Clarke’s Standard (replaced goodburger at Union Square)

It was with great regret that my wife and I saw that goodburger at Union Square had closed. We used to eat there frequently because the food was good, fairly quick, and it was convenient. It was somewhere between McDonald’s and Wendy’s, which was too junky, and a sit-down, pricey restaurant. Not that it wasn’t a little on the pricey side, but it filled a need we had.  I guess not enough people needed a good burger at that price, though, so one day we went there for dinner and found the place boarded up.

Interior of Clarke's Standard at Union Square

Interior of Clarke’s Standard at Union Square

About two weeks ago, we were shopping at Petco and I decided to go around the corner and see if anything had replaced goodburger yet, and we saw that Clarke’s Standard was open. A new burger joint. We decided to try the place out, hoping it would be our new goodburger. Unfortunately, this place is not going to fit the bill.

Clarke's Standard Menu

Clarke’s Standard Menu

Brooklyn Au Poivre, Honey Mustard BBQ Grilled Sandwich, French Fries, Sweet Waffle Potato Fries

Brooklyn Au Poivre, Honey Mustard BBQ Grilled Sandwich, French Fries, Sweet Waffle Potato Fries

The biggest problem we had was that the sauces used on the burgers are either made with mayo or ketchup (or something with a very similar taste to ketchup) that we didn’t care for. If you want a burger without mayo or ketchup here, you lose most of the flavor of the specialty burger. Besides that, the sauces are very runny and soak into the bun, making them mushy and sloppy. Some people may like their buns saucy and squishy, but I like my buns firm.

I had the Brooklyn Au Poivre. Besides my sauce and bun problem, I found the meat to not have any real taste to it. It seemed to be too wet and slightly undercooked on top of that. It didn’t have a grilled or “real” flavor to it. My wife said the honey mustard BBQ grilled chicken sandwich was good, but the flavor was drowned by the ketchup, which was leaking out of the bottom of the sandwich in gobs.

The only redeeming things about our meal were the French fries and sweet potato waffle fries. They were both outstanding, but they aren’t enough to bring us back for more.

Huge roach on the floor at Clarke's Standard

Huge roach on the floor at Clarke’s Standard

Huge roach on the floor at Clarke's Standard

Huge roach on the floor at Clarke’s Standard

Finding this giant roach on the floor under our table (waiting for leftovers?) after we finished eating finished killing our meal experience. Honestly, the price isn’t that much different than goodburger and the quality and variety of the sandwiches isn’t that impressive. We won’t be going back. There are plenty of other restaurants in the area. We’ll just have to walk a bit further to get to them.

Response: Donald Quataert’s “The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922”

Donald Quataert’s book, The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 (New Approaches to European History), is an engaging overview that challenges popular (mis)conceptions about internal dynamics of the empire in regards to inter-communal relations and the role it played internationally. Throughout the text, Quataert takes care to place the Ottoman Empire in context, something which he seems to believe has been rarely done in past historical works, resulting in inflated claims of both power and weakness, as well as claims of undue cruelty both to its own citizens and its enemies. In short, while providing a good overview of the empire, Quataert also does an effective job in leveling the playing field so that the reader is able to understand that both the perceived negative and positive actions of the empire are not unique to the Ottoman Empire, cutting through caricatures to present a balanced view of history.

Having never read anything regarding the Ottoman Empire before, the text was very instructional. I was previously under the impression that the Ottoman Empire was a primarily Middle Eastern, Muslim empire that was organized along monarchical and religious lines. The information presented about the gradual shift in power from the sultan to the viziers/pashas and then to the Jannisaries was interesting. What sort of authority did the office of sultan still hold that it was maintained for the purposes of political legitimation? Why was there never an attempt to restructure the central government? Or was the sultan a political figurehead in a similar way to modern Prime Ministers and Presidents?

