Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

31 August, 2011

Does Anyone Remember Lakefront's Bimetallic Beer?





Does anyone remember Lakefront's Wisconsin Bimetallic Beer? It was brewed for the Wisconsin Bimetallic Corporation in Sullivan because, if memory serves, Lakefront's owner or brewmaster was friends with the owner/head honcho of WBC. A friend of mine was buddies with a WBC employee and got his greedy hands on a few bottles of it. I recall having it back in 1996 although I think they also brewed it for WBC again the following year.

It was a holiday brew and I think it had the usual spices like cinnamon and clove. I also remember it being big. Very big. It certainly warmed us up before we headed out to the East End or wherever we went that cold winter night.

Anyone else sample this stuff? Was Lakefront brewing the Holiday Spice at that time?
|| Palmer, 2:22 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

New Brew, New Brewery

Milwaukee's Big Bay Brewing has a new beer: Long Weekend IPA.





Wasn't this stuff at the Great Taste? I really like Big Bay's Kölsch and was happy to see them brew a style that's mostly shunned by Wisconsin craft brewers. So yet another IPA doesn't do much for me. However, a porter is due from them in the fall.





I recently discovered that Eau Claire has a new brewery - Lazy Monk Brewing. The owner, Leos Frank, is from the Czech Republic and he brews mostly Bohemian and German styles: pilsner, dunkel, Märzen, OctoberFest, and a Baltic Porter. It appears to be available on tap and in growlers and only in the EC area. Good excuse for a road trip.
|| Palmer, 2:06 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Blade Runner Convention Reel

"One of the Blade Runner Convention Reels featuring interviews with Ridley Scott, Syd Mead and Douglas Trumbull about making Blade Runner universe. This 16 mm featurette, made by M. K. Productions in 1982, is specifically designed to circulate through the country's various horror, fantasy and science fiction conventions."

|| Palmer, 12:00 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Wither the Orpheum?

There's some bad blood between the owners of the Orpheum and now their webpage is gone. The domain has expired and is pending renewal.

As someone who has Primus tickets for their show at the Orpheum in October, I sure hope that this is merely forgetfulness on someone's part or indicative of ownership change as opposed to the theatre going under.
|| Palmer, 9:06 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

29 August, 2011

Women Fighters? With No Cleavage?!

No cleavage and no mini-chain mail skirt just looks odd. However, she looks like a bad ass, albeit with a large encumbrance factor.





From Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor.
|| Palmer, 9:24 AM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

Jesus Self-Pic



|| Palmer, 9:21 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

28 August, 2011

Basboosa for Breakfast

I had basboosa for the first time this weekend it was fantastic. I got it at People's Bakery. The guy behind the counter said it was made with semolina flour and coconut and had a honey glaze. Not overly sweet, which I appreciated. Made for a nice breakfast.



|| Palmer, 9:59 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

26 August, 2011

Great Taste of the Midwest 2011

While I did my Great Taste of the Midwest pre-blogging, I haven't said anything about the fest itself. So here goes.





Having chatted with Kirby Nelson from Capital the night before, I set out to try his bourbon barrel imperial doppelbock. I walked up to the booth and he was there. For better or for worse, he remembered me. Here it is:





My notes, as far as I can decipher them, say that it had a nice bourbon flavor. Strong but not overpowering but with a nice alcohol bite. Good for chillier weather. I presume it'll be bottled at some point.

I had a list of brews that I wanted to try and realized after the fact that I missed a bunch of them. However, I did try a number of them. Dark Horse's Kmita Kölsch was really good with its notes of biscuit and nice hop finish. A perfect beer for the sunny, warm day. They were also pouring a beer brewed with jalapeno. It too was really tasty. The jalapeno was prominent but didn't kill your palate. I can see it pairing with food really well.

5 Rabbit Cerveceria on Chicago's south side bills itself as the first Latin microbrewery in the States. I can't dispute that but I can say that their 5 Lizard was very good. It's a wheat beer with passion fruit. The brew was very effervescent with passion fruit and some variety of hops that have a grapefruit flavor vying for your taste buds.





There were other Chicago breweries there as well. I really liked Metropolitan's Iron Works Alt (and their fancy taps as well). This stuff had more hoppiness than other alts I've had. Granted, I don't think I've ever had a true altbier from Düsseldorf so I'm certainly no expert on the style, but the ones I have tasted were low on the hops scale. Iron Works had a nice biscuity aroma and flavor which contrasted well with the hoppy finish. While there were more hops here than traditionally used in the style, this is no brew for hop warriors.

For all the good stuff I've heard about Half Acre, they proved disappointing. The Small Animal Big Machine was boring. It smelled sour and tasted sour, with a bit of hops to boot. I just found it unremarkable. Ambrosia was the same. I believe it's a kind of wit, a wheat beer with orange and hibiscus replacing coriander. A nice floral aroma was a good start and I like hibiscus, but it had this sharp flavor which didn't do anything for me. Their beers just seemed to lack a malt backbone. Hell, maybe it was my tongue. I'll certainly give them another shot.

They also served me the worst beer of the festival. I don't know what happened and am hoping that I just got a mis-pour. I was looking forward to their Brandy Barrel Aged Crusch Kölsch – a Kölsch "finished with white peach puree, honey, and a kiss of brandy". Sounds perfect. I'd swear that I watched my glass get filled from the Crusch tap. It had the right color for a Kölsch. Everything was looking grand. Then I tasted it. It was just another watery sour. Was it bad? Was the wrong barrel tapped? Something went terribly awry. I hope they try that again because I'd love to taste the right beer.

A digression for the ladies. Ladies, if you want a middle aged man to compliment you on your attire, wear an old skool Marillion t-shirt like I did.





'Nuff said.





I tasted Short's Cornholio, a dunkel with horehound, beach plums, and red popcorn. (Unsurprisingly, it was a collaboration with Dogfish Head.) The nose was mild and I couldn't taste any of the exotic ingredients. However, I thought it was a good dunkel. Also on the dunkel front, I had Backpocket's Slingshot. I went to their booth hoping to try their German Pale Ale but they didn't have it. Dunkel it was. I felt it had all the components of a nice dark lager but just not enough. A bit watery.

Barley John's Wild Brunette appealed to me as it had wild rice in it. My notes say this brown ale had a rather bitter finish but a distinct paucity of wild rice flavor. My guess is that this is only the second beer brewed with wild rice that I've ever had and I prefer Capital's brew.

O'Fallon's Hemp-Hop-Rye was a fine beer. Normally these days an amber ale with a C-hop doesn't appeal to me but I overlooked this because of the hemp and rye. I sniffed a nice rye aroma and found it to have a mild flavor with that rye crispness and only moderate hoppiness. Like I said, amber ales aren't high on my list of beers these days but this was really good.

At the Surly booth I grabbed their Smoke, a smoked Baltic porter aged on oak. Pretty good. My notes say that I didn't find it overly smoky. In fact, I didn't find it overly anything and found it to be a middle of the road kind of brew.

The Dulcinea and our friend James spend what I consider to be an inordinate amount of time hanging around the booths of meaderies. The folks from White Winter were hawking a new (or newish) drink called Kinky Blues. I'm not sure if is just their Blueberry Spritz rehoolied or what. Regardless, it had a nice blueberry-floral aroma. On the tongue it was bubbly and full of blueberry goodness. Great stuff.

B. Nektar Meadery became a mandatory Great Taste stop the first time we tried their mead a few years ago. I sampled their Belle Isle Belgian-Style Melomel and, man!, it was good. A melomel is simply a mead with fruit. Honey, cherry juice, and hops – a great combination. The cherry was very rich and I'd say it was semi-sweet. This was really great. In fact, I think The D and James also went with it and they were impressed as well.





As for Wisconsin breweries, I tried a few.

New Glarus was serving their two new brews, Laughing Fox and Black Top. Laughing Fox is a Kristal Weizen with nice clove & banana aroma and flavor. I have to wonder why this gets a late summer release as I'd much rather satisfy my weizen craving with this during the hot, hazy days of summer than Dancing Man. DM is a much bigger beer and more appropriate for a September release. Black Top is a Black IPA or whatever the hell this style is called. The aroma is of citrus hops and this carries into the flavor as well but underneath them are chocolatey undertones. This was my first sample of the style and I liked it a lot. It was rather smooth with the hop bitterness being balanced by the malt.

