Monday, September 30, 2013

State of the Alawite Mountains

Learn something about Syria. This is one of the best commentaries on the situation in Syria you will find, and I am proud to have called the author my professor of Arabic at Brandeis. Kudos Prof. Franck Salameh.

Hostage Democracy

Republicans face a listless summer, with little appetite for compromise but no leverage to shape an agreement. Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate. ....

“The debt limit is the backstop,” Ryan said before taking the stage at a debt summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington. “I’d like to go through regular order and get something done sooner rather than later. But we need to get a down payment on the debt. We need entitlement reform. We’re very serious about tax reform because we think that’s critical to economic growth and job creation. Those are the things we want to talk about.”

Or why it is worth remembering why to blame the Republicans for this fiasco.

We are facing a government shutdown because our government is being held hostage by the Tea Party Taliban. An idiot coup, if there ever there was one.  A tyranny of the minority in one-half of one-third of government. 

If you can keep it...

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: a Republic if you can keep it...out of the hands of the Tea Party Taliban.

PS: And The Onion for the win: Story Of Small Businessman Struggling Under Obama Administration Draws To Close (ie Breaking Bad...)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Texas tale

A surprisingly heartwarming video of Texans standing up for gay families.  As I have long said, I found Texas to be a lot more liberal than I expected.

NCAA crooks

A great article on the bullshit "amateurism" forced on NCAA athletes, and what it all means.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca! I love to say it, and yes, I am 12 years old.

It looks like I am heading to Bolivia after Venezuela next spring to do some Hawaiian cultural diplomacy there.

Such as teaching Bolivians in bowler hats to hula!

New York, New York

Sitting in the last country watering hole in Park Slope.  Hank Williams on the jukebox, and the champagne of beers to ease me back to ‘murica.

I returned to Gotham amid Rocinante, past a giant three-armed steel windmill giant in Jersey.  I arrived back in to Crown Heights, back to the West Indies.  Sancho Harranza pulled up outside as I walked down the block.  As par for the knight errant course, the sidekick didn’t know where to park his white donkey, when all he had to do was stay put. 

Lucky Toni had two Rockowers for the price of one.  Lucky her.  We dropped our stuff, and toasted some Russian Standard vodka to the miles passed.

We headed up through the Jamaican night of Crown Heights, to get some jerk chicken.  We stood in line at the emblematic hole-in-the-wall that filled with the roasting chicken smoke.  After a bit of a wait, we got our plate of jerk chicken with rice and peas covered in gravy.  We sat on the bench outside, eating the cleaved chicken and sipping alternately ginger beer and kola champagne.  A long week got the best of us, and we were done early.

Saturday came, and with it the Yemenite deli.  Egg and cheese on a roll for cheap—a New York special.  We hopped the subway up to the end of Brooklyn.  As I was reminded of Sancho Harranza’s sense of direction: always sure; seldom right.

The sky was steel grey as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge.  Manhattan was encased in carbonite.  From afar, the Statute of Liberty was framed in saluting cranes.  A helicopter crossed her 1984 path, and it seemed too cliché and apt at the same time. 

We crossed the expanse, and stopped for Belgian waffles on the other side.  My Brussels waffle came slathered in speculoos—the gingerbread nutella-esque spread.  Harry’s came with Dulce de Leche.  We sat in the park, eating the gooey Belgique treat and sipping coffee.

We hopped the train up to the High Line.  Harranza checked his gyroscope and sent us north to 23rd.  Walking down the boulevard, Harry ran into one of the half-a-dozen people he knows in Gotham, a friend from Cougarville named Hannah.  Uncanny, given the odds.

We continued on, stopping to peer into a Quixote bar, which we made plans to revisit.

We got to the High Line, and wandered the elevated track-turned-garden down and back up.  Needing sensory connection, I ran my hands through the tall plants that flanked the garden path. 

We walked down to what Harranza termed “The Theater of Humanity.”  It was a viewing deck above New York traffic.  We watched Nordics hang like moneys, and I had a vision of the America that keeps me here.  We sat out in the sun, taking Rhea selfies. 
We walked up and down the High Line, and then descended to the Quixote bar.  El Quixote, with visions of windmills dancing through the place.  We sat drinking sangria and spooning flan as the Knight-Errant looked down from on high at the bar.

We headed south, down to Chinatown for some Chinese footmassages.  We stopped in, but there was a lil wait.  We ventured off for some proper bubble tea.  How do you shoot the devil in the back?  What if you miss?  Well, I didn’t and I hit Keyzer Harranza in the back of the neck with a gelatinous tapioca snot rocket.  He later made the mistake of handing his own drink/weapon over to me, and got lit up once more. 

We made our way into a Buddhist temple that was more Thai than reflecting the Indian origin of Siddhartha.  So it goes.

We returned for a proper foot massage.  1 hour, $22.  My usual masseuse Helen was happy to see me, and we chatted in Chinese until my Mandarin failed me.  The stresses and strains were kneaded out of my body via the nerve endings of my feet.

Harry and I left, and grabbed the cheapest, best veggie lo-mien that New York has to offer ($1.50). 

We stopped into a Chinese herbal medicine store, and Harranza tried to turn a gecko into a princess.  Then he ate a dragon's heart.

We code-switched into Italian, and passed through the San Geramo Festival in Little Italy, and up to the Village.

We stopped for dinner at the famous Mamoun’s, with the best, cheapest falafel in the city ($3).  We ate the stuffed pita, covered in tahini and the spicy, lip-burning harisa outside the hole. 

We made our way to Small’s, the quintessential jazz club, and spent the night drinking Old Crow and PBRs (the Smalls Special for $7), and chatting with frauleins and mademoiselles as jazz filled the cavernous basement.

