Food and Drink

It’s possible that there’s an economic impetus behind it. “The price of land is going up, which pushes up the value of each table,” said Cowen. “That makes moving people along more important.”

A similar trend, after all, sees many restaurants hoping that diners don’t order dessert, because the course isn’t terribly profitable and it encourages people to linger.

But maybe waiters are clearing individual plates because they believe that’s what customers want. I have heard as much from servers and restaurateurs.

Yet I have heard many people complain about this policy.  It’s almost as if the staff labor is unwilling to let their idle time go unused, perhaps for fearing of signaling shirking.  And so they must do something, which means taking your things away.  What other motives could there be?  My biggest pet peeve actually is when they pour more of your drink into your ice than a Hotelling rule would suggest for an optimal pace of temperature equalization.

That is from Roberto A. Ferdman.

Addendum: Kevin Drum comments.

Henceforth you will be tipped a rupee to pee at the right spot! The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is toying with a new idea of paying people money if they visit the nearest public toilets.

This idea was first implemented in Darechowk in Katmandu in Nepal and had worked well.

In Ahmedabad, the AMC will implement the scheme in 67 nuisance spots in the city with a public toilet nearby. Once successful, the scheme will be implemented across all public toilets in the city.

The full article is here, and for the pointer I thank Mark Thorson.

In praise of Porto

by on June 14, 2015 at 2:36 am in Food and Drink, Travel, Travels | Permalink

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, but when you turn the corner you never know what is coming: a Baroque or even Romanesque church, wondrous blue tiles, a rotted out building, a coffee and pastry shop, port warehouses and embankments, or a steeply plunging street.  If a store displays the sign “Novidades,” that is an indication they don’t have any.  Porto is (not) the only European city with six bridges.  My conference was held in a very fine Rem Koolhaas venue.

Magellan lived and studied here, and J.K. Rowling’s Porto stint shaped parts of Harry Potter.  Libreria Lello is perhaps the most striking bookshop in Europe.

This politically incorrect shop sign would have been taken down a while ago elsewhere in Europe; it is a reflection of the city’s remnant status.  The modern parts of town, along the ocean, remind me of California.  But the English language section of a used book store will have the titles which were British bestsellers in the 1920s.  A 1970s tribute store is called “Spock,” and its sign outlines the Starship Enterprise.

Eat the tripe and white beans at Flor de Congregados, or for fancy try DOP restaurant, worthy of a Michelin star or two but not priced to boot.  Peer into the apartments which open out onto the streets of the old town, due to the lack of air conditioning, and check out their crumbling wallpaper and tightly packed collections of icons.  Here are ten things to like about Porto.

If you took the brain of Maria Popova, and turned it into a Mediterraneo-Atlantic city, loaded with debt, you would have Porto.  Definitely recommended.

James Surowiecki writes:

Of seventeen hundred stocks on the Shenzhen Exchange, only four have fallen this year, and more than a hundred have seen their shares rise more than five hundred per cent. The Shenzhen Index as a whole has doubled since January, and is up more than two hundred per cent in the past year. The action on China’s other major stock exchanges—in Shanghai and Hong Kong—hasn’t been quite as torrid, but they’ve had their share of extraordinary winners. The Shanghai Composite Index has risen a hundred and forty per cent since this time last year. In Hong Kong, Jicheng Umbrella Holdings (which makes, yes, umbrellas) went public in February: its shares are up almost seventeen hundred per cent.

Tyrone, Tyler’s evil twin, says buy, buy buy!  Borrow to buy, and then borrow to borrow!  Tyrone has read so many people in the last week calling the Chinese stock market a bubble, so the contrarian in him thinks you simply need to take the plunge as soon as possible.

Direct foreign investment has been allowed only as of late 2014:

The Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect program will allow all investors to buy shares on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, while also permitting wealthy investors in mainland China to buy stocks listed in Hong Kong. The move allows investors access to companies with an overall market value of roughly $2 trillion.

“We think it is very significant. We plan to participate,” said Gary Greenberg, head of emerging markets at Hermes Investment Management in London, which managed $46.9 billion in assets as of June 30.

That’s a lot of foreign capital to push up the value of Ma and Pa Tofu, and indeed that flood of capital will validate your early investment.  And who amongst us is not tempted to diversify just a wee bit into the world’s second largest economy, indeed the very largest by PPP measures?  Surely the coming tidal wave of foreign liquidity will push aside all present minor worries.

On the domestic front, Chinese savings are currently real-estate intensive, and over time those funds be shifting into equities, especially as Chinese graduate students carry the lessons of Mehra and Prescott back home.  As prices fluctuate, the market is assessing how significant these effects will be, just as it once did with subprime.

