Is any mother really superior?

In the last week or so, the tech blogs have been filled with responses to Amy Chua’s article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”.  Strange place to find this article and responses to it, no? I thought so. Maybe techies have a special affinity for their moms :).  Anyway, I found the whole argument and counter argument quite interesting.  I’ve collected all the articles I’ve read on the topic so far and I’m posting links to them here. be warned though, the WSJ links will probably expire soon. – The original WSJ article – A rebuttal on TechCrunch – Vivek Wadhwa in BusinessWeek (not a direct rebuttal, but along the lines..) – A defence of Western moms in the WSJ – Probably my favourite riposte

My own thoughts on the topic? Every mother does her honest best for her children. What the child achieves at end of the day is a combination of luck and hard work (or nature and nurture). If a combination of the right incentives are present, it doesn’t really matter if the mother of a child is Chinese, American, Indian, or British. The child will be successful, regardless.

Pub #8: The Gun, Canary Wharf, 10 Jan, 2011

The Gun in Canary Wharf is hard to find.  A 15 minute walk from the tube station, this gastropub can easily be mistaken for a low-key local.  But when you step in, you’re greeted by a very nicely decorated, restored interior and a dining room with white linen tablecloths that adds the “gastro” to the pub.

There wasn’t much in the way of a selection of ales – London Pride and Adnams Bitter.  A range of imported lagers and expensive looking wines complemented the selection.

The lunch menu is extensive, but as usual there was only 1 vegetarian option for starters and the main course.  The starter, a goat cheese, potato, olive and pine nut bake, was excellent.  It matched the Adnams Bitter (£3.30) very nicely.  The hand cut fries were also excellent, but the main dish, a mushroom and chestnut wellington, was good but not £12.75 good.

According to the interwebs, The Gun has some interesting history to it:  It was originally a favourite of Lord Horatio Nelson who would meet his lover in an upstairs room and popular with smugglers who would distribute illegal imports via a hidden tunnel.  As a tribute (I suppose) the door to the men’s room has the word “Horatio” painted on it.

Overall, a very interesting experience for a first visit to a gastropub, but not a place I want to revisit.


Pub #7: The Island Queen, Islington, 5 Jan, 2011

So after a 3 weeks break over Christmas, my first 100-pub visit in 2011 was the Island Queen is Islington.  That is not to say I didn’t consumerany adult-beverages or visit any boozer establishments over the holidays.  But The Island Queen was the first blog-worthy pub.

I wasn’t intending it to be a pub visit night, or a pub visit week for that matter.  But when Prem called and said we should grab a beer, and said he knew a place I would love, I couldn’t say no.

Like many of the best historic pubs in London, The Island Queen seems to be recently restored and it has a certain period boozer charm.  A few chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows up front, and plenty of dark wood gives this place plenty of personality.

I had two pints, the first a decent dark porter called Black Horse Porter from the White Horse brewery.  The taste of this porter is superb, rich roasted malts give real depth and body to the beer whilst there is a nice hint of dark fruits which add a little tartness without making the beer in anyway fruity or overly sweet. There is a long dry finish and a really surprising kick of hops which really makes this porter sin.  The other was Czech beer called Kozel, a fine lager that will go well with masala peanuts (now only if I can find a place that server both).  The two pints ran me about £6, and the walk to The Island Queen was a little wet.  A perfect way to begin the new year for a beer drinker in London!

Pub #6: Princess Louise, Holborn, Dec 17, 2010

Princess Louise on High Holborn has to be the most unique pub I’ve ever come across.  The layout has to be seen to be fully comprehended.  The front of the pub has 4 doors that lead to 6 or 7 different bar areas, which are actually “booths” surrounded by intricate etched glass and painted tiles.  In the middle is a long, island bar that is surrounded by another bar that separates customers from bar-tenders.  I’m guessing the separation probably has something to do with social barriers in Victorian London.

The only beer available here is Sam Smith, which many reviews on the web call mediocre, but I call it snooty reviewers dissing inexpensive beer.  The £1.99 Old Brewery Bitter is decent, and the £2.41 Sam Smith Stout is fantastic.  A light aroma of roasted malts and just a hint of chocolate blended in makes this a supremely drinkable beer.

I got here around 5pm on a Friday evening, perhaps the worst time to visit this pub, since it’s located on the busy High Holborn.  The pub was pretty full when I got there and only got fuller by 6:30.  If I revisit this pub, it will have to be on an slow afternoon where I can enjoy a few quiet hours tasting beers and enjoying conversations.

