Author Archives: Brad Warbiany

Brad’s Beer Review: The Boxing Cat Brewery, Shanghai, China

The Boxing Cat Beer Sampler

First, my apologies for last week. I was on a family vacation, and although I did sneak away to visit Figueroa Mountain’s tasting room in Los Olivos, CA, it turns out that our WiFi was spotty and I was just having too much damn fun to try to fight through that and post the review. I do have pictures and tasting notes, so perhaps I’ll get to that in a future review.

Once I returned home, I unpacked my vacation luggage, packed my work luggage, and was back out the door to the airport in a matter of hours. Many, many more hours later, I arrived in China, and so I plan to make up for last week’s lack of a review by going big. High-quality American-style craft beer in China? I heard about this, but didn’t believe it, and had to check it out. I visited the Boxing Cat Brewery in Shanghai.
The Boxing Cat Brewery
You see, China is what we typically refer to as a “beer desert.” Over here, typically you find mass-market lagers, and occasionally traditional German style beers. It can be possible to find other offerings, but quality is typically hit-or-miss as the novelty of craft beer tends to overwhelm quality when you have less-discerning palates of customers unaccustomed to craft beer. So I’ll admit that my hopes were not all that high, despite the glowing reviews I’d read online. I’ve been burned too many times by that. But, nevertheless, I’m here for a weekend without wife or kids, so I might as well give it a shot, right?

Well, as it turns out, I have been VERY pleasantly surprised by the result. Part of this starts with the key personnel and concept. If you want American beer and food, you start with an American brewer and chef. The brewer hails from the Pacific Northwest–certainly no beer desert–and the chef has comprised a menu that by concept spans “the I-10 corridor” bringing in food from the Southeast, New Orleans, Texas, the Southwest and California.

From walking in the door, you can tell that this place is aimed at visitors and expats, as the hosts and wait staff have solid English skills. While I honestly enjoy the challenge of walking into a restaurant over here and trying to communicate well enough to get a beer and a meal–it can be quite entertaining on both sides–it’s a lot more relaxing when I don’t have to do so.

When I arrived they were having a private party on their first and third floors, so sadly I didn’t get an option to see in detail or take any pictures of the bar area. I dined on the second floor, a scene which could have been taken out of any brewpub in America. Exposed brickwork, dark stained wood everywhere, visible “open” designed ceiling with exposed ductwork and beams. The lighting was a bit low, a bit lower than I’m used to in a brewpub, but not completely out of sorts. Some of the nicer brewpubs I’ve been to in the US are a little less well-lit, and this fits about in line with those. I quite honestly could have easily forgotten I was in China. It felt like a slice of home.

I ordered the beer sampler first, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Cuisine-wise, they have a menu that again could have come out of any brew pub in America. I ordered an appetizer of deep-fried mac and cheese balls. They brought me four beautiful golden-brown bread-crumb battered delights, containing gooey cheese and macaroni, served atop a deliciously seasoned ranch sauce with a side of BBQ sauce. Yes, “deep fried mac and cheese” lived up to be exactly as decadent as it sounds! I followed that up with a pulled pork sandwich full of tender well-dressed pork, a nice side salad with bleu cheese, and cole slaw. The cole slaw was a bit light on flavor, lacking either the mayonnaise base or the vinegar hit of traditional slaw styles, but overall the sandwich and salad were spot-on. Again, they don’t just “emulate” American cuisine here–they’re serving real American food.

But hey, that’s just a start. I haven’t even addressed the beer yet!
The Boxing Cat Beer Sampler

The Boxing Cat has six beers on tap, mixed between their standbys and seasonal/rotating creations. Shown here, left to right, are:

  1. Right Hook Helles: 4.5%
  2. Contender Extra Pale Ale: 4.9%
  3. Standing 8 Pilsner: 4.9%
  4. Suckerpunch Pale Ale: 5.5%
  5. Rye IPA: 6.1%
  6. Winterweight Stout: 6.5%

While this seems like a bit of a lighter menu, their “next up” on the board were two very strong DIPAs coming in at about 9% and 10%, respectively, so the moderate ABV choices in front of me were merely an accident of the calendar.

In general, my analysis is that the beers on this list all tasted basically exactly how they were supposed to. Again, that’s what you’d expect, right? Well, I’ve found that brewpub quality is all over the map, and many local brewpubs in “beer desert” towns in the US don’t have the attention to detail and quality control that the market enforces in highly discerning locales. I was very pleased to find that these beers were all of excellent quality. From a technical level, I found no glaring flaws or off flavors. The beers not only were fine exemplars of their style, but they were delicious.

Two of the six, however, were very unique.

First was the Rye IPA. Now, I love rye. I’ve homebrewed Rye IPA, Rye Pale Ale, Rye Blonde Ale, even Roggenbier. This beer had a much more aggressive rye note than I’m used to in the Rye IPA/Pale Ale genre in the US. Upon asking the waiter (and having the host text the head brewer), I found that the grist for this beer is 30% Rye. That certainly explained it! Now, this is not a criticism of the beer. After all, when I finished my sampler, I followed it up with a pint of the Rye IPA. But it was certainly unexpected.

Even more unexpected was the Winterweight Stout. One whiff of it, followed up with a taste to confirm, resulted in a bit of internal dialog. “Mint? Mint?! Really? Is that f*****g mint?” Now, my incredulity was a bit over the top, as it was *obviously* mint. That’s right, this is a mint chocolate stout. I’ve heard of such things from a few forward-thinking American craft breweries, but I’d never encountered one of these in the wild. It’s surprising, then, that I have to fly to China for my first mint stout. How did it taste? Absolutely freaking delicious. One of my fond memories as a child was eating Andes after-dinner mints, and this was the 6.5% ABV stout version of that. I liked it so much that I might adapt this recipe with my milk stout recipe and brew a mint chocolate milk stout when I get back home!

If I had to make one critique of the Boxing Cat, it’s that the service was not quite as attentive as I’m used to. While I highly appreciated the host going the extra mile to text the head brewer and ask the question about the Rye IPA, I will say that the wait staff was not very proactive about noticing an empty plate and sampler tray sitting in front of me. I had to flag them down to order the sandwich and another beer. However, it was a very busy Friday night, so I’ll happily let that one slide.

All in all, I was absolutely impressed by the Boxing Cat Brewery. This was a meal and a group of beers that would be home in any city in America. They even push the envelope on their beer with the heavy hand of Rye and the mint chocolate stout, and managed to hit a high level of execution on both. I’ll head out today to go try my hand again at fighting through the language barrier to find some authentic local cuisine, but I have to thank Boxing Cat for giving me a slice of America while here on the road, and for providing the local residents an accurate example of American brewpub flavor, rather than the mere inauthentic approximation I expected.

Highly recommended. In the “beer desert” that is China, this place is a positive oasis.

Government Spending Has Been Flat The Past 5 Years. No, Really!

Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)

Back in 2011, I looked at some CBO projections, and said that the country was in dire straits financially. Spending seemed to be on an absolute tear, and revenue–even if it lived up to wildly optimistic projections–wasn’t going to come close to keeping up.

Essentially, the CBO projections pointed to spending occurring at absolutely unprecedented levels, and relied on completely unrealistic projections of economic growth to [not quite even] pay for it. At the time, I said:

Even with those assumptions, where does spending fall historically? Even at these rosy projections, it never falls under 22% of GDP (on par with the highest spending the country has seen since WWII), and those rosy projections came in January 2010. A year later, in January 2011, the CBO outlook got worse. It now shows spending never falling under 23% of GDP during the decade 2011-2020. Historically, spending has not exceeded 23% of GDP for a single year between 1946 and 2008.

Where has revenue been over the last few decades? Well, for the years 1991-2000, during which time we suffered one mild recession followed by the tech bubble, total government revenue averaged 18.75% of GDP. For the years 2001-2010, where we dealt with the tech bubble collapse followed by the subprime bubble and then crash, total government revenue averaged 17.07% of GDP. A sizeable drop, to be sure (the worst spots being 2009 & 2010, where the financial crash slammed revenue below 15% of GDP). But fundamentally not that far out of line with historical precedent.

Now, I hadn’t gone back to look at the numbers since then. So I was very surprised to read a Cato post suggesting that spending was stagnant and was sitting at a mere 20.3% of GDP, not the 23%+ area that the CBO was projecting. As Daniel Mitchell from Cato puts it (emphasis added):

Here are some specific numbers culled from the OMB data and CBO data. In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent about $3.52 trillion. In fiscal year 2014 (which ended on September 30), the federal government spent about $3.50 trillion.

