Yesterday in this space I argued that Donald Trump should shut up. Amtrak’s recent decision to stock Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA on some trains showed that America is already great again.
Today the evidence from the nation’s northeastern rail corridor is mixed. On the one hand,we have the livestock-pen-indignity of the Penn Station waiting area, in which people mill around waiting for the last-second announcement of which gate to rush toward. (Yes! I know about the secret lower-level workaround. I’m thinking of my fellow citizens.) This is better than most commercial airports, but just barely. Penn Station veterans will know that the miracle of the shot below is that you can see a little area of unoccupied linoleum. But after all, this was 3 pm.
If Trump would boil his platform down to, Making Penn Station Great Again, I might sign on.
On the other hand, I give you now the Zaro Family Bakery, a Penn Station vendor doing its part to make things great all around. In its cooler we find … cans of wonder! Sierra Nevada Torpedo, in the darker-green cans, plus its mainstay Pale Ale; Sam Adams Rebel IPA and (lower down) its mainstay Boston Lager; plus Brooklyn Lager and Magic Hat Not Quite Pale Ale, all at $5 per 16-ounce can. More than in a liquor store, less than on the train.
As always our world is complex. But I have a can of Torpedo with me, and the wifi is working on the train as it rolls along through the clear and icy landscape, so for now I’ll return to the can-is-half-full perspective on our land.
A new entry on Amtrak’s cafe-car offerings: Victory Brewing Company’s Hop Devil IPA!
This is a step forward on an already progressive menu. For years Amtrak has offered Sam Adams Boston Lager on northeastern routes, plus Yuengling — and then Dogfish Head’s super-potent 90 Minute IPA, which at 9% alcohol is too much for me. [Update: and I hear from a reader that San Diego’s wonderful Stone beers have been available on the west coast Surfliner.]
When my wife and I lived in Austin long ago, while she was a UT graduate student and I was working for the then-new Texas Monthly (and then-State Senator, now Congressman, Lloyd Doggett), we spent what seemed like every evening with friends at the famous Scholz Garten open-air beer garden downtown. The range of regional beer choice in those days was Shiner, Pearl, or Lone Star from Texas, and Negro Modelo, Bohemia, Dos Equis, etc from further south.
The craft brew age has come to Texas as it has everywhere else. Continuing our saga of appreciation for the increasing range of American beer greatness, please consider the four offerings above. They are shown on a Dallas doorstep, protectively nestled on a blanket with Dress Mackenzie tartan. From left to right:
Deep Ellum IPA, again from Deep Ellum brewery. If forced to choose between this and Mosaic, I would choose both.
My main point with these updates is to add little chronicles of the ongoing golden age of beer. For academic substantiation on that point, check out the new Journal of Wine Economics for a history and analysis of the American craft brewing movement by three academic economists: Kenneth Elzinga, Carol Horton Tremblay, and Victor Tremblay. A PDF of their 33-page essay is here. (Thanks to Russ Mitchell for spotting it.) The report includes this map of craft brewing’s expansion, after Jimmy Carter took the historic step of legalizing home brewing in 1979.
I have exactly two sources of recent interest in the fascinating-to-millions-of-people-but-previously-not-to-me world of SEC football.
One is the delightful recent book by Stuart Stevens — former Mitt Romney campaign strategist, book and TV writer, author for The Atlantic and other publications — called The Last Season. It’s the story of how, after the painful loss with Romney, Stevens spent a late summer and fall going with his 95-year-old father to every game of the football season for the University of Mississippi, his father’s alma mater. The book is about the modern role of football, especially the SEC variety. But it is also about the pre- and post- Civil Rights era deep south, about fathers and sons, about self-knowledge and self-delusion, about life’s losses and gains. I recommend it. It was 99% because of the book that I watched part of the game this afternoon in which Ole Miss steamrolled LSU.
The other is our series of visits in the past 18 months to the Golden Triangle of Mississippi, one of whose three component cities is Starkville, home of Mississippi State. One week ago I was flying over the Mississippi State campus with members of the Atlantic’s video crew, getting as close to the Alabama-Mississippi State showdown in Wade Davis Stadium as the gametime no-fly zone would allow.
