1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wow, it's been a while...

Got married, returned to New Jersey, finally placed some articles... But more importantly, it looks like the Obamas have made their art selections for the White House. I have to say, I like.





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Friday, August 28, 2009

Snow Leopard = MacTablet coming

I have to agree with Andy Ihntako; Snow Leopard is pretty cool, but what it really looks like is a dry-run for a full-featured Mac OS for a low-power (read: netbook) processor. Combine that with nVidia's excitement about ramping up their "media pad" chip for various yet-to-be-announced partners, and the dream is finally here.

Microsoft is about to get pantsed again.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, RIP

Sometimes you can feel history turn over; coming in the year of Obama's inauguration, I both nostalgic and hopeful. On a personal note, my uncle died from the same form of cancer last year. As he traveled regularly to Houston for consultations, I was luck to spend so much time with him. It's shocking how fast that year can pass.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fun with Photoshop

We were discussing Sci-Fi mashups when my friend Mike suggested a scene we'd all love to see:

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Cents

Marc Ambinder has a post up about Chuck Grassley's recent claims regarding the "death panels" and contrasts them with Lisa Murkowski. Little need be said about such mendacity here; I'd rather take up the title of Marc's post: "A Tale of Two Senators on Death Panels."

I recently wrote a paper on Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and used as opening gambit, the observation that no title has been so widely mimicked. The reasons are clear enough -- it's a famous book, which has been widely read (it used to be the standard Dickens novel for highschool curricula, before Great Expectations ascended). But most importantly, the form of the title "A Tale of Two ________" asserts a connection without, well, asserting the connection. It juxtaposes two objects without telling us anything about they're actual relationship. They've just bumped into each other, as it were, in some "tale."

Which is not to say that Marc doesn't get some mileage out of the comparison, or turn it to good use. But in general, the "Tale of Two" formula disguises a lot of mediocre essays, papers, and talks which don't have a clear idea of what connects the two subjects. And to extend the point a little further, this is the basic problem of Dickens' original novel, which sets out to clarify the relation between pre- and post-revolutionary France and contemporary England -- homelands of the "Two Cities," London and Paris, where the action of the novel takes place. Despite a lean but complex story line replete with English and French doubles (to cop David Simon, the full "Dickensian"), the plot is ultimately resolved when its French and English objects agree to disagree; Sydney Carton's heroic sacrifice, with the flight of the Darnay family, mark the novel's failure to tease out the connection it was looking for. England and France settle on divorce. It's left to some hypothetical future time when the Darnays will return to a stabilized France and reflect upon what had once driven them all so far apart.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that, while using "A Tale of Two X" is both lazy and a strong indicator that the writer's having trouble deciding what they're writing about, we shouldn't be too harsh. Dickens came up with the title in much the same situation.

'Sides, it's still more effective than Dickens' working title, "The Golden Thread." Try cribbing that.

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From his lips to your ears

Yglesias nails it:

[T]here’s something bizarre about watching an American conservative movement whose general goal is to have the public sector provide as little as possible to anyone, and whose specific goal is to prevent public policy from extending health insurance to the tens of millions of currently un- or under-insured Americans, posing as the defenders of the right to access to generous health care services.


Are we having fun yet?

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'Zactly

For those thinking of or swearing off marriage, here's what it looks behind the lines:

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Got Punk'd?

Now THAT is "priceless." Ooh, I can't wait to see what Ashton twats.

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Not So Grandparents

Yglesias argues that those emphasizing the lack of support from seniors for the healthcare overhaul are overlooking how much it's just electoral politics:

But the main issue here just seems to be that people who are inclined to like Obama are inclined to like Obama’s health plan. And for all the attention the press plays to demographic sub-samples, the tendency is for presidential politics to be dominated by pretty broad swings. If Obama were more popular in general, he’d also be more popular with seniors, and his plan would be more popular with seniors. To actually get a majority with seniors, he’d have to be wildly more popular than he currently is.

I disagree. I think the lack of support from the Medicare generation is a huge story -- one I'm getting increasingly angry about, and for two main reasons:

(1) They love their federal healthcare. They are currently the broadest swath of recipients of federal healthcare and are generally quite happy with the Medicare program; which means from experience they should be advocates of an expansion of federal healthcare benefits. It's hugely cynical to rely on national healthcare and then show up at town hall rallies and scream at senators and secretaries of health because, according to one woman, "what I see is a bureaucratic nightmare." The kind of bureaucratic nightmare that replaces kidney, and pays for prescriptions? Sounds a hell of a lot better than the $175 a month plan I've got which I can't use because, being healthy, I can't meet my deductible.

(2) They're checking out before the bill comes due. It is incredibly cynical for seniors to argue for the status quo when they won't have to face the financial cliff that's looming as costs skyrocket over the following decades (to 10% of GDP by 2030, 15% by 2040, etc.). This comes as the Medicare benefits they're currently receiving are projected to exhaust its funds by 2019.

Granted, both of these points run counter to the self-interest and party affiliation of seniors. But from the perspective of the financial and physical health of the nation, their obstructionism is crassly selfish. For a generation that still prides itself on the sacrifices it made for the future and for others, attacking healthcare expansion and reform is morally bankrupt. I have a deep love and respect for my grandparents, what they sacrificed and what they've done. But it's time for the "greatest generation" to get great.

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80's RIP

By way of Sullivan, a montage of John Hughes films set to The Who's "Teenage Wasteland."



The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off capture growing up then -- what it was, and what it wished it was.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Do weddings have quartermasters?

I'm staring at a list of details yet to be taken care of (am I helping organize a wedding or planning for the invasion of Normandy by way of the Texas Hill Country?) and I'm overwhelmed by the odd traditions which have been salvaged, it seems, in the interest of providing additional fiscal stimulus. A cake stand? Rusticated wooden signs? Brunch outfits?

Of course, the to do list being shepherded by The Talented Videographer is an order of magnitude larger (I got a glimpse of it once, and it recalled the scene from Alias where Sidney learns the true extent of SD6's network; The horror, the horror...). On the upside, an additional item for my list is to coordinate the wet bar. I'm going to provide my Yellow Rose (w/ Bowdlerized label) and Slacker beers on tap, as well as an Old Fashioned with smoked Rye Whiskey. In addition, TTV has found her signature cocktail after consultation with Bobby Heugel over at Anvil -- the Lavender Daiquiri:

Texas Lavender Daiquiri

Ingredients: 1½ oz Railean White Rum, ¾ oz Lime Juice, ½ oz Texas Lavender Syrup. Pour ingredients into shaker with ice, shake, and strain into glass. Garnish with lavender sprig.

Lavender Syrup prep

Preparation (Lavender Syrup)

To make lavender syrup combine 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water in a saucepan. Bring syrup to a boil over medium heat and cook for 10 minutes, reducing the water and sugar to a syrup. Add 12 - 14 sprigs of fresh Texas lavender (dried lavender is an acceptable substitute) and allow to boil for 2 minutes. Remove sauce pan from stove and allow syrup to cool at room temperature. When cool strain lavender out and store in the fridge.

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Ad Patronym Attacks

Mark Ames' attack on Megan McArdle -- that her father received government largess -- is pretty sleazy. It also helps demonstrate the uses and abuses of Lexis Nexis in the hands of a determined conspiracy susser. It's a bit like handing a Thesaurus to an undergraduate -- sure, there's more ink on the page, but it's all ink and no blotter.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cary and Kael

In a recent post dissecting a ham-fisted revue of Cary Grant's work that just appeared in the New York Times, Christopher Orr links back to Pauline Kael's own careful estimation of Grant and his life. Read it. Her prose could cut steak.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Meant for Big Things?

