Links for 9/29/10

On the topic of minimum wage laws, a good paragraph from South Bend Seven:

Almost no voters think of the minimum wage as a floor on the price they get to charge for their services. I wish they would, because that’s obviously what it is. But no one thinks of a minimum wage law as a prohibition on discounting their own labor.

Related links from SB7: How minimum wage laws give illegal immigrants in the US a competitive advantage in hiring and create unemployment in South Africa.

I never expected the Obama Administration would be particularly good on civil liberties, but asserting the power to assassinate US citizens without judicial review or due process goes beyond even my pessimistic predictions.

Drink a kopstootje to this: The Dutch partially roll back their smoking ban to allow smoking in owner-operated pubs.

GlaxoSmithKline, maker of Nicorette gum and the NicoDerm patch, is urging the government to ban other cigarette alternatives made by tobacco companies.

A look at the preferred alcoholic beverages along two New York commuter rail lines.

This Oregonian has very different ideas of “fun” and “profit” than I do. I took my bottles to a recycling machine precisely once before deciding that my time was too valuable for that. Now I put them in the bin at my apartment building, where presumably someone else gets the nickels in exchange for taking them off my hands.

An awesome collection of Calvin and Hobbes mash-ups from various comic creators.


Dan Aykroyd comes to Portland

I ignore most of the press releases I get about vodka. However, I did receive one that may be of interest to local readers: Today from 3-5 Dan Aykroyd will be at Stateline Liquor, 1109 North Jantzen Drive Portland, OR, signing bottles of his Crystal Head vodka.

This product is pretty much the epitome of vodka marketing. It’s not about the liquid, it’s about the fancy bottle and the celebrity pitchman. I should hate it, but when the bottle is that awesome and the celebrity owner is Dan Aykroyd, I can’t deny that I’ve been tempted to buy a bottle. Drink Spirits has an interesting interview with Aykroyd about the brand, in which he notes that one of the biggest challenges is getting people to open the bottle after they buy it.

I received a small sample of the vodka — not in a skull shaped minibottle, alas — and it’s about what I expected. Perfectly fine vodka, but not something I would ever spend $50 a bottle for in any other shaped bottle. (Well, maybe in a Batmobile shaped bottle, but luckily that doesn’t exist yet.) If the idea of skull-shaped vodka bottle signed by Dan Aykroyd appeals to you, today’s your chance to get one.

Of course, Aykroyd’s greatest role as pitchman was Bag O’ Glass inventor Irwin Mainway.


Defending Dudley

Republican candidate for Oregon governor Chris Dudley is taking some heat for comments he made suggesting that Oregon should add a tip credit to its minimum wage laws. (Tip credits allow businesses to pay less than the standard minimum to tipped employees on the assumption that the difference will be made up in gratuities; all but seven states make some sort of allowance for this.) The proposal is being used to drum up opposition to him from people in the service industry, as in this video:

If you’re a tipped employee already making minimum wage, then of course you’re not going to like this idea. But there are other considerations:

1) At $8.50 per hour, Oregon has one of the highest minimum wages in the country. We also have one of the highest unemployment rates. If you work or are seeking work in the hospitality industry here you’ve probably seen the crowds of people who show up in response to job ads; 700 lining up and even camping overnight at a new Olive Garden in Bend is an extreme example. Lines like that are an indication that the combination of a high minimum wage and no tip allowance is raising the demand for hospitality jobs while reducing their supply.

Many of these people lining up would likely be willing to work for less than the minimum wage rather than be unemployed. As a personal example, when I moved to Portland it took six months for me to find full-time employment behind a bar. I’d have gladly accepted a barback job for less than minimum wage in order to get my foot in the door somewhere, but it would have been illegal to negotiate such a deal.

2) The higher the minimum wage, the harder it is for employers to offer non-wage compensation. One of the biggest complaints from people in the hospitality industry is the difficulty of getting health insurance. Many of them might gladly trade a lower hourly wage for an equivalent contribution toward health insurance. (Actually more than equivalent, since health benefits wouldn’t be taxed. I’d be curious to see numbers relating minimum wage to provision of non-wage benefits, adjusted for other factors.)

