Why Don’t People Cook?

by Dave Schuler on April 18, 2014

Last night my wife had an early dog-training class, so I threw together a quick early dinner for us. I poached a chicken breast, cooked some pasta, and made a sauce of caramelized onions, mushrooms, chicken breast, olive oil, garlic, a splash of sherry, a little parsley, freshly-ground black pepper, and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. From turning on the burner to serving the dinner took just under a half hour. I opened no cans, took no prepared food out of boxes to put them into the microwave, and had complete control over the fat, sodium, nutritional content, and flavor of what we ate.

As I put the pot of water on to boil for my pasta, I thought “I’m sure it will come in handy for something.” That’s a reference to one of my favorite little cookbooks, Edouard de Pomiane’s French Cooking in Ten Minutes. It’s one of the handful of cookbooks (along with The Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking) that I think every serious cook should have.

It’s a charming little book. Here are the first few paragraphs:

First of all, let me tell you that this is a beautiful book. I can say that because this is its first page. I just sat down to write it, and I feel happy, the way I feel whenever I start a new project.

My pen is full of ink, and there’s a stack of paper in front of me. I love this book because I’m writing it for you. It’s nice to imagine that I’ll be able to let my pen go and you’ll understand everything it writes down. My ideas run on faster and faster—I’ll be able to say everything in less than ten minutes.

My book won’t even be ten pages long…It’s going to be ridiculous…Worse than that, it will be incomprehensible.

A more scientific approach will make things clearer, so I’ll start by telling you everything you should know before you start ten-minute cooking, even if all you’re going to do is boil an egg.

The first thing you must do when you get home, before you take off your coat, is go to the kitchen and light the stove. It will have to be a gas stove, because otherwise you’ll never be able to cook in ten minutes.

Next, fill a pot large enough to hold a quart of water. Put it on the fire, cover it, and bring it to a boil. What’s the water for? I don’t know, but it’s bound to be good for something, whether in preparing your meal or just making coffee…

You see?

Pomiane is dated now. Today’s electric stoves are much better than they were in France in 1930 when the book was written. And today there are an enormous variety of frozen vegetables and any number of other time-saving gadgets.

I still find Pomiane inspirational. It’s full of ideas and for harried working people ideas for tasty, nutritious things to eat that can be prepared in ten minutes are always handy.

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The Astonishing Rate

by Dave Schuler on April 18, 2014

I’m glad to see that somebody besides me sees Google’s moves of the last couple of years as I do:

You could see these adventures in future-making as visionary, or as folly. But there’s another motive that could be driving Google: quiet desperation. Google hasn’t figured out how to make its mobile ads valuable enough, and there is growing suspicion that it never will. In the meantime, then, why not shoot for the moon?

The standard narrative around Google’s falling ad prices is that more and more online activity is taking place on mobile devices, where advertising simply isn’t as valuable. No one has really figured out how to make a banner ad for an app that isn’t obnoxiously intrusive. As for the less annoying paid links that Google insets around its search results and elsewhere in its products, ad “engagement” suffers because of how people use their phones. Sitting at a desk, a user may be inclined to browse, to take an extra second to follow their interests, to click on a tempting ad. But when people pull their mobile devices out of their pockets, they usually have a specific task in mind. Out on the street, looking for directions or the time the game starts, there’s just not a lot of time to click around.


Perhaps it’s too melodramatic to call Google desperate. After all, how desperate can you be when you still reap billions in profits every quarter? But if there’s one thing Page likes to think about, it’s the future. And he’s smart enough to see that the future is getting dimmer for a company that depends upon people surfing the web and clicking ads on PCs. In a recent onstage interview at TED, Page spoke with relish about Google’s many grand experiments to change how the world works for future generations. One thing he didn’t talk about is ads. But he did say he believes in business as the best way to reach that future.

Of the top ten companies in the Fortune 500, most are 120 years old or more in one incarnation or another (three are Standard Oil). The relative newcomers are retailer WalMart (roughly 70 years old) and Apple (just under 40). Google, a relative infant at 18, is undoubtedly searching for its identity. I don’t think it’s alone. I think Microsoft is experiencing a sort of mid-life crisis.

It might be that Apple, Microsoft, and Google will always be the technological giants they are now. Or they might disappear. We’re accustomed to thinking of large companies as eternal but that’s not necessarily the case. Several of the original components of the Dow-Jones Industrial Average no longer exist.

Unlike the last century in which enormous companies rose and have remained part of the landscape ever since, as events unfold I think we’ll be amazed at the astonishing rate at which new companies arise, grow to sizes that were unimaginable just a few years previously, and then vanish as quickly as they arrived. What’s more I think we’ll see the same with whole sectors.


What’s an Adult?

by Dave Schuler on April 18, 2014

and what’s a child? The notions have changed over the years.

My grandfather ran away from home at age 12 and went into show business. Given what I know of my Great-grandfather Schuler, there is no doubt whatever in my mind that my Grandfather Schuler was working from age 12 as well. Neither of them completed grade school let alone high school. My mother’s mother was working full time in her teens, eventually running away and joining a vaudeville troupe. My father’s mother worked making artificial flowers when she was in her teens.

My dad was working, delivering meals for prisoners in the City Jail, from the time he was six. My mom, quite literally born in a trunk, was working from birth. I still have the first dollar she ever earned (and her first “contract”). Unlike their parents, not only did they both complete grade school but high school, college, and received post-graduate degrees.

None of my ancestors going back at least four generations married and had children at very young ages. They were city people, town people. I think that was a country thing.

