Friday, January 26, 2007

Devi


Well we went to Devi last night and I must admit the food lived up to the hype. Devi is the Sanskrit word for Goddess. She is synonymous with Shakti, the female aspect of divinity, and is conceptualized in the Shakta tradition as the driving force without which the male aspect, which represents consciousness or discrimination, is impotent.

Devi (the restaurant) was tastefully decorated in earth and wood tones with subdued lighting emanating from colorful globes hanging from the ceiling at different heights. The walls in the upstairs dining area were upholstered in rich fabrics and the space had a generally homey and warm feeling. From the web-site: “Architect Larry Bogdanow integrates elements of home and temple using richly colored Indian textiles and beautifully carved wooden architectural elements to create a sumptuous setting.” The d├ęcor is about as far removed from dangling jalapeno lights which festoon many of the6th Street Indian joints as one can imagine. During the course of our hour-long meal the two level restaurant slowly filled up with beautiful people, although the noise level remained subdued.

The restaurant week offerings generally came from the regular menu, although there were a couple of exceptions, and the portions were more than adequate although I would recommend ordering one other item and maybe a bread to round out the meal. We started with a complementary amuse bouche; a spicy potato croquette in a Tamarind sauce. For my appetizer I had the Lamb-Stuffed Tandoori Chicken which was tender dark meat chicken stuffed with ground lamb, spinach and goat cheese and served with a tasty tomato chutney. Presentation was artful and the sauce was a perfect complement to the spicing on the chicken. Mrs. Patriot had some kind of potato based croquette, the name eludes me. It was tasty enough but was too close in flavor to the amuse and not too distinctive from something you could find elsewhere in the City. Main courses were Tandoor-Grilled Lamb Chops with pear chutney and curry leaf potatoes, also reportedly excellent (Mrs. P wouldn’t let me get a fork anywhere near them) and a Farm-Raised Andhra Chicken Curry, moist and flavorful but not at all fiery, served with a timbale of gently spiced rice. What curry sauce remained on my plate was greedily sopped up by a side order of Onion-Parmigiano Kulcha ($5), an idea which came off quite nicely although the cheese is perhaps a bit too piquant an ingredient for inclusion in a bread who’s principal role at the meal is to act as a vehicle for orphan sauces. Not that it wasn’t delicious though.

Our other foray into the regular menu was a well executed Kararee Bhindi, a crispy tangy okra salad, with tomatoes and red onions. The tomato and red onions were raw and they served as a perfect foil to the salty/spicy/crunchiness of the thinly sliced deep-fried okra. The texture of the salad almost reminded me of the Vietnamese dish Mee-Grob Lard-Na and the flavor was spicy and addictive.

For desert we both had the The Emperor’s Morsel, a crispy saffron bread pudding topped with cardamom cream and candied almonds. This was probably the best Indian dessert I have ever had. The pancake/cream combination was reminiscent of a Belgian waffle and made for a most satisfying conclusion to the meal.
The total for two ordering from the Restaurant Week Menu and adding on for the bread, Okra salad and one unmemorable glass of Pinot Noir came to a reasonable (for Manhattan) $106 before tip. Service was attentive, if perfunctory, and the pace of the meal a bit brisk, but during this week its not really fair to hold the waiters to the same standards as the rest of the year. Highly recommended.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What Would Gandhi Do?


Tonight is my first foray into NYC’s Restaurant Week 2007, a magical time when many of the City’s higher-end eating establishments throw open their doors to the unwashed masses by offering “reasonably priced” $35 prix fix dinner menus. Like most everything else in New York that initially seems like a good bargain, participants in the yearly event usually ends up feeling conned. Diners expecting to be served the same haute cuisine as their better heeled brethren who eat in such places the remaining 51 weeks of the year are in for a disappointment, as numerous testimonials to mediocre food and surly service abound.

