Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cooking Lessons

Isn't this a lovely cake? It's too bad McArdle's cake looks nothing like it.

Previously we have discussed how Mrs. Megan McArdle is the smartest econoblogger who ever blogged and the nicest, most moral, most superior elite of all elitedom. But Megan McArdle's imaginary gifts do not end there. Pish and tosh! McArdle is also the bestest, most knowledgeable and most gifted cook as well. And now we have the video to prove it!

For McArdle, all things are possible and all roads lead to success, so it was inevitable that she would advance to giving us little demonstrations of her expertise on video. It takes more than one medium to reveal her awesomeness, you know! Having conquered print, where she reigns as the Queen Bee of The Atlantic, McArdle demonstrates to us lucky, lucky peasants the correct and modern way to make a cake. Now we not only are able to see her words and hear the special wisdom as she passes it down the social ladder, we get to see her, nestled amongst all her kitchen things that we previously were forced to envy from afar, sight unseen.

And, best of all, we get to hear that well-bred voice imparting its wisdom. Many a time I said to myself, "You know what? The only thing that could possibly improve this Megan McArdle column would be if I could hear her read it herself, so that every inflection, every syllable, could magically transmit the nuance of her meaning." And now---I can.

Excuse me, I must compose myself.

There, that's better.

As McArdle tells us in the article that accompanies her cooking video, she is a "foodie." Foodies are not your ordinary, everyday people; they are special people who have a special relationship with food.

Foodie is an informal term for a particular class of aficionado of food and drink. The word was coined in 1981 by Paul Levy and Ann Barr, who used it in the title of their 1984 book The Official Foodie Handbook.

Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, foodies differ from gourmets in that gourmets are epicures of refined taste who may or may not be professionals in the food industry, whereas foodies are amateurs who simply love food for consumption, study, preparation, and news.[1] Gourmets simply want to eat the best food, whereas foodies want to learn everything about food, both the best and the ordinary, and about the science, industry, and personalities surrounding food.[2] Foodies are a distinct hobbyist group. Typical foodie interests and activities include the food industry, wineries and wine tasting, breweries and beer sampling, food science, following restaurant openings and closings, food distribution, food fads, health and nutrition, and restaurant management. A foodie might develop a particular interest in a specific item, such as the best egg cream or burrito. Many publications have food columns that cater to foodies. Interest by foodies in the 1980s and 1990s gave rise to the Food Network and other specialized food programming, popular films and television shows about food such as Top Chef and Iron Chef, a renaissance in specialized cookbooks, specialized periodicals such as Gourmet Magazine and Cook's Illustrated, growing popularity of farmers' markets,[3] food-oriented websites like Zagat's and Yelp, publishing and reading food blogs (a number of people photograph and post on the Internet every meal they ever make or consume), specialized kitchenware stores like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, and the institution of the celebrity chef.

How does Megan McArdle know that she is one of these special, educated, sophisticated people? Foodies always want the best, and Megan McArdle always wants the best. So of course she is a foodie!

It has come to my attention that many of you are still using pre-ground pepper, and really, my friends, that has to stop. You might as well take what's left over in the garden ashtrays after a party and sprinkle it over your eggs--at least it would save you some money, and wake you up a bit. Almost all spices are best fresh ground, because the essential oils that give them their flavor dissipate very quickly--but pepper suffers particularly badly, turning bitter and lifeless.

I love loose leaf tea, which has a better flavor than tea bags (tea bags grind the tea finer, which means it goes stale faster).

And let's not forget McArdle's signature flavoring, the one that best embodies her refined and educated taste:

Exotic salts are the new Green Peppercorns and White Truffle Oil, and in my opinion, considerably more interesting. If you use expensive salts for flavoring your cooking (or putting on top of your food), a wooden salt keeper can keep them from getting too humid and clumping together. Right now I'm using Maldon sea salt for most things, and pink Himalayan salt for dishes that demand a lighter flavor.

Not that McArdle is a snob, dear me, no. Since she works very long hours in her demanding career of blogger for a major metropolitan news magazine, she sometimes finds herself with no time to cook, and therefore just warms up chicken nuggest in the toaster oven, or some other little bit of savory goodness she found in the freezer case at Trader Joe's. Since McArdle, and therefore all of her friends, and therefore all of the world, is caught in this terrible dilemma of spending tens of thousands of dollars on kitchen they seldom use, McArdle investigated this burning investigative issue, and shared her finding with us in her article. It seems that McArdle was unable to actually come to a conclusion regarding why she spends so much money on her kitchen while seldom cooking, but she does inform us that it's really cool to have so many more expensive appliances than people used to have in the dim past, such as the 1950s, when appliances hadn't been invented yet.

When we’re spending on leisure rather than drudgery, we think about our purchases very differently. Jobs are about cost-benefit analysis, which is why no one buys ultra-premium paper clips for their home office—in fact, many people who cook for a living make fun of amateurs like me, with our profusion of specialty knives and high-end pans. Leisure is as much about our pleasant fantasies as it is about what we’re actually doing. If you see cooking as an often boring part of your daily work, you’ll buy the pots you need to finish the job, and then stop. But if it’s part of a voyage of personal “rediscovery,” you’ll never stop finding new side trips to take—and everyone who’s been on a nice vacation knows the guilty pleasure of spending a little more than you should. [my bold]

"Leisure is as much about our pleasant fantasies as it is about what we’re actually doing." It certainly is! Megan McArdle has a very pleasant fantasy of being a New York foodie and lots of very nice men who own corporations are very happy to sell her and her friends things to make that fantasy seem real. It works beautifully. McArdle knows so much about buying kitchen equipment that she just has to be an expert on food as well.

