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World Association of International Studies

Post US Gun Violence from a UK Perspective
Created by John Eipper on 11/12/17 6:20 AM

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US Gun Violence from a UK Perspective (John Heelan, UK, 11/12/17 6:20 am)

Over the years from 2008 to 2014, I have suggested to WAISworld that the US has a higher "propensity to kill" than most European countries. (Regrettably, I no longer have my notes from my original research.) I believe that this is exacerbated by the popularity of shoot-'em-up video games for teenage (and other) players, who fail to realise that there is no "restart button" in real life. and that when you are dead, you are dead!

The UK has fairly strict gun control laws and less strict bladed-implement laws, so there tends to be more fatal stabbings than shootings these days, especially among the younger generations. The baddies always seems to be able to obtain firearms relatively easily when they need them. A senior police officer controlling Armed Response Vehicles tells me that his people generally do not want to be armed on a regular basis other than with Tasers, pepper sprays and batons.

I cite from my 2014 WAIS comment (http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=89790&objectTypeId=76034&topicId=134 ):

"Some years ago in a discussion with NRA supporters, after some research I proposed that Americans appeared to have what I termed 'a greater propensity to kill.' This seems to stem from the second form of enculturation--the second conscious way a person learns a culture is to watch others around them and to emulate their behaviour.** The majority of gun crime deaths at that time, some 9 or 10 years ago, were domestic incidents, suggesting that the availability of firearms might not have reduced the numbers of violent domestic incidents, but their lethal nature might have increased the number of deaths resulting from those incidents. I had a personal interest in the discussion as my [then teenaged] son's best friend was accidentally killed by his 7-yr-old brother, using a .410 shotgun, as the result of a fraternal spat. As a result, I banned use of firearms by the family, despite our being farmers and needing to control vermin.

"I will check my notes to see if I still have the supporting data*** for the 'propensity to kill' hypothesis relating to the US and the UK: the UK's propensity was substantially lower at that time. However, that may not be as true today, given the recent news that UK gun crime has increased by 4% last year.

** "See Conrad Philip Lottack, A Window on Humanity. The syndrome appears to be getting worse, given the prevalence of violent films and video games available to teenagers and others. ('The convergence of findings across such disparate methods lends considerable strength to the main hypothesis that exposure to violent video games can increase aggressive behavior,' [Anderson & Dill, 2000], confirmed by more recent research.)

***"The data was derived from the Lott & Mustard reports, together with academic rebuttals of those reports."

JE commented [in 2014]: Here is John Heelan's 2008 post:


[JE again]: "Do Americans kill more because they have more guns, or do they have more guns because of their violent nature or living up to a false self-image of life in the Wild West a couple of centuries ago? We could pose the same circular question about shoot-'em-up video games: do the games cause society to become more violent, or are they so popular because they reflect a violence already present?"

Tim Brown argued that had it not been for an armed neighbour, the casualty list in Sutherland Springs (Texas) would have been much higher. My response: if the neighbour had been armed with a bump-stock automatic... how many would have died in the cross-fire?

JE responded to Tim: "Let us imagine a world where everybody is packing heat. You'll think twice about cutting into someone's lane."

This was forcefully pointed out to me by a US friend after I recounted how--late for a flight out of Logan airport in Boston--I inadvertently cut in front of another car. The driver rightfully hit his horn for several seconds to complain and tailgated me for a mile or so.  Then I thoughtlessly exacerbated his anger by blowing him a kiss in the rear-view mirror! My US friend told me, "He could have shot you!"

JE comments:  Aware of the potential for gunplay, I am also very careful to avoid road-ragers.  Let 'em rage by themselves.  Use speed and agility to get out of the way.  And in my million or so miles driven since age 16, I've survived every one of them.

I'm beginning to agree with what WAISer Paul Levine and others have argued:  gun-obsession may be #2 in the Bill of Rights, but it's the #1 trait of American Exceptionalism.  Europeans will never understand this.

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  • Guns, Crime, and Self-Defense in UK (Timothy Ashby, Spain 11/17/17 3:14 AM)
    The UK banned handguns in 1997, but according to official statistics (BBC 12 April 2017) gun crime offenses in London surged by 42% in the last year.

    In the year ending March 2016, there were 8,399 offenses in which firearms were involved; a 7% increase compared with the previous year. 2,157 offenses were committed with handguns--all of which were illegally obtained on the black market.

    Rising violence has helped to push crime to its highest level in a decade, with almost five million offenses in the past year. Violent crime in the UK increased by 18 per cent over the past year, reaching its highest level in a decade (The Times, 21 July 2017). Knife crime, gun offenses and robbery helped to drive up overall crime by 10 per cent in England and Wales, the Office for National Statistics said. The homicide rate rose by 9 per cent.

    Unlike in the US, criminals in the UK cannot simply cross a state line to buy handguns. And gun control laws are just as strict in most Western European countries. Criminals have no problem buying handguns, yet responsible citizens cannot do so. Fortunately, our friends in rural areas are able to own shotguns; they are convinced that this is the reason that robberies and other violent crimes are so low in the countryside.

    Even pepper spray is banned in the UK, despite the raising crime levels. We legally carry long serrated metal torches that can be extended like billy clubs when we go out at night, and I ensure that my daughter carries one in her car.

    JE comments: What happened to the handguns that were (presumably) confiscated in 1997?

    A 42% increase in gun crimes in one year is extremely alarming.  There must be many theories circulating to explain what's going on.  Immigration?  Has anyone blamed Brexit?  Tim, are there any cries to re-arm the British people?

    I Googled "long serrated torch that extends UK" and came up with this eBay offering.  The name rolls off the tongue:  "Outdoor Emergency Self Defense Tools Powerful Lamp Torch LED Light Flashlight."  It's only $14.95 and gives you that intimidating Buford Pusser look.  Walk Tall, my friends.

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    • Personal-Defense Flashlights; Guns Across State Lines (Brian Blodgett, USA 11/17/17 12:51 PM)
      John, I want to thank you for including your comment on the long serrated torch, as I was looking at purchasing a similar one the other day, as well as several stun flashlights.

      However, I also want to address Timothy Ashby's posting of November 17th, in which he wrote that in the US one can always cross a state border to purchase a handgun, or other restricted firearms. I live in Maryland which outlaws assault-style firearms and has strict laws on handguns. I cannot cross into Virginia or any other state and purchase the firearm there and transport it back into Maryland. First off, Maryland law prohibits this and second, other states check driver's licenses and since mine is from Maryland, not their state, they will not sell it to me.

      Perhaps this is not the case, but a quick search showed that only federal firearms license (FFL) holders can handle gun sales across state lines. If I want to purchase one in Virginia, it must be shipped to a FFL holder in Maryland--who in turn would not allow me to receive a restricted firearm. A violation by a FFL holder (gun shop for example) could lead to it being shut down and in legal trouble; this is likely not worth it to the FFL dealers. As a note, this was just a quick research and response, so I welcome others from the USA (and elsewhere) to make additional comments if I am wrong.

      JE comments:  It's quite the felony (10 years, I believe) to cross a state line with an illegal firearm.  I think Tim Ashby meant that if you don't care about breaking the law, it's literally easier in the US than in Europe to move guns around.

      Stun flashlight, Brian?  Until today, I never knew Lux could be so unPaxful.  Here's the frightful Guard Dog Diablo II, at 5 million volts.  Beware.


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      • Women's Gun Safety Class (Helen Pitlick, USA 11/21/17 3:45 AM)
        I will say, as a female American, that I find male America's claims that they need guns to protect themselves and their families to be pretty funny.

        From an early age, women (the people most likely to be attacked) are taught to protect ourselves with flashlights, mace, self-defense classes, keys between the fingers, whistles, etc--not guns.

        So when I hear a guy say, "I need a gun to protect myself!" I just think, "but you have keys!"

        Realistically, are keys going to help that much? Probably not (unless you can magically jab the "perp" in the eyes), but that's what they teach the actually vulnerable.

        (Maybe things would be different if I lived in real 'Murica instead of liberal commie Left Coast cities. And I did recently take a women's gun safety class, so there's that.)

        [JE: Never one to pass up the chance for a follow-up question, I asked Helen Pitlick to tell us about the class. Here's her response]:

        The day after the election last November, a friend of mine messaged me about taking a gun-safety class. She was afraid for her and her son's safety as People of Color in Trump's America, but wanted to make sure she was smart about gun ownership. (She somehow thought I was a gun nut because I went shooting once, like, years ago.)

        So, we found a women-only class hosted by these two rad ladies (a mother and her adult daughter) out of a chiropractic office in Tacoma, Washington. The mom lives on a farm with rescued llamas, and the daughter is a pin-up model--typical Washington state hippies. They were really realistic about guns, and just taught us how to load, aim, etc. (no firing).

        Haven't been shooting since but it was definitely worthwhile!

        JE comments:  Helen Pitlick of Seattle is Paul Pitlick's daughter, and a social media/Internet professional.  She has been on the WAIS mailing list for several years.  So good to have you join our discussion, Helen, and Happy Thanksgiving!

        Next up, we'll hear from Helen's dad, Paul.

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    • UK's Dramatic Rise in Crime (Timothy Ashby, Spain 11/18/17 7:26 AM)
      John E asked about theories circulating to explain the cause of the dramatic rise in crime in the UK (at least in major metropolitan areas). To paraphrase Lord Alfred Douglas, this is an issue that "dare not speak its name," for fear of being branded racist.

      I've spoken confidentially to numerous politicians, police officers (including Special Branch veterans) and MI-5 friends,of various races and creeds. All confirm that the statistics provide a disturbing origin for crime across the UK. In fact, my contacts say that the official statistics understate the problem, as they have been "massaged" by the authorities.

      Within the past few years, reportedly half of all rape and murder suspects in some parts of Britain are foreigners. On a countrywide basis, almost 20 percent of those believed responsible for the worst crimes last year were born outside the UK. However, in parts of England and Wales with high immigration levels, the proportion rises to 50 per cent or more. Sadly, these statistics were fuel for the Brexiteers' fire.  (And what an economic conflagration that will be!)

      According to statistics from London's Metropolitan Police Service, 9 out of 10 street crimes, knife crimes and gun crimes are committed by men rather than women. Twelve per cent of London's men are black. But 54 per cent of the street crimes committed by men in London, along with 46 per cent of the knife crimes and 67 percent gun crimes, are reported by the Metropolitan Police to have been committed by black men. It seems like every night on the news there's another report of a horrendous acid attack (there was one on a tourist in a street near Harrods last month), or knife murder, the victims of which mainly appear to be young black or Middle Eastern men.

      Some fellow WAISers may consider it racist even to report these statistics. These are, very sadly, the truth. No one seems to know the root cause--whether poverty, "alienation" (whatever that means), drugs, gangs, etc. The media reports that young men--especially in the black community--must arm themselves for defence from other knife wielders (which can mean using anything from a machete to a switchblade). I have heard ethnic community leaders on TV blame "police brutality," for "alienating" young black men, but this is utter tripe. Few countries in the world have better trained, more empathetic and more racially and culturally diverse police than the UK. And most of them still do not carry sidearms.

      JE comments:  An uncomfortable topic, to be sure.  I am still perplexed as to why the crime rate has risen in the last year.  For London, might this be because of the Johnson-Khan transition?  Concerning fuel for the Brexiteers, what about the connection with immigration from the Continent--how many of the "perps" (regardless of race) moved to the UK from other EU nations?

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      • UK's Rise in Crime (Istvan Simon, USA 11/19/17 4:04 AM)
        In response to Tim Ashby (18 November), I am one WAISer who does not consider reporting statistics racist. But what they mean is far more difficult.

        The rise in crime rate could be caused by racism, even if the statistics aren't. I am not sure what is the situation today in the UK since I lived in Cambridge, England in 1983, which was a long time ago. But in 1983, racism in Britain was very much on the surface and I observed it personally, for example at Heathrow where blacks were treated poorly in front of me for no apparent reason by white authorities. Resentment in those days was directed at Pakistani immigrants. There were also a lot of Arab immigrants but I observed no racism directed at them.

        Whether what I am writing about has anything to do with the current increase in crime is unclear. It could have something to do with it, or it could be an unrelated phenomenon. I am a firm believer that immigrants do not cause crime--the way that immigrants are treated and absorbed or not into local society might.

        Still, I also want to point out that even with the alarming rates of increase of firearm crime, the United Kingdom has 0.23 deaths by firearm violence per 100,000 population versus 11 per 100,000 population for the United States, and so I would take strict gun control any time over the easy availability of murderous weapons in the USA, which is simply insane.

        JE comments:  A difficult and extremely uncomfortable question:  do immigrants cause crime?  Knee-jerk nativists respond "but of course," but coincidence does not prove causality. 

        It's not nice to blame immigrants for society's problems, but does this mean the question itself should be off-limits?  WAIS doesn't shy away from the uncomfortable and the controversial.

        Boris Volodarsky (next) divides his time between London and Vienna.  The latter city is experiencing an increase in crime as well.

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        • Immigration, Ethnicity, and Crime: UK (John Heelan, UK 11/20/17 3:49 AM)
          I agree with Istvan Simon (19 November) when he wrote, "I am one WAISer who does not consider reporting statistics racist. But what they mean is far more difficult. The rise in crime rate could be caused by racism, even if the statistics aren't."

          As with all statistics, definitions of the data collected are all important. For example, the definitions of stats recorded by UK police are constantly changing, meaning that it is difficult to compare year on year. Definitions in other sources used by the National Audit Office can also be criticised for the lack of consistency.

          However, Istvan's "what they mean" is more critical. Public perception is that immigration does cause crime, but that view is influenced by political ideologies and the media, in which we read reports of criminal gangs being sentenced and then, carelessly, apply that bad vibe to other members of the particular ethic community--e.g. all Muslims are potential terrorists. That said, criminal gangs within those ethnicities tend to prey on their fellow countrymen. At one time, Turkish snd Chinese gangs controlled the drugs trade in London, Manchester and other big cities. They are now competing with Eastern European gangs for that territorial control.

          A more insidious link between ethnicity and criminal behaviour is the business by which illegal immigrants arrive in the UK. People-smugglers charge high prices to get the immigrants to the UK, who then become enmeshed in debt to those smugglers. Those trapped have threats made directly to themselves or to their family members in their home countries and are, as a result, often compelled to become part of the drug distribution networks or in the case of females, sex workers, having been promised UK job as au pairs, etc. Many males are recruited into quasi-slavery in gangs providing labour for agricultural purposes, lodged in extremely poor accommodation for which they then have to rent. The situation will continue until the lucrative illegal immigration businesses can be either controlled or eliminated.

          JE comments: The indentured immigrant model has been around since at least the 18th century. In the US many (most?) of our ancestors got here this way.  Is it a cultural universal that the newest arrivals become fair game for those who landed just a few years earlier?

          Tim Ashby (next) gives a further perspective on this important topic.

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        • Racism and Crime in UK (Timothy Ashby, Spain 11/20/17 4:25 AM)
          I have lived in the UK on and off since 1972. As Istvan Simon noted on November 19th, there was indeed evident racism in the UK in the 1970s and '80s, primarily directed against recent immigrants. One example is what was termed "Paki-Bashing"--gangs of white skinheads who targeted Asians and beat them.

          Such overt racism is now rarely, if ever, seen. There is actually more hatred directed against white Eastern European immigrants--especially Poles. Ironically, I have seen TV news broadcasts in which black and Asian Britons express antagonism towards "Poles" who are "stealing jobs." This was reflected in the Brexit vote. According to the London School of Economics (LSE), "[o]utside London, nearly every constituency with a double-digit South Asian population voted Leave. Luton has a 25 percent Asian population; Leave won there with a 19 percent majority. Places like Pendle, Oldham, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton also have high South Asian populations and voted Leave with large majorities. The only exception was Leicester, with its 30 percent Asian population--narrowly a Remain town, with a 2 percent majority."

          I asked a (white female) police officer (a tenant of Rosemary) what she thought was the reason for the rising crime rate among young black males. She unequivocally said that it was due to the "Gangsta rap" lifestyle that glamorised violence and indoctrinated young men to think of women as sex objects. She also said that the Black Lives Matter movement--imported from the USA--was radicalising young black men and women into believing that the police and white people generally were enemies. The police officer said that her black colleagues were spat upon, threatened and called "traitors to the black race" and "white men's slaves"--and they "couldn't life a finger against the people who did this." (As a lawyer, I would have considered spitting to be assault, but British police are trained not to retaliate because that is exactly what the perpetrators want them to do.) She stated that police officers were "giving up" because of the lax, politically correct courts, and that three out of every four people arrested were released without even a hearing. Increasingly, black and Asian gangs were using children to commit crimes such as "scooter snatches," knowing that they wouldn't be prosecuted.

