Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Pepe's seriousness about pizza sauce

Canned tomatoes with predictable behavior and excellent flavor are particularly necessary at a place like Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, one of the most celebrated pizza destinations in the country. ...

Because pizza has just three basic elements — crust, sauce and cheese — each one must be reliably perfect and perfectly reliable. To accomplish this, every fall two grandsons of Mr. Pepe conduct a blind tasting of new-harvest tomatoes from the area around Naples, Italy, that is known for producing (and canning) the best tomatoes.

“We’re looking not only for taste but for the density of the fruit, whether the texture is fibrous or weak, how the flavor changes from the beginning to the end,” said Francis Rosselli, 65, who began working at the pizzeria alongside the founder at age 14.

The Pepe sauce is not cooked, or even seasoned; the tomatoes are simply puréed with their juices before going onto the crust and into the oven. So it’s urgent that the unembellished tomatoes and juice are just right.

Last week, I sat in (but didn’t vote) at the annual tasting. First, we tried seven kinds right out of the can. Four were rejected (too weak, too strong, bland at the end), and the remaining three were carried off to the kitchen to be ground into sauce and tested immediately on an unembellished pie — no cheese or toppings, just tomato and olive oil. All three made good pizza, but we agreed that only one retained its clear, fresh tomato flavor after a turn in the 550-degree oven. ...

For Frank Pepe’s descendants, the annual tasting ritual is more than a business necessity

“It takes us back to the roots,” said Gary Bimonte, 57, the other grandson. “Tomatoes were a big part of our grandfather’s life.”
--Julia Moskin, NYT, on not just your corner pizzeria

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Totoro is not a death god

There’s a persistent rumor, one which we’ve talked about ourselves, that claims there’s a dark side to feel-good anime classic My Neighbor Totoro. The theory holds that while the movie opens with two lively sisters in the spotlight, both of them die somewhere before the end of the film, and the immense huggable Totoro isn’t in fact a forest spirit, but a death god ushering them into the afterlife.

If this creepy interpretation has been spoiling the warm fuzzy sensation you used to get from watching what you once thought was a heart-warming film, you can breathe easy again, as none other than Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki has publicly put the rumor to rest. ...

“Everyone gets all stirred up about it on the Internet, don’t they?” he began. “They say things like, ‘They’re all dead at the end of the movie.’” Proponents of the theory often assert that 11-year-old Satsuki and four-year-old Mei don’t have shadows, which in turn marks them as spirits.

This depiction doesn’t entirely hold water, though, according to Takimoto. “I watched the movie, and up until the very end, Mei and Satsuki both have shadows, don’t they?”

“Yes, they do,” replied Suzuki.

“They don’t lose them part-way through, or anything?”

“No, they don’t.”

Still, some people who’ve watched Totoro with one hand on the pause button will probably tell you that in the very last scene, the sisters’ shadows aren’t so clearly visible. But if they’re not ghosts, why don’t their physical bodies block light like they should? ...

At the risk of destroying any more idyllic images, even Studio Ghibli sometimes has to put limits on the amount of time and effort it can pour into a scene. As explained on the Ghibli website:
Everyone, please put your minds at ease. The rumors of Totoro being a death god, Mei being dead, and others rumors of the like are absolutely not true…Someone made them up because they sounded interesting to him or her, and it seems to have spread around the Internet. In regards to comments that “Satsuki and Mei don’t have shadows in the final scene,” it was merely decided that is wasn’t necessary to draw when producing the animation. We hope that people will not believe the rumors, and the PR department would like to officially announce that here.
--Casey Baseel, Sora News 24, on less than meets the eye

Hell is Tinder

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a smartphone will swipe right on basically everyone.
--Julie Beck, The Atlantic, on gendered standards

Researchers at Queen Mary University, Sapienza University of Rome, and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group created fake male and female Tinder profiles and automatically liked everyone within a 100-mile radius. Their findings, reported by the Washington Post, reinforce what many Tinder users know anecdotally: that women are overwhelmingly more discerning than men.

While the fake male profiles only matched with other users 0.6 percent of the time, around ten percent of female profiles were liked, mostly by men. The researchers postulate that women are more picky on Tinder, only liking the profiles of men they're attracted to, whereas men play a brutal numbers game by liking everyone in sight.

To make matters worse, men are less likely to send messages: only seven percent of men who matched with a fake profile sent a message, compared with 21 percent of women. This creates a horribly counterproductive feedback loop, wherein women become more picky because everyone they like seems to like them back—and men, faced with increasingly selective women, drop their standards even further.

Type "Tinder" into the App Store, and you'll see a plethora of apps aimed at maximizing your swiping game. Bonfire and Tinder Auto Liker (not an app you want a prospective date to see installed on your phone) will automatically approve every potential match, saving valuable time you can put towards clearing the search history on your work computer or re-reading seminal hook-up classic The Game. Swipe-happy office workers can even install software on their computers so they can auto-swipe continually without using their phones. ...

