Thoughts on quirky news and life in Buenos Aires and Washington, DC

Would you like fries with that? Study finds potatoes may have contributed to world peace

We know that the lack of potatoes has shaped modern history – just ask the Irish. But a new paper has found a correlation between the arrival of potatoes in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp decrease in violent conflict.  From The Wall Street Journal:

The humble potato may have caused a dramatic and lasting decline in bloodshed during the 18th and 19th centuries in parts of the Old World, according to new research by three economists.

The study found areas of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East that were better suited to growing potatoes—a hardy, high-calorie crop native to South America—saw significant reductions in deadly fighting after 1700, when the tuber was entering widespread cultivation.

It’s not clear exactly why, though the economists speculated potatoes may have reduced the need to fight over territory by raising agricultural productivity—with implications for some modern conflicts in parts of the world.

You can find the study (“The Long-run Effects of Agricultural Productivity on Conflict, 1400-1900” by Murat Iyigun, Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian) here.


Hong Kongers find it challenging to have their cheesecake and eat it too

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Since it opened in a shopping mall in May with much fanfare, Hong Kong’s first and only Cheesecake Factory restaurant has been drawing droves of curious brand-obsessed diners who can wait up to two hours to sample a slice of American life.

Once inside, punters are surprised by the gigantic portions and the overabundance of cheese.

“I always thought it was a myth that Americans eat big portions,” said Charlotte Hung, 19, her eyes widening as she described the size of her meal of Steak Diane and Prawn in Lemon Garlic Sauce, which was topped with a heap of mashed potatoes. The combination had close to 1,800 calories. “Now I know it’s true, it’s really true,” she added.


“Feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese…I know it’s called The Cheesecake Factory but never could we have imagined how much cheese was in everything!” said Una Wong, who dined with Mr. Wu. “Chinese people just cannot handle this much cheese.”

Mr. Wu nodded glumly. “All I can taste in my mouth is cheese,” he said. He likened the sensation to Sichuan peppercorn, the numbing and spicy flavoring used in Western China that obliterates the taste of anything else.

You’re saying that like it’s a bad thing, Mr Wu…


                                         Paging Dr. Chan. Photo: Cheblogudo



Seen in Bucharest (not Budapest)


                                                Is there a quick fix?


                                           Open the case, it’s lunchtime!


                                           Hopefully not the same cat


                                          It’s Black American dinner time!


                                          Play that funky music, white boy




                                                           Christmas market


Pick your own live sturgeon at the supermarket. Bet that cat would be interested.


               Can you speak Romanian by adding “-escu” to English words?


                                  The sign means “blind crossing”


                              In the foreground: the Vlad the Impaler fountain


                                        Readers asked for more animal pics


                                                  All ladies welcome

Seen somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic


Japan’s latest crime wave has an unlikely cause: seniors

The Economist reports:

THE 74-year-old burglar evaded police in Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city, for eight years. He committed more than 250 burglaries, making off with items worth some ¥30m ($266,500), the police said, before he was finally caught last month. But he has at least told his captors that he is ready to retire.

Not all Japan’s elderly criminals are willing to follow suit. New figures from the government show that almost a quarter of criminals aged over 65 reoffend within two years, more than double the rate of those under 29. Some 70% of the wrinkly wrongdoers in prison in 2016 had previously spent time behind bars. And there are ever more of them: in 2015 more than 20% of arrests were of people aged over 65—up from 6% in 2005. In America, in comparison, over-65s account for barely 1% of arrests.

This is more bizarre than it is dangerous. Crime in Japan is still very low.


Alum sues Oxford for not giving him high enough grades to pursue an international legal career

A £1million lawsuit against Oxford University is now pending at the High Court in London.

Faiz Siddiqui claims he was the “victim of poor teaching” that cost him the chance of a lucrative legal career.

The history graduate alleges the “inadequate” teaching he received on the Indian special subject part of his course resulted in him only getting a low upper second degree when he took his finals in June 2000 instead of a First or high 2:1.

Mr. Siddiqui did not study law at Oxford, but, 17 years after graduating with a degree in history, he argues that he would have pursued a postgraduate degree in law if he had received better grades, and he would have then become a successful international lawyer.  Instead, “his employment history after Oxford in legal and tax roles was ‘frankly poor’ and he [is] now unemployed.”

The Telegraph has the full story.


A decade after it became legal again, American drinkers are underwhelmed by absinthe, reports The Wall Street Journal:

It was long rumored to cause hallucinations: Oscar Wilde said he once saw flowers spring up around him at a cafe while drinking it. Some say it even influenced Vincent van Gogh’s decision to slice his ear off. Absinthe’s detractors (including the wine industry) vilified the spirit, and a grisly family murder in Switzerland that was blamed on absinthe sealed its fate. A top U.S. official called the herbal liquor “one of the worst enemies of man.”

The resulting ban, which began in 1912, removed absinthe from U.S. shelves, but it wasn’t necessarily bad for its romantically wicked image. By the time scientists cleared it of wrongdoing, allowing it to be reinstated in 2007, adventurous drinkers were eager for a taste.

Ten years later, they have reached a verdict: meh.

“It was a tough swallow,” said Sean Connors, a 43-year-old attorney who tried absinthe in the Czech Republic, one of the few places it was still found, before the U.S. ban was lifted. He said he ordered the drink hoping he would hallucinate. He didn’t. “I was just left with a licorice-tasting liquor,” he said. “My mom might like it.”

Statistics bear out this lack of enthusiasm.

Last year, U.S. absinthe sales were 42% lower than in 2008—the first full year the spirit was reauthorized—according to research firm IWSR. Absinthe experts say they don’t believe the IWSR numbers fully reflect a market mostly composed of small local players, but they acknowledge overall sales are indeed likely to be lower than a decade ago.

So what went wrong? Apparently, absinthe is falling short of high expectations fueled by really bad movies.

Jeremy King, a 30-year-old firefighter from Lakewood, Ohio, said he first wanted to try absinthe after watching “EuroTrip,” a 2004 comedy featuring a group of American teenagers crisscrossing Europe. Shortly after downing shots of absinthe in a Bratislava nightclub, some characters see a green fairy—as the spirit is often called—flying around them.

“It wasn’t the same,” Mr. King said, after he bought a bottle and tried it at home. All absinthe did was “get you really drunk,” he said.

And let’s not even get started on that Degas painting.