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?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Home Again

Saturday, October 29, 2016
The New York Times considers whether operating a restaurant in New York City is a viable proposition and compares it to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In sum, it finds that New Yorkers may have to go hungry.  Space costs much more in Manhattan and Brooklyn; labor is cheapest in Los Angeles; fruits and vegetables are cheaper in California, closer to the source; "even red meat, chicken and some fish are cheaper in the West."  New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have more restaurants than anywhere else in the country — 16.9 per 10,000 people as of spring 2016.  However, the choices may not be to your liking. "Chains are growing and independents are closing, with the steepest decline in New York City.” 

The biggest financial news of the past week was the proposed acquisition of TimeWarner by AT&T, to the tune of $85,400,000,000.  That's a big number, but I was drawn to another big number, almost 100, the number of lobbyists AT&T has on retainer, according to the New York Times.

The Center for Responsive Politics claims that "80 out of 113 AT&T Inc lobbyists in 2015-2016 have previously held government jobs."   We might be thankful to AT&T for keeping these former legislators and public officials away from our schools, playgrounds and scout troops. 

Being a practical guy, I'm thinking about how much this costs., a specialist in compensation reporting, states that the "median annual Lobbyist salary is $105,695, as of September 30, 2016, with a range usually between $85,092-$145,911."  No special rate exists for those most adept at ignoring the common good, former members of Congress.  The aggregate expense for AT&T currying favor is probably just a fraction of the $85.4 billion purchase price, although it would probably provide a lot of pitchforks to the peasants out there, an earlier form of influencing opinion.

This deal differs from the typical horizontal merger, where competitors join, typically drawing anti-trust scrutiny.  Here we have a vertical merger, buyer and seller combining for perceived efficiencies.  The law and economics of this entire area is a mystery to me, but I can contribute a memory: In 2000, AOL purchased Time Warner for $164 billion.  The new enterprise named TimeWarner proceeded to lose $99 billion in 2002 and the value of its stock subsequently went from $226 billion to about $20 billion.  In 2009, AOL was spun off into oblivion.  Et tu, AT&T?  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Last year (September 1, 2015), I was disappointed when I belatedly discovered that the big, black metal cube poised on edge that sat on Cooper Square, the intersection of St. Marks Place, the Bowery, Astor Place and Lafayette Street, had been removed.  It had been there for over 45 years and I, along with other adolescents of all ages, would give it a twirl when I passed by.

Like the Dodgers returning to Brooklyn, I never expected it to be restored.  To my surprise, I saw today that you might be able to go home again.

I was in the vicinity on the way to Drunken Dumplings, 137 First Avenue, to begin to make up for not eating Chinese food for almost two weeks while away.  It's a small joint, 8 two tops and a ledge with 8 stools along one wall, exposed  brick on the other.  Very good soul music played at just the right decibel level to stimulate your appetite.  

The menu is very simple, a few dumplings, either pan fried or boiled at $8.75 for 6 pieces, or 3 types of xiao long bao (soup dumplings), $10.75 and $11.75.  One of the soup dumplings I had never seen before, five inches in diameter, taking the entire bamboo steamer.  If you know your soup dumplings, you know that this cannot be finger food.  You need a straw to zup up the soup and then chopsticks to finish it off.  That was too complicated, so I ordered fried chicken with cashew dumplings and boiled shrimp with bacon and orange slice dumplings.  The dumplings were well prepared and only the orange flavor eluded me.  However, I had this feeling that the food was too clean.  One of the charms of Chinese (Indian food, too) is the suspicion that your mother would be shocked if all the ingredients were laid out in front of her.  These dumplings seemed to contain exactly what was said on the blackboard menu, nothing mysterious, nothing to raise offense or eyebrows, a bit dull, in other words.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016
By now, I am back in a New York state of mind.  On Sunday, we had bagels and lox for brunch.  Yesterday, I had Chinese food for lunch and went to Madison Square Garden to see the Rangers play.  Today, on the way to a doctor's appointment, I passed Woody Allen on Park Avenue and shopped at Zabar's on the way home.

Thursday, November 3, 2016
Not everyone thinks that I am just an old fogy; here is the title of an e-mail message that I received:  Alan, enjoy exclusive savings on a new Maserati

Friday, November 4, 2016
Appropriate for the season, Trader Joe's has pumpkin ice cream.  Do not buy it if you hate your mouth.