Kids, Today's Lesson Is "Fear the Other"

So, President Obama thought he'd launch the schoolyear with a message to the nation's children. What a great idea, I thought to myself. After all, I grew up spending schooltime writing letters to the president, hearing letters from him read in class.

But apparently some people think this is an outrage. That somehow President Obama plans to use his "air time" to foist a nefarious political agenda on innocent kids. Frankly, I can't bother being outraged over their outrage. I'm too busy being heartsick about it.

Has it come to this? Are we a nation so divided that the president of the country, a man legally elected to lead us, can't talk to the nation's kids? It's horrifying and heartbreaking. But here's the saddest, most painful part: Those kids whose parents object to the speech are learning a lesson anyway. A big one and it's this:

Kids, fear anyone who isn't One of Us. Because it's Us against Them, and you are first and foremost one of us, and only secondarily and occasionally an American citizen (and then only when it's convenient to Us).

Got that?

Now About That "I Am A Craft Brewer" Film . . .

Okay, after being urged by Loyal Reader Dave, I watched the "I Am A Craft Brewer" film. You can see it here.

Nice piece of filmmaking. Lively, well-paced, well-filmed, and well-lit. Music aimed straight at the heart. Did what it's supposed to do: Rally the craft beer troops.

Content? Hmmm. . . . Well . . . . Hmmmmm. Astounding lack of historical perspective -- or, alternatively, "historical perspective" constructed so it matched what the filmmaker wanted to say rather than historical reality.

Once again, the drumbeat of "We are the American dream" (as if somehow the rest of us who don't make beer or earn livings by working for larger companies can't possibly represent that dream).

I was surprised that the film avoided mentioning the Big Talking Point that everyone who's anyone in craft brewing always make: The number of American craft brewers. Craft brewers love to roll out the numbers. "We are 1489 strong!" they say. (Or whatever the current number is. Just under 1500.)

Except, ya know, they're not. Because that number includes every outlet of every chain restaurant that claims to be a "brewpub."

So, for example, every Rock Bottom outlet is counted as a separate "brewery." Every Granite City outlet is counted as a separate brewery. Strip those down to what they are --- a single brewing "company" selling its beer in a number of retail outlets --- and the number of "craft breweries" plunges. I

ndeed, it's not clear to me why those are even counted as "breweries."

But hey, it's not my organization and it's not my turf to protect. And you gotta love the tiny core of "real" craft brewers who are doing just that: honoring and protecting their turf. Now --- what was it someone in the film said about "snakeoil salesmen"?

Random Rant, Econ 101, and Antidotes for Nausea

Silly me. Somehow I thought the troops would rally 'round the president. No. Instead, we've been subjected to a week of senators and representatives strutting around the capital building playing "Mine's Bigger."

Which I wouldn't mind, except -- Rome is collapsing while they're busy comparing dicks/clits/facelifts/whatever.... I belive that most people who run for "high office" start their careers with good intentions. (*1)

But then they get comfy and get used to the free health insurance and the gym and the drivers and the other perks and pretty soon they forget why they went there in the first place. Which is why there oughta be term limits for both House and Senate. (*2)

But I digress. Point is: someone needs to be thinking beyond dick-size and where the next cocktail party is.

For an antidote to your nausea, and some clear thinking/writing on the disaster that is our economy, some Sunday-morning reading:

This from Matthew Yglesias. Tyler Cowen's response.

Lots of ponderings from Patrick Emerson, but this in particular.

And then of course there's always Krugman.

(Yes, the internet improves our lives. Ten years ago, it would have been tough to find so much accessible clear thinking on such difficult topics.) (Gee, I hope the electrical grid holds up under the weight of so many internet connections, and that somehow we can figure out how to make high-speed internet affordable for everyone because clearly digital communication/debate and digital information creation/gathering/access are The Way We Live Now. (*3))

(Oh. Wait. That would require the House and Senate to stop dicking around and do something and . . . . ) (Oh. Never mind.)


*1: There are, of course, exceptions. I'm pretty sure Palin, for example, only wants to sit in the Senate because it's good for her, not for her constituents. I'm not picking on her, mind you; there are plenty of Palin-types out there. But she's the only obvious example I can think of at the moment.

*2: For more information on term limits, see here, here, and here.

*3: Nod to my second-favorite Anthony Trollope novel. If you can't bring yourself to wade through it (it runs about a thousand pages), at least watch the BBC production, which is spectacular.

Historical Perspective on Declining Beer Sales

In the past ten days or so, global beermakers have reported declining beer sales. This surprises some observers, who assume that beer is the go-to drink during hard economic times. As Jeremiah McWilliams of Lager Heads notes:

At first glance, it would surprise us if the reason for slumping beer sales were weak economies. Beer is generally not that expensive. But we could be wrong about this — maybe people are cutting WAY back, starting with the six-packs.

Historical perspective puts the situation in context:

Put simply, and a bit crudely, when times are truly tough, poor people turn to hard liquor. And most people in the world are “poor,” at least relative to American or European living standards. For them, a “six-pack” is expensive, and, ounce for ounce, packs a smaller wallop than a bottle of spirits.

Here's a specific historical example: In the early 19th century, much of Europe was in political and economic turmoil. In what is now Germany, and in other parts of northern Europe, the “peasants,” as poor people were called then, could no longer afford beer or wine. Instead, they turned to “schnaps,” the generic name then for any cheap liquor made from whatever was available. In early 19th century Germany, schnaps was typically made from potatoes. (*1)

As the economy deteriorated, and more people switched from beer to hard liquor, brewers began closing their doors. Many migrated to the United States in search of work. (Among them was the Best family, which founded what eventually became Pabst Brewing.)

My educated historian’s guess tells me that the same thing is happening now in countries and regions around the world: Poor people who could afford beer a year ago are turning to cheaper spirits instead. In China, for example, the economy has all but collapsed in the past year. Many people in that rising middle class who might have drunk Heineken or Budweiser or Snow (the best-selling Chinese brand) will turn back to dirt-cheap -- and highly intoxicating -- spirits made from bamboo or rice. (*2)

So, too, in Latin America and eastern Europe, even if those regions seems relatively affluent. Brazil, for example, and Mexico, contain huge, sophisticated cities, but those cities are full of people who live close to disaster and who often scrounge for food. And most human beings don’t live in cities. They live in the country and are the first to feel the impact of global economic chaos. China may seem like a nation of urbanites, for example, but most Chinese people are still “peasants.”

So I’m not surprised that the global beer companies like SABMiller and others are reporting declining sales.


*1: People viewed potatoes as fit only for animals, and turned to it for sustenance -- or drink -- only when “real” food was in short supply. (There’s a reason potatoes are associated with the Irish and the Irish famine.)

*2: The bamboo liquor will knock you flat on your ass in ten minutes flat. I speak from experience. We still have some in our house, leftover from our last trip to China. I keep my distance....

Timely Commentary: In Defense of Introverts

Apropos my mash note to Andy Crouch, this from the always entertaining Alan Jacobs on the "fascism of Facebook," as he calls it. He links to this 2003 essay in the New Atlantic, which contains this spot-on summary of me, er, of the introvert:

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who . . . can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice? . . . If you answered yes to these questions, chances are that you have an introvert on your hands . . . ."

Introverts of the world, rise up against the tyranny of extroversion. Seize your solitude!