Saturday, September 6, 2014

Over There

Monday, September 1, 2014
America's Favorite Epidemiologist is #1 in my book in almost all imaginable categories.  However, I believe that she must defer to Zephyr Teachout in the area of unusual names.  At first, I thought that this was a child of the late Frank Zappa.  Then, I learned that Ms. Teachout is a Fordham University law professor, which places her place of employment just a few hundred yards from the Palazzo di Gotthelf.  However, it is her proximity to the governor's mansion in Albany, New York that interests me.  She is running against incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination. 

While Cuomo has had a successful record overall, in my eyes, as governor, I plan to vote for Teachout.  I don't think that I'll be the only progressive (pinko, limousine liberal, America-hating, warrior against Christmas) Democrat taking that path.  I recognize that Cuomo, as any politician faced with the realities of governing and reelection, has had to take stands that I disfavor.  However, his conduct surrounding his signature issue -- corruption in Albany -- has been appalling.  After appointing a commission to deal with the issue, possibly no greater here than anywhere else, but here nevertheless, he retreated quickly and publicly when the group opened an inquiry that might have led to activities near to the governor, although not the governor himself. 

Last year, Cuomo said, "Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.”  When disbanding the commission preemptively a few months ago, in rhetoric that evoked Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, he said, “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive.”  So, the winds of reform that we anticipated with Cuomo must now come, if at all, from a Zephyr.
We are putting aside domestic election concerns for the time being as we set off tonight for Scotland, where a vote on independence is scheduled for September 18th.  One commentator wrote that "a significant number of Scottish people have a dream where statehood, social justice and cultural self-confidence fit together into a clear and popular project." This seems to combine disparate elements that are also found in our national politics: opposition to a remote big government that is unwilling or unable to effect economic reform.  I venture that, in the US today, the left touts social justice and the right touts culture.  Do we need Woody Guthrie to have an effective blend of the two?
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
We arrived in Edinburgh this morning and our hotel took pains to get us into a freshly-cleaned room without too much delay.  The flight was uneventful, but I didn't find the skies of United that friendly, rather more dispassionate and business-like.  In contrast to the two other trans-Atlantic flights that we took recently (and the easiest to recall), to Sicily and Portugal, United was notably ungenerous in small but telling regards.  Alcoholic beverages had to be purchased; no free wine or beer.  And, the beverage service came with nothing, not a peanut, not a pretzel, not a Pepperidge Farm goldfish.  This might seem like the least consequential matters to complain about, but we paid over a thousand bucks a ticket.  For that much money, throw in a small bottle of Chateau Schwartz, or a fraction of an ounce of potato chips. 

We are staying on Bread Street, a central location in Edinburgh, but it is sort of a misnomer.  Although only two blocks long, it might be more appropriately named Rice Street, because the otherwise respectable neighborhood is rife with Chinese, Indian, Mexican and miscellaneous ethnic restaurants, and several "gentlemen's clubs," for which I don't qualify.  However, our first lunch this afternoon was at the White Hart Inn, 34 The Greenmarket, reputedly Edinburgh's oldest bar.  It had haggis on the menu, but I settled for steak and ale pie, a very modest, but satisfying, dip into local cuisine.  I intend to try haggis for sure, once my head, stomach and mind all agree to meet in the same time zone. is coming in loud and clear over here. That's how I learned today that Eric Cantor, former leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, rejected by voters in his party's primary, has taken a job at a Wall Street investment bank as vice chairman and managing director.  According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he will receive a base salary of $400,000 and an initial cash payment of $400,000.  The firm is also granting Mr. Cantor $1 million in shares that vest over a five-year period.  The Wall Street Journal commented that Cantor will be "learning the investment banking business."  It's such good news that American workers are being afforded job training opportunities, when unemployment affects so many households.  This puts an end to the rumors that he would enter show business reviving the song and dance routines of his grandfather Eddie Cantor, although that was a prospect that I personally looked forward to.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
I read on that "[t]he trend away from classes based on reading and listening passively to lectures, and toward a more active role for students, has its most profound effects on black students and those whose parents did not go to college, a new study of college students shows."  This was the genius of CCNY, at least in the rosy past.  All of our classes were taught by the Professor, in front of a group of 20-30 grubby kids from the four boroughs.  (I never met a kid from Staten Island at CCNY in my four years.)  Not all teachers took a participative approach to the subject, but the most memorable did.  That accounts for the loyalty that a group of us display towards Stanley Feingold, of the Government Department, more than 50 years after our graduation.  He worked the class; he did not address the class.  Some students cowered and tried to avoid his attention, but many of us couldn't wait, in the words of Rumpole, to get up on our hind legs and offer our thoughts -- baked, half-baked and sometimes still in raw ingredients.  Of course, in those days CCNY was not considered a research institution and the model of the Great Mind surrounded by eager graduate students, occasionally entering the lecture hall, did not apply.  And we were so lucky for that.