          JE comments:  Situations such as the one above will probably lead to a "zero-tolerance" law-and-order reaction.  Think of New York City's lawlessness of 1970s and early '80s, which ultimately begat Giuliani and thence the death of Eric Garner, thus forcing the police to back off.  Then the cycle starts over.

          In my house we say that nobody works harder than the Poles.  "The only time a Pole can relax is while working."  When it comes to domestic chores, Aldona's Anglo-Franco-German mongrel husband can never keep pace.  This is probably why the Poles are accused of taking other people's jobs--they do.

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      • Rising Crime in Vienna (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 11/19/17 4:26 AM)
        I would like to add to Timothy Ashby's excellent and very well-balanced post of 18 November.

        The situation in Austria is not better. The crime world in Vienna is divided between the Afghan and Chechen gangs. From time to time (every couple of weeks or so), the police arrest up to 200 drug dealers in a single operation.

        Almost all rape and murder suspects are foreigners, and practically all of them are asylum seekers. I do not know why, but in Austria you have really very few gun crimes and not too many knife crimes. But robbery, burglary and theft are common, as well as rape. About 98% of those crimes are committed by foreigners.

        From my personal experience:  We came to Austria in July 1990 on the way to Rome where, we did not know it, was the FIFA World Cup Final exactly on the day of our arrival. But in the Linz Novotel, where we stayed for the night, they asked us to leave the key in the car, just in case. And we did not care to lock our hotel door, either. In Rome, it was almost the same--some police on the main streets, but generally quiet. We played tennis, walked and drove around--no problem. Today in Vienna, to go out in the evening without a gun is simply stupid. In the First District you can probably feel safe but this is something like Mayfair in London, which is heavily guarded day and night. And we talk about Vienna, the most safe and comfortable city in the world.

        JE comments:  To go out unarmed is stupid?  Do people do this in Vienna?

        Boris, I thought Detroit was the safest and most comfortable city in the world... (insert smiley icon here).

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        • Arming Yourself in Vienna (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 11/20/17 12:29 PM)
          John E asked:  "Do people [go out armed in] Vienna?... I thought Detroit was the safest and most comfortable city in the world..."

          Yeah, John and I were together in Detroit in 2013.  It was a gloomy place. I remember the abandoned main railway station and the empty streets.

          Vienna, one must admit, is not London, but it can be vibrant as well. Anybody, everybody visiting Vienna would say it is a marvelous imperial capital clean and safe like nowhere else in the world. All buildings dating back to the 17th-19th centuries look like they were built yesterday. There are horse carriages and practically no uniformed police. In the underground passage below the State Opera there is a public toilet where wonderful music is playing day and night. All is incredibly clean and very well serviced. During the ball season (now), there are over 460 balls with the Opernball (Vienna State Opera Ball) most famous and copied all over the world. Everybody is fascinated by Vienna.

          But...Yes, if you are not in the First District, to go out unarmed may sometimes be stupid. Attacks, especially on women and old people, are reported every single day. Since the authorities agreed to accept asylum seekers, applications for handgun licenses increased over 1,000 times. About 12,000 of those asylum seekers disappear annually, meaning they illegally move to other countries. Probably for the first time in history there are guards around the Presidential Palace (Hofburg) and the Office of the Federal Chancellor (currently a socialist but soon there will be a young boy from the People's Party, who has won recent elections). The leader of the coalition party declared he wanted to become the Home Secretary (Interior Minister) specifically to combat crimes committed by foreigners.

          In neighbouring Switzerland many men have their rifles and submachine guns at home, because this is a law. Still, the criminality in Switzerland seems to be very low. As I tried to show, it was rather low in Austria, too, until the borders were opened. Now, they try to close them but people want to have guns.

          JE comments:  But Boris, Detroiters have "appropriated" our gloom, and we're proud of it.  None of that Viennese fluff for us!  Strauss?  Bah.  We roll with Eminem. 

          What are some of the world's other gritty and tough cities?  Some candidates off the top of my head:  Warsaw, Tijuana, Sao Paulo.  Liverpool?  I have never been there.  Other nominations?

          Austria's presumed new Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, is a mere child of 31.  What can we expect from him, Boris?

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          • The Most Exciting City in America? That Would Be Detroit: NYT (Paul Pitlick, USA 11/21/17 4:24 AM)
            As if on cue after JE's comments on Detroit, here's an article from yesterday's NY Times...

            The Most Exciting City in America? - The New York Times


            JE comments:  A very nice article, with none of the voyeurism or sympathetic condescension we Detroiters often get from the Coasts.  Detroit is a survivor, and with "re-ruralization" it's even moving towards a phenomenon no city has known since, well, never:  food self-sufficiency.

            Thanks for bringing our attention to this, Paul.  I even learned about a bookstore and two restaurants I'm going to try.  (Of course it took the NYT for me to know that these places exist--suburbanites don't go downtown much.)

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            • Detroit, the Most Exciting? Not so Fast... (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 11/23/17 1:14 PM)
              To the New York Times article about prosperous Detroit referred to in Paul Pitlick's post of 20 November, I dare say I do not believe it.

              I remember empty streets, hungry rats, the abandoned Book-Cadillac Hotel, once its grandest but for decades in a miserable state, customs officers at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport who brazenly stole my iPad at the customs control, Detroit's five crummy mayors and among them Kwame Kilpatrick (2002-8) and his chief of staff (and mistress) Christine Beatty charged with multiple counts of perjury, conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and misconduct, while a bit later the federal government indicted Kilpatrick; his father, Bernard Kilpatrick; the ex-mayor's longtime friend Bobby Ferguson; and ex-water department director Victor Mercado on corruption charges of running a criminal enterprise through city hall in order to make themselves rich.

              A decline of Detroit has been going on for five decades, and somebody is telling us now that after four years I have not been there it is a paradise on earth? We have heard this before: "Our Future: Right Here, Right Now." Aha.

              Maybe I can ask our esteemed editor to drive to Detroit one day and give us an objective report? Say, for example, how many international congresses are there each month? How many fashion shows? How many fully booked 5-star hotels and 3-Michelin star restaurants? How many top-class Japanese eateries? How many police precincts operate now (there used to be twelve) and how quick and effective is the law enforcement agencies' response? Something along these lines.

              JE comments:  Michelin 3-Stars?  Fashion shows?  We don't roll that way in Detroit, Boris.  But the Book-Cadillac has been beautifully renovated.  It's now a premier downtown destination.

              And our rats are well fed, thank you very much, although we don't see any in the gardens of WAIS HQ.  The intrepid Robert, WAISdom's Official Mouser, makes sure of it.  (His preferred MO:  sacrificed chipmunks on the back porch.)  Photo below in warmer days--Robert is inside at present, looking forward to Thanksgiving turkey.

              Here's a Thanksgiving-day question that will stump many:  What city has the most Michelin 3-Star restaurants (twelve)?  It's not Paris, London, or anywhere in the US.  As always, no Googling allowed.

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              • Detroit, Comeback City (Istvan Simon, USA 11/24/17 4:13 AM)

                I'm not sure when Boris Volodarsky was in Detroit, but in fact the New York Times article that he does not believe is true.

                What happened in Detroit is what happens in good old-fashioned capitalism when the conditions Boris described, which used to be true but are no longer, happen. Over a period of years land becomes cheap and that eventually attracts investors and developers who redevelop run-down poor abandoned areas into thriving new neighborhoods and businesses. This happened in Detroit and will happen everywhere else where there are conditions that warrant it in an otherwise desirable place.

                It happened in New York too, for example. In 1969 New York was approaching bankruptcy, the Times Square area was a seedy place, panhandlers where everywhere. I was approached by a man who begged for money in a subway station, and I gave him a quarter, which he said was too little. I thought what a nerve, go work for it if you want more. In 1969 a quarter was more than what a ride on the subway would cost. Anyway, the Times Square area was re-developed and became the world famous thriving center it is now. Indeed, in 1975 just 6 years later, New York almost went bankrupt. See:


                JE comments:  One of Detroit's disadvantages is too much land, which incentivized sprawl.  The NYT article forwarded by Paul Pitlick points out a related drawback:  an extensive system of highways since the 1950s, which made getting out of the city extremely easy for suburbanites and wannabe suburbanites.  The desirable cities of New York and San Francisco, in contrast, are compact and insular (or peninsular).  Not good for auto factories, but good for "livability."

                Here, once again, is the Reif Larsen article from November 20th:


                And now for the Thanksgiving question on everyone's minds:  What city has the most Michelin 3-Star restaurants?  I received two votes for Lyon (one 3-Star), two for Brussels (apparently, none in Brussels proper), and one each for Shanghai (two 3*) and Beijing--sorry, Beijing.

                The winner?  I'll let Edward Mears explain.

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              • What City Has the Most Michelin 3-Star Restaurants? From Edward Mears (John Eipper, USA 11/24/17 4:39 AM)
                Edward Mears writes:

                My name is Eddie Mears and I have been following WAIS ever since my father (Patrick Mears) introduced it to me several years ago. I am not sure if it is appropriate for me to be writing in to the website, but I did notice a few other WAIS children chiming in, and thought I'd throw my hat in the ring as well.

                I recently read Boris Volodarsky's post about Detroit and John E's query regarding Michelin 3-star restaurants. As a current resident of Tokyo, perhaps I was one of the few WAIS readers who was not stumped. I have not had the fortune of eating at any of Tokyo's 12 Michelin 3-star restaurants since arriving here last year, however the city's world-beating tally of Michelin 3-stars is well known by Tokyo-ites and is a point of pride. As you can imagine most of these places must be booked months if not years in advance.

                The most famous of the lot (at least internationally) is Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo's posh Ginza district, operated by legendary sushi craftsman Jiro Ono since 1965. A renowned documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" detailed his art and propelled the restaurant into international fame. I have had a few friends who have been lucky enough to obtain reservations there, however most of them have come away disappointed (though not by the sushi, which is by all accounts exquisite). As the restaurant has rocketed to fame, the bookings are now very tightly regimented and you can expect no more than 15-20 minutes at the counter to scarf down your sushi before being quickly ushered out of the restaurant. The senior Mr. Ono is hardly present anymore due to his advanced age, and day-to-day operations are now undertaken by his son, who is by accounts an accomplished sushi chef in his own right, but the restaurant has lost a bit of its luster as a result. No credit cards, so bring cash--one of my friends was not aware of this policy and following his meal he was ushered by two employees (enforcers?) to the nearest ATM to draw out the required amount.

                Obama famously stopped by the restaurant with Prime Minister Abe back in 2014, conferring on it an almost sacred status--the Japanese public adored Obama (though apparently Abe and the rest of the political establishment did not as they saw him as weak on China and the DPRK). Donald Trump enjoys quite the opposite reaction--adored by the political class (for the time being thanks to his tough language on North Korea) but not well received by the Japanese public.  This was evidenced best during Trump's recent visit where Ivanka and Melania stole the focus of the Japanese press and the hearts of adoring Japanese female fans.

                I snapped the attached photo of "The Beast" carrying President and Mrs. Trump after their visit to the Imperial Palace earlier this month. Trump famously did not bow to the Japanese Emperor at this meeting (in contrast with his "bow" to Saudi King Salman back in May), and also told Emperor Akihito that "mass shootings can happen anywhere" (this meeting was immediately after the tragic events in Texas). The most recent tally I have found for shooting fatalities in Japan is from 2014, when a total of six shooting fatalities were recorded.

                JE comments:  Arigato gozaimasu, Eddie-San!  Please tell us more about life as a gaijin in Tokyo.  How is your Japanese (language) coming along?  And how often do you run into fellow Michiganders?  No matter where the roads and airways take us, we manage to sniff each other out.

                WAISer Boris Volodarsky also picked Tokyo as the likely winner of the Michelin Challenge.

                Considering what you pay at a Michelin 3-Star, 20 minutes is an extreme disappointment, probably $15 per minute.  Since yesterday I've been researching the world's most prestigious restaurants, and one thing stands out for this Midwesterner:  minuscule portions, beautifully arranged.  Food as performance art, but where is the beef?  My recommendation:  stop by McDonald's on the way to lay down some proper ballast.

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                • Tiny Portions, Artfully Served (John Heelan, UK 11/24/17 10:34 AM)
                  JE asked about "food as a performance art."

                  I agree with him that nouvelle cuisine might look good but still leaves you hungry after eating. Attached is a photo of "patissier art" shot, not in a Michelin 3-star but in our local pub in a small hamlet on the Isle of Wight. It was delicious as well as eye-catching!

                  JE comments: In 'Murica (thanks to Helen Pitlick for the spelling) there's an inverse correlation between portion sizes and amount paid.  "Small plates," big prices.  Perhaps one of History's biggest paradigm shifts came when poor people got fat and the rich embraced skinniness.  Thus the über-prestigious restaurants do not actually pretend to feed you, as in provide you with calories and nourishment, but rather to dazzle your eyes and palate.

                  That is a mighty tasty-looking desert, John.  Is the fork silhouette an intentional part of the presentation?

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                  • Thanksgiving à la Francaise (Tor Guimaraes, USA 11/28/17 7:09 AM)
                    Almost every year my wife and I travel to Washington DC to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter and her family. A major part of the fun is Thursday afternoon/evening dinner with the Navy band, a delightful international gourmet food extravaganza with the Navy Band inductees.

                    Every year is cuisine from a different nation. This Thanksgiving the food was from France. My son-in-law and his boss do all the cooking in the latter's home over two or more days. My son-in-law made 37 baguettes which by the end of the evening miraculously disappeared. Ditto for the two large vats of the best French onion soup I have ever tasted. Unfortunately by the time they served the beef bourguignon I was too full to even try it, but other guests told me about how delicious it was. Anyway, the portions were not small but the Gruyere cheese for the onion soup alone cost more than $100. Quite a gastronomical experience, indeed.

                    JE comments:  I salivate, Tor, but how are we going to follow Ric Mauricio's draconian post-Thanksgiving dietary restrictions?  Besides our independence, we Americans thank France for three things--French dressing, as well as their fries and toast.  (No need to write in--I jest.)  To this we should add their onion soup, which I believe actually is French.  I prefer mine as gooey as possible.

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                    • Ric Mauricio Discusses the Dreaded Draconian Diet (DDD) (John Eipper, USA 11/29/17 3:26 AM)

                      Ric Mauricio writes:

                      Ah, I don't recall recommending the DDD (Dreaded Draconian Diet) as JE posted in his response to Tor Guimaraes (November 28th), and I definitely would not recommend the VW (Vegetables and Water) diet.

                      Many articles dwell on vitamin deficiency. Some of them, of course, are linked to advertisements selling vitamins and minerals.

                      But as I talk to people, I am finding there is even more of a nutritional issue. That issue is protein deficiency.

                      Protein, and more importantly, the amino acids in protein, are the building blocks of the cells in your body. Complete protein have all the amino acids needed to fully utilize in rebuilding the cells in your body, which are continuously, through the stress of living, breaking down. If one does not take in enough protein to replenish and rebuild the cells in your body, your body is breaking down, aka aging, aka dying. And gaining fat to boot.

                      What a lot of people don't know is that you also need more protein to lose fat. When it comes to building more muscle mass, the muscles are usually dead last to benefit from that extra protein. First in line are your organs and intestines. Next up is the brain (I am suspecting that a large contributor to Alzheimer's and dementia is a lack of protein getting to the brain). Then your heart, liver, lung and other internal organs. And last but not least, your muscle tissue gets what is left over.

                      The bad part about this whole physiological deal is...if you don't have enough proteins for the internal organs, the body goes out and steals it from the muscle tissue. Your body cannibalizes itself for the amino acids it needs!

                      Why is all this important if you are trying to lose fat? Because the muscles are where the fat is burned. If you cut your calories, including your protein to lose fat, you are shrinking your muscle tissue, thus severely impairing your fat-burning capabilities. You are restructuring your body composition so that you are actually gaining more body fat on less calories!

                      Research recommends .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. And taking an average sedentary man weighing 155 pounds, that person would need 56 grams of protein. Since sedentary is not a recommended state of physical being, an average person who exercises (again, around 155 pounds body weight) should be taking in 78 to 85 grams of protein. Athletes, because of their higher activity rate, need to take in 93 grams of protein (again this is for a 155 pounder; if you are 200 pounds, it comes to 120 grams of protein).

