Monday, June 26, 2017

The New Health Insurance Bill

Many of us were exasperated by the right's willful incomprehension during the Obamacare debate. Their over-simplified and ignorant objections were expressed via ridiculous hyperbolic slogans designed to shamelessly rile up their base. "Death panels!" and all that b.s....

So what about this new healthcare bill? It's an abomination, right? You know for a fact that it will leave huge numbers uninsured, and "millions will die" (TM)?

If so, how do you know this? Did you read the bill (I sure didn't)? And are you expert in the arcane details of health policy (lord knows I'm not)? If not, then where does that certainty stem from? The answer, as always in recent American politics, is a potent cocktail of confirmation bias and tribalism.

Let me ask you this: if a nerdy, well-respected conservative health insurance wonk (who earnestly wants to see people well-covered, and doesn't just want to apply a wrecking ball to all things good and just) believed the new bill was an absolute gem, and questions the assumptions behind the CBO's projection of millions of uninsured, and thinks the pools will be made diverse even without a mandate compelling healthy people to buy insurance (so it's not just expensive sick people), would you want to entertain his thoughts? Even if it requires effort, because this stuff is complicated, while the hyperbolic slogans go down a lot easier? Is it possible we've been guilty of the same ignorance, over-simplification, and crazy doom peddling ala anti-Obamacare "death panel" hysteria?

Me? I'm very skeptical of the bill. But I refuse to mindlessly parrot the outrage, because I'm not so Dunning–Krugered up to imagine I understand this realm of policy and can know for certain how this will play out. And I'm not confirmation-biased up to the point where I trust the people screaming on my teevee set. And I'm nowhere near tribal enough to trust the mob parroting the people screaming on my teevee set.

The bill may be an abomination...or it may be "the greatest policy achievement by a GOP Congress in my lifetime," as Avik Roy claims (same link as above). But if you're waving pitchforks after heeding only one set of experts - your tribal elders - what's the difference between you and the pro-Tumpers in their Foxbart bubble?

More from Avik Roy (who I don't find likable, and whose assumptions I don't often share): his Twitter feed, and a recent podcast debate.

If you intend to leave a rage-filled comment, please first verify that you've personally read the bill. Calm opinions, however uninformed, are always welcome, but borrowed, rebroadcasted* outrage is a disease, and I'm highly resistant.

* - When I was in fourth grade there was a presidential election, and my classmates mindlessly parroted their parent's political views. We were too young to understand any issues, but everyone was totally wound up and sanctimonious. I grokked what was happening, but what I didn't understand was that our parents, themselves, were parroting.

It's all entirely tribal. It's always been entirely tribal. Actual policy barely even matters - look how the right effortlessly flipped to champion a candidate who campaigned with a profoundly non-conservative nationalist/populist agenda! It's not about policy, it's about tribal grievance. We obediently parrot our tribal leaders, be they parents, TV pundits, writers, etc., delighting in the pre-masticated, ridiculously simplified talking points with which they inoculate us. Both sides (and me, too) are poorly informed, but willful in our ignorance and unwavering in our intellectual self-confidence.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Best North Indian I've Ever Found in NYC

Nawab (2 Hudson St, Yonkers; 914-909-9700) makes the best North Indian (they're actually Pakistani) food I've ever had anywhere. They're even better than Jackson Diner during its heyday, before it moved to its present location (and went way, way downhill).

The cooking is brilliant, and the clientele gives the impression of driving quite far to eat here (it's worth a ride from most anywhere....note that you can take Metro North from Manhattan). It's on a dodgy back street in downtown Yonkers, but they charge a respectable price (as well they should), with entrees $15-20.

Sunday buffet lunch is the time to go. This is a rare chef who actually thrives on buffets; puts his heart into them, and changes them up every week. Even better, though you just missed it, is the break-fast buffet at sundown during Ramadan (features way more dishes than the Sunday buffet).

But best of all is their feast for Eid al-Fitr, commemorating the end of Ramadan. Management also owns a Kubrickian ballroom, seemingly from the 1920's, right behind the restaurant, and once a year they present a dizzying array of steam table offerings there, along with live music. It's something to behold. This year, it will be served Sunday from 1:30 through to evening. Sorry for the short notice. But if you miss it, worry not. Just go and eat any time. It's revelatory. If you need to bone up on the cuisine, we cover North Indian thoroughly in my app, Eat Everywhere.

