Attack of the beer snob

June 29, 2009


From a comment thread on Balloon Juice today:

I can’t help but wonder if what’s going on in the news industry isn’t akin, in a way, to what’s happened with the beer brewing industry in the US. Both brewers and news publications have undergone consolidation, the former in the 70s and 80s and the latter in the 80s and 90s. The result in both cases has been the emergence of a very limited number of huge corporations producing large quantities of inferior product. Subsequent to this, increasing numbers of small producers of varying but often superior products have emerged, and people turn to them as alternatives to the crap they’re getting from the big companies—not enough to put the big guys out of business, but enough to make the Sierra Nevadas and Goose Islands and Huffington Posts and TPMs (not to mention regional, mid-sized hard-copy publications that do a superior job of covering local news) grow into fairly decent-sized concerns.

As long as there’s a market for crap—and yes, I’m guilty; I like a High Life or Old Style once in a while for old time’s sake—the big guys won’t go away. But if we reach the point where the vast majority of consumers of news/suds recognize the crap as being, well, crap, that would be a major step in the right direction.

On that note, I attended the Organic Beer Fest in Portland’s Overlook Park on Saturday. It was the first time I’d been, and I have to say it was much bettter than the big beer fest down in Waterfront Park. Plenty of room to mill around, sit on the grass and enjoy the sunshine — instead of a crush of people so big that you almost have to drink your beer with a straw because you can’t raise your elbow. As someone who loves beer and hates crowds, especially crowds getting between me and that sweet, tasty beer, I’m glad I went.

As always, I set a high standard for myself and insist on total coverage, thus, my tasting notes. You’ll notice a preponderance of India Pale Ales, my go-to hot weather beer (ABV = Alcohol By Volume, IBU = International Bitterness Units).

Wolaver’s Pat Leavy’s Ale: 4.34% ABV, 25 IBU. A smooth amber ale with a hoppy finish. Wolaver’s is from Vermont — good for the novelty value, but nothing you couldn’t get from a local brewer.
Alameda El Torero: 7% ABV, 105 IBU — Highest IBU of the festival, in fact, but very well balanced with a dark red color and smooth finish. Far superior to Terminal Gravity’s 7% IPA.
Ft. George Spruce Ale:5% ABV, ❤ IBU, Brewed with blue spruce tips, but you wouldn't know it. Delicious floral/citrus nose, light body, tasted like Belgian Witbier (wheat beer with coriander/herbs — Blue Moon is an example). The spruce is well integrated, coming through as a minty finish. Not a session beer, but would go great with food in place of a dry white wine.
Standing Stone Double IPA: 7.8% ABV, 95 IBU. Cask conditioned, served English style (hand pumped at room temp.) Full-bodied, honey malt flavors with hops on the finish –basically the opposite presentation of NW-style IPA’s that are tart on the nose and finish smooth. Purism is fine in it’s place, but when it’s sunny and 80 degrees, I want my beer chilled.
HUB Secession: 6% ABV, 67 IBU. Described as a “Cascadian Dark Ale,” supposedly an “emerging style” among local brewers. It reminded me of Lompoc Strong Draft (a favorite of mine)– hoppy nose, rich nutty flavor, crisp finish. Highly recommended.
Captured by Porches Invasive Species IPA: 6.3% ABV, 72 IBU. Malty and sweet — a little too sweet for my taste but well put-together. Another local brewer (St. Helens).
Widmer TEAser XPA: 4.8% ABV, 12 IBU. Made with some mutant strain of non-bitter hops. Tasted almost exactly like iced tea with lemon and sugar. A decent lawnmower (or cheerleader) beer, but I wouldn’t buy a six-pack of it.
Oakshire Watershed IPA: Delicious oaky/hoppy aroma, full body, sweet finish (my handwriting has become somewhat difficult to read by this point in the festivities).
HUB Lager: 5.3% ABV, 32 IBU. Actually a pilsner, but what the hey. Made with Szaz hops, and plenty of them, this is an excellent Euro-style pilsner — in short, what Budweiser would taste like if it didn’t suck.
HUB IPA: 6.6% ABV, 75 IBU. The only IPA I tried that actually had the sharp, piney aroma one tends to expect. Red in color, balanced flavors with a tart finish.

While I’m not one to insist on “100% organic” in anything, I have to say I was delighted by the beers on offer, and I definitely was impressed by the contributions from HUB (Hopworks Urban Brewing) and Alameda. Both have brewpubs in the Portland area, and would certainly be worth a visit.



On July 22, 1934, John Dillinger was gunned down by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, Ill. The notorious outlaw, who had masterminded at least 24 bank robberies and two jailbreaks, had been brought to justice at last, betrayed by the mysterious Lady in Red.

To a nation mired in the Great Depression, Dilinger’s exploits, sensationally reported in the media, seemed to be those of a latter-day Robin Hood. Those escapades form the subject of “Public Enemies,” the latest in a string of neo-noir crime flicks from director Michael Mann (“Miami Vice,” “Collateral”), starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as FBI agent Melvin Purvis, based on a nonfiction book of the same title.

Depp seems to bring some of his own experience to bear in portraying Dillinger, who was in his own time every bit as much a celebrity – and a heartthrob – as any Hollywood star. As played by Depp, Dillinger is not only aware, but proud of, his growing legend: “Of course I care what the public thinks about me,” he says to an associate. “They’re where I hide out.” His looks, charm and audacity sweep the audience off their feet even before they do so to Billie Frechette (Academy Award-winning French actress Marion Cotillard), the woman whose love prompts Dillinger to risk everything.