In other words, there’s been no growth in nominal government spending over the past five years. It hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves, but there’s been a spending freeze in Washington.

I was frankly shocked. So I ended up going straight to the OMB data (note: it’s an .xls file) to confirm.
Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)
Looks pretty legit. Spending was pushing well above 23% GDP for a few years due to the economic meltdown, the stimulus, and the continuing effects of global war.

What’s interesting, and I pulled this out of the graphic for clarity (go download the original source data if you want to confirm) is that this is NOMINAL spending. Considering there has been inflation since 2009, it’s actually fair to say that spending has decreased in real dollars over the last 5 years.

Spending is well below the CBO projections from 2010 that I used in my previous post. And frankly, revenue is WELL below their projections as well. But the spending restraint is sufficient to keep both spending as a percentage of GDP and deficits as a percentage of GDP in reasonable territory.

Now, there are always devils in the details. Mitchell points out a few in his post at Cato, and has even more to say on the subject here. But either way you slice it, the fiscal meltdown that many (including me 3 1/2 years ago) were predicting hasn’t come to pass.

Some on the left will credit Obama (even though they’ve never seen spending they didn’t like). Some on the right will credit the Tea Party (even though they spent the 8 years prior to Obama spending like a Kardashian wedding).

As for me, I’m just going to say that I’m glad my predictions–based on CBO projections–didn’t come to pass.

Do Rich High School Dropouts Do “As Well” As Poor College Grads?

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

That’s the claim of Matt O’Brien at Washington Post’s Wonkblog, in a post titled (unsurprisingly), “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.” His main point:

Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong. Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves. You can see that in the above chart, based on a new paper from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s annual conference, which is underway.

Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.

So the anger is that some rich dropouts still succeed and make it to the top, and some poor college grads remain on the bottom. Or, to annotate a graph as O’Brien did:

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

This, however, is a terrible analysis.

First and foremost, it doesn’t live up to his title. Poor kids who do everything right do quite a bit better than rich kids who do “everything” wrong. Only 20% of rich kids who don’t graduate high school make it into the top 40% of income earners. 41% of poor college grads make it into those upper quintiles. Almost 70% of poor college grads make it into the top 60% of income earners. Only 49% of rich HS dropouts do so. The other half of rich high school dropouts end up in the bottom two quintiles, as you’d expect from high school dropouts.

Now, nobody will argue that poor kids don’t have an uphill battle from day 1. And nobody will argue that rich kids have a multitude of advantages in front of them. Their path to success is easier. There are many reasons for this, and I’m not going to go into them here, but suffice to say that I agree with the simple premise that it’s harder to succeed when you start out poor.

But what the graph that O’Brien uses to prove his point is actually proving that putting your nose to the grindstone, pushing yourself to enter and complete college, is important whether you’re rich or you’re poor. If rich HS dropouts were successful at a higher rate than poor college grads, I might agree with this analysis. But they’re not. Poor college grads do measurably better than rich HS dropouts.

Yes, some poor college grads still end up on the bottom, and some rich HS dropouts still succeed. But how many, and why? Compare the above chart with the below (also from the Reeves/Sawhill paper):

Overall mobility

Social Mobility Matrix, US Overall

In this chart, you can see that the bottom quintile–60% of them, in fact–stayed in the bottom two quintiles. Only 23% made it to the top two quintiles. And the top quintile–56% of them–remained in the top two quintiles. Only 25% fell to the bottom two quintiles. So overall, completely outside of any educational data whatsoever, the bottom remained on the bottom and the top remained on the top.

But if you’re poor, and you graduate college, you flip the script. Your odds are very good to go from the bottom quintile to middle class or better. And if you’re rich but don’t graduate college, your odds are better that you’re going to end up in lower middle class or worse. It won’t hold true for everyone, as there are strong cultural factors in play. But those cultural factors are not overwhelming. Demography DOES NOT equal destiny.

That’s meritocracy.

Brad’s Beer Review: Red Brick Brewing’s Matcha Super Green Yuzu IPA

First, my apologies for missing the review last week. With the site migration not completing until Sunday, I didn’t get a chance to put something together.
Matcha Super Green Yuzu IPA
This week I’ve tried to do something a little different. Here in Southern California, I could easily spend years doing a weekly review just of beer from San Diego County. Many of these, such as Alpine, are difficult to get even here in Orange County, much less for the rest of the world.

Luckily, I recently had a beer trade with a coworker who lives in Georgia. I sent him a box of Russian River beer, and he sent the best of the best of GA beer. I might as well review something that our readers back east have better access to than we do out here. In this case, it’s Red Brick Brewing’s Matcha Super Green Yuzu IPA. Because when I think Georgia–bearing in mind that I lived there for two years–my first thought is “green tea IPA”!

That said, it’s my first tea-infused beer, so it should be an interesting experience!

  • Stats: 7.8% ABV, 62 IBU. 4.5 SRM.
  • Aroma: Well, for an IPA, it certainly doesn’t lead with hops. Bit of a shame there. Maybe a bit of the tea, but not overwhelming. I definitely pick up a bit of graininess and a bit of phenol.
  • Appearance: Pale gold, very hazy. Not much head. I typically pour rather gently, but as it was going I tried to get much more aggressive and still didn’t get much. I think the tea definitely causes the haze, but not sure on the head.
  • Flavor: For an IPA, and a 62 IBU IPA at that, I don’t find it overwhelmingly bitter. There’s a maltiness in there. Granted, this is not all that uncommon for East Coast IPAs. The tea is not overdone. A concern with any spiced beer is that the spice will absolutely overwhelm everything else. In this case it melded very well. I would have liked some more hops, though.
  • Mouthfeel: Light to medium body, but with a bit of sweetness that makes it seem a little bigger than it is. I think here is where the tea is most detectable, though. It’s different on the tongue than a typical beer. I get this tiny back-of-the-tongue astringency that I don’t get often.
  • Overall Impression: This one was just “ok” for me. Everything seemed a bit “muddled”. I like nice crisp dry IPAs that are heavy on the hops. I didn’t get them. I do like tea, and I was expecting a bit more noticeable tea character. And the maltiness kind of overshadowed both of those. I wouldn’t really recommend this one.

There you have it. A great big “meh”. I’m sure it’s possible to get green tea to work harmoniously in an IPA, but this isn’t the one.

Book Review: Hearts of Darkness

I recently read* Hearts of Darkness: Why Kids Are Becoming Mass Murderers and How We Can Stop It

This is obviously setting up to be a slightly controversial book from the start. Trying to delve into the psychology of mass killings is fraught with peril.
Hearts of Darkness
This book, however, seems to deliver on its theme.

At its core, the book makes two arguments. Both have merit, but both also lead to questions. At its core, the arguments boil down to this:

  1. Mass killings have become an epidemic, and are a serious issue in their own right that need to be addressed by society.
  2. Mass killings are fundamentally an intersection between the forces of society and severe mental health issues.

I have my issues with both arguments.

First, essentially all statistics on violent crime show that it’s in the decline. So while I’m not going to argue whether or not mass shootings in the dramatic and newsworthy sense are increasing or decreasing [as I haven’t looked at the stats], I’m concerned that the authors didn’t even address the fact that violent crime is decreasing in the aggregate. If you want to make the case that this particular problem is worth addressing, you’d think that including overall crime stats and explaining why this trend increasing in the face of declining crime is worth of a societal response is really necessary.

Second, the argument of the book is quite clear. Essentially all of the killers profiled showed evidence of paranoid schizophrenia. We’re not talking about normal people who went over the edge. We’re talking about crazy people who decided to manifest their version of crazy in a way that causes extreme casualties. But if you assume that these events are increasing, that means we either are seeing an increase in the number of crazy people or we’re seeing something in society that is making crazy people more prone to these events. Unfortunately, the authors don’t seem to justify either argument.

That said, I like the book for its deep investigation into the history of several of these high-profile killers. What they show, with intense research, is that every one of the profiled killers were showing evidence of severe mental schisms. And we’re not talking about depression, or anxiety. We’re talking about hardcore paranoid schizophrenia. Depressed people take their own lives. People who hear voices, or have other similar breaks with reality, are the ones who try to take a bunch of people with them.

The Good:

First and foremost, the book extensively focuses on mental health issues. It essentially states that not all paranoid schizophrenics will become mass shooters. In fact, only a small number will. But it looks into the history of several of these killers and severe mental instability is a pretty darn clear thread woven through their history.

