Thursday, June 30, 2005
July 7th, the Tour ends up in Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, home of the world-famous and world-patrimony-of-the-UNESCO-listed Stanislas square, and birth place of moi.
July 13th, Courchevel-Briançon will be a killer, and break or make the winner. If you'll wake up to watch only one stage, this is the one.
July 14th, Bastille Day. There is a stage, sure, but more important is how to celebrate in SF. I have to work on this.
July 24th: arrivée sur les Champs-Elysées.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Not only do they list 155 taquerios, but they rank them in a way that I can agree with. I won't go into details, but I have been to maybe 50 on the list, and the relative order would be similar.
Las Mesas, all the way to the top, unfortunately has shut down. They cooked the meat to order, so a grilled chicken burrito tasted really fresh and flavor-full. But it cost more, and there is no market for such an oxymoron, an upscale burrito.
Cactus Fresh, all the way at the bottom, is under new management. They changed the name to La Fajita, or something. That burrito did suck.
This week, everything in the above paragraph turns out TRUE. One week late, but still, it begs the question: am I a genius? How did I know?
Unfortunately, the answer is: "No" and "Never, ever underestimate Meredith Brody's lack of imagination and willingness to stick to cliches." An alternate answer could be: "I did not know, she just got the idea reading it here," but I have to shot it down due to the most likely longer lead times at the SFWeekly.
Willingness to stick to the obvious is examplified by the title (given by the author, not the editors at the Weekly): "Red Square Meals,"* or by resorting to her trip to Russia and her childhood memories to introduce the restaurant.
Says her, regarding her tourist endeavours: The only really bad soup was one served in the only bad meal I had, in Ukraine. Obviousman runs for the public phone and rushes back: of course the meal was bad, if the dishes were bad.
During that Ukrainian meal, she could identify the chicken a la Kiev flavor to her Russian waiter: "Swanson's, [she] said nonchalantly." Touché-ed by such nonchalance, the waiter was publically humiliated, and fell on his knees and promised to change and devote his life to improve things in the kitchen. That, or he left the table scratching his head wondering "чем трахание является Swanson??!?"
She adds in a parenthesis: many people say Georgian cooking is the best to be found in Russia. Yes, and we can even add these people are called Georgians. Ok, and the editor of Frommer's "Safe travel in the Former Soviet Republics for the Sophisticated Guest" who married a Russian bride from Tbilissi on the internet.
Meredith states: as I've always said, I hate Stalin but I love Stalinist architecture. We appreciate that you always say the same thing, GrandMa, it puts us to sleep in no time. And indeed, what's not to love about Stalinist architecture?
She writes: This was a perfect, perfect, perfect meal. Oh, we feel so perky, perky, perky, perky this morning, we want to hug Regis.
*Is she hinting at the un-intentionally ironic Mark's 57 Lb Fat Loss with Red Square Food?
San Francisco+Restaurants+Food+Food and Drink
Wow, all these little bars are higher than the middle line. Maybe it means that there is majority support for the president's Iraq policy?
Only if you notice that the line in the middle is not the middle, but, look closer, it is 40%...
On the other hand, page A14 had the bulk of an article which quoted someone saying: The president's speech will be swept away by the next tragedy in Iraq.
If it was not so sad, it would be ironic that the next page A15 had coverage of another tragedy in Iraq.
Monday, June 27, 2005
San Francisco+classical music
Friday, June 24, 2005
One of the dish I had there was 'spam musubi,' a slice of spam used to make some sort of sushi roll. A while back, when I had creativity and time to kill, I ran into the Spam-ku project. It was a collaborative effort to write haikus pertaining to spam. They don't accept submissions anymore, sadly. So I wrote a pair of new ones for the reviews.
I submitted a few then (around Independence Day 2001, it looks like based on the topics I addressed, archived here). but here is a sample:
Would Jonathan Swift's
Modest Proposal be packed
In a blue tin can.
If SPAM opens in
the forest, nobody's near,
does it have a smell?
Schrödinger's SPAM box.
The can is closed, is the pig
dead or still alive?
For much better ones, check the Tasty Picks in the Spam-ku archive.
The articles are utter non-sense: the plan involves shifting the current social security surplus (right now, payroll taxes collect more money than SocSec distributes to recipients, in order to pre-fund the retirement of baby boomers, thus creating a surplus) into private accounts.
Right now, the surplus is put in a Trust Fund. The government borrows this money. This means the government buys government bonds with this money, and uses the proceed of the bonds sale in its general fund.