                      Now keep in mind that not all protein are complete and they also have different digestibility rates (called PDCAAS). For example, a 3-ounce serving of chicken breast has 28 grams of protein, has all the essential amino acids (these are amino acids your body cannot produce and is only available through food), its PDCAAS is 100%, therefore the net protein utilization (NPU) is 28 grams. A sedentary man (155 lb bodyweight) would need 2 servings of chicken (3 ounces each serving) to take in enough protein. A non-sedentary person would need 3 servings. But what about beef? 3 ounces of lean beef has 26 grams of protein, but has a PDCAAS of 92%, so beef has an NPU of 24 grams. Although the sedentary person can get by with 2 servings, the non-sedentary person needs to take in 3 to 4 servings. That is a 12 ounce steak.

                      But what about vegetarians? Vegetables do not have all the amino acids to consider them a complete protein, so the vegetarians need to mix and match various vegetables to complete the amino acid requirement. So those who are transitioning to an all-vegetable diet need to study which vegetable has a complementary amino acid with other vegetables that do not have them. But let's look at vegetables in general. 1 cup of vegetables has about 5 grams of protein, a PDCAAS of 73%, therefore an NPU of 4 grams of protein. So a non-sedentary person needs 21 to 23 cups of vegetables to meet their daily protein requirement. I don't know about you, but I cannot eat that many vegetables in one day. Ah, but let's look at lentils or legumes. 1 cup has 18 grams of protein, a PDCAAS of 70%, so an NPU of 13 grams of protein. So a non-sedentary person needs 6 to 7 cups of lentils or legumes every day to meet their RDA for protein. My diet does include lentils, but I cannot take in more than 2 cups per day. Tofu is an excellent protein provider. 1 cup of tofu has 20 grams of protein, a PDCAAS of 91%, an NPU of 18 grams, so an in-shape person needs 4 to 5 cups every day to meet their RDA. That is a lot of tofu.

                      So you see, vegetarians are at a much greater risk of not attaining their protein RDA. But wait, I thought vegetarians are healthier than non-vegetarians? Statistics, my friend. With 3% of the US being vegetarians, this relatively small sample, when compared to the other 97% may exhibit greater life expectancies. But when you remove the non-vegetarians who are obese and eat fatty beef (now approaching 80%), the statistics now show that the life expectancies of the remaining non-vegetarians who eat balanced healthy meals outpace those of vegetarians. In fact, only 20% of vegetarians match those who eat balanced healthy meals. I suspect that these vegetarians take in a greater amount of lentils, legumes, and tofu. But one still needs to take in a lot of these foods.

                      Let's take a look at the percentage of vegetarians in certain countries and their respective life expectancies. The US has 3% vegetarians and an average life expectancy of 77 years. Japan has 4.7% vegetarians and has an average life expectancy of 81.25 years. India has 40% vegetarians and an average life expectancy of 69 years, which is 15% less than Japan. The Japanese have two things going for them, portion control and a balanced diet, including fish, vegetables and noodles. They have a 3% obesity rate vs. an obesity rate in the US approaching 80%. As with all statistics, they are not perfect. India has a lot of poor people with poor access to healthy nutrition and healthcare.

                      So are you getting enough protein? Or are you just letting your body deteriorate and attributing it to getting old?

                      And JE, please, no DDD. It will do more harm than good. And yes, a cheat day is good, but that is a subject for another post. I call it the Seventh Day Advantage.

                      JE comments:  And on the Seventh Day, He cheated.  (Twinkies and Doritos?)  Are you sure you're not employed by the Chicken Lobby, Ric?

                      Why do the Japanese live so long?  Is it portion control and excellent healthcare?  The Japanese have at least three things working against them--they smoke and work too much, and have an extremely high intake of salt, a leading cause of hypertension.

                      Ric, this is an excellent explanation of the benefits of protein.  Well done--although I prefer mine on the rarer side. (!)

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                      • Salt and the Japanese Diet (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 11/30/17 9:28 AM)

                        Ric Mauricio's post of 29 November is one of the most healthy and useful explanations I have ever read on our beloved WAIS site for years.

                        It is hard to say why Japan has life expectancy of over 81 years. Probably, it is not only the diet. Very few Japanese can afford uni (https://theunidiaries.com/2015/11/15/what-is-uni-sea-urchin-101 ) or o-toro. Maybe the geography, the sea, and especially the seaweed like hijiki, wakame, konbu, nori, amakusa.

                        About the high intake of salt that JE mentioned, I doubt it.  With my mostly Japanese daily menu I have never--during many years--used salt, only good Japanese koikuchi soy sauce (shoyu) and sometimes shottsuru, a fermented fish sauce. Forget the "Dreaded Draconian Diet"; you can make delicious spaghetti Napolitano with hijiki, soy sauce, a bit of honey and vegetables serving it with a nice piece of wagyu beef steak.  Aldona will be more than happy.

                        JE comments:  Soy sauce is fundamentally salt--albeit in tasty liquid form.  Of course I love it!  Japan is no different than most Asian countries, which lead the world in salt intake.  Click below for an interesting table.  First in line, Kazakhstan.  The Central Asian countries (former USSR) really embrace their sodium.  Japan is #16.  At another source I see that the Japanese average two gallons (8 liters) of soy sauce per person per year.

                        I vaguely recall reading that most of Japan's soy sauce is made in the US (as most of Mexico's beans are grown in the US).  Is this true?


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                        • How Do We Explain Japanese Longevity? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/01/17 3:59 AM)
                          I agree with Boris Volodarsky (30 November) that "it is hard to say why Japan has life expectancy of over 81 years. Probably, it is not only the diet."

                          Heredity may have a lot to do with it but again, over generations, diet may affect the genes. Also the environment, the water and the air, carcinogens, etc. are likely to affect health and longevity short term and long term. Needless to say, the quality of health care available to the population as a whole plays a critical role.

                          My theory about Japanese national life expectancy is directly a reflection from the amazing culture: the love of nature, the attention to healthy habits, the cleanliness of one's surroundings, and environment protection (Fukushima was a shock). Being a group of islands which learned to live from the sea might clearly help, regardless of the income differential which may preclude some Japanese from eating expensive products.

                          Sadly, my beloved USA is doing poorly.  Unfortunately that is to be expected--little preventive medicine, unhealthy diet, environmental pollution, widespread drug abuse and mental illness, endless wars, etc.

                          JE comments:  What about a nation's per capita GDP?  People in wealthy countries live longer.  The WHO ranks the top five nations for life expectancy in this order:  Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia/Spain (tied).  All are rich.  The US is also wealthy, but is forever condemned to be the statistical outlier.  The highest-ranking "poor" country is Cuba, at #32, which puts it right on the heels of its nemesis the US, at #31.

                          Who can explain Spain?  Spaniards drink and smoke a lot and fry nearly everything, yet they live longer than anyone in Europe except the Swiss.  The Mediterranean diet?  Walking up and down mountains?

                          Click for yourself (below).  It's chilling to see that in some of the bottom-tier nations, I should already be dead.


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                          • The WWII "Diet" (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/01/17 12:17 PM)
                            It has been suggested that eating too much shortens one's life.

                            Well, during War II all nations ate less, starting with the US, as according to some friends it was impossible to find good prosciutto. With the Axis powers, eating wild grass became a nice healthful practice. The Japanese were even luckier, because being an island country, they managed to eat all kinds of seaweed and fish--of course small fish near the shore, as it was impossible to send fishing boats out on the open seas.

                            JE comments: Did the US even have prosciutto until recent times?  Certainly not in the Heartland.  I think Eugenio Battaglia is trying to say that the US enjoyed relative plenty during WWII, except for the rarest luxuries.

                            A question I've never posed on WAIS:  how many of our colleagues have experienced genuine hunger?  This might yield some fascinating stories.  Americans typically would agree with my mom, who has famously said, "I've been to a lot of funerals, and not one of them starved to death."  People in other times and other nations have not been so fortunate.

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                            • Food Shortages in WWII: Prosciutto (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/03/17 7:02 AM)

                              John E asked me to clarify my comment on the scarcity of prosciutto in the US during WWII.

                              When I was in New Jersey in 1971, we met several relatives.  I tried to ask them about the conditions of Italian-Americans during WWII but they did not want say anything. Were they still frightened by the threat of deportation?

                              About food, they confirmed that it was impossible to find good prosciutto during the war. Probably good prosciutto had previously been arriving in the area of New Jersey and New York.

                              JE comments:  Eugenio, what about bad prosciutto?  (Sorry, couldn't resist.)  Horse meat was freely available in the US, and was unrationed.  The image below is from the UK, but it shows the popularity of a tasty horsesteak.


                              In the early '70s, WWII was barely 25 years in the past.  What was the experience like, Eugenio, of meeting family members who had been on the other side of the war?

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                              • Prosciutto: Good, Bad, and Ugly (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 12/04/17 3:40 AM)
                                John E's quip was fascinating: "What about bad prosciutto?" (See Eugenio Battaglia, 3 December.)

                                As a matter of fact, very very few people even today know good prosciutto. I do not know whether you can have it at all in the US. Both top-class Italian (San Daniele del Friuli prosciutto 24 months) and Spanish (jamón ibérico de bellota) are extremely expensive. Both are available in London's Selfridge's.

                                JE comments:  Boris, for shame!  Any Spaniard would be horrified by an association of jamón ibérico with "mere" prosciutto.  (Of course, Italians probably feel the same, but the other way around.  We'll hear from Eugenio Battaglia next.)

                                You can't find good prosciutto or serrano/ibérico in humble Adrian, but there are a number of places to do so in Ann Arbor-Detroit.  (Zingerman's in AA is one of the nation's top delis.  Show up hungry and with a fat wallet.)  Or if you don't want the hassle of parking, La Tienda.com will ship a whole ibérico to your front door for $1195 (sic).

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                                • Prosciutto, Panettone, Frappuccino (Enrique Torner, USA 12/06/17 4:01 AM)
                                  As a Spaniard who has lived in the US for 30 years, I have tasted prosciutto and jamón ibérico in the US, and, as my Spanish professor buddy and editor stated, there is no comparison, especially in the case of jamón ibérico. For years, I had been buying Spanish food from latienda.com, which is in Virginia, but about a year ago, our Hy-Vee grocery store started carrying it, along with chorizo and lomo ibérico.  These are from Fermín brand, very high quality. You can get a few "lonchas" (slices) for a reasonable price. Of course, a whole leg will cost you about $1000, but who would get that in the US?

                                  All this talk is making me hungry and crave Spanish jamón ibérico, which I haven't eaten for a long time. However, I have been enjoying one of my favorite Christmas foods: Italian "panettone," which they have at my neighborhood Walgreens. I absolutely love "panettone"! Sometimes I have ordered an even better quality from Williams-Sonoma. I would like to ask our Italian WAISers what brands of panettone they consider the best.

                                  Thank you, Italy, for creating panettone, cappuccino, and frappuccino! (Did you really create frappuccino, or is this an American invention?)

                                  JE comments: Frappuccino is a Starbucks brand, although it was created by a Boston coffee chain acquired by the coffee behemoth in the 1990s. Here's Wikipedia:

                                  "The original Frappuccino drink was developed, named, trademarked and sold by George Howell's Eastern Massachusetts coffee shop chain, The Coffee Connection. When Starbucks purchased The Coffee Connection in 1994, they also gained the rights to use, make, market, and sell the Frappuccino drink. The drink, with a different recipe, was introduced under the Starbucks name in 1995 and as of 2012, Starbucks had annual Frappuccino sales of over $2 billion."

                                  The Boston roots are not surprising:  "frappe" is New Englandese for a milkshake.

                                  Enrique Torner is a Walgreen's man.  Yours Truly leans towards CVS.  All Americans are one or the other, except for the rara avis who prefers Rite Aid.  They say the world divides up evenly between John and Paul, except for that rara avis, the Georgeophile.  (Only an inveterate non-conformist can like Ringo best.)

                                  This John is a Pauline.

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                                  • Paulines, Georgeophiles, and Ringoists (John Heelan, UK 12/07/17 3:49 AM)
                                    John E's comment reminded me of a spiteful joke aimed at the Beatles and Ringo. Q: What do you call somebody who arrives with musicians? A: The drummer.

                                    This talk of Spanish food reminds me that our supply of chorizo has run low--an essential ingredient of excellent Fabada Asturiana my wife makes to comfort us in winter.

                                    JE comments:  My rocker friends say the drummer is the heartbeat--cornerstone, foundation, what have you--of any band.  If the "musicians" screw up you still have a song, but when the drumming falls apart, everything is lost.  Stepson Martin is a drummer, and I've played around with his kit.  It's not nearly as easy as it looks.

                                    So here's to the world's drummers.  They arrive first and leave last.  I'm still partial to Paul, however.

                                    (We just booked a Havana hotel not far from "Parque John Lennon" in the Vedado district.  Castro must have been influenced by Lennonism.)

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                                    • Drumming Up Support for Drummers: "Whiplash" (David Duggan, USA 12/08/17 4:20 AM)
                                      See the movie Whiplash, which should have won the Academy Award for best picture (against Birdman), if you don't believe drummers set the tone, mood and energy of the band (at least one not dominated by a pianist).

                                      JE comments: Saw it, a couple of years ago, with family drummer Martin.  Whiplash is one of those films that puts you through the wringer.  It's excellent, but also a lot of work to watch.  Miles Teller in the central role is brilliant, as is Detroit's own J. K. Simmons, his brutal taskmaster of a teacher.  Simmons has inspired my own teaching methods--fear, derision, public embarrassment, pitting one student against another, and whenever possible, drawing blood.  (Just kidding, folks--I'm demanding on the outside, a softie on the inside.)

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                                      • Post Unpublished - please check back later

                                  • Panettone (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/07/17 8:17 AM)

                                    For Enrique Torner, in Italy we have many good panettone.  Among the classics:  Tre Marie, Gallup, Melegatti, Once Motta.  There are several panettone with chocolate and/or cream. There is also Pandoro but it is without candied fruits, as well as Melegatti, Bauli, etc.

                                    Well, frappuccino is just milk frappè with coffee, probably an American invention.

                                    JE comments:  I was in the Adrian Walgreens just yesterday (a treacherous betrayal of CVS, but Wally's is closer).  The panettone display was front and center, just in time for the Holidays.  Can't say I've ever had it.  Isn't panettone Italy's equivalent of fruitcake, which people love to give but few like to eat?

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                                    • Try some Panettone; It Ain't Fruitcake (Enrique Torner, USA 12/08/17 11:21 AM)

                                      For goodness sake, John! How dare you compare panettone with fruitcake? I don't like fruitcake at all! It's dry and tastes awful.

                                      Panettone is moist and delicious! I can't believe you saw it at Walgreens and didn't buy it.  It's only $5.99 at my Walgreens; $1.00 for an individual-size one! Go back to Walgreens, buy one, and try it.  It's my favorite food for the Christmas holidays.

                                      I want to thank Eugenio for his brand recommendations. I will be searching for them. I have tried "chocottone" as well. One of my daughters prefers it with chocolate, but my wife and I prefer it with candied fruit.

                                      JE comments:  Mission accomplished!  See photo from WAIS HQ, Adrian, together with Lord Kitchener.  A full report will come upon trial.  The Bauducco brand wasn't one of Eugenio Battaglia's recommendations, but this is not surprising.  It's from Brazil!  Just like Foster's Australian beer is made in Canada.

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                                    • Different Places, Different Tastes (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/09/17 5:34 AM)
                                      I am sure that if you tasted a good Italian panettone you will like it. [We still didn't break open the "Brazilettone," but since we're presently snowed in at WAIS HQ, today's the day--JE.]

                                      Speaking about food and even more about wines, if you really want to taste the goodness you have to eat or drink them in the places where they are produced. When wines and other products, like cheese, etc. travel, staying for a long time in refrigerated places impacts the taste.

                                      I remember very well that cheese tasted on the mountain in the cave of the "Margaro." The same guy who takes care of the animals makes the cheese in the Alpine pasture. It was delicious when we brought it home, but it just wasn't the same. Wine drunk at the "cantina" where is was made tastes fantastic, but if you take it home it loses something from a few hours in the car.

                                      To address John E's question of whether the Jewish community of Pitigliano (Maremma) maintained its Ladino language, I have no idea. If I am not mistaken, the town has some inscriptions in Yiddish; therefore some of the people came from Northeast Europe. Consider that various Jewish families of different provenance took refuge in Pitigliano, so maybe there were both Sephardim (but most of these took refuge in Ferrara and Leghorn) and Ashkenazim, but most of these were in Alto Adige.

                                      Do not forget that we have also the Italian Jews, the Italzim (Italkim), who came to Rome already in the 2nd century BCE and became a large and wealthy community, which by 70 CE would ransom the Jews brought to Rome as slaves.

                                      JE comments:  Dare I suggest that the emotional factor also plays a role?  Eating local delicacies makes you feel better.  Perhaps we are hard-wired to prefer freshness, with the assumption that the food is less likely to make us sick.  Could it be our hunter-gatherer roots?