Second, I do like the fact that they don’t fall on the trope of “the kid was autistic, therefore he’s an unfeeling monster” garbage. Yes, autistic people tend to have difficulty relating to others in a “normal” way. No, they don’t lack empathy or concern for others. Autistic people tend to be much less violent than in general. But every time you get into one of these mass killings, the speculation is that the killer is autistic. And in the case of Adam Lanza, it pretty well seems to line up. But the key is that while autistic people tend not to be violent, people who are both autistic and paranoid schizophrenics or have borderline personality disorder just might be violent. Clearly this is an important distinction to me.

Third, this is most certainly NOT an anti-gun book. Despite the fact that the authors are pretty well in favor of gun control, they’re cognizant of the fact that this is not central to the thesis of the book. They do indulge for about 2 pages in the waning portions of the text to suggest that maybe if getting a gun is harder than it is now, that you might see a decrease in these killings. Given the restraint they show throughout the rest of the book, I’ll indulge them 2 pages towards the end.

The Bad:

The “epidemic” claim is not well supported. They throw out a statistic on multiple-death shootings having gone up over the years, but I think to call these “mass” killings in the same vein as a Sandy Hook or Columbine is a stretch. As mentioned before, overall violent crime is in decline over the last several decades, so it’s hard to square this with an epidemic of mass murder. I think if you’re trying to prove an epidemic, the best answer is that with modern communication, we not only know more about these events, and sooner, than we did before, and that in some of the cases the perpetrators were–if not “copycats”–inspired by previous killers. This is made clear in the book, but still I find “epidemic” to be a stretch.

They do a good job of profiling certain killers. But there are many mass killers that are NOT covered here. A skeptical reader is left wondering why not. Now, it could be simple. The authors may simply not have had access to enough medical records or personal history of these other killers to draw a conclusion. It may have been that family and friends or family of the killers were just non-cooperative with the authors. Or, of course, it could be that the authors cherry-picked the ones who supported their premise and left those who did not out. It wasn’t addressed either way, and I think it should have been.

But where the book really fails is to draw a significant conclusion. They clearly have identified a problem and a diagnosis, but when it comes to serious mental disorders, it’s very easy to overreach between acting in the interests of public safety, and trampling the rights of the disabled. After all, a very small proportion even of the mentally ill are likely to go on shooting sprees. How far are we really willing to go to stop this? At best, raising awareness of the issue to identify potential “cries for help” might be the best option, as in a number of these cases, the killers really did need, and express their want of, help to get better.

In their close, the authors point to a number of possible factors leading to this rise. He’re we’re exposed to a litany of the usual suspects. Easy access to guns (and high capacity magazines) is one. Violent video games is another. Leaning left, as they do, they throw out a few more, such as economic issues, globalization, and free speech on the internet. All of these seem to be a bit of a stretch. Hell, they might even want to throw “overpopulation” in there, because more people equals more targets, right? The problem with each of these is that under the right conditions, one can find a study suggesting that these are contributory factors, but it’s never clear just how much of this issue will go away by “solving” any given one of these issues. Nor can we typically agree on the solutions.

Conclusion:

I’m sure this is not an easy book to write. It’s a deeply troubling issue, and one where it’s almost bound to be politicized. Every time one of these events happens, the left and right tend to immediately look for any signs that the killer numbers among the other party. And every time we libertarians see something like Jared Loughner, we immediately worry that someone will assume that all libertarians are going to “go postal” on the Post Office.

This book does a great job to highlight that crazy doesn’t choose a party. And that for the most part, while violent people may kill people, it’s the crazies who are responsible for mass murder. It really is a useful book purely on that point alone. We do have a mental health issue in this country (and other countries do as well), and this is something that should be addressed so that we can help the people at risk of perpetrating these acts.

But the byline of the book includes “and How We Can Stop It.” I think the book fails to deliver on that claim. Now, that isn’t necessarily the authors’ fault. I’m not sure there is an easily-packaged solution that they could put together for us. And much like terrorism, you can win 99 battles out of 100, but that 100th is going to dominate the news cycle. In a country of 300M people, and a world of 7B, the law of large numbers states that perhaps this is simply a problem the world must endure.

At best, they say that these battles are won on the margins, and that with some small changes, like reduced capacity magazines or better control over the sale of violent video games, we might save “some” lives, and that’s better than none. However, I think their politics cause them to minimize the cost to liberty of infringing on our rights to make these improvements at the margins.

In short, the book was a worthwhile read, especially since I see it at Amazon in hardcover for $2.43 right now. At the original print price, though, probably not worth it.
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Brad’s Beer Review: Stone Coffee Milk Stout

This is a beer I’ve wanted to try ever since I heard it was to be released. Milk Stout (sometimes known as sweet stout or cream stout) is one of my favorite beer styles. I first found Left Hand Brewing Company’s Milk Stout when I lived in Georgia back in ‘05-07. When I moved back to California, I couldn’t get Left Hand beers (nor could I easily find any commercial milk stouts), so I used the info from their web site and my own palate and created a homebrewed milk stout that has been roundly adored by friends and family, and kicked major tail in competitions.
Stone Coffee Milk Stout

Thus, the news that Stone Brewing, a company whose beer I generally find faultless, was going to brew a milk stout got me excited. The fact that they were going to add coffee—another thing I love—to the mix made me even more so. I saw it at the grocery store this afternoon, and immediately knew it was coming home.

Milk Stout is so named because it is typically sweetened with lactose (milk sugar). Take note, lactose-intolerant folks, this style is not for you. Lactose is unfermentable by saccharomyces cerevisiae, so the sugar adds sweetness without adding additional alcohol. The Milk Stout style, in comparison to the Dry Stout, will have a sweeter finish. Even for a beer that may have a reasonable amount of roast flavor and aroma (and the bitterness that comes with roasted malts), the sweetness should cleanse the palate for the next sip.

Now, on to my thoughts for the Stone Coffee Milk Stout:

  • Stats: 4.2% ABV, 40 IBU. Color not listed.
  • Aroma: I definitely pick up roast here. To me, the roast is definitely more prominent than the coffee in the aroma. I don’t pick up any hops in the aroma, which is appropriate for the style.
  • Appearance: Black and completely opaque. Light brown / dark tan head with great lacing. Really, though, describing the appearance of a stout is rather boring. They do pretty much all look black!*
  • Flavor: Up front, there’s a hit of roast, but it quickly subsides into coffee. While you—or at least I—cannot smell much coffee in the nose, it’s definitely strong on the tongue. I will say that the beer doesn’t finish as sweet as other milk stouts I’ve tasted. One of my criticisms of many commercial milk stouts is that they take a dry stout with relatively weak roast character and just add lactose. My own recipes tend to be big on the roast and correspondingly big on the lactose. This beer seems a bit big on the roast and coffee, with JUST enough sweetness to cover the bitterness of the roasted malt, the coffee, and the hops, but not a dominant perception of sweetness.

    Of course, all of this is in character for Stone. They tend towards big flavor, and most of their beers don’t shy away from bitterness, and finish fairly dry. This seems to me to fit into their general palate profile. And this beer clocks in at 40 IBU [International Bitterness Unit], which is the top of the scale for a beer that falls into the bottom of the scale for ABV.

  • Mouthfeel: Again, I expect most milk stouts to be pretty full-bodied. This is much closer to medium body, with a slightly more dry finish than I would typically expect from the style.
  • Overall Impression: Honestly, this is a delicious beer. I’m really enjoying it. It’s not entirely what I was expecting, though. In fact, if you didn’t tell me there was lactose in this beer, I’d have a difficult time picking it out. The bias towards bitterness, the medium body and the dry finish, all just say “coffee stout” to me. But the simple fact is that I like bitterness, I like dry finishes, and I generally enjoy light to medium body beers. So while it is delicious, it’s not necessarily something I’d recommend as a pure example of the style.

All that said, I highly recommend you buy this beer. It truly is delicious.
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Jerry Seinfeld — Autistic?

Jerry Seinfeld, universally beloved comedian, has created a bit of an uproar in the autism community. He’s claimed that he believes he’s on the spectrum:

Williams notes that at 60, Seinfeld is still “figuring out who he is. For example: in recent years as he’s learned about autism spectrum disorders, he sees it in himself.”

Seinfeld confirms that, saying, “I think, on a very drawn-out scale, I think I’m on the spectrum.”

“Why? What are the markers?” asks Williams.

“You know, never paying attention to the right things,” says Seinfeld. “Basic social engagement is really a struggle.”

Seinfeld goes on to explain, “I’m very literal. When people talk to me and they use expressions, sometimes I don’t know what they’re saying. But I don’t see it as dysfunctional. I just think of it as an alternate mindset.”

