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.

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.

Read more of "Holy Turncoat, Batman!"

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).

Read more of "In which I Gas On About Cows"

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.

Read more of "OMG! It's a "SWINE" Flu!"

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"?

Read more of "Taxing Cow Farts"

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."

Read more of "Maureen Dowd Hates Twitter"

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!"

Read more of "Patton Rides Again"

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.

Read more of "Texas Secession"

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.

Read more of "Cold Fusion Warmed Over"

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!

Read more of "Everything is Better (if not bigger) in Sweden"

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.

Read more of "Yellow Rose Brewing Update"

Tito's Handmade Vodka and Beer

I was thinking of visiting Tito's distillery next time I'm up near Austin, but it looks like Tito (I shit you not) Beveridge has gone out of his way to avoid telling us where he is, much less offered distillery tours. From photos, I'd guess it's somewhere Northwest of Austin toward Lake Travis, up off 2222 or 290. From the website:

We used to [give tours] before we had insurance. Now our insurance company doesn't allow us to, but you can watch the video piece the Discovery Channel did on us."

Damn you, insurance industry, damn you all to hell! (And thank you for the Ike remittance.)

For those of you who haven't had the chance to drink Tito's, it's pretty damn awesome. Super clean, with full mouthfeel, and no harshness, astringency, or chemical flavor. It should be said that I'm not a big Vodka fan -- I think Vodka should be felt and not tasted -- and so I like to mix it or infuse it (chili pepper and honey? yum). Tito's fits the bill for me.

Another great part of the website is the video section, where you see some local New 8 Austin pieces on Tito circa 1995 (the Big Hill Country Hair era). He's a petrochemical engineer, and built the pot still himself, using old photos of prohibition-era raids. The Tito's venture started off as a planned 10-million dollar whiskey distillery, and shifted to a back-porch vodka plant after the investors failed to shell out and Tito spoke with liquor store owners who suggested Vodka was where it's at. Elsewhere he relates that it took him a full year operating the still before he was willing to taste anything that came out of it (Oh tricksy methyl alcohol, with your single carbon group and your light-footed, ne'er-do-well ways... Why don't you put some weight on like your sister, Ethyl?).

Tito's is distilled exclusively from corn, not from potatoes (as is often assumed) or from rye and wheat, as are the majority of vodkas today (according to Wikipedia, anyway). So if Vodka can be made from corn, rye, or wheat, what separates it from whiskeys? It turns out, nothing, according to David Wonderich. Vodka is just distilled more times -- taking out more of the impurities (like color and taste). Hence, if Tito decided to run the stuff through his still a few less than six times, he'd have a creditable Moonshine. Wonderich adds that there was also once a practical distinction between Slavic and non-Slavic distilled liquor; they liked to use charcoal filters, apparently, while us Anglos preferred wood aging.

But of more interest to me is how vodka's emergence as the bête noire of American mixology (Choclatini, anyone?) echoes the ascendancy of lagers like Budweiser and Miller. These clear and clean American lagers rose in the wake of Prohibition and near beer. People had gone so long without drinking the real stuff, they lost a taste for stronger, more flavorful beer. Combine that with advertising which emphasized clarity, simplicity, and freshness as forms of sophistication, and American dark lagers and IPAs were doomed. Similarly, it seems American whiskey was largely diverted into explosives production during WWII -- millions of barrels of booze ended up in bombs and torpedoes. This exhaused the supply of properly aged whiskey in the US, so after the war, distillers had only a dram of the old stuff lying around and tons of fresh hooch. The solution: mix it. This young stuff didn't have the richness or flavor of the old; but inasmuch as half the drinkers had been away drinking schnapps, vodka, Scotch, or more often, nothing, this didn't bother many. Smoothness was prized above richness, "Canadian" whiskeys rose in stature, and with them, Vodka -- which made a virtue of its flavorless, and hence ultra-sophisticated (00svelt) taste.

All of which is to say that, from McCormick's to Kettle One, Vodka is the lawnmower beer of the liquor world. I'd hesitate to throw crafted booze like Tito's and Chopin in the mix. But if Tito ever wants to start a sideline selling the Texas whiskey he'd always dreamed about, I'll be a huge and enthusiastic supporter (as would, I suspect, most other Texans). Might I suggest a Rye?

Read more of "Tito's Handmade Vodka and Beer"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Pulitzer Nominee

I think they're stealing copy from the Daily Show. Or some erudite eighth-graders. Wow:

The closer:

And in Cavuto's defense, if you are planning simultaneous teabagging accross the United States, you are going to need a "Dick Armey."

