Friday, December 19, 2014

Alphabet City

Monday, December 15, 2014
The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey collects purchasing data on almost 1,000 goods and services in the US.  Two academics have organized the data for the period 2007-2012 by 18 metropolitan areas and come up with some fascinating results.   
For instance, New York City is last (farthest below average) for purchasing alcoholic beverages at home.  Minneapolis-St. Paul leads in this category, and for alcohol purchases outside home, which may account for them being last in buying watches, since time must lose its meaning when in a  perpetual buzz.  The converse is also true, with New York City spending far more on watches (punctuality and fashion) than any other locale.   Not surprisingly, New York City leads in dining out, women’s footwear, men’s suits and wigs and hairpieces, while last in spending on pets, new cars, and lawn and garden.  

I’m disappointed, though, in New York City placing second from the bottom in book purchases, with Seattle and San Francisco-San Jose in the lead.  We may have an excuse for this in the time we spend (along with the money) in dining out, but folks in Miami combine the lowest rates in dining out and buying books.  There is no accounting for time spent in dermatologists’ offices.  There are other natural combinations: Houston leads in mutton, goat and game purchases, while spending the least on china and other dinnerware.  After all, mutton, goat and game are best served on paper plates.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
I’ve been going to Tasty Dumpling, 28 Mott Street, more often lately because of their reliably hot soup on these chilly days.  Today, I found that they make a very good, very cheap scallion pancake ($1.50, no tax, no tip in this modest joint where you order at the counter).  It comes in a greasy waxed paper sandwich bag, which is a bit daunting at first.  However, the bag seems to pick up most of the grease, leaving the pancake relatively dry.  What is lacking is the soy-ginger-rice wine-vinegar dipping sauce that complements your best scallion pancake.  Maybe, if you come here often enough, you can save up for your own bottle.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
I was challenged twice today, even before lunchtime.  Both arose in the offices of Dr. Jeffrey Liebmann, distinguished ophthalmologist, who, alas, does not own Liebman’s Kosher Delicatessen, 552 West 235th Street, the last remaining Kosher delicatessen in the Bronx.  First, I had to take that infernal vision field test, the one where you stick your head into a large, hollowed-out pumpkin and you have to push a button when you see pinpoint flashes of light.  This has frustrated me several times before, because I’m so competitive that I don’t want the machine to get one by me.  The only good thing about it was that they tested my left eye only, the one that has been a bit wobbly in prior tests.  

The second challenge, and the more profound one, came in the large waiting room.  A little old man (just how old, I can’t say) came in, huddled over, packed in several layers of black clothing held together by safety pins.  His mouth hung open and I could see one tooth in his lower jaw.  So, what?  Well, he reeked, he stank.  Each time that he left the waiting room to see a doctor or a technician in back, the receptionist jumped up and sprayed air freshener behind him.  For better or worse, I am sufficiently stuffed up when the weather turns cold that the 10 feet between us was an adequate buffer.  But, it was nasty.  

Where was a companion or relative to see to his personal condition, to escort him to the doctor and help explain some of the simple things that seemed to confuse him and led to tears?  In New York City, can a person be that isolated?  I may be a bit bourgeois in hoping that he could clean up, but he won’t be able to do it alone.  (Note, that he got to the doctor’s office, at least.)  If no friend or family is available to him, how much aid can society offer him?  I tried to assuage my conscience by running through our charitable contributions, including DOROT, an organization devoted to supporting the elderly.  http://www.dorotusa.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_mission_D#.VJHAcXDJG-g

Even if I didn’t have the excuse of having my own doctor’s appointment and then being expected at work afterwards, I admit that it was unlikely that I would take on the responsibility of helping this man, extending a figurative or literal hand to him, assuming that he would even allow me to approach him.  What if he is sufficiently addled that the prospect of soap and water would evoke an hysterical reaction?  I don’t take rejection well.  Is it enough to pronounce it a social problem, allowing me to walk on by?    
Thursday, December 18, 2104
Today’s newspaper could keep me blogging for weeks, it seems.  To start with, we have President Obama’s recognition of Cuban baseball players as a strategic asset for the continued dominance of the American way of life.  This was a surprise for many of us, but may be viewed as a holiday gift to the management of the New York Mets and Yankees.

Next, we have the figures of declining law school enrolment to the lowest level since 1973, when there were 53 fewer law school in the US.  According to the American Bar Association, 37,924 students entered law school in 2014, compared to 52,488 four years ago.  My own anecdotal experience is somewhat contradictory on whether we are overpopulated with lawyers, justifying students seeking other paths to fame and fortune.  I hear from many people that their recently-graduated-from-law-school children cannot find jobs, or that they themselves are unable to find a new position after being let go in middle age.  On the other hand, my work involves establishing and monitoring the schedule of cases through the courts, which entails meeting many lawyers.  So often, when I inquire why agreed-upon deadlines are missed, I hear from the lawyers about the scarcity of resources.  Can we bridge this gap?

Ultimately, I don’t think that there are too many lawyers, although I would make admission to the bar much harder.  As with the medical profession, the deployment of our professional talent is severely skewed towards more prosperous urban and suburban areas, while needy segments of the population are underserved.  Significant, even total, tuition abatement may direct young lawyers to those poorly represented areas.  Also, a serious pro bono requirement should be imposed to remain professionally qualified for those parked in their glass houses.

