Year in review

I never got around to writing a personal year in review last year, despite having an eventful 2005. This year, in contrast, can be neatly summed up in list form.

Things I accomplished in 2006, a (nearly) comprehensive list:

[Read more...]

Great moments in heterosexuality, pt. 2

What is it about latte art that just destroys my masculinity?

Chad and I are hanging out at the coffee shop. I’m chatting with a girl when Chad walks up with a rather sad looking latte.

Chad: “What’s with this?”

Me: “That doesn’t look too good. Who made that?”

Chad: [Points to the barista at the bar.]

Me: “That’s weird. She’s usually good. Oh well, nobody bats a hundred.”

Chad: [Starts to say something, thinks better of it.]

Chad, several hours later: “I do appreciate the effort, but just so you know, you should probably avoid trying to use sports metaphors in front of women.”

Me: “Damn it!”

A very furry Christmas

Gifts for furries.

In Soviet Russia, hipsters work the fields

I deleted the previous post because I missed the ironic message behind this shirt. But I’m still not sure how to interpret it…

Mass starvation is neat

Obviously a play on the Red campaign. But it’s either being oddly harsh on that or way too flippant with Communism. What’s the deal?

[Via Mighty Goods.]

[Update: The most charitable interpretation I can come up with is that the shirt is saying that by tying our purchases to ethical causes, consumer capitalism has sort of come around to Communism. This is lame though. Capitalism isn't anti-charity any more than Communism is pro-exchange. So what's the point?

Radley has confronted the obliviousness behind "Soviety chic" in the past. See here and here for two good posts on how it trivializes atrocities that ought to be better remembered.]

[Update 1/1/07: Related: Target pulls Che CD cases off shelves.]

What’s a barista really worth?

I once befriended an Australian who offered me a place to stay and a job in his country if I ever decided to come and work there for a while. Perhaps I should have taken him up on it? Link:

It’s the mark of a successful barista in a profession that has come of age. A first-rate barista knows customers by name and coffee of choice and juggles hundreds of hand-crafted beverages each day.

In Italy, the average age of a barista is 48. It’s not a job for an eager student who will disappear at the earliest opportunity but an exalted career. In Sydney, a top barista can earn about $100,000 and in Melbourne, well, rates aren’t necessarily that generous but we love them anyway.

That comes to about $78,000 in US dollars. Even assuming that particular figure is an extreme outlier, baristi are pulling in more money in Australia than they are here. Why? (Seriously, for my own benefit, why?)

Part of the answer has to be a more developed cafe culture. If metropolitan Australian consumers are more particular than their American counterparts (arguably true), employing skilled baristi there will be more important for attracting customers. Talent becomes relatively more essential compared to location, price, etc. Yet this doesn’t seem to make such a large difference between, say, DC and Seattle.

Perhaps in Australia the position of barista tends to be more specialized than in the US. It seems most American coffee shops have a fairly flat hierarchy, with most employees doing a little of everything. If good Australian shops tend to have more specialization of roles, it could be that baristi take a larger share of wages than their non-barista colleagues while keeping average cafe wage rates not terribly different than they are in the US. I have no idea if Australian shops actually are more hierarchical, however.

A different article complaining about the “rock star” mentality among Aussie baristi suggests that a shrinking supply of labor in the service industry is part of the explanation for the higher pay:

Restaurant & Catering Association chief executive John Hart said a 21 per cent drop in the number of employed hospitality workers, compared with a sharp rise in the number of businesses, was affecting the quality of service.

The national body had 249,000 employed members in 2003 compared with 196,000 in 2006, while the number of businesses rose from 29,000 to 37,000 in the same period. Wage costs increased by 10.8 per cent a year over the past four years, he said.

So while Australian baristi make more than their American counterparts, it’s not obvious they’re making that much more than Australian bartenders, waiters, and others in the service industry.

I’m similarly skeptical of the way we romanticize lifelong Italian baristi. Do those 48 year old men really keep making coffee because it’s an exalted position, or because the Italian economy just doesn’t offer many great alternatives?

It’s common in the American coffee industry to complain that if shops here don’t start paying their baristi better, quality will always be an issue. Smart, passionate people with a love for coffee aren’t going to stay in jobs that don’t give them a good living.

True enough, but it may be a while before significantly higher wages for talented baristi become practical here. Australia seems to have the perfect combination of many demanding consumers and few skilled service workers. In the US, most consumers aren’t particular and there’s a ready supply of transient workers seeking coffee gigs while they wait for something better or find themselves.