A Pisco Sour to end the night, and the long trek back to Brooklyn ended the emblematic New York day.

Sunday was less kind, but bagels and cream cheese with tomatoes and red onions helped smooth it out.  We camped out in Prospect Park, then meandered our way back down Empire.  Harranza pulled off on his donkey, and I caught up with Breaking Bad to end the weekend.

Welcome back to New York.

Stellar Dellas

Della Mae won the International Bluegrass Music Association's Emerging Artist of the Year!!! Congrats Dellas!

Meanwhile, on the IBMA red carpet, Della Mae spoke about their AMA 'Stan tour and sang the Pakistani folk song "Lab Payati Hay." Dynamite. They brought tears to the eyes of the interviewer. Stellar, Dellas!

Such a proud Mama Hen, I am.

PS: In honor of their win, Rounder Records released the Dellas' latest video "Letter from Down the Road," filmed at a candlepin bowling alley.  Hysterical.


Apparently, former Polish President Lech Walesa thinks that Germany and Poland should unite.  That could be possibly the dumbest idea since Qaddafi pushed for "Isratine."  Me thinks Lech has been sniffing too many dock fumes.

Although, keeping in mind that Poland today is further west than the Poland created after the Great War, and Poland now includes parts of Brandenburg and Pomerania that were once part of Germany, maybe it is less crazy than initially thought?

Oblivion and Memory

"We live, Octavio Paz once wrote, between oblivion and memory. Memory and oblivion: one leads to the other, and back again."
-Shashi Tharoor, Riot

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Charmed by Charm City

I have a new piece in the HuffPo on the travel fun to be found in Baltimore.
I read recently that Baltimore and Washington, D.C. have been having a jovial spat over which city is better (Baltimore's case; Washington's response, among others).
As a Washingtonian (of sorts, and occasionally), Baltimore has always held a different place for me. Close, but not that close. Different than D.C., but it is often overlooked as a place for adventure given its proximity. It was a place to root on the O's as a kid, and to visit the Inner Harbor.
But on a few recent excursions to Baltimore from Washington, I discovered some phenomenal places to visit in the nearby neighbor to the north.
For starters, Baltimore is an easy excursion. The MARC train is a brief and inexpensive 45-minute jaunt from Washington's Union Station (I can't say I recommend the Acela, which is hardly worth the price of its journey). It makes for an easy day trip, or a solid three-day weekend. While I did my adventuring in a few parts, it could also be done in a weekend away.

From Baltimore's Penn Station, it is an easy walk to Mount Vernon and the other Washington Monument -- the conical, and phallic-in-a-different-fashion than D.C.'s version, memorial to GW. The monument is surrounded by a lovely landscape of statues and historic old brownstones.
I made my way to Charm City's most charming collection at the sublime Walters Museum("What will you discover?"). I had read the Walters Museum has one of the best art collections in the U.S., and I am happy to report on the veracity of such statements: the Walters collection is one of the finest I have seen anywhere in America.
Free to the public, the Walters Museum featured an immaculate collection of art and artifacts from Europe and Asia. From intricate pocket watches to stellar porcelain vases to impressionist paintings, the collection was vast and rich.
I wandered my way past gilded clocks showing the gilded glory of the Sun King, with a dour bust of Voltaire peering down. There were wonderful delicate porcelains from a glorious age -- not a far stretch to compare the white porcelain to the interior of the marine snail "porcella" and that is where we get the term. There were cases of vestal vases with gilded trim, and vases with elephant faces with gilded trunks.
A passage that caught my eye from the Collector's Study, a cavernous room of delights:
Two aspects of these objects are celebrated: the artist's God-like creative 'genius' (or its less exalted ingenuity) that generate the idea, and also the 'art' that it took to complete it.

And the Chamber of Wonders bore the words: "To Virtue, Add Knowledge."
This was a collection that ran the whole spectrum of collected artistic wealth and splendor. From Langobard golden crosses of Pannonia to treasures of Byzantium; from Iznik Turkish hanging lamps to rock crystal Mughal daggers. I was stunned by one of the best art collections I have encountered, a notion I don't throw around lightly, but a phrase borne out of experience.
I actually found it hard to come up with enough superlatives for the museum, when each layer of the collection draws you deeper into a magnificent world and leaves you in front of supreme quality. The collection was a tad overwhelming but not overly so. In short, the Walters Museum makes for a grand day of delights.
Meanwhile, on a second journey I discovered just a bit further north the equally impressiveBaltimore Museum of Art. Flanked by giant lion statues, the columned museum hosts a wonderful collection of art. Its motto is "Art for all," and such is truly the case as it is also free.

