Alternate-Universe Korean Food

Near my university is a neighborhood that locals call Korea Town. I like Korean food and last night tried my sixth Korean restaurant in the neighborhood. Unlike the others, the menu had no English; it was in Korean and Chinese. My Chinese friend had little experience with Korean food so the menu puzzled both of us. Finally I asked the waitress what was popular and we ordered that.

I’ve eaten in Korean restaurants hundreds of times; I’ve even been in Korea for a week. Our food had no overlap with any Korean food I’d ever had. We ordered three dishes. They turned out to be:

1. Bacon over pea sprouts and onion, topped with a sweet and sour sauce.

2. Bacon wrapped around enoki mushrooms (long and thin) on top of chunks of green and (sweet) red peppers, covered with more sweet and sour sauce.

3. DIY wraps. A big plate of two-inch strips of chicken, carrots, egg yolk, egg white, fish cake, and pea sprouts. You dip them into soy sauce and wrap several of them with a big thin piece of white radish.

No kimchi, no hot sauce, no little appetizer plates. There was a refrigerator full of soju.

It was like stumbling into a piece of science fiction. Some little thing had happened differently in the past and as a result Korean food had turned out differently . . . Can anyone reading this explain it?

How Safe is Melamine? Is This Funny or Horrifying?

From Natural News:

Up to 90 percent of the infant formula sold in the United States may be contaminated with trace amounts of melamine, the toxic chemical linked to kidney damage, according to recent tests. The FDA’s test results, which the agency hid from the public and only released after the Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that Nestle, Mead Johnson and Enfamil infant formula products were all contaminated with melamine. . . .

Prior to these test results being made public, the FDA had published a document on its website that explained there was no safe level of melamine contamination in infant formula. Specifically, the FDA stated, “FDA is currently unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns.”

Once tests found melamine in U.S.-made formula products, however, the FDA changed its story. As of today, the FDA has now officially declared melamine to be safe in infant formula as long as the contamination level is less than one part per million (1 ppm).

Astonishingly: The FDA has no new science to justify its abrupt decision declaring melamine to be safe!

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when that decision was made.

Lohao City

Today I visited the flagship store of the Lohao City chain here in Beijing. (Lohao stands for Lifestyle Of Healthy And Organic.) I needed more flaxseed oil. It was a straight line from the subway stop but I needed to call the store twice to convey this to the taxi driver. The store was a lot smaller than I expected for a chain with six locations. It was a little bigger than a 7-11. It had a baking area, a wine area, a produce area, and a wheatgrass growing area where you could get wheatgrass juice and other healthy juices. They were sampling some delicious organic wine made from a fruit the English-speaking clerk didn’t know the word for. I was a little surprised it only cost $6/bottle.

The chain is just a few years old. It specializes in organic food. The chain owns its own 22,000-acre farm where they grow the food they sell — a new type of farmer’s market. By growing the food they sell they can guarantee how it is grown. This really is an innovation in food selling. I hope the six stores (one in Shanghai) mean the concept is successful rather than they started with a lot of money.

I wanted to buy six bottles of flaxseed oil but the store only had one. The clerk went to another store to get five more but came back with only one more. One bottle (250 ml) might last me a week so I need to search for other sources.

I told the clerk the flaxseed oil was for my research. “Can you really tell the flaxseed oil improves your brain?” he asked. Yes, I said. He was studying English at a private school in Beijing. He’s in his second year of college, majoring in “commercial diplomacy” which means business diplomacy (e.g., negotiations). He predicted that even though Obama quit smoking for the campaign, he will start smoking again now that he’s President.
The chain puts out a biannual magazine now on its third issue. The magazine said something very true:”As people earn more money, they start caring whether they are healthy enough to enjoy their fortune.”

More about healthy food in China.

Interview with William Rubel, Food Historian (part 2)

William Rubel is the author of The Magic of Fire, about hearth cooking.

RUBEL I started to think, once I finished that book, I thought, ‘well, this bread that I’ve been interested in for so long, I wonder if they ever wrote down how they made bread when they were still doing stone-ground flour and working the bread by hand at home or in the bakeries.’ And the answer is, really, that they had not written down with much precision. So my goal–another primary goal–is to find the lost part of the techniques that were not written down and revive them in a way that will provide inspiration for modern bakers.

