George H W Bush & The Broccoli Wars

George H W Bush (father of George W, who had one less initial and a lot fewer functioning cortical neurons) divided US public opinion with this famous declaration in March 1990:

I do not like broccoli and I haven’t liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m President of the United States and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli. Now look, this is the last statement I’m going to have on broccoli. There are truckloads of broccoli at this very minute descending on Washington. My family is divided. For the broccoli vote out there: Barbara loves broccoli. She has tried to make me eat it. She eats it all the time herself. So she can go out and meet the caravan of broccoli that’s coming in.

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Filipino Restaurants: Another Data Point

Nearly two years I speculated on reasons why there are so few Filipino restaurants in Australia relative to the large number Filipino migrants.

A secondary purpose was to discuss the uselessness of preference based explanations – not because they could not be true, but because they could not be verified; The only evidence that a set of preferences causes a set of phenomena is the phenomena themselves. Useless.

In the case of Pinoy food a preference explanation would also need to claim that

A) There is something remarkable about Pinoy food that is not true about every other migrant cuisine that has ever come into the country and;

B ) Filipinos are, unlike every other migrant group, disinclined to eat at restaurants of their own cuisine.

My hypothesis instead, was;

i) Ethnic restaurants are common because migrants are likely to start businesses both because of the personality characteristics that led them to migrate in the first place, and greater difficulties finding waged or salaried employment (because of discrimination, or simply a lack of socialisation to tacit things).

ii) The nature of the Filipino diaspora in Australia is gender skewed heavily towards woemen[1]. The remaining careers with ease of entry (cleaning, aged care) are “feminised”. Subsequently a great proportion of the population that would otherwise have to start businesses is able to find paid employment, which they prefer. (The gender skew in business starting accross all ethnicities may also be at play).

iii) Subsequently there is a lack of supply of restaurant starters, not a lack of demand.

It was by far my most popular post on Troppo. I still get comments every week or so. Invariably the comments cite preferences as their favoured explanation, either because Filipino food uses condiments (like, apparently, no other food), or that Filipinos like their mum’s cooking *(like, apparently, no other ethnicity) and so on.

After a brief update last year,  I have a more substantial one today.

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Australia is Part of Asia

It is, of course, the season for holiday fun times making worthless definitions.

Last week my wife and I were making a rare trip into Namba, a popular entertainment and shopping district in Osaka. We happened to see a restaurant named “Blue Billabong (Japanese)”. It purported to be an Australian themed restaurant. We looked at the menu, expecting to snigger in the same resigned fashion as we would looking at the Menu for the Outback Steakhouse.

Here’s some of the items  on the menu.

Pasta with 5-spice prawns.

Steamed Shredded Chicken with Ginger and Green Onion Oil.

Sweet and Sour Pork with Red Wine Sauce

Seasame Crusted Lotus Seeds in Red Beans with Salty Icecream.

Xiaolongbao (“soup dumplings” associated with Shanghai).

Fish and Chips

You can make out some other items here (if you zoom in).

This was unexpected. It’s easily recognisable as something you’d find in a contemporary Australian restaurant. It’s the same combination of Mediterranean and Asian flavours (here mainly Italian and Chinese [fn1]) that has been labeled Modern Australian for roughly 20 years.

But it’s also in a country where tourism campaigns portray Australia with dozens of photos of Cairns and the Gold Coast, the Harbour Bridge and nothing of the rest of the country where Australians live.

It’s good to see we are beginning to be recognised for who we are.

…and maybe “Asia literacy” is just a code word for established government and media following belatedly where the rest of the country has already trod.

[fn1] And much different to the Italian (read “Spaghetti”) and Chinese (read 1970′s RSL) one most frequently encounters in Japan.

Do Walmart Supercenters make you fat (hint – a bit!)