In fact,* McArdle is such a special foodie that she doesn't even need to learn about cooking to be an expert in cooking. She just absorbs the knowledge from the elite milieu she lives in. She watches FoodTV on her TIVO and leafs through some food magazines and reads The New York Times food section religiously to follow the latest trends, and what else could an elite person need to do? Go through the day-to-day drudgery of planning menus and writing grocery lists? Spend years, decades even, cooking thousands of dinners? Pfttt! You don't know your elite very well, do you? LOL!

Enough preamble: On with the movie! I'm so excited I can't eat my Junior Mints!

"The Atlantic Presents: Megan Cooks!" by Mrs. Megan McArdle, foodie extraordinaire and sparkle princess:

(Oh my goodness, look at the walls. McArdle has at least 13 pots on the wall of her kitchen! No wonder her guests wander into the kitchen to look at all of her pans, as she tell us.)

McArdle tells us that she will demonstrate why "we" spend so much on kitchens by showing us how incredibly hard it was for Grandma to make a cake, compared to making a cake today. No doubt Granny is kicking herself that she couldn't afford a Viking range, as we all should be doing. Not buying a $10,000 range will give corporations a sad, and McArdle hates to see unhappy corporations. McArdle tells us that our great-grandmothers, whom we will call 1900 Granny, didn't have measuring cups or spoons, which is one of the reasons we are so lucky to live in modern, albeit very expensive, times. When McArdle tries to make her cake the 1900 way, she has no idea how to measure the butter! McArdle lets us know that they had to guess, and that a recipe might call for a knob of butter the size of an egg so 1900 Granny would put the butter in water and measure the water displacement to tell if the amount was correct. We are not sure why 1900 Granny didn't just scoop up some butter the size of an egg instead of going through an additional step, but we are not a member of the elite and therefor probably just didn't soak up McArdle's elite knowledge. This osmosis knowledge situation probably also explains how 1900 Granny knew how much water was displaced when she didn't have a measuring cup.

McArdle is all smiles as she shows us that she just needs to unwrap two sticks of butter and put them in a bowl. Modern life is wonderful, and pre-measured butter proves that you needed that $200 blender. Next she creams her butter and sugar together by hand, the 1900 way. It sure looks hard, as McArdle chases the butter and sugar around and around in the bowl. 1900 Granny would have pressed down on the butter, kneading the sugar in instead of scooting it around the bowl, but let's not be pedantic about it. Modern cooks don't need to know how to cream sugar because they have a Kitchen Aid, and McArdle shows us how easy it is to cream sugar and butter, and then beat in eggs. 1950 Granny would have taught McArdle that cracking an egg into a beating mixer is not too smart; if you drop in an eggshell you have to throw everything away, but that is the sort of thing that experience teaches you, and as McArdle already told us, she talks about cooking a lot more than doing any actual, you know, cooking.

We are not sure why McArdle seems to think 1950 Granny didn't have a mixer and therefore nobody used mixers in the 1950s, no matter what the history books and our own eyes (or the eyes of our parents) have told us. Maybe that's an elite thing too.

Having assembled the wet ingredients, McArdle moves on to the dry ones, namely, flour, which McArdle shows us was laboriously shifted by moving a flour sifter's little crank around and around until the two (presumably unmeasured) cups of flour are pressed through the wire bottom. McArdle tells us that this aerates the flour, which is why earlier Grannies had to sift. They also had to sift to remove impurities or coarse bits from milled grain, which is no longer necessary. McArdle does not share this bit of wisdom; perhaps she is saving it for Christmas baking stories. I just use a fork, while McArdle uses a Cuisinart to aerate the flour, which proves that she is far more elite than I. She does not show us the five minutes it takes to wash and dry the bowl and top, but perhaps elite people have servants for that sort of thing and I do not properly appreciate how lucky I am that people are able to use modern conveniences to save so much time in the kitchen.

Now McArdle is ready to add milk, and tells us that back in the '50s, milk came in bottles and had a higher cream content, while her own milk is lowfat. So we no longer have to shake our milk to mix in the bit of cream that rose to the top, which is, no doubt, a great labor-saving practice for these modern times. Unfortunately McArdle needs whole milk, so she must add cream, another step that only proves that it's better to live now, in the convenient if not time-saving era of low-fat milk.

Aren't you exhausted, 1950s Cook? I know I am just, watching her travails and labors.

Next McArdle shows off her easy-pour bowls, which have poured some of their contents on her counter but must be wonderful because spouts on bowls are a brand-new things, or at least these spouts on these bowl surely are. The nuts come next, and McArdle lets us know that in these convenient times we are able to buy shelled nuts, unlike 1900s Granny. Presumably 1950s Granny could buy shelled nuts; McArdle doesn't say. Planter's lets us know that it was selling shelled nuts in 1919, but no doubt McArdle would just say that her granny didn't have them, so nobody did. Most women probably did shell their own nuts, or (and I speak from experience), have one of the kids do it. The nuts would taste much better, but McArdle didn't promise us fresh nuts, she promised us less time in "our" expensive kitchens. McArdle cracks a nut on a handy little levered nut cracker and tells us that 1900 Granny wouldn't have even had that, although the Victorians loved kitchen gadgets and invented hundreds of them. Woops, that must not be elite knowledge either.

