Monthly Archives: April 2011

Restaurant review: Bon Chon Chicken


I’ve had a long, indulgent love affair with fried chicken (I am a Southern boy, after all), and I’ve savored it at places that are considered yardbird landmarks (Price’s Chicken Coop in Charlotte, among many others).

But I might have found a place that puts them all to shame: Bon Chon Chicken in Fairfax City. This is possibly the best fried chicken I’ve ever tasted.

Bon Chon is a popular South Korean restaurant chain that specializes in KFC — Korean fried chicken. The Korean style of frying is a two-step process, according to this article from The New York Times. The result is sublimely crunchy. In fact, it’s the most perfect crunch I’ve ever experienced from fried chicken. (The only downside to this process: be prepared to wait a while for your food.)

The chicken comes with two sauces — soy garlic or spicy soy garlic. I opted for the spicy, which had a wonderful kick, but was not overpowering. And unlike a lot of American wing places, the sauce is applied gently and is not messy.

The side dishes and appetizers looked interesting, but I didn’t try any on my first visit.

If you live in Fairfax, you’ve got to try this place. Now.

Bon Chon Chicken, 3242 Old Pickett Road, Fairfax, VA, 22031

The small-group process in education: Useless?


Does forcing students to work on projects in small groups make for a better educational experience? Maybe not:

Donald R. Bacon, a business professor at the University of Denver, studied group projects there and found a perverse dynamic: Many of the groups that functioned most smoothly were those in which the least learning occurred. That’s because students divided up the tasks in ways they felt comfortable with. The math whiz would do the statistical work, the English minor drafted the analysis. Then there’s the most common complaint about groups: Some shoulder all the work, the rest do nothing.

“I understand that teamwork is important, but in my opinion they need to do more to deal with the problem of slackers,” says Justin Triplett, a 2010 Radford graduate who is completing his first year in the university’s M.B.A. program. From his perch as a teaching assistant, he estimates that a third of students in the business school don’t engage with their coursework. At Radford, seniors in business put in an average of 3.64 hours a week preparing for class, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.

I hated the small-group process in college,  so I’m enjoying some schadenfreude reading that it probably doesn’t work.

Walt Whitman Civil War papers surface


Just in time for Tuesday’s 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War comes news of the discovery of a trove of writings by Walt Whitman:

…Price had found almost 3,000 pieces in Whitman’s handwriting, a discovery that Archivist of the United States David Ferriero called “astonishing.”

The writings are essentially letters authored by various government officials that Whitman copied into record books when he was a clerk in the U.S. attorney general’s office in the 1860s.

I’ve never been a big Whitman fan, but this is a fascinating story.

Is survivalism really anti-humanism?


Virginia Postrel, in her final Commerce & Culture column for The Wall Street Journal, explodes some of the assumptions behind survivalism and what drives it in these deeply uncertain times. Along the way, she reveals how trade and the specialization of labor have benefited civilization:

Here we get a hint of the survivalist instinct’s fundamental error. In focusing on extreme situations, it forgets about the capacities built up during less-stressful times. Self-sufficiency limits knowledge and productive skills to whatever a single individual or locality can comprehend. Specialization and trade allow the system to expand those capabilities almost without limit. What looks like ignorance permits the growth of knowledge.

Carried to their logical conclusions, survivalist arguments would sever the very connections that make modern societies like Japan prosperous and resilient. If Japan were an isolationist nation of rice farmers, its suffering would indeed have fewer effects on our distant shores. We wouldn’t notice the absence of its people or what they produce, because we would have never gained from their efforts nor they from ours.

Read the whole thing.

Welcome to the United States of Umbrage, LLC


Americans can certainly be touchy about our perceived differences.

It’s understandable, given our history. “All men are created equal” has been a point of noisy, bloody contention from the beginning.

But in an America that’s radically different from the slave-holding, immigrant-bashing nation of the past, is constant vigilance against ethnic offense always a good thing?

As this classic 2002 article from Reason‘s Tim Cavanaugh points out, our  industriousness extends beyond cars, steel or hamburgers. We’re also pretty good at manufacturing bad feelings toward each other under the well-intentioned rubric of “anti-discrimination.”

Some good points from the article:

  • “Call it the anti-defamation industry, the anti-discrimination lobby, or maybe the umbrage market.”
  • “An anti-discrimination group has little motive to report improvement, or even stasis, in cultural relations, because that would lessen the perceived need for the group.”
  • “This may explain why anti-discrimination is a growth industry even — or especially — while identity politics fades into history, more Americans decline to identify themselves by ethnicity, and actual discrimination is, by virtually all measures, at historically low levels.”

The piece is long, but well worth your time.

Densely populated cities: Not so great after all


Urbanization enthusiasts gush about the benefits of dense development, or about the remarkable, low-carbon-footprint survival skills of the citizens of megacities like Lagos.

However, urban theorist Joel Kotkin makes the case that many people who live in those places would rather be living somewhere else:

But essentially megacities in developing countries should be seen for what they are: a tragic replaying of the worst aspects of the mass urbanization that occurred earlier in the West. They play to the nostalgic tendency among urbanists to look back with fondness on the crowded cities of early 20th Century North America and Europe.

Kotkin points out that during the past 50 years, Americans have steadily moved away from heavily populated urban cores to more manageable, human-scaled suburban areas. Why, he wonders, do the experts think things should go differently in the developing world?

If you like urbanism — and contrarian thinking — give Kotkin’s piece a read.

Was Steinbeck’s ‘Travels With Charley’ a fraud?


That’s the surprising thesis of this article from Reason that raises some serious questions about the artistic integrity of one of America’s greatest writers.

The author, Bill Stiegerwald, doesn’t say John Steinbeck never went on the 1960 cross-country road trip he documented in Travels With Charley in Search of America. Instead, Stiegerwald asserts that Steinbeck fabricated much of what happened on that 11-week journey from New York to California and back. An excerpt:

From what I can gather, Steinbeck didn’t fictionalize in the guise of nonfiction because he wanted to mislead readers or grind some political point. He was desperate. He had a book to make up about a failed road trip, and he had taken virtually no notes.

Stiegerwald is blogging about his experiences retracing Steinbeck’s steps at Travels Without Charley. Check it out.