Here is Nawab's home page (with menu). Here is Nawab's Facebook page.

The Best Mexican I Ever Found in NYC

Cienaga Grocery And Deli (10432 Corona Ave, Corona; 347-353-2366) is the best Mexican I've ever found in the five boroughs.

Understand that I don't make this claim lightly. I'm deeply dialed into Mexican food, and I don't even bother with most of the known names. I only hit up a few obscure secret holes in walls (Sin Dulce in Yonkers and Port Chester, is atop my list right now). So this doesn't blow away some Yelp-raved West Village place. It blows away the good places!

They're a short walk from another contender, Tortilleria Nixtamal (104-05 47th Ave, Corona), which many of you know. But the food's in an entirely different league.

They're Oaxacan! A whole other state, and a whole other cuisine, from the south of Mexico (this cuisine is, of course, covered in my app, Eat Everywhere, if you're unfamiliar).

Like nearly every nabe-facing (as opposed to gringo-foodie-facing) Oaxacan restaurant in this country, they offer a lot of standard items (tacos, sopes, barbacoa, al pastor - none of which are really Oaxacan....also, grimace, burritos, mentioned as inconspicuously on the menu as possible), but all made, it seems, with a Oaxacan touch (understand I'm extrapolating here....I have not explored the menu yet). And they make ultra-hard-to-find tlayudas and tlacoyos! Plus, a holy grail of mine, panbazos. But I didn't order any of those things.

I spotted a pan full of thick sauce and nuggets of meat, and ordered it on impulse. The sauce was a magical concoction of very smokey chiles (not chipotles, I don't believe) and cumin, and it nearly made me faint. The chicken was just brilliant - not dried out, not generic protein, but some of the best on-bone chicken chunks you'll have this year. That never happens!

It was served with meticulously moist, soulful rice, and correct black beans. Don't expect Cuban style just because they're black - no oregano, no onion, these are more homely and grounded, prepared like northern states make (non-refried) pintos. Earthy, not jazzy.

Along with this, the best horchata I've ever had north of the border (check out the residue in the bottom of my cup).

The tortillas are super high quality but, strangely, not from Nixtamal 1/4 mile away. They make them themselves, and they're super.

Service is kind, but tersely diffident. Not much opportunity to ask questions. And don't expect to see an array of show-offish mole dishes. One homey special is offered per day (like the one I had), and it will have sauce which may or may not be a formal Oaxacan mole. Remember, for these guys, molé's just food, not a whole romantic to-do. I will, however, do whatever's necessary to find, cajole, or special order tamales with black mole (might have to wait for a holiday).

See menu shots below.

Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault

Chew on this little-noticed excerpt for a moment:
"By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph."

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Left's Immigration Extremism

Last year, I wrote (in response to liberal indignation at the term "illegal", and perspective toward undocumented immigrants, generally):
On most political issues, I’m a moderate/centrist. But when it comes to immigration, I am one-sided: pro-immigrant in every respect and exuberantly xenophilic. If my views and expression nonetheless put me beneath-the-pale in the view of the American Left, it means the American Left has gone Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, straight into Crazytown on this issue. And I believe that’s had very bad repercussions, as extremism always does. At least some of the current extremism on the right is surely reciprocal. That's how it works: extremism begets extremism...
This new Atlantic article makes the same point. It's an important one. It explains why the nativist rhetoric on the Right is not all necessarily ugly (though I strongly disagree with it).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Southwest by South Trip Installment #3

Installment #1
Installment #2

I'd hit the "hyperspace" button during my Dallas/Austin trip, driving, impulsively, nearly 400 miles eastward to check out a hillbilly Italian area of Arkansas, all on the basis of a single photo I'd seen in a magazine. Here's that photo once again:

Upon arrival in Lake Village, Arkansas, I'd eaten a memorable meal - Italian-influenced, per the spaghetti and fish-on-Friday - at Rhoda's Hot Tamales and Pie. And it was time to hunt down Regina's pasta shop.

