Friday, December 30, 2016

I Still Have My Appetite

Monday, December 26, 2016
Many American Jews go to Chinese restaurants on Christmas.  There is a new article on the topic and a more analytic older one.   

We did this last year, but were overcome with laziness this year.  We did not turn our back entirely on this modern tradition.  We had Trader Joe's scallion pancakes for dinner last night, a tasty version of this Chinatown staple.  (I recall asking for scallion pancakes in a busy Chinese restaurant in San Francisco about 15 years ago.  The annoyed waitress told me to go to IHOP.)  

Even more than Chinese food, the attention of many American Jews this weekend was on the United Nations Security Council vote Friday condemning Israeli settlements, 14-0-1, the United States abstaining rather than vetoing the resolution.  The Israeli government was furious, along with many American Jews and politicians of all stripes.  I had two arguments on the subject; one, not surprisingly, with a young man who is a senior at an Orthodox yeshiva.  The other disputant, however, was a wise older man, with a thoroughly cosmopolitan view of the world.  His anger at the US position was unexpected.  

I realized that this time, unlike other situations where the UN or other groups have taken shots at Israel while blithely ignoring the more serious crimes of other states near and far, I could imagine myself acting as President Obama did.  There are illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank, according to the Israeli Supreme Court, not just according to some morally-dubious foreign sources.  “Israel's Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an unprecedented ruling ordering the state to dismantle the largest illegal settlement outpost in the West Bank by April 2012.”  Haaretz, 08/02/11.  “Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that an illegal Israeli settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem be demolished by March 2018.”  Ma’an News Agency, 09/02/16.

While the development of Jewish settlements in previously Arab-occupied territory began under the liberal regimes of Peres and Rabin, the Netanyahu government has aggressively fostered their growth seemingly as much a provocation to the local Arabs and the world at large as to satisfy the housing need of Israelis.  Yet, the US vetoed similar resolutions in the past and has been more generous in providing foreign aid to Israel than to any other country.
The result -- more illegal settlements, more efforts to dodge the rulings of the Israeli Supreme Court and more gratuitous insults to Obama.  

I recognize that the UN vote has both manifest and latent implications.  Yet, there comes a time to keep it simple.  I believe, in the words of the resolution, "that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution."  I also firmly believe that the uncertain existence of my friends and family in Israel will be substantially improved by a two-state solution.  Israel is an answer; it should not be a question.

Throughout the year, the New York Times asks "creative people [to] share the 10 titles they would most want with them if they were marooned on a desert island."   Yesterday, it published a brief collection of eight responses for "the books that have stuck with them."

My first reaction was egocentric -- how few of these creative people I recognized.  More generally, I noted the uncontemporary character of their choices.  Only three date from the 20th century, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Gabriel García Márquez, 1985; “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925; and “The Golden Bowl,” Henry James, 1904.  

Then, I considered the inquiry: books to be stuck with vs. books that stuck.  Not the same thing.  While I might have gotten a big zetz from Tolstoi, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Salinger or Mailer, I would prefer to spend my days chewing palm leaves in the company of Calvin Trillin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016
In its move from West 38 Street to 128 West 36 Street, Lan Sheng, Szechuan Restaurant, lost its Michelin star.  That did not deter a big crowd, including Michael Ratner and me, from enjoying a very good lunch there today.  We skipped the 49 lunch special items at $8.95, accompanied by choice of soup or spring roll, and white, brown or fried rice, and picked from the full menu.  Mind you, there were many fine choices among the lunch specials, but we headed for the camphor tea smoked duck ($18.95 half), tangerine beef ($16.95) and house special fried rice ($11.95) and landed successfully.  The duck was really special, a large portion, very little fat.  

One choice that sounded more special than it turned out to be was the fish maw chowder soup ($13.95).  It contained shrimp and crab meat along with something squishy that might have been the fish maw.  A quick look later on the Internet showed that fish maw is "the dried swim bladders of large fish."  This must be exotic enough to arrive at the high price for two small bowls of soup, but I suggest that you stick with something more mundane.

Lan Sheng is medium sized, pleasantly decorated, although 5 crystal chandeliers are a few too many.  It is located in the middle of the garment center, surrounded by stores selling bright fabrics, zippers, buttons and bows.  It doesn't just try to be a "nice" restaurant, however.  The menu offers duck and ox tongue, pig brains, pig ears, and (watch out) tofu.  It's pricey, but the location and white tablecloths account for some of this.  In all, Lan Sheng is one of the best choices above Canal Street.    

December 28, 2016
In case you are not tired of being reminded of how different "us" and "them" are, the New York Times has interesting graphics illustrating the divide.    
I accept the idea generally of looking for cultural signifiers, although the pattern of my television viewing, centering on sports and foreign crime shows, falls off the bell curve.  

Thursday, December 29, 2016
The Boyz Club convened for the last time this year at Shanghai Asian Manor, 21 Mott Street.  For some standard items in the Chinatown repertoire, SAM can't be beat.  Its scallion pancakes, soup buns and cold sesame noodles are all top rank.  We started with this trio to everyone's delight.  We then found room for tangerine beef, sliced chicken with eggplant in garlic sauce, and salt and pepper fried shrimp.  The shrimp were peeled and deep fried, rather than broiled in the shell, the more typical version of this dish.  All went down very, very well, accompanied by conversation that focused mostly on old movies, not new politics.  