Then, we have the North Korean response to satire.  There is evidence that the hacking of Sony Picture’s e-mail is rooted in North Korea’s offense at the upcoming (but not any more) movie The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korea’s beloved leader.  Besides the hacking, physical threats to audiences are conveyed in messages received by Sony, which was sufficient reason for major movie chains to cancel planned showings of the film, and then Sony to cancel its release all together.  

I know that the North Korean regime is headed by a megalomaniac and it has shown itself able to disrupt at least one major corporate computer system, as well as inflicting cruelties on its own people.  However, North Korea has demonstrated no capability to use force on any scale beyond its land mass and the surrounding waters, no less get terrorists into the multiplex at the mall.   And, we have CIA agents who have demonstrated their willingness to go to great lengths to get information about suspected dangers to Americans and cops everywhere who shoot when confronted by vaguely suspicious behavior.  Instead, we now invite blackmail by anyone who can send an e-mail message, while we remain unwilling to disarm or inhibit gun ownership by anyone able to chew gun and pass gas simultaneously, or at least one of the two.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Maybe the story that has greatest import for the way we live, or should live, is the refutation of the right-wing gospel that if welfare benefits are generous and taxes high, fewer people will work.  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/upshot/nordic-nations-show-that-big-safety-net-can-allow-for-leap-in-employment-rate-.html?abt=0002&abg=1
As the caption on a graph in this article reads, “the countries with the highest rates of participation in the labor force tend to have higher taxes and more extensive social welfare spending.”  Another graph is headed: “Employment Rates Are Higher in Countries That Subsidize Child Care.”  Now, the data comes from a professor with a foreign name at a foreign school, so the Domestic Enemies of Sanity will reject the “solid correlation . . . between what countries spend on employment subsidies — like child care, preschool and care for older adults — and what percentage of their working-age population is in the labor force.”  As in other matters, our American Exceptionalists are likely to include exception from evidence.    

The last word for today comes from a story about the failure of the New York City Housing Authority to get hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.  The details are sorry enough, but my concern is more basic – how the New York Times handles acronyms.  Quoth: “The Housing Authority, known as Nycha, also failed to secure $263 million from the Section 8 rental assistance program . . . .”  That is bushwah.  The Housing Authority is known, and appears constantly in legal papers, as NYCHA.  Just like the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is NASCAR, not Nascar, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is HIPAA, not Hipaa.  Feeble justifications for the Times style on acronyms of more than four letters include “an all-capitalized acronym calls attention to itself, possibly distracting a reader,” and “ a story filled with long, all-cap expressions looks strange on the page, as though someone were shouting at you: NAFTA, I say! NAFTA, NAFTA, NAFTA!”  I say FUBAR. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Mountain Comes To Mohammed

Monday, December 8, 2014
I didn’t have a job when I graduated law school in 2001.  However, I was fortunate to have an assignment, as it were, to do research with an informal group of lawyers bringing a class action suit against the SNCF, the French national railroad.  I got this role as an offshoot of a seminar on French and German law during the Holocaust in my third year of law school.  As any of you who have been a third-year law student, or in contact with one, knows, the third year is typically a costly nine-month period of sloth and indolence.  In so many ways, I differed from my classmates who were more than a generation behind me.  I enjoyed the third year, as much or more than the two prior, and applied myself diligently to the course work.  Unlike my “peers,” I wasn't eager to leave school and get into the “real world.”  After all, I had been there for over 30 years, with more than my share of ups and downs.  To be fair to the kids around me, I had some money in the bank (although I was blitzed by the stock market crunch at the turn of the century), and I was not burdened by debt.

The seminar was led by Professor Richard H. Weisberg, author of Vichy Law and the Holocaust in France, who connected me to this group suing the SNCF for its role in transporting Jews, captured Allied flight crews and others from France to Auschwitz and other fatal  destinations.  I was responsible for legal research on the US handling of tortious or criminal conduct by foreign governments (or their agencies) before, during and after World War II.  Until passage of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) in 1976, there was no applicable statute on the subject.  Also, for more than its first 25 years, there was no authoritative ruling on FSIA’s retroactivity.  

The evidence was that the SNCF cooperated with the Nazis without hesitancy or objection.  I recall the shocking fact that the company billed the newly-installed DeGaulle regime in 1944 for rental of box cars used to carry people to their death prior to liberation.  In spite of the high competence of the lawyers that I worked with, the case was dismissed because of a US Supreme Court decision interpreting FSIA in another action.

Well, maybe patience is a virtue, because the Washington Post reported on Friday that “France has agreed to pay reparations to American survivors of the Holocaust [and certain other non-French nationals] who were deported to Nazi death camps in French trains, after a year of negotiations with the Obama administration.  The agreement, a bilateral accord with the U.S. government to be signed Monday, includes a $60 million lump-sum payment to be distributed among eligible survivors, their spouses and, if applicable, their heirs.” Ultimately, it was not the legal system that made the difference, but, according to the Post, the agreement “is intended to close the door on pending state and federal legislation that would ban France’s state-owned SNCF railway or its foreign subsidiaries from winning contracts in the United States.  A Maryland-based subsidiary of SNCF is part of a consortium of private companies bidding to build and operate the $2.45 billion light-rail Purple Line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.”  Cherchez la gelt.

