Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Restaurant reviews - dim sum

The Golden Palace, Harrow, NW London.
In the last couple of weeks I have 2 excellent dim sum lunches here. It has excellent reviews (here, here), is very busy, especially with Chinese (for what this is worth) and the dim sum is excellent value at about £2.50 - £3.50 a plate.
Standout dishes have been: fried lemongrass chicken, crab and broccoli steamed in seaweed rolls, cuttlefish cakes, and the star of the show: five spice braised beef belly. For £2.50 you get a small bowl of tripe, fatty beef belly, dumplings, and turnip in a delicious spicy beef broth. The best thing I have eaten in a restaurant of any kind for a long time. Duck tongues in tangerine sauce were disappointing - too bony and gelatinous. They join chicken feet in the "to be tried once only" category.
Service is attentive and friendly by Chinese restaurant standards and the bill for two (with 7/8 dishes) comes to about £22. Can't wait to go back.

Phoenix Palace, nr Baker Street, central London
£40 for dim sum for 2, with drinks + a rice dish. Generally no better than the Golden Palace and in places a bit worse. Beef dumplings (with mint and peas) were very good, and I have eaten an excellent eel dish here in the past, but the Golden Palace wins hands down.

The Right Nation

I am currently enjoying The Right Nation. Why America is Different by John Micklethwait and Adrain Wooldridge and this quote really struck me:

The reason the first word spoken on the moon was "Houston" was Texas's skill at wielding political power (p.139).

Road pricing - German style

The forthcoming German road pricing model is being studied by the UK government. The German system goes live on saturday, covering lorries over 7400 miles of road. The cost will be a function of size and emissions.

From the Telegraph: A typical four-axle cab and trailer unit will be billed £42 for the 353-mile trip between Cologne and Munich, equivalent to a journey from Manchester to Aberdeen.....Lorries will be fitted with cigarette pack-sized windscreen equipment that links with global positioning satellites to track the vehicle's progress. The number of motorway "segments" travelled can be checked by a separate network of roadside sensors.
The on-board unit receives both streams of data, calculates the relevant toll and triggers a payment demand from the central toll agency, where the vehicle's ownership details are pre-registered.

Drivers without an on-board unit are required to "book" their journey with the agency in advance, either on the internet or at one of 3,500 terminals installed at petrol stations and service areas.

Checks on possible toll evaders are made by number-plate cameras on overhead gantries and bridges, backed up by 300 mobile enforcement patrols that will operate 24 hours a day with powers to pull over suspect vehicles. Fines for non-payment will range as high as £14,000 for the most serious and persistent offenders.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The failure of multiculturalism - Dutch style

I don't know enough about this situation, but if this Telegraph report is accurate, it is a further piece of damning evidence against a politically correct, multiculturalist welfare state.

An estimated 20,000 Dutch Somalis have left Holland for Britain over the past five years, escaping a multicultural model once touted as the most enlightened in the world.
They say they are frustrated by a system that keeps them trapped in welfare dependency and fosters ethnic tension.

Part of the problem seems to be red-tape which prevents immigrants working and confines them to welfare. Adan Igeh Hussein, of the Somali European Forum, said: "We don't want to depend on social benefits. We're a business-oriented people, but here the rules and red tape make it a nightmare to start anything. You have to have a certificate just to clean houses. In Britain it's so much easier if you want to set up a restaurant or a shop."

And the grass seems to be greener on this side of the North Sea: "We've been here for 12 or 15 years. The government gives us housing, it spends a lot of money, but it's still been a failure. After one year in Britain, everybody is very happy."

Festive price gouging?

A shortage of Christmas trees in Hawaii has raised prices dramatically and caused people to queue through the night to ensure they get a tree. From the Telegraph:
The announcement of the prices - from £80 for a 4ft tree to £140 for one 6ft to 7ft - drew cries of dismay from the crowd and police were called to keep the peace....
Mele Kalikimaka Turner, a tree salesman who flew in the additional 130 trees - his forenames mean "Merry Christmas" - insisted that his prices were fair.
"There is a lot involved in bringing a tree to Hawaii," he said.
Barbara Taylor, one of the people queuing, said: "He thinks he's got us because he has the trees. But we have the money and maybe we won't pay."

