Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What is wrong with this picture?

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor has been speaking about two economies on his blog.

If you were to walk into a classroom and see 100 students. And let's say 98 of those students are unable to keep up, their grades falling farther and farther behind, GPA dropping, struggling to get a grip on the course work. But, 2 of those students are getting all the instructor's attention they want or need, they have the textbooks they need to excel beyond grade level. Without the burden of the other 98 students, they are completing more and more work, getting farther and farther ahead. Making it less and less likely that the lower 98 will ever catch up.

What might be your initial assessment of the the problem? It probably wouldn't be that the lower 98 are all just lazy. And, it probably wouldn't be that some kids just naturally rise to the top and the two getting all the classroom resources are just more deserving of it.

You probably would think that something was a bit out of whak. The 2 lucky top students may well have been the brightest kids in the class. Catering to them might have given the quickest rewards to the teacher. They may have been the easiest to serve and work with. Initially, there might have only been a few grade points between the upper 2 and that of the lower 98, but over time, the neglect added up, took its toll and now it seems like you have two different classrooms of different kinds of students.

That might be a strained analogy for where our economy is right now, but when you look at the details, it isn't too far off.

We have two separate economies that have grown farther and farther apart. And, you can not just attribute it to the productive and entrepreneurial members at the top just being better at what they do.

If we all were experiencing the same economy, you would expect most participants to experience a similar rise and fall of fortune. Those at the higher end may see greater spoils, those at the lower end less. But, it would generally trend in similar directions. We are not seeing that at all. The 2% at the top are seeing fantastic growth and fortune. Everyone else is sinking just a little bit closer to flunking out.

Good news?

The Commerce Department just released a report that said U.S Corporate Profits Were the Highest on Record Last Quarter. Highest ever. The highest since they began keeping records 60 years ago.

That is great! Right? U.S. Businesses are doing fantastic. You know what that means, people who work for those companies get more. Well, maybe not all of the people who work there, but the executives do. Yes, executive bonuses are up too! That's good, right? That money goes right back into the economy. A rising tide lifts all boats you know. Except that tide seems to just be lifting the stock market economy. But that is good, right? Except for some reason everybody on this side had to pull their money out of the stock market to pay their bills. But at least Wall Street is getting a boost. Wall street bonuses are expected to rise 5% this year. Your bonus went up 5% this year, right?

Have you ever heard the phrase: "We'll, I've never worked for a poor man". There are more and more poor men out there and less and less rich bosses. Maybe that is why there are more and more people without work.

Something is really out of whak here. It almost seems like the top 2 percent and the rest of us are playing by different rules. And the teacher can't be blind to this. Can she?

What is wrong with this picture?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Goodbye Macie

My last post about our dear pet Macie, who passed today.

Macie came to us from abuse.

Her previous owner, after eviction, left her to fend for herself in the back yard of their abandoned house. When the landlord discovered her, she was living on a dripping faucet for water and stones to fill her stomach to abate her hunger. I don't know what their situation was. Maybe they had no choice, but many times I have wished that they reach the level of despair that they thrusted our beautiful Macie into. I hate few people, but because of what they subjected our eventual family member to, I hate them. I have felt no remorse for that emotion.

We were fortunate to be able to provide her with a family that loved her without bounds. She gave us more that we gave her. Her love for our family was complete and without reservation. A dog's love for their owner always exceeds what can be reciprocated, and Macie gave us, her adopted family, her unconditional love.

Every family member is unique, and she had her unique and special kinship with each member. Each of our children had their own relationship with Macie, and she with them. Neither more or less special.

Life is cruel. When a pet ages at a rate 7 times faster that their owners, the pain of premature loss is expected, inevitable, but always without preparation.

Because of bone cancer, her life had become just a string of trips between places to lay down, and painful trips at that. Having become lame in her right rear leg, she made valiant trips into the yard to assert her territory against the interloping deer and hikers. But, I worried that, at any day, she may not be able to make it back up the hill and stairs to her throne on the deck. My dread of a phone call from my wife that our ever noble sentry was unable to climb the stairs back to her post weighted on me.