It was a tough find. Their Facebook page places them at a major intersection, but they're actually a couple miles away. Finally, I took the route of masculine surrender and called for instructions. The proprietor, with her Granny Clampett accent, confessed she was poor at directions, so she passed me to her husband, who I assumed to be a poor mountaineer named Jed (one can only imagine what I sounded like to them!). Upon arrival, I encountered two faces out of a Boticelli painting; faces just like the ones from my childhood Italian neighborhood in Long Island. I fought the impulse to greet them with my customary "Yeah, how yoo dooin'?"

They do, indeed, operate out of this impossibly backwoods-ish shack (actually, it's perched on a lake), but, surveying their wares, it seemed similar to what you'd find in an Italian grocery in, say, Maine or Minnesota. And, really, why wouldn't it? Hey, I get over-excited sometimes. I guess I was hoping for possum parmigiana.

Anyway, they'd stopped serving lunch (their only meal), and I'd need to wait until tomorrow for any sort of food service.

Now what? Well, the last thing I was going to do was to tell them my story and ask for an exception. First, I just don't do that. I want the real experience. Second, I had no rapport with them whatsoever. Third, I'd seem stark raving bonkers. And, fourth, as a stalling tactic while I regrouped, I'd spun around to examine the little bags of homemade cookies at the back of the shop. And my inner baked goods geiger counter didn't so much as beep.

I recognized those slapdash chocolate chip M&M cookies. I'd grown up with them.

There's something about Italians and Jews. As we assimilate, we unravel, culinarily. The second-generation Italian and Jewish moms on my block back in Long Island all talked a good game, but used crap ingredients, and cooked distractedly and unhappily, with cigarettes dangling from their pursed lips. They didn't give an actual damn about food, and it tasted like it. They produced xerox copies of traditional dishes, as did all the restaurants nearby. In fact, it's the same for virtually every Italian-American restaurant (and certainly every Jewish deli) these days.

The restaurant and home cooking were great back when the first generation was in charge, with deep old-world roots. Today, nobody cooks like grandma did. While the offspring have done well - lots of doctors and lawyers - it's come at a cost. Our cooking is soulless. When assimilated Italians and Jews do cook well, it's in spite of our ethnicity, not because of it.

Those blasé cookies spoke volumes, revealing that it's the same in Arkansas as in Long Island. So while I still would have ordered lunch if it were available (though I was stuffed from Rhoda's), I decided it wasn't worth waiting a day for. I also knew, from my initial survey, that there wouldn't be other finds to find in the area. So I purchased a bag of cookies, thanked the owner, marched dutifully out to my car, and started driving back west.

The normal thing would have been to act out in some bombastic manner. But I'd just eaten that incredible cornbread and pie. And I'd seen things and met people and learned things. And I still had ten hours more adventuring ahead (I'd forgotten to do the mileage math re: the return leg to Austin, which, due to some space/time wrinkle, is much further from Lake Village than Dallas, though Austin and Dallas are not so distant from each other)...which felt like nothing but swell opportunity. I'd had great experiences, and more would surely follow.

As I cheerfully pulled out of the parking area - biting into a cookie, which confirmed my suspicions - I decided to make a brief foray over a nearby bridge into Mississippi, where I enjoyed a glass of saison at a wildly out-of-place craft beer store/bar/homebrew equipment shop (Delta Brewing; 631 Washington Ave, Greenville). The proprietors enjoy cheap, if any, rent in a storefront in the once-sparkling burnt-out downtown. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to adjust to the languor of Mississippi, which, per usual, I mistook for stand-offishness.

Hoping to avoid any sense of stalling out, I once again poked the hyperspace button, riding like the wind along a more southerly route, not stopping until I spotted Cormier's Cajun Catering (1205 Forsythe Ave, Monroe, LA), where I had the exuberant feeling of stepping out of a spaceship into a whole different world:

Cajun people were eating under a permanent tent in a parking lot! Isn't driving amazing???

A portrait in beige! Excellent boudin, good crawfish étouffée, plus a side mound of jambalaya (my waitress applauded my ordermanship). And I finally solved a deep mystery. There's something serious jambalaya always reminds me of, which I can never quite name. It's North Indian biryani! Just that connection alone (scratching a decades-long itch) was worth the trip to me.

I stayed over in Shreveport (birthplace of humidity), and, the following day, made an impulsive visit to Gators & Friends (11441 US HWY 80, Greenwood, LA), an alligator park where I zip-lined over hungry crocodilians (who gathered eagerly below us, making me wonder what precedent they'd witnessed).