Besides, the market went up 4.6% on Monday alone, and that is at a time when Chinese manufacturing seems to be slowing.  The Chinese government itself proclaimed the stock market to be “healthy,” and indeed many different parts of the government, including the media, have seconded this verdict.  Why bet against all of them?

Did you not know that the Chinese debt-equity ratio is too high?  Well, higher equity prices will help lower that ratio, as the government intends; new stock issues are being used to buy back corporate debt, some of it dollar-denominated.

If nothing else, return back to some patriotic context.  Was it not a good idea to buy American stocks when our country had a per capita gdp of 6-7k, and headed up?  With a 20-30 year time horizon, was it not a good idea to buy American stocks even in 1929?

To be sure, the forthcoming liquidity-based, foreign investor-driven price movements imply a non-horizontal demand curve for those stocks, and thus violate the stricter forms of EMH.  But who said a demand curve should be perfectly flat anyway?  Weren’t the Marxists referring to perfectly flat demand curves when they said competitive capitalism is the absolute loss of freedom?  And hasn’t China been moving away from Marxism?  Q.E.D.  So Tyrone says it is time to borrow to buy.  Someone out there — maybe even you — won’t regret it.

Agreement has been reached on the controversial wage agreement for members of four Icelandic unions. This means that major strike action will be called off.

The Icelandic Union of Commercial and Office Workers (VR), the Commercial Federation of Iceland (LÍV), Flóabandalagið and Stéttarfélag Vesturlands have agreed to a final version of the agreement and the characteristic aroma of waffles has filled the negotiation venue.

Making waffles is a traditional Icelandic way of marking and celebrating the successful conclusion of negotiation of this type.

The story is here, good photo of political leadership.  Note that some of the unions were asking for fifty percent pay hikes and threatening strikes, I believe they did not get everything they were asking for.  Yet not all is well and one can only hope that more waffling is in order:

Wage disputes remain ongoing with the Icelandic Nurse’s Association, the Icelandic Association of Academics (BHM) and the Icelandic Professional Trade Association (SGS) and strike action planned by members of these unions remains on the timetable.

For the pointer I thank Peter Kobulnicky.

The still-underrated Todd Kliman interviews her:

I’ve been given special powers, and I appoint you czar (funny, isn’t it, how we have so many appointed czars in this unaristocratic country) of food in the US. What is your first order of business? What sorts of laws do you push for? What public statements do you make? What is your 5-year plan? Your 10?

Me? A czar? My first order of business would be to go to the bathroom and throw up in sheer terror. I’m not a fan of appointed czars or of five-year plans. I am a fan of incremental changes. Look what’s happened in the 15 years since I wrote the article. Walmart’s become a major player, so has Monsanto, celebrity chefs, sustainability, and locavore have become household words, fats and sweeteners have been vilified and un-vilified, and now Taco Bell is removing artificial flavoring and coloring, corporations are scrambling to make their products appealing to those who want healthful and organic foods, and McDonald’s is in trouble. No one could have predicted or managed these changes. And many have happened through the power of the word. So I’d turn down the offer. The pen is mightier than the czar!

I suggest two plans, each of which I have been able to implement in a partial way only:

1. Take the train around to random first, second, and third tier Chinese cities.  Many of them will have their own cuisines, or they will represent a nearby regional cuisine.  It’s like discovering the food of a new country.  Imagine if Shandong province were a separate country!  How compelled you would feel to visit it for the food, often considered China’s foundational cuisine, plus it uses the finest vinegars.  And yet, because it is part of “China” (Gavagai!), you feel you already know something about Chinese food and thus the need to sample it is not so pressing.  Redo your framing, and rush to some of the lesser visited parts of China.

By the way, you can stay in the second or third best hotel in most Chinese cities for only slightly more than $100 a night, and yet receive five star treatment and quality.

2. How many provinces does China actually have?  I don’t wish to litigate that dispute, but most of them have restaurants devoted to their regional dishes in Beijing.  These are state-owned restaurants, and most of them are excellent.  Furthermore they are scattered around town, so if you visit them all you will see many parts of Beijing.

A month in Beijing should allow you to visit them all, plus the air pollution really is better these days.

I should add that western China has by far the best raisins I have sampled in my life, most of all the big red raisins.  Until my trip to Xi’an, I had never actually tried a real raisin with the real raisin flavor.  Forget the Terra Cotta Warriors, discover what a raisin is!

For most people, weight is a private issue. That looks like it could be a thing of the past for anyone who gets a WiFi Body Scale that has come to the market. It is set up to auto tweet, or auto post to Facebook each time you step on it. Is this designed to keep people accountable, or just plain stupid?