The Washington Post has printed an excerpt from Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson's new book, The Battle for America 2008, including two passages that say interesting things about Obama's character. First, a memo Axelrod wrote to Obama in 2006, assessing his strengths and weaknesses:

At the risk of triggering the very reaction that concerns me, I don't know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch. You care far too much what is written and said about you. You don't relish combat when it becomes personal and nasty.


And this, from Obama himself in 2008:

"Axelrod's right," he continued. "I'm not somebody who actually takes myself that seriously. I'm pretty well adjusted. You know, you can psychoanalyze my father leaving and this and that, but a lot of those things I resolved a long time ago. I'm pretty happy with my life. So there's an element, I think, of being driven that might have operated a little differently with me than maybe some other candidates. ... I went into it with some modesty, thinking to myself: It may be that this really is all hype, and once people get a sense of my ideas and what's going on there that they think I'm some callow youth or full of hot air, and if that turned out to be the case, that was okay. I think for me it was more of a sense of being willing to do this, understanding that the odds were probably -- I gave myself 25 percent odds, you know, maybe 30 -- which are pretty remarkable odds to be president of the United States, if you're a gambling man."


I always get this sharp and disorienting sense of dissonance when I read a quote like this, or a passage from one of his books, and feel pressed up against a personality that seems both deeply intelligent and modest. There's been a lot written about Obama's poise or "cool" in handling tough situations and policy decisions, but it's the remarkable sense of balance in his self-perspective that keeps catching me off-guard.

As Ezra notes, it's always interesting to find out about
the decision-making process that candidates go through when they choose to run for president. On the one hand, it's easy to see the seductions of power. But few of us think we're the best, most intelligent, most capable person we know, much less the best, most intelligent, most capable person in the country. So how do you seek a position where that, at least in theory, is what's written under 'qualifications'?


What's unnerving about such passages, I think, is that they suggest a kind of humane grace that is very hard for me to relate to. Though I remain an ambitious person with an overly-generous estimation of my abilities, I often think of growing up as the process of learning that I was much more normal, and less important, than I'd imagined in childhood. In sharp contrast with his alternately brainy or chummy but imminently familiar predecessors, the personality that comes across in such passages has less in common with my experience of frail humanity than my idealized sense of major historical figures -- John Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln -- figures far outside my ken. So I read, and I feel a bit of (slightly rueful) worship.

But I also think about how others will read such passages, conservatives weaned on parsing every Clintonian statement as another iteration of "I did not have sex with that woman." And the dissonance that I feel will always register for them as deceit. If a birth certificate doesn't weigh with them, how much lighter statements from the campaign manager and the candidate himself? And this makes me sad, if only because it drives home the different histories we're all living right now.*** I don't care if large swaths of the population and its legislators fight Obama's political agenda tooth and nail; but if he's even half the person I think he is, I'm sad that they won't recognize the quality of their opponent and the history he's helping to shape.




P.S.> On the other hand, I *do* think that it's possible for people to change their mind; in her heart of hearts, I'm pretty sure Hillary Clinton has a different evaluation of Obama today than she did two years ago.

*** This sense of different histories reminds me of the much-maligned Carter presidency. I've always had a deep admiration for the man and his policies (if not always, their execution). I don't think there ever will be another president, for instance, who would go to Three Mile Island in the middle of the crisis, while experts were still worried it would melt down, simply because he felt that risking death was worth reassuring the American people.

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Two wrongs *do* make a right: (Why I can't never stand the double negative rule)

Everyone (even those, like me, who got a "d" in grade school grammar) knows that a negative proposition can only have one negation -- whether it be a "no," "never" or "not." What we don't usually learn is that it's one of the strange quirks of our relatively young language. Back in Shakespeare's England, the only English grammars that existed were written for and in Latin and Greek. But during the seventeenth century, an increasing number of anglophiles began to try and re-frame our language on logical principles. Never mind the profoundly illogical and contingent nature of language (especially ours); in a time when Aristotle and gnat-straining scholastics still held great sway, logic, however twisted, still ruled the day.

In love with the purported rationalism of Latin, and apparently fearing that two wrongs might be mistaken for a right, seventeenth-century grammarians argued against the double negative, with the codification of this rule credited to Anglican clergyman Robert Lowth's 1762 Short Introduction to English Grammar (at least, according to Wikipedia).

But there's nothing better (or at least, isn't nothing worse) than a double negative for emphasizing your negation. Speaking in terms of language theory, it's certainly worse to mistake a negative for a positive than a positive for a negative ("don't shoot!") and the double negative builds in enough redundancy to make sure your point gets across (unless you're admirer of the good Bishop Lowth). That seems to be the principle followed by the romance languages -- and you, too, if you've ever peppered your conversation with a n'est pas?

On the other hand, if it hadn't been for Lowth, we wouldn't have found so much not unattractive about the venerable litotes, including the close of this Flying Circuit skit:





I have a memory of Terry Jones yelling "Litotes" in some other skit but can't seem to find it.

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Good red wine; bad white linen

Last night we also visited Block 7, a new wine bar that is soft-opening behind our house. It was also the after-party spot for "White Linen Nights" up in the Heights neighborhood, which meant the place was filled with ladies and gents in wrinkled-yet-expensive looking chinos, skirts, and blazers. Very, VERY creepy. (Apparently there was some kind of dust-up with a group of Linenites complaining about a failure to properly enforce the guest list, but that's neither here nor there.)

What was also wierd, but in a very pleasing way, was how friendly the management and staff were, and the remarkable range of wines they carry at retail price. The restaurant/bar is attached to the wine shop, and you can walk back and forth between them, selecting, sorting, and tasting. We had a couple of U.S. Sauvignon Blancs for less than $15 a bottle (!) and after a long discussion with one of the owners, Michael Housewright, he steered us toward an awesome, lightly chilled and slightly fizzy and fruity Barollo that wasn't listed (instead of one of the pinot noirs I'd been angling for). It was a great wine for a hot, muggy night. If you go, ask to be served by Davy Jones -- a tattoo-sheathed front man (whose band, I hope, is called "The Lockers") and a very gracious waiter.

I wasn't blown away by the food, though they're still working up to their full menu, and I didn't get to try the venison Sloppy Joe on Challah that was eying me (I was full of homemade tapas from our earlier engagement, see below). I also saw Bobby Heugel checking the place out -- he's the English grad student cum Mixology entrepreneur who started up Anvil. You know, the same old story.

I didn't get a chance to ask Michael what brought his place about, or even what Block 7 is named for, though I think he's started it with his wife, who was also there smoothing down those wrinkly white-worsted patrons (couldn't resist). But I've a feeling there'll be many more opportunities to get the skinny.

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On how we learned to stop worrying and love Chron.com

Last night I helped with a going-away party for one of The Talented Videographer's coworkers at the Houston Chronicle, and, as usual, the mood was somber. There have been something like six rounds of layoffs in the last couple of years. I noticed that, while individually they're all interesting people who I'd like to grab a drink with, assembled together they hum with a funereal air. Gallows humor isn't very humorous. The only mildly funny thing was the celebration: strictly speaking, the coworker isn't really leaving -- she's just moving from editorial to advertising. We generally agreed it was a vast improvement; the paper might not survive, but her new industry will.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

Mad Man

Everyone might want to look like Don Draper, but I just did the Madmen Yourself makeover and this is what came back:



Spitting image.