McArdle uses the food processor again (there goes another five minutes of cleaning) to chop the nuts, something that would take 1950s Granny a good three minutes. Then she shows us how her mother would have had to butter and flour the pan. My mother would have insisted I use cheaper Crisco, but we are not here to relive my childhood traumas. My mother, who was a private chef and a baker for part of her life, was elite for none of her life and did not know better, I suppose. McArdle uses Baker's Joy, which costs a lot more than a bit of grease and flour but saves time. That is, she uses it on one pan; the other looks unsprayed. Sadly, no amount of money can make one attentive while cooking.

McArdle tells us that 1900 Granny had big, strong arms from working in the kitchen; fortunately she herself does not seem to have that problem, and seems to find the mixing bowl heavy when she pours out the batter. McArdle explains the minutes she saved by her electric convection oven and its even browning. Our Grannies had gas, which browns beautifully, but no matter. McArdle's oven cost a lot more than Granny's and therefore it must be much better. The magic of video cuts to the finished cakes, which have been removed from their pans and left to cool on wire racks. By the look of one of the cakes McArdle did indeed neglect to grease the pan; it has breaks in the surface. I use something that McArdle does not, very modern silicone cake pan liners. I still must grease the pans but the cakes pop out of the pan perfectly every time. However the liners did not cost very much, so I suppose the real cooking elites don't know about them.

McArdle then moves on to the whipped cream filling, telling us that she will show the difference between 1900, 1950 and modern cream whipping. She tells us that "old school" Granny would have used a fork or maybe even a whisk, but 1900 Granny had egg beaters. McArdle does not describe what 1950s Granny would use.

There is a little confusion regarding 1950s Granny, we must admit. McArdle has told us that she didn't have mixers, or rather that she did but they weren't that common, or rather they were common but they don't count because not everyone had one. I know, it's confusing, but that's just what happens when osmosis is your teacher; sometimes your absorb contradictory facts and must do your best with the results. Nobody said it was easy being a member of the elite.

McArdle beats her cream with an immersion blender, which earlier Grannies did not have, although they did have standing blenders, which were invented in the 20s according to some people who are not McArdle. But obviously they don't count. The immersion blender seems to work well although the cream for McArdle's filling is rather runny. More experienced cooks would have beaten it until it was a bit stiffer but the point is to get out of the kitchen sooner, not to make better cakes!

McArdle tells us that confectioner's sugar (icing sugar) was not readily available for 1900 Granny, who would have used a rolling pin to crush the sugar. We are very lucky to have McArdle around to explain such things to us, as I actually thought that powered sugar has been around since the turn of the century! In old books I've seen it called "pounded" sugar, because it was ground with a mortar and pestle, but McArdle tells us something else and she must be right and everyone else must be wrong.

Finally the cake is filled, assembled and iced, and what a time-saving marvel it is. Unfortunately McArdle did not know enough to double the recipe--frosting recipes often make only one cup and you need at least two to frost a cake well. But one would have to bake a lot to know that, and the purpose of spending so much money on baking equipment is to spend less time in the kitchen, not more! My goodness, how many times do I have to remind you! The resulting cake is a bit uneven and messy and cost about a thousand dollars in cooking equipment to make, but it sure was quick.

*an imaginary fact, not a real fact.


Myles said...

I find your criticism of McMegan's cooking somewhat disconcerting. Granted, she's not a superlative cook, but nor are most people. The implicit premise of the video is "hey look, alright, what if you take your average clueless American and do some cooking? Let's see how it works out! Probably going to be a bit shambolic, but fun nonetheless!" Her role in the video is as a stand-in for the Everyman (Jedermann).

Susan of Texas said...

In her article, Megan told us that she was talking about upper class women with good incomes who spend thousands on their kitchens but didn't cook that much.

Everywoman cooks a lot to save money.

Anonymous said...

Great work, as always, Susan.

brad said...

I... no measuring cups until the 50s or 60s?
... what?
This is Goldbergian "look at how big the TVs poor people have are, they live better than the King of England did 300 years ago" level stupid.
This was on the the first damn page of googling "history of measuring cups".
But, of course, they didn't have google in 1879, so no one knew it.

Anonymous said...

So she's turning into Martha Stewart now, eh?

Lurking Canadian said...

Here are my two favourite bits:

1) 1900s grandma didn't have access to the nutcracker. The famous ballet of the same name, first performed in 1892, is actually a work of science fiction, describing a piece of technology as far-fetched, to the fin de siecle monde as the warp drive is to us.

2) Has this woman never seen a hand cranked beater? Not at a flea market or a garage sale or anything?

I really ought to stop reading your site, Susan. As much as I enjoy your work, I am filled with this unhealthy desire to punch Megan in the face. If I ever see her by some random chance at an airport, or something, I'm afraid of what will happen.

Pete said...

Having lurked at TBogg's place and thus been alerted, I was looking forward to your take on this important matter, secondary sources with expertise being of course much more appealing than original research (no, being of relatively sound mind so far, I have not watched the video), and disappointed I was not. How on earth do you keep this up?