Pub #5: The Famous Cock Tavern, Islington, Dec 15, 2010

I figured I should spend a little more time visiting pubs in the local area.  Also, I’m lazy and don’t want to spend £4-5 to travel to a pub in other parts of London.  So these excuses, and the fact that I was walking by it on the way home, compelled me to stop at The Famous Cock.   The pub is on the corner of Holloway Road and Upper St, right by the Highbury & Islington Underground station.   I’ve walked by it several times and always peered in cautiously.  A sign about a beer garden in the back seemed inviting, but it is very obviously a home for football (Arsenal) fans, as the pub is always advertising upcoming games.

It was a rare sunny Wednesday afternoon in London and I was walking back home from Angel and I stopped in at a whim.  The pub was calm, because of the lack of a football game that day and the fact that it was about 330pm in the middle of the week.   Some easy, adult contemporary rock music was playing from the jukebox and the few flat-screen TVs were tuned to Sky Sports.  There was just a single bar man attending to about a dozen people bar tabs, serving food, clearing up, and generally looking over worked!

There selection of beers included a pretty generic British ales and the imports.  I got a pint of Young’s bitter for £3.45, so the places isn’t cheap.   But it is fine local establishment to visit, when nothing exciting is going on.

Pub #4: North Pole, Canary Wharf, Dec 9, 2010

The North Pole took a little extra effort to locate.  But that’s what makes this local Docklands pub special.  It is barely a 10 minute walk from the busy Canary Wharf tube station (and ever closer to the DLR), but unless one knows a pub is located there, one isn’t going to find it.

It is tucked away in a corner and the narrow door blends in with the rest of the of the exterior decor, especially when the sun’s gone down.  The proprietor was very friendly and broke off a conversation he was having as soon as Reva and I entered to greet us a smile and ask what we’d like.  Oh, this is also the first of the 100 pubs that I visited with Reva.

The inside of the pub is nothing special, with a simple (and some would consider tacky) country themed decor that would seem well suited for any English country-side pub.  A log-fire was crackling in one corner of the room, giving the inside a very warm and homely atmosphere.  We went to the pub around 7:00 PM on a Thursday evening, and there was a good mix of locals and a few suits from the nearby banks/law firms.

I didn’t notice a food menu, but that doesn’t detract from the overall likability of the place.  In fact, if they did have a menu, I’d probably avoid trying anything.  The beer selection wasn’t anything special either, with the usual selection of European imports and a few English ales.  I had the Landlord, one of my usual favourites, for £3.25.  Overall, a very nice local pub and one to keep keep in mind if one is trying to avoid the usual chain pubs and their crowds in the wharf.


Hollywood’s take on stuttering: B-b-b-balderdash

Full credits to the author, but I enjoyed it so much that I had to reproduce it here:

Ian Brown
From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Dec. 06, 2010 12:15PM EST

Ducks speak in Hollywood movies. So it’s forgivable that The King’s Speech, which arrived smooth, sleek and fully formed on movie screens in Canada recently, is scientific balderdash.

The movie accurately tells the story of George VI (Colin Firth), born Albert Frederick Arthur George, alias the Duke of York, the stammering second son of Great Britain’s King George V.

Bertie, as he was popularly known, unexpectedly became George VI when his brother, Edward, abdicated for the bossy charms of Wallis Simpson. That left babbling Bertie to lead Britain to battle with Hitler, which he managed with the help of an Australian speech therapist and commoner named Lionel Logue, who became one of the King’s closest and most unlikely friends.

As director Tom Hooper tells the story, Bertie stuttered because he had a terrifying father who had a terrifying father of his own who was in turn terrorized by his mother. Worse, left-handed Bertie was forced to switch to his right and he was strapped into leg braces to correct his knock knees.

The film implies that these external coercions – and those of being born into a life of duty – knotted his tongue. Which is romantic but false. Scientists now know that stuttering is a neurological condition, possibly genetic, and quite likely the result of lesions in the brain.

“The brain works differently in people who stutter,” Luc De Nil, who heads the University of Toronto’s Department of Speech Pathology, told me this week. “And there’s no question that there’s a strong genetic component.”

A stutterer’s brain goes into overdrive at the mere sight of a thing to be named. This electrical outburst interferes with the way the basal ganglia, which control the smoothness and timing of the movements of the mouth, interact with the cortex, the boss of sequencing.

It’s a common affliction, not just one of repressed bluebloods. One in 20 people stutter, and a fifth of them don’t grow out of it. But 80 per cent can learn to tame the affliction with behavioural speech-control techniques (some of the same ones Lionel Logue used on his famous patient).

“Of course, there’s a strong psychological aspect to it as well,” Dr. De Nil adds, “as people who stutter” – PWSes, as they call themselves – “learn to deal with these dysfluencies, which is when all the tics and secondary behaviours, the muscle tensing and the eye blinks, show up.”

