My first articles for Drink Portland/The Drink Nation are online. This week I review Pierre Ferrand’s Dry Curaçao, the new orange liqueur that bartenders seemingly can’t get enough of. And from a while back, a guide to visiting breweries in Portland’s north and northeast quadrants.
Denver: I’ll be back in Colorado this week to do some work for Bols in Aspen and Denver. While there I’ll be doing a guest bar shift at the Coupe Bar at Denver’s Ghost Plate and Tap. The event runs from 5-10 pm on Wednesday with cocktails featuring Bols Genever, Galliano L’Autentico, and Damrak Gin.
Portland: It’s that time, you guys. That time when I turn 30. A time to reflect on how I should take some responsibility in life and get a real job and stop drinking out of animal bones and wonder how I let my youth escape so easily. Or, alternatively, a time to drink awesome beer and sip excellent rum and smoke great cigars. Yes, let’s go with the latter.
My 30th birthday is this Thursday, July 12, and I’ve planned some fun events for the night. We’re going to kick things off at Breakside Brewing, where we’ll be tapping a beer brewed for just this occasion. Brewmaster Ben Edmunds has created several cocktail-inspired beers in the past and for this event we wanted to make a beer inspired by the Harvey Weissbanger beer cocktail, which was in turn inspired by the classic Harvey Wallbanger. That’s a weird lineage for a beer but we have high hopes for it. We made a traditional German hefeweizen and are going to spice it with many of the same flavor notes found in the Weissbanger cocktail, including orange peel, star anise, and vanilla. (All references to “we” really just mean Ben, as he did all the hard work of creating and executing a recipe while I just lifted, poured, and cleaned stuff.) This will run from 6 pm to at least 8 pm.
I’m not sure where we’ll go after that but there’s no better place to end the night than at Rum Club. Starting around 11 and going till close I’ll be there for cigars and rum on the patio. Blue drinks may happen. Galliano bottles may be emptied. You won’t know if you don’t show. I hope to see you there!
New Orleans: On Wednesday, July 25, from 6-9 pm, I’ll be behind the bar at Avenue Pub. I’ll be mixing drinks but if you want to take a break from cocktails, this is the spot: This two-story pub on St. Charles Avenue is one of the best beer bars in the country.
Then on Thursday, July 26, is the big Brewing Up Cocktails Spirited Dinner at Emeril’s Delmonico Steakhouse, held in association with Tales of the Cocktail and sponsored by El Dorado Rum and Drambuie. The dinner will feature four courses from Chef Spencer Minch paired with four original beer cocktails. Tickets and full menu are available here.
Drink Portland, the latest addition to the Drink Nation family of sites, is launching this week. I’m among the writers for the new site and our launch party is this Wednesday from 6-9 pm at the Mellow Mushroom. I’ll be there with a bowl of Bols Genever punch and there are some great beers lined up too:
On the bar will be a firkin of Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin Oatmeal Stout, a very limited release from the California brewery that is partially aged in bourbon barrels and carries a very rich, roasty flavor.
Other special tappings during the event will include The Stoic from Deschutes, a Belgian-style quad aged in rye whiskey and wine casks (we’re bringing the strong flavors!), plus Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA, also from Firestone (for the hops lovers out there).
One dollar from all punch and beer sales will go to Portland-based nonprofit CreativeCares. For all the details and to RSVP, visit here.
With Cinco de Mayo coming up, Thrillist Portland ran a feature today featuring Portland’s five best Margaritas. I was flattered to learn that the plantain margarita I made for Mi Mero Mole made the cut. Their photo is above; if you’d like to make one at home the recipe is fairly simple:
2 oz reposado tequila
3/4 oz lime juice
3/4 oz spiced plantain syrup
Shake with ice and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. The recipe for the spiced plantain syrup is here. For one more drink from Mi Mero Mole, try the Senor Brown. Or even better, visit the restaurant for more cocktails and some of the best tacos in town.
Last week the Specialty Coffee Association of America hosted its annual conference here in Portland. While in town for the event, Joshua Lurie from FoodGPS stopped into Metrovino to have a few cocktails and record a fairly wide-ranging interview with me. Read it here. He also snagged an interview with one of my favorite local brewers, Ben Edmunds from Breakside.
Finally, Portland Monthly got on board with the Bone Luge trend with a piece about the meaty practice. They take the Bone Luge puns to new heights with their headline “Marrow Minded.”
Tuesday was Tax Day and our local FOX affiliate KPTV invited me into the studio to make viewers a Tax Day cocktail. Since taxes make me want to bang my head against the wall, this seemed the perfect time to present the Harvey Weissbanger. I don’t have tiny hands, Galliano bottles are just really big. (It’s a good thing there weren’t any wardrobe malfunctions…) Watch the clip here; autoplay warning!
