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There are several lists of the dirtiest jobs in America. Some of the jobs on those lists are:

Septic Tank Servicer         Horse Castrator        Sewer Inspector          Pig Slop Processor

Charcoal Maker                 Road kill Cleaner      Termite Controller      Embalmer

Bloodworm Hunter          Animal Vet                Bat Cave Scavenger      Coal Miner

Slaughterhouse Worker

As bad as these jobs are, and they are all really really bad, there is one that is worse than any of them. The crappiest job in America is White House Press Secretary (in the present administration). Consider what poor Sean Spicer has to go through every day. As in many of the jobs listed above, he has to deal with a whole lot of crap. In his role as spokesperson for the executive branch, he has to explain actions and events within the President’s administration to the world. Thus, he has to deal with the White House Press Corps on a daily basis and explain the President’s latest snafus. He has to use his wiles to evade… and deny … and deflect … and obfuscate. In short, everything short of outright lying.  After tying himself up in knots trying to do the impossible, he is regularly undercut by his boss who contradicts what he has just said. How he must dread those early morning Tweetstorms!

As if this is not enough, he is the butt of jokes and is regularly caricatured on Saturday Night Live and by late night show hosts. As someone has said, working in this administration means being perceived either as a fool or as a liar.

When something goes wrong, as it invariably does, it is never his boss’s fault; it’s his. He may be a decent chap but he is mistrusted by everyone, thanks to his job. Nor can there be any satisfaction in the job itself. Every day is worse than the last and, when his head hits the pillow at night, he must have nightmares about what the next day will bring.

Finally, as hard as he works, his job security is nil. There is constant speculation that he is about to be fired and, in the last week, the whispers have been growing louder. If I were a betting man, yesterday I would have been willing to wager that he would not last six months. Today, amidst reports that a Fox News correspondent is being considered for his job, it seems I was too optimistic. He may not last out the month. Yes, this is the crappiest job in America and Sean Spicer will probably heave a sigh of relief he hears the dread words  ” You’re fired!”.

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Last evening, we went to the Shankar Mahadevan concert at the Newark Symphony Hall in Newark, NJ. The concert was great ( more about that in another post) but what put it over the top for my wife was that she was able to sit very near the stage and have a close-up view of the singers. It really was fortuitous…

There were twenty of us from our Active Adult development going to the concert and because that was a sizable number, the ticket office upgraded two of the tickets to the VVIP class, seats which normally cost $ 250 apiece. The person who bought the tickets chose my wife for one of the upgraded seats in recognition of her hard work with other programs. Very generous of him and a godsend for my wife. She is herself a keen singer and a big, big Mahadevan fan. From where she sat in the fifth row, center she was able to see every little detail, every facial expression, every nuance of what was happening on stage. it’s true that those who are sitting further back can hear everything that’s going on but when you are sitting up front it’s a completely different experience.

That’s true for all kinds of shows, not just for music. Some years ago, we were at a New Jersey Devils game at the Meadowlands and were lucky to be sitting just four rows back from the ice. Wow! Only then did we fully appreciate what a physical game ice hockey is. When you are sitting further away or see the game on TV, you see the collisions but don’t realize how violent they are. That night, from our choice seats, we got the real picture. Whenever, a player was crushed against the plexiglass barrier by an opposing player,  it shook and shuddered and seemed on the verge of breaking up. We saw the missing teeth as faces were mashed against the glass, sprays of perspiration launched into the air when two players ran into each other. We also saw how rapidly the shift changes occurred with players on the ice for  less than minute at a time. Even when there was no scoring, it was exciting to watch the players crash into each other, hear the clackety clack of sticks as they battled for the puck. That night, I understood why violence sells, why hockey and NFL football are so successful in attracting fans.