As much as I’d like to argue for higher barista pay, I’m not convinced the economics of it make sense for many American shops right now beyond some premiums for skill and longevity. Consumer education strikes me as the larger priority. When Americans demand more from their coffee, perhaps then we’ll see barista wages rise to compensate talent in a discerning market. Until then, “career barista” will be a tough path to follow.

[Via BCCY. Cross-posted on Smelling the Coffee.]

Great moments in heterosexuality

Cute, flirty female customer: “I love the way you pour the designs into the drinks.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Her: “I’ve been trying to do that at home, but I can’t get the hang of it. What do you do, just steam the milk a whole lot?”

Me: “Well, yeah. But the really important thing is that you get the milk to recirculate over itself, really working the air into it. You know, like you’re making meringue.”

*** crickets ***

Her: [Ooh, he's gay.]

Me: [Damn it!]

Me: “So, um, have a good day.”

Her: “Yeah, you too.”

Events for cool people

Nanny statists win more city council votes, but libertarians have more fun. If you’re in the DC area, here are two events to check out as the city enjoys its last month free of the smoking ban.

First, on December 13, AFF hosts a roundtable on neoprohibition:

D.C. bans smoking, Chicago outlaws foie gras, and New York is thinking of forbidding transfats [JG: actually, it just did]. Is this the return of prohibition? What ever happened to consumer freedom? This is what we’ll be discussing at AFF’s next roundtable on Wednesday, December 13.

Joining us to discuss these issues are Justin Wilson of the Center for Consumer Freedom and Joe Lindsley of The Weekly Standard. Stay tuned for more panelists.

Then on Tuesday, December 19th, McFadden’s is hosting One Last Smoke from 5-9 pm. From what I’ve been told, $65 gets you cigars, hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and the chance to party with a bunch of other disgruntled civil libertarians. Your clothes will smell awful the next day, but that, my friends, is the sweet smell of freedom.

Smoking is healthier than fascismAs long as you’re ruining your clothes anyway, you might as well protest in style with a “Smoking is healthier than fascism” tee from Bureaucrash. If it’s good enough for Miss June 2006, it’s good enough for you. Get it for just $17.76 here.

Liberty and libations

Hey, you know what tomorrow (Tuesday) is? It’s Repeal Day, the anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment and the end of Prohibition. A day to celebrate two of my favorite things, liberty and alcohol. Is there any better reason to go out and have a drink? (As if there needed to be a reason…) Some Repeal Day links for you:

Imagine an America where Prohibition is still in effect. What would we do for birthdays?

Mark Thornton’s Cato paper from 1991 on the failure of the “noble experiment,” including a discussion of the “Iron Law of Prohibition:”

The most notable of those consequences has been labeled the “Iron Law of Prohibition” by Richard Cowan. That law states that the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes. When drugs or alcoholic beverages are prohibited, they will become more potent, will have greater variability in potency, will be adulterated with unknown or dangerous substances, and will not be produced and consumed under normal market constraints. The Iron Law undermines the prohibitionist case and reduces or outweighs the benefits ascribed to a decrease in consumption.

Statistics indicate that for a long time Americans spent a falling share of income on alcoholic beverages. They also purchased higher quality brands and weaker types of alcoholic beverages. Before Prohibition, Americans spent roughly equal amounts on beer and spirits. However, during Prohibition virtually all production, and therefore consumption, was of distilled spirits and fortified wines. Beer became relatively more expensive because of its bulk, and it might have disappeared altogether except for homemade beer and near beer, which could be converted into real beer.

Read the whole thing, and don’t forget to apply the lessons to the current War on Drugs.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Be sure also to take a look at Radley Balko’s paper from a few years ago on neoprohibition.

Jeffrey Morgenthaler argues that Repeal Day ought to become the ultimate drinking holiday in the United States, surpassing St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Halloween. I couldn’t agree more. It’s too late for me to do anything this year, but mark my words: next year’s Repeal Day party is going to be awesome.

There’s probably no drinker demonized more than the pregnant woman. While heavy drinking is clearly dangerous, there’s no clear evidence that an occasional drink while pregnant risks harming the fetus. So lay off that pregnant lady at the bar, ok?

From the same section in the Times, a look at strong beers in the United States. [Both links via Slashfood.]

I’ll probably cap Repeal Day with a shot of homemade limoncello. Unlike Danny Devito, I plan on showing up sober for work the next day. [Thanks, Chad!]

And finally, a trivia question. Do you know which state was the 36th and deciding state to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus ending Prohibition? The answer may surprise you.