Left Coast Tom said...

@Myles: then why the hell does she write annual Kitchen Articles for _The Atlantic_? Shouldn't _The Atlantic_ find someone who kind of knows what a kitchen is?

Does she tell everyone she's "the Everyman" when she's recommending people cook with Sea Salt, then claiming to have recommending "finishing" with it? Or when she insists we all must buy Pink Pakistani Rock Salt, I mean "Pink Himalayan Sea Salt" (please tell me where the "Himalayan Sea" is located)?

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

A bit shambolic, Myles?

Shirley you are not suggesting that Meegan is a zombie chef?

malraux said...

As a thought, wouldn't a better example of how easy baking a cake in modernity is be opening a box of cake mix? I mean, it's not quite as good, but its much faster, which is basically her point right?

Pete said...

@LCTom: Ah, it's the miracle of plate tectonics. The Himalayas being young mountains, as they go, were once under the sea, and have been carefully preserving McM's salt ever since, until such time as she had need for it. Google the phrase and you will find such magnificent prose as, and I quote, "created by nature 250 million years ago during a time of pristine environmental integrity and carefully hand selected for the highest quality in color, clarity, and purity" ... are you not sold? Why they call this "sustainable sourcing" I have no idea, but 5% of the profits go to the environment, which I suppose means that they get torn up and scattered to the winds.

Left Coast Tom said...

@Pete...they actually get people to buy that stuff based upon _sustainability_ (I was thinking more along the lines of conspicuous consumption)? By the plate tectonic standard, petroleum is sustainable because diatoms will replenish it over hundreds of millions of years.

Pete said...

@LCT: Yeah, I preferred it when the bastards admitted they were showing off by buying gizmos. You gotta love calling the Mesozoic "pristine" -- "transitional" might be more accurate, no? -- while I regret to tell them that Pangaea was, ah, not entirely sustainable, it seems. Of course, our current configuration is not entirely in what we might call geological (let alone ecological) balance either, as we have noticed in California, not to mention Japan. Incidentally, I do hope McM has a source of iodine in her diet ... it's so hard to wear pearls around your goiter.

Kathy said...

ArgleBargle's premise is ... that cooking was harder in the Olden Days before Modern Appliances!

Well DUH! Most people would agree with that statement. Obviously milling your own flour and using a wood-fired stove and big old cast-iron pots & pans would be pretty tough. But ArgleBargle really thinks her observation is Original and Profound. Well, no doubt it is -to her. And now she's made a video (!) to prove to all the Unbelievers that, Man-O-Man!, cooking was tedious in the olden days ... of the 1950's & 60's!

The quarrel is with her (waffling) claim that all the important Modern Kitchen Appliances were invented around 30+ years ago. The implication that up till the mid-70's or so there were no blenders, mixers, copper pans, nut crackers or easy way to chop nuts, no powdered sugar and... no measuring cups? I'd bet good money that ancient Egyptians and probably even Cave-Women had measuring containers.

Then there is her insistence that sifting flour is hard, or mixing sugar & eggs by hand takes forever -and gave women in the Olden Days muscular arms!

The arrogant stupididity would be funnier if she weren't given so much undeserved admiration and respect in our "media". But it's pretty funny just the same.

Larkspur said...

To refresh your palates, and if you really want to know what old-timey cookin' was like you should read Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. It's sub-titled "Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression" (pub. 2007). It's got a whole lot more than tips and tricks for McMegan, but food growing, gathering, and preparation feature prominently throughout. For example, Ms. Kalish describes how they used to make mayonnaise from scratch, and then informs us that as soon as she tasted Hellman's (Best Foods) Mayonnaise, she never bothered with "from scratch" mayo again. It's poignant, enlightening, a whole lot of fun, and not nearly so tiresome as poor Megan's tale.

pseudonymous in nc said...

The cake is a lie.

Myles said...

I've noted this elsewhere, but what I find most unlikeable about the whole McMegan beatdown is not much the unrelenting nature of it (criticisms of her posts are longer than the original thing), but what I suspect to be the motivation (reposted).

She's a well-paid blogger who has her own audience. She's not a paragon of virtue or competence, and she has no obligation to be a paragon of virtue or competence. This is basically modern distilled American Puritanism; someone, somewhere, is not being virtuous and miserable, and is enjoying themselves. In fact, it's pretty obvious that part of what ticks people off about McMegan is that she seems to enjoy herself excessively and unjustifiably. And the whole idea of unjustifiable enjoyment is what I want to push back on. Just let people enjoy their lives, people, just let them enjoy their lives.

Otherwise, it's almost impossible to understand the universal hatred for her. She's incompetent. So what? Unless your vision of the universe is such that it's fundamentally perturbed by the phenomenon of a fool living a nice life while blabbing nonsense, I just don't see it. We should make operational complaints, but I don't think most of the complaints about her are operationally inspired.

I think David Aaronovitch (whose dad was a Communist, and who himself was a Marxist for a long time, so he's not a right-wing nutcase) once wrote a very good analysis of this:

"We were, in some ways, opposed to enjoyment itself — unless it was of a very particular worthy kind. This desire to kill joy was where Marxism and Methodism came together.