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                              • Italians on Both Sides of WWII (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/04/17 12:35 PM)
                                John E asked two questions about my post of December 3rd:

                                1) What about "bad" prosciutto?

                                2) What was the experience of meeting family members who had been on the other side of the war?

                                Here are my responses:

                                1) Of course prosciutto can be bad. Only Italian (and Spanish) prosciutto is good, providing that it has been prepared according to traditional processes, which are presently subjected to regulations. Nowadays you can also find bad prosciutto, cheap imitations arriving from abroad.

                                Prosciutto di Parma is the most renowned and should be cut by the slicing machine, while the Toscano (preferred by my wife) is better if cut by a sharp knife. You can find raw prosciutto and cooked prosciutto.  Both are good.

                                By the way, I do not know how many vitamins, proteins, minerals, etc. are in prosciutto but, frankly, I do not care.

                                2) About the experience with my relatives (actually my wife's relatives) on the other side during WWII, it was very good, loving and pleasant. It is true that I refused a chocolate offered to me by an American Officer in the very early days of the collapse of the RSI, but we were practically still at war and it was the only way to show my loyalty.

                                But the enemy is such only in war and when on the battlefield, as I related some time ago. My father, the captain of a battery in Libya, always invited a POW British officer to dinner at the Italian officers' mess. They generally had pleasant conversations away from the war. The British, at least in the early part of the war, were very good chaps and still believed in chivalry.

                                Our relatives in the States were American citizens, and as such their first duty was to support/fight for America even if they may have had a feeling of sympathy for Italy--it is a clear-cut situation and as long as one fulfills one's duty there should also be maximum respect.

                                Choosing to become citizen of another country, however, is not easy. When I was in the States, especially at work, everybody pushed me to become a US citizen but I could not. Some even told me that I could maintain my Italian passport and according to convenience be Italian or American, but this is not honest.

                                After all, can you imagine me at a naturalization ceremony going through the rite of denying all my personal story?

                                Today in Italy we had a new funny episode of the Italian anti-nazifascist religion. It was discovered that a Carabiniere had hung a large old German flag in his room. Immediately it became a huge scandal. The Defense Ministry ordered legal action and dismissal for such a shameful apology for Nazism. Political parties, TV, antifascist intellectuals, etc., expressed their indignation, calling for robust vigilance against such awful nazifascist (in Italy it is always nazifascist) resurgence.

                                However there was a small problem. The flag was of the Imperial German Navy pre-1918, nothing to do with Nazism. Apparently the Minister and all others are terribly ignorant and were unable to at least check on Wikipedia.

                                JE comments:  There is something akin here to the use of the adjective "niggardly" in the US.  It means "stingy" and comes from the Old Norse, and yet English-speakers cringe.  Guilt by association?  Absolutely.

                                I'm really craving some good prosciutto.

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                              • Prosciutto Again (Salvatore Bizzarro, USA 12/04/17 1:02 PM)
                                There are many variations of good prosciutto.

                                Among the best, the San Daniele, sweeter or less salty, Prosciutto di Parma, and a wide variety of mountain prosciutto, saltier than the other two, from different regions such as Abruzzo, Piedmont, etc. The mountain kind is closer to the Spanish Jamón Serrano.

                                JE comments: This prosciutto discussion really has legs! (That's supposed to be funny, as prosciutto is made from legs, although our porcine friends wouldn't see the humor.)

                                So it's settled:  we're not yet sure where next fall's WAIS conference will be held, but I know what's on the menu:  prosciutto.

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                                • Prosciutto!!! From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 12/06/17 3:44 PM)
                                  Ric Mauricio writes:

                                  I've never had Prosciutto and now you've got me salivating. As for our next fall meeting, I suggest San Francisco, where we can have prosciutto. By the way, I am not sure if I missed something, but wasn't the last gathering supposed to be in Cuba, but nary a mention. I was hoping that those who traveled there would send pictures of the cars.

                                  As for nutritional value of prosciutto, it is both good and not so good. While one serving gives us a good 26 grams of protein (most of it complete and usable), sodium is at 5,000 mg. Yikes! Enough to give someone an instant cardiac arrest.

                                  Speaking of San Francisco, did the Kate Steinle murder non-conviction prove that guns kill people, not people? Ughhh!

                                  JE comments: WAIS style guidelines don't allow triple (or double) exclamation points, but one reviewer of SF's venerable North Beach Restaurant is adamant.  See below.  When it comes to prosciutto and melon, I say yes, and sic!!!

                                  Our plans for Cuba in October were dashed by a perfect storm of politics, WAISer protests, and, well, a perfect storm called Irma.  Let's regroup for fall 2018.  As for a venue, we've already seen Boris Volodarsky's offer for Vienna.  Eugenio Battaglia (next) has a prosciutto-friendly suggestion:  Tuscany.  And Ric, rest assured that you'll be seeing photos of classic cars when WAIS HQ sets up shop next week in Havana.


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                                  • Things Taste and Smell Different in Italy and US (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 12/09/17 4:26 AM)

                                    To try prosciutto in San Francisco (see Ric Mauricio, 6 December) is probably not the best choice and even London, where you find everything, would not be the right place. One of the recent commentators noticed that things taste different in Italy than in the USA. This is absolutely true.

                                    Here's a short story. At the university, my third language was Italian and in summers I used to travel with Italian groups perfecting my language skills. The Italians are usually smart, have extremely good taste and dress very well. What I also noticed at the time, they smell absolutely fantastic, both men and women.

                                    When our family moved to Western Europe shortly after, I thought: fine, let us buy the same perfumes so we also smell good. Ha, nothing of the sort. French perfumes in Paris and Italian perfumes in Italy smell different than in other parts of the world. I do not know why.

                                    The same concerns prosciutto. As mentioned, in London you can buy everything but... only in three countries that are neighbours, that is, Italy, Switzerland and Austria, you can find authentic Italian prosciutto. This said, in Vienna one cannot buy jamón ibérico de bellota black label. So for this we have to travel to Spain. But if the WAIS Board decides to choose Vienna as the venue for the next WAIS International Conference, I can promise three spy tours, including the most exclusive The Third Man tour in the Vienna underground; locations where Ric Ames used to meet his KGB handlers giving information on the CIA assets that were all apprehended and shot as a result; a five-star hotel where Nikolai Artamonov (Nicholas George Shadrin) stayed and was abducted by the Russians--the same hotel Sidney Reilly used to reside when in Vienna--plus wonderful restaurants where one can try an oversized Wiener Schnitzel and top-quality Italian prosciutto, all varieties. If this sounds tempting, everybody is welcome.

                                    JE comments:  WAIS frequently discusses sights, tastes, and (with music) sounds, but smell gets short shrift.  Is it because this most primeval and least understood sense is beneath our high-minded Forum?  How many WAISers have noticed that when you get off a plane in a new country, things just don't smell the same?  Is it different pollen, air quality, humidity, cleaning products?  In Mexico, one frequently encounters the distinctive bouquet of Fabuloso, the iconic purple cleaner.  (You can buy it everywhere in the US.)  We use Fabuloso at WAIS HQ, as it can really clean a floor, and it makes us feel like we're in the tropics.  How does it smell?  Well, the name says it all.

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                                    • A Generous Iranian Taxi Driver in Vienna (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/10/17 7:45 AM)
                                      Boris Volodarsky's excellent sales pitch for Vienna (9 December) brought memories of special Viennese food. The first time I was there I arrived on the early train from Budapest. I had to be back in Budapest that same day, so I planned to get to Vienna early and take one of these open bus tours, sample the local cuisine, and take the train back around 2PM.

                                      To my chagrin I missed the bloody bus tour by less than 5 minutes and decided to get a cab driver for tour guide. Going down this long line of taxis interviewing the drivers for a good candidate whose English was good enough for the job, I finally found a fellow from Iran. After about two hours showing me some interesting sites and talking about everything from family, personal experiences, politics, etc. we hit it off and I told him he would be my guest for lunch at the restaurant serving the best Wiener Schnitzel in town.

                                      This guy was incredible.  He owned two Mercedes-Benz taxis, but one of the drivers had called in sick that day so he took over for the day. He also had a large carpet store which he proudly showed me. His large home was on top of the store.  He had a large family and invited my family and me to stay with them on my next visit to Vienna.

                                      He took me to this restaurant where the beer stein was huge and the delicious Schnitzel came in a huge (Trump said it is OK) oval plate with the Schnitzel hanging astonishingly over the plate. He ate the same thing with no beer since he was driving. When I was trying to pay I felt the waitress was ignoring me. After a while I mentioned it to my new friend that the lady would whiz by like I was not there and he announced that was because the bill had been paid, politely dismissing the fact that I had invited him.

                                      After lunch he drove me to the train station. We had agreed on a taxi tour of downtown Vienna for about 2 hours and then taking me to a restaurant for lunch at a fixed price of $50 US dollars. When I tried to pay he refused the money because we were now friends. I had to insist that we had an agreement before we were friends and that he had to take the money. We swapped business cards and went our separate ways. The whole thing seemed amazing and unbelievable to me. Some months later when I was back in Vienna I tried two or three times to find my friend. His carpet store was closed but some taxi drivers who knew him said he had gone back to Iran. I will never forget him, Mr. Monsour, the most generous man in the world.

                                      JE comments:  For this Holiday season, how about other tales of random generosity?  Did I mention on WAIS that a year ago, I took my entire Spanish III class to our favorite Mexican eatery in Adrian, Cancún?  When I tried to pay, it turned out that a lone patron had picked up the tab for the entire group (about $180).  My friends at Cancún restaurant didn't know his name, but said he had the habit of coming in and covering people's bills.

                                      Gracias, Señor Mystery Diner.

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                                      • Random Acts of Kindness: Kuwait (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/11/17 8:59 AM)
                                        I appreciated the post of Tor Guimaraes, 10 December, with his tale of random generosity.

                                        I had many very good experiences when working in the Arabian/Persian Gulf. Hospitality, at least 50 years ago, was imperative for the peoples of the region.  I learned not only of hospitality but also the paramount importance of keeping one's word among the Bedouins.  Some years ago on WAIS, I wrote about selling my car covered with flowers painted by my wife.

                                        By the way, my Eritrean skipper was practically an older brother to me.

                                        Anyway when I had to go to the Kuwait Motor Vehicle office for the confirmation of the sale, I went to the wrong office.

                                        An unknown local gentleman nearby offered to accompany me to the right place with his car. We went and he carried out all the bureaucratic paperwork, paid the fee, offered me a Coca-Cola, then he brought me to my car. He did not want any compensation, but said it had been a pleasure to meet me.

                                        I found the Palestinians living there also extremely friendly and ready to help foreigners. The only problem with them was when they invited me to dinner on the last day of Ramadan they offered me their very best delicacy: a goat's eye.

                                        It is sad that such a wonderful atmosphere has been ruined due to overzealous Zionists and Westerners.

                                        JE comments:  A couple of years ago, Eugenio wrote about his flowery Morris Minor, c. 1967-'68:  the perfect ride for the Summer of Love.  Too bad--alas, alack, drats--there is no surviving photograph.


                                        WAIS QoD (Question of the Day):  Would you eat a goat's eye to please your hosts?  I'm about 75% sure I could.  But would it be rude to ask for a side of Ranch dressing?

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                                    • Different Smells, Different Tastes, Different Lands; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 12/11/17 4:00 AM)

                                      Ric Mauricio writes:

                                      Would it be a bit presumptuous if one does not sample something in another part of the world but determines that it would not be the best choice anyway? I could imagine what the Italians in San Francisco's North Beach would have to say about that.

                                      It reminds me of the French saying that California wines would never be as good as the French wines. It also reminds me of Detroit automakers assuming that they will always be better than the Asian automakers.

                                      But yes, different smells and tastes are a part of each culture and adventure. I assumed the other way, that the cuisine in Beijing and Hong Kong would be better than here in San Francisco. And most of the restaurants in those cities proved to be quite disappointing, so I told myself that perhaps I was just used to the tastes and smells of Chinese food here in the Bay Area. But then I did visit some excellent restaurants in both of those cities and started talking to the sous chefs. What? You were trained where? In San Francisco? New York? Oh, interesting.

                                      Now, having given my two yuan's worth, I would love to visit Italy (especially Maranello), as well as Vienna.

                                      JE comments:  I've never been to China, but "they" say Chinese cuisine is fundamentally different from US Chinese cuisine.  Ditto with US Mexican vis-à-vis Mexican Mexican.  Ric Mauricio asks the un-askable:  is it OK prefer the "pseudo" to the real thing?  Does this strip you of your snob credentials?  I'll start:  nothing the Italians call "pizza" beats a doughy, greasy Chicago-style pie.  By comparison, Italy's offerings are dry, cracker-like, and insipid--more hors d'oeuvre than meal.

                                      There, Ric and I have ripped off the band-aid.  Does anyone else need to come clean?

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                                      • The Best Sauce? Hunger (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/11/17 6:42 AM)
                                        I am a person who considers it my duty to pursue and enjoy the beautiful and wonderful things in life as part of my "God is the Universe" religion. And food is an important target. In my pursuit of great foods, I learned some important lessons:

                                        1. As Ric Mauricio said (11 December), every individual and group has their own opinions, but those merely represent hypotheses to be tested or ignored.

                                        2. I would rather eat proverbial crap in good company than a fancy banquet with people I don't like.

                                        3. The context of the meal is as important as the food itself. When you are hungry, the food tastes better. As said in item 2, with good company the food tastes better.

                                        4. I love to try the local cuisine and always give it the benefit of the doubt. But, even I chicken out on some food: blubber, rotten fish or meat, specially prepared poisonous plants or animals, etc.

                                        Because of the above items, I have had some marvelous experiences. In a sailing trip around the Virgin Islands, I personally cooked what was unanimously declared the best omelet in the world made from a dozen eggs and dinner leftovers (NY Jewish deli brisket of beef and hot dogs). And while a young man in the Brazilian Cavalry, my buddies and I ate the best steak stolen from the officers' mess hall, cooked on a smashed gasoline can over a bonfire with a handful of butter, salt, and pepper.

                                        Enough reminiscing for today.

                                        JE comments: I cribbed the subject line from a classic Spanish proverb: El hambre es la mejor salsa.  Does Portuguese have the same wisdom, Tor?

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                                        • Cooking Improvisations: The Pemex Comal; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 12/12/17 10:59 AM)

                                          Gary Moore writes:

                                          I was revving up for a Christmas generosity story, per JE's great suggestion inspired by Tor Guimaraes's
                                          prize-winning Vienna taxi tale.

                                          But yesterday (December 11th), Tor deflected me into another theme, with his story from the
                                          Brazilian army about grilling a stolen steak on a flattened gas can. I wonder if a nascent WAIS thread might
                                          be lurking in the idea of cooking improvisations. The gas can started me thinking about comales in Mexico,
                                          the big flat stones used as griddles since the Toltec mists. Suddenly it struck me that those things must have
                                          been heirlooms, passed down as precious possessions through the generations. Even the humblest family
                                          needed one, but it must have taken forever to make one, grinding down the stone. Once fashioned, they were
                                          made non-stick for frying not by greasing but chalking, with bits of limestone, which (as I may have said before),
                                          helped stave off the pellagra (vitamin deficiency) that Europeans got from adopting corn but without the limestone.
                                          Anyone who has been inside a comal-using home today knows the improvisation sequel: Heirlooms no more,
                                          because perfectly suited to replace the old rock is the lid of a fifty-gallon drum.  Such lids now serving widely as the
                                          Mexican countryside griddle of choice. So Pemex has a culinary by-product.

                                          And to further tweak the food improvisation theme, there were the guerrillas in Central America, who, when they
                                          couldn't get coffee in their wilderness hide-outs, used ground-up burned corn. Well, it looked like coffee. No caffeine kick,
                                          and pretty rank, but one could dream.

                                          JE comments:  Savvy gourmands have been cooking on engine blocks for generations, but Gary Moore brings up a different use for internal combustion:  the oil-barrel stove.  Britain's troops in WWI recycled old petrol cans for soup, tea and water.  The added flavor was just one of the many inconveniences of trench life.

                                          Far tastier and more wholesome for Tommy the SRD jar (Service Rum, Diluted).

                                          Another nod to efficiency:  Dishwasher Lobster!  Click below.


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                                        • The Best Sauce? Hunger/Fome (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/13/17 4:05 AM)

                                          I rack by brain trying to answer JE's question (11 December) if Brazilian or Portuguese has an expression equivalent to the Spanish proverb: El hambre es la mejor salsa.