There are, however, some close -in seats that are not desirable. Those are the ones next to the oversize speakers at shows that feature high decibel music. Once at the Blue Man show in Las Vegas, we had the misfortune to be sitting close to the speakers and the din was ear shattering. My brother-in-law was actually in pain. Apparently, this is not an uncommon predicament because an usher was on hand to give him earplugs so that he could watch the rest of the program without his ears being assaulted by waves of sound.

In general though, the closer the better. I hope you are able to have the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

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Too Hot for Me

We used to enjoy the biryanis ( particularly the goat biryani) at the Paradise Pointe Biryani restaurant in Edison, NJ. The meat was tender, the basmati rice tender and fluffy, the meat falling off the bone, the entire dish delicately spiced and not at all hot. The restaurant is part of a chain founded by an ex-pat Indian IT engineer who was homesick for the succulent biryanis he used to enjoy in Hyderabad. There are over 40 such franchise restaurants all over the US. After we moved to Somerset NJ, about 20 miles away from Edison, we started patronizing the Paradise Pointe in North Brunswick, the original where it all started. It was even better than the one in Edison… for a while. Then the management seemed to change, there were some new faces and the food became spicier, much spicier. We switched to ordering the biryani mild, rather than medium, but it was still too hot. Last Saturday, we tried the Paradise Pointe at a different location but there too the food was too spicy.

Why do restaurants make food so spicy-hot? Indian restaurants are among the worst offenders but there are other cuisines who do the same. I remember a Thai restaurant on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village where the owner/ waitperson warned me the food was spicy as he took my order. I’d ordered it medium spicy but when it arrived it was liberally sprinkled with birds-eye chillies and was so hot  that I couldn’t eat after the first mouthful. Needless to say, I never went back there.

Though most Americans prefer non-spicy, if not bland, food there is a growing contingent of chilli pepper  fans for whom eating the hottest foods is a challenge to their machismo. Thus we have a proliferation of chilli pepper eating contests all over the country, but especially in the South and Southwest. On Saint Patrick’s Day, there are jalapeno eating contests in which contestants compete to see who can down the most jalapenos in a certain time, usually 10 minutes. More dangerous are those competitions where people vie to see who can eat the hottest peppers. And, believe me, those peppers can be plenty hot!

According to the Scoville system for measuring hotness, here are the ratings for some of the common peppers:

Banana Pepper, Cubanelle                              100 to 1,000 Scoville units

Jalapeno                                                           3,500 to 10,000   ”

Serrano                                                              10,000- 30,000     ”

Habanero, Scotch Bonnet                          100,000 – 350,000    ”

Komodo Dragon, Ghost Pepper            855,000 – 2,200,000    ”

For me, the jalapeno is hot enough. Even eating a serrano in a dish produces a burning sensation that turns me off. Considering that the upper limit of the range for a serrano is only 30,000 Scoville units , I cannot even imagine trying to eat a Komodo Dragon or a Carolina Reaper. Why would anyone want to if the end result is having a mouth on fire and a burn in your gut that can persist for many hours , if not days? In some cases, it has even resulted in a hurried trip to the hospital. Is it worth it? Not for me.

I asked one backyard gardener why he grows these superhot peppers. He admitted he wouldn’t dream of eating them raw. His wife grinds them to a paste, small quantities of which are used to flavor the dishes she cooks. But couldn’t she get the same effect with larger quantities of jalapenos or serranos. Yes, but…

For me, peppers are a way of enhancing the flavor of a dish. Too much heat can obscure the true taste of the ingredients, just as heavy, spicy gravies will. Also, not all dishes have to be hot. In fact, a mixture of hot and not-so-hot dishes provides variety to the palate in the course of a multicourse meal. For me, hot peppers are fine, but only in moderation and certainly not in every dish.

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I have been following with great interest the controversy caused by ” Fearless Girl”, a 50- inch high bronze statue of a little girl, standing in a defiant pose with her fists on her hips. The problem is not the with the statue itself but with its location : it has been placed just a few feet away from a 7000 pound, 11 foot high statue of a Charging Bull which has been there since December 1989. Both statues are located in Manhattan’s Financial District.