I entered through a world of stunning masks and relics from Africa, the Pacific Islands and the pre-Columbian Americas. There were a host of decorative masks, objects and other charms from the four corners, before finding a marvelous collection of European decoratives such as brilliant blue-and-white china with gilded tips. And exquisite copper skeletons of clocks encased in glass. There was an engrossing and beautiful collection of pocket watches with their rounded bottoms displayed in the mirror. Such lovelies as walnut almond pocketwatches with filigree backs.
There were also some gorgeous glass molds from Lalilique, who made art noveau firefly glass from pressed molds. I especially loved a press-molded glass peacock of haughty glance. It was a joy to wander through the colonial doors and pass yellow-painted walls that hung stellar portraits while admiring silver samovars that one can imagine pouring black tea into the gold-lined china collections.
On to the second floor there were some enormous purple and gold Tiffany Byzantine mosaic columns. Also a great collection of tapestries from Central Asia.
I made my way over to the Cone Collection, which was a collection of impressive Impressionist and post-Impressionist perfection. Such as Sisley and perfections such as Monet's "Charing Cross Bridge, reflections on the Thames." I stared at a dark Klimt work called "Pine Forest II" which was as dark as The Kiss is light.
There was even a very engaging virtual tour of the Cones' apartment, where you got to see the works as they once hung in the sisters' home.
I wandered on through Antioch mosaics, and stumbled upon Rodin's Thinker in full pensive glory. Like a bronze colossus, bathed in the afternoon's refulgent light.
The whole Mount Vernon neighborhood offers much in terms of nightlife. There is the ornate The Brewer's Art, a fantastic bar in an old brownstone. The Brewer's Art serves its own terrific brewed beer, which one can sip in the old living room dining hall over tasty fair; or even better, you can drink pints in the catacombs-like underground bar.
Another favorite Mount Vernon watering hole is The Owl Bar in the Hotel Washington. Legend has it that The Owl Bar was an old speakeasy: if the stained glass owl's eyes were blinking, then drinkers were free to sip; if the owl's eyes were lit steady, then the prohibition police were out on the prowl.
While in Baltimore, I happened to stumble upon a fun Mount Vernon event, the First Thursday show--an outdoor concert with liberal open container laws to add to the excitement.
As one who has a predilection for hostels, I happen to rather like the centrally-located Baltimore Hostel on Mulberry Street, just across from the Baltimore Basilica. Hostels are always a fun gathering spot for travelers from the world over, and this Baltimore establishment is no different. With high ceilings in the salon, it makes for a social place to meet your fellow wayfarers. The hostel's pancake breakfast is a welcome treat
There are ample other treats to be had in the eclectic Baltimore cityscape like Fells Point and its exceptional French bakery Bonaparte's. With its sugar-dusted almond croissants filled with marzipan, Bonaparte's is one of the best French bakeries I have found in America (and I write that from Paris). Perfect to enjoy the almond croissant with a rich cappuccino out on the café's patio.
In short, Baltimore makes for an easy adventure for those in the mid-Atlantic region, Philly or even as far afield as New York. There is much to be explored and enjoyed in Baltimore, and it is easy to find yourself charmed by this veritable Charm City.

How Can I Be More Than a Person

This is an excellent sermon from Rabbi Danny Zemel from the Yom Kippur service I attended at Temple Micah.  Worth a download and read.

When you have nothing nice to say...

Shut up.  Israeli public diplomacy, of course, did the opposite regarding the president of Iran's visit to the UN.

Unfortunately, walking out of a man who is talking moderation and peace makes you look shrill and small. Such actions are an albatross on your pd image, because it makes you look like the extremist.  For years, the Arab delegates would walk out on the Israeli delegate, and it made them look churlish at best.

Rather that walk out, Bibi should have trotted out that Boris-and-Natasha bomb cartoon that he brought to the UN years prior.

And then making a faux linked-in for Rouhani just seems petulant and childish.

I am surprised Bibi didn't complain when Rouhani wished the Jewish people well for Rosh Hashana that he didn't send a round challah too.

Oh Israel, always such a tin ear when it comes to public diplomacy.

The reality is that Bibi needs a bad guy.  He needs some evil czar or cossack to fit his ghetto narrative that the world is against us.  Bibi was never afraid of Ahmadinejad, he loved him because he was the perfect foil. But you know your policy is thin when you have to keep the same direction even when the winds appear to be changing.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I am feeling gratitude

A true example of being bigger than hate: "I am feeling gratitude"

Nec Plus Ultra

The title meaning, "For further beyond" or "to the utmost"; working backward to put my sabbatical journey to conclusion.

After my day in Bruges, I awoke back in Ghent.  I had some breakfast, then caught the tram to the train station and hopped a train back to Antwerp.  I arrived on a quiet sunday back to the city and caught a tram to Bar Buenos Aires.  I knew it was closed but figured that was my best starting point.  I pulled out a chair and sat on the patio poaching wi-fi to see where I stood.

I had been staying with my friend Philippe's business partner Alejandro, on his couch. But Alejandro was leaving the next day to Spain, and needed a little QT with his daughter, so I headed over to a cheap hostel called Boomerang not too far away (Philippe lives outside the city).  I checked in and hung out in the living room with high ceilings until Philippe got back from a futbol match in the evening.  We headed over to Bar BsAs to work on the place a bit- I had been tinkering with ideas to decorate the place, like a giant mural of Che with an empanada across the white wall.

Night fell, and we walked in the soft drizzle to find some proper Belgian food for dinner.  We found a small place filled with locals.  We sat out, drinking Tripels (for 3 euros, man I miss Belgium) and chatting in Spanish.  Alejandro got the famous carbonade- Belgian beer beef stew; Philippe got a fine cut of steak, beautifully medium rare; I had a white Belgian chicken stew with some kind of flaky philo pastry square holding it all together; we all split a big bowl of fried potato croquettes.  It was all delicious, and really local.  Alejandro and I were the only two foreigners to be found in this place.  We ate our delicious meal as the rains started to drop down on the canopy above us.  We sat under the canopy, drinking Westmalle Tripel, waiting for the rain to pass.

We walked back through Antwerp's red light district as girls behind glass tapped on their windows to passers-by, as I came up with ideas of free empanada give-aways to the putas.

Philippe drove me back to the hostel, and we split a final sour geuze to part company.

The next morning, I arose and packed up.  I walked down to the bus station, just a few kilometers away in the center of town.  Bus station, not exactly.  Just a street where various buses pulled up.  The bus came and we sped on to Amsterdam.  I napped for a bit, and woke up just in time to cross the border from Belgium to Holland, not that there was much to indicate such invisible lines.

I stared out the window at the old red windmills and giant three-armed metal variety that littered the path to Amsterdam.  The rains came as we passed through Rotterdam.  I finished The Last Temptation as we pulled out of Rotterdam.

