Archive for September, 2011

Change We Can Believe In, XXII

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Institutionalize Bush civil liberty policies

Yes, I’ve touched on this theme before. But it’s time to circle back, thanks to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley’s op-ed piece in today’s LA Times. The article should be read in full. Here’s a sample:

Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of civil liberties.

However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the “just following orders” defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

I have nothing to add to Turley’s conclusion that “the election of Barack Obama may stand as one of the single most devastating events in our history for civil liberties.”

Categories: Law, Politics, Torture


September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

What can be more painful than having to read super-hacks* Thomas Friedman and David Brooks? How do they continue to be columnists at the country’s leading newspaper? Worse, how do the silly books they write become bestsellers? (Just two days ago, Friedman’s latest piffle entered the NYT bestseller list at #2. If it has to be that high, couldn’t it at least have done some good up there and taken the #1 spot away from the evil piece of —- whose name I won’t utter?)

Of course, no one has to read their columns, and so I don’t. But fortunately, the New Yorker’s Ric Hertzberg and the Center for Economic Policy and Research’s Dean Baker have been on the case, writing separate posts today on our two hacks’ latest columns.

On Sunday, Friedman was babbling yet again on the need for the two parties to compromise and strike a bargain. Hertzberg is so infuriated he can hardly contain himself. After stating that the column “damn near ruined my Sunday, Hertzberg goes through it in detail. I can’t do justice to Hertzberg’s analysis with a summary, excerpt, or “money quote.” It’s worth reading in full. Nonetheless, let me include a bit from near the end.

On the one hand, the Republicans are lunatics dedicated above all to destroying the Obama Presidency.

On the other hand, Obama didn’t endorse all the provisions of the Simpson-Bowles report.

See? They’re equally bad.

Which is another way of saying that they’re equally good. Which means that if they could just reason together in good faith, with a readiness to compromise their ideological preferences for the sake of the common good, all would be well.

Except that, as Friedman can’t help implicitly acknowledging, they’re not equally bad and equally good—not remotely. One side rationally understands (and fears) the consequences of inaction and is demonstrably willing to compromise. The other side irrationally dismisses (and might even welcome) those consequences and is demonstratively unwilling to compromise.

We don’t know whether, someday, “history” will hold Obama most responsible for what happens. What we do know—and on this point the “we” is everybody—is that, next year, voters will hold Obama most responsible. And we know that even among voters who think that Obama and the Republican leadership are both responsible but Obama less so, many will vote against him because he will be on the ballot everywhere. “The Republican leadership,” an abstraction both faceless and hydra-headed, won’t be.

The true, underlying, and presumably unconscious logic of Friedman’s analysis is that compromise between a side that is insane and unwilling to compromise and a side that is sane and willing to compromise is in fact impossible just now and will continue to be impossible for some time to come. For Obama, a Grand Bargain, which is to say a Grand Compromise, is not currently an option. His real choice is between a Grand Surrender and a Grand Fight.

I know which of the two I want him to choose. I hope Tom Friedman would have him make the same choice.

As for Brooks’ column today, Dean Baker (hat tip, Paul Krugman) gets to the heart of the matter regarding Brooks’ reasoning in his opening:

David Brooks is really upset, we may have a lost decade because he is sitting there being right, standing in the middle, and the two extremes who control public debate won’t agree with him. How do we know Brooks is right? Well, he is in the middle between the two extremes he just told you about, how could he not be right?

Baker focuses on Brooks’ criticism of the Obama stimulus plan as just another example of Democrats’ desire to increase government spending, doing the arithmetic to demonstrate that the stimulus was destined to be too small from the get go. This leads to the following comment.

So how is anything about stimulus disproved because a stimulus that could have been expected to create maybe 3 million jobs was not adequate in a downturn where we needed 10 million jobs? There are no tricks here, this is all arithmetic and it is all right there in black and white.

But, Brooks does not want to be bothered by arithmetic. He wants his readers to support his plans for tax reform, for cutting Social Security and Medicare. In other words he wants his readers’ support for doing all the the things that David Brooks always wanted to do, but he now says that we absolutely have to do because of an economic crisis caused by the incompetence of the people who always wanted to do these things.

Hacks. Just hacks.

*You might wish to review Alex Pareene’s list in Salon last November of the 30 leading hacks among political commentators. I mentioned it in a post at the time, giving special attention once again to Friedman and Brooks.

