Mixing it up without IP

Man, do not steal a recipe for Eben Freeman:

After the seminar, I spoke to Freeman, who admitted he came up with the idea for the talk after becoming fed up with other bartenders and establishments taking credit for and profiting from his recipes and techniques. (Fat washing, for example, the process by which a spirit can be infused with, say, bacon, was pioneered in part by Freeman, yet is often attributed to others.) “Someone needs to get sued … to set a precedent,” he told me.

“In no other creative business can you so easily identify money attached to your creative property,” Freeman went on. “There is an implied commerce to our intellectual property. Yet we have less protection than anyone else.”

No disrespect to Freeman, who is understandably frustrated, but he fails to address the purpose of intellectual property in copyrights and patents. This is neatly summed up in the Constitution:

[The Congress shall have power] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Intellectual property exists to promote progress. Its purpose is not to ensure that no one’s ideas are stolen or that creative people can earn a living, unless those things are needed to promote progress in a field. The granting of temporary monopolies in the form of patents and copyrights is the price we pay for progress, not a goal in itself.

It might be completely true that bartenders are shamelessly stealing from each other, and that’s certainly something we should condemn, but we probably shouldn’t get the law involved unless we can show that this theft is causing mixology to stagnate. Along with fashion, cooking, and even magic, we’re in an industry that’s arguably better off with weak IP. This decade’s boom in craft cocktails is a sign that we’re doing OK without stricter protections, and I’d be worried that additional threats of lawsuits would have a chilling effect on the sharing of new techniques and recipes.

Perhaps Freeman or someone else has a workable, beneficial idea for expanding intellectual property related to cocktails, but I have a hard time imagining what that would be.

Update 9/1/10: Ezra Klein agrees.

Two Pimm’s, one cup
Dark and Stormy and the piracy paradox
Dark ‘n’ Sue Me


Links for 8/31/10

Conor Friedersdorf laments this country’s bevy of pointless alcohol laws: “But it offends my notion of the freedom due every man and woman that I cannot sip a single cold beer or craft cocktail as I walk down the beach with my girlfriend, enjoying the West Coast sunset.”

Speaking of which, the AP has picked up on the debate over Washington’s privatization initiatives:

Opponents argue that I-1100 goes too far by eliminating the three-tier system — producers, distributors and retailers — basically allowing Costco to cut out the middle man distributor.

“It destroys the entire system,” said Craig Wolf, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, which is opposed to I-1100 but has taken no stand on the competing Initiative 1105, which keeps the tier system in place. […]

National wholesaler and liquor distributor groups are closely watching the outcome of the campaign, with some saying that it could be the first step for Costco to try and change the system in other states.

Yes, let us hope so! [Via Tom Wark.]

People seem to be making too much of Bjorn Lomborg’s “reversal” on climate change. While the Copenhagen Consensus’s recommended expenditure is larger than before, his position in favor of research and mitigation instead of immediate, massive carbon reductions is nothing new. (His previous book, Cool It, recommended a $2/ton carbon tax and a $25 billion per year expenditure on alternative energy R&D.)

Are publishers still useful for authors? Paul Carr argues that they are.

Video of the day: Reason.tv on Weed, Wheat, and ObamaCare. A good summary of how interpretation of the Commerce Clause has evolved.

The Wall Street Journal profiles GMU economist Peter Boettke, “the intellectual standard-bearer for the Austrian school of economics.”

The woman gracing the cover of Vampire Weekend’s “Contra” is none too happy with her appearance there.


Bloomberg bans again!

Over at the Examiner I take a look at Michael Bloomberg’s latest attempt to make life worse for smokers, a ban in parks and beaches:

It’s no wonder that some non-smoking residents support the ban. They have nothing to lose and they’ve been hit with fear-mongering propaganda for years, such as Action on Smoking and Health’s dire warning that “If you can smell it, it could be killing you,”or even worse, uncritical reports about “thirdhand smoke,” the residue left behind on room surfaces when tobacco is lit. So firmly has the toxicity of tobacco smoke been in implanted in the public’s mind that activists no longer feel the need to demonstrate that it causes harm; the mere ability to detect its traces with fancy lab equipment is enough to raise a panic.

