Friday, August 26, 2016

Where To?

Monday, August 22, 2016
Three headlines from the New York Times (on-line edition) combine to tell a story about current affairs in America.

"Alienated and Angry, Coal Miners See Donald Trump as Their Only Choice"

"Reeling From Effects of Climate Change, Alaskan Village Votes to Relocate"

"Know English? For New York Cabdrivers, That’s No Longer Required"

Donald Trump's promise "to bring back coal" has resonated with coal miners, who have seen their jobs disappear continually over decades.  In 2013, just over 80,000 coal miners were employed, down from a high of almost 785,000 in 1920.  Their communities have suffered along with the individuals who have lost their jobs, and the hardships are apparent and easily exploited.  

However, you don't have to be an epidemiologist to conclude that this economic dislocation has saved lives, not just from reducing the environmental damage of mining and burning coal, but of coal miners  themselves.  A 2008 study concluded: "Elevated mortality rates persisted in Appalachian coal mining areas after further statistical adjustment for smoking, poverty, education, rural-urban setting, race/ethnicity, and other variables."  
This wasn't news.  A 1963 study stated that "Death rates for [coal] miners are nearly twice those all working men in the United States.  They remain higher, even when deaths due to accidents and other violence are excluded."

So, coal miners, often following ingrained patterns of behavior, seek to maintain and expand jobs without consideration of their own health and probably that of their families, never mind the environmental toll of mining and burning coal.  Unemployment certainly takes its toll and I don't pretend that current and future unemployed miners will move into the 21st century job market at any measurable rate.  Their future is bleak and help is needed from the government, not to support an industry that destroys its workers and the air and water quality of the community at large, but in providing a semblance of financial stability and dignity to this generation of miners while offering their children education and training, a path to bourgeoisification instead of lung cancer, emphysema and a variety of pulmonary diseases.

This is a harsh prescription, but an inevitable one.  The next story describes an even harsher prescription for a community.  "Residents of a small Alaskan village voted this week to relocate their entire community from a barrier island that has been steadily disappearing because of erosion and flooding attributed to climate change."  About 600 people live on the island of Sarichef, about one-quarter mile wide and two-and-a-half miles long, where "more than 200 feet of the shore has been eaten away since 1969."  Yet, "some locals were resistant to uprooting their history and heritage from a place that has been inhabited for 400 years."  Much remains uncertain, including the new location for the community and the funding.  
While the population of coal miners vastly exceeds Sarichef, other communities throughout the world are facing or are about to face the same dramatic threat from climate change.  A British study found that "by the middle of the century, 200 million people may become permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods, and more intense droughts."

Finally, I find there is news from New York City about eliminating a language requirement for taxicab drivers, an unfortunate development.  This move is supposed to aid immigrants, although they don't seem to need it. "[O]nly 4 percent [of licensed drivers] are born here, according to the taxi commission, and that figure has been dropping, from about 62 percent in 1980 and 36 percent in 1990."  Are these drivers, 24% from Bangladesh and 10% from Pakistan, taking jobs away from the friends and family of Jared Kushner?  Are taxi garages displaying signs "No Americans need apply"?  Does learning to drive in West Virginia permanently disqualify an applicant for a New York chauffeur's license?  Or, are fleet owners happy to employ presumably docile immigrants, rather than good ol' country boys?

Personally, I oppose the change.  Over the years, I have had to take over navigation of taxicab rides from drivers unfamiliar with the lay of the land.  On one occasion, I recall a driver going over the Triborough Bridge throwing dollar bills into the coin basket for collecting tolls.  Such random episodes may have been the result of inexperience and the low level of geographic competence that New York City already imposes, unlike the famous "Knowledge" demanded of London taxicab drivers.  Even if GPS reduces the need to read and understand signage, which I doubt, understanding the passenger is the first step in a safe and efficient taxicab ride.  If passengers are unable to speak English, they must do as we have done in foreign countries, present our destination in writing.  We never thought twice whether our driver could actually read the French, Spanish, Hebrew, or Czech address that someone has taken the trouble to provide us.   Lowering the communication skills of New York City cab drivers will be a disservice to the public and the mostly foreign-born existing driver population.