Here's feeding time:

My quick lunch at nearby El Guapo (9414 Greenwood Rd, Greenwood, LA) turned out to be the very archetype of Tex-Mex:

....reminding me that sometimes you need to go just over the border - this was five miles from Texas - to experience the platonic form of a thing (e.g. that prototypically Texan bar just over the Arkansas border).

Look. A shaky premise is perfectly fine to hang an adventure on, because premises are just excuses. They're abstractions, not real. We only pretend to pursue a premise, and when we get lost in that pretending, it can needlessly spoil a perfectly good adventure. I'd scored brilliant Texas barbecue, Rhoda's cornbread and pie, serious Cajun, three massive cultural jumps, gators, zip lines, eurekas, socio-economic eye-openings, and terrific stories, all inside 24 hours (plus, the day before, Yall's). Tell me this was failure!

If you wallow dramatically over things gone "wrong", you'll likely miss the chance to relish the next thing. In the long run, nothing ever goes wrong! 99% of mourning is needless meta-mourning; we mostly rue our ruing. Opt out of drama, and it's all just stuff - fun (and sometimes harrowing) movies. We're free!

Next time, a rant about Austin's hipster food culture.

Here's how I finally decided whether to stick around for the next day's lunch. I used an intuition trick I'd developed as an eight year old (I was a much savvier kid than I am a grown-up; here's a series of wise reminders I left for my future idiotic adult self): I imagined myself after lunch the next day, driving back to Texas, in two versions: satisfied and disappointed. And I weighed which version looked truer.

Finally....for the ultimate tale of redemption from a food adventuring dead end, read "The Greatest Chowhounding Story Ever Told".

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Southwest by South Trip Installment #2

Read previous installment

I read this article in The Economist about hillbilly Italians in Arkansas, and was captivated by this photo:

I immediately started plotting ways to get there, and remembered my Dallas trip was coming up. After hitting the maps, I discovered that Lake Village, Arkansas is a mere six hour drive from Dallas.

A six hour trip on a whim? You bet! What makes me me is that I act on impulses. I track down tips, and don't sit on them forever. I generally do stuff (anyone with a predilection for depression would do well to always choose action in any given circumstance). Nearly everything good that ever happened to me came as the result of what others might describe as impulsiveness.

I always take country roads in the South (and in Texas, particularly) rather than highways. You can still go 70 or 75 mph - in fact, there's less enforcement than on highways - but you get to experience actual life and scenery. So much better!

That's what I did, and eventually passed through Tyler, TX, where I got uncommonly lucky in a rural part of town with a Yelp search that sniffed out Yall's BBQ and Produce, a fun, funny, multiracial operation that appears to serve pretty much only the surrounding half mile or so. I told them I'm from another galaxy, which cracked them up.

They do real home-cooking, such as Tater Tot casserole and an array of shrink-wrapped, home-baked experimental pastries, heavy on various chips (choc, peanut butter, butterscotch, etc). They offer free tastes of everything they make (!), and the casserole was unfancy (understatement), but brilliantly balanced. And while they offered some straight barbecue choices, this is a place that mostly commoditizes it's 'que - it's ingredient fodder rather than fancy rosy-ringed fetish meat.

I never order barbecue solo in a place that mostly uses it as an ingredient, and, in any case, the owner steered me firmly toward a Texas-sized "Texas Spud" which I still don't completely understand.

An abnormally gigantic potato is violently flattened in the styrofoam, whereupon slatherings of cream and sweet sauce and chunks of barbecued beef are applied, with a few surprises strewn under the drapes of Stuff. It was great, though definitely "eating" food rather than "tasting" food.

I was asked whether they play the TV commercial up north where the guy exclaims "New Yorkers? Somebody get me a rope!", and I giggled (it was asked good-heartedly). I said no, but that I never met a Texan I wouldn't want to spend a few days drinking beer and hanging out with....and that Texan tourists in New York always appear to be awfully happy, as well. She asked whether people back home feel superior to folks with country accents, and I told her that you need to be an idiot to feel superior to anybody - so fools who think that way are just demonstrating their inferiority.

