Return to Main Page | Ragout: March 2004
A Spicy Stew of Economics, Politics, Data, Food, Carpentry, etc.
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Copper-Bottomed Evasee Pans

I recently got a Sitram copper-bottomed evasee pan, which is pretty great. First, it browns chicken and caramelizes onions much better than any of the (cheaper) pans I've used before. I attribute this to the copper bottom retaining enough heat so that when the chicken is thrown on, the pan doesn't cool off and start to steam the food instead of sauteing it. But whatever the theoretical explanation, it really works. The Evasee shape (with high, rounded sides) is really flexible too, making it easy to add vegetables to the meat, or wine for a sauce, or whatever. I don't know why this isn't a much more popular shape for a pan. High sides are often useful, and are rarely going to hurt. PCD's web site has a good description of this type of pan.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

"Economists Say"

Ever notice how whenever the New York Times begins a sentence with "economists say," it's usually followed by something mean, stupid, and right-wing? Well, I'm here to tell you that it ain't because "economists" are mean, stupid, and right-wing. In fact, "economists say" is usually followed by something so silly, almost no economist would ever say it.

Don't believe me? Let's go to the search engine.

In the last week, there were 10 articles in the NY Times that used the phrase "economists say" or "economists said." Seven of them used the phrase in a fairly reasonable way. They were articles in the business section about "up and down" economics, quoting "economists" as saying that the economy seems to be getting better or worse. For example, "the spending number was encouraging, many economists said." Typically in these articles, "economists" is a euphemism for bank macro forecasters tracking a particular sector or country: Japan, in the case of the quoted article. These articles generally quoted actual named economists as well.

Three of the articles, though, quoted "economists" as saying things that seemed pretty silly.

"Uptown Moving Upscale," by Josh Barbanel, 3/28/04, is a classic. Barbanel cites a decline in the number of apartments for sale and claims, "the limited supply of apartments [for sale] helped push up prices, but brokers and economists disagree on the cause." Here, "economists" presumably means the one economist that the reporter spoke to. But Barbanel simply misunderstands what the economist told him. The economist isn't quibling about the cause of "shrinking inventory of apartment listings," she just knows that inventories aren't the same thing as the "supply of apartments," and was probably trying to tell the reporter that his premise is wrong: prices are driven by more fundamental factors than inventories. "Prices get bid up anyway," said the economist, Rae Rosen of the New York Fed, "because the city remains such a magnet and a place that people want to be."

Although the "economists" in Barbanel's article say silly things (even though Rosen, an actual named economist, does not), at least they're not mean. But the "economists" in Samuel Len's "Strong Exports Bolster South Korean Economy" (3/24/04) are both dumb and mean. According to Len, "Economists say the credit card problem will be resolved only when more delinquents secure stable sources of income." The "credit card problem" is weak consumer spending by long-delinquent credit cart holders that is delaying recovery from the recession. So the "economists" are silly, saying that "stable sources of income" are necessary for economic recovery, which is just a tautology. They're also mean, since they seem to be denying that delinquent credit card debtors will be helped by a government bailout, which is apparently on the agenda in South Korea. The "economists" seem to believe that South Korean credit card holders need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps rather than accept government help. Of course, the only named economist cited in the article says nothing of the kind.

This post has run pretty long, so I'll simply quote the muddled "economists" from Richard Lezin Jones', "Through the Roof," (3/28/04). "Sociologists and economists say soaring real estate prices mean it simply costs more for a middle-class family to stay in the middle" No named economists are mentioned in the article.

Do other experts get this kind of treatment in the Times? I'd love to report that "Architects say that 3-story buildings are the most beautiful," or some such, but a search of the Times archive turns up no hits for "architects say" or "biologists say" in the past week.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

The recession ain't over

The Fabulous Kate Boo has a very interesting article in this week's New Yorker, about a Mexican-American couple (Maria and Sergio) suffering because, as we are told in the first paragraph, the Fruit of the Loom factory where Maria worked shut down and moved to Honduras. Boo's article is filled with pop economics and (fairly mild) digs at economists, who, apparently are unsympathetic to Maria's plight, seeing it as just the necessary "churn" in the labor market, a product of either increased productivity or "global trade deals." Buried in the article is the information that the family's troubles are just as much due to Sergio's layoff: he had been working for "the American subsidiary of a Singapore conglomerate," at the Brownsville port.

