Friday, February 24, 2017

Remember When?

Monday, February 20, 2017
We met with old friends this weekend, none older (in duration) than Arthur Dobrin, whom I've known since early boyhood.  Arthur is 18 months younger than I am and, until I went away to graduate school, we always lived across the street from each other in two different neighborhoods, not counting his short hitch in the army between high school and college.  

Recalling early memories, Arthur said that, in the past, I told him that I remembered when he came home from the hospital as an infant.  I contended that was wrong two different ways.  First, I denied ever having said that to him, because, second, I don't remember witnessing any such event.  Moreover, I doubt that anyone can recall anything coherent from that early in childhood.  With that, Burt G. piped up that he remembers his first birthday party, with his crib placed in the middle of the room and adults swarming around.  Now, Burt is a very sober guy, but I don't believe him either.  Fake news?

An article in the travel section this weekend evoked a pleasant memory for me, well within my mental span.

The New York Times found some interesting new restaurants in Tbilisi, Georgia, not a spot appearing prominently on "must-see" lists.  While I doubt that I will ever get to Tbilisi, I have a fond memory of a great Georgian meal at the home of Genya and Israel Dilman in Brooklyn, over 20 years ago.  I met their sons Mark and Alex soon after the family came to the US from Tbilisi and they invited me for dinner.  After all this time, I recall a wonderful meal of native Georgian and Russian Jewish food, even the latter bearing only slight resemblance to what I was familiar with.  The highlight for me was a creamy chicken dish (Chicken Bazhe), the sauce surprisingly made from ground walnuts, a staple of Georgian cuisine, no dairy ingredients.  There are recipes on the Internet, but I don't think that anyone can approach Genya Dilman's version.

In spite of the example of Whitaker Chambers, most of the American cases of ideological migration from left to right, to my mind, seem to have been little Jewish boys, who had troubling encounters with Jewish girls and/or African-American men.  An exception to that was Michael Novak, "a Roman Catholic social philosopher who abandoned the liberal politics he espoused in the 1960s to make the theological and moral case for capitalism in a series of widely discussed books," according to his obituary today.  I recall reading him on both sides of the divide, but nothing will stay with me longer than his claim that "Capitalism forms morally better people than socialism does."  That may be true, but the gestation period seems to exceed the normal human lifespan.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017
I am so pleased by the thoughtfulness of friends and family as I reach the age of the New York Times crossword puzzle, although I will never show as much imagination.  Of particular note is this gift from Dr. Evelyn A.L., the sanest psychiatrist I have ever met. 

Of course, since I am not one to hold a grudge for more than a generation or two against a country that turned desperate Jews away from its borders, I gladly added the cheese to my refrigerator collection, pushing me even further in the direction of bourgeois respectability.  

Today's paper contains a full page advertisement for the 2017 winners of Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowships for "early-career scholars."  The list includes a Smith and a Green, but no Jones, Brown, Miller, Johnson, Wilson, or Thomas, for that matter no Cohen, Levy or Schwartz.  Notable, however, are the presence of Fereydoun Hormozdiari, Silviu Pufu, Lei Qi, Amir Ali Ahmadi, Ilias Diakonikolas, among others whose ancestors probably missed the Mayflower and even came long after Ellis Island closed.  Now, the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is governed by someone who is afraid of scholars and immigrants alike.

If you have the time and stomach, I recommend that you read One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, by Tim Weiner, published in 2015.  All known tapes and documents are now public and Weiner uses them tellingly.  The parallels with today's White House quickly jump out at you, although there is an interesting difference.  Nixon was secretive, deliberately misdirecting friend and foe in critical policy matters.  Our minority president, by contrast, boisterously exercises his seventh grade vocabulary randomly, sometimes with malice, rarely with forethought.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Important hockey game last night, Rangers vs. Canadiens (that's the French way for the Montreal team).  I had the good company of Rob T., who began the evening with me at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, 208 West 38th Street, the natural place to eat if you are going to Madison Square Garden.  The results on the ice, alas, were unsatisfactory.