Monday, December 20, 2004

British food culture

Possibly inspired by the numerous TV chefs, the number of new catering firms and hotels openings has risen by 50% on last year to almost 16,000 (Telegraph)

However this needs to be put into context. Whilst there are lots of catering start ups, there are also lots of closures. From an earlier Telegraph article: In 2003/4, in London, 112 restaurants closed, an increase of 70 per cent on the previous 12 months when 66 stopped trading, a record in itself. The rate of closures is also much more severe than the guide recorded in the recession of the early 1990s, when six per cent of the restaurants went bust compared with 10 per cent last year.
However, new restaurant openings have also reached record levels - 135 opened last year - 10 per cent higher than the previous 12 months.

Red tape

The inaugural Telegraph Regulatory Creep of the Year award has been won by Defra and the EC environment directorate. The Defra spokesman humbly said they didn't feel they deserved the award!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Karl Rove's big "new" idea - Thatcherism

After revolutionising America's foreign policy, the Bush administration now intends to give domestic policy the same overhaul. They have a mission: radical welfare state reform. And they have a name for it: Thatcherism.
There is also a feeling of discovery. The victory was on a record turnout: the American public is far more conservative than even Rove's figures projected. After slaying liberalism, he needs a creed to bury it.
After a long ideological search, Rove has chosen Britain in the 1980s. Then Margaret Thatcher took on a left-wing consensus and embarked on an epoch-defining war that the president now aspires to wage in America.
(The Business)

The interesting aspect of this development is the opportunity it may open up for Conservatives a few years from now - if it goes well. If Bush + Rove manage to reform welfare in a way that does not alientate both sides, it may promote the (re)acceptance of Tory values. But these are big ifs...

Anthony Flew

The Sunday Times interviews Anthony Flew on his recent move away from atheism and contains the following gem: "One of the reasons I hate Blair and Brussels is that Blair is against Britain and British history!” His vehemence transforms the calm gaze of an intellectual into the stiff-armed gestures of a zealot. Noting my alarm, he concedes: “I’m getting very excited and why shouldn’t I? I was alive in the summer of 1940 and it is terrible to see the country being thrown away by the present generation and made subordinate to a corrupt bureaucracy!"

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Recipe of the week

Orange powder
As seen in the food photo of the week

Take orange peel, without the pith and dry in the oven (few hours at about 50 - 70 degrees). When dry, blitz (grind/process to fine dust) with or without sugar to taste.
Thomas Keller and John Campbell have microwave recipes but this method seems to work fine.

Food photo of the week

Citrus terrine, lime tempura

Eddie 2004

Bruce Irons wins the QUIKSILVER EDDIE AIKAU 2004 in Hawaii - the invitational surfing competition held only when waves exceed 20ft.

Best chef in the world?

L'Enclume, the restaurant where you can eat up to 20 courses, including Gorgonzola French fries, lovage and apple dipper, gets an excellent review in the Times, which finishes with I don't know that Simon Rogan is not the best chef in the world.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The State

Samuel Brittan has an ambiguous discussion on the nature of the State in the FT ($)

He has a good way of looking at the budget: Look at some of the items in the official Treasury summary of this year's pre-Budget report. Nearly all consist of the handing over of money from some citizens for the benefit of others...It is tempting to call the process "bribing ourselves with our own money

But gets a bit hazy when it comes to political philosophy:
Margaret Thatcher aroused furious reactions when she said there was no such thing as society. I would prefer to say with the poet W. H. Auden:
There is no such thing as the state
And no one exists alone.
What is called "the state" is simply a mechanism by which citizens can provide collectively for items such as defence and security, which cannot readily be provided either through the market or through voluntary co-operation. It is also a mechanism for transferring claims to income or property from one citizen to another.
The question is how much one set of citizens should transfer to another set. The transfers may require a complicated administrative mechanism, although not one as complicated as that provided by the present accumulated mix of goodies.
Such transfers cannot be ruled out a priori. Neo-liberals rightly say that income does not belong to the state. But to say this does not rule out transfers effected by government machinery. In any case, neo-liberals have yet to provide a theory of just property rights; and most of them are reduced to exegesis of the writings of John Locke, a 17th-century philosopher whose teachings need massaging before they can be applied to today's problems.