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This is a bit of a pet issue for me, as for years–as soon as I figured out what it was–I’ve believed I have Asperger’s Syndrome*. I’ve never put in the effort to seek an official diagnosis (although I’m getting closer to doing so for several reasons), but knowing the heredity nature of ASD, and then having a son with autism, I’m pretty sure of my self-diagnosis.

Seinfeld sparked a nerve. Several people have suggested that a self-diagnosis isn’t really sufficient (although quite a few autism advocates point out that self-diagnosis is usually the method for diagnosis in adults–usually it is what spurs someone to seek an official diagnosis). Others suggest that a millionaire comedian can’t possibly be autistic. Others are concerned that fitting someone who is as successful as Jerry Seinfeld into the spectrum, with what assuredly must be a relatively mild form of autism, devalues the much more severe autism that many of their children face.

I know. I get it. It’s hard to see someone as funny as Jerry Seinfeld, and think that he has issues with social communication. After all, how can someone who connects with so many people through his art be considered autistic?

But really, it’s not all that far-fetched. I know this won’t sound like something that you’ve heard before, but comedy is possibly one of the most natural places for some folks with high-functioning autism. I say this for two reasons:

  • Comedy, for many people who are considered “misfits”, is a defense mechanism. It’s the “if I make them laugh they won’t beat me up” mentality. This is NOT a new statement about comedians.
  • Comedy is usually predicated on seeing things differently than most people. Most people don’t find regular life funny. They just find it to be regular life. But our human experience in society is riddled with absurdities. I firmly believe that people on the spectrum, who can be over-literal and don’t often understand the subtlety of social interaction, can take an “outsider’s” view of regular life.

For me, comedy is a highly intellectual affair. I love looking at jokes and trying to pick apart why they’re funny. I’ve worked hard to develop my sense of humor, largely through understanding other people, not through the normal method of picking things up naturally. As such, I absolutely hold that “outsider’s view” of comedy. The old Seinfeld trope, “What, is the deal, with that?” is the “outsider’s view” in a nutshell. He’s looking at everything we see every day, but through a completely different prism than we’re used to.

Nor is autism a sign that someone cannot be successful. There are autism success stories all through society. Recently someone had suggested that Bill Gates fits many of the symptoms of autism, and he’s certainly no slouch. In fact, I like to think I’m one of those success stories. I honestly have trouble with social interaction. Yet I have a job that absolutely requires social interaction and relationship-building. In fact, I’m a manager of other people in my career. Many autistics don’t have successful romantic relationships. I’m married to a beautiful woman who is WAY out of my league.

But it’s hard. Really hard, sometimes. I am where I am because I challenge the hell out of myself. I try to take those things where I know I’m not good at something and brute-force my way into making myself good at them. There are instances where it’s terrifying. At a recent conference, I knew I needed to approach a woman who was a marketing manager for a company we work with to discuss something that my company needed. I had to summon the courage to start a conversation with her, completely unprompted and without an introduction (EEK!!!). I forced myself to do it.

For most people, that isn’t an existential victory. The fact that it is, for me, is a sign of my Asperger’s.

As for that beautiful wife who is WAY out of my league? If she hadn’t approached me at a bar 13 years ago, I could very well still be single. In fact, one of the most important developments of our marriage has been my realization that I’m on the spectrum, and her acknowledgment of it. It’s extremely difficult for her to relate to me on several levels, but at least we both understand now where some of those blind spots are for me. It can still be difficult, but at least we’re now on the same page about the fact that we’re completely not on the same page!

My success, or Jerry Seinfeld’s much larger success, shouldn’t be taken as devaluing the much more severe autism that many people face. What we’ve faced is an uphill climb, not a roadblock. I understand the concern of parents who have children with more severe autism, because I’m one of them too. My son, at 5, would still likely be considered non-verbal, even though he’s making progress. I desperately want him to have a chance in his life for the success I’ve had, but the largest fear I have in my entire life is that his autism will be a roadblock, not an uphill climb. A parent who hasn’t had to face that fear is a parent that I envy.

I view Jerry Seinfeld as a welcome addition to the wide range of the autism spectrum. There’s a saying in our ranks that if you’ve known one person with autism, you’ve known one person with autism. We’re all different. Jerry may or may not be autistic. But I have a sneaking suspicion that if he thinks he’s one, he probably is. A millionaire comedian isn’t typical when it comes to autism. But the key is that when you’re talking about autism, typical goes out the window. That may be why we call it a spectrum
» Read more

Brad’s Beer Review Sucks This Week

Well, today really sucked. Not going into the how or the why (nor is it something to be concerned about), but it did. Luckily, however, I was out Thursday night and bought two 1L bottles of Lagunitas Sucks. After some Sucks, I care less about the sucky day.
Lagunitas Sucks
Now, many people would wonder why a brewer named Lagunitas would release a beer called “Lagunitas Sucks”. Several years ago, they realized that they couldn’t brew one of their popular seasonal beers, Brown Shugga. They needed a replacement. And they knew their fans would be highly disappointed, so they defused the fan ire by naming their beer Sucks.

That said, the name doesn’t fit. This beer is phenomenal. I don’t usually use terms like “best” when I talk about beer, especially in a category where I enjoy beers so phenomenally as IPA, but this is IMHO the best IPA on the market right now. I say that as someone who drinks West Coast IPAs like southerners drink sweet tea. This is my favorite at the moment. If you have access to it (and with Lagunitas’ increasing distribution footprint across the country, you should), I highly recommend picking it up.

Anyway, on to the stats:

Aroma: You get some citrus in there… Some dank. Some pine/grass. It’s complex and layered. No single hop dominates the aroma yet it doesn’t give one the thought that it’s muddled.

Appearance: Pale/gold, brilliant clarity, bright white head. As a brewer, I’m envious of this clarity. I realize I’ll probably have to start filtering to achieve it (especially with all those hops), but it’s just beautiful.

Flavor: This is a West Coast IPA. It’s hop-forward. It’s supposed to be hop-forward. If tastes #1, #2, and #3 weren’t hops, I’d be disappointed in Lagunitas. But #4 must be malt. Oh yes, it must be malt. This beer has just enough malt backbone and sweetness to stand up to the hops. But not too much. This is a delicate balance. There’s a *slight* alcohol warmth in this one.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Neither watery or heavy. Perfect for the balance with all the hops and the relatively high ABV of this beer. Again, and perhaps this fits into the theme of “best IPA on the market”, but the mouthfeel is just right for the beer.

Overall Impression: What else can I say? Maybe just this… If you see it, buy a LOT of it. It’s a seasonal beer, and when it leaves the shelves, you’re going to miss it. Of course, it is an IPA, and IPAs should be drunk fresh, so when you buy it, drink it quickly. IPAs fade quickly and that perfect balance I describe won’t be perfect in 6-8 weeks.

Prost!

Did Gary Johnson Just Announce For 2016? No, He Did Not.

Gary Johnson
No. He didn’t.

It’s a clickbait headline from Newsmax: Gary Johnson: I’ll Run in 2016 to Provide Libertarian Option

Only a few outlets have actually run with this (Nick Gillespie @ Reason being one, sadly), based on the quote below:

“I hope to be able to do this again,” Johnson said Monday on “The Steve Malzberg Show” on Newsmax TV. “I’d like to. I would like to.”

Usually when politicians announce their candidacy, they have things like multiple interviews all lined up, a functional website to unveil, etc. They usually coordinate this with their twitter feed, which Johnson hasn’t updated since Oct 13, and on other social media. Oh, and they usually don’t announce the day before a midterm election when they know the news cycle will completely ignore them.

Something about that quote, however, made me suspicious. They don’t say “I hope to be able to” and “I’d like to”. They say things like “I hereby announce…”

Gary Johnson said no such thing. If you watch the interview, he spends 10 minutes talking about the issues. At the very end of the interview, the host Steve Malzberg started talking about 2016.

After Johnson issues the above quotes, you hear Malzberg say “alright folks, you heard it here first” as you can hear Johnson in the background protesting.

If that was someone announcing their candidacy for the Presidency, it’s the lamest announcement I’ve ever heard.

I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that Newsmax exaggerated this one for clickbait.

Take A Stand! Don’t Vote At All!

Today, my illustrious co-contributors have been making the case to you to vote. Sarah wants you to vote Libertarian, Matthew wants you to vote Republican, and Kevin doesn’t want you to vote Democrat, but drew the short straw and we made him argue it anyway.

