the view through the windshield car blog

Miscellaneous Musings & Opinions (2017)

Bad Restaurant Review Of The Year: And, remember, the year is still young.

In 2001, Carol offered a toast beneath a naked marble statue at the Musée d'Orsay restaurant, a very good place for a relaxing meal. For some reason, I'm thinking we had rump roast as an entrée.
Food critic for the UK's The Guardian, Jay Rayner eviscerated the overpriced dreck served at Le Cinq in the Four Seasons Hôtel George V, Paris in a biting - no pun intended - review.

"There is only one thing worse than being served a terrible meal: being served a terrible meal by earnest waiters who have no idea just how awful the things they are doing to you are." That's the case at this Michelin-rated three-star restaurant.

Decor? "The dining room, deep in the hotel, is a broad space of high ceilings and coving, with thick carpets to muffle the screams. It is decorated in various shades of taupe, biscuit and fuck you. There's a little gilt here and there, to remind us that this is a room designed for people for whom guilt is unfamiliar. It shouts money much as football fans shout at the ref. There's a stool for the lady's handbag. Well, of course there is."

Starters and mains are priced at $75-150. "The canapé we are instructed to eat first is a transparent ball on a spoon. It looks like a Barbie-sized silicone breast implant, and is a “"spherification", a gel globe using a technique perfected by Ferran Adrià at El Bulli about 20 years ago. This one pops in our mouth to release stale air with a tinge of ginger. My companion winces. "It's like eating a condom that's been left lying about in a dusty greengrocer's,” she says. Spherifications of various kinds – bursting, popping, deflating, always ill-advised – turn up on many dishes. It's their trick, their shtick, their big idea. It's all they have."

Some dishes have the "blunt acidity of the sort that polishes up dulled brass coins. We hit it again in an amuse-bouche which doesn't: a halved and refilled passionfruit, the vicious passionfruit supplemented by a watercress purée that tastes only of the plant's most bitter tones. My lips purse, like a cat's arse that's brushed against nettles.

The cheapest of the starters is gratinated onions "in the Parisian style". We're told it has the flavor of French onion soup. It makes us yearn for a bowl of French onion soup. It is mostly black, like nightmares, and sticky, like the floor at a teenager's party. There are textures of onions, but what sticks out are burnt tones, and spherified balls of onion purée that burst jarringly against the roof of the mouth. A dish of raw marinated scallops with sea urchin ice cream is a whack of iodine. It is the most innovative dish of the meal, though hardly revolutionary. Sea urchin ice cream turned up on Iron Chef America back in the '90s.

A main of pigeon is requested medium, but served so pink it just might fly again given a few volts. It comes with brutally acidic Japanese pear and more of that flavorless watercress purée. A heap of couscous is mined with a tiny portion of lamb for $100." Read the whole appalling, yet amusing article, please.

Then consider dining at Le Grand Louvre in the museum, under the Pyramid. Or the fine restaurant at the Musée d'Orsay. We've had outstanding meals at each. Jay recommended the remodeled Hemmingway Bar at The Hôtel Ritz as an alternative. (posted 4/25/17, permalink)

Chop Chop: The Trump Administration's first budget takes a pick axe to a bloated list of government programs, "eliminating funding for old stalwarts like the community development block grant program and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, slicing into traditional areas of diplomacy and annihilating federal environmental efforts while dedicating more money to defense, veterans and building a wall along the Mexican border."

Public Broadcasting does very well on its own these days. Big Bird and his pals on 'Sesame Street' bring in over $121 million per year in revenue - from licensing fees and the like. Public television as well as NPR (National Propaganda Radio) are havens for ultra-liberal screeds, with nary a conservative voice to be heard.

auto blogThe new budget would end the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program (a wasteful windfall that gives transit agencies incentives to build expensive and obsolete transit systems), end funding for Amtrak's long-distance trains, eliminate HUD community development block grants and reduce funding for public land acquisition. Federally-subsidized transit systems are notorious for throwing money away, wether its spending $50,000 apiece for bus fare boxes or $250,000 for a hideous sculpture of a deer with a human baby face on it.

The administration has proposed transferring air traffic control to an independent, non-governmental organization, which would quickly install new equipment and increase airline capacities and safety. It would also eliminate "the so-called Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes airports in smaller communities. Trump also proposes to eliminate the TIGER grant program, a relic of the 2009 stimulus bill, that has funded streetcars and other ridiculous projects."