Among other changes, Metrovino is now open for brunch on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm. This has given me the opportunity to put my barista skills back into practice. I’m not quite where I used to be, but the latte art is coming along nicely.
I didn’t expect to get excited about brunch or brunch cocktails, but making a morning drink menu turned out to be surprisingly fun. Our most unusual cocktail is an East Indies Bloody Mary, made with Batavia Arrack, fish sauce, and a blend of Indonesian spices, then garnished with house pickles and a whole prawn. It sounds crazy but it’s selling just as much as our classic vodka Bloody Mary. Here’s our full brunch cocktail menu:
classic bloody mary 8
east indies bloody mary 11
batavia arrack, tomato juice, indonesian spices, prawn
quick little pick me up 7
espresso-infused ramazzotti, lemon twist, rocks
harvey weissbanger 9
boulevard wheat beer, galliano, orange juice
sherry cobbler 7
manzanilla sherry, orange, sugar, nutmeg
sparkling wine cocktails 8
The Ice Cream Bar opened Jan. 21 in the Cole Valley neighborhood — an homage to the classic parlors of the 1930s, complete with vintage soda fountain and lunch counter seating. It has become an immediate sensation, packed with both families and the foodie crowd, savoring upscale house-made ice creams and exotic sodas (flavorings include pink peppercorn and tobacco). The shop also employs 14 full- and part-time workers.
But getting it opened wasn’t easy.
“Many times it almost didn’t happen,” said Juliet Pries, the owner, with a cheerful laugh.
Ms. Pries said it took two years to open the restaurant, due largely to the city’s morass of permits, procedures and approvals required to start a small business. While waiting for permission to operate, she still had to pay rent and other costs, going deeper into debt each passing month without knowing for sure if she would ever be allowed to open. [...]
Ms. Pries said she had to endure months of runaround and pay a lawyer to determine whether her location (a former grocery, vacant for years) was eligible to become a restaurant. There were permit fees of $20,000; a demand that she create a detailed map of all existing area businesses (the city didn’t have one); and an $11,000 charge just to turn on the water.
At the end of 2011, confectioner Amani Greer started spinning sugar into cotton candy at schools across the city, as well as on the streets of Alberta during Last Thursdays. Then, in February, she opened the doors to Candy Babel, a candy store dedicated to sweets from around the globe. Her goal, she says, is to provide those obscure treats that so many travelers have enjoyed on their sojourns abroad but couldn’t, until now, find stateside. Specializing in artisanal sweets (think chipotle-candied bacon strips or a Moroccan mint tea lollipop) and European confections, Greer plans to expand her candy scope and bring the city’s Vietnamese and Somali communities the candies they once enjoyed as children before resettling here. Greer also says she still plans on spinning clouds of Candy Babel’s more than 135 flavors of organic, kosher cotton candy. Current hours are 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily, except on Tuesday when the store is dark.
Last week The Weekly Standard ran a story by former Oregonian Mark Hemingway titled “Insufferable Portland,” a lengthy screed against the new “capital of cool.” Though sneering at times, it’s worth reading. The city’s much-lauded public transit, for example, deserves a much more critical look than it often receives locally. And he’s right that this is a tough place to move to if you’re young, educated, and looking for a traditional professional career; I’ve watched many friends become justifiably frustrated by the lack of job prospects. However Hemingway fails to appreciate some of the virtues of the artisanal economy that flourishes here:
While it’s hard not to root for entrepreneurial initiative wherever you find it, in Portland it carries a whiff of desperation. I submit that the real reason Portland has a thriving artisanal economy is that the regular economy is in the dumps. Portland’s hipsters are starting craft businesses in their garages and opening restaurants not merely because they “reject passive consumption” but because they can’t find jobs, the kind that offer upward mobility. If there’s a more rational reason why a small city like Portland has 671 food trucks, I’d love to hear it.
Given the lack of critical attention to the city, I guess it falls to me to state the obvious: Portland is quietly closing in on San Francisco as the American city that has most conspicuously taken leave of its senses.
And yet smart, creative people keep voting with their feet in favor of Portland. Why? It can’t be just about the beer.
Hemingway quotes from “Portlandia” that Portland is “where young people go to retire.” It’s one of the most incisive lines from the show, but they don’t necessarily mean the kind of retirement where you sit on the porch all day and do nothing. It’s the kind where, after decades of working an unsatisfying job, you finally have time to pursue your passions. Or at least it can be. Again from the show:
“I gave up clowning years ago.”
“Well in Portland you don’t have to.”
I recently read Tim Harford’s new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, and was struck by how well the ideas he lays out apply to Portland. Harford lists three Palchinsky Principles named after Peter Palchinsky, an engineer executed by the Soviet government for questioning their top-down methods of planning:
1. Seek out new ideas and try new things.
2. When trying something new, do it on a scale where failure is survivable.
3. Seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes as you go along.
One of the best things Portland has going for it is its embrace of the first and second principles. “Keep Portland Weird” say the bumper stickers. “Buy local.” This isn’t always insufferable hipness. The virtue of these attitudes is that if you’re an entrepreneur or an artist, you can try something different and people will at least give you a hearing.