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Thank you, Weight Watchers

The Talented Videographer and I often talk about our health--she's trying to drop a few pounds for the wedding, and I'm just trying to stay in shape. One point of contention is the set of criterion for obesity and being overweight. I'm 6', but weigh from 205-215 pounds, with a BMI around 26. At the same time, I lift weights and get in around four hours of strenuous cardiovascular exercise a week. I don't think I'm fat, but I'm at least 20 lbs. overweight by almost any chart-based standard (even for those with "big frames." Which made this nugget (in an article by Ben Domenich critiquing the illustrious McArdle) big "f" Fascinating:

As a side note: If you want to understand why in 1998 the medical community suddenly decided that you were overweight at a body mass index of 25 instead of 27.8, taking the WHO view (based on the BMIs of Africa and other developing nations as opposed to the long-held U.S. definition) and suddenly making 30 million Americans “fat,” just look at the makeup of the advisory panel — Pharma pushed this decision through, which had the effect of instantly adding millions of customers. But again, it’s nothing personal, just business.


Oh, I don't know. Seems pretty personal to me.

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Call me McLovin

Another gem from McArdle (at the top of a lengthy, fact-unfilled post about obesity):

But of course, as I pointed out elsewhere, while being rural is correlated with being fatter, it's also correlated with being healthier (though that advantage may be eroding). It's impossible to tease out the countervailing effects, so which should we do?


Ooga booga, so do nothing? If only someone could develop a mathematical study of such issues, (let's call it, statistics), and then develop a form of this study that works to discriminate between various contributing factors (let's call it, multiple regression analysis), and then apply this technique to producing an actual study (e.g., "Dietary intake, exercise, obesity, and noncommunicable disease in rural and urban populations of three Pacific Island communities," or "Obesity and Health Status in Rural, Urban, and Suburban Southern Women"). I'm such a dreamer.

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McArdle vs. Klein: Who will remain standing?

Megan McArdle, over at The Atlantic, has a long, rambling post arguing against national healthcare. (Notice I didn't say healthcare reform, or a new healthcare package, or the expansion of coverage.) I'd summarize it, but why?, given the thorough drubbing bestowed by Ezra Klein over at the Washington Post:

In 1,600 words, she doesn't muster a single link to a study or argument, nor a single number that she didn't make up (what numbers do exist come in the form of thought experiments and assumptions). Megan's argument against national health insurance boils down to a visceral hatred of the government. Which is fine. Megan is a libertarian. That's, like, her journey, man.


The entire article is worth reading in full, in that it systematically dismantles some of the breezy free market logic that is central to conservative criticism of national healthcare. But what I *really* loved was the response of one of Ezra's McArdle McLoving commenters:

You're basically just a control freak with really stupid ideas about how to help people.

You should actually read The Fountainhead. If nothing else it could help you out with making logical arguments. You could always try to model yourself off of Elsworth Toohey. There could be some profit in that for you.


A second topic of conversation last night allowed me to shoehorn in my pet theory about Ayn Rand: her works are like the chicken pox; it's important to succumb and recover early enough in life that you can go on to lead a healthy and productive adulthood. If you're exposed too late, however, there's a nasty tendency for the disease to stick, ravage the mental faculties, and return in chronic waves. Sometimes, The Talented Videographer chides me for this quasi-elitist dismissiveness of a writer who remains so well-liked by so many. To which I respond: READ THE ABOVE.

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The Beer Summit

Like nearly everyone else at the bar last night, a pitcher of Shiner Smokehouse led our table into a long discussion of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and the officer who arrested him. The Talented Videographer had the most charitable take toward the cop -- she sees what they have to deal with everyday and recognizes how very dangerous and stressful that job is.

My 1 1/2 cents, for what it's worth, is that this was definitely about racism, but did not involve racists. Racism is what Gates was worried about when he exploded up front, and it's what the cop was angry about being accused of. Both decided to wear their heart on their sleeve exclusively because of racism, if for different reasons, and that is true even if neither, in my opinion, were doing anything worse than overreacting and showing bad judgment.

More importantly, the things that brought this event to our attention are the things that make it a shame it was brought to our attention. Gates is a very well known, and powerful, black intellectual, and he has an enormous network of the most-connected of the black community behind him. It was for this reason that Obama knew him, and probably felt enormous pressure, both externally and internally, to say something. At the same time, Gates' position makes this whole thing kind of a farce. Much worse happens to black men on a daily basis, but because they're not Skip Gates, the president does not comment.

Moreover, it was, INMHO, Gates' acute sensitivity to his position that made him so angry. It strikes me that he feels he's transcended the plight of the average black man, and was just plain furious to be pulled down into it, even if glancingly and with some complicity. (Hence the color-transcending odiousness of his tirade: "Do you know who I AM!?!") I do not know Gates personally, but I know a some folks who do, and the consensus is that he's a bit pompous. Sure, he's earned it (no one could top Harold Bloom, of course), but at the same time, it was this personality trait that launched him into this situation, as well as making him such a poor spokesperson for a cause he has had (cough) little to do with as participant or advocate over the last couple of decades.

To emphasize, I respect Gates as a scholar (I have great admiration for the work he did to bring Gwendolyn Brooks into the scholarly canon, for instance), but as a spokesman for civil rights, he's a wiffle ball. It's too bad the President felt compelled to take a swing.

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Chapelle on Gates

Timely as always (via sullivan):

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It has recently come to my attention...

In as much as Rep. Bill Posney has found scattered support for HR 1503, a bill to require presidential candidates to submit their birth certificate before running, and I have held presidential ambitions myself, I thought I'd dig through my files and double-check the old B.C. from Albuquerque Presbyterian.

As I blew the dust from the parchment, I noticed something odd -- a slight bit of off-white discoloration around my name. A rasp with my penknife easily chipped away the artfully-applied White Out. It turns out the true holder of my SS# is one Ephraim Schmelman, son of Lazarus and Sandy Schmelman, of the four-points region.

Of course, I immediately confronted my parents, who explained that I was not, as I've been told, conceived on a honeymoon trip to Mexico, but in fact, purchased from a Mexican orphanage for abandoned black Irish babies (a connection, I'm told, cultivated during the Troubles, when Irish Catholic fear of the Protestant conversion of orphan children ran high). When my folks returned to Albuquerque, their good friends the Schmelmans, who had recently lost their young Ephraim (a freak Etch-A-Sketch accident), suggested the DIY naturalization.

It goes without saying that I am stunned by this news -- it raises a whole battery of questions and concerns. Who were my real parents? How can I find them? And most importantly, what can I do to prevent HR 1503 from passing and dashing my hopes of Oval Office employment?

(And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for Bill Posney and his meddling Birthers...)

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Any chance Palin could write for National Lampoon?

Via Yglesias, here's William Shatner reading an excerpt from Sarah Palin's farewell speech:

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brewing Update: The Lineup and True Blue

I asked The Talented Videographer to take a photo of the lineup as it currently stands (I'm setting these bottles aside for posterity's sake). Here they are in all of their homebrewed glory:



They're not in order of production. The second from the left is True Blue, a classic American pilsner (CAP) brewed with blue corn and the New Ulm yeast strain. I just bottled it a couple of weeks ago and it's already proving to be a rich, friendly example of an historic and unique American style that has few honest mainstream practitioners.