From Supersizing supercenters? The impact of Walmart Supercenters on body mass index and obesity, by Charles Courtemanche and Art Carden, Journal of Urban Economics 69 (2011) 165–181

Researchers have linked the rise in obesity to technological progress reducing the opportunity cost of food consumption and increasing the opportunity cost of physical activity. We examine this hypothesis in the context of Walmart Supercenters, whose advancements in retail logistics have translated to sub- stantial reductions in the prices of food and other consumer goods. Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System matched with Walmart Supercenter entry dates and locations, we examine the effects of Supercenters on body mass index (BMI) and obesity. We account for the endogeneity of Walmart Supercenter locations with an instrumental variables approach that exploits the unique geo- graphical pattern of Supercenter expansion around Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. An additional Supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average BMI by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3% points. These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart Supercenters explains 10.5% of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s, but the resulting increase in medical expenditures offsets only a small portion of consumers’ savings from shopping at Supercenters.

Two updates – Real time bus maps and Filipino restaurants

This post is merely two additions to previous posts, neither of which warranted a post on their own.

The first relates to this post from September where I talked about the idea of realtime mapping of bus services using GPS data.  Better people than I had the same idea and, through the Apps4NSW competition, Flink Labs has produced this prototype for Sydney and Newcastle buses. I think it’s great. I may have anticipated the means by which it would come (Google maps and Government 2.0) but I got the timing way out – I thought it would take years. Hopefully the new government will run with it so it becomes more phone friendly.

The other relates to my speculations on the paucity of Filipino restaurants. One hypothesis I didn’t mention is that Filipino migrants might be less prone than  other migrant groups to cluster into certain suburbs (the way we can see suburbs that are notably “Greek” or “Vietnamese” for instance), so that that a given restaurant would struggle to have a local returning customer base within it’s own community. This could be plausible if Filipino migrants have better English skills (due to American colonialism) and are therefore less likely to seek other speakers of their language to live near. Alternatively, the gender imbalance and associated exogamy may mean they are more geographically spread out.

I didn’t feel this hypothesis explained much (hence I didn’t mention it), but I kept it in mind. The other day I was using CData to map 2006 census data on migrant groups for an unrelated question (on which I’ll probably post in future), but this gave me the opportunity to compare Filipino settlement to some other groups. Notably I compared residency in Sydney and Melbourne by people born in the Phillipines with those born in two other countries, Korea and India. I chose these two because their periods of migration roughly coincide with Filipino migration, so they’d be facing similar house prices and job opportunities which would alter their choices relative to post war migrants. Additionally, unlike the Vietnamese or Lebanese (or more recently East Africans), there’d be no refugee aspect where settlement would be dictated by government decisions. Furthermore, Korean and Indian restaurants are abundant. The comparison is still flawed of course.

The maps (and some notes) are below the fold. I can see some element of greater concentration amongst Koreans and Indians, at least in Sydney (and in places where you’d find many restaurants in said cuisines), but not nearly enough to explain the disparity. The concentration of Filipinos in the spur of settlement between Blacktown and Penrith is notable – half the Filipino restaurants I know of in Sydney are in Blacktown (i.e two). Maybe there’s a lack of suitable commercial real estate there?

I don’t think there’s more for this hypothesis though, but you can look for yourself.

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Poh’s Laundry

Being in holiday mode, my brain is deeply immersed in trivial thoughts, not least who the Australian selectors could sensibly pick to begin the process of rebuilding a competitive cricket team.

However an even more burning question is this: why are there so many cooking programs on TV?  It can’t just be that they’re much cheaper to make than scripted drama or comedy.  People must actually like watching them.  But why?

There’s certainly a moment of harmless if tacky diversion involved in watching the amply endowed voluptuous Nigella figuratively fellate her audience while whipping up tasty comestibles.

I even confess to once watching a couple of episodes of Gordon Ramsey in horrified fascination, though only to find out just how much bullying and humiliation contestants would tolerate in the hope of fleeting foodie fame (the answer appears to be that there’s no limit, otherwise someone would have punched Ramsey’s teeth down his throat years ago).

But with those exceptions, why would you watch a cooking show?  And if learning the finer points of domestic chores is entertainment, why don’t we see shows like Poh’s Laundry or Nigella’s Mopping and Vacuuming Titbits? Please explain.