Dave's Brew Farm was serving up Rauch'N Lager. Aside from a good rauchbier being a thing of beauty, one nice thing about them is that they're not very popular which means you don't have to worry about them running out. This one surprised me with a fruity aroma that also held a hint of smoke. It was pretty much the same when I drank it. It was light on the rauch but very crisp – almost fruity. The guide said it was almost 8%ABV but I didn't taste it.

I can barely read my notes for the Stonefly brew I tasted. As near as I can tell it was their 53212 amber lager. If I read my writing correctly, I liked the malt sweetness but found it a bit too hoppy on the back end. At the O'so booth I went with Spike's Maple, an amber ale made entirely with maple sap instead of water. A very Wisconsiny thing to do. Its aroma was hoppy yet sweet. As I expected, it had a very mild maple flavor. I learned long ago up in Stone Lake in more than a foot of snow one April that it takes 40-50 quarts of sap to get a quart of syrup. (Thanks dad.) I rather liked this stuff. The maple wasn't cloying and it was just very refreshing.

I had wondered how Vintage had managed to get a tent all to themselves. I mean, this would be their – what? – second appearance at the GT. So how did they pull it off?





So I chatted up Scotty, above. We've known one another since college so I used my place in his heart to find out. Apparently he was a little drunk at some point last year and made a bet that Vintage could break the world record for most beers at the Great Taste. He awoke the next morning and immediately started to cellar brews. Apparently the GT organizers relented when he informed them that he had three dozen beers ready to go. Vintage had the tent decked out like a living room (see above) with 3 or 4 separate groups of taps all featuring different beers.

I sampled three of their brews but I'd had a couple already. The new one to me was the Tippy Toboggan roggenbier. Most beers that I've had which use rye in the grain bill try to get the zing of the rye to pair up with a fair amount (or more) of hop bitterness. I've never had a roggenbier from Germany. I've never seen one for sale so I am no expert on the style. But Scotty spent time in Germany and I'm going to guess here that his take is closer to what you get over there as opposed to what U.S. craft brewers generally make. Having said all that, I found TT to be fantastic. You got the rye crispness balanced with fruity flavors and malt sweetness instead of competing with hop bitterness. If this is his winter seasonal, then bring on the snow.

I am probably missing a few brews here, but that's where my notes end. No doubt The D and James passed me their glasses for a taste and I just didn't write anything down. The rhubarb saison from Dave's Brew Farm was one beer I never got around to trying. I somehow managed to avoid Jolly Pumpkin completely. D'oh! I did grab something from the Real Ale tent but can't remember what it was. I had ducked in from the rain and grabbed something but, having my poncho on, I was unable to take notes.

A few final observations. I think there were more food vendors or at least some different ones this year. More bands as well. The Three Floyds line was ridiculously long. I presume people were lining up for Dark Lord. I didn't see anyone carted off in an ambulance. Much to my dismay, the programs didn't have any blank pages to take notes on and they instead offered a downloadable cheat sheet hoolie for you to print out. I hope the MHTG changes this next year. Chicago's brewing scene is really growing.

Did anyone notice any trends this year? The only thing that I noticed which was newish was the use of hibiscus. Not that everyone had a beer with it but it seemed more prevalent than in years past.

All in all, despite the rain, it was a fine Great Taste.



|| Palmer, 11:33 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg





My little venture into the world of Scandinavian crime thrillers continued with Peter Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. I almost didn't buy it because it had been made into a film which makes absolutely no sense because lots of fine books have been made into movies. (Not necessarily fine movies, mind you.) It's popularity just tainted it somehow for me. Luckily I overcame my knee-jerk reaction and picked it up because it's a fantastic novel.

My previous encounters with the genre were generally not afraid to set themselves during the winter when it was cold and there was snow. Høeg ups the ante here with his heroine Smilla Jasperson who grew up in Greenland and developed an unparalleled understanding of snow and ice. As an adult in Denmak she studied glacial morphology and mathematics. She could give you a lengthy lecture on SnoCones and how they interact with your tongue depending on the air temperature. Beyond examining glaciers, her talents prove handy when one of her neighbors – a boy who's all of about 8 years old named Isaiah – is found dead. He ran off the roof of their Copenhagen apartment building. Looking at the direction of the tracks and how Isaiah's feet left patterns in the snow, Smilla is convinced that it was no accident. She becomes convinced that the boy was chased off the roof. But why?

Isaiah and his mother Juliane are both Greenlandic. This resonates with Smilla as she is half Greenlandic with the other half being Danish. Clues slowly emerge. For instance, Juliane was being paid a monthly stipend by a Danish mining company because her husband had died in Greenland while on a job for it. Smilla also learns that once a month Isaiah was picked up by a stranger in a mysterious car and returned later that day. Isaiah's autopsy was done by a Professor Loyen, the director of the Institute for Arctic Medicine, instead of the usual pathologist. None of this adds up. Juliane shows Smilla the letter from the mining company announcing the stipend. There's a bit of marginalia which leads Smilla to Elsa Lubing, the company's former accountant, who proves sympathetic to Smilla's investigation despite being wrapped up in her religion. We find out about a gang of scientists who had worked for the mining company and had gone on secret missions to Greenland and who are plotting a return. Somehow Isaiah's fate is mixed up with them.

That's one half of the book. Intertwined with the mystery is Smilla. She is cold and dismissive. A misanthropic troublemaker. She grew up in Greenland with a native mother and Danish father. When her mother went out fishing one day and never came back, her father brought her back to Denmark. He's still alive and very wealthy. His wife is less than half his age. Unsurprisingly, Smilla resents him. Resents him for having taken her out of her element. The book is littered with flashbacks to Smilla's childhood in Greenland and asides which address human nature and Danish society. From the former we get a picture of a way of life that is both simpler and more complicated than that in Denmark. There are less people, less distractions, and no government bureaucracy. On the other hand, daily life is a struggle for survival. Smilla's mother was a strong and capable woman and she passed those qualities down to her daughter. Likewise Smilla gained a distrust of European culture from her mother who kept it at arms length. A pair of scissors or some thermal underwear were welcome intrusions from across the ocean but that's about it.

Any jabs that Høeg made at Denmark surely went over my head. Greenland is or was for a long time a commonwealth of Denmark. I know none of the details but racism on the part of the Danes towards Inuits or distrust the other way around is understandable. The details are lost on me but such general animosities make sense. Instead of impotently trying to understand Danish history, culture, and society, I took more note of instances where Smilla drew a distinction between Greenlandic culture vs. European. For example, she contrasts how the two deal with depression. For her, Europeans try to “work their way out of problems through action” while the Greenlandic way is to “submerge oneself in the dark mood”. Smilla feels that her native culture is more “pure” and the Inuit way of life less cluttered whereas Danes and perhaps Europeans more generally make things overly complicated by placing obstacles in the way of happiness and solutions to problems.

I was surprised (and pleasantly so) at how little Smilla changed over the course of 500 pages. She did warm up to her neighbor that she called The Mechanic to the point where she would let her guard down and indulge in the simple and necessary pleasure of human touch but she never, for lack of a better way of saying it, became a Dane. She could never accept the strange land to which her father brought her. Smilla remained a Greenlander. Perhaps this was Høeg being anti-colonial and saying that cultures shouldn't impose themselves on other cultures. On another level I just appreciated Smilla as a character who kept her anger behind a stoic facade. But I'm not sure why. It's just appeals to me – that kind of silent resistance. However, I should also add that she throws in a hefty down of physical resistance as well. I also feel that her self-righteousness gets dulled a bit as the book goes on or directed elsewhere, perhaps. It goes from being directed at the world generally to being targeted at specific evils – evils that any moral creature can point to, not merely the smug.

Høeg deftly wove a story that blended a mystery with a character study. The former was unwoven at a nice deliberate pace – he really strung me along. You don't find out the answers to all the questions until you're about 95% of the way through. The latter was intriguing as well with its flashbacks, commentary, and digressions on the nature of snow and ice. Smilla is something of an anti-hero with all of her flaws and contempt. It's hard to say if she pursued her intuition about Isaiah's death to get justice or to prove that she was right. Probably some of both.

