Sunday, October 31, 2004

Food photo of the week


Tuna and salmon tartare, lumpfish caviar, wasabi creme chantilly, tomato masala dressing, toast melba.

Faux food

From the Observer, an interesting article on how food stylists engineer food for photo shoots.
'Lasagne is a real pain to shoot normally - it just collapses,' one freelance food photographer told the magazine. 'One possible way round it is to build up layers, using foam board about 5mm thick, cut slightly smaller than the layers of pasta. Once you've built up the layers you pipe in the meat and bechamel sauce around the edges, to hide the board. You brown the top layer of pasta with a blow torch, and pour over fresh tomato sauce.'

Toxic trio of evils

The only good thing about Jonathan Dimbleby's article is that it has saved me wasting my time watching the show tonight. How about this:
Which takes us - or should take us - from global poverty to global warming. It is the greatest challenge facing humanity, to combat both at once - to deliver justice, fairness and prosperity to the poor without destroying the planet in the process. Already we are consuming the Earth's natural but finite resources faster than they can be replenished. Already Britain's chief scientific advisor, Sir David King, tells us global warming is a greater threat than global terrorism.
So what happens when the poor have their just deserts? Will we see the melting of the ice-caps, catastrophic floods that drown hundreds of thousands of people and turn millions into refugees and famished migrants? Will we all perish in some Siberian or Saharan Armageddon? Or find ourselves caught in a Malthusian end-game as we perish for lack of food and water? Or will we start to control our profligate use of carbon fuels and persuade whoever wins the American election that the resources of the planet must be more equitably shared?


But if the Queen is worried about "climate change", perhaps we should be too.

Environmentalism, is for the most part, a religious ideology. It is, as a result, particularly resistance to the harsh world of facts. An important implication of this mindset is the attempt to link a scientifically illiterate theory, such as ending climate change, to other, more serious, international trends, such as terrorism, in order to legitimise the former. I don't think this is a new phenomena - as a shadow of its leftist origins, environmentalism has always been underpinned by an anti business, anti capitalism, relativistic and conspiratorial agenda.
Terrorists beheading innocent aid workers , or governments interfering in foreign politics, have very little connection with environmental problems. To make this spurious connection to further your shallow environmentalist or social-democrat agenda belittles the victims of terrorism (on both sides) by distracting attention from the real causes, and undermines honest attempts to solve serious environmental problems (such as environmental degradation in countries lacking property rights).

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Recipe of the week

It's that time of year, so here are some pumpkin recipes...
Pumpkin and Orange Brulee
Pumkin gnocchi
Baked pumpkin
and ideas:
any of the following flavours - bacon, sage, warm spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves...), nuts, and caramel.
How about pumpkin soup; bacon + pumkin risotto; pumpkin ravioli with sage; pasta with pumpkin, sage and cream sauce; spiced roast pumpkin chunks; spiced pumpkin ice-cream; pumpkin parfait with caramelised nuts or winter fruit.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Lysander Spooner on the EU Constitution

If any considerable number of the people believe the Constitution to be good, why do they not sign it themselves, and make laws for, and administer them upon, each other; leaving all other persons (who do not interfere with them) in peace? Until they have tried the experiment for themselves, how can they have the face to impose the Constitution upon, or even to recommend it to, others? Plainly the reason for absurd and inconsistent conduct is that they want the Constitution, not solely for any honest or legitimate use it can be of to themselves or others, but for the dishonest and illegitimate power it gives them over the persons and properties of others. But for this latter reason, all their eulogiums on the Constitution, all their exhortations, and all their expenditures of money and blood to sustain it, would be wanting.
(No Treason No. 6)

Today, the EU Constitution, subject to ratification by member states, was signed.
In my opinion, this is the beginning of the end for the European Union as it exists today, because the Constitution is unlikely to be passed unanimously, resulting either in underhand dealings to force its content through, or a reversal of the statist trend, toward a union based on little more than a free market.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

John Locke

John Locke, one of the most important philosophers of liberty, died 300 years ago today.

Articles in the Times, Guardian!, David Conway and the best one, by William Rees-Mogg who says: Indeed, almost all subsequent revolutions [after the French/American] have started as Lockeian revolutions, however they have ended. People want to be free, but not all revolutions lead to freedom.

US election voting

The Economist is going for Kerry (via Volokh.com) and here is who the people at Slate like (mainly Kerry).
The Iowa electronic market, which is more accurate than polling (see here), has Bush just in the lead.

Review of The Glasshouse

Lunch at The Glasshouse, west London today. £83 for two (3 courses - 1 supplement, 2 glasses house white, 1 glass sherry, 1 espresso, water, service, lots of nice bread, including Poilane). There are two lunch menus, the more expensive had about 7/8 choices for each course, coming in at £25 for three courses.

We ate:
Deep fried sweetbread and calf tongue, radish salad, sauce gribiche. Good sauce, tasteless radish salad, tasty sweetbread and tongue - but portion was small compared to the other starter.
Loin of venison, stornoway black pudding (with beetroot, mushroom, potato rosti/tuile, horseradish creme chantilly) Very nice, probably best dish. Very moist and rich venison, creamy pudding.
----
Roast partridge, oxtail agnolotti, carrot and swede mash Breasts were off the bone and thighs with bone in. Both were overcooked and the skin was soggy - a disappointment. Agnolotti was actually an agnolotto with a nice filling but tasteless overcooked pasta. Mash and jus were good.
Char grilled beef fillet, tomato provencal, chips, bearnaise sauce (£5 supplement) Beef was cooked accurately but had very little taste. Perhaps poor quality meat, or just the "subtle" taste of fillet? Tomato was one lone tomato (why serve this in October), and came with an undressed lump of rocket. Chips came on a separate plate and were the real thing - 9 massive fingers with a crispy exterior and fluffy interior - perhaps the best I have ever had. Good sauce.
----
Poached pear, set vanilla custard, pain d'epice Nice pear - sweetness tempered by some liquer in the poaching stock, excellent custard, but the pain d'epice was in the form of a crumble topping for the custard and the spices didn't stand up to the rich custard. Served with a curved triangle tuile which tasted predominantly of sugar and stuck to my teeth.
Banana sorbet, coconut tuile Good tuile but sorbet was too sweet to finish.
----
Pedro Ximinez sherry
Espresso Awful, too watery - if I had known it was £3 (my personal record) I would have sent it back.

