Saturday, August 2, 2008

Brewing Updates

So there has been some activity on the beer brewing front - thought some of you might be interested...

I'm down to my last two bottles of Czech Pilsner, which I brewed two or three months ago at this point. The last time I had a bottle was about a month ago, and the flavor had really matured and melded by then, so these two bottles should be great. My brother had a bottle of it last week and seemed to think it was good as well. We're having a crock-pot BBQ farewell party to a friend who was in D.C. for a law internship this summer, and I'll serve up the last two bottles there.

I just bottled a classic American lager last week - the plastic bottles I put it in are already rock-solid, which bodes well for good carbonation and a substantial head. It looks a little darker than I would like, but that's not surprising with the homebrew ingredients I've been using. They've always turned out darker than pictured. Oh well - should be on the lighter side in terms of taste, which is the idea. I'm going to bring all two gallons of it to the Outer Banks, where I'll be lazing on the beach with my wife, sister in law, her fiance, and two other friends for the last week of August. It's my birthday week and you're allowed to bring plastic bottles on the beach, so I plan on enjoying my homebrewed American lager on the hot sand.

Last night I brewed my next batch - "Blonde Bombshell" - a honey wheat beer that my brother and his wife got me for Christmas. I have high hopes for this one. It has a wheat base to the wort, plus the recipe called for adding honey which means it will be nice and sweet. It also called for additional hops, which means it should be a moderately spicey beer. I think the spice, with the softness of the wheat and the sweetness of the sugar will make for a really great Autumn beer combination (it should be ready to drink at the end of September... I've found that four weeks of fermenting and four weeks of carbonation is ideal to get things fully fermented without any odd residual sweetness or yeastiness).

When this is done fermenting, at the end of August, I'm going to start brewing two other Autumn batches I just got from my homebrew supplier: "Dutch Apple Ale" and "Full Moon Marzen". Dutch Apple Ale is a cider, with an English Nut Brown wort. The recipe calls for brown sugar and cinnamon to be added, which should taste great. The other neat thing about this recipe is that instead of adding water to the wort, it calls for adding apple juice! The yeast will eat that in addition to the brown sugar and wort, and give it a really great apple taste. My wife loves hard cider - one of the few beers she'll drink - so we like to have cider on hand in the Fall.

Marzen is another typical Autumn beer, despite it's name. The beer is called "Marzen", because it would be the last batch of beer the German brewers would make, in the month of March. After that, it would be too warm to brew. They would brew their Marzen, and then store it in cool cellars all summer. The casks wouldn't be cracked open until September or October, making it a traditional Autumn brew with strong associations to Oktoberfest, especially.

So I'm torn on which to brew first of these - the Marzen or the cider. The wheat ale should be done at the end of September, which means one batch would be done at the end of October and one at the end of November. After both these I'll brew a darker winter/Christmas batch.

I also got equipment to bottle the beer in glass bottles with crimped caps! - none of this plastic coke bottle stuff any more (despite its convenience for drinking on the beach).

We're going off to the store soon, and I need to restock beer anyway. Now that I'm in a beer mood I think I'm going to get something good... no JW Dundees, despite the fact that its a really tastey value-buy.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Misleading Washington Times Article

The Washington Times published an article this morning by Stephen Dinan discussing how the campaign has turned nasty - with both candidates trading insults...

What's telling is that in every McCain example, he actually accuses Obama of "playing the race card", and being a lightweight celebrity like Paris Hilton.

And what is the Washington Times' Obama example? "Obama ridiculed McCain for depicting him as a lightweight celebrity". Ridiculed him indeed... what Obama said was:

"So far, all we've been hearing about is Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I mean, I do, I do have to ask my opponent, is that the best you can come up with? Is that really what this election's about? Is that what is worthy of the American people?"

... not really ridiculing John McCain here, is he? Certainly not in a way that could be construed as an "insult".

The worst thing Obama is catalogued as saying is:

"Nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me: You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky. That's essentially the argument they're making."

But that's not really accusing McCain of anything! He's not saying "you're a racist, McCain", as the McCain campaign suggests he is.

So basically we have a situation where McCain has been running some strange - and I would argue uncharacteristic - negative ads that are heaping insult and name-calling on Obama. Obama is responding and saying they are ridiculous without accusing McCain of anything. When Obama speaks the worst he does is say "McCain called me [blank], and that's wrong". He never says anything like "McCain is [blank]". And yet the Washington Times and lots of other media sources are saying that insults are coming from both sides!


I've been amazed at Obama's restraint. I really hope he doesn't go negative.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jobs and China

The Economic Policy Institute released a policy brief yesterday which claimed that 2.3 million American jobs were lost between 2001 and 2007 as a result of the trade deficit with China.

Granted, the report is really talking about gross job loss, not net job loss. They don't talk about how many jobs were created by trade with China. Still, the story is pretty clear cut. With trade deficits as massive as the ones we're running with the Middle Kingdom, jobs and money go over there and products come over here - there's not much arguing with that.