I also submitted Megaberry, Yellow Rose, and Slacker to a local GABF-sanctioned competition, the Lunar Rendezbrew. Can't wait to see what happens.

Here's a better shot of the True Blue label. I'm rather proud.

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Emotional IQ

Yesterday, over dinner and some awesome wine at Max's Wine Dive (thank you, Seth!), The Talented Videographer (TTV) described part of her interview yesterday with former NASA flight director Glynn Lunney, who directed part of the Apollo 11 and 13 missions. Lunney was talking about the achievement of the Apollo program, and how remarkable was.

He pointed out that it took a huge monetary investment by the United States in something that many thought was impossible. When Kennedy proposed they make the moon by the end of the decade, it was so far beyond current technology that it was a staggering, and seemingly impossible goal. And investment in the project reached 5.5% of the federal budget. By contrast, all of NASA's budget is around 0.5% today. And because virtually all of the expertise still had to be developed, what you had was huge number of young men and women (including Kennedy) trying to do something most thought impossible, and which did not promise to provide a substantial return on investment. But they decided to roll up their sleeves and give it a shot.

Lunney compared this to the exploration of the New World -- Europe spent a huge amount of money equipping expeditions and charting the new continents. But within a century, sometimes, far less, most of those countries lost their holdings in the New World to revolutions. Many never recouped those initial costs. At the same time, from the perspective of hindsight, it was an endeavor whose value could not be measured by the amount of gold or sugar which they New Continent could provide.

Lunney's point: sometimes huge investments are necessary without the promise of gain. Cost-benefit analyses cannot capture the non-monetary value of an investment.

What I loved was that TTV re-framed this in terms of relationships -- there's lots of work and sacrifice that has to go into a relationship, especially a marriage, upfront. And when you're talking about things like career tracks, there are some sacrifices which don't promise equivalent rewards. But the real value, the long-term reward, can't be measured in that way. It's the kind of connection between public and private, historical and personal, that I wouldn't have been able to make. It was beautiful.

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Just when I think I've had it with R&B...

Autotune The News has a new video out that features the R&B stylings of Michelle Bachmann and John Boehner. Praise!

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Buvez Montreal: Le Cheval Blanc

Took a conference trip to Montreal last week and people keep asking, how'd it go? Well, I'm not sure about the paper I gave (at least two folks were dozing off), but I had one hell of a time after two visits to Le Cheval Blanc -- a Montreal pub on Rue Ontario that's been around for half a century and makes damn fine beer. In addition to a selection of eight housebrews (described in terms of degrees Plato of gravity, beer style, and finish), they also have an eclectic selection of bottled beer, much of which I didn't recognize. I was too busy sampling their house offerings, from a hazy, intentionally unfiltered pilsner (soft-bodied AND crisp), to the Piment -- a blond beer smacked up with jalapeno.

In addition, Wednesday nights are pickled vodka night, with 2 dollar (cdn) shots of their house cornichon-infused vodka. The first night I went in, a Sunday, they had a woman DJing and playing a mix ranging from sets of James Brown to The Shins. And the staff was very, very friendly, despite my only roughly serviceable French. The second night, I hung out with a competitive bagpiper who'd flown in from Beijing for a checkup(!).

All in all, it was the best brewpub I've visited, hitting the right mix of ambiance, fun, and quality beer. Can't wait to go back. Je serai retourné!

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Jade Gimlet

I'm sure this is a recipe somewhere else on the internets, but over the weekend (alongside sailing, shopping for wedding bands, and barbecuing a brood of chickens), The Talented Videographer and I came up with a refreshing summer drink. Make a vodka or gin gimlet per usual (1.5 oz. liquor, .5 oz. lime juice, .5 oz. simple syrup) and add some crushed fresh basil to the shaker with ice. Shake it all up; use a spoon to fish out some of the basil and add it to the glass, then strain the mix on top. VY yummy.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

PALIN RESIGNS

Amazing. Two things hit me in her speech, pasted below. What disclosure is coming? And it's pretty clear that she wrote this speech herself. Rambling, incoherent, alternatively folksy and padded with Roget's -- just the dish we've come to expect. E.g.: "Only dead fish go with the flow."

Alaska -- one of the few states whose public education system lags behind Texas.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

US Gov. Asked Twitter to Delay Maintenance

Via Sullivan, it seems that the State Department asked Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance that would have disabled service today in Iran (i.e., last night here). That's a pretty remarkable step, not necessarily in terms of being an extraordinary measure in itself, but because the move demonstrates the administration's interest in new technology and its role in the current Iranian crisis. Kudos.

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Shepherd Smith, Voice of Reason

It's getting eerie to watch clips of Shepherd Smith speaking with apparent honesty and sensibility against the conservative CW on Fox. Take the following clip, in which he points out that the attack on the Holocaust Memorial Museum reflected an advisory homeland security recently issued which the right flipped out over:



Almost makes me feel bad about forwarding the following to my friends (key words: Jenny Lopez, Curb Job, Blow Job):

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Cyber Attacking the Atlantic?

Just got back from my bachelor party. Due to regional confidentiality agreements, I can only report that it was in a town named "the meadows" by 19th-century Spanish immigrants.

But I'm feverishly reading about the Iranian elections, and came across this post by Andrew Sullivan (who's been all over the story):


The Atlantic is struggling to keep the site up despite what seems to be a digital attack. Please be persistent in trying to reload.


If that's true, it would be a pretty remarkable indicator of where the digital age is heading. Welcome to the 21st century.

UPDATE: Sullivan has reported that their servers were only overloaded -- no "denial of service" attacks. This doesn't surprise me -- whereas I wouldn't put such a thing past a country with very sophisticated state digital infrastructure (say, China), in a place like Iran, where I'd assume most of the techies are liberals, it would have been remarkable.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Superb Health Care Article

Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, has written a brilliant article about healthcare reform for the New Yorker. Its basic thesis: while there are a host of theories about how to reduce the cost of healthcare in the United States, the greatest problem is over-treatment -- the prescription of medications, treatments, tests and surgeries that are redundant, unnecessary, and sometimes harmful.

To research the article, Gawande flew to MacAllen, a rural Texas county that's the most expensive health care market in the United States, despite having average or below-average patient outcomes, and residents who are, on average, as healthy as anywhere else. There's a sharp moment when he sits down with some physicians at a diner to talk it over:

“It’s malpractice,” a family physician who had practiced here for thirty-three years said.

“McAllen is legal hell,” the cardiologist agreed. Doctors order unnecessary tests just to protect themselves, he said. Everyone thought the lawyers here were worse than elsewhere.

That explanation puzzled me. Several years ago, Texas passed a tough malpractice law that capped pain-and-suffering awards at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Didn’t lawsuits go down?

“Practically to zero,” the cardiologist admitted.

“Come on,” the general surgeon finally said. “We all know these arguments are bullshit. There is overutilization here, pure and simple.” Doctors, he said, were racking up charges with extra tests, services, and procedures.


I thought this discussion was fascinating, because it confirmed my little experience discussing the subject with my best friend, a neurosurgeon practicing in Nashville. Back when he was going through medical school, we used to talk about the high cost of medical care, and he always insisted the problem was malpractice suits; insurance against malpractice was bankrupting doctors and forcing them to add extra testing. When I pointed him to studies showing that malpractice awards were dropping even as insurance costs skyrocketed, he shrugged it off. It was the lawyers, plain and simple.

