Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tuesday's Election Predictions

There's no way from watching the news how one can get a sense of how an upcoming election will turn out. Candidates and political parties do not provide legitimate assessments of their chances, but rather engage in posturing. News organizations don't want to influence elections by saying there is a particular inevitable outcome. Polls are caveated with a margin of error and distorted because of significant early absentee voting. All we can glean is that the Republicans have a good chance to gain at least 39 House seats and a remote chance of getting 51 in the Senate. Interestingly today's news is full of increased public optimism from the Democrats that they'll hold both chambers and caution by the Republicans in assessing what will happen on Tuesday. Indeed, RNC Chairman Steele said that even if the Republicans came close to taking the House, it would be a significant accomplishment. So is the tide really turning? Certainly the news and public statements say "Yes."

But as I mentioned before, there is a neat resource called Intrade, where futures contracts are traded on all sorts of political and other events of public interest. And today, the futures for Republican control of the House are still over 90, and the overs/unders for Republican House gains is right about 60. So it seems in reality that nothing has changed. One interesting event is a surge today in the futures on Republicans taking at least 50 Senate seats (and particularly the Senate being split 50-50), a one day increase from 21 to 32. Still long odds, but something significant must have happened today to trigger such a jump.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Toronto Dim Sum Crawl--Six Restaurants In Six Hours

In hindsight it was probably a crazy thing, and it wasn't planned in advance. However this past Sunday I ended up going to six different Toronto area dim sum restaurants between 9 am and 3 pm. Originally I was just going to hit two or three places with the intent of judging the quality of Toronto area dim sum as well as to look for innovative items, but it ended up being more like a marathon.

My morning started out at Dragon Dynasty on Brimley Road in Scarborough. Arriving a little after 9 am I ran into the Sunday dim sum dilemma. The good thing about early dim sum is you avoid the crowds. The bad thing though is not all the dim sum is out. I was very surprised to find that Dragon Dynasty was largely cart service, with a few off the menu items. It turned out to be the only cart style of the day. And did the carts come slowly. After a considerable while I had taken only one item, a scallop shrimp dumpling, and ordered another from the menu, the rice noodle roll with scallop and snow pea leaves, which interestingly used the large pea leaves. Both items were fantastic, particularly the wrappers and fun. It was at this point, with the prospect of a long wait for who knows what that I began to launch my dim sum hopping plan.

Next stop was Regal 16 Seafood in Richmond Hill, which was probably a 25 minute surface street drive from Dragon Dynasty. I hadn't realized until then that Toronto's equivalent of the San Gabriel Valley, covering Scarborough, Richmond Hill, Markham and parts of other communities like North York, was similar in size to the SGV, though obviously not as densely Chinese. At 10:30 am, Regal 16 still had plenty of room. I had the beef dumplings with wolfberries, the vegetarian chicken bun with ginger sauce and the garlic chicken pastry rolls, with the latter being the only loser. It was here I decided to only eat some of each order and save the rest in lieu of going out to dinner.

I then drove over to Highway 7 in Richmond Hill to O Mei, another highly rated Chowhound favorite. But something was wrong. While Regal 16 was full when I left, O Mei, which wasn't that big to begin with, was half empty. Furthermore, the dim sum menu was very ordinary. I ended up ordering just the rice noodle rolls with beef and the diced lotus root meat patties. Not to say that these weren't good, but hardly Toronto's finest.

Moving a couple of blocks west on Highway 7, I landed at Rich Land Chinese cuisine. The restaurant was bustling and packed. I ordered one XL item, the garoupa with fruit, as well as the chicken avocado rolls. Actually the garoupa with fruit wasn't as exciting as it sounded--battered garoupa slices with four red grapes on the side. The chicken avocado roll was essentially an egg roll with a chicken and avocado filling, and was very good.