The service was pretty good with a few flaws (we had to ask for wine after 10 minutes and had to ask for another glass, the finger bowl request) and the maitre d' could have squeezed out a bit more warmth. I said I wanted the wine list with my dessert because I might have a calvados, and then when I ordered a sherry she said - that's not calvados. Well, quite.

I think the Glasshouse has won a Michelin star since my last visit and overall, I was a bit underwhelmed. The menu offers good value, with lots of choice and variety, but overpromises and underdelivers (which is the wrong way round). Not serious flaws but in a Michelin restaurant (this was the first I have eaten in), I expect roast partridge to have a crisp skin and be cooked less than well done. I expect salads to be dressed and seasoned. I expect beef to taste of beef. I expect decent coffee. If I use my fingers to eat the partridge I expect a finger bowl afterwards and not have to ask for it, and I would prefer not to spend two hours eating three courses. Apart from being so warm they had to open the door, the room is very nice and the toilets excellent.

I might go back but I would rather eat at St John for the same sort of money because the food, which is fairly similar, will taste better (compare the partridges) even if it might not look as pretty. At the end of the day, that is all that matters - I would rather eat in a dump with good, unpretentious food, than a starchy, pretentious restaurant, and in my opinion, the Glasshouse is veering towards the latter.
It is also interesting to note that St John is not in the Michelin guide (I looked on the website). I can't believe this - so unless I have missed it, perhaps someone can explain this too me?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Prof Boettke in London...cont

In addition to his Hayek lecture (blogged here), I have seen Prof Boettke talk on anarcho-capitalism as a positive political-economy research program, heard his views on property rights (in a pub with the LSE Hayek Society) and discussed liberalism in a post 9/11 world at the IEA.

He is a great speaker, really knows his stuff, is not afraid to wonder beyond his academic specialism (which is a good thing) and has loads of good anecdotes on famous economists.

On David Friedman (son of Milton): apparently he was brought up with a barter system through which he revealed his preferences for sweets .... and he has slightly impoverished social skills - so much so that as a student, he used to sit on the desk, and as the lecture progressed, hop his way forward to the front of the class! No doubting his intelligence and academic achievement - whilst on a PhD physics program he was so bored that he wrote an excellent book on law and economics in his spare time.

His anarchism talk was particularly persuasive as he referenced work (here, here and here) which proves that stable order can be maintained without government. Typically, anarcho-capitalists have suffered from the small number of case studies (medieval Iceland, housing communes...) but this problem is being addressed by Boettke and some of his PhD students. It is this type of work that really tempts me to go to Mason for an Econ PhD.

Why philosophy damages your career prospects

How about these questions as part of a job application form that I just completed for a yet to be named firm (answers on a five point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree):
- There are quite a lot of people who do not deserve to be respected.
- I believe in looking for the good in everyone.
- I always put a customer's happiness second to my own
- I favour a democratic approach to leadership.

I think this is much easier if you don't have a philosophy degree (or even a remotely inquisitive mind).

Well, even if you don't go into definitional issues (and if you do, all hope is lost), there will be times when respect is due, and others when it is forfeited. Perhaps at one point in time in a given area...there will be 'quite a lot of [undeserving] people' and then again, perhaps not.
Again, there will be times where a customer's needs ought to be serviced, however inconvenient for myself, and there will be times when the customer is taking the piss. Assuming that there will always be completely unreasonable customers, unless you have some sort of fetish for self-abuse, you cannot always be subservient to customers. A point will come where you ought to say, if you don't like it, go elsewhere, and waste someone else's time and money.

How is this particular firm able to evaluate me in any meaningful way from my response to these type of questions? Unless I gave obviously stupid responses, such as I strongy agree that customers are secondary to profit, it seems pretty meaningless to me.
If they give me a job, then of course, it is a deceptively ingenious and effective system.

Films

Fahrenheit 911: valuable only as an example of how not to do it.
Supersize Me: compared to the above, brilliant, but focuses on one store to the exclusion of lifestyle factors. I found Spurlock to be a bit lacking in charisma - the film needed a jolt of energy from somewhere.
Collateral: beautiful movie, great soundtrack - awful soppy Hollywood ending. Please remake it with a decent ending.
Hero: visually stunning movie, with a fairly substantial storyline, but too much artificial wire work.
Billabong Odyssey: sketchy editing and ordering in some parts, average soundtrack but all is forgiven for the unbelievable photography. Even if you know nothing of surfing, you will enjoy the pictures - only in a cinema can you appreciate the scale of a surfer on a >60 foot wave.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Calm down dear, its only a terrorist attack

John Mueller argues that public policy ought to take a more rational approach because: Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of Americans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severeallergic reaction to peanuts.
(Via Will Wilkinson and Gene Healy)

Regulation has published articles like this in the past (see here for example), and scholars such as Paul Slovic, John Adams, Cass Sunstein... have made similar points.
They make simple, but important conclusions based on an uncomplicated presentation of statistics. The more interesting, and more difficult problem, is what to do about it? How are you going to get around democratic machinations that play on people's cognitive biases?

I agree with Prof Johnston (warning: academic article):
Technocrats can do little or nothing to reduce political barriers to economically efficient or socially desirable regulation.

It's the institution, stupid.

Food photo of the week


The first thing I do in the morning. Quite a good crema for a moka.

Recipe of the week

Beetroot for dessert, by Antony Worrall Thompson.

Marco on Gordon

Marco Pierre White has had a go at absentee chefs: But when a Michelin-starred chef portrays himself as working hard in the kitchen that's where he should be and nowhere else.