Thursday, February 23, 2017 
The Boyz Club gathered at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, celebrating a patch of spring-like weather.  We shared fried won tons, spare ribs, duck chow fun, shrimp with lobster sauce over shrimp fried rice (our special creation), beef with scallions, and eggplant in garlic sauce; a little over $16 each.  What more can you ask?

Friday, February 24, 2017
Well, Coretta Scott King, Elizabeth Warren and Corey Booker were right; Jeff Sessions is a stinker.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Count Me In

Monday, February 13, 2017
As a kid who grew up on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn, I try to continue to distance myself from the effete behavior of the nouveau riche, which is pretty good considering that I only got a 71 on the French Regents exam.  Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.  I thought that I had cleared the hurdle presented by the question in the New York Times Sunday magazine to 2,563 subscribers: "How many different types of cheese, including spreads, are in your refrigerator?"  

How fey must be those respondents answering 5 or more (28%) or even 4 (24%)?  Ridiculous, I thought, as I opened the refrigerator to confirm that I only had the scallion cream cheese that accompanied the lox on my bagel at lunch.   But, wait -- a few slices of Swiss cheese left over from lunch, two different grated cheeses for pasta, crumbled feta cheese for salads and omelettes, and a package of Philadelphia cream cheese, just purchased for a recipe.  Oh, the horror.  You can count.  I land on the outskirts of the wrong end of the bell curve and now I have to shut up.

[Time passes.]

We know that the new administration is serious about applying serious vetting to prospective immigrants to the United States, because they have been harnessing their investigative resources, not wasting them vetting Steven Mnuchin (Treasury), Andrew Puzder (Labor), Tom Price (Health and Human Services), Mick Mulvaney (Budget Director) and other new occupants of the swamp.  Had the vetters taken time away from protecting our shores from those refugees who decided at a moment's notice to wait 18 months to get into the United States, they certainly would have found the $100 million in assets that Mnuchin failed to disclose to the Senate Finance Committee, as an example.  I sure hope that our diligent investigators count the number of cheeses in refugee families' refrigerators.

Somewhat related is the resignation of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser.  He wrote: "I am tendering my resignation, honored to have served our nation and the American people in such a distinguished way."  In case you blinked, this distinguished way extended from January 20, 2017 to February 13, 2017.  Some of the cheese in my refrigerator lasted longer than that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017
My celebration of Valentine's Day began with the news that Playboy magazine will resume publishing pictures of nude women.  It has nothing to do with objectifying or exploiting women.  Rather, the retooled Playboy will serve as sort of a time machine, taking me back to my adolescence, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

Apropos Valentine's Day (the saintliness was watered down by the Vatican in 1969, leaving St. Valentine more of a local hero than a universal one), consider this survey of where single people live, with an eye towards finding the Right One.  The article contains zip code maps for New York, Chicago, Los, Angeles, San Francisco and Washington showing where the (allegedly heterosexual) boys are and aren't.

Unlike our new Washington power elite, I won't dispute the data, but I must annotate one factoid.  Las Vegas is found to be the best (major urban) place for a single woman to meet a single man, with 1.34 single men living alone to each single woman.  That is, if you don't mind dealing with a person three times more likely to be suicidal than the average American.  Las Vegas also has a higher than average unemployment rate and lower average salaries in many employment categories, such as lawyers, accountants and retail clerks, higher for bartenders, dancers and construction workers.  And, while not scientific, a glance at those televised almost-exclusively male poker tournaments will give you a feel why there are so many men in Las Vegas living alone.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Today is the 75th anniversary of the New York Times crossword puzzle, which is being celebrated with a special series of puzzles.  Can you imagine that?  75 years old, typically decayed and ineffectual.  How sad!

Actually, something else that is approaching 75 years old, but still very vital in my eyes, is "Casablanca," that great movie.  This article pleasantly recollects it.

Stony Brook Steve and I took a walk up Amsterdam Avenue today, enjoying the mild weather, as we sought a new place to have lunch.  We settled on Island Burgers & Shakes, 422 Amsterdam Avenue, one of three locations in Manhattan.  It is a small, narrow space, appropriately described as funky.  One wall is exposed brick, the other dingy subway tile.  The flooring is wood slats.  Customers have to fit at 7 two tops.  