I have a feeling that now, after many more years of practice and experience, he sees things differently (and I'm looking forward to asking him at my bachelor party next week). My guess is that the malpractice canard is a commonly-held but superficial excuse that one would encounter early on in medical education -- especially while interning and doing early rotations. But as doctors gain more experience, they gain a richer, more nuanced understanding that complicates that reassuring but misleading perspective. And that's what is reflected in the exchange above: initially, the doctors offer the comforting excuse that it's the fault of lawyers and court cases -- not their own. But when push comes to shove, they recognize the problem lies closer to home.

Which isn't to say that insurance reform, digitization, universal coverage, prescription cost controls, etc., aren't key to moving forward. But a huge component is getting physicians to recognize that, despite excellent medical skills, their daily decisions contribute incrementally to the national health care problem.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

At a conference: GSLIS Champaign-Urbana

A quick note: I've been at a conference on the digital humanities all week, which explains the paucity of posting. BUT I've been learning some fascinating, exciting, and (I think) revolutionary stuff which I'll be sharing as soon as I get the chance. Tomorrow I fly with The Talented Videographer and a couple of Good Folks out to Miami for some vacay, but I'll post soon.

A link for the conference.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

The Big Easy stole by baby: Absinthe my Sazerac

The Talented Videographer is off to Nawlins for her bachelorette party. In honor of her trip, I wanted a Sazerac (the state drink of LA) but didn't want to pony up the $60 for a bottle of absinthe. So I decided to make my own. And it turns out this is really cheap ($20-$30, depending on base liquor), and really easy.

Believe it or not, wormwood, the key ingredient, is available at the local Fiesta Mart for $2 a quarter oz (I stumbled across it looking for Chamomile for my Pithy Wit). You mix a whole ounce of this stuff in a 750 ml. bottle of 150-proof alcohol (I used Bacardi 151) and leave it for seven days, then strain it through a coffee filter. Add some spices (I used 1 tbs. anise seed, 1 tsp fresh sage, 1 tsp. spearmint, 1/2 tsp. coriander seed and 1/4 tsp. caraway seed, plus a pinch of ground cardamom--make sure to crack the whole seeds in a mortar and pestle or w/ a rolling pin). Let that sit for another four days, then strain again through a coffee filter. Lovely and complex licorice flavor w/ spicy background, a rich green-brown (from the rum coloring) and a very, very nice Sazerac.


The Sazerac:

2 oz. Rye whiskey.
1/2 tsp. absinthe
4 dashes Pechaud bitters
1 sugar cuber or 1 tsp simple syrup.

Pour whiskey over ice and stir in bitters and simple syrup or sugar cube for 20 seconds. In the meantime, pour small measure of absinthe into the serving glass (I like short martini glasses) and swirl it around to coat the glass. Strain mixture into glass, garnish with a lemon twist if you'd like.

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Rockets-Lakers


Can you remember the last time a team was so popular at home it didn't matter if they clinched the semi-final series? Houston is CRAZY IN LOVE with this team.

On a related note, did you catch Aaron Brooks' standup last week? Smokin:

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Measure of Happiness

There's a startling and moving article by Joshua Wolf Shenk over at The Atlantic that I enjoyed more than anything else I've read in some time. It's about something called the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has tracked a group of more than a hundred male sophmores from the 1940's until the present day, in order to try and get a sense of what makes people happy, and why. The group included at least one best-selling author and John F. Kennedy (though apparently, his records have been sealed until 2050).

Here's a sample, about the man who's overseen the study for the last fifty years, and what he and others have learned:

Vaillant brings a healthy dose of subtlety to a field that sometimes seems to glide past it. The bookstore shelves are lined with titles that have an almost messianic tone, as in Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. But what does it mean, really, to be happier? For 30 years, Denmark has topped international happiness surveys. But Danes are hardly a sanguine bunch. Ask an American how it’s going, and you will usually hear “Really good.” Ask a Dane, and you will hear “Det kunne være værre (It could be worse).” “Danes have consistently low (and indubitably realistic) expectations for the year to come,” a team of Danish scholars concluded. “Year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark.”

Of course, happiness scientists have come up with all kinds of straightforward, and actionable, findings: that money does little to make us happier once our basic needs are met; that marriage and faith lead to happiness (or it could be that happy people are more likely to be married and spiritual); that temperamental “set points” for happiness—a predisposition to stay at a certain level of happiness—account for a large, but not overwhelming, percentage of our well-being. (Fifty percent, says Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness. Circumstances account for 10 percent, and the other 40 percent is within our control.) But why do countries with the highest self-reports of subjective well-being also yield the most suicides? How is it that children are often found to be a source of “negative affect” (sadness, anger)—yet people identify children as their greatest source of pleasure?


The most moving take-away, I think, is a discussion of how rich and complicated all of the surveys and tests are as a body. It's not really possible to boil down the quirks and vicissitudes of someone's entire life into an empirical data set with any clear answers. Many start out happy and end in divorce and suicide; some come from poor, broken homes, and end up successful philanthropists and civil rights leaders. And I suspect many more are just Willie Lomans, lost in unextraordinary lives that lack clear-cut plot lines or turns of fortune. It's the kind of article that hits me square in the chest.



Here's a sample of one of the portraits:

After college, you got an advanced degree and began to climb the rungs in your profession. You married a terrific girl, and you two played piano together for fun. You eventually had five kids. Asked about your work in education, you said, “What I am doing is not work; it is fun. I know what real work is like.” Asked at age 25 whether you had “any personal problems or emotional conflicts (including sexual),” you answered, “No … As Plato or some of your psychiatrists might say, I am at present just ‘riding the wave.’” You come across in your files as smart, sensible, and hard-working. “This man has always kept a pleasant face turned toward the world,” Dr. Heath noted after a visit from you in 1949. From your questionnaire that year, he got “a hint … that everything has not been satisfactory” at your job. But you had no complaints. After interviewing you at your 25th reunion, Dr. Vaillant described you as a “solid guy.”

Two years later, at 49, you were running a major institution. The strain showed immediately. Asked for a brief job description, you wrote: “RESPONSIBLE (BLAMED) FOR EVERYTHING.” You added, “No matter what I do … I am wrong … We are just ducks in a shooting gallery. Any duck will do.” On top of your job troubles, your mother had a stroke, and your wife developed cancer. Three years after you started the job, you resigned before you could be fired. You were 52, and you never worked again. (You kept afloat with income from stock in a company you’d done work for, and a pension.)

Seven years later, Dr. Vaillant spoke with you: “He continued to obsess … about his resignation,” he wrote. Four years later, you returned to the subject “in an obsessional way.” Four years later still: “It seemed as if all time had stopped” for you when you resigned. “At times I wondered if there was anybody home,” Dr. Vaillant wrote. Your first wife had died, and you treated your second wife “like a familiar old shoe,” he said.

But you called yourself happy. When you were 74, the questionnaire asked: “Have you ever felt so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up?” and gave the options “All of the time, some of the time, none of the time.” You circled “None of the time.” “Have you felt calm and peaceful?” You circled “All of the time.”

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The Federation's Starfleet Defense: Rumsfeld Mark IV?



