"You know Ladurée has opened down the street from the hotel." I was interested in everything that Mark McClusky, a writer for Wired, was telling me, as we sat in the luxury of the two-star Cheval Blanc restaurant in Basel. We were both tagging along with our respective publishing colleagues to the international watch fair Baselworld, and
enjoying the view of the sun setting over the Rhine outside the
two-story arched windows. Liveried waiters and sommeliers hovered
beside the white-naperied tables, waiting to bring us fantastically
expensive run-of-the-mill updated Continental food and way-marked-up
French wine, though I bravely went against the sommelier's
recommendation and ordered a Swiss red Cornalin. (It was fine, but the table breathed a collective sigh of relief when I ordered a Cahors as the
second bottle.) This stopped me.
It quickly became clear that McClusky, whose writing on Grant Achatz and
other technology-minded chefs I've admired, shared more than an
interest in food and colleagues we love working with. (When we emailed
greetings to Bob Cohn, grand master of TheAtlantic.com
and a former editor of McClusky's, he fired back one, very precise
word: "BOONDOGGLE!") We both love macarons, the buttercream-filled
almond-meringue sandwich cookies that have taken over the food world and that
grown men can admit to liking, even if a male fondness for cupcakes
dare not speak its name (I spoke it in this video).
Ladurée--the current Pierre Hermé-supervised macaron that is considered
the international gold standard--right in the heart of Sprungli luxemburgli-land! Luxemburgli are the Swiss version of macarons, and have a place in Swiss hearts almost as high as Sprungli's truffes du jour,
the fresh truffles that are considered the ne plus ultra of fresh
chocolate here, which the Swiss would of course define as the world's
best. Sprungli is the historic chocolate-maker, general city luxury
caterer, and macaron-baker that holds a place of pride in the city.
This called for a taste-off.
So this morning
we mounted an expedition to the new branch, which turns out to be one
of three in Switzerland; Ladurée is opening many stores
where rich people live, though so far none, sadly, in the U.S. McClusky
ordered a box of 15 to bring back to Oakland, and then chose the four
varieties we thought we could compare against Sprungli: pistachio,
caramel, and the two varieties of chocolate Ladurée offers, its plain
and Madagascar, which it says is 72 percent cocoa liquor, one of those
meaningless claims. Then we went to the largest of the many branches of
which this year is celebrating its 175th anniversary, and ordered the
closest equivalent. Sprungli has branches at the airport, and has its
macaron packaging down better to avoid crushing: plastic dome-shaped
covers protect Sprungli's macarons, which are smaller, rounder, and button-shaped in comparison with the flattened yo-yos that are Laduree's more substantial disks. Laduree sells beautiful and expensive gift boxes in various
decorative schemes, but the interiors don't feature the grooved plastic trays in which the macarons are displayed at its shops (and which the
central Paris HQ presumably uses for shipping macarons to its various branches).
So even if Ladurée macarons are much tougher than the fragile
luxemburgli, they're likelier to get jostled while traveling.
led me down Bahnhofstrasse, the main commercial street where all the
buildings are of course impeccably clean, to the lakefront, where we
opened the goods. First up, his choice, was pistachio. Sprungli's were
greasy and unpleasant. The filling tasted much more of almond
extract than pistachio, and had little flavor beyond the slimy texture
I generally loathe in buttercream. Laduree's tasted of real pistachios,
which also gave saving grit to the buttercream. Though I like the airy,
meringue-like puff of the Sprungli shell, which crumbles and disappears
when you bite into it, the much chewier, brownie-textured meringue of
the Ladurée shell made the pistachio macaron a much better cookie. "Not
a fair fight," McClusky remarked.
didn't do much better on the caramel: the filling was undercooked and
underflavored, whereas Ladurée's had the depth and chew of
butterscotch. But we did like the salt on the Sprungli shell. Both
bakeries even call their flavor "salted caramel" and offer nothing
else, salt with caramel having overtaken the world much like
the molten chocolate cake originally created, as a way to fix an senJean-Georges Vongerichten we'd had (uncredited, of course) at
the Cheval Blanc. "Sprungli's going down," McClusky said.
then came the chocolate, which should be the flagship for both
houses--and certainly should be for Sprungli. And here the tables turned.
Sprungli's chocolate ganache had a lovely, fruity acidity and a complex
flavor that grew and lingered--a really fine chocolate encased in a
light, cocoa-y shell that set it off without getting in the way of the lingering, changing aftertaste.
Ladurée's plain chocolate macaron tasted of almost nothing but salt:
every Lauduree macaron, in fact, left a noticeable, and sometimes
unpleasant, aftertaste of salt. Neither the shell nor the ganache had
any strength or distinction of flavor. The Madagascar was better, but only marginally: it did taste
of chocolate, but was completely unremarkable, and again too salty. These were disks of inferior
Swiss, saved by chocolate again! The strange of apparition of
Heidi--who appears in a lurid technicolor cartoon-like series of illuminated color stills in the airport train
as you round a corner, already disoriented, frame after frame of her
with blinding blond pigtails leaning against a mountain as the sounds of cowbells, mooing, and an a capella choir suddenly invade your ear; her
picture takes over your retina and, you hope, not your dreams--would
doubtless approve, and keep smiling her mysterious, satisfied smile.
Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America."
The passing of Antonin Scalia roils the presidential campaign and could leave the Supreme Court deadlocked until 2017. Will the Senate even consider a replacement nominated by President Obama?
The sudden death of Antonin Scalia, an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, on Saturday morning will shake up American politics like few events in recent memory, reshaping the 2016 presidential campaign and potentially leaving the Supreme Court deadlocked for more than a year.
In the short term, President Obama will have to decide who to nominate to replace the voluble conservative jurist, and the Republican-led Senate will have to decide whether to even consider the president’s pick in the heat of the election campaign. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately signaled that an Obama nominee would not get a vote this year. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” the Kentucky Republican said in a statement. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Does his faith influence his judicial decision making?
March was a hugely important month for religion and the Supreme Court, and a pivotal moment for Justice Antonin Scalia, the subject of a fat new biography. Too bad we couldn’t talk plainly about what was, and is, at stake. In a country historically averse to political debates about competing faiths, nowhere is frank discussion of religion more taboo than at the U.S. Supreme Court. “Religion is the third rail of Supreme Court politics. It’s not something that’s talked about in polite company,” as Jeff Shesol, the author of a book about the New Deal Court, put it. He was speaking with NPR’s Nina Totenberg in 2010, when John Paul Stevens was looking at retirement and, for the first time in American history, there was the prospect of six Catholics, three Jews, and no Protestants on the highest court in the land—a watershed almost too “radioactive,” Totenberg remarked, even to note. And beware of venturing any further than that, as the University of Chicago Law School’s Geoffrey Stone did in a controversial 2007 blog post suggesting that the Supreme Court’s five conservatives likely derived their abortion views from Catholic doctrine: Scalia—a devout Catholic, and the current Court’s longest-serving conservative—announced a boycott of the school until Stone leaves the faculty.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who served for three decades on the U.S. Supreme Court, died in his sleep of apparent natural causes Saturday at age 79.
The news was confirmed by John Roberts, the chief justice, who called Scalia “an extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues.”
According to the San Antonio Express-News, Scalia was attending a private party at the Cibolo Creek Ranch in west Texas on Friday night. Staff reportedly found him on Saturday.
President Ronald Reagan appointed Scalia to the Supreme Court in 1986, where he became the intellectual leader of the Court’s conservative wing. Among the wider public, Scalia was one of the few justices who became a household name, due in part to his outspokenness and his often-blistering dissents from the bench.
This wasn’t terribly surprising. When Streep was asked, last year, in the course of promoting her extremely feminist film Suffragette, whether she is herself a feminist, the actor replied that, no, she isn’t. Instead: “I am a humanist,” she said. “I am for nice, easy balance.”
And why stopping it requires that governments get out of the way
As it stands, the international coalition is far from winning the information war against the Islamic State. Its air strikes may be squeezing the group in Iraq and Syria and killing many of its leaders, but that has not halted the self-proclaimed caliphate’s ideological momentum. Indeed, at the end of 2015, it was estimated that the number of foreigners travelling to join militant groups in Iraq and Syria—predominantly the Islamic State—had more than doubled in the course of just 18 months. What’s more, while these figures may be striking, sheer numbers are less important than intent when it comes to the organization’s actual threat to the world. As we have already seen, it takes a very small number of people to unleash great terror, whether in Iraq, Syria, or elsewhere.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Our telephone habits have changed, but so have the infrastructure and design of the handset.
One of the ironies of modern life is that everyone is glued to their phones, but nobody uses them as phones anymore. Not by choice, anyway. Phone calls—you know, where you put the thing up to your ear and speak to someone in real time—are becoming relics of a bygone era, the “phone” part of a smartphone turning vestigial as communication evolves, willingly or not, into data-oriented formats like text messaging and chat apps.
The distaste for telephony is especially acute among Millennials, who have come of age in a world of AIM and texting, then gchat and iMessage, but it’s hardly limited to young people. Whenasked, people with a distaste for phone calls argue that they are presumptuous and intrusive, especially given alternative methods of contact that don’t make unbidden demands for someone’s undivided attention. In response, some havediagnosed a kind of telephoniphobia among this set. When even initiating phone calls is a problem—and even innocuous ones, like phoning the local Thai place to order takeout—then anxiety rather than habit may be to blame: When asynchronous, textual media like email or WhatsApp allow you to intricately craft every exchange, the improvisational nature of ordinary, live conversation can feel like an unfamiliar burden. Those in powersometimes think that this unease is a defect in need of remediation, while those supposedly afflicted by it say they areactually just fine, thanks very much.
How those three little words sound around the world
I love saying “I love you.” I’ll say “love ya” to my parents when I’m about to get off the phone with them, and “love you!!” to my wife as she’s heading out the door for work (“love you???” on Gchat means I’ve gotten myself into trouble with her and I’m searching for a way out). I tell my son I love him, and he doesn’t even get it—he’s an infant. I’ve been known to proclaim that I love sushi and football and Benjamin Franklin (I mean, how could you not love Ben?).
Many people in this world would find my behavior rather strange. That’s because Americans are exceptionally promiscuous when it comes to professing their love. In the United States, “I love you” is at once exalted and devalued. It can mean everything ... or nothing at all. This is not universally the case.