Island has a very attractive (weekday) lunch special, a hamburger, turkey burger or chicken sandwich, French fries and a drink for $10.  Steve had a hamburger, which satisfied him, often an elusive goal.  I had the chicken sandwich, a grilled chicken paillard, about three times the size of the sesame bun upon which it rested.  A few pickle chips and raw purple onion slices were on the plate, along with excellent French fries.  Squeeze bottles of ketchup and mustard are on every table, with salt and pepper shakers.  A can of Diet Coke, reggae played at a moderate sound level and a commendable experience.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017
My last lunch in Spain on October 14, 2015 was at Wok to Walk, Rambla 65, Barcelona, on the perimeter of Mercado de La Boqueria, the big public market.  Today, I returned, not to Barcelona (alas!), but to Wok to Walk, 684 Third Avenue, corner of East 43rd Street.  At 8' wide and 16' deep, the local version was only a smidge larger than the Spanish one.  That did not deter the crowds at lunchtime.  About 3 dozen people were ahead of me when I got on line and two dozen more were behind when I got to order, keeping the three men at the woks very, very busy.

While I generally eschew places where you create your own dish, more because of the abominations that I see being created and consumed around me, WtW pulls it off as well as you could expect.  You choose a base, 4 different types of noodle or 2 kinds of rice stir-fried with shredded vegetables and an egg, or a vegetable mix (all $4.95).  Then, chicken, pork, shrimp, steak, salmon ($2.60-3.50) and/or vegetables -- such as mushrooms, broccoli, bamboo shots ($1.50-1.70).  Peanuts, fried garlic, fried onions and other toppings add $.60 each.  Finally, a choice among 8 free sauces, sweet & sour, curry coconut, garlic & black pepper, for instance.  My concoction: udon noodles, like very fat spaghetti, steak, shrimp, and fried onions, with Bali sauce ("Peanut sauce - oriental style") at $11.35.  The only place for me to eat this excellent dish was on one of 6 stools at a high table at the rear.  Almost everyone else repaired to cubicles in nearby high-rise office buildings.      

For the sake of historical comparison, I pulled up my Barcelona lunch -- rice noodles, chicken, shrimp, and mushrooms in a yellow curry & coconut sauce, for 10.05 euros (about $13.60 then, $10.65 now if they haven't jacked the prices).

Friday, February 17, 2017
Yes, it is my very large birthday.  I'm reminded of a song by the Lovin' Spoonful, "Darling Be Home Soon," published in 1966, with a lyric that has stayed with me all this time.  
                    "And now
                     A quarter of my life is almost past" 

When I first heard it, the math was favorable.  The song spoke to me, or of me.   But, the fractions changed, one third, one half, three quarters and the horizon comes closer.  Will I settle for 15/16?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Monday, February 6, 2017
We spent the weekend in the Boston vicinity celebrating Boaz's ninth birthday with reckless abandon.  We were in no way inhibited by the sight of almost every man, woman and child outside our family wearing New England Patriot garb.  You remember the New England Patriots, the football team unable to defeat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.  They must have breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that they would only have to face the Atlanta Falcons in this year's Super Bowl, which they eventually won in overtime.

By the way, these two teams, as well as the New York Giants, are among the 10 National Football League teams owned in whole or part by Jews, which caused Rudi, my favorite Latvian, to write: "Bottom line, if you went to Hebrew School you are more likely to own a team than play on one." 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017
However.  Professor Irwin Corey, the World's Foremost Authority died yesterday.

Without question, the New England Patriots have proved to be an outstanding football team led by the prettiest quarterback in professional football.  I refer you to  the following article, not because of its content (why Tom Brady is disliked), but because I believe that it is the first time and probably the last that the word schadenfreude appears twice in an article in a sports section, even the New York Times sports section.