Now I’m going to tell you why none of their arguments should make you vote for their parties.
Don't Vote!
First and foremost, the Democrats. Some might argue that if you vote Republican, you get big government AND social conservatism, but if you vote Democrat, you get big government and social liberalism. Frankly, it’s a lie. Democrats talk a good game about civil liberties, about ending the drug war, about being pro-choice, reining in the military-industrial complex, and ending foreign adventurism. Yet they change their tune as soon as they’re in power. Remember all those Bush-era domestic spying programs that Obama put a stop to? No, me neither. Remember when Obama closed Gitmo? No, me neither. Remember when Obama forced Congress to give him a declaration of War before bombing people? No, me neither. And it’s been his fellow Democrats defending his [in-]actions. Voting Democrat will never be beneficial to liberty.

As for the Republicans, one can make a very similar argument. Because if you vote Republican, you really do get big government and social conservatism. They talk a good game about small government and fiscal responsibility, but remember who was in office when TARP happened? Hint — it wasn’t Obama. Medicare Part D? No Child Left Behind? Yeah, not small government. Some might say the Republicans are the lesser of two evils, and that libertarians are more naturally allied with Republicans with Democrats, so you might as well pick them as your poison. There’s just one problem with allies when it comes to government: the alliance is forgotten the day after the election. Fusionism between libertarians and Republicans just isn’t going to work.

No, the reason not to vote Democrat or Republican is it truly has gotten very difficult to determine which of them is the lesser evil. And in our system of direct representation, does it really make sense to vote for someone who doesn’t represent you?

That leaves the argument that we should vote our conscience, and vote Libertarian. I’ll admit, of all three arguments, this is the one I’m most sympathetic to. After all, I would actually want to see Libertarians elected. I would trust a Libertarian candidate to represent my beliefs in Washington. And there’s one more argument for voting Libertarian, which Sarah overlooked: Since Libertarians never win, we don’t have to worry about being hypocrites when they then go to Washington and violate their campaign promises!

So why should you stay home? Why not “vote your conscience” and pull the lever for the Libertarian?

Because any vote, even one for the Libertarian, is an affirmation of the system.

But let’s face it. The system doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work is that the system is rigged. The direct representation system with first-past-the-post voting is only stable with two parties. The two parties then exist to move as close to the center as possible and ensure that they don’t alienate voters. Parties don’t exist to cater to minority views.

But we’re libertarians. We’re not centrists. We are a minority view. Some suggest that we’re 15% of the electorate. But the other side of that 15% is 85%. We can NEVER expect the mainstream parties to represent our interests, no matter who we vote for, because the money is in the center, not at the edges.

The alternative is a parliamentary-style proportional representation system. If we truly are 15% of the electorate, we would be able to gain a sizable chunk of the legislative body and we would force the Republicans and Democrats to work with us to govern. In today’s system, they only work with us until the campaign ends.

No, you shouldn’t vote. Validating the system of direct representation with your vote is a losing strategy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be active. I’m not saying you can’t make an impact. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be blogging. What I’m saying is that if you want to make a difference, focus everywhere except the ballot box. You actually have some likelihood of doing good that way.

Brad’s Beer Review: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock

This week, I decided to pick up a bottle of a beer that I’ve wanted to try for a long time and just never quite gotten around to buying. The Schlenkerla Rauchbier.
Rauchbier
Rauchbier is a somewhat little-known style in the US. Using malts dried over open hardwood flames rather than in a kiln, the malts pick up the smoke just like your favorite ribs. A couple hundred years ago, it’s likely that almost all beer had some level of smoke. Today, it’s the exception, rather than the rule.

It’s not that uncommon for some beers to use a bit of smoke. Alaskan Brewing Company is known primarily for their smoked porter, in fact [which is excellent]… The more traditional German Rauchbier, however, is its own style. In this case, the Rauchbier Urbock will be darker and stronger than the usual Rauchbier, as it’s a smoked bock.

On to the fun stuff!

Aroma: Smoky? Yes, it’s smoky. A typical German lager usually doesn’t have a strong natural aroma, so the smoke dominates this like hop aroma dominates an IPA. If this were a homebrew, I’d wonder what flaws that smoke was hiding, but in a beer of this pedigree, I don’t think I’ll find any. Smoke here is prominant, but not overdone.

Appearance: Pours a deep brown, off-white head. Too dark to determine if it’s clear.

Flavor: Clearly, the smoke comes through again here. Smoke is a prominent flavor in this beer. When the beer was first poured (from my admittedly too-cold fridge), the smoke was more dominant, but as the beer warms, a bit of grainy sweetness comes through underneath the smoke. With that warmth, the malt develops into a nice flavor backbone offsetting the smoke.

Mouthfeel: Smoked malt in a beer has a very similar quality to oaking a beer — it has a very distinct mouthfeel. It’s quite difficult to describe. There’s a part of me that wants to call it astringent, and yet another part that wants to call it oily. It’s like it’s puckering and coating the tongue all at once. It’s neither of those, but maybe that gives you an idea of what’s going on. Beyond that, the beer is full-bodied, as a German bock should be.

Overall Impression: This is a very good beer. The smoke melds well with the flavors as a bock, and it comes together in a very well-crafted total package. After I got my “review tastes” out of the way, I paired it with pepperoni pizza and its strong flavors stood up to the pizza without overshadowing the pizza.

Highly recommended.

Can Florida Ban Beer Growlers?

Damon Root, at Reason, on Florida’s ban on 64-oz beer growlers. The law is being challenged by a retail company called The Crafted Keg, which is a “growler bar*”.

To survive judicial review under existing Supreme Court precedent, economic regulations such as Florida’s growler ban must pass what’s known as the rational-basis test. In effect, this test tells the courts that they may strike down a contested law only if it lacks any conceivable connection to a legitimate government interest.
Green Flash Growler of 30th St. Pale Ale
To be sure, that is a highly deferential approach to government regulation. But the Florida growler ban is so moronic it fails to satisfy even the generous terms of the rational-basis test.

After all, what possible legitimate state interest could this ban serve? It certainly cannot be part of some regulatory scheme designed to limit beer consumption and thereby curb public intoxication or drunk driving. That sort of scheme would only be rational if the state also banned six packs, kegs, and other large-size offerings. The fact that customers may purchase 72-ounces of beer via six pack but not a 64-ounce growler of the same beer highlights the fundamental irrationality of this preposterous regulation.

When I was at Purdue, there was a ban on kegs in fraternity houses out of concern that the end of the night might result in a “finish off the keg” mentality and lead to excessive drinking. This is due to the typical hand-pump tap used to maintain pressure, which severely oxidizes the beer and causes it to go stale extremely quickly. Often a beer would taste terrible by the next night when using a hand pump. (This is not an issue on keg systems dispensed with CO2 or “beer gas”.) Instead, without kegs, we were forced to drink excessively via other means.

One can make an argument that a growler suffers the same issue. Growlers are really meant to be single-serving containers, or at most maybe split over two nights. The beer will go stale quickly if allowed to sit. Growlers aren’t filled with the same care to minimize oxidation as bottles or cans, and many growlers have trouble maintaining CO2 over more than a few days due to poor seals. Thus, you often drink a growler as quickly after purchasing it as you can to avoid it going stale or flat.

In addition, many growlers are “special release” beers, often higher in alcohol than typical. I often don’t like growlers for this exact reason. My wife doesn’t drink beer, and I tend to have trouble putting away 64 ounces of 8%+ double IPA in an evening on my own and getting up at the crack of dawn to feed children the next morning. For that reason, I actually love the 32-ounce growler as a format. It’s quite uncommon in the industry, however.

Six packs don’t have these issues. 22-oz bombers don’t have these issues. And kegs are clearly not intended for a single-serving. They’re either purchased for groups (using a hand pump tap) or for personal kegerators using CO2.

One 12-oz bottle from a 72-oz six pack won’t get you drunk, and the other 5 bottles can be easily stored for weeks or months. Drinking an entire 64 oz growler will get you drunk. And with the difficulty in storing a growler at all — much less a growler that’s already had a pint or two poured out of it, make it highly likely that it will be consumed in a single sitting.

Thus, while I don’t agree with the growler ban, I can see it passing a rational basis test.

» Read more

There’s No Such Thing As An “eBook Monopoly”

First things first… I’ve spent a lot of time criticizing Kevin Drum over the years. Suffice to say that we don’t see eye to eye, and a reliable way to generate content here has often been “wait for Drum to say something ridiculous, then flog him for it.” It’s a well I’ve gone back to from time to time when thirsty, I’ll say that much. That said, he recently was diagnosed with cancer. All politics and blogging aside, best of luck to him in his treatment and recovery. It may be uncommon on the blogosphere to recognize that our ideological opponents are actual human beings, but he is and so I wish him the best.