Categories: Journalism, Politics

The Affair

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

I mentioned at the beginning of the month that Lee Child’s 16th Jack Reacher novel would be coming out on September 27. That day has come. Janet Maslin did me no favors by writing a rave review of it in the NYT a full week ago. I was doing my best to get on with my life, keeping my anticipation under wraps, but after learning from her that this edition is something of a prequel, I have been desperate to plunge in.

Maslin notes that “some (like ’61 Hours,’ the 14th) are much better than others (‘Worth Dying For,’ the 15th),” an assessment I share, adding that whatever the quality, “they played by the same rules.” She then explains that “Mr. Child’s 16th book, ‘The Affair,’ shakes up the status quo by delivering the Reacher creation myth.” [Gotta love that NYT style, with the “Mr. Child”, no?] Have we not all hungered for the creation myth? This news was too much to bear.

And now, I am in possession of the book, but not time to read it.

Take tonight. There’s tomorrow’s NYT crossword to do. (I’m printing it right now.) There’s NCIS to watch. I got a new New York Review of Books in today’s mail that I’m eager to look at, plus the latest issues of the American Math Society’s Bulletin and Notices. Pasta by Design, which I wrote about just two nights ago, arrived today.

Tomorrow is no better. It’s the first day of classes, so I’ll be off first thing in the morning to teach. It’s the first monthly meeting of a board I’m on following a summer off, and I have remarks to prepare. And don’t forget, Rosh Hashanah starts tomorrow evening.

What’s a poor Jack Reacher fanatic to do?

By the way, my favorite Language Log linguist, Geoffrey Pullum, wrote a post today about Reacher. He points out, disappointingly, that some comments Lee Child puts in Reacher’s mouth in one of the novels are entirely wrong. But with regard to The Affair, Pullum writes:

Jack Reacher will really get you through a tedious flight. If you don’t mind reading a few descriptions of fairly brutal physical violence, that is: Child’s novels are testosterone-charged thrillers about a murderously tough yet ultimately morally-inclined drifter, Jack Reacher, formerly a special investigator in the US army’s military police, now a sort of lone ranger. The stories start with a bang and soon become unputdownable. I’m not exactly proud of reading these novels, but they are well crafted and exciting, and I will read more. Flying back to Edinburgh on Sunday night after a trip to Paris, with only a quarter of the current book to go, I barely noticed takeoff, and finished the last gripping page just as we began our approach over the Firth of Forth. Perfect trip.

Unputdownable. That’s exactly the problem. I don’t have time to read it straight through, but I know that once I start, I will want to. I differ with Pullum on one point. I’m a proud Reacher fan.

Categories: Books

Pasta by Design

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

What do I love most in the world? Well, yes, Gail. But forget about people. And sports. Let’s try again.

What do I love most in the world? Tough one, right? Is it pasta? Is it math? Let’s just say they’re tied. Guess what? There’s a book about them: Pasta by Design, by George L. Legendre.

I might have missed this book if not for yesterday’s WSJ, whose Saturday Review section devoted most of a page to illustrations from it. I didn’t have to look for long before deciding to order a copy.

The publisher’s website provides the following description of the book:

The pasta family tree reveals unexpected relationships between pasta shapes, their usage and common DNA. Architect George L. Legendre has profiled 92 different kinds of pasta, classifying them into types using ‘phylogeny’ (the study of relatedness among natural forms).

Each spread is devoted to a single pasta, and explains its geographical origin, its process of manufacture and its etymology – alongside suggestions for minute-perfect preparation.

Next the shape is rendered as an equation and as a diagram that shows every distinctive scrunch, ridge and crimp with loving precision. Superb photographs by Stefano Graziani show all the elegant contours.

Finally, a multi-page foldout features a ‘Pasta Family Reunion’ diagram, reassembling all the pasta types and grouping them by their mathematical and geometric properties!

I love the idea of a pasta taxonomy.

If you follow the WSJ link, you’ll see some of the photographs and diagrams. More can be found in this announcement of a book giveaway competition by Dezeen magazine, which explains that the book “includes photographs, 3D diagrams and parametric equations of 92 different pasta types, grouped and analysed according to their mathematical and geometric properties.”

Check out this example, included in the WSJ:

Or this, from Deneen:

I can’t wait to see them all.

Categories: Books, Food, Math

Wine and WSJ

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[F. Martin Ramin for The Wall Street Journal]

I don’t know much about wine. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy reading the Saturday wine columns in the Wall Street Journal. I considered it a major calamity when the wife-and-husband team of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher were dropped without explanation at the end of 2009, but I’ve since grown accustomed to their alternating replacements, Lettie Teague and Jay McInerney.

