Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Note on the Whole Trumputin Thing

A vast amount is known on the classified side. That's why Trump's worked so hard so early to discredit his own intelligence community. They have him red-handed, and he knows it, so he's tried to turn his base against them. Alas, they operate at a disadvantage, unable to make public their mountains of incriminating evidence, while he's free to blab and blab about them.

The press lacks access to that motherlode, but they know way more than they're reporting. The bottleneck is their journalistic standards of confirmation. Trump knows this, too, and it's part of what's fueling his war with them. (The zeitgeist of greatness in our time - ala food in the 90's - is investigative reporting. We're in a golden age of journalism, with the press fully rising to the challenge. I've happily bought digital subscriptions to NYT, WaPo, and several others.)

So there's all the pipeline, and many people know about it (and some finds its way into certain Twitter feeds) but you won't hear about it in the press because it's not double-confirmed.

But there is one sure takeaway: this is an immense scandal. It's not some minor break-in at a Washington hotel. Robert Mueller has a staff of a couple dozen at this point - all superstar investigators and/or prosecutors in their own rights. It's clearly not about any one meeting with the Russians.

So I'd urge you not to waste time with minutiae about this one stupid meeting with Trump's kid. It's nothing in the scheme of things. Either wait for Mueller's report (give it a year), or else dive into the Twitter feeds I follow (here's my list, or, if pressed for time, just follow my "likes") for the raw, unchecked stuff, which often seems to prove right. I'm not talking about Louise Mensch, who's pure chaos. I mean people like Rick Wilson, John Schindler, and Benjamin Wittes, who've been a month or three ahead of things since the election. Particularly don't miss Wilson's great Periscope video chats, announced via his Twitter feed, which have been the saving grace of this entire shitshow.

In the end, it won't matter who the eighth person was at this meeting, or whether Trump was advised about it, or whether there was follow-up. This is tip-of-the-iceberg stuff. There's so much more.

I find myself getting lulled into speculative details and pundit outrage re: the story du jour, but while it's crucial that the press (and Mueller) are dissecting it all, we needn't pay attention on that level. I haven't seen many Trump/Russia stories worth reading beyond the headline. Beyond the golden nugget, they're mostly padding - recap and background. Just watch the headlines, and know that it will all come out in the end. This is like a long road trip at 5 mph. We don't need to plant our attention on every passing weed and tin can.

In the meantime, don't expect Trump to go anywhere any time soon. It is not in our national interest for presidents to be easily removed - and eagerness to ravage institutional processes to achieve one's political aims is precisely the sort of thing Trump does...and we should be better). The smart money says resignation is most likely. At some point Trump will really stop enjoying this, and he'll find a medical excuse.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Criterion Collection Films 50% off at Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble (online and stores, both) is running their biannual Criterion Collection sale, with everything (including box sets) 50% off.

The Criterion Collection is the Rolls Royce of film distributors. They only carry great films, using the best available prints, and they take considerable trouble to improve image and sound when necessary. Their releases include copious extras (usually a printed booklet, too). Their release is the last word on any great film.

A lot of people lose their minds during these biannual sales, because every film is so damn attractive. I've been gaming them for a few years now, and have a few tips to share:

1. Don't buy on the basis of how good the film is (they're all great). You can often get much better deals on non-Criterion releases, or find ways to stream. And unless you're some fussy nerd, you generally won't need the very best print, so don't factor that in at all (unless you've got your sights on some lost film of the 1930s where the standard release is raggedy/terrible). Buy Criterion when you really want lots of extras. So: either favorite films (which you'll periodically rewatch) or else difficult, landmark films which you'll want to "chew on" - films by profound, challenging directors like Bergman or Tarkovsky. In both cases, you'll probably enjoy deep dives into special features and essays. If you'll just watch a film and put it back, Criterion is a waste of money.

2. Check price of used Criterion releases at Amazon Marketplace,, and eBay. They may be even cheaper than 50% off new.

3. The new Criterion release everyone's most excited about is Tarkovsky's "Stalker".

4. There's great discussion in Amazon reviews, and, especially, in user comments on the individual film pages at Criterion's web site (Here, for example, is the page for "Stalker"). Also: Criterion Forum

5. There's no reason to still be using a DVD player. Blu-ray decks are cheap, and they play DVDs, so you won't obsolete your previous disks. This one costs just $46, and this one, for $139, will play DVDs and Blu-Rays from any region (note that some constricted players can be made all-region by entering certain codes with the remote. Google your model number for more info). This one, for $549, is the cheapest great/expensive one with lots of bells/whistles (the manufacturer sometimes has refurb units cheap - email them for more info).