We also discussed 2016 -- Love it or leave it.  We were not entirely overtaken by the ill-feelings about current events that we limousine liberals (feeling more like subway socialists) harbor.  My personal position is somewhat counter-pollyannaish; I expect so much merde in 2017 that I want 2016 to stay with us as long as possible.  Of course, some of the merde has already arrived.

Total cost for lunch came to $16 per person, more than reasonable considering the quality of the food and the time we spent sheltered from the rain.

Friday, December 30, 2016
Seems like a few Russians are more powerful than 65,844,954 Americans.

For a moment, let's ignore the nutsyness and craziness of this past year and conclude with a surprisingly easy and delicious recipe.  Withhold your skeptical reaction to its key ingredient.  Last week, I had this for the first time, thanks to the lovely and talented Shoshana P., and I urge you to try it.  It's really good.  Note that this is strictly for carnivores.

The name of the dish originated with a style of food preparation at the Restaurang Hasselbacken, Hazeliusbacken 20, Stockholm, Sweden, but you don't have to go that far to end this difficult year on a delicious note.  

Friday, December 23, 2016

Black and White

Monday, December 19, 2016
It's the holiday season and, realistically, what I might wish for will not come to pass.  However, the New York Times gave its reader a good gift this weekend, a 16-page section devoted entirely to puzzles, the first time that it has ever done this.  The centerpiece of this effort is a two-full-page crossword puzzle with 637 clues (yes, 637), which take so much space that they are printed separately on another page.  There is also a variety of word, number and visual puzzles, which, with any luck, will keep me distracted for the next four years.

Stephen P. Cohen has published The Go-Between: Memoir of A Mideast Intermediary, a title that fairly represents his heroic efforts to bring reason, if not peace, to the Middle East.  It's a slim volume of anecdotes describing some of his almost countless meetings with Anwar Sadat, Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin,  Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and so many of their emissaries, building trust and forging lines of communication between Arabs and Israelis.  The book is available through Amazon.

Mary McCarthy was a successful novelist (The GroupThe Groves of Academe) and critic; Lillian Hellman was a successful playwright (Toys in the AtticThe Little Foxes) and screenwriter.   Both had been supporters of the Communist Party USA in the 1930s.  McCarthy eventually turned away from Stalin and toward Trotsky, dividing the women for most of the rest of their lives.  Famously, in a 1979 television interview, McCarthy said of Hellman that "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."  

I think that McCarthy somewhat overstated the case against Hellman, who certainly ignored the uglier implications of her politics at times, but we have a guy today who comes close to a perfect fit for McCarthy's description.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Joe Berger, distinguished alumnus of CCNY and the New York Times,  published The Pious Ones in 2014, examining the growing presence of Hasidism in the American Jewish community.  Today, I heard him speak on the subject at a local synagogue, where I was joined by Mossad Moshe, Stony Brook Steve and the Goldfarbs, constituting Chapter 7 of the Joe Berger Fan Club.

Hasidism started almost 300 years ago in response to the formality and intellectuality that then characterized Judaism in Eastern Europe.  Hasids believe that there can be or should be a spiritual dimension in even everyday activities.  Appearing austere to outsiders, Jewish and gentile alike, Hasidic worship and rituals are rich with song and dance, but restricted to men alone.  Women are also kept at a distance in many ordinary situations out of fear of their menstrual "uncleanliness" or the seductive power of their presence.

I learned that the scattered handful of European Hasidim who came to the US after WWII have bred a population here estimated to be about 300,000, in 30 major clusters. Comenetz_Hasidic_Pop2006.pdf is a detailed demographic study of Hasidic Jews in the US, although 10 years old.  The largest group are the Satmars, very reclusive and rabidly anti-Zionist, believing that you can't have Israel without the Messiah (and they don't mean Handel).  The Satmars originated in 1905 in Satu Mare, Transylvania, from which they derive their name.  I chuckled for a while when Joe told us that Satu Mare means Saint Mary.
Opposed to birth control, Hasidic families often include 10 or more children, not bad for couples who might spend only minutes in each other's company (with their parents present) before marriage.  

The "success" of Hasidism poses a challenge to me and probably many other American Jews with more relaxed levels of observance.  While I want to see Judaism propagated into the future, I don't want it to be a Judaism that never progressed into the Enlightenment and beyond.  But, what have I contributed to my side?

Thursday, December 22, 2106
I went for my annual physical examination today.  My doctor, pressed for time, borrowed from another historic medical evaluation and concluded that my "laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent . . . [and my] physical strength and stamina are extraordinary."

Friday, December 23, 2016
Looking back on this week, I saw that I ignored the critical issue of food, not in practice (I didn't miss a meal), but in this narrative.  Accordingly, I sought out a new place today, Radiance Tea House & Books, 158 West 55th Street.  This Japanese restaurant takes at least part of its name very seriously, offering 80 different hot teas, starting at $7 for a one-person pot of a relatively familiar variety and climbing.   Tea pots, tea sets, and tea canisters are attractively displayed on many walls.  The book section also seems to be arranged for visual effect, with most of the works dealing with tea, food, travel and Falun Gong, the controversial Chinese sect.

