Sep. 9th, 2017

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1) Tuesday night, at Le Poisson Rouge I saw a pretty amazing set of musicians.

I first learned of Doveman (stage name for pianist Thomas Bartlett) from a weird downtempo cover he did of the complete Footloose soundtrack years back. Super slow "Holding Out for a Hero" is strangely wonderful, like the singer is literally *holding out* for that hero. Five years ago he did a set of concerts at Le Poisson Rouge called the Burgundy Stain Sessions, with a rotating cast of musical collaborators including some pretty big names. I never made it to any of those shows, but they always sounded neat.

This was billed as a revival of the Burgundy Stain Sessions, but it was actually a birthday celebration for his mother, full of her favorite songs and some of her favorite performers that Bartlett, an accomplished session musician who seems to know everyone in pop music, happened to know.

Musicians who performed included, in addition to Bartlett: Norah Jones, St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Justin Vivian Bond, Joan as Police Woman, and John Cameron Mitchell. And a bunch of other talented musicians with less name recognition. But holy shit, getting to see that many amazing musicians for 20 bucks?!? It was an incredible set- relaxed and casual and goofy- and absolutely precise and lethally effective. I jokingly put up a 9 truths and a lie concert meme on facebook using exclusively 9 performers from this one concert, and I think it's more impressive than some of the lifetime 9 truths and a lie lists I saw when that meme was doing the rounds.

2) On Only Connect, that brutally difficult British quiz show I occasionally post about here to deaf ears, Gail Trimble is captaining a team this season! She showed up in this past week's episode with her husband and brother, no spoilers about whether she'll be returning in future episodes, but it was great fun to see her again. (Trimble was a famously brilliant captain of a University Challenge team some years back, that other [not quite as] difficult British quiz show I occasionally post about here to deaf ears. She nearly singlehandedly led her uni team to a championship, until the championship was taken away due to an eligibility scandal involving a teammate that still confuses me. I think the closest analogy for Americans is to say that Trimble was a British Ken Jennings.) Anyway, I just wanted to be sure everyone knew. GAIL TRIMBLE ON ONLY CONNECT, EEEE!!!

3)I recently did a rewatch of the complete series of Parks and Recreation. The first season and the first half of the second season are still frustratingly tonally off- they thought they were making fun of Leslie, it's weird?!. And the remainder of the show is still utterly brilliant and cheering and hilarious and inspiring. But it was interesting... I caught up with the show in a binge about midway through season 3, and watched the rest mostly in realtime as it was airing. It was interesting to binge and see my feelings about different episodes change in ways that seemed to have to do with rapid exposure to multiple episodes in sequence. Ann's pregnancy storyline made sense this time! In realtime, the clues they dropped for several episodes in advance slipped past me, but watching at speed, I saw how they'd set up Ann's emotional evolution, her realization that kids gave life value for some people, and she might be one of those people, so that episode where she randomly starts interviewing people to be a sperm donor actually didn't come out of nowhere. Jamm was also more endurably annoying racing through, because you got past him faster. Tuning in every week and realizing that there was going to be yet more Jamm to meaninglessly mess with our heroes was always a disappointment. But seeing him instead as this meaningless obstacle that our heroes would overcome with patience and wit made him fit better into the weave of the show.

But most of all, Leslie Knope is the greatest person ever. I think I used to complain about 'backslide episodes' of Parks and Rec where suddenly Leslie seemed unaware of the fact that just last week she'd learned a lesson about how she tended to steamroll people and it would cause problems later, but in the binge rewatch Leslie seemed like a much more continuous character, more self-aware of her own faults than I'd remembered, and stunningly competent in all directions. It's really telling, as I listen to The West Wing Weekly podcast after [personal profile] roga's urging, that people on the podcast keep comparing things to Parks and Rec. There is a lot of continuity there in the sense of aspirational but pragmatic idealism. Government will fail its constituents, but as long as it consists of smart people working hard to try to serve the public, it has value in spite of its failings.

4)I think I've given up on Faye Kellerman's Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus books, about six or seven books into the series, because in spite of the fact that they continue to be billed as Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus mysteries, they seem to almost always turn out to be Peter Decker mysteries with a little background Rina Lazarus, often with Rina as a shell of the brilliant, difficult woman who makes The Ritual Bath such a delight. I like Peter, but I'm only interested in the series for that interplay between Peter and Rina. I might check out one of the later books in the series that star Peter's daughter Cindy, to see if they're any more satisfying.