A year ago at this time, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were just ending a multi-week run as the undefeated No. 1 team in the country. (They ended up with three losses, and a final ranking as #11.) In their game last weekend, the Bulldogs were crushed by the Crimson Tide. But as I type the Bulldogs are in an extremely high-scoring cliffhanger against the Arkansas Razorbacks. I will intentionally post this before I know the outcome.
Until three years ago, Mississippi had nothing like a craft brew industry. State law limited the alcohol content of beer to 5%, and most craft beers are above that. Since the law was changed in 2012, new breweries have sprung up. A week ago, at the indispensable Mississippi beer center known as the SmokeStack (in West Point), I loaded up on the Magnolia State products you see at top.
Very different styles, but I liked them all (and liked the two from Lazy Magnolia best). Keep an eye out for them; enjoy Stuart Stevens’s book; and now I’ll check to see how the Dogs-Hogs game turned out.
Update Very dramatic! The Dogs won in the final minute, 51-50, by blocking a Hogs chip-shot short-yardage field goal attempt with 40 seconds to go. I think I will now leave SEC football to its actual fans, going out on top after this exciting evening game.
Have been off the grid, mainly in Mississippi, so here is a good-news way to ease back in.
1) Ballast Point Bonanza. I’ve long enjoyed Ballast Point beers, from San Diego. Earlier this month I mentioned its lightish Longfin Lager. My favorites from its lineup are actually its Sculpin IPA, as shown at right, and the packs-a-punch, spicy-plus-bitter Habanero Sculpin. Also great: Ballast Point’s Fathom IPL (India Pale Lager), Big Eye IPA, and Dorado Double IPA.
In addition to liking the beer, I’ve liked the idea that Ballast Point was co-founded by fellow Cirrus airplane pilot (and skilled flight instructor) Bill Graham, whom I’ve come to know at a number of aviation gatherings over the years. When I saw him at a Cirrus convention in Dallas a few weeks ago, he didn’t mention that he was about to sell the craft brewery for … one billion dollars. That’s the news — sale of Ballast Point to Constellation Brands as a California-based non-tech billion-dollar “unicorn” — that was announced yesterday. Congratulations to the company, and to the Graham family.
Only little cloud on the horizon: some of Constellation’s other beer brands include Corona, Pacifico, and Tsingtao. Hmmm. Please keep your brewmasters, Bill!
2) Beer Road Trip. From Nathan Yau at FlowingData, a wonderful algorithmically generated map of how to visit the greatest number of the nation’s best craft breweries with the most efficient route. Not all of them are there — no Bent Paddle or Fitger’s of Duluth, Minnesota, no Yazoo of Nashville, no Victory Brewing (and its famous Hop Devil) of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, no DC Brau of DC, no Terrapin of Athens, Georgia, none of the Mississippi breweries I’ll be writing about shortly, of course no Hangar 24 or Escape or Ritual of Redlands, California — but, to be fair, it covers a lot. Nice job.
3) Know Your Craft Beers. The LA Times story on the Ballast Point sale also has a interesting / challenging test on “craft” vs. “crafty” beers — ones that are still independent, versus brands that are part (as Ballast Point is about to be) of larger chains. Many of the “crafty” beers are still very good! But see if you do better on this test than I did…
This was a day of travel-related travails of many sorts. Had expected to be en route to Mississippi on an American Futures-related update trip. Instead (seemingly) unrelated but mounting mechanical and electrical problems in a small plane meant no-go tonight.
The silver lining was the excuse to try out a place I had heard about (and whose beer I’d bought) but not visited: one of Dogfish Head’s three DC-area outlets. The brewery and headquarters are nearby in Delaware. I say: even if you’re not reflecting on a cancelled trip, worth checking out.
Posters for their beers:
Since you asked, the tattoo on the right says 酒 , jiu, for liquor or spirits. As in 啤酒, pijiu, for beer or 葡萄酒, putaojiu, for wine. Pijiu was the specialty at Dogfish head.