But perhaps a little background is necessary…

Charging Bull is the creation of an Italian artist Arturo di Modica who conceived the statue as a tribute to America’s rebound from the 1987 stock market crash. Spending        $ 320,000 of his own money, he created the statue and illegally plunked it down near Wall Street  in the middle of the night in December 1989. Because the statue did not have a permit, it was removed by the  N.Y.C. Parks Department. Because of public clamor, it was later brought back and installed at its present location in Bowling Green. It is very popular with tourists who often pose with it for souvenir photographs.

Fearless Girl is a creation of the sculptor Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors and installed last month in conjunction with International Womens Day. It is intended to support gender diversity and greater representation for women in leadership roles and on corporate boards. It was initially installed under a one month permit that has since been extended to one year. It too has become a great hit with tourists and office goers.

Arturo di Modica, the sculptor of Charging Bull, claims that the placing of Fearless Girl so close to his own statue and in juxtaposition to it violates his rights and changes the creative dynamic because she ( the Fearless Girl) appears to be ” attacking the bull”. His lawyer adds that the Bull ” no longer carries a positive optimistic message” and has been transformed into” a negative force and a threat”. Therefore, he argues, Fearless Girl should be removed and relocated elsewhere.

I used to work downtown for more than thirty years and I often walked past the Charging Bull and admired it. It is a powerful sculpture, projecting power, strength and optimism, but I never thought  it was spreading a message of ” Freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.” as its creator claims. If anything, because of its location, I saw it as a symbol of capitalism ( as in ‘ the bull market”). Nothing wrong with that, capitalism has made this country what it is. I also have no doubt that the placing of the Fearless Girl statue was deliberate and intended to play off the sculpture of the bull. What I fail to see is how it violates the copyrights of the Bull since it is located perhaps 30 feet away. No one has a right to dictate what may or may not be placed close to the location of one’s  artwork. At least that’s my opinion. Let’s see how this dispute gets resolved.

Aside from that, I genuinely like the Fearless Girl Statue. Even if it does not lead to a greater role for women in Wall Street, it has already struck a chord with young girls many of whom love the feisty pose of the little girl and her fearless demeanor. That is what will be needed if women are to breach the overwhelmingly male bastions of Wall Street.

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At the library, I came across a book with the arresting title “ Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate” by Brad Warner. How could I resist it ? I didn’t and it was an interesting read. One passage that I found particularly striking was this:

” Those who hope for purity and righteousness always try and destroy that which disturbs them. They think the disturbance comes from outside themselves. This is a serious problem. Wars, suicide bombings and all sorts of nasty things start from the premise that we can destroy ” evil’ outside ourselves without dealing with the evil within.”

How true. The example that leaps to mind is the societies of the Middle East where men try to avoid temptation by forcing women to cover themselves from head to toe. It is a custom that is doomed to fail. One Western visitor noticed that in Kabul, young men hang around hoping for a glimpse of an ankle as women raise their chadors or burqas  when stepping over a high roadside curb. Enough said.

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(In a previous post, I had written how Denmark is judged one of the happiest countries in the world, year after year. Last year, in 2016, it was the happiest and this year , in 2017, it is third. I also mentioned  Hygge,( pronounced Hue-gah), the term that Danes use to describe their happy state of mind. It is a word that has no exact equivalent in the English language though ” cozy” comes closest. Hygge is best described in terms of examples: Sitting before a roaring fireplace while it snows outside. Curling up with a good book . Having dinner with family and friends. Enjoying coffee and cake with a loved one).

A Danish friend wrote to tell me of hyggelistic parties for example, a big birthday bash  in a rented hotel ballroom, where one is served the exact same food ( soup, pork roast and ice dessert) to be  enjoyed in the company of the same group of friends as the previous year. The prospect gave me pause. While I understand the comfort that one feels in the familiar, the prospect of attending such parties is not one that appeals to me. No matter how enjoyable an experience, it is not one I care to repeat ad infinitum.