Read more of "Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Pulitzer Nominee"

Christopher Walken Twits Again

Thought I'd render this into a video via XtraNormal. Enjoy?

Note: To clarify, everything the guy says is from Chris Walken's twitter account.

Read more of "Christopher Walken Twits Again"

Monday, April 13, 2009

On The Wagon

Londoner Nina Caplan finds a month of sobriety not to her tastes:

So I did it. It’s not difficult. Just dull. I felt unsociable. I missed the glow of self-satisfaction that alcohol brings, and the clear division it offers between work and recreation. I would cook dinner for a friend, watch her down half a bottle of wine and feel guilty for not joining her. (It was like when I gave up smoking years ago: I hated being unable to provide the comfort of cigarettes to others.) I missed feeling like part of a tradition of literary self-destruction.

... How does one negotiate the cracks in social discourse without alcohol?

This jibes with something I've long sensed about academics. We're a well-lubricated bunch; conferences and talks flow with wine and cash bars. And if we didn't drink, all of that civility would collapse under the weight of our acute idiosyncrasies.

Caplan sums:

So what else did I learn after a month of stone-cold sobriety? That it's over-rated. There is a reason why people drink proportionally more the less they like themselves: alcohol takes you, as so much slang for drunkenness has it, out of your head. I’m no self-loathing Hemingway or Parker, but a month is a long time in your own uninterrupted company. Nobody wants to spend that much time with me--not even me. This is despite the fact that I found abstinence to be good for my self-esteem, not the other way round. People keep asking me if I feel healthier. I don't, particularly. But I do feel smug.

Read more of "On The Wagon"

Rube Goldberg, This is Your Life!

Awesome. (Happy Easter.)

Read more of "Rube Goldberg, This is Your Life!"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cause in Texas, that's how we do

Via the good people over at Burnt Orange report, the Austin American Statesman decided to head into the Texas house and ask our duly elected representatives what they've accomplished halfway through the current legislative session. Can you guess the answer?

They only meet once every two years, so it's not like there's any urgency.

Of course, this doesn't mean they're too busily un-busy to take up a bill making it legal to carry concealed handguns on state campuses.

I love Texas (I grew up here) but this cowboy complex is getting fucking ridiculous. Never mind that half those legislators are suburban out-of-staters. They couldn't cinch a horse, but are convinced a return to the wild west would solve our violent crime problem. Well here's a quick test: was homicide more or less common in 1860's Texas or 2000's? Robert Dykstra, in Body Counts and Murder Rates: The Contested Statistics of Western America, endorses a study which calculated homicides in Texas in the (particularly violent) post-reconstruction era as just under 50 per 100,000. And during calmer times, the book suggests, averages for western states were more in the 20-30 range. Compare that to current rates -- around 6 per 100,000.

But by all means, let's go back to the 19th century. Let's allow concealed handguns everywhere they might thwart rampages: elementary schools, liquor stores, synagogues, sports arenas, bars, hold'em tourneys. I've got a Derringer that I've been dying to tuck into a stocking. Maybe the Texans can talk the Giants into trading Plaxico Burris -- he can kick it with Carl Landry.

Read more of "Cause in Texas, that's how we do"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Everything is so easy for Maureen

First, I should cop: I've been wanting to write a post about Maureen Dowd for some time, and while this isn't the most opportune moment (Wednesday's column was not a particularly egregious offender) I'm grumpy from a night of no sleep and need a punching bag.

The strange thing about my dislike for Dowd is that I feel like I should love her. She's a liberal columnist, at the NYTimes, who's of Irish Catholic heritage and has a penchant for cocktails. She should be a living, fire-breathing version of Katherine Hepburn in Woman of the Year. Never mind her moral grandstanding during the Clinton years -- after all, I didn't read the times that much back then -- or her early swooning for Bush's machismo.

I guess what really bothers me is not her scattershot liberalism, but the breezy insouciance of the columns themselves. I'm struggling to think of a column I've read that left any long-lasting impression (beyond the back of my throat). Her current column, "Striking it Poor," is a decent example. (Let's leave aside the bathetic names assigned to her columns. That may be the work of a copy editor who yet manages to do service to the other columnists of the Opinion page.) In this week's column, Dowd goes to Nevada with some girlfriends to visit a gold camp and do some quick panhandling. This serves for the through-line of a quick survey of High Sierra and our current economic crisis (with an off-hand reference to Chaucer thrown in). They decide panhandling's too much work for too little reward, and so retire for Ramos Gin Fizzes and a Lemon Drop. (After reading each of her columns and reaching the same conclusion, I wish I had the same option.)