The Right has never had such a problem. In a Luxury supplement with The Spectator this week, Victoria “Plum” Sykes confides that “this Christmas I had two pairs of pyjamas made for my husband, one in a super-fine sky-blue Acorn shirting with tiny white dots, to be worn in London, the other in giant fuchsia gingham cotton, for the country”. I am sure that she is an estimable woman, but any decent Social Democrat should want to have her shot."

Is McMegan not just another clich├ęd version of "Plum" Sykes? And is our distaste for her not just a milder, gentler, less articulated variation of that of the hypothetical Social Democrat?

bulbul said...

"... the painful laborious process of shelling our own nuts."
What. The. Fudge. Painful? Squeezing is painful to her? Picking a nut out of a shell is laborious? That explains soooo much.

Also, she describes buttering the pan like it's some arcane practice and then proceeds to do it with her bare hands. I bet her mother used a brush. Mine just used a piece of the wrapper the butter came in and so do I.
Cooking spray, now there's a concept I can't wrap my head around.

And then the cake just breaks apart. Heh.

Susan of Texas said...

That's a very nice theory Myles and I'm sure it's a consolation to you, but McArdle is trying to destroy the safety net and eliminate taxes on corporations. That may seem harmless to you but it is not.

It's amazing to me that people will watch someone attack them, their family, and future and then scold others for fighting back. We're just supposed to sit there and take it, until we're destroyed?


Myles said...

That is only the case if you actually she consciously does so. I don't think she does. I doubt she even thinks in these terms.

What some might get is that if you need to criticize someone for being bad at making cakes, you've already lost half the battle. It's a leading indicator. This belongs in the same species of criticism as of Al Gore's use of private jets, or of Sarah Palin's wardrobe. It so happens that Al Gore is winning the battle on a global level, and the attack on Palin's wardrobe barely dented her at all.

When you are resorting to criticism based on what are essentially Puritan precepts of someone's insufficient virtue, of not setting a good example given her position (and that's implicit in criticisms of her lifestyle choices), it's the sort of criticism that, thankfully, has largely lost salience in American society since the days of colonial Massachusetts Bay. I think it's terrific that someone is doing layman's work criticizing her use and abuse of facts, figures, and others; but lifestyle criticisms are bunk. People are likely just as reluctant to pass judgment on her own life, her predilection for iPhones, her Himalayan pink salt, whatever, as they are to pass judgment on Bill Clinton. It's her life; let her live it however she wants; her lifestyle choices, as long as they are not illegal or unethical, are not the province of external criticism. Not unless for Puritanism, that is.

Myles said...

I mean, look, it's almost impossible to read criticisms of her various lifestyle peccadilloes without getting the feeling that she is expected to behave, in her own life, to a standard higher than expected of average Americans. She might be more incompetent than usual, but it's not really out of the "normal American" range.

What is expected, basically, is superior virtue because she is in a prominent position, because what she has right now is mediocre lack of virtue. Well, no. I think we resolved this debate in the 60's; it's a miserable thing when we expect public figures to be half-saints or quarter-saints or what have you.

In any case, the only likely origin for such a belief, in the American context, is the nation's background Puritanism, or one of its more watered down variations. Let's just say: we dumped Puritanism for a good reason. McMegan is not a reason good enough to go back.

fish said...

Now McArdle is ready to add milk, and tells us that back in the '50s, milk came in bottles and had a higher cream content, while her own milk is lowfat. So we no longer have to shake our milk to mix in the bit of cream that rose to the top, which is, no doubt, a great labor-saving practice for these modern times. Unfortunately McArdle needs whole milk, so she must add cream, another step that only proves that it's better to live now, in the convenient if not time-saving era of low-fat milk.

Did she really say these things (not gonna watch it)? This is so full of wrong it makes my head hurt. Whole milk is exactly that. Unless cows are all of a sudden producing less fat in their milk, whole milk in the 50's had the same amount of fat as it does today. The only difference is that it is homogenized now so that it doesn't separate.
And skim milk has been around for over 100 years.

fish said...

When you are resorting to criticism based on what are essentially Puritan precepts of someone's insufficient virtue, of not setting a good example given her position

Except that she is being paid specifically for influencing society using convincing (to some) rhetoric. Her job is specifically is to change or reinforce people's attitudes towards economics and life. The attitudes she is paid to reinforce are selfishness, corporate worship, and power structure status quo. These attitudes are so deeply ingrained in her (doesn't matter if it is conscious or not) that even a video about baking a cake is so riddled with error, ignorance, self-absorption, and just plain incompetence, that it is completely embodies all that she represents. It isn't puritanism to loathe an individual given a major media platform who is more interested in expensive table salt than finding a way to take care of the poor in the US. As soon as she stops expressing her repulsive opinions in the Atlantic, she can go ahead and enjoy the 17 pots and pans she doesn't use in peace.

Susan of Texas said...

Myles, you're ignoring the fact that McArdle shares all this personal information with the world as part of her image. She is selling her expertise and image as a member of the elite. I am attacking that image and (fake) expertise. If McArdle would stick to the facts that would be wonderful, but instead we are told that the poor have bad impulse control and the rich are good, moral people who just want to innovate and create jobs. Gross income inequality is good because modern times are wonderful and there's a Cuisinart in every pot. It's a crock of shit and I point out the steaming, smelly crock of shit and call it shit.

That's all.

Anonymous said...

She also has been caught redhanded on her knowledge of the history of kitchen gadgets, and then doubled down on it later, claiming she spent a whole day doing research.