Whole thing here.


MxMo Brown, bitter, and stirred

After a brief hiatus, Mixology Monday is back! This month my friend Lindsey Johnson takes charge and orders something brown, bitter, and stirred. From MxMo founder Paul Clarke:

While punches, sours and flips are essential parts of every cocktail fiend’s drinking diet, perhaps no other style of drink is as dear to our booze-loving hearts as those potent mixtures of aged spirits, amari, aromatized wines and liqueurs, sometimes (sometimes? Almost always!) doctored with a dash or four from the bitters shelf.

This seems like a good occasion to post another cocktail from my session with David Shenaut and the producers of Ilegal Mezcal. Here’s the Mexican Train:

2 oz Ilegal reposado mezcal
3/4 oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
1/4 oz green Chartreuse
5 drops mole bitters

Stir, strain, and serve up in a chilled cocktail glass. This is a mezcal-driven variation on a Tipperary, tied together by one of my favorite pairings, Chartreuse and chocolate. The bitters are the housemade mole bitters from Beaker and Flask. Bittermen’s Xocolatl bitters would probably work nicely too, though without any mezcal on hand I can’t try out an exact recipe (hence the lack of photograph this month). Regardless, it’s an interesting drink to try out when a discerning brown, bitter, and stirred order comes across the bar.


Privatize the DMV

Matthew Yglesias calls on governments to improve DMVs, noting that many offices have inconvenient hours and locations. A better idea: Why not privatize them? Licenses to operate a DMV center could be sold to private businesses, which would then have an incentive to operate in ways that are pleasant for consumers. Better hours, better locations, better atmosphere. You could put one in a Starbucks or a Wal-Mart. Offer wi-fi. There are plenty of ways a business might make additional money by better catering to people who have to go there. Perhaps not all functions of the DMV should be privatized, but at least some of them could be.

This paper from the Cascade Policy Institute is from 1997, but it notes that several states already have some experience with this. In 2005 Radley Balko posted notes from satisfied customers in New Mexico and Arizona.


Links for 8/26/10

Jason Kuznicki writes about the “success” of the Cash for Clunkers program, which has effected a wealth transfer from the relatively poor to the relatively rich.

Despite recent setbacks, from a longer a perspective liberaltarianism has had some remarkable successes.

From the mouths of monopolists: Louisiana funeral directors offer embarrassingly bad defenses of the licensing laws that protect them from competition.

Ecco Caffe founder Andrew Barnett is now blogging for the San Francisco Chronicle and gets off to a promising start calling out restaurants for their poor approach to coffee.

Starbucks is putting out a new “reserve” line of coffees to appeal to coffee geeks. Unmentioned anywhere in the article is a word about roast dates.


A false sense of transparency?

New York City is implementing a new system under which the letter grades given to restaurants by health inspectors must be prominently posted and in which further details are available online. This seems like a good thing: The more consumers know, the better the market works. But to some extent this just replaces ignorance about what goes on in the kitchen with meta-ignorance about what the grades signify. The letter grades are only as good as the inspection regime, and if consumers don’t know what the grades mean, then they may not be helpful. An article in The New York Times looks at some of the complications:

Under the former system, restaurants received points for each violation; a total score over 28 was considered a failing grade. But under the new system, in which 0 to 13 points gets an A, 14 to 27 points merits a B, and 28 or more is a C, officials have softened some rules, like those governing the temperatures of food held for service. And they will not count certain non-food-related violations, like burned-out light bulbs or improperly posted signs, toward the grade, although operators could still have to pay a fine.

So a restaurant that may have received 15 points under the old rules might score, say, 9 under the new ones, said Andrew Rigie, director of operations at the New York State Restaurant Association, a trade group that has been lobbying against the letter grades.

“That’s a big problem,” Mr. Rigie said. A person seeing an old 15-point score on the Web site “would determine that restaurant to be a B-graded restaurant, but there’s a possibility that under the new system it would have an A.”

It’s good that the city is not counting some non-food related violations against the grade, but one has to wonder what else goes into the score. There are 1,200 possible points that restaurants are graded on. Is the difference between a 13-point A and a 14-point B really that meaningful? Or even a 5-point A and a 20-point B? I have no idea, and I suspect that most diners don’t either.