Tom Adcock is still on jury duty and graced my presence at lunch again today.  We went to Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, a consistent favorite.  We shared a scallion pancake ($2.25), no worse than second best in Chinatown, and divided two lunch specials, General Tso’s chicken and beef with scallions ($5.95 each), into equal parts.  Additionally, white rice and excellent hot and sour soup came with each order.  Time and not much money well spent.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Over 15 years ago, before I went to law school, I sat on a grand jury in Manhattan.  As I recall, we indicted 62 of the 63 accused persons presented to us.  In only one case, I voted on the losing side not to indict.  Therefore, I was surprised by the outcomes in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, where grand juries failed to indict police officers involved in the deaths of unarmed men.  I realize, of course, that those cases are much more complex than the muggings and drug buy-and-busts that we voted on.  Yet, the pattern of police shootings of black men is troubling, and frequently demonstrates at least inadequate training, if not outright racial bias.

In light of this, I still think that Columbia Law School made an unwise decision over the weekend in allowing students to postpone final examinations at the imminent end of the semester.  The dean wrote that “this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society designed to protect fairness, due process and equality.”  He informed the law student body that policies for “trauma during exam period” provided for this postponement.  

Without questioning the agony felt by some (I hope many) students at these events, I don’t think that the law school can ultimately cope with student psychology.  First of all, students everyday may be genuinely upset by events of either universal or particular relevance to them.  If they choose to suspend their normal attention to their studies and ask the administration for an indulgence, okay.  But, I don’t want Columbia to be installed as the arbiter of empathy.

Second, I believe that the legal profession requires us to put aside personal concerns as much as possible in our practice.  That means representing people or positions that we might not like or share in private.  More basically, as in medicine, that means getting up in the morning, going to work and helping our clients (patients) regardless of the mood we are in.  It is the wrong message to tell law students that, because you feel bad, very bad, really bad about current events and/or the legal system that you are training for, you will be given a time out.  Life doesn’t usually offer us such consideration.  Hard things, bad things, challenging things may come at us from all directions at any time.  It ain’t always easy.   

Friday, December 12, 2014
The New York Post has started an advertising campaign in the subways.  This morning, I saw a placard that said, “The news doesn’t have to be boring to be news.”  Given that the Post is a Rupert Murdoch publication, a more appropriate phrase would be, “The news doesn’t have to be true to be news.”

Here’s another of those fascinating New York Times maps, census tract by census tract.  Instead of sports topics, this map illustrates unemployment in the US for men ages 25-54, presumably their prime years. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/12/upshot/where-men-arent-working-map.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=photo-spot-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0&abt=0002&abg=1#  

Generally, it shows unemployment low in the states slightly west of center, such as, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota, where energy production is often a significant economic factor, although they mostly have low population density.  Ironically, wood and coal producing areas, representing older forms of energy, such as northern California, parts of Oregon and Idaho, northern Michigan, West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky have high unemployment, as do areas where Native Americans are concentrated.  New England and the middle Atlantic states tend to look better than any other densely populated region.  The Times identifies “the affluent sections of Manhattan; . . . the highly educated suburbs of San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis, Boston and elsewhere” as areas of low unemployment for men in their prime years.  Bring on the women.

Admittedly ethnocentric, only Hanukkah interests me among year end celebrations.  However, today was the Winter Holiday Party of the Law Secretaries & Law Assistants Collegium, a supposedly social group for people working directly for judges or in the law department, my home.  As a dues paying member, I was entitled to attempt to be collegial with many people whose name I still don't know after five years.  Mirabile dictu, though, the delicatessen platters came from Ben's Best, 96-40 Queens Blvd, Rego Park, Queens, which I believe to be the best Kosher delicatessen in New York (not to be confused with Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, which has 7 locations in and around New York City, including West 38th Street).  When Mother Ruth Gotthelf was still alive, we would go to Ben's Best before or after visiting her nearby, before if she had put in an order for us to deliver a corned beef sandwich.  And I don't hold this opinion alone.  America's Favorite Epidemiologist, not one to throw out superlatives without extensive field testing agrees, as does Michael Ratner, who used to have a sandwich named after him, and who bears no hard feelings even after having been thrown off the menu.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Healthy Skepticism

Monday, December 1, 2014
I like language. I use it a lot. But, occasionally, I find it confusing. Yesterday, Daniel L. Doctoroff, Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for economic development and Thinker of Big Ideas, proposed the development of a new convention center for New York City, located in Queens, to replace the generally unpopular Javits Center. I found the idea interesting, and I wouldn’t mind hearing more discussion of his proposal.

Besides offering far more space for conventions than now available, the plan (in its current blue-sky phase) "would provide the foundation for a dynamic new neighborhood, accommodating nearly 14,000 new units of housing, . . . office and retail space; several hotels to support convention visitors; vast expanses of public green space; a job-creating technology campus; and a new transit center." Never mind that we heard similar promises for the Barclay's Center, the World Trade Center site, the new Yankee Stadium and other projects where the developers put stars in our eyes and money in their pockets.

I’m interested in language right now. Let’s go back to the quote, which actually read "accommodating nearly 14,000 new units of housing, of which about 50 percent would be affordable." 50 percent would be affordable. Half of the new housing will be A-double F-O-R-D-A-B-L-E. So, how might you describe the other half? Maybe that half should go unbuilt because it would be (what is the opposite of affordable?) unaffordable? Then, 100% of the housing would be affordable.