I don’t expect that you share my sense of wonder, but I was surprised to learn that Sara Lee, Entenmann's, Thomas' English Muffins, Freihofer, Stroehmann's and, indeed, Wonder Bread are owned by the same company.  This information was contained in today's obituary of Lorenzo Servitje, who built the enterprise.  Of course, this dramatic triumph of vision and industry took place in the great land of opportunity ----- Mexico.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017
While the geography may be a bit off, I think that the campaign promise to drain the swamp has been achieved.  At least, here in New York.  We seem to have shipped so many of our miscreants to Washington, the "so-called capital" of the United States, that things  have brightened up around here.  I had several examples today as I walked one mile and back to lunch.  At one corner, bubbly young people were handing out "Next Healthy Grains" bars; I accepted a cinnamon oat bar and a peanut butter dark chocolate bar.  A couple of blocks further on Broadway, even bubblier kids were giving out containers of "Noosa Finest Yoghurt (Aussie culture · Colorado fresh)"; I took a lemon and a blueberry.

With these items sitting in my New York Public Library tote bag, I continued walking to Kung Fu Little Steam Buns Ramen, 811 Eighth Avenue (48th Street), a place seemingly far too small to carry such a big name.  Before I got there though, I had another heartening moment at the corner of Eighth Avenue and West 56th Street.  As you see from the sign below, a vegetarian, vegan, gluten free joint is being replaced by Sophie's Cuban Cuisine, the ninth in a local chain, with a completely kale-free menu.  

Kung Fu's 36 chairs at seven tables and 2 stools at a small ledge were almost all occupied.  Four waiters scurried about, bringing cooked-to-order food at a fast clip and refilling water glasses with some regularity.  

The menu is roughly divided between dumplings/dim sum and hand-pulled noodles, which they choose to call ramen.  Prices are reasonable, considering the real estate it occupies in the theater district.  I had a scallion pancake ($4.25), pan-fried Peking duck buns ($6.95 for 2) and Shanghai spring rolls ($4.50 for 2), too much food for one person it turns out.  The scallion pancake was very good, thin, somewhat crispy.  Although no dipping sauce was served with it, I quickly made my own from the soy sauce and vinegar on the table.  The 3" round Peking duck buns were the highlight and would have made a good lunch with a small soup.  Note that Kung Fu adds a 15% "service charge" to all bills, but still leaves room for tips on credit card slips. 

Help me with this.  The president warns us of terrorists invading our shores and poised to do unimaginable harm.  "People pouring in.  Bad!” However, I wonder if these bad guys might be deterred when they learn that they can no longer purchase Ivanka Trump merchandise at Nordstrom, or will they be energized by this offensive treatment of our Royalties Family. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017
Hard to disagree with Kellyanne Conman when she lamented the lack of “a certain respect for and recognition of the dignity for the office of the president,” although we may have different culprits in mind.

Friday, February 10, 2017
Happy Birthday, Cindy wherever you are.

The Alabama Republican Party showed an unexpected concern for minority representation when it picked Luther Strange as successor to the US Senate seat of Jeff Sessions.  Strange is a lobbyist, certainly a woeful minority in the State of Alabama, which is probably riddled with truck drivers, farmers, school teachers, carpenters and barbecue restaurant owners, among others who have figuratively pushed lobbyists to the back of the bus.