Soon I will be taking my leave of them. They’re not going anywhere; I am. I have decided to stop taking the WSJ once my current one-year commitment comes to an end.

Why? Rupert Murdoch. Need I say more? I can’t stomach contributing to his enterprise. Yes, I know. That means I should also stop watching any and all shows on FOX television. And avoid all other Murdoch-based intrusions on my life. Maybe I will. One step at a time. And the first step is, no more WSJ.

It’s not like I read all that much in the WSJ anyway. I try to remember to look at the daily book reviews. Once a week, this is a problem, since the book review occupies the same page as some of the op-ed contributions, and that one day a week I need to avoid letting my eyes fall on the column by, well, I dare not say his name. That man of evil who is an anagram of Vorr Lake. Not that there is a Vorr Lake, but that’s the best anagram I could come up with. Maybe you can do better.

I look at the sports coverage, the arts and culture coverage. On Fridays, there’s the Friday Journal, a culture section. On Saturdays, another weekly culture section was recently expanded and split in two, resulting in what’s now called Review and Off Duty. I have to say, I will miss them. I think they are extremely well done. I always make it a point to read the contributions of Dan Neil, the automotive columnist and a fine writer. Terry Teachout always has informative pieces on regional theater throughout the US. And then there are Lettie and Jay.

Which brings me to Lettie’s piece yesterday. Off Duty was a special issue devoted to Italy. Accordingly, Lettie wrote about Italian wines:

The wine world is rife with clichés (wines are “made in the vineyard” or “express a terroir”), but the most persistent cliché is that Italian wines go well with food—perhaps better than any other wines in the world. Is it possible that this is one cliché that might actually be true?

There are several reasons why I think it could. First of all, the Italians put the two together quite often, perhaps more often than anyone else. Wine is an important, even inevitable, part of an Italian meal.

Second of all are the wines themselves. An Italian wine has a lot of acidity. Italians love acidity the way Americans love sugar or the way the French love a wine that only they can pronounce properly. Acidity is a critical component in a wine paired with food. It can cut through the fat of a Florentine steak or the richness of a plate of pasta Bolognese. A wine with low acidity becomes tiresome to drink, while a wine with a brisk acidity keeps the palate stimulated. Or as Tuscan producer Giovanni Folonari put it, “Acidity makes you want to eat and drink more.” (Who knew acidity was also an Italian sales tool?)

That’s the start of the article. In the end, after a tasting of 40 or so wines, she recommends five. Regarding the tasting, she explains, “I chose wines from all over the boot—from the Valle d’Aoste, in Italy’s extreme north, to Sicily—and concentrated on examples that had the characteristics that would make them good companions to food. They weren’t necessarily the showiest wines—Barolos and Barbarescos or Super Tuscans (though such wines from the right producers can go well with food, too). Instead, they were the earthier, less exalted (and less expensive) wines—the kind the Italians themselves most commonly drink with meals.”

Follow the link to see what she suggests. There’s a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for just $11 that I’m thinking we should add to our cellar, since we’re always happy to drink Montepulciano.

Wines aside, you might enjoy the accompanying slide show from around Italy.

Ciao, Lettie. Ciao, WSJ. I wish things could have been different.

Categories: Newspapers, Wine


September 25, 2011 Leave a comment

[Delancey, from their website]

Another day, another restaurant. It’s not my goal to turn this into a food blog, but we keep eating at interesting restaurants, so what can I do? Last night, we ate at Delancey, which I’ll get to in a bit.

When I moved here thirty years ago, it was difficult to find pizza like what I was accustomed to in New York and Boston. Pagliacci had opened its first place near the university a couple of years before. Piecora’s, which styles itself as a Brooklyn kind of place, opened a year after. I wouldn’t get to Piecora’s for years. I met Gail and was introduced to two of her favorites, Northlake Tavern and Italian Spaghetti House. Northlake, being a bar, was filled with smokers, and I couldn’t bear eating there. When we took out, I thought its product the anti-pizza. It was all about toppings, with a mediocre crust. The Italian Spaghetti House’s pizza was mediocre in a more all-around way.