As her family, we made the choice that she was living an existence that was without pleasure, and with much pain, we decided to let her go. We chose to postpone the trip to the vet that day, but for probably selfish reasons, we made the choice to go to the vet hospital the next morning instead of that Saturday. I feel a little bit guilty about that choice, because the decision to wait another day, was for our benefit, not hers. That night was painful for us and her. I continually woke to hear her throughout the night, in a restless, painful sleep.

The morning was mechanical. Punctuated by emotion, but never a second though. It was time, but not without tears. We left before the kids were awake, arrived before the vet and sat with Macie in the car. Normally, she would have been apprehensive on a trip like this, but the pain and discomfort probably consumed and distracted her.

I went in to take care of the paper work while my wife waited in the car with her. I was fine until the vet asked: "How are you?" I couldn't answer, and she didn't ask again.

When it was time, I lifted Macie from the car to the ground. On level surfaces, she could walk by keeping her good rear leg centered and she had a labored skip. She followed us, unquestioning, into the room with a place for us to sit with her on the floor. We talked with the vet briefly, they took her for just a few minutes to insert a catheter which was to be use shortly. Then she returned to us for a final 10 minutes for us to thank her for the last 11 years she had given us.

When the vet came back in, he explained the procedure. We could sit with her as he administered a drug that would lead to her falling asleep and then quickly passing away.

As we sat there with her. He injected her and there was no indication of discomfort, at least for her. The hardest part for me was, as soon as the procedure began, Macie turned to me and looked directly in my eyes. I knew that look. She was looking at me partially for me to reassure her that everything was OK. But at the same time, she was reassuring me that everything was OK. We where doing what we thought was best for her, and she was telling us that she loved and appreciated our care of her.

Goodbye Macie.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Where are we, how did we get here and where are we going

A friend of mine, who many times has a point of view 180 degrees from my one, sent me a link (see here) to an opinion piece about a the failings of the current president in the area of transparency. Transparency was a term used a lot during the campaign as a goal that would be one of many that would differentiate this administration from the previous.

The context of the article, and more so the comment sent to me with the link to the article, was the purported loss of sheen that the current administration has in the eyes of many of those who made it possible. I say purported because I believe that pointing out exaggerated, unrealistic expectations is a political strategy used by the both sides to make it easier to show what they want to eventually refer to as failures. Exaggeration and caricature are carry a lot of power for quick, content-light attack

I think I may have been a bit more of a realist all along, and did not expect some amazing transformation of our government that some did. I have to say that I had high hopes, and muted expectations. And, I would say that my expectations ...have all been met or exceeded, and my hopes, although not been met, will continue to be my hopes for us going forward.

I have been disappointed with the progress we have made on issues that are important to me, but at the same time understand better some of the compromises that have led to both the inaction and some of the achievements

Overall, I would give this administration a B-, but that beets the range from a C+ to a D- from the previous 5 administrations before this one. Keeping with the academic theme, the school year us less than half over, and it looks like their grade is improving. And, I have full confidence that they will achieve the advanced degree during a second term.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What to name the Keggerator

I don't think this rises to the level of a mid-life crisis, but maybe a midsummer crisis. I am tired of my old, simple, keggerator. It works well but it is, well for lack of a better description, boring.

Recently, I have heard about some of the people at Wired Magazine, who after a few beers at a local brewpub, decided to make their own keggerator and pimp it out. Being the graphics savvy group that they are, they spent a lot of time pimping it out visually. But it seems that other than looking very snappy, with iPhone , Droid phone and X-Box type graphics on it, it doesn't really DO anyting but pour beer.

Not that there is anything wrong with pouring beer, mind you. My existing keggerator (affectionately known as "Keggerator") has been just pouring beers for years and doing it very well. But I now have a bee in by bonnet, or maybe a kink in my line, and I want to seriously upgrade to a keggerator to be proud of.

Like all successful projects, the most important thing to do first is: Come up with a name.

So far, I have come up with:
  • Arnold Schwarzenkegger
  • R2-Beer2
  • Darth Kegger
but there are other names that might better inspire. Can you think of any? Please, take the poll and let me know.

