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The Pilfering Pelicans of Cedar Key

The pelican is a peculiar creature. Cedar Key, Florida, a sleepy vestige of Old Florida on the Gulf of Mexico about an hour southwest of Gainesville, is home to the smartest and stupidest pelicans in the world.

Cedar Key, Florida

The smart pelicans have learned to quietly hover around the fishing docks and wait to be fed, or at least wait until the catch is off the hook before attempting to snatch it. The stupid pelicans snatch at the fish as it is reeled in, swallowing the fish, the hook, and as much fishing line as they can down until they are rescued. Fishermen were then faced with the choice of letting the (stupid) pelicans choke or retrieve the still-intact fish from their throats, unhook it, and then feed it to the poor bastard while the smart pelicans watched.

Cedar Key, Florida

I was in Cedar Key to try the clam chowder at Tony’s Seafood Restaurant, which went to New England and won several chowder competitions. This is a tall claim, not unlike going to Bordeaux and promoting your wine, so I had to see for myself. Few things taste as good as they do in hazy childhood memories like the chowder at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery, Maine, slurped up after a long day of digging aimless canal systems in the sands of York Beach (I was a strange child), but memories cannot actually be ladled out in front of you. Bob’s chowder was more of a clam and fish broth than a chowder, where it lacked thickness it gained a buttery richness packed with deliciously briny essence of clam. As someone who adores the flavor of unrestrained clam, I drank it right out of the styrofoam cup with a packet of oyster crackers. Spoons are for wusses.

Cedar Key, Florida

I was only disappointed that I had not gotten the larger size (and that they didn’t have oyster crackers, but hey, hazy memories). Tony’s believes in a thick, creamy chowder that could hold its own as a meal, with a balanced, well-seasoned clam flavor. While they’re famous for their chowder, their other offerings cannot be overlooked. Florida is a land of shrimp and oysters, with clams more prevalent further north. Cedar Key’s clam farms buck this trend.

Cedar Key, Florida

The fried shrimp sandwich may seem to be the most simple, pedestrian fare, but there is a wide gulf between greasy mediocrity drenched in tartar sauce and succulent, perfectly fried shrimp that steam when you bite into them and hold onto their breading. It starts with jumbo shrimp that hold their moisture as they are fried just long enough to be cooked, at a temperature high enough that oil does not seep into them. Breading enhances shrimp’s natural sweetness, a flavor note that comes only when they are fresh enough. The breading should be thin, a protective layer of seasoning between the oil and the meat, not a massive wall that envelops and overwhelms the shrimp. This sandwich passed all tests.

Cedar Key, Florida

The railroad that terminated at Cedar Key is long gone, destroyed by Union forces during the Civil War. The Florida Railroad once ran as the first cross-Florida line between Cedar Key and Fernandina Beach, another quaint island beach town on Florida’s other shore that I lived in for the 2012 cycle. The pelicans run the show now.

Cedar Key, Florida


Christie at the Bridge, a poem.

The outlook was quite brilliant for the Jersey Rs that day,
The polls stood two to one with barely six weeks left to play
But Chris Christie came to town and asked for an embrace,
A sickly silence fell upon the Fort Lee’s mayor’s face.

And now vindictive rage came hurtling through the air,
And Christie’s staff looked at their phones in haughty grandeur where
With fury in their fingers and vengenace in their eyes,
“Traffic problems in Fort Lee!” went out the hue and cry.

There was ease in Christie’s manner as the road closed lane by lane,
There was pride in Christie’s swagger as he deflected all the blame.
And when, responding to the cheers, he blustered to the press,
No stranger in the crowd doubted that he could clean this mess.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“He did it! Christie did it!” accused press from their stands;
But few would dare believe him, then Christie raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Christie’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; the rumors he bemoaned;
And yet the rumors swirled, and the feds came to take a look;
But Christie still ignored it, Chris Christie is no crook.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.
But there’s no joy in Trenton–mighty Christie has struck out.

Casey at the Bat


Amy Chua is the worst parent in the world.

There, I said it.

You might remember Amy Chua. You might remember her as the deranged “Tiger Mom” that thinks wearing down your children to withered husks of misery was the way to get them into Yale, that thinks that calling her daughters “garbage” will be good for them. She’s out with a new book, along with her husband, that builds on her troll theory of ethnic success, and argues some ethnic groups are more successful in America because they’re just culturally better.