That earned me a free soda, a free gumball, and a loyalty card ("Even if you come back years from now, we'll still honor it"), and I was processed through to the back yard where hubby was manning the bbq pit while his crew of shy, kind-eyed, terrifyingly built pals sat around sipping soda. More good-natured cross-chasm banter ensued, though I didn't get to use my prepared line about Trump ("If he makes things great again, I'm all for it. I'm just not sure I trust that billionaire dude to act in our interest. As I see it, you and I are on the exact same side, but it remains to be seen whose side he's really on").

The potato thingee was great, though squadrons of hornets kept dive-bombing my Dr. Pepper. It was a memorable half hour, and I miss Yall's already. Look at all the love they've put into the place:

In Texarkana, I had some fancy rosy-ringed fetish meat at award-winning Naamans BBQ (their brand new "Hot Spot" at 5764 Hwy 59 S). Super-good brisket:

...and the sweet tea was primo, too (when the simple parameters are perfectly in synch, this stuff is like nectar of the gods). I was right on the Texas/Arkansas line, and, disoriented, I asked which state we were in. Note: this is not a polite question to ask. My incensed counterwoman let me know that this was Texas, that she's Texan, and that she doesn't know anything at all about any Arkansas.

I crashed in Texarkana, where I stumbled into Fat Jacks Oyster & Sports Bar (3324 N State Line Ave), my very first really cinematic and unself-conscious Texan bar - the kind you see in movies (see photos here).

I should have ordered a Lone Star, but, instead, I was a prick and got a Shiner IPA (non-horrible). I unconsciously swirled the bottle a little before sipping, and studied the flavor with a brief but perceptible wine snob aroma suck, and I immediately noticed that one dude had seen this, and, quite rightly, was grinding his teeth with barely constrained malevolence. My bad. Happy people, and a great scene with great vibes. Texans really know how to live (but...woops, this was just over the line in Arkansas. But still!).

In Arkansas, I drove through a procession of burnt-out, calamitous small town main streets, each of which had obviously been middle-class shiny/prosperous in 1965. This wasn't grinding static poverty; it was precipitous decay, ala Detroit. America is not doing great. It's Detroit most everywhere.

Finally I arrived at Lake Village, Arkansas, on the Arkansas/Mississippi border, where I passed the irresistible exterior of Rhoda's Hot Tamales and Pie (714 Saint Mary St)....

...and met Rhoda and her husband:

Note that I've stolen the above two photos from Jamie H. and Nolen G. (all other photos are mine).

Remember: this is an Italian area (though Rhoda and her beau are clearly not Italian). And it's Friday. This explains the fried fish, as well as the spaghetti.

The fish was masterful, of course, though not hot/fresh. The spaghetti was homely and soulful, though I don't need to tell you "al dente" was not a goal. But let's talk about that cornbread.

I noted in the previous installment that good soul food is light, not heavy - a miracle, considering the ingredients and cooking methods are all heavy. This titanically scrumptious corn bread was beyond light. It never actually touched any portion of my mouth. It existed in an entirely other plane, and I have nothing else to say. It ranks along with the Oaxacan Medusa Gruel as one of the most remarkable, mysterious things I've ever eaten.

The hot tamales broke my brain. I expected copious cumin and hot pepper, but we were a bit too far east for that. I have no memory of anything but eating like a crazed animal, and nearly blacking out at several points from the deep primal joy.

Rhoda also makes pie: sweet potato, pecan, or a half-and-half pie with both. I got a shot of this mini-pecan, not very different from any other really great pecan pie you've tasted, but a bit less obtrusive in its sweetness, a bit longer in its finish, and a bit perfecter in its balance. The sweet potato pie filling wasn't quite smooth; the micro-chunks seem to have been created via some advanced laser lathing system, achieving a precise, ideal diversity of texture.

No Trump discussion here, as no one in the restaurant could understand a single word I said (don't they hear Yankees in movies and TV?). Seriously, I had to pantomime, as if I was in Burma. Rhoda did eventually come to understand that I was from New York, and expressed her sympathies for 9/11, which I appreciated. There was a brief sad moment, which was as much as we were able to share (I didn't try to discuss astral planes or laser lathing).

After much mapping and phoning for help, I finally managed to locate the mythical Regina's Pasta Shop, but I'll save that shaggy dog outcome for next time.

Read next installment

Friday, June 16, 2017

Tick Repellent

This is supposed to be a record year for ticks, so I spent a full day researching repellent options. I'll share my findings.