This is also how she approaches her expertise in bankruptcy and obesity. She read some stuff and then posts authoritatively on the topic without acknowledging criticism.

Myles, the point is that incompetence infests all her work and is a measure of her lack of character. Also, in this case, it's pretty god damned funny that anyone posted this to The Atlantic. I was much more willing to let her shit slide when she had her janegalt site, but being co-opted into a prestigious major media site does mean that you have traditions and standards to adhere to.

Susan of Texas said...

Oh god, that was funny. She was wrong about everything for no reason--all this information is readily available. She just made up a bunch of crap because she wants to believe that the current state of economic affairs (that favors people like her at the expense of everyone else) is the best possible one.

I don't care how people spend their money. I can live with inequality since I don't have much of a choice. I respect ability and knowledge and will submit to a wiser authority.

But don't tell me you're an expert when you actually, physically demonstrate on freaking video that you don't know what you are talking about. Don't expect me to humor self-aggrandizing lies. Tell the truth.

Is that too much to ask?

Pete said...

Um, Myles, I sorta hate to point this out (no I don't) but you are guilty of doing what you accuse others of doing ... losing your senzayuma.

SoT eviscerates McM's genuine, dangerous political agenda by means of (gosh) ridicule (not specifically banned in Geneva). Glad I cleared that up for you. If you have any other little difficulties with projection, don't hesitate to write.

NonyNony said...

*an imaginary fact, not a real fact.

I believe what you meant to post in this footnote was "Not intended to be a factual statement".

If only Jon Kyl had made his "statements of fact" that were not intended to be factual statements before McArdle wrote her supposedly researched kitchen piece, she would have had the ultimate out.

And we may all mock McArdle's wide-eyed "I've purchased all of this kitchen junk because I'm supposed to but I barely know how to cook" schtick, just keep in mind that by filming this video and writing about kitchen gadgetry she will probably be able to write off some of her purchases as "business expenses". If she isn't already getting advertising money from folks like Kitchen-Aid for product placement (which, I might add, would not surprise me in the slightest).

Myles said...

It isn't puritanism to loathe an individual given a major media platform who is more interested in expensive table salt than finding a way to take care of the poor in the US.

Who do you think writes the lifestyle columns in newspapers? Bob Herbert? Nicholas Kristof?

Sorry for snarking, just can't help but notice the reductio ad absurdum there.

Myles, you're ignoring the fact that McArdle shares all this personal information with the world as part of her image. She is selling her expertise and image as a member of the elite.

I'm of two minds on this. One, the Atlantic Monthly genuinely does serve a very important function in the lives of certain part of the American upper middle class. It does so by being a generalized grapevine for information on the Zeitgeist and so on. So it's true that McMegan should be more competent, or at least aim to be more competent.

On the other hand, if I had to choose among journalists and hacks to pick out, say, ten leading companies that are going to be winners and ten that are going to be losers in the next decade (this is congruent with the grapevine function), I think McMegan would actually be surprisingly good. I think she would actually be better at this than a lot of more competent people. (Fallows should be much better than her at this sort of thing, but he doesn't like to tip his hand.) This doesn't extend to her generalized financial advice, of course.

At the end of the day, someone has to perform this function, and the Atlantic is probably much better positioned than the average to do "trend" pieces. (The alternative: David Brooks. Yuck.) If Fallows refuses to tip his hand, he's not doing his readers a lot of favours. Does anyone know if McMegan started screaming about say, GM, very early? I wouldn't be surprised if she did. I also wouldn't be surprised if her ridiculous thing with iPhones led some of her readers to cotton on to the whole Apple lifestyle phenomenon a lot earlier than they otherwise would have. If this made them more hesitant of putting their money or their careers close to the kind of places that got bulldozed by Apple, then she did them a favour.

Myles said...

(The last example, I am guessing, isn't entirely hypothetical.)

Susan of Texas said...

I think you deserve better than a mediocre hack.

Myles said...

I think you deserve better than a mediocre hack.

Fair enough. But people who aren't McMegan tend not to be so willing to discuss this sort of in print, at least not as explicitly. It can make them seem morally unattractive. (This is why James Fallows doesn't discuss it, largely, I think.) I, personally, would never dream of writing stuff as explicit as she does.

Looking over the posts of the last few days, and ignoring the particularly silly ones and her own tics, she brings up Roth IRAs. This is useful in just bringing up. She writes: "like paying off your house early, maybe buying a vacation home (for cash) if you know where you're likely to want to spend a lot of time"

Well, this is actually interesting. Simplifying massively, imagine you are a doctor or medical researcher who just got a job in Cleveland and is moving there. Now, you will be accumulating savings, but you don't want the money to just sit in a bank, especially with inevitable inflation (not anything drastic, but still noticeable) coming down the line due to QE and QEII (McMegan also wrote about this.) You also don't necessarily want to put your money into the Cleveland housing market. If you have quite a high income, would it necessarily not make sense to buy a recreational property that you wouldn't actually wouldn't be time-constrained? Such as a small condo in Stowe or Killington (presuming you are from the NE)? Her own points are idiotic, but the idea of rec. prop. as a diversification tool is interesting.

In "Debts and Taxes," she writes: "So I'm betting the mortgage interest deduction, and all the other subtle prods towards loading up on mortgage debt, are probably here to stay." If you are a political junkie you already know this, but if you aren't this might be useful.