On a related note, I watched the movie based on the book shortly after I had finished reading it and I can tell you it's for shite. Don't bother. The film gives away a sizable chunk of the mystery right at the beginning. What Høeg waited a few hundred pages to tell you what the movie gives away in the opening scene. Talk about TMI. Smilla's character isn't too bad here but most of her flashbacks are disposed with and those that remain reveal basically nothing of her internal life. She lies on a couch, thinks back to her childhood, and the audience is left on its own to figure out what it meant or what its significance is. They don't add up to character development.

As for the mystery, Høeg's slow pace is sped up and everything is condensed to the point where just about every character besides Smilla is simply Irving the Explainer. These people don't act as something to compare Smilla to. They exist simply to give her a piece of the puzzle with some characters in the film doing the work of a multiple characters in the book in a quarter of the time or less. We go from one meaningless cardboard cut out who puts a clue in our basket to the next.

Avoid the movie at all costs.
|| Palmer, 8:20 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

25 August, 2011

Tasting Jamaica

For a thrilling tale of a librarian threatened by a tidal wave of grease, a state worker sitting by helplessly as his buns dissolve, flesh falling off a bone just like a krokodil addict, what Dan Potacke does in his spare time, and Trish, head over to Eating in Madison A to Z. Did we survive? Follow the link now to discover the amazing conclusion to our sensational lunch out on Library Mall!
|| Palmer, 7:38 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell





Well, I took the plunge. I finally read my first Scandinavian crime thriller: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell. It's the first book of his Wallander series which follows the exploits of Kurt Wallander, a police detective in the town of Ystad in Sweden. I had seen the movies in the Millennium series based on Stieg Larsson's books and watched a BBC documentary called Nordic Noir: The Story Of Scandinavian Crime Fiction so I knew going in that the book would be gloomy. But holy crap! Faceless Killers was one of the most depressing books I've ever read. It was the book equivalent of The Wall. Just this unrelenting journey into perdition.

It opens in the antelucan hours of a cold January day. A farmer named Nyström wakes up and thinks about how he is growing old and about his marriage. He notices that his next door neighbor's kitchen window is open and that their horse is not neighing so he wanders over to investigate. Nyström discovers Johannes Lövgren has been brutally murdered and his body mutilated. Johannes' wife Maria has been savagely beaten and left to die with a noose around her neck. Luckily she is still alive.

Wallander gets the call a bit after 5AM. Let's see here…he has a keen interest in the bottle, is divorced, estranged from his daughter, and his father is a crotchety old bastard with whom he barely gets along. The folks in Abba always seemed nice and cheerful but now I have to wonder if they were like this too once the cameras were off. I got about 3 chapters in and worried for Sweden because Mankell populates the southern coast with people who are depressed and/or alcoholics.

The investigation begins. We are introduced to Wallander's fellow officers. There's the obligatory rookie along with more grizzled veterans like our hero including Rydberg who battles rheumatism and cancer as well before the book is over. See, Mankell just loves to pile on the misery. Maria was unconscious when she arrived at the hospital and she is awake just long enough to mutter “Foreigner” before she kicks off.

This emphasizes and brings into the investigation the whole issue of immigration in Sweden which is a theme here. I know nothing about Sweden's immigration issues but here there are camps of immigrants scattered across the landscape where those seeking asylum are housed in fairly primitive conditions until the proper government officials get around to doing the paperwork. These camps house a mix of Africans and Eastern Europeans looking to start anew and, in Mankell's world at least, there are many blonde-haired, pale-skinned natives who aren't too keen on welcoming foreigners. And so, not only do the police have a brace of grisly murders on their plate, they also have xenophobic racists to contend with as well.

The story kind of bounces around amongst the immigration/racism theme, Wallander's less than optimal personal life and psyche, and the investigation of the Lövgren murders. The last of these is notable because, instead of a series of clues giving us a more or less direct path to the identity of the killer(s), we get a series of dead ends. It seems only appropriate considering that Wallander's life is much the same. While Mankell is keen to pile the personal troubles up, he at least had the graciousness to give the reader a modicum of relief towards the end of the book. I mean, he's got another 10 sequels after this so his character can't go over the edge. Too far, anyway.

I am ambivalent about Faceless Killers. On the plus side, it's a good yarn. As a police procedural/murder mystery it works well. I didn't feel disappointed that the leads Wallander followed end up at cul-de-sacs. But Wallander himself is pretty one dimensional. While there are certainly times when the sun appears from behind the clouds, those clouds are dark indeed. The whole depressed and alienated alcoholic thing got tiresome at times. Perhaps he gets developed as the series goes on. But I'll give Mankell credit. Wallander may be a one note character for most of the book but he's still oddly sympathetic. I didn't dislike Wallander, I just wished that Mankell had filled him out more.

Honestly, I'm in no hurry to read the second book in the series but I suppose I'll get around to it someday. And I'm going to read it in the summer. If Faceless Killers is any indication of how this genre works, then I'll certainly read more of it when the air is hot and humid outside. It is really nice to let stories that take place in areas with snow and cold temperatures take me away from heat and humidity.
|| Palmer, 7:11 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

This Is Just Weird

"Rebels searching Gadhafi's Tripoli compound find a photo album with Condoleezza Rice pictures".

I think Steve Earle had a song about this.

|| Palmer, 4:17 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

House of Brews to Debut at Malt House

House of Brews, Madison latest brewery and first Community Supported Brewery, will be having a release party for Page's first beer:

Relase party for the Rye (the first batch brewed) Thursday, Sept. 1st, 5-10 p.m. The Malt House

I presume this is his rye Kölsch. I can attest to its tastiness having had it at his house a few times. (Lots and lots of times if you go by number of glasses.)

Be there or be a rhombus!

EDIT: D'oh! More here.
|| Palmer, 2:17 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Ooh! This looks good. A bit like Brotherhood of the Wolf or perhaps The Name of the Rose with karate. Odds of coming to Madison: 8-1. Against.

|| Palmer, 1:25 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Latin: "I'm not dead yet!"

As a former Latin student it was neat to see this article up at Slate in which the author describes a spoken-Latin summer course he took in Rome. I also learned that one Friar Reginald Foster, a.k.a. - Reginaldus, offers classes in spoken Latin over in Milwaukee over the summer.

Shortly after reading that, I find out that a growing number of Madison-area Catholics are pushing for Latin masses. My high school Latin teach just excoriated the Second Vatican Council for allowing mass in the vernacular. Didn't Joseph Campbell rail against it as well? Use of the local language took the mystery out of it. The article also notes "Priests began facing the people instead of the altar" and I believe Campbell also took issue with this. The priest became of the focus of the proceedings instead of the communal pursuit of transcendence. Or something like that.

Vivat Latinitas!
|| Palmer, 11:51 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Lagers comin' out to get you. Ooh yeah!

The Chicago Tribune ran an article a couple months ago entitled "Lagers finding way in an ale world". It gives a brief overview of how microbrewers are delving into the style which I approve of heartily.

If you've enjoyed a craft beer lately, it probably wasn't a lager.

The craft pendulum, however, is swinging back. Many major brewers — such as Bell's, Dogfish Head, Lagunitas, Avery and Victory — have at least one lager in their portfolio. Chicago's Metropolitan Brewing makes primarily crisp, brilliantly executed lagers.

Then there are Coney Island beers. Sensing a hole in the craft lager market, Jeremy Cowan — who had previously launched He'Brew Jewish-themed ales ("The chosen beer") — started a line of robust lagers four years ago.


Those Coney Island brews sound tasty. Mermaid Pilsner is made with rye while Albino Python is sort of a take on the Belgian wit with its use of orange peel along with ginger and fennel. I believe they distribute here in Madison. And it's nice to see Metropolitan get press because I like their brews. Unfortunately they don't bottle any of their more experimental beers such as the coriander-orange peel Kölsch or the rye doppelbock.

There's one bit here that I think is misleading:

Cowan's lagers would probably appall 16th century Germans — who clung to a mere four ingredients, water, barley, yeast and hops — with recipes that include up to eight malts, 10 hops and ingredients like ginger and orange peel.

There wasn't a country called "Germany" in the 16th century like there is today ergo the (in)famous purity law didn't apply to all brewers in the area we think of as being Germany these days. The Reinheitsgebot applied to Bavaria so most brewers up north had no misgivings about brewing beer with something other than water, barley, yeast and hops. Here's a list of extinct German styles catalogued from a book dating to 1784 along with some styles delineated in 1900. Fruit beers, herb beers, sour beers – not all German brewers were clinging to four ingredients.