Nevertheless there are some notable bright spots in the City’s firmament during this dark week, one of which is the upscale Indian joint Devi. Legions of happy Restaurant Week veterans rave about the quality of the food and superiority of the service. I’ll let you know how it goes. I have a deep aversion to eating anywhere where dinner costs more than what I could make an hour as a contract attorney. I’ve always felt that one of the things I like about New York, one of the things that make the rest of this urban cesspool worth living in is the fact that two people can eat delicious meals from every ethnic cuisine in the world for less than the cost of an alternate side of the street parking ticket. I find no need to suffer through the theatrical sighs of snotty waiters and the hype and incessant marketing of celebrity chefs when one of the best lunches you can find in New York can be purchased from a lady selling chicken tamales out of a cooler on Atlantic Avenue. However, I’ll stow my rabble-rousing because tonight is Mrs. Patriot’s birthday and she likes to put on the fancy every now and then. And I do like Indian food, even Indian food that costs more than the annual salary of most Indians...

The First Amendment


There’s an interesting article in Salon today about Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unibomber and his fight to retain control over his manifesto and various other writings. One would think that under the First Amendment Ted would be able to maintain possession of his intellectual property, but convicted criminals rights are truncated by the government on a piecemeal basis, often reflecting whatever best suits the whim of the government in a particular case.

The legal issue presented is bigger than the Unabomber case but is hidden and minimized by the emotional reaction by the victims to the idea of Kaczynski maintaining control over his written work. The real question is whether the government gets the copyright when it seizes a prisoner's personal writings after a criminal conviction. Should the current litigation surrounding this issue answer the question in the affirmative, be on the look out for future government use of the precedent as a tool to bury the ideas of those it manages to convict under the various anti-terrorism statutes passed in recent years.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Little Noticed Provision in the Patriot Act


Here’s a story to watch. I’ll let Senator Feinstein explain how the Bush brownshirts are trying another end-run around the Constitution:

“It has come to our attention that the Bush Administration is pushing out U.S. Attorneys from across the country under the cloak of secrecy and then appointing indefinite replacements without Senate confirmation. We know that this is not an isolated occurrence, but we don’t know how many U.S. Attorneys have been asked to resign – it could be two, it could be ten, it could be more. No one knows,” Senator Feinstein said.

“And, we have no idea why this is happening. The Attorney General could have legitimate reasons for asking for specific resignations, or this could be motivated by political concerns or worse, derailing on-going investigations. Again, we just don’t know.

“We believe that this use of expanded executive authority to appoint interim replacements indefinitely undermines essential constitutional checks and balances. It creates unnecessary instability in these offices and has dramatic implications for important cases currently underway. Given all that is going on with this country and the message from the American people this past election, I am surprised that the Administration would pursue a strategy to circumvent the Senate confirmation process and unsettle these important positions.

“U.S. Attorneys around the country are working on public corruption cases, terrorism cases, narcotics and drug trafficking, fighting gangs and violent crime. Which of these cases are impacted by the Attorney General’s actions has yet to be determined,” Senator Feinstein continued.

“The bottom line is this: U.S. Attorneys are handling major cases that need continuity and leadership. The bill we are introducing today would restore temporary appointment authority to the District Court in which a vacancy arises until a new nominee can be sent to the Senate for confirmation.”

And from Senator Leahy, a former prosecutor. “Political gerrymandering of these important posts is wrong and an affront to our criminal justice system. It is vital that those holding these critical positions be free from any inappropriate influence and subject to the check and balance of the confirmation process.”

In a little noticed provision included in the Patriot Act (man, am I starting to HATE that expression), the Administration’s authority to appoint interim U.S. Attorneys was greatly expanded. The law was changed so that if a vacancy arises the Attorney General may appoint a replacement for an indefinite period of time – thus completely bystepping the Senate confirmation process.

Perhaps most significant, Senators Feinstein and Leahy, have learned that the Department of Justice has asked several U.S. Attorneys from around the country to resign their positions prior to the end of their terms *without cause*. The number of U.S. Attorneys, currently or historically, who have been asked to resign their positions without cause is still unknown.

My guess is that Rove and the rest of the right wing Nazis are plotting to steal the 2008 election and are getting their people in place early on. An added bonus to the fascists is the ability to control local federal prosecutors when the administration and the army start rounding up disloyal Americans and herding them off to the torture chambers. Look for a complete repeal of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, although the act has been dying a slow death for several years.