                                          I came up empty, but the following sounds smart and truthful in Portuguese: Fome é o mellhor tempero. And it made me remember a funny sad story about food my father told me more than sixty-five years ago:

                                          He bought some Portuguese sausage and roasted over fire in the old wooden stove. It was a holiday and the rest of the family had gone somewhere, so he and I alone were bonding over the sausage roasting. It smelled good and as he cut small pieces from the areas already cooked, the taste was great.

                                          So he started telling me the story of some people he knew growing up who were very poor. The mom and dad had three kids who grew up eating a lot of the Brazilian staples of rice and beans and not much else. On a special occasion the father obtained a small piece of Portuguese sausage so at lunch time everyone got the usual plate of rice and beans but now the father had tied a string to the roof of the hut with the piece of sausage dangling from it so each family member in turn could sniff it and then pass it around. After everyone cleaned their plates the father cut a little piece of sausage for everyone to try.

                                          JE comments:  A precious story.  Or you could follow this tried-and-true advice:  Bota agua no feijão--add water to the beans, because one more person showed up:


                                          Going back several more centuries, the original pícaro, Lazarillo de Tormes, stole a piece of sausage from his blind master, by immediately gobbling it up and replacing it with a turnip on the roasting stick.  The crafty ciego stuck his nose in the boy's mouth to sniff out the theft, which "caused the contents to be returned to their owner." 

                                          Renaissance vomit humor!

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                                    • Pricing Prosciutto di Parma (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/13/17 5:28 AM)
                                      Yesterday afternoon, after chasing down the season's final olives following an icy day, I went into town to pick up the monthly Limes magazine. My wife asked me to go to the butcher shop.

                                      Of course, I inquired about the price of prosciutto. If you buy 1 hectogram of sliced prosciutto crudo di Parma you pay 2.50 euros.

                                      If you buy a whole 10-kilo crudo prosciutto di Parma you pay €200.

                                      But one liter of gasoline is €1.65.

                                      JE comments:  My eyeball calculation puts prosciutto at $13 per pound (pretty cheap), and gasoline at around $7 per gallon, which would incite Americans to insurrection.

                                      How was the olive harvest this year, Eugenio?

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                                      • Olive Harvest Report (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/14/17 4:05 AM)
                                        John E asked about this year's olive harvest. Happily, it has been especially good, with plenty of olives not touched by pests.

                                        We have not yet finished, as we have 100 trees and the harvest is done only by my wife and me.  We are not very young, so probably we will not manage to pick all the olives.

                                        We had a horrible rain that froze on the trees and the ground, together with strong winds. This caused some damage to the trees, one large plum tree was completely destroyed and some olive trees partially damaged. There was heavy damage nearby but we, after everything, were lucky.

                                        JE comments: This year's harvest is great news, Eugenio, especially after the disappointing yield of 2016.  Best of luck with the pressing and bottling!  Can you send us photos? 

                                        What can be more idyllic and timeless than harvesting olives in Italy?

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                                        • Helping with the Olive Harvest (Roy Domenico, USA 12/15/17 2:49 AM)
                                          Some WAISers may recall that, during my visit to Eugenio Battaglia two years ago, I "helped" him with the olives. Maybe I should say that Eugenio generously let me "help" him. I came away with the distinct impression that one needs a sturdy pair of legs for this. It's rough terrain and pretty steep that the harvester must go up and down and across.

                                          I was reminded of our honeymoon--30 years ago almost--on the lovely island of Idra (or Hydra) in Greece. Outside of the town there really aren't any roads on the island--cars were banned (at least then) and the only way on land between the main town and a tiny fishing village down the coast was a footpath that hugged the side of the hill and was dotted with olive trees clinging to the cliffs. My bride and I went for a jog along the path until we met up with a mama goat and her kids. They were trying to get one of the little ones back up onto the path--it had fallen off into a small ditch. But the mama made it perfectly clear to us--"turn around--you're not going any farther." We happily complied.

                                          JE comments:  Yesterday, when I waxed rhetorically on the timelessness of the Italian olive harvest, David Duggan replied that Greece gives Italy a run for its money.  I would have to surrender my Hispanist card if I didn't include a plug for Spain, although the Greeks and Phoenicians were responsible for introducing olives to the Iberian peninsula.

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                                      • Prosciutto? Ah, Prosciutto (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 12/14/17 7:10 AM)

                                        A very brief comment on Eugenio Battaglia post of 13 December and JE's remarks.

                                        In Europe, we do not have a product named "prosciutto." There are all different prosciuttos and prices vary considerably. In Waitrose near my home in Surrey, England, 100 grams of Prosciutto di Parma would cost £5.55 (https://www.waitrose.com/ecom/products/waitrose-1-italian-prosciutto-di-parma-ham/734328-166755-166756?bvstate=pg:2/ct:r ) and this, of course, is a basic variety and one will not enjoy it very much.

                                        What you will enjoy is Prosciutto San Daniele DOP from Friuli Venezia Giulia, but the price will be different. You can find it in Vienna in Julius Meinl, an over-the-top fantasyland for gourmands right in the centre of the city (https://www.meinlamgraben.at ).  We shall certainly visit it if and when our esteemed Board decides to have the next WAIS conference in Vienna, Austria.

                                        JE comments:  Click on Herr Julius's link, above.  Watching the photos will make the mouth salivate and the wallet weep.

                                        (We're waiting to board our flight at the Toronto airport...might as well do some WAISing!)

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                                • Prosciutto and Maremma; "La Piccola Gerusalemme" (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/06/17 5:26 PM)
                                  Given that the approval for prosciutto is so widespread among us, I have a suggestion for the next WAIS meeting: somewhere in Maremma, Tuscany.

                                  There you can enjoy very good prosciutto, the Etruscan, Roman, and Renaissance civilizations, beautiful Romanic Churches, Medieval towns, and fantastic wines. One of the most interesting of the Medieval towns is Pitigliano (Italy's Little Jerusalem).

                                  Maybe a few words on this town are necessary.

                                  The Jewish population of Pitigliano probably arrived from Spain after 1492 or even before. When the Papal States' orders of 1555 and 1569, plus those of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany of 1570 and 1571, imposed restrictions on the Jews, many of them settled in Pitigliano, which was an independent County ruled by the Orsini, who did not impose any restrictions on the Jews.

                                  Even when the County became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, after some initial problems, the Jewish Community of Pitigliano retained all its freedom of action and properties, which was exceptional for those times.

                                  In the 1700s, Pitigliano was the only great Jewish Community of the Maremma.

                                  In 1799 the local Catholics successfully defended the Jews from the soldiers of the anti-Napoleonic League, which wanted to plunder the Jewish properties. Until the immediate post-WWII era, an annual ceremony was carried out to commemorate this, with all population of the town gathering in the synagogue.  During the final years of WWII the Jews of Pitigliano and nearby areas found refuge there and were protected by the Catholic population.

                                  But after the war the local Jews started to emigrate, and unfortunately in 1960 the synagogue was closed.

                                  Presently only a very small Jewish population remains in Pitigliano, but their monuments are taken care of. There is a cultural Association "La Piccola Gerusalemme," while the Cantina Sociale makes several marvelous wines (famous among these is the "Pitigliano White"). They also make a Kosher wine.

                                  The good things about the Maremma are infinite and I could go forever.  By the way, my wife is from Maremma.

                                  JE comments:  I really like the idea of WAISers "pitching" different regions for our next conference.  Who is next?  Maremma sounds hard to beat for its history, scenery, and delicacies (no Kosher prosciutto, though).

                                  Thank you for the history lesson on Pitigliano, Eugenio!  I knew none of this.  Was the Ladino language preserved among its Sephardic residents?

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                                  • Maremma and Toscanini (Edward Jajko, USA 12/07/17 5:49 AM)

                                    Maremma (see Eugenio Battaglia, 6 December) was also the vacation retreat of Arturo Toscanini. (Although he was Parmigiano, not Tuscan.)

                                    JE comments:  There must be an alternate universe out there where we listen to Parmigiano, and sprinkle Toscanini cheese on our spaghetti.

                                    Either way, I'm getting hungry.

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                                  • Prosciutto, Panettone, Maremma (Roy Domenico, USA 12/08/17 2:46 PM)
                                    My mouth has been watering as I followed the recent posts on prosciutto and panettone.

                                    I was glad to see at least a brief mention--from Salvatore Bizzarro--on San Daniele prosciutto, from the northeast, near Udine. I guess that the Parma variety is more famous, but I've heard many Italian arguments over which is better. I only ask to sample both so I can come up with an informed opinion.

                                    On panettone--it's the season and we always have it in the house through the New Year. My wife, however, has put me on a carb diet and I see that, surprise, panettone has its share. So I've been pretty moderate. I'm not a diet fanatic so a nice-sized piece here and there won't do any harm. (And I've lost about 6 pounds so far!) I'm not a panettone snob, but just don't buy it with pieces of chocolate in it.

                                    Finally, on the Maremma, I feel obliged to say that it's also famous as the land of the authentic Italian cowboy--like the French cowboys of the Camargue.

                                    JE comments:  My introduction to (Brazilian, egads) panettone is slated for later tonight.  You can call me the Walgreens gourmet!

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                              • Food Shortages in WWII: Snoek (John Heelan, UK 12/10/17 4:35 AM)
                                I do not remember ever having to eat horsemeat in WWII but still recall the appalling taste of snoek, a fish that was supposed to provide us with protein, and regular doses of the equally appalling dollops of cod liver oil and whale meat steaks.

                                As children, if we ate those obnoxious dishes we were rewarded with a spoonful of "Radio Malt" that had a consistency between molasses and treacle but was delicious.

                                Each summer, we kids would travel to family in Southern Ireland where we were fed baked potatoes smothered in fresh butter, bacon and other meats and were overjoyed to find that our parents could buy us clothes and sweets (we loved "Peggys Legs") without having to sacrifice the necessary ration coupons as in the UK.

                                JE comments:  I'm no angler or ichthyologist, so I had to crib from Wikipedia.  Snoek is northern pike, a snakelike behemoth of a fish.  Despite the "northern" name, they come from the waters of South Africa and Australia, hence the Afrikaans "snoek," which comes from the Dutch zeesnoek (sea snake).  Yum.

                                John--you spent summers in Ireland during the war?  Wasn't there a strict limitation on sea travel for civilians?  And wasn't it extremely dangerous to do so, with the U-boats?

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                                • Peggy's Leg, or Liverpool Toffee (Patrick Mears, Germany 12/10/17 5:21 AM)

                                  Here's a recipe for Peggy's Leg, also known as Liverpool Toffee.  (See John Heelan, 10 December.)


                                  JE comments:  "Melt on the hob"--??  Recipes really show how we're separated by a common language.  Is a hob what we Colonials call a cookie sheet, or is it more like a baking tray?  None of the above?

                                  And can anyone tell us about Peggy?

                                  From Peggy's Leg to horseflesh, check out this fascinating New Year's 2005 post from Prof. Hilton.  Nearly thirteen years later, it deserves a fresh viewing:


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                                  • Peggy's Leg and Spotted Dick (Francisco Ramirez, USA 12/10/17 3:15 PM)
                                    Is Peggy's Leg more delicious than Spotted Dick?

                                    I am trying to figure out which to serve for the Holidays.

                                    JE comments:  A photo is worth a thousand spotted dicks, and this one comes in microwaveable form.

                                    As we prepare to head to Cuba, I look forward to the politically incorrect dish of Moros y Cristianos, which combines black beans with white rice.  For its part, Spain keeps the Inquisition alive with Judías Verdes (green beans/Green Jewish Women).  If the WAISitudes work together, I'm sure we could assemble quite a list.

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                                • How Dangerous was the Britain-Ireland Crossing during WWII? (John Heelan, UK 12/11/17 4:28 AM)
                                  JE asked on December 10th: "John--you spent summers in Ireland during the war? Wasn't there a strict limitation on sea travel for civilians? And wasn't it extremely dangerous to do so, with the U-boats?"

                                  I suspect that U-boats rarely ventured into the Irish Sea.  Thirteen U-boats tempted by the usual convoy route ending in Liverpool were sunk in WWII due to the often foul weather in that channel, "because in seas so big, German submarines could not function effectively."

                                  Our normal route to get to our relatives was far to the south of that danger area. Fishguard (Wales) to Rosslare (Ireland). The only danger we experienced, other than often rough crossings, was fog and drunks celebrating their trips home. One time we awoke in the morning to find our ferry stuck on a sandbank a few hundred yards from some cliffs. It could also be that U-boats were alleged to refuel in Irish ports, so they did not want to forego that privilege by attacking an Irish ferry and its passengers.

                                  JE comments:  I Googled "German U-Boats refueling in Ireland," and apparently there is no proof that they did.  The important thing, however, is John Heelan's point that this belief was widespread during the war.  I'd like to know more.

                                  John--was there a strict control on military-age men making the crossing?  I presume more than a few sought to wait out the war in neutral Ireland.

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                          • GDP and Longevity by Nation (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/02/17 2:46 PM)
                            When commenting on my post of December 1st, John E observed that the wealthiest nations tend to enjoy the highest longevity.

                            Per capita GDP shows a significant statistical relationship with national longevity, but it alone tells a partial story. I hypothesize that a critical moderator would be income distribution. High per capita GDP indicates that as a whole the nation has high economic activity but says nothing about per capita or household disposable income available for health care, proper food, etc. High GDP also says nothing about the nation's behavior toward the "environment, the water and the air, carcinogens, etc. which are likely to affect health and longevity short term and long term. Needless to say, the quality of health care available to the population as a whole" is very important.

                            Thus despite its great wealth and high per capita GDP, Americans suffer, as I wrote before, from "little preventive medicine, unhealthy diet, environmental pollution, widespread drug abuse and mental illness, endless wars, etc."

                            JE comments:  Every year or two WAIS lets the Gini out of the bottle.  Here's a 2015 article in Fortune that shows the US as both the richest (aggregate of personal wealth) and the most unequal nation.  We already observed that this nation is middle-of-the-pack for longevity, #31.  I'm not sure what I'm trying to say, but I'll hypothesize with Tor that greater income equality might--might--correlate with longer lives.  (As long as everyone isn't dirt poor.)


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                      • Eat Mor Chikin and a Cheat Day; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 12/01/17 3:19 AM)

                        Ric Mauricio writes:

                        "Eat Mor Chikin!" No wonder we have such atrocious spellers today. No, I am not associated with Tyson's or Chick-fil-A (I am especially sensitive to those who judge others and there are no Chick-fil-As in San Francisco or San Mateo county; there is one in San José and many in the Central Valley and Southern California). I think it's overrated anyway. I prefer KFC; just watch it on the skin.

                        Turkey comes in at 26g of protein per 3-ounce serving; fatty fish (good for Omega-3) comes in at 22g; pork loin at 21g; and eggs with yolk at 11g (and no, eating eggs will not increase your overall cholesterol; what a myth), all 95 to 100% digestible complete proteins.

                        JE hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that the Japanese use the BB (Bento Box) diet, which I teach to my students (I found a great Bento Box at Target for $9; it's an excellent investment). JE did point out the curse of Japanese urban life: smoking, working too hard, and salt. So the numbers must be incredibly skewed towards the more rural population. Ah, yes, statistics.

                        As for the Seventh Day Advantage, it is based on research on the theory of Cycling. Not cycling as on a bicycle, but cycling as to diet. You see, the reason why people diet, lose weight, then stop losing weight, is because your body is very smart and it will reduce your metabolism to account for the reduced dietary intake. Thus a plateauing effect. Then people give up. But the research found that if you fool your metabolism back into action once a week (actually, they recommend every fifth day, but who can remember that, so pick one day, Saturday or Sunday to "cycle" and don't feel guilty. It also serves as a psychological reward for eating well the rest of the week and also makes that meal a special meal, be it burritos (my weakness), pizza, lettuce-wrapped burgers, and even French fries or Doritos (not McDonald's fries, more like In N Out fries; make sure it's a small bag of Doritos--and sorry, no Twinkies).

                        JE comments: To quote comedian Aziz Ansari, Chick-fil-A is delicious, although there are precious few locations in Michigan.  A clarification for non-US WAISers:  Chick-fil-A has billboards with cows making the passionate appeal, "Eat mor Chikin!"  (As in lay off the hamburgers.)

                        I'll close with a puerile but irresistible cross-cultural encounter from the otherwise forgettable film Observe and Report (2009). Warning: it crams more "f-words" into a minute and 37 seconds than anyone thought possible:


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                        • Eat Mor...What? (John Heelan, UK 12/03/17 4:13 AM)
                          Ric Mauricio wrote on December 1st, "Eat Mor Chikin!"