This is the best single resource on the web. It's a rundown, based strictly on hard science, by a highly-informed PhD entomologist working for the state of Connecticut (i.e. Tick Central). He's been preparing and updating these surveys for over a decade, and it's all in plain language. It's all you need.....but a lot to digest.

After studying that (and lots of Amazon reviews), I bought (and will use) three products:

1. I'll pre-treat all garden clothes/shoes/hats with Permethrin. I bought this product Note you need to repeat application every 6 washes, and exposure to light also gradually reduces its effectiveness - so you may want to store treated clothes in a dark bag).

2. I'll use this DEET product on skin, socks, shoes, head, pants bottoms. DEET has a fine safety record based on much data for decades. While 100% DEET feels greasy and can damage plastics (and there's anecdotal talk of skin rash in really sensitive people), this is 30%, which is enough (Dr. Stafford says "a concentration greater than 30% doesn’t provide much extra protection").

3. For extra insurance, quick squirts of Oil of lemon eucalyptus, a totally natural product. I bought this.

BTW, it's always good to check highly-rated Amazon products on Fakespot, to see whether the reviews are legit.

Three important reminders:

Ticks can ride in on your clothing, even if they've been repelled from attaching to you. Be careful when returning to your house!

Hot shower right after washes off many/most ticks.

When working in garden/grass, I always pull my socks up around the outside of my pants legs to seal off the route up my legs.

How to Kill a Tick
Tick Tips

Celebrate: The Two Worst Trumpian Dangers May Have Passed

Most smart people agree that it will be a long, long slog to impeachment, even once Mueller exposes all the rot. We'll need to endure this for quite some time. Yet few have observed that we may have passed the two points of greatest danger:

1. We're Probably Not Marching Off to a Dog-Wagging War
Even before that ridiculous bombing display at a deserted Syrian airstrip showered Trump with positive feedback for seeming "presidential" and showing "strength", many of us worried he'd start a war to distract us from his corruption and incompetence. After the Syrian display boosted his approval ratings, I was shaking in my boots about this.

But while anything's possible, that ship appears to have sailed. Crippled by the investigations, and leading a terrified, lawyered-up, back-biting staff, it no longer feels in the cards. I'd imagine General Mattis would be more likely to punch him in the gut than oblige an order to provoke, say, North Korea.

To be sure, if catastrophe occurs, we're deeply imperiled by having this raging toddler in charge. But he doesn't seem to have the momentum, capital, or consensus to cause a catastrophe of his own at this point.

2. We're Not Turning Fascist
Trump has little respect for rule of law, democracy, separate branches, checks and balances, norms, etc. His autocratic tendencies are obvious at this point. But while he's definitely eroded our standing and our institutions, he lacks the smarts to dismantle democracy and replace it with fascism. You can't perpetrate such a thing while constantly shooting yourself in the foot. Trump can start as many Reichstag fires as he'd like, but we're not going to willingly grant him martial law powers as a result of some Trumped-up emergency. At this point, he's been reduced to more of a monstrous clown than a clownish monster.

A mere 165 days in, we seem to be beyond our two greatest worries. And while Congress remains spineless, and impeachment remains a very distant prospect, this administration is sufficiently beset and unravelled that while brazen resistance is still rare (everyone's afraid of a mean tweet), it has few fully willing pawns.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Southwest by South Trip Installment #1

Just did a $70 roundtrip to/from Dallas, courtesy of my usual source of airfare miracles.

All the great things you've heard about Austin food/beer apply much more to Dallas. Skip Austin, hit Dallas. My rant against hipster (i.e. Austin) food culture comes in a later installment, but for now, just know that Dallas is full of deeper pleasures. Quick hits before I drove (very far) east:

Bubba’s Cooks Country (6617 Hillcrest Ave; 214-373-6527). I've been noting this for years, yet I've never made a dent in a nearly universal misapprehension about soul food: great soul food is not heavy. Heavy soul food is lousy soul food. The good stuff is very, very light (consider: lard's applied to pie crust not to weight things down, but to lighten them up). Good soul food achieves two miracles:

1. Elevating cast-off cheap ingredients (ribs, neckbones, black eyed peas) to magnificence

2. Supreme lightness attained from gravy-soaked heavy foods cooked in heavy-seeming ways.

Bubba's nails all the miracles. It's a fast food place (order from the counter), but the linen napkins tip you off that this is so much more. I don't believe I've ever had a more consistently up-and-up version of this classic meal. And I didn't manage to get a photo of the banana pudding, which was still oven-warm, and pains me to even talk about. The biscuit, being merely very good, felt like an affront.