Michael Peck over at Wired critiques Starfleet's defense strategy and wonders if Rumsfeld wasn't in charge. On a slightly different note: surely, the technology used to engineer Sulu's collapsible Katana might better have been spent creating a back up sidearm. I mean, hand-to-hand was an awesome feature of all the original Star Treks shows; but perhaps the most ridiculous. If you can master faster-than-light travel and matter/energy conversions, can't you arm individuals with more than one post-fourteenth century weapon?

On a celebratory note, frenetic battle scenes aside, Simon Pegg's belated appearance as Scotty made by heart skip a beat.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hating on Hate Crimes


There's a running debate online about whether or not we should support hate crimes. Lots of ostensibly liberal commentators, as well as many libertarians, think that hate crime legislation is redundant; if they're already committing a violent crime, shouldn't they just be prosecuted for that? It's a slightly different tack than the conservative/Republican critics who argue that hate crime legislation is "thought" policing, because it requires jurors to get inside the head of the offender and figure out whether the crime was motivated by racism, homophobia, etc.

Over at Sullivan's blog, he has an astute letter from a reader who responds to Sullivan's reservations about hate crime bills:

But I've often found myself questioning whether or not you and/or folks of your ilk would be against any kinds of legal distinction under the law. For example, should aggravated sexual assault simply be considered a violent crime, rather than a specific crime having to do with non-rape violence of a sexual nature? Or perhaps, from the same viewpoint, all crimes of a sexual nature ought to be considered sex crimes. In that case, should there be a distinction between aggravated rape, coerced statutory rape, consensual statutory rape, and child molestation?


I like this point. I have a tendency, when I hear an opposing opinion that seems well-thought out and consistent, to take it very seriously. Sometimes, when scanning blogs, I'll even accept such arguments without much reflection. But this letter raises a serious problem for the whole "redundancy" argument.

The emphasis upon the importance of distinctions also brings me to an additional thought: perhaps it is not that hate crimes legislation is over-specified (both "hate" and "crime"), but because the legislation is under-specified that it's a problem. "Hate" is a pretty broad designator for a class of crimes -- and while the legislation does suggest what kinds of racism, homophobia, etc., the law should apply to, maybe we should have separate crimes. "Racist assault and battery." "Aggravated homophobic manslaughter." "Anti-Semitic aggravated assault."

This may sound tongue-in-cheek, and like it'd be a huge pain in the ass, but perhaps part of the difficulty critics have with this legislation is that it seems it could be applied whenever you proved some kind of systematic hatred, and insofar as hatred is perhaps the sine qua non of violence, if not human emotions (sorry, love), the law should apply to TONS of crimes -- maybe too many. On the other hand, I think it would be pretty hard to criticize, and more palatable to accept, legislation specifically aimed at KKK thugs wielding bats.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Smoked Rye Whiskey


In the wake of the opening of Anvil last month, and a few more visits to Beavers to chat with Ryan Rouse, I've been experimenting a lot more with Rye. Something they have over at Beaver's is a house-smoked Sazerac Rye (lots easier when you're a barbecue joint). But insofar as I've been cold-smoking stuff lately (bacon, cheeses, cherries), I thought I'd go ahead and smoke some myself. The smoked Old Fashioned I had at Beaver's was *way* too smoky for me, so I aimed to get a little less smoke out of it. And because my wallet's perennially light, I fell back on the good Old Overholt to play around with it. After two batches, smoking with about 2 parts cherry to one part hickory, I think 30 minutes in a 9x12 pan is perfect (the size of the pan matters relative to the volume, because it determines how much surface area is exposed).

I don't like Old Fashioneds done with muddled fruit; I like a clear cocktail w/o pulp, and usually the sharpness of lemon peel beats out orange. But with the smokiness of the Rye, orange zest is the way to go. Anyway, here's the Old Fashioned I've settled on, and is 95% likely to feature at the wedding in October:

2 oz. smoked Overholt Rye
1/4 oz. simple syrup
4 dashes Fee Brother's Old Fashioned Bitters.
1 Twist of orange zest
2 brandied cherries

Make this in an Old Fashioned glass: pour whiskey over ice, add syrup and bitters, stir for 20 seconds. Twist the orange zest over the cocktail so that the oil spurts out onto the surface, add the cherries, and you're done. Yum.

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Beer Bulletin: Pithy Wit

Brewed Pithy Wit a couple of days ago. Right now it's still fermenting up a storm -- going to 1L starters and a stir plate really boosted the pitching rate. (BTW building a stir plate is pretty easy if you can handle a soldering iron, directions here. A note of caution: I had trouble finding the right rheostat, and ended up playing around with resistors.)

Anyway, I'm excited about the Wit for two reasons: first, it gives me the chance to play around with what are rumored to be the two key ingredients to Celis White -- chamomile and cumin. And I've developed a (secret) bittering process that should change the character of the beer pretty radically, making it more crisp, with a drier (but not more bitter) finish. I'm keeping mum, but I'll give a hint: NO HOPS.

Oh, and I'm also excited because it gave me a chance to play around with Photoshop masking:

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Monkey Gangs, Beware

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Flat Eric, Flat Beat

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TNC on racism and Joe the Plumber

Ta Nehisi Coates, over at The Atlantic, has another thoughtful post up about racism. The key point, and one he's made before, is that to defend prejudice, even in soft ways--like attacking affirmative action or "the sanctity of marriage"--requires you to dumb yourself down. That doesn't mean you're not smart, or that you can't cobble together a smart argument; it just means you still have to cheat your brain a little to get there.

He has a rich quote from Joe the Plumber (yet another lasting gift from McCain--will we ever give him his due?), in which Joe plays the moderate on homosexuality:

Queer means strange and unusual. It's not like a slur, like you would call a white person a honky or something like that. You know, God is pretty explicit in what we're supposed to do--what man and woman are for. Now, at the same time, we're supposed to love everybody and accept people, and preach against the sins. I've had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children.


As TNC puts it: "So much of this is so perfect--including the idea that "honkey" is the worst slur Joe can think of." The post also put me in mind of a comment I heard today at the gym (which here in H-town has TWO separate Fox News TVs on at all times) where someone suggested that Conservatives need to find someone who can talk moderate. What I love, is that's exactly what Joe's trying to do here. As a formula for the kind of "moderating" statement Obama has mastered, you couldn't get better than:

(1) State something anodyne which tries to defuse the topic by shifting it in a more culturally-neutral direction.

(2) Spice it up with something that shows you Feel the Pain of the other side and respect their opinion.

(3) Dip back into the well of common opinion for another injection of the anodyne.

(4) Use (3) to make an argument that everyone, even those who don't agree with (3) itself, would agree with.

(5) Return to (2) if necessary to burnish your cred before

(6) Make your final position clear, and if you've done 1-5 right, they may not agree with you, but they'll appreciate your opinion.

Back in college I had a prof who called this a "Rogerian" argument, based on the writing of psychologist Carl Rogers. It's essential to drawing people of opposing views into, if not out right agreement, at least appreciation of your opinion and moderation of their views. But for it to work, you have to find those "common ground" bona fides that the other side will recognize and respect. Joe's got the form of the argument down, but citing 19th-century diction, biblical wisdom, and knee-jerk homophobia isn't gonna get him anywhere. I mean, even conservatives must cringe when he gets more air time.