A third idea is that I’ve certainly noticed that our current bread culture is exceedingly narrow. In other words, the artisan culture–the slow food breads that we all like–tend to be French breads that trace their lineage to France and the primary ingredient is flour, water, and salt and either yeast or leaven, which is a sourdough starter. And in this bread culture, the leaven starter is preferred. There’s also a preference for an irregular crumb–big holes on the inside of the bread but not a regular shape; some of them are big, some are small. We like the color to be little bit off-white, to be cream. We tend to like a crusty crust. It’s very specific. We tend to badmouth other breads like Wonder Bread as a garbage bread and fast-risen yeast breads or breads with soft crusts and soft interiors, we tend to feel that those are bad breads, that there’s a good bread which is that French-inspired one and these other ones are bad. But as an historian, I say that bread is an invention of human culture. There is no bread–farmers don’t farm breads, they farm grain. You could say that this is a perfect apple, an apple at peak ripeness, and you can measure the sugar content in the apple to know that it is at peak ripeness. But there is no ideal bread because bread is just an expression of human culture; it’s simply an invention. So once you start saying that something is good and bad, really you’re saying that this culture that produces that bread that you don’t like is bad. You are demeaning the people who like that bread.

In one way I’m thinking of using history books to comment on the present, much the way that historians in totalitarian states–like in Stalin’s Soviet Union–would write about Medieval Period and they could talk about problems there (and political problems in the Medieval Period), whereas they could not directly address similar problems in the modern state. I’m also using this work to critique our own values and value system when it comes to bread and hopefully help readers to see themselves in the story of bread and in the historical continuum of bread culture.

ROBERTS That’s what fascinates me the most. I think that everything about your history of bread is fascinating, but the last thing that you said is what fascinates me the most. Why don’t we turn to that now? When I’ve talked with you about the book, when you’ve been talking about the book, one point you made that I especially liked was about white bread and how white bread was seen and how we came to have white bread. Can you say a little about that?

RUBEL White bread is the starchy part; the white flour is the starchy part of the grain called the endosperm. The way you got that historically, before the invention of modern roller mills (steel mills with steel rollers in the 19th century), was that you ground the grain between stones and then you sift it. Before agriculture was invented, the hunters and gatherers who had settled in the Fertile Crescent around the big fields of grain had stone scythes and they had grindstones. The archaeological sites are littered, when you look at drawings of archaeological sites of the hunter-gatherers–we’re talking 13,000-15,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent–these sites are just littered with grindstones. Metates: we think of Mexican women grinding the corn to make the tortillas, grinding the boiled corn they mixed _____ to make Tamasa.

It was certainly possible for people to have ground grain–we don’t know that they did–it was certainly possible that grain was being ground a very, very long time ago. Once you have ground grain, separating out the white part–the powdered part–is fairly easy. Whether people did it, we don’t know, but certainly if you can make a sieve and if they could make a basket, if they could make cloth, then they could make sieves. You can go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in their Egyptian room they have a storehouse of linen cloths–bolts and bolts of the finest linen cloths you can imagine. Anyone with fine linen cloth can make the very, very fine white flour.

ROBERTS Because you can use the linen as a filter?

RUBEL You’d sift it; that’s what they’d use. They would use linen or they would use silk. Until nylon bolting cloths were developed, silk was the highest grade bolting cloth. But anything you can weave–horsehair (they had horses in Mesopotamia), a horsehair sieve–you can sift. Remember, you’re talking about a high status product, so you’ve got lots of slaves. You also could just shake and blow; you don’t even need to sift. You can certainly make a whiter flour than a whole wheat flour just by shaking a bowl of it and the finer particles will fall and the courser particles will rise to the top. If you take fine sand and course sand and just shake, the fine will go one direction and the course sand will go another.

Part 1.

How to Brew Tea

I have brewed thousands of cups of tea. Always: 1. heat water. 2. add to cup. 3. add tea. 4. wait fixed duration (e.g., 5 minutes). 5. remove tea. 6. drink. Sometimes I put the tea in the water then heated both in the microwave. After getting tea education at Slow Food Nation, I started making sure the water was about 165 degrees F when I added the tea.

My Tsinghua office has a source of hot water. Now I do this: 1. add water to cup. 2. add tea. 3. drink. (I’m using green tea. This wouldn’t work so well with teas that need higher brewing temperatures.) I don’t worry about length of brewing. Much simpler. I bought a cup with a cover but while taking off the wrapping dropped the cover and broke it. You don’t even need a cover (at least for some teas).  The secrets are (a) as the water cools, it stops brewing the tea — you don’t have to worry about timing and (b) the leaves sink to the bottom so you don’t need to take them out to avoid drinking them.