Funny thing is, my tastes changed, adjusting I suppose to what was available. We bought a home on the same street as the Italian Spaghetti House and in our last couple of years there, I would routinely and happily drive over the hill and down to take out their pizza. As for Northlake, well, it would eventually become my favorite Seattle hangout, thanks in part to the banning of smokers and in part to my growing friendship with their number one customer. I could eat their pizza every night.

Meanwhile, over the last decade, more and more small pizza places have opened that make thin-crust pizza of the sort one might find in Italy. Even before the last decade, there was Cafe Lago, with their near-perfect thin-crust, wood-oven-baked pizzas. We discovered them soon after they opened, then moved to within walking distance of them, or a short drive. More recently, we began to eat at Tutta Bella, Via Tribunali, and Tom Douglas’s Serious Pie, each superb in its own way. We aren’t lacking in thin-crust pizza places here, that’s for sure.

And then there’s Delancey. It opened two years ago to some fanfare. I read about it, made a note to eat there some time. The problem is, it’s in Ballard, not all that far from our neighborhood, but far enough that I’m never motivated to drive that far. Ballard, as it turns out, is Gail’s home turf. It was once an independent city, annexed by Seattle in 1907. And it became the home of a large Scandinavian immigrant community, including many fishing families. When I first met Gail, that hadn’t changed much, but it would soon. With easy access to downtown, by car or bus, and modestly priced houses, it has become home to many young families, with older Scandinavians selling or dying while their children moved on. (Gail’s family is an example of this process.) And home to many new restaurants that are regularly praised in the local and national press. My unwillingness to get over that way means we don’t get to try all these restaurants.

One more strand. Seattle is home to one of the most widely read food bloggers in the world, Molly Wizenberg. Gail subscribes to her blog, Orangette. I never have. I knew of her. And I knew she started some restaurant recently. But that was about it, until we went to a huge fundraising luncheon last March for a local cancer care organization at which Molly was the keynote speaker. She spoke not about herself but about her mother, whose bout with cancer brought Molly to Seattle. That’s when I finally put all the pieces together and realized that Molly was the well-known food blogger who had started a pizza place in Ballard — Delancey — with her husband and that we really should go there.

It’s a bit of a puzzle that I entirely missed the piece about Delancey just two months ago in the NYT travel section. As Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan explains,

On a quiet street in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle sits a cozy little restaurant on the verge of being thrust into a rather public life.

Delancey, a chic yet unassuming pizzeria whose décor makes you feel as if you’ve walked into your hipster neighbor’s dining room midmeal, is the love child of Brandon Pettit, a former New York music student, and his wife, Molly Wizenberg, one of the Internet’s most widely read food bloggers. Ms. Wizenberg has been detailing the daily rhythms of her kitchen and life on her blog Orangette since 2004, so it’s not surprising that this restaurant will soon be part of her material. In April she signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster to write “Delancey,” a memoir about the trials and tribulations of opening the restaurant with Mr. Pettit, scheduled for publication in spring 2013.


The idea for the restaurant grew out of Mr. Pettit’s longing for the pizzas he grew up with in New York and New Jersey. (Ms. Wizenberg said he spent two years working to replicate New York-style doughs to his satisfaction. This included chatting up the makers of Di Fara Pizza in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, whose pies he missed the most.)

Four weeks ago, we were at a party at our friend Paul’s house and got to talking with Brooke and Robin about never getting to Ballard because driving there is such a pain, agreeing that as a result we never get to try restaurants such as Delancey. A pact was made. We would go to Delancey together. Last night was the night we agreed on.

Now that I’ve managed to explain what brought us there, the rest will be anti-climactic, as I don’t have a lot more to say. We were anxious about being able to get a table. Reservations are taken for parties of six or more. It would be crowded on a Saturday evening. But we got lucky. A four-top opened up when Brooke and Robin arrived. We drove up just after them, parked, and as we reached the front door where they were waiting, we were seated. Which was a good thing. There’s no bar or other area to wait in. One simply stands outside, amongst the diners availing themselves of the outdoor seating. Had there been a long wait, we might have moved on in search of one of the other Ballard restaurants we had never tried.

The menu is limited. The NYT article notes that the “appetizers change seasonally but a constant is a mound of shaved cabbage and romaine modeled after the chopped salads Mr. Pettit loved in New Jersey pizzerias.” That’s called the Jersey salad, described on the menu as having Romaine, red cabbage, Grana, housemade “Italian” dressing. The other two options were heirloom tomatoes with feta cheese and a meat plate with prosciutto and salami. As we studied these, we ordered a bottle of Austrian rosé, with Robin and Brooke’s recent trip to Austria in mind. Ultimately, we chose to share the Jersey salad and the tomatoes. Not being a feta fan, I can’t say much about the tomatoes, but the salad was first rate, a great way to start the meal.