The largest flaw in her writing, albeit, a common one for opinion columns, is her heavy-handed adoption of a central poetic conceit. If you're John Donne, this works. In mortal writing, it's wearying. A good essay does not know where it's going from the beginning; it does not end where it begins (see Montaigne). Coherence is not a virtue in itself (for that matter, nor does a central conceit guarantee coherence, as this column proves). In Dowd's defense, I can't imagine having to push out two columns a week on varied topics, and trying to stay funny and interesting. But I wish that "interesting" meant a more engaging tone of conversation than found on the chaise lounges of Sex in the City. (Second cop: I can't stand Sex in the City either, and it's just now occurred to me this may be because the voice-overs are like Dowdian tweets.) And lest you think I've a basic animus toward modern examples of the New Cocktail Woman, I've been a fan of Ana Marie Cox for some time.

But don't take my word for it. Here's a game you can play at home: The next time there's a Dowd column, read the headline. Scribble down what you imagine it will be about, and what the take-away will be. Then read the column. I'll bet you nail it. And a week later, it's all you will remember.

Read more of "Everything is so easy for Maureen"

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Recipe for White Souse

From the 1856 United States Cook Book: A Complete Manual for Ladies, Housekeepers and Cooks ... with Particular Reference to the Climate and Productions of the United States by William Volmer:

Cut two onions and two carrots in slices, sweat them slowly, for half an hour,in half a pound of fresh butter, without letting the vegetables get yellow, now pour in two quarts of soup-stock, add to the broths two bayleaves, a quarter of a pound of salt bacon, cut into dice, a glass of white wine, a few cloves, several bits of lemon-peel, some who pepper and some salt; this is to be used in the stewing of several kinds of fish.

Can't wait to try it.

Read more of "Recipe for White Souse"

Monday, April 6, 2009

Texas' First Brewery

Few people realize that back before the great consolidations of the sixties and seventies, (and the more recent emergence of gems like Real Ale, Southern Star, St. Arnold, and Rahr & Sons), Texas was a major beer-producing state, with dozens of breweries. Perhaps the oldest (and most historic) was the (1855) Kriesche Brewery of LaGrange, which was built into Monument hill in order to produce good cellaring conditions and get closer to the source of one of the area's many natural springs. Here is what C. E. Lieberman, swept up in the poetry of the moment, wrote of visiting the ruins (from the 1959 Brewer's Digest):

The roof of the main building above the cellar had collapsed decades ago. Only a few pieces of metal fragments were to be found in the rubble. Where the masonry had escaped the irresistible strength of jungle-growth and pressures from moving earth, it manifests the great pains and skill exercised by the artisans who pioneered this business. Though the vegetation had proved its might, and the twisted trees seem to scoff at mere man through their beards of Spanish moss, it wasn't difficult to picture in ones mind's eye the hustle and bustle that took place around the clearing back in those rustic days.

Lieberman was then head of Houston's own Gulf Brewing Company, the producer of Grand Prize beer (famous to collectors of beer memorabilia), which Howard Hughes set up in order to diversify his family's tooling company. Breweries were valuable commodities in pre- and post-prohibition Texas, because they also served as key local sources for ice (they had to build massive ice makers in order to keep their beer nice and cool in the Texas heat). A great interview with Lieberman appears on a site devoted to Pennsylvania brewing history. One of Lieberman's achievements was a revival of the Horlacher "Nine Months Old" beer which was lost during prohibition. If I had to guess, it was probably a Märzen, that is, a stronger alcohol beer originally brewed in the early Spring and then lagered in cellars through the summer for six to twelve months before release. This was the origin of the now-famous Oktoberfest style (though Ray Daniels suggests the original style was probably darker, with more body, hops, and alcohol than current examples).

You can also read about Kreische brewery at the Texas Parks and Wildlife site (it's now a state park). One striking tidbit: Kreische built a shooting gallery and dance hall on the brewery grounds. After all, there's nothing that pairs better in Texas than drinking, dancing, and shooting things.

Read more of "Texas' First Brewery"

"Pinch" Sulzberger and the Demise of the NYTimes

There's a strong article out in Vanity Fair about Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and his stewardship of the NYTimes. At its most basic, it argues that Sulzberger lacks the vision and the talent to recognize the kind of changes necessary and to execute them (but also, that his rod-sparing love for the paper is spoiling the institution). It also points out that all other major publishers have proven equally inept (except, perhaps, Rupert Murdoch). But it gives two striking examples of sharp ideas which they failed to act upon:

First, from Diane Baker, who came on as C.F.O. in 1995:

Her biggest disappointment came when she crafted a potentially lucrative partnership with Amazon.com, already the biggest bookseller on the Internet. The Times would link all the titles reviewed in the paper’s prestigious Sunday Book Review section, ordinarily a money drain, to the online bookseller and receive a percentage on every book sold. “We could have made the Book Review into a big source of revenue,” she recalls. Baker knew that Amazon.com planned to eventually sell everything under the sun, to become the first digital supermarket. Not only would the deal have produced revenue from book sales, it would also have cemented a partnership with a tremendous future. She envisioned the newspaper as a virtual merchandising machine. Instead of the old carpet-bombing model of advertising, it would in effect target ads to readers of specific stories. “You know what they said?,” Baker recalls. “They said, We can’t do it, because Barnes & Noble is a big advertiser.”