Granted, many of these ideas will suck. That’s where principle two comes in. Whatever its flaws, Portland’s love of small, boutique start-ups makes failure survivable. A failed food cart is a smaller loss than a failed brick-and-mortar restaurant. This lowers the barriers to entry for people without access to a lot of capital. It’s a great way to test ideas and identify talent. The successes can expand into more traditional businesses.
A great example of this is Pok Pok, a Thai restaurant that began as a take-out shack in front of chef Andy Ricker’s house in southeast Portland in 2005. Today Ricker is a James Beard Award-winning chef with multiple restaurants in Portland and New York. Other entrepreneurs echo this success on a smaller scale, moving to brick-and-mortars, expanding their cart empire, or signing book deals.
This low-risk aspect of Portland is what attracted me to it when I moved here from the East Coast a few years ago. The food and drink scenes in San Francisco and Seattle were equally attractive, but the costs of moving to either of them without a job or a specific plan for finding one were daunting. In Portland, failure was survivable: It took me six months to become employed full-time, but the dynamic culture has allowed me to do creative work and almost (though not quite yet) turn it into a profitable career while living pretty comfortably. This required some degree of luck, but it’s hard to imagine things working out quite so well in San Francisco.
This is the upside of Portland’s unique culture and what other cities could do well to emulate (as opposed to, say, our streetcar projects, which are glamorous wastes of money). I may or may not stay here much longer, pursuing larger paychecks and sunnier winters in a bigger city. But as a place to spend a few years of my twenties developing talent and drinking fantastic beer, I’ve found Portland eminently sufferable.
[Photo of Nong's Khao Man Gai, one of my favorite Portland food carts, which has now expanded to three locations. Courtesy of Flickr user camknows.]
I’m back from a week on the road (Chicago, New Orleans, Baltimore, and DC) and while I was gone some fun stuff happened, the most fun being this FOX 12 news segment about the Bone Luge. Stephanie Kralevich came into Metrovino to find out what this Bone Luge craze is all about. See also cameo appearances by Metrovino’s owner Todd Steele and local curmudgeon John the Bastard.
In other Bone Luge news, e*starLA gives it a try and declares it delicious, Ludivine continues to spread the love to the uninitiated in Oklahoma City, and JBird in New York will give you the tequila for free with your order of marrow.
In this month’s Los Angeles Times Magazine, Camper English writes about bars making smoky cocktails. The Smokejumper from Metrovino made the list. Fittingly, that’s a drink I came up with while at a friend’s place in LA.
Finally, the Washingtonian wrote up our Bols event in DC, where we hosted the launch of our Stillwater Ales collaboration at the amazing Jack Rose. The Kopstootje should continue to be available next week at one my favorite DC restaurants, Brasserie Beck, where they also made my day by putting the Harvey Weissbanger on the cocktail menu.
Apparently there is some kind of sporting event happening this Sunday. Thrillist Portland invited Jeff McCarthy from TenTop/Kitchen Cru, Janis Martin from Tanuki, and me and the Brewing Up Cocktails team to contribute a few recipes for readers’ Super Bowl gatherings. We all managed to make things just a little bit weird: a fermented beef sausage from Janis, Doritios encrusted wings from Jeff, and a gin, IPA, and Galliano punch from us. Any host that makes all three of these is guaranteed to have a memorable party.
Visit Thrillist for all three recipes. Here’s the punch:
2 12 oz bottles IPA or pale ale, chilled
6 oz gin
6 oz orange liqueur
3 oz lime juice
2 oz Galliano
1/2 cucumber, sliced
Combine ingredients in a punch bowl, add ice, and serve. Some dilution is beneficial here so if you’re using a large ice block consider adding a few smaller cubes as well. We didn’t want to call for specific brands in the Thrillist post, but in my own testing I used Damrak for the gin, Mandarine Napoleon for the orange liqueur, and Full Sail IPA for the beer. I like this combination but feel free to make substitutions.
This Bone Luge thing is getting out of control! The new issue of New York Magazine ranks the Bone Luge on its weekly Approval Matrix, declaring it slightly highbrow and mostly despicable.
K103 reporter Felicia Heaton has a friendlier take on the topic. She stopped into Metrovino for her first taste of marrow and followed it up with a madeira Bone Luge, declaring both delicious. Watch the video below and click over to K103 for the full story.
2012 is becoming the year of the Bone Luge even faster than I’d anticipated. The official Bone Luge Tumblr blog is taking submissions. Metrovino has Bone Luge pairing suggestions on the menu. In Denver, Tim Tebow fever has led to T-Boning, taking a Manhattan cocktail down a bone while assuming the Tebow position. And today Tasting Table picked up the story, introducing the Bone Luge to a sometimes skeptical world.