When it came to the pizzas, we decided to share one Margherita (Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, olive oil, basil) and one Sausage (tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozzarella, grana, housemade sausage). The one special for the night was the availability of Padrón chiles as a topping or side dish. We ordered them on the side.

Everyone makes a Margherita, of course. How does this compare? I don’t really know what to say. Driving home, I mentioned to Gail that it was very close in taste and texture to Cafe Lago’s. In a blind taste testing, I might not know the difference. But that’s a good thing, since I don’t think there’s a better Margherita pizza in the city than Cafe Lago’s. The crust is thin, burnt at the edges (also a good thing, though perhaps not in the mind of one of last night’s diners); the cheese, tomato, and basil each was distinctive and excellent. I couldn’t have been happier. The Sausage was a good contrast. The housemade sausage was fabulous, making the pizza itself fabulous as well. And those Padrón peppers were pretty darn hot. They went well with everything.

We still had a little room for dessert. There were three: a plum galette, figs with a honey mousse, and a chocolate chip cookie. Gail and I had the galette. Brooke and Robin shared a galette and the figs. The galette had a crust that was just right. Gail loves Italian plums and wasn’t disappointed. (Neither was I. It was excellent.) As far as I could tell, the fig dessert was pretty good too.

I would have liked to try one of those chocolate chip cookies. For that matter, I’d like to try several of the other pizzas. I know — reason to go back. But next time we get over to Ballard for dinner, we should try another of the exciting restaurants over there. Staple & Fancy Mercantile perhaps.

Categories: Restaurants

Another Rover’s Lunch

September 23, 2011 1 comment


[From their website]

Perhaps I’ve written enough about Rover’s, but it’s hard to pass up a short note about today’s marvelous lunch. As I have explained many times, Rover’s is the French restaurant not far from our house that is among the best restaurants in Seattle. For too many years, despite its convenient location, within walking distance, we eschewed it. But then they opened for Friday lunches, and two summers ago we ate their regularly.

Unfortunately, we’ve eaten at Rover’s only a handful of times since, partly because I have a habit of working on Fridays. But summer is more flexible, which is why we made it a point to start the summer with lunch there. Today, in effect, was the end of summer and my last day of flexibility for months to come. So when our friend Russ suggested last Friday that we join him at Rover’s today for a belated celebration of his milestone birthday, we wasted no time saying yes.

The menu currently posted online appears to be a faithful representation of today’s in-person menu. That makes it easy for me to tell you what we ordered. We had three different appetizers. For me, the Polenta, Summer Squash Succotash, Arugula; for Gail, the Dungeness Crab, Haricot Vert, Mango, Citrus Vinaigrette; for Russ, Seared Scallop, Peas, Mushrooms, Seafood Nage. My polenta, prepared with goat cheese, was superb. Gail’s crab, mixed with mango, was shaped into a disk that sat atop a disk of finely cut haricot vert, with a small arugula salad on the side. The presentation was beautiful.

We all settled on the same main course: Wagyu Beef, Lentil, Wild Mushrooms, Thyme Sauce. The beef was thinly cut and delicious. The lentil and mushroom mix was lovely both visually and in the mouth. We also all had the same dessert: Chocolate Bavarian, Cherry, Pistachio. It was light, fluffy, and perfect. Oh, I didn’t mention the toasted hazelnuts on the polenta. They added just the right crunchiness.

We began the meal with sparkling wines. Gail and I had glasses of a French rosé. Russ had a glass of champagne. I don’t remember what any of us had specifically. Russ chose the wine for dinner, DeLille Cellars2003 Syrah. According to the website, it “is blended with two percent Viognier which gives its floral, orange blossom notes. Deep black purple color. Concentrated chocolate, raspberries and pomegranates are combined with espresso, white pepper and a floral nose. It is dense and dark with a wonderful plush mouth-feel and expressive balance.”

Just so. Well, what do I know? And anyway, I only tasted it. But it was wonderful, and it did have an expressive balance. Russ chose well.

Maybe we can squeeze in a Rover’s lunch in December. And there’s always dinner. That might be something to think about.

By the way — thank you, Russ!

