Bashing the bartender

Jillian Bandes has an article up at the new Culture11 that, at first, I was able to relate to. It’s about the time she took off of college to work as a bartender and how this taught her the thrill of becoming good at making drinks and introduced her to people she would not have otherwise met. I had a similar experience in the service industry, first in coffee and then in bartending. Without the friends I made in those jobs, I would have left DC by the end of my first year there (and had actually planned to, giving up my job and apartment before making a last minute decision to stay).

But then Jillian turns sour on the bartending experience:

By the end of my stint at the Shmunkhouse the chicken wings tasted gross and the kitchen staff became more lecherous. The diamond grills of our most infamous clientele started to seem ridiculous rather than novel, as did their enormous chains and wanton behavior. I began to eye the posse of 50-year-old men who hung out until 2AM every night of the week as less a source of tip revenue as much as an example of what can happen when one has literally nothing to live for besides the next “Purple Hooter”—a bluish concoction that left the drinker mostly incoherent.

Of all the cheap gin joints in the world, I wondered, why do they keep coming back here? I’d gone from imagining that learning how to live in Shmunkville was as important as anything I could learn back at college to realizing its most important lesson was that I never wanted to live that lifestyle myself.

In the years since I returned to college to finish my degree, I’ve loved going out as much as the next gal. Just not every night. Or even most nights. The bartender-client interaction is a sacrosanct relationship in American culture, but having seen both sides I must say it is terribly overrated. Pouring beer and feeding fried fare to car salesmen, construction managers, and custodial workers puts you in touch with a slice of life that you can’t get in the ivory towers, or even at your first office job. But in so doing, you’re typically not forming real relationships with those people, so much as helping them to substitute alcohol for friendship, love and ambition.

I’ll still frequent an occasional bar with friends. But I try not to overdo it, and I am not a “regular” at any bar. And when I have a family, I am quite sure I will stop going altogether.

No offense to Jillian, but maybe she just worked at a shitty bar (and maybe she’s being a little too judgmental of its clients). If I were staying up till 2 every morning serving purple hooters to 50-year-old men, I’d want to move on too. Luckily there are plenty of other places where the clients drink in moderation (usually), relate genuinely with the staff, and are more concerned with getting a well-balanced drink than maximizing its ABV. At its best, bartending engages with history, mixology, craft, and customers at a much more satisfying level.

Tending bar isn’t for everyone and I doubt that I’d ever want to make it my full-time career. If bars aren’t the right environment for Jillian, it’s good that she figured that out quickly. It does have its virtues though, and she’s painting with far too thick a brush here.


Creekstone loses in court

A federal appeals court has ruled against Creekstone Farms and in favor of the government. Quick summary: Creekstone wanted to go beyond USDA regulations and test all of its cows for mad cow disease. The USDA, beholden to the interests of larger meat packing companies who don’t want to compete on safety, told them they couldn’t. A lower court had ruled in favor of Creekstone, but now it looks like the company won’t get the chance to market their product with greater assurances of safety. Thanks, USDA!

Paul Roberts and I debated food safety in the L.A. Times here and here.


Sarah Palin for VP

OK, I wasn’t quite expecting that. Palin’s relatively inexperienced, so it’s hard to judge her stances on the issues. Her biggest plus is her record of cutting taxes, cutting spending, and exposing pork barrel projects. Her biggest minus is her social conservatism; she’s emphatically pro-life, in favor of the death penalty, and against gay marriage (though to her credit she vetoed a bill that would have forbidden Alaska from giving benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees).

On the environment she seems to see the need to balance economic growth with resource conservation and slowing down carbon emissions, but it’s unclear from a glance whether she’ll take a smart, market-based approach to this. She supports school choice via charter school options. She comes up blank on foreign policy and civil liberties right now, but I’m not optimistic.

Tactically, this seems like a great choice. She adds diversity to the ticket and could lure woman voters, while at the same time her social conservatism and NRA membership can shore up McCain’s weakness with the Republican base. Even libertarians can find something to like in her fiscal conservatism.

What am I missing?

Update: She smoked marijuana, but she doesn’t think that you should be allowed to. It’s not, however, her biggest drug enforcement priority. Via Sullivan.


Don’t forget about FISA

Despite everything I objected to in Obama’s speech, it’s this line from Richard Durbin’s introduction that grated on me most:

Barack Obama has the wisdom to know that we should never risk our freedoms and privacy to the overreaching hand of government.

A lovely thought, and one that I know resonates with many of the civil libertarians who read this blog. But civil liberties didn’t come up in Obama’s speech tonight. They get hardly any play on his website. And he failed spectacularly on his one major test on the issue during the campaign.