My mom believed that the secret of happiness was undertaking responsibility. I don’t know if that’s true but I certainly think it’s what marks the difference between being an adult and being a child.

Nowadays almost 40% of young people aged 18-25 are still living with their parents, a larger percent than has been the case for generations. About half are working full time. The percent of young people who are married has reached a record low.

There’s certainly one responsibility that today’s young people are undertaking in record numbers, too: debt.

Note that nothing I’ve written about is normative. The only observation I can make is that the way that today’s young people experience their lives is bound to be a lot different from the way I or those in my age cohort have. Maybe more than my life has been than that of my grandparents.


How Americans Die

by Dave Schuler on April 17, 2014

As I watched this presentation at Bloomberg on how Americans die, something occurred to me that I hadn’t thought about before. I wonder what the long-term economic implications of the significant number of men aged 25-44 who died of AIDS between about 1980 and 1994 will be?

Something sobering but not particularly surprising from the presentation: over the last half dozen years or so there’s been a notable uptick of deaths due to suicide or drug use.

Something else that’s not particularly surprising: the stuff that gets the most attention in the media isn’t necessarily the stuff that’s most important.


It’s in the Bag!

by Dave Schuler on April 17, 2014

If you’re convinced that searching for metrics for the performance of the PPACA is a sure sign of a concern-trolling Republican hack, you might want to take a look at this post from Lambert Strether at naked capitalism:

When you force people to purchase a crapified product under penalty of IRS enforcement, it’s entirely natural they’ll resent it, and think ill of the people and the institutions that forced compliance on them. If Krugman were the sort of New Deal Democrat who put all that good will on the Party balance sheet for Obama to piss away, that’s what he’d be focusing on: Not the sign-up metric, but metrics that show whether concrete material benefits are being delivered to citizens by public policy. Instead, he’s epater-ing le Republicans and beating the tribal pom poms.


Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics considers what it would take for Democrats to win seats in the Senate in the fall, rather than losing seats and, possibly, the house as analysts including himself and Nate Silver expect:

For Democrats to gain seats this cycle would be the equivalent of drawing a straight flush. With that said, straight flushes do occur, so it’s worth examining how it might occur here.

Here are the conditions he suggests under which Democrats could eke out a victory:

  1. The president’s approval rating goes up sharply, enough to lift “the collective Democratic boat”.
  2. All four “red state” incumbent Democrats (Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan, Mark Pryor, and Mark Begich) win.
  3. Democrats win at least one of the three open seats.
  4. The Republican candidate loses in one or more of the notionally solid Republican states (Kentucky, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, and South Carolina).

I agree with Mr. Trende that those are a lot of “ifs”. However, as I’ve long contented, while all of those pieces falling into place isn’t particularly likely for some of them to happen is a lot more likely which is why I think we’ll have a 50-50 Senate in 2015 which means that Democrats retain control of that house.


Hammering home a point I’ve made for some time, Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight points out the states in which President Obama’s approval rating hurts the Democratic Senate candidates’ chances: North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alaska. Which seats are most important to Democrats’ holding on to the Senate? North Carolina, Louisiana, and Alaska.

One interesting race is Georgia. In Georgia the president doesn’t hurt the Democrat’s chances of winning. In that race whichever Democrat wins the Georgia primary will still be an underdog but with a weak Republican candidate Georgia could still move into the Democratic column.


The Ancient Melting Pot

by Dave Schuler on April 16, 2014

Examination of the chemical composition of the teeth of people interred in ancient Cahokia has determined that a considerable portion of the population grew up elsewhere:

Teeth that form in infancy, for example, like the first permanent molars, will reveal a person’s location as a newborn, while those that form in the early teens, like the third molars, will bear the chemical traces of their home in adolescence.

Armed with this technique, Slater’s team studied 133 teeth from 87 people, found in 13 different burial contexts throughout American Bottom.

The results showed that 38 of the teeth, about 29 percent, had strontium ratios that were outside the local range, indicating that those people had been born and raised elsewhere and migrated to Cahokia as adults.

Interestingly, the remains of those believed to have been sacrificial offerings are more likely to be those of locals than other remains.

The Cahokia mounds, which flourished between about 600 BCE to 1400 CE, constitute the largest and most complex pre-Columbian North American city north of Mexico. Artifacts found there suggest that it traded over an enormous area, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. And, as we are learning, it may have attracted people from an equally great range.

If you ever find yourself in downstate Illinois, it’s well worth a visit.



by Dave Schuler on April 16, 2014

This year marks the centennial year of my dad’s birth. He was born above a saloon located at 14th and Clark in St. Louis, Missouri on October 10, 1914. Nowadays that’s a parking lot across the street from the ScottTrade Center but a century ago it was a gritty urban neighborhood right around the block from City Hall.

Over the course of the next year I plan on posting regularly about my dad and the times he grew up in. I write for multiple audiences here and one of them is my siblings and their kids. I think it’s important that I pass on what my dad told me. It might even prove interesting for a more general audience.

If not, bear with me.


Even Casual Marijuana Use May Not Be Benign

April 16, 2014

I don’t use recreational drugs. Never have. There are several reasons for that. For one thing, the only thing I really have going for me is my brain and I’ve never felt that putting that at risk was worth it. Additionally, my family tends to have what are referred to as idiosyncratic or paradoxical reactions […]

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Why Healthcare Spending Must Fall

April 16, 2014

The graph above accompanies the very interesting post by Tom Liu at The Incidental Economist on how we can be confident that the PPACA hasn’t caused healthcare costs to fall which I recommend you read in full: While reducing unnecessary utilization is one goal of ACA delivery system reforms, those reforms didn’t predate the signing […]

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