Friday, September 25, 2015

“Even white people — and I say that lovingly — know good Chinese food.”

Monday, September 21, 2015
A persistent image during the Jewish High Holy Days is the Book of Life, closing for the old year and opening for the new year. The interim between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the time for the ink to dry in the new volume. So, I have to complete my work for 5775 in order to move ahead to 5776, that is conclude my reviews of cold sesame noodles. Before uttering my last word, I had to return to where I begun, Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street (June 24, 2015), to make sure that my very positive impression was still warranted. 

Maybe the word got out from my last visit, because the joint was packed. I had to wait for a spot at one of the five booths, two large round tables, six four-tops or two two-tops. Usually, I don’t wait to be seated in Chinatown, given the raft of alternatives. However, I was on a mission with a very tight time constraint. So, I waited and got a booth to myself.

The portion of noodles was medium-sized, topped with slivered pea pods and bamboo shoots ($4.75). No sesame seeds were visible, but the sauce was superb.

I asked for extra sauce (after taking the picture) to ensure that every noodle strand was amply coated. In conclusion, I am confident pronouncing the cold sesame noodles at Shanghai Asian Manor best after sampling about 20 versions, and finding an equal or greater number of places not serving it. Note that the soup buns and scallion pancakes here are also excellent. Honorable mention to Kori Tribeca, 253 Church Street (July 30, 2015) for Japchae, the wonderful sweet potato noodles stir fried in sesame oil, served only as a side dish.

Thanks to Cindy McMullen for forwarding this interesting history of New York Chinese food.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We are supposed to approach it having tried to square personal (non-financial) accounts with others (even when the rats don’t deserve apologies). The following, recommended by America’s Favorite Epidemiologist, offers a good discussion of apology in this context.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination yesterday. This offers President Obama and the American people a wonderful opportunity to handle a very difficult situation. Walker, an early favorite in the race, campaigned on his resolve in meeting an intractable foe. Responding to a question abut ISIS, he said: "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe." The protestors were school teachers and other public employees rallying in the state capital against budget cuts and restrictions on union activities. Now, Obama should conscript Walker to take on ISIS and win the everlasting gratitude of the American people. No doubt Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld would rush to join Walker and continue their unrivaled record on the international scene. U!S!A!

I never heard of Daniel Thompson until I read his obituary in today’s paper.
I don’t fault his inventiveness, but the result was to make something special into something ordinary. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015
I spend Yom Kippur following traditional patterns of behavior, for the most part. I don’t eat; I don’t drink. I shut my smartyphone from sundown to sundown. I don’t turn on a radio or television, although I recall, as a boy, standing in front of the window of an appliance store on Pitkin Avenue watching World Series games. I spend several hours in the synagogue. I do, however, read the newspaper, which is delivered to the front gate of the Palazzo di Gotthelf. There were several items worthy of attention, and I had to keep them in mind in order to write about them once the holiday was over, writing another activity avoided in the 27+ hour period.

First, there is the question of what is sport, posed by the pending decision in Her Majesty’s High Court of Justice in London, England. Great Britain has an entity that helps finance sports, and it has been asked to support contract bridge.

Decades ago, I played at the lowest level of bridge tournaments and came to know some champions at the game. Competitive bridge, where matches go on for days, requires mental and physical endurance, as well as the ability to deduce who holds the missing king. I view bridge as a sport, unlike the sheer displays of athleticism in synchronized swimming or ice dancing, which unfortunately occupy time and space at the Olympics. Bridge, akin to baseball, soccer, polo, hockey, basketball and such allows easy determination of a victor. More – more runs, more goals, more points – tricks in bridge. Grandson Boaz, nearing 7 3/4, would have no trouble announcing a contest winner. Even races, which are won by less – less time – would not challenge this child, even were he not brighter than average. Boaz can tell time and he can subtract, end time minus start time. No style points; no judges applying opaque standards that are often bent by geopolitical considerations.

Next, is the Volkswagen scandal. While I never forgave nor forgot, my first automobile bought new was a VW Beetle. It was trouble-free, so I retain a good impression of the brand. Now, however, VW has admitted that 11 million diesel-powered cars were rigged to cheat on air pollution tests.