Some thoughts on the subject …

In the nineteen seventies, time-shares were very popular in the U.S. For what seemed a bargain amount, families could spend a week (or two) at their choice of dream destinations. Hawaii, San Diego, Jamaica, Puerto Rico or wherever. However, the prospect of  staying  in the same furnished condo at the same time every year was one that never appealed to us. Why would we want to tie ourselves down, vacation wise, to the same place again and again when they were so many different destinations that we wanted to visit ? ( The time share companies did allow customers to trade their slots with other customers but it was a hassle and the transfer fees were not cheap). We never went in for a time share  and many of our friends who did later regretted their decision. The only  one who didn’t was a chap who lived  in Los Angeles and who purchased a time share at a resort very close to his home. The time share included use of the gym facilities year round  and he was able to enjoy them at less than it would have cost him to join a gym. Besides, during those two weeks every year, he was able to put up friends who were visiting Los Angeles if he didn’t have place for them at home. Smart.

Another example: We used to attend a community picnic at a nearby park on the first Saturday in August. We did it for perhaps fifteen years but each year it became less and less a pleasure. The same people, the same conversations, the same food. It soon began to pall. The picnic still is held in the same place every August but we haven’t been there for the last twenty years.

When it comes to restaurants, one very soon develops a list of favorites that one goes to again and again but even here we take care never to order the same dishes every time. Some of the dishes we order are tried and true favorites but each time we make sure to try something new. If it’s a flop, we won’t order it again but if it’s good it is added to our list of favorites. The same goes for the dinner parties we have at our home. Neither the menu nor the guest list is ever exactly the same.

Coziness is fine, familiarity is good… but, in my case,only up to a point.  After a while, the prospect of the new eclipses the charm of the tried and true. How is it with you?

 

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Last week, I  published a post ( The Happy Society) about the happiest countries in the world in 2016 as per a U.N poll. The top 5 countries in that poll were ( in order) Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland. Well, the 2017 poll results are out and it is not surprising that the same countries are at the top. The 2017 poll toppers are : Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada. The first four were in the top four spots last year, though the order was different, and Finland which was in fifth place is till in the Top 10 this year.

At the bottom of the list: Togo, a small West African country beset by lawlessness, large scale ivory poaching and corruption. Only slightly better than it are Burundi, Syria, Benin, and Rwanda, all of which suffer from civil war/genocide, power struggles, poverty and corruption.

To get back to the Swiss:Why are they so happy? One article gives 19 reasons, several of which seem to be facetious: the scenery, Swiss chocolate, Swiss cheese, coolest sportsman ( Roger Federer), high IQ ( most Nobel laureates/ capita) and trains that run on time. Others make more sense: Neutrality ( no fear of wars or invasion), true democracy ( even ordinary citizens can propose changes to the constitution; cantons have great autonomy), livable cities and multilingualism ( perhaps it instills a world view).However, the reason that stands out most ( to me) is universal healthcare which has resulted in one of the lowest obesity rates in the world and a sense of security. It is noteworthy that this is a feature of all the top countries on that list. Of all developed countries, the United States is the only one that does not have a single payer system that guarantees its citizens affordable healthcare.

Last year, the United States was 13th on the list; this year it has fallen one place to 14th. Among the reasons cited by poll respondents: rising income inequality, a drop in social support systems and a rise in mortality rates. How I wish our politicians ( Republicans and  Democrats) would open their eyes as to what is happening ! Unfortunately, our new administration seems to have a blinkered view and its initiatives bid fair to make the situation worse instead of better. How far will the U.S fall in the 2018 poll? We’ll have to wait and see.

P.S  It’s not that I like everything about Switzerland. For one thing the Swiss seem to live under a very restrictive set of rules. I was amused to learn that in Switzerland there is an ” approved” list of baby names, and that it is illegal to flush toilets after ten pm.

Ten pm – c’mon!

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