Regardless of this little oversimplification, it's nice to see not only that more people are brewing lagers, but that they are tweaking and playing with tradition as well.
|| Palmer, 10:53 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

If You've Ever Wanted to Remake Kagemusha, Here's Your Chance

The rights to remake pretty much any film Akira Kurasawa ever made or planned to make are for sale.

The horror...the horror...

A new-ish company called Splendent Media is now repping the remake rights for dozens of Akira Kurosawa films. The company holds sixty-nine titles all told: 26 are films Kurosawa directed; 24 are films he wrote; and 19 are scripts he penned that were never produced.

Variety says that most of the major films Kurosawa directed are included in this deal. That includes Rashomon (already essentially remade several times over); Ran; Yojimo (already remade as A Fistful of Dollars); Dreams and Kagemusha.

There are four films not included in this deal — Seven Samurai, High and Low, Ikiru and Drunken Angel — but don’t worry! Those are already in development as remakes.




|| Palmer, 9:22 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner





Robert Heilbroner and I got off on the wrong foot when I began reading his The Worldly Philosophers because he disses the Middle Ages. This is a hanging offense in my book. What he says is that Adam Smith was the first economist. It really needn't have been him but humanity had to wait until the Enlightenment for its first economist because there just couldn't be one in the Middle Ages. Sure, it had markets but no market system. The age was bogged down by tradition and the capriciousness of authority which stifled innovation and standardization.

His argument has much merit. Medieval guilds were out to ensure prosperity for its members, not to necessarily advance the trade. The Church took a very dim view of usury. Government authorities could and did interfere with commerce in ways that make no sense to us now. Heilbroner gives us examples such as a German merchant who returned from a business trip complaining of having to pay a custom toll every 10 miles and encountering no less than 80 different standards for measuring weight. And then there's the time in 17th century France when tailors began making buttons out of cloth which pissed off the button makers guild to no end and eventually it lobbied to have the force of law brought down on those who would dare make a cloth button or wear clothing with them.

While I'm no expert on medieval economics and I take Heilbroner's point here, I still think he gives the Middle Ages short shrift and paints people of that time as being more ignorant than they were. It's not like the denizens of the so-called Dark Ages didn't understand markets and that commerce at that time worked outside of market forces. After the Black Plague went into remission in the early 1350s, what happened was what any good free marketeer would expect. With 50%+ of the population having been wiped out, there was a big labor shortage and wages skyrocketed. And for the same reason land prices dropped like rock.

The landed aristocracy often didn't react too kindly to their overhead going up. In England you got the Statute of Labourers in 1351 which said that wages had to go back to pre-Plague levels. Others decided to go all retro and bring back serfdom which had been on the wane. Labor costs eating into your profits? Tie those peasants to the land and get your work done nearly free. Yeah, these are distortions of the market but I don't think that the people back then were ignorant of the underlying principles of supply and demand. And not just for labor and land. Goods were the same way. Saffron is expensive now but it was egregiously so back then. Demand was high as it was popular in cooking and for herbal remedies but it had to be imported. Ergo the stuff was really expensive. This is also one of main reasons we get the Age of Exploration. Europeans got tired of Arab middlemen and wanted direct access to markets.

Heibroner portrays the medieval merchant as being like a hen-pecked husband. There he is out committing commerce yet everywhere he turns there's a guild, a priest, or a government official putting the kibosh on his plans for no good reason. I understand what Heilbroner is getting at but I don't understand why there were no medieval economists, if indeed that was the case. Whatever the Church preached or the guilds did wouldn't have prevented a guy in the 1350s from noticing, “Gee, now that half the men in my region have died because of the Great Mortality, the few who are left can really demand a premium for their labors.” Sure, there was a lot of interference in commerce and the markets in the Middle Ages but, until I see proof to the contrary, I have to believe that medieval people understood simple ideas such as competition in a market and how supply and demand regulates prices.

In the chapter on Adam Smith Heilbroner says of the man “To see that labor, not nature was the source of 'value,' was one of Smith's greatest insights.” Yet this seems to run against something I learned when I read Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans. In that book Chang notes how Tudor monarchs instituted a regimen of government intervention to transform England's wool industry from one that exported the raw stuff to one that manufactured woolen products. He noted, “Britain exported its raw wool and made a reasonable profit. But those foreigners who knew how to convert the wool into clothes were generating much greater profits. It is a law of competition that people who can do difficult things which others cannot will earn more profit. This is the situation that Henry VII wanted to change in the late 15th century.” It sure seems to me that Henry understood very well that labor was the “source of value”.





OK, gripes about the Middle Ages aside, The Worldly Philosophers was a great read. It was written with a scholarly tone but for the intellectually curious layreader. (And there are some light-hearted moments as well.) I got the feeling while reading it that Heilbroner, who was an economics professor, just had the biggest blast writing it. But I can't put my finger on why I feel this way exactly. The book profiles several of the greatest economic thinkers that the West has produced so the author is writing about the subject to which he has dedicated himself. Not only that, Heilbroner examines men whose ideas made them visionaries. They weren't just sitting around demonstrating how interest rates affect the price of women's underwear by using calculus, they were laying out grand schemes and attempting to show how economics can shed light on human society and existence. These guys had big, bold views and there's just something about the book's style which leads me to believe that Heilbroner was not only interested in the topic himself, but that he got great satisfaction in trying to get others interested as well.

Heilbroner gives us background on each thinker before explaining what they contributed to economics. (There's also a chapter devoted to socialist utopians of the 19th century.) He doesn't try to explain every nuance of a given man's ideas and instead goes for a greatest hits kind of thing. The main theories are served up alone to keep things simple.

Aside from the individual economic theories, there were a couple of things which really stood out for me.

First is that, once the ideas of some of these guys left the academy, they sure got mangled in the popular imagination.

Smith tends to be thought of as the guy who famously denied the existence of benevolent butchers, brewers, and bakers and thought that government should just get out of the way of the Invisible Hand, but he also wrote "No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which by far the greater part of the numbers are poor and miserable." He favored public education and was an optimist. Smith felt that, if government gets out of the way and lets the market do its thing, everyone would benefit.

The terms "Marxism" and "Marxist" are fightin' words these days but I suspect that 99% of the people who use these terms know little about the man and his ideas. He wrote a lot about how capitalism has within itself the seeds of its own destruction: it produces goods with no good plan so you have economic slumps and depressions which would embitter and motivate the proletariat to move beyond it. The thing is, Marx never really articulated what a post-capitalist society would be like in much detail. As Heilbroner says, "Das Kapital is the Doomsday Book of capitalism, and in all of Marx there is almost nothing that looks beyond the Day of Judgment to see what the future might be like." Well, harrumph. Lenin was winging it the whole time.

I'll also mention John Maynard Keynes. With the Tea Baggers in ascendancy, Keynes' ideas are nearly tantamount to communism these days. But he was all about, Heilbroner's words, the government "lending a helping hand". For instance, Keynes wrote a letter in 1934 asking "How soon will normal business enterprise come to the rescue? On what scale, by which expedients, and for how long is abnormal government expenditure advisable in the meantime?" Government spending to get the economy going was "abnormal" while business enterprise was "normal".

The other thing which occurred to me was just how contingent some of the economic theories of the gentlemen profiled in the book are. Prior to reading the book I tended to think of economic theory as being composed of laws that were more or less universal. I thought that Adam Smith was venerated because he had sussed out the laws of markets which were applicable throughout time and space. Well, yes and no. Furthermore it was interesting to learn about how these men formulated their ideas. They were certainly inspired by their times.

Take Adam Smith. He wrote at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and saw things moving upwards and onwards – an ever-rising tide which would continually lift all boats. As Heilbroner points out, though, he didn't foresee "the ugly factory system", how ginormous corporations would disrupt the market system, and the great social changes that the Industrial Revolution would bring about. Look at the milieu when Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto: riots in Berlin, Italy, Prague, Paris, and Vienna; the kings of France and Belgium forced to flee. Everywhere he could hear the sound of marching, charging proletarian feet. Yet capitalism was more flexible than Marx thought. Plus, in America, it was allowed to develop in an environment that lacked the traditional European class distinctions. Thorstein Veblen hailed from right here in Wisconsin. Witnessing the Guilded Age of robber barons, is there any wonder he wrote about "conspicuous consumption"?