For excellent Lockean "massaging" see the work of David Schmidtz. We need private property because it is the only way of avoiding the tragedy of the commons, and this holds for non-environmental spheres (welfare for example). The internalisation of responsibility prompted by the incentive structure of private property promotes a harmonious and prosperous society. It is not perfect and people will abuse the system, but in a system of several property one person can do far less harm than in a system where all land is owned by the State. Basically, the justification of property rights is that they work. They might not be fair by cosmic standards (as Thomas Sowell would say) but here on earth, in reality, these standards are of secondary importance.

British eating habits

1. 1/2 the population visited a fish + chip shop in the last 3 months.
2. 45% had a Chinese takeout, 35% a pizza, and 31% Indian.
3. The fish + chip shop of the year, Finnegan's, sells at least 300 portions a day.
4. We spent £25 bn on prepared food, £21bn on meals under £10 a head.
5. On average we spend £1250 annually eating out.
From this survey, reported in the Telegraph.
6. 22% of fish + chip shops in Scotland sell deep-fried Mars bars (picture). The Telegraph quotes a doctor: 'We did also find some evidence of the penetration of the Mediterranean diet in Scotland, albeit in the form of the deep-fried pizza'.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Michelin guide whistle blower

A former Michelin Guide employee, who was sacked for criticising the guide, has lost his case for unfair dismissal, and may in the future face a further case for defamation. He alleged that the Guide was no longer an accurate reflection of gastronomic excellence as a result of the poor pay and working conditions of the inspectors (Guardian).

Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay, self-publicist extraordinaire, as well as a talented (if less than original) chef, is in the news again. A famous guest at a charity function catered by Ramsay got so hungry whilst waiting > 1 hour for his food that he went across the road and bought a take away curry. This went down well with hungry fellow party goers, but less so with the event organisers. (Telegraph)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Treasure hunt online

E-Bay has an online treasure hunt, which apart from offering decent prizes, is a good way to make yourself too busy to do any work.

Undermining the Empire

There are 390,127 Jedi Knights in the UK, according to recently released figures from the 2001 census.
The highest concentration is on the South Coast, in Brighton.
More here.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Michael Crichton

Philip Stott comments on Crichton's new book, State of Fear, which I plan to read in paperback (£13 for a novel is steep).
It got a surprisingly balanced reception on Newsnight review, although the experts were unsure who would buy the book because since it isn't the type of book they buy, they couldn't imagine who would buy it.

I was disappointed to hear Crichton say he doesn't believe in the greenhouse effect (if I remember correctly) because without the greenhouse effect, Earth would be uninhabitable. He obviously meant the enhanced greenhouse effect but it is careless use of language that has so confused the debate. We are now at the point where most people seem to believe that climate change is bad, and that we ought to stop the climate changing. Anyone with even a basic understanding of climate science knows this is complete rubbish. Abuse of scientific concepts and language by the media and pressure groups, innocently and deliberately, has lead to a meaningless debate that will result in badly inefficient policies, such as Kyoto.

In a generation or two, when we look back at why and how we put in place such a costly and ineffective policy as Kyoto, we will need to look no further than the misuse and simplification of scientific concepts so common in the media today. This erroneous framing of the debate will cost us dear in the future.

In today's Telegraph, Bjorn Lomborg succinctly frames the real policy options: Of course, in the best of all worlds, we would not need to prioritise. We could do all good things. We could win the war against hunger, end conflicts, stop communicable diseases, provide clean drinking, step up education and halt climate change. But we don't. And we have to ask the hard question: If we don't do it all, what should we do first?
Some of the world's top economists – including three Nobel Laureates – answered this question at the Copenhagen Consensus last May, prioritising all the major requirements for improving the world. They found that dealing with HIV/Aids, hunger, free trade and malaria were the world's top priorities. This was where we could do the most good for our dollar. Equally, the experts rated urgent responses to climate change at the bottom. In fact, the panel called these ventures – including Kyoto – "bad projects", simply because they cost more than the good they do.