6. Bear in mind that Criterions can go out of print. When that happens, their price may shoot up. So you may want to move quickly (keeping tip #1 in mind) and then hold on to your films as an investment. On the other hand, I've bought $200 used copies of out-of-print Criterion films, viewed, and sold mine back again for about the same price. There's always demand for Criterions.

7. If, like me, you're a huge fan of "The Leftovers", consider "Walkabout", the Australian film which inspired this last season, and starred David Gulpilil (who played the aborigine Kevin's father tried to get the song from).

8. If you're buying "blind" a film you've never seen, be sure to check it through Movielens to make sure it's a film you'll actually like.

Criterion films I either own or am considering buying this time:

The 39 Steps Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The Battle of Algiers Director: Gillo Pontecorvo

Brazil Director: Terry Gilliam

Breathless Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Burden of Dreams Director: Les Blank

Burmese Harp Director: Kon Ichikawa

Dekalog Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Don't Look Now Director: Nicolas Roeg

Eisenstein: The Sound Years Director: Dmitriy Vasilev, Sergei M. Eisenstein

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Director: Terry Gilliam

A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman ("Through a Glass Darkly," "Winter Light," "The Silence")

Grand Illusion Director: Jean Renoir

Great Adaptations Director: David Lean

Grey Gardens / The Beales of Grey Gardens Director: Albert Maysles

Hiroshima Mon Amour Director: Alain Resnais

In the Mood for Love Director: Wong Kar-Wai

Jules and Jim Director: Fran├žois Truffaut

La Ronde Director: Max Ophuls

The Lady Eve Director: Preston Sturges

The Lady Vanishes Director: Alfred Hitchcock

The Leopard Director: Luchino Visconti

Mala Noche Director: Gus Van Sant

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters Director: Paul Schrader

Naked Director: Mike Leigh

Olivier's Shakespeare ((Henry V, Hamlet, Richard III) Director: Laurence Olivier

Orphic Trilogy ("The Blood of a Poet," "Orpheus," "The Testament of Orpheus") Director: Jean Cocteau

The Passion of Joan of Arc Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Paths of Glory Director: Stanley Kubrick

Picnic at Hanging Rock Director: Peter Weir

Pierrot le Fou Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Rashomon Director: Akira Kurosawa

The Rules of the Game Director: Jean Renoir

Rushmore Director: Wes Anderson

Safe Director: Todd Haynes

Scenes From a Marriage Director: Ingmar Bergman

The Seventh Seal Director: Ingmar Bergman

Solaris Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Stalker Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Tanner '88 Director: Robert Altman

This Is Spinal Tap Director: Rob Reiner

Three Colors: Blue White Red Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Throne of Blood Director: Akira Kurosawa

Videodrome Director: David Cronenberg

Walkabout Director: Nicolas Roeg

Yi Yi Director: Edward Yang

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Thomas Chapin

Great to see my old friend and colleague, dearly-departed saxophonist Thomas Chapin, getting some recognition. A film about him, which I haven't seen yet, is starting to gain some traction, which is heartening. When good people die too young (Thomas was just 40), it's their friends' responsibility to keep memory alive. Hence this posting.

Thomas and I played together in a zillion different bands in zillions of places, having spent the 90's happily embedded in a scene of comically flexible musicians whose typical work week might include a gypsy wake, an experimental puppet show, a lesbian drum circle, a chamber music gig, a Haitian dance party, and a big band performance.

Thomas and I took things one level further than most of the others. We were two of the only players at the time who spent as much time playing crazy avant-garde gigs at, say, The Knitting Factory, as we did playing more straight-ahead jazz in conventional jazz clubs and festivals. Those two circles scarcely intersected, as the avant-garde guys tended to be a bit wild and undisciplined, while the straight-ahead guys tended to be technical and narrow-minded.

Haiti to Mozart to puppets to lesbian drummers seemed reasonable, but the chasm between 1958-style African-American music and 1975-style African-American music was vast. I was a completely different musician on each side of that border, working with totally different pools of colleagues and unique musical challenges. The only common denominator, in fact, was Thomas!