I was privileged to have Tom Adcock, novelist and reporter, join me for lunch. Tom, who now looks more like Perry White than Jimmy Olsen, is a juror on a criminal case and will, therefore, be available several more times in the days ahead, I hope. We met at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, and shared shrimp chow fun ($6.75) and sliced chicken with eggplant & spicy sauce ($11.25). Just about every Wo Hop dish is large enough for sharing, and we agreed that the food was good and plenty. We spoke of the foolishness of paying either Clinton hundreds of thousands of dollars for speechifying, although we both had tales of Bill’s magnetism in person.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
I’m sure that my blood pressure was normal when I walked into the lobby of the NYU Medical Center this morning for my annual physical examination by Dr. Michael Perskin, a wise and caring physician whom I recommend as heartily as the beef chow fun at Wo Hop or the lamb burger at Xi’an Famous Food. Although I had been to the building many times before, I had asked the receptionist to confirm Dr. Perskin’s location within its sprawling premises. Tower H, suite 7B. However, as I looked around the lobby, the alphabetic designations of the towers (elevator banks) were gone, replaced by the names of rich Jewish guys. Go down to Schwartz, continue past Tisch and turn right at Silverstein. Making the connection between the former rational pattern and the my-tax-accountant-found-a-new-way-to-avoid-paying-my-fair-share-while-presenting-a-philanthropic-image-to-help-obscure-some-of-my-past-dodgy-business-dealings identification plan took several extra minutes. I finally arrived at the right place nearly at the right time, and the examination produced quite satisfactory results, after the aggravation that I felt at the new navigation scheme receded.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014
After taking a book out of the library branch on East Broadway, I hopped across the street to Golden Unicorn, 18 East Broadway (August 28, 2013, April 15, 2011, May 3, 2010) for an excellent dim sum lunch. It was more expensive than other similar recent meals, the dishes averaging over $4 each. There were two other notable differences at Golden Unicorn. First, cards on the front of its carts identified the contents by name and picture. This saved the often embarrassing exchanges with the cart lady about what was in that round thing that she was offering you. While she seemed to know a word or two in English, most of us can’t even say "please" or "thank you" in Chinese. Second, and this was new to me, the cart ladies wore face shields, clear plastic panels reaching from the tip of the nose to the bottom of the chin. This is apparently the individualized equivalent to the sneeze guard now omnipresent at serve-yourself salad bars. It seems like a good idea, although it is certain to meet strong opposition if it can be traced back to Barack Obama, that fiend whose health care plan brought the number of uninsured Americans down from 17.7 percent to 12.4 percent, and cut the rate of growth in healthcare spending to an all-time low. Go back to Kenya so that I can get a meal without any damn plastic getting in the way, and let us get sick whenever we want to.

Thursday, December 4, 2014
Tasty Dumpling, 28 Mulberry Street, does a healthy business in its new, brighter, larger location. I often pass by without going in because the 5 four tops are usually occupied, and, although the turnover is rapid, it’s not conducive to satisfying my secondary need at lunchtime, doing the crossword puzzle. Today, however, there was a momentary lull that promised me at least a few minutes to concentrate on the always-tricky Thursday puzzle before, during and after my ingestion. I ordered pan fried chive and pork dumplings (5 for $1.25) and wonton noodle soup ($4.25), in all a satisfying meal. While the soup broth was a little thin, the wontons were good and the soup was nice and hot.

It got busier as I sat, so I left to complete the puzzle on a park bench across the street, finding a spot sunny enough in the chill air. Of course, the heat of the soup helped keep me comfortable as I grappled with several anagrams, allowing multiple correct entries in the space, such as, dangers vs. ganders vs. gardens (although I never spotted gardens until much later). Also, this puzzle had alternate correct answers that intersected the anagrams, such as, notary vs. rotary, blockade vs. blockage. Again, my compliments to the constructors, the nimblest minds that I know of.

Friday, December 5, 2014
In today’s New York Law Journal: "A chimpanzee cannot bear the legal duties or responsibilities of a human being and thus is not entitled to the corresponding rights afforded to people, an Appellate Division [New York], Third Department panel ruled Thursday." However, according to your United States Supreme Court, a corporation is entitled to the corresponding rights afforded to people and thus can bear the legal duties or responsibilities of a human being, or can it?

The New Republic was getting ready to celebrate 100 years of publication when the owner hired a new chief executive officer from Yahoo. This resulted in a mass staff exodus, led by the magazine’s editor, Franklin Foer, and its veteran literary editor, Leon Wieseltier. At the same time, the new CEO sent out a memo saying that he wanted to reimagine the publication "as a vertically integrated digital media company." When someone mouths crap statements like that, I think that their enterprise is more likely to last 100 more days rather than another 100 years.

Friday, November 28, 2014

More Dirt Pudding, Please

Monday, November 24, 2014
Was that Grandpa Alan nimbly playing Frisbee in the PS 199 playground yesterday with 6 3/4 year old Boaz?
 
A search of the New York Times online archives shows that foshizzle almost always appears in that newspaper in reporting conversation, including a famous commercial featuring Snoop Dogg, for Chrysler automobiles. http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/?action=click&contentCollection&region=TopBar&WT.nav=searchWidget&module=SearchSubmit&pgtype=Homepage
 
I made this inquiry because _ _ _ H (A or I) Z Z L E was the best that I could do on Saturday's crossword to answer 1 Across, “Dated agreement?”  Even consulting America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and Professor David, in residence for the weekend, did not help me.  According to www.urbandictionary.com, fo shizzle or fo’shizzle usually appears as fo’shizzle my nizzle, a phrase that, once translated, would not be allowed in the New York Times for any purpose.   