Poll: What should we call our computer enabled keggerator? http://poll.fm/233yc

More to come. Watch this space

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reinheitsgebot be Damned

As far as I am concerned, the Reinheitsgebot, or the "German Beer Purity Law", can go take a hike.

The law, first presented in the late 1400’s, but actually becoming Bavarian law in 1516, states that beer can only contain three ingredients: Water, Barley, and Hops.  Keep in mind, that at that time, no one knew anything about yeast. Until Louis Pasteur (yes, that Louis Pasteur) discovered that yeast made beer. Then of course, they added that and made it four ingredients: Water, Barley, and Hops, and yeast.  Don’t you get the feeling that Louis Pasteur would have been cool to know back then?  Maybe sit down and have a beer with him.

The law was an early example government making laws that said one thing, but REALY only wanted a completely other thing.  This is similar to laws in states that say they just want to enforce the existing law, but they REALY means, “GO WAY! Your different to me and that scares me!”.  Sorry, I digress.  Twitter shortens my attention span.

The law came about, to a large degree, because bakers complained that the brewers were coming in and using their primary ingredients, wheat and rye, and that this was raising the prices of those ingredients. So, in order to keep the costs low, they convinced the Bavarian Government pass a law this law, effectively making it illegal for brewers to use those ingredients.

Fortunately, that law was regional, is no longer in place and many brewers have not limited themselves to the Reinheitsgebot.

Case in point, I just had a wonderful Chocolate Stout that would not have been within Reinheitsgebot guidelines.  I mean, chocolate in beer?  Really?

But this example was a vey good tasting beer.  Not overpowering  with its chocolate, just enough to give a cocoa hint on the finish.  I can’t tell you what brand of beer that it was, because it was a home brewed beer, made by an friend . But, it stood up to comparison with most commercial beers.  There are a few commercial Chocolate Stouts on the market.  But, it can be confusing.  Traditionally, Chocolate Stout just referred to the color of the beer and a chocolaty flavor that it gets from the dark roasted barley.  But, there are some, like this one, which are very good and actually add a few chocolate nibs to the brew too.  Rogue Ales Brewery in Ashland, Oregon has a very tasty one.  I recommend it.

Sometimes legal constraints on ingredients or process are there for good reasons, like safety or tradition.  Sometimes, they force the brewer to work within a framework and push them to use their skill to use what they have and still have a great result.  Like a Haiku for Beer.  But, it is always refreshing to try a good beer that makes judicious use of selective adjuncts.  Like that hint of paprika on an excellent Benedict, or the suggestion of saffron to a rice and shrimp, a touch of a nice complimentary ingredient takes it to the next level.  Specialty components of a non-Reinheitsgebot mix it up a little bit

Go out and find some non-Reinheitsgebot beers.  Maybe a Coffee Stout, or an Apricot Ale, or a Cherry Lambic ale.  Go wild, share with a friend.  Share with me?  Or, at least comment back on what you tried and what you think of it.


Saturday, May 08, 2010

Spring Morning Visitors

Drinking my coffee on the porch this morning, watching the red tails hawks glide in the spring sun.  Suddenly, a humming bird became extremely interested in my face.  He darted back and forth, about 12 inches away from my eyes for maybe 30 seconds.  I was afraid he was going to check for nectar.  After he flew off, I retrieved my camera and returned.  So did he.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Old World Spirits, New World business plans

This ain't your fathers gin. image

Close your eyes and picture a successful distillery and maker of fine spirits. If you see, in your minds eye, a huge distillery/factory that churns out gallons and gallons of well drinks, you missed the part where I said "Fine" spirits.   If you are picturing a large copper still, nestled in a stone and brick building, surrounded by fields of grain the for mash or rolling vineyards for the brandy, well, your still not picturing the new breed of distillery.

In the 80’s, the beer brewing industry started a mini-revolution.  And, I do mean “Mini”.  It seemed that there was a microbrewery popping up in warehouses and industrial parts all over California.  Then, in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the wine industry saw that model working, and we started seeing little urban wineries appearing in metropolitan areas and small industrial rental complexes.  Places like the “Wine Ghetto” in Lompoc showed that you could, quietly, simply and on a small scale, without all of the traditional trappings of appearance, turn out world class wines.