We can't slip into mercantilism, as I've warned before - we can't cut off trade out of fear, because we do indeed benefit from cheap products and a more efficient use of the global labor supply... but...

Let's not hollow out the American economy in a free-trade frenzy. You can be a patriotic free trader that prefers to buy American and invest in American economic infrastructure - there's nothing anti-market about that.

Breaux Vineyard 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon

Quite simply, one of the best wines I've had in a long time.

Aged 30 months in oak barrels, unusually long contact maintained with the grapes skins - this is what they mean when you hear people talk about "tannins". Still, eminently drinkable. This was our only bottle - now I want to go back up to Leesburg and buy one or two more to save.

Breaux Vineyards itself is really a gem. Everything we had there was great - easily one of our favorites.

We also recently had a Sterling Vineyards Chardonnay - its a California winery that you can find in most grocery stores. Very good as well - it has that buttery/vanilla character to it that chardonnays aged in oak get (wines aged in stainless steel don't get the same contact with oxygen, giving it a "crisper" taste... I like to think of it in beer terms: "oak aged wine : ales :: stainless steel aged wine : lagers").

In terms of beer... haven't had anything new lately, but I have bottled my beach lager, and the bottles are already rock hard - which means the carbonation has begun! Soon I'll brew the "blonde bombshell" wheat ale that Evan and Tricia got me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Principles, Agents, and Bacon's Rebellion

OK - so my recent post on Tim Kaine and Obama got me feeling like I should re-emerse myself in Virginia state politics after somewhat of a hiatus, so I looked up some Virginia policy blogs and added one - "Bacon's Rebellion" - to my list...

... and I'm already frustrated with one of the posts.

James Bowden had a post on a court decision on public prayer. It's a pretty mundane argument on his part - standard church/state stuff - except for the principle/agent dimension of the court decision that I think he's ignoring. Plus he's doing this and trying to hold himself up as a "strict constructionist" at the same time. He promotes strict constructionism in a way that distorts what most constructionists actually believe. Anyway - weel free to read my comments. I come away from this experience with two insights:

1. Every intelligent person should have an understanding of contracts and the concept of principles and agents, and

2. So-called "strict constructionists" need to understand that just because you don't come up with a phrase in your keyword search of the Constitution doesn't mean that it's unconstitutional or inconsistent with the intent of the founders. Even a restrictive, Jeffersonian interpretation of the Constitution is viable without assuming that.


So the Washington Post is reporting today that Kaine is on Obama's short list... and Bill Kristol is suggesting it as well. As readers may know, I was strongly behind Mark Warner as a potential VP, but I think Kaine would do good as well. Kaine, like Warner, is a centrist Democrat from Virginia with a strong focus on bread and butter issues: balancing the budget, improving transportation, and investing in education. Neither are afraid to stand up to the Republican rank and file who cannot countenance any taxes (I say "rank and file" because the Republican leadership actually agreed with the Warner administration when they raised taxes). But neither pursue "pie in the sky" Democratic platforms like universal health care or same-sex marriage either. And that's not to say that I like taxes, or that I oppose same sex marriage - it's just to say that Warner and Kaine (and Webb, for that matter) take a "first thing's first" approach that is very refreshing.

As most of you probably know, Warner is set to destroy former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore in the race for John Warner's Senate seat. I eventually came around to the logic that a sure-thing Webb-Warner Senate delegation was probably better for Virginians than a toss-up VP bid. Since I've resigned myself to that logic, I'm like this Kaine idea more and more. I honestly don't think Kaine is the "strongest" VP. In many ways someone like Biden would probably be more appropriate. But he is a good leader who brings an "outside the Beltway" perspective. Moreover, I think he could be a much more forceful, charismatic leader like Warner or Webb if he had the chance - and this may be that chance. The excitment around an all-Democratic Virginia Senate delegation and a Virginian working in the White House would be overwhelming. Virginia is already leaning towards Obama in a way that they haven't for any Democratic presidential candidate for decades. I think an Obama-Kaine ticket would push it over the top.
Kaine also appeared at the Brookings Institution's "Hamilton Project" last Friday, at an event I really wanted to attend, but couldn't. The forum was on investment in infrastructure, from "bridges to broadband". I haven't listened to the recording of Kaine's talk yet, but it's encouraging to see him on a national stage with such luminaries as Larry Summers and Robert Rubin.
So who knows - we may see another Virginia Triumvirate in Washington again! I have no illusions that Kaine would have been as strong of a match as Warner or Webb in electoral terms, but I think he would be a brilliant addition to the Obama administration nonetheless. And if the Democrats take Congress this Fall (which they oughta), I can assure you that Warner and Webb will be front and center, pushing Obama's agenda through the Senate.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Call for Papers

IZA (Instituts zur Zukunft der Arbeit - Institute for the Study of Labor), one of the most important labor research groups in the world, issued a call for papers for its first annual meeting on the economics of risky behaviors, which will be held in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2009!

I'll hopefully be submitting (pending approval from the Department of Health and Human Services) the Vulnerable Youth project we've been working on at the Urban Institute.

This is really great because most of IZA's activities go on in Bonn, Germany.