The More Things Change…

Two hundred years ago today, France continued its centuries-old tradition of running away with its tail between its legs rather than put up an honest and forthright fight.

Two hundred years ago today, the young United States broke its own constitutional laws in ratifying a treaty with France.

Things haven’t changed much, have they?

Napoleon’s colony at Santa Domingo revolted, Haiti expelled the French troops, a war with England was potentially around the corner, and the United States was breathing down the neck of the French colonies. The French government was running out of cash, the Americans were growing less enthusiastic about having French neighbors, and Napoleon wanted to strengthen the United States in order to provide a viable rival to England’s dominance of the seas in an effort to “lessen her arrogance.”

An amazing move for France, considering France’s mighty military history:

  • France lost the Gallic Wars to Italy;
  • France lost the Italian Wars, becoming the only country to ever lose two wars to Italy;
  • France lost the War of the Augsburgs;
  • France lost the War of the Spanish Succession;
  • France won the French Revolution — which almost doesn’t really count since the Frenchmen who won had been fighting Frenchmen who lost;
  • France lost the Napoleonic Wars;
  • France lost the Franco-Prussian War;
  • France almost lost World War I except by the intervention of the United States;
  • France almost lost World War II except by the intervention of the United States and England;
  • France lost the war in Indochina; and
  • France lost the Algerian Rebellion.

Two hundred years ago today, France and the United States signed a purchase treaty to sell the Louisiana Purchase to the fledgling colony for 80 million francs, a sum more than one and a half times the Gross Domestic Product of the United States at the time.

The barely solvent New World colony had to make the purchase on credit.

Man, things just really don’t change, do they?!

Author’s Note: Before anyone gets their bikinis in a twist, I am patronymically French — I am therefore allowed to tweak le nipples of the French.

A Mathematician Walked Into a Bar

Today is Tax Day in the United States, with far too many people having procrastinated until the last possible minutes to file. A large percentage of those still file manually — pencil, paper, and calculator in hand.

A such, I declare the necessity of a few math and accountant jokes:

  • Several gifted minds in varying mental disciplines were posed with the following question: What is 2 times 2? The engineer of the group whipped out his slide rule, shuffled it back and forth, and announced that the answer was 3.99. The physicist consulted his technical references, set up the problem on his laptop computer, and announced “it lies between 3.98 and 4.02”. The mathematician cogitated for a while, oblivious to the rest of the world, then announced, “I don’t know what the answer is, but I can prove an answer exists!” The philosopher asked, “What do you mean by 2 times 2?” The accountant closed the doors and windows, looked around carefully, and then asked, “What do you want the answer to be?”
  • An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician were staying in three separate hotels while attending a technical seminar. The engineer woke up and smelled smoke. He went out into the hallway and saw a fire, so he filled a trashcan from his room with water and doused the flames. He then went back to bed. The physicist woke up in his hotel room and smelled smoke. He opened his door and saw a fire in the hallway. He walked down the hall to a fire hose and, after calculating the flame velocity, distance, water pressure, trajectory, etc., he extinguished the fire with the minimum amount of water and energy needed. The mathematician woke up on the other side of town and smelled smoke. He went into the hall, saw the fire and then the fire hose. He thought for a moment and then exclaimed, “Ah, a solution exists!” and then went back to bed.
  • There was an Indian chief, and he had three squaws that he kept in three separate teepees. When he would come home late from hunting, he would not know which teepee contained which squaw, as it was very dark. One day, he went hunting and killed a hippopotamus, a bear, and a buffalo. He put a hide from each animal into a different teepee so that when he came home late, he could feel inside the teepee and he would know which squaw was inside. After about a year, all three squaws had produced children. The squaw on the bear had a baby boy; the squaw on the buffalo hide had a baby girl. But the squaw on the hippopotamus had both a girl AND a boy. So what is the moral of the story? The squaw on the hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the squaws on the other two hides.
  • Suppose a mathematician parks his car, locks it with his key and walks away. After walking about 50 yards the mathematician realizes that he has dropped his key somewhere along the way. What does he do? If he is an applied mathematician he walks back to the car along the path he has previously traveled looking for his key. If he is a pure mathematician he walks to the other end of the parking lot where there is better light and looks for his key there.
  • A team of engineers was required to measure the height of a flag pole. They only had a measuring tape, and were getting quite frustrated trying to keep the tape along the pole. It kept falling down. A mathematician came upon them cogitating on their problem, and he proceeded to remove the pole from the ground and thus measured it easily. As he left, one engineer said to the other: “Just like a mathematician! We need to know the height, and he gives us the length!”
  • One day a farmer called up an engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician and asked them to fence off the largest possible area with the least amount of fence. The engineer made the fence in a circle and proclaimed that he had the most efficient design. The physicist made a long, straight line and proclaimed, “We can assume the length is infinite…” and pointed out that fencing off half of the Earth was certainly a more efficient way to do it. The mathematician just laughed at them. He built a tiny fence around himself and said, “I declare myself to be on the outside.”

