Friday, April 10, 2015

Keeping Count

Monday, April 6, 2015
Almost exactly one year ago, a unit of Bain Capital purchased Manischewitz Corporation, the country’s largest producer of Kosher foods. Bain, as you recall, was the business home of Mitt Romney. As much as I would delight in seeing a picture of Romney eating gefilte fish, he left Bain about a dozen years earlier. 

With baseball season opening over the weekend, the New York Times published a very interesting look at baseball records. As even the most casual fan is aware, baseball is obsessed with statistics and records, far more than any other sport. This may result from its long history, beginning organized play much earlier than any other professional sport, and from the long season, currently 162 games, producing such a volume of statistics.

The Times study deals with the duration of records, the likely tenacity of current records of achievement. While Babe Ruth’s home run records have been surpassed by lesser lights, other records now seem untouchable. You may not care about baseball, but I think that it is intriguing to contemplate that the highest annual batting average was recorded in 1901 and has never been approached since. No one has even come closer than 25 points since 1941. It was also 1941 when Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games; second best is 44 games in 1978. Rickey Henderson’s 1982 stolen base record seems untouchable. Henderson stole 130 bases that year, which is more than the combined total of 28 major league teams in 2014.

You may have to be a bit geekish to appreciate the numbers, but they do reflect on baseball’s strange relationship to human development. Americans are generally healthier, better fed, better medicated than ever before. In probably every other sport, records regularly fall as athletes grow bigger and faster, training year round, paying serious (and sometimes illegal) attention to conditioning. Yet, even as modern baseball players no longer spend half the year selling cars or insurance, or tending bar, many critical performance levels recede from their grasp. How about that?

Speaking of gefilte fish, I know that many of you have been waiting to hear about Aunt Judi’s seder meals, held Friday and Saturday, always a high spot on the Hebrew and culinary calendar. This year, over two dozen people each night enjoyed the imagination and care that she invested in the two dinners. Interestingly enough, each year these seders begin on, what I consider, a low note. The traditional Goldenberg/Gotthelf hard boiled egg, the first real food of the evening after the symbolic ingestion of matzohs and bitter herbs, has been replaced by the Poloner egg soup, a dish of tepid salt water with pieces of chopped egg. Definitely a non-starter.

Fortunately, we got down to business each night, as in year’s past, with fried gefilte fish, a brilliant update of a classic dish. Previously, I attributed this great accomplishment to Aunt Judi herself, but, as with the seven layer cake at the end of the meal, it is store bought, the only food items not created in her kitchen. Yet, to me, it will always have Aunt Judi written all over it.

On Friday night, the meal continued with brisket in a savory gravy, herbed chicken (the exact herbs a secret), kishka (not the traditional stuffed intestine, but a more benign version), mushroom kugel, roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts, health salad (a suspicious concoction). The homemade desserts were apple strawberry crisp, chocolate chip mandelbread (my personal favorite), and chocolate fudge sandwich cookies.

Saturday night also led off with the fried gefilte fish, as I ignored the egg soup again, followed by corned beef, Aunt Judi’s Famous Meatballs, barbecue saucy chicken, spaghetti squash pudding, cous cous, vegetable salad w/lemon olive oil dressing, cole slaw, and cranberry pineapple relish. The homemade desserts were chocolate chip mandelbread (every appearance a blessing for me), zebra cookies, nut balls, date nut balls, and egg white nut cookies (far more delicious than the name conveys, featuring slivered almonds).

While Aunt Judi mastered the kitchen, as always, Uncle Stu did a formidable job in the wine cellar, offering an array of wines, red and white, that were far removed from the liquid grape jelly conventionally found on the seder table. What exquisite folks to have as in-laws!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015
A Passover seder traditionally begins with the younger attendees asking the four questions. The answers to these questions become the script for the evening. I suggest that a fifth question be added, the young ones inquiring "Why will my college tuition be so much more than Mommy’s and Daddy’s and hugely increased from Bubbe’s and Zayde’s?" While US college populations have steadily increased for decades requiring more (and presumably better) facilities, the primary cost factor appears to be a disproportionate growth in employment. Not more professors, associate professors, assistant professors and lecturers per cubic student. More administrators, many more administrators, not just a few administrators. 

According to Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions. The California State University system, distinct from University of California, currently has 23 campuses. From 1975 to 2008, its full-time faculty grew from 11,614 to 12,019, while the total number of administrators went from 3,800 to 12,183. Note that part-timers and adjuncts fill many faculty positions, and it is likely that they were hired in abundance, another scandal in itself. Public sector employees are often reminded that their better-than-average benefits make up, to some degree, for lower earnings, but some leaders of public institutions are not hurting. A study by The Chronicle of Higher Education, released last year, reported the following top five:

E. Gordon Gee, President, Ohio State University (left June 2013): $6.058 million
R. Bowen Loftin, President, Texas A&M University (left January 2014): $1.636 million
Hamid A. Shirvani, Chancellor, North Dakota University system (left January 2014): $1.311 million
Rhenu Khator, Chancellor and President, University of Houston main campus: $1.266 million
Sally K. Mason, President, University of Iowa: $1.140 million
Of course, these salaries, in many cases, are dwarfed by those of certain faculty members – football coaches (as of November 2014). 

Nick Saban, University of Alabama, $7,160,187
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State University, $5,636,145
Bob Stoops, University of Oklahoma, $5,058,333
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M University, $5,006,000
Charlie Strong, University of Texas, $5,000,270
In summary, lay down your pick and shovel and head for the lofty groves of academe, with or without your whistle.

Thursday, April 9, 2015
Except for Aunt Judi's seder meals, the Passover period is a culinary desert, fitting accompaniment to our journey into Sinai as celebrated by the holiday.  I was, therefore, heartened by the headline "The Ice Cream Sandwich Comes of Age," found on-line.

It seemed to offer me new horizons for my return to eating sandwiches, next week.  However, upon examination, some of the supposed "treats" might only be an aid to dieting.  The article speaks of  "regal ube (purple yam) ice cream" at one emporium and "a roster of flavors includes novelties like edamame and foie gras" at another.  O, Ben!  O, Jerry!  Where art thou?

Friday, April 10, 2015
Today’s newspaper carries at least a couple of stories that illustrate why the term "people of faith" may be replaced by "people of fear." 
1. Christian conservatives mobilized to repeal a local statute barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
2. Ultra-Orthodox Jews are refusing to sit next to unrelated women on airplane flights.


  1. I suggest Goat Cheese and Fig ice cream, one lonely pint of which resides in our freezer. A friend living on Bainbridge Island outside of Seattle mailed 8 pints to us from Mora Ice Creamery. If you are ever in the area I highly recommend it.

  2. I suggest Goat Cheese and Fig ice cream, one lonely pint of which resides in our freezer. A friend living on Bainbridge Island outside of Seattle mailed 8 pints to us from Mora Ice Creamery. If you are ever in the area I highly recommend it.