With the niceties out of the way, Kevin fired off on the recent hot button of Amazon and its market power. Specifically, people question the extent to which Amazon is a monopoly. That’s a much wider topic, but I see something here that is a wrinkle that needs to be highlighted. Kevin says:

In theory, this is a great opportunity for an innovative startup. Startup costs are modest since there’s no physical inventory to worry about. Publishers are eager for new entrants. Maybe a smart startup could appeal to consumers with a great new e-reader concept. Or a better recommendation engine. Who knows? There are loads of possibilities. The problem is that no startup can possibly compete with a huge incumbent that’s willing to sell e-books at a loss. There’s no VC on the planet willing to fund a trench war like that.

So Amazon really does have a monopoly position in this market that it sustains via predatory pricing and heavy-handed business practices—against publishers both big and small—that might make John D. Rockefeller blush.

…snip…

So sure, leave Amazon alone in most of its business lines. But in e-books? Nope. They’re a monopoly in every sense of the word, and they use predatory practices to stay that way. They may offer cheap books, but in the long run it’s vibrant competition that truly benefits consumers. Regulating Amazon would hardly solve all our e-book problems—far from it—but it would be a start.

Now, I know marketing dweebs always love to slice-and-dice marketing data, torturing it until it shows that they’re the market leader in the critical “males age 24-27 in the Pacific Northwest who own cats” segment. It’s a way to claim that you’re a winner. As long as you cast the net narrowly enough.

But you can’t do this with monopolies. The Kindle doesn’t compete in the eBook market. It competes in the book market.

Trying to suss out a monopoly in only a single segment of the market reminds me of a debate I had with an old neighbor about the XM/Sirius merger several years ago. He said it should be blocked as it would create a monopoly. I said that it’s not a monopoly, because the market for mobile entertainment is much wider than just satellite radio:

What’s wrong with a monopoly in satellite radio? After all, look back a mere 6 years, when there was no such thing as satellite radio. At the time, people functioned. The world wasn’t falling apart because there were no blues stations in BFE. People lived without satellite radio, and yet people didn’t even know they were missing it.

…snip…

Thus, for a satellite radio provider, they cannot be a true monopoly. First, they’re offering a product that didn’t even exist 6 years ago, and currently has such a tiny number of subscribers that it’s not in any way a necessity. Second, they’re competing not only against other satellite radio companies, but against terrestrial radio, internet radio, CD’s, and portable music players. If they don’t offer a product worth paying for, people won’t pay for it.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite eBook
Amazon basically created the eBook market. Yes, there were eReaders prior to the Kindle, but they didn’t have a good distribution platform for books. Amazon was able to leverage their distribution model and really popularize the segment. They’ve continued to invest in the segment and thus have maintained absolutely crushing market share. They’ve even enabled completely new models for books, like the $2.99 price point that allows people to write and sell books that don’t fit the 200+ page model, and even a revival of the serial novel*.

But that doesn’t make them a monopolist. Yes, if you cast the net to ONLY eBooks, you might be able to make that claim. But eBooks are a substitute for physical books. If eBooks disappeared tomorrow, we’d all go right back to buying paperbacks and hardcovers. You simply cannot separate the eBook market from the wider book market.

Now, that gets harder to say when you see many books (like those mentioned Kindle Singles or serialized fiction) released only in the eBook format. I happen to be working on something that would fit into the Single format and something for which I would never get a “book deal” and don’t particularly want to self-publish.

But along those lines, you can’t blame Amazon for creating a new genre for publishing any more than you can blame SiriusXM for creating comedy stations where they can play George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV” uncensored even though you could never play that on their primary competitor, terrestrial radio. It still doesn’t make either a monopoly.

Monopoly is a word thrown around a lot, and despite where you stand on the validity of anti-trust law, it’s important to distinguish where the word is and is not valid. Someone who has carved out a dominant position in one niche of a much wider market–a market with many ready substitutes–is quite simply not a monopolist.
» Read more

Brad’s Beer Review: Alpine Brewing Company – Duet

Weekends tend to be a slow time for political blogs, so it’s a perfect time to get into another passion. So I’m happy to announce a new weekend off-topic feature here: Brad’s Beer Review.

As many of you already know, I’m a homebrewer and a beer geek. What’s a beer “geek”, you [probably don’t] ask, and how is it different from a beer snob? Well, it’s simple:

A beer geek cares what he drinks. A beer snob cares what you drink.

Alpine Brewing Company - Duet

Alpine Brewing Company – Duet


I’m a beer geek. I don’t care what you drink. Unlike the folks from the Washington Post, I’m not going to deride you for what you drink, whether it’s Bud Light or Smirnoff Ice.

That said, if you’re looking for a beer sherpa on the path to enlightenment, I’m happy to show you the way. So to start off this new feature, I decided to reach into the beer fridge for something a little special. In future instances, the feature may not be a beer, rather it may be a beer bar, brew pub, or craft beer centric restaurant. I travel quite a bit for work, so I’ll do my best to keep it varied. And it may not be a commercial beer. As a homebrewer, I might offer my own brews up from time to time (with recipe, of course).

Alpine Brewing Company is located in Alpine, CA, a tiny town well east of San Diego. They’re well known in the craft beer community, but even living in SoCal I didn’t get the chance to taste their wares until a few weeks ago. Mostly because Alpine CA is in the middle of freaking nowhere. They’re well known for their signature Double IPA, Pure Hoppiness. They didn’t have it available in bottles when a friend was in the area, so he brought me a few bottles of Duet, an IPA.

Duet is so named because of the use of Simcoe and Amarillo hops, and the first impression of the beer is the aroma. You can smell the Simcoe. Simcoe is well known as one of the key hops in another highly-touted beer, Pliny the Elder from Russian River. The Simcoe is offset by the Amarillo, which is known for a strong citrus aroma.

Visually, although my picture shows it a bit dark, the beer pours a nice pale gold. Great clarity.

On the tongue, this hits the mark. Any west-coast IPA should be hop-forward, an it is. Poor examples of the style are all hops, without any malt backbone to back it up. Duet has enough malt to give a great foundation for the hops, and let them shine. It’s got malt without being sweet (Dogfish Head, I’m looking at you!), and while it’s not quite as dry and crisp as I like my IPAs, it still makes me want more. You taste this beer and you know why everyone goes nuts over Alpine.

Then you come to the question in the craft beer world of drinkability. Which is really the question “does this taste like this beer will mess me up as much as it will mess me up?” On that metric, this beer is highly drinkable. The Alpine web site says this is a 7% ABV beer. Taste wise, I’d guess much lower. This beer carries zero alcohol warmth, and you’re left feeling like you could pound these away until you’ve forgotten that you’re at a brewery that’s closer (as the crow flies) to Mexico than it is to San Diego and you don’t have a ride home.

In short, I’m impressed by this beer. Alpine has absolutely nailed it. You’ll find as this feature continues that this is not all that common when it comes to me and beer. So if you can find some Alpine (you can’t… sorry.), buy it!

Idaho Gay Marriage Lawsuit Moot – City Backs Down

I’ve covered the Idaho “Hitching Post” gay marriage case. I started with a relatively in-depth look at the legal issues involved on Monday, and then covered some inconsistencies in the history of the Hitching Post’s religious designation yesterday.

Today, though, it has all been resolved. The Hitching Post’s recent change from performing civil marriages as well as religious marriages to performing ONLY Christian religious ceremonies, and explicitly forming themselves as a religious business 3 weeks ago, have now exempted them from the anti-discrimination ordinance.

From Boise State Public Radio:

Initially, the city said its anti-discrimination law did apply to the Hitching Post, since it is a commercial business. Earlier this week, Coeur d’Alene city attorney Mike Gridley sent a letter to the Knapps’ attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom saying the Hitching Post would have to become a not-for-profit to be exempt.

But Gridley said after further review, he determined the ordinance doesn’t specify non-profit or for-profit.

“After we’ve looked at this some more, we have come to the conclusion they would be exempt from our ordinance because they are a religious corporation,” Gridley explained.

Now, it’s partly incorrect to draw some links between this case and Hobby Lobby. That of course involved a federal law whereas this is a city ordinance, and that case was decided on the grounds of the federal RFRA, where the religious exemption is what protects the Hitching Post here. (That said, Idaho has an RFRA, and virtually everyone is in agreement here that forcing the ministers themselves to officiate the ceremony would violate it.)