                          At least it is better than the "Shitkin" I saw as a dish on a Chinese menu in Seville once!

                          No, I did not sample it!

                          JE comments:  Scrumptious!  File this in the "Cock to the Wine" (coq au vin) drawer.  An Ann Arbor Chinese restaurant I used to frequent had an entire menu page devoted to "shimps."  I wonder if China has a website with screamer food translations into Chinese.  Remember "bite the wax tadpole" for Coca-Cola?  Snopes tells us this story is only partly true:


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                • Tokyo, a Gourmand's Mecca (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 11/25/17 5:32 AM)
                  An absolutely fascinating post from Edward Mears (24 November) and a no less fascinating comment by John E. Domo arigato!

                  Tokyo, of course, is a wonderful place and I have a friend, a former US ranger, who flies to Tokyo every week as an air marshal. He says (hi, John), forget beautiful Polish wives, Japanese wives are the very best.

                  Regarding restaurants, Tokyo has certainly become the world capital. Sukijabashi Jiro is famous, no doubt, for traditional sushi but the 89-year-old master chef Jiro Ono is rarely there and there are only 10 tables. For those who are going to visit Tokyo soon, I shall also recommend Ginza Kojyu in Ginza for a delicious kaiseki, my friend Joël Robuchon, who is simply one of the best chefs in the world, and the 3-Michelin star Sushi Saito at the Minato City.

                  But best of all, I recommend a visit to the Tsukiji Market, the biggest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. You go there at about 5:00 am and enjoy the very best sushi that someone who has never been there cannot even imagine. Those uni, akaki, o-toro and especially very rare kama toro you can have only once in a lifetime. And this is also the place to see.

                  Am I right, Edward-san?

                  McDonalds... you will never go there again.

                  And I must confess, John E took me to a very good Japanese eatery in Michigan.

                  JE comments:  WAISers will recall that Boris Volodarsky and I are both married to Poles (different ones).  WAISer Tom Hashimoto lives in Warsaw and has a Polish girlfriend.  She (I forget her name) could give us a fair appraisal of Japanese men, or at least of Hashimoto-san, who transcends nationality.

                  I have great memories of my Japanese meal at Godaiko, Ann Arbor, with Boris V, as well as WAISers Anthony Candil, Roman Zhovtulya, and (I believe) Randy Black.  Hard to believe that was four years ago.

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                  • Gender Harassment and the "Great Reckoning": Is WAIS Guilty? (A. J. Cave, USA 11/25/17 12:23 PM)
                    Here I am, caught between Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, catching up on WAIS posts.

                    I ought to comment on 3 topics, but I'll do it in 3 separate posts, since I think they all deserve ‎a deeper dive on their own:

                    1) Restaurant ratings and on the larger topic of food and waste.

                    2) ‎Detroit and on the bigger topic of what is happening in the Rust Belt.

                    I'll start with number 3, the off-the-cuff comments about which (ethnic) women make the "best wives"?


                    I don't know the stats, but I reckon a very small number of WAISers are women and most of them are not engaged at least publicly. I don't presume to speak for them or for women in general. What is unfolding in the Silicon Valley (Capital Hill, Hollywood, and everywhere else) is what we are calling "the great reckoning." It simply means that we are cleaning house. Being a woman in a man's world has never been easy, but I think the silver lining of the 2016 US Presidential Elections (other than a bull market) has been an unspoken collective decision among women that we can't go on (being harassed) like this forever.

                    Setting aside all the political correctness of freedom of speech, reading comments like "these ethnic women make the best wives" with a wink-wink, ha ha, makes my skin crawl. Ancient Greek men had 3 words (buckets) to describe women--never as an equal, but on a sliding scale of wealth and virtue. The idea of categorizing women into buckets of serviceability should have died with them.

                    JE comments:  Yes, WAIS suffers from a gender imbalance, always has.  Please nominate more women!  I was trying to deflect Boris Volodarsky's remark on Polish (and Japanese) women by inserting a comment on Japanese men, but I should have been more sensitive.  Sorry.  I am grateful to A. J. Cave for "calling me out."

                    In any case, Happy Thanksgiving, A. J!

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                    • Gender Inequality: Make Your Own Coffee (John Heelan, UK 11/27/17 4:01 AM)
                      I agree with A. J. Cave's comments on gender inequality (25 November).

                      Luckily, not only have I been long trained by my academic (and feminist) wife and her friends to avoid stepping--even inadvertently--into the quicksand of gender inequality comments, but also my career in high-tech and academe exposed me to recognising that it is the quality of female brains that is far more important than the eye-candy packaging that comes with it. This has been highlighted for me in not only in literary criticism studies but also direct experience of top-class high-tech inventors, engineers and academics who also happen to be female.

                      "Glass ceilings" in management structures are self-defeating, given that they stop talented female managers from rising to the level of their competence--often restricting them to HR roles--to the disbenefit of the whole organisation. Business leaders should "wake up and smell the coffee," and make it themselves rather than rely on being supplied by their PAs and secretaries.

                      Hopefully the collective action to which A. J. refers will burst through those fake obstructions.

                      JE comments:  I'm making my own coffee right now; always have!  But that is a detail.  For the last two days I've been pondering A. J. Cave's lament that WAIS is something of an Old Boys' Network.  Undoubtedly most of us are boys, and many of us are old.  But are the women of WAISworld systematically intimidated against self-expression?  Is there a sort of glass barrier that favors the voices of men?  I urge the Women of WAIS to comment.

                      Tellingly, the three responses to A. J.'s post are all from...men.  Next up:  Paul Pitlick.

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                      • Gender Inequality in...OB/Gyn (Phyllis Gardner, USA 11/28/17 4:10 AM)
                        Okay, here is a WAIS woman commenting. The issue of the Trump administration's clear and convincing denigration of women is one of the most depressing that I have faced (but not as bad as global warming).

                        I have fought for my career and reputation all of my life, along with loving my family above all, and it always felt like I was a salmon swimming upstream, with dams along the way. All those cliches and truisms one hears (about "a woman voices an idea, but no one hears until a man echoes it and gets the credit"; about how if "a woman is defiant, she is a bully and butch"; "women don't ask questions"; "women's brains are not STEM-oriented"; and one of the worst, ""she is going through menopause, clearly") make me ill. And I have "achieved"--having a tenured professorship at Stanford, serving on multiple private and public boards (usually as the only woman of course), co-founder of three companies (two bought out and one failed), member of the Harvard Medical School Board of Fellows, etc. And yet, I am still grousing apparently.

                        I have a Harvard Medical School daughter interviewing at Harvard and Stanford and other major medical schools for OB/Gyn residencies. Oddly, she got pregnant during her interviews last year; she waited out the year doing more research and returned to interviews again, thinking with the even deeper research and publications, she would be welcomed. No, apparently the baby factor was getting in the way. It took a lot of effort by HMS to get her sufficient interviews this year. Apparently. even in OB/Gyn, there is still prejudice against women having babies. Fortunately, I truly believe she will match and do well.

                        So here is a woman's rant!

                        JE comments:  Phyllis, you forgot one entry on your very impressive résumé:  you single-handedly saved WAIS!  (Newer colleagues may not know that Phyllis Gardner fulfilled Prof. Hilton's request to become WAIS Chair and find a new editor--she picked me.)

                        Phyllis is possibly the most achieved person I know of any gender.  Her "salmon upstream" image is an eye-opener, reminding us that society has a long way to go in its treatment of women.

                        (And congratulations, Phyllis, on your grandchild.  A new WAISer is a cause for celebration--tell us more!)

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                      • What Does "Old" Mean? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 11/28/17 4:45 AM)

                        Ric Mauricio writes:

                        Whatcha talkin' bout, Willis? When JE commented that many of us are "old" (see John Heelan, 27 November), I cringed.

                        The word "old" is not in my vocabulary. It is a word that is vague, and not quantifiable. To me, "old" is a state of mind. If you classify yourself as "old," you might as well classify yourself as "dead." "Old" is when you no longer have an open mind to "new" knowledge, to new technology, to new ideas, new movies, new music. With a daughter with 3 grandsons and a son in the information technology world, I see the world through their eyes. It is such an exciting world, with new opportunities every day.

                        Now there are those who point out that as we age, that our metabolism slows down and therefore, it is more challenging to stay in shape. Body fat charts and even body fat measuring technology take this into account. But I did some research and in reality, taking into account your age when measuring body fat has no real supporting evidence. It is based on an "assumption" that as you age, your body fat should increase.

                        This sounds like when I was asking the advanced math guys at one of the largest investment companies in the world how they came up with the valuation for the derivatives in their portfolio. It turned out that the valuation was based on an assumption based on an assumption based on an assumption squared. Now ask yourself a question: is the reason your body's metabolism slows down as you age because you are aging or because you are not working out smart and eating right?

                        There is an ideal body fat percentage chart for men and women by two researchers: Jackson & Pollock (sounds like a law firm). At 55 plus for men, the ideal body fat percentage is 20.9%; for women, it is 26.3%. The numbers decrease as the age decreases. For example, a 25-year-old man's ideal body fat is 10.5% and a woman's is 18.4% body fat. So I turned this chart around. I took my current body fat percentage and looked at what age my body fat percentage is the ideal body fat percentage for. At my current 12.4% body fat, it is the ideal body fat percentage for a 30-year-old. I look at losing body fat as turning the clock back. And yes, I am in my 68th year with my weight the same I was as a sophomore in high school, with one important difference: I am more muscularly defined today than then. And no, I do not work out for hours on end. That is clinging to a the myth that one needs to work out long and hard to be in shape.

                        By the way, I also cringed at the "Japanese women make the best wives." Sounds like a Trump tweet to me--unquantifiable and unsubstantiated. It is interesting that many of us have a diverse universe of spouses. My wife happens to be Chinese American. Yes, my thanks to A. J. Cave for pointing out gender inequality in WAIS postings. I've always been sensitive to any biases, towards females, towards those with cultural, ethnic, or religious differences, towards those with physical differences, and towards those with different sexual preferences.

                        I have a question for George Zhibin Gu, whose postings I have found to be of great interest since my trips to Beijing has piqued my interest in Chinese history and everyday life. I was told in 2008 by my tour guide that single women were not allowed to travel to the US. She has since traveled to the US, but I am thinking that she was allowed to because she was in the travel industry. Or has the travel limitations for single Chinese women been revised since 2008? Unfortunately, I have lost contact with my tour guide since she emailed me that we can no longer communicate since she got married and that "it is too easy to make a mistake" in communication. Since I assumed that we were on a friendly business relationship, I did not understand the cryptic message, but c'est la vie.

                        JE comments:  Ah Ric, your treatise on body fat shames me as I recover from Thanksgiving!  Americans need a new holiday that involves family time and nothing but boiled vegetables and water.

                        Whatcha talkin' bout?  Here's a seven-second refresher:


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                      • Female Beauty and Male Beauty (Istvan Simon, USA 11/28/17 8:48 AM)

                        I agree with what John Heelan said in his November 27 post, but only partially. Perhaps this post will not make me popular with feminists, but if so, so be it.

                        I highly value women in all capacities and I believe that I have never been guilty in my entire life of ever discriminating against women in any way. I value their intelligence just as I value the intelligence of any person, regardless of their gender. I never advocated superiority of men in any capacity. I am completely in favor of smashing through the so-called glass ceiling. And I absolutely abhor, even hate, all sexual predators, including the one who sits in the White House. For this latter, see this video, in which no less than 16 women came forward with their stories:


                        Just one more reason to immediately impeach Trump, who transformed the White House into a place of shame and a locale for criminal conspiracy.

                        One of my heroes of all time is Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, a man of great integrity, and indeed an amazing teacher who transformed the teaching of Physics forever with his fantastic book Lectures in Physics.  About Feynman's honesty, not enough can be ever written. Indeed, no scientist can be a good scientist, let alone a truly great one like Feynman was, without honesty and integrity.

                        At one point in his career a man called Goldstein was harassing Feynman, sending him letters of "feminist" protest, accusing him of supposedly discouraging female physicists. I am fairly sure the charge was unfounded. In any case, Feynman in a by-now famous retort, sent the harasser a to the point one-line letter. It became a classic Feynman. He answered Goldstein with: "Dear Goldstein, Don't bug me, man. "

                        Anyway, it would appear from what I just wrote that I am in complete agreement with John Heelan. But alas I am not.

                        For having said the above, John said that he recognizes that "it is the quality of female brains that is far more important than the eye-candy packaging that comes with it." I disagree. On the contrary, the packaging is not only eye candy, and it is at least as important as the brains, if not more.

                        I ask anyone who would care to comment, what is the most important function of any human being, male or female? It is not what job we have, or the glass ceiling or the work we do, important as all those things may be. No, the most important function of human beings is becoming parents, for that is what preserves the species. And the "packaging" that John Heelan apparently disdains and thinks is unimportant is, on the contrary, most important in this most vital of human functions.

                        Males are wired to be attracted to beautiful females. This can be no coincidence nor I believe is only a cultural phenomenon. It must have been a result of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, and it appears to be universal in all cultures, though the standards of what is considered beautiful have cultural components. One needs to look only to the way that such standards of beauty change over time. We have the rather plump women, by today's standards, that the French impressionists made world famous in their paintings. Or what about Da Vinci's Mona Lisa?

                        Though female beauty has always been the muse for great artists, male beauty is also well represented in art. Just consider, for instance, Michelangelo's David, his marvelous statue in Florence. And what about his truly moving and extraordinary Pieta'?

                        So I vehemently disagree with John Heelan. The "packaging" is most important for both males and females and appears to have been the result of the way our species evolved.

                        JE comments:  Nature/nurture--"beauty" is understood to be linked to one's ability to procreate and ensure the survival of the offspring.  Hence strong muscular men are considered better suited for defending the family from savage man and beast.  Yet culture has taken over, especially now.  How do we explain the present Western "ideal" of emaciated, twiggy females?

                        Istvan is correct that this post may generate backlash, so let's turn the tables.  Istvan was born in Hungary.  I have read that during the Habsburg period, Hungarian men were considered by Viennese women to be the most handsome and the best husband material.  Another question for Istvan, who grew up in Brazil:  the "Girl from Ipanema" notwithstanding, Brazilians seem to be more obsessed with male beauty than female beauty.  Go to the beach, and the men spend most of their time checking out other guys' physiques.  Am I off base?

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                        • Beauty, Brains, and Human Survival (John Heelan, UK 11/29/17 7:26 AM)
                          Istvan Simon (28 November) rebutted my earlier comment, in which I opined, "it is the quality of female brains that is far more important than the eye-candy packaging that comes with it."

                          Presumably Istvan and I disagree on the order of magnitude of importance of the packaging vs the brains. As Istvan points out, survival of the human race depends on the evolutionary hard-wiring of male-female attraction and its resulting fecundity. Istvan rightly says the level of that attraction changes with cultural ideals over time. He further comments that "Males are wired to be attracted to (beautiful) females." I suggest that the word "beautiful" is superfluous, as it ignores the necessary broadening of the gene pool by liaisons across the whole gamut of "beauty" necessary to ensure human survival.

                          JE comments: Eye of the beholder? I'm still interested in exploring the notion of male beauty across time and cultures.  Istvan, what about Hungary and Brazil?

                          And what about the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century portraits of men, which often accentuated their pot bellies?  Sculpted, six-pack abs were not the thing at that time.

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                        • Socially Conditioned Misogynist Behavior (Helen Pitlick, USA 12/01/17 11:32 AM)

                          Just wanted to share my opinion, as a younger woman (and a feminist) on this topic and some of the emails I've seen from the men on the WAIS Forum:

                          What the f***!

                          There is no question that many (not all) men are "wired" to be attracted to "beautiful" females. I, like many (but not all) women, am attracted to hot dudes. John Heelan's and Istvan Simon's statements may seem really innocuous, but they're damaging. It's the packaging of women as both brains and "eye-candy," and men debating this, that bugs me--women can never just be people, and our appearance is always part of the package (even if you graciously agree that brains are more important).

                          As Phyllis Gardner wrote, sexism in the workplace isn't just "grab them by the pussy" and blatant discrimination--even today, it's also socially conditioned behaviors like interrupting, explaining things to someone that they already know, and presuming someone isn't as knowledgeable about something, something that studies show hold women back in their careers: https://hbr.org/2017/10/a-study-used-sensors-to-show-that-men-and-women-are-treated-differently-at-work .

                          I work for a large tech company in the Seattle area, and just yesterday, a mid-30s white man in a meeting said something like, "perhaps I'm an idealist, but I just don't know how sexist behavior can happen without someone losing their job." The women in the room shared their (recent) experiences of outright sexism ("Oh you have this room reserved? I think my biceps have something to say about that!"). Leadership was aware of these behaviors, but the offenders weren't disciplined because they're "good at their jobs."

