On the air

I’ve got a couple quick radio hits coming up this weekend. Today at 3:35 I’ll be on WBAL’s “Ron Smith Show” in Baltimore discussing the city’s proposed ban on blunts. Then tomorrow morning at 11:10 I’ll be on WGN Chicago’s “Morning Show” talking about the miracle fruit tasting experience. Tune in if you can!


Cigars for me, but not for thee

Baltimore wants to snuff out sales of low-cost, individual cigars:

The individual sale of low-cost cigars could be banned in Baltimore City under a proposal by city and health officials who called them “public nuisances.”

Mayor Sheila Dixon and city Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein on Wednesday proposed a new regulation requiring tobacco retailers to sell cigars in packs of five, saying cheap, tobacco-rich cigars are attractive to youths…

Violation of the proposal — which exempts tobacco shops and cigars that cost $2 or more — would be considered a misdemeanor and carry a fine no greater than $1,000.

In other words, upper class people can responsibly choose to smoke a cigar, but poor people need to have choices taken away from them. Ironically, my guess is that if this ban passed it would just drive teens and poorer customers to the more dangerous menthol cigarettes, not away from smoking entirely.

[Hat tip: Cigar Jack.]


Hooray for federalism!

Not here, in Germany, where the nation’s smoking ban has been undermined by intransigent smokers, rebellious bar owners, and state-level exceptions:

Bars in Berlin have been granted a reprieve, restaurants in Bavaria have found a loophole by converting to private clubs and the state’s famed Oktoberfest will for now remain a smoking zone.

That decision was taken by Bavarian premier Guenther Beckstein, who is due to fight state elections during the world’s biggest beer festival this year and openly worries that the ban will cost his conservatives votes.

In three other German states courts have watered down the new tobacco laws, ruling that in smaller pubs sparking up is legal again.

“The smoking ban is a failure,” said Siggi Ermer, the chairman of the country’s biggest anti-tobacco lobby, Pro Rauchfrei.


Brown tonic water is delicious

A few weeks ago I experimented with making my own tonic water. Originally a true tonic meant to ward off malaria through the intake of quinine, tonic water was a medicinally bitter product that went down well with gin. Modern tonics are weak and sweet in comparison.

The hardest part of making homemade tonic water was finding the ingredients. They’re readily available online, but harder to find locally. Citric acid is supposedly found in well-stocked stores, but I had no luck finding it. Instead I repeated conversations like this:

“Excuse me, do you carry citric acid?”

“I don’t think so. What do you need it for?”

“I’m making tonic water.”

“Oh. You know we do sell tonic water.”

“Yes, but it’s not the same.”

So at least a few store clerks think I’m completely insane. In any case, I was finally able to find the acid and cinchona bark, the source of quinine, at La Cuisine in Alexandria. I then made a batch of homemade tonic water using Kevin Ludwig’s recipe from Imbibe, which calls for citric acid, the bark, lemongrass, sugar, and lime. It’s a far superior product — snappy, bitter, and with a unique flavor of its own. Commercial tonics, in contrast, are little more than a vehicle for diluting gin.

Friends have been asking me to post the recipe. Since this was my first attempt and I haven’t yet added anything of my own to it, I’ve been reluctant to do so. Luckily, I don’t have to: Jeffrey Morgenthaler posted his own variation this morning. It looks like a tasty, approachable recipe with more fruit and spice, one that might appeal to a wider audience unaccustomed to a strong quinine taste. If you’re curious to try an authentic tonic water, Jeff’s version could be a great place to start.


Happy blog birthday

I always forget my blogiversary, but a fifth birthday is worth a quick look back. In the past few years at the blog formerly known as Eternal Recurrence we’ve waxed lyrical about coffee, obsessed over cocktails, gone tripping on miracle fruit, landed on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, uncovered the stapler’s secret, examined weird fish with Mark McGrouther, pondered the surprisingly large size of prosthetic bull testicles, confused hundreds of foreigners seeking GMail accounts, helped save a local magic shop, encountered my nefarious twin brother David, witnessed the Queso Crusader battle Taco Boy, met a magical politician, proposed an economically-oriented alarm clock, visited a raw milk dairy, combated the nanny state, raised a glass on Repeal Day, practiced Aikido in the cold and rain, faced a surreal navigation problem, received an Aerobie signed by inventor Alan Adler, documented great moments in heterosexuality, nearly burned down the house of one my best friends, and much, much more.