Lastly I'll note that the chapter on Keynes was especially good reading because of how his times mirror our own. He wrote during the Great Depression and we're in a recession. If you read the likes of Paul Krugman, you've heard people advocating Keynesian spending programs. So why would there be a need for them? Heilbroner lays it out simply. Prior to Keynes, the running theory was that, when the economy goes south, people will start to save. A glut of savings will drive interest rates down because of supply and demand. There's a lot of money to lend so rates will be low. And with low interest rates businesses will have incentive to invest. Keynes figured out the obvious: there would be no savings. As Heilbroner asks "How could a community be expected to save as much when everyone was hard up as when everyone was prosperous?"

The Worldly Philosophers doesn't give the reader a thorough lesson in economics. It doesn't even give the reader a thorough lesson in the economists it profiles. But it tells a great story. You get the big picture of the dismal science dotted with some detail. Plus some of these guys were more than a little eccentric which adds a bit of levity to the tale.

|| Palmer, 9:09 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

24 August, 2011

UW Geneticist Co-Discovers Ancestral Home of Lager Yeast

You just knew a Cheesehead would be in the thick of things when it came to lager yeast research.

How did lager beer come to be? After pondering the question for decades, scientists have found that an elusive species of yeast isolated in the forests of Argentina was key to the invention of the crisp-tasting German beer 600 years ago.

It took a five-year search around the world before a scientific team discovered, identified and named the organism, a species of wild yeast called Saccharomyces eubayanus that lives on beech trees.

"We knew it had to be out there somewhere," said Chris Todd Hittinger, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a coauthor of the report published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.
|| Palmer, 12:31 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Cyber-Burlesque





There's just something wrong about pairing a Cyberman with burlesque as they are doing with Geekesque Burlesque. They're evil and scary and they like to convert people into machines. But I guess I could handle it if Sable Sin Cyr donned a sexy Cyber Leader outfit, tied me up, and intoned "To struggle is futile" while she used a Cybermat for purposes never intended by its creator.

Ahem.
|| Palmer, 10:49 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

23 August, 2011

CHAOS CINEMA: The decline and fall of action filmmaking

An interesting video essay on "intensified continuity" - a film style that can't have a cut that lasts for more than 2 seconds, disorientates the viewer, and is, generally speaking, just plain hyper.

One problem I have here is that I haven't seen most of the movies he cites as being infected. The last Star Trek film suffered from it as did Inception but I don't think I've seen any of the other ones. I mostly avoid big budget action movies partly because I am not ADD and don't want to subject myself to intensified continuity and partly because I have no interest in movies based on video games, toys, comic book superheroes, and children's cartoons.

I suspect that this style really got the boost it needed from the opening action scenes of Saving Private Ryan and snowballed as CGI got better to the point now where it seems like it's just a big pissing match.

Chaos Cinema Part 1 from Matthias Stork on Vimeo.



Chaos Cinema Part 2 from Matthias Stork on Vimeo.

|| Palmer, 12:06 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

22 August, 2011

Super Supper

Tonight was African night. The Dulcinea made some doro wat and it was mighty tasty.





About halfway through I realized that I made some yemiser selatta (Ethiopian lentil salad), or my take on it, over the weekend. It turned out pretty well but my next batch will have another jalapeno in it.





We don't even need to go to Buraka anymore. Well, not really.

For dessert I made smoothies - honeydew hefeweizen smoothies. Honeydew melon, vanilla ice cream, and Dancing Man wheat beer from New Glarus.





As The D would say, ZOMG! Vanilla, honeydew, and the estery goodness from the bier made for a ménage à trois of refreshing flavors.


Labels:

|| Palmer, 8:11 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Oh Noes!

Poor Grabby got a plastic bag around her neck! The situation required an intervention because, try as she might, she just couldn't get it off.





Here she is in better times peeking out to look for her toy.



|| Palmer, 7:37 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Autumnal Cinema 2011

After whining about some films I wanted to see having disappeared from Sundance's schedule, Mr. Burns up at The Daily Page looks that the fall Screening Room calendar.

It begins with two of the greatest living documentarians: Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. If you missed Tabloid last fall when Morris was in town, here's your chance. I was surprised to see Cave of Forgotten Dreams on the list as I e-mailed Sundance a few weeks ago to ask if they had plans to show it and was told that they didn't because they couldn't screen 3D films. I never bothered to ask why the 2D version wasn't good enough. Check out the full listing.

Rob Thomas of 77 Square has posted a run-down of the fall Cinematheque schedule. The program is being expanded with flicks showing Friday-Monday on most weeks and at new venues as well - the theatre at the new Union South and the one at the soon-to-be-opened Chazen expansion.

Jim Healy is the new director of Cinematheque and he comes out swinging when he describes the new Premiere Showcase: "Not long ago, Madison was a place where one could expect to see the latest independent and foreign films regularly screened in theaters with an appreciative audience. But in recent years, nearly all of Madison's arthouse cinemas have either shuttered or sacrificed their programming space to Hollywood blockbusters, leaving local cinephiles stuck waiting for new films (many of which are modern masterpieces) to arrive on DVD." What does he mean "nearly all"? There are no arthouses left here.

Looking at the Cinematheque schedule I see that November weekends are full when there is usually a space reserved for the Madison Polish Film Festival. I don't know if this means there won't be one this year or if it will just be moving from its usual digs in Vilas Hall.

I also see that MMoCA's Spotlight Cinema returns next month with The Interrupters about former gang members in Chicago hitting the streets of their communities attempting to prevent violence. That screens on the 22nd with the rest of the schedule to be announced later.

Lastly, how does the Orpheum stay in business? They abandoned showing films, much to my dismay, and now there are only a handful of concerts on the calendar. (Including the suckiest band ever - Primus.) Is everything still in the air while the ownership/liquor license issues play out or has anyone heard something I haven't? I'd love for them to start showing films again. And I'd love for them to do midnight movies. Beer and Hobo With a Shotgun at midnight? Perfect.
|| Palmer, 1:38 PM || link || (2) comments | links to this post

Taco Truck in Library Mall

I see that the El Toril taco truck is parked in Library Mall by the north entrance to the Humanities building. How odd. I've only ever seen it at Heistand Park when there are soccer games happening. I wonder if this is a one-off thing or if it'll become a regular gig.

While I'm on the subject, with all the national recognition Madison's food carts are getting, I think it's about time we get a Korean taco cart. Or truck.
|| Palmer, 1:18 PM || link || (3) comments | links to this post

21 August, 2011

Don't Blink

|| Palmer, 9:39 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

The Big Short by Michael Lewis





Whereas William Cohan's House of Cards looked at the bursting of the housing bubble from the vantage point of within a Wall Street firm, Michael Lewis takes a view of those same events from without. Well, kind of, anyway.

The Big Short follows two small bands of investors along with a lone maverick as they take full advantage of the housing bubble. The first person we meet is Steve Eisman. He began inside Wall Street working at Oppenheimer & Co. before moving on to Chilton Investment. Cynical by nature, Eisman grew disillusioned with the consumer finance industry when he saw how the mortgage company Household Finance Corporation was "tricking their customers". His road to Damascus moment came when he was at a luncheon and heard the CEO of a large bank describe free checking accounts as simply a way to rip off the poor. Eisman went on to start his own hedge fund called Front Point Partners which would end up being owned by Morgan Stanley. Along for the ride was Vincent Daniel whom Eisman had hired at Oppenheimer and who had proved his mettle sniffing out problems in the subprime mortgage industry from databases provided by Moody's, the rating agency.

The loner in this tale is Michael Burry. As a child he developed cancer and the treatment claimed one of his eyes. He grew up something of a loner, shying away from face-to-face contact. The world of finance became his idée fixe but at the time he was training to be a doctor. In the late 90s he started a blog at which he gave explanations for his stock trades that were remarkably prescient. Soon he gained a loyal following and abandoned the idea of being a doctor to instead start Scion Capital, an investment firm.

The trio is rounded out by Cornwall Capital Management which was formed by Jamie Mai and Charlie Ledley. Although they'd worked at a private equity firm, they didn't exactly have experience calling the shots and deciding where people's money went. Cornwall was formed in a friend's garage by Mai and Ledley who had $110,000 between them.

