Good fences make good neighbors

Came across this paper from years ago in Nassim Taleb’s Twitter feed that is fortuitously relevant today: Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence. As he summarized it, “…you don’t get peace forcing pple to hold hands & sing Kumbaya by the campfire.” Key quote from the abstract:

Our analysis shows that peace does not depend on integrated coexistence, but rather on well defined topographical and political boundaries separating groups. Mountains and lakes are an important part of the boundaries between sharply defined linguistic areas.

Switzerland is mentioned.

8+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Amazon.com to Customers in Switzerland: Merry Christmas and Farewell!

What should I find in my E-mail today but this, from Amazon.com.

Amazon to Swiss Customers: Farewell

After more than two decades as the preeminent source for books for Anglophone readers in Switzerland, Amazon.com have decided to celebrate Boxing Day 2018 by punching their loyal customers in the gut.  They will no longer be able to order physical books or any other non-digital product from Amazon.com, but will rather be restricted to the much more limited selection available from Amazon subsidiaries in European Union (EU) countries.

People living in Switzerland who wish to order books in languages not available from subsidiaries in the European Union, for example Japanese and Chinese, are completely out of luck.  They will no longer have access to books from any Amazon site outside the EU.

Why is this happening?  Well, as usual, when you encounter something foul, coercive, and totally irrational, it’s a good bet the wicked European Union and its crooked Customs Union is involved.  The European Union has used its economic power to coerce Switzerland into conforming its trade policies with its deeply corrupt Customs Union.  The EU styles itself as a “free trade” zone, but in fact, it is a cartel with tariff barriers surrounding it which are erected to protect constituencies with political power in Brussels.

It deeply offends the slavers in Brussels that anybody should book a profit, anywhere in the world, which is not subject to their taxation (even though imports from outside the EU are subject to tariffs, duties, and Value Added Tax).  So, by putting up barriers, they prevent Amazon.com, a U.S. company, from shipping physical products even into non-EU countries over which they can exercise their power.

If you wonder why the issue of remaining in the EU Customs Union is such a big thing in the Brexit deal, this is why.

13+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Islamist Egypt

At a Christmas party last night,* I met an Egyptian woman. That is, she was born in Egypt but had emigrated to the US forty years ago as a youth. She returns to Cairo frequently to visit family. Over the years she has been struck by the cultural changes: the increasing Islamification of Egypt. More women are wearing traditional Islamic dress and observing strict religious behavior. Cairo is no longer a safe city for a woman alone. She attributed these changes to the 1979 Iranian revolution, spreading Islamism throughout the region.

The pictures of graduating class at Cairo University from 1959 through 2004 tell a similar tale:

As you can see, the female graduates in 1959 and 1978 had bare arms, wore short sleeved blouses, dresses, or pants, and were both bare-faced and bare-headed. By 1995, we see a smattering of headscarves—and by 2004 we see a plurality of female university graduates in serious hijab: Tight, and draping the shoulders.

While this fits in with my image of Iran or Saudi Arabia, it’s not what comes to mind for Egypt. Presumably, it applies to all of north Africa, from Egypt to Morocco.  It’s worse than I thought.


*Yes, I know it’s weeks from Christmas.

11+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Direct Democracy vs. Global Governance

Suisse: Initiative auto-déterminationAs noted in an earlier post, on Sunday, 2018-11-25 Swiss citizens will vote on the contentious issue of whether to amend the federal constitution to prohibit the removal of horns from cows and goats.  Also on the ballot will be the (French title) “Initiative pour l’autodétermination” (Self-determination Initiative).

This is also an initiative to amend the federal constitution, whose full text you can read [PDF] in French.  The relevant language, with my translation interleaved, is as follows.

Le droit est la base et la limite de l’activité de l’Etat. La Constitution fédérale est la source suprême du droit de la Confédération suisse.

The law is the basis and limit of the activity of the State.  The federal Constitution is the supreme source of the law of the Swiss Confederation.

La Confédération et les cantons respectent le droit international. La Constitution fédérale est placée au dessus du droit international et prime sur celui-ci, sous réserve des règles impératives du droit international.

The Confederation and the cantons respect international law. The federal Constitution is placed above international law and overrides it, subject to the mandatory rules of international law.

La Confédération et les cantons ne contractent aucune obligation de droit international qui soit en conflit avec la Constitution fédérale.

The Confederation and the cantons shall not contract any obligation of international law that would be in conflict with the Federal Constitution.

En cas de conflit d’obligations, ils veillent à ce que les obligations de droit international soient adaptées aux dispositions constitutionnelles, au besoin en dénonçant les traités internationaux concernés.