You are paying £150-£200 per head in a restaurant that bears the name of a two or three-starred Michelin chef, if that man is not there, aren't you being conned?

The less than honest motivations for this are
1 - he has just opened a new restaurant
2 - there is a bit of enmity between Marco and Gordon Ramsay. The latter was taught by the former at Harvey's. Ramsay has in the past criticised other chefs for being absent and his rise to stardom has caused a few ripples among the super-egos of Michelin level cooking.
3 - Marco himself had more than one top restaurant on the go simultaneously (before he retired) so he must by definition have been absent some of the time.

Marco resigned his 3 Michelin stars when he retired and he expects others to follow his example: Have the courage to give back your stars. If a chef is doing television shows in America [Gordon Ramsay], who is running his restaurant? He's not there is he? You are paying for his expertise.

I party agree with Marco, but at the end of the day, unless you are celebrity spotting, all that matters is the quality of the eating experience. If the food is amazing, I don't care who cooked it. It doesn't particularly excite me that Ramsay had his fingers all over my food because I know that anything he puts his name to will be of top quality. His eponymous restaurant is run by head chef Mark Askew. Indeed, Ramsay's delegation of senior roles to his staff (Hartnett, Wareing, Sargeant) has set the base for further development of British cuisine, in much the same way that Marco trained cooks run kitchens all over the country.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Why the EU sucks part 6

There is currently a shortage of lard in Europe!
Yes, I am as worried as you. I make my short crust pastry with butter, but I use lard for my mincemeat and christmas pudding, so I hope the situation improves.
The cause? New members of the EU from east Europe:
The poor supply, which is also affecting the continent, is being blamed on former eastern bloc countries which joined the European Union on May 1.
Meat industry buyers from these countries have been snapping up cheap cuts of pork and using them for their sausages, salamis and pies. It is this excess meat which traditionally has been rendered to fat to make lard. One source said the east European buyers were placing bulk orders for a regular supply of this meat, outpricing the lard manufacturers.

The best way to "beat" McDonalds

The Times reports on the success of a French school in persuading pupils to forgo McDonalds for the cafeteria. With a menu like this, I would too: Vegetable terrine; squid with its ink, fresh pasta with saffron; conger eel with sesame and fennel cream; cheese, fruit (for £1.60).
The secret lies in hiring a talented chef who, in a previous life, worked in fine dining restaurants, apparently. There is also an English version, but I can't find the story.

This is a welcome development, but the school is in effect free-riding, so I doubt whether it is a universal solution. The chef has been trained at restaurants all over France so the school is getting this knowledge for "free" (not including his wage). If this were to become more frequent, restaurants would be less likely to train chefs without some form of contractual arrangement. I also doubt whether there are enough good chefs who would make this career move.
Perhaps school cafeterias can make more effort to serve "proper" food, but this is a function of resources and consumer demand. In the UK, I doubt that many schools have the resources to hire talented chefs, and/or, until there is more demand from school kids for decent food, there is little incentive for them to do so.
The lamentable British food culture is important here - I ate a better meal in the University of Perugia cafeteria than I have in some restaurants in the UK, and I was not surprised. Sad but true.

UPDATE: A new organisation, Cooks in Schools, aims to harnish professional culinary knowledge to help improve school food. The site goes live at the end of the month and the story is here. I wish it well.

Seeing the wood for the forest

Fareed Zakaria, in the Times, suggests that America is being distracted from China and India by Iraq: For America, whether it is preserving jobs or security, recognising and adapting to this new world order is key.
Judging from his last book, he knows better, but he seems to confuse political and economic power. The economic rise of China and India only begins to compare to the importance of defeating terrorism if you assume that government is equally responsible for safeguarding "American" jobs and national security, when the latter ought to trump the former.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Famous voters

Reason records the voting intentions + history of loads of clever and/or famous people in the US, including Vernon Smith, Steven Pinker, P J O'Rourke, Charles Murray and Eugene Volokh (who linked to it at Volokh.com).

Richard Epstein's is my favourite:
2004 vote: I don’t know who the Libertarian candidate is this time, but you can put me down as voting for him; anyone but the Big Two. As far as I can tell, the debate thus far has borne no relation to the important issues facing the nation...except Vietnam. It’s just two members of the same statist party fighting over whose friends will get favors.
2000 vote: I can’t remember.
Most embarrassing vote: Since I don’t remember who I vote for from one election to the next, it’s hard to say. I suppose Richard Nixon in ’72, though that doesn’t mean I’d want to have voted for George McGovern either.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Behavioural economics

Prof Bainbridge on behavioural economics.

I particularly agree with his point that even if we assume that beh. econ. has it right, public choice accounts of political decisionmaking are much harder to defeat. Furthermore, it is arguably more dangerous for someone in power to display irrational decision making processes, such as the availability heuristic, than a typical market actor.

I would also add that
1 - Austrian economics does not rely on the perfect information... stipulations that behavioural economists have such fun undermining. It is not hard to show that neoclassical man is unrealistic (even though that was largely the point of the model), but it is much harder to show how behaviourally enlightened bureaucrats can solve the problem, unless you assume that these bureaucrats are perfectly rational, but that defeats the whole point...
2 - in the West, we have done pretty well in the last 500 odd years in improving our living standards, despite supposed irrationalities. Perhaps we could have done better, but it seems that historical attempts to make us do better have failed spectacularly.

I can recommend Richard Epstein's last book as a defence of classical liberalism against beh. law + econ. I am quite happy to rely on an argument from authority - this is what Epstein thinks of beh law + econ:
...cognitive biases offer but another illustration of the basic Hayekian insight regarding the importance of decentralization in social affairs: the partitioning of responsibility ... functions as an error-correction mechanism.