I was also very interested to find out that for a large portion of the empire’s existence, the vast majority of the population resided in the European provinces, making the empire more European than Middle Eastern. The fact that the Ottoman Empire expanded so far into southeastern Europe helps to explain the modern mistrust and fear of Turkey and, as the author says, the hesitance the European Union is displaying regarding Turkey’s application for membership. It’s a hesitancy and fear that’s a legacy of the Ottoman Empire’s initial military successes, but why does Turkey bear the legacy of that fear? Is there something about Turkey that makes it different from the other former Ottoman lands? The Ottoman’s central administration was located in Turkey, but in the formation of the modern Republic of Turkey, the Ottoman legacy was almost completely abolished. Is there some fear that Turkey might use the European Union to ascend economically and politically and once again pose a political threat to the European nations?

One thing that I wish had been better addressed in the text was the legal system in the Ottoman Empire. How heavily did it rely on religious law? How much was secular law? Was there a process where the ulema approved the laws, or was religious validation not required? Was religious law widely applied or was it limited to civil courts? Also, how heavily were communal religious courts used, and how often were there appeals to Islamic courts? What did sectarian (non-Muslim) courts use as a basis for law and are any of the law books they used still existent? Or were they more informal? The particulars of the law systems is probably a subject for a separate book, but the author didn’t seem to spend too much time discussing the court system in general, and the fact that non-Muslim citizens often appealed to the Islamic courts for ‘justice’ makes it a point of interest.

Overall, Donald Quataert’s book tackles a subject that, judging by his text, has often been unfairly maligned in popular media due to old biases and fears. His attempt to overcome those misconceptions are obvious throughout the text, where he constantly makes comparisons between the Ottoman Empire’s methods or actions and those of other contemporaneous political entities. The division of the book into sections that generally cover time periods, followed by chapters that address certain aspects of Ottoman society helps the reader to place the more detailed information into the greater framework of events. The Ottoman Empire: 1700-1922 is an excellent introduction to an important period of history.

Why I Love My Kindle, And Why I Don’t

A Kindle 3 in the box.

Last year in October, I was given a Kindle 3 by my aunt in return for doing what turned out to be a LOT of yard work.  Well, a lot more than I expected anyway.  It’d been quite a few years since I’d lived anywhere that required yard work, so I wasn’t able to judge it properly.

Since then, I’ve used my Kindle fairly regularly.  Whenever I commute here in the city, I keep it with me so I can spend my time doing something constructive, instead of staring blankly at the wall like so many of my fellow commuters.  I’ve come to rely on it for entertainment, something I was reminded of today when I realized I left the house with a dead battery.  My commute is about an hour both ways, so … ya, I was bored.  There’s no cell phone signal in the subways here, so that meant I really had nothing to do but stare at the walls.

The Kindle 3 is light, very easy on the eyes, and makes reading fun again, especially since there’s so much available for free, but some recent events have caused me to see a few shortcomings.

The first problem is that there are still plenty of books being published that don’t have Kindle versions.  Even worse, some books are published and the price of the Kindle version is higher than the price of the physical book.  I understand that there are some costs that can’t be negated by simply producing a book as an e-text, but there should never be a time when an eBook costs anything near what the physical book does, since you’re cutting out the cost of the paper, printing and distribution.  It’s obscene.  An insult even.

The kicker that made me write this post, though, was a visit to Barnes & Noble at Union Square.  I’ve been going there frequently looking for particular versions of books I need for classes I’m taking at CCNY.  I don’t know what it is about physical books, but every time I go in there I find myself wanting to hold and touch them, and maybe just ‘adopt’ them all and bring them home.  The cover art is something that can’t be reproduced well on a Kindle, or any eReader.  You can’t touch it.  You just can’t appreciate it the same way.  I’m reminded of something my art history teacher said in class yesterday.  He was talking about how people go to an art museum and instead of stopping to appreciate the art, they take a picture and move on quickly.  He said that if that’s what you’re going to do, you might as well have just looked the images up on Google.  It’s not the same experience.  It’s also not the same experience as holding the book in your hands, or putting it on your shelf when you’re done with it.  I suppose that desire to collect books is something that not everyone has, but I like to see my books sitting on a shelf, so I can be reminded of how good they are and maybe pick them up and leaf through them to my favorite parts again.  Speaking of that, it’s really hard to scan through books on a Kindle, going back to re-examine material you read the a few days ago.

My conclusion is that a Kindle is still an awesome device that will encourage more people to read more often, myself included, but it has drawbacks.  I think my Kindle is best suited for ‘light’ reading.  You know, those books that you read purely for entertainment, the ones that you’re not worried about looking at again, because when you’re done with a Kindle book it gets lost in the list of available books on the device.  For those books that I consider my favorites, or anything heavier that might require thought and retrospection, the books that I would want to flip back and forth through to better understand the ideas being expressed, a physical book can’t be beat.

Review: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Titans is an exciting movie that delivered exactly what I expected: an action packed, special effects extravaganza that kept me entertained from start to finish.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it would be a mistake going into it thinking you’re going to walk away with any deep revelations about the mysteries of life, or leave with some profound new sense of well being.  That’s not what Clash of the Titans is about.  This really isn’t as serious a movie as I thought it would be.  It felt more like Scorpion King, where you’re meant to focus on the fun and action, rather than the storyline.

I really enjoyed that the movie didn’t try to be something it wasn’t.  The movie was all about action, and they kept the dialogue light, with lots of wit and humor thrown in to keep the audience engaged.  The only time the story veered from that style was at the end, when Perseus had to deal with the main antagonist, which is fitting.  It can’t all be fun and games.

I’ve always been a sword & sorcery fan and enjoyed reading about Greek mythology as a kid, so it was very cool to see the mythological characters and stories I’d read about come alive on the big screen.  I’ll definitely be adding this movie to my collection, to be re-watched when I want to see fast paced action and get a thrill.

It also didn’t hurt that the main female characters were all pretty hot:

Princess Andromeda

Io, cursed with agelessness for refusing the advances of a god.

Also, the boatman who ferries souls across the River Styx was pretty cool too.  Looking at this guy, and his boat, really makes you feel like you’re on your way to hell.

Update: We watched the 2D version, because the 3D effects reportedly suck pretty hard. The movie wasn’t filmed in 3D like Avatar was. It was done through rushed post-processing to try to capitalize on people’s excitement over 3D.

“Knowing” Review

We finally got around to watching “Knowing”, with Nicolas Cage.  Nic has done some bad movies recently, which is unfortunate since he’s such a good actor, so I wasn’t expecting a lot.  It turned out to be a lot more engaging and entertaining than I thought it would be, though.

The movie focuses around a sheet of numbers that a little girl puts into a time capsule as part of a class project.  50 years later the time capsule is dug up and the envelope with the string of numbers is handed out to Caleb Koestler (Chandler Canterbury).  When he opens it he’s intrigued, thinking it might be a puzzle.  He mentions this to his dad, John (Nicolas Cage) and later that night John discovers that there is indeed a hidden meaning to the numbers.

The movie has some light religious undertones and some strong scientific themes and invite the viewer to consider some pretty deep questions about life.  The movie also deals with a lot of personal issues between John and his son.  Instead of detracting from the movie it adds to it.  Another thing I like about it is that the plot twists aren’t typical and it’s not going to end the way you might think.  It keeps you guessing the whole way through, right up to the end.  There’s also a lot more action that I thought there would be, and the imagery is very vivid.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but the movie does a great job of building suspense and mystery concerning the numbers, what they mean, and who the “whispering people” are.  The acting is really good and so are the special effects.  The special effects are really good in fact!

The end of the movie left me with a lot of questions, but one more than others.  Why rabbits?

Worth watching!