For the record, credit for taking the very first Bone Luge that I’m aware of goes to Danny Ronen on a night when he and I were enjoying copious amounts of tequila at Laurelhurst Market. It started as a joke, spread to the dining room via Twitter, and is now hitting the big time.
Ultimately, the Bone Luge is about increasing happiness in the world. Read the manifesto here. Above: Things get even sillier at Irvington Bierstube with the crab leg luge, paired with a late harvest riesling.
It’s that time of year again: Brewing Up Cocktails returns this Saturday, December 10, for our second annual Holiday Edition. This time we’re serving our biggest menu of beer cocktails ever, including three of them served hot to warm you up on a winter night. We’re bringing back a classic wassail, the ever popular and nearly impossible to find Hot Scotchy, and the brand new Hot Choklat made with rum, Galliano Ristretto, and a heated up glass of the incredibly rich Southern Tier Choklat stout. We’ll also feature a couple favorites from bartenders outside of Portland: the Euclidean 75 from Denver’s Ryan Conklin and the Tradewinds Punch from Washington, DC’s Jon Harris. All that and an ugly holiday sweater contest too.
The event is Saturday from 6-9 pm at The Hop and Vine. Don’t miss it!
A couple months ago I was contacted by Nick Zukin, local restaurateur and founder of the PortlandFood.org web forum, about a new Mexican place he had in the works. His Mi Mero Mole opened last week selling tacos de guisado, a style of taco less familiar in the US than the grilled meats found at most taquerias. Here’s how he explains it in a Portland Monthly interview:
I was familiar with tacos de guisado—or at least guisados—prior to my trips to Mexico City. Guisados or guisos are Mexican stews and stir-fries. Many large Mexican supermarkets and carnicerias (Mexican butchers and meat markets) will carry some in the United States, and a decent number of taquerias have one or two. One of my favorite places in PDX, Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon out on the edge of Gresham, specializes in them. But it wasn’t until I went to Mexico City that I realized the variety of guisados available or realized how strong a tradition there was for places devoted to them.
Guisados feature more prominently in Mexico City than any other place I’ve been in Mexico. I think it’s because guisados are really home cooking-style dishes. The people in DF, like other very urban cities, probably don’t cook at home as often and so these fondas and puestos serving a variety of home cooking probably sprung up. I rarely have seen a street stand elsewhere, even in large cities like Puebla and Guadalajara, selling tacos de guisados like they do in Mexico City. Some of my favorite stands in DF sell a dozen or more choices. Other than Super Cocina in San Diego, I don’t know of any place in the United States that really offers the type of variety you would see in Mexico City.
One of the things that will set Mi Mero Mole apart, even from really good places like de Leon, will be the variety. I already have several dozen recipes developed and expect to rotate through* 50 to 100 different guisados* in the first year. I’m focusing on dishes that are common in Mexico that you don’t see here enough and interesting dishes that you would really only find in Mexico—and a lot of those dishes are vegetarian and vegan.
This was a new style of taco for me, and having now tried about a dozen of the guisados I am a fan. I’m even ordering some of the vegetarian dishes, which if you know me at all is a pretty solid endorsement.
Mi Mero Mole is all about the tacos, but the place does have a liquor license, which is where I came in. Nick asked me to help select the spirits and create a few cocktails. We were guided by two considerations on this. One was that all of the cocktails would be made with only agave or sugar cane based spirits. The second was that the drinks should all be relatively easy to execute, so that they can be made quickly by multi-tasking staff.
Among the drinks we came up with are the Maldonado Punch, a refreshing mixture of tequila, hibiscus, grapefruit, and other ingredients; El Chingroni, our take on the Negroni with tequila, Aperol, and sweet vermouth; and the Plantain Margarita, which substitutes spiced plantain syrup for the orange liqueur. However my favorite drink on the menu is a last-minute addition we came up with, the Señor Brown:
1 1/2 oz Del Maguey Mezcal Vida
Sidral Mundet sour apple soda
Build in an ice-filled pint glass, stir gently, and serve. Sidral Mundet makes a really tasty sour apple soda that mixes well with the smoky mezcal. The assertiveness of the spirit and the sweetness of the soda balance each other nicely. Plus you have to like a bright green cocktail that actually tastes good.
Mi Mero Mole is at 5026 SE Division in Portland, Ore. It’s open Tuesday-Thursday from 5-9, Friday-Saturday 5-10. Go check it out.
[Photo courtesy of Allison Jones, who writes up a full opening report at Portland Monthly and makes the Señor Brown look ten times better than I could have done with my own camera.]