The only practical implication of behavioral economics is to strengthen the case for private institutions

UPDATE
Will Wilkinson links to Prof Klein's response to an old Thaler + Sunstein paper on Libertarian Paternalism. Klein criticises Thaler + Sunstein for ambiguous (and/or deceitful) use of language, and, more usefully, emphasises the fact that the Hayekian research program is all about trying to deal with the "irrationalities" pointed out by the beh law + econ people. This is what really bothers me a bout beh law + econ: I read a lot of it for my thesis, and I don't remember coming across one decent discussion of the Hayekian research on limited information and the implication therein. One hopes this is nothing more than a temporary oversight (but I suspect otherwise, as does Prof Klein)
Here is a clever remark from the end of Klein's paper:What, then, are we to make of “Libertarian Paternalism”? I suggest that Thaler and Sunstein suffer from deep biases. They sense the challenge of libertarian ideas, but react in a way that is anchored in the political statusquo and their own commitments to certain ideological ideas and values.

Juxtaposition x 2

From the Telegraph:
1 - Mao's red book fails to fetch its reserve price, whilst people spend millions on some stuff by Damien Hirst.
2 - Hunting foxes with hounds is to be banned, but hunting deer with helicopters is officially sanctioned by the Scottish parliament to save young trees.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Boettke at the LSE

Prof Peter Boettke's lecture at the LSE tonight was excellent (he is the current Hayek Visiting Fellow)- a very robust explanation and defence of Hayekian liberalism. He interspersed his lecture with all sorts of wonderful anectdotes about Hayek and his contemporaries.
The take-away message was that Hayek's challenge to socialistic political economy is, at base, remarkably free of ideology. It was only later on that Hayek delved into political philosophy as a result of his earlier economic work, yet his intellectual achievements form a coherent whole and his work has had massive influence in economics.

The Hayek Visiting Fellow program at the School (and the work of the Hayek Society) is much needed because Hayek's achievements do not get nearly enough recognition and it is important to remember that when you are studying economics (and I would add political philosophy) at the LSE you are truly standing on the shoulders of giants, as the chair, Professor Tim Besley, said.

There must have been at least 100 people there and I had the honour of sitting next to Prof Anthony Flew who knew Hayek whilst he was at the School from 1931 - 1949/50.

The limits of democracy

From the Telegraph: South Africa's official broadcaster was forced to scrap its Great South Africans series yesterday after viewers chose white supremacists, convicted fraudsters and cheating sportsmen for the top 100 places.
State television's poll of national heroes placed apartheid villains and a cricket captain who fixed matches far ahead of black freedom fighters and Nobel laureates.


Curious choices are found even among those in the top 10. SABC asked viewers to "vote for the person who you feel should stand alongside Nelson Mandela as the greatest South African". The answer, according to SABC viewers, is Gary Player, the 68-year-old golfer who won the British Open in 1959 and topped the poll. Next came Mohandas Gandhi, who spent 21 years in South Africa and campaigned for the rights of its Indian community, but never became a citizen.

Basque chefs and ETA?

On the questioning of 4 of Spain's best known chefs regarding possible payment of extortion to ETA: Guardian, Telegraph, The Economist (sort of).
The chefs are Juan Mari Arzak, Pedro Subijana Reza, Karlos Arguinano and Martin Berasategui.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Socialists get desperate in London

Whilst taking one of numerous caffeine breaks at the LSE library today, I came across this lot marching down the Aldwych. A policeman told me my source of caffeine was in a 'sterile area' - cue argument and annoying detour.
So I went to Cafe Nero where I saw lots of the marchers buying coffee and queuing to use the toilet. Note that the march contained the usual communist party, socialist party... members, supporters...
Presumably, Cafe Nero is actually a cunning disguise for a communally "owned", non-profit, workers' coffee outlet. Presumably it didn't make over £10m profit last year.... presumably the marchers buying coffee were drawn in to the store by the exploitative subliminal advertising radiating from the shopfront...
it's just, like, I couldn't help but buy a decaff skinny soya latte to go, like...

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Food photo of the week


Life is too short not to make your own stock.

Recipe of the week

Ham rillette

This is a modified version of traditional rillette recipes.

Ingredients
Ham (joint for boiling)
Stock vegetables (carrots, garlic, onion, celery) and herbs
Parma/Serrano ham or bacon fat (no more than 30% of quantity of meat)

Method
Place ham in a pot of cold water, bring to the boil and discard water (this helps reduce the salinity). Fill pot with fresh cold water, stock vegetables and herbs, bring to boil (removing any scum) and simmer gently until ham is tender (good few hours, depending on size of joint).
When cooked sufficiently, allow to cool in the stock.
Melt the fat.
Remove ham from stock, discarding any fat and chop very finely. Mix well with melted fat, adjust seasoning and put into container(s). I use espresso cups as they give a good serving. The rillette will keep in the fridge for at least a week, especially if covered with a layer of fat.

The stock should be sieved and used for soups, risotti, terrines, sauces...

The economics of trust

The current edition of Restaurant Magazine has an article on a restaurant in the suburbs of London where there are no prices on the menu. Customers pay what they think the meal was worth. It is called Just Around the Corner and has been around for 17 years. From what I saw when I went to help photograph it for the magazine, it serves old fashioned French food of an average standard (soup, chicken supreme, profiteroles...).

Here are some interesting quotes from the owner:
In a cheaper area the restaurant wouldn't survive because people wouldn't pay the money I expect and in a busier, more central area, we couldn't build up the trust.

When people don't pay what the owner thinks appropriate (about £20 a head) We just thank them nicely and give them their money back. These people know they don't belong here, they try you out and by giving them their money back nicely, you ensure that they never return.

Apparently this is a unique operation and as the owner admits, location is key. But I think there is more to the location than simply wealth, as the owner states. If there were more competition (there isn't a great deal nearby), would it survive? Why hasn't the approach been imitated, as it is obviously profitable?
The owner is very charismatic, and the restaurant has what some would call a nice atmosphere, so perhaps it has become a local institution which survives due to a combination of scarce competition, a gastronomically conservative clientele and a charming and familiar atmosphere. The absence of competition is important because a comparable local restaurant would enable people to price a meal at Just Around the Corner more accurately, acting as a kind of yardstick.