                          I've had weeks where I'm mentally and physically exhausted from having my work and ideas questioned, my hobbies and musical tastes explained to me (poorly), being complimented when I do something basic right, etc. I have left online communities, stopped participating in activities I enjoy, and even drive to work most days instead of taking my van pool because of misogynist behavior. Some of you will say I'm being dramatic, weak, or playing the victim, but it's just so tiring. Women lose out on experiences, and men lose out on our knowledge and perspective.

                          I used to think that sexism would die out with the older generation, but given the current political state, I don't think that's the case.

                          Phyllis, thank you for blazing a trail for us! I can only imagine how tough it must be to watch your daughter facing issues you thought wouldn't be a problem by now.

                          JE comments:  I fear I'm guilty of interrupting in the workplace--but I do so with men as well.  What's more, the "JE comments" is an institutionally sanctioned interruption.  Always have to get in the last word... 

                          A question for Helen Pitlick:  do you see the present "reckoning" as (to paraphrase Churchill) the beginning of the end of the war to eradicate sexist behavior, or the merely the end of the beginning?

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                          • Socially Conditioned Misogyny? (John Heelan, UK 12/02/17 5:53 AM)
                            With respect, Helen Pitlick (2 December) misunderstands me when she writes "John Heelan's and Istvan Simon's statements may seem really innocuous, but they're damaging. It's the packaging of women as both brains and 'eye-candy,' and men debating this." I took pains to emphasise the difference between brains ad eye-candy for that very reason. Or is it that "men debating this" in the male-dominated WAIS forum that bugs her? If so, I agree!

                            Helen further commented that "women lose out on experiences, and men lose out on our knowledge and perspective. I used to think that sexism would die out with the older generation, but given the current political state, I don't think that's the case."

                            I agree! The media and the White House persist in "eye-candy" marketing campaigns.  At the domestic level Helen can rest assured that surrounded, as I am, by two generations of bright female family members (with Honours degrees some 1st-class), I soon get slapped back into line if I inadvertently step into chauvinism!

                            JE is right that WAIS needs far more female input to leaven the dough of elderly male opinions.

                            JE comments: Helen Pitlick was critiquing the very fact that (some, not all) men should be discussing "brains vs looks" when it comes to women. Consider the absurdity of a WAIS thread, say, on the importance of looking beyond Stephen Hawking's physique to appreciate the "knowledge and perspectives" of his mind.

                            Did I get that right, Helen?

                            On the other hand, don't (some, not all) women also debate the merits of hunks vs cerebral, geeky dudes?  Or what about income?  There's something about Zuckerberg's $70 billion that makes him irresistibly hot.

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                      • Is WAIS an Old Boys' Network? (A. J. Cave, USA 11/30/17 4:13 AM)
                        Before moving to food, I want to focus on the gender issue a bit more. My intent was not to point fingers, but to point out that WAIS is public‎ forum, not a private chat room.

                        The big challenge with WAIS is not being an ol' boys' network, nor the age or gender of the WAISers, it is relevance. I like the idea of reading and contributing content that is unique, especially about the history and about the Middle East. That's WAIS's sweet spot. WAISers don't get paid to write, so there's no added commercial bias to keep advertisers happy. As an online journal, WAIS was among the pioneers, sort of a big shark in the ocean. Now that virtually everything and everyone is online, WAIS is more like a crocodile in a river (a nod to Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba). The star ranking of posts on the website is gimmicky, and since the threads are tied together manually, human error creeps in, especially in longer threads.

                        Now, the big challenge with bringing up gender anywhere is that the polite conversation quickly bifurcates into two threads: 1) a patronizing reassurance from enlightened men that they themselves are above such things (a general observation independent of WAISers); ‎and, 2) a more basic discussion about the gender roles (biology, and the like), on what God and nature had intended.

                        Realistically, gender equality is a global war we can't win--it has to happen organically bottom-up, or fail miserably when forced top-down. But gender parity at the workplace in the US is something we can reach for. My definition of gender parity is getting to a critical mass of women in all the verticals--roughly 25 to 33% of the workforce in every single entity we call "work."  Some more, some less. That's the only sustainable model (Malcolm Gladwell's tipping point) that would work. When people say "why now?", it is because all the factors that create that tipping point are coming together for the first time.

                        For that to happen, we will need massive data about women at work, which actually doesn't exist publicly. Who hires how many women and how much they are paid and how they are mentored and how far they are promoted, compared to the men, is what we are going to need to know--transparency. Some magazines, like Fortune, do their annual feel-good "women's" issues, but that's more infocommercial than informational.

                        What we do know is that workplace gender bias is real, sexual harassment is the norm (not the exception) in most verticals, and half of professional women leave corporate life midway through their careers (not to have kids, but because they are simply fed up). Corporate HR is actually a misnomer. It is really MR (M is for management). Most of what they used to do is now automated and outsourced. What little that remains is not to manage precious human assets, but to protect the management from pesky employees.

                        Even in the best-case scenario, women generally make 93 cents compare to a dollar men make. The average percentage breakdowns are more or less like this:

                        - White man: $1

                        - White ‎woman: 78 cents

                        - Black woman: 64 cents

                        - Hispanic woman: 54 cents

                        (no data breakdown for Asian women)

                        That said, I think it's also important to point out that "women" are not an undifferentiated mass of goodness or badass: neither all saints nor sinners--just people, like all men. It is not all apple pie and sisterhood. It would indeed be strange if it was all good in the 'hood.

                        I credit the president with a critical push toward this tipping point ("great reckoning"). As Gloria Steinem said (quoting someone else), "If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, and you think it's a pig, it's a pig."

                        JE comments:  HR's primary mission is to protect management from litigation, but I have no data to back this up.  (I'm fond of jesting that Humanists don't need data.)

                        A. J. Cave speaks of a "tipping point" on gender issues.  Will 2017 be remembered as the year of the Comeuppance for Powerful, Harassing Males?  (The White House, so far, is immune.)  Two who've fallen this week:  Matt Lauer (ex-Today Show) and Garrison Keillor (ex-NPR). 

                        How long will the purges continue?  "As long as necessary" might be the answer.  What kind of new climate is being created in the workplace?  I can envision many men adopting the "Mike Pence Rule" of refusing to work one-on-one with any woman--not out of religious conviction like our Old Testament VP, but due to fear.

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                    • Trump EOs Make it Harder to Report Gender Discrimination (Paul Pitlick, USA 11/27/17 4:35 AM)
                      I hope A. J. Cave is correct in her appraisal of what women will be able to accomplish within our culture.

                      However, I just saw this Huffington Post article about the extent to which our Harasser-in-Chief is doing his best (worst?) to undermine the legal climate for women:


                      JE comments:  2017 will go down as the Year of Harvey (first the hurricane, and then Weinstein and the cultural sea change that ensued).  Trump is at the center of it all, yet like the eye of the hurricane, he has been totally unaffected.  Will his luck hold?

                      Trump's bombast is mostly inconsequential.  His biggest impact has been through the quiet Executive Orders that re-write the rules of society.  We need to pay closer attention to what he's doing.

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                • Meals, Portions, Samples...Snacks? Iranian Food Wisdom (Massoud Malek, USA 11/25/17 6:17 AM)

                  In Iran, we say: "In French restaurants, they only serve échantillons (samples)."

                  JE comments:  Is it possible to translate "supersize me" into French?  Across the Pyrenees in Spain, they invented tapas and pintxos, which started out as (free) snacks to accompany wine, but evolved into fancy-schmancy "small plates" for the world's Yuppies and Hipsters.  Is less more?  It often costs more.

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                  • Tapas and Pintxos: The Original "Small Plates" (Henry Levin, USA 11/26/17 4:36 AM)
                    Thanks for jogging my memory on pintxos (tapas in the Basque Country).

                    I did research on worker cooperatives (see my Worker Cooperatives in America with Robert Jackall, University of California Press, 1984) in the Basque country in 1975 (42 years ago). We would go to the local bars and stroll among them to see friends and acquaintances each evening after work. No one patronized just one bar because this was a social ritual. You are right. They would serve wine (chiquititos) and beer, and the pintxos would be free. It was a lovely ritual. In the town square the young males would circulate in one direction--perhaps clockwise--and the females, in groups, would circulate in the opposite direction with dignified and clever flirtations--not the South American type that are often crude groserías.

                    I stayed at a nice hostel where a week with breakfast and dinner set me back $56.  With dinner we received a jarra of wine, a big earthenware pitcher. One night I thought I would trick them and drink the entire jarra. I mentioned to the waitress that it was empty. She promptly withdrew the pitcher and strode to the barrels and poured a new pitcherful from the spout. I groaned when she returned to the table.

                    By the way, many of the tavernas had stacks of barrels from which they poured the wine. Usually, the customer brought in the bottle and specified which wine. The full bottle was "stopped" with crumpled newspaper, no pretensions. If you forgot your bottle they provided an empty to be filled. My recollection was that the cost of a bottle was a dollar or less.

                    The Basque people are a bit cold relative to the Andaluz. Some of this was due to the fact that Franco was still alive, and the feared Guardia Civil was ubiquitous with its frightening nineteenth-century hat, the tricornio.  But, there were also reputed to be many intelligence-gathering plain-clothes types. Those were the days when you could not say publicly, "When Franco dies..." or even "If Franco dies..." which was the talk of those who conferred on him immortality. This Gringo was hushed often enough that he actually shut up about the subject. But, if you could gain their confidence, you were invited endlessly to homes for dinners. And the young women of the co-ops and their managers (very egalitarian) invited me to a town disco with strobe-lights, really fun for a stuffy professor from America.

                    Happy holiday.

                    JE comments:  During my semester in Granada in 1985, one would still occasionally get a ("bottomless") pitcher of wine to wash down a cheapo fixed-price menu.  That tradition probably died out with the peseta, if not before.  Henry Levin's $56 for a week of room and board would now buy you a lunch for two.  Three years ago, a round of drinks and pintxos for six in San Sebastián set me back €80.

                    Here's an excellent 2012 post from Hank on the Mondragón cooperative:


                    Happy Thanksgiving to you and Pilar, Hank!

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              • Detroit, Comeback City? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 11/25/17 4:51 AM)

                Gary Moore writes:

                I'd like to speak up for Boris Volodarsky's frankness in the Detroit debate,
                which indeed strays into one of the great pitfalls of social observation:
                the tension between accentuating the positive and being smilingly blind.

                The New York Times article under discussion--Detroit as "the most
                exciting city" rather than the no-man's land of Fright Night--is a classic
                New York Times exercise in cheerleading, as noblesse oblige smilingly
                dons its bicycle helmet to tour the New Detroit Amid The Ruins. The
                recovery is definitely an important development, but the tone of the
                article makes one wonder what is being left out (discreet omission is
                an old trick as $3,000-a-week reporters look out helpfully onto the great
                unwashed). Maybe somewhere between Boris's memories of the rats four
                years ago and the cheerleading in the Times is the real Detroit--a ghastly
                reminder now peppered with bargain-basement investment, as Istvan
                Simon notes. I don't know what the reality underneath might be, but
                from battered experience among social illusions (those of mass violence,
                in my case), I listen hard to the voice willing to recite the warts, for I've
                seen that the cheerleaders--so often assured of uncritical applause--can
                badly lose their way, sometimes to become mere liars.

                This subject is larger than Detroit.

                JE comments:  "Exciting" is not quantifiable, unlike, say, per capita GDP, crime rates, and home prices.  Exciting is akin to compelling, poignant, vibrant...cool?  In any case, Detroit could use some cheerleading, and it's refreshing to see it after three decades of "ruin porn" reporting--Detroit as Warsaw in 1945.  Yahoo! News was particularly egregious in this.  For years, it used Detroit as a baseline for how dreadful and moribund an American city can become.

                Plus, a resurgence of optimism in Detroit is newsworthy, right?

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                • Detroit; and The Most Dangerous Place Is... (A. J. Cave, USA 11/27/17 12:21 PM)
                  I was going to start my note on Detroit by copying Snoopy: it was a dark and stormy month--a reference to the November of last year (2016) and the US Presidential Elections. We are a little over a month away from the first presidential report card, and a part of that report should include data on what's happening in the Rust Belt and if the president is delivering on his campaign promises to the region.

                  I haven't been to Detroit in ages, so I can't say much about it. A good friend of mine worked for Ford Motors and after she was laid off, instead of moving to another tech job, she got into real estate, first in sales and now in buying, renovating and renting or selling commercial property in Detroit. Another friend of mine, a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, owns a manufacturing plant near Detroit that used to make things for cars. The plant had been shut down for almost a decade, and now it's reopening to make things for the army. ‎I am also running more and more into startups from Chicago and Detroit, looking for funding in the Bay Area, and local global companies like Google, and a number of investment houses are active in exporting "Silicon Valley" know-how to the region.

                  For Christmas, I prefer to stuff the stockings with things made in USA. ‎One of the newer brands I like is Shinola, a lifestyle company headquartered in Detroit, named after an old shoe polish brand. The company was started by the ex-founder of Fossil brand and is owned by a private investment firm in Texas. They make all sorts of things, among them watches. They are a lot more expensive than similar products made in China and elsewhere, but have a greater appeal to the Millennials who want to have a personal connection to the people behind the consumer products and services they use--they don't want "things" that are made unethically, or have no social impact (for good). These are indeed all baby steps, but all the same, we have to start somewhere.

                  As for the most dangerous place(s) on earth, it isn't the cliché "projects" or the cities everyone loves to list. ‎It's actually Facebook--or pervasive social media in general. I won't get into the nitty-gritty of how Facebook works, other than if you are on FB (or use Google), they own you--or more accurately, everything (all the data) about you. It was not until after the last US presidential elections that most of us realized how cheap and easy it was (and is) to weaponize Facebook. ‎

                  Facebook has no philosophy or ideology other than connecting online advertisers with their coveted target market, and getting bigger and bigger in the process. It is all automated using machine-learning and AI (augmented intelligence), but when there are about 2 billion global subscribers (with an unknown portion inactive), and an estimated 45% of American users getting their "news" from FB feeds, the potential to do bad rather than good is just a line of code in some algorithm. Algorithms are not concerned with morality as they sift and sort subscribers, they are just matching ads to most-likely buyers efficiently. The same goes for comparable massive social networks in China and elsewhere.

                  This is uncharted territory that no one would dare to thread on as long as it continues to print cash.

                  JE comments:  Facebook won't shoot you in a drive-by, but A. J. Cave is probably correct that they don't have to.  You are already their property--they know where you are, where you've been, what you're like and what you like, your habits, your intimate financial details, everything.

                  Shinola products are very cool, but $500-$600 for a quartz (battery-powered) watch and $2K for a retro bicycle will have limited appeal.  I still aspire to a Shinola watch.  This year, I'll hang my stocking with care.

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                  • Facebook, Big Brother (John Heelan, UK 11/28/17 1:43 PM)
                    A. J. Cave commented on 27 November: "It was not until after the last US presidential elections that most of us realized how cheap and easy it was (and is) to weaponize Facebook."

                    This might well become a global problem. The UK 2015 parliamentary election was skewed by a Trotskyist group (Momentum) using social media to rally the vote of students (of voting age) to bolster votes cast in favour of the Labour Party by promising to cancel all student debts. The problem is that the naive young did not appreciate that politicians lie--especially at election time! The UK government had already sold off the Student Loan Book to investors over a year previously. See https://www.ft.com/content/2b66bfaa-ec7a-11e6-930f-061b01e23655

                    Now Labour Party leaders and ministers have been rapidly back-pedalling from that commitment.

                    Now there are the allegations that social media were influential in skewing the recent Catalan crisis as well as the US election that produced Trump.  (Whether both emanated from Putin's state-owned RT network is still being investigated.)

                    Orwell's "Big Brother" is alive and well in international social media and intelligence services around the world.

                    JE comments:  Looks like you have to subscribe to the Financial Times to read the above article.  Big Brother again?  Or try the link below, which worked for me on Safari but not on Firefox.  The price obtained for selling the £4 billion of student debt is "expected to be lower than face value."  I would add a "duh" to that!


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                    • Facebook and Brexit? (Paul Pitlick, USA 11/30/17 9:05 AM)

                      I read within the past few days (but can't cite the source just now) that the Brexit vote may also have been influenced by Facebook-generated fake news.

                      JE comments:  John Heelan can probably cite the source(s).  I also hope to hear from Eurosceptic Nigel Jones.  (John Heelan is something of a Eurosceptic too.) 

                      A question for all:  How does one feel (or react) when fake news leads to a political result you like?