The interesting question is why nobody told me this. I have heard tea experts talk six or seven times. It certainly means their expertise is less necessary — the cynical explanation. The less cynical explanation is that most people don’t have access to hot water of the right temperature and/or most people don’t drink green tea.

Food versus Nutrients

A few years ago, I learned that persons who apply to the Chez Panisse Foundation for funding are warned by staffers not to use the word nutrition in their applications — Alice Waters hates that word. A more nuanced version of this attitude was expressed in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. Supposedly we should eat food (= choose our food using food names and categories) rather than nutrients (= choose our food according to nutrient content). Here is Marian Nestle, the prolific and influential NYU professor, on the subject:

Q: How do nutritionists feel about Michael Pollan’s idea in “In Defense of Food” that we should be eating food, not nutrients?

A: I can’t speak for all nutritionists, but my guess is that we are all jealous of how well he writes. But look around you. Except for people in hospitals who are fed intravenously, I don’t know anyone who eats nutrients. Everybody I know eats food.

When I give lectures in Australia or India, as I did last year, I see people eating food – all kinds of food. In Australia, I went to a Chinese restaurant one night and sampled kung pao kangaroo. In India, I ate dosas every chance I got. I never gave the nutrient content of those foods a single thought.

“Everybody I know” indeed. Our understanding of vitamins comes from nutrition research that, contra Waters, Pollan and Nestle, focused on nutrients rather than food. This research has been enormously beneficial, mainly among the poor and institutionalized. From a review article about Vitamin A:

By 1992, most large-scale mortality prevention trials and at least 3 measles treatment trials [in poor countries] were completed. A meeting convened at the Rockefeller retreat in Bellagio reached consensus that vitamin A deficiency increased overall mortality, particularly from measles; improving vitamin A status would reduce overall mortality; and treating children already ill with measles with high-dose vitamin A was an effective means of reducing their risk of complications and death. This “Bellagio Brief,”published widely, helped draw attention to the importance of vitamin A. . . . National programs of varying effectiveness have been launched in over 70 countries and vitamin A “coverage” is now one of the core health indicators published annually in the State of the World’s Children. By UNICEF’s estimate, over one-half a billion vitamin A capsules are distributed every year, preventing 350,000 childhood deaths annually. . . . The World Bank lists vitamin A supplementation as one of the most cost-effective of all medical interventions.

This isn’t esoteric knowledge.

Suppose You Write the Times to Fix an Error (part 2)

The Roberts-Schwartz correspondence continued. I replied to Schwartz:

“Dining establishments”? [His previous email stated: “Four restaurants simply cannot represent the variety of dining establishments in New York City”] I thought the survey was about sushi restaurants. Places where raw fish is available.

Quite apart from that, I am sorry to see such a fundamental error perpetuated in a science section. If you don’t believe me that the teenagers’ survey was far better than you said, you might consult a friend of mine, Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics at Columbia.

John Tukey — the most influential statistician of the last half of the 20th century — really did say that a well-chosen of sample of 3 was worthwhile when it came to learning about sexual behavior. Which varies even more widely than sushi restaurants. A sample of 4 is better than a sample of 3.

Schwartz replied:

The survey included 4 restaurants and 10 stores.

The girls would not disclose the names of any of the restaurants, and only gave me the name of one store whose samples were not mislabeled. Their restaurants and stores might have been chosen with exquisite care and scientific validity, but without proof of that I could not say it in the article.

I wrote:

I realize the NY Times has an “answer every letter” policy and I am a little sorry to subject you to it. Except that this was a huge goof and you caused your subjects damage by vastly undervaluing their work. Yes, I knew the survey included 4 restaurants and 10 stores. That was clear.

As a reader I had no need to know the names of the places; I realized the girls were trying to reach broad conclusions. They were right not to give you the names because to do so might have obscured the larger point. It was on your side that the big failing occurred, as far as I can tell. Did you ask the girls about their sampling method? That was crucial info. Apparently The Times doesn’t correct errors of omission but that was a major error in your article: That info (how they sampled) wasn’t included.

He replied:

I could have been more clear on the subject of sample size, but I did not commit an error. Neither do my editors. That is why they asked me to write a letter to you instead of writing up a correction.