Even if a customer was unhappy with the food, there would probably be a shame factor, helped by the kindness of the owner, which induced him to pay a "reasonable" price, even if he never returns again.

I would be interested if anyone knows of similar operations around the world, especially any that have failed with a similar business plan.

The "evolution" of the Third Way

The Times discusses the "progressive" Left's continuing search for coherent ideas. In particular it looks at the changing politics of Mandelson's Policy Network.
Here is a quote from Michiel van Hulten (the co-chairman of the Policy Network and rising star of the Dutch Labour Party) which gives a clue that they have no new, or even coherent, ideas: Why is freedom more inherently right-wing than left-wing?

Where to start...?

More fast food fallacies

Proof that fast food does not have to be crap food.
I was a bit disappointed with my meal here, but I will give it another go. It tasted too much like health food - ie: chewy, brown, tasteless.

Truffles

This season is going to be a good one for truffles.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

What McDonald's is good for

From the Telegraph: Gordon Brown could do worse than use McDonald's fast food restaurants as a model for boosting the enterprise culture in Britain and easing inner city job problems, say researchers in a study published today.
They show that the controversial American burger business is one of Britain's biggest wealth providers, particularly in deprived areas. They estimate that the 470 franchised restaurants, out of a UK total of more than 1,200, pump £1.5billion a year into the local economy, much of it in inner city areas.

Why we went to war

Reasons 1 and 2

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The wonder of markets

Prof Bourdeaux has a wonderful post about the "magic" of markets: That is, the many marvels of our world – proximately the consequence of technology, ultimately the consequence of free markets and rational thought – are possible only insofar as we no longer really believe in magic.

It reminded me of a deceptively intelligent quote that is tangentially linked by Prof Dave Schmidtz (from Social Welfare and Individual Responsibility): It is easy to ignore the part of the glass that is full. When we ignore it, it does not occur to us what fills it. In turn, it does not occur to us that the things we do to fill the empty part can undermine productive activities that fill the glass in the first place.

Over 150 years ago, Bastiat expressed similar wonder at the power of the market: On coming to Paris for a visit, I said to myself: Here are a million human beings who would all die in a few days if supplies of all sorts did not flow into this great metropolis. It staggers the imagination to try to comprehend the vast multiplicity of objects that must pass through its gates tomorrow, if its inhabitants are to be preserved from the horrors of famine, insurrection, and pillage. And yet all are sleeping peacefully at this moment, without being disturbed for a single instant by the idea of so frightful a prospect. On the other hand, eighty departments have worked today, without cooperative planning or mutual arrangements, to keep Paris supplied. How does each succeeding day manage to bring to this gigantic market just what is necessary - neither too much nor too little? (Economic Sophisms)

There is a real danger that when we become complacent, when we can't be bothered to understand (however roughly) how the world works, we fail to realise that however well intentioned our actions, they may lead to ruin for all. In the West, we have become as wealthy and as healthy as we are now largely due to market activity. When we forget this, and blame market activity for the problems that exist all over the world, we risk undermining our whole society.

McDonald's loses it?

The Guardian reports on McDonald's rebranding, which sees the golden arches replaced with a golden question mark - We have changed too, so the creative idea on the question mark, is - this is McDonald's, but not as you know.

The whole piece seems to want to prove that McDonald's is jumping before it is pushed re: obesity and that the rebranding is a result of falling profits. McDonald's have to put a brave face on it, but it is obviously true. What of it? McDonald's changes according to changing consumer desires. Shock! It isn't a victory for anyone except market forces - demand shaping supply.
The existence of this relationship is tacitly denied by anti McDonald's protesters - "McDonald's makes us fat" (ie: McDonald's chooses for us). However, as evidenced by the rebranding, we choose for McDonald's. Consumers are moving toward "healthier" options away from fried foods, and McDonald's is trying to keep up with this trend. There is absolutely nothing sinister going on here.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Food photo of the week

Buternut squash sorbet, coffee soil, basil.
A dessert from WD-50 in NYC.


Recipe of the week

Tagliatelle with savoy cabbage

A nice simple dish for a cold evening.

Put tagliatelle on to boil.
Fry a little finely chopped onion and garlic in lots of butter. After five minutes, add shredded savoy cabbage (deveined + maybe half a cabbage for 2/3 people depending on portion size) and mix. Turn the heat up and add half a glass of dry white wine or dry vermouth/martini and boil until reduced by half. Add enough double cream + pasta cooking water to make a sauce and gently simmer until cabbage is just cooked. Season and blitz half the mixture until smooth, then return to pan.
Mix pasta into the sauce when cooked with lots of parmesan or pecorino cheese and perhaps some truffle oil.
Serve.

Caffe

23 this week - stable

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The economics of big dining

The FT has a fascinating piece (subscription) on a new style of restaurant in China serving up to 4000 people per night.

An owner of one of these restaurants is quoted: ...we've learnt a lot from McDonalds and the other western fast-food chains. In the past restaurant chefs were expected to master the full range of dishes on the menu. But we've reorganised our kitchens so that each team - a chef and his two assistants - is only expected to produce about six dishes...This kind of specialisation means we've been able to maintain a consistently high quality...

The author of the piece states: You might imagine that the kind of food in a restaurant on this kind of scale would be a slap-dash affair. In fact, it's excellent, and of a quality eclipsing almost any Chinese food you can find in a major Western city.
This quote is important because the writer is Fuchsia Dunlop, one of the most respected Western experts on Chinese food.

I wonder what the Slow Food activists would say about this? It seems you can have food on a grand scale that is of excellent quality. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone with a basic (and correct) understanding of economics. Specialisation is the key to big, efficient and high quality production. Why should professional cooking be any different?
For all the Slow Food talk of artisan, local and organic food products, the fact that they do not have a monopoly on gastronomic excellence ought to cause some rethinking in the Slow Food HQ.

A perilous future for Italian food?