Now, Felix Salmon occasionally does the same thing, only better. The problem is, if you followed most of his financial advice you would end up in a financial trough (he's a macro blogger). And no, your financial adviser doesn't know any better than McMegan; not unless your adviser is a private banker or wealth manager.

Myles said...

(the Blogger system ate my last post.)

Anonymous said...

What percentage of your post did it eat up? 90%? 80%?

(not intended to be a factual statement. it was a hypothetical)

fish said...

Who do you think writes the lifestyle columns in newspapers? Bob Herbert? Nicholas Kristof?

I would also add to the snark list, the Business and Econ editor of the Atlantic.

Myles said...

(not intended to be a factual statement. it was a hypothetical)

By McArdle math, 120%.

Syz said...

Myles, it is always entertaining when someone claiming to be "fair and balanced" writes in to defend McMegan. Amusingly, your posts have a McArdle-esque quality to them, as I will explain.

Like Megan, you affirm Megan's basic superiority. Unlike the miserable (yet virtuous!) Puritans who post here, Megan is an effervescent Mary Poppins, brimming with joy de vivre. Yet Megan's blog is uniformly pessimistic, self-righteous and sneeringly condescending. Do you really associate those qualities with "someone who is enjoying their life"? I don't.

Then, you create a straw man argument: "you are criticizing Megan's lifestyle!" Oh noes! Megan wants to gay marry and we are standing in her way! Oh wait, not that kind of lifestyle.

So what exactly are you characterizing as her lifestyle?

Only a very superficial reading of Susan’s article could lead you to believe that Susan is criticizing Megan’s kitchen, her shopping habits or her cooking. Susan is clearly critiquing Megan's sad attempt to tout her (eminent) kitchen over the (woefully inadequate) 1950’s kitchen. And she is responding to the copious lies, misinformation and propaganda which accompany the effort.

Finally, you evince a certain hypocrisy. You complain that “it's her life; let her live it however she wants; her lifestyle choices, as long as they are not illegal or unethical, are not the province of external criticism.” Well, this is as true for Susan as it is for Megan, isn’t it?

Myles said...

Amusingly, your posts have a McArdle-esque quality to them, as I will explain.

This is pretty uncharitable reading.

I don't feel that there are genuine differences left to argue over, but I think McMegan's problem is basically she's stuck in a place she doesn't really like; she's not so much a libertarian as a compulsive cosmopolitan. She should get herself hired as a foreign correspondent and packed off to Brussels or London or something. I find it hard to believe that DC's really the place for her; she doesn't really care about, or for, power (and nor do I).

Susan of Texas said...

Imaginary Megan is quite a prize--fun-loving, devil-may-care, a cosmopolitan woman-about-town with her finger on the pulse of America's Zeitgeist. Yet she is not impressed by the power and prestige of her chosen profession, city, and area of expertise and chafes at its restrictions, yearning for the chance to prove herself by plunging into danger, adventure and knowledge.

Damn, no wonder you think I'm mean. I should be enjoying McArdle's specialness, not criticizing her.

Myles said...

Damn, no wonder you think I'm mean. I should be enjoying McArdle's specialness, not criticizing her.

She's got the classic American-expat-abroad-in-Europe syndrome: she can't be bothered to be serious about anything. Which means she should consider being that American expat abroad in Europe.

It might suit her well. Not everyone flourishes within the American social framework, and if she's an Ivy Leaguer/MBA and still unable to adjust to it she should consider whether it's the right framework for her.

Susan of Texas said...

Absolutely. Teaching cooking in France, perhaps, or lecturing at the London School of Economics.

Kathy said...

Miles, etc: we don't despise ArgleBargle because she's a snobby, social-climbing ninnyhammer, a self-proclaimed expert on many subjects of which she obviously knows very little, and that very small amount of "knowledge" usually wrong.

We despise and mock her because she's been placed in a position of Authority by the MOTU's, and is actually respected and admired by many others -who actually believe her Bullshit Drivel, who actually quote her as an expert in these fields. (Daily readers here will recall my Wingnut Brother who thinks ArgleBargle is a "Damm Smart Woman who really knows her Economics"... and also thinks Jonah Goldberg is (choke, gag) witty and funny.

That we enjoy mocking ArgleBargle is just a Bonus for Us. She should be mocked, every day. It should be pointed out daily that She and her Idiot MOTU-Lick-spittle Brethren & Sisthrin are malicious morons, and should dragged down from their plastic McPedestals and have their butts kicked good and hard ... forever.

Mandos said...

I'm of two minds on this. One, the Atlantic Monthly genuinely does serve a very important function in the lives of certain part of the American upper middle class. It does so by being a generalized grapevine for information on the Zeitgeist and so on. So it's true that McMegan should be more competent, or at least aim to be more competent.

You realize how truly frightening this sounds...? That the upper middle class requires Megan McArdle to be their arbiter elegantiae.

I love watching fancy cookery too, you know. I don't think anyone here is against the fact that McArdle likes to cook recreationally, or even blog about it. While I despise what she stands for, I don't even disagree with her on each and every issue.

It's what she's using it for, is the problem.

Anonymous said...

Suderman? Is that you?

Myles said...

Suderman? Is that you?


Myles said...