The food was very good.  I had hot and sour seafood soup, ($9), exactly and excellently fitting its name.  Then followed a spicy chicken noodle box ($13.95), including two chicken gyoza (dumplings) and edamame (those short, fat peapods).  The largish portion of noodles was very good, and spicy as claimed.    

Walking back and forth to Radiance, I passed the corner of Seventh Avenue & West 55th Street, where the Carnegie Deli is located.  Whether the holiday season, the mild weather, or its announced closing on December 31st, the crowd waiting to get in at 1 PM stretched halfway down the block.  Appearances (and accents and demeanors) may be deceiving, but I think that most people on that line were not from around here.

Friday, December 16, 2016

What's In A Name?

Monday, December 12, 2016
An article in the Sunday business section of the New York Times evoked the following never-to-be-published letter to the editor: "You quote Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the NRA’s lobbying arm, saying, 'The gun control lobby made this election a referendum on gun control, and they lost because the majority of Americans support the Second Amendment and they vote to protect their constitutional right to self-protection.'  Are Ms. Baker and the president-elect the only two Americans that think that 62,851,436 is a larger number than 65,527,625?"

It was just for a moment last night when I walked through the trashy remains of Pennsylvania Station, on the way to the Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.  Besides others headed in my direction and the normal weekend travelers coming in and out of New York City, the crowd was swelled by many people taking the train to the Giants football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  Descending an escalator parallel to the one on which I was ascending, I saw ten tuba players in a row, with their shiny instruments.  I couldn't manage to turn around and question their purpose and destination, but just the sight of ten tuba players riding an escalator elevated my mood.  It's not high yet, but it improved.

It's Frank Sinatra's 101st birthday and we are celebrating over bagels and lox with David and Kathleen Mervin, who have come from metropolitan Arnside, Cumbria, UK (pop. 2,334) to visit the Brooklyn wing of their family.  I've known them since graduate school days, attended their wedding (at the home of the president of the University of New Hampshire a/k/a Kathleen's father) and their 50th wedding anniversary celebration in Arnside.  

While bagels and lox are not entirely unknown in northwest England, at least by reputation, we had the pleasure of introducing the Mervins to bialys and rugelach.  This might not be life changing for them, but it should encourage them to return here early and often.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Today is my brother's 80th birthday and, to honor the event, we are going to the second Rangers game in three days, Sunday having been a triumph of virtue.  However, by the end of this evening, our celebration was somewhat dampened by a Ranger loss in a very tightly played game.  But, for the first time ever, I caught one of those T-shirts that they shoot into the stands at Madison Square Garden.  It became his final birthday gift. is a convenient way to make restaurant reservations or merely identify restaurants in a neighborhood.  It has its flaws; see its attempt to seat us in and then measure our satisfaction with a closed establishment (  

I generally pay little attention to its ratings, but it is interesting to see its "best of" list.

Sad to say, but the following states failed to place any joint on the list: Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.  They also constitute the heart of the president-elect's electoral majority.  

13 of Open Table's top 100 are in New York State; 8 of the 13 actually in the Holy Land.  By good coincidence, we, in the company of the Spars, enjoyed an evening at the honored Trattoria L'Incontro, 21-76 31st Street, Astoria, on Sunday, December 4th, as I reported last week. The other good news is that several of the 8 local restaurants do not impose a 37-course meal of microscopic portions upon you.  Where this is the case, do not expect an appearance by Grandpa Alan.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2106
Speaking of food, today's New York Times is full of its own "best of" lists -- top 10 dishes, top restaurants, "Top 10 Cheap (and Astonishing) Places to Eat" -- respectively.

These places are all in the Holy Land, with the outer boroughs (except Staten Island, the only place where the president-elect led in the popular vote) showing a strong presence.  Only 2 of the "cheap" places are in Manhattan and 4 of the 10 "best" are in Brooklyn.  This movement outward corresponds  to the heat of the real estate market in Manhattan, which is also inflaming parts of Brooklyn and Queens.  

I must confess that, for all my essing and fressing, I've seen the inside of only a   few of the places cited.  On the other hand, it gives me something to live for.

Compiled by J. Hoberman, a very well-regarded film critic, this list was hardly helpful.  One of the 10 was a book, not a movie; several are far from contemporary, one dates from 1970; and, most of them are pretty obscure.  Since Jews have always had an important role in the (American) film industry, you would think that Hoberman could give us some better food for thought, produce a meatier list, something more to chew on.  

Thursday, December 15, 2015
I believe that misogyny played a key role in the recent presidential election (can you remember that far back?).   With any luck, we should be able to test this view (and bury it) four years from now.  

Friday, December 16, 2016
David Friedman is a sweet guy, an accomplished information technology professional, a talented musician and composer, and a selfless volunteer in many of our anarchic synagogue's endeavors.  But, he is not that David Friedman, next US Ambassador to Israel, who seems devoted to heightening tensions and breeding antagonisms.  Last year, for instance, he criticized "the blatant anti-Semitism emanating from our President," Obama that is, the one who got the most votes.  

Believe it or not, "artificial, clichéd, mawkish, preposterous, incompetent, sexist, laughable, insulting" was not a description of the president-elect, but, rather, part of a review of the movie "Collateral Beauty," released today.  Enjoy.