Categories: Restaurants

Militancy, Non-Violence, and Religion

September 23, 2011 1 comment

This item is over a week old, but I can’t resist writing a post that gives me the opportunity to present the extraordinary graphic above. In a September 14 post, Spencer Ackerman wrote about recent FBI training material on Islam acquired by Wired’s national security blog, Danger Room. As Ackerman explains,

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

The image above is taken from a slide presentation by FBI analyst William Gawthrop. Ackerman again:

An FBI presentation titled “Militancy Considerations” measures the relationship between piety and violence among the texts of the three Abrahamic faiths. As time goes on, the followers of the Torah and the Bible move from “violent” to “non-violent.” Not so for devotees of the Koran, whose “moderating process has not happened.” The line representing violent behavior from devout Muslims flatlines and continues outward, from 610 A.D. to 2010. In other words, religious Muslims have been and always will be agents of aggression.

We are fortunate to be alive now, at the very moment when adherents of the Torah and the Bible converge on on total non-violence. We were already getting pretty close throughout the twentieth century. Those world wars? The work, I guess, of Koran adherents. Hitler? A closet Muslim. Stalin? Another one. The list is a long one.

For more, including an embedded video from Wired of Gawthrop’s presentation, see this report in the NYT three days ago.

Categories: Politics, Religion

New York Weekend

September 19, 2011 Leave a comment

The Sheep Meadow, Central Park

[Taken by me on my iPhone]

I’ve written plenty about our week in Nantucket, but nothing about the weekend in New York that preceded it, except for passing reference the day after we got there to our Seattle–>JFK flight and the press of various family events. I’ll say a little more here.

We got to our hotel on 76th and Madison on a Friday evening. My sister and brother-in-law had arrived from Paris a few hours earlier. Once we joined up, we agreed to walk a few blocks up Madison to E.A.T., Eli Zabar’s restaurant and food shop. I had an old favorite, the Meat Loaf with Fresh Tomato Sauce. It’s a whole mini meat loaf, complete with hard-boiled egg in the middle, and it’s good. For dessert, I had their shortbread heart.

Saturday, we headed over to my parents’ place in the late morning, had lunch (takeout sandwiches from E.A.T.), headed over to the AT&T store on 82nd and Lexington to take care of some family business, then walked back to the hotel in moderate heat but high humidity. I took advantage of the break in our day to write another blog post, then we took a taxi down FDR Drive, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and on to La Flor del Paraiso Bar & Restaurant on Atlantic, just a couple of blocks down from Atlantic’s intersection with Flatbush.

The occasion was the wedding rehearsal dinner for my cousin’s daughter and her soon-to-be husband. We got to see assorted cousins we hadn’t seen for months, or years, and one we had never seen before, my recently born first cousin twice removed. And in due course, after hors d’ouevres at the bar, a slideshow of the bride and groom, and speeches, we ate a dinner of chicken, rice, vegetables and more. My sister held out as long as she could, what with the six-hour time zone change, but a little after 10:00 PM, we headed back over the Brooklyn Bridge to the hotel.

Sunday an old friend of mine came over to the hotel from Brooklyn and we had breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant, which is a special restaurant in its own right — Café Boulud. We lingered down there, and not long after we went back up to our room, lunch time had come around. Off we went with my sister and brother-in-law to Ristorante Sant Ambroeus, a fabulous Milanese restaurant, gelateria, and tea shop a block up Madison. When in Milan, do as the Milanese do — I had the Costoletta alla Milanese, breaded veal chop Milanese, served in the traditional style with a topping of arugula. Excellent. With the late breakfast, and a large wedding dinner to come, I made the painful decision to pass on dessert.

Sant Ambroeus gelato

With all that food again in mind, I decided the best way to use my afternoon free time was to walk. The rest of the family had other plans, so off I went, over to Fifth Avenue and into Central Park.

Despite the heat, sun, and humidity, I was determined to walk for an hour. I did that and more. I entered just north of Conservatory Pond, went around the south side of it, up past the Boat House (where dozens of employees were picketing), and over to Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, where a group of young men was collecting money in the midst of a street performance that had attracted a crowd of perhaps 200 people. From there, I continued west over the north side of the Sheep Meadow, and then up through Strawberry Fields.

I had entered the gravitational pull of my grandmother’s old neighborhood and became powerless to resist. In her later years, she would hang out at the area that took on the name Strawberry Fields just months after her death (in honor, of course, of John Lennon, who lived in and was murdered in front of The Dakota, directly across the street from my grandmother’s building).