That test was the Bush-backed amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to expand the government’s warrantless wiretapping powers and grant immunity to the telecommunications companies that were complicit in previous spying. Obama had promised, in no uncertain terms, to support a filibuster of the bill when it came up for a vote in the Senate. But when it came time to stand up for civil liberties, he caved. First he voted for cloture on the bill, removing the possibility of filibuster. Then he voted for the bill itself.

I linked to this once before, but it’s worth quoting. Here’s Thoreau from Unqualified Offerings:

The issue on the table was whether or not companies should face legal liability for helping a President do illegal deeds. The person who is campaigning for that office broke a promise to fight the good fight, and voted in favor of a bill that would provide protection for people who help Presidents break the law. This is no small matter. This is an issue that goes to the very core of executive power and how Obama approaches governing. Greenwald has been blogging quite a bit lately about how there’s little popularity advantage to be gained from aiding abuses of power. This isn’t 2001–people aren’t nearly as scared as they were. Obama would not have paid any significant political price for opposing immunity. Yet he supported immunity, in the end, by voting for cloture and voting for a bill that included immunity. How can we read this as anything other than an endorsement of “The Decider Decides”?

Obama may not wear the same iron glove, he might turn out to be a softer Decider. But he has nonetheless endorsed the basic concept of The Decider. Screw him. No fucking way am I voting for him.

It’s tempting to support Obama after two terms of Bush, but this is the kind of thing he’s going to get away with if civil libertarians let him take their votes for granted. Don’t let him off the hook so easily.


The tragedy of Obama

I have to admit, Obama just delivered a fantastic speech. No doubt about it. But since that’s all you’re going to be hearing about right now, let me indulge my inner curmudgeon. Here’s the one thought that keeps coming back to me: Obama’s way too smart for this.

This is a guy who graduated from Columbia and Harvard. A guy who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. You know he can think critically. Then he delivers a speech like this and I think, damn, he’s starting to believe what he’s saying. He actually believes he can end dependence on foreign oil in ten years. He believes “businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs.” That after our hopes for good government have been “dashed again and again” his administration can make it work. This was not the speech of a man who gives Naomi Klein the jitters.

Maybe I’m just buying into the media narrative of his character, but I can’t listen to Obama and not think there’s a much smarter man under there. Perhaps, like Gore, Obama would find a truer voice out of office. Because after the luster wears off, I’m not sure he could take four more years of this kind of speechifying and come out mentally unscathed. Succeeding in politics makes a man dumb.


10 bottles

Kaiser Penguin throws down a challenge to the cocktail bloggers:

What if you could only have 10 bottles of alcohol for the rest of your life? Obviously the bottles would be replenishable, but you could never have any other spirits or even brands of a particular spirit. What would you choose?

I’m interpreting the question as being about what I actually use on a regular basis rather than what I’d use if I had an infinite budget. I’m also assuming beer doesn’t count, or else at least half these bottles would be replaced by ales. So by way of procrastinating on the things I really should be working on, here’s the ten bottles I feel like I reach for the most and would most miss:

Plymouth gin
Bulleit bourbon
Lagavulin 16-year-old Scotch
10 Cane rum
Noilly Prat sweet vermouth
Noilly Prat dry vermouth
Luxardo Maraschino
Chartreuse (green)
St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

No vodka. I’m starting to appreciate it more, but for the most part I feel like most things that are made with vodka just get better with gin. Tequila, rye, and the various brandies I’d miss much more. Much as I’d like to include absinthe, there’s just not enough point without the rye and cognac. If I could add an eleventh it would be Deniset Klainguer violette liqueur. It’s not versatile enough to make my top ten, but it sure would be frustrating having all the other ingredients for an Aviation on hand and not being able to make one. Actually, that’s the feeling I have in a lot of bars.

Anyone else want to play?

Update: This is hard, I’m changing my mind already. How did I forget Cointreau? Chartreuse, you’re cut. Cointreau, you’re in.


The Cult of Obama

Obama will give his acceptance speech tonight in Invesco Field in front of 80,000 fans. The New York Times wonders how he can handle this crowd without looking even more like a worshiped celebrity. The Washington Post plays up the significance of the date, the 45th anniversary of minister Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. It’s a lot to live up to and lot to live down to. George Will suggests it’s time for Obama to start getting into particulars. I have a better idea: pass out a copy of Gene Healy’s latest op/ed to everyone who enters the stadium:

Humility is hard to discern on the modern campaign trail. If our presidential candidates seem to embrace an exalted notion of their status, perhaps that’s a function of the adulation they’re greeted with by the crowds at campaign appearances. A recent feature in The New York Times described the prevailing atmosphere: “Look at the faces – not of the candidates, but of the rope-liners themselves, with arms and fingers extended, their eyes bugged and sometimes tearful.” “I got to smell him, and it was awesome,” exclaimed Kate Homrich, who managed to get close to Obama at one campaign rally. Another, Bonnie Owens, got a finger-pinch from the Illinois senator: “Best experience of my life,” she declared.

And it’s not just voters at campaign rallies who fall prey to presidential idolatry. If anything, American political elites – pundits, talking heads, and presidential scholars – are worse. When President Bush traveled to Blacksburg, Va. to offer comfort after the April 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, David Gergen, adviser to one Democratic and three Republican presidents, commented, “At times like this, [the president] takes off his cap as commander in chief and puts on the robes of consoler in chief.” Leon Panetta, former chief of staff to President Clinton, went even further: “In many ways, [the president] is our national chaplain.” […]

An increasing number of Americans worry that the presidency has grown too big, too powerful, and too menacing. Yet we also want the government – chiefly, the president – to “do more.” And when terror strikes, hurricanes ravage, homes foreclose, the stock market drops, and food prices rise, we inevitably blame one person: the president.

Investing our lives with hope, uniting us all behind a higher calling, fixing our “broken” souls – none of this is remotely the president’s business. It’s not surprising that presidential contenders cater to our contradictory expectations. That’s the business they’re in. But if we’re unhappy with the results, we ought to recall the wisdom contained in the Pogo Principle: “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

So long as we embrace – or even tolerate – the idea that the president is the guardian of our national soul, we have little right to complain about our burgeoning Imperial Presidency.

Read the whole thing here.


Links for 8/28/08

Culture11, a new ideas mag, is live in beta

Dave Barry visits the DNC convention

Pixifoods: the foods you loved as a kid and can’t stand now

Your neighbors will love your $50,000 walking steel beast

Dear Adobe: Stop sucking

Danish rockstar uses Nazi slogan to protest smoking ban

DC gets a real speakeasy

From The Agitator: Say Yes to Michigan Distilleries

Correction to yesterday’s links: EU cake ban was exaggerated


Links for 8/27/08

Ted Stevens wins his primary

Brass balls award: City councilman pays ethics fine with city money

China’s power carbon emissions to increase by 1/3 this year

EU bans cake consumption at baking contests

In Canada, some positive steps toward food deregulation

“Capitalism is a wonderful thing. But it shouldn’t apply to health care.”

Study reveals crows can recognize human faces

At the Windmill Theatre, study of anatomy is a long tradition


Faking it

From Kottke:

This is a little bit genius. One of the new features of FriendFeed (a Twitter-like thingie) is “fake following”. That means you can friend someone but you don’t see their updates. That way, it appears that you’re paying attention to them when you’re really not. Just like everyone does all the time in real life to maintain their sanity. Rex calls it “most important feature in the history of social networks” and I’m inclined to agree. It’s one of the few new social features I’ve seen that makes being online buddies with someone manageable and doesn’t just make being social a game or competition.

I was actually just wishing for a feature like this for Twitter. Twitter works now because it’s popular but not that popular. The list of people I follow is manageable, has room to grow, and is populated mostly by people I’m genuinely interested in getting updates from. But what happens if the service achieves Facebook levels of popularity? Then I’m stuck with either rejecting people or letting the signal get lost in the noise. Fake following is a way out.

But is it a good way out? I’m not so sure. For one thing, as Merlin Mann says, “the whole idea’s pathetic on a number of levels.” For another, the very existence of the option imposes costs on all users, whether they use it or not. If a friend realizes you missed one of his updates on Twitter, for now he knows it’s an honest mistake. If fake following becomes an option, your friends will have to wonder if perhaps you’re using it on them. The option breeds distrust.

A feature like this should come with a way to signal honesty. Let users declare on their profiles that they haven’t enabled the option. Or if they have, let the world know that they may be fake followers. One group of people you can trust, another that’s a little more dubious.

Twitter is perhaps even more susceptible than Facebook to “boyd’s law” as stated by Cory Doctorow: “Adding more users to a social network increases the probability that it will put you in an awkward social circumstance.” Facebook is great for deep networking, for keeping track of who I know where and what they’re generally doing with their lives; I don’t care how big my friend list gets. Twitter’s more like a live conversation, creating a social sixth sense of what my friends and other interesting people are thinking and doing. I’ll have to be selective about who I follow to keep it valuable.

I’m with Mann on this one: if you’re going to be a publisher of updates, have a thick skin. Don’t be offended by friends who don’t follow you and be ruthlessly selective about who you follow. Don’t waste your time on updates you don’t care about.

And if you hurt someone’s feelings, it’s not the end of the world. You can still be Facebook friends, after all.

[Via Tyler Cowen.]


What could go wrong?

I was driving all day yesterday, again today, so sorry for the light blogging. Today I’m off to Denver, coincidentally at the same time the DNC madness is going on. Here’s Clive Crook on what to expect:

Security for the event is certainly daunting. Supposedly 42, or is it 53 or 55, separate agencies are involved in the exercise, run from a “situation room” in a secret location. That is a characteristically American solution: the bigger the problem, the more agencies you apply to it. Even at altitude, these things breed. You need agencies to co-ordinate the agencies, and so on.

Picture the scene: 42 (or 53 or 55) agencies, licensed to inflict limitless inconvenience on anyone in their way, seamlessly pooling their resources and expertise, so that the whole thing runs like clockwork. What could go wrong?

If I don’t update tomorrow, please put in a call to the “situation room.”


Sweating the hops shortage

Sighted at Bell's

Hops in deodorant? They’re an essential ingredient in Tom’s of Maine’s products:

Unpleasant odor is caused by skin bacteria when we sweat. The “bitter principles” that help hops to preserve beer also, it turns out, fight odor. Hops inhibits the growth of bacteria by causing leakage in the bacterial cell membrane, which impairs bacterial function and therefore prevents odor.

I wonder if they’ve been hit by the hops shortage too, and how beer could be made instead with all the hops people are rubbing into their armpits.

[Via Rob Kasper. Photo from the hops case at the Bell’s Brewery General Store and Eccentric Cafe, which you should definitely visit if you’re ever in Kalamazoo.]


Links for 8/25/08

“Nudges” catch on with government, but markets design them best

“Eccentric space-god religion could appear unacceptably bizarre to pious nation of devout 2000-year-old Jewish zombie worshipers.”

Obama text fails at marketing

Why McKinley has a mountain he never even glimpsed

A devoted prose guy dives into comics

WB will reboot Superman franchise

Not easy to hitch a ride in L.A.

Nuts to these allergy warning cards


Balko on Biden

Not good:

Biden has sponsored more damaging drug war legislation than any Democrat in Congress. Hate the way federal prosecutors use RICO laws to take aim at drug offenders? Thank Biden. How about the abomination that is federal asset forfeiture laws? Thank Biden. Think federal prosecutors have too much power in drug cases? Thank Biden. Think the title of a “Drug Czar” is sanctimonious and silly? Thank Biden, who helped create the position (and still considers it an accomplishment worth boasting about). Tired of the ridiculous steroids hearings in Congress? thank Biden, who led the effort to make steroids a Schedule 3 drug, and has been among the blowhardiest of the blowhards when it comes to sports and performance enhancing drugs. Biden voted in favor of using international development aid for drug control (think plan Columbia, plan Afghanistan, and other meddling anti-drug efforts that have only fostered loathing of America, backlash, and unintended consequences). Oh, and he was also the chief sponsor of 2004’s horrendous RAVE Act…

Biden’s record on other criminal justice and civil liberties issues is just as bad. Opponents of the federalization of crime might note that the 1994 crime bill he sponsored created several new federal capital offenses. Biden also wants to expand federal penalties for hate crimes. He supports a federal smoking ban. His position on the federal drinking age is, and I quote, “absolutely do not” lower it to 18. He believes “most violent crime is related to drugs” (if he had said “drug prohibition,” he’d be closer to the truth). Biden also has an almost perfect anti-gun voting record. He said last year he favors “universal national service,” either in the Peace Corps or the military. Sounds like conscription to me. He says he’s opposed to the PATRIOT Act, but he voted for both the original bill and its re-authorization in 2005.

Foreign policy? Biden voted for the war on Iraq. Yes, he’s opposed to it now (and I like the partition plan he pushed in the primaries). But he didn’t vote correctly when it counted most. Biden also voted to send troops into Darfur. He wants to enlarge NATO. He voted in favor of the air strikes in Kosovo. He voted to strengthen the trade embargo against Cuba. His seems to be a meddling, interventionist, Clinton-esque foreign policy. His first instinct seems to be that the U.S. military’s objective include some vague notion of “doing good in the world.” Never mind the disastrous consequences that notion has reaped over the years…

My problem with Biden is that he’s not even good on the issues the left is supposed to be good on. He’s an overly ambitious, elitist, tunnel-visioned, Potomac-fevered Beltway dinosaur, with all the trappings. He may well have been the worst possible pick among congressional Democrats when it comes to the drug war and criminal justice.

Gridlock in ’08 is sounding more appealing than ever.