"Eliminating community development block grants would save $3 billion, which is a lot of money. This should be cut, says the proposal, because “the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results." The budget would also cut $35 million for affordable housing."

Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney called climate change research "a waste of your money" regarding proposed cuts in that area. The EPA has become a bloated bureaucracy devoted to terrorizing businesses and landowners.

Of course, liberals don't like it: The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof tweeted, "I feel as the Romans must have felt in 456 AD as the barbarians conquered and ushered in the dark ages." Hyperbole much?

David Harsanyi wrote, "Under Trump's budget, the Education Department would see a 14% cut, which, for those who believe the federal government should have no role in local education, is around 86 percent too little. The good news is that $1.4 billion will be re-allocated to encourage local charter schools, private schools, and school-choice initiatives that will help minority and low-income children escape from failing schools. This might be the best "investment" the DOE has ever made for poor kids."

These and other cuts could represent the largest reduction in federal programs since the drawdown after World War II and will undoubtedly cause a substantial drop in government employees, something White House officials said was one of their goals.

"You can't drain the swamp and leave all the people in it," OMB Director Mulvaney said. Sounds like a good philosophy. (posted 3/22/17, permalink)

The Speech: After listening to President Trump's address to both Houses of Congress on Tuesday night, I turned to my wife and said, "That should have been his inauguration speech." Oh, well. Better a month late than never.

It was an inclusive speech; President Trump used the word "we" more than 100 times. In 2010, President Obama actually referenced himself approximately 117 times during his speech to Congress.

Many of the Democratic house members looked like glum fools. They didn't know how to react; sitting on their hands when Trump made a bipartisan remark. It was as if the Dems didn't know if they were Americans. Democrats brought illegals as guests; Trump invited the relatives of those murdered by illegals. (Talk about one-upmanship!) At the end of the speech, most Democrats scurried away like roaches when the lights are turned on. Including all those women who dressed in white for "solidarity" - to what, the Klu Klux Klan?

The Democratic 'response' consisted of an old man - a former governor - prattling on. He looked like the guy who answers the door for the deliveryman in those mail-order catheter commercials on FoxBusiness.

Trump laid out an inspiring vision of optimism and hope. I was reminded of Reagan's "shining city on a hill" speech. "My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America." After the Obama years, confused Americans needed to hear that.

"When we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began. The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.

We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts. The bravery to express the hopes that stir our souls. And the confidence to turn those hopes and dreams to action. From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears - inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past - and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.

I am asking all citizens to embrace this Renewal of the American Spirit. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big, and bold and daring things for our country. And I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment and believe in yourselves.

Believe in your future. And believe, once more, in America." Amen. (posted 3/2/17, permalink)

Faux Rage: Internet meet scheduling site is angered by the president's extreme vetting program, noting that "after the recent executive order aimed to block people on the basis of nationality and religion, a line was crossed. At a time when core democratic ideals feel under attack, we feel a duty to spark more civic participation. Last week, we created 1,000+ #Resist Meetup Groups to act as local hubs for actions on behalf of democracy, equality, human rights, social justice, and sustainability."

Jack Baruth probed for the true motives behind the manufactured outrage and found: "Meetup, the company, just filed for more H1Bs than it's requested in the entire history of the H1-B program." Jack wrote, "While it's touching to think that Meetup is deeply vested in the rights of Somalis to travel to the United States, it seems far more likely that they are just hoping to prevent Mr. Trump from getting enough momentum in his administration to eliminate, or drastically revise, the labor policies that are keeping high-skilled white-collar American citizens out of a job. This is corporate activism in perfect synecdoche: a focus on the bottom line dressed up with some marketing-speak to warm the hearts of dipshits with masters' degrees in feminist basket-weaving."

Jack has written about H-1B scams before and I've posted excerpts with my comments here.

I've seen more than one of these scams firsthand. I once worked with an architectural firm. They had lots of H-1B junior architects and designers, not because there wasn't an ample supply of very talented American architects in the job market but because they could pay foreigners less and underbid competitors. Many of these 'temporary' foreign workers (who can stay here for up to six years) lived in dumpy, shared apartments.