Last Saturday I went down to the Occupy Portland camps to have a look at what was going on there. This was the last day of occupation at the initial camp before the city ordered their eviction later that night. I’ve made my share of jokes about the Occupy movement, and I have a hard time taking any political movement too seriously, but I did want to give it a fair shot. As a friend of mine said in an “Appeal to Libertarians Concerning Occupy Wall Street,” we share significant common ground and shouldn’t dismiss the movement:
But, hold on a second. Last time I checked, aren’t we against bailouts and crony capitalism (a.k.a. capitalism), too? Remember how we have gay friends, and immigrant friends, and how we like freedom of expression, and we hate thug cops, and all that good stuff?
It was in that spirit that I walked through the camp. So first some good things, then some things I can’t get on board with.
One encouraging observation from the camp was the almost complete absence of signs promoting politicians. This is probably due in part to the fact that Obama faces no serious challenge to the Democratic nomination, so there’s no one campaigning hard left for Occupiers to get behind. But still, a lot of the people protesting were probably pretty excited about Hope and Change a few years ago, and today they are disillusioned with government, or at least with the current crop of politicians. Who knows how long it will last, but it’s heartening to see.
I didn’t notice any signs for Lyndon LaRouche, so hey, progress! There were limited signs of support for Ron Paul, presumably for his strong anti-war and anti-bailout stances. Unsurprisingly, there was nothing for Gary Johnson. He’s a successful two-term governor of a Democratic state. He’s anti-war and wants to cut defense spending. He’s liberal on abortion, same-sex marriage, and drug legalization. He’s against crony capitalism. He’s Ron Paul with actual executive experience and none of the social conservative baggage. Unfortunately he’s running as a Republican and not receiving any media attention, so he’s not getting any traction here. Or anywhere else for that matter. So if any Occupiers feel like getting behind a quixotic presidential campaign and totally confusing the narrative, well, here’s your guy.
Another interesting thing about the movement is its experiment in spontaneous order. A bunch of people setting up semi-permanent camp in a public park creates all kinds of logistical problems, like resolving conflicts, finding lost people, and taking care of basic sanitation. What it reminded me of is Hernando de Soto’s description of how extra-legal tent cities develop, which he analogizes in The Mystery of Capital to putting on your shoes before your socks:
Consider what it takes for a new migrant from a rural area to create a home for his family in a shantytown outside a large city. First, he not only has to find a spot for his house but also has to occupy the land personally, with his family. The next step is to set up a tent or shelter made from, depending on the country, straw matting, mud bricks, cardboard, plywood, corrugated iron, or tin cans — and thus stake out a physical claim (because a legal one is unavailable). The migrant and his family will then gradually bring in furniture and other household items. Obviously, they need a more livable and durable edifice. But how to build it without access to credit? They do what everyone else does — stock solid building materials and begin to build a better house, stage by stage, according to what kinds of materials they can accumulate.
Once the inhabitants of these new buildings have organized enough to protect their holdings or the local authorities take pity on their deprivation, they can bring in pavement, water, waste disposal, and electricity — typically at the cost of having to destroy parts of their houses in order to hook up the utilities. Only after years of building and rebuilding, and saving construction materials, are these owners finally in a position to live comfortably.
The Occupiers were living out the first parts of this process. I was impressed by the ingenuity required to set up a semi-functional community in the middle of a downtown park. Yet the protesters also demonstrated how the basic rudiments of capitalism — secure property rights and an accessible legal system — make it so much easier to get things done and can make the poor immensely better off. To be fair, this isn’t the sort of capitalism that most of them are protesting, but from a global perspective the Occupiers have to acknowledge that they have it pretty good. I’m not asking for three cheers for capitalism, but how about just one?
It’s signs like the above, and the “Capitalism is Destroying Our World” sign at the top of the page, that ensure I’ll stay politically homeless. The anti-intellectualism and social conservatism of the Tea Party prevent me from getting on board with that group. Similarly, no matter how much I agree with Occupiers about some of the flaws in our current system, I can’t ever march under banners like these. Capitalism and the pursuit of profit remain the most reliable methods we have of improving people’s lives. The trick is to differentiate between profits earned by creating value and profits taken via subsidies, tax breaks, and regulations that cripple one’s competitors. I realize it’s trite to point out the irony of people damning capitalism while tweeting from their iPhones, but what else can you do?
“People Not Profits” is not the answer. “People And Profits, Not Subsidies” is a mantra I could get behind. Alas, not catchy.
“Corporate personhood is not the issue here, Dude!” — What I feel like yelling at a lot of people lately. If you follow the Occupy hashtags on Twitter or walk through the protests you hear a lot of anger directed at corporate personhood, and it’s as facepalm-inducing as the “People Not Profits” signs.
As Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry helpfully explains, corporations are persons, not people. This means that “they’re recognized by the law as entities that can have a name, sue in court, be a party to contracts and have property.” And that is incredibly important. This doesn’t mean that corporations must be given all the rights enjoyed by flesh and blood people. The law is perfectly capable of recognizing different rights for different types of persons. See for example the different treatment of natural born citizens, naturalized citizens, non-citizens with visas, and undocumented workers. They’re all legal persons; they don’t all have the same rights. If the government has a compelling interest in restricting rights of corporations, it can do so.
Since corporations are persons, not people, why give them rights at all? Another way to ask the question is, why should people forfeit their rights just because they organize in the corporate form? Corporations would be useless if they did. It’s emphatically a good thing that the government cannot seize corporate assets without due process. It’s emphatically a good thing that it can’t take corporate-owned land for public use without paying just compensation. And yes, it’s emphatically a good thing that corporations have at least some speech rights to express the interests of their shareholders.
Which brings us to the real issue here, Citizens United. Reasonable people can disagree about where to set the limits on corporate speech rights, but this case was a fairly perfect example of the sort of speech the First Amendment was designed to protect. Citizens United is a non-profit advocacy group funded mostly by individuals that sought to air a movie criticizing a presidential candidate. If that’s not protected speech, what is?
The Court arguably ruled more broadly than it needed to in Citizens United, but it’s worth pointing out how much didn’t change as a result of the ruling. Corporations are still forbidden from contributing to political campaigns. Citizens United addressed the relatively narrow question of whether corporations could pay for broadcast ads mentioning a candidate by name 60 days prior to a general election or 30 days prior to a primary. That’s it. Before and after Citizens United, corporations had and still have many other ways to speak politically. They can form PACs. They can broadcast issue ads. Wealthy individuals who work for or own corporations can spend as much of their own money as they please. Corporations can promote their messages in other media. Hell, they can become media by purchasing a newspaper or a TV station. And that’s just speech; this list doesn’t even get into the numerous other ways corporations can gain influence. About half of the states were already operating without laws similar to those overturned by Citizens United.
I happen to think that Citizens United was decided essentially correctly, but I also don’t think it’s quite the disaster for progressives that some of them think it is. It’s worth noting too that the decision also extends rights to unions and non-profits whose speech rights had also been restricted.
Fundamentally, beyond limits on direct campaign contributions and requirements of disclosure, it’s just not easy to limit expenditures on speech without violating First Amendment rights of deserving speakers. Even Lawrence Lessig now says:
Of course money equals free speech. And we should ask the people who are railing against the idea of money being free speech: “What if congress passed a law, and the Supreme Court allowed it, that said ‘Nobody can spend more than a thousand dollars challenging an incumbent.’”? You’d say, wait a minute, that’s a pretty effective way to guarantee an incumbent will always win, and I want to use my money as a way to speak freely about my desire to challenge the incumbent.
There’s no simple solution for reducing the influence of money on politics. Lessig proposes a sort of voucher system of public financing. Libertarians say we need to reduce the scope of government so that its favors are less important. Regardless, while Citizens United may work as a symbol for too much money in politics, I take Lessig to be right about this much: We’re better off finding new ways to enable speech than seeking new ways to restrict it. It’s disappointing that one of the more popular ideas among the Occupiers is a desire to reduce the scope of the First Amendment.
One of the most frequently noted difficulties with the Occupy movement is figuring out exactly what it’s fighting for. The spontaneous order that it has successfully used to organize tactics has been less useful for building consensus about political ends. The camp in Portland became a place to air a mish-mash of complaints. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it makes it hard to hold together a coherent protest. Protests work best when there are specific wrongs to be righted. Stop denying people’s right to vote. Stop denying people’s right to marry. Stop executing people when there is untested DNA evidence that could exonerate them. Or in this example of a sit-in that worked, stop your university from investing in companies that do business in Apartheid era South Africa. These are demands that can be acted on and goals that can be met.
It’s not clear that the same is true for Occupy, whose goals seem to be much more nebulously grouped around a loose concept of economic justice. At what point does the economic system become sufficiently just for protesters to stop occupying? Without articulated aims the movement never gets to declare victory and go home. Already, in reaction to evictions, it’s hard to tell if occupation is a means to an end or if it’s becoming an end in itself. What are the occupations accomplishing now that couldn’t be accomplished through regular meetings, smart online advocacy, and well-planned protests?
Post-eviction, the best thing going for Occupy Portland is that they provoked a response from the police. They got a chilling photo of cops in riot gear shooting pepper spray into the face of an unarmed woman. Things are even uglier in other cities. You look at those photos and videos and whose side are you going to be on? I have my share of disagreements with the Occupiers, but I’m absolutely disgusted by cops using excessive force against non-violent protesters.
But longer term, the movement needs to figure out what it’s doing. Prior to the evictions last weekend it was a point of pride for Occupy Portland that it was only protesting on public space. And while it’s a dubious proposition that the right of peaceable assembly includes setting up indefinite camp on public land, I’m all for people getting out there and protesting crony capitalism. Protest away! I was glad to see the Tea Party emerge and I’m glad to see the Occupy movement echoing some of the same themes.