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                  • Weaponization of Facebook? (Istvan Simon, USA 12/02/17 5:31 AM)
                    I found A. J. Cave's observations (27 November) about weaponizing Facebook thought-provoking. As somewhat of an expert in computer security, I have a few things to say about this.

                    On the one hand, A. J. is right, and Facebook should have done much more to keep Russian bots from generating chaos. This is a kind of minimum social responsibility that highly profitable social networking companies like Facebook, or even less profitable ones like Twitter, which is still struggling to become profitable, and others have towards society. That they should make a much more serious attempt to close out fake accounts from their networks, such as accounts clearly owned by bots, not people.

                    The challenge that Russia deliberately made of using social networks by paid agents to post fake incendiary posts attests to the evil nature of the Putin government, but it should have been anticipated by Facebook. Facebook accepted paid advertising from other fake news generators. For a while I noticed these, when I responded to fake news that certain celebrities had died, like Tom Hanks. There was a clear pattern of deception in these ads, and yet Facebook accepted the money from their ads, rather than taken a more virtuous route. Facebook should not be censored, and the issue of censorship is entwined with this issue of accounts that do not really are owned by real people, and were created to spread lies for political or commercial reasons.

                    On the other hand, when one goes on the Internet, one needs to exercise a degree of personal judgement before believing in whatever is being said. So each of us has a responsibility of following buyer-beware, common-sense rules and of investigating whom we support. By and large the tweets on Twitter are not fake, and are made by real people. And Twitter also does a good job of providing data and information that should make one at least suspicious. Twitter informs people of when an account was created, and the number of tweets and retweets and answers that the account has generated. From this data one can get the average number of tweets per day, and if that number is too high, one can infer immediately that the account is probably not of a genuine bona fide account. This is so easy, that Twitter itself should use it to pick out the fake accounts, investigate them further, and shut them down. Once fake accounts are found no other accounts should be accepted that originate form the same network. Such a policy would have a healthy effect on drastically cutting down on BS on Social networks.

                    JE comments:  Indeedy, Zuckerberg could use some of his $70 billion to shut down the bots.  A question for Istvan Simon:  does the NSA (or CIA, or FBI) ever engage in weaponizing Internet tactics?  I'm just wondering if we have a plank in our eye when we call out other nations' specks.

                    Note, Dear Readers, that WAIS accepts neither bots nor advertising.  Does this explain why we don't have $70 billion?

                    Which reminds me:  Via check to WAIS, c/o John Eipper, Goldsmith Hall, Adrian College, Adrian Michigan 49221 USA, or PayPal (donate@waisworld.org).  A huge thank you to our latest additions to the 2017 Honor Roll:  Henry Levin and Edward Mears.

                    Keep WAIS independent!

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                • Detroit and "Ruin Porn"; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 11/27/17 1:31 PM)

                  Gary Moore writes:

                  John E's felicitous parsing of "ruin porn" on Detroit really puts things in perspective.

                  Maybe discourse suffers from general inflation, as inflated negativity is countered by
                  the positive side of the story feeling that it must speak loudly to counter-punch.
                  Certainly the optimism on Detroit sounds productive. I've been reading lately about Mississippi
                  in the 1960s. It seems almost impossible to capture at the same time the grotesque extremes
                  of those times and the new fact that, imperfect as it remains, the place is now far from being
                  like the old days.

                  JE comments:  Wikipedia's entry on "Ruins photography" is focused primarily on Detroit, although other post-industrial cities like Camden, New Jersey, and Gary, Indiana make the list.

                  There's a paradox in all this.  Detroit is "exciting" precisely because it's so grim and gritty.  Its ruins give it a comparative advantage.  Consider the tourist Mecca of Detroit's decaying Michigan Central train station, which scores the article's lead photograph.  Click and see:


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          • Arming Yourself in Vienna? (Brian Blodgett, USA 11/21/17 5:08 AM)
            It seems that a few WAIS postings from other countries on the "value" of being armed or having a firearm in the house are going against the concept in the US that banning firearms would be a good thing.

            I am surprised by the post which condoned carrying a firearm in Vienna, even going so far as to argue that not doing would be stupid. (See Boris Volodarsky, 20 November.) It is interesting that if this were said in the US, folks would jump on the speaker as being in the hands of the NRA, yet in this posting it is condoned.

            Also, I noticed in several postings, as well as from reading the news, that it appears that nations where individuals seek asylum have a higher crime rate, yet if the US president says he wants to limit immigration from specific countries it is viewed negatively.  Perhaps if he said that it would reduce crime, as evidenced by how much crime increased in other countries / cities / districts with large immigrant populations, then would it be acceptable. Could data from these locations support such a plan?

            JE comments:  Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric is indeed based on the "keep America safe" argument.  Am I mistaken?

            I hope Boris Volodarsky will respond to Brian Blodgett's comment about carrying a gun in Vienna.  Is there a double standard here?  Why are armed Americans seen as whoopin' cowboys/ rednecks, while the heat-packing Viennese are smart and prudent?  (What are Austria's gun laws anyway?  Are they more lax than elsewhere in Western Europe?)

            Note that an armed Austro-Hungarian civilian (Gavrilo Princip) started WWI.  Not a good track record.

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            • Guns, Immigration, and Violence (Istvan Simon, USA 11/22/17 4:38 AM)
              I would suggest to Brian Blodgett to look a bit deeper into the questions he returned to in his 21 November post. For starters, I'd suggest that he look at this table that has gun-violence deaths per country per 100,000 population:


              I think that it is far more convincing than any of these qualitative arguments presented in WAIS. Brian will notice that the rate in Austria is 2.63 per 100,000 population, but that homicide accounts for only 0.10 of that. That means that Boris Volodarsky's views on the value of carrying a gun for self-defense in Vienna are, well let's just say, a bit on the alarmist side.

              Next, Brian will notice that the rate for the USA is 10.54 per 100,000 population, and that homicides account for 3.60 of that. So a person in the United States is 36 times more likely to be murdered by a firearm than in Austria. (I would guess that he or she is far less likely to be murdered in Austria by any means than in the United States.) My point is that if the goal is self-defense, Brian's enthusiasm for guns is misplaced. Notice also that though the rate of suicides with a gun is rather high in Austria, 2.42, it is still only about a third of the rate of suicides by firearms in the US.

              Then Brian addresses the issue of immigration as a source of violence, and once again he gets carried away by a superficial anecdotal view. I suggest he read this article:


              It is well known that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born population. Which makes the whole idea of Trump's attempt to restrict illegal or legal immigration, completely bogus. Illegal immigrants do not commit crimes at a higher rate than Americans born in this country.

              JE comments:  I was still curious about firearms laws in Austria, and sources say it is one of the few European nations where self-defense is an acceptable reason for gun ownership.  Austria is #13 in the world for guns per capita--just ahead (more guns) of Germany but behind France and Finland.

              Austria is also home of the Glock, probably the most significant handgun design of the last 50 years.  Over 5 million have been produced.  Istvan Simon and others might ask how many deaths were caused by those 5 million pistols.

              Next up:  Boris Volodarsky replies to Brian Blodgett.

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            • Street Violence in Vienna, Revisited (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 11/22/17 5:37 AM)
              My response to Brian Blodgett (21 November) will be very simple. In England, I live in the county called Surrey and I never carry a gun or even think of possessing one, although we have a lot of immigrants in the UK. There were reports that a couple of Surrey police cops were killed while on duty and a chief of the local police was knifed to death while leaving a pub, but who cares? Here I am alone and can probably defend myself.

              In Vienna, I live in a very safe diplomatic district. Then in the evening you go with your beautiful wife and your Golden Retriever to the Swiss Gardens, a nice place, to walk your dog. At one moment, three armed Chechens and several Afghans come up and say, "Give us money and your iPhone, and then we shall rape your wife in front of you and kill your dog. Just for fun. Cmon!"

              Your reaction, Mr Blodgett?

              JE comments: Yikes, Boris! This is what we could call the "Bernard Shaw Hypothetical" (not the playwright, but the journalist who posed the infamous Kitty Dukakis question in 1988). I trust this is a hypothetical... Boris...?

              Do Chechens and Afghans maraud together?

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          • A Traveler in Detroit, NYC: "Please Don't Shoot!" (John Heelan, UK 11/21/17 10:55 AM)
            Boris Volodarsky commented on November 20th: "John E and I were together in Detroit in 2013. It was a gloomy place. I remember the abandoned main railway station and the empty streets."

            I recall reporting in WAIS some years ago a comment made to me by the hotel doorman after I went out for a walk to get some fresh air after a long-delayed flight en route to visit the Ford plant at Dearborn (next to Detroit). I mentioned that "streets were empty," to which the doorman replied, "Yessir! Just you and the robbers!"

            A more frightening episode was in a hotel in NYC. After yet another long-delayed transatlantic flight exacerbated by jet lag and time differences, I retired to bed early, asking that hotel maintenance replace the non-working TV, which they did soon after I went to sleep. I sat up startled to hear the poor maintenance man say, "Don't shoot!" I recall I was more worried about his worry about the risk of being shot.

            JE comments:  Everything is relative: Last Friday son Martin flew in from Los Angeles. I was on limo duty.  His luggage didn't arrive, having been "misdirected" to Chicago. Upon hearing this information, a bystander at the claims office cried, "your bag will get shot!"

            Where do Chicagoans look for an even more dangerous city?  Damascus?  Kabul?  David Duggan can answer this one.

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          • Cities Tough and Gritty; from Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 11/21/17 2:49 PM)

            Ric Mauricio writes:

            John E asked an interesting question:  Besides Detroit, what are some of the world's other gritty and tough cities?

            Well, there are areas within cities can obviously qualify as places one would not want to be without some sort of self-defense mechanism. In San Francisco, there is the Tenderloin and perhaps the Bayview. Outside of San Francisco, there are cities such as Richmond, Vallejo, and of course, East and West Oakland.

            Although I have friends who live in New York, many New Yorkers do live up to their "rudeness."  In Paris, there are arrondissements that look like war zones and where police don't even go into without armored vehicles. In London, we stayed in Kensington, where we found Aston Martins parked overnight in the street, but venture to other areas, well, let's just say that we were glad we were going quickly through in a bus.

            The commonality, one could say, is the economic strata. But unfortunately, statistics do point towards an ethnic bias. You just can't ignore that ethnic bias. But to take that ethnic bias and attribute it to anyone of that ethnicity would be racism. My best friend in elementary school was told by his college counselor that he would never amount to anything because he was an angry young black man from the ghetto. Well, she got two things right. He was young and he was black. As for angry, nah, never saw that. From the ghetto? Our neighborhood was diverse and it was considered lower-middle class, so no, it wasn't a ghetto. He got the last revenge against this racist counselor. He became a doctor and is the well-respected founder of a clinic in Berkeley, California.

            But let's look at the other side of the coin. Nice places. Of course, here in northern California, there are a lot of nice places. Palo Alto and Stanford, Hillsborough, Atherton, Danville, etc. Again, the commonality is economic strata. And ethnicity is diverse in these cities, although more likely than not, those of European and Asian (this includes those from Israel and Persia as well) heritages dominate. What was interesting in the latest FBI stats of safest cities, of the top five in California, four were in affluent cities in southern California and the one that was in northern California was my own city: Foster City.

            Now I can tell you, though, that I felt as safe walking through sparsely populated areas of Beijing at night (try doing that without knowing the language; would never have done that if I was with my wife) as if I were walking through Foster City at night. Although one must still be very aware. We do have some crime but mostly perpetrated by "outsiders" from the East Bay, since we are the last stop before crossing the bridge from the Peninsula to the East Bay. There is a call for a "wall," but it is to keep out the bay. We are like Amsterdam.

            As for foreign cities, in addition to Beijing, I felt fairly safe in Paris (1st Arrondissement), London (Kensington), Belgium, and Salzburg, Austria. Luxembourg and the cities in Germany were boring. I did like the little town on the Rhine, called Bacharach. Hong Kong was OK. I liked Vancouver and Victoria, Canada. Contrary to what I heard, the Parisians were pleasant to me. I saw some very unpleasant Londoners over there. And they were very English.

            JE comments:  Bad neighborhoods in nice cities (San Francisco, London) just aren't the same as "holistically" gritty cities.  For California, I'll put in a vote for Stockton--perennially near the top of Forbes' "Most Miserable."  And perhaps Bakersfield?  Richmond, which Ric does mention, means I have grittiness in my DNA.  I was born in San Pablo, right next door.

            Other candidates?

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            • Cities Tough and Gritty (John Heelan, UK 11/22/17 5:53 AM)
              Gritty cities I have known (other than the gritty London working-class suburbs where I grew up).

              Munich (where I was about to demonstrate to a drunk on public transport my long-term martial arts expertise), Vancouver (where I prepared to use my camera as a weapon on a bus against a gang that was eyeing it covetously.) Riyadh (where groups of Saudi youths would force expats off the sidewalk and into the road.) Fort Lauderdale (when looking for an apartment I was advised, "anywhere without bullet holes!"). Miami (having got myself lost on the way out of the airport).

              However, in NYC despite its reputation, my fears about my wife staying with friends in the Bronx and travelling on public transport to sightsee were groundless. And finally, Merrimack, New Hampshire--more Irish than Dublin! We were there the night the IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands died, and we Brits had to beat a hasty retreat.

              JE comments:  Saudi Arabia doesn't strike me as a place for hooliganism.  John, is the example you cite a common complaint among expats?

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            • Cities Tough and Gritty: One WAISer's LA Survival Strategy (Francisco Ramirez, USA 11/22/17 8:00 AM)
              Back in the 1980s I headed to LA for a conference. At LAX I took one of those buses that drops off people at different hotels. At one point I noticed that everyone had been dropped off but not me. The driver also noticed. He asked me where I was staying.  I responded the Wilshire Royale which sounded like a regal place to stay. He responded: Sir, we do not go there. But I can drop you on this side of McArthur Park. As I crossed the park sporting a jacket I realised that the park had a lot of young men in undershirts speaking in Spanish. This was the middle of the day and since I am not an ethnographer I did not venture to inquire as to what they were doing. At that time McArthur Park was know for drug traffic. Known but not by me. Since the only arts I command do not involve anything resembling martial, I decided I would talk to myself in Spanish, talk loudly and with some arm waving.

              When I told this story to a colleague at Stanford who had grown up in the area, he burst into laughter. They must have thought you were one crazy guy, likely illegal and with some stolen clothes. No wonder no one bothered you.

              A few years ago my wife and I and are granddaughters were walking to see a musical in San Francisco The walk to Market Street took us through a less than desirable part of the city. As we walked through a group of young black people one guy said: How are you doing Whitey? One woman in the group responded; That was not nice. They are people too. Then she added: Have a nice show. The irony was not lost on me or my wife.

              I do not share the mindset that sees immigrants as the source of danger and armed to the teeth as a necessity. In general I think the European cities I have been to are safer than the American ones I know. I have thought that one factor is the lack of ready available guns in the former. But now that I am told otherwise, I will walk through the streets of Uppsala (where I have spent the last thee months) with more diligence.

              JE comments:  "The only arts I command do not involve anything resembling martial":  what a turn of phrase!  I definitely hear you, Francisco.

              Please send us an Uppsala report!  Sweden is certainly not known for gun violence, but remember the Olof Palme murder of 1986, perhaps the world's highest-level assassination that was never solved.

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      • Rising Crime in Italy (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 11/19/17 4:37 AM)

        What Timothy Ashby reports about England is happening in Italy with the new arrivals, and it is happening all over Europe.  This is probably why the wise Poles are against allowing this change in the national demographics.

        JE comments:  Are these concerns legitimate, or are they examples of the age-old fear of the Other?  I'm going to respond with an ambiguous "yes."  Italians lamented the arrival of the Goths and Longobards as well, and those newcomers brought an unmistakable spike in crime.  Are things different now?

        A wider question:  how do we discuss societal and demographic change without falling into the familiar traps of nativism and xenophobia?  Is it possible?

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    • Flashlights and Self-Defense (John Heelan, UK 11/18/17 7:40 AM)
      I had to smile when Tim Ashby wrote, "We legally carry long serrated metal torches that can be extended" (17 November).

      Presumably he is describing Maglites--I have one--12 inches long weighing 1.6 lb with its batteries. Maglites are often part of a policeman's self-defence kit along with an extendable baton, a pepper sprays and a taser.

      However, what made me smile was the memory of a police friend who, after arresting a violent offender, was reported in the local media charging the thug with damage to police property as said thug had "head-butted" my friend's torch! Yeah! Right!

      JE comments: Flashlights just don't cut it in America.  Exceptionalism once again?

      I can see the bumper sticker now: "They can have my flashlight when they pry it out of my cold, dead fingers."

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