The FT reports that due to the changing lifestyle of Italian women (increasing numbers work...), culinary knowledge is being lost. Young professional Italians do not have time to cook in the manner in which their mothers did - ie: spend half the day doing it.
Another problem is the nature of Italian cuisine: it lacks a professional element. Whilst both the French and Italians have simple, regional foods, the former is distinguished by a proud tradition of professional cooking. For example, Germany has more Michelin starred restaurants than Italy!

Italian food is predominantly home cooking, so when the nature of the home changes, so does the cuisine. This may turn out to be beneficial - some might say that a strength of Italian cooking, its conservatism, is also a blinder to foreign influences. Italian cuisine will evolve in ways hard to predict, but I think most of the fears will come from outside of Italy, from those who want to preserve Italy at a particular point and time. The increasingly liberated women will probably, unsurprisingly, be least concerned. They will be too busy enjoying themselves.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Fallout from the oil for food scandal continues

The Telegraph gives a whole page to the developing scandal, including details of who got what:

When the United Nations set up the oil-for-food programme to save Iraqis from hunger and disease in 1996, few had any idea that it would also allow Saddam Hussein to create one of the most widespread systems of corruption in modern history.
According to the Iraq Survey Group, presidents, prime ministers, political parties, activists, "friendship societies" and businessmen around the world received lucrative oil contracts in return for political favours and a share of the profits.


The boss of the UN aid program got in on the act, as did the Russian Communist Party! Solidarity and all that, I guess.

According to the ISG, Russian traders received 30 per cent of oil export contracts, followed by the French with 15 per cent and the Chinese with 10 per cent.
It is no coincidence that Russia, France and China were the three permanent members of the UN Security Council that tried hardest to lift sanctions on Iraq.


These revelations don't allow us to excuse the mess that seems to be developing in Iraq, but they do undermine the positions of the French et al. How can they suggest they care about the civilians of Iraq when they are responsible for perpetrating the very problem that necessitated action.

The UN "acts" over Sudan

The UN is doing something, sort of:

A five-member panel to investigate whether genocide has taken place in Darfur has been appointed by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The commission includes human rights and legal experts from Peru, Egypt, Pakistan and Ghana and is chaired by Italian law professor Antonio Cassese, who was president of the UN war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia from 1993-1997. (BBC)

This highlights the different mindsets of the UN and the US. Powell did not hesitate to state that genocide had occurred. Of course it is important to respect international laws/protocol for defining genocide, and Powell probably had some political motive for his decisive rhetoric, but really, does it need three months?

It seems that as long as the UN follows the law, such as it is, it is of less concern how much people suffer. Are the perpetrators of the murders in Sudan going to stop because the UN has sent five people there on an academic fact finding mission? Are those families and individuals who have lost loved ones going to gain satisfaction from the knowledge that despite the possibility of continued attacks, someone might be bought to justice some time in the future by foreigners?

I know I wouldn't. I would want the foreigners to stop the violence not observe and document it.

Good news from Germany

Motorists can now buy insurance against rising petrol prices (Ananova)

Thursday, October 07, 2004

London restaurants lose gound?

The Times reports on the 2005 Good Food Guide:
Some of the most creative and imaginative cooking in the UK is taking place outside London.
The capital is not about to lose its position at the culinary vanguard, but it is great to see such good things happening all over the country, sometimes in unexpected locations.


The only problem is that a lot of these "good things" are expensive Michelin starred restaurants (this does not mean they are poor value). You can get good food all over the country if you are willing to pay for it - the real challenge is to eat like you would in Italy (for example) for £5-£10 a head. When we begin to approach the Italian version, we can say that UK food culture is getting somewhere. With few exceptions, all of the culinary excellence (Michelin starred) in this country can be traced back to a handful of chefs in France. This isn't a bad thing, but it serves as a reminder that indigenously, we have some way to go.

Scientists find new animals!!

The Telegraph reports on the possible discovery of a new type of ape - a killer ape.
It sort of surprises me that whilst there are fears about extinctions, the relevant scientists haven't mapped all the species.
This is not to say that the numbers of a particular species might not be falling, but it is pretty hard to say what % of species are going extinct annually if you don't know how many species exist.

Organised spontaneity

Cental London has just seen a couple of flashmobbings. A 500 strong pillow fight and opera at a train station. I really like the pillow fight - apparently they cleaned up after themselves!

Definition: A flashmob is a spontaneous gathering, organised secretively by email or text message and subject to meticulous timing from the "official" FlashMob site

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Review of St John Bread and Wine

Had dinner at St John Bread and Wine tonight (£100 for 2, plus service: 2 starters, 2 mains, 2 desserts, 1 wine, 1 water, 1 espresso, 2 wines + 2 eccles cakes + 1 sourdough to take away).

Overall pretty happy with it. Mallard terrine £6.40 was well flavoured but served too cold + girolles, parlsey and garlic £12.80 (served on toasted bread) was a generous size but the mushrooms lacked flavour and/or were overpowered by the garlic.

Braised Lamb Saddle, Carrots & Barley 14.00 was very good + very generous. My Partridge & Bread Sauce 19.50 was accurately cooked + served with nice cooking juices, + had a strong flavour. I can't say I enjoyed it though - I am not sure what all the fuss is about with seasonal expensive game. £ for £ I think they fare badly in comparison with some confit duck or chicken leg or a bit of beef skirt.

Desserts were Apple & Cider Sorbet (very nice but a bit sweet for me) and Prune Tart & Vanilla Ice Cream 6.00 (the tart was a warm tart fine + unfortunately the prunes had not been stoned. That was a mistake I presume - I can't think of a reason for leaving them in and not warning the customer. I think prunes work better in a frangipane tart but it was very nice nevertheless.)

Illy espresso gets a 7/10 and the house white VIN DE PAYS D'OC (2002) St John Viognier £15 was v good.