It seems that FOSHIZZLE was also 1 Across in a diagramless puzzle published by the Times on April 20 , 2014, a format that I skip.  It evoked some controversy, causing Will Shortz, the legendary crosswords editor to write, “It’s true that it’s dated language.  But then so are HEP, RAD, EGAD, and other old-fashioned terms, which appear in crosswords all the time.”  It’s not the supposed antiquity (allegedly harkening all the way back to the 90s) that bothers me, it’s the obscurity.  I am not now and have never been a member of an organization where fo’shizzle (with or without the nizzle) has ever been uttered or used in any fashion and I intend to keep it that way.  
 
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
The British government released a report today on the murder of a soldier in London by two domestic terrorists last year.  It pointed to a series of mistakes by its spy agencies in following up on the two men, who supposedly appeared in seven different clandestine investigations.  Also unsettling was the parliamentary committee’s criticism of an unnamed American technology company for failing to report online threats made by one of the men, threats that led the company to disable several of his accounts because of their contents.  The report said that “this company does not appear to regard itself as under any obligation to ensure that its systems identify such exchanges, or to take action or notify the authorities when its communications services appear to be used by terrorists.”  

It’s a delicate balance between protecting us from terrorist activity versus the shrinking of our freedom to be left alone.  While many of our citizens appear willing to allow the NSA access to our private communications, shall we privatize this intrusiveness as well, urging Google or Time Warner Cable or Facebook to stand guard over our prattling?  
 
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Happy Thanksgiving!  Obviously, I stayed far away from the courthouse and Chinatown today in order to celebrate the holiday with family and friends, and particularly to enjoy the culinary skills of America's Favorite Epidemiologist.  While waiting for the festivities to begin, I had time to catch up with yesterday's food section of the New York Times and found some wonderful reading.  First, there was a wise article about how to be a good guest for Thanksgiving, or other major meal-oriented occasion, with an eye upon being asked back in the future.  My favorite quote came from Professor Denis Gainty, of Georgia State University.  “It’s so important not to give any kind of advice on anything,  You need to be the cheerleader for the food that’s being produced by the host.  I have lots of opinions about brining, but I realize I need to steer the conversation to safer topics, like religion and homosexuality.” 

Appealing to my quantitative side was an analysis of popular Thanksgiving dishes. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/11/18/dining/thanksgiving-recipes-across-the-united-states.html?ref=dining
Google analyzed web searches for recipes in the last decade during Thanksgiving week by state, excluding turkey itself.  Then, it reported those dishes in each state that produced more inquiries than their national average.  Specifically, New Yorkers asked about stuffed artichokes 5 times more than the country as a whole, the top item in New York.  Eye opening was the 189 times national average that North Dakotans sought a recipe for "cookie salad," or the 145 multiple in Hawaii for "pumpkin crunch."  

When I got bleary poring over the numbers, I was intrigued and happily puzzled by some of the dishes, with the Times listing the top 3 in each state.  I don't know how to explain Colorado's "frog eye salad" (also big in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming); Indiana's "dirt pudding" (in Ohio also, while West Virginia has "dirt cake"); Kentucky's "hot brown;" Louisiana's "ooey gooey bars;" Utah's "funeral potatoes;" and Hawaii's fascination with "jook."  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Good Meals Amid Bad News

Monday, November 17, 2014
Where were you on Saturday night?  I was sent back half a century while listening to the New York City Labor Chorus singing of a once proud labor union movement and a once vital civil rights movement.  Even after such a long time, the words (often quite simple and repetitive) of We Shall Not Be Moved, Which Side Are You On?, If I had a Hammer and We Shall Overcome were right back on my lips.  Now, unions are, at most, an afterthought in our economic system, and a smirking majority of the United States Supreme Court views racism as an historic relic, a relic that, with the obvious exception of Clarence Thomas, never seemed to have interested them before.

The 1,200 seat auditorium seemed full mostly of my contemporaries and our elders, with walkers and canes in abundance.  Were we the conscience of an increasingly-avaricious society or  merely a bunch of frustrated fools whose time has passed?

The lyrics of Which Side Are You On? always interested me.  It was written in 1931, in the course of a coal miners strike in a region that saw labor strife on and off for over 40 years.  
They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there;
You'll either be a union man,
Or a thug for J. H. Blair.

A contemporary version might unmelodiously go:
You'll either be a union man,
Or a thug, attorney, crisis manager, publicist, accountant, media consultant, lobbyist, or portfolio manager for J. H. Blair.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014
The terrible news from Israel this morning is the attack on worshipers in a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinians using a gun, knives and axes.  Four Jews were killed, including three Americans.  In order to empirically distinguish this act from anything resembling sanity, the synagogue is located in a section of West Jerusalem that has been occupied by Jews at least since 1948, and several kilometers from the nearest edge of Arab East Jerusalem.  I believe that any attempt to explain this act as anything but criminal insanity would itself be insane.  However, more disturbing to me is the caption under a photograph on the NYTimes web site: “Supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Gaza celebrated the attack on Tuesday.”  Tell me why such behavior doesn’t warrant harsh reprisal.  Demonstrating how patient, how rational, how peaceful, how tolerant we could be seems to accomplish little, if anything, in this conflict.  