I have avoided writing the name of the president-elect for many weeks, possibly a foolish effort to deny reality, something I may have learned from him.  But, I know that I have to get with it, bite the bullet, bell the cat, keep a stiff upper lip, face the music, grin and bear it, take my medicine, make hay while the sun shines, pay the piper and get down to brass tacks.  So, I will now refer to President Oscar Wilde, who was, after all, involved in the "love that dare not speak its name," although not the author of the phrase.  It's certainly not love that inspires me, rather a modest attempt to avoid triggering panic attacks, temper tantrums or fits of depression at the sound of the inconceivable.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Save The Children

Monday, December 4, 2016
Yes, it's true.  I voted two-and-a-half million times.

This excellent article discusses the parallel retreat into nationalist cocoons in Britain and the US.

Many people, commentators and clergy for instance, are calling for us in the popular majority to listen to the popular minority a/k/a the electoral majority, respect their concerns and find common ground.  To which I say "horse feathers."  While grievances may be found in any population segment, the other side seems to be prone to exercises of the imagination that leave little room or inclination for bargaining.  Example "Pizzagate."  [When I wrote this on Monday, this subject was hardly known to most of us who are able to walk and chew gum at the same time.  However, by Tuesday, the tortuous thinking that animates some of the minority of voters who chose our next president had produced one known criminal act that made it to the front page of the New York Times - - and a host of threats.]  

As if pizza and pedaphilia weren't enough for some of our fellow citizens, here is another headline: "What Is Pizzagate Telling Us About Wikileaks, the CIA, the Illuminati, and the New World Order?"  (If you want to read the article, I'll send you the link upon receipt of a self-addressed envelope and a new £5 note, the plastic one with the embedded tallow, offensive to Hindus and vegetarians alike.)

Speaking of vegetarians, I am told that the beet salad and tagliatelle with cherry tomatoes and breadcrumbs at Trattoria L'Incontro, 21-76 31st Street, Astoria, were particularly delicious last night, even as I consumed the baked clams and lasagna.  Although we (Art and Shelly Spar joined the Upper West Side's Power Couple) all delighted in our choices, the food was almost upstaged by our Ecuadorian waiter's 5-minute recital of the day's specials.  You might just order a drink, hear the performance and go home.  Whether for a long or a short visit, put L'Incontro on your hit list for excellent Italian food; reservations needed.  Driving to get there is easy, so you don't need me to tell you.  Else, one block past the last stop of the N train (Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard); catch it at Times Square.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Rudi, my favorite Latvian, has come through again.  Feeling my pain at having my jury duty, and the attendant opportunity to lunch in Chinatown day after day, so abruptly ended, he forwarded this classic episode of "The Odd Couple," where Felix and Oscar first meet as jurors in New York Supreme Court.  

As further balm to my soul, Michael Ratner asked me to go to Chinatown with him for lunch today, an offer I couldn't refuse.  We headed to Oriental Garden, 14 Elizabeth Street, a restaurant that often sits at the top of best Chinese lists, and gets favorably reviewed in the Michelin guide.  However, I have never warmed up to it and averaged one visit every three years.  Today, at lunchtime, when it focuses on dim sum ordered from an illustrated menu, only 4 of the 16 tables (holding 4 to 8 people) were occupied.  Although the staff were personable and efficient, the atmosphere wavered between dull and low-key.

The food mostly can't be faulted.  We had a small plate of roast duck ($11.95), chicken sticks (3 skewers for $5.95), seafood dumplings, chicken shu mei and fried shrimp won tons ($4 each plate).  I could have used a little more duck, with a little less fat, but the other dishes tasted very good and were worth the price.  Dinner is probably much different at Oriental Garden, with its reputation drawing big crowds, I imagine.   Still, it might be three more years before I return, given all the alternatives in Chinatown.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016
75 years and the date still lives in infamy, as FDR declared in a speech to a joint session of Congress the next day.  I wonder how long it might be before we apply a similar label to November 8, 2016.

There has been a Thai restaurant on the corner of Baxter Street and Bayard Street, directly across from the Tombs, the jail connected to the criminal courthouse, for forty years or so.  It was identified as Pongsri Thai Restaurant, 106 Baxter Street, until it underwent a complete renovation this year and was renamed Thai Jasmine Restaurant.  Stony Brook Steve and I went to lunch there today, part of my relieve- the-grief tour after being cut off from jury duty so abruptly last week.  

The new interior is neat and clean, not particularly Asian.  While it always was and remains crowded at lunchtime, the restaurant was not especially noisy and did not feel claustrophobic.  The food was very good. I started with Roti with Masaman Curry ($5), a cup of spicy curry containing two pieces of potato and some small slices of chicken, with an Indian pancake to dip.  Then I had Pad See Ew ($9), their version of beef chow fun.  At dinner time, the price of most of the main courses goes up $2 or $3; look for the "Lunch Specials" at the back of the menu.  My quibbles -- no chopsticks and tea only by teabags  

Thursday, December 8, 2016
Attention adults!  The New York City Transit Museum gift shop in Grand Central Terminal has a wonderful, compact model train setup that squeezes city and country landscapes together, even including an elevated subway line.  The display is small, but very carefully designed and constructed, and will be running until the end of February.  

