraint.   https://www.propublica.org/article/five-trump-cabinet-members-made-false-statements-to-congress

When the House Judiciary Committee voted on three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon on July 27, 29 and 30, 1974, 10 of the 17 Republican members voted No each time.  We now call that Ryan's Courage.  

These historical insights emerged as I sat indoors today, watching the snow fall.  It wasn't pretty.  There were no lacy patterns on the tree branches below our windows as the heavy winds swept them bare.

While almost all prudent New Yorkers stayed home this evening as the city moved slowly back to normal, Mossad Moshe and I ventured forth to see a screening of "American Socialist: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs," a new documentary, at the Socially Relevant Film Festival.  We promised each other next time to be first in line at the Socially Irrelevant Film Festival.    

Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Sorry, Julius.

Unless you are very lonely, you probably resent receiving robocalls, computer-dialled telephone calls with a recorded message about a person, place or thing of no interest to you.  Their technology often outsmarts Do Not Call lists.  The worst part for me is that there is no human being on the line to be remonstrated about the unwelcome intrusion or to be threatened with being tracked to the ends of the Earth.  There is hope, however, as Jon Silverberg instructed me.   

Nomorobo intercepts robocalls on most popular carriers and cuts them off.  You hear one ring and no more.  One step in the sign-up procedure stymied me, but I got Verizon's help.  You may be more educable and sail through the process unassisted.  In any case, it is a joy hearing that one ring followed by silence.   https://www.nomorobo.com/signup

Legitimate automated calls, such as, medical appointment reminders and school closings, are not interfered with.

It got a bit colder today, so too many sidewalk intersections combine snow, slush, ice and very cold water.  I might have stayed home if Stony Brook Steve had not suggested lunch, but a man's got to do what a man's got to do.  So, we bravely headed to Shun Lee Café, 43 West 65th Street, the casual portion of one of the most honored Chinese restaurants in the city.  I don't think that I have been to the main room in about 20 years and I know that I have never been to a dim sum lunch at the café.  That streak continues, since it was not the weather that kept us out, but the calendar.  Shun Lee Café is open for lunch and dim sum only on the weekend.  We settled for an ordinary lunch at an ordinary joint, distinguished by the quality of the conversation and insults.

Thursday, March 16, 2017
It has stayed cold and my car is frozen in place, so I stuck to running (walking actually) local errands.  Since one stop was the theater district, I hied off to Dim Sum Palace, 334 West 46th Street, for lunch, a new destination.  It offers over 40 dim sum items, chosen from an illustrated menu.  There are also a couple of dozen noodle, rice and soup dishes.  

I ordered rather conservatively, steamed shrimp and chive dumplings ($5.25 for 3), shredded roast duck dumplings ($5.25 for 3), chicken shu mai ($4.25 for 4), and pan-fried shrimp and chive dumplings ($5.95 for 3).  Everything was brought within one minute of each other, freshly cooked and piping hot.  The duck dumplings, which should have been the most interesting, were the most innocuous.  Only when I looked at the check did I remember that I ordered them, rather than some miscellaneous meat thing.  The other items were truer to their name.  

There is a bar at the front and about ten tables in a square space.  Then, a long narrow corridor with a single line of tables leads to another boxy room.  The corridor is decorated with an interesting antique-looking Chinese mural, roughly 24 feet by 6 feet, depicting a waterfront village in great detail. Unfortunately, there's just no room to get a perspective on it.  Service was friendly and efficient; when I remarked on the $8 charge for pots of unordinary tea, my waitress suggested ordinary tea at no charge, which hit the spot.

Another errand today took me to the post office, where I bought stamps, an extremely colorful Oscar de la Renta issue, a panel of 8 WPA posters (evoking real American greatness) and, sending a chill down my spine, a John F. Kennedy commemorative on his 100th birthday.  

Friday, March 17, 2017
It won't be pleasant, but I urge you to place yourself among the have-nots of our post-industrial society at a performance of "Sweat," a play by Lynn Nottage, at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/04/theater/review-the-jobs-are-gone-in-sweat-so-are-peoples-hopes.html

I admit that I am normally insulated from witnessing "the bonds among a group of working-class friends and family [being] frayed to the breaking point by the pressure of an eroding economic future," as you might be as well.  Tonight, it was a small but important step in permeating my college-educated, white collar, financially-solvent bubble.





Saturday, March 11, 2017

Old Wine, New Bottles

Monday, March 6, 2017
On Saturday, we went to Brown Sugar Kitchen, 2534 Mandela Parkway, a deservedly esteemed local institution, for a late breakfast.  The one-hour wait made it necessarily late, but, anticipating that, we gave our name at 10:30 and went off for some local sightseeing.  When we sat down, the automatic order was the waffle and chicken ($18), a cornmeal waffle, brown sugar butter, apple cider syrup and two pieces of buttermilk fried chicken.  Fabulous.  The waffle was light and airy, the butter and syrup perfectly matched with it (maple syrup available as an extra, but unneeded).  The chicken approached the epitome of fried chickenhood.  The place stays open only to 3 PM daily and, when we left shortly after noon, it looked like enough people were waiting to keep a full house until then.