By contrast, lunch was peaceful and joyful as I had dim sum at Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, with Fumiko and Stanley Feingold, and four CCNY classmates, as an extension of our periodic get togethers when Stanley visits New York.  We shared 18 plates of 15 items.  With a generous tip, it cost $14 per person.  It might have been less except for some uncontrolled Diet Coke guzzling (and you know who you are).  I wouldn’t want it repeated, but a couple of vegetable dishes were very good.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014
The Boyz Club convened at 27 Sunshine Sea Food Restaurant, 46 Bowery, the former HSF.  This gave me the opportunity to compare two major dim sum joints back-to-back.  Jing Fong is enormous, running an entire city block from Elizabeth Street to the Bowery, one flight above street level.  27 Sunshine actually sits directly beneath, a half block long, entrance on the Bowery.  Jing Fong is vividly Chinese red, seemingly awaiting only acrobats and jugglers to complete the festive atmosphere.  27 Sunshine, befitting its name, is pastel yellow almost everywhere you look.  Jing Fong has a lot of Chinese patrons; 27 Sunshine has nothing but (our table aside).  Accordingly, it is a bit easier to understand or be understood at Jing Fong, assuming you haven’t mastered your Mandarin.

We had 9 guys at lunch and the food came and went so fast that I was unable to get a count on the number of dishes (and, unlike Jing Fong, the check wasn’t detailed).  We later estimated 30 plates, including duplicate items.  The bill for this was a staggering $85 upon which I heaped a very large tip, so that each of us owed $12.25.  Jing Fong had a slightly more interesting collection of items, but 27 Sunshine’s scallop dish almost drew a standing ovation.  On the way out, I sought to learn the origin of the name, 27 Sunshine Seafood Restaurant, located at 46 Bowery.  A managerial type patiently explained to me that 27 means 46 in Chinese, or I think that’s what he said.

Thursday, November 20, 2014
Last night, I went to the Jewish Theological Seminary to hear Mike Kelly discuss his new book, The Bus on Jaffa Road, the story of a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 1996, killing 26.  Among the dead were Sara Duker and Matthew Eisenfeld, a young American couple.  Sara was a classmate and friend of Mayris’s children.  She died just a month after I met Mayris, so my early memories of our romance are combined with sad recollections of this tragic event.  Before the book talk, a study area of JTS’s library was dedicated to the memory of the young couple; Matt was a rabbinical student there.  

Four rabbis spoke at the dedication, two on behalf of JTS and two friends and classmates of Matt’s.  I didn’t take notes, but I tried to hold onto words and phrases that were repeated by various speakers about Sara and Matt.  I heard: hope – peace – love – Torah – learn – God’s image – giving – wisdom.  

Lunch today, although not with a crowd, was still special.  Jay Stanley, policy analyst for the ACLU based in Washington, was in New York for a periodic meeting.  Jay is the son of Charlotte Stanley, the flower of Cheshire County, New Hampshire, and John Langley Stanley, my graduate school roommate, taken from us far too early.  Jay, in his father’s footsteps, likes spicy, exotic foods, so we went to Xi’an Famous Foods, 67 Bayard Street, one of 5 Manhattan locations for this successful enterprise.  Since my last visit, the tiny space has been reconfigured to give a little more sitting room, but don’t expect to host the Cousins’ Club there anytime soon.  

We each ordered a spicy cumin lamb burger ($3.50) and then shared stewed oxtail noodles ($9.50) and buckwheat cold noodles ($5.25).  Each was spicy in its own wonderful way.  The noodles could only be eaten with your head inches above the place, to keep the delicious sauces nearer to your mouth than your clothing.  The hand-pulled oxtail noodles were very long and wide; the buckwheat noodles were like fat lo mein.  We were both delighted by the food quality.  Unfortunately, Jay had to rush back to an afternoon meeting, so he refused my suggestion that we stop at the Häagen-Dazs shop at the corner of Bayard Street and Mott Street, for, what I consider, the appropriate finish to a superior Chinese meal.   

Friday, November 21, 2014
For those of you who did not have the Washington Post delivered to your front door this morning, here is David Webber's valuable commentary.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-h-webber-protecting-public-pension-investments/2014/11/20/85748ee6-66cb-11e4-836c-83bc4f26eb67_story.html

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tricentennial

Monday, November 10, 2014
The New York Times has again found a way to utilize the predominantly self-referential (and often self-reverential) data from Facebook to provide some interesting information.  It aggregates, by county, the “likes” for any college football team, to assess the level of interest in college football generally.  
 
With Alabama leading the way, it pretty much correlates with where in the United States you don’t want to live.  “And the five counties in the United States with the lowest rates of college football fandom are the five boroughs of New York City.  Manhattan manages 2 percent, and the other four are all below 2 percent.”  There is an independent indication that it isn’t just the water locally.  Cook County (Chicago), Illinois also scrapes the bottom of the barrel, along with the counties surrounding Boston.  Significantly, these areas have an abundance of professional sports teams with passionate fans (present company included).  It’s likely, therefore, that we are willing to wait for the finished product before getting all aroused by the athletic accomplishments of our supposed student-athletes.  
 
As I wrote the other day, there have been two major changes to the Chinatown/Little Italy ecosystem, the first, Baz, a bagel joint on Grand Street, just a few feet off Mott Street.  More revolutionary is the appearance of Beijing Pop Kabob Restaurant, 122 Mulberry Street, right in the heart of Little Italy.  Until now, even as the borders of Little Italy shrank under the pressure of Chinese inflow, Mulberry Street remained intact and integral, Italian restaurant after Italian restaurant, interrupted only by T-shirt shops.  This, after all, is the home of the Feast of San Gennaro, held in mid-September each year to celebrate the patron saint of sausage and pepper sandwiches.  Held for more than 88 years, San Gennaro attracts under age drinkers from miles around. 
 