I don’t feel I have been “subjected to” anything, or that this is some kind of punishment. This is an interesting collision between the precise standards of someone with deep grounding in social science and statistical proof and someone who tries to write intelligible stories about science for a daily newspaper and a general interest audience. But I am not sorry that you wrote to me, even a little sorry.

i wrote:

“I did not commit an error.” Huh? What am I missing? Your article had two big errors:

1. An error of commission. You stated the study should be not taken seriously because the sample size was too small. For most purposes, especially those of NY Times readers, the sample size was large enough.

2. An error of omission. You failed to describe the sampling protocol — how those 10 stores and 4 restaurants were chosen. This was crucial info for knowing to what population the results should be generalized.

If you could explain why these aren’t errors, that would be a learning experience.

Did you ask the girls how they sampled?

His full reply:

We’re not getting anywhere here.

Not so. After complaining he didn’t have “proof” that the teenagers used a good sampling method, he won’t say if he asked them about their sampling method. That’s revealing.

Something similar happened with a surgeon I was referred to, Dr. Eileen Consorti, in Berkeley. I have a tiny hernia that I cannot detect but one day my primary-care doctor did. He referred me to Dr. Consorti, a general surgeon. She said I should have surgery for it. Why? I asked. Because it could get worse, she said. Eventually I asked: Why do you think it’s better to have surgery than not? Surgery is dangerous. (Not to mention expensive and time-consuming.) She said there were clinical trials that showed this. Just use google, you’ll find them, she said. I tried to find them. I looked and looked but failed to find any relevant evidence. My mom, who does medical searching for a living, was unable to find any completed clinical trials. One was in progress (which implied the answer to my question wasn’t known). I spoke to Dr. Consorti again. I can’t find any studies, I said, nor can my mom. Okay, we’ll find some and copy them for you, she said, you can come by the office and pick them up. She sounded completely sure the studies existed. I waited. Nothing from Dr. Consorti’s office. After a few weeks, I phoned her office and left a message. No reply. I waited a month, phoned again, and left another message. No reply.

More. In spite of Dr. Consorti’s statement in the comments (see below) that “I will call you once I clear my desk and do my own literature search,” one year later (August 2009) I haven’t heard from her.

Suppose You Write the Times to Fix an Error (part 1)

Recently the New York Times published a fascinating article by John Schwartz in the science section about how two teenagers discovered that a lot of raw fish sold in New York is mislabeled. Unfortunately, the article contained two big mistakes: 1. The teenagers’ results were dismissed as unconvincing because the sample size (10 stores and 4 sushi restaurants) was, according to Schwartz, too small. For many purposes the sample was large enough, if their sampling method was good. 2. The sampling method wasn’t described. Without knowing how the stores and restaurants were chosen, it’s impossible to know to what population the results apply. This was like reviewing a car and not saying the price.

In an email to the Times I pointed out the first mistake:

Your article titled “Fish Tale Has DNA Hook” by John Schwartz, which appeared in your August 22, 2008 issue, has two serious errors:

1. The article states: “The sample size is too small to serve as an indictment of all New York fishmongers and restaurateurs.” To whom the results apply — whom they “indict” — depends on the sampling method used — how the teenagers decided what businesses to check. Sample size has almost nothing to do with it. This was the statistician John Tukey’s complaint about the Kinsey Report. The samples were large but the sampling method was terrible — so it didn’t matter that the samples were large.

2. The article states: “the results are unlikely to be a mere statistical fluke.” It’s unclear what this means. In particular, I have no idea what it would mean that the results are “a mere statistical fluke.” The error rate of the lab where the teenagers sent the fish to be identified is probably very low.

In retrospect the second error is “serious” only if incomprehensibility is serious. Maybe not. I should have pointed out the failure to describe the sampling protocol) but didn’t.

I got the following reply from Schwartz:

Thank you for your note about my article, “Fish Tale Has DNA Hook,” which appeared in the newspaper on Friday. You state that the story misstated the importance of sampling size as “an indictment of all New York fishmongers and restaurateurs.” Although you are certainly correct in stating that poor methodology can undercut work performed using even the largest samples, it is also ill advised to try to establish broad conclusions from a very small sample. The fact that mislabeling occurred one in four pieces of seafood from 14 restaurants and shops in no way allows us to conclude that 25 percent of fish sold in New York or in the United States is mislabeled. And that is all I was trying to say with the reference to sample size was that while the girls’ experiment shows that some mislabeling has occurred, their work cannot say how much of it goes on or whether any given restaurant or shop is mislabeling its products. Similarly, when I wrote that it is unlikely the findings are a “statistical fluke,” I merely meant that while it is possible that Kate and Louisa found the only 8 restaurants and shops in New York City that mislabel their products, that is not likely, and so the possibility that the practice is widespread should not be discounted. And, of course, I hope you can forgive the pun.

