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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Food Watch (Jersey City): Not for the weak of stomach -- the bacon craziness just keeps getting crazier

What? You settle for a BLT made with fewer than 50 strips of bacon? Then you need to hie to Jersey City by April 1 to the Zeppelin Hall Spring Bacon Festival to sample the Fifty Shades of Bacon BLT. (Note that the sandwich comes with fries, in case you were worried that it might be too heart-healthy.)

by Ken

It was only last month that the March "Bacon Issue" of Food Network Magazine set DownWithTyranny Food Watch to wondering: "Hasn't the bacon thing by now gone a little too far? ('A little'? How about a lot?)" I'm not sure any more comment is required regarding the porkorama now in progress (through April 1) at Jersey City's Zeppelin Hall than you'll find in the Thrillist report by Cayla Zahoran, who took the pictures, and Thrillist NYC Editor Andrew Zimmer.

Bacon Cheesesteak

"Have you ever ordered a bacon cheesesteak and thought, 'Hey, there's way too much steak on this'? Well, your prayers have been answered with this cheesesteak loaded entirely with bacon. And feel free to call it a cheesebacon."

Bacon World-Tour Monster Sandwich

"If you were to travel around the entire globe sampling bacon, you'd be the awesomest traveler ever, but you'd also probably come back with an appetite for this guy: the Bacon World-Tour Monster Sandwich, loaded with 10 different types of bacon including smoked pork belly, Black Forest bacon, Irish bacon, beef bacon, pancetta, speck, turkey bacon, jowl bacon, Canadian bacon, and Tocineta Cascabel."

Double-Smoked Bacon Mac 'n Cheese

"This is the Double-Smoked Bacon Mac 'n Cheese. We suggest taking that bacon flower on top, crumbling it up amongst the pasta and cheese, and enjoying the change in texture as you destroy it."

Bacon-Bacon Terminator

"Fried onions, melty cheese, and tons of bacon top the Bacon-Bacon Terminator burger, but what makes it truly a machine sent from the future to end all human existence is that it's stuffed with chopped bacon, diced and smoked pork chop, and bacon au jus. Judgement Day, indeed."

Steak House Bacon

"Why anyone would want non-thick-cut bacon is a mystery, especially after downing this Steak House Bacon that's been double-smoked, grilled, and topped off with apple cider reduction and crispy onions."


Like Bacon-Wrapped BBQ Ribs, Gulf Shrimp Draped in Pecan-Smoked Bacon, the Bacon-Wrapped Buffalo Hot Dog, Bacon Sausage Menage à TroisCrispy Applewood Bacon Bathed in Chocolate Ganache, the BaconPop, and Bratwurst and Bacon Sliders? Visit the Thrillist article.

Meanwhile, here's the posted menu:

Zeppelin Hall Restaurant and Biergarten, 88 Liberty View Dr., Jersey City, NJ 07305. Reachable by PATH train (four blocks from the Grove Street station) or NJ Transit Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (one block from the Jersey Avenue stop). Note: You can buy tickets here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What Have The Excesses Of Free Market Capitalism Done To Once Idyllic Nauru?

I remember Nauru from the time I was a pre-teen stamp collector. It was-- still is-- just a speck of a South Pacific Island, about 8 square miles and less than 10,000 people. Earlier, it had been a German colony that was taken over by the Brits after World War I-- like Tanganyika (which, coincidentally, also has a village named Nauru). I haven't thought about Nauru in half a century until last night. I didn't even know that around the time Nauru became independent, phosphate mining had given it the highest per-capita income of any country in the world-- almost all of which has been swindled. They went from wealth to poverty and Nauru was reduced to taking money from Australia to host a virtual concentration camp for refugees from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine and Pakistan.