Service was a little patchy - at times they seemed more interested in chatting + playing amongst themselves: that's fine in this type of restaurant but only if your customers haven't been waiting too long for the bill, the coffee, missing a wine menu (no dessert wine for me then)...+ one of them greeted me as if I were the local big issue seller got lost.

Anyway, I would go back, + will for the bread alone: still the best in London.

AA Gill did a good review of the place in 2003, which I sort of agree with.
There were others [menu choices], though, that suffered from that English belief that hardship itself is a virtue. Such as duck neck, chicory and watercress. Eating duck’s necks is like eating soggy dog breath. The pig-cheek ham on sourdough toast was an exercise in competitive chewing for little reward except the satisfaction of knowing you’d done it and that your stool would be a thing of rough beauty. ...But none of this is really the point. What makes customers loyal to St John is that this, at last, is food that speaks their language and says decent, kind and quietly flattering things about them and their families. This is the restaurant that we might have got if George Orwell had married Elizabeth David. It’s that winning home-grown combination of casual austerity with flashes of spectacular opulence, like an old tweed jacket with a paisley silk lining. You can love this place as much for what it isn’t as for what it is. And that, too, seems to be very, very us.

It is the kind of place to go to celebrate simplicity and quality, it is not a place of luxury + doesn't pretend to be. It is not romantic.
I do feel there is a bit of a danger of this idea of hairshirted virtue disappearing up its own backside. The Italian equivalent of this type of food is served up in sawdust trattorias where full blown meals cost the same as the partridge I ate. And this is in Milan and Rome, hardly cheap cities. Unfortunately, there isn't really an indigenous equivalent in this country, so most homegrown attempts, in London at least, seem to end up positioning themselves as some kind of gastronomic saviour. If you are going to charge big prices for good produce served simply you need to make sure everything else is top notch (the service, the decour...) because the food itself doesn't require that much effort compared to more technically demanding menus. I guess I am only tangentially having a go at St John but I hope their good press is not going to their heads.

Why the EU sucks part 5

It has got rid of Wales
That is a pretty stupid and unforgiveable mistake. I won't go as far as to say that it is symptomatic of the centralising tendencies of EU busybodies but...

Mickey Mouse degree axed

A degree in surf and beach management has been dropped after 3 months: After three months at least of attempting to explain to people that indeed this was a management course, it was impossible to stop people poking fun at it. This is not fair to all our other students to be tarred with the brush of this.

My immediate reaction was two fold: first, surfing is a multimillion pound global industry (perhaps even billion..? sorry no facts here), so perhaps they should have dropped more specious courses such as..... (fill in as appropriate)....I would axe anything with sustainable development in the title.
Second, the point is less the substantive nature of the degree (surfing...) but the procedural point that taxpayers are funding it. We can legitimately say that degree X is better than degree Y + perhaps ought to limit funding to vocational degrees and the classics (not just classics literally, but philosophy, english, ...). No-one could have a sensible objection to a private university setting up a degree in surfing or environmentalism or hair combing or whatever. The real point is that taxpayers presumably want their resources allocated to the most socially beneficial degrees, and surfing, whilst probably not the least productive, certainly is not as useful to society as medicine or somesuch.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Cafe Hayek

Prof Don Bourdeaux has put up a few excellent posts recently:
1. What's wrong with the draft. It replaces capital with labour.
2. Why innovation is a social good. The vast, vast majority of the benefits of innovation are dispersed into civil society.
3. Why low prices are not necessarily a bad thing + .: why protectionism is not a good thing.
4. A response to Prof Tyler Cowen's post on the economics of the intifada.

Jealousy

I can't help it, I am jealous of this man.

Let's help France scupper the EU constitution

Daniel Hannan, a MEP, has a piece in the Telegraph on why Britain's best hope might be for France to vote no in their EU constitution referendum.
To prove that he is not a small minded Englishman he sprinkles the text with French, so much so that I don't get the punchline at the end. Perhaps I am the small minded Englishman.

I talked to someone at the IEA the other week who gave a similar theory and suggested that British Euro sceptics go over to France to help their Eurosceptics win their election.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Video cam of Mt St Helens

Why the EU sucks part 4

At least £1.8 billion paid in inflated claims to Europe's agro-industry has never been recovered by Brussels even after the exposure of the abuses, according to a report by the European Union's senior watchdog. Daily Telegraph

Why the EU sucks part 3

The Telegraph offers a lightweight discussion of rising prices in Ireland.

I can only confirm this by way of anecdotal evidence. I have visited my family in Ireland annually for the last 24 years, and I have definitely noticed the rise in prices since the Euro. Now they are pretty much identical to London. (I have experienced + my family in Italy tell a similar story.) This is a real shock to me because when I visit my family in the wild west of Clare I do not expect to pay London prices. For example, in county Cork (a bit posher than Clare I admit), I have seen main courses in restaurants for E20 and had a fairly good 4 course meal for E42 (wine + extras not included). For about E20 I can have a main course here, at one of the best restaurants in central London. To me, this says something is not quite right.
Perhaps I am being naive?
However, I am pleased Ireland is enjoying economic growth after its troubled history. Each time I visit, I notice the progress, and actually feel proud. Nearly every small town has some internet access and some towns, like Ennis, have really embraced IT. My family in Clare only got an indoor toilet towards the end of the 2oth century and still do not have central heating. Electricity was also a relatively recent development.
I am told stories of relatives who had emigrated to America returning home in the 1950s + 60s, who were shocked + upset at the living conditions of their Irish family.
This is of course what the charm of Ireland is for tourists - friendly, simple people with funny looking houses and customs, living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. What is not seen is the grinding poverty and extreme social conservatism. I welcome any improvement in this respect.

Interesting stat from the story: This year a record 600,000 (out of a population of four million) have sought holidays abroad, leaving the home tourist industry in the doldrums.

Why the EU sucks part 2

Proof that the fat cat lives amongst selfless public servants. ...Neil Kinnock, the outgoing European commissioner, would receive a pay-off of about £277,000 over the next three years followed by an annual pension of £63,900 a year for life.