The proposal -and the articles!- claim that, since the government spends the surplus, it is bad. One should then something totally different: have private accounts, which would be invested in, hold on dear, government bonds!
The only difference is that instead of borrowing from the Trust Fund, the government would borrow from you. Is it a real difference: well, who owns the Trust Fund? Whose retirement will the Trust Fund pay?
Oh, and don't forget: whatever is credited to a private account is substracted from the retirement benefits in the future, so that it is supposed to be a wash if one invested in...government bonds.
The proposal is build upon one faulty premisse: that in 2017, the governement will default on the Trust Fund bonds. Well, that is the point of Bush's SocSec reforms: to enable this default. To get out of the committment made to people who funded the Trust Fund (and pre-funded their own retirement). And the Chron takes this premisse as an article of faith, and does not discuss it. Swallows it hook, line and sinker.
To be clear: defaulting on the Trust Fund would have one basic consequence. All the payroll taxes that you paid, and that you won't see for your retirement, they helped pay for massive tax cuts for Paris Hilton. Payroll taxes are paid up to $90,000 a year. People who make more don't pay more. As a proportion of their income, the burden lies on the middle class. That the Trust fund money is spent and gone -not borrowed- means that the middle class paid for the repeal of the estate tax or the end of the taxation of dividends. And this does not shock the Chron!
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Morale: if you plan on doing a triathlon, now's good time to work on the swimming.
*hit in the leg, she will recover. Otherwise I would not joke about it.
Her review was 1,200 words, which is short for her, but lively. She cracked jokes that made me giggle. Like that of the guy who was asked if he reads communist newspapers? "You bet I do!" he replied "How else could I ever learn what a happy life I have?" By eating chicken a la Kiev and piroshkis in the Richmond, that's how, of course!
If you click on the link and are misdirected to a review of a steak house at the edge of North Beach with dishes in the high $20s, which mentions béarnaise bright with tarragon as if there was any other kind, the only mention of Russia being the writer just showing off her latest coolest trip, be aware: the SF Weekly has hackers with a weird sense of humor.
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
There is a somewhat new rule here which I have to make explicit: if I review a place in this space, instead of SFist, it means I did not like it so much, or that the place is too new to make a safe assessment. La Fonda falls into the lukewarm category.
I liked the people: they kindly agreed to grill the tortilla instead of steaming it. I don't understand why it is not the default, though. Seamus mentioned that the same people run Casa Mexicana and Azteca, right by the market safeway. Those places get trounced business-wise by their neighbor, Castillito, whose burrito is much better, thanks in part to a grilled tortilla. I liked La Fonda salsa bar. Very cute set-up, with black mortars filled up with salsas, but also chopped onion, cilantro, pickles.
I kinda liked the environment, which is tidier than your mission taqueria, with bright clean walls and Diego Rivera posters. I say kinda, because how many Diego and Frida posters do we need to see. Especially since the meaning of the paintings is lost on most of the customers. These people carrying flowers, they are not pretty so they can decorate your walls, they are being oppressed by capitalism, which is breaking their back. They have a message to say, and it is not: eat your burrito.
Which gets me to the burrito: maybe I got the wrong order, but it was bland and boring. I picked cochinita pibil, which I have tried a few times now, and was excited to see offered. Big let down. It did not measure up to Mi Lindo Yucatan, El Yucateco nor City Blend. The pork did not have much flavor, and I had to load my burrito with every item from the salsa bar to ressucitate it. They did not have an emergency defibrillator up on the wall, so my burrito stayed lifeless.
On the other hand, I saw that the old vietnamese place on Irving shut down and is now Koo sushi, which looks hip and I must try.
San Francisco+Restaurants+Food+Food and Drink
I read your article today, and I was surprised to read that you help spread a few mis-understanding. For instance, you mention 2017 as the year that social security starts running in the red. You say that the White House only success so far has been in "calling attention to the program's looming financial shortfalls as the Baby Boom generation begins to retire."
But you do not put this date, nor the Baby Boom retirement in the proper context: in order to pay for the retirement of the baby boomers, the Greenspan commission in 1983 decided to pre-fund their retirement. So that, when 2017 comes around, yes the system will spend more than it receives, but it will do so by drawing from the trust fund created for this purpose. There is no social security solvency issue until the 2040s (there is a governement deficit issue, but it is a separated one).