As the Sydney Morning Herald reported this week "Witness accounts from inside Australia's detention centres are rare. Walled in behind government secrecy, contracts which bind them to silence, and fear for their future livelihoods, staff and former employees of the organisations running the centres bite their tongues… [Australian Prime Minister] Julia Gillard had reopened the offshore camp in a desperate revival of former prime minister John Howard's 'Pacific solution'-- an attempt to deter asylum seekers by shipping them to the tiny Pacific nation for indefinite detention." Today, a report by Jay Fletcher in Australia's Green Left Weekly blew the whistle on the horrors of the "detention camp."
A former welfare worker at the Nauru refugee detention camp says the July 19 riot that razed most of the Topside compound was an “inevitable outcome” of a “cruel and degrading policy”, in a new book released last week.

The Undesirables by Mark Isaacs follows several big whistleblower revelations that have come from Nauru since the camp was re-established by then-PM Julia Gillard in August 2012.

In February last year, veteran nurse Marianne Evers broke ranks to tell ABC’s Lateline that she likened the offshore “processing centre” to a concentration camp. “I knew that conditions weren't ideal, but conditions were less than ideal. In fact I would describe them as appalling,” she said.

A joint letter by Salvation Army staff in the aftermath of the July 19 protests said they had predicted it would happen: “The most recent incident in Nauru was not borne out of malice. It was a build up of pressure and anxiety over 10 months of degrading treatment, and a planned peaceful process that degenerated. It was a reaction to a refugee processing system that is devoid of logic and fairness.”

Isaacs’ book offers the same conclusions, the Sydney Morning Herald reported: “Criminals were given a sentence to serve: these men were not even given that,” Isaacs wrote. “They feared they would die in Nauru, that they would be forgotten, that they would become non-people ...

“It doesn't matter who you are, or what side of politics you are on, if you had been in the position I was in, having to sit there and have a man's friends show you the cord that he tried to hang himself with, crying with them, the rain coming down … it was overwhelming.

“The camp was built around destroying men ... grind[ing] them into the dust.”

Since the riot and Isaacs’ time on the island, Australia has transferred women and children from Manus Island to the Nauru camp. The unaccompanied children were sent to the remote camp, which still has mostly tent-based housing, last month.

After the visiting the centre last October, the UN refugee agency said: “Overall, the harsh and unsuitable environment at the closed [refugee processing centre] is particularly inappropriate for the care and support of child asylum-seekers ... UNHCR is of the view that no child, whether an unaccompanied child or within a family group, should be transferred ... to Nauru.”

Indeed, individual asylum seekers have figured this out for themselves. A Rohingya couple opted for an abortion rather than risk giving having a baby in the awful conditions on the island.

…Uncertainty for asylum seekers on Nauru has grown much worse in recent weeks. The island’s chief justice, Australian Geoffrey Eames QC, resigned this month over the cancelling of his visa and the deportation of the island’s only magistrate in January.

On Manus Island, three asylum seekers tried to commit suicide in the space of a week. Two Iranian men cut their arms with razors and an Afghan man tried to hang himself. Another refugee said the Iranian men were angered by over the PNG-led inquiry into last month’s fatal violence, in particular comments by Justice David Cannings, who is leading the inquiry, that detainees appeared healthy and well.

Another refugee told the inquiry about the prison-like conditions at the centre, including worm-infested bread.

Despite reports that police were ready to arrest several people involved in the violent death of Reza Berati, PNG staff were sent back into the Manus centre. Sources in Australia say many people that were hurt during the violence have gone missing. Some who had been released from hospital had not returned to the centre while investigators were there.

Despite mounting evidence from whistleblowers that Nauru and Manus Island are inflicting severe psychological harm on men, women and children-- precipitating both the camps’ constant protests and bouts of self-harm-- the Abbott government shows no signs of reversing the cruel regime.

