Archive for the ‘and Everything’ Category

Chocoholics Rejoice!

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Today’s WAPO Health Section has a “quick study” entitled “Chocoholics may have edge in heart health.” The review is HERE and here:

The review is based on a systematic review and meta-analysis performed by scientists at Cambridge (England) and in Colombia. The study is reported at, and you can download a .pdf copy there.

The review and study conclude that chocolate consumption is good for the cardiovascular system and keeps down stroke. Chocolate seems to have no effect on the occurrence of heart failure, however.

THIS IS GOOD NEWS (for those of us with a chocolate problem). A few of those little dark chocolate Dove squares out of the freezer every day may be just the thing…

I was also struck by the study, since it would seem that chocolate is good for the circulatory system (cardiovascular system and stroke) but not for the heart itself. Hmmm…

My father’s medical research dealt with microcirculatory physiology and pathology, and he identified a pathological condition he called “blood sludge,” or agglutination, not to be confused with clotting. He and blood sludge were the subjects of a 10 page article in Life Magazine in 1948, which you can read HERE and here: =bl&ots=DgyXygOIzr&sig=oM7S6lkCbaZdWjsGQsHNed0kZ2w&hl= en#v=onepage&q=melvin%20knisely &f=false.

He reported that blood sludge contributed to many pathologies, and was caused by many factors. He spent his later years wondering if he could find (and patent!) a drug or drugs that prevented or broke up sludge.

He never did, in part because he knew that common aspirin has that effect. And now we all know that taking two baby aspirin daily helps prevent circulatory problems. There are many references for this; for starters, HERE and here: /script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52304

In the mid-1950’s he and I made it a habit to go around Charleston, South Carolina “trying out” chocolate malts at different establishments. He’d be very surprised to find out that we were (perhaps in part) protecting our circulatory systems!

Bob Knisely


Why do we vote on TUESDAYS?!?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Ever wonder about voting on the “first Tuesday in November?” Works great for 18th century American male property owners: harvest’s in, etc. Elsewhere, most voting’s done on weekends — better if you work an hourly job, or need someone to watch the kids. Probably holds down turnout more than anything else. But incumbents like it – worked for them — so don’t expect to see it change. Honk if you see discrimination!

Why Did the Eastern and Not the Western Empire Survive?

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

From Michael Grant’s The Fall of the Roman Empire, Appendix 2:

It is no use claiming to detect a complete explanation of the fall of the Western Empire in any factor which applied to the Eastern Byzantine Empire as well, since the latter did not collapse in the 5th century AD, but instead remained in existence for a much greater length of time, until 1453 (with only a short interlude between 1204 and 1261). It is therefore necessary to speculate on the reasons why the two Empires had these quite separate and difference experiences and fates. [Emphasis added]

Above all else, the Western Empire was far more vulnerable to external attack owing to its geographical location….

Secondly, the Eastern Empire possessed a sounder social and economic structure than the West, embodying fewer glaring disunities. The American historian Glanville Downey explained why this was:

“…The structure of the government differed significantly in the East and West. In the West, the land-owning aristocrats, some of them fantastically wealthy, contributed much less money than they should have to the cost of the army and the government. The Eastern Empire, in contrast, possessed a civil service composed largely of middle-class professionals, and while graft unavoidably existed, the Eastern government received in taxes a higher proportion of the national income than the Western government could enjoy.”

The government of the East, as a result, possessed much greater resources than the government of the West; it was therefore much more capable of maintaining its defenses….

Downey’s favourable reference to the Eastern bureaucracy also reminds us that the middle classes, which formed its traditional nucleus, possessed much more ancient and firmer roots in the Eastern regions – going back to Greek times – and continued to enjoy much better economic conditions.

[The quote from Downey is presumably from his The Late Roman Empire, 1969, which is listed in Grant’s bibliography.]


Earlier in this millennium I visited Oxford, England. On that trip I spent parts of several days in Blackwell’s, an enormous and wonderful bookstore (as well as a publishing house).  It occupies four or five townhouses, three and four stories high.

Seldom have I spent time or money (about 250 pounds sterling) so happily and so well.

On one occasion, on my wanderings through the stacks, I found myself near the Classics area and sought out a clerk. He appeared to be one of those Oxford graduates who had been unable to leave town – we have them in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in New Haven, and in points south and west as well.

I asked about books concerned with the fall of the Roman empire – not Gibbon, you understand, but other books. He happily took me to an alcove where he showed me shelves containing about a yard of books on that empire’s fall. I bought several. I have read only one seriously and in depth. That is Michael Grant’s book referenced above.