There is not a single mention of the trust fund in your article. When you mention the 1983 reform, you say: "Since 1983, the program has collected more in payroll taxes than it pays in benefits, and the government has been spending the money on operations." This is a short-cut which is not accurate. The payroll tax went into the trust fund, and the government has borrowed against the trust fund. The payroll taxes were not directly spent.
Accepting that the trust fund money does not exist anymore and 'has been spent' already is very politically tainted. Further, it endorses, without any debate nor discussion, that the payroll taxes (with a ceiling at $90,000, the burden is carried mostly by the middle class) disappeared in the general fund at a time where tax cuts were enabled which favor the very wealthy. This perspective is not necessary in a social security piece, but keeping the social security funding issue separate from the general fund issue would be a good idea in the future.
She was kind enough to reply. I was very impressed she took the time to write. Here is what she said:
thanks for writing. I think economists and credible analysts widely view the 2017 cash flow date as the appropriate one by which to measure a cash flow program. The trust fund really does not have any economic meaning. As you pointed out, it is impossible for the government to pre-fund benefits as was tried in 83. the only way to do that is to run surpluses, as clinton argued.
The "trust fund really does not have any economic meaning" sentence prompted me to ask a follow-up. I did not want to debate the economic meaning of it, even though it is surprising to write that debt held in government bond, usually viewed as safe as gold, has no meaning. I could point to many a serious economist who do believe in the economic meaning of the trust fund.
but what is the implication for those who paid 12% of their income in a trust fund with no economic meaning? Should they keep, until 2017, subsidizing the general fund, and tax cuts for the wealthy?
The meaning of the trust fund means different things to different people. Its economic meaning is not the only one. There is a social meaning in the trust fund, inasmuch that progressivity of taxation is concerned. And it has a political meaning as well: saying the trust fund does not exist is a page in the playbook of the current administration. I believe the Chronicle is better off staying away from this politicized message.
Credible analysts and economists knew roughly the date of 2017 since 1983. What has changed in the last few years was the inability to control government debt, which has spiraled out of control. This is a problem independent of social security. Negating the trust fund only fuses the two issues, as if social security was responsible in 2017 for the spendthrift ways of governement since 2000 and the return of the deficits.
She has not replied. Your so called liberal media at work here, not even knowing they are doing the administration's dirty work.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Duh, the problem of the Baby Boom retirement has been taking care of in 1983, when the Greenspan commission decided to pre-fund the retirement, by paying more than necessary between now and 2017 into a trust fund, and then drawing from the trust fund. The system is solvent till at least 2048 according to the social security trustees, whose estimates have proved conservative. The commission in 1983 planned to established solvency for the next 75 years, and the plan they enacted should pretty much get us there.
What does the reporter say about the Trust Fund: Since 1983, the program has collected more in payroll taxes than it pays in benefits, and the government has been spending the money on operations. See where the problem is? The Chron reporter totally buys in the scam that the Trust Fund has been spent. The government has been borrowing money to spend on operations.
If the government has just "spent the money on operations," that would be a huge scam pulled on the middle class, who paid more into SocSec to prefund their retirement, and ended up funding tax cut for the wealthy instead.
"Jerry Brown finally ties the knot."
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Update: links for Gastronomique and Rave .
We don't know London well enough to say anything about the places Meredith mentions. We just posited -and it was a cheap shot- that if Meredith mentioned them, they must have been touristy.
Well, it turns out we received a comment by an authentic Brit, Sam. She writes you cannot go to the Ivy without booking in advance.
You mean one cannot go to the Ivy for a cusp-of-the-moment impromptu post-theater dinner? You mean Meredith just made a story up? She just named names, but does not know what she talks about?
Shocked, I am shocked.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
We thought of the Abbée de Vilecourt in Patrice Leconte's movie Ridicule, in which he proves the existence of God in a metaphysics master class attended by the King. He concludes, stating that his deferrence to the King was greater than to his God, that he might have proved the other way around, if that was the King's whim. Which gets him disgraced.
Well, Meredith does not dabble much in philosophy, thank God, and she does not get disgraced at the Weekly court, unfortunately. But the overwhelming feeling from her writing is that it is arbitrary. Some pre-conceived notion is half-baked, and, as they'd say on Downing St., the intelligence she gathers and serves forth, is fixed around that policy.
Case in point: last week's review of Rubicon. The whole shtick is: some artists and some restaurant, once "I cross the Rubicon with them," I like them no matter what. She does not say it explicitely, but she does write "Once the die is cast."