In addition to extending naval training for turning boats back at sea, including buying new orange lifeboats, Abbott has announced plans to buy several Triton drones, at a cost of US$2.7 billion, to patrol the country’s borders for asylum boats.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Traveling And Living Abroad

Howie, into the Sahara Desert… with loafers

I don't recall there being any blondes in the part of Brooklyn where I grew up. When I got to college, one of my first girlfriends was blonde-- when her head wasn't shaved. She was from an aristocratic Alabama plantation family… but she had broken free-- got a job as a model, enrolled in a state university and dropped a lot of acid. I never have been able too figure out what she saw in me, but I'll never forget her. My first trip "abroad" was with her. We decided to hitchhike to the North Pole. We got as far as Montreal, which we both loved. The next summer I hitchhiked down to Mexico City; loved that too. And I've been traveling abroad ever since. After college I went to Europe for the summer... and stayed almost 7 years, 7 years that including a road trip by VW van to India, Afghanistan, Nepal, Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Since returning, I've managed to spend at least a few weeks outside of the U.S. every year, these days a month in the summer and a month in the winter. This blog is meant to reflect on it. Some of my favorite recent trips have entailed renting houses in Tuscany, Marrakech, Phuket, Yucatán, Bali and Rome. Sometimes I still wander around and don't get all sedentary in one spot, like on recent trips through the Himalayas, one through Mali, and one through Cappadocia.

So, when I read Nick Kristof's Times column Sunday, Go West, Young People! And East!, I could easily relate. But not agree, not entirely. Of course, I agree with him when he explains how traveling as a student "changed me by opening my eyes to human needs and to human universals." Same with me. His travels led him to the career he has now as a NY Times globe-trotting columnist. Mine led to me becoming president of a large international record company.
Gap years are becoming a bit more common in the United States and are promoted by organizations like Global Citizen Year. Colleges tend to love it when students defer admission to take a gap year because those students arrive with more maturity and less propensity to spend freshman year in an alcoholic haze.

Here’s a suggestion: How about if colleges gave students a semester credit for a gap year spent in a non-English-speaking country?

There’s a misconception that gap years or study-abroad opportunities are feasible only for the affluent. There are lots of free options (and some paid ones) at, which lists volunteering opportunities all over the world. It’s also often possible to make money teaching English on the side.

So go west, young men and women! And go east! Y al norte y al sur!
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! I've loved going west to Polonnaruwa and east to Aix-en-Provence and al norte to Reykjavík y al sur to Tierra del Fuego! So what's the beef? A parenthetical: "(A shout-out goes to Goucher College in Baltimore, which requires students to study abroad. Others should try that.)" My problem: "requires." Encourages, motivates, incentivizes… that's all awesome. Requires? Nooooo. One thing that I did learn while traveling and living abroad is that it isn't suited to everyone. My sister came to visit me in Amsterdam, where I lived for nearly 4 years, and stayed one day before boarding a plane back to Brooklyn. Two friends took my advice and flew first class to Bangkok, checked into a suite at the legendary Oriental-- the best hotel in town-- and called me up to scream that they didn't appreciate my practical joke, then turned around and flew home immediately-- not even one night in Bangkok!

Kristoff advocates for all young Americans to learn Spanish and offers a joke about people who refuse to learn any languages.
If someone who speaks three languages is trilingual, and a person who speaks four languages is quadrilingual, what is a person called who speaks no foreign language at all?

Answer: An American.

One of the aims of higher education is to broaden perspectives, and what better way than by a home stay in a really different country, like Bangladesh or Senegal? Time abroad also leaves one more aware of the complex prism of suspicion through which the United States is often viewed. If more Americans had overseas experience, our foreign policy might be wiser.
There's another perspective. When I traveled across Asia on the "Hippie Trail" and later worked in an international youth center in Amsterdam, people spoke all languages. Everyone seemed comfortable except Americans. Eventually I figured out that some Americans-- and basically only Americans-- have some kind of innate paranoia that if someone is speaking another language, it means they are plotting against them in some way. Force them to live abroad? I don't like that whole "force" thing if it can be avoided. Universities encouraging students to study abroad or, much better, take a year off to live abroad, that I totally concur with. It won't be a miracle cure for provincialism and small-minded bigotry, but it will definitely help move the ball down the field.