Here's an interesting immigration comment from a gentleman at Jack Baruth's site: "As a black male who is a registered Republican and wealthy, let me be first to say that I agree: The immigrants coming here are doing their best to change America rather than assimilate to it. I have no loyalty to them (any of them) and my recommendation is the swiftest way to stop them is to end the welfare state.

My tax dollars are better spent on Hellcats and Trackhawks. America only has 322 Million (tops) but there are more than 5 billion living in poverty. You can't bring them all here. You can't save them all. So why punish taxpayers by shuttling them in and handing them welfare checks?

President Trump is doing exactly what I wanted him to do." Amen, brother. (posted 2/28/17, permalink)

The Perils Of Collecting: Jack Baruth wrote recently, "The Boomers were the engine behind a Golden Era Of Antiques, denizens of an economic and spiritual paradise who nevertheless couldn't stop looking backwards at their perfected childhoods. ("If you want to be really authentic about nostalgia for the Seventies," one wag wrote a while ago, "You have to get your head around the idea that much of the Seventies consists of nostalgia for the Fifties.")

It would be easy to laugh at them and the way they inflated the prices of everything from a 1959 Les Paul to a 1970 Chevelle to the stratosphere - but didn't I, the enlightened Gen-Xer who believes in nothing, just pay serious money for two reproductions of BMX bicycles from 1986? Yes I did. So the ground beneath my feet on this issue is more like shifting sand."

Many of my friends are pre-Boomers - born just before or during the war years. They collect many of the same things as Boomers: reproduction pedal cars, replica Wurlitzer jukeboxes and the like. Their walls, shelves and dens are filled with Fake Nostalgia - something I've written about before.

They lust after things like two-seater Thunderbirds and do-wop music. The problem with the '55-57 Birds is that average-condition examples haven't moved much in value in the past 35 years or so. And those who lusted after them are now entering their 70s and downsizing. Or moving into Senior Living Gulags of one sort or another.

Such people aren't buying much stuff these days. None are interested in seeing do-wop groups perform because the original members are mostly dead and the licensed ones don't sound the same. Elvis impersonators are aging and have swapped their vintage Gibson J-200s for Hurrycanes. Even Beatles Tribute Band concerts are getting hard to find; the prospective audiences need too many intermissions for rest room breaks. It seems like all the tribute groups performing at county fairs and second-rate Indian casinos these days are for ABBA - a '70s thing. Or '80s metal bands.

Speaking of nostalgia, investing in model cars is also a dicey game. I've written explicitly about that here.

Mr. Baruth continued, "What will be valuable and collectible? My crystal ball is broken, so I couldn't say. Maybe nothing. Most young people spend most of their time interacting with computers and tablets nowadays. Vintage computers have only sentimental value, so I'm guessing that “vintage iPads” wont be worth much in the year 2046. (If you think otherwise, I own six Atari 800s and I'm open to offers.)"

Jack is planning to get rid of his 'collectible' baseball cards with the "Great Duraflame Baseball Card Burning of 2017." Jack says you're invited to attend and bring your own collectible cards. Or flammable Elvis memorabilia. (posted 2/10/17, permalink)

The War On Poverty Is Being Won: Oxford economist Max Roser, founder of the Our World in Data project, provides compelling evidence for that claim. Rather than focusing on today's noise, he and his team look at data to pursue the question, “How are things changing?

One of his most striking charts concerns extreme poverty. “Extreme poverty” is defined as living on the equivalent of $1.90/day or less, an amount that's adjusted to account for non-monetary income (trading for carrots), cost of living across time and so on. Here's the picture:

Dr. Roser offers this explanation of the picture: "In 1820 only a tiny elite enjoyed higher standards of living, while the vast majority of people lived in conditions that we would call extreme poverty today. Since then the share of extremely poor people fell continuously. More and more world regions industrialized and thereby increased productivity which made it possible to lift more people out of poverty: In 1950 three-quarters of the world were living in extreme poverty; in 1981 it was still 44%. For last year … the share in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%.

That is a huge achievement, maybe the biggest achievement of all in the last two centuries. It is particularly remarkable if we consider that the world population has increased seven-fold over the last two centuries … In a world without economic growth, such an increase in the population would have resulted in less and less income for everyone; a 7-fold increase in the world population would have been enough to drive everyone into extreme poverty. Yet, the exact opposite happened. In a time of unprecedented population growth our world managed to give more prosperity to more people and to continuously lift more people out of poverty."