The key point is, you can't just try to talk like a moderate. You have to be able to adopt more moderate views, and to recognize what kinds of arguments others will recognize as moderate. Until Republicans can do that they're toast.

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$2.00 Deluxe Hugs

Someone pranks one of those "Free Hugs" hippes.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Everything Old is New Again: Texas Burger


Last night I sat down with M and the folks for burgers. For a traditional Texan burger, you have to have mustard and jalapenos, with bacon a much-appreciated option. But in an effort to give this formula a facelift, I cured my own bacon (a lot easier than you think; check out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat Cookbook). After curing the bacon for five days, I cold smoked it over a mix of cherry and hickory wood. And I pickled some jalapenos with fresh oregano and cilantro, coriander, black mustard and cumin, using a brine of vinegar and my Yellow Rose beer (pretty yummy on their own).

Finally, I bought whole beef round and ground it coarsely (thank you kitchen aid mixer), adding a little softened butter, salt, and fresh black pepper.

So how'd it taste? Pretty damn good.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Holy Turncoat, Batman!

Looks like Arlen Specter is switching parties and will now join the Democratic caucus (unlike, say, fellow senator Joe Lieberman). WOW. This should have a huge effect on 60-vote filibuster calculus -- as the dems will now have 60 votes. And, while it should teach the wingnuts supporting Pat Toomey a lesson or two, I'm sure they'll just entrench themselves further in cultural recidivism.

On another note, good for Specter. I've always kind of liked him, especially his attempts to moderate sensibly on the judiciary during the Republican congressional years (despite all the heckling he received). And Toomey's a nut case anyway--would have been a shame if he'd ousted Specter.

I wonder if this will finally prompt Lieberman to go full darkside on Obama. (Lots of money to be made as the swing vote.)

And as a final observation, this may actually, short-term, prove a good thing for Republicans, because it will encourage the Democrats to resort to reconciliation less often, and hence, give Republicans more input in key legislation, particularly, health care and climate change. Oddly enough, this move may encourage MORE bipartisanship, not less.

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In which I Gas On About Cows

Carrie Oliver, over at Discover the World of Artisan Beef, posts a question about my cow fart discussion:

I'm not following your logic here unless it's tongue-in-cheek? 50 head of cattle is a very small farm. I'll leave it here for now but happy to engage in further dialog.


And it's a good question. I'd suggested (per Ezra) that new regulations affecting herds above 25 head dairy/50 head beef, or producing more than 100 tons of carbon a year, would help equalize conditions for local heirloom operations. Working on a cattle ranch was my weekend job growing up, and as we only had around 50 head, I'd assumed that was a typical small herd. But the ranch was more of a hobby for the guy I worked for; after Carrie's question, I thought about it, and realized that that's nowhere near enough cattle to support a full-time ranching operation. Assuming two years to slaughter, a 50-head herd would fetch you (based on 500 lbs. beef per head, slaughtering 50% a year, and fetching around 1.30 per pound for wholesale choice) only $16,250, a large chunk of which would have to go to medical care, overhead, and feed. Even if there is a local market for heirloom breeds, the economics of such a small herd make it infeasible. On the other hand, the 25 dairy/50 beef herd size I cited below is the threshold at which the EPA will now require ranchers to seek a carbon permit. Hopefully, those will remain free for small producers.

The more important number I mentioned is the 100 tons of carbon per year being floated for the carbon taxing legislation. Because it looks like that's where efforts will be focused for taxing carbon (rather than allowing the EPA to handle it), it's in the carbon tax legislation that I think we'll see the most impact on the beef and dairy industry. To do some quick calculations, the EPA suggests that a dairy cow produces around 142 kg. of methane per year, a beef cow 76. Neither number includes methane production from decomposing manure, but lets assume that both combined are below 200 kg. per year for dairy, 100 for beef cattle. That means herd sizes below 450 dairy cows, or 900 beef cattle, would be exempt.

It seems to me that herd sizes that large would be able to support local artisan ranching and dairy operations, and that means that taxing larger herds would help to make such smaller operations competitive. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I'm looking forward to my "Local, Grass-finished, 100% Charolais" bone-in first-cut ribsteak over at Randall's (ah, Bourgogne).

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Monday, April 27, 2009

OMG! It's a "SWINE" Flu!

Coda: I'm not mocking the serious threat of a Flu pandemic.

That said, the title "Swine Flu" gets to the inane heart of the media's health coverage. The flu you get every year? THAT's almost always "swine flu." The strains that come out of Hong Kong every year, and get incorporated into that year's vaccine? Yup, "Swine" flus. The modern flu cycle is almost rooted in annual swine-human crossovers. What is scary about avian flu is that, because pigs can get chicken flu (and we can't), and because we get our flu from pigs, there's a non trivial chance that a pig flu will hybridize with a chicken flu within some poor pig, and that we'll then get that flu, which, because it's only partly "swine flu" may look much more foreign to our immune systems, and hence, be much more deadly (that's what happened with the 1918 "Spanish" flu).

There are around 20 to fifty thousand Deaths in the US due to regular old "swine flu" annually, and I wish reporters would include these numbers when talking about the current outbreak. That said, there's certainly the danger that the current strain will have a much higher mortality rate, and eventually kill more people. But better context and better information would help keep people from freaking out.

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Taxing Cow Farts

Ezra Klein reports a growing consensus, through both an amendment and an EPA resolution, to add methane production from large beef and dairy operations to the carbon taxing/permitting process.

This is frabjous news. Because it would specifically apply to large operations (with more than 25 dairy or 50 beef cattle, or producing more than 100 tons carbon a year) it would eliminate some of the efficiencies in scale which large beef operations enjoy in the market place and use to crowd out smaller local producers. While this would make beef and dairy as a whole *more expensive* [EDIT], it would reduce the difference in cost between local, artisan beef or dairy products, and large industrial chain products. Which would truly rock. Imagine being able to find heirloom breeds of beef, from local herds, at your local supermarket...

In related news, the talented videographer and I once entertained making a cow fart documentary if our careers collapsed. A major portion would be devoted to the environmental impact of cow farts, and in particular, technologies to reclaim cow (and even human) methane for fuel -- what one witty writer has termed "brown gold."

One challenge for the documentary was finding an appropriately fragrant name. "Moooot"? "Airy Dairy"?

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Maureen Dowd Hates Twitter

Pretty much the most sensible position she's ever taken. But this does make it impossible to confirm my theory that Carrie's execrable voice-overs in Sex in the City are Dowdian Tweets.

On the flip side, I wonder what Biz Stone and Evan Williams (The creators of Twitter) twitted after Dowd's (rather hostile) interview? My guess: "Twat."

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Patton Rides Again

Matt notes that an Ohio Milita leader has called for an "Armed Million Man March" on Washington. But it would be "peaceful." Which is F'ing AWESOME.

It's been my long-held belief that certain incredibly unlikely events will raise dead leaders from their graves. You know; if a British army crosses the Potomac, Washington will return; or if we restored slavery, the Lincoln Memorial would rise and unleash a can of wup-ass (ala Ghostbusters II).

And if this march happens, I think it's clear that Patton (and perhaps the whole Fifth Army) would crawl out of his grave. I can see the ad now: "Come see the New and Improved Bonus Army -- Now, with Guns!"