Thoughts on Collaboration for a Kennedy School Class

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

All – I’m coming late to this party, so beg pardon. My thoughts include:

  1. Carbon vs. Silicon. We are “carbon-based” creatures in an increasingly “silicon-based” world. We have “carbon-based” collaboration skills honed from the hunter-gatherer days. That is, “I’ve worked with Moog before, and if he looks me in the eye and says we can get that mastodon and feed the village, I’ll follow him!” I’d argue that carbon-based collaboration is “hard-wired” in homo sapiens, to scramble my metaphor. “Silicon-based” collaboration, where I may have no idea whose suggestions I’m being asked to implement, is a new phenomenon. Why should I trust a Moog synthesizer? (Sorry)
  2. A recent book, How We Decide, makes the point that decision-making is both intellectual and emotional: brain injury victims left with no emotional apparatus simply cannot make decisions. The old argument about “good” intellectual decisions vs. “bad” emotional decisions was a false dichotomy for which we can blame Plato (or not; you decide). If this is true, then the value of augmenting “silicon-based” collaboration tools with “carbon-based” interactions cannot be ignored. Occasional meetings of teleworking work groups, using SKYPE or OOVOO or other such tools should be a part of the organizational toolbox. I’ve often used the quote, “intellectual processes lead to conclusions, while emotional processes lead to decisions.” Collaboration must lead to decisions; our “carbon” side can’t be ignored. Moog lives!
  3. Stafford Beer’s Viable System Model. I can’t help but wish that Stafford Beer were around to tell us how electronic collaboration (and other forms of asynchronous instantaneous mass-free communication) affect organizations. I would treasure his insights almost as much as his company. Since my reflections would be a pale reflection of his (Sorry) I won’t make the attempt. Some face time with his VSM vis-a-vis Facebook will be useful.
  4. The Saucer and the Platter. I’ve used this analogy in discussing “the geometry of the unresponsiveness of large organizations.” Imagine a demitasse saucer covered in marbles. Now imagine the Thanksgiving turkey platter covered in the same size marbles. How many of the marbles are at the perimeter of the saucer and the platter? As a percentage of total marbles in each case? In other words, in a small organization, a MUCH higher percentage of the workers are in contact with the world beyond the organization, and can (perhaps) get their viewpoints heard up the management chain. How does “silicon-based” collaboration change this dynamic? Will the bosses in big organizations ever listen to the views of their front-line folks? There are so few of them, and they’ll be “outvoted” by the folks in the middle tiers.
  5. New Collaboration Tools. Evidently both Beer’s Viable System Model and my Saucer/Platter analogy are challenged by the new collaboration tools used by, among others, Starbucks and Dell. Organizational boundaries are dissolving before our eyes. You may have talked in class about how Dell uses Ideastorm to get ideas from customers on how to redesign laptops, but if not, here’s at least one website. The challenges of organizing WITHIN the organization to take advantage of ideas from WITHOUT the organization lead back to carbon and silicon…
  6. When I was with Al Gore and his National Performance Review, we had a strong focus on government and its “customers.” This led to discussions of how to improve the customer experience at places like DMVs and national parks. While this was undoubtedly useful, it was quite limiting. This was pointed out forcefully by Henry Mintzberg of McGill, in “Managing Government, Governing Management,” a 1996 HARBUS article. Mintzberg distinguishes four roles for people vis-a-vis government: customer, client, subject, and citizen. ANY discussion of “collaboration” that extends beyond government worker to “other” must take into consideration these different roles. One does not ask the state trouper to ‘collaborate’ with the speeding driver. Mintzberg’s website is well worth visiting.
  7. In Reorganize for Resilience, Ranjay Gulati talks about asking your customers the right questions. If you’re selling lettuce and you ask your customers whether they like red or green lettuce, in large or small heads, you’ll never anticipate the market for washed and chopped salad greens. Getting collaborations focused on the opportunities for tomorrow vs the problems of today is, however, beyond the scope of this note!
  8. Since I’m new to the discussion, allow me to introduce myself. And Jerry, sorry to bring the same ol’ pony to the party!

Dan-Dan Noodles!

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I came onboard the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982, when we were at Columbia Plaza, just down the block from the Magic Gourd Restaurant at Virginia Avenue and 23rd Northwest DC. That was 28 years ago, and if you believe some of the current online reviews, it’s not changed much since then. I ate there often; there weren’t a lot of other nearby choices; still aren’t.