We arrived to Amsterdam's bus station that was south of the city center, and not far from my hostel.  The last stop of the adventure.  I walked down the tree-lined boulevard, as bicycles slowly passed me.  I turned up the main road, and walked north until I reached the hostel.  I thought it was far from the city center, but I quickly realized it was really far.  That's what I get for 10 euros a night.  I usually just book for one day and figure it out after, but since I was at the end of my trip and it was a short time, I had booked in for the last few days.  It was about a 45 minute walk to the city center, or 20 minute tram.  Not great, but not too bad.

I hopped the tram into the familiar city, and wandered my way along the canals over to the GroteMarket, sitting out wrapped in a red blanket left on the chair by the cafe.  I spent the evening sipping white oolong tea and lavender in a rainy evening.

The next day I hopped the tram in and wandered about.  The weather was not cooperating, so I ducked into Rembrandthuis, the house and studio of said painter.  It was an interesting look at his life and the things Rembrandt collected.

Also on display at the museum was an interesting exhibit by Peter Vos called "Metamorfosen."  The exhibit was an interesting series of sketches and drawings that mixed fantasy and banality.  The weather got no better, and the rains came down like a Dutch hurricane.  I spent the night keeping warm, and playing iconoclast.  First to the Chechen.  Then I took the tram back, and stopped at the bar outside my hostel for a last drink.  I got to chatting with some of the fellows in the bar.  They invited me back to their pad to play darts and have another beer.  They said they had never met an American like me.  Generally true.  I hopped on one of their bikes, and they rode in tandem on the other, and we biked through the empty roads, and through a tunnel to the apartment.  We tossed darts and chatted until I decided it was getting late and meandered my back from my random encounter to the hostel.

My last day in Europa was a beauty.  The sun was shining and it was perfect.  It was a perfect day to end my trip.  I meandered from the hostel to Oosterpark, sitting out in the sun and watching the leaves shimmer in the wind.  I passed by the zoo, with pink flamingos reflected in the pools as they stood gracefully.  A flock of birds passed swooped left, then right and on, and I thought of Borges' infinite count:

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second, or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine, eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer--not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc.--is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.

I wandered down along the canals to the GroteMarket and stood out on the canal, admiring a statue by Bredero of coy lovers.

From the canals, I wandered up to the Central Station 

And back down to Damrak Square to sit out in the sun with other revelers to Helios.

I made my way to Abraxas to sip mint tea as the sun set on the glorious last day.  I headed over to meet my friend Pauline, a German fraulein I had met last time in Amsterdam.  We sat out chatting philosophy, and her adventures trying to take a VW bus from Berlin to Tehran with no map and no money (they didn't make it past Paris...).  She gave me a lil tour of her university area, and we sipped tea and armagnac in a tiny little cavernous bar.  We parted company at the witching hour to catch our respective trams home, and thus my European adventure ended. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

At the State Department, diversity can count against you

The Umbrellas

I sat under the red umbrella at the Brooklyn Public Library to keep the afternoon glare off my computer.  The umbrellas were shut, so I opened one.

I did the same for the older woman next to me.  She thanked me kindly, with a big smile.

I opened one more for the West Indian woman next to me.  The smell of coconut lotion carried softly on the breeze as she thanked me as well.

I was peacefully working when men in uniforms came out.  They started closing my umbrella and the umbrellas around.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

We are closing the umbrellas.

“Why?” I asked.

Because of the wind.  Our supervisor said so, we are just following orders.

Let me talk to the supervisor.

The supervisor came out in his beige uniform.  BPL on the chest.

I held up my hand.  Look at the wind I said.  It was gentle and faint.  These umbrellas aren’t going anywhere.

Let me think about it.

He came back.

“Feel it,” I said, “it isn’t much.  The umbrellas are weighted down.  They aren’t going anywhere.”

But they are closed.  And if we let you, other people will too.

“And?” I asked.  “Feel the wind, these things aren’t going anywhere.”

Precaution and security in America.  Oh, how you make me laugh.

You Bet Your Life

From Rockower Family lore.  Rockower Brothers was a company that ran the Men and Boys clothing department at Woolworth's department store.  It was a publicly-traded company.  When my Grand-Uncle Budd found out Groucho Marx bought stock in the company, he sent him a tie as a thank-you.  This was Groucho's response:

The Stranger in Our Midst

A tremendous story of a lesson taught to a congregation about what life is really all about.
But sadly it appears to be an urban legend...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Legal tender

I walked across Montgomery and up Utica.  As I turned up Utica, the the light smell of West Indian curry on carried on the breeze.  The Windies patois tongue made me think of uniting the ghetto and the shtetl...with Biscuit.

Woof, woof!

I stopped in to grab a coffee and chatted with my friend the Yemenite store keep.  We spoke of fire worshipers; of those of prayed to the Peacock Angel; of guardian monkeys.

I may be the only one in Brooklyn who can pay for my coffee with a 10-rupee note.  Yes, my coffee cost me a Gandhi ten spot  (about 20cents).  Always legal tender in La Mancha.  But my tales are my currency and my Arabic is my credit.

Under a banyan in the Brooklyn jungle, I weave my tales.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

La Tierra de la Oportunidad

A great article in the NYTimes about how Mexico has become the land of opportunity, and destination for immigration.  