Remind me again, what precisely did Mr Kinnock do or achieve?


Why the EU sucks part 1

Seeing as I am not going to run out of stories anytime soon, I thought I would start numbering the posts properly and see what number I reach.

The Telegraph reports: Vital medical research is faltering across the European Union as the result of a poorly drafted law that has infuriated scientists.
Prof Richard Gray, the head of Birmingham Clinical Trials Unit, called the directive bureaucracy run mad. "We have not undertaken any new projects for a year because of this. It's the most complete nonsense. Everybody is running around like headless chickens trying to work out how to cope".

The seen and the unseen: perhaps this directive will makes drugs safer and ensure that politicians have their backsides covered (this is seen) but it will delay - curtail their production and therefore harm patients that otherwise might have been helped (the unseen).

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Recipe of the week

Some unusual chocolate recipes from Heston Blumenthal because this week is Chocolate Week.
Chocolate shortbread
Chocolate fondant (which can double up as an easy souffle)

Caffe

23 espressi this week - down two.
Perhaps I am addicted or perhaps not...

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Food photo of the week


Chicken rillette, tomato marmalade, chicken jus

Free cookbook

Free digital download cookbook from Lampreia restaurant in Seattle via Tasting Menu. From the quick look I gave, it seems v good. Lovely photos, clever recipes.
This is what the blogsphere is good for.

Style over substance

An academic at UCL has apparently proved that 'fashion and fad' are meaningless.
Such cultural patterns are identical to those produced by a random copying algorithm: Their analysis of the popularity of baby names, pop album sales, dog breeds and the line-and-dot decorations on ancient clay pots has demonstrated that the rise and fall of trends in all of these areas follows a neat mathematical distribution that is predicted by a random copying model.

I am not sure how sound this is - I know almost nothing in this field + haven't read the paper.

My main query is how can you show that the outcome of a random process is void of substance? Surely you need to measure something other than the process. A random process could presumably produce something useful, although it might be very inefficient. How can the process inform us of the outcome in this sense? Hayek taught us that a process does not have to be directed to be useful. Hayekian process is not undirected (it relies on the invisible hand) but it is not directed as a whole. Rather it is directed on the micro level which leads to efficient macro outcomes.

Also, very few things in culture are 100% random. I can't think of many processes that are immune from cultural influences, so trends like the popularity of a particular name are presumably not random in that they are driven by celebrity, which in turn is driven by media, etc...

Friday, October 01, 2004

UCL tops the toffs

One of my alma mater is the UK university of the year according to the Sunday Times. Bit of a surprise.

French Laundry

Chez Pim has a stunning post on a meal she ate at French Laundry, with photos.

Review of Providores Tapa Room

I had a quick snack at the Providores Tapa Room in central London today, my 3rd or 4th visit.
£20 (including service) for a sherry, starter, dessert and two espressi.

Crispy spring rolls stuffed with Szechuan braised duck, feta and guindilla chillies with tamarind aioli were pretty good. Not enough feta + I didn't think it worked with the duck. The tamarind aioli was very good. I can't get enough of tamarind. I fondly remember a tamarind caramel here which the kitchen let me try which was stunning.

Coconut 'sushi' with passionfruit raspberry parfait, roast plum, tobacco syrup and chocolate brittle was very good. The plum didn't add anything + the chocolate brittle tasted more of caramel than chocolate, but the rest was excellent. Coconut 'sushi' was a slice of coconut flavoured rice, on top of which sat the parfait and brittle tuile. The parfait was excellent, the raspberry and passionfruit worked perfectly. The sharpness of both fruits was carried by the creaminess of the parfait. The tobacco syrup was good and the smoky, raspy feeling it gave on the back of the throat seemed to work with the sharp fruitiness of the parfait.

Only complaints were small plates which made eating rather difficult and slightly haughty service. I wanted the coffee with my dessert but it didn't happen because the waiter couldn't be bothered to listen.
The service here is either very friendly or snobbish, but generally I like the place, and the coffee is the best I have tasted in London (+ I drink a lot!)
Also, it is close to the Ginger Pig butcher (excellent bacon, beef, pork...), La Fromagerie (good but too expensive), Divertimenti kitchen supplies (for posh housewives), Paul and other foodie shops. The Oxfam there normally has good food books also (I have got Troisgros and MFK Fisher there).

California bans foie gras

UPDATE: more here (thanks to Sam).

The only US election site worth reading

Nurse auction

Websites may be set up so that nurses could bid their price for a shift and the lowest priced nurse would be employed.

The NHS spent £600 million on agency staff last year. The wages for agency staff can be 30 - 40% higher than contracted staff.
So you would think that the interested bodies would be in favour because it offers more choice + a chance to save money: lower wages + the IT will save HR costs.

However, perhaps not surprisingly,the Royal College of Nursing is opposed:
"This is gimmicky and disrespectful to the professionalism of nursing. It encourages cheap labour and the RCN would be strongly opposed. This system has the potential to exploit vulnerable nurses, particularly overseas nurses, who comprise a significant proportion of the London nursing workforce. They could be pressured into underselling their skills having come from countries that pay nurses a lot less".

Head of nursing for Unison, Gail Evans, said:
"It would set nurse against nurse in unhealthy competition and is not an effective way of managing wards or getting the right skills mix. Nurses choose to work shifts because they have childcare responsibilities and to set these nurses against each other is an outrageous situation".

Marx couldn't have said it better himself: competition is bad, the workers would be exploited + exploit themselves + others. Note the suggestion that foreign nurses are not clever enough to use the system.
Yes it does encourage cheap labour - that is the point, because the NHS has finite resources + needs to spend money efficiently. Presumably the system will incorporate all the necessary factors (such as skills) leading to a ceteris paribus situation: given that these 10 nurses have the same skills, and X is prepared to work for the least, why not hire her?
If the system incorporates reputation via feedback from the employers (as in the Amazon sellers system) it would seem to be a winner for all concerned, except, as always, the vested interests.