Monday, April 08, 2019

Russians. Bagels. Liberty.

Just to see how fast you can switch gears.

It is always nice to have one's rank prejudices completely confirmed.  When walking about in New York I heard many foreign languages. German, Spanish, and French were easy to recognise, though I suppose a Portuguese speaker might have snuck by who I identified as Spanish.  Chines versus Japanese I could tell, not from language but from behavior. But there were Slavic speakers everywhere and I cannot tell them apart.  I can sometime eliminate - Those aren't Bosnians, anyway.  I don' think they are quite so southern as Bulgarians. Yet I did gradually settle upon one group as richer, louder, more shopping bags, more arrogant. I decided those were Russians.  I ran this by a Belorussian doctor friend of mine this morning.  He laughed and said I was probably right, but were they wearing - he could not find the word at first...leo-pards...animals..."Furs?" I asked.  Yes, rich Russians wear furs!  As a matter of fact, they were!  He assured me they were in all probability Russians. Vindicated.

I liked the method of preparation of my marginally best bagel and cream cheese - oven toasted with the cheese already in, versus toaster and added later.  In looking up the time and temperature for toasting a bagel in the oven*, I ecountered many pages of bagel-snob sites. It gets tiring, really. CS Lewis wrote decades ago about a person who claimed to like music but upon discussion revealed they only liked a single type of music, and only that performed by specific artists.  We might extend that to a person who says they love books, but turn out to only like mysteries, British, before 1960. Ot to enjoy wine, yet if you get them talking, only the Cabernet Sauvignons and a few related reds, only French, and particular years. He says he loves women yet criticises the appearance of 95% of them. I think it's the same for bagel-lovers. There is just so much wrong with all those other bagels outsied New York, both in foundation and in presentation.  I'd like to see how much of that stood up to independent taste test. Remembering my uncle's amusement that Denny's won the clam chowder taste test two years running in San Francisco, and the yearly revelation that wine critics cannot remotely agree on cheap versus Dom in blind tests - and sometimes cannot tell white from red - I am suspicious how much of this is real.

As a comparison, New Englanders can absolutely tell real maple syrup from "pancake syrup," or whatever they call it.  If someone tells you they can discern New Hampshire from Vermont from Quebec they are lying, but we can all tell the real from the cheap commercial.

When Americans get involved in foreign wars and they aren't going well, we shake our heads and say that the people of these countries have to pay the cost of liberty themselves, and if they won't then maybe there's not much we can do to help them. After all we paid that price, which is how we got this country of our own and everything. It occurred to me while listening to a Patrick Wyman podcast that we actually paid a comparatively small price.  England was far away, and preventing us from pulling away would take a lot of resources.  Also, the French were helping us, for reasons of their own. We got lucky in that last Cornwallis campaign, as more than one American general - including the friggin'-awesome Fighting Quaker Nathanael Green figured out that "losing" battles in the traditional sense while stretching out your enemy's supply lines and inflicting continual casualties would win the war.  Plus , we had the Scots-Irish, who were sick of war and wanted nothing more than to be left alone untile they learned "Wait, you're fighting the English? Let me grab my second gun and kiss the wife goodbye." And they had barely gotten here.

We paid our huge cost later, in the Civil War, between the two competing American values of "We can do what we want, dammit" versus "All men are free." But that's another story.  I suppose one could consider that a continuation of the American Revolution Question, as WWII is an extension of WWI, but that seems a matter for historians. Still, we did not pay the existential cost we are asking Kurds Or Pashtuns or Venezuelans to pay now to get their freedom.  I don't like to say it, but we had it sort of easy.  It is true that the British had the best army and best navy in the world at the time, and had they decided to invest those resources into keeping us we would have paid a higher cost.  Because that was a possibility we should credit our forefathers with the courage of willingness to pay, though they ended up not having to.

I think the myth of our own cost might inform too much of our foreign policy since 1900.  We have thought that true believers in freedom would pay any cost, because we did.  Except we didn't.We timed our revolution well, likely by a collective intuition that the best interests of the British - who were not a different people from us but our nearest equivalents - could convince them to be persuaded by steadfastness, good trade, and a few solid traditional victories mixed in with the guerrilla warfare, would be satisfied by cutting their losses and making nearly as much money from us in partnership as in colonial domination.

*350, 10 minutes, moistened, thin slab instead of whipped spread


Boxty said...

I'm shaky on my history, but didn't the British fight a costly war with the French and Indians over territory in the new world that the British then demanded the colonials pay for in taxes? Wasn't that one of the major reasons for declaring independence?

Maybe they figured that paying for two wars wasn't worth the trouble?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Well, yeah. Which the Turks and Iraqis are never going to figure out in favor of leaving the Kurds alone. Exactly.

james said...

On the other hand, it pays to ask what we are trying to accomplish. To give them freedom? Um. While that is certainly a good thing, are they on the same page? War has a lot of unhappy side effects, and maybe they value not getting shot at more highly than elections.

For that matter, I even in our own country it isn't hard to find lots of people who don't value liberty very highly--except perhaps in sexual matters. My "certainly a good thing" would find lots of mainstream objection.

Grim said...

Greene turned the course of the war in the South, where it mostly had been being lost until he got here. You're right about the Scots-Irish, though: they whipped Cornwallis at King's Mountain before Greene arrived.

I've walked the battlefield at Cowpens, where Greene's deputy Morgan set up an ambush that destroyed an excellent unit of British cavalry. He took some hardened forces from up North, who had been bloodied in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and set them up as a third rank behind two ranks of local militia who were no match for the cavalry. The cavalry thought they were routing the American forces as they broke through the first two ranks, and thereby overextended themselves. When they hit the third rank, stretched out and weak, they died under disciplined fire.

Greene tried to replicate that strategy, but it didn't work as well for him at Guilford Court House. Maybe it was partly because they'd seen it before; maybe it was because Cornwallis proved willing to fire artillery on his own troops in order to kill Americans.

Still, overall, Greene figured out how to control the back-country and force the Brits to the sea. They only owned Savannah and Charleston when they surrendered, and a salient between them. There's a monument to Greene in Savannah, as there ought to be.

Grim said...

I guess a patriotic Briton might say that Cornwallis wasn't actually at the battle of King's Mountain; the battle was commanded by one of his deputies, controlling his flank. But it whipped him all the same, I would say, since he was forced out of North Carolina.

RichardJohnson said...

As a comparison, New Englanders can absolutely tell real maple syrup from "pancake syrup," or whatever they call it. If someone tells you they can discern New Hampshire from Vermont from Quebec they are lying, but we can all tell the real from the cheap commercial.

As a New England native no longer residing there, I would agree. My flyover father made maple extract syrup for our pancakes, so I am quite familiar with the taste difference. The real thing beats maple extract syrup, hands down. Family friends run a maple sugar op, which is now very high-tech. Filters do most of the water reduction that boiling once did. IIRC, it saves about 75% of the fuel once used. When I last visited them, I purchased a quart of maple syrup. After I realized that Homeland Security might have problems with my transporting a quart of maple syrup, I gave it to my brother in Maine.

New York bagels versus bagels made outside the boroughs: I am neutral. I once made bagels from scratch. While they were tasty, I concluded they weren't worth the effort.

One food advantage that New York- and also Boston- have is the presence of Chinese bakeries. Whenever I am in either Boston or New York, I purchase pork buns,coconut rolls, and such items at Chinese bakeries.

I learned some lessons about nationalism and stereotypes in Latin America. If you want an easy way to offend the Dutch, just ask them if they are German. Which reminds me of a problem my mother once had with overzealous Dutch customs officials. "They're more German than the Germans," she concluded. Disclaimer: I have both German and Dutch ancestry.

Jonathan said...

I think ethnicity matters. Bagels were originally an Eastern European thing. The last good bagels I remember came from a bakery staffed by Russian immigrants in Chicago in the '90s. OTOH the place was dirty and I stopped going there. Now you have corporate bagels made by whomever and they usually get something wrong. Typically they use flour with insufficient gluten or omit the dunk in boiling water or some other traditional production step. It doesn't help that bakery staff around here tend to be from Central American or Caribbean countries that don't have strong bread traditions. Ah, well.