But please, keep it to peaceful protests in public venues. I can’t tell you how much sympathy I lost for Occupy Portland when I saw the mob shutting down private bank branches, and from scanning local tweets I wasn’t the only one. Interfering in the private commerce of ordinary individuals is no way to advance a cause. An appeal to the Occupiers: By all means, persuade the customers of big banks to switch to local credit unions, but don’t become so certain of your views that you feel you have the right to force them on your fellow citizens.
Ultimately, the Occupy movement is going to have to accept that it doesn’t speak for the 99%. The 99% is divided. Support for Occupy is only around 33%. The consensus that groups can arrive at in a General Assembly is much greater than what they can pull off among the general population. Achieving anything in practice is going to require the much more prosaic business of working changes through the democratic process. Julian Sanchez says this more eloquently than I could:
[...] if disagreement is real—if large numbers of my fellow citizens sincerely hold very different views about what policy is best—then protest, however vital as a consciousness raising tool, can only be a preparation for the more humdrum enterprise of convincing your neighbors with sustained arguments (or being convinced yourself), electing candidates, and all the rest. To imagine protest not as prologue to politics, but as a substitute for it, suggests a denial of the reality of pluralism, and an unwillingness to find out what democracy actually looks like.
I’m afraid the alternative is going to be a self-defeating conflict between Occupiers and anyone who disagrees with them or is unwilling to sacrifice for the movement. There is some sign of this in the indifference shown to the many Portlanders, almost surely in the 99%, who couldn’t get to public transportation or their bank branch. Or in the decision of Occupy DC protesters to forcibly prevent people from leaving an Americans for Prosperity dinner where they listened to contrary views. Or in this reaction to Oakland workers who just wanted to get past the protest and to their jobs:
“These people tried to kill us. I can’t believe they are being that aggressive over a paycheck, over your own people fighting for you.”
If I counted myself among the Occupiers, I’d be looking very closely at the Tea Party right now. Despite all the jokes directed at the Tea Party it has endured as a political force. What it hasn’t done is produce a credible candidate for the presidency. Here’s Conor Friedersdorf explaining this failure:
[...] the actual tea party isn’t savvy. It overestimates its clout within the GOP, fails to appreciate the many obstacles to winning a general election, let alone implementing its agenda, and is therefore careless and immature in choosing its champions. It elevates polarizing figures of questionable competence like Sarah Palin because doing so is cathartic. [...]
Why couldn’t the tea party produce a viable candidate? Its partisans put fiery rhetoric ahead of substance, judged GOP politicians based on the extravagance of their promises more than what they’d actually accomplished, failed to demand of its champions some baseline level of competence, and insisted on pols who deliberately piss off outsiders rather than Reaganesque communicators intent on converting them. Tea partiers got drunk off the pleasure of hearing their prejudices echoed. They’re now waking up to face their hangover. And his name is Mitt Romney.
Is Occupy up for the challenge of doing better?
Long time readers know that I have a possibly unhealthy love of corduroy fabric. I have corduroy pants, jackets, and hats. Even my laptop case is lined in corduroy, which was a big selling point for me when I bought it. When I first considered moving to Portland from Washington, DC I thought, “That is a city with a relaxed sense of fashion and many cool rainy days. I could probably wear a lot of corduroy there.”
In some sense every day is a day to appreciate corduroy, but in another sense there is only one true Corduroy Appreciation Day, as declared by the venerable Corduroy Appreciation Club. That is 11|11, the date that most resembles corduroy. And this Friday being 11|11|11, it is the date that most resembles corduroy, ever. (Except for 11|11|1111, but I’m pretty sure the people of that time had yet to discover essential comforts like modern medicine, indoor plumbing, and finely waled fabrics.)
Corduroy Appreciation Club founder Miles Rohan has planned an amazing series of celebratory happenings in New York this week, including the installation of the Corduroy Messiah. Unfortunately I cannot be there. However I have teamed up with Portland’s The Hop and Vine to organize a celebration of our own. From 5-8 pm this Friday, The Hop and Vine’s new chef will be serving a special menu of twists on food from the Golden Age of Corduroy, with items such as smoked pork, beef, and lamb Swedish meatballs. We’ll also have a special Two Item Rule cocktail for the occasion, named after the Two Item Rule in effect at the Club’s official meetings. Wear one item of Corduroy, get a dollar off. Wear two items and get two. Wear three and, well, you still only get two dollars off, but you will have won the admiration of all who gaze you upon you.
What’s in a Two Item Rule cocktail? In a nod to the fabric’s reportedly English origins, I aimed to use only English or English-inspired ingredients to create a drink as smooth and lush as corduroy itself. It features the very lightly sweetened Old Tom style gin, authentic sloe gin, and cream sherry, a type of sherry originally targeted to the British market.