Thanks again for taking the time read the article and respond to it, and I hope that you will find more to like in other stories that I write.

Uh-oh. The email was as mistaken as the article, although it did clear up what “statistical fluke” meant. I wrote again:

Thanks for your reply. I’m sorry to say that you still have things more or less completely wrong.

“Their work cannot say how much of it goes on or whether any given restaurant or shop is mislabeling its products.” Wrong. [Except for the obvious point that the survey does not supply info about particular places.] I don’t know what sampling protocol they used — how they chose the restaurants and fish sellers. (This is another big problem with your article, that you didn’t state how they sampled.) Maybe they used a really good sampling protocol, one that gave each restaurant and fish seller an equal chance of being in the sample. If so, then their work can indeed “say how much [mislabeling] goes on.” They can give an estimate and put confidence intervals around that estimate. Just like the Gallup poll does.

Somewhere you got the idea that big samples are a lot better than small ones. Sometimes you do need a big sample — if you want to predict the outcome of a close election, for example. But for many things you don’t need a big sample to answer the big questions. And this is one of those cases. There is no need to know with any precision how much mislabeling goes on. If it’s above 50%, it’s a major scandal, if it’s 10-50% it’s a minor scandal, if it’s less than 10%, it’s not a scandal at all. And the study you described in your article probably puts the estimate firmly in the minor scandal category. In contrast to your “it’s cute but doesn’t really tell us anything” conclusion quite the opposite is probably true (if their sampling procedure was good): It probably tells us most of what we want to know. You’re making the same mistake Alfred Kinsey made: He thought a big sample was wonderful. As John Tukey told him, he was completely wrong. Tukey said he’d rather have a sample of 3, well-chosen.

Thanks for explaining what you meant by “statistical fluke.” You may not realize you are breaking new ground here. Scientists wonder all the time if their results are “a statistical fluke.” What they mean by this is that they’ve done an experiment and have two groups, A (treated) and B (untreated) and wonder if the measured difference between them — there is always some difference — could be due to chance, that is, is a statistical fluke. In your example of the mislabeled fish there are not two groups — this is why your usage is mysterious. I have never seen the phrase used the way you used it. And I think that the readers of the Times already realized, without your saying so, that it is exceptionally unlikely that these were the only fish sellers in New York that mislabeled fish.

Schwartz replied:

I understand your points, and certainly see the difference between a small-but-helpful sample and a large-but-useless sample. but four restaurants simply cannot represent the variety of dining establishments in New York City. Four restaurants, ten markets.

I also realize that you must think I am thickheaded to keep at this, but I will certainly keep in mind your points in the future and will try not make facile references to small and large samples when the principles are, as you state, more complicated than that.

To be continued. My original post about this article.

Everything I Know I Learned from Japanese Curry Instructions

I got this in a Japanese supermarket:

back of food mix box


How to make soup curry:

1 packet of soup mix
1 packet of flavorful oil
1 packet of spicy flavoring
80g (3 oz.) of chicken thigh meat cut into bite sized pieces
1/4 medium sized carrot
1/2 medium sized potato (cut in half)
400ml water

1. Boil water in a small pan.  Add chicken, potato, and carrot, cook until vegetables become soft, about 20 minutes on med-low heat.
2. Turn off the heat, add the soup mix and mix thoroughly, turn the heat back on and cook a little longer until the flavor penetrates the meat and vegetables.
3. Pour the flavorful oil onto a plate and pour the finished curry on top.
4. Add a desired amount of the spice flavoring.

the spice flavoring is fairly spicy, so please use caution when adding
please cook the chicken thoroughly before adding the soup mix
-to make a double portion, double the meat and vegetables, and increase water to 700ml.
-the black things in the soup are basil

To make a dish like the picture on the box: Add sauteed japanese eggplant, shimeji mushrooms, green peppers, and hard boiled egg to the dish. Use boned chicken meat.

How to eat: Using a spoon, scoop rice and add a small amount of curry to the spoon.  Please keep the curry and rice in separate dishes to prevent the rice from getting soggy.

Caution: Please use the entire contents of the packets after opening.  Cannot be preserved for later use.

