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.



  1. Alan, trying to part young people from their tech devices is like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Not going to happen. DeBlasio is simply recognizing reality.

    1. Monte is correct. That ship has sailed. And as a parent with a child in a classroom following an epic crisis when he was without a cellphone and therefore unreachable, I am fully in support of DeBlasio's position.

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  3. If you allow guns in schools, you might as well have cell phones.