But at the same time, there were a few things in that decision (and the precedent discussed in the decision) that are instructive.

The first is that Hobby Lobby held that a “closely held” corporation could have religious beliefs, in the sense that it was the direct expression of a very small-knit group of owners. While a publicly-traded corporation wouldn’t have the same protection, a corporation held by a small religious family is entitled to the same protections under RFRA that the owners themselves would be, because the corporation is not truly separable from them as owners.

The second is that under previous RFRA cases, generally any sincerely-held religious belief is taken at face value. The Court isn’t in the business of deciding what religious beliefs are “valid” and what religious beliefs aren’t. Thus, as long as the actions of the Hitching Post are consistent as a religious corporation, forcing them to offer services to same-sex engaged couples violates their religious freedom. Thus, from the Boise article again:

Leo Morales of the ACLU of Idaho said the exemption makes sense as long as the Hitching Post primarily performs religious ceremonies.

“However, if they do non-religious ceremonies as well, they would be violating the anti-discrimination ordinance,” Morales said. “It’s the religious activity that’s being protected.”

So while some of the red-meat Conservatives were hoping that this would be the wedge that destroys gay marriage, I think everyone’s out of the water.

And to the Knapps, while I profoundly disagree with your belief, and sincerely hope that you come to my side of the aisle on this one, I am glad that you won’t be going to prison or subject to fines. As a libertarian, I think you’re wrong, but as you haven’t taken anyone’s rights away by failing to offer them services, I’m not in the camp that wants to throw you in a cage for it.

H/T: Reason

That Idaho Gay Marriage Lawsuit? It Just Got Murky.

On Monday, I posted about the Idaho pastors who filed a lawsuit as Couer d’Alene’s anti-discrimination ordinance threatened them with large fines and possible jail time for a refusal to perform same-sex weddings at their chapel, The Hitching Post.

As background, I posted excerpts from the Hitching Post’s lawsuit regarding their employee policy:

Then, the Employee Policy specifies the following Rules and Regulations:
• Only the Hitching Post owners and employees may perform wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post Chapel and other locations scheduled by the Hitching Post. Outside ministers may not perform wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post Chapel or other locations scheduled by the Hitching Post. Brides and grooms may not invite outside ministers to perform such ceremonies. Outside ministers may come and stand alongside the Hitching Post owner or employee who performs the wedding ceremony. But only the Hitching Post owner or employee may perform the ceremony.
..snip..
• In accordance with the religious beliefs and ministerial vows of the Hitching Post owners, Hitching Post owners and employees will perform ceremonies for those of different faiths and religious beliefs (so long as those marriage ceremonies are consistent with the beliefs set forth herein) because marriage is a common grace and creational gift bestowed by God upon all humans for the benefit of human society.

And my analysis, with a bit of added emphasis which will soon be clear:

Is the Hitching Post a religious entity, or is it a non-religious business? I have a feeling it’s going to come down to under what circumstances they’ve turned away traditional couples based on other violations of their Christian beliefs. If they have a history of turning away open atheists, or turning away Muslims, or perhaps frowning on Christian/Muslim unions, they may have a leg to stand on. In that case, they can show that they’ve turned away opposite-sex couples (and their dollars) based upon the sincere religious nature of their business.

But if they’ve got a history of taking money from pretty much any opposite-sex couple that walks through the door and it’s only the gays that they turn away, I think they may be considered a public accommodation. Even then, they have an extrajudicial way out. If they do allow same-sex couples to bring their own officiant, they would thereby be excluded from having to do the specific act (solemnizing the wedding before God), which I think many courts would view as not substantially burdening their Free Exercise.

So, what’s the history of the Hitching Post? Well, that’s where it gets murky. Walter Olson of Overlawyered tipped me off on this one.

You see, the lawsuit pointed out all the ways in which the Hitching Post was a deeply religious business, using their ceremony as ministry to bring couples to the Lord.

Only, the Operating Agreement was signed on October 6, 2014. It was submitted as an exhibit to the lawsuit here (scroll down to page 91). Now, it’s one thing to find a document with a date on it… After all, for all we know, the previous Operating Agreement might have been substantially the same as this one.

But Google Cache doesn’t lie. Jeremy Hooper from Good As You points out that as recently as Oct 9, the Hitching Post web site said that they offer marriages of both the religious and civil variety, and even of ceremonies of other faiths. (Screen shots available at that post).

Some “ministry”.

Now, I still don’t doubt that the Knapps have sincere religious beliefs against gay marriage. But it certainly seems that the Hitching Post, as a legal entity, just seems to have found God recently.

And it seems to me that the ADF is manufacturing a victim of the Couer d’Alene ordinance.

I’m finding my sympathy level for all parties involved is beginning to wane.

Link: Popehat’s Gamergate Post That’s Not About Gamergate

Today Clark @ Popehat has an excellent post about Gamergate.

Only, it’s not really about Gamergate. Gamergate is a symptom. Clark’s post is about the cause. A cause which is much deeper, rooted in the very things that make us human.

It’s not often that you can find someone who ties off evolutionary biology, political history, technology, and a healthy dose of Saul Alinsky (quoted properly, not as red meat for conservatives), but Clark pulled it off.

Highly recommended reading. And while you’re at it, click to Christopher Bowen’s post right here while you’re at it. He’s got more detail on Gamergate in particular than Clark goes into, and also hits the main key elements of the culture war that’s been uncovered.

Idaho Pastors Threatened With Jail Time Over Refusal To Marry Gays

Opponents of gay marriage have consistently predicted that legalization of gay marriage would force churches to perform the ceremony. Supporters have said that this was highly unlikely, and not the intent of legalizing gay marriage.

It appears the first shots have been fired in this fight, and it’s an extremely interesting case. As usual, in a case like this, hyperbole is flying FAR ahead of knowledge, so I’ll do my best to give you the whole picture. Hyperbole aside, the Alliance Defending Freedom–who I’m somehow now linking twice in a week?–gives a pretty solid summary:

The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel is across the street from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office, which issues marriage licenses. The Knapps, both in their 60s and who themselves have been married for 47 years, began operating the wedding chapel in 1989 as a ministry. They perform religious wedding ceremonies, which include references to God, the invocation of God’s blessing on the union, brief remarks drawn from the Bible designed to encourage the couple and help them to have a successful marriage, and more. They also provide each couple they marry with a CD that includes two sermons about marriage, and they recommend numerous Christian books on the subject. The Knapps charge a small fee for their services.

Coeur d’Alene officials told the Knapps privately and also publicly stated that the couple would violate the city’s public accommodations statute once same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho if they declined to perform a same-sex ceremony at their chapel. On Friday, the Knapps respectfully declined such a ceremony and now face up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines for each day they decline to perform that ceremony.

First, of course, we need to make an assumption. The assumption is that anti-discrimination laws are just and good and necessary. There are many areas within libertarianism in which this comes into question. I do not intend to cover that here. As a result, we get into questions of competing rights regarding access to a “public accommodation” vs the Free Exercise protection of the First Amendment.

An example. If you own a restaurant, serving the public, and refuse to serve a married same-sex couple because their lifestyle offends your religious beliefs, you’re pretty clearly in the wrong. Why? Because your religious beliefs are not central to the service you perform. If you are a conservative Christian wedding cake maker or a wedding photographer who refuses to provide services, you’re also legally in the wrong. Operating a camera or baking a cake is not an inherently religious act. Barring services impedes a same-sex couple’s access to a public accommodation MORE than it impedes your right to Free Exercise of your religious beliefs.

When it comes to performing marriages, however, this changes. For example if you are a same-sex couple who wants to force the Catholic Church to host your wedding, you’re out of luck. In that case the religious purpose of the institution is key. It is clearly a religious institution for which performing marriages is a sacred rite, and you don’t have the right to force them to officiate marriages contrary to their sincerely-held religious beliefs. As a result, the Coeur d’Alene statute does have an exemption for religious institutions.

So where does the Hitching Post sit? Here’s where it gets complicated. Are they a “public accommodation” because they’re primarily a business, not primarily a church, performing marriages for a fee? Or are they primarily a ministry advancing the teachings of Christ through the marriages they perform, and should be exempt from Coeur d’Alene’s law based on the religious exemption. I’m 50 pages into ADF’s lawsuit, and I’m having a hell of a time figuring it out.

For example, even the facts asserted in the lawsuit suggest that the Hitching Post is primarily a business, situated where it is in a very opportunistic location out of convenience.

