Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections on Bagels, The Simpsons, and Cheesesteaks

Things will be quite busy over the next few weeks, so I’m afraid these random bits and pieces will have to do for now.

  • What the Bagel Man Saw (NY Times registration required): So this government statistician gets sick of his boring career and, in a move resembling Homer Simpson’s decision to go to clown college, announces “I’m getting out of this. I’m going to sell bagels.” So he became a bagel salesman, and instituted the honor system. He would drop off a box of bagels and a cash box to various businesses in the morning, and then collect an empty box and a (~90%) full cash box. It seems, though, that his statistician habits die hard, as he has kept rigorous statistics of his business.

    He had also — quite without meaning to — designed a beautiful economic experiment. By measuring the money collected against the bagels taken, he could tell, down to the penny, just how honest his customers were. Did they steal from him? If so, what were the characteristics of a company that stole versus a company that did not? Under what circumstances did people tend to steal more, or less?

    As it happens, his accidental study provides a window onto a subject that has long stymied academics: white-collar crime. (Yes, shorting the bagel man is white-collar crime, writ however small.)

    He considers a company honest if they pay 90% of what they’re supposed to. It turns out that you’re able to pull all sorts of information out of this economic model. Weather, for instance, plays a significant part in the payment rate: “Unseasonably pleasant weather inspires people to pay a significantly higher rate. Unseasonably cold weather, meanwhile, makes people cheat prolifically; so does heavy rain and wind.” Interesting stuff. [via Sneaking Suspicions]

  • Speaking of the Simpsons, I was watching the Pieman episode tonight and was immediately depressed. I’m hardly the first person to make the observation that the show isn’t what it used to be (I’m actually the last, as of the time of this posting), but it really has lost something. Tonight’s episode started with one of those random prologues that make the Simpsons so great. They were watching a trashy Fox (but I repeat myself, hyuk!) reality show about a rich millionaire who brought a bunch of women to his personal island and blah, blah, blah. Then the producers revealed the secret: It wasn’t an island at all, it’s really a peninsula! It’s actually quite funny, but the writers are repeating themselves. I guess it’s supposed to be some sort of self-referential in-joke, but it comes off as being repetitious and boring (and repetitious). The Monster Island bit is one of my favorites from the show, seeing it repeated like this just annoyed me.
  • Meathead Sandwiches: For reasons unbeknownst to be (and possibly knowst only to him), Meathead has taken a vacation from lampooning Trent Reznor and NIN and begun writing about… sandwiches. As always, his writing is entertaining and funny, and I’m proud to say that the Philly Cheesesteak ranks as number one on his top ten sandwiches list. Unfortunately, in a later post on how to make a Philly Cheesesteak, he reveals that the sandwhich he loves is only slightly related to the true Philly Cheesesteak (He uses roast beef?). It is an odd phenomenon. Almost anywhere outside of Southeastern Pennsylvania, what is called a “Philly Cheesesteak” barely resembles the real thing. So what makes a “true” cheesesteak? First, the beef. Preferably a rib eye steak that is cut exceptionally thin (it is often partially frozen to allow thinner slicing, about 1/16 of an inch). Minute steak and chip steak can serve as desperate substitutes if needed. Next, the cheese. I prefer American myself, applied as Meathead describes it: “in artsy-fartsy diagonal fashion.” There has been a fad here of using Cheese Wiz™, but I tend to stay away from that stuff (for reasons which should be obvious). Finally, the roll. I’m not really sure what to say about it – what you really need is a roll from a South Philly Italian bakery. Apparently these types of rolls are less common elsewhere. Other ingredients (mushrooms, onions, peppers – I never heard of mayo on a cheesesteak, but whatever floats your boat) are optional. Perhaps someday I’ll do a more formal recipe, but this will have to do for now…

That’s it for now. As I said, posting will continue to be light (as if it isn’t normally light) for at least the next week or so – I might miss next Sunday’s post if I don’t have the internet set up at my new place (did I mention I’m moving? That’s why I’m so busy of late…) Hopefully, though, I’ll be all settled. Wish me luck.