O' Lady Liberty

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
 lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
-Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus"

Le Kahl

Interesting piece on introducing the French to kale.  Come to think of it, I never did see that leafy green while there.  Merci, JB.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

What the World Costs- Belgium

free: 3 hour walking tour through Brussels; 2 hour walking tour through Bruges
70centimes (95cents): bottle of water
1 euro ($1.32): cup of coffee at Boomerang hostel
1.40e ($1.89):  Antwerp tram ticket when bought in advance (2 euros if purchased on board)
1.8e ($2.43): 25ml Jupiler at the hostel bar
1.9e ($2.57): bus in Waterloo to battlefield
2 euros ($2.64): can of Maes pils at the convenience store; Antwerp tram
2.2e ($2.98): bottle of greuze sour apricot beer at hostel bar; bottle of Westmalle Duble
2.5e ($3.38): emanada at Bar Buenos Aires in Antwerp-best empanadas this side of Buenos Aires
3.2e ($4.33): small fries with samurai sauce; goblet of Westmalle Tripel
3.3e ($4.46): glass of Delerium Tremens at its brewery
3.4 ($4.6): bottle of the best beer I have ever had in my life: Straffe Hendricks
3.6e ($4.87): train from Brussels Central to Waterloo (25 min)
3.70e ($5): 25 minute train from Ghent to Bruges
3.8e ($5.14): Belgian waffle covered in caramel and chantilly cream
3.9e ($5.27): frites, lightly dusted in salt and covered with gobs of mayo, curry ketchup and grilled onions
3.95e ($5.34): lahmcun (Turkish meat pizza) with salad inside
4 euros ($5.41): glass of Garre beer (12.5 percent alcohol)
4.2e: ($5.68) 33cl goblet of Karmelit Triple
4.5e ($6.09): Doner Kebap
4.8e ($6.49): spinach and brie quiche in Ghent
5.5e ($7.44): chicken doner durum
7 euros ($9.47): entrance to Lion monument, 2 films, panorama and wax museum at Waterloo (unemployed discount)
7.1e ($9.60): train from Brussels to Antwerp (45min)
7.5e ($10.14): feta, grilled zuchinni, grilled eggplant and grilled pepper open-faced pesto sandwich at Goudblomme
8 euros ($10.82) entrance to Peter Paul Rueben's House
9.20e ($12.44): 1 hour train from Antwerp to Ghent
10 euro ($13.20): Carbonade (beer-beef stew) at C'est Bon, C'est Belge
14.50e ($19.61): Boomerang hostel in Antwerp
19.5e ($26.37): the average price of two nights in the Meininger Hostel (w/o breakfast)
24 euros ($32.46): hostel in Ghent with breakfast included


A crazy story about South Korea's absolute love of Spam.  Really.  Like they give each other $75 Spam bouquets for the lunar new year.  All started during the privations post-Korean War, and the scarcity of food- as such Spam took on a mythical quality; now, it is Korean caviar.  Thanks BT, but I think I will pass on a bowl of budae jigae, army stew.


A fascinating piece on the Swedish word that sums up Swedish psyche and society: lagom.  It basically means "just the right amount." In short, the middle road- the Goldilocks of all things.  The article makes some interesting points on the conformist value of lagom in Swedish society. Don't stand out.  Don't be too loud.

I am reminded of Japan, and the troubles I had there with rules I never seemed to get right.  There is a saying in Japan, "the nail that sticks out the farthest gets hammered back."

The precision of both Swedish and Japanese society makes me wonder if there is something to that middle road societal conformity that affects the culture of design.  If you can't make something brighter or bigger, because that disturbs wa (Japanese for harmony), then perhaps you have to make it subtly better with thought going into angles and design. 

Friday, September 20, 2013


Rick Reilly of ESPN has an absolutely inane defense of the name "Redskins."

Dave Zirin of The Nation puts him in his place:
I almost feel sorry for team owner Dan Snyder that Rick Reilly is now his loudest media advocate. Almost. When you defend the indefensible, you get the bedfellows you deserve, and more often than not, you hate yourself in the morning. A simple test for Rick Reilly: answer the challenge of Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation. Go to his house, look at his grandchildren and say, “My goodness these are some cute little Redskins.” If it is really a name of honor, you will make the trip and say it to the Halbritters. If you won’t, then you are completely full of it. News flash: he won’t.
Call it "Curse of the 'Redskins,'" this fortuneteller says that the Washington Football franchise won't win another title until they change their name...

Vanished Paris

Paris before Haussmann.  Merci, JB.

Amsterdam pics

Thursday, September 19, 2013


For someone who doesn't watch tv, I have been watching a lot since I got back to 'Murica.  But it has been good stuff.  I got hooked on House of Cards and just watched the whole first season in a few days.  It was brilliant.  Total Shakespeare.  Kevin Spacey is a perfect Iago on Capitol Hill- a Caesar in DC.  It is dark, morbid and phenomenal.

Meanwhile, I just started watching The Newsroom.  Also brilliant.  It is by Aaron Sorkin, who did West Wing, and has the same frenetic pace and dialogue style.  It does to the Fourth Estate what Sorkin did to the Executive Office.  It offers a reverence to an institution as it could and should be.  If West Wing was liberal porn, this is journalist porn.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Bruges

Working backwards. It has been busy.

I headed over from Ghent to Bruges, just 25 minutes by train.  I grabbed some breakfast, and the tram, and just barely made the train because it was thankfully delayed by a few minutes.  The train to Bruges was packed with foreigners, I heard German, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian on the train ride past lazing cows and bucolic Belgian countryside. 

We arrived to the train station, and I headed on with the hordes of tourists to the city center.  It was an onslaught.

I wandered my way into the city, and over to a hostel that was a meeting point for a free walking tour.  I went to the hostel, and inquired about the free tour.  The Romanian girl behind the counter just shrugged, it was her first week.  I laughed and smiled, and managed to find some confirmation that this was indeed the place. I had met some people in Brussels who had recommended the tour, and the tour guide Rachel.   I stood out front chatting with some Argentines from Cordoba about Antwerp and Bar Buenos Aires’ empanadas.