I exited the park on the far end of Strawberry Fields, at 72nd and Central Park West, my grandmother’s building and The Dakota just on the other side of the street. There I discovered multiple tour groups standing in front of The Dakota and taking photos, a few of the photographers, having crossed over to my grandmother’s entrance to get a fuller shot of the building. I had to squeeze my way past them as I headed west on 72nd. Soon I was over Columbus and heading to the intersection of 72nd, Amsterdam, and Broadway, just short of which lies Fine and Shapiro. There are many delis in this world, but only one Fine and Shapiro. I suppose it’s no longer what it used to be. Maybe it never was. But it defines deli for me, and as full as I was, I sure wanted to go in, get a corned beef sandwich, a potato pancake, and some seven layer cake.

North a few blocks on Amsterdam, back east on 76th to Central Park West, up to the corner of the American Museum of Natural History, then back into Central Park for the return trip to the hotel. I crossed the bridge over the northern tip of The Lake, then into The Ramble, from which I emerged by the Boat House and another group of strikers, plus three drummers under a tent providing the rhythm for the strikers. I skirted the north edge of Conservatory Pond and came upon a little open area where two guitarists were playing and a crowd was sitting on the many benches.

As I was about to wilt, well over an hour into the walk, I decided that grabbing an open seat was a good idea. The guitarists turned out to be pretty good. Each had a small amplifier/speaker, and they would play jazz and classical pieces, one providing the rhythm, the other playing at times in unison and at other times taking the lead. I had some shade, I was slowly cooling down, and I decided sitting out there listening to music beat the hotel room. Six songs later, I put some money in their guitar case, headed out to Fifth Avenue, and down the block to the hotel.

There wasn’t much time to get ready before the wedding. Around 6:00, we headed over to FDR Drive and down under the Brooklyn Bridge to the South Street Seaport. Our destination was Bridgewaters, a catering facility in the seaport with the most extraordinary outlook on the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, the East River, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.

The wedding ceremony siting took full advantage of the view. Between the wedding itself, the bridges, the river, the boat traffic, and the Brooklyn skyline, there was a feast for the eyes. Following the ceremony and family photos, we headed out to the hors d’ouevres and cocktail area, where another feast awaited as the wedding space was converted for dining and dancing. An hour or so later, we were ushered back into the transformed room, the outside now in darkness, the lights of the city all around, the Watchtower sign dominating across the river.

But forget the view. A new element had been added — an overwhelming one — The Rhythm Shop. What a band! What an initial impression! Five vocalists all in a row, elegantly dressed, and a backing band of six. Or more. I may have lost count. A drummer. A drummer/percussionist. A guitar and bass guitar. Sax and keyboards. Talk about high energy. They were something. You can sort of get an idea from the videos at their website, or their youtube clips, but it’s nothing like seeing them in person.

Music, toasts, dancing, salad, more music, more dancing, steak, music, dancing, wedding cake, dessert. The Watchtower keeping an eye on us. Occasional conversation with siblings and cousins in the moments when we could hear each other. An exciting evening. And again, as my sister neared collapse, we headed back to the hotel, arriving near midnight.

The next morning, Gail and I had room service breakfast from Café Boulud as we packed, then checked out and headed to JFK for our flight to Nantucket. A great week awaited, but we sure could have used more time, for the city and the family.

Categories: Family, Restaurants, Travel

Ten Years

September 18, 2011 Leave a comment

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 occurred during our trip, giving me a good excuse to avoid reading the remembrances, reflections, and coverage. Then again, we were in New York two weekends ago, a week before the anniversary, and flew back into New York from Nantucket on the anniversary itself, a week ago today. Air traffic delays due in part to Obama’s arrival in New York led to our plane having to sit near the foot of the Nantucket runway for half an hour before being allowed to depart.

Once we arrived in New York, we saw no signs of the day, though we did have a spirited discussion with my brother’s family at dinner that evening about post 9/11 security issues. Oh, and then there was a weird encounter the next day while we were on the security line at JFK’s JetBlue terminal before flying back to Seattle. The man ahead of us in line had a FDNY t-shirt on. After a few moments, he turned to us to explain that he was a retired NY firefighter who had come back to NY for the anniversary. He went on to describe how he had been trapped for six hours under rubble, how a German Shepherd sniffed him or he would have been one more 9/11 casualty, and how he was allowed to keep the dog as his pet. I asked how the dog was doing and he said he had to bury the dog a couple of years ago. Next, he asked where we were headed, and on hearing Seattle, he said we must be (University of Washington) Husky fans. This led to his telling us how Rick Neuheisel was his daughter’s godfather.

