Friday, February 7, 2014

Snow Job

Monday, February 3, 2014
We spent the weekend away, celebrating with Boaz, the Super Bowl Birthday Boy.  We were kept very busy during the weekend with imaginative activities organized by his devoted parents, including a Bingo game where the numbered squares were replaced by the photographs of locally-prominent 5- and 6- year olds.  Except for the monumentally uncompetitive Super Bowl, there was no reason or time to watch television.  However, once back in our hotel room, we watched local television news primarily to keep track of the weather.  The news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was, of course, disturbing.  I had marveled how he had managed to seemingly shed his bulk to play to the wispy figure of Truman Capote so convincingly.  Yet, his last role was that of desperate junkie with a script that allowed for no improvisation.

I was interested in how local Boston television stations handled the news of Hoffman’s death.  After giving the ugly details of his being found with a syringe still stuck in his arm, at least two different broadcasts proceeded to read Twitter feeds (Tweets) about his death.  While 140 characters cannot be expected to do justice to Hoffman’s talents, the very idea that I wanted to even hear the terse comments of celebrities about him read aloud was absurd.  Yes, his death was sad.  Yes, we feel sorry for his family.  Yes, a major talent has been lost.  I already knew that.  I didn’t have to put on makeup or have my hair sprayed into place in order to repeat these unsurprising observations to thousands of folks out in TVLand.  Do some investigating; do some reporting, or shut up!
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
I hope that I never stop searching, but on a return visit today to Shanghai Cafe Deluxe, 100 Mott Street (August 26, 2013), I found the scallion pancake ($2.50) to be incomparable.  It is flaky without being brittle, with a soft inside layer.  With a lot of snow still on the ground, and more predicted for tomorrow, I chose Shanghai wonton soup with shepherd’s purse ($5.95), but don’t ask me how that differs from Shanghai wonton soup ($4.95) or what in the bowl was a shepherd’s purse.  The 8 wontons, however, were very good, not gummy.  There were no noodles, leaving room in the bowl for an ample amount of hot broth.  I can handle winter under these circumstances.  By the way, many sources commend the soup dumplings here, but I still haven’t tried them.

The New York Times has a debate on “The Casual Couture of the Average American.”
Six contributors, ranging from a psychologist to 3 bloggers (is that now a job category?), comment on whether we have “ a culture that’s taken comfort to the extreme?”  While I long ago abandoned wearing a suit and tie on an airplane flight, I am frequently annoyed at the sight of someone dressed like a slob heading to a place where slobs are not usually found, such as, an office or a theater.  One writer in the group asserts that “[c]reativity requires diversity and free expression.”  First of all, creativity is not necessarily a virtue in many of our jobs, all or part of the time.  I shudder at the thought of a creative bus driver.  Secondly, whether boiling an egg or writing software, a person has to look around, recognize and gather resources, and proceed in some semblance of an orderly fashion to achieve a goal, that is if a goal exists beyond the pure occupation of space.  Getting the mind organized, even if to then launch into an improvisatory outburst, is, I believe, the necessary first step in approaching the day ahead or any task therein.  Picking your clothes is the right kind of inaugural exercise, considering the who, what, when, where and why of your anticipated endeavor(s), to my mind.

When “we put on a smart outfit, we feel more confident,” according to the psychologist in the newspaper.  By coincidence, in this week’s Torah portion (the Jewish book of books is read continually throughout the year), Exodus 28:2-3, the Big One tells Moses about the priestly role destined for Aaron, Moses’ brother: “And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and for beauty.  And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise-hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, that he may minister unto Me in the priest’s office.”  In other words, the garments qualify Aaron to be a priest.  Moreover, according to a critical source of biblical analysis, if priests “were not wearing their proper priestly garments, they lacked their priesthood and were considered like non-priests, and were liable to death if they performed the priestly service.”  Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 83b.  I might not go that far, but, conversely, by any measure, flip flops should never appear away from a sandy beach, a shower stall or a pedicure salon.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The weather is particularly ugly this morning.  The sky seems to be directly depositing slush on the streets, skipping the intermediate steps of snow and rain.  I’ll have to step carefully on my way to lunch in Chinatown.  And, speaking of Chinatown, Professor David Lee McMullen send me the following link this morning.  The report cites the gentrification of some urban Chinatowns (New York, Boston and Philadelphia) as a threat to their culture.  Notably, the white population of these locales is increasing as the Chinese population decreases, an indication of the intrusion of newer, more upscale residential properties.  I’ve seen evidence of and commented on this over the last four years that I have worked at the very edge of Chinatown.

This is a pattern, however, that has prevailed over time on the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and currently in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, among other neighborhoods.  Ironically, the population and geographic contraction of Little Italy, as Little Italy, and much of the Lower East Side as a Hispanic neighborhood resulted from the influx of Chinese people and businesses into those areas.  I’m really up in the air about this issue.  Yes, I’d like to see an aggressive housing development policy providing for working class and lower middle class families, of the sort that I emerged from.  However, until that occurs, likely contemporaneous with a cure for cancer, I admit to being heartened that success for many has not lead them to the suburbs, deserting their urban neighborhoods, in contrast to the white flight and suburban sprawl that characterized the second half of the twentieth century.

New York has clearly benefitted by the Asian, Latin American and former USSR residents’ immigration of recent decades, just as it did by the Eastern and Southern European immigration of 100 years ago.  The coincident arrival (or return) of over-paid financial wizards on their temporary rise to the top and then, often, to jail, seems to be an inevitable part of our dynamic growth.  These two demographic shifts are linked, at least, to  the relative ease that New York City deals with diversity and change, without resorting to arming our citizenry and shooting strangers.

The current crisis in Argentina:

Thursday, February 6, 2014
I recently wrote about the seeming windfall of a large check from my health insurance company.  Well, it was too true to be good.  A bill arrived this week from an anesthesiologist, who allegedly sent me off to dreamland during a recent medical procedure, for exactly the same amount as the check.  Today, I did the right thing.

The Winter Olympics start tonight or tomorrow.  If it did not interrupt the National Hockey League schedule, I could ignore it entirely.  I loathe the patent corruption surrounding Olympic site selection and development, rarely exercised so publicly, so heavy-handedly and on such a grand scale as by Putin and his puppets.  See

Further, the Winter Olympics especially is host to so many events that, while demonstrating formidable athletic prowess, are not properly labeled sports.  Results are governed by judges, not goals, times, runs, points, or distance.  As the New York Times wrote today about figure skating and related events, “The major problems are that judges continue to lack independence; nationalistic impulses still often prevail; apparent conflicts of interest abound; and the anonymity of the judges’ scoring has undermined efforts to increase accountability and transparency, according to interviews over several months with more than 70 judges, referees, athletes, coaches, officials and other experts.”  Another article today has the headline “Who Needs Stopwatches? From the Shadows, Judges Take Starring Roles.”  Judgment calls play a role in every conceivable sport, and often commentary the day after the Big Game focuses on officiating.  It’s not the same, though, as having every call/rating/score entirely dependent on someone off the field.  If you and I can’t explain why X won and Y lost, it ain’t a sport.

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