I wrote about this when the new regulations were first announced, noting that the rule:

confuses the measurement with what we’re trying to measure. What we should care about is actual food safety, not the letter grades restaurants are receiving. If the grades aren’t highly correlated with preventing customers from getting sick, then restaurants are just wasting time and money to comply with arcane regulations and to create the illusion of safety.

To this end, making detailed reports available online is a good step. I’m more skeptical that the letter grades will provide useful information. This is the same city, after all, that has cracked down on sous vide cooking and putting egg whites in cocktails (to say nothing of banning trans-fats). Should we trust the experts to identify the most salient concerns with these grades, or should we instead ignore the differences between As and Bs and focus on the worst offenders?


One siren, 3 billion cups

I won’t defend Starbucks for burning their coffee, but I will defend them against the charge that they don’t do enough to promote recycling of the 3 billion paper cups the company goes through each year. Over at the Examiner I take a look at some of the obstacles to finding uses for all those cups and wonder whether it’s worth making the effort.


Links for 8/24/10

Local search guru David Mihm handicaps the market as Facebook Places enters the fray. My first impression is that FB Places is very annoying since it doesn’t filter by city, a feature integrated into Foursquare.

If you are on Foursquare, WeePlaces generates a cool map of your check-ins. I’m glad to know that the place I visit most remains a coffee shop, not a bar.

Michael Bloomberg seeks to cap his nanny state career with a smoking ban at NYC parks and beaches.

If this was blog was based in Philadelphia, I’d owe the city about 300 times as much as I make off of it.

New York Times trend pieces are often ripe for mockery, but this one is right on: You should be drinking mezcal right now.

This high-pressure infusion technique looks like it could be very useful.


Links for 8/20/10

About that withdrawal from Iraq

An economically sensible take on local food on the NYT op/ed page? It’s true. Stephen Budiansky suggests that the energy used in transporting food should be the least of our worries.

Conor Friedersdorf loses faith that conservatives will ever do anything to meaningfully shrink government, feels more at home with the pragmatic libertarianism of Reason and Cato.

Steven Pearlstein does some back-of-the-envelope math to show that privatizing liquor could make fiscal sense for Virginia.

More smoking ban regret: 42% of Michigan restaurants report reduced sales since the statewide ban took effect.

Cigar smokers are finding new enclaves in London. British Airways tells you where to light up in luxury.

A poem written by a bear.


Links for 8/19/10

Adam Ozimek makes a strong case for why liberals should be skeptical of occupational licensing.

This essay made me miss my barista days, describing perfectly those early morning hours listening to good music and prepping the shop, and taking the morning subways with the workers who get the city ready for later-rising professionals:

On the streets, and in the subway station, there are only a few other people around. As I see it, there is an unspoken code. Some kind of mutual 5 a.m. understanding: we are invisible. There is no eye contact, no acknowledgment of one other. Some of the subway riders are still out from the night before, and some are heading off to work (mostly fast food and construction jobs, some nurses). You can tell the difference by their fresh-from-the-shower wet hair versus just-partied sweaty hair, and sad eyes longing to get back into bed versus expectant eyes longing to get into bed.

In Virginia, two bartenders have been charged with felonies for doing fire tricks. It’s an absurd overreaction, but these tricks can go very, very wrong.

This Freakonomics profile of Randal O’Toole is specifically about rail transit, but this point about cognitive bias has more general application:

So why would rail lovers at home be rail detractors at work? O’Toole’s reasoning: “I don’t expect taxpayers to subsidize these preferences any more than if I liked hot-air balloons or midget submarines.” […]

Is supporting policies that go completely counter to one’s own personal preferences to be admired or abhorred? Some might find it eccentric, and it certainly is a minority trait. My experience has been that most people in this world assume that others share their likes, and if they don’t, they will do so with just a little persuasion. In some cases this may be true. But regardless, this is certainly a convenient outlook because it means there is a happy coincidence: the best path to doing selfless good for others just happens to be promoting public policies that cater to one’s own self-interest.