[Liam:] Saying yes to everyone means you match with everyone who likes you, including that magic overlapping part of the Tinder Venn diagram—those who are willing to match with you and those who you find attractive. Sure, it's a bit of a heartless approach as you end up ignoring girls who message you that you're not attracted to. But app dating in general is a fairly dehumanizing and mechanistic numbers game.
--Sirin Kale, Vice, on dating dystopia

The problem with Rawlsian ethics

Rawls is almost always invoked selectively, rarely being applied across national borders or across the generations, cases where it yields screwy results.  Rawls himself hesitated to approve of economic growth, because it does not maximize the well-being of the original “worst off” generation, which of course has to do some saving.  He had sympathies with the idea of Mill’s stationary state.  It’s fine to reject those conclusions, as indeed you should, but again maybe you’re not really a Rawlsian.  You are a selective Rawlsian, if that. ...

When it comes to redistribution as social insurance, the biggest problems with the Rawlsian method is this.  People have all sorts of preferences across the distribution of income.  Some are merit-related, some liberty-related, some non-Rawlsian-fairness related, some insurance-related, maybe even some rooted in prejudice.  The list of motives and reasons is long.  As the veil is typically used by economists, it strips away all of those preferences but…the preference for insurance.  So it is no wonder that the final construct produces an argument for insurance.  You get out of the construct what you put into it. ...

We do not always apply it to people in other countries, wealthy people who are poor in net terms because they are about to die, ugly men who cannot get sex, and many of the disabled.  Just about everyone is more of a particularist, situation-based egalitarian than they like to let on.
--Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution, on pushing Rawls to the limit

Monday, September 4, 2017

Posner vs. Sunstein writing deathmatch

In 1997, Ronald Dworkin, a fierce critic of [Richard] Posner’s, wrote an article that was in large part an attack on the two of us. Dworkin argued that we constituted a new “Chicago School,” that we were wrongly dismissive of high theory and philosophical questions, and that we were basically full of nonsense.

Posner suggested that we should do a joint reply, and I happily agreed. As I recall, it was a Friday, and I was determined to write the first draft, so as to shape both the tone and the content. Over the weekend, I worked as hard as I have ever done. On early Monday morning, probably around 7:45, I faxed him a 21-page, single-spaced draft. It lacked footnotes, and it was pretty rough, but, still, mission accomplished. I was pretty proud of myself.

When I got back to my office, I spotted something on my chair. It was from Posner. It had 35 pages. It was fully footnoted. It read like a dream. Needless to say, it was much more polished than mine, and better in every way.

As always, Judge Posner was ahead of the rest of us, even when we run as fast as we can.
--Cass Sunstein, Bloomberg, on pitting two of the fastest writers in legal academe against each other. HT: Marginal Revolution

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Countries conquer a lot less now

If you were to ask historians to name the most foolish treaty ever signed, odds are good that they would name the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The pact, which was joined by 63 nations, outlawed war. Ending war is an absurdly ambitious goal. To think it could be done by treaty? Not just absurd but dangerously naïve.

And the critics would seem to be right. Just over a decade later, every nation that had joined the pact, with the exception of Ireland, was at war. Not only did the treaty fail to stop World War II but it also failed to stop the Korean War, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Indo-Pakistani wars, the Vietnam War, the Yugoslav civil war and the current conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Yemen.

But the critics are wrong. Though the pact may not have ended all war, it was highly effective in ending the main reason countries had gone to war: conquest. ...

First, some context. Before 1928... international law also gave countries the right of conquest, meaning they could benefit from war by keeping its spoils, territory and, in some cases, people. ...

When it outlawed war, the Kellogg-Briand Pact changed nearly every rule that states had followed for centuries. Most important, countries could no longer establish right, justice or title by brute strength. Because war was now illegal, except in cases of self-defense, states lost the right of conquest. ...

With the research assistance of 18 Yale law students, we found that from 1816 until the Kellogg-Briand Pact was first signed in 1928, there was, on average, approximately one territorial conquest every 10 months. Put another way, the average state during this period had a 1.33 percent chance of being the victim of conquest in any given year. ...

A country with a 1.33 percent annual chance of conquest can expect to be conquered once in an ordinary human lifetime. And these conquests were not small. The average amount of territory seized between 1816 and 1928 was 114,088 square miles per year.

Since World War II, conquest has almost come to a full stop. The average number of conquests per year fell drastically — to 0.26 per year, or one every four years. The average size of the territory taken declined to a mere 5,772 square miles per year. And the likelihood that any individual state would suffer a conquest in an average year plummeted — from 1.33 percent to 0.17 percent, or once or twice a millennium. ...

The illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 might seem to prove us wrong. But the seizure of Crimea is the exception that proves the rule, precisely because of how rare conquests are today. Consider that before 1928, the amount of territory conquered every year was equal to roughly 11 Crimeas. In addition, nearly every state in the world has rejected the 2014 annexation as illegal, refusing to recognize Crimea as part of Russia.
--Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, NYT, on the power of norms