It’s been a while since I’ve been on the beer beat, and the tips I’d like to pass along are mounting up. So henceforth a new feature: early each month, an homage to interesting beers.
On this warmish November 1 in Washington DC (hmm, I wonder why that could be), I show you four canned beers that we had laid in before watching the GOP/CNBC debate this past week. With a view over the still-fully-leafed trees and bamboo in the backyard, you see these beers lined up left to right, in West-to-East order of their sites of origin:
Longfin Lager, from the Ballast Point brewery of San Diego. From a great brewery, a very nice light lager for those who like light lagers.
Hopnosh IPA, from the Uinta Brewing Company of Salt Lake City. A wonderfully retro-campy label on a wonderful IPA that is one of my staples (when I can find it).
Missile IPA, from the Champion Brewing Company of Charlottesville, Va. I am always mildly embarrassed by the labels on these cans, the brew-world equivalent of the pulpy covers on the wonderful Hard Case Crime series. But, as with the Hard Case novels, I do like this beer.
Brau Pils, from DC Brau here in the nation’s capital. You can say a lot of bad things about Washington, but one of the (many!) good things is the emergence of DC Brau. I usually buy their “The Corruption” IPA, but this is a nice Pilsner.
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.
At least one human life has already been lost as a direct result of the widespread obsession with turning the sex of one’s unborn child into an explosive (often literally) spectacle. In October, an Iowa woman was killed when her family inadvertently built a pipe bomb as part of their gender-reveal party—a gathering at which expectant parents dramatically and colorfully announce the sex of their baby.
The methods for doing so seem to have started out as benign, if stereotypical—cutting into a cake to reveal either blue or pink frosting, say. But in the past couple of years, some kind of communal madness has taken hold, and many of these feats of gender performance have gotten more elaborate, more public, and more dangerous—putting lives and entire ecosystems at risk. Last year, a father-to-be started a 47,000-acre wildfire in Arizona when he shot a rifle at an explosive target full of blue powder (It’s a boy!), causing $8.2 million of damage, according to the Arizona Daily Star. The latest instance of a gender reveal gone wildly wrong, as The New York Times reported on Friday, involved a plane that stalled and crashed while crop-dusting a Texas field with 350 gallons of pink water in honor of an unborn female child. No one was killed in either incident, but someone easily could have been. Othergender-reveal-relatedexplosions, and one reveal involving an alligator, have also placed people in harm’s way.
Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side
Images above: A protestor holding a sign that reads “Abortion Is Freedom” and protestors holding anti-abortion signs
In 1956, twoAmerican physicians, J. A. Presley and W. E. Brown, colleagues at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, decided that four recent admissions to their hospital were significant enough to warrant a published report. “Lysol-Induced Criminal Abortion” appeared in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It describes four women who were admitted to the hospital in extreme distress, all of them having had “criminal abortions” with what the doctors believed to be an unusual agent: Lysol. The powerful cleaner had been pumped into their wombs. Three of them survived, and one of them died.
Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.
Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most previous democracies had been unstable and short-lived. But they were excellent psychologists, and they strove to create institutions and procedures that would work with human nature to resist the forces that had torn apart so many other attempts at self-governance.
Things were getting bad even before the 2016 election, but somehow, within just a few years, they have gotten worse. In an environment of intense partisan warfare, each side believes it has a claim to lead the nation based on its own set of values. Each side understands that it has more to gain from aggrievement than achievement, and each side beholds the other with contempt. Meanwhile, the republic seems to be unraveling. A culture of anxiety and depression has spread far and wide as people face health crises without access to affordable care. An opioid epidemic ensnares ever larger numbers of the alienated and desperate; among certain groups, life spans are actually shortening. Some of those who aren’t harming themselves are harming others in mass shootings; many of the killers are infected with an ideology of white supremacy. Also, the prisons are full. The economy, at least, seems to be in decent shape for now, but income inequality continues to widen. Jobs are plentiful, which is good, because it often takes more than one to support a family. But the economic energy of a rich country has not eased the strains on our political institutions—money flowing to politicians has only hardened the gridlock. Congress still can’t get anything done. Tax cuts have left the country short of money to address national problems. The gulf between needs and capacities is glaring. Everyday scenes sometimes resemble New Yorker covers designed by Pravda: In Manhattan, the Harvard Club’s elegant dining room backs onto West 45th Street, where men and women sleep beneath damp cardboard in the warm glow of the club’s windows.