You can see why Lewis felt these gentlemen would make for a good story. Besides the fact they made investments which left them richer than Croesus when the housing bubble burst, they make for a very interesting cast of characters. Eisman and Daniel are portrayed as Robin Hoods out to fuck the system; Burry is like this mad genius holed up in his office obsessed with numbers; and Mai and Ledley started an investment company in someone garage. While most of these guys didn't just fall off the turnip truck, they're still, in one way or another, outsider enough to qualify as Alice-like characters roaming around the Wonderland of Wall Street.

Lewis tells their stories in similar ways. He starts with a little background and explains how they got into the world of finance. Then these investors train their gazes on the subprime mortgage industry and see that it's a house of cards. The book describes how the firms founded by these guys struggled to find capital at first but eventually found investors. They all started buying up credit default swaps which were like insurance policies on groups of subprime mortgages that paid off if they went bad. Everyone saw that the whole thing was like a pyramid scheme and that people who, in the bad old days, would not have gotten a home loan were getting them in droves.

There are two main elements which make The Big Short a good read. The first is simply the stories of the men profiled. Burry, we find out, has Asperger's Syndrome which accounts for his ability to focus so intensely on things and why he can spend hours just looking over numbers. His tale involves a lot of waiting. He sees what's happening and needs to keep his querulous investors at bay until 2007 when the first wave of crappy mortgages go under and his investments come to fruition.

The guys at Cornwall are sort of like a collective Jefferson Smith. Lewis calls them the “Accidental Capitalists”. They're this fish out of water that can't believe that it's stumbled on the investment opportunity it thinks it has. For instance, Cornwall's accountant knew Ace Greenberg, former head of Bear Sterns and Wall Street legend the firm's account is moved to Greenberg's. They were a bit incredulous at their luck. “So how is it that Ace Greenberg is our broker?” After enough prodding, the guys actually meet the man. But the encounter is so fleeting that they left the room wondering if they'd actually met the man. In another their Bear Sterns rep invites them out to Vegas for a big subprime conference. There he would get to shoot Uzis at a firing range and, in Lewis' words, try to find someone to tell them why they were wrong to be against the subprime mortgage market.

Eisman is the anti-Wall Street investor who rarely misses an opportunity to speak his mind. And so there are some great scenes where he calls bullshit on various Wall Street establishment figures. He too was at the aforementioned conference in Vegas and confronted the CEO of Option One which had a subprime loan portfolio. The guys said that Option One was expecting a rather small loss rate on the loans of five percent. At one point Eisman puts his hand in the air and makes a zero with his thumb and finger then tells the CEO “There is zero probability that your default rate will be five percent.”

Aside from the character studies, the other great thing about this book is Lewis' ability to explain just what the whole deal with subprime mortgages that took down the world economy was. I've read a lot of Matt Taibbi's articles about the housing bubble but it was after reading The Big Short that I finally understood what it was all about, albeit from a very high level. Subprime mortgages were bundled together into a financial instrument that was sold off. There was a lot of money to be made in creating these things and passing them onwards and so, when good mortgages to be packaged were in short supply, bad ones were used. Wall Street couldn't get enough bad mortgages to bundle and pass on. The rating agenices Moody's and S&P were complicit in the whole deal. In one section Lewis describes how they abdicated their responsibilities by not investing the mortgages within these packages. Instead they just asked for the average FICO score of the borrowers. This number got fudged so that some mortgages from creditworthy people could hide the fact that the instrument was composed of a lot of risky loans. With the good average score, the agencies could give the investments good ratings to make them look safe. It was like putting lipstick on a pig.

Yves Smith, the head of a financial advisory firm, has made some trenchant criticisms of The Big Short and you can read them here. The main one for me is her argument that the guys Lewis portrays as being heroes actually made the subprime mortgage collapse worse.

Eisman recognizes that the subprime market is a disaster waiting to happen, a monstrous fire hazard that, once lit, will engulf the housing market and financial firms. Yet he continues to throw Molotov cocktails at it. Eisman is no noble outsider. He is a willing, knowing co-conspirator. Even worse, he and the other shorts Lewis lionizes didn’t simply set off the global debt conflagration, they made the severity of the crisis vastly worse.

So it wasn’t just that these speculators were harmful, and Lewis gave them a free pass. He failed to clue in his readers that the actions of his chosen heroes drove the demand for the worst sort of mortgages and turned what would otherwise have been a “contained” problem into a systemic crisis.


I take her at her word but I never really thought of Eisman and company as being heroes. They were in the business of making money for their investors and themselves, not engaged in a sociaist redistribution scheme to funnel money from the rich to the poor. They didn't take their earnings and open homeless shelters and soup kitchens. So I am not all surprised that the guys in the book actually made things worse but I read it as a glimpse inside an industry of which I know precious little. For me The Big Short is a description of how Wall Street works as seen through the lens of intra-Street conflict, not a heart-warming David vs. Goliath story.

You can judge for yourself. I found The Big Short a fun read because of the characters and interesting because of Lewis' ability to explain the market in ways I could understand.
|| Palmer, 11:20 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

19 August, 2011

Boy, Am I Glad Dave Cieslewicz Is No Longer Mayor

Ex-Mayor Dave's latest blog post disturbed me.

He's been reading Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts and notes how similar middle class Germany was in the early 30s to today's American middle class plus just how close Hitler came to never gaining power. (Sounds a lot like Henry Ashby Turner Jr.'s Hitler's Thirty days To Power: January 1933.)

The disturbing part is how Ex-Mayor Dave ends his post:

The point is that sometimes one person does matter and the notes they choose to play on the public stage get echoed back and can change history for good or evil. It's what Lincoln meant when he called on Americans to find the "better angels of our nature." And it's why I still support Barack Obama. Because at the end of the day, despite my frustrations with his policies, he appeals to the things that are best in us.

Emphasis mine.

So, while the actions of the most powerful man on the planet may be bad or harmful, but he gives Cieslewicz the warm fuzzies. So, while the Commander-in-Chief OKs drone strikes that kill children left and right, Dave is sitting at home feeling all gushy inside. I think there's a Norman Rockwell painting here somewhere.

So Mr. Cieslewicz, how many more children will have to die, how much will Social Security and Medicare have to be cut, how many more innocent people will be given a special vacation to one of our black op sites to be tortured, how many more wars will Obama have to enter, how many more times will Wall Street executives screw us over and get away with it, how many more whistleblowers will be prosecuted for giving us a tiny, brief glimpse of what our country really does in our name and with our tax money before you'll stop looking at the stars for a bit and instead look around you? There's more to being President of the United States than hitting some harmonious notes while reading a teleprompter in front of a TV camera.

Personally, I feel that Obama can go suck an egg. I'm tired of him pissing on my back and then telling me that it's raining.
|| Palmer, 3:03 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Uncertain About Uncertainty

Today I read that Wisconsin lost 12,500 private sector jobs. Gov. Walker, who took credit for previous job gains, was quick to pawn the blame off on others.

Gov. Scott Walker, who last month credited his administration's business-friendly policies for big job gains in June, attributed the July job losses to turmoil in the national and international economy as well as to uncertainty created by the state's special recall elections.

Asked whether he should be held accountable for July's decline as long as he also wants credit for June's gain, Walker responded by describing what he called "incredible uncertainty both at the federal level - in terms of the debt ceiling and all the tension of that, and the negative impact that had on the economy - combined with July and August, when you saw the height of the recall commercials. And I think for a lot of employers we talked to, that created a high level of uncertainty, not knowing what was going to come next."


Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty. I am sick of hearing about it. Even the secretary of DWD is parroting it: "The wild market fluctuations during the debt ceiling negotiations, the European debt crisis and other factors contributed to a great deal of uncertainty, which may very well have affected Wisconsin's job numbers given our state's ties to the national economy." Does Walker e-mail talking points to his appointees every morning? "Be sure to use the word 'uncertainty' as much as you can today. And blame unions wherever possible."

I thought that Friedrich Hayek, a favorite economist of conservatives, covered this in The Constitution of Liberty. Wasn't one of his book's themes "Of course there's uncertainty. That's the world in which we live in."? Isn't that one reason he argued for capitalism against a planned economy? You know, we cannot know the future and markets are better equipped to handle the vagaries of economic life than a lumbering government whose plans can topple like a house of cards if something unexpected happened.