David Snowball wrote: "I'm struck less by the fact that things are getting better, more by the fact that they're getting better faster which is marked by inflection points around 1950 and 1970. The same pattern holds for global literacy, child mortality, education, fertility and even respect for human rights. ... But the important things are, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, getting better. They're getting better because it's in our nature to seek better, rather than to surrender to worse."

Technology, the spread of democracy and capitalism are major factors here. There is reason to rejoice. (posted 2/6/17, permalink)

Can California Be Saved? Roger Simon is wondering if gay Republican Peter Thiel can reinvigorate California by becoming its governor.

Roger wrote, "Back in the sixties and seventies when the Mamas and the Papas recorded 'California Dreamin' and The Beach Boys were washing us 'Good Vibrations' and Hollywood was making movies like 'The Godfather' and 'Chinatown', I thought my adopted city - L.A. - was the center of the known universe and a good portion of the unknown universe as well. Now … not so much."

In the 1950s and '60s, California was perceived as America's dream, especially Southern California - a land of warmth and sunshine, blue ocean and beaches not far from the city. Then there were the palm trees, modern freeways, interesting and novel (for me) architecture and lithe, tanned people dressed in sharp clothes who drove gleaming, desirable autos. Just watch old '50s television shows set in the Golden State - like '77 Sunset Strip'.

In the period from 1955 through 1960, over 600,000 people migrated from other states to California. In January 1972, I finally visited the fabled state, arriving from cold, snowy Philadelphia - after slogging through a dirty, slush-strewn airport parking lot full of filthy, salt-encrusted cars. I landed at LAX with its iconic, spaceport-like control tower and my senses were overwhelmed. It was a warm night with starry skies ... goodbye, wool overcoat!

Spellbound, I rode the freeway with its a lava stream of red taillights, gawked at the big palm trees, the colorful signage, the always green grass, the unusual desert-type shrubbery, the unfamiliar chains of restaurants (Carl's Jr., The Velvet Turtle, Taco Bell, Sizzler, In-N-Out Burger), the sleek, gleaming cars speeding down the wide concrete and the tightly-packed housing developments - each with a tile roof, swimming pool and privacy walls.

I remember sitting outdoors at 10:00 pm with business colleagues in someone's backyard, drinking California Zinfandel and looking up at the stars, with only a small fire pit to provide a bit of warmth in winter. Not that I needed it; compared to the freezing industrial East, it was practically tropical.

That night I fell in love with California. To me, it was just like in the movies. And television.

Then things began to change. The rot began in San Francisco, which had become a haven for the homeless and hopeless. Crime increased. The city became more seedy. I believe that California-the-Dream entered hospice when people were forbidden from helping turn the venerable cable cars around at the ends of the line (Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf). Barriers were erected. If you crossed the line you'd be arrested. It was OK, however, for tramps to squat and take a dump in any public place in SF. They were a protected class and immune from arrest. Everything had become backwards and inside-out.

There's rot in Los Angeles. And Sacramento, too.

Then there's the outrageous behavior from various Southern California low-brow rap stars, social flotsam or cultural jetsam created by ill-behaved reality-show stars and other appalling entertainment newsmakers.

The Golden State has indeed fallen on hard times, with a poverty rate that is now twice as bad as West Virginia's and substantially worse than the rates of poverty in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas. Democrat-run California earned its last-place rank under the federal government's new measure of poverty, which incorporates more detailed analyses of welfare payments and the local costs of food, gasoline and housing. Thank you, Sanctuary Cities.

The state's costs are boosted by its environmental and workplace regulations. Businesses are packing up and leaving at an ever-accelerating rate.

That's what being ruled by leftists and allowing the unrestricted flow of illegals will get you. It is extremely sad to see a state so rich in natural resources (especially its fertile farmland) be destroyed by politics.

Peter Thiel might be the right person to save the Golden State. He's not a politician and is a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. And a doer. Peter is the co-founder of PayPal and author of the a thought-provoking book, 'Zero To One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future'.

I'd like so see him get a shot at restoring California's golden days by building a new future. (posted 2/2/17, permalink)

More 'Musings' can be found here.

Other Pages Of Interest

copyright 2017 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved


The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.

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Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.