The curly-haired tourguide Rachel appeared with her adorable bulldog Aesop, along with her understudy Jimmy who had just arrived a few days prior.  We headed on a tour through this city of rich cultural legacy, and learned about when Bruges was a trading port to the world.  Bruges started trading with Genoa about a dozen years before the 14th century, and became Northern Europe’s port to the Mediterranean..  Within another two decades, it had one the most sophisticated Stock Exchanges in the epoch.

Bruges was one of the richest cities until around the 1500s when its harbor and passage to the sea dried up with sand.  It spent the next few centuries in gentle slumber until someone came up with an idea to turn the city into a tourist haven, and thus Bruges is reborn as medieval relic par excellence

We wandered our way over to Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of our Lady), which had its very own Michelangelo statue, one of the few outside of Italia.  I meant to go back to see Michelangelo’s handiwork, but events later on in the day made this not possible.  Across from the grandiose church was the Hospital Museum, once a hospital from the 1400s.  I could use a good leeching…

From there we headed over to the Cathedral of Bruges.  Two points for the Jew to know why a Cathedral is as such, and not a basilica (because an archbishop is seated there). 

We wandered past the smallest window and smallest bridge in Bruges, where a cellist was playing Bach in the sunlight.

Apparently, Bruges played a staring role in an assassin move In Bruges, staring Colin Farrell and Ralph (Raif) Fines.  I have not seen it, nor was aware of it, but will have to check it out.  The tour led us a beautiful canal that is the most photographed point of Bruges.  I grabbed Aesop for a photo, as well as my standard Namaste photo.

From there we headed on to the lovely Astrid Park, named for the beloved Princess who died in a car crash. Along the tour, we learned all about the foundations of Belgium’s edible nationbrand: frites, chocolates, waffles and beer. 

We wandered our way through the brackish fish market and on to the city center.  There was the city center, and an old church that reportedly had a vial of the blood from Christ.  In times of hardship and war, the blood apparently coagulates and becomes solid.  A relic brought back from the Crusades.  I asked about if there had been any carbon dating of the blood and tapestry with it, and apparently it dates back to around the era in question, and exhibits molecular traits of sangre of someone of the Hebraic persuasion.  Whether this long dead Semite is Jesus is anybody’s guess.  But interesting nonetheless.

And we passed the smallest street in Bruges, DeGarre (de-Xhar), a little alley home to a bar of the same name.  The bar serves a beer of the same name that packs quite a punch: 12.5 percent alcohol.  Most Belgian beers clock in at 8 or 9 percent, which is still significantly higher than the average American beer at 4-5 percent.  The bar DeGarre won’t serve patrons more than 3 of their DeGarre brew, and they give it to you with a bowl of cheese (the fat in cheese helps defray the alcohol intake).

We wandered on to the Belfry, the clock tower and guard of the city.  If the city was invaded, the riches were stored up in the tower, at the top of the clockwise stairs (something I learned: stairs are clockwise in towers as to give the defenders an advantage in swordplay).  From there, our tour concluded on to the end, our tour concluded.  The tour lived up to reputation, and was indeed excellent.

After the tour, I headed over to the tiny DeGarre alley, to the tiny DeGarre bar and had the potent DeGarre beer.  I hung out with a fellow named Owen and a fellow named Blake, a Jew from Florida who had been on a Birthright tour and was now touring around Europe after. Owen bowed out for a beer tour, but Blake and I sat around the small bar, drinking the limit of DeGarre as we ate lil cheese squares.  I liked Blake enough to try to connect him with my lil sis.  I don't meet too many 6'6" Jewish guys who are cool, and I don't usually play matchmaker for my sis.  We both felt we could have had a fourth if allowed, but we didn't push.

We wandered back out into the sun-lit square, chatting politics as the throngs of tourists passed by.  Then I declared, "Less politics, more waffles."  A girl passing by erupted in giggles.  We got the delicious building blocks of Belgian gastrodiplomacy covered in chocolate sauce and chantilly cream, with a tiny lil Belgian flag sticking up.

We wandered through the alleys, chatting and passing little fairs and fun, until we reached Blake's hostel so we could have a drink and he could grab his stuff.  It was around 5pm when we sat down.  We had rounds of Straff Hendrick and honey beer, and chatted the day away.  We propped up on some picnic tables in the hostel courtyard, and got chatting with a Greek PhD student named Vasilys who was there for a conference and was now staying longer because he met a cute Belgique who worked at the hostel.    The Greek was shocked that this 'murican knew Gramsci.  He looked at me sideways, and said, "I have never met an American who has heard of Gramsci."

After a few hours, Blake headed off to catch a train onward.  I sat at the picnic table and we were joined by a second Greek, also named Vasilys.  We talked politics until the night came, and I realized that I had to head to the train station, or I would be stuck in Bruges.  I left and hoofed my way through the cobbled streets, past the moon-lit city of charm, and back to the train.  I caught perhaps the last train back to Ghent.

I got back to Ghent and realized I still had not had dinner- just an afternoon of liquidity.  I grabbed a doner kebap, at the same place as the night before since I can't seem to realize that there is no late food in Belgium like there is in Paris.

But Bruges lived up to reputation as a lil gem of medieval beauty, and it was a grand day in Bruges.

PS: Since visiting Bruges, I finally saw the movie "In Bruges," which was fun, a lil weird and quite good.  It was also a nice memory of the city.

Man shot in Russia in argument over Kant


Rollin' deep with Spinoza as my back. Don't mess, son. Descartes got the nines, and Nietzsche's got the sawed-off. Yo, Kierkegaard pass that blunt.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Smarter kids drink earlier

So the study shows.  Yup, explains why I was drinking armagnac in pampers...