After reading the article, I was reminded of "Why 'business needs certainty' is destructive" by Yves Smith. She describes the whole idea of business needing certainty in the form of the absence of regulation as "propaganda that needs to be laughed out of the room."

Commerce is all about making decisions and committing resources with the hope of earning profit when the managers cannot know the future. "Uncertainty" is used casually by the media, but when trying to confront the vagaries of what might happen, analysts distinguish risk from "uncertainty", which for them has a very specific meaning. "Risk" is what Donald Rumsfeld characterized as a known unknown. You can still estimate the range of likely outcomes and make a good stab at estimating probabilities within that range.

Uncertainty, by contrast, is unknown unknowns. It is the sort of risk you can't estimate in advance. So businesses also have to be good at adapting when Shit Happens.

So why aren't businesses investing or hiring? "Uncertainty" as far as regulations are concerned is not a major driver. Surveys show that the "uncertainty" bandied about in the press really translates into "the economy stinks, I'm not in a business that benefits from a bad economy, and I'm not going to take a chance when I have no idea when things might turn around."


If businesses needed certainty in order to hire and invest, then they'd never do it because there's isn't much certainty in life except death. (Corporations have figured out how to elude taxes.)

Other than giving a bullshit mantra, Walker also irritated me when he said, "In the first six months, the policies we put in place helped create certainty in the state." Certainty of what? That you can carry a concealed handgun? I want to see some proof that anything Walker did significantly helped the Wisconsin economy instead of factors over which he has no control. I guess I'm just cynical to think that recall elections aren't a big factor to most companies as opposed to, say, not having a lot of people who want or can afford to buy your product.

|| Palmer, 1:05 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

17 August, 2011

Hey Sundance, What Happened to All the Movies?

Until recently, Sundance here in Madison had a couple flicks listed on their Coming Soon list that I was keen on seeing: Another Earth and Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest plus a third that I had little interest in, The Names of Love.

I talked to a friend of mine last night who is a big Tribe fan and he said that it had disappeared from the schedule. Thinking that it had just gotten bumped back a week owing to the popularity of a feature length edit of the British TV series The Trip, I checked for myself and discovered the above movies had gone POOF! out of existence at Sundance's website. Bloody hell!

So, if you want to see The Trip, download the full six episode series and watch it at home like it was meant to be seen instead of settling for an expunged version that is taking up precious real estate. We can free up some screens and get some good movies in.

At least Wayne Wang's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is still on the list.
|| Palmer, 9:56 AM || link || (6) comments | links to this post

16 August, 2011

The Checker Shadow Illusion

A nice demonstration of Edward Adelson's Shadow Checker Illusion. Damn cylinders always casting shadows throwing off our optical system!



(h/t to Jerry Coyne.)
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15 August, 2011

Michelle Bachmann Having Fun at the Iowa Fair

So is this what Michelle Bachmann is talking about with that whole "submission theology"?



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13 August, 2011

Pre-Great Tasting 2011 Edition

I headed to Maduro's to meet a friend after work but he texted me saying that he was at Madison's as they were giving away beer for free. When I think of Madison's, I think of it as being where Republican legislators and cougars hang out to drink and snort coke. Hell, it may have been all of my second time there, if not the first. I found my friends and that, indeed, Goose Island was on tap at no charge. Not wanting to get totally kerschnickered, I had a Summertime. For a Kölsch, it tasted vaguely fruity and like it had not been lagered. So it goes. I stepped up and ordered a Lolita for me and a friend, Amy. Looking at Goose Island's website, I think we instead got Juliet because the beer in our glasses was not red and did not tasty like raspberries. Amy didn't care for it so I quaffed her glass as well.

Some other folks in our group wanted to head to the Tap Haus and so we went. Walking in, I noticed Kirby chatting with some folks. At the bar we all went with a sample of the Eternal Flame which was being poured at no charge. This new brew is "a blend of Autumnal Fire and a formula for something we whipped together and called 'Imperial Fire.'" Half of this batch is being tucked away to be blended with fresh brew next year. As for this year's, it was quite tasty. Being a doppelbock, it's all about the malt. First I'll note that the stuff is smooth on the palate but its flavor was more sprightly and less syrupy than Autumnal Fire. Still, it had that warm bite at the finish. Eternal Flame will be a great fall sipping brew.

I followed it up with a Dark. Turning around I ran into Kirby. Poor guy. I feel sorry for him having to deal with me. Since I had his ear I told him that, however this whole ownership thing pans out (and you could see the frustration on his face when I said this), please don't go down the rustic road to ale oblivion. "Your dunkel and pilsner are my go-to beers. If you want to brew a Kölsch or an alt, I'd love it but please don't stop brewing German styles."

He looked at me and replied, "We're not a microbrewery. We're not a craft brewery. We're a Wisconsin lager brewery." Amen, brother! He followed this up by saying how irritating it is for him to have people ask about IPAs. I can imagine it must get old hearing that. Kirby also mentioned that Hop Cream revision B is due soon. He wasn't satisfied with the Northern Brewer hops in the first batch so he was going to change the hop bill. Lastly, I asked him when he was going to tap the bourbon barrel aged Imperial Doppelbock. He explained that he's not interested in setting specific times. It's going to be on tap out of the gate so, if you want some, get to the Capital booth early. After we finished chatting I noticed that the Hop Cream was on tap so I got a glass of it. I found it to be very smooth and light. The Northern Brewer hops imparted a very grassy flavor. Personally, I liked the contrast of the creaminess and the hops. I might not be able to drink this brew as a session beer but for a one off, it was good.

Later, as Kirby was walking by, I pointed to my friend Amy, who's never been to Bock Fest, and told him that she's never had chub thrown at her. Kirby gave her a look that I never want to see from a brewmaster directed at me. Amy cowered and promised to finally go to Bock Fest for the first time next year.

We left the Tap Haus and wandered to Brickhouse BBQ which was hosting Central Waters, Shorts, Nebraska Brewing Co., and Lift Bridge. I went with Shorts' Smoked Apple Ale. It had a really nice smoky flavor with a bit of apple sweetness at the finish. One of the guys from Lift Bridge returned his pour saying he could taste band aid in it. I think that kind of flavor comes from a phenol of some type. While I've read about it, I can't recall the details. (Are you reading this Joe?) Anyway, I couldn't taste them. I followed the rauchbier up with their organic pilsner. It wasn't bad but it lacked a real lager crispness. Then again, I couldn't taste the band aid so maybe my palate was off here as well.

A companion had a Summer Rye from Nebraska Brewing and she let me have a sip. This was good stuff. That rye crispness coupled with Citra hops and their attendant grapefruit-like flavors.

I'd like to give Brickhouse props for offering the beer in both 16oz pours and 4 oz samples. (The bigger brews came in 10oz pours max.) If you didn't like something, you weren't out as much money and you didn't waste as much beer. And you could sample a larger variety of beers before you were in the bag.

It was a fruitful night of consumption. I had the chance to sample some great beers and a few that I now no longer have to attempt to get at the Taste today.
|| Palmer, 8:42 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

12 August, 2011

Dark Girls Trailer

This one will spark some conversation at my house. (When we watch it via Netflix or DVD as I can't see any cinema in Madison daring to show it.)

|| Palmer, 2:48 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang





Ha-Joon Chang takes issue with Thomas Friedman's flat world. Friedman says that developing nations must don a what he calls a Golden Straightjacket in order to join the First World club. This perverse bit of fashion involves neo-liberal policies such as privatizing public industry, deregulation, smaller government, et al. Chang does more than take issue with Friedman, he flat out calls bullshit.

For Chang, Friedman and others who promote such ideas are the bad samaritans of his book's title. They are denizens of rich countries and they use organizations such as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank to impose the above neo-liberal policies and others as well. However, these people are either ignorant of or ignore the fact that their own countries managed to become industrialized by using distinctly un-neo-liberal policies such as high tariffs and government-owned enterprises.

Examining what he calls "the official history of globalization", Chang shows how it is largely a myth and proceeds to poke holes in it. The official history goes something like this: Britain went all free trade in the 18th century as it was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. These policies were such a success that other countries adopted them in the 19th century. (Including the United States.) The world economy started to take a real digger after World War I so governments reverted to protectionist schemes in a panic. After World War II American economic dominance saw things swing back towards the free trade side and by the 1980s they had come into full force.