Over the weekend I also learned what a "Walk Score" was.  We accompanied our Lovebirds to an open house, since the house they occupy is not available for purchase.  The property that we visited was quite charming in the Craftsman style and the realtor's flier said that it had a walk score of 75.  Qu'est-ce que c'est?

True to its name, the walk score rates a location by its walkability, the degree to which daily errands can be performed without an automobile.  A 75 in Oakland isn't bad, considering how hilly and spread out it is.  The Palazzo di Gotthelf rates a 99, not surprising given its centrality to the progress of Western civilization.  Check your own nest.  

San Francisco Business Times reported on the opening of a new, large Chinese food mall.  The founder "said there's still a 'stigma' around Chinese food for large portions and cheap pricing."  Suggested motto: Small portions, high prices?

The Sunday New York Times made it all the way out to California, so I saw the following headline, which might be read several different ways: "White Dominates Snowboard Event."

Oakland went out with a bang.  Sunday night, for our last dinner, we went to Soi 4 Bangkok Eatery, 5421 College Avenue, an attractive joint holding about 18 tables covered with white table cloths, an unusual sight in the Bay Area.  We shared pan-fried chive cakes (dumplings) and crispy vegetable rolls; I then had chicken satay skewers with a great peanut sauce (and isn't it always)  and Chiang Mai curry noodles with stewed beef.  All the food was very good averaging around A-.

To end the evening, we went to Smitten Ice Cream, 5800 College Avenue, where they churn the ice cream to your order using liquid nitrogen to freeze the concoction in a few moments.  I had a cup of "TCHO 60.5% Chocolate," predominantly a local Berkeley chocolate mixed with some Valrhona cocoa powder, producing maybe the best chocolate ice cream in the once-Free World.


Today, we flew home where the clocks are right and things happen when they are supposed to.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017
The anarchic conduct of some students at Middlebury College has aroused a sudden interest in the First Amendment among some of our Republican friends.  Were they as attentive to the 14th, 15th and, oh yes, the 16th Amendment.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
In case you don't believe that we are well on the way to making America great again, follow this link.  You will hear with your very own ears Richard Nixon on December 14, 1982 tell his fawning acolyte Henry Kissinger that "the press is the enemy."  

To prove that I had not forgotten how to walk after only one week in California, I chose to traverse the 2 miles to bb.q Chicken a/k/a bb.q Olive Chicken, 25 West 32nd Street, on foot.  I sought bb.q for several reasons; A) this is the first New York outlet of a Korean chain in 57 countries; B) during my explorations downtown, I only encountered three Korean restaurants -- the excellent Kori Tribeca Restaurant, 253 Church Street (May 28, 2013, July 30, 2015), the long shut Jup She, the Korean Plate, 171 Grand Street (December 30, 2010) and Gunbae Tribeca, 67 Murray Street, a hidden gem (December 18, 2015); C) it has a high reputation for fried chicken and the luscious memories of Oakland's Brown Sugar Kitchen were still fresh in mind.   

bb.q was good, but no threat to Brown Sugar.  The very deep joint is self-service.  You pick from a cabinet of hot food and a cabinet of cold food and beverages (coffee sits apart).  The chicken, thighs, drumsticks, breasts and/or wings, is cooked in olive oil plain or with sauce, honey garlic, soy garlic or "Red Hot" garlic.  About a dozen "K-Food" items are also available, such as bibimbap, the traditional Korean rice bowl, and duk-bokki, tube-shaped rice cakes in a spicy sauce.  Asian-appearing customers seemed to prefer the K-Food, while the round eyes went for the chicken.   

I came for the chicken and I had it straight up, 2 thighs and 2 drumsticks, $10.49.  It was nice and crispy, with a subtle spiciness that stayed with me.  Note that the chicken sits boxed waiting to be picked up; if it sits too long, it will cool down and lose its crispiness.  Since it was the heart of lunch hour, I had no problem with the temperature or texture of the chicken.  A man brought food from the dark recesses at the back of the restaurant frequently.   

The space has an industrial feel, exposed pipes and vents against big, exposed brick walls.  bb.q is close to Macy's and Madison Square Garden and it offers a good alternative for casual eating in the vicinity.

While we were obviously delighted by Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland and City View in San Francisco, we failed to realize that Santa Cruz was about the happiest place to be, according to the Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-Being Survey.  

I am deeply skeptical about (maybe hostile to) this survey, which places the Holy Land (admittedly the Greater Metropolitan Holy Land) at 101, tied with Mobile, Alabama, far behind Syracuse in 69th place.  

Friday, March 10, 2017
So you have an Ivy league degree, even better if you graduated from CCNY.  But, like me, you're just a chump when it comes to what really makes the world go round.  
"Profitable Companies, No Taxes: Here’s How They Did It"  https://nyti.ms/2m5t09o