Since you don't have to rush out of the house to see the trains, you should spend some time with  
This is a veritable Hit Parade of Chinese cooking, including several vegetable dishes and only a few in which pork and/or shrimp are so intrinsic that the Kosher cook would have to pass.  Of course, I am available, with proper notice, for food tasting.
I just learned that Don Elliott, a great friend, died two weeks ago in Park City, Utah, where he continued to ski aggressively into his late 70s.  While both of us were Brooklyn boys, we had substantial stylistic and philosophic differences.  Yet, we worked together almost seamlessly and developed great respect and then affection for each other.  I was fortunate to know him.

Friday, December 9, 2016
27 Down - Home security measure.  4 letters, starts with L.

This morning, I got one of those annoying telephone calls from a man allegedly from the "Technical Department."   When I began to discuss the meaning of "scam" with him, he hung up.  My telephone displayed his number with an area code of 648.  I thought, possibly naively, that area codes were unique, one vast chain of numbers circling the world.  Asking Google about area code 648, I learned that it is found in Fuga, Sudan, Camargo, La Cruz and San Francisco de Conchos, Mexico, and Dormaa Ahenkro, Ghana.  Had I known this at the start of the conversation, I would have skipped scams and asked instead for restaurant recommendations for wherever he was.

I am considering demanding a recount of the poll that ranked Stuyvesant High School only third in the nation among high schools.  However, I was initially startled to learn that 47.3% of its students live below the poverty line, none of its nearest competitors even close (#1 and #2 have poverty rates of 2.2% and 0%).  Upon reflection, it became more obvious that the current Stuyvesant student body, a majority the children of Chinese immigrants or immigrants themselves, are still a few steps away from living a comfortable, middle-class existence, although it is inevitable that most will, as did their predecessors, with advanced degrees from first-class institutions.  Arguably, their parents are no better off than the prototypical, disgruntled, opportunity-has-passed-me-by DT voter, but the former spend much of their time urging their children to better themselves instead of reading Tweets.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

Deli, No Delhi

Monday, November 28, 2016
In case you just came on board, allow me to tell you that my first "real" job was as a computer programmer in 1969.  In the years that followed until I left the field in 1999 to go to law school, I saw an amazing amount of change and innovation.  Therefore, my resistance to driverless cars is not some simple reaction to change, but rather a concern for the overselling of and overconfidence in technology that may not meet the challenge of protecting human lives. 

Here is my anecdote du jour in this regard.  Blessed by the company of America's Loveliest Nephrologist, we decided to go to an Indian restaurant on Sunday evening, specifically Dhaba, 108 Lexington Avenue, a favorite.  Since it gets particularly busy on Sunday evenings, I used Open Table, the handy restaurant reservation web site.  It gave me a choice of a table for three at 6 PM or 8:30 PM and later.  I chose 6 PM and received an acknowledgment: Your Reservation Confirmation for Dhaba.  However, Dhaba was dark when we arrived, with a sign announcing that it was closed for renovations.  Get that. The computer was very deliberate in restricting the choice of reservation times, even though we couldn't get in at any time.  It gets better.  Today, this message came from Open Table: Congrats! You just earned 1,000 points.  Because of not being able to get into Dhaba last night at 6 PM. 

I got up this morning feeling like it was the first day of school.  I have to report to jury duty.  It's been about 10 years since I was last called and then was almost immediately dismissed by the judge who did not want to run the risk of being overridden in private by a punk lawyer.  In fact, I was one of several lawyers summarily dismissed.  While a return to the legal world accounts for part of my excitement, the prospect of daily lunches in Chinatown is certainly a stimulant.  I might be tempted to prolong deliberations so that access to this magical kingdom will be convenient and efficient.

For my lunch today I chose Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, as if I were visiting the area for the first time to get classic Chinatown Chinese food served in large portions at modest prices.  It's hard to say low prices about anything these days, but Wo Hop certainly stands out on a price/performance basis.  I had beef and shrimp chow fun, delicious at $8.95.  Looking back, I found that on January 26, 2011, a year into this (ad)venture, I first recorded the price of chow fun at Wo Hop at $7.60, which at a 3% rate of inflation brings us to the current price.  I am not sure why it took me a whole year to start reporting prices or why I didn't from the start.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Recognizing the increasing diversity of the American population, the supporters of the president-elect are being offered the choice of black or brown shirts.

Calvin Trillin has joined the discussion on the scariest word originated by this article.  He suggests "Upgrade," which promises a traumatic period at the hands of a computer geek.  

Yesterday afternoon, the judge told us that the trial might run through the end of next week.  I was delighted with this news and started menu planning for the next 10 days, alternating old favorites and new joints that have popped up in Chinatown since I retired.  This morning, I was temporarily relieved to find the courtroom door locked and everyone sitting in the hall even though I arrived almost 20 minutes late.  "The judge is late," someone said, but, as we sat longer and longer, I became worried.  The judge was probably working over the lawyers to find a way to avoid a trial, an expensive, messy affair for all concerned, except a retired attorney who wanted to spend time in Chinatown.  Just as I feared, the defendant accused of selling heroin copped a plea and all the prospective jurors were dismissed, insulated against being called back to jury duty for 6 years.  What a wretched fate.  