These days, most good musicians can play anything. But back then, while a number players sort of dabbled at the two styles, very few approached both with serious commitment.

So while it wasn't uncommon to find ourselves screaming our heads off in our funky threads at some psychedelic brass band tribute to Jimi Hendrix, it would feel briefly strange when Thomas and I encountered each other in suit and tie (crazy haircuts well-concealed) playing gigs at the Apollo Theater or the Blue Note. Then we'd both remember that, oh yeah; of course, he does this, too! We were like two spies under deep cover bumping into each other out in the field.

Here's the link for the film again, if you want to buy the DVD, or donate (these guys have really been slogging to get the project done).

My work with Chowhound (and, even more so, with my new app, Eat Everywhere) obviously channeled the same credo of nimble-but-heartfelt culture surfing (promiscuity, if you will). In fact, Thomas enjoyed a great cross-cultural bite as much as I did. The chowhounding scene and the postmodern music scene are like identical cousins.

More on that here.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Historian Consensus Circa 2117

Nixon: Should have burned the tapes.

Carter: Weak; paralyzed by minutiae.

George W Bush: Late to disengage from Cheney's enthrallment.

Obama: Deliberateness is noble; equivocation is not.

Trump: Campaigned to enhance brand and ego, never intended to win. Victory ensured punishment for lifelong criminality that otherwise would never have come to light.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Buying Tesla Stock

As I've previously reported, I've made a decent living trading Apple for years now. Its stock plunges always coincide with a sudden hailstorm of half-baked crappy little rumors and concerns, few significant and none existential. Eventually, the price settles at a low plateau, I buy, and, just as suddenly, celebration bells ring, everyone notices anew that Apple's still printing money, and the stock boisterously pops up to a new high. I make my 30% return (sometimes after waiting a year or more, but, great, that means low taxes on the long term gain). Rinse and repeat.

The process seems highly orchestrated, given that Apple itself never really flinches, despite the periodic hysterical freak-outs. Yet the shenanigans work every time, showing that people are remarkably oblivious to manipulation. It's not even subtle. The freak-out occurs at some random moment, when a few analysts and a phalanx of dodgy bloggers you've never heard of suddenly get super pessimistic about Apple. Journalists, who love nothing more than drama, jump on, and, without fail, the masses compliantly shift their sentiment and down goes the stock. Someone's hacked our trend-following faculties.

I see the same thing happening right now with Tesla, which is down 16% this week, 20% off its recent high. All of a sudden, a few people you've heard of - and tons of people you haven't - are super pessimistic. The stock price tumbles, and, voila: self-fulfilling prophecy. As with Apple, the rumors seem devised to bypass frontal lobes and go straight to the fearful amygdala. They appear important until you examine them.

Advance deposits for Tesla's upcoming Model 3 may be slipping.
Accent on "may be", as there's no way to actually know. Listen, the phenomenon of many people tying up a grand of their savings years in advance for a car they've never seen (much less test driven) was a display of breathtaking enthusiasm. A decrease in the number of such people doesn't spell doom for the model, it means customers are merely "thrilled and excited"....and only if this rumor is even true. And we don't know if it is. I myself am curious as hell about the Model 3, but I sure haven't laid out a whopping deposit!

Tesla's luxury models are selling merely adequately
Given that the much cheaper Model 3 is getting closer and closer, and zillions of other carmakers are moving into electric, the fact that the luxury models - which are very expensive - continue to sell ok is good news, not bad. Nobody in their right mind - including Elon Musk - imagined the luxury models would be increasing in sales at this point. Yet their failure to exceed projected sales is what precipitated this sell-off. Whuh?

Zillions of other carmakers are moving into electric
Yup. And if you think they'll produce anything close to Tesla's standards, at similar price and scale, with consistent and reliable results, right off the bat, you're nuts. Tesla isn't a scrappy little start-up about to see how the big boys do. Battery tech is hard, and they've been at it for a long while in a smart and well-funded way. Same for the advanced interface stuff (necessary in any modern car, but especially electric and increasingly autonomous vehicles).

Furthermore, Teslas have off-the-charts fahrvergn├╝gen (driving pleasure) and coolness factor, and that's why car people go crazy for them. Volvo (which is going all electric), for example, will not challenge either. EV engine aside, Tesla's fun/coolness has been shaming all other carmakers, and those guys won't suddenly develop the secret sauce - and certainly not while also managing a tech transition Tesla's already completed.

