Thursday, December 31, 2015

Not Quite Fiddling

Fifteen minutes ago Julia Jacobo filed a report for ABC News to the effect that the massive fireworks display involving the entire length of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai went on as planned while the fire at the Address Downtown Hotel, within eyesight of Burj Khalifa, which was consuming an entire side of the hotel, was only 65% contained. Jacobo's report did not state who made the decision that "the show must go on." Presumably the decision reflected someone's priorities, but whose priorities?

Monday, December 28, 2015

An Unexpected Exercise in Archiving

Like the Lord, giveth and taketh away. Around the middle of this year, I was informed that everything I had written in 2009 had been "unpublished." This came without any warning and probably had only to do with the fact that those articles did not fit with the change in page formatting. (There may also have been a tacit assumption that anything written in 2009 no longer had any value.) The Content Director who was my point of contact suggested that I could just republish them in the new format, indicating when they had originally been published. This turned out to be a rather time-consuming process; and I abandoned it when one of those articles got unpublished again. Fortunately, it turned out that I had the rights to the content; and there would not be a problem with my creating my own archive. I have now used this blogging tool to do so; and the new "archive blog" was completed today. I may be the only reader, but at least I can use the search tool!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Trump's Damage has Already been Done

It would appear that, regardless of whether Donald Trump becomes the Republican candidate for President next year, his divisive rhetoric has taken hold of the general population of the United States in more ways than we might imagine. His latest victim is Riverheads High School in Augusta County in the state of Virgina, a state that tends to be sympathetic to Republicans and seems to translating that sympathy into enthusiasm for Trump. Riverheads' mistake was to encourage an appreciation of cultural differences by exploring the role of calligraphy in sacred Islamic texts. This included an assignment to reproduce the calligraphy of the Islamic declaration of faith, known as the Shahada.

Copying is often a valuable pedagogical tool. An excellent example can be found in Bernard Greenhouse's description of his cello lessons with Pablo Casals, which began with a prolonged exercise during which Casals instructed Greenhouse to produce "an absolute copy" of his way of performing Johann Sebastian Bach's BWV 1008 solo cello suite in D minor. Similarly, there used to be a counterpoint teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music whose only student assignments involved copying out the music of Giovanni Pierlugi da Palestrina.

However, as far as the good citizens of Augusta County are concerned (perhaps only the Republicans among them) there is a big difference between reproducing music, written or heard, a reproducing an Islamic declaration of faith. As a result of the hysteria stirred up by Trump, one by think that citizens were afraid that mere exposure to a significant element of that faith (one might compare it to the representation of the cross in Christianity) might turn their children into terrorists. Sober-minded students of the life and practices of Adolf Hitler know that creating a mass feeling of fear is often the key to winning popular support; and Augusta County seems to provided a powerful data point in support of this proposition. Indeed, according to the report on the Al Jazeera Web site, the school decided to close early for the Christmas break after receiving threats of violence.

Perhaps we should credit Trump for knowing more about Islamic terrorist strategies than we might have guessed, since there seems to be a clear parallel in his strategy for winning the American public to his cause.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Until the Real Thing Comes Along"

Anyone of my generation, who spent time of the East Coast and had strong feelings about Chinese food, probably had a chance to sample the food in Philadelphia's Chinatown. Those who were lucky got to do so at a restaurant with a chef who know about fish lo mein (yú lo mein). In contrast to most lo mein dishes, this was a delicate affair in which flakes of fish (probably steamed or lightly braised) intermingled with ginger, spring onions, and a bit of lemon peel, all on a bed of soft but slim lo mein noodles. I was fortunate enough to discover this the summer after my freshman year, when I had an internship with graduate students in computer science at the University of Pennsylvania. We used to go to one particular restaurant (South China) about once a week for this treat; and I continued to do so when I would return to visit my family in later years.

By the time I was teaching at Penn, South China was no longer serving fish lo mein. However, Computer Science departments tend to be inhabited by adventurous and enterprising graduate students. One of them figured out where the chef had moved, and I got to resume my culinary habit. Unfortunately, my later travels took me away from Philadelphia for several decades, which is how I discovered just how unique fish lo mein was. Even when I was working in Singapore, the very idea of such a dish would raise eyebrows. Things were no better when I moved from Singapore to Palo Alto.

Then I got to attend a conference in Philadelphia. I happened to be held at a new hotel built on top of the old Reading Terminal Market. That was a treat in itself, but it also put me only a few blocks away from Chinatown. My first night in Philadelphia I combed every street there in search of a chef who knew about fish lo mein. Unfortunately, when I finally found someone who knew what I was describing, he said, "I remember that chef! He died several years ago!"

About two decades have past since then, and I may finally have found a viable alternative. Several restaurants in Chinatown now serve a noodles dish with ginger and spring onion. The first time I tried it, I asked the waiter if the chef could add some fish the next time and basically got a dirty look. Today I found a place that did not give me a dirty look; and, while what I ate was not the "real thing" of personal memory, it will probably be the closest I can get. I figured I had a good chance because the name of the place is Kam Lock Seafood Restaurant; and they knew just how to do the right thing with the fish, even if the pieces were larger than those I used to get in Philadelphia. the balance of flavors, on the other had, was about as close to memory as I could expect. So, for those who may have had to endure the same "Philadelphia withdrawal" in their Chinese food diet, Kam Lock is on 834 Washington Street (just west of Grand Street) in San Francisco Chinatown; and it is open from 11 AM to 9:30 PM seven days a week!