Included among them are the Chinese, who have enough model-minority nonsense to put up with before Tiger Mom came along, and the Jews, who have suffered long enough under the assumption that there’s something different about their ethnicity that makes them more suited to certain things. It isn’t terribly surprising once you put some thought into it that two Yale Law professors seriously believe in something so dangerous as ethnic determinism.

I suppose that never letting your children think they are good at anything might get them into Yale if they stay out of therapy, but my Chinese parents didn’t beat the everloving daylights out of me, and I think I turned out fine. I didn’t go to Yale, but I think of myself as a fairly successful guy who has been called both a “cartography wizard” and a “dirty ignorant scumbag“. If you haven’t been called a dirty ignorant scumbag by anonymous PTA moms slinging mud over a School Board race, I think you aren’t successful enough yet.

Now, Chinese people are great (after all, one cannot underestimate a people that figured out how to steam a bun of soup), but it’s too simplistic to read Chua’s thesis as a form of racism. In fact, it’s more sinister than that. Chua, her husband, and many other members of the 1% genuinely believe they got to where they were because they were somehow inherently better people. To them, it wasn’t a society that opened its arms (sometimes reluctantly) to immigrants, gave them a social safety net so they could take risks without fear, and ensured at least a fighting chance at a stable, prosperous middle class. It’s that they’re ethnically better!

The worst part about this sordid saga is that both of them are tenured law professors at Yale. If anything exposes the dark, seedy underbelly of the elite views of their own superiority, it’s that the people teaching future white-shoe lawyers and M&A sharks genuinely believe that some ethnic groups are simply not cut out for life. No wonder our social safety net is under attack.

When Americans think of Chinese-Americans, the mythology of the striving child of a poor immigrant clawing their way to the top persists quite well. But part of the reason that Chinese-Americans have done so well is that their parents were so highly educated in the first place. Of the foreign-born population in the United States, 50% of East Asians and 65% of South Central Asians had a postgraduate degree, while only 18% of non-Asian immgrants had one.

The Statue of Liberty might welcome the tired and poor, yearning to breathe free, but when immigrants came over the Pacific they weren’t quite so tired and poor. Chua’s father is a highly regarded professor at UC Berkeley, the flagship school of a system that holds a mystical mythology in the Chinese-American community (in Imperial China, the world revolved around the Middle Kingdom, but in Chinese-America it orbits the Golden State).

Years of Chinese Exclusion and racist quotas that restricted immigration to European countries meant that the vast majority of Asian immigrants came to the United States long after the Ellis Island era. By the time most Asians were even allowed to emigrate, they needed a relative with a top-flight education or a work visa to come. The poorest citizens in China couldn’t ride a boat to the United States with no skills and no education if they didn’t have relatives to sponsor them.

Plenty of Asian-Americans, especially among groups like the Vietnamese, came as war refugees with little else, closer to the popular story of an Asian immigrant. Many of their children are just as successful as the children and relatives of Chinese-Americans who came to get their PhDs, but they aren’t as well off as the average. Many Asian groups have lower incomes than average because of the circumstances that brought them to the United States. But it isn’t magic, or child abuse, that got us to where we are today. When a disproportionately large percentage of our community came are descended from a generation that came to the US to study, it stands to reason that Chinese parents are more likely to be well-educated, and that their children will follow.

Children of the first generation of Chinese-American immigrants would do just as well as anyone else if all circumstances were equal, but they’re not. You don’t have to whack your kids to make them catch up.


MAP: A Republican in Arlington, Once Upon a Time

Veteran Rep. Frank Wolf (R) announced this morning that he was declining to seek re-election. First elected in 1980 after unseating a Democrat, his district, once based in Arlington and inner Fairfax Counties in Virginia and stretching out to then rural Loudoun County, his district marched steadily westward, fleeing the increasingly Democratic inner suburbs. A Republican representing Arlington in Congress–a completely unthinkable scenario now in a county that lacks a single Republican elected official on any level

Below is a quick map I prepared comparing his first 1980 district with his now second to last district in 2013. The purple area contains overlap, the red area parts of the district lost since the 80s, and the blue area gained since then, using this excellent trove of historical boundary data from UCLA.

VA10

 

Here is the same map, featuring the current district after the 2010 redistricting:

VA_10_2


On Labor Day

It’s Labor Day.

Remember who’s disemboweling our generation and exploiting our labor for record corporate profit. Without single payer health care, our lives and deaths are shackled to our jobs, making moving or starting your own business far riskier than it should be. Without proper taxation of heiresses and the wealthy, our schools and universities crumble without funding, even as employers demand that we fund our own education and training while dodging their taxes at every turn.

The past generations fought and died for child labor laws, weekends, overtime pay, and better work conditions. In their day, the company provided for the welfare and training of the worker. Our generation’s bargain is fundamentally different. The corporation was slowly replaced by the government as society’s safety net, but these days the government’s been replaced with nothing. Companies shouldn’t have to provide healthcare, education, and training–our taxes should. We rely on our jobs or these “benefits” but for our generation they shrink and dwindle.

Our generation’s workers are constantly precarious, shackled to student loan debt brought on by the total evisceration of our public universities. We are left scrambling for whatever unpaid internships and jobs that are left as middle-class jobs are hollowed out. Productivity soars as wages stagnate.

Union-busting wage-depressing job-outsourcing tax-avoiding American looters are squeezing all they can out of us while they get rich. Who’s holding up our end of the bargain? Are you going to do something about it once your barbecue’s done? Our generation’s labor challenge: to restore society’s promise of opportunity. That takes a redefining of government’s role to provide a strong foundation for our generation to launch businesses, change jobs, and start families without fear of death or poverty.


MAP: Saint Petersburg Mayoral Election

On Tuesday, voters in Saint Petersburg, Florida voted in the first round of this year’s mayoral election, advancing incumbent Mayor Bill Foster and Rick Kriseman to the runoff election in November.

Below is a dot density map where one dot equals one vote. This graphic is heavily inspired by the Los Angeles Times maps of Los Angeles elections.

tampa


Beijing Bump to Chinatown

I’m on vacation with my family. Today we were scheduled to fly from Baltimore to Newark to Beijing to begin our journey.


NYC Subway

Don’t let that photo fool you, we never made it to Beijing. That’s an ad on the New York City subway selling health insurance.

We heard a magical sentence at Newark “Liberty” International Airport that few fliers get to take advantage of:

“*kssh* We are in an overbooking situation. United Airlines is looking for four volunteers to go on tomorrow’s flight. You will receive an $800 travel voucher good for one year, and a hotel room.

Sweet baby Jesus, make it rain!

As if renaming Washington National Airport after the president that broke the air traffic controller’s union wasn’t enough, Newark dared to lay claim to the entire concept of individual agency and self-determination. In the not-so-distant future, patriotic Americans will fly out of Spokane Freedom International on their way to Roanoke Second Amendment Regional Airport or something equally absurd.

Anyway, most travelers would have averted the gaze of the prowling airline staff, desperately hoping some other sucker would march to the denied boarding abattoir instead of them. Luckily for them, there are folks like my family, who are loath to check bags and love funding future travel for the price of a night at a hotel room we didn’t have to pay for in New York, a city that we love.

The baggage handlers were so ecstatic at not having to fish out a bumped passenger’s checked bag of lead weights and cement blocks from the very rear of the cargo hold that for one brief, shining moment they didn’t look aggrieved at the never-ending presence of infernal luggage.

***


9/11 Memorial

These children, and many more like them at the 9/11 memorial, likely had no memory of the event at all. Children born today have the same distance from 9/11–12 years–than my birth did from the start of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. It is to them what the Iranian Hostage Crisis was for our generation, something that happened sometime between my parents meeting and possibly the sacking of Carthage. Either way, it was a long time ago.

We Millenials are now Old, where children will soon graduate from high school with no personal memories of 9/11, the formative event of our time.

9/11 Memorial

Beijing is for tomorrow. What better way to lead into a visit to Real China than a United Airlines-funded trip to America’s finest China theme park, New York City Chinatown? The land of egg tarts and barbecue pork, the great lodestar of hungry ethnically Chinese immigrants and their American-born, chopstick-wielding hair-dying grad-schooling offspring? (I have not dyed my hair.)

Last Remaining Xiaolongbao
Xiaolongbao are hard to photograph because there is a tendency to destroy them before even remembering to pull the camera out.