The best restaurant I’ve ever been to

I guess the coming of Master Chef was 9 parts good and one part bad. Great that people got into cooking, but all that stuff about ‘plating up’ was a bit much for me. A nicely presented meal is nice of course, but ‘plating up’? A tad overblown methinks.

Anyway, I just thought I’d let all Troppodillians know that I’ve found the restaurant of my dreams. The Darna Authentic Moroccan Restaurant. What’s so good about it? Well pretty much everything. Every dish that was served a group of four of us tonight was superb. Even those dips that turn up as the initial course were truly delicious. Of course dips often are, but these were a bit different to your usual. And truly delicious.

The main courses were slow cooked lamb with prunes and other sweet things, and onions, and roasted almonds; Artichokes stuffed with veal and lamb meat in lemon dressing and a couple of other specials that don’t turn up on their internet menu.

The food was so delicious we were full, but managed one desert between four. It was Toubkal delight – Sweet pastry with vegetal milk, citrus water, garnished with baked ground almonds in cinnamon. Sublime with mint tea. Had we wanted more there were plenty of alternatives like dates stuffed with marzipan, crescents of toasted almonds, shbakia, coconut cookies, almond balls, ground nuts and dates in powdered sugar, phyllo leaves stuffed with marzipan and dipped in honey.

The bad news? Darna Authentic Moroccan Restaurant is in Jerusalem. So it will be some time before I make it back there. In the meantime, if you’re in town, make sure you go. It’s wonderful. Prices are normal – say high twenties, low thirties for a main. It completely lacks preciousness. Everything was presented in a very appetising way, without much sign of ‘plating up’.

I can’t think of a better restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. Ever.

Shaking and Stirring, the basket weavers strike back

Balmain is not  just the city of basket weavers it is also a place to find thinking drinkers and binge thinkers. Put this in your list of favorites.

Shaken and Stirred, the brainchild of Parnell McGuinness and Leonie Phillips, is a space for the free exchange of opinions without fear, favour or rancour. It is a moveable feast of ideas, usually associated with food and drink (well, why not?).

Modelled on the great Parisian salons of the enlightenment, Shaken and Stirred events gypsy throughout metropolitan Sydney presenting unusual speakers on provocative ideas. By deliberately seating ideological opponents adjacent, the events encourage thinkers from all perspectives to challenge their own ideas and those of others.

See the Shaken and Stirred Facebook page for previous events.

Adam Smith on Science, Paul Krugman on intellectual charlatans: Speech to CSIRO science leaders

A few weeks ago, on the 30th of Sept to be precise, I gave a speech to ‘science leaders’ in CSIRO. Science leaders are early mid career scientists from around the world whom CSIRO have recruited. As the speech explains, Jim Peacock, the Chief Scientist whom I met when on the Innovation Review asked me to speak. I sent this to Don Arthur, who enjoyed it, so I thought I’d post it for those who might like to read it on Troppo.

I must confess to some trepidation as I stand before you.

Ive never thought of myself as an after dinner speaker. But there I was working away I was going to say innocently working away but some people who know me might find that unconvincing.

Anyway, at that point, the nations Chief Scientist rang.

He said that hed come to think of my contributions to the Innovation Review where we both sat as members as so witty that he thought that if I turned up here tonight everyone could have a good laugh.

I note he didnt say witty and wise, but then thats just as well as it halves the level of performance anxiety I might otherwise feel.

Now naturally enough, those on the Innovation Panel regard a gentle request from the Chief Scientist in the same way that members of the US Military regard a gentle request from the Commander in Chief. So I accepted his kind invitation.

Anyway, immediately I got off the phone the saying that came to my fevered and terrified mind was the one attributed to Abraham Lincoln. You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time (I think in these circumstances thats a reference to the Chief Scientist), but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

On thinking about that I nearly rang back and cancelled, but then I realised, that from what the Chief Scientist had said, all I really needed to do was fool all of the people in this room for fifteen minutes or so.

So here I go. Please dont refrain from having a few more drinks as I speak. A couple of minutes already gone! Continue reading