I studied mathematics in college, served my stint in accounting for far too many years, and have been an engineer for the past decade or so. I am therefore entitled to poke fun at them all.

Lou’s Living Donut Museum

Two weekends ago, I decided that our family was going to have a monthly mandatory “field trip”, an educational outing that combines a bit of local history with a sprinkle of fun. Our inaugural excursion was to Lou’s Living Donut Museum near downtown San Jose, California.

The original Lou was one Lucius Ades, a decorated World War II B-24 pilot. To Lou, today’s American donut, different from its European cousin in that the center of the donut is removed prior to frying in order for the fluffy treat to cook evenly and thoroughly, is a unique symbol of quality, community, and patriotism. During World War II and subsequently the Vietnam War, the “Donut Dollies” of the American Red Cross drove old GM trucks to within a mile of the front line. At 4 a.m., these college-educated women (always at least 25 years old) got up to prepare donuts and coffee for the battle-weary troops, providing warm smiles, conversation, and the uniquely American treat that provided a lifeline to home and family. Returning home after piloting more than 30 successful bombing missions, Lucius worked at a variety of local companies including a grocery store in Oakland and a donut shop in Willow Glen. In 1955, he broke away from the donut shop and, with the help of a G.I. loan, started his own donut business at its original location on East Santa Clara Street. Lou’s Donut Shop was born.

Photo © Richard D. LeCour

In May 1981, when Lou decided to retire, he sold his business to two of his longtime employees, brothers Charles (“Chuck”) and Richard Chavira, both hired when they were high school students. The Chavira boys (Chuck having graduated from high school 25 years ago now) and their parents, Ralph and Connie, keep the philosophies of Lou alive by creating the fluffy pastry products entirely by hand, by using only the freshest and highest quality ingredients, and by continuing Lou’s crusade of tying patriotism with the glazed confectionery.

In 1995, forced to move from the original location because the building was considered unsafe in case of an earthquake, Lou’s opened up in its new location on Delmas Avenue, sporting an exhibit of World War II memorabilia, reprints of old newspapers and magazines, and models of military aircraft in varying shapes and sizes.

When our boisterous family arrived at Lou’s Living Donut Museum on a blustery, drizzly, spring Saturday morning, I asked about the tour that I had prearranged via telephone a few days prior. I was directed to speak with a quiet, unassuming, rather skinny man dressed in bakery whites. He took us into the next-door Donut Museum, gave a brief informative lecture on the history of the donut and a biographical sketch of Lucius Ades, and popped in a 15-minute video on Lou, his donut shop, and the role of the donut in World War II — interspersed with lots of flag waving and good old-fashioned patriotism.

It wasn’t until afterward that I discovered that the antisterotypical skinny baker who had given us the personal tour was, in fact, Chuck, the same Chuck who (with his brother) had originally taken over the donut business from Lou more than twenty years prior. I interrupted Chuck’s late breakfast of a bowl of Cheerios (which not so coincidentally look a LOT like little donuts!) to ask him a few questions. Because of my own experience working in a bakery at about that same time as he started, combined with my current culinary endeavours of manufacturing my own line of barbeque sauces and rubs, Chuck and I had a lot to talk about, quickly sliding into easy conversation — the importance of high-quality, specialty ingredients; the varying qualities afforded by the hand-creation of products versus today’s more prevalent high-tech automation; and the overall attention to detail of a finely crafted product.

I won’t stop loving warm melt-in-your-mouth Krispy Kremes, but Lou’s donuts provide a noticeably high-quality alternative to engineered cookie-cutter products. I was particularly impressed with the intricate, multi-faceted flavor and the fluffy, bread-like quality of the devil’s food donut, created with a direct descendant of the original yeast culture used by Lou almost fifty years ago, and also on the same equipment Lou once used.

High quality. A friendly atmosphere. Darn good donuts. It is no wonder that Lou’s was the recipient of the Official Donut Shop of the California Highway Patrol award.


Lou’s Living Donut Museum closed its doors in July 2006, citing family illness. Chuck, pictured above, lost his lengthy war with acute pancreatitis in May 2011. He was 51.