The dish that stuck in my mind through all these years is their Dan-Dan Noodles, an appetizer. I may even have dreamed about it! Warm noodles drenched in a sauce that’s mostly smooth peanut butter, with hot oil and some more sesame or peanut oil added for consistency. Mmmmm!!! I LOVE it! Makes me feel all warm inside, kinda like being wrapped in an electric blanket.

I wangled a recent lunch there with a State Department employee, partly ‘cause she knew where it was, but mostly because of the Dan-Dan Noodles!

I ordered one serving, and she ordered another, on my recommendation. Each was about two cups worth; I managed to finish mine. It was just as I remembered: one of the best uses for the lowly peanut, a bit hot and spicy, and comfort food of the first order.

As for the second order, I asked for a serving to “take out,” because I was going to take it to Grace Garden. This is a tiny out-of-the-way Chinese restaurant on Maryland’s route 175, AKA Odenton’s Annapolis Road, and opposite Fort Meade (just down from a tattoo parlor, and in the Colonel’s shadow).  My wife and I were taken there by the head of the Asian Division in the Library of Congress; his wife, like mine, is an Anne Arundel County Master Gardener.

Grace Garden’s chef and owner, Chun Keung Li, and his wife Mei, serve all the regular stuff, but also authentic Chinese dishes I’ve never seen elsewhere. I get there about once every other week, and I’ve been trying to find something I don’t like. I’ve been unsuccessful. So far. I’ll keep trying.

Chef Li will make any recipe you bring in, and will also happily use ingredients that you bring him. And after 34 years in the business, my guess is that if you can name it or describe it, he’ll make it and you’ll love it!

So I wanted him to try the Dan-Dan Noodles, and maybe even put them on their menu. I arrived at about 2:30PM, long past the lunch hour, to find the entire staff — Chef Li, Mei, and a helper — eating lunch at a table in the empty restaurant. What luck! I opened my takeout bag, and started talking about Dan-Dan Noodles, and how much I loved them. Mei poured them out on a plate, and Chef Li looked at the pile and said “Too much sugar!” He tasted them, and said again, “Too much sugar!”

We started talking about “proper” Dan-Dan Noodles, and after a minute Chef Li got to his feet, went into the kitchen, and started chopping and mixing. Mei told me that Dan-Dan Noodles, to be done “right,” required their own special noodles. These came in large packages, and they don’t have room in their small restaurant for all possible noodles, much less all the other ingredients they could be using. Sigh.

She said that if they used the wrong noodles, their Chinese customers would blog about it, and they’d be in trouble. I of course said that their American customers wouldn’t care, and would buy the dish by the bucketful, given the affection that we all feel for peanut butter. I even suggested putting up a sign advertising “Special: Crazy Dan-Dan Noodles” to give themselves an “out” with their Chinese customers. No go! [See why I love the place?]

At about this time, Chef Li returned with a plate of warm noodles (the wrong kind, but delicious) and a PINT of freshly made sauce! He insisted that I try it – not a difficult sell. Using chopsticks to move the noodles from the dish to my plate, but a fork to eat them, I dug in.

The sauce was aMAZing! Instead of two flavors, there were so many I lost count! I was then told that the sauce included not only peanut butter, peanut oil, and hot oil, but garlic, scallions, Chinese vinegar, and various peppers. (I think there are some ‘secret ingredients” too, and given their proximity to Fort Meade and the National Security Agency, this is unsurprising.)

The total effect was like a fireworks display! Mei told me that the proper dish includes thinly sliced fresh cucumbers, celery, or zucchini, under the noodles. That’s not food, that’s a symphony!

Chef Li said that Dan-Dan Noodles is really a family plan dish, with noodles in the middle of the table, and a variety of toppings around it. Diners get to choose what toppings they want – not everyone wants the hot sauce! Who knew?

He also said that making the sauce was “simple!” I asked Mei if he’d measured ANYTHING as he made it, and she said “No.” I then said that I MIGHT be able to learn to make it, but it would take at least thirty years, and I might not have the time! We all laughed.

After some more conversation, and Mei’s agreement that they’d make the dish for ME without the right noodles, if I’d call a day in advance, I left – with almost a pint of the new sauce, some noodles, and a bottle of Chinese vinegar. I promised to call, identify myself as “the crazy man,” and ask for the non-standard Dan-Dan Noodles. You do what you can.

I know I’ll go back to the Magic Gourd for their noodles when I have the opportunity, but…

Warm blanket or fireworks display? Hmmmm….