Now, here we are in the bold new world of the micro urban distillery. A good idea can not be kept down. Hold on I have seen the future, and it is good.

While visiting a favorite urban brewery last nigh, I found a steel roll-up door open on one of the units.  A sign outside said there was a tasting going on, and once inside, there was a tasting counter next to a small, beautiful, copper and steel still.  Welcome to the future, it is here. iPods and Laptops aren’t the only thinks that are getting smaller and better.

Old World Spirits in Belmont, has an ambitious selection of brandies, gin, a couple of absinthes, and a delicious black walnut liquor.  The owner/master distiller Davorin Kuchan comes from a family of distillers and he is doing a great job in continuing the family trade and trade.

All of his spirits are made with local products.  The base ethanol for his brandies are all distilled from northern California Zinfandel.  His peaches are from central valley heirloom peaches.

His gin, only available at a local shop, is fine, botanical, herbal and citrusy with a little hint of cilantro.

His two absinthes are both superb, and both very different from each other.  One, is more traditional, anise and wormwood, citrus, and a natural sweetness of aroma.  The other, with similar flavors, just kicked up a couple clicks.  A 1:4 louche brings out the color and texture and makes and puts a bloom on a fantastic drink.

If you want to treat yourself to some of these fine spirits and see what expertise and passion can create, visit their website and find where you can try some for yourself.  http://www.oldworldspirits.com

I will be adding more to our home cabinet.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My Day with the Tea Partiers

Today I stopped by a Tax Day Tea Party rally. That may surprise people who know me. But it won't surprise people who know me well.

The whole Tea Party movement has been interesting to me. I can see where they are coming from. The economy has been bad. People in position of economic power have have been taking advantage of their position and politicians have been complicit, probably to an ethically questionable degree, enabling it. But, probably most significantly, we hear constantly how the government is screwing the public. This isn't new, but it has gone from a rumble to a roar.

The public is being taken advantage of here, but it isn't the government who is perpetuating the con. The phrase "Follow the Money" was tossed around a lot at the rally. Ironic, since that was the phrase that led to the domino chain of events and ultimate downfall of a Republican president. But, who is benefiting financially from this current outrage? Who benefits from the bubbling discontent and conspiracy innuendo? When it seems to be waning, who comes in to rabble rouse it back up? Stir the Pot? Raise awareness? Well, here is a clue.

How did you hear about these rallies? These "Grass Roots" rallies. I heard about them on the radio, conservative radio that I listen to. In fact, last week I heard it discussed so much on a local conservative radio station that I had to check it out. It was easy to do, all the information about the rallies were on the radio station's website. With banner ads no less. Glad I was able to help their bottom line with my click throughs. We know how hard media is struggling for advertising dollars. I hope my mouse clicks and page loads brought in a bit more advertising dollars from those tax attorney and gold sale advertisers on those pages.

How involved was this radio station in this "Grass Roots" event? Well the master of ceremony for the event was one of their radio personalities. The station's booth, handing out Tea Party signs, banners and stickers (with the stations call letters conveniently printed on them), as well as hocking and raffling off another one of their personality's Global Warming denier book was practically part of the stage. The sound crew and equipment looked like it was coordinated by, if not provided by the station. It was obvious, the purpose of the crew here, was to take advantage of an energetic public to keep them as the station of choice.

The crowd was substantial in size, probably between 400 and 600 people. It is hard to say exactly how many people are die hard Tea Party minions, and how many were any number of people with other motivations, but I would estimate that 200 people there were truly committed to the cause. Although, listening to them, only half of those would be able to tell you what the cause was beyond what their signs said. Easily half the crowd was there to just see what this was all about. And, there was a vocal group of counter protesters there, purely to disrupt.
Let me talk about the counter protesters for a bit, because I think this is representative of many counter protests on both sides. Sure, I think it is great to get your opinions out there. God bless American and Freedom of Speech. But, you may be hurting your own cause more than helping it.