If the competition's first (or even second) generation EVs manage to crush Tesla's established price, range, and quality, Tesla will indeed lose. If any of those parameters fall short (and they will), Tesla will remain the one to beat for a while. The millions of Tesla enthusiasts (many of whom, like me, can't afford a luxury Tesla, but drool over Model 3) will not lose their ardor if a Honda or a Volvo merely comes close. And even coming close will be tough...for now.

Tesla's still struggling to produce batteries en masse
This one is the ribbon of actual truth laced into the bullshit. But it's also a given. Battery production is hard, and Tesla's always struggled with scale and blown deadlines. Lofty as Tesla's stock price has been, production scale issues are priced in. No news here.

And, again, Musk's firm is not some scrappy little startup. If they can't get batteries made en masse on schedule, then I doubt anyone else can - at least not as cheaply, nor with as long a range ("range anxiety" is the all-important factor in all this). Tesla's been at this a long while, with great minds and resources, so I'm figuring some company won't blithely crash through this least not in the short term. And in the long term I expect Tesla, with their head start, to remain ahead of the pack for a while.

So: I'll wait for a plateau, and then buy some. But with a caveat.

The difference between Tesla and Apple is that Apple isn't going anywhere. With its obscene cash horde of $260 billion, it can weather utter catastrophe - several, in fact - and still be able to to easily swallow up, say, Starbucks and Boeing (yes, both!). No matter what, Apple won't, like, disappear, taking your investment with it. A giant metaphorical spring undergirds all its stock movement. The most successful company in history is not imperiled (heck, isn't even affected) by passing trends of manipulation and skittishness.

Tesla's a whole other game. There's no giant spring. But the current drama carries a familiar stench of manipulation. The entities hoping to crater this stock certainly intend to profit on the stock's recovery. So I'll just quietly, calmly ride along.

Finally, wherever I buy, the price will almost certainly sink lower - perhaps much lower ("buy low/sell high" should never be confused with "buy bottom/sell top", an impossible aim). And it may take quite a while before it recovers. And without the giant spring, that might be stressful. I'm patient, and appreciate the low tax rate of long term capital gains. But if I were someone who got anxious about on-paper losses, this would probably not be a good strategy for me.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

"World Peace"

A few years ago, I met a fellow whose thing was "World Peace". He announced this, and stood there, breathing and blinking. You peace! The whole thing irritated the living daylights out of me, but I couldn't find a convincing way to explain why.

I haven't seen the guy in years, but I've continued to think about this. And, finally, I have the answer. The next person who tells me they're devoted to World Peace, I'm going to walk right up to them - invading their space - raise my voice, and exclaim "World peace, huh?" I'll start jabbing him in the collar bone with my index finger, contemptuously asking "What does that mean, anyway, 'world peace'"?

More jabbing.

"Tell me about world peace!"

I'll start poking him in the forehead, at which point, he'll take a swing at me, or at least break into an open rage. And I'll take a step back, calmly grin, and say "Voila: world peace!" holding up my puny, pink little index finger for consideration.

If I get my jaw broken, so be it. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words fucking kill me.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Critical Dream Knowledge

I learned the following in a dream last night (it seemed so urgent that I used extreme force of will to remember it after awakening):

Mezzo sopranos will have a stillborn baby every sixth pregnancy.

Also: there are six scientific "flavors" of woman, four of which are "French," "Scotch-Irish," "Mezzo-Soprano," and "Puerto Rican". I could not learn the other two flavors - and it was driving me crazy all night trying to imagine how just two more could possibly categorize all the rest. But I finally decided it was like quarks, whose "flavors" are categorized with capricious adjectives ("up", "down", "strange", "charm", "top", and "bottom").

If so, "French," "Scotch-Irish," "Mezzo-Soprano," and "Puerto Rican" women may not literally be those things. A Sri Lankan might be, scientifically, "Puerto Rican" or "Mezzo Soprano."


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Chowhound's 20th Anniversary

CBS told me they were planning a 20th Anniversary "celebration" of Chowhound, and asked me to reply to a list of very open-ended questions. They also promised to plug my app, Eat Everywhere. The result was this rather sad little throwaway (turn your volume off before clicking...the auto-play video ad is quite loud).