Think about it -- the Times didn't just miss out on a cut for selling books for Amazon; they missed out on a share of selling EVERYTHING on Amazon which Amazon now offers. With 20 million unique Times visitors a month, that would be TONS of revenue -- and vastly more valuable to Amazon (or anyone else) that half-page ads.

And then this from Max Frankel, a former executive editor:

Frankel wrote two memos, which he no longer has, but whose content he remembers clearly. In the first memo he argued that, because computers were so good at generating lists, and cross-referencing them, classified ads in newspapers were doomed. He suggested that the Times set up a computer system to allow buyers and sellers to deal with each other directly online—“It was essentially Craigslist,” Frankel jokes. “I should have started it up!” Craigslist was created in 1995 and today averages billions of page hits per month, with reported annual revenues in excess of $80 million. It is a major factor in the decline of newspaper ad revenue.

“The second idea was much more important, and came a little later,” Frankel says. “I wrote that one big coming threat posed by the computer was disaggregation: the Internet disaggregates the hunt for information. The need for information would survive the advent of the digital era, but the package offered by The New York Times might not. So how do you protect the package? What was so great about The New York Times was not that we offered the best coverage in any particular field but that we were very good in so many. It was the totality of the newspaper that was a marvel, not any of its particulars. The Web threatened to break that up. One way to weather this, which I suggested, was that we needed to pick the fields in which to be pre-eminent. If you want to have the best sports package, then start hiring the staff and make yourself the best go-to place for sports information. If it is business, or politics—whatever—pick one and make yourself the best, or make a strategic alliance.” This is the approach taken by ESPN.com, by Bloomberg.com, IMDB.com, Weather.com, and a multitude of others. Any one of dozens of sites specializing in, say, politics or the arts could have been taken over and built up around the Times’s expert staff.

And the article adds that the Wallstreet Journal pursued this path , and is aggressively filching market share from the Times.

It's a striking article, because it indicates how much it is the upper-level management of newspapers who are to blame. How many great ideas have been floated by reporters and editors, only to get canned somewhere up the ladder by hide-bound and purblind management. It certainly confirms my experience-at-a-distance with the Chronicle. (Seen that new website lately? Nothing bespeaks self-confidence like a unacknowledged bastard.)

It's also an interesting article because it evinces the same qualities which it argues that Sulzberger lacks; that is, it does not allow its apparent affection for newspapers and even for the man to get in the way of the story. And for that reason it's honest, painful, and very interesting.

P.S.> If you click on the "Beta" at 29-95.com, you get a sparkling pony. I think I'm charmed.

Read more of ""Pinch" Sulzberger and the Demise of the NYTimes"

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Little Red Riding Hood Ad

Via Boing Boing, here's a video by Tomas Nilsson of Little Red Riding Hood -- done IKEA style. What is it about Nordic design chic?

Slagsmålsklubben - Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

Read more of "Little Red Riding Hood Ad"

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rogue Ale Brewery Tour

I found a video of a Rogue brewery tour and thought I'd share it. It does a nice job covering all the basic elements of any tour, with two added bonuses. First, it's fun to watch as the guide becomes increasingly inebriated over the course of the interview (remember, he does this every day, so he has the jokes and script down pat). But an even more interesting part of the tour is his insistence that Rogue (1) puts more ingredients in each batch (and by increasing the grain bill, jacks up the production cost) while (2) spending as little money as possible on the equipment. This keeps start up and overhead low, but quality high. Smart folks.

Read more of "Rogue Ale Brewery Tour"

Oh Frabjous Day! Muppets do Jabberwocky

I still miss Jim Henson.

He and Carrol were soul mates. I wonder if this could be done with other 19th-century figures -- who would be the modern correlate for Wilde? Obama makes a striking Disraeli -- a popular author and pol from an unlikely ethnic background who becomes the national leader at a remarkably young age (even if he prefers comparison to honest Abe).

Read more of "Oh Frabjous Day! Muppets do Jabberwocky"