Monday, January 15, 2007

On Being and Miracles


The Patriot has been a very lazy poster lately. There has been so much to do in anticipation of the little one arriving. Suffice it to say that in lieu of apologizing at the time between posts every week I would ask you to accept the reality that the posts will be appearing at longer intervals over the next 18 years than they have over the last 18 months. Nevertheless, the beat goes on, does it not?

I just started reading a book with selected writings of St. Augustine. I’ll let you know what I make of it in a while. I got into Augustine not through the Church, but rather through a Zen Teshio, or “Dharma Talk” I was listening to on my I-Pod yesterday. (Yes, even Zen masters have podcasts these days.) Zen master John Daido Loori, the Abbott of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper New York has authored a modern day collection of Zen Koans which utilize western myth and religions themes to assist the American Zen student find his way without having to study Japanese or Chinese linguistics to understand the historical context of the Koan.

Loori gives Teisho’s usually on the last day of a seven day Zen intensive known as a Sesshin. Loori created one Zen koan out of the incident in Chapter 6 of Mark where Jesus walks on water and encourages Peter to do the same. Peter falters once he feels the effects of the storm and Christ admonishes him for his lack of faith. The traditional Augustinian interpretation of the incident posits the stormy sea as the world at large and Peter as the Church whose success staying above the waves is dependent on the body’s members faith in the power of the almighty, i.e “Meanwhile the ship which carries the disciples, that is, the Church, is tossed and shaken by the tempests of temptation; and the contrary wind, that is, the devil her adversary, rests not, and strives to hinder her from arriving at rest. But greater is "He who maketh intercession for us." For in this our tossing to and fro in which we toil, He giveth us confidence in coming to us, and strengthening us; only let us not in our trouble throw ourselves out of the ship, and cast ourselves into the sea. For though the ship be in trouble, still it is the ship. She alone carrieth the disciples, and receiveth Christ. There is danger, it is true, in the sea; but without her there is instant perishing.”

Loori, in contrast, uses the biblical story to highlight the problems with using miracles as the basis upon which to build a faith-based religion. Christ had the power not only to walk on water, but to heal and resurrect the dead. The belief that Chist himself rose from the dead is central to the Christian faith. But what of our every-day minds? The minds we use to wipe our asses and do the dishes? If God/Buddha nature is everywhere, isn’t he equally present in our day-to-day lives as he is when he manifests himself to us through signs and miracles? As westerners without a widespread mystical tradition we seem to prefer to find God in the magical world, not in the toilet. Everyday mind, to us, is too mundane. Walking on water? THAT’s miraculous. Raking leaves and doing the dishes? That’s mundane. Of course the obvious problem with focusing on the miracles is that we immediately get too caught up in the magic and completely miss the point. Not to mention once one creates the dichotomy between "magic" and "mundane" one elevates God to the heavens and has immense trouble seeing that God as inside of oneself.

Loori relates the story of a Zen master who, met another pilgrim on the way to a holy site in China. After a while the two travelers, laughing and joking like old friends the whole way, came to a wide river. The master stopped, but the other pilgrim carried on walking on the water to cross to the other side. When he was part way he turned to the master to beckon him across. The master called out, “You deceiver, I thought you were a man of value! If I had known that you would pull a stunt like that I would have cut you off at the ankles.”

Far from encouraging visions, which are so cherished in many religions, (one only has to see the hysteria that surrounds the supposed sightings of the Virgin Mary,) in Zen it is said, “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.” This is what the sentence, “From the beginning all beings are Buddha,” truly means. Visions of God, miracles, are at best unnecessary and at worst, throw up a roadblock in front of us as we try to travel the path. We are all, each one of us, as Jesus said, “the Light of the World,” But, alas! although we ourselves are the light, we search for ourselves in the shadows of experience and look for signs of God in the miracles of saints.