Thanks for reading, commenting, arguing, linking, and sending in tips. And if you’re not reading regularly, please subscribe with RSS. I hope the next five years will be just as fun, and I’ll keep writing with my rules for good blogging in mind:

Rule #1: Be meaningful.

Rule #2: If meaning is elusive, be amusing.

Rule #3: If meaning and amusement are both out of reach, be brief.


Miracle fruit in the NYT

The New York Times has a feature today on miracle fruit tasting parties, an experience this blog knows a thing or two about. It’s a fun article, but while factually true, this paragraph glosses over what is in many ways the most interesting part of the story:

During the 1970s, a ruling by the Food and Drug Administration dashed hopes that an extract of miraculin could be sold as a sugar substitute. In the absence of any plausible commercial application, the miracle fruit has acquired a bit of a cult following.

As Joanna Slater uncovered for The Wall Street Journal and Adam Fowler and Tom Mangold reported for the BBC, the FDA’s decision came down under dubious circumstances and dashed the hopes of entrepreneurs who might have had a huge hit on their hands.

The Times does interview a few bartenders though, including blog friend Lance Mayhew, who mixed up a few miracle fruit cocktails for Imbibe this year. Well done, Lance!

[Thanks to Ben for the link.]


A blow against CA raw milk

Raw milk dairy farmers in California have lost the restraining order that has been preventing the 10 coliform limit from taking effect:

A Superior Court judge said Friday that the state had a rational basis for creating legislation that imposes a higher safety standard for California’s two raw milk producers.

The two dairy operators — Organic Pastures of Fresno County and Claravale Farms of San Benito County — are battling to try to stop the state from enforcing the law that took effect last year, saying it will put them out of business.

The new law has been on hold since March, when Superior Court Judge Harry Tobias suspended it to hear arguments over whether to issue a preliminary injunction. Friday, the judge sided with the state.

Last month, two scientists testifying on behalf of the dairies argued that the new standard is unnecessary and that raw milk naturally contains helpful bacteria that neutralize bad bacteria.

But on Friday, the state presented its own experts who countered the dairy supporters, saying the new standard is designed to protect the public from food-related illness.

A rational basis standard is easy to meet, so this isn’t a very surprising ruling. The dairies could still win on appeal and will continue working with Dean Florez to introduce replacement legislation that allows a higher coliform count in exchange for additional safety standards.

California’s fight over raw milk standards was a major topic in my article for Reason.


L’heure malheureuse

Whatever happened to that French joie de vivre? The Guardian Reuters reports:

France is considering a ban on happy hours in bars and on the sale of bottles of vodka and other strong liquor in nightclubs as part of efforts to curb binge drinking among young people, an official said on Monday.

Not that things are free and easy here in Virginia. Among other restrictions, establishments here can’t extend happy hour beyond 9 pm, advertise their specials, or sell mixed drinks in pitchers. I believe a few bars get around the time restriction by offering one low-priced beer only on certain nights; thus its price is never discounted, it’s just always low when it happens to be available. I wonder if French legislation would allow a similar loophole.


Calorie counts are lies, all lies!

Since mandated calorie counts are a weirdly hot topic of discussion here, this story about inaccuracies in restaurants’ nutritional info is worth posting:

From March to May this year, Scripps stations tested food in eight cities from chains that cater to calorie counters by offering special, health-conscious menus — a growing segment in the restaurant industry…

While some items contained only as many calories and fat as the restaurants claimed, many dishes were found to have several times as many calories and fat as the companies stated….

The Macaroni Grill sample showed the widest variance from the menu’s claims. Its “Pollo Margo Skinny Chicken,” which was supposed to have 500 calories, actually had 1,022, according to the testing. The chicken dinner was supposed to have 6 grams of fat. It had 49.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have to go to these kinds of chains very often, but I didn’t realize voluntarily providing this information had caught on so well. Of course, this doesn’t matter if the listings are bunk anyway.