Now, a Chinese restaurant has replaced Positano Risorante, sitting right next to Buona Notte Ristorante.  You might as well be selling knishes in the Vatican.  Not only have the walls closed in on Little Italy, they have been breached by the Chinese hordes.  Fortuitously, Beijing Pop is also the 300th Chinese(ish) restaurant that I have patronized (and documented) since January 2010.  To remind you, I limit myself to weekday lunches in nearby Chinatown – not Flushing, not Sunset Park, not Upper East Side.  Admittedly, I have broadened the cuisine to all of East Asia, thereby including Japanese (10), Malaysian (5), Korean (2), Indonesian (1), Thai (4), Vietnamese (13).  India and Pakistan, and all of the Middle East, however, have been excluded from the count.  
 
I was joined on this special day by Stony Brook Steve.  There are 16 two tops, mostly pushed together, in this narrow joint, whose cream walls are decorated with Chinese scrolls and vivid wall hangings.  Respecting the restaurant's name, we ordered lamb kabobs and beef kabobs ($3.50 per order of 2 skewers), scallion pancake ($1.75), pan fried buns with beef curry ($3.75 for 3), and beef with tofu ($5.75) as a lunch special with rice and soup.  The food was quite good, on the whole.  The lamb was fatty, but lamb fat charred is still tasty.  The scallion pancake was small in diameter, but crisp,  greaseless and so inexpensive.  The three inch round buns were well-prepared, not doughy, but too mild for my taste.  Steve risked the tofu and found it edible.  
 
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
We have the day off in observance of Veteran’s Day (once Armistice Day), but I wasn’t idle.  I stopped off at my periodontist’s office, to help his children continue to acquire the finest private education available.  Then, I had lunch with the Feingold assembly, where Joe Berger, notable New York Times reporter, discussed his newly-published book, The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America.  These very orthodox Jews challenge and embarrass me and most of the wishy-washy Jews of my acquaintance.  The challenge arises from the suspicion (or fear) that they are doing it The Right Way, that is, that their lives, their customs, their worship, their values represent authentic Judaism.  The embarrassment comes from viewing their lives, their customs, their worship, their values so at odds with the modern world.  
 
I put contemplation aside for the evening and went to Madison Square Garden to see the New York Rangers dominate the Pittsburgh Penguins, a fitting end to the holiday. 
 
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
The article contends that many of us harbor an aversion to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner for two reasons: the company and the menu.  I won’t touch the first subject.  For most of us, the Thanksgiving table is populated by the acorns off the family tree.  The selection process ended in the maternity ward.  I’m not going to challenge it now.
 
On the other hand, I love the Thanksgiving menu, the turkey, the stuffing, the sweet potato concoction.  Aside from a good Passover seder, I can’t think of a meal at home that I anticipate more.  However, the Times describes the event as burdened with “unbending tradition, family expectations and dietary totalitarianism.”  It claims that, for Thanksgiving, Americans “want lobster. They want Alaskan king crab and West African peanut stew, Peking duck and pad thai, Neapolitan pizza and Brazilian feijoada. In some cases, they want any form of meat that doesn’t gobble: osso buco, rack of lamb, suckling pig.”  What’s wrong with this is that these items are best enjoyed in a restaurant, where you can expect practiced competency.  You never order turkey in a restaurant, because you ate it at home and your mother did it better.  
 
In contrast to the dishes rattled off by the Times, turkey is relatively easy to prepare, and the basic effort is the same regardless of the size of the crowd.  You need not visit out-of-the-way ethnic emporia or specialized provisioners to gather your ingredients.  Plus the wonderful leftovers.  Mother Ruth Gotthelf always purchased an oversized bird (recognizing her oversized sons undoubtedly) and made a wonderful potato salad to accompany the turkey for days afterwards.  My beloved Calvin Trillin has long advocated spaghetti carbonara as the national dish for Thanksgiving, but that is not even sufficient to separate me from my Pilgrim heritage.
 
Thursday, November 13, 2014
A diamond may be forever, but a name on a wall may be gone with a check book.  Lincoln Center announced today that Avery Fisher Hall, named for a wealthy audio equipment mogul over 40 years ago, was going to be renamed as part of a major fundraising campaign.  Following the advice that you have to spend money to make money, Lincoln Center is giving back $15 million to the Fisher family to free up the space over the doorway.  For its first dozen years, the building was called Philharmonic Hall.  Now, anything is possible.  Maybe downtown Louisville, Kentucky won’t mind us borrowing the name of the KFC Yum! Center from its multi-purpose sports arena.  Or, Sacramento, California may allow the NBA’s Sacramento Kings to revert to the ARCO Arena or the Power Balance Pavilion, so that New York can have the Sleep Train Arena.  Less bother would be involved with the use of KitKat Crescent, which lapsed as the home of the York City (England) Football Club in 2010.  On the other hand, I appreciate the swell of enthusiasm for Grandpa Alan’s Place, but I have to ask you to desist in promoting this choice.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Audio Visual Age

Monday, November 3, 2014
This morning’s New York Times has a special section listing the names of tens of thousands of New York City Marathon finishers.  The listings are ordered by time, not alphabetized like the New York State bar exam results.  That prevents me from applying my patented analytic tools to this collection of names.  My (ab)normal fascination with ethnicity is thwarted under these circumstances.   On the other hand, that furthers the American dream of judging each individual on her/his merits, removing bias from our perceptions.  It just isn’t as much fun as seeing how Us are doing against Them. 