As another personal example, the restaurant where I worked in DC paid less than the minimum wage, but employees who worked enough hours were eligible for insurance. That’s not a bargain we could make here.

To be clear, I’m not writing to advocate one way or the other on this issue. I’d just like to see better economic thinking in the discussions about it. Tip credits are portrayed as being bad for workers, but the trade-offs are more complex than that. Oregon’s current law favors employed hospitality workers over those seeking jobs in the industry and wages over non-wage compensation. These might be worthwhile trade-offs, but they are trade-offs, and so far I haven’t seen any acknowledgment of them in the critical responses to Dudley’s comments.

For more background on Oregon’s minimum wage and service industry employment see Patrick Emerson.


Links for 9/24/10

Who bears the burden of higher cigarette taxes? In Oregon, at least, the state’s tax hike didn’t affect smoking rates among low-income adults, which makes the tax very regressive.

Caleb Brown and Deborah Elson note that calls for greater regulation of DC food trucks are largely driven by protectionist impulses of the brick-and-mortar restaurants that haven’t had to compete with innovative start-ups.

Tim Lee argues that deregulation has strong roots in the liberal (not just libertarian!) tradition: “The free-market and free-trade arguments of 19th Century liberals often took a populist, anti-business cast precisely because government interventions of the time were often such blatant attempts to benefit entrenched interests at the expense of the general public.”

Radley Balko takes a look at the best technology for recording on-duty cops and how doing so holds them accountable. Case in point: The wrongful arrest of Adam from Liberty on Tour in Las Vegas.

The Seattle Times comes out in favor of I-1100, against I-1105.

And the award for most confused economics blog post goes to…


The Pegu, clarified

ClearPegu 089

It’s been just a bit longer than a year since Dave Arnold posted his method for clarifying lime juice with agar. This month’s Mixology Monday theme also happens to be lime. Further, my local grocery has good, juicy limes selling for a mere $.39 right now. Coincidence or synchronicity? Either way, it was clear what I must do for this month’s post.

Using agar clarification on juice is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. My first experiments with agar clarification of coffee didn’t work nearly as well as using the more time-intensive gel-freeze-thaw method, but I’ve been overdue to try it with citrus. Click here for detailed directions. The basic idea is to hydrate agar in boiling water, whisk a larger amount of fresh lime juice into this solution, let set, and then filter through cloth. Sounds easy, right?

Well, it is easy. Today was my first time using this method on citrus and I was able to get a yield of 170 grams clarified juice from 200 grams of fresh juice, 50 grams water, and .5 grams agar. The only complication is that I was out of muslin through which to strain it, so an ill-fitting, never-worn linen shirt found constructive use as a filter. I probably could have extracted even more juice using Dave’s “massaging the sack” technique, but I was raised conservative. The resulting juice (right) is substantially clearer than juice that’s only been fine strained (left).

ClearPegu 100

OK, neat, but who cares? That’s exactly what I thought as I was doing this today. But as soon as the first drops of clarified lime juice started dripping through the linen, I realized this was actually pretty cool. I could use this stuff in a traditional citrus cocktail, but I could probably stir it instead of shake it. The drink would look better and have better mouthfeel than it would with the air incorporated from shaking. As Dave says, “Clear drinks look more pleasing than cloudy ones, and have a better texture.” (The winning bartenders at this year’s 42 Below cocktail competition appears to have done something similar, as have a few others.)

This being a Mixology Monday hosted by none other than Doug from the Pegu Blog, the choice of cocktail was obvious: The Duck Fart. No, even better, the Pegu!

2 oz gin
1 oz Cointreau
.75 oz clarified lime juice
1 dash orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

This is a slightly different recipe than I use for a traditional Pegu, but it tastes great. The cocktail (above) is much clearer than the shaken version:

Pegu cocktail

The most interesting thing about this cocktail is that the flavor is so unexpected. You see a clean, transparent drink and think it’s all spirits, maybe vermouth, maybe some bitters. Then you taste it and surprise! There’s citrus all up in your face.