Chang uses the Opium Wars as an example to show how "military might, rather than market forces" had a defining role in the initial burst of globalization. Furthermore, while rich nations were colonizing the poor ones, they kept the tariffs high at home. What was good for the goose wasn't good for the gander back then. As he says, "virtually all the successful developing countries since the Second World War initially succeeded through nationalistic policies using protection, subsidies, and other forms of government intervention."

I enjoyed the looks back into the history of today's rich nations. Chang discusses how the Tudor monarchs protected Britain's nascent wool industry, for example. We in the U.S. owe Alexander Hamilton a debt for pushing for the development of manufacturing here instead of following Adam Smith's advice to the contrary. Not knowing much about economic history, I was surprised to learn that the U.S. had the highest tariffs on manufacturing imports in the whole world until WWI. Chang says that "Despite being the most protectionist country in the world throughout the 19th century and right up to the 1920s, the US was also the fastest growing." The book looks at the growth of other nations as well such as France, Sweden, Japan, and his native South Korea as well as issues like intellectual property and ethnic stereotypes. This last one begins with the observations of an Australian consultant which concludes that the people he observed were lazy and have a culture that promotes laziness. These were the Japanese in 1915.

Chang's primary message here is that it's foolish for First World neo-liberals to think that a country like, say, Zimbabwe, can rid itself of government intervention in markets and directly compete with the United States. The situation is inherently lopsided. The U.S. didn't throw the doors open and try to compete with Britain mano el mano back in the 19th century; it used protectionism to build its manufacturing industries to the point where they could go toe to toe with the rest of the world and then let them at it. Now that the U.S. is a world power, it's ridiculous to demand of other countries what we ourselves wouldn't and didn't do. I don't think Chang is against the IMF, WB, and WTO on principle, but he does think that they err when they impose neo-liberal policies as a one-size-fits-all solution for developing nations. He wants these organizations and the wealthy nations behind them to tailor programs to suit the individual country.

For someone like me who is knows little about economic history and even less about economics, Bad Samaritans was an enlightening read. There's a lot of history here but Chang assumes the reader to be a typical American, i.e. – don't know much about it, so it's all laid out for us. And there's no formulae demonstrating how the cosine of the derivative of the price of ladies underwear relates to inflation. Chang does discuss some economic concepts but, as with the history, he patiently explains them and provides examples.

The book ends on a note of optimism. Chang says that the majority of bad samaritans aren't greedy or bigoted. For many it's all about following the intellectual path of least resistance. It's much easier to conform to orthodoxy than it is to investigate the history and do the math. Rich countries weren't always bad Samaritans so there's always hope that these people can have their assumptions challenged and their views altered. Let's hope so.

|| Palmer, 10:17 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

It's Not an Excuse, It's An Explanation

I guess this is Mark McGowan, a London cabbie. It's about time someone with a Cockney accent explains things instead of posh pundits.

|| Palmer, 8:49 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

11 August, 2011

Just For the Record...

...I sampled the side of vegetables with JM and Nichole. First let me say that there were no corporate overlords standing over their shoulders directing the grading process. To those who commented that the review was in some way unfair, I can only respond that I think Nichole was on the right track with her B+.

The vegetables were good. And so was the rice. I appreciated that the dish was dressed with sesame oil and not drowning in it. However, I would add that, if you're going to lay down a big pile of starch, then give it some salt. I have no recollection of JM giving his opinion on the vegetables so I cannot explain his C grade. However, I can certainly understand someone feeling that the dish was under-dressed or lacking in salt.
|| Palmer, 10:50 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

10 August, 2011

Cosmos Sequel to Star Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive

Cosmos is getting a sequel and it's to be hosted by the sexiest astrophysicist alive, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The producers of the show say the new series will tell “the story of how human beings began to comprehend the laws of nature and find our place in space and time.” They go on to boast: “It will take viewers to other worlds and travel across the universe for a vision of the cosmos on the grandest scale. The most profound scientific concepts will be presented with stunning clarity, uniting skepticism and wonder, and weaving rigorous science with the emotional and spiritual into a transcendent experience.”

That’s the good news. The bad — or at least, potentially bad — news is that, because of MacFarlane’s involvement, the series will air in prime time, and on Fox.


On Fox?! Good lord. It'll probably be saturated with CGI graphics of robots stepping on Saturn for a transition.

Anyway, check out this photo of Neil found at Boing Boing. Looks like he's gonna barrelhouse all night long. I think he should grow those sideburns back.



|| Palmer, 10:04 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

07 August, 2011

U.S. FICO Score Takes a Hit

I see that S&P has downgraded the credit rating of the federal government.

I chuckled when I read this because this is the same rating agency that, along with Moody's, gave sterling AAA ratings to Collateralized Debt Obligations comprised of high risk junk mortgage bonds for years and helped create the housing bubble which burst and sent us into a recession. In the words of Michael Lewis,"A CDO, in their view, was essentially just a pile of triple-B-rated mortgage bonds. Wall Street firms had conspired with the rating agencies to represent the pile as a diversified collection of assets..."

Emphasis mine.

S&P along with Moody's and half of Wall Street should have been driven out of town with brickbats a few years ago for being a bunch of crooked bastards. I wouldn't trust a rating agency as far as I could throw it. So cui bono?
|| Palmer, 5:32 AM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

05 August, 2011

Put Down the Pomegranate Juice

Poor pomegranate. Anti-oxidants don't work.

Few medical remedies have a more sterling reputation than that assortment of foods, pills, and general life maneuvers known collectively as "antioxidants." At last, here's something that promises better heart health, improved immunity, a pellucid complexion as well as relief against cancer, arthritis, and the blahs—and it's all-natural! What's not to like?

Well, there is a wee small problem in our ongoing anti-oxidize-athon: As it turns out, we have no evidence that antioxidants are beneficial in humans. (Though if you're a Sprague-Dawley rat, there's hope.) In fact, as Emily Anthes wrote last year in Slate, the best available data demonstrate that antioxidants are bad for you—so long as you count an increased risk of death as "bad."
|| Palmer, 4:18 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

04 August, 2011

New Summer Brews

Point has a new summer brew coming out soon called Drop Dead Blonde Ale. It will apparently get a soft release at the Great Taste this year and other such events. I presume this means that their current summer seasonal, Nude Beach, will be going away.

The label for Capital's Eternal Flame has been approved.





Seems a little early to seek approval considering the stuff isn't going to be out until next summer. They don't procrastinate over there in Middleton, I guess.

Eternal Flame is a "vertical" beer. Here's a story with an explanation:

On April 17, Brewmaster Kirby Nelson will brew the seed beer for what will become "Eternal Flame," a vertical beer that will begin with a hybrid recipe of the brewery's Autumnal Fire and Eisphyre beers.

The 50 barrels brewed April 17 will sit for a year. Then next April, Nelson will brew another 50 barrels and blend it with the 50 barrels brewed this year. After a two-month aging, 50 barrels of the mixture will be bottled in June 2012. The remainder will age for another year and then another 50 barrels will be brewed in 2013 and be mixed with the aged beer. Another 50 barrels will be bottled and sold in four-packs, with the remainder stored for the following year's batch. The process is intended to go on for years.


Good lord! You'd think a doppelbock weighing in at 9.1% would be something you'd release in the autumn or winter.
|| Palmer, 4:17 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It's no longer surprising to hear about an official with the Catholic Church getting busted with kiddie porn. But, in this instance, his job was to fend off the paedophiles.

Married Jarvis, 49, a former social worker, was employed by the church following sex scandals about pervert priests.

His job was to monitor church groups to ensure paedophiles did not gain access to children in the church’s congregations.

But he was caught by police in March with more than 4,000 child porn images on his home computer and his work laptop.

He admitted 12 counts of making, ­possessing and distributing indecent ­images when he appeared before ­magistrates in Plymouth and is likely to face jail when he returns to court for sentencing next month.
|| Palmer, 3:53 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post

Hitler Learns of Next Doctor Who Episode: "Let's Kill Hitler"

If you haven't seen the first half of this season yet, do not watch. SPOILERS!

|| Palmer, 1:10 PM || link || (0) comments | links to this post