The day was partially redeemed by going to the winning Rangers game in the evening with Jerry Saltzman, a fine gentleman.  We ate at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, 209 West 38th Street, before the game.  Putting aside temporarily my fastidious concern for preserving my figure, I ordered a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic, at 140 calories, the ideal beverage to accompany corned beef, pastrami, brisket or, at least, to pay tribute to your ancestors.  After all, popular brand beers typically have 150 calories, 100 calories for a "light" beer.  

Open Table completed its trinity of errors by asking me today How was Dhaba?  If I were in a driverless car, I think I would just have jumped a curb.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016
I have admitted several times that I am ethnocentric, a bit hyper when my tribe is demeaned, put on the defensive or outright injured.  But, there are some incidents that rise (or descend) to a unique level of insanity as exemplified by this clip from a Russian ice show.  Note that the woman is reportedly the wife of Vladimir Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

A new report, "The Leaky Pipeline for Women Entering the Legal Profession," offers some very interesting statistics about women and law school.  While women are about half of the current law student population, a smaller percentage of women college graduates apply to law school than men; they are less frequently admitted; they tend to enroll at lower ranked law schools.  This eventually seems to account for disparities in hiring and advancement between men and women lawyers.  The report overlooks marital status, a key element in career choices for some women, I believe.  Right now, many American wives willingly or not, more often than not, operate in the wake of their husband's career plans and aspirations.  That may curb their geographic options and limit the quality of their academic choices.  Whether coincidence or not, the recognized elite law schools are concentrated in a few cities and the benefits of attendance thereat may be lost to the wife of a sheepherder.

Put aside political considerations for a moment as you read the following story.   You'd have to go back many presidents to find one demonstrating the basic humanity of Barack Obama, even as we prepare to place him in the rear view mirror. 

Han Dynasty, 215 West 85th Street, is the biggest Chinese restaurant that I can think of, dim sum palaces aside.  It may also be the most attractive, sitting in a high-ceilinged space that must have once been a ballroom.  Only a few tables were occupied there as I enjoyed the company of Margie Schorr and the very spicy food that we shared at lunch. 

We had a large portion of dan dan noodles ($8.95), with the pepper flakes giving an obvious kick to the lo mein-like noodles.  We continued with 2 lunch specials in common, garlic sauce chicken ($9.95) and dry pepper fish ($11.95).  The chicken was undistinguished, but the fried fish fillets were spicy hot and kept us reaching for the hot tea and cold water.  The restaurant is part of a small chain, originating in Philadelphia, with another branch in the East Village.  Its URL is distinctive, but somewhat offputting.

Thursday, December 1, 2016
I joined Stanley and Fumiko Feingold and a handful of other superannuated CCNY graduates for dinner at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, 209 West 38th Street, just 48 hours after my last visit.  I would not suggest another venue, since the Feingolds now spent their days where one is more likely to meet a Trump voter than a potato knish.  Offering them a good pastrami sandwich might be viewed as the Jewish equivalent of the communion wafer.  

Friday, December 2, 2016
87-year old David Goldfarb was not offended by my suggestion that we have lunch at Old John's Luncheonette, 148 West 67th Street, even though he has a few generations on it.  David is always friendly and stimulating company, while I might be viewed as much more the latter than the former.  

Friday, November 25, 2016

Let Me Count The Ways

Monday, November 21, 2016
Throughout the year, the center of Saturday Jewish religious services is the reading of the Torah, a section at a time.  The birthday of the Torah (Simchat Torah) comes two weeks on the Jewish calendar after the birthday of the universe (Rosh haShana).  A lot of hot stuff, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, are all jammed into the first few readings, then the patriarch Abraham appears not even a month into the new year.  While the stories of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Isaac and his expulsion of his concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael have kept rabbis and psychiatrists busy for centuries, one little snippet from this Saturday's reading caught my attention.

At Genesis 18:7-8, Abraham feeds three strangers who appear at his tent, possibly emissaries or surrogates of God.  A conventional translation of the Hebrew reads: "And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hastened to dress it.  And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat."  In other words, on this important occasion, Abraham served a meal combining dairy and meat, a big No No in Hebrew circles.  

Exodus 34:36 offers the enigmatic "You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk."   Deuteronomy 14 repeats this and spells out in detail the Kosher rules, animals that may be eaten and those not.  Leviticus 11 gives a list of forbidden birds, but nothing on four legs or cuisines is mentioned.  Defenders of the faith rush to explain that these Kosher rules, part of the Torah delivered to Moses at Mt. Sinai, emerge long after the days of Abraham.  Thereby, the law seems to revoke custom, not an unusual event.  

But, this is my problem.  I agree that boiling a baby goat/lamb/calf in its mother's milk sounds pretty disgusting, but what about the myriad strictures that result from this directive?  The web site Judaism 101 ( this candid commentary, which I found repeated in several places:  "The short answer to why Jews observe these laws is: because the Torah says so.  The Torah does not specify any reason for these laws, and for a Torah-observant, traditional Jew, there is no need for any other reason."   Therefore, no cheeseburgers or chicken parmesan because.  Just Because.  Did you hear me, BECAUSE!!??   Isn't it enough that over centuries we have been persecuted, ghettoized, tortured?  We have to eschew some very delectable dishes without any explanation?  What's more Jewish than asking questions?

I think that it is more than sophistry for me to examine later imperatives in light of earlier behavior.  While the Torah was manifested in the Sinai Desert, when Moses had a 40-day binge of transcribing the verities, it does not seem to be rooted only in time and space.  "Not only Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also Noah and even Adam knew the Torah," says the very orthodox Lubavitcher sect.  

Since Abraham was getting critical messages from on high (such as, kill your son), we might expect that he would have heard about a serious error in menu planning.  
I visited Joy Luck Palace, 98 Mott Street, shortly after this big dim sum joint opened (February 24, 2016).  Today, I returned with Seth G., a nice young man who probably would have paid for lunch at some fancy schmancy place.  Instead, I wanted to insure a good time for both of us and we happily devoured 7 different dim sum items, 3 or 4 pieces on each plate.  The carts were coming fast and furious and we could have easily had another dozen or more attractive items.  Next time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Two weeks ago vividly demonstrated that truth is stranger than fiction.  So, I am going to skip strange and stick to fiction for the foreseeable future.  I am turning to Ruth Rendell, Michael Connelly, Alex Berenson, among others, for a world with a semblance of sense.

Thursday, November 24, 2106
Happy Thanksgiving.  Let us give thanks that at least 2 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than the other guy.

More thanks to Rudi G., my favorite Latvian, for sending this article on the benefits of eating ice cream for breakfast.
This is an area where I might claim a pioneering role.  I have been eating ice cream late at night for decades, anticipating the dawn.

Friday, November 25, 2016
America's Favorite Epidemiologist produced a memorable holiday meal for more people than we had chairs and dinner plates until we did some strategic borrowing.  Everyone seemed to eat heartily, too heartily when it came to dessert, leaving no chocolate chip mandelbrot or chocolate peanut squares for the house account.  Of course, this was an occasion for selflessness and charity, almost.

Friday, November 18, 2016

It's Still Over

Monday, November 14, 2016
The natural followup to my visit last week to Afghan Kebab House #1 is "Is that all there is?"  No, there is Afghan Kebab House #2 at 1345 Second Avenue (71st Street).  While I haven't been there, the on-line reviews indicate that it is very similar to #1.

As a result of recent events, I will be paying much more attention to sports in the foreseeable future.  In fact, tonight I am going to see the New York Knicks, a professional basketball team (you never know who might read this) play in Madison Square Garden.  It must be 20 years since I last saw them play in person and what makes it even more special is my companion, William Franklin Harrison, on the day before his 16th birthday.  That means he will be eligible to run for president in 19 years at age 35, in time for the 2036 election.  I've explained before that William Franklin Harrison is as presidential a name as you could imagine and I want get on the bandwagon early. 

William and I met at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, 209 West 38th Street, one of the very few of a vanishing breed.  I had a very good, generously portioned corned beef/pastrami combination sandwich.  The meal was marked with my disagreement with our waiter, a longtime fixture at Ben's.  I was lamenting the disappearance of diet Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic, a variant of the classic Jewish delicatessen beverage.  (Note that Dr. Brown has been around since the 19th Century, and today offers fully-sugared cream, black cherry, ginger ale, root beer and cel-ray, but only diet versions of cream and black cherry soda.  I find it necessary to drink diet beverages in order to protect my modeling career.)  As unthinkable as drinking a glass of milk with a corned beef sandwich, it was as unthinkable for me to not have a diet Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic when ingesting any Hebrew National product.  I admit that it is an acquired taste, probably acquired during the forty years crossing the desert to the Promised Land after leaving Egypt.

The waiter claimed that it had been discontinued 27 years ago.  I demurred.  I thought it had been a decade or so since I complained to Ralph Blumenthal, crack New York Times journalist and New York City connoisseur, about the loss of diet Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic.  While I know that Ralph recognized the importance of this development, the Times kept silent, probably to further distance itself from its Jewish heritage.  In any case, Google led us to the information that diet Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic was discontinued in 2005, allegedly because of weak demand.  The waiter avoided our table after we passed along this news and we had to go to the front to pay.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016
After spending last evening with the youngest generation, I jumped back (ahead?) to my own by having lunch with Irwin Pronin, whom I will always regard as my President (Student Government, CCNY, 1962), at Taste of Shanghai, 42 Mott Street, a tiny, brand new joint.  The place held 8 two tops and was nicely decorated.  One wall was mirrored and the other had wallpaper showing Chinese pictographs.  The kitchen was in the basement, sending food up on a dumbwaiter. 

We shared plump dumplings (5 for $4.99), stewed beef flank ($9.99 for a theoretical 9 ounces), and "Hand-Ripped Noodles" with chicken cooked with green and red peppers.  The sauce for the beef and the chicken were nicely spiced and we zupped it all up.  However, even counting the tendons in the beef dish, it was underweight.  The hand pulled noodles, using the more common name, were very good, although we each had the impression that it was one very long noodle that occupied our plate as we bit off piece after piece in order to consume it.  Our plates, by the way, were styrofoam and an upgrade in tableware is sorely needed if this joint hangs around.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 
As of today, the widely disliked Hillary Clinton leads in the popular vote by around 1 million votes.

Goodbye Joe Siegel, distinguished as a human being, a Jew and an American.