Anyhoo, as a treat for Slog readers, here's my full set of answers, which I hope offers a thoughtful and fitting look back at something launched on a whim as an ad-hoc little side project ("a three hour tour....").

How did you come up with the idea of creating Chowhound?
I'd attracted a following as a restaurant critic, and felt under increasing pressure to act like an “expert.” Ick. I was never comfortable with the notion that my taste buds are more significant than anyone else’s.

I knew loads of people who knew as much as I did about food, and who had great taste. I do have a special knack for treasure hunting, and for writing evocatively, and I was glad more and more people were enjoying my reports in various publications. But the “expert” thing felt creepy and dishonest (I wrote more about this here).

After gradually working my way up the NYC restaurant critic ladder, I got a call from The NY Daily News, which, at the time, was the highest-circulation paper in America. They were looking for someone to take over their restaurant review column. After a series of meetings and interviews, I was finally called into the editor’s office and told I had the job. I asked about pay, and was told that for two pieces per week, plus an occasional longer feature, I'd get $250/week. In a state of shock, I managed to croak out a question about food expenses, and they said I could take care of that out of my $250/week.

The scales instantly fell from my eyes. I understood the game was strictly about vanity (which explained a lot of the lazy food writing at the time). I liked eating well and writing well, period. I wanted to evangelize treasure and tempt folks to stop settling for mediocrity, but felt no urge to puff myself up. The solution came to me immediately.

A network of avid eaters would be way more useful than any one gilded palate, so I'd gather kindred spirits online in an atmosphere filled with zest and personality - as opposed to dry user-rating services like Zagat. And I'd make it flatly horizontal, not hierarchical. I'd been moderating online forums for years as a hobby, so the whole thing came pretty naturally.

I suppose I was the Gorbachev of restaurant critics, working tirelessly to ensure my own obsolescence.
What are your top 3 favorite threads in Chowhound?
Ha. I never looked at it that way. Let me try to explain...

Many users are naturally drawn to the prolific, confident writers - the food critic wannabes. Some of these posters are/were terrific, and many of us, including me, learned a great deal from them. They were always very welcome!

But the stuff I most appreciated was posted by random posters who'd occasionally drop an awesome tip into the mix. They weren't looking for cred. Some had trouble crafting a coherent sentence. But they'd quietly, modestly make it understood that they knew their stuff - had tried every tamal in Queens - and were sharing hard-won solid gold. The poster named "Fedex Guy", for example, was actually my Fedex guy! His tips were always on the money, even if his spelling was a little dodgy. He'd been chowhounding on his delivery route for years.

I often felt like I was the only one paying attention to some of these people. And they were the ones that came to mind whenever I questioned my commitment to keep the lights on.

I'll say one thing, though. I've spent the past two years building an ambitious cuisine app, and whenever I Googled some super-obscure culinary question, I'd inevitably stumble upon some amazing Chowhound thread offering the definite word on the topic. I didn't always have time to read much of the site back in the day, but I'm constantly discovering, even now, how phenomenally useful this data trove is. Years later, there's still nothing like it.
What are your most fond experiences with the community?
I loved seeing great places - which otherwise would have been ignored - thrive and prosper thanks to chowhound support and evangelization.

Everyone assumes that cream floats - that great stuff eventually gets discovered and praised. But that's not true at all! Treasure withers from disinterest all the time. It kills me when greatness fails. It's such a dangerous precedent.

I'm proud that our community has elevated so much treasure. We've done an awful lot to encourage the good guys, and to help make quality profitable.
How many Chowdowns have you organized and how many have you participated in?
None! I was too busy running this beast to gallavant with the crowd! Also, I needed to maintain food critic anonymity. The community arranged and enjoyed them on their own.