A judge in Loudoun County, Virginia recently accepted the prosecution's recommendation of punishment for 5 teenage boys who vandalized a historic black schoolhouse with racist and anti-Semitic graffiti.  The defendants, 2 white and 3 unspecified minorities (unlikely to be Alabama lobbyists, however), are required to read one book each month for the next 12 months and write a report about it.  The list that they must choose from is worth considering.
"The Color Purple," Alice Walker
"Native Son," Richard Wright
"Exodus," Leon Uris
"Mila 18," Leon Uris
"Trinity," Leon Uris
"My Name Is Asher Lev," Chaim Potok
"The Chosen," Chaim Potok
"The Sun Also Rises," Ernest Hemingway
"Night," Elie Wiesel
"The Crucible," Arthur Miller
"The Kite Runner," Khaled Hosseini
"A Thousand Splendid Suns," Khaled Hosseini
"Things Fall Apart," Chinua Achebe
"The Handmaid’s Tale," Margaret Atwood
"To Kill a Mockingbird," Harper Lee
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Maya Angelou
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," Rebecca Skloot
"Caleb’s Crossing," Geraldine Brooks
"Tortilla Curtain," T.C. Boyle
"The Bluest Eye," Toni Morrison
"A Hope in the Unseen," Ron Suskind
"Down These Mean Streets," Piri Thomas
"Black Boy," Richard Wright
"The Beautiful Struggle," Ta-Nehisi Coates
"The Banality of Evil," Hannah Arendt
"The Underground Railroad," Colson Whitehead
"Reading Lolita in Tehran," Azar Nafisi
"The Rape of Nanking," Iris Chang
"Infidel," Ayaan Hirsi Ali
"The Orphan Master’s Son," Adam Johnson
"The Help," Kathryn Stockett
"Cry the Beloved Country," Alan Paton
"Too Late the Phalarope," Alan Paton
"A Dry White Season," André Brink
"Ghost Soldiers," Hampton Sides

If you don't count the movies, I don't break into double digits. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Four Years Of Bad Jokes?

Monday, January 30, 2017
Did you notice that British Prime Minister Theresa May was photographed holding the president's hand firmly on her White House visit?  She obviously knew whom she was dealing with.

This article asks if Chinese food is going upscale.
Unfortunately, this has already happened in New York City and elsewhere, in two fashions.  There are fancy schmancy restaurants with multi-ethnic tuxedo-clad waiters serving very expensive food mostly to people who don't like Chinese food.  Examples include Mr. [Michael] Chow, with branches in New York, Los Angeles, London, Las Vegas and Miami, among other places where the hungry masses huddle; Philippe By Philippe Chow, in Manhattan and Beverly Hills; Tao, in Manhattan and Las Vegas.  You probably could get some very good food at these joints, if money is no object.  Beijing duck at Mr. Chow is $74 per person; at Tao, a more modest $82 for two people.  I have denied and will continue to deny myself the pleasure of spending my grandchildren's money at such a rate.

A newer group of upscale Chinese restaurants has emerged recently.  Not showy, not necessarily expensive, but yet reeking of insiderness, exemplified by Mission Chinese Food, of New York and San Francisco, and Mister Jiu's of San Francisco.  They share the annoying characteristic of not opening for lunch (only at Mission New York, not the San Francisco original).  Many people discovered the beloved Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, in the middle of the night after the bars closed, but continued their attendance over the years, even in the brightest daylight, and that's the way it should be.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Many of us regret the news that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is closing, now making its last appearances.  However, it will make it easier to fill the many open positions in Washington.

Irwin Pronin, still basking in the success of his term as president of the CCNY Student Government, joined me for lunch at the new and popular Tim Ho Wan - Dim Sum Specialists, 85 4th Avenue, recently expanded from Hong Kong.  THW has the distinction of being the lowest price restaurant in the world with a Michelin star.  Even on this cold, snowy day, the wait was almost 45 minutes at lunch time to get a table in this medium-sized joint.  Its modernity is demonstrated by getting a text message when your table is ready.  Its decor is simple, pleasant and ethnically neutral.  I recall, and Jon Silverberg confirms, that another Chinese restaurant once stood there, all details blurred by time.

A paper place mat displays most of the available dishes and you order on a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" piece of paper listing the 25 food items, all small plates, very few for a Chinese restaurant.  Prices range from $3.75 to $5.50, most at $4.50 or $4.75.  No noodles, no big dishes.  The menu is the same day and night.  

However, what THW does, it does well.  We had baked buns with BBQ pork, siu mai, deep fried eggplant with shrimp, steamed rice roll with minced beef, steamed rice with chicken and shiitake mushroom, and steamed rice with minced beef and pan fried egg.  A good house tea is $1; special varieties are several times more. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
That's one smart guy.  Maybe the rest of us shouldn't pay income taxes.

I have been reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, a personal study of the lives and culture of white working class Americans, originating in Appalachia.  The book has deservedly received favorable notice, because it examines an undigested, under attended mass of people.  In many ways, it parallels The Grapes of Wrath, a fictional account of the Okies.