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio is poised to keep a campaign promise by permitting students to have cell phones in public schools.  He said that for parents it is “very, very important to know how to reach their kids.” He is not just talking through his hat, a device previously kept under wraps by a Korean startup telecommunications company.  He has a son in a public high school in Brooklyn.  Still, I’m thoroughly opposed to the idea.  

All of you over 40 went through high school without even touching a mobile telephone, no less carrying one as close as you keep your reproductive organs.  And, if your parents were concerned about reaching you, it was because of your sullen demeanor that you displayed at the dinner table and just about in any other public place in their company.  You hurt and disappointed them.  They just wanted to get a coherent sentence out of you in face-to-face conversation.  It would have been absurd to think that they actually wanted to talk to you on the telephone sometime between solid geometry and French. 

The psychology of today’s parents and children has not changed.  Cell phones in schools have nothing to do with parents, other than their inability to withstand teenage mewlings based on peer pressure.  Kids must have cell phones in order to talk to other kids at every waking moment, many of those moments otherwise inopportune, or, alternatively to avoid contact with the real world around them.  

I recognize the lure of the cell phone.  While I don’t bother with games, I compulsively peek at the New York Times, ESPN, the Weather Channel and that witty blog about eating in Chinatown.  Come on, Bill.  The kid’s not waiting to hear from you.  If his cell phone were limited to only receiving calls from Mom and Dad, it would quickly wind up in a dresser drawer with socks and underwear.  Stick to trying to govern the city, instead of the impossible task of controlling your teenage son.  Meanwhile, consider the plight of the teachers whose job is made more difficult by the audio and visual distractions offered by these devices.  “It didn’t sound like it, Mr. Goldfarb, but I was just looking up a good definition of iambic pentameter.”  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Congratulations to the inmates.

Lan Larb Soho, Authentic Isan Thai, 227 Centre Street, replaced Saha Thai Cuisine recently.  It appears to be freshly-painted a pale blue-gray.  The dark wood and faux leather chairs are pulled up to 15 white plastic two tops.  The lighting is simple and modern; the Halloween decorations seem an unneeded adaptation to local customs.  

Some basic research revealed that Larb is a minced meat salad, regarded as the national dish of Laos.  Isan is an area of Thailand with many people of Laotian descent.  Sections of the menu are labeled Larb soup and Larb Isan salad.  Other parts resemble a regular Thai menu, accounting for my ordering chicken pad Thai ($9), which came with a small bowl of delicious vegetable broth, and a small spring roll with a good crispy shell surrounding a dull vegetable filling.  The large portion of pad Thai was also very good -- noodles, bean sprouts, egg, green onion, carrots, chopped peanuts and thin slices of white meat chicken.  Service was fast and friendly; about 1/3 of the chairs were occupied.  Worth a return visit or two.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014
Chinatown’s growth has been extraordinary.  Almost all remnants of the Yiddish-speaking Lower East Side have been swamped by the eastward expansion of recent Fujianese immigrants.  Little Italy has shrunk to a commercial strip on a couple of blocks of Mulberry Street, north of Canal Street, and a few shops on intersecting side streets.  However, I just came across two developments, with important implications for the area's entire ecosystem.  

Baz, bagel and restaurant (sic), 181 Grand Street, just opened, featuring Jewish-style (non-Kosher) food, such as potato latkes ($10), matzoh ball soup ($6) and egg creams ($6).  Bagels start with cream cheese at $3.50, topping off at $16 for Scottish salmon, sable (smoked cod), cream cheese, tomato, onion, and chive.  Hardest to swallow is Dr. Brown’s soda at $3 a can.  So, along with the return of the grandchildren of those who fled the tenements of the Lower East Side about a century ago, we have an attempt to restore Jew food to the downtown scene, at a location that teeters between Little Italy and Chinatown.  I haven’t eaten there, and might only go for a bagel once or twice in the future.  I think that I'll stick to Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish, 146 Chambers Street.  A map app tells me that they are equidistant from the courthouse, at right angles, Zucker's to the west and Baz to the north. Zucker’s prices are 10% to 25% less, and it is populated with kids from Stuyvesant HS nearby, not tourists who ignore Chinatown for a bagel.

The other development is an even bigger surprise, but I'll wait a day or two to describe it.

Friday, November 7, 2014
My cold has lingered and I stayed home from work today to kvetch.  I hope that I will be able to discuss the second important development in the Chinatown ecosystem on Monday.

We expect dumb things from dumb people, cf. Election Day.  However, dumb things from allegedly smart people make for better conversation.  Today's example is the acknowledgment by the administration of Harvard University that it has been secretly filming classes without informing faculty or students.  The proffered rationale by the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching was (according to the New York Times) "to investigate professors' complaints that many students skipped lectures, and that attendance dropped as a semester wore on."  A couple of points jump out at me.  First, HIFLAT was unwilling to believe Harvard faculty.  Think about that.  Professors are professing to be inadequate in getting and keeping students in their seats, but you go looking for independent evidence?  What would be gained by proving the faculty wrong?  "Oh, Professor von Schweinpit, those empty seats were an optical illusion."  Or, "There was such a crush of students attempting to get into the lecture hall, that they blocked the entrance."  

Secondly, assuming there was a valid purpose in pursuing this issue, why couldn't the ordinary exercise of human senses be used?  Stroll by, glance through the door, linger at the end of the hour.  Will we discover, instead, that the brother-in-law of HIFLAT's director is in the business of selling, installing and maintaining surveillance equipment?  That would be the American way, after all.