"Prosperity from the Republican standpoint means the prosperity of a few great corporations and such crumbs of prosperity as drop from their table for the benefit of the country at large."

Good ol' Franklin was calling out garbage Republican trickle-down economics back in 1924.

Rain check?

Oh, 'Murica. I had tickets tonight to the Nats baseball game. You are the only place I know besides Yugoslavia where a game gets postponed because of gun violence.

From DL: How fitting! Two national pastimes meet at National stadium. 

Miss America

And reaction to the Miss America winner, and Indian-American.  This.

SHUT THE FUCK UP! God. People can be really fucking dumb, and really fucking awful. Congrats to the new Miss America. You represent the America I know. I wouldn't have paid attention otherwise, so perhaps that is the silver lining.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

House of Cards

While I was living in Paris, there were adverts all over the city for the show House of Cards

So I waited till I got back and started watching.  Wow.  If the West Wing was liberal porn, this is a Washington snuff film.

Managing is getting paid for home runs someone else hits

So I hear Stengel has been named to be the new Undersec for Public Diplomacy.  Didn't he used to coach the Yankees?

"Can't anybody here play this game," bellowed mighty Casey after he came out of retirement to coach the 1962 Mets, one of the worst teams of all time.

In all seriousness, I am a tad apprehensive of the pick. If they were not going to keep Sonenshine (who did a fabulous job, and really understood PD), then go for a professional diplomat. This man has no public diplomacy experience, and no government experience.

Communicating news in the middlebrow press that is Time is not the same ballgame as communicating policy, culture and values to foreign audiences.  Just look at the Time cover differences, and then tell me I don't have a reason to be slightly apprehensive. I am worried this could go more McHale (McHale's Navy was anemic at the PD helm) than Sonenshine or Glassman-- two very capable PD chiefs who did not have long enough tenures. The Old Professor famously said, "never make predictions, especially about the future," so I will reserve my judgement to let Mr. Richard take the helm and show the PD community his PD chops.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

On Syria and Russia

Two great op-eds on Syria:

My friend Matt Wallin on Putin's Public Diplomacy without listening:
Yesterday in the New York Times, Russian President Vladamir Putin published an op-ed in response to the evolving situation in Syria. This attempt at public diplomacy represented a rather deaf attempt to influence Americans to support the Russian narrative on Syria. It comes off as the equivalent of a touchdown dance before the ball has made it to the end-zone at an away-game.
Andrew Sullivan on The Prince and Obama when it comes to Russia and Syria:
Of course, this argument only makes sense if you don’t believe the US is best served by being responsible for the entire Middle East, and by being the only major power seriously invested there. If your goal is US global hegemony, this was a very bad week. But if your goal is to avoid the catastrophe that occurred in Iraq, to focus on the much more important foreign policy area, Asia, and to execute vital domestic goals such as immigration reform and entrenching universal healthcare … then the result looks pretty damn good. Or at least perfectly good enough.
So when the inevitable cries of “Who lost the Middle East?” are raised by the neocon chorus, one obvious retort remains. Of all the regions in the world, wouldn’t the Middle East be a wonderful one to lose? You want it, Vladimir? Be our guest.

And a good piece by Julia Ioffe, who picks through the op-ed paragraph by paragraph.

Finally, a great response by President Obama, via comedian Albert Brooks.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Personifying America outside the perimeter

A La Gloria

At Abraxas, drinking mint tea with fresh mint leaves and honey as the sun sets on the last day of the latest adventure.  I spent the day wandering the city bathed in light, muttering "beautiful, just beautiful" and "A La Gloria" as the wave washed over me.

So ends my sabbatical.  It had been a beaut.  Hemingway days in Paris, the belle of the world.  Cheap wine and stinky cheese as I did some reading, writing and thinking.

Then La Belgique for the finest frites and beer.  I loved that little country.

And Amsterdam. A La Gloria.

In medieval days, a physical journey was also seen as a spiritual quest. As always, a journey as such teaches you equal parts about the world, and yourself.

I wish I could stay in Europe.  I really do.  But winter is coming, and I have biz to do back in 'Murica.

But first, I have a date with a fraulein.

I will close out this adventure with the lyrics from my fav Della Mae song, Hounds. Journey on!

I am a seeker of fortune
I am an honest man
I’m tied to my morals
By a steady hand
I’ll bow my head
Into the sea
Let the waves
Wash over me

And the hounds of heaven rise
From their place by the fire
They’re chasing me down
But it ain’t my time
They’re chasing me down
But it ain’t my time


10 photos to remind you that Jews don't fit sterotypes

Toda Jocelyn.  A reminder that we are a diverse tribe.


What do we say to the God of Death?

Not today.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Chechen

The Chechen said: La illa ila Allah.

I agreed.

You are not a normal American.

No, I am not.

You are American but you are not American.  You smell good.  You are going to heaven.

We talked about the One God.  About Musa.  We have the same prophets.

You are yahood, but you are not yahood.  You know the One God.

I do.  We have known the One God for ages.

I am going to Syria.

You should not and I should not.  Neither of us has business there.

His Moroccan friend screamed Marraksh in my ear.  You are Maghrebi.

 Not quite.

Just a night wading through the Dutch hurricane.   

Oh Ghent

I have taken a lot of pictures in my many days on the road.  I think this is one of the finest albums I have ever put together.

Thus spake Zarathrustra

Zarathrustra, however, looked at the people and wondered.  Then he spake thus:
  Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman-- a rope over an abyss.
  A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting.
  What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.
-Frederich Nietzsche, "Thus spake Zarathrustra"

One more tired thing the gray moon on the rise

One more drink tonight as your gray stallion rests
Where he lays in the reins
For all of the speed and the strength he gave
 -Iron & Wine "He Lays in the reins"


Noir brut

A rainy day spent in the Amsterdam cafe. Kaffeverket and slivers of Belgian noir chocolate. 86% noir brut.