The gravest danger to American democracy isn’t an excess of vitriol—it’s the false promise of civility.
Joe Biden has fond memories of negotiating with James Eastland, the senator from Mississippi who once declared, “I am of the opinion that we should have segregation in all the States of the United States by law. What the people of this country must realize is that the white race is a superior race, and the Negro race is an inferior race.”
Recalling in June his debates with segregationists like Eastland, Biden lamented, “At least there was some civility,” compared with today. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition; the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
HONG KONG—For months now, I’ve been told that Hong Kong’s protests would end soon. They’ll end when school starts, I heard during the summer. School did start, but the protests wore on, only now I saw high-school students in crisp school uniforms joining the protesters’ ranks. Next, the mask ban of early October was supposed to slow protesters down, but the very first day after that ban, I watched streams of protesters in masks and helmets make their way to their usual haunts on Hong Kong Island.
The government shut down many of the subway lines that day, a practice that has become a de facto curfew, because Hong Kong’s über-efficient subway system is the way most people get around. No matter; the protesters ended up walking, sometimes a lot, and I walked with them, asking some of the same questions I had asked for months: Do you think you will continue protesting? What would it take for you to stop?
Our grasp on what it takes to sustain a democracy is slipping.
In 1838, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech to the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois. The subject was citizenship and the preservation of America’s political institutions. The backdrop was the threat posed to those institutions by the evil of slavery. Lincoln warned that the greatest danger to the nation came from within. All the armies of the world could not crush us, he maintained, but we could still “die by suicide.”
And now, today, we look around. Our politics are paralyzing the country. We practice suspicion or contempt where trust is needed, imposing a sentence of anger and loneliness on others and ourselves. We scorch our opponents with language that precludes compromise.
The three leading GOP defenses of the president contradict one another.
Give Mac Thornberry this much: Unlike some of his Republican colleagues, he was at least trying.
On Sunday the Texas Republican appeared on ABC’s This Week, where he tentatively offered a message on the impeachment inquiry, which enters its public phase with hearings this Wednesday and Friday. Thornberry sought a middle course.
“I believe that it is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival,” he said. “I believe it was inappropriate. I do not believe it was impeachable.”
Debatable, but coherent. But from there, things went off the rails. First, Thornberry inadvertently compared President Donald Trump to a rapist or murderer while critiquing the procedure House Democrats have used (though perhaps he is not far off). He then offered the defense that Trump couldn’t be impeached because the abuse of power in the Ukraine scandal is his standard operating procedure. “There’s not anything that the president said in that phone call that’s different than he says in public all the time,” he said.
Unmet hype created a viral clash between Drake and the audience at Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, but it might just work in his favor.
Editorial writers, assemble—there’s been another demonstration that civility in America is dead! Drake, the Canadian rapper, actor, singer, and, as of last week, marijuana entrepreneur, took to the stage last night at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, a music festival in Los Angeles. He played a few songs. The crowd grumbled so much that he left. To summarize, the biggest rapper in the world was booed off stage at a big rap concert—a telling story about toxic buzz storms, the vagaries of coolness, and Drake’s special relationship with the phenomenon of public shaming.
The footage of Drake’s exit feels like a scene in a biopic—a scene you’d watch through your fingers so as to avoid the protagonist’s nightmare from replaying in your own dreams. He’s performing the final lines of his song “Wu-Tang Forever,” but they sound lonely and weak, rapped by inertia. Faint woos and scattered claps reply. Drake walks in a tight circle. He addresses the crowd with the pre-confrontation politenessthat a boss might use to broach the subject of Juuling in the office: “You know, I’mma tell you, like I said …”