That the upper middle class requires Megan McArdle to be their arbiter elegantiae.

I thought the gender was wrong, but then arbiter turned out to be a second-declension noun, which meant it actually had no feminine form. So it's actually, physically impossible to call her an arbiter of anything while using a Latin tag.

brad said...

Y'know, I'd argue with Myles, but anyone who thinks people wouldn't have heard of an iPhone without Megan, to pick one of half a dozen genuinely ludicrous premises he's willing to entertain in efforts to defend her, is far too removed from what I would recognize as reality to directly address.
He's either too dense to be worth your time, Susan, or deliberately wasting it.

Myles said...

but anyone who thinks people wouldn't have heard of an iPhone without Megan

Using Google, I find this:

Now, ignore the mistakes. Read the post. And think what you learned from this.

What you learned from this is that the MP3 player market outside of iPod is essentially dead. This is what McMegan is telling you. This is in the premise.

Now, name me a single other econ/business blogger who wrote anything to the effect that the MP3 player market is dead. Felix Salmon, as far as I know, didn't write anything.

Myles said...

This is the frustration I have with James Fallows. He deliberately refuses to make any of his information actionable. I happen to know China better than he does, and I know that every time he writes about China he's pulling his punches.

Egad, the guy actually wrote a book about business in China. Anyone willing to bet that in the entire book you won't find a single sentence forthrightly stating: "Don't do business with any Chinese firm that doesn't have government connections"? (This is the most fundamental principle of business in China.) He managed also to live years in Japan and not make a single peep about MITI. I mean, no matter how good a journalist he is, if he doesn't actually tell his readers what he knows, he's useless.

Mandos said...

Myles: It would not have bothered the Romans any more than "Madame le Pr├ęsident" bothers French-speakers today. Grammatical gender in languages with gender inflection does not literally require the correct genitals.

Myles said...

I seem to recall that the Romans just created brand new nouns when the requisite gender was required.

fish said...

Miles, etc: we don't despise ArgleBargle because she's a snobby, social-climbing ninnyhammer, a self-proclaimed expert on many subjects of which she obviously knows very little, and that very small amount of "knowledge" usually wrong.

Well, not only because of that.

atat said...

Susan, why do you want to mock McA's happiness and joie de vivre (that's French for "loves to whinge")? All that griping and sneering condescension? Those are the things that make her happy! She's so happy that the only thing that might make her happier is if she moved to Brussels. And you can't get any happier than that.

Mr. Wonderful said...

Oh, good, I get to make this point:

Pre-ground pepper = bad. The essential oils, don't you know.

Pre-shelled nuts = good. Who needs all that work?

Daniel Harper said...

This is completely beside the point of the post, but watching the video I wondered who shot/edited/wrote/produced the piece. Obviously she has someone shooting the video handheld and that person took quite a bit of B-roll footage, but who edited the resulting work? It looks and sounds incredibly amateur, and the editing is choppy. (McArdle also doesn't have a great deal of screen presence, but that's another issue.)

I'm a beer hobbyist and spend a good deal of time shooting and editing beer reviews and homebrew videos. I use about the cheapest camera on the market and do the entire thing myself for no personal profit. And still my videos look about as professional as this one from McArdle.

atat said...

Daniel, it's just like her writing. It's clumsy and awkward, and chock full of factual errors and rambling b.s. And then the final product (which we could say is the cake or the video itself) is a sloppy mess. Anyone with an ounce of self-awareness would be embarrassed, but she doesn't care. Hack it out, hit the publish button, and move on. And for this she gets a generous paycheck.

Susan of Texas said...

The editing struck me as well, especially the section when she uses the mixer versus an egg beater. Perhaps the Atlantic videos will get better, but it's difficult to understand why the magazine would want to tape McArdle cooking in the first place.

Plus, using her kitchen might have been the cheapest way to do it but it was a mistake. It is cluttered, the lighting is poor and you can see the extra toilet paper on top of her washer/dryer.

Marcella Hazan has a smallish kitchen with lots of appliances on the counters but it's beautifully designed. It has a huge exhaust fan, the clutter is behind opaque glass doors, and her extra counter space comes from a unit on rollers tucked under a counter and a flip-up counter extension. The cupboards are designed to hold what she uses where she uses it, and there is nothing stored that would not be used regularly.

Sooner or later McArdle will get tired of looking for her favorite pots and pay a kitchen design firm to do it right, no doubt.

Kathy said...

OMG. I watched the video again, still w/o sound (can't stand her voice). What a Mess. Obviously she's not the type of cook who cleans up as she goes along. Not even enough sense to hold drippy things, or the pans being floured, over the sink. And the drips & spills still there as she slops frosting on her cake or whatever it was.

All this rigamarole to PROVE -or perhaps to illustrate what everyone already knows: that cooking these days is easier and can be quicker than back in the 1800's, and maybe even up till 1920.

Myles said...

By the way, Susan, do you think a mechanical food steamer would be worth it to have in the kitchen? I am trying to cook a bit, and am pretty fond of the sort of foods that tend to go well steamed. I know that you can just use the metal steam rack, and also that McMegan recommended against it, but given that prices are sub-$50 I was wondering if there are any time efficiency gains (especially as I don't have either gas or induction cooktops.)


Myles said...

(Like would a dedicated steamer be easier to clean, quicker to use, and so forth? Thanks in advance.)