Friday, August 13, 2004

Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance. - Sam Browne

Now there's a thought!

Thursday, August 12, 2004

De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum…

My most recent copy of the Bloomberg magazine (gratis with my Bloomberg account, I suppose) has an interesting gobbet from Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany (review here).

I am very fond of this section in the Bloomberg. I might gloss over the other sections – the self-promotional bits about how traders use the special Bloomberg functions to maximize profits; and tips on new analysis strategies on the financial terminals etc. However, the bits on food, I never skip.

The Schott write-up focuses on how this bird called ortolan is prepared. This is a gourmet affair, you understand. You may never have heard of an ortolan, much less eaten one. For those of you from the U.K., this is the bunting we are talking about.

Anyway, Ben Schott, in the second in his series of quirky compendiums of gastronomical information, offers grisly details on how the ortolan is prepared.

“The traditional method of preparing and eating ortolan is as curious as it is barbaric,” he writes.

“The tiny birds are caught alive and kept in a dark box (or blinded) so that they gorge themselves continually on grain. Once they distend way beyond their natural size, the birds are drowned in Cognac, plucked and roasted.

“After their heads have been cut or bitten off, ortolans are eaten whole (bones and all) from underneath a napkin – to hide the shame of such cruelty and gluttony from the sight of God.”

The manner of eating was apparently, devised by a monk who wanted to hide his gluttony from God’s gaze.

By no means is the ortolan the extreme in French cuisine from what I hear. A friend and I have been having talking, co-incidentally, about this very same issue – the excess of French cuisine.

Some of the pre-revolutionary parties were wild to the extreme in their cuisine. One recipe from Alexandre Dumas’ Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine comes to mind - Rotie al'Imperatrice – the dish fit for the Empress. It involved dressing, marinating and stuffing a series of birds into another, from the smallest to largest. It all began with a fresh olive... which was pitted. In place of the pit was placed an anchovy, which was then placed in the mouth of the thrush... I think the smallest bird was a thrush, the largest a turkey. The birds were then all stuffed into a suckling pig before it was roasted. You cut through a section to get bits of all the meats... But the best bit, apparently, was the olive which was fused with the essence of the taste of everything else around it...

BTW, I have heard, eating the ortolan is banned in France. but I have also heard that long after it was banned, President Mitterrand reportedly had two for one of his last meals… his head covered by napkin and all.

There's no accounting for taste…

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

New York, New York
Posted by Hello

Tuesday, August 10, 2004


The U.S. Federal Reserve hiked rates 25bps to 1.50% and said the U.S. economy is about to grow stronger again. The statement that accompanies the rate hike also touched on a few other points – namely: that high oil prices are a matter of concern; there has been a period of slowdown, but that it will be transitory; and that the Fed will move at an optimal pace on policy – slow if need be, fast when required. One important implication of the FOMC statement is that the Fed expects oil prices to ease back down. They attributed the recent slowing in growth 'importantly to the substantial rise in energy prices' and yet they state the economy 'is poised to resume a strong pace of expansion going forward'.

Thus if oil prices persist at current record high levels or climb higher, the Fed will have to consider the dampening impact on growth. That would imply that the U.S. central bank could hold rates at 1.5% in September. Judging by the high degree of similarity between the June 30 FOMC statement and the one issued on August 10, the Fed does not appear worried about the risk of a sustained slowdown in growth as many on Wall Street seem to be. The Fed appears confident growth and hiring will rebound in the coming months.

The statement maintained their intention of proceeding at a measured pace, it called their stance accommodative after the move to 1.5%, it unsurprisingly still saw inflation pressures of H1 as transitory, it noted some slowing in growth and labor conditions (attributing this to higher energy prices) but asserted that the economy is poised to resume stronger growth. It is this latter assertion, although a subtle nuance, that has disappointed bond traders in the midst of a quarterly refunding at overly optimistic interest rate levels. The balances of risks were left roughly equal.

The statement was a bit of a disappointment to bond traders, especially those carrying long positions, and looking for more hints of concern about growth and maybe hints of a pause in rate action at the September meeting. This statement is squarely in line with my outlook, couched in a manner that is more supportive of the U.S. dollar and stocks (strong growth still likely with low inflation).

But don’t go out and celebrate a September rate hike. Not just yet anyway. As we have stressed, if Greenspan is to succumb to political pressure and skip September, he will almost certainly package the move with low inflation rhetoric or will cite the increasing risks of higher energy prices. Therefore, if oil prices do back off, it is essential that all data related to inflation (CPI, PCE, PPI, Wage data etc) is supportive of their view that first half inflation pressures will prove transitory.

Otherwise, the Fed will be under intense pressure from the market to raise rates again before the election. If oil prices persist at near record levels, the Fed could cite new risks to the consumer and business outlook.

What Was I Thinking?!

I was trawling through the net yesterday and read Anirudh’s blog about Quixtar (aka Amway, e-commerce opportunity etc.) Man, they sure are keeping up with the times, aren’t they?

I haven’t encountered an Amway type in a while. Either that or that I have my defences up so high, they can’t get through. S and I are naturally suspicious of any unknown desi who walks up to us and starts a conversation. We have cut short more than one such sally with “… if this is about Amway, we’re not interested.”

But not all Amway/Quixtar types are desis. A few years ago, I was at a laundromat and was chatted up by a firang. He was all sugar and honey.

“I am DBA here at *** (a large pharmaceutical company)… Oh, I love sambaar and rasam… I watch cricket with my Indian friends… I am going on a short trip to India this fall….”

I was suckered! You certainly don’t expect your average gora to con you with Amway… Anyway, I certainly didn’t. Most of my experience up until then had been with desi punters peddling Amway products.

For most of the drying cycle, we made small talk about the weather and the politics of the local township. He passed me his card as I was leaving and just as a matter of courtesy, I gave him mine.

Fast forward a couple of day’s and Ken (that was his name) called me up at work, just as I was about to leave for the day.

He babbled about the how well Indians spoke English and about some other inane issue. I was trying hard to disengage, keep the phone down and head home. At that point, he started talking about some “E-commerce opportunity that I shouldn’t miss.”

This was still in the hay days of the Internet boon – the late 1990s, so I guess, it had some kind of relevance. But suddenly, alarm bells went off in my head.

Up until this point, I had been very civil, but not any more…

“Has this got anything to do with Amway? Are you trying to rope me in into some kind of pyramid scheme?”

I think my question took him aback, because he began to stutter and make excuses and offer explanations.

Pressing home my advantage, I said that if it was, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I offered a curt greeting and replaced the receiver on the cradle.

But Ken was made of sterner stuff and over the next several days called me a couple more times. In the end, I had to threaten him with an exposse in the local newspaper to get him off my back.

I have known people with fair promise and decent social skills go the am-way and become social outcasts. One chap I knew back in grad school was ostracized to the extent that people would cross the road if they saw him coming his away and pointedly ignore him even if he talked to them. It was a shame!