Now, when I read this last week, I only thought: this "die is cast" thing arrives here like a hair in the soup, and I shrugged it off. Thanks to Ian in comments for pointing it out. An obvious reason why it is out of place is that it is cited in the first paragraph, and Meredith won't talk about Rubicon for another half dozen paragraphs. So one does not know what she refers to.
But the main reason is that it is totally artificial: like our Abbée, she could write exactly the opposite theory, say about these artists that she stopped liking after being so enamoured with them at first. The whole thesis -some artists I'll follow anywhere- is build upon thin air, just to fit in the frame she first imposed on the restaurant review.
One was reminded of this art show she dubbed Chinese (ie. Asian), even though it had a Danish menu and served shish-kebab, just so she could segue into a Thai (ie. Asian) restaurant. One could go on and on. She is empty of all convictions, her only motivation is to write something, anything, that fits the form, no matter how shallow the substance. She'll sell her mother away for a pretty sentence, or for a cutesy concept, but she is a rudderless boat.
She wants to prolong the English feeling that the evening [at ACT] had induced, so she goes to a French brasserie, of course, because France is the place to get that English feeling, the one with the good food. Paris, the new London.
She mentions London like it is a dear friend of hers. But seeing how she knows San Francisco (Meredith &hearts North Beach), I bet Manzi's or the Ivy or Rules are the touristiest touristy places.
She pretends she does not enjoy Union Square. She was an hour early, an hour I was unwilling to kill around Union Square. This is another Meredith's little lie, which do not add anything, except for the fact that she lies. The truth is: she had other plans, she had to catch bart, whatever. It's a totally useless comment, and is contradicted numerous time by her body of work: she loves art galleries, will she pretend in another review (she mentions First Thursday quite often). Most big galleries are around Union Sq, on post and on geary. She will go have dinner at: Sears, Neiman-Marcus' Rotunda, Michael Mina (not reviewed by her yet, but given a best of the bay last month), Aqua, Rubicon, Farallon, and those are the ones I can think on the top of my head, all within blocks of, if not directly on, the Square.
The Weekly now has her review on 3 pages, which makes it hard for me to do word counts. I used to cut and paste the whole thing into Words and use the counting tool there, but I am not going to do it three times. Suffices to say that, of the 3 pages, the food review starts with We shared a tasty starter, in the fifth paragraph out of 6 on page 2.
Paragraph 5/6 on page 2/3. Let's put this some other way. I wake up at 7am, and my day is 24 hours long. At what time does the review start? Mmmm, 7+24*(1+5/6)/3 = 21.66... 9h40pm. I have had breakfast, lunch, I have gone to the gym, taken a shower, spent a full day of work, had dinner, read a book, updated my blog, ran errands, switched into my PJs. I am getting ready to go to bed, drinking a camomille tea. Then, and only then, the review starts.
Oh, why did she review Le Petit Cafe? The answer is here: I knew [le petit cafe] had installed a new French chef and was celebrating its 10th year in business. But of course! Sunset restaurants, take note: if you want Meredith to review, you need to hire a PR firm and send her a thick information kit!
Monday, June 13, 2005
The debate about how technology affects our social norm is a bit of a lost cause: it will; but the NY Times' examples are, half of them, in SF: Samovar Tea lounge, in the castro, and Canvas gallery, in the Sunset (as a cheap aside, one might hope that, if the NY Times knows where the Sunset is, maybe Meredith Brody will figure it out).
Our own neighborhood coffee shop offering free wifi must be going through the same angst as the one described in the article: last time we hopped in there to get coffee (and we are usually guilty of staying two hours on a scone and a cup of coffee), there were no available tables, but the barista was still totally un-busy, totally un-bothered, reading his book in the back.
For those who turn off the wifi when it gets too un-social, they better invest in jamming equipment. The people at Le Bon Gateau, in the castro, when we asked about their network, told us that we could just connect to a city public access point. Cityhall is studying blanketing the whole city with wifi connectivity, so say buh-bye to connection-less places.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Friday, June 10, 2005
At last, the bar has been lowered sufficiently to allow me to experiment with food writing!
Item 1: a piece about the Downing St. Memo. The memo was leaked about 6 weeks ago and stated that Bush had, one year prior to the war, decided to invade Iraq, and that intelligence was being 'fixed around the policy.'
Item 2: a piece about Howard Dean, who in San Francisco said that the Republican party was pretty much a white Christian party. The "pretty much" got elided in the Chron editorial, because it got in the way of making a broader attack on Howard Dean.
Question to our readership: which one shows outrage?
Answer: Item 2, of course, which ends vociferously with a demand for an apology. Item 1? Well, a request for an investigation and more information will suffice. No apology to congress for lying to them, or to the families who bear the burden of a phony war. Oh, and that investigation, it's not the Chron who is going to do it, do not worry. Investigative journalism is so 70s. Congress (controlled by that
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
And just like a duck or a goose, she quacks and quacks for nothing. Her review is filed under: meal with interesting mute people. Like her previous such meals (NYTimes Hesser and Apple, Supersize me guy), she hogs the mike and don't use the fact that they are physically here to let them express themselves. Nope, because Meredith is the star, and they are just the supporting cast of her delusion. What matters is that semi-famous people eat with her, not that they might have something interesting to say.
The Weekly is kind enough to foot the tab for $84 pinot noir (Meredith has seen Sideways too many times, her food review about it is even quoted in a movie piece. ) so that she can impress her guests. We do not get the benefit of the guests' wisdom, and we don't get any benefit from the review: Rubicon has been Zagat rated and Chronicle top 100 for years. The Weekly equally footed her mom's birthday at La Folie. Meredith might be a poor reviewer, but she is good at maximising her own utility function.
And that is the issue, isn't it? Her greedy attitude is: my expense envelope is such, how much foie gras and $84 bottles of wine can I squeeze from it; any money left in the expense account is money lost. Her incentive is obviously to gorge on the priciest fancy foods, which obivously flies in the face of the Weekly's incentive to produce decent and diversified food reviews. I wish John Mecklin would say no to one of the expense reports just once, looking her in the eyes and telling her: "Our readership does not care about another over-famous downtown food palace, we are a fucking free weekly, for chrissake, not the James Beard newsletter."
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Wax sculptors unveil Gavin Newsom's new statue at the Fisherman's Wharf Madame Tussaud.
The Chron yesterday had the wrong caption for the unveiling of Gavin's new likeness. The shiny hair should have been a give-away.
By the way: Gavin was given the Schwarzenegger treatment, with a full wide picture on the cover above the fold. But there actually was some factual news to support it. On the same day, at the bottom left of the cover page, an article was debating about the Governator's prestige. Why talk about policy, when one can debate about how a movie star is polling?
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Thursday, June 02, 2005
It's about a new addition to my neighborhood, Café du Soleil, as told by its owner, Pascal Rigo.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
After a painful introduction (if half of the review still qualifies as an intro) where she eats potato chips and quote Mary Frances Kennedy (M.F.K.) Fisher (for the 9th time in her tenure, she is a groupie), she goes to the ferry building. The big news here is that THERE WAS A PLACE IN THE FERRY BUILDING SHE HAD NOT REVIEWED BEFORE! Next week, she'll review the donuts forgotten in the janitor's closet.
A search on the weekly site for ferry building brody already gives two pages of results. Last week, she started her second revolution through that high-end food court, visiting the slanted door yet another time. We can now define a new unit of time, the Meredith orbit, as the length of time for Meredith to cycle through all the food stalls at the ferry building. Experiments now show the Meredith orbit to be about 9 months. We are confident that we will have plenty opportunities to refine our measurement of the Meredith orbit.
Some will object that the real value of the Meredith orbit should be infinity, as she does not orbit around the ferry building: it is the universe which revolves around her. And does she believe so. We unfortunately cannot entertain this lunacy here, we are reality-based.
In her "intro" (750 words...) Meredith contends she is the reincarnation of M.F.K. Fisher, just better. For instance, where Mary Frances eats out at fine restaurants then has California sherry and canned tomato soup alone at home, Meredith eats out a fabulous seven-course tasting menu at the newest temple of gastronomy then has Andersen's split pea with bacon and Spanish sherry. You are too good, too sophisticated, too amazing, Meredith, you win this contest!
Meredith has been lifting stuff from Mary Frances a lot. "Consider the oyster," "the art of eating" she used as titles, which she stole from Fisher. What would Fisher think of it? Let's just quote her take on Meredith's work. Mary Frances passed away in '92, she could not have had Meredith in mind, so I had to edit a bit: I replaced respectively [books],[Brillat-Savarin],[his],[his] in the brackets below.
There are two kinds of [food reviews], those that try to imitate [M.F.K. Fisher]'s and those that try not to. The first substitute whimsy for [her] wit, and dull reminiscence for [her] delightful anecdotes.
See, Meredith? Mary Frances has rich food outside and humble food at home: delightful anecdote. You have rich food outside and rich food at home: dull reminiscence. Pretty prescient, no?