I have one problem with Vance's view.  By the way, he emerged from the hillbilly world to graduate from Yale Law School, yet he "identif[ies] with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree. . . . The Scots-Irish are one of the most distinctive subgroups in America. . . . To understand me, you must understand that I am a Scots-Irish hillbilly at heart."  I think that his regard for Scots-Irish roots is no more than an attempt to align with the (too prevalent?) resort to identity politics.  

I contend that there is little, if any, Scots-Irish about Vance's family, friends, or neighbors, other than a historic aversion to Roman Catholicism as their brand of Christianity.  Unlike African-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Hispanics, Irish-Americans, Chinese-Americans and other distinctive subgroups, there is no discernible connection between these folks and their ethnic ancestors, with one minor exception.  Musicologists trace the sound of country fiddle music to bagpipes, and some ballads, such as "Barbara Allen" and "Pretty Polly," came intact from the British Isles.  

Otherwise, the hillbillies are as American as apple pie.  Trying to equate their long-obscured ethnic background with other hyphenated Americans is, to my mind, an inappropriate attempt to evoke sympathy for the wrong reasons.  As that great philosopher Sophie Tucker said, "I've been rich and I've been poor, and rich is better."  However, poor may be disguised, fudged, unlike the physical features of many minorities, and there is little possibility to abandon those distinguishing characteristics.  If hillbillies remain marginalized today, it's nurture not nature to blame.

Another valuable discussion about the white working class, referencing the presidential election specifically, is:
The author perceives a "class culture gap . . . [wherein] the white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich."  Doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers prod at the WWC, while rich people remain distant, in a fog of enviable affluence.  And which presidential candidate reeked of professional, self righteous, goody-goody, sanctimony, but our gal Hillary.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017
3 headlines:
On-line headline - "IBM Gives Watson a New Challenge: Your Tax Return"
In print headline - "IBM Gives Watson's Artificial Intelligence a New Challenge: Filing Taxes"
Needed headline - "IBM Gives Watson a New Challenge: Finding Trump's Tax Returns"

Jay Stanley, who has worked for the ACLU for the last 15 years, honored me with his presence at dinner tonight.  As a treat to both of us, we went to Khe-Yo, 157 Duane Street, possibly the only Laotian restaurant in New York City and certainly the only one in Manhattan.  My amateur academic research indicates that Lao food is supposedly very close to Thai food, although Khe-Yo once operated {Khe-Yo}Sk next door for a couple of hours each weekday, serving only Banh Mi, the Vietnamese national sandwich to take away (October 22, 2012).  Our enjoyable meal, whether genuinely Lao or heavily Tribeca, did not evoke Thai food.

We skipped the Restaurant Week menu, offering a "small plate," a "large plate" and dessert for $42, and assembled our own meal.  All diners begin with a free starter, a wicker basket of sticky rice, customarily grabbed by the fingers and rolled into marble-sized ball, and two dipping sauces, one sharp and the other rocket fuel inflammatory.  We then had Jurgielwicz (whoever he is) Duck Salad, accompanied by duck broth ($15); Lemongrass Chicken Sausage, with a peanut sauce ($13); Crunchy Coconut Rice, looking like and somewhat tasting like falafel; Bamboo Ginger Quail ($14), so good that I wished that it was a full-size chicken; and, Pork Curry Noodles, close to Pho, the signature Vietnamese soup ($26).  Only the noodles were a disappointment, fussy with a lot of vegetables to be tossed in, but lacking a unique flavor.  

For dessert, we repaired to the Baskin-Robbins nearby at 100 Chambers Street.   In all, a very good meal with a very special young man whom I've known since childhood (his, not mine).
Friday, February 3, 2017
I thought that sex offenders can't live in government housing.

The Upper West Side's Power Couple hit the road in their new car to visit the second and third generations in Massachusetts.  This provided us about four hours without a newspaper, enjoying music, temporarily ignoring the dark cloud over our land.  While we don't need an excuse, Boaz's ninth birthday drew crowds from far and near.  

A final thought: