Big Beer Mondays at Mister Up’s

Taken the day after Independence Day. This is not Mister Up’s, but an old-school diner in the hills of New Jersey. I ordered a coke and a slice of cold apple pie. I think I was reading “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen — not entirely sure. The service was fantastic. The waitress reminded me of Rachel. 

On Monday nights, five dollars can get you 25 oz. of any Vermont brew at Mister Up’s, a local restaurant and pub in Middlebury. There are about a dozen local beer selections, from dark and creamy pours like Otter Creek’s Oatmeal Stout to Burlington’s Queen City Hefenweizer, a light, citrusy ale that tickles the lips.

Ordering one “big beer” is a given. Ordering two isn’t unheard of. Ordering three… well, good luck.

By 9:30 P.M., the booths are packed in both dining rooms, with locals and college students alike. This is nothing like the Thursday bar night at Two Brother’s Tavern, where sweaty collared shirts and silky tops dominate the downstairs lounge.

At Mister Up’s, there’s no loud music, no dancing, no strobe lights. No one appears hammered. People often keep their scarves on – the cozy charm of questionable heating. Sometimes, there are board games. Often, it’s just cards.

The bar stools are taken, minus the occasional lone seat between parties of two and three. Rachel, the bartender, frantically fills oversized mugs with beer, sometimes clamping down on two taps at a time, serving up one after another. I marvel at her speed, her coordination. She hands me a “big beer.” I clutch it with two hands; it’s always heavier than it looks. I glance at her forearms in awe.

Rachel is the gem of the joint. Though tucked away on Bakery Lane, there’s no baker in sight. And besides the occasional burger or taco assembly, the chef doesn’t seem to do much besides stick frozen food in the oven. Sometimes, the fryer. Don’t be fooled by the exotic adjectives on the menu, like “Cajun” in front of the word “salad” or “sandwich”; it’s all standard American fare. You might as well have brought your own seasoning to sprinkle on yourself. It’d be less salty. You might actually taste the spice.

Hungry students usually order “fingers and toes”, a benign plate of chicken fingers and fries. It’s a college favorite, only because the rest of the menu is a crapshoot. Even 0rdering nachos can be risky. Will all the cheese be melted? Will half the chips be burnt?

The cookie skillet “a la mode” is admittedly delicious, but it’s a dish that’s hard to screw up. Think vanilla ice cream melting into the warm, molten nooks of a chocolate chip cookie, sizzling with crisp buttery edges that hide a soft, doughy inside. For sober pals and underage buddies, this dessert is a nice alternative to the classic “big beer.” It’s also reasonably priced at $6 per skillet that’s big enough to share.

And if you order a beer, make sure to tip Rachel.


Film Review: “Everything Is Copy”

From Creative Commons/Flickr

Nora Ephron. For most college students, the name rings like a faint hourly bell, dull and distant, just frequent enough to take notice. The screenwriter behind “When Harry Met Sally”? The author of Heartburn? Yes, and yes. The feared and revered literary icon, the unabashedly honest feminist, the self-proclaimed “relationship expert”? I had no idea.

The documentary opens with Nora Ephron reading an essay on an important family mantra, one recited by generations of Ephron women. A running ribbon throughout her wildly public life and puzzlingly private death, it’s also the title of this film: “Everything Is Copy.”

Using Nora’s life as “copy” for the script, Director Noah Bernstein take a page from her family book. It’s fitting. He’s her son.

We hear Bernstein’s voice in the narration; we see him on the screen. A journalist by training, he initially admits his discomfort with putting himself in the story.

Maybe he shouldn’t have admitted it so early on, right after the opening credits, because the early interview scenes, him sitting across the couch from Delia Ephron, appear forced and awkward. It’s as if his admitted uneasiness of putting himself in the film is contagious. Every time I heard him ask a question, I squirmed. Every time he appeared on screen, I cringed. When the camera finally cut from the couch to Delia’s face, I sighed in relief.

But maybe that was the point. This film isn’t just about Nora Ephron as the writer, sister, friend and wife, but about a son coming to terms with his mother’s sudden death. Ephron suffered from a blood disorder that she kept secret from him (and most of the world) for many years, before succumbing to leukemia in 2008.

This 90-minute reel unspools like a scrapbook of Nora’s life: her sisters and close friends provide voice-overs for old photographs, modern female icons like Lena Dunham read funny, biting snippets from her early essays, an interview with ex-husband, THE Carl Bernstein, reveals his take on their marriage as tabloid shots of their tumultuous divorce flicker on screen.

The film embeds short television clips from Nora’s interviews throughout the years. Though the older segments are sometimes grainy, the zing of her witty one-liners and abrasive, yet hilarious views remain fresh.

Like many 20-something women, I saw and loved “When Harry Met Sally.” Unlike most romantic comedies, the heroine is ambitious and confident, flawed but effortlessly funny.

After watching “Everything Is Copy,” it all makes sense. She wrote incredible screenplays because she was an incredible woman. This tribute to Nora Ephron is not just for writers and it’s not just for feminists. As a young millennial trying to make my own mark, I take strong note of Ephron’s character and drive.

Let’s Ban Poor People From [Everything]

From Creative Commons/Flickr. This piece is on soda purchases with food stamps. And what else is soda but fizzy sugar water? Not saying I don’t drink it, just how else would you describe it?

Should we ban poor people from buying soda? A recent article in the New York Times reported that families who receive food stamps buy more sugary drinks than families who don’t, according to a 2016 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Though the U.S.D.A. repeated that the results don’t reveal a dramatic difference between the shopping carts of Americans, rich or poor, some public health experts remain skeptical. They want to ban food stamps from being used to buy soda.

However, there are limits in the U.S.D.A. study and its 2011 data collection. It failed to consider geographical differences between American spending and eating habits. It also assumed low-income families in urban neighborhoods spent most of their food stamps in grocery stores, rather than the corner store or bodega down the street.

Even if it’s true that poor people drink more sugary drinks, this habit won’t be broken with a ban on buying soda using Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or federal food stamps. If anything, the proposed policy, and all the lobbying against it, is a distraction from the real problem: our government’s cozy relationship with agribusiness.

First, the study published by the Department of Agriculture was limited in scope. The data came from a single anonymous grocery chain in the United States. Since grocery chains are regional, were they Safeways in California or Winn Dixies in the South? What about Hannafords in New England?

The Washington Post reported that the public health of Americans, and their daily eating, drinking and smoking habits, varies from region to region. For example, New Englanders are healthier overall, but more likely to smoke and drink than Southerners. Relying on data from one regional grocery chain, it might be a leap to make assumptions on what all SNAP families scan at the register.

Convenience stores, local bodegas and bulk warehouses were not included in the analysis. Low-income families are more likely to live in food deserts where there is no nearby grocery store. The local shops not included in this analysis might be more expensive, but it would likely be more convenient.

On the other hand, bulk stores sell cheaper groceries in bigger packages. It’s possible that low-income households spent more of their food stamps, here.

Regardless, let’s say more studies are done and new evidence comes out that SNAP households are spending more on sugary beverages than non-SNAP families. The government is subsidizing soda purchases.

It’s clear our government has a direct stake in public health, from providing health insurance through the Affordable Care Act to footing the bill for emergency care. It’s how politicians justify a “sin” tax on alcohol and smoking bans in restaurants. It’s why some states refuse to legalize marijuana and why others allow for its medical use.

Offering free healthcare while subsidizing harmful habits doesn’t make sense. Private companies that churn out snack cakes and soft drinks essentially cash checks from Uncle Sam. Meanwhile, American taxpayers bear the lifetime cost of chronic disease, like Type II diabetes.

There’s no doubt some good intentions behind preventing food stamps from paying for junk food. It’s an attempt to break the chain between poverty and poor health. It’s just misdirected.

In the debate over soda and food stamps, an estimated $357 million or the yearly amount spent on soda by SNAP recipients, is at stake. Yet, there’s a bigger subsidy, one nearly ten-fold in size, that no one on Capitol Hill wants to wrestle with.

The number one ingredient in soda is high fructose corn syrup, a clear, gooey sweetener derived from field corn. In 2014, our government spent $2.3 billion subsidizing corn. Why are politicians so hell-bent on regulating individual habits, yet blind to regulating the corporate subsidies that encourage unhealthy consumption?

Soda is engineered to be addictive; one sip releases a slew of feel-good chemicals that prevent satiety and triggers cravings. Regular soda drinkers are likely swayed by these effects when paused in the aisle lined with liters of Coca-Cola. Limiting food stamp purchases would crack down on addicted citizens, but leave the “drug lords” untouched.

For food companies that profit from America’s sugar addiction, a SNAP ban on soda wouldn’t put a dent in the billions of dollars in corn subsidies they receive each year. Lobbyists bat around ethics with the public, inciting rallies over the soda ban on the table. For lobby groups, it must feel like a light-hearted scrimmage. Their biggest subsidy isn’t on the mound, but hidden safely in the bullpen.

DeVos Doesn’t Know My Public School

My parents at my high school graduation. They’ve never looked prouder, I think.

Poised to upend the status quo, our next education secretary is likely Betsy DeVos. She’s pumped millions of her own fortune to support voucher programs, funding private tuition with taxpayer dollars. Charmed by charter schools, DeVos is eager to fork it over when prep schools come knocking, but she slams the door when the outstretched hand belongs to a public school. 

As someone grateful for my free K-12 education, this woman scares me most among all of Trump’s nominees. I’m a proud graduate of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, a highly-ranked but overcrowded public high school in suburban New Jersey. Many of my classmates were Asian immigrants like myself.

Prestigious private schools, including The Lawrenceville School, Princeton Day School and Peddie, were a 15-minute drive from our home. But like many immigrants, my parents couldn’t afford the six-figure price tag to send two kids there every year. Nor could they navigate the competitive admissions process with their broken English and full-time jobs.

If my family had been offered a voucher under DeVos’ grand scheme, we likely would have taken it. My classes would have been smaller. I would have gotten more one-on-one attention from my teachers. The counselor might not have asked me to outline my own college recommendation. There would have been soap in the bathroom dispensers. Maybe even full-size lockers.

But I might not have learned to focus in crowded classrooms, unafraid to shout a wrong answer with confidence. I wouldn’t have signed a petition to fix public health guidelines, after learning the defrosted pizza on my Styrofoam tray counted as a vegetable serving (because under a thick layer of cheese lay two tablespoons of tomato sauce). I wouldn’t have been able to walk myself home from school on days both my parents worked.

I remember my local school district struggled to maintain its diverse reputation. As Asian students became the overwhelming majority, a dozen or so of my classmates transferred to prep school. All but one were white.

DeVos’ policies to cut education funding would only expedite this wealthy, white flight from public schools, not just in my town but in districts across the country. The result: a segregated education system that voucher programs aren’t likely to fix.

In San Francisco, whites make up 29 percent of the school-age population but just 12 percent of students in the city’s public schools. In the South, a 2016 report by the Southern Education Foundation found that private schools are re-segregating classrooms into rich and white or poor and black. Furthermore, it reported that vouchers have done little to diversify them.

Voucher programs can also hinder student progress. Recent studies on the programs in Louisiana and Indiana found that reading and math scores declined after voucher recipients transferred to private schools. Yet, there was an unexplained advantage among these private school transfers. When it came to a college degree, they were more likely to attend and finish a four-year school compared to their public school peers.   

Even here at Middlebury, a college with need-blind admissions and a generous financial aid budget, prep school diplomas are the norm, rather than the exception, like it is in the rest of this country. The College’s website estimates 48 percent of students graduated from private school.

Though the split is near fifty-fifty, it’s nowhere close to the national statistic. The National Center for Education Studies reported just 10 percent of school-age children went to private school in 2014. That means Middlebury recruited nearly half its incoming class from a one-tenth sliver of all American students. Furthermore, the median family income among students is $244,000 and nearly a quarter belong to the wealthiest one percent of all American households, the New York Times reported.  

Playing the numbers game, I’m lucky to be here. But what will be the odds of my peers – the three million other 18-year-olds who graduate each year without the privilege of private schooling – to attend an elite college like ours after DeVos cuts funding for public schools? After she implements voucher programs in their place?

The rise of populism in this year’s election revealed discontent among hopeful college graduates and hardened blue-collar workers alike. Yet, a quality and free education gives every American a shot at the “American Dream,” no matter their party, race, income or immigrant status. In conservative speak, education spending is the rising tide that lifts all boats. If Trump’s administration champions merit, hard work and grit among our country’s founding values, our education secretary must invest in public schools, not defund them.

Healthcare and House Parties?

Read a ridiculous op-ed from a student-run conservative magazine, “The Princeton Tory” comparing health care to house parties.

The gist: A single eating club can’t fit the entire student body into their house, nor provide the alcohol to get everyone drunk. Similarly, a single-payer system is something our government can’t afford (though military spending neared $600 billion in 2016, four times the next biggest spender, China).

Seriously? There is something very wrong with this analogy.

  1. Healthcare is a necessity for all Americans. On the other hand, social climbing and underage drinking — these are hobbies of privileged college students.
  2. There’s a return on providing regular check-ups to the uninsured. Preventative medicine could save taxpayers a lot of money in the long-run. What’s the return for club members who let in every underclassmen to trash their house? Exactly.
  3. Students who aren’t invited to these exclusive parties can find nightlife elsewhere, even the dreaded public “Quad” as described by the author. For people who can’t afford health insurance, options are limited and bleak: emergency room, death.


Yosemite Earthquake Aftershock or the Garbage Truck?

On Wednesday morning, three earthquakes in the mid-5’s magnitude range shook Yosemite Valley. Scientists predict aftershock tremors of magnitude 3 in the Bay Area over the next couple weeks, KQED News reported.

The difference between these magnitudes at face-value is relatively small, only 2.5 or so. A 2.5 magnitude earthquake is just about the smallest tremor humans can notice. But as a measure of size, force and potential damage, a 2.5 magnitude difference is huge.

According to the USGS magnitude calculator, recent tremors in Yosemite Valley will be 500 times bigger than any aftershocks felt in the Bay Area. The energy released from the Yosemite earthquakes will be 11,000 times greater. In terms of damage, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake shook Tokyo’s skyscrapers in 2013. Meanwhile, the USGS describes an earthquake of magnitude 3 like “the vibrations of a passing truck” – it could maybe knock a collector’s plate off the edge of a shelf.

How can just 2.5 units of magnitude determine whether a building will wobble or just a plate will break? It’s in the formula.

Most scales we’re familiar with change at the same rate, by the same unit of measurement. For a literal example, a dog that weighs 40 pounds is twice as heavy as one that weighs 20. And a dog that weighs 80 pounds is twice as heavy as the 40-lb pooch. The scale is linear.

But the scale we used to measure earthquakes isn’t so straightforward. Just like its retired predecessor, the Richter scale, moment magnitudes are logarithmic. Every one unit increase means the force is 32 times more powerful…