I have bolded the interesting parts: 1. The use of please. 2. The explanation (“the spice flavoring is fairly spicy”). You won’t find them in the instructions on most American products. I became aware of this aspect of Japanese life when I read T. R. Reid’s wonderful book Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us about Living in the West, which was based on six years Reid spent in Japan as a correspondent for the Washington Post. At one point Reid quoted from a sign in a park. The sign had a list of prohibitions: No littering, no music, and so on. But instead of saying, as an American sign would, “no littering”, the sign said something like: “So that others can enjoy the beauty of the park, please put your litter in the proper receptacle.”

A few years ago I taught a class called Psychology and the Real World in which students did some sort of off-campus work of their choosing. (An example of my teaching philosophy.) One student volunteered in a hospital. One day he told a story about being treated rudely by a nurse. I said, yeah, we live in a pretty rude culture. Japan is different, I said, and told the class about Reid’s Japanese park signs.

My student was impressed. He had a part-time job monitoring parking in front of a San Francisco hotel. People would often try to park in an area that needed to be kept clear and it was his job to get them to move. His method — pre-Reid — had been to go over to the offending car and say “sorry, you can’t park here.” Post-Reid, he was elaborately polite: “Please forgive me for disturbing you, but we need to keep this area clear so that taxis can pick up and drop off passengers. I’m sorry for inconveniencing you, but would you be kind enough to move your car?” Something like that. Pre-Reid, about half the time the driver would argue or cause some sort of difficulty. Post-Reid, there were no problems.

Thanks to Pearl Alexander.

The Best Food Writing I’ve Read

I subscribed to Saveur for several years but never finished any of the long articles — which weren’t that long. This should have puzzled me, but it didn’t. A month ago, however, I got the audiobook of Secret Ingredients, the New Yorker anthology about food. I was surprised how many of the articles I didn’t want to listen to. 90%? Usually I like New Yorker anthologies and read most of the articles. I’m a more tolerant listener than reader which made the comparision even worse.

Here’s my explanation. Food writing is like downtown Edinburgh. Its main street has shops on one side, on the other side a park. What should have been the economically most lively street in the city is rendered half as effective as it might be by the fact that half of it isn’t businesses. As something to write about, food is similar. Just as a park is economically inert, food is psychologically inert. Like a park, food can be pleasant (to read about) but it doesn’t act. It isn’t alive. This is why those Saveur feature articles were hard to read, I realized. They resembled flat lists: We cooked and ate X, Y, and Z. It’s incredibly hard to make that sort of thing fun to read. The best article in Secret Ingredients was John McPhee’s profile of Euell Gibbons. It’s a mini-adventure story, with an interesting guy at the center. The food is . . . a condiment.

This is why I’m so impressed by the chapter “Waizhou, USA” in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee. Waizhou means “out of state” — in this case, away from New York City. It’s the story of a family who left New York to run a Chinese restaurant in a small Georgia town. It took a shocking turn that Lee didn’t expect. Police took the children away. The father was arrested. “The offices pointed to the burn scars from cooking oil on the parents’ arms and said that was evidence that the couple had a history of fighting.” This had horrible and ramifying effects. “Oh, I can’t eat there anymore,” said a lawyer, “that’s the DV [domestic violence] case.” The teenage daughter starts using the court system to punish her mother. The parents are arrested again. “They had violated court rules by driving near their children’s foster home. Because they had sold their restaurant they were considered a flight risk.” Eventually they get their children back, and go back to New York. It’s a whole slice of life I’d never read about before. Enormously emotional and unpredictable. The father enjoyed jail. “When I was in jail for two days, it was really relaxing,” he told Lee.

Cheap vs. Expensive Wine

The Harvard Society of Fellows, I learned from this great post by Steve Levitt, drink expensive wine — like $60/bottle. Steve, who was a Fellow for 3 years, did a simple experiment that showed the other members couldn’t tell expensive wine from cheap wine. Although the other members had liked the idea of doing the experiment, they didn’t like the results:

There was a lot of anger when I revealed the results, especially the fact that I had included the same wine twice. One eminent scholar stormed out of the room stating that he had a cold — otherwise he would have detected my sleight of hand with certainty.

Stormed out of the room! Why were they so angry? I think they were embarrassed. And not just that. Steve doesn’t say it, but I think there had been lots of dinner table conversation about how great the wine was. Now all that conversation was revealed to be delusional. Noting the greatness of the wine was — to be crude about it — a way of noting the greatness of those assembled at the table. “We appreciate the finer things in life,” they were saying. “We deserve to be here.” Snobbery is reassuring. In a tiny voice, the results said, yes, you are here, congratulations, but the reason you are here is more complicated than “you deserved it”.