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Texas Secession



Tom Delay's bone-headed call for Texas to secede has sparked a broad online debate about the ramifications of secession for Texas, and weather Texas is truly "wealthy" as Perry claims. This prompted Matt to opine:

One problem here is that Texas isn’t a wealthy state. Its median household income of $47,548 made it 28th in the country. Below average, in other words. New Jersey is second, California is eighth, and New York is nineteenth. Indeed, of the top ten states in per capita income nine are “blue” states.

The exception is Alaska, whose wealthy is due not to “hard work” on the part of the population or a business-friendly policy environment but to the combination of substantial natural resource wealth and a small population. Texas is like a poor man’s Alaska, with the substantial natural resource wealth but with the wealth spread across a much greater population.


Ta Nehisi Coates picked this up (and despite my deep unabashed boy crush on each) I had to respond (a response TNC kindly reposted):

This is pretty ignorant. The GDP of Texas, in 2007, was 1.14 trillion dollars, close to nine percent of the national GDP (13.7 trillion). In this Texas stood just below California (1.8 trillion) and above New York (1.10 trillion). Taking the median income may say a lot about wealth distribution in Texas, but it’s a stupid measure of how “wealthy” the state is. Tell me again how Texas is a “poor man’s” Alaska (GDP 44 billion).

By the way — this means Texas’ economy would make it the fourteenth-largest in the world, larger than Australia, Ireland, Italy, etc.
Note: I think the secession talk is stupid grandstanding (albeit, grandstanding drilled into us by the mandatory Texas history course we public schoolers take). But it shouldn’t be dismissed as an operationally insignificant possibility.

The central question, as I understand it, is how wealthy the state is, not what is the centerpoint value of the wealth distribution. Using the median confuses wealth with income equality. California’s median income was $56,000 for 2006-7, Texas’s $45,000 for the same period. But if you divide GDP by population, California’s GDP per person was $49,000, Texas’ 48,000 (rounded up from 47,581). What this suggests is that the *wealth* on a population basis for Texas is roughly equivalent, but distributed much less broadly than in California. If we’re talking about just policy, then California looks a hell of a lot better. But in terms of whose policy is better at generating wealth, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. THAT’s why the “flaws” of median income make its use in this context misleading (if not ignorant).


There's been more discussion over at TNC's blog at The Atlantic, including some arguments that pick up Matt's assertion that Texas wealth doesn't count because it's oil based.

To me, this is a bit like arguing that Houston's transportation woes are due to the prevalence of horse-drawn buggies. Only a fraction of Texas' economy is Oil and gas based (despite stereotypes). This has a lot to do with the oil bust of the early 80s, which forced a large-scale diversification of the Texas economy.

To put this in numbers, according to the Texas Comptroller:
Assuming oil and natural gas prices of $30/bbl and $5/Mcf and 2002 annual production of 368 MMbbl and 5,038 Bcf, wellhead value is greater than $36 billion. Natural gas wellhead value is currently double that of Texas oil. In terms of economic value trickled down through the Texas economy and jobs created, this figure equates to over $105 billion and 691,993 jobs.


With the Texas gdp for that year 829 billion, that makes the value of Oil and Gas about 4% of state GDP, and about 13% once all associated economic activity is included (which would include everything from associated housing and food production to auto sales). And while I don't have the numbers, I'm pretty sure the state's production is continuing to decline, which means those percentages are probably significantly lower today. That's hefty, but it's absurd to attribute all of the income inequality in Texas, or all of its wealth, to its natural resources.

For all that, Texas secession is an absurd idea fueled by our mandatory Texas history courses (which remind us that it's a right guaranteed by our state constitution--civil war be damned!). That's why, when polled, 31% of Texans think we have the right to secede, and 25% either would like to or are undecided. But it's a bit like asking New Yorkers whether they've got the best pizza, or Bloomington residents who's got the best shot in the sweet 16 next year. It's a pre-programmed cultural more without larger significance. End of story.

Now git off my porch.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Cold Fusion Warmed Over

60 Minutes had a piece on last night about Cold Fusion -- that "crackpot" technology that once promised to provide table top fusion reactors. It turns out that while cold fusion is still ridiculed by most physicists, and practitioners have started terming it a "nuclear effect" rather than fusion, there's a growing body of evidence that these table top reactors do produce energy.


Watch CBS Videos Online

The most powerful moment for me was the interview with Martin Fleischman, who retreated from research after wide-spread ridicule of his initial experiments. You could see the mixture of emotions he struggled with as he tried to gauge what these new experiments might mean to him, and to reflect upon what might have been.

By the way, if you want to read a quick paper on the physics of cold fusion, Noble Laureate Julian Schwinger, whose own paper on cold fusion was rejected by Physical Review Letters, summarizes here.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Everything is Better (if not bigger) in Sweden

Via Matt, here's an article that describes how three Isreali prisoners, jailed in Sweden, refused extradition to Israel. Why? Because Swedish prison Rocks!


Every prisoner has his own cell with a television airing the World Cup games for free; every six months, the prisoner gets to tour the streets of Stockholm accompanied by a police car; and the highlight – every prisoner has a the right to a three-day conjugal right in a three-room luxury apartment in the prison. ... The prisoners provided him with multiple and diverse reasons for their decision: The prison cell is sparkling clean, and over the weekend the prison does not serve food and each prisoner is allowed to order a variety of raw materials at a limited budget in order to fix himself a meal. One of the Israelis even told the consul that every Saturday he prepares great steaks for his fellow prisoners.

The shit would HIT THE FAN if an article like this came out about American prisons. Of course, the Swedes are fine with it, because, as Matt describes:

as I understand it, the Swedish system basically understands criminal activity as overwhelmingly stemming from substance abuse problems, mental illness, and lack of labor market problems. Consequently, though the prisoners are certainly closely supervised, the conditions in prison are extremely humane and not especially “punitive.” The emphasis is on trying to help people with their problems and trying to ensure that dangerous people aren’t out and about on the streets.


Wow, that is SO dumb. By way of contrast, our prisons are teh awesome in terms of utter suckitude, as any fan of Oz knows. And this must be a good thing, right, because it would discourage people from wanting to be in prison (like in Sweden). So as quick test, how do you think Swedish incarceration rates compare to the US?

US incarceration rate: 1 in 100, about 2.3 million in 2007.
Swedish rate: 0.082 per 100 in 2005/6. I'm no mathlete, but it looks like we have twelve times the incarceration rate.

We sure show them!

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Yellow Rose Brewing Update

Yellow Rose is finished now, and boy do I like it. I'd read quite a bit about peaches in beer, and how many were disappointed with how subtle the final flavor is. Of course, this excited me, because I wanted a beer that tasted like beer, not fruit. Well Yellow Rose has definitely come through, and I'm certain to make it for the wedding. It has a very full mouth feel and body (as it should being a Maibock), with some light biscuit and strong malt flavor, plus the subtle nuttiness of the pecan. The fruit comes through in a nice blend with the mild Strizzlespalt noble hops, and there's a warm aftertaste from the 6.6% ABV. And I feel like the fruit also introduces some mildly tart acidity, very different from the bitterness of the hops, and a great counter to the sometimes cloying maltiness of bock beers. It pours a rich peach-orange color, with a huge, fluffy white head that lasts for quite a while (sounding good yet?). There is only a slight protein haze (thanks to a "proprietary" anti-pectin process I came up with). Next batch I'll bump up the pecan a bit more and back off on the Carapils. As a panty and britches-dropping brew (in honor of its namesake), I think it's a big success. Yellow Rose FTW.

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