I also tried the clarified lime juice tonight in a Pendennis Club (meh) and a Last Word (nice, though I had to add a little extra lime). The technique isn’t practical enough that I’d use it all the time, but it’s definitely an idea that can be used to good effect in cocktails.


Links for 9/18/10

I love this God Shot post about what makes Portland’s food and drink scene punch above its weight: “Some of these crazy ideas fail – even in Portland. But Portland is the kind of safe place where you can still try the crazy ideas. Portland is the place that says ‘rules are bullshit – do what you want to.” Mark Prince is also digging Portland coffee after his recent visit.

Nevermind the Bush tax cuts. How about the Bush spending increases?

Molly Norris, the cartoonist who inspired Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, has been driven underground by death threats from Islamic radicals.

Jason Kuznicki has an insightful post applying Bastiat’s seen/unseen cost distinction to Miranda warnings.

Bjorn Lomborn explains his so-called “U-turn” on climate change. Short version: It’s not the problem that got worse, it’s the solutions that got better.

Michael Bloomberg is going forward with his absurd proposal to ban smoking in all New York City parks and on some sidewalks.

Beer distributors aren’t just afraid of competition from liberalized distribution laws. They’re also afraid of legalized marijuana.


Links for 8/15/10

Do bicycle helmets increase rider safety? The empirical evidence is mixed, as Robin Hanson explains here. I was surprised to learn that 37 US states have mandatory helmet laws.

The calorie labeling law will apply not just to food, but to alcoholic drinks as well

Italian soda: Not so Italian really.

Amanda at Metrocurean picks her top seven spots to splurge if you have money in DC. And really, where else does anyone have money these days?

The speed with which these Chinese workers package decks of cards is more impressive than a lot of sleight of hand.

This comic book needs to happen. Am i wrong?


Links for 9/12/10

In what promises to be a fascinating case if it goes forward, Eugene Volokh has filed a petition for certiorari challenging Oregon’s non-unanimous jury convictions.

The US Postal Service isn’t the only mail service finding its business model out of date: The Royal Mail is looking at privatization as well.

Rowan Jacobsen breaks every rule in the book. Michael Pollan’s book, that is: “Instead of eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper (#54), my plan was to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like an emperor and dinner like Galactus, the planet-inhaling monster from The Fantastic Four.”

Free the food truck! Ed Glaeser on why markets, not planners, should decide which food trucks go where.

Reason’s Michael Moynihan explains why the potential ban on menthol cigarettes is just the next step on the road to complete prohibition of tobacco.

Belle and Sebastian have a new album coming out. Listen to the first single here.


Links for 9/9/10

Michael Munger’s tips for how to write less badly are invaluable.

Matt Welch on the creeping authoritarianism of “There has to be some type of structure.”

Danah Boyd explains how censoring Craigslist adult services section reduces transparency and will likely drive many prostitutes back to abusive pimps.

Only a magician would come up with such detailed instructions for using a disposable coffee cup. I’m not even sure this is the best way. Several Twitter commenters and I all suggest putting the opening of the lid opposite of the seam. You could also use a Biddle Grip.

Speaking of coffee cups, the Boston Globe has a good article on why making a greener vessel is hard, including a suggestion that styrofoam isn’t necessarily worse than paper.

New York City requires letter grades for restaurant health inspections. Market immediately develops for counterfeit A grade certificates.


Recent reading

I must remember to do these posts more often. Amazon referrals are my drinkin’ money. (Not really. If they were I’d still be saving up for my first case of PBR. But every little bit helps!). On to the books…

The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence, Paul Davies — My interest in aliens goes way back, but Davies’ arguments are fascinating regardless of that. In answer to the question of why we haven’t found signs of extraterrestrial life, Davies encourages us to question our deep biases about what other lifeforms might be like, suggesting that we might even renew our search for a second genesis right here on Earth.

