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:


  1. There is a discussion needed that is much too long for a comment on a blog about what it means to be of Scots-Irish Appalachian dissent. In addition to music, there is a food culture, a distinct way of speaking, family traditions that are as strong as those of other ethnic groups in the US and a displacement that was required by those in power back in the homeland. Just because it is a much larger group that has been in the US for a much longer time, and required a stop on the way over, does not reduce the significance of the ancestry.

  2. With rare exceptions, those folks do not cite their ethnicity as an influence nor does society view them as an ethnic group with foreign roots.

  3. Descent - although I am also a dissenting Scot-Irish American