Thursday, January 28, 2016

Attention To Detail

Monday, January 25, 2016
The New York Times took the unusual action of printing an obituary more than 20 months after the death of the subject.  David Stoliar was the only survivor of a WWII tragedy that still has the power to instill rage and grief more than 70 years later and, I believe, carries a thoroughly contemporary message.  Stoliar was one of almost 800 Roumanian Jews trying to escape the Nazis, packed into a former cattle boat that the British barred from Palestine, held by Turkey for 71 days, set adrift into the Black Sea without power, where it was sunk by a Soviet submarine.  While many on board died immediately, others floated in the sea, hanging onto wreckage until overcome with the cold or despair.  Only Stoliar, then 19 years old, managed to be rescued by a passing ship.

Today, refugees attempting to move in the other direction, from the Levant to Europe, are left to drift in the Mediterranean and turned away from safe havens.  While these unfortunate souls are not necessarily overtly attacked by government forces, they are apparently preyed upon by a variety of mobs and gangs and claques.  Never again?

The Sunday New York Times also had an article on Arthur Miller's links to Brooklyn, his home borough (county).

Miller stayed close to home until the break up of his first marriage and the arrival of Marilyn Monroe in 1955.  What was particularly interesting to me were some unusual coincidences.  He rented an apartment from Norman Mailer's parents in 1944 and sold a brownstone to W.E.B. Dubois in 1951, both in Brooklyn Heights.   

That brings me to my Arthur Miller story.  A friend invited me to the 1992 revival of "The Price," a 1968 play by Miller, being directed by her brother.  The play deals with the long-standing sibling rivalry between two brothers as they clean out the apartment of their deceased father.  One brother is a prominent physician, the other an NYPD sergeant.  Their father was only willing (or able) to fund the education of one son during the Depression, thereby separating them in several ways from that time forward.  

When I was introduced to Miller backstage after the performance, I had to tell him what bothered me from the opening moments of the play.  The police sergeant was in uniform, wearing dark blue pants and a sky blue shirt, with his insignia.  Except, NYPD only wore sky blue shirts for a relatively short time in the 1980s and 1990s, while the play is set in the 1960s.  Today, and in much of the recent past, higher ranks wear white uniform shirts and dark blue trousers, while regular cops wear dark blue tops and bottoms.  See

I couldn't sit still during the play and I had to tell Miller about the problem, although it might have been beyond his control.  On the other hand, I thought that he should be aware of how the obsessives in the audience were reacting.

OpenTable is a very convenient web site for making restaurant reservations throughout the USA and most other places where you might want to sit down for a meal.  For inquiry purposes, it provides a near-complete list of restaurants in most neighborhoods, or geographic locations.  It also allows for reviews and ratings, which I invariably cross-reference with other more reliable sources of restaurant criticism.  Now, it offers its own best list.  Here is OpenTable's 10 best in Manhattan (other locales available).

Again, I fail to have personal experience with most of these places, all occupying the very high to outrageous level of expense.  Seven of the ten offer fixed menus, often for several hundred dollars a person.  Four of the ten feature sushi/sashimi.  Even if you avoid "the poetry of nature and creativity in pursuit of an immersive sensory dining experience" and simply be allowed to order for yourself, none of these joints allow you to get away for less than one hundred a dollars a person.  Bon app├ętit mes amis.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Paul Hecht, distinguished thespian ( sent the following to me about 5 Long Island Jewish guys exploring local Chinese restaurants. 

I am reluctant to cast asparagus on any effort to expand the understanding, appreciation and consumption of Chinese food, but I'm not ready to take these Long Island guys seriously, in contrast to my own modest efforts, beginning six years ago, rooted in Chinatown.  My apprehension arises from their home base.  There is a use for suburbia, no doubt, and people out there occasionally deserve to have a meal away from home, and Chinese is as good a choice as any.  But, the very neat and groomed quality of suburbia ultimately defeats the echte quality of a Chinese restaurant.  How many Chinese truck drivers do you expect to see eating in a Chinese restaurant in Patchogue? 

R.I.P. Abe Vigoda a/k/a Salvatore Tessio and Phil Fish.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016
I've seen full page newspaper advertisements and television spots recently extolling an established medical center on Long Island, which reportedly includes 21 hospitals and myriad support facilities.  The advertising blitz is meant to promote a new name ("brand" -- that term that deeply offends me except when applied to toothpaste) for the institution.  Introducing Northwell Health with the motto Look North.  

The entity has been known since 1997 as North Shore-LIJ Health System, after the merger of the North Shore Health System and LIJ Medical Center.  Now, presumably after millions of dollars were spent on surveys and focus groups, Northwell Health emerges.  Feel better?  Better informed?  What do I think?  The suits found a way to dump the J, and that didn't stand for jelly donuts. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016
Thirty years ago today, I remember a shocked secretary telling me that "The shuttle went down."  My immediate thought was that one of the short flights to Boston or Washington D.C., from New York, labelled a shuttle by the airlines, had crashed.  No, it was the Challenger space shuttle that exploded moments after takeoff, killing all its passengers, including Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire school teacher who was supposed to conduct scientific experiments in space, watched by tens of thousands of schoolchildren across the US.

Subsequent investigations established that O ring seals failed, releasing a stream of hot gas that ignited an external fuel tank.  A problem with the seals was anticipated in cold weather, when they might lose their elasticity.  NASA had been advised to wait for temperatures above 54 F, but as the New York Times reported then, "Long before liftoff this morning, skies over the Kennedy Space Center were clear and cold, reporters and tourists shivering in leather gloves, knit hats and down coats as temperatures hovered in the low 20's."  The launch had already been delayed for three days because of weather, but NASA decided to wait no longer.

Left unmentioned in most accounts of the disaster and only a footnote in some few was the political angle, "the persistent rumor that the White House had ordered the flight to proceed in order to spice up President Reagan’s scheduled State of the Union address." (These exact words are found repeatedly in a Google search.)  There is no direct evidence to support this theory, although my memories of the Reagan administration are studded with incidents of lies, tricks, and stunts designed to ennoble the Great Communicator's image. 

After about one month in retirement, I admit that I experienced some separation anxiety, so I invited a few of the faithful to meet me at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for lunch.  Mossad Moshe agreed to join us and he and I decided to walk to Chinatown from our neighborhood, a distance slightly under 5 miles.  

We all had soup, in response to the chill outside, then shared duck chow fun, spicy eggplant, and shrimp with lobster sauce over shrimp fried rice.  With tip, it came to $12 each and I feel somewhat restored.

Friday, January 29, 2016
While Republican presidential hopefuls lament the state of our union and decry the hobbling of American business by Obama's hyper-socialist tax and regulatory policies, corporate accountants see it differently.

It seems that "American businesses currently have $1.9 trillion [$1,900,000,000,000] in cash, just sitting around."  That's not only a lot of money, it's more than at any time in the past.  Take the weekend to consider to what use you could put that money.

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