In the case of a conflict of obligations, they shall ensure that the obligations of international law are adapted to the constitutional provisions, if necessary by denouncing the international treaties concerned.

Le Tribunal fédéral et les autres autorités sont tenus d’appliquer les lois fédérales et les traités internationaux dont l’arrêté d’approbation a été sujet ou soumis au référendum.

The federal Tribunal and other authorities are obliged to apply federal laws and international treaties whose approval decree has been subject to or submitted to referendum.

A compter de leur acceptation par le peuple et les cantons, les art. 5, al. 1 et 4, 56et 190 s’appliquent à toutes les dispositions actuelles et futures de la Constitution fédérale et à toutes les obligations de droit international actuelles et futures de la Confédération et des cantons.

From the time of their acceptance by the people and the cantons, art., al. 1 and 4, 56a and 190 will apply to all present and future provisions of the federal Constitution and all present and future international law obligations of the Confederation and the cantons.

Here is the official federal government page about the initiative (select language at top right).  The federal parliament recommends a No vote, with 129 no and 68 aye in the lower house (Conseil national) and 38 no and 6 aye in the upper house (Conseil des États).

The argument for the initiative is presented on its supporters’ Web site.

As this is a federal matter, I shall not have a vote in this (permanent residents can vote in elections at the commune and canton level [depending on the commune and canton’s rules] but only citizens can vote in federal elections), but you can probably guess where I come down on the matter. Essentially all of the political, media, and big business establishment is opposing the referendum and the way to bet is a broad-based defeat, but the Swiss electorate is unpredictable and doesn’t like to be pushed around, so you never know.

I will post the results in a comment when they become known on Sunday.

9+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

An obituary to share –Mario

NPR has a feature worth reading.   It is an obituary of a plumber.   He started his own company.   He worked hard and his business grew.   He ended up owning some property, which is how he became the landlord for the Nintendo office in Tukwila, Washington.

https://www.npr.org/2018/11/02/663372770/mario-segale-inspiration-for-nintendos-hero-plumber-has-died

Another friend of Segale’s commented on that story: “My direct understanding and perception is that Mario Segale doesn’t mind at all the fact that his name inspired such an iconic character, and that he shows humble pride in that fact in front of his grandchildren and close-knit adult circles.”

0

TOTD 2018-9-10: French Comedy

Okay, the title is clickbait for the Francophiles on the site. This is a video of the comedy troupe Yoshimoto. They repeat the same plot in their skits. There is a family run shop, restaurant, or hotel and the Yakuza in loud suits shows up. Different characters in the troupes have running gags. Some of the gags have gone on for decades. This is like Saturday Night Live but with humor.

If you drink Soleil Lemon, you probably won’t get the humor.

1+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar

Monday Meals: 2018-07-23

Raclette

Raclette is a quintessentially Swiss dish whose origins date as far back as those of the country (a.d. 1291).  Although cheese fondue is often considered the national dish of Switzerland, many Swiss consider Raclette more authentically Swiss, since fondue is equally popular in adjacent regions of France.

Raclette: The Cheese

The word “Raclette” refers both to the kind of cheese used in the dish and the dish prepared from it.  Raclette cheese is traditionally made from raw grass-fed cow’s milk and is semi-hard (pâte mi-dure) with a relatively thin, edible, rind and few, if any, holes.  It is aged only three to six months and has no blue inoculation.  (Today, most raclette cheese made in Switzerland is  produced from pasteurised milk, but in the canton of Valais, it must be made from raw milk to be called Valais Raclette.)

Non-traditional raclette cheese may have added flavouring such as garlic, sliced peppercorns, paprika (all seen commonly) and more exotic innovations such as onions, truffles, bits of bacon, and herbs.  I’ve even tried raclette cheese made from goat’s milk, but it worked poorly.

Raclette cheese is usually produced in rounds whose size varies from one producer to another.  A typical modern round is around 5.5 kg, and is often sold in half-rounds of around 2.7 kg.  You can also buy square blocks cut from these rounds of around 500 g or slices from these slabs; we’ll see how these are used below.

Raclette de Valais: demi-ronds

What is common to all kinds of raclette cheese is that when heated, it melts into a creamy consistency without separating into fat and milk solids like some other cheeses.  This makes it ideal for Raclette, the dish, which we’ll now examine.

Raclette: The Dish

Tradition has it that cow herders in the mountainous regions of Switzerland would, when moving their herds among Alpine pastures, carry with them, for their meals, a half round of raclette cheese and some potatoes or bread, all of which keep well without refrigeration.  In the evening, after starting their campfire, they would bring the round up to the fire so its heat would begin to melt the exposed part of the half-round, then scrape the melting cheese onto slices of bread or potatoes which had been boiled over the campfire.  Racler is the French verb “to scrape”, and the word “raclette” comes from scraping the melting cheese from the heated round.