One virtue of economics is that it encourages one to see markets as a discovery process for revealing people’s actual preferences, rather than allowing one to assume that one’s own are superior are widely held.

Can we date? A handy flowchart.


Smoking ban resistance in the UP!

Cheers to the veterans at American Legion Post 444 in Baraga, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula, who are challenging the state’s smoking ban in court and refusing to comply:

During the next two months, several citizen complaints were filed about the post’s noncompliance, and local health department officials sent notices of violation. Geroux responded with a news release July 16 that described the new law as unconstitutional and un-American.

Further, the exemption for Detroit’s casinos (which was based on their need to compete with American Indian casinos not covered by the state law) is “wildly unfair” to the Baraga post, which lies within a mile, and competes for customers, with two alcohol-serving, smoking-acceptable tribal facilities, Geroux said.

After getting a cease-and-desist order from the health department July 20, the post decided to sue.

I wrote against the Michigan smoking ban for the Detroit Free-Press back in 2008.

[Thanks to Jan for the link.]


Links for 8/16/10

Josh Barro has an excellent post explaining why conservative outrage about the Cordoba House (a.k.a. the “Ground Zero Mosque”) is completely without merit. But you know this, right?

Jonah Lehrer discusses the psychology of power.

Ryan Young looks at the latest attempt to force parents to buy airlines seats for young children and why such a regulation would cost lives.

Mark Prince of Coffee Geek discusses the state of espresso in 2010, with thoughts on single origin espresso, pressure and temperature profiling, the disconnect between home and pro baristas, and more. Part one and part two.

It’s good to be Smirnoff.


Markets are for consumers, cont.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s attempt to privatize liquor sales is facing opposition from fellow Republicans, such as Representative Tom Gear:

Gear, for instance, said he was concerned by suggestions that Costco and Wal-Mart would be able to sell liquor in a new system. He said he’s worried the big companies could make it tough for small retail businesses to successfully compete in the market.

“My idea was to create jobs from small operations, mom-and-pop stores,” he said. “Costco can put in liquor and never have to hire a single person.”

As Jacob Sullum notes, “Gear evidently sees liquor privatization as a stimulus program that should be judged by the number of jobs it creates.” And as this blog said recently in regard to Washington brewers’ opposition to that state’s own privatization bill, “markets are for consumers.” They’re not for uncompetitive craft brewers or inefficient retailers. They’re for consumers, and consumers are best served by a system that forces sellers to compete on price, selection, and various other factors.


Links for 8/11/10

Note to reporters: Stop by writing about civet coffee. Just stop. That said, the Panama Esmeralda that should have been the focus of this article can be very good and is worth trying.

Remember the little Oregon girl whose lemonade stand was shut down by authorities? Thanks to help from local businesses, she’s made $1,800 and is headed to Disneyland.

Katherine Mangu-Ward on the two possible reactions to liquor privatization proposals:

1) Oh no! Virginia state revenues may be negatively impacted by privatization! (Or not! Depending on how we set tax levels and account for pension obligations!) or 2) Why is the state of Virginia getting $13 every time I buy a bottle of Jack?

Like Katherine, I think the second is the more relevant concern.

Style notes from Simon Heffer at the Daily Telegraph.

A photo of Lutetia, the largest asteroid yet visited by human spacecraft.


Brand ambassadors in the NYT

Today’s New York Times takes a look at bartenders making the transition into the wonderful world of liquor brand ambassadors and cocktail consultants:

Not long ago, bartending was, for some, one of the classic dead-end jobs, the choice of wannabe actors and the terminally unambitious. The only way up the drink-slinging ladder was to own a bar. But with the cocktail renaissance, today’s star mixologist is tomorrow’s brand representative, hawking various products for liquor conglomerates, or tomorrow’s cocktail consultant, setting up drink programs for new taverns and restaurants.

Some in the industry have misgivings about the shift — it distracts working bartenders from doing the job at hand, they say, and drains off the best talent. But nowadays, any entrepreneurial bartender worth his tattoos has a vest pocket full of business cards.

It’s not quite as glamorous as they make it out to be. I mean, the towels on the Bols Jet today were barely even hot.