A sideways look at economics

I’ve just returned from our quarterly trip to Washington DC, and find I keep reflecting on a lunch I enjoyed on Wednesday. Six of us were sat round a table, perusing the menu and shooting the breeze in the usual way, different topics of conversations eddying between us without a real theme. We discussed crows (whether birds estimated to be three times the size of normal crows could really be crows); children (what ages were the easiest or most difficult to handle as parents, and at what specific age of child, or perhaps of parent, you can no longer rely on winning an argument with a child); the best way to manage daffodils; the ecosystem that supports herring, seals and sharks. And so on.

These conversations were punctuated by the waiting staff doing their jobs: bringing water, menus and bread, asking about dietary requirements, arranging bits of crockery and cutlery, glasses, chutneys. One of the waiters was particularly chatty. He told us:

“Where a dish on the menu is described as a stew, that means it has involved long contact with meat somewhere in its production. There might not be much meat in some of the stews when you get to eat them, but meat has been involved along the way. Another word for stew is moghuli, but essentially we sometimes use the word stew instead just because we got tired of always saying moghuli. But they’re the same thing really. Not quite the same, but nearly the same. Near enough.”

And, after the bread and chutneys had been polished off, he asked:

“Do you guys still need your saucers? Does anyone still call them saucers? When did they stop being called saucers I wonder, and why? Or maybe I’m wrong: a saucer is something that goes under a cup maybe. Anyway, do you still need yours?”

As night follows day, our conversation moved on to the topic of the events in Ukraine: a topic that I imagine is being addressed simultaneously in tens of millions of similar conversations around the world. I was asked my opinion on what was happening and kicked off by referring to someone whose tweets I now follow avidly. In fact, as soon as I wake up and start looking at my phone, I start wondering what Kamil Galeev (@kamilkazani) will have tweeted today. He writes lengthy, incredibly erudite and just ridiculously interesting threads relating to Russia through the ages and Ukraine today. I cannot vouch for their accuracy, knowing nothing about this subject matter myself. But I can entirely vouch for their appeal.

Anyway, I was rendering a garbled account of a couple of his threads, and the talkative waiter reappeared with his notepad and pencil, ready to take our orders.

“Are you guys talking about Twitter?”

I said we were.

“Yeah, because I went back on Twitter the other day for the first time in years and had a real interesting, I mean annoying, conversation; made me remember why I’d stopped using it.”

I said, “I see”, and asked him to tell me about the lamb shank moghuli.

“It’s delicious: tomato-based sauce, heavily spiced but not too hot. Our own garam masala, but Afghan food tends to understate the cardamom element compared to Indian food, while other spices come to the fore: coriander, cumin etc. You’ll notice that in the spice mix. And of course, some chilli notes too. The lamb has been slow cooked and will fall away from the bone. Tender like butter. Although as a matter of fact, another difference between Afghani and Indian cooking is that Afghanis use much less butter. It changes the texture of the dish.”

I said that it sounded great, and that I thought that I might….

“Anyway, this Twitter chat. I had tweeted something, you know, pretty generic about Ukraine, and got a response from another guy that went:

You should read some books my friend

“And I went back and said, ‘Oh yeah? Which books?’

Really? You want to know? Well I’ll tell you. This will blow your mind. You should go back 3,000 years, there’s a book was written then you should read before you tweet like that. It’ll blow you away.

“I asked, ‘What’s it called?’ and he said,

It’s by a Chinese guy called Sun Tzu

“So I said, ‘Oh Sun Tzu, I’ve read that.’

And what did you get from your reading of Sun Tzu?

“And I told him, ‘Not as much as I got from Clausewitz, to be honest.’

Who’s that?

“‘Clausewitz; look him up, he’s much more interesting. But anyway, what other books?’

What do you mean?

“‘Well, you said I should read some books. You’ve named one: I’ve read it. What others?’

You need to check your attitude

“‘Wait, you mean that’s it? You’ve got one source, and it’s Sun Tzu? Come on, you’re kidding me. I mean, forget Clausewitz, what about Machiavelli? What about Le Bon? What about, like, anyone within the last hundred years?’

You clearly haven’t understood what you’ve read

“‘And how would you know that when you clearly haven’t read it?’

You’re supporting the wrong side. You’ve got it all wrong. Looking at your skin tone in your picture, and your name, I’m curious: what is it you think your side, capitalism, has ever given you?

“And I was like, wow. At that moment. At that moment, I thought, I’m just going to leave that there.”

Thoughtful silence around our table. One of my colleagues remarked: and that’s why you never engage with the trolls. The waiter nodded ruefully. We rolled out some trollish cliches: “Few people realise this… Been saying this for years… I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but…” And so on.

I had the lamb shank moghuli: it was every bit as delicious as he had described. Soft, sweet lamb in a richly spiced sauce on a bed of fluffy rice: thoroughly recommended. Note to self: read Clausewitz.

Only in DC.

#DCwaitersaremyheroes #clausewitznotsuntzu #moghulinotstew #eaglesnotcrows


Our DC waiter's killer Clausewitz putdown vanquished a pro-Russian troll