But wait till you see what I ate in eastern Mississippi. More next time!

Armoury D E (2714 Elm St; 972-803-5151) is a super cool, open-late Hungarian-tinged cocktail bar in the rocking Deep Ellum neighborhood. I had these superb oniony potatoes, the perfect thing for late night beery hunger pangs.

Bru City (13000 Trinity Blvd, Fort Worth; 817-510-6485). If this were merely a decent craft beer bar and bottle shop in a gas station in the worthless boonies of Ft Worth, Dayenu ("it would have been enough"). If it were all of that, and just 10 mins from the airport (where there's famously nothing good), Dayenu. If it were all of that, and had a really knowledgable bartender, who gives out raffle tickets for cool prizes, Dayenu.

But when it's all that, and also the loosest, coolest, best-stocked (beautifully, lovingly-chosen local brands, including many rarities, and fast-enough moving that nothing tasted old) beer bar/shop in town? Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Craft and Growler (3601 Parry Ave; 214-821-1122) is my favorite Dallas beer bar. The only one with geeky bartenders I can enthuse with - who'll bring me up to date on new breweries opened since my last trip, and proffer endless samples. I love Bru City truly, but have a deeper, longer commitment to Craft and Growler. Around the corner, Eight Bells Alehouse (831 Exposition) is a bit flakey, and offers only a few lackluster taps, but there's always - always! - one impossible-to-find, magnificent beer on tap, seemingly by accident.

The Waxahachie branch of Campuzano's (which has other, more convenient branches I've never tried) seemed just a bit downhill, but still awfully good Tex-Mex, and, as always, whip-crack efficient service.

Here's what I wrote last time about Campuzano's, along with more Dallas tips.

I stayed at NYLO Dallas South Side (1325 South Lamar St; 214-421-1080). Should be $300/night, but it's on a weird edge of town (still adjacent to tons of good food and beer and nightlife, e.g. the Deep Ellum area two miles away) so it's more like $110-140, and you can get a stiff discount by booking last minute via the Hotel Tonite app (which I previously mentioned here). Great, fun, cool, nice people, stupendously crafted and miraculously spacious rooms (check out the amazing - and accurate! - room photos here). Free wifi, free parking during the week.

Fly Bar in Terminal E at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, right in the gate area, blasts good funk and soul music and poured me a meticulously fresh pint of Revolver IPA - a way better and more indie brewery than you'd ever expect to find in an airport. All just two gates from my departing flight (I watched the boarding line, jumping in at last minute). Peak experience!

En route from Austin to Dallas on my way back, I stopped, as always, at Lula Jane's in Waco (406 Elm Ave; 254-366-0862). Great bakery. Getting crowded these days, though. I had a slice of buttery lemon/raspberry chess pie, and it was old-school soulful yet starchily skillful.

Next time: "Drive East, Touch Mississippi, Come Back" (read it here).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Postcards From My Childhood Part 12: The Maze

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"The child is the father of the man", they say. Surprisingly, I understood this even as a child. And so I willfully sent forward to my elder self some thoughts and images which I knew would be helpful, and which I suspected I'd otherwise forget.

To solve a maze, you don't need to visit every corridor and hit every dead end. Once you have the solution, the maze loses its interest. To dawdle in a solved maze makes no sense at all.

I recognized that people do, in fact, dawdle in solved mazes. And to some extent, it makes sense. You may have discovered the best dish on a menu, but lesser items might be delicious, as well. But there comes a moment when you've mined the value from a thing. Life is an adventure, and every dedicated adventurer learns to recognize that moment and to swiftly move on.

Here's the problem, which I didn't foresee as a kid:

If you develop an instinct for detecting this moment and moving on, things can hyperaccelerate. You find yourself learning and experiencing in lots of different realms in lots of different ways, perpetually thirsting for value and diversity (imagine a dog with his nose sticking out of a car window, hyperstimulated by the myriad passing scents).

