Saturday, March 25, 2017

It's Not You, It's Me

Monday, March 20, 2017
A couple of times in recent weeks, my blog blasts have produced hundreds of error messages, reporting delays in getting the word to many of you.  This has, in the spirit of the times, turned out to be fake news.  In fact, my weekly messages seem to have gone out trouble free hours before the barrage of error messages even began.  If this confusion spilled over and you have been inconvenienced in any way, I apologize.  It's not you, it's me.   

Time Out New York offers a list of the best local vegetarian restaurants.  
It includes B&H Dairy, 127 Second Avenue, a favorite of mine for decades.  I never considered B&H a vegetarian restaurant and I never will and neither should you.  It is a milchigs restaurant, following the ancient and obtuse Jewish proscriptions separating milchigs and fleischigs, dairy and meat products.   

Vegetables play a minor role in milchigs cuisine, which is about eggs, which is about cheese, which is about sour cream, which is about butter.  The premier dish at B&H is French toast, made with thick slices of challah baked in house.  When B&H reopened after being damaged by a fatal gas explosion two doors down, Tom Adcock and I rushed back to eat French toast in celebration and solidarity (September 1, 2015).  A glob of butter, maple syrup (well, they say it's maple syrup), a cup of coffee.  Not a carrot in sight.  Nothing green on the plate.  That's milchigs, not vegetarian.  

Our thrifty president has proposed a budget that's a Republican wet dream.  Except some Republicans are beginning to discover that not every government program is the spawn of Satan.  Even some low-hanging fruit might have firm attachments.

This article lists current artsy fartsy federal funding per capita by state.  And, Alaskans get almost twice as much as New Yorkers and about six times what Californians get.  I don't begrudge underwriting Alaska's cultural efforts, but I think that California needs it more.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Francesca H., a lovely college student, educated me this weekend about the presence of a first-rate Sri Lankan restaurant downtown, Kottu House, 250 Broome Street.  I knew of no Sri Lankan restaurant in New York or anywhere in the US, so, it was a happy revelation.  However, I am not entirely humbled by this information gap, because an Internet search uncovers very few Sri Lankan restaurants anywhere in the country.  

In any case, the Boyz Club rushed off to Kottu House for lunch.  It is a very small place, 3 two tops and 6 knee-high stools plus a ledge with 4 tall stools.  Weekday lunch until 4 PM offers a particularly good deal.  Choice of a chicken, chicken sausage, tofu or vegetable kottu, a "street style dish from Sri Lanka made with godamba roti, freshly chopped and stirfried with a blend of curry, eggs and vegetables," with a side of lentil patties, tuna fritter or South Asian fries (plain or spicy) plus a can of soda for $11.  

We passed around one of everything.  All the other gents opted for the least spiciness in any of the dishes, which resulted in well-prepared, filling, bland food.  I think that a joint should be allowed to present its flavors in relatively authentic fashion, with Tums to the rescue.

It must be catching.  Stony Brook Steve was one of today's fressers and he is widely renowned for his ability to spot the famous, near-famous and once-famous on the streets of New York.  When I went into Fairway for some grocery shopping after he headed home, I recognized Stan Beeman, the FBI agent who lives across the street from the Russian spies on "The Americans."  As far as I could tell, he wasn't being tailed. 

Listening to the Republican opponents of Obamacare, you would think that we face a binary choice -- taxpayers vs. sick people, as if there is no common ground or overlap.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
You have to give Michael Ratner credit.  As I have said in the past, he is the most honest businessman that I have ever met.  But, it was his willingness to go to lunch with me two days in a row that now distinguishes him.  Yesterday, it was Kottu House, today Tri Dim Shanghai, 1378 Third Avenue, a surprisingly good Chinese restaurant in a neighborhood that sorely needs one.  Befitting the area, the space is attractively decorated, with a combination of modern Asian elements against a large exposed brick wall and a reproduction of a Xi'an warrior standing near the front door.  Service is polished and efficient.  With that, prices were still reasonable, uptown reasonable that is.

We ordered two lunch specials at $8.50, tangerine beef and baby shrimp with bean curd.  The lunch specials also included a choice of soup or spring roll and rice, brown for us.  Portions were generous and each tasted good.  Additionally, we shared a scallion pancake ($6), a great example of the art, and chicken soong ($9), diced chicken, water chestnuts, celery, green onions cooked in soy sauce and served on iceberg lettuce leaves.  Count me lucky; I had Michael's company and a high quality lunch.

