Friday, May 1, 2015

Then And Now

Monday, April 27, 2015
An article in the Sunday business section compared the biggest of the big companies in 2015 to 1985.
Today, Apple, measured by stock market value at $759 billion, leads the top five, three of whom are involved with information technology – Apple, Microsoft and Google. Thirty years ago, IBM was number 1. By relative measure, IBM was even more dominant over the other top five – Exxon, GE, AT&T and GM (how wonderfully terse an array) – none of whom were in anything like the same business as IBM. Only Exxon, now merged with Mobil appears on the 2015 list. 

For whatever it’s worth, there were 121,446 gas stations in the US in 2014, almost certainly far fewer than in the past. Of course, emerging markets in India and China presumably have had a growth in gas stations, but established economies elsewhere show the opposite trend. For instance, the number of gas stations in the United Kingdom declined from 14,824 in 1997 to 8,591 in 2014.

Two factors loom large in explaining the decline in US gas stations, even as the number of registered motor vehicles increased from 172 million in 1985 to 253 million in 2014, improved fuel economy and appreciation of the value of roadside real estate. So, teach your kid computer programming if you want her to make a quick buck, but give her an oil well if you want to provide for generations to come.

Right now, however, sending her to law school is not doing her a favor, according to a new study that shows that about 20 percent of law school graduates from 2010 are working at jobs that do not require a law license, and only 40 percent are working in law firms, compared with 60 percent from the class a decade earlier.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015
This week marks the 40th anniversary of our retreat from (abandonment of) Saigon and the end of active US military involvement in Vietnam. I stayed out of that fight, as did almost everyone I knew, in spite of my status as a healthy, single male under 26 years of age during several years of the escalating events. I did not have to take elaborate measures to avoid the draft; I strung together deferments as a student and then a teacher (even in the most woebegone institutions) that shielded me from conscription. 

Even though my political science chops were pretty good in those days, I never could offer a reasonable explanation of what we were doing in Vietnam. Our visit in 2012, in the company of faithful companions Jill & Steve, when we went to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Hanoi and several points in between, left me more confused. The Vietnamese, an increasingly urban population, have a median age of 30.3 years (US, 36.8), all of whom seemed to be riding motorbikes as we tried to cross the street.

Vietnam is a one-party state, which suppresses political dissent and religious freedom, although it lacked, to this tourist, the authoritarian pall that hung over China. Of course, that doesn’t stop us from being its leading trade partner. As the BBC recently observed: "In the [Vietnamese] cities, the consumer market is fuelled by the appetite of a young, middle class for electronic and luxury goods."
It cost us over 55,000 lives in trying to prevent this result. 

Maybe as strange as a Chinese scholar devoted to Jewish studies is this story of a senior woman at an Orthodox yeshiva, who keeps Kosher, admitted to West Point.
To quote the headmaster of her school, "I hate to say it, but it’s not a Jewish activity."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015
If you are on your way to Shanghai soon, you might want to read about a scientific approach to their soup dumplings with precise ratings of quality.
If you can’t find your passport, enjoy soup dumplings at Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, or Joe’s Ginger, right next door at 25 Pell Street, but a little less friendly.

Caffé Bene, 106 Mott Street, is an anomaly. Its name fits better one block away, on Mulberry Street, in Little Italy. Its atmosphere is calm and mellow, in contrast to the hurly burly of the typical Chinatown joint. Many of the customers were sitting with their computers, whatever they ordered long consumed. The back wall, and a bit of the side, have sparsely filled bookshelves, containing, among other things, Julia Childs "The Art of French Cooking," a John Grisham novel, "The Official James Bond 007 Movie Book" and an LSAT study manual, along with a number of Chinese (?) language books and magazines. Yet, it is located in a prime Chinatown location, and is part of an international Korean chain. The young staff, though, were from Hong Kong and other downtown China spots, but not Korea.

Most of the menu was devoted to beverages and desserts, including ice cream and macarons. Real food consists only of five hot sandwiches. I ordered Asian shrimp ($7.95), served on a hot, fresh roll, about 6" long, with baby spinach, bean sprouts, mustard and mozzarella, another example of the heterogeneous character of this joint. A free cup of coffee was offered, but I turned it down as the outside temperature reached the mid 70s, and took a can of San Pellegrino aranciata (tart orange soda). The sandwich was very good, but pretty small. It was a good excuse to have some dessert, but, as always, moderation prevailed.

Another pleasant aspect of the joint was the background music, mid-career Miles Davis, among the greatest cultural achievements of humankind. This, along with the general Gemütlichkeit, distinguished it from many nearby Chinese establishments, where the not-background enough music often is either over-wrought Las Vegas-style ballads or the original cast album of "Wu Han Province Exceeds Bauxite Quota."

Friday, May 1, 2015
Best wishes to our dear Shoshana.

William Franklin Harrison, the 48th President of the United States, and I are going to the Mets game tonight. They are giving away T-shirts and two of the best pitchers in baseball, Matt Harvey, the Mets phenom, and Max Scherzer, signed to a $210 million contract by the Washington Nationals, are pitching. Fortunately, there is no school tomorrow, so William can stay up late.

To fuel up for the evening, I had lunch at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, the St. Peter's Basilica of Chinese food.  Beef and chicken chow fun ($9.25) and an egg roll ($2.75), that little extra because I usually abstain from eating any of the ballpark's exorbitantly-priced food.  However, I broke down around 8:30 PM and had a grilled short rib and cheese sandwich, not unreasonable at $12, washed down by an unreasonable $5.50 cup of Diet Pepsi.   

The Mets won, aiding my digestion considerably. 

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