We took a tour of the Scottish parliament at midday.  The building is new, befitting the emergence of the parliament about 15 years ago.  The architecture tries a little too hard to evoke images of land and sea, and transparency in the conduct of affairs.  However, the actual legislative chamber was quite interesting and a model of efficiency.  It resembles a very up-to-date law school lecture hall, roomy, airy, equipped with sophisticated electronics.  The obvious contrast is with the British House of Commons, crowded, noisy, only seeming to lack tankards of ale and spitoons.  Of course, the US Congress also meets in relative comfort, supported by modern technology, but that hasn't prevented legislative constipation.
Tonight, we ate at Kama Sutra, 105-109 Lothian Road, two doors off of Bread Street, an Indian restaurant that deserves a better name.  There are many dozens of Indian restaurants in Edinburgh, but in our wanderings for the last few days, the local population seems to fit the stereotype of the rosy-cheeked, ginger-haired Scot, so Indian food must have passed into general circulation.  We shared an onion bhaji appetizer (£4.25) and I made a meal of three other appetizers, lamb chop adriki, 3 medium chops marinated in spices and yoghurt (£5.95); lahsuni tangri, 2 chicken drumsticks also marinated in spices and yoghurt (£4.25); and 4 grilled scallops (£4.75).  All of them were good, and more or less worth the price converted to good old American dollars, at $1.65 a pound.  I had a lot to eat, for sure, which deterred me from going 5 blocks in the wrong direction to an artisanal gelateria, after dinner, that we passed earlier, that had fig ice cream, among other interesting flavors. 
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Haggis was right under my nose, it turns out, a staple of the hotel's breakfast buffet.  I may have been too busy with the fresh croissants to notice until this morning.  I put a scoop alongside my scrambled eggs and found that it resembled a minced hash, just a tad wetter.  Haggis will not play a role on my vote on Scottish independence.  There are, apparently, bigger fish to fry, which reminds me that we haven't had fish and chips yet, although, unlike haggis, it will be available as we head south into England.

Our 24-hour hop-on, hop-off bus tour lasted until late morning and we headed out for one last loop of local attractions.  Working backwards, after a fashion, we wound up at Edinburgh Castle, the very foundation of the city and its most popular tourist attraction, as the 20-minute wait to buy a ticket attested.  At one of the highest points of the city, on a long-dormant volcano, it has a history of royal and military occupation, most of which is completely lost on an American.

Dinner tonight was at the Galvin Brasserie, in the Caledonia Hotel, once a grand railway station, now repurposed as an even grander hotel, with several dining rooms.  We had a lovely meal, but skipped dessert in order to walk over to Affogato, 36 Queensferry Street, for that fig gelato.  Of course, there was none left from yesterday, so I had to make do with Valhrona chocolate and hazelnut, while my young bride had coconut and salted caramel.  Two scoops were £2.80, a bargain by local standards.  Looking into any retail store around here makes New York look like John's Bargain Store.  I told Johannes, a young German working in a bookstore up the street for the summer, who has never been to the US in spite of near-perfect English, to take an empty suitcase to New York and fill it with Levi's at £20 a pair and sell them at £50 to his eager friends.  The result will be one all-expense paid vacation.
Friday, September 5, 2014
We leave Edinburgh today on a three-hour train ride to the village of Arnside, Cumbria, on the northwest coast of England.  This spot is the focus of our trip, to mark the 50th wedding anniversary of Kathleen McConnell and David Mervin, joined as graduate students at Cornell University, in my presence. 
One last observation on Edinburgh.  This week, the first week in September, several restaurants are promoting their Christmas parties and dinners.  Fortunately, there are no trees, wreaths or ornaments on display, yet, but this reminded me of the idea that one ages differently during space travel, an application of Einstein's theory of relativity.  It seems that in Edinburgh, three months pass at a much faster rate than in the rest of the world (except where we are waging a war on Christmas, as Fox News has detected).

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