The more important debate is how to allocate scarce resources (given that they are up for re-allocation), but this is a debate too nuanced for the media and leaves pressure groups with less room to manoeuvre. It is therefore a debate doomed before it starts.

Crichton's infamous "environmentalism as religion" speech is here.


The Business has a good article on the benefits of offshoring, including how Indian firms are now investing in the UK.

Making money

Rand, Hayek, Mises, Schumpeter and Adam Smith get a mention in the Telegraph.

Food photo of the week

Tamaris - the new restaurant by Alain Ducasse, which serves desserts only. The menu is here (pdf)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

How quicksand works

A decent Conservative policy proposal

Oliver Letwin's proposal to divorce politics from public finance is economically sensible but politically unrealistic, unfortunately. Unless he was in an unbeatable position, I would be very surprised if a democratically elected politician voluntarily reduced his ability to buy electoral success through targeted economic handouts. Such a policy would leave the door open for opposing politicians to offer such handouts as a means to electoral success.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

How to waste £28,000

A 1.9lb truffle bought for £28,000 has been buried after a chef accidentally left it to rot (Telegraph)

What is the "greatest force for cultural good on the earth"?

The organisation's website is here and the quote is contained in this article from the Daily Telegraph.

The answer to this question depends on how you define culture, but surely more important than this organisation is the role of the rule of law which allows such organisations to flourish and engender "cultural good". A relatively stable system of justice to keep a tight leash on the follies of politicians and relatively free markets to allow goods and ideas to move voluntarily around the world are in my opinion far more important than the organisation in question.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The beginning of the end for Bhutan?

Even by BBC standards this report on the development of Bhutan is particularly poor. This is the start of the story (my emphasis): The widespread availability of technology is having a big impact on culture in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
Bhutan has been hailed as the last Shangri-La. It is certainly a kingdom like no other, with a society guided by folklore and faith underpinned by a unique form of Buddhism.
For hundreds of years, this Himalayan land revelled in self-imposed isolation, at pains to keep its culture protected from the rapidly-developing world outside its borders.
But, step by step, Bhutan and its people have been waking up to life in the 21st Century and the change that inevitably comes with it.
Bhutan is not rushing headlong into technological development; it cannot afford to economically, for one thing, but there is also a real feeling that no attempt to bring Bhutan into the global village should be allowed to endanger its very unique local culture.

Note how Bhutan 'revelled' in isolation so much so that when it became more open, people bought satellite tv and have started to use the internet. Note also the strange notion that change is inevitable and is something that happens to people, rather than an effect of the actions of individuals.

Contrast this with a World Bank report which states: Bhutan has made great progress in improving the living standards of its presently estimated 828,000 people since it first set forth on a plan for modernization in the early 1960s. The report details the rise in life expectancy and fall in infant mortality since Bhutan began to open up and move away from a subsistence lifestyle.

It is also interesting that the journalist suggests these improvements in living conditions are less important than preserving a pre-modern culture, presumably for the benefit of Western tourists. It can’t be for the benefit of the indigenous population, because it seems they are embracing development.

The journalist can hardly contain his distaste for modernity: As if TV and video were not enough, the internet is also raising the spectre of destructive external forces.

He continues to struggle to hide his disappointment at the signs of progress and seeks solace in the fact that most of the population is still “simple”:
There is no immediate need to worry about the imminent collapse of Bhutan's society. Most Bhutanese still eke out a simple rural existence, but the government is determined to make technology a part of their future.
Microwave dishes and cellphone networks are enabling communication across the mountainous terrain, and solar panels are helping deliver electricity - all part of the drive into the modern age.
In future school children will grow up computer literate, their parents will use the internet to vote, and even grandparents will be treated in hospitals connected to the very latest health information databases. It is something the isolationist ancestors of this land could never have contemplated, but now the momentum seems unstoppable.