But the unexpected truth is that it exhausts. You don't need to learn and experience absolutely everything (just as a maze solver needn't plumb every maze passage) to see clearly through, and to grok the underlying patterns. And value depletes shockingly quickly if you opt not to stick around for every single repetitive level of every video game.

The world is optimized for dawdlers who endlessly wander the same corridors. The world does not stand up to the scrutiny of those who resist
the cheap allure of the various Skinner boxes. God, it turns out, pads like a motherfucker.

More here

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Monday, June 5, 2017

A Simple Way to Understand Enduring Pro-Trumpism

So one of the legions of big-mouthed know-nothings found his way to high office, flaunting his lack of qualifications and his unprofessionalism. The result has been governance via mere gut reaction. A disaster. 

That's how it seems to Anti-Trumpers, who are unable to account for the 38% still supporting him. This shows an alarming lack of perspective. Consider that same narrative, above, but remove the scornfulness. Once you do, it's incredibly clear.

Americans adore the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," where an utterly nonpolitical outsider is elected to straighten out the dysfunctional miasma via fundamental American good sense. It goes without saying that Senator Smith would lack sophisticated command of the issues, and would say and do some dumb things, upsetting pompous windbags who worship the status quo. But has anyone ever viewed the ending of that film with trepidation for the hero's lack of experience, depth, and savvy? Was there ever doubt he'd help put government back on the right track?

The story expressed the very heart and soul of American democracy. And, to many, that's what's happening now! If you share Trump's unsophisticated outlook - his visceral talk radio stances on things - he's your Mr. Smith.

No one can hope to understand the current moment without accepting that Donald Trump = Mr. Smith for many earnest, decently American people. And we who sneer*, viewing them as rubes and hicks, personify the villainous side of the equation. We're the slick, corrupt, condescending status quo. We're the miasma.

* - Reread that first paragraph, swapping in Jimmy Stewart's character, to understand how we come off. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017


I'll gladly accept a .0001% risk of getting blown up rather than tolerate a sizable reduction in freedom.

Many disagree; mostly "small government" proponents demanding seamless government protection, who stoke aggression and violence with their fear-based tough-guy rhetoric. These bellicose, frightened souls, pining for strongman statism, are the very ones normally hollering about freedom and preservation of traditional values.

My sympathies to the families of the latest victims, and my thanks to the brave first responders, but acts of terrorism dwarfed by the day's traffic fatalities represent a level of risk far below what we all happily accept for the relatively puny freedom to drive to the 7-11 in a personal tin can of internal combustion. As for rarer, larger acts: how wound up are we about earthquakes, tsunamis, and flu?

Let's defend, as we can, against all societal risks and threats, duh...but retain some perspective. Just 'cuz it's called terrorism doesn't mean we need to be full-on terrified, making all the familiar mistakes of a panicked citizenry.

On further consideration, I've decided I'm uncomfortable with my comparison to auto deaths. Unlike deaths from driving accidents or natural disasters, terrorism has potential to self-reinforce and to escalate. The driver of a Dodge Charger that accidentally hits a minivan isn't recruiting other drivers to wreak more havoc, nor does he dream of getting his hands on a dirty bomb. And tsunamis don't spur copycat tsunamis.

Crime's different from other perils, and terrorism is far more serious than crime. So while I wasn't exactly drawing an analogy (rather, I was pointing out our otherwise high tolerance for risk in the pursuit of freedom), I want to acknowledge that any such comparison would be horribly inapt.

That said, I'll stick with the narrow argument I was actually making: terrorism, as it stands, is just one of many perils, and, in day to day life of citizens, barely registers as a risk in the scheme of things despite wild sensationalization. It's important to bear firmly in mind that we've always decided, as a society, that we're willing - even staunchly eager - to forego safety for freedom.

Insistence on perfect protection at any cost is irrational, unrealistic, unAmerican, and unnecessary (though, once again, we do need to do all we REASONABLY can....and reasonable minds can certainly disagree about what constitutes reasonability).

Ideally, I'd prefer zero risk of harm. But we moderns luxuriate in a safety level unimaginable to any of our forebears (though there's a cliff in the Canary Islands poised to suddenly dump gigantic quantities of earth into the ocean, spurring a tidal wave that could obliterate the American east coast...and those crafty flu viruses are always mutating). Our freedom and our values, however, remain tottery. For me, those chips are way more valuable.

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