Unique about this story is the sheer magnitude of the deception and its Teutonic efficiency. Because the fraud crossed several VW models and the Audi make as well for lots of years, the number of defective vehicles appears to exceed other manufacturers’ willful negligence. Although General Motors’ ignition switch death toll is at least 124, VW has merely poisoned the air all around the world. The character of VW’s crime is special by design. GM, and other negligent manufacturers, typically chose a cost-cutting approach in some physical component, or ignored bad results associated with some physical component. VW rigged software to operate unattended during emissions testing, changing the flow of pollutants while under scrutiny. Once freed from the oppressive hands of government (Boo!) regulators, the engines resumed pumping out exhaust dozens of times more noxious than registered during testing, and far above acceptable limits. Imagine if that quality of engineering were applied to something other than improving profits at any cost.

Believe it or not, "Happy Birthday to You" (the song) was still under copyright protection until yesterday.
So, get out the hats and horns, light the candles and sing your heads off.

For those of you in the Western hemisphere not situated in or near New York City or San Francisco, Chinese food may mean Panda Express, with over 1,800 outlets. Until now, it has not made any inroads here, where there are four Chinatowns, all continuing to grow.

Time will tell if Panda’s factory output will succeed here, but I hope that they are not counting on my participation.

Finally, the following column discusses the widening gap in educational achievement between rich and poor, even as the gap between black and white children decreases (although far from disappearing).

Even if we and our families are fortunate enough to fall on the "good" side of this divide, do we want our children and grandchildren to grow up and function in such a stratified society? Isn’t a broadly educated populace beneficial to all? Don’t I sound silly even expressing this?

Thursday, September 24, 2015
During Yom Kippur services, Rabbi Marc Margolius, the deservedly popular leader of West End Synagogue, announced that the Hattan Torah-Kallat Bereishit (the Groom and Bride of the Torah) celebration for the new year of 5776 improbably places me in the role of the groom. While I have held a Torah scroll every so often during services, and have read from it aloud in Hebrew twice as an adult, my connections to its contents are ephemeral, at best. I respect the Torah’s staying power, and the hold that it maintains on many Jews. However, as I pointed out to Rabbi Margolius when he told me privately of the forthcoming designation, I am proud to be a Jew, but I don’t want my life and my choices to be viewed as a reflection on Jewish doctrines, beliefs or practices, although my devotion to Chinese food may have a tribal basis.

In any case, the celebration will be held on Saturday, October 24th, at West End Synagogue, 190 Amsterdam Avenue (at 69th Street, 1, 2 or 3 train to 72nd Street). Prayer services begin at 10:00 AM, Torah readings at 11:00 AM, Kiddush (lunch [lox will be served]) at 12:30 PM, speeches at 1:30 PM. Note that I am privileged to have as my bride Dr. Evelyn Attia, immediate past president of West End Synagogue, and professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center (what more appropriate a match?).

If you are within the sound of my pen, please come to this event (at least from lunch onward) regardless of your affiliation or distance from any religion, creed, ethical system, or favorite baseball team. Also, whether you are able to join us or not, I shamelessly ask you to write a check to West End Synagogue, 190 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10023, in the amount of $18. The number 18 in Hebrew is called "chai" (pronounced hi, with a little phlegm on the H), not to be confused with the spicy milk tea of India. Chai is also the Hebrew word for Life, thus the toast l’chaim (remember that the revival of "Fiddler on the Roof" begins in previews on November 20th at the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway). Gifts are often given in the amount of $18 or multiples. Therefore, please contribute to West End Synagogue to help it improve its decisionmaking capability, so that it does not make such an egregious error in choosing a groom in the future.

Friday, September 25, 2015
So, we won't have John Boehner to kick around anymore?  And, Jeb Bush told a crowd in South Carolina on Thursday that Republicans could attract more African-Americans with a message of “hope and aspiration,” and not with promises of “free stuff.”  How could anyone think of moving to New Zealand at a time like this? 

Save the date -- October 24th

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