Technological and economic progress does involve creative destruction and loss of traditional cultures, but it would be wrong to attempt to stop this progress for three rough reasons:
1. The whole discussion assumes a collectivistic measure of society as some sort of world heritage site when in fact it is a collection of individuals. A different measure of culture sees change and progress as positive because it expands the options of individuals.
2. A lot of culture (perhaps less so in this case) is mix of influences from all over the world (see Tyler Cowen on this) and is not some sort of geographically indigenous product. Trying to preserve it at a given time is therefore to misunderstand how it orginated in the first place.
3. How are you going to do it without resorting to North Korean style enslavement? If the population of Bhutan were so happy in their past isolationist existence (this would be when they were revelling in it) why would they not reject most or all of this new technology? The answer (that they are being exploited and mislead by sinister capitalistic-imperialistic forces) reveals the hidden prejudices of people who make this sort of argument.

Communism is bad for your health

While their cousins in the south have thrived physiologically, thanks to the comforts of capitalism, North Koreans remain as stunted in stature as they were after the Second World War. Adolescents look like children, adults like young teenagers. Nor is the height difference a slight one. After studying more than 2,300 refugees who have fled the north over the past four years, anthropologist Sunyoung Pak has found that the average young northern male is 5.9cm (2.32in) shorter than his southern contemporary. The difference for women is 4.1cm (roughly 1.62in).
'North Koreans are clearly suffering from chronic growth retardation,' said Pak, of Seoul National University in South Korea. Her studies, to be published in the international journal, Economics and Human Biology
[abstract here], this month, suggest that North Koreans must have suffered severe malnutrition problems virtually since Korea split into two states in 1948.

(The Observer)

Why the EU sucks part 8

From the 2004 European competiveness report (pdf) red tape + taxes are costing the European economy more than £700bn annually.

Food photo of the week

Cover of Observer Food Monthly, out today. The chefs in skirts are Eric Chavot, Giorgio Locatelli and Shane Osborn + there are more inside.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Bastiat on Brown

Following Gordon Brown's prebudget report the Times had the following headline Brown buys votes with £2bn Budget giveaways which reminded me of one of Bastiat's many wonderfully insightful comments:

The fact is, the state does not and cannot have one hand only. It has two hands, one to take and the other to give—in other words, the rough hand and the gentle hand. The activity of the second is necessarily subordinated to the activity of the first. Strictly speaking, the state can take and not give. We have seen this happen, and it is to be explained by the porous and absorbent nature of its hands, which always retain a part, and sometimes the whole, of what they touch. But what has never been seen, what will never be seen and cannot even be conceived, is the state giving the public more than it has taken from it. It is therefore foolish for us to take the humble attitude of beggars when we ask anything of the state. It is fundamentally impossible for it to confer a particular advantage on some of the individuals who constitute the community without inflicting a greater damage on the entire community. (The State)

Exit or voice

A country bitterly polarised following a contentious election. Not America, but Ukraine.

Given that succession of the eastern part of Ukraine is a possibility, it would be refreshing to see whining US democrats follow the lead of some Ukranians, perhaps not by succeding, but by leaving the country or moving to a blue State.
It is also interesting to note the contrasting levels of political passion - in Ukranian, Yushchenko's supporters have been camping outside in freezing conditions for almost two weeks (webcam). In the US, Democrats can only manage to post lame messages on the web (see here).
Perhaps these self-important Democrats ought to look to the situation in Ukraine and see what real election fraud looks like, and realise how fortunate they are to live in America.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Where have all the liberals gone?

This recent BBC Radio 4 program Where have all the liberals gone? looked at the bad name liberals have got for themselves in the US. It also illustrated the definitional problems liberalism suffers from when you consider the massive difference between classical and modern liberals.
Here is a taste:
Liberals even flip-flop about what liberalism is: an ideology, or a point of view; a way of using the state, or a way of resisting it. When liberalism started in the nineteenth century it targeted tyranny: then, as governments became more democratic, liberals embraced the state to free people oppressed by poverty and inequality, and give them rights. In today’s politics responsibilities displace rights. In a world threatened by violence and dissolution, electorates demand a state that is more restrictive, less permissive; less tolerant, more tough. In America, liberalism’s already a term of abuse.