Hey, the cook back in the kitchen rarely enjoys the front-of-the-house conviviality. But the chowdowns sure sounded like fun!
Who designed the original logo? Was it based on a dog you own?
Cecilia Lehar designed it. We went through a ton of drafts, trying to ensure the dog didn't look scary, or sloppy. He needed a happy, eagerly-loopy, bon vivant flair, which was hard to achieve. Can you see the cocktail glass in his nose? :)
Could you explain the mystery behind the dog mask?
As a restaurant critic, I needed to retain anonymity. This made it difficult to appear on TV. I was on a program featuring a roundtable discussion with two other critics (one of whom was Ruth Reichl), and the producers offered to provide a disguise. They handed me an awesome dog mask, and let me keep it. I wore it to all public events (e.g. this book signing). About a week after I left the operation, I found it in a box that had been resting on a radiator. It had melted into a pile of gloop.
Have you ever imagined that Chowhound would be around for this long?
Absolutely not. My business partner Bob(TM) and I had planned on five years, tops. It was a fun kooky project, never intended to blow up so large or to last so long. Whenever I hear site users complain about this or that issue, I often have trouble getting my dander up. To me, the fact that Chowhound even still exists is a miracle. How many web sites from 1997 are still out there, serving their original mission?
In your words, what defines a Chowhound?
In the old days, we made all new arrivals to the site read through a text-filled front page, explaining all that. It was designed to filter out the trendies!

*Everyone has one in his or her life: the brother-in-law with a collection of 800 takeout menus, the coworker who's always late from lunch because she HAD to trek to one end of town for the best soup and to the other for the best sandwich. Chowhounds know where the good stuff is, and they never settle for less than optimal deliciousness, whether dining in splanky splendor or grabbing a quick slice of pizza. They are the one in ten who live to eat.*

*We're not talking about foodies. Foodies eat where they're told; they eagerly follow trends and rarely go where Zagat hasn't gone before. Chowhounds, on the other hand, blaze trails, combing gleefully through neighborhoods for hidden culinary treasure. They despise hype, and while they appreciate refined ambiance and service, they can't be fooled by mere flash.*

*No media outlets serve chowhounds. There are no chowhoundish newspapers, magazines or TV shows. And they've never had a place to gather and exchange information. This discerning, passionate crowd has long been completely invisible and utterly disenfranchised.......until now!*

*'s Alpha Dog, professional restaurant critic/author Jim Leff, along with Bob Okumura, launched this site to provide a non-hypey haven where their fellow hounds can opine, bicker, and rave to their hearts' content. Anyone who eats is welcome to stop by for unbiased, savvy chow advice or to just sit back and watch in amazement.*

*If you, too, fret endlessly about making every bite count; if you'd grow weak from hunger rather than willingly eat something less than delicious, this place is for you! Welcome to our community. Let's talk. Let's swap tips (click below to get to the meat & potatoes).*

Also....this article, "A Tale of Two Chowhounds", which has been republished many times, was a foundational document.
What would you like to say to the members who’ve been in Chowhound since the beginning?
Check out the cookies from these guys. They're the best I ever had. My favorite flavor is toffee, not listed on their site. Try to score a special order!
What have you been doing since you stopped running Chowhound?
I went on a long binge of exercise, yoga, and meditation. I also learned to cook healthily. Then I got my trombone technique back again (I started out as a professional musician, but hadn't played a note in years, being so busy running the site!). Then I got involved in a few kookie and rewarding projects (intentionally) off public radar. And wrote a Slog, which continues to this day.

For the past two years, I've been working - with a team of chowhounds - on a magnum opus: "Eat Everywhere", a iPhone/Android app that serves as an on-the-fly guide in restaurants of any cuisine. It's like the hitchhiker's guide to the food universe (John Thorne calls it "an impressively designed and wickedly ingenious app. Endlessly useful, surprisingly entertaining, and highly addictive....the distillation of a lifetime of adventurous eating").

If you're a newbie, it will make you fearless about approaching any immigrant restaurant at home (or foreign eateries while traveling), and confident about copping a fantastic meal. If you're already expert, it's the cheat sheet you've always dreamed of.

Everyone knows about samosas and pad Thai. But there are equally killer things in every cuisine. This mines all the best treasure. Really, I should have done this before starting Chowhound. You've got to know what to eat (and how to eat it) before you worry about where to eat!
How are you going to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Chowhound?
I'll be doing what I did for 20 years before Chowhound, and for the 20 years since: trying to maximize my deliciousness. I'll be out there searching for the geniuses, kooks, and hold-outs who aim for more than maximal profit from minimal effort. It's what I do! For a few years there, people paid some attention, but that was never a goal. I'm just a guy who really, really enjoys chowhounding!

Here's my Slog posting from Chowhound's 15th anniversary.

Here is the first installment of the epic tale of the selling of ("Bubbles, Slogs, and Selling Out").

Here are all Slog postings tagged "Chowhound".

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.

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