Howie, crossing the Golden Horn

Monday, March 10, 2014

Even this baby harp seal knows what a great place the Newtown Creek Nature Walk is for just hanging out

The long steps of the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, fronting directly on the creek, attracted a maritime visitor yesterday. (The photos were taken by Sean Scaglione for NYC's Departmental of Environmental Protection.)

by Ken

Newtown Creek, which separates the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, may be one of North America's most contaminated waterways, which means that most visitors to the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, one of the city's most wonderful attractions, came from the landward direction. The youngster pictured here, however, on an exceptionally nice late-winter day, came from (and presumably left by) the water.

This account was provided by the Worker Harbor Committee's intrepid blogger, Mai Armstrong:

Baby Harp Seal Has a Sunday Sunbathe on Newtown Creek

March 10, 2014

A baby seal was seen lounging on a step at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk yesterday. No, the chubby critter was not sick, he or she just thought they’d stop by for snack and a bit of sun.

As reported by the New York Daily News, the baby harp seal plopped itself on a low step at the Newtown Ceek Nature Walk which is a public access point to the contaminated waterway.
Officials believe the seal swam in on the high tide in search of a meal, and decided to stick around for a sunbathe before heading back out on the receding tide. “There were no injuries and no concern, the animal appeared to be alert and aware.”
New York Daily News: A group of teens skating nearby said they were startled by the sight of a baby seal on the pavement around 2 p.m. at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk.

Damian Snickersen, 14, said he and his friends tried to coax the adorable seal to the water without touching it. “It looked scared. It was a baby seal, not too big, like the size of a dog, a fat dog,” he said. “We wanted to lead it to the water but we didn’t want it touch it.” Read more at The NYDN here.


The Newtown Creek Nature Walk, on the southern (Greenpoint, Brooklyn) bank of Newtown Creek, which at this point serves as the boundary between Brooklyn to the south and Queens to the north, is at the same time a park (open to the public every day during daylight hours, weather permitting; it's one of the most wonderful spots in New York City to visit and hang out) and a gigantic work of art.

The long steps that fronting directly on Newtown Creek, are just one of the many components of this amazing space along Newtown Creek and one of its tributaries, Whale Creek. The steps afford an up-close view of Newtown Creek which was never available to the public before. At low tide all the stairs are above water level, but as the tide rises, the lower stairs are submerged. It's a fantastic place to just stand or sit and watch for as long as you like. The photos above show the steps facing west toward the point where Newtown Creek flows into the East River (with Brooklyn at left and Queens at right), and across the river the skyline of Manhattan. The lower photo faces east (with Queens at left and Brooklyn at right), toward the creek's inland continuation.

New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, which operates the nearby Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, has a great flier for the Nature Walk, with excellent descriptions of its fascinatingly diverse array of components. This is from the introduction:
The Newtown Creek Nature Walk was designed by environmental sculpture artist George Trakas. It was built by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) through the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Percent for Art Program in conjunction with the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade. DEP’s general contractor, the joint venture team of Picone/McCullagh, constructed the Nature Walk, and 5-Star Electric was the electrical contractor. The landscape architect was Quenelle Rothschild & Partners, LLP.

The Newtown Creek Nature Walk is situated serenely between industrial and natural areas. The landscape features indigenous trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and boulders that re-imagine this open space as a vibrant intersection, where multiple histories, cultural identities and geologic epochs coexist. Visitors are inspired to ponder the various eras of Newtown Creek, from its inhabitance by the Lenape people before the arrival of Europeans, to the thriving cooperage, ship-making and lumber industries of 18th and 19th century Greenpoint. The Nature Walk affords the public its first opportunity in decades to enjoy intimate views of Newtown Creek and to enjoy the local environment and history of the waterfront.
On one of my visits to the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, our MAS tour led by Jack Eichenbaum had the great good fortune to piggyback onto a tour being led at the same time by the designer, George Trakas. Everywhere we looked George was able to tell us riveting stories about the conception, design (including the choice of materials), and execution of whatever we were seeing, as well as the plans for later phases of the Nature Walk. If there had been time, I'm sure he could have told us stories about every square inch, horizontal and vertical, of the place.

One thing that quickly became abundantly clear was that George's close involvement with the Nature Walk didn't end or even lessen with the completion of the design, or even the construction of the project's first phases.