72. This current location is 524 N Government Way, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
73. In this location, the Hitching Post Chapel is approximately 300 feet from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office.
74. The Hitching Post Chapel and the Kootenai County Clerk’s office are located on the same street.
75. The Kootenai County Clerk’s office issues marriage licenses.
76. A person can walk from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office to the Hitching Post Chapel in roughly 1 minute.
77. Couples often do precisely this. They get their marriage license from the Kootenai
County Clerk’s office and walk across the street to wed at the Hitching Post Chapel.
78. Because the Clerk’s office is so close by, the Hitching Post Chapel is a very convenient and popular spot for couples wanting a wedding service.
79. Roughly 50% of Hitching Post customers come to the Hitching Post Chapel on the same day they receive their marriage license from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office.

Having been married in the Catholic Church myself, I can tell you that nothing I’ve read in the facts of this lawsuit suggest that the ministry offered by the Knapps is anything like the excruciating Engaged Encounter my wife and I had to sit through! And the 12-minute ceremony on youtube officiated by the Knapps doesn’t seem to carry the mass of the 1 1/2 hour Mass at our wedding…

Nor, IMHO, are they helped by the fact that they’re doing 1400 weddings a year, and don’t seem to offer any other religious ministry outside of the ceremonies they perform. They limit officiation of weddings to only themselves, but one can suggest that this is done to ensure their site is not used for same-sex weddings. They certainly don’t seem to have any issues officiating the weddings of other faiths:

Then, the Employee Policy specifies the following Rules and Regulations:
• Only the Hitching Post owners and employees may perform wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post Chapel and other locations scheduled by the Hitching Post. Outside ministers may not perform wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post Chapel or other locations scheduled by the Hitching Post. Brides and grooms may not invite outside ministers to perform such ceremonies. Outside ministers may come and stand alongside the Hitching Post owner or employee who performs the wedding ceremony. But only the Hitching Post owner or employee may perform the ceremony.

• In accordance with the religious beliefs and ministerial vows of the Hitching Post owners, Hitching Post owners and employees will perform ceremonies for those of different faiths and religious beliefs (so long as those marriage ceremonies are consistent with the beliefs set forth herein) because marriage is a common grace and creational gift bestowed by God upon all humans for the benefit of human society.

One can imagine that a same-sex couple bringing their own officiant [while still paying the Knapps full price] would not substantially burden the Knapps’ religious Free Exercise, but as you can read, their own policies ensure that this is not acceptable.

On the opposite side, the fact that they DO only perform the marriages themselves, and specifically DO provide quite a bit of Christian-oriented material to the couples they marry (see pages 28-31 of the lawsuit). I do honestly believe their religious beliefs are sincerely-held. I do believe they view their business as doing the Lord’s work, as their ministry to the world.

That’s why this is so hard. The question is not whether churches can be forced to perform gay marriages, but the degree to which certain businesses are religious or non. Coeur d’Alene city attorney Warren Wilson, while arguing that the Hitching Post probably falls under the “public accommodation” designation, had this to say:

“I would think that the Hitching Post would probably be considered a place of public accommodation that would be subject to the ordinance.”

In Washington, no clergy person is required to marry a couple if doing so would violate the dictates of their faith tradition. Idaho does not have a similar exemption in place, but religious entities are exempt from the Coeur d’Alene ordinance, so pastors in the city are not obligated to perform same-sex weddings. But any nonreligious business that hosts civil ceremonies would fall under the city law, Wilson said.

Is the Hitching Post a religious entity, or is it a non-religious business? I have a feeling it’s going to come down to under what circumstances they’ve turned away traditional couples based on other violations of their Christian beliefs. If they have a history of turning away open atheists, or turning away Muslims, or perhaps frowning on Christian/Muslim unions, they may have a leg to stand on. In that case, they can show that they’ve turned away opposite-sex couples (and their dollars) based upon the sincere religious nature of their business.

But if they’ve got a history of taking money from pretty much any opposite-sex couple that walks through the door and it’s only the gays that they turn away, I think they may be considered a public accommodation. Even then, they have an extrajudicial way out. If they do allow same-sex couples to bring their own officiant, they would thereby be excluded from having to do the specific act (solemnizing the wedding before God), which I think many courts would view as not substantially burdening their Free Exercise.

So what does this all mean? It means we’re probably in for a very long, protracted legal battle. If this goes to a judge for ruling rather than some sort of settlement or extrajudicial recourse, it’ll probably be decided on grounds VERY unique to the specifics of the Hitching Post and their history of exerting their religious will vs acting like a for-profit business, and not on the wider legal issue of discrimination in general.

What does that mean? It means that this case will probably be useless when it comes to deciding future precedent, and will be highly technical. Of course, that won’t stop whichever side loses from considering it the end of their world.

Rant: People Who Don’t Link To Source Material

Earlier today, my new co-contributor Matt wrote about the ridiculous Houston city council subpoena on a group who was against the transgender bathroom-rights law.

Where did the original story come from? Right here at The Washington Times.

It’s a busy article.

It comes complete with a picture from the San Francisco gay pride parade. What does San Francisco have to do with Houston bathrooms? I’m not quite sure.

It has a minute-long vapid video featuring a reading of the first two paragraphs of the article, because apparently 300 words is such a weighty article that it elicits “tl;dr” from typical readers of the Washington Times.

And of course it has a rather superficial 300-word article touching only ever-so-slightly on the merits of the case. The article which doesn’t even summarize the basic legal rationale for the group who is challenging the subpoena. The basic legal rationale that’s so simple that I’ll summarize it for you in two sentences:

The law states that subpoenas may only ask for evidence likely to result in admissable evidence on the merits of the case and doesn’t violate various legal privileges. ADF asserts that the subpoenas are overly-broad and violate the law by asking for such wide-ranging materials (some of which are Constitutionally-protected expression and others that are attorney-client privilege or protections against nonparties to lawsuits) that it cannot possibly be within the law.

You know what the Washington Times article is also lacking? ANY GODDAMN LINK TO THE ACTUAL SOURCE MATERIAL!!

It’s not like it was hard to find. A 10-second Google search led me to the ADF web site. A prominent link on the front page of the site got me to their press release in the first 10 seconds on their site. And ADF, to their credit, linked both the subpoena and their motion to quash in the first paragraph. And it’s not like links are expensive. Hyperlinks are free.

So I read them. I realize, this is ridiculous in the days of blogging when everyone has an opinion on Supreme court decisions despite the fact that none of them ever actually reads the opinions. When I read the subpoena and the motion to quash, it was pretty apparent that the subpoena was overly broad. When you dig into it, though, there are a lot of areas of the subpoena that are quite likely to result in admissible evidence. Hence why in the motion to quash, you’ll see this statement:

The Nonparty Pastors respectfully request that the Court issue an order quashing their subpoenas. Alternatively, the Nonparty Pastors request an order modifying the subpoenas to clarify that they do not include (or a protective order declaring that the Nonparty Pastors need not produce) the requested documents that are not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and the requested documents protected by the First Amendment privilege, the deliberative-process privilege, the attorney-client privilege, and the work-product doctrine.

In a lawsuit alleging that a city council unfairly determined that an insufficient number of petitions were gathered, the portions of the subpoena related to the records of petitioners are certainly likely to result in admissible evidence. The content of sermons discussing the Mayor, on the other hand, are clearly not. So if the city attorneys narrow the scope of their subpoena (as the WSJ–an entity which deserves kudos for actually linking the subpoena and motion!–reports they’re already backing away from), they’ll probably still be able to get the discovery information they need to prepare an adequate defense to the lawsuit.

Of course, IANAL, and it’s entirely possible that I got my legal analysis wrong. But what I do know is that I’ve already given you, the readers of The Liberty Papers, a more cogent (and more entertaining, I hope) analysis of the issues than Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times. And unlike Valerie Richardson, I actually gave you the links to go form you own opinion if you doubt my reporting in any way. Because frankly, my dear readers, you’re worth it!

Publications that give you opinion without linking to original source material are trying to keep you dumb. They either want you to keep coming directly to them for analysis (likely), or don’t want you to read the source material and realize they’ve gotten something terribly wrong. Or maybe they’re just terrified that you’ll click on the link and not come back. Or maybe all of the above. Either way, they treat you like infants.

Don’t let them get away with it. Demand better. This is 2014. I hate to use the term “mainstream media” in such a derisive tone that went out of style in about my third year of blogging–right about the time Sarah Palin started calling it the lamestream media–but even The Washington Times should have figured out how to hyperlink by now.

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