"So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons are like birds, flying upward over the mountain."
-Iron & Wine

Monday, September 09, 2013

de winter komt eraan

In Amsterdam, winter is coming.  But Dutch hospitality leaves nice red blankets in the outdoor terraces.  I sip apricot Belgian gnome beer.  La Chouffe.  I look like a little red riding hood, save for that's blue.  The sky was ash grey.  Like the fluttering weather vane, a sign that winter is coming.

Forever tilting

Aboard his steel Rocinante, Don Pablo Quijote passed fields of antique red windmills, as well as three-armed giants that certainly deserve a tilt.  Arriving to his last stop (Nec Plus Ultra), Amsterdam.  This latest adventure coming to a close, this knight-errant felt thirsty for some coffee after a long ride.

Ghent outta town

The hostel is to the right of the bridge
I arrived to the Ghent train station and hopped a tram up to the main part of town.  As I turned the corner, I was blown away.  The city was gorgeous.  I walked past a giant old clocktower and into the canals.  I was on my way to a hostel called De Draeke, but passed one named Hostel Uppelink that was closer.  I stopped and checked if they had room.  They had a bed for only one night, but the fellow called the other hostel for me, and found out that they were full on Thursday night but had beds on Friday and Saturday.  So I would stay one night here and switch to the other the next day.  This hostel happened to be beautiful.  It was in an old style gingerbread house, right off the canal.  I dropped my stuff, and had a shower and went out to find food.

Belgium is not France, and it is hard to find food late night (other than doner kebap) as I have learned.  I didn't want to eat another kebab, so I found a cafe that had one last piece of brie, spinach quiche.  I had the yummy quiche with gherkins and sun-dried tomatoes, and washed it down with a Westmalle Tripel.  I sat out on the canal, listening to the sounds of Flemmish fill the night air as the old houses and churches reflected in the calm canal water.  It was a beautiful scene.

I returned to go to bed, and found a gaggle of frauleins filling the hostel room.  This was less cool in the morning when the frauleins were up early chatting and woke me.  I looked out the window, and the sun was pouring its golden light through a church steeple, it was an incredible sight.

I meandered through the morning, having breakfast than I headed over to the other hostel..The other hostel was about 15 minutes away.  It was more of a proper youth hostel, but fine accommodations.  The hostel was right off a canal with lines of weeping willows swaying about the channel.

I dropped my stuff and went wandering around the city.  I passed the giant Gravensteen castle.  If I had dragons, I could take it.

And I wandered through the beautiful alleys of canals and spired city.

As previously discussed, I sat out on the grass behind the church, reading and napping.  When the rains started to come, I ducked into the church.  The saint is Saint Judas Thaddeus, whom I would consider the saint of all Quijoteans: Saint Judas Thaddeus is the patron saint of lost causes.

After the afternoon waiting out the rain in a stone tavern, I stopped back in the hostel for a lil nap.  I met some of my hostelmates, an elder Russian gentleman named Leonid. He spoke Russian and German, but no English, French or other languages.  And there was another fellow, a tall Dutchman whose name escaped me.  He was a carpenter.  A tad odd, and into conspiracy theories and Libertarian doctrine.

Having questioned the previous day if it was the homeless lady on the tram that smelled, or me, I decided it was time to do laundry.  The guy at the hostel desk pointed me to a concept laundry place called Wasbar.  It was a laundry mat and bar.  Farther than other laundry mats, but sounded interesting.  So I took my bag down with me along the canal a few km, and found the spot.  They were offering a buffet of free antipasto and cheeses for the washers.  Unfortunately, it was a little too conceptual, and they required accounts of 15 euro minimum.  But the nice lady explained that there was a regular laundry mat just up the street, and I should drop my clothes off and come back there for the bar and food.  A fine idea.  So I threw my dirty clothes in for a spin, and drank Trappist beer while I read of the last temptations.

I finished my wash, and returned back to the hostel.  Just as I was putting my bag down, the shoulder harness snapped.  Stront (merde)!  The last bag I had was a Jansport.  I bought it from the discontinued rack, and it lasted 10 years.  This new one, the so-called Cadillac of Backpacks, lasted barely 4 years.

But I was with a carpenter!  Surely, he would have some glue to re-connect the broken plastic.  He explained that his stuff was at another hostel, since he liked to keep 2 residences just in case.  Knew he was a little off....

But the Russian fellow broke out some gauze and his pocketknife, and we went operating on my bag.  He turned the broken washer around and we jammed the gauze under the washer and tied it to the bag.  My father and sister have hands that fix things; I have hands that type.  As such, in the process I managed to cut the poor Russian's hand, so his thumb was bleeding all over the operating table.  But we managed to fix it.  In my gratitude, I ran to the store and bought us beers.

At first the Russian fellow would not take the beer, and I couldn't understand why, because he had another beer on his window sill.  So he broke out the googletranslate and he went back and forth from Russian to English:

I cannot take this, I didn't fix your bag.  It could come apart again.

You have fixed my bag, and it will get me through the last of the road.  Please accept this beer in my friendship and my gratitude.

We went back and forth a bit on the google translate, until he finally accepted my thanks offering.  Sometimes technology is great.  We offered cheers in a bevy of languages.

The fellow was from the Russian East, right off the Sea of Japan.  I always find the Euro-Russians of the East to be so fascinating.  See under: Disraeli's quote about Russia's European face to the East, and its Asian face to the West.  While I have not yet visited Russia, all my interactions with the Russians in Central Asia makes me like their easy-going ways.