Unlike generations of Americans before them, including our local taxicab drivers, who crossed oceans and continents to improve their lot, the prototypical Trump voter seems to be sitting back and waiting for good things to be delivered, a posture usually reserved for trust fund babies.  Ironically, it could only be Big Government that could effect the turnaround these folks desire, a position at odds with conventional Republican policy.  Change isn't easy; ask the inhabitants of Sarichef. 
Stony Brook Steve and I went uptown, to the neighborhood of Columbia University to have lunch at Massawa, 1239 Amsterdam Avenue, an Ethiopian restaurant.  It was a simple, boxy space, with an almost featureless interior.  Service was friendly, however.  We shared beef sambusa, deep-fried, beef-filled flaky triangles ($7 for four).  I had tsebhi beghe, lamb cooked with berbere, a chile and spice blend, which produced a nice level of heat ($12).  Lentils and a small salad were served with it, spread on a 12" round of injera, a spongy flat bread.  No utensils are provided (I won't squeal); other pieces of injera are used to scoop up the food, inevitably coating your fingers as well.  I enjoyed the food and the experience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2106
At the beginning of this month, the New York State Education Department announced the results of the statewide English and math tests given to students in grades 3-8.  The results for New York City students seemed woeful to me: 38% scored at grade level in English and 36% in math.  On the other hand, this was equal to or slightly less than scores throughout the state.  Or, if the tests are considered fair and representative, the whole system stinks.  

I admit that I am viewing this from afar, with no children in these schools and personally long removed from attendance.  Parents seem much more relaxed at the demonstrated performance levels.  On the just-released New York City Education Department's annual survey, supposedly with over one million responses, "95 percent of parents said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the education their child received during the 2015-16 school year, the same percentage as the year before."  

By my arithmetic, only about 38% of the parents should be satisfied with the education their child received.  Is it possible that many of these respondents are themselves the recent product of the New York City school system and are unable to make sound judgments about the quality of education?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Stony Brook Steve, that intrepid gourmand, had the same idea that I had after reading the review of Bolivian Llama Party, 1000 Eighth Avenue, in this morning's paper.  Please note, before you venture forth, that there is no structure identified as 1000 Eighth Avenue.  It is not an address; it's a notion, like east of the Sun and west of the Moon.  

BLP is located in the Columbus Circle subway station, A, B, C, D and #1 trains.  It it outside the turnstiles, so you don't have to spend money to get there from the street.  Go down any of the staircases at the intersection of Eighth Avenue and 57th Street, and you will find a cluster of newly-opened food stands, collectively called TurnStyle, including BLP.  Some high tables and stools provide seating.  In spite of the simplicity of the setting and the noisy African percussionists a few feet away, put BLP on your give-it-a-try list.

It features salteñas, a popular Bolivian street food.  Bigger than an empanada, with a thicker crust, their fillings are between a soup and a stew, so they have to be approached with care to avoid damage to tongue, lips and clothing.  We each had a chimba (chicken) salteña ($6) and shared a beef brisket chola (sandwich) ($12), dressed with pickled carrots and onions marinated in beer, one of the best things that I've eaten in years.  The chola was also a bit messy, but emitted less liquid than the salteñas.    

Thursday, August 25, 2106
I know that you thoroughly trust my judgment and follow my advice on all critical matters, starting with food.  However, if you ever seek a second opinion, you might look at Opinionated About Dining, a web site for deep gullets and even deeper pockets.  It combines the (re)views of 150 people from around the world, none personally known to me, although some are hidden behind noms de Internet.  "Lady in Pink" might in fact be someone near and dear.  Entry to the group requires a certification process, which I've begun.  

While waiting to make the cut, I am looking over OAD's list of Top 100 U.S. Restaurants 2016.  As with other similar elite lists, I find myself on the outside looking in.  The first New York City entry, Chef's Table, comes in at #12, although seven of the next eight are here in the Holy Land, absent my patronage.  I might have a claim at #17, Jean Georges, 1 Central Park West, because I've eaten in its front room, a café bearing its own name, Nougatine.  

While New York City establishments are scattered throughout the rest of the list, I get my only other hit at #84, Gramercy Tavern, 42 East 20th Street, although that was in the last century.  Needless to say, Chinatown never appears on OAD's radar.  I think, therefore, that my chances to be admitted to the club are pretty weak.  Of course, since most of these joints are of the many, many courses of small portions at high prices type, rejection may be a kindness.

Friday, August 26, 2016
Speaking of mobility, here is a very interesting feature on the movement of college students in response to declining support for higher education, apparently finding better deals as out-of-state students away from home.

While the number of students coming to and going from each state is provided, the financial data which supposedly motivates them is missing along with other vital information.  How much of a bargain can the University of Arizona be   when 139 days of the year are over 90 degrees in Tucson and 43 are over 100?

Finally, if you want to drive the sociologists in your household crazy, ask them to explain why West Virginia, the poster child for the angry and alienated, attracts 4,022 students from out of state to its public colleges, while only 372 of its own leave.  

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