There is newsreel footage of the “cured” George VI addressing a crowd in Scotland in 1938: His discomfort is still agonizingly palpable.

The best help you can offer a stutterer is eye contact and patience. Movies have done that scene too, as when John Cleese hilariously extracts the name of the Cathcart Towers Hotel from stammering Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda. Consonants are hardest (“It’s K-K-Ken, c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill me”); nine-10ths of stutters occur at the muscle-tensing starts of words.

Jaan Pill, co-founder of the Canadian Stuttering Association, began stuttering at 6. He was finally treated, in an intensive, three-week program, at 41. “I relearned how to speak,” he says today, at 64. “Or I could say I learned fluency as a second language.” The discovery that his stuttering was neurological, not the result of deep psychological conflict, was a liberation.

Unscientific or not, The King’s Speech works because speechlessness is an ancient and useful metaphor. “There’s a hierarchy of disabilities,” a professor of disability studies said to me the other day. “The blind are on top, of course,” because they can display all their rational faculties. Stuttering has nothing to do with intelligence, but its sufferers are further down that status ladder.

There have been as many hare-brained theories on causes – e.g., too much tickling – as wacko solutions (hit the stutterer full in the face on a cloudy day). But stammering itself is universal, an acting-out of the central human struggle between who we hope to be and what we actually are.

Before the treatment, Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel Logue asks the soon-to-be-king if he really wants to be cured, if he can handle the responsibility and power of a voice. Bertie finds his, only to use it, reluctantly, to lead his people into one of history’s deadliest wars. He must have wondered if the words were worth speaking.

Pub #3: Cittie of Yorke, Holborn, Nov 27, 2010

Having read about the Cittie of Yorke in several places, including on Tasty Fever, I decided I must visit it.  As pubs go, it has one the best interiors I have seen.  The back bar has high sloped ceilings with wooden rafters, stained glass windows, a long wooden bar, huge beer barrels balanced above it, bulbous lights hanging from the ceiling and cozy looking booths skirted by wood arches. All this makes the pub exactly what I image an 1800’s London drinking houses looking like (save the electric lights, of course).  Awkwardly though, there was a Deal-or-No-Deal video game machine in one corner that looks very out of place amongst the magnificent interior.

From the outside, you would be forgiving for not thinking it is a pub worth visiting.  A long corridor as you enter makes you wonder what you’re in for.  The only brew served is Sam Smith, and I found their stout very enjoyable.  The pricing of pints are strange though – the Extra Stout was £2.41 and the Mountain Larger £2.87.  I will have to find other Sam Smith breweries soon to try the others.  I didn’t visit the front bar or the cellar kitchen, which is another excuse for me to go back.

I stopped in around 3:00 PM on a Friday afternoon and the place was very quiet, with just one large group of what seemed like students, at the back.  By 5:00 PM though, it was packed with the office crowd, which is to be expected.

According to the interwebs, a public house of some form has stood at this site since 1430. This history makes visiting London’s drinking houses all the more enjoyable.  At a place like this, a little imagination is all it takes to conjure up a roaring fireplace inside, horses tied up outside while their masters bartered stories while drinking ale from a big, wooden mug.

Failed American Journalism

This story about President Obama’s trip to India costing U.S. taxpayers $100 million a day was most likely a bogus rumour attributable to an unnamed Indian official, but picked up and circulated by the political right.  Its taken time, but Friedman shows he does have some good writing/reporting left in him: (New York Times).

Says Friedman, “When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together. But the carnival barkers that so dominate our public debate today are not going away — and neither is the Internet.”

But kudos for the original fact checking goes to CNN’s Anderson Cooper who felt compelled to check the facts after right-wing nut job Michele Bachmann used Obama’s trip as an example of where the U.S. could cut its deficit.

Pub #2: The Blackfriar, Blackfriars Bridge, Nov 10, 2010

The second stop on my quest to visit a 100 London pubs and write about them was The Blackfriar.  This historic pub (over a 100 years old) stands on the site of a former Dominican Friary.  One end of the building is has a triangular edge, which makes it impossible to miss.

The pub was recommended by Ben, who promised me I’d love the place.  I wasn’t disappointed.  We met there at 8:00 PM on a Wednesday night and there weren’t too many other patrons, which was nice.  The interior is beautiful, with intricately carved wood and marble depicting friars and much more.

Ben and I tried the 4 ales that were available on tap and I particularly enjoyed the Lord Marple.  The other three were London Pride, Landlord, and Hookey Gold.  Since we were there at dinner time, I also tried a “famous British pie”.  The only vegetarian option was the Lentil and Cashew nut tart, which was also really good.

Unfortunately I only had my Nexus One with me so the pictures I have aren’t great.  Next time, I will have to remember to carry the dSLR.