A Zen Roshi(master) named Albert Low once said, “Many people feel that if they could change their life circumstances they would be happy. If they could have the right job, more money, a different spouse or no spouse, then all would be la vie en rose. Others believe that they should change themselves: become more tolerant, more loving, have better concentration. [The reality is that], everything, as it is, is perfect, but you must stop seeing it as if in a mirror, as if in a dream.” Anything which distracts us from complete union with the universe (God/Buddha/Almighty/Mohammed) should be acknowledged and left behind.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Oyez, Oyez

I suppose there are things to rant about after all. CNN is reporting that Chief Justice William Rehnquist was hopped up on pain-killers for most of the 1970s while he as an associate Supreme Court Justice. Apparently the FBI had an extensive file on the erstwhile Chief and assisted the Nixon and Reagan administration in ensuring no damaging facts would come out which would sink his candidacy at Senate hearings in 1970 and 1986 when he was promoted to the Chief Justice position.
The documents show that the FBI was aware in 1971 that Rehnquist had owned a home in Phoenix with a deed that allowed him to sell only to whites. The restrictive covenant was not disclosed until his 1986 confirmation hearings, at which Rehnquist said he became aware of the clause only days earlier. Apparently he lied to Congress in the hearings.

“Also detailed in the declassified file was Rehnquist's 1981 hospital stay for treatment of back pain and his dependence on powerful prescription pain-relief medication. The FBI investigated his dependence on Placidyl, which Rehnquist had taken for at least 10 years, according to a summary of a 1970 medical examination. When Rehnquist checked into a hospital in 1981 for a weeklong stay, doctors stopped administering the drug, causing what a hospital spokesman at the time said was a "disturbance in mental clarity."

The FBI file, citing one of his physicians, said Rehnquist experienced withdrawal symptoms that included trying to escape the facility and discerning changes in the patterns on the hospital curtains. The justice also thought he heard voices outside his room discussing various plots against him. The doctor said Placidyl is a highly toxic drug and that she could not understand why anyone would prescribe it, especially for long periods.

In one previously secret memo from 1971, an FBI official wrote, "No persons interviewed during our current or 1969 investigation furnished information bearing adversely on Rehnquist's morals or professional integrity; however ..." The next third of the page is blacked out, under the disclosure law's exception for matters of national security.

"It would be nice to know what is still classified, three decades later," Charns said”

Wow. Mr. War on Drugs was flying high as a kite for a decade while his conservative clerks from Harvard wrote opinions that upheld long jail sentences for drug offenses. Then he lied to Congress about living in a community of racists to get confirmed to the highest judicial office in the land. God knows what other perversities he engaged in which are still classified. I wish I could have been in the hospital room listing to him rant about the psychedelic patterns on the drapes. Hilarious.

Happy New Year

The Patriot has been quiet lately, partly out of post-holiday anomie, partly because things at work have picked up, partly because I’m sick of commenting as the country slides into the toilet and the world into sectarian anarchy. But anyway…

I have tried to keep my personal life out of the discussions here because, as my wife is fond of pointing out, it’s not all about me. Yet as the date of my child’s birth draws closer I find that I am much less interested in playing pundit than I am in meditating on what is truly important in life, the nature of fatherhood, mortality, and which stroller goes with what car seat. B’s due date is February 10, 2007, a scant five weeks from now. I think part of the reason for this has to do with the fact that for several months I have been in a state of denial about the looming reality of parenthood. Me? Have a child? Ridiculous. As a 38 year old New York City male I have allowed myself a quite care-free Generation X lifestyle which eschewed responsibility at every turn. I wasn’t quite capable of taking care of myself, let alone a small being who will have to rely on me for its very existence.

I trotted off to law school at age 29, blissfully unaware of the financial hardships and marital stress such a decision would create, especially since my similarly unaware spouse did the same thing a year ahead of me. Now after five years of abject misery as a litigation attorney, dealing with the most intensely irritating people one could ever imagine, I’ve taken a step back and accepted a more or less non-legal position where I have the relative freedom of an eight hour work day which leaves me some life-room contemplate a next step.

So as I stand at the nexus of a career crisis, if all goes well a small baby will leap into my life on February 10 and change my perception of what is truly important and what is just ordinary bullshit. I don’t have any idea what to expect so I’m approaching it with a somewhat Buddhist lack of expectations. Ranting and raving about the screwed up world will continue. After all, the future of the planet seems more important when there you have a more intimate tie to a future generation. One wishes the jerk-offs running the show could embrace a similar perspective.