Thursday, March 23, 2017
The news these days is a torrent of absurdities, tragedies, and malevolence, but one item just made me sad.  The results of the competitive test for admission to New York City's eight special high schools show that 13 African-American students will be admitted to Stuyvesant High School, my alma mater, in the next class of nearly 1,000. 

In 2011, I wrote about Stuyvesant's newly-admitted class of 2015.  It contained 569 Asian-Americans (thought to be mostly Chinese with some Koreans, Japanese and South Asians), 179 whites, 13 Hispanics, and 12 blacks.  That motivated me to examine the yearbook of my 1958 graduating class, where I found 700 white, 13 black, 5 Hispanic, 3 Chinese and 1 Japanese senior(s), relying on memory, facial and name recognition, leaving only a few uncategorized. We were all male and mostly Jewish.  (My memory was good enough after all these years to identify Anthony Kelly as Jewish.  His father escaped the Nazis, came to America and changed his name hoping to avoid future threats.)

Much of this data has been turned on its head over the years, specifically by the introduction of women in 1969 and the influx of Chinese students.  I don't have the details, but I would surely bet that the record of accomplishment of these more recent students far outstrips my contemporaries, measured by Ivy League admissions, academic honors and awards and other fodder of U.S. News & World Report's rankings.  With a moral certainty though, I know that we were funnier.

So, after three generations and the vast changes in this city, this country and the world, one things remains dead constant -- the number of black students admitted to Stuyvesant.   While some top prospects may have been siphoned off by elite prep schools, unlikely in my time, the numbers here are woeful.  Damon Hewitt, author of the essay above, believes that the standardized test is the problem, inherently unfair when viewed by the results.   The test, which always dealt with verbal and mathematical skills, has changed particulars over time, and is being significantly changed this year after a long period of stasis. 

Hewitt recommends a reliance upon "consistently excellent grades, critical analysis skills, leadership and even performance on other state-mandated tests" as substitutes or supplements to the standardized test.  Note that the first and last of these are just other tests.  While I heartily agree with the importance of critical analysis skills, how would that be tested without a test?

Hewitt complains that "the material on the [standardized admissions] test is not taught in the city’s middle school classrooms," as if high school will be no more than an extension of lower grades.  A virtue of one standardized test also allows the slacker a chance to catch up, something some of us should be thankful for.  

Finally, leadership is a vague concept that may allow subjectivity to override merit.  For instance, a bench scientist may be distracted in a group setting, prospering in a quiet corner.  Early in the 20th century, the search for the well-rounded man kept little Jewish boys and all women out of most of the best colleges and universities.  That led to the introduction of the College Board exams, putting merit first.  It's no accident that auditions for our best symphony orchestras are now held behind screens, leaving the music as the determining factor.

There's no one answer to getting more African-American and Latino students into Stuyvesant.  Parents are probably the most vital influence in getting students onto the right track with the help of a concerned teacher or two along the way, while peers and the neighborhood may serve as impediments.  Of course, the burden of racial discrimination, past and present, takes it toll on current generations, and society has a long way to go to level the playing field. However, very few of us not living at the corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue have been given a free ride, a cheap ride or an easy ride.  While a standardized admissions test is probably a daunting challenge to many eighth graders, I support it because it is no more than a peek at what may lie ahead.  

Cheery headline of the day: "Late G.O.P. Proposal Could Mean Plans That Cover Aromatherapy but Not Chemotherapy"

Friday, March 24, 2017
Joe Forstadt died yesterday.  He was my "rabbi."  When my legal career stalled, Joe counseled me, reassured me and, most critically, made a telephone call to someone who knew him to be a trustworthy source.  As a result, I spent my last six working years in a very satisfying position.  I fear what those years would have been like without Joe's assistance, freely given.  You couldn't have a better friend.

Just in: The White House insisted that Paul Ryan stop   Trumpcare from going to a vote in the House of Representatives, because it heard that millions of illegal immigrants snuck into the Republican Congressional delegation.

1 comment:

  1. I read Joe Forstadt's obituary in Palm Beach Post.He would refer P.I.cases to my former firm.He was one of the good ones