At this point I was starting to get full so I thought I'd drive back to Scarborough and scout around. What I hadn't discovered until the last day of my previous Toronto visit was that a lot of Chinese shopping centers are barely visible from the street, if at all. This trip I discovered a whole bunch of them. Driving down Warden Ave. I spotted another large Chinese shopping center which was actually highly visible, and moreover the signage "Sam Woo." I knew from prior trips to Toronto that L.A.'s Sam Woo chain had set up shop in Toronto, and I had often wondered whether they were able to keep up with the high Chinese food standards in Toronto. So in I went. I wasn't surprised that the choices here were more mundane. The snow pea leaf dumpling once again used the large leaf variety, and the shrimp and avocado roll was pretty good. The real surprise was that Sam Woo's dim sum was the most expensive I had all day.

At this point in time I needed a respite so I drove to another hidden Chinese megamall in Markham and walked around for a while. At about 2:15 I figured it was time for one last selection of dim sum. I chose Casa Victoria in Markham, having previously been to their sister Casa Imperial for dinner, which had been the highlight meal of my previous trip to Toronto. The last dim sum of the day was clearly the best, with a selection of interesting and tasty items--lamb roll with cucumber and avocado in teriyaki sauce; duck with chive dumplings; chicken with black fungus dumplings; and crispy fried mashed potato cake with shrimp.

This trip reinforced my previous conclusion as to Toronto's place in the Chinese food pecking order, which is below Vancouver and above Los Angeles. The difference is that in Vancouver everything is clearly better than the food in Los Angeles. You can walk into any Chinese restaurant in Richmond, B.C. , even in a food court, and get a superior meal. In Toronto you will find food that is just as good as Vancouver, but you will also find food that is comparable to what we have here in Los Angeles. Last time I came back from Vancouver, I had no interest in eating L.A. Chinese food for over a month. Back in L.A. from Toronto last night, I'm going out for Chinese food today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Does California Have An Anti-Business Climate?

This fall's Proposition 24 once again raises the issue of whether state government policies are so anti-business that they drive businesses out of the state. Proponents of the viewpoint say that between layers of regulation not present in other states, as well as tax policy, California is tangibly business unfriendly. The other camp says that California is such a population and economic center that businesses would be irrational to leave the state.

In reality both sides are correct to some extent and one might argue that there is really no way to determine who is right. However, I think there is in fact very strong evidence of which argument is correct, based on an examination of economic activity on both sides of the Colorado River dividing California and Arizona.

I remember crossing the Colorado River nearly 45 years ago on a family vacation where we drove from Los Angeles to Texas. I did not return to that area until just a short while ago. Stopping recently in the towns of Blythe and Needles, I was amazed how so little had changed in 45 years. No offense to the good citizens of these towns, but the California side of the Colorado River was depressing. The streets of these towns were not very busy and there had been very little in the way of new construction since the mid 60s. Small local retail businesses far outnumbered any chain stores. The California side of the river was lined with cheap motels and the entire path along the river was either undeveloped or in disrepair.

On the other hand, the Arizona side of the river was amazing. Fancy river side resorts. Tons of new construction. Nice shopping areas with major stores. Gasoline prices almost $1 a gallon cheaper than the California side. The differences between the California and Arizona sides of the river are what I imagine the contrast was when a visitor crossed from communist era East Germany over to West Germany. The California/Arizona border is the one area where businesses have a choice of whether to operate in California or outside of California, and it is clear that anybody who really has a choice will not operate in California.

So while it's obvious that major retailers won't abandon Los Angeles and San Francisco due to the sheer number of customers, there's no doubt that if given a viable alternative, a business will choose to operate somewhere other than California.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chilean Miner Rescue

The rescue of the trapped Chilean miners is one of the great stories of our time. As the time for beginning the rescue approached I was hearing about the thought going into the order that the miners would be removed, the fact that they would be coming out one at a time, and that each miner would have to ride the rescue capsule for perhaps 15 or 20 minutes. I was struck by a random thought that waiting for all this to start was like waiting for the start of the NFL draft. Well apparently, I wasn't the only one to see the broad analogy. For once the rescue started, the CNN home page had a display showing numerically which miner was being rescued, and how long it had been since the current miner rescue started, e.g., miner #7 is 8 minutes and 24 seconds into his ascent. Did they include biographical info too? Just like the NFL draft countdown clock!