One might argue that mandating labeling on menus would improve this information, but misleading consumers is already against regulations (according to this article) and chains would still be able to sneakily increase portion sizes in individual restaurants.

I remain unconvinced that requiring precise calorie counts on chain restaurant menus will accomplish much. I suspect restaurants will voluntarily expand their informational offerings for healthier items, hopefully with more accuracy than they do now. As for the rest, common sense may prove just as good a guide for variable, individually-prepared dishes as misleadingly precise calorie counts would be.

Another problem with calorie counts


Corruption: We’re doin’ it wrong

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Robert Frank argues that libertarian activists, unlike our left-wing counterparts, can’t possibly understand what it means to “sell out” and get a “real,” higher paying job in the for-profit sector:

Consider the poor Washington libertarian. Everywhere else in America his type is an exotic species, a coffee-shop heretic who quotes from “Atlas Shrugged” and steers every conversation toward Ron Paul or gold. Take him or leave him, he doesn’t care. He is his own master.

Not so the Beltway variety. Here, in the very home of the taxing, regulating leviathan, the libertarian is such a commonplace and unremarkable bird that no one gives him a second glance. Here he is a factotum of the establishment, a tiny voice in a vast choir assembled by business and its tax-exempt front groups to sing the virtues of the entrepreneur.

And therein lies his dilemma. Almost by definition, our young libertarian’s job is to celebrate the profit motive from the offices of a not-for-profit organization. He is subsidized, in other words, to hymn the unsubsidized way of life. Rugged individualism may be his creed, but a rugged individual he ain’t.

This is more than just an abstract problem, as I discovered last week at a panel discussion hosted by America’s Future Foundation, one of the lesser libertarian nonprofits in the city. The questions that night were whether nonprofit work constituted a “real job” and if moving to the private sector was “selling out” – ideas well known to any liberal do-gooder…

Selling out is not a threat to the market order; selling out is how the market gets its way. Just look at the city in which all these remarks were made. Private-sector Washington is one of the wealthiest places in America. Public-service Washington lags considerably behind. The chance of ditching the one for the other is what accounts for everything from the power of K Street to the infamous “revolving door,” by which a public servant takes a cushy corporate job after engineering some extravagant government favor for the corporation in question – or its clients.

The libertarian nonprofits that line the city’s streets often serve merely to rationalize this operation after the fact, giving a pious shine to the policies that are made in this unholy manner.

Oh no, our cover is blown! Cato Institute scholars are clearly in the pocket of the corporate donors who make up less than 10 percent of the organization’s funding. Just look at the site’s front page. There’s Ilya Somin arguing for better eminent domain protections for small property owners against politically connected developers. And here’s Swaminathan Aiyar noting the stupidity of biofuel subsidies that have been forced unwanted upon the nation’s big agricultural companies. Or how about Gerald O’Driscoll, a former Federal Reserve vice president, decrying the Fed’s bailout of Bear Stearns and the sweet deal it negotiated for Morgan Stanley? He’s just itching for a job at one of the other big banking firms.

Reason is even worse. Jacob Sullum’s opposition to the Phillip Morris-backed FDA legislation is merely a clever ploy to hide his friendly relationship with the nation’s largest tobacco company. Or perhaps he’s betting on getting a job with an internet gambling company after helping them crush those weak and defenseless Vegas casinos. Personally, I’m secretly hoping my raw milk article will land me a well-paid appointment shoveling manure at a local dairy. I’m not sure what angle Radley Balko is playing by getting Mississippi Drug War victims off Death Row, but I’m sure it’s something.

And don’t even get me started on the “merry litigators” at the Institute for Justice. They’re currently celebrating their victory on behalf of an Arizona bar owner who may now allow his customers to dance. We can expect IJ attorneys to line up cushy gigs in the Big Dance industry in no time.

Frank is right. We libertarians are conniving for luxurious, generously rewarded jobs in the for-profit sector. We’re just really, really bad it.