On the other hand, I got through the troublesome L is for Lawless and I'm now back on the rails with Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone series, which is once again a delight now that I'm up to P. Grafton's dedication to not writing the same book twice is admirable in a series as long as the Kinsey books, but L was a little too far off from what I was looking for in a story about Kinsey, with Kinsey's dips into lawlessness seeming unjustified by what we'd seen of her character. (Her bouts of lawlessness in O is for Outlaw felt more of a piece with her character- not something you'd have seen from the person you meet in the first few books, but something you could believe she'd do given the circumstances and her evolution as a character. Her break-ins in O spoke really effectively of a newfound desperation for answers.)

I continue to love how Grafton uses the most vivid secondary characters to obfuscate her plots. You never know if a character is just there for two pages to deliver a piece of information, or if they'll turn out to be central to the mystery, because either way Grafton writes them as real people with lives before and after the page. I had meant to nominate the series for Yuletide, since there is shockingly little fic, but then I remembered that all my nominating slots need to go to all the fandoms I watched for Might Lead to Mixed Dancing and desperately need fic for now. More about that later.
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Kosher USA by Roger Horowitz

This book was so much fun to read, and so illuminating. [personal profile] brainwane- I think you'd find it interesting as a supplement to my past answers about kashrut.

Horowitz's previously books have been investigations of the world of the modern American meat industry generally, and at the prodding of his family he turned to look more specifically at the kosher food industry and its evolution over the last century in this book. It features a chapter on the history of Coca Cola's kosher certification, a chapter on the history of Manischewitz and Kedem wines, a chapter on the story of Oreo's becoming kosher, a couple of chapters on the kosher beef industry, and all of them explain so much about things I've sort of halfway absorbed through a lifetime of consuming kosher food products.

There's this constantly devastating paradox of American Jewish life at the center of Horowitz's book: In order to make inarguably kosher food accessible to Orthodox Jews at reasonable cost, the majority of the people buying it need to be non-Jews. The further from this condition a particular foodstuff slips, the more the foodstuff will become inaccessible to Jewish consumers. The closer to this condition a foodstuff is, the cheaper and more plentiful it will be to Jewish buyers. And there are synergies to this process, because the food chain is complicated and interconnected, so if more processed foods have supply chains that are completely certified kosher, it means there are more input ingredients being used incidentally in other products that can then more easily and cost-effectively be certified kosher.

So, great, you might say, the primary tactic if you want to make kosher food cheap and available should be to convince non-Jews to eat kosher food! But Horowitz records a competing dynamic, which is this: When a foodstuff can be produced, at varying efforts, to satisfy people with different levels of kashrut stringency, the most stringent standard tends to drive less stringent standards out of the market. This is because the less stringent people will eat either food made to the less stringent standard or food made to the more stringent standard, and the more stringent people will eat only the food made to the more stringent standard, and in most cases the producer only wants to make one product that the most customers will buy.

This is why glatt meat has largely driven nonglatt meat off the kashrut market, and why Orthodox hecksherim grace tens of thousands of processed foods and Conservative hecksherim barely any, and why there are hundreds of mevushal wines and barely any non-mevushal wines. And taken to an extreme, this process competes with the tendency of producers to compete for the non-Jewish market, bifurcating the product line into the much cheaper non-kosher version and the much more expensive or bad tasting stringently kosher version and eliminating the non-stringently kosher version capable of competing on price and taste with the non-kosher version. So you have a tension between this dynamic, which can result in kosher products designed only for Jewish consumption at an exorbitant markup, and the first dynamic, which tends to result in kosher products designed primarily for non-Jewish consumption that are cheaper and of generally higher appeal. Horowitz has a particularly great diversion into the history of how Manischewitz wine began to market itself primarily to an African-American audience because of the chance discovery that Concord grape-based sweet wines taste similar to scuppernong grape-based sweet wines popular in the Deep South, and how this enabled Manischewitz to massively gain market share, but ultimately created a wedge that allowed Kedem to steal Jewish market share by marketing imported dry kosher wines and trying to figure out flash pasteurization techniques to make Mevushal wine taste marginally better.

The other interesting story Horowitz tells is about the way government regulation of food has interacted with the kosher industry, sometimes to the benefit of Jews and sometimes to the detriment, sometimes the same regulations! The same New York State kosher enforcement division that, with industry cooperation, minimized fraudulent kosher food and protected the food safety of New York Jews for decades eventually became a corrupt tool to enforce stringent Orthodox industrial hecksherim on those seeking to use local Rabbanim to certify small kosher businesses.

I was fascinated in particular by Horowitz's passage about the way increased record-keeping imposed by the FDA on large food businesses for health safety reasons allowed the Orthodox Union to establish computerized kashrut tracking systems and massively expand the reach of OU kosher certification. It's such a neat story. In general the role of government regulation in Kosher USA is really ambiguous- good when it works, but just as often seen justifiably as an unwitting threat to the Jewish community- as when he discusses the role of new ethical slaughter regulations in the 1970s on raising the price of kosher beef.


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