Today, few people build a campfire to enjoy raclette (although, if you have one, why not?).  Instead, some people and restaurants use an electric heater with a half-round of cheese or a block cut from one.

Raclette: electric heater

You rotate the cheese round under the heater, hold the plate below the lower end of the round, and scrape the melting cheese onto the plate with a knife.  If you’re a purist, special knives are available, with one side for scraping and the other for cutting the rind for those who (being also purists) prefer it with their cheese.  Between servings, rotate the cheese away from the heat so it doesn’t dribble (much) onto the platform below.

This is typically how raclette is prepared in restaurants or at festivals such as the Désalpe de Lignières.  With today’s small families, a 2.7 kg half-round or even a 500 g block is a lot of cheese for one sitting, and the most popular way to serve raclette at home is with slices and a raclette/grill apparatus.  That’s what we’ll use for the meal below.

Raclette: The Meal

Let’s make a raclette dinner.  Here are the ingredients.

Raclette: Ingredients and grill

For one or two people, you’ll need around a kilogram of “new” potatoes.  These are often sold in Switzerland as “Raclette” potatoes, but elsewhere choose small potatoes with a thin skin (which you cook and eat) that don’t  disintegrate into mush when you slice or mash them after cooking.  In French such potatoes are called «chair ferme»; I don’t know the phrase in English, but most new potatoes (as opposed to the big ones with thick skins for baking) are of this kind.  Don’t peel them; we’ll cook and eat them with the skins on.  The skin has much of the flavour and vitamins of the potato.  If the potatoes are dirty, wash them.  (New potatoes you buy in Switzerland are almost always washed, but if yours aren’t, scrub them under running cold water.  “Don’t eat dirt—dilutedilute!”)

Fill a saucepan with enough water to cover the potatoes (but don’t add them yet), add a bit of salt (or omit, if you wish), and bring to a boil.  Once the water is boiling, add the potatoes (gently; you don’t want to splash the boiling water on the stove or yourself) and boil for 15 minutes or until you can push a fork into a potato without encountering a hard centre.  Once the water comes up to a full boil after adding the potatoes, you can reduce the heat until it’s just boiling; once water is boiling, adding heat only makes the water boil away faster and doesn’t raise the temperature or cook the potatoes any quicker.  (If you’re at seriously high altitude, you may have to increase the cooking time.  I find 15 minutes works fine for anywhere from sea level to Fourmilab’s altitude of 800 metres.)

While the potatoes are boiling, set up the raclette/grill apparatus and the accessories.  Usually, with a dinner for multiple guests, you’ll put it in the centre of the table.  Connect to electricity, turn on, and set to the highest temperature initially to heat up to operating temperature (this takes a while—I usually turn on the grill about half way through boiling the potatoes).  Make sure there is nothing flammable or prone to melting near the grill.  Set out butter, salt and pepper, complements such as cornichons (small cucumber pickles) and pickled onions, and innovative condiments such as hot sauce, jalapenos, bacon salt, sour cream, and whatever else you fancy.  Some people serve cold cuts such as ham or sausage with raclette, but I find that a bit much: cheese and potatoes are very filling all by themselves.

Once the timer for the potatoes goes “bing”, it’s time to eat!  Turn off the heat on the potatoes, but leave them in the water; this will keep them warm during the meal in case people want second or third helpings.  Invite diners to pick four or five potatoes from the pan onto their plates with kitchen tongs and take them to the table, where they can lightly mash them with butter, salt and pepper, and if utterly decadent, sour cream (you want to mash into pieces, not a uniform starchy continuum).  Meanwhile, they’ll have chosen a slice of cheese from the variety you’ve set out (I usually provide an assortment of classic, pepper, garlic, and paprika), put it into a pan («coupelle») and placed it into the raclette/grill.  With the grill up to temperature, it will only take around a minute for the cheese slice to melt to a creamy consistency.  After you start the meal, you’ll probably want to reduce the grill temperature so the cheese doesn’t melt more quickly than a diner can finish the previous slice.  Take some of the pickles and onions and enjoy their crunchy contrast with the melted cheese and potatoes.  You can see the rind in the melted cheese in the picture below; this is how raclette is traditionally served.

Raclette: ready to serve

Innovators may enjoy putting a spritz of hot sauce on top of the cheese before they put it into the grill, or topping it with a slice of tomato, onion, bits of bacon, or whatever comes to mind.  Innovators…always making trouble!