Neuheisel is the former UCLA star quarterback who coached two college football teams into scandal — Colorado and Washington — before surfacing yet again to coach UCLA. Despite leading us to an 11-1 record a decade ago and an end-of-season ranking of #3, he left in disgrace after recruiting a team’s worth of criminals and getting enmeshed in a betting scandal. Not only did our friendly firefighter know Neuheisel well, he was part of the infamous betting pool, and Rick had texted him from the sidelines during the UCLA game two nights before to comment on how it was going. Somewhere along the way, Gail and I began to have doubts about our storyteller’s veracity. Who knows?

It was only after we got home that night that I began to read some post-anniversary commentary, notably Paul Krugman’s blog post the day we flew back describing

the two years or so after 9/11″ as “a terrible time in America – a time of political exploitation and intimidation, culminating in the deliberate misleading of the nation into the invasion of Iraq. … It was a time when tough talk was confused with real heroism, when people who made speeches, then feathered their own political or financial nests, were exalted along with – and sometimes above – those who put their lives on the line, both on the evil day and after. So it was a shameful episode in our nation’s history.

I didn’t see much to disagree with there, though of course the right wing blowhards wasted no time excoriating Krugman for using the word ‘shameful’.

Scott Horton had a less strident and more in-depth post at Harper’s on Thursday reviewing how 9/11 changed four key government institutions: the military, the CIA, the NSA, and the Justice Department. Here, for instance, is a good part of what Horton says about the military:

America was founded with the ideal of a citizen army on the model of the Roman Cincinnatus, an army that came together in times of peril to fight an enemy and returned to civilian life in times of peace. Most of the Founding Fathers initially didn’t even want a standing army. But that model wasn’t workable. After the Second World War, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, we settled on a different model: of a large, professional military that relied increasingly on technology to establish its superiority. The idea of a citizen-soldier motivated by an ideal of national service stood nevertheless at the center of this model.

Donald Rumsfeld was aggressively critical of this concept. He had a strikingly different vision of how the military should be configured and how it should project force. He used 9/11 to reshape our military dramatically, without making formal proposals or seeking congressional approval. 9/11 provided a backdoor. Rumsfeld and many of his key lieutenants were convinced that career soldiers were in the military because they couldn’t find better work in the civilian economy. Rumsfeld also believed that there was hardly a task that the military performed that couldn’t be handled better—more efficiently and at a lower cost—by a civilian contractor. This is a shameful attitude for a person put in charge of the nation’s armed forces because it disrespects the ideal of national service that lies at the heart of the nation’s military service ethos. But using his contracting discretion, Rumsfeld set out to realize his vision. We see the fruits of this in Iraq from 2003 to 2009, and in Afghanistan today, where the number of contractors now substantially exceeds the number of uniformed military personnel. This experiment has been calamitous. The contractor army is vastly more expensive (contrary to Rumsfeld’s claims), less professional, impervious to congressional oversight and, most significantly, essentially unaccountable when things go wrong and people die.

Also on Thursday, emptywheel spun a front-page NYT story on poor internet service in Idaho into a deeper tale of a decade’s worth of investment in infrastructure abroad rather than at home. The starting point was this quote from the NYT article:

“We have a guy here who was dropped into remote, isolated areas of Iraq to set up their telecommunications systems,” said Christine L. Frei, director of the Clearwater Economic Development Association in Lewiston. “He told me, ‘We had better communications in Iraq than you have in central Idaho.’ ”

Reuters reported Monday that “U.S. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor said on Monday he will not support President Barack Obama’s proposal to renovate U.S. schools as part of the administration’s bill to spur job growth.” Pivoting off this, emptywheel concludes:

These things–schools and highways and post offices–are what make us a country, a country that includes cities and suburbs and rural areas. But Republicans think we can’t or don’t need to afford to be a country anymore.

Republicans are literally choosing to fund our empire over our own country. I guess that makes it clear where their priorities lie.

Meanwhile, the book whose author I couldn’t stomach mentioning by name two weeks ago entered the NYT bestseller list today at #1. (On the nonfiction list no less!) No one has brought more shame on our country in the last decade. And yet, our president would rather look forward, allowing him and his fellow lying war criminals to spout off without consequence, free of even the most minimal investigation, thereby ensuring that the shame will continue.

Categories: Politics