This scale is retailing for just under $150 by a company called Withings. Previous versions of this scale allowed you to track your weight and other data such as heart rate and body fat percentage from your Apple Iphone. I guess they needed to take it a step further and allow you to auto tweet or facebook your weight for the world to see.

There is more here, via Fred Smalkin.

Yes, it is a good idea to patronize the small restaurants on the outskirts of the hutong, but here is another tip.  Go to the very fanciest restaurant possible, in a fancy five-star hotel.  Then order the cheapest items on the menu.  That likely will involve some vegetables (pumpkin in egg, anyone?), tofu, and fried rice.  It will be an amazing meal, quite possibly better, at least to a Western palate, than if you had ordered the most expensive delicacies of that restaurant.  Many of these courses will not exceed $10 per shot, which is still about at American prices or even slightly below, and that’s not adjusting for massive differences in quality.  If you feel you can afford more than that, fine, but the low budget constraint actually directs your attention to some pretty fine items, and to items which are never truly good in American Chinese restaurants.

I’ve had good street food in Beijing, but in my view it is neither your first nor even your second preferred option.

Kyle York came up with a few, here is one of them:

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards Immanuel Kant. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits Jeremy Bentham instead. Jeremy Bentham clutches the only existing copy of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Kant holds the only existing copy of Bentham’s The Principles of Morals and Legislation. Both of them are shouting at you that they have recently started to reconsider their ethical stances.

For the pointer I thank Dennis Boyle.

Stephan F. Gohmann has a paper on this topic, here goes:

Most southern states have fewer breweries per population than the rest of the country. This paper examines why. The main outcome is that in the South, the number of breweries is negatively associated with higher campaign contributions from big breweries, the number of beer distributors per capita, and the Southern Baptist adherence rate. In the non-South, these associations are insignificant or positive. The limited number of breweries in the South follows the idea of bootleggers and Baptists where those who gain economically from limited competition—large breweries and distributors—side with groups morally opposed to alcohol to keep breweries out.

The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Whale fact of the day

by on May 7, 2015 at 1:47 pm in Food and Drink, Science | Permalink

Scientists at UBC have discovered — by accident — a rorqual whale can take a gulp of water that’s bigger than its massive body, then bounce back to its normal shape.

The whale has nerves to its mouth and tongue that can stretch to double their normal length, then snap back without damage, said Wayne Vogl, a professor in the department of cellular and physiological sciences at UBC.

“The nerves that supply these remarkably expandable tissues in the floor of the mouth of rorqual whales … are very stretchy, they’re like bungee cords,”

It was a surprising discovery, as most vertebrate nerves are more of a fixed length, said Vogl.

whale-graphic

There is more here.

Xian bleg

by on May 4, 2015 at 4:59 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

What to do, where to go, and above all what to eat?  I do of course have the standard guidebooks, what can you add to the basic advice?

And how easy is it to buy a ticket for the fast train from Beijing?

Roberto Ferdman reports:

Ratner has a new study titled ‘Inhibited from Bowling Alone,’ a nod to Robert Putnam’s book about Americans’ waning participation in group activities, that’s set to publish in the Journal of Consumer Research in August. In it, she and co-writer Rebecca Hamilton, a professor marketing at the McDonough School of Business, describe their findings: that people consistently underestimate how much they will enjoy seeing a show, going to a museum, visiting a theater, or eating at a restaurant alone. That miscalculation, she argues, is only becoming more problematic, because people are working more, marrying later, and, ultimately, finding themselves with smaller chunks of free time.

Might part of the problem be narcissism?:

“The reason is we think we won’t have fun because we’re worried about what other people will think,” said Ratner. “We end up staying at home instead of going out to do stuff because we’re afraid others will think they’re a loser.”

But other people, as it turns out, actually aren’t thinking about us quite as judgmentally or intensely as we tend to anticipate. Not nearly, in fact. There’s a long line of research that shows how consistently and regularly we overestimate others’ interest in our affairs.

There is more here.  For the pointer I thank Claire Morgan.

And not just if you are drunk:

When consumers taste cheap wine and rate it highly because they believe it is expensive, is it because prejudice has blinded them to the actual taste, or has prejudice actually changed their brain function, causing them to experience the cheap wine in the same physical way as the expensive wine? Research in the Journal of Marketing Research has shown that preconceived beliefs may create a placebo effect so strong that the actual chemistry of the brain changes.

Related experiments were run with milkshakes, by Hilke Plassmann and Bernd Weber.  There is more here, of considerable interest, hat tip goes to Samir Varma.  Do any of you know of an ungated copy?

This new article asks how much placebos are affected by your DNA.