In other words, we're told a lot about Maria's job, ultimately lost through trade, and very little about Sergio's job, created by a Singaporian company involved in global trade. Maybe the problem isn't increased productivity, or global trade, but the long-lingering effects of the Bush recession?

All in all, a nice article, that gives the poor an agency you don't typically see in this type of story (Maria and Sergio don't just suffer, they take action and start to deal with their problems), but that suffers from bad economics.

The French are Liars! (Part 1)

Polly Platt, in her book French or Foe, devotes the entirety of chapter 6 to the French tendency to
refuse to admit mistakes, and to lie. For example,

A French dinner guest spilled some red wine on [Polly's] beige sofa. "What a strange color for a sofa!" was her comment

An American spilled some wine on [Polly's] rug and immediately whipped out his checkbook. "I'm dreadfully sorry," he said, "Will $100 cover the cleaning?"
[p. 84]

Platt has lived in France for 25 years, her book is targeted primarily at foreign businesspeople sent to France (also at tourists), and has no hostility towards the French, as far as I can see. But perhaps this story, which names no names, and seems pretty pat, is made up? I find her book pretty credible, but some may be skeptical. A few pages later, she sites a Wall Street Journal article from 7/27/1990 that could be checked: discussing a French company found to have exaggerated its forecasts, a French consultant explained, "In the U.S., lying is a serious offense. In France, you can tell small lies."


Thursday, March 18, 2004

Why do they hate us less?

According to superblogger Josh Marshall, a new multi-country public opinion poll "appears to show a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Arab states that are at least nominally allied with the United States."

What he really means is that anti-Americanism is high. The excitiing news, though, is that anti-Americanism in the Middle East is falling. Here's how the Pew Charatible Trust (the poll's sponsors) summarize the results.

In the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed, anger toward the United States remains pervasive, although the level of hatred has eased somewhat and support for the war on terrorism has inched up.

Some figures are below. Basically they show that while we're not very popular with the middle eastern countries in the poll, we're more popular that we were just after the Iraq war. Even compared to before the war, we're not doing that badly. In Jordan we've lost ground since 2002; in Turkey our popularity has returned to pre-war levels; and in Pakistan, they like us more than they used to.

% favoring "US-lead efforts to fight terrorism"
Turkey Pakistan Jordan Morocco
March 2004 37 16 12 28
May, 2003 22 16 2 9
Summer, 2002 30 20 13 --

% with a Somewhat Favorable or Very Favorable Opinion of the United States
Turkey Pakistan Jordan Morocco
March 2004 30 21 5 27
May, 2003 15 13 1 27
Summer, 2002 30 10 25 --

% with a Very Unfavorable Opinion of the United States
Turkey Pakistan Jordan Morocco
March 2004 45 50 67 46
May, 2003 68 71 83 53
Summer, 2002 42 58 57 --


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

French Baguettes

I had planned to write my inaugural post about the French tendency to lie, which, I swear, is not an ungrounded slur. I have sources; I have citations. And bashing the French would have been a great way to get links from right-wing warbloggers! But alas, there's too much material for one post.

So instead, here's a tip about how to bake French baguettes, and other artisinal bread. Every baking book will tell you: if you want a crispy crust on your baguettes, you need steam in your oven. Says the books, there are two ways to get steam in the oven: using a plant mister, or with a pan of boiling water. Says the experts, though, the mister doesn't provide enough water, and the pan method requires several extra steps.

The pan method: use a small cast-iron skillet (which retains heat). Preheat the oven, skillet inside, to its highest temperature, for an hour. Next, put the bread in, and pour boiling water into the skillet. It will produce enough steam to create a crispy, glossy crust on your baguette.

Why THEY won't tell you this. Because it's a little dangerous. You can burn yourself with the steam. You can crack the window of your oven. You can crack your cast-iron skillet or even cause it to explode if you use cold water. So you have to come to Ragout to get the real scoop. Or you could have gone to a King Arthur Flour seminar, which is where I heard about this method, or read about it on an internet baking site. So, remember, if this method results in third degree burns on your forearms, sue them, not me!

Coming next: why this post proves that trial lawyers and government regulations are oh so bad, bad, bad. Link to me, right-wing bloggers!

The French are Liars!

See next post.

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