Thursday, November 17, 2016
The Electoral College, now a division of Trump University, is not the only institution 
that distorts the popular will.  Major League Baseball announced certain honors last night including the Cy Young Award given to the best pitcher in each of the two leagues.  The voting in the National League proceeded democratically, if you'll pardon the expression.  However, it seems that in an effort to make the American League great again, the results got skewed.

Here is a fascinating graphic illustration of the too recent presidential election.  For some reason, looking at these maps reminds me of the supposed path to resolving the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis, "land for peace." Right here in America, they have the land and we ain't getting no peace.

Friday, November 18, 2016
I've been thinking about the spurt of threats and insults directed towards Jews that has accompanied the rise of DT.  See, for example,  I guess that if his vulgarity and misogyny can be dismissed as "locker room banter,"  I just have to accept this anti-Semitism as "concentration camp banter."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Well, It's Over

Monday, November 7, 2016
I am very skeptical about driverless cars.  Granted, taking the wheel away from myriad mouthbreathers should lower fatalities significantly, it will be easier said than done.  I started programming computers in 1969 and, even as I marveled at the remarkable progress made over the decades, I remained  aware of the errors emanating from computer systems whether laughable or lethal.  Not often, but I found myself telling a client that the system failure that she experienced in fact could not have happened.  

What if the delays downloading an episode of "Nurse Jackie" on Netflix also arise when your automated chariot is navigating the Long Island Expressway?  Beside the formidable concerns about errors, consider the problems associated with getting it right.  The article below discusses ethical considerations in designing a driverless system, specifically do you kill the driver and passengers in order to save even more people in another vehicle or on the sidewalk?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016
In spite of my background in information technology, at 7:00 this morning, even as I read the New York Times on my smartyphone, a combination of hardware and software that was inconceivable back in the day, I was anxious to get my hands on the printed newspaper, whose delivery was delayed.  Even though the on-line version offers features, such as hyperlinks and interactive graphics, that a two-dimensional hard copy could never approach, I derive satisfaction/comfort/reassurance from clutching the newspaper.  With the criticality of the day's pending events, this feeling is even greater.  Information actually in hand seems to carry more weight than the ephemeral mixture of electrons and pixels flashing on our screens.

The Palazzo di Gotthelf is no more than 1/4 mile from the finish line of the New York City Marathon, so I was not surprised to see people walking around the neighborhood yesterday wearing the bronze medal awarded to all finishers on Sunday.  Today, when I walked to the theater district, the sight of successful runners, at least those advertising their success, was a bit off putting at first, like enough already.   But, I quickly realized that these folks did something I never did, never contemplated doing, and never will do.  When I was a semi-athletic kid, I showed some skills, but I didn't run.  I played first base on a baseball team, pitched on a softball team, was a lineman and a quarterback on football teams.  Generally, nothing more than a long stride was needed at any time.  So, hats off to you who came from near and far (a guy from Perth, Australia took 33 hours to get here, arriving not long before the start of the race) to run 26 miles through the streets of New York.  If I ever did that, I know that I would wear my medal day and night until the ribbon rotted.  

On my walk, I stopped for lunch at the Afghan Kebab House #1, 764 Ninth Avenue, owned by a former royal chef, who fled the country in 1979.  It's a narrow joint, holding 13 tables, almost evenly divided between two and four tops.  It does not resemble a war zone.  Oriental rugs hang on the walls along with that famous photograph of the striking young woman on the cover of National Geographic.  

She was my only company when I sat down near 1 PM and only two other customers came while I was there.  I ordered Kabuli Palow, nine small chunks of grilled lamb atop brown rice mixed with sliced almonds, raisins, and carrots ($18).  The meat was freshly cooked and the dish was given a zest by squeezes from the bottles of white (dilly yoghurt), green (sweet pesto) and red (hot pepper) sauce on the table.  The salad greens on the side were tired. 

In all, Afghan Kebab House #1 is not a bad choice if you want to sit down and be served, instead of standing on the sidewalk ordering from one of the many Halal carts offering tasty chicken and mystery meat cooked with onions and spices for $5/6.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016
We turned the clock back too far, I fear.  It seems that a lot of people prefer fascism to feminism.  

By the way, it is 8:45 AM and the newspaper has not yet been delivered.  Is that an act of mercy?

My friend Lyn Dobrin has started a petition calling for the presidency to be decided by popular vote alone.  Take a look.   By the way, it makes a big difference.

Thursday,  November 10, 2016
What I learned from the election: Lying is the new black. 

Not all the election results were dreary.  "Voters in San Diego County on Tuesday soundly rejected a referendum that would have steered hundreds of millions of tax dollars toward a stadium the [NFL] team wanted to build in downtown San Diego."

The Boyz Club met today at Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, the reliable, cavernous dim sum establishment.  These are just the people that you want and need to surround you at this crazy time.  Educated, articulate, caring, broad-minded, they deal openly with issues that may touch sensitive emotional and ideological nerves.  Today, we discussed adopting a pet, pie vs. cake, and favorite beaches.  No holds were barred.

Friday, November 11, 2016
DT's supporters often said,"He tells it like it is."  I think that this is a comment about style, not substance.  It's not so much what "it" is, but rather how he talks about "it".  He peddles exasperation.

About driverless cars:   Would you put your life in the hands of data modeling technology that predicted an overwhelming victory for Hillary Clinton?