Raclette is traditionally accompanied by light, fruity Swiss white wines such as Fendant, made from the Chasselas grape.  Teetotalers usually choose tea with raclette.  Conventional wisdom is that cold drinks such as water and diet toxic sludge may cause the cheese to harden into a bolus which can only be extracted by surgery or a plumber’s snake, but I know of no hard evidence for this. Consider yourself warned.

Cleaning Up

There is very little cleaning up after a meal of raclette, regardless of the number of people at the table.  You’ll probably have potatoes left over.  Pluck them from the now-cooling water and put them into a frigo container (the Fourmilab term of art is “white box”, as in “white box dinner”) and, after they come to room temperature, bung them into the frigo.  Leftover cheese should be tightly wrapped in aluminium foil and refrigerated.  It will have been inoculated with airborne nasties while on the table and will begin growing green hairy cruft after a week or so; be sure to use it before this happens.  The pickles and onions can be returned to their jars and the condiments returned to the refrigerator; they’ll keep almost forever—they’re more patient than your appetite.

One little-appreciated property of raclette cheese is that however crusty it has become when heated, after a few minutes in warm water it softens and is easily wiped away.  After you remove the potatoes from the cooling (but yet warm) water, throw in the cheese melting pans, scrapers, and utensils, wait about ten minutes, and with a quick swipe with the scrubber they’ll be ready to throw into the dish grinder, which will do the work Swiss people won’t.

The best thing to do with leftovers is encore raclette!  Not the next day, but a day or two later, and maybe for lunch.  Now, you don’t necessarily want to haul out the whole apparatus, so you might consider the Fourmilab innovation I call nuclette.  Take a small bowl, place one or two leftover potatoes in it; mash lightly, add a little butter, place a slice of leftover raclette cheese on top, cover with a plate and place in the microwave.  Nuke it for one or two minutes, et voilà, almost authentic raclette.  Add salt and pepper, stir it up, and enjoy.  Repeat if you remain peckish.

If you have entirely too many potatoes left over, consider making Fourmilab’s Can’t Fail Potato Salad from them—they’re already cooked, so it’s just a matter of minutes to prepare.

Bon appetit!

10+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Monday Meals: 18-7-16 Jaga Bata

Be it summertime, I figured I’d talk a bit about on of my favorite matsuri foods. A matsuri (祭) is a festival in Japan.  Most towns from the smallest to the largest have festivals, which are usually during the summertime.  Accompanying the festivities are food booths with various tasty attractions.  One of my favorite happens to by jaga bata. Jaga bata is a deep fried buttered potato.  The name is a portmanteau of jagaimo (potato) and bata (butter).

Jaga bata is often topped with just butter.

Jaga bata
Jaga bata, lightly fried with only butter.

Many people, myself included, like to put mentaikomayo along with the butter on the jaga bata.  Mentaikomayo is mentaiko (spicy, fermented fish roe) and mayonnaise.  It gives the jaga bata a creamy, spicy quality.  So delicious.

Jaga bata with mentaiko
Deep fried jaga bata with mentaiko and a bit of corn.

If you are ever at a Japanese matsuri, I highly recommend you seek out and try jaga bata with mentaikomayo.

5+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Doshaburi

Google Translate gives “doshaburi” as one of four ways to say “downpour” in Japanese.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201807080023.html

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201807080035.html

Hey, 10 Cents, are you all right?   High and dry, I hope.   I saw the news about floods, but I think you are about 400 miles from there.

3+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Japanese MOMO-2 Private Rocket Launch

Interstellar Technologies, Inc. of Hokkaido, Japan is an aspiring private space launch company, hoping to join the ranks of companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic in providing low cost access to space.  The company was formed by a group of hobbyists who had previously built and launched their own rockets noncommercially.

Their first product, MOMO, is modest.  It is a “sounding rocket” which is intended to launch lightweight payloads into space on up-and-down missions which give them a brief period of weightlessness and access to the space environment.  MOMO is designed to launch small payloads above the Kármán line of 100 km, which is the conventional boundary of space.  The rocket is small and light: just 10 metres tall and one tonne.  For further details, see the Interstellar Technologies Web site, which is also available in Japanese.

The first launch of MOMO in July 2017 became the first privately-funded space launcher to be launched from Japan.  The rocket was functioning normally until telemetry was lost 66 seconds after launch.  This triggered an engine cut-off, which caused the rocket to reach an altitude of only 20 km before falling into the sea.

The second launch attempt was on June 30th, 2018.  Here is what happened.

They did not go to space that day.

The company is developing an orbital launcher for small satellites which is expected to fly in 2020, and has already conducted several tests of engine components for that rocket.

5+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar