Liberty on TV

Cable is one of the things I gave up when I moved to Portland. And since I don’t get decent broadcast reception in my apartment, this means I’ve given up TV entirely. By the time I arrived here there was very little left that I wanted to watch. I lost interest in Meet the Press after Tim Russert’s death, Boston Legal had only a few episodes remaining before cancellation, and aside from Top Chef everything else I watched just served as a distraction while at home. I’m happy to say that I don’t miss it at all.

It’s unlikely that I’ll go back to TV anytime soon. Much of what I want to watch is online already and, if I wanted to watch TV series, Netflix is much cheaper. I miss out on contemporary quality shows like Battlestar Gallactica, but cable competing with Netflix is essentially current television shows competing with all television shows that have come before. Given that I haven’t watched any of the acclaimed series from HBO or Showtime that have come out in the past decade, there’s not much reason for me to pay for cable instead of catching up via DVD.

All of which is a long way of saying that last Friday’s John Stossel and Drew Carey special Bullshit in America is the first show in a while to make me wish I could watch at home. (Or even better, in a room packed with friends in DC — Portland isn’t the kind of city that airs 20/20 in its bars.) Luckily, the show is available on YouTube. The arguments are oversimplified, of course, but they offer a much needed perspective in the mainstream press. Here’s my favorite segment, on federal medical marijuana raids:

President Obama and AG Eric Holder have admirably promised to end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that are legally recognized by their state governments. However Charles Lynch, featured in the video above, remains a victim of federal prosecution. He will be sentenced to a minimum of 5 years in prison on Monday. If Obama is serious about respecting state law, he will issue a pardon in this senseless case.

The rest of the special and Drew Carey’s videos that inspired it can be viewed here.

Speaking of online videos, my friend Caleb Brown has put together what may be Cato’s best production yet. Here he tells the story of Susette Kelo, whose little pink house was notoriously seized by the city of New London with approval from the Supreme Court. Today the lot where her home once stood remains empty, a testament to government waste and eminent domain abuse.


Links for 3/20/09

Ways local journalism can survive without newspapers

Why I can’t support state-subsidized journalism

“Where a show like South Park challenges its audience’s every conceivable assumption, The Daily Show has become safer than Jay Leno”

Corporations that helped cause crisis handing out fat bonuses (Hint: They’re not AIG)


Bestiality is a victimless crime… until the cops get involved

Jail sentence drives moonshiner to suicide

The Atlas Foundation’s free trade petition

1/3 of DMCA takedown notices invalid

One more reason I should avoid Saudi Arabia

South Dakota hit with comprehensive smoking ban

Rural Iowa bars lose character, customers post-ban

British ban rebel loses appeal

There’s something about smoking a pipe…

Freakin’ finally: Cut-and-paste for iPhone

Inside a mountain oyster festival (Prev: Great balls of fryer)


Counting calories at Per Se

I’ve noted here before that mandated calorie counts are motivated more by contempt for fast food restaurants and the people who patronize them than by legitimate health concerns. After all, no one is talking about posting health warnings at trendy high end restaurants where duck fat and pork belly are standard ingredients. And how do these places compare? Charles Stuart Platkin visited Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York last year and sneaked out samples of his lunch there for testing in a lab. Here’s what he reports:

The single most caloric menu item was the foie gras, weighing in at 435.4 calories; followed by café Liégeois (basically a gourmet brownie with ice cream), with 185.8 calories. The single least caloric was the buttermilk sorbet, owing in part to its spoon-size portion (23 calories). All told, the nine courses tallied 1,230.8 calories, 59.7 grams of fat, and 101.7 grams of carbs. The total rises to 2,416.2 calories, 107.8 grams of fat, and 203.7 grams of carbs if you include the extras: a salmon amuse-bouche, wine, dinner rolls with butter, and chocolate candies. These might not seem like giant numbers, but that one lunch has 60 percent more fat than the average adult, on a 2,000-calorie regimen, should eat in a day, according to the FDA… It’s also roughly equal in calories to six slices of DiFara’s cheese pizza, ten Gray’s Papaya’s hot dogs, or, it seems appropriate to note, four and a half Big Macs.

Of course, if you can afford to eat at Per Se, you’re by definition smart and fashionable enough to enjoy the meal without being harassed about your waistline.

[Thanks to Barzelay for alerting me to the story!]


Skip the drip

Amanda at Metrocurean reports that a new coffee shop called Mid-City Cafe is coming to Logan Circle in DC. They’ll be serving Counter Culture Coffee and not brewing drip; all the coffee will be from pour overs or French presses.

The biggest advantage for the coffee in Portland over what I got at my favorite shops in DC is that many places here don’t brew drip at all. For about $1 a cup I can get fresh, full-bodied French press coffee any time of day. It’s a little more work for the shop, but the difference in quality is worth it and I actively avoid any cafe that defaults to drip. Hopefully this is the start of a trend in that direction in DC.


Miracle fruit man

The Miami Herald devoted some space last week to Curt Mozie, the retired postman whose miracle fruit trees hit the big time a few years ago.

“There are two major reasons miracle fruit has become popular recently, and one of them is Curtis Mozie,” said Adam Leith Gollner, author of The Fruit Hunters, a book that devotes a chapter to the history of the miracle fruit. “The fruit languished in obscurity, until Curtis came along and decided there was a venture in making this available to the public.”

That’s one reason, but what was the other? I’d guess it was my friend David Barzelay hosting his first miracle fruit party in DC in early 2007. At the time it was very hard to find the berries, with David having to track Curtis down through comments he’d left on message boards. That party led to our blog posts being picked up by BoingBoing, my own parties ending up in the Wall Street Journal and the BBC, and a typically behind-the-times NYT trend piece a year later.

At the time, I think the berries were $1 apiece and Mozie had plenty on hand. Today:

Mozie now ships out roughly 3,000 miracle fruit a week, for $3 a pop and sometimes can’t keep pace with the demand.

Curtis is a nice guy and I’m happy to see him doing so well in retirement with these improbable berries.

I’ve also been meaning to review Gollner’s Fruit Hunters book. It’s entertaining throughout and very informative; until reading it I had no conception of just how vast the world of fruit is and how our markets barely scratch the surface of the planet’s wondrous offerings. It’s some of the best food writing I’ve read in the past few years.


Connecticut cracks down on raw milk

The New York Times reports on fresh debates about unpasteurized milk in Connecticut, which currently has some of the nation’s most liberal regulations. Tragically, a recent E. coli outbreak traced to a raw dairy in the state led to at least seven illnesses, including two which put toddlers on dialysis (one of whom may suffer permanent kidney damage). The state is responding with a proposal to ban sales of raw milk anywhere but at farms and farmers markets.

The state is right to raise awareness of the risks of drinking unpasteurized milk. Though I’m obviously sympathetic to consumers’ right to buy it, the underground nature of the product has created a devoted community of boosters who emphasize health claims while downplaying dangers. Young children are especially at risk of illness, a fact that was apparently not presented to a few Connecticut parents.

This need for transparency is one reason I think that banishing raw milk from grocery stores could have unintended consequences. Grocers like Whole Foods have a strong incentive not to sell tainted products and the clout to demand safety standards from their suppliers. Breaking that chain and sending consumers directly to farms will result in there being many small, diverse providers without much brand recognition; it might actually be safer for one or two highly visible farms to dominate the market and have their reputations on the line in the event of an outbreak.

Speculation aside, the proposal is a clear infringement on the rights of farmers and consumers. There is no health-related justification for restricting sales to farms and markets. It’s a blatant attempt to restrict trade between consenting adults and would likely drive some raw dairies out of business. Government should limit itself to informing consumers, not standing between them and the products they wish to buy.

[Hat tip to Paul, who fearlessly drank raw milk with me in Virginia.]


Links for 3/16/09

Is Obama all talk about executive power?

Morrison and Quitely reunite for Batman and Robin

My friend Ray on losing 100 lbs; his $60,000 bet

Chick-Fil-A’s brilliant customer relations lead to booming growth

Coca: Just another alkaloid

Alcohol price floors are the newest nanny trend

A normal shake-out in the news biz

A history of San Francisco coffee

National Geographic launches non-organic coffee line

Cocktails for the recession

Sturgeon face


Smokers in exile

When I first arrived in Portland last fall, I blogged about the extreme anti-smoking policies in area apartments, which often extend even to the outdoor parts of properties. The Portland Tribune has picked up on the excess of residential smoking bans, noting that they’ve become so pervasive that they hamper efforts to get the homeless placed into public housing:

A year ago, Guardian Management, the largest manager of private apartments in Portland, made its nearly 70 buildings containing about 6,000 apartments smoke-free. Tenants cannot smoke in their apartments, and they cannot smoke in the hallways.

Last month, the Housing Authority of Portland began sending out notices to tenants announcing all its buildings, containing more than 6,200 apartments, will be going smoke-free. Tenants who need to smoke will have to make their way outside buildings to designated smoking areas, rain or shine. […]

Andy Miller, interim executive director of Portland’s Bureau of Housing and Community Development, is, like Weinstock, worried about what the new rules do to the city’s 10-year plan to end homelessness.

For the last four years, the city’s plan has focused on what it calls a “housing first” philosophy. The policy has meant that rather than insist the homeless conform to good tenant behavior before they can stay in subsidized housing, housing is used to stabilize their lives so they can then address problems such as substance abuse.

Many of the homeless – having battled drug addiction, alcoholism and mental illness – smoke. The city wants those people housed.

“The last thing we want to do is create barriers to people entering affordable housing,” Miller says.

Miller would like to see the housing authority consider continuing to allow smoking in some of its buildings, or in parts of some buildings.

While I vehemently oppose legislative bans on smoking in apartments, there are good reasons why some buildings might want to privately impose smokefree policies. Smokers’ apartments cost more to clean when a tenant moves out, other residents might complain about the smell, and smoking creates a fire hazard. The trend threatens to get out of hand, however. In my own building, for example, smoking is forbidden indoors, on balconies, and even in the large open air courtyard. My cigarette smoking guests have to walk down a long hallway, take an elevator down four flights, and stand outside next to a busy street just to light up. People who’d like to take a longer smoke with a pipe or cigar are completely out of luck.