1 1/2 oz Ransom Old Tom gin
1 oz Dios Baco cream sherry
3/4 oz Plymouth sloe gin
Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon twist. The Dios Baco cream sherry is not too sweet, so adjust the recipe if using a different sherry. And definitely use real sloe gin, not the cloying artificial stuff from the liquor store’s bottom shelf. Consume while wearing at least two items of corduroy or while reclining on a corduroy couch.
If you’re in Portland, join us this Friday to toast the world’s greatest fabric. Details are here. For last minute corduroy needs, Bonobos and Betabrands make good stuff. And be sure to check out the official page of the Corduroy Appreciation Club for all things corduroy.
Hail the Wale!
I have an op/ed up today at The Oregonian addressing the question, “Whatever happened to Oregon’s heart miracle?” Oregon’s statewide smoking ban took effect in 2009 and was predicted by many advocates to result in a steep decline in the rate of heart attacks of 17% or more. I contacted the Oregon Public Health Division to see if hospital data bore this out. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t.
For those who are curious, here is the age-adjusted rate of heart attack admissions for Oregon as provided to me by the state, with percentage change from the previous year in parenthesis:
2004 181.2 (8.67)
2005 166.8 (7.95)
2006 166.6 (0.12)
2007 163.4 (1.92)
2008 152.5 (6.67)
2009 141.5 (7.21)
2010 137.1 (3.11)
And here is the same data in graph form:
As I explain in the op/ed, the drop in 2009 is on trend with those in previous years and can’t be reasonably attributed to the smoking ban, and even under the rosiest interpretation it is still less than half of what ban advocates predicted.
The task of explaining this discrepancy fell to Ty Gluckman, director of clinical excellence for Providence Heart and Vascular Institute. It was Gluckman who wrote in 2009 that “[...] it’s highly likely that Oregon’s heart attack rates are already dropping as we near the law’s one-year anniversary. If we reduce the number of acute heart attacks by 17 percent, there will be at least 1,100 fewer hospital admissions in Oregon in just one year.” I said at the time that there was no way this was going to happen. You can read his entire response here.
Undaunted by contrary data, Gluckman suggests that Oregon’s less than stunning decline in heart attacks is due to two factors. One is that many bars were already banning smoking voluntarily before the ban. Another is that over this same period Oregonians were becoming more obese. However these confounding factors hold to some extent just about everywhere, which is why the only way to test the impact of bans is by 1) looking for increased rates of decline after implementation and 2) comparing these results with control populations that were not under a ban. This is essentially the method of the RAND study cited in my article, which found no impact.
The story in Oregon is consistent with that of other large populations that experienced no noticeable decline in heart attack rates following implementation of a smoking ban. See for example this New Zealand study, omitted from the meta-analysis Gluckman cites, or the publicly available data from many national governments.
Today’s article is my third Oregonian contribution on the subject of the state smoking ban. In 2008 I argued that the ban wasn’t actually about saving lives. In 2009 I argued that the its exemptions were unduly restrictive. Finally, also in 2009, I wrote for Doublethink about the last night of legal smoking at my favorite cigar hangout, the legendary Horse Brass pub.
We’re just a few days away from the booziest week in Oregon, Portland Cocktail Week. Bartenders and drinks enthusiasts from all over the country are descending on the city for several days of parties, seminars, competitions, and the Great American Distillers Festival. Get all the details here.
For the opening seminar on Saturday I’m teaming up with bartender Ryan Conklin from Euclid Hall in Denver, Colorado. Denver is another great beer city and Ryan has been leading the way on beer cocktails there. We’re going to give an hour-long presentation about mixing with beer. Attendees will enjoy four cocktails made with Averna, Damrak Gin, Galliano, Novo Fogo Cachaca, Upright Four, Rogue Ales, and a surprise beer that Ryan’s bringing up from Denver. Tickets are available for $15.
The Oregonian offered a preview of Cocktail Week, including this interview with nine local bartenders. I’m in good company there discussing Portland cocktail culture with some of the city’s top talent.
One of the fun things about living in the Pacific Northwest is fresh hop season, the time of year when breweries can brew beers with hops picked fresh from the vine. Last night I was invited to a preview of the Portland Fresh Hop Tastival where about 40 different fresh hop beers are on tap. I couldn’t taste anywhere close to all of them but here are some standouts from the ones I had:
Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond — A tasty, fresh hop take on Mirror Pond. Mirror Pond is ubiquitous in Portland but this version is worth seeking out.
Double Mountain Killer Green — A good, hoppy IPA with plenty of aromatics.
Logsdon Fresh Hop Sezoen — I couldn’t actually tell that this was fresh hopped, but the banana aroma on this Belgian style ale is huge. A great change of pace amongst all the pales and IPAs.
The festival is today. Details here.