Some of the counter protesters were encouraged by anti-Tea Party websites, to make fake signs, pose as Tea Party caricatures, and try to get their pictures in the media to exaggerate the fringe elements that make up this or any group. Well guys, you attempts are backfiring. Eventually you are diluting the fringe that you are trying to expose. Now, when you see a sign with something as stupid as saying that Obama is a Muslim, or a Marxist, or that he is a brother of Osama Bin Laden, you have to wonder if it is a real idiot, or someone just posing as one. And, you can pretty much guarantee that the only people with misspelling on their signs are the ones making signs to pretend that they are real ones.

Sure, there was some unsettling or even disturbing things I saw today. Like the college student speaker who was wearing what looked like a 8mm riffle round on a chain around his neck like a rosary. I am not saying he was clinging to it, just wearing it like a religious symbol.

I think the most bizarre behavior I saw came whenever (and I do mean whenever) anyone on stage mentioned the name Reagan, which happened a lot. Whenever a speaker would invoke the name Reagan, the crowd would clap, some one stand up, I heard a couple of "Amen"s and one time, I swear, it seemed like the entire park was going to break into a baseball game crowd WAVE.

If you were to take away the counter protesters, take away the opportunistic publicity seekers and rabble rousers, the curious observers, the large number of police officers on foot, bike and horseback, the people running for office with their vote-for-me buttons and fliers, the people just hanging out, and the many many children dragged there en-tow by their parents as props, and the media (who I am sure we will hear ignored the whole event, even though there were satellite trucks and camera people). If we take away all those people, we would be left with the essence of the Tea Partiers.

This core group, seemed to me to best be described as scared. And maybe for good reason. They seemed to be scared for a number of reasons. One, they have been lied to. Lied to by politicization who they elected into office to do something for them, and instead, just did things for themselves. Two, they have seen the America they thought they understood, one with a dream for everyone, dissolve into a pile of unemployment, financial corruption and government assisted or complacent bubbles and collapse fiascoes. And, they have been lied to by media clowns, feeding them phrases which wind up on banners and signs, like Osama Bin Lying and Progressive = Socialism.

I can't completely discount their cause here. I feel it too. But, the show I saw today, other than the small group that really cares about what happens. The group that probably represents the core of what the Tea Parties originally stood for. I saw these people being used to get an audience for an agenda that I find disturbing and predatory.

Thanks Tea Partiers for the Rally today. I got a lot out of it. Keep up the pressure for a responsive government, but be sure to make sure you are furthering your cause, and not that of a group who just wants to keep their audience calling in to the talk shows.

h, and by the way. Just because someone in the crowd grabs a sign that has KSFO and Taxed Enough Already on it from the HUGE pile next to the stage, that doesn't mean you should let him just wander up on stage with the scheduled speakers.

Remember. The media will use you, and it isn't always the particular media you think is doing it.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Apparently, I wasn't ready for 2010

My last blog entry was all about being done with 2009, ready for 2010, and not feeling the need to set any New Years resolutions. I felt that I was ready to tackle 2010 head on and be so completely productive that the World would be my oyster .

Well, judging by the fact that it has been 35 days since that post, and my first entry since then is this one, describing how I have not posted anything, I would have to say that 2010 might need a reboot f0r me.

It has not been a complete loss. A few things have happened that have expanded my horizons, challenged by beliefs, taught me new things, or just tickled my fancy. I have just about finished my first significant application for a new phone platform (and, I have to say, Android ROCKS!) I have found that having a new, 16 year old driver in the house shakes things up quite a bit, and I do mean shake. I finally got those olive trees I have been wanting to try. We will see if I follow though with experiments in curing and/or olive oil over the next couple harvests. And, of course, the new composting experiment we have started. I think a 120 gallon compost digester might prove to be a little small, but we will see.

In any case, I am officially calling a "DO OVER" on the whole New Years thing. Maybe I will even make it official, pick up a bottle of a nice California sparkling wine, and toast the new year, albeit 5 weeks in.

Who's with me? HAPPY NEW YEAR(ish)!!!