The Cult of Statistical Significance: How the Standard Error Costs Us Jobs, Justice, and Lives, Stephen T. Ziliak and Deirdre N. McCloskey — I don’t have either the mathematics or economics background to take all of this in, but it has changed for the better the way I read uncritical reports of new studies finding some correlation between X and Y. “Does an effect exist?” ask many social scientists and reporters. “How big is the effect?” ask Ziliak and McCloskey. Responsible science reporting requires answers to both questions.

The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, David E. Gumpert — If you read only one book about the battles over raw milk, this should be it — though it doesn’t exactly have a lot of competition. Gumpert comes down clearly on the side of raw milk activists, but he does turn a skeptical eye when their claims strain credulity. And if there are a few too many quotes from emails and blog posts, the book at least gets points for being thorough. If you’re interested in the topic it really is a must read. (Side note: This is a niche book, but while reading it in a restaurant my server enthusiastically told me that she was reading it too. Such a Portland moment!)

Food and Wine Cocktails 2010 — As it does every year, this book provides a wide-ranging look at what top bartenders are doing around the country. This year vodka has been kicked aside to share a chapter with genever and aquavit, making what’s usually the most boring spirit chapter of the book more interesting. The drink recipes keep getting more complex, making a lot of them impractical for trying out on the spur of the moment. If you’re looking for inspiration, however, this guide is always a good place to turn.

The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys, Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan — This is a reprint of the Regans’ 1995 book. Some parts of it seem a little dated now, but the 60+ page chapter on the history of American whiskey and the whiskey primer are great resources. The Regans’ writing is enjoyable as always, as are the many photographs and illustrations throughout.


Links for 9/7/10

Having nothing better to do with residents’ tax money, Portland spends $45,000 to restore a penis joke.

More evidence that while the death of pubs in the UK and Ireland may have many causes, smoking bans are a big one.

In Zurich, officials may erect drive-up “sex boxes” to manage prostitution. In the US, Craigslist is pressured to censor its “Adult Services” section.

Should states or the EPA decide how to fight bedbugs? Jonathan Adler argues for state control.

Ever wonder what it looks like inside an espresso portafilter while it’s brewing? Illy once made transparent portafilters for research purposes. Very cool!

This month’s Mixology Monday roundup features a whole lot of drinks that are brown, bitter, and stirred.


A Terrible Two for Labor Day


It’s Labor Day in Portland and the weather couldn’t be better for grilling out. For today, anyway. It looks like the wonderful Portland summer is starting to give way to months of rain, but I knew what I was getting into when I moved here. To enjoy the sun while we can, here’s a cocktail to cap the summer with. We served this at Hop and Vine a few weeks ago to celebrate their two year anniversary. The Terrible Two is a refreshing, easy drink made for cooling off outside:

1.5 oz Krogstad aquavit
.5 oz lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup
3 dashes Angostura bitters

Shake the first four ingredients, serve in a rocks glass over ice, top with a splash of soda, and stir.


Links for 9/3/10

It’s been a month since I stopped doing daily morning links, and the change in traffic is… undetectable. It’s actually up a bit from June and July, though lower than February through May. So I’m going to stick with the current format for a while, which is more fun for me to write and that I can blow off when I want to. On to the links…

Free the ‘Shine! Another good video from on why it’s time to give home distillers the same freedom enjoyed by home brewers.

When I wrote about privatizing the DMV last week, I was unaware of the epic fail going on in Virginia.

At Crispy on the Outside, Baylen Linnekin interviews the director of nutrition at FoodCALC, a company that helps restaurants calculate the nutritional information in their meals. Interestingly, she notes that most of their clients come from restaurants that aren’t covered by the upcoming labeling law and are responding to consumer demand. She also predicts that smart phones will play a greater role in helping people eat healthier.

If I were eligible I’d sign up for Greg Mankiw’s freshman seminar.

USA Today interviews Whole Foods CEO John Mackey.

10 moments of spontaneous badassery

For visitors: How to use an escalator in DC.