Many of these bans have gone beyond all rational justification to become simple discrimination against unpopular smokers and it’s likely that more cities will follow suit. Smokers and tolerant allies will need to be prepared to speak out against their spread.


Portland at the vanguard of mixology

The PSU Daily Vanguard’s 2009 bar guide is out today and I’m quoted several times in an article by Melinda Bardon about Portland’s exceptional mixology scene. I especially liked this bit about my Horatio cocktail, named after the character in Hamlet who is “more an antique Roman than a Dane,”:

The Horatio is an addictive, herby drink that exemplifies exactly what cocktails in Portland are all about: ingenuity, great taste, and a Liberal Arts degree.

Yep, that sums up this city pretty well!


Links for 3/13/09

Post-crisis, start thinking Austrian

“I do not want the first lady’s agenda to have anything to do with kitchens or children’s libraries.”

Obama’s first signing statement

Predictions about Obama’s drug policy

Bandow on card check

OR may take over and tax medical marijuana. How about legalizing and taxing all of it?

OR introduces “honest pint” legislation

SBUX delays opening African support centers

Kristol replaced by reportedly smarter big gov conservative; Amber asks the right question

Stimulus prevents soft drink tax

Scotland won’t tax chocolate… yet

England, a great place for fat

Au revoir, Roquefort

Pegus… in… spaaace!

DIY raccoon butt shelf


Calorie counts come to Oregon

“To better understand this movement against fast foods, one has to appreciate first of all that many individuals do not like fat persons.”Gary Becker

A calorie count mandate may be coming to Oregon. Newly introduced legislation would require all restaurants operating in Oregon that have more than 10 locations nationwide to publish calorie information on their menus. Multnomah County, which contains Portland, already has similar rules going into effect on March 15, so the impact will be somewhat mitigated by the fact that many of these restaurants will already be forced to comply. Nonetheless, there are many reasons to oppose this bill.

The proposal is essentially a classist reaction against the overweight, an attempt to shame them into changing their eating habits; you won’t see anyone suggesting that Le Pigeon disclose how many calories are in their delicious pork belly anytime soon. Nor is there much evidence that the measure will be worth the cost to smaller chains, given that consumers partially offset calorie-rich restaurant meals by eating more healthily at other times of day and that the numbers may be inaccurate or highly variable. And most importantly, the information is often available already, even if not prominently posted on the menu. As I wrote for The Agitator in August:

The alternative is not zero information. Chain restaurants are already responding to consumer demand for nutritional information without mandated displays. Many have been making it available on their websites or in literature within the restaurant, readily accessible for interested consumers. Some, like Subway, tout the healthiness of their menu and prominently advertise it. Others, like Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr., flaunt their excess. In between are hundreds of other restaurants that highlight their healthier offerings or entrées that comply with popular diets. There’s no compelling reason to think that the trend toward greater transparency won’t continue or that this multiplicity of approaches is somehow inferior to the single right way dictated by local government.

For more cases against calorie count mandates, see Christopher Flavelle, Radley Balko, Jacob Sullum, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and Carol Hart.


Will the Virginia smoking ban cost lives?

Michael Siegel, smoking ban proponent and professor at the Boston University School of Health, says yes:

… bar and restaurant owners who wish to allow smoking in their establishments must construct separately ventilated rooms. This is a very expensive proposition, because it requires not only enclosing an area of the establishment with walls, but also ventilating that room directly to the outside. […]

Designated smoking areas, even if separately ventilated, have been shown not to protect nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke in practice because smoke readily escapes from the designated smoking rooms into the nonsmoking areas. And in the smoking areas themselves, tobacco smoke exposure is astronomically higher due to the heavy concentration of smokers. Workers in those areas suffer greatly increased exposure to secondhand smoke. […]

In fact, there is strong evidence that restricting smoking to designated areas actually results in a net increase in health effects: while workers in the nonsmoking areas have less exposure, the increased exposure for workers in the smoking areas far more than offsets those gains.

It’s an interesting argument, though I’m not yet convinced it applies to Virginia — the costs of complying with the new legislation may be so prohibitive that very few separately ventilated smoking lounges will be constructed. However, the problem points to the futility of most smoking bans. If they allow for any exceptions, the few remaining smoke-friendly businesses will have especially high concentrations of ETS, increasing exposure for both patrons and employees. If they don’t allow exceptions, they excessively restrict people’s freedom.

(On that last point I think Siegel and I disagree. He hasn’t responded to a request for clarification on his position, but he seems to believe that the only acceptable number of smoke-friendly bars and restaurants is zero. As an occasional smoker, professional bartender, and potential business owner, I find that a galling infringement of my rights.)

The unintended consequences of partial bans are yet another reason to take softer approaches to preventing workplace smoke exposure, such as offering one time tax breaks to smokefree businesses, rather than trying to legislate specific rules about which businesses can allow their customers to smoke.

Smoking ban unfair, insulting