As Purvis, Bale delivers a characteristically tightly-wound performance as a single-minded cop, contending not only against Dillinger and fellow hoodlums such as Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson, but also the politically ambitious, publicity-hungry J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), who is determined to establish his newly-formed FBI as the nation’s supreme law enforcement agency, by any means necessary.

“Public Enemies” is a solid and stylish film from beginning to end, mixing car chases, shootouts and double-crosses with a surprisingly touching love story. If the film suffers at all, it is only by comparison to the prior achievements of its director and lead actor.

Watching Depp escape from jail by bluffing guards with a wooden gun (a feat the real Dillinger carried off) before encouraging a hostage to join him in a sing-along as they escape in a stolen car, it was hard for this reviewer not to be distracted by memories of Depp’s turn as Captain Jack Sparrow. Similarly, the narrative thrust of “Public Enemies” — a robber with a code of honor, seeking redemption in a woman’s love and struggling to keep one step ahead of a driven lawman — are those of Mann’s own critically praised 1994 film “Heat.”

But where “Public Enemies” truly excels is in capturing a moment in American history that helped lay the foundations of present-day society. On the one hand, we see the birth of the surveillance state, as the FBI experiments with wiretapping phones and “third degree” interrogations in ways that foreshadow modern scandals. On the other, the transformation of organized crime from Prohibition-era mafiosos to modern white-collar criminals, seamlessly integrated into society — leaving flashy renegades like Dillinger between a rock and a hard place. As portrayed in this film, his fall is as much the work of the mob closing ranks against him as it is the result of Purvis’ manhunt.

In one scene, a mob associate informs Dillinger that his robberies have endangered their illegal gambling operations. Ushered into a “wire service” strewn with ringing phones and stacks of paper, where bookmakers take bets from coast to coast, Depp’s horrified expression speaks volumes: this isn’t crime, the look on his face says, it’s office work – and he wants none of it. That moment captures much of Dillinger’s appeal, then and now. In an era when the Old West was still a living memory, he was the last of the cowboys, the men who would rather die than be fenced in.

Well, everyone else is talking about it … the King of Pop is dead.

I can’t say I was particularly shocked by the news. In a way, I think most of us have seen it coming for some time now. The latest word is that –like Elvis, that other musical King — prescription painkillers were involved. Personally, I would have bet on the cause of death being a toxic reaction to his skin-bleaching cream.

I forget if it was Bill Hicks who said it originally, or if it was Denis Leary ripping him off, about how the wrong people get killed in this world — for example, John Lennon getting assasinated. I’m going from memory here, but whoever it was said something like this:

Wouldn’t it have been better if someone shot Elvis instead of John Lennon? Hear me out … what do you think of when someone says “Elvis?” (pause) That’s right — old, fat, popping pills, sweating through his sequined jumpsuit onstage while flubbing the lyrics to his own songs … dying on the toilet trying to shit out a deep-fried peanut-butter-and-bananna sandwich. What if someone had shot him? We’d remember the young Elvis, the thin Elvis, shaking his hips and driving teenage girls crazy. Wouldn’t that be better?

Apropos, isn’t it? … And when you think about Michael Jackson, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Yeah, that’s right.

Not to mention, if John were alive, he probably would have fought MJ for ownership of the Beatles catalog

But while that may be an easy comparison (especially thanks to the one-degree-of-separation marriage to Priscilla), it’s not really an accurate one. In truth, Michael Jackson is the Howard Hughes of pop.

Sure, we’ve all heard the joke about how “only in Amercia could a poor black boy grow up to become a rich white woman” without reflecting that the last time someone made their face look that way on purpose, they were starring in a horror movie.

You can read this article and this one for a full explanation, but suffice it to say that Michael Jackson was disturbed in ways seldom seen outside a Thomas Harris paperback… and his ability as a singer and dancer only made things worse.

How many people on TV have you heard in the past few days praise MJ’s “talent,” his “genius,” his “vision,” his “gift”? It was none of these. It was a curse. It was the cause of an unhappy childhood, and as an adult it brought him the fame and fortune that made it possible for him to act his traumas out, virtually without consequences, to give his disorder free reign instead of striving to confront and control it by therapy. Michael Jackson’s talent gave him permission to commit suicide in slow motion.

Now — perhaps only now — he is at peace, but any true assessment of his legacy will have to balance the value of his work as an artist with the reality of his life as the victim of mental illness … and the virtual certainty (whatever the official verdict may say) that he in turn victimized others.

I suppose that decision will be up to posterity, to those too young to have practiced the moonwalk in their stocking feet on the linoleum of the kitchen floor, too young to have seen a classmate (who shall remain nameless) throw on a red jacket and white glove for an elementary school talent show … too young to remember when he was still the man on the cover of “Thriller.” Too young for the soundtrack of their childhood to have been written by the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

News from the art world: Noted purveyor of manufactured schlock Thomas Kinkaid must pay $2.1 million to two former gallery owners who say he “duped them into investing their life’s savings in a doomed enterprise.” (H/T: Pandagon)

…Because, as any reputable critic would tell you, challenging, socially relevant works of art like this one were bound to prove an investment-quality asset, the market value of which would only rise. Yeah.

It gets better: according to the article: “Kinkade and other company officials used terms like “partner,” “trust,” “Christian” and “God” to create “a certain religious environment designed to instill a special relationship of trust.”

Now, one could simply say: “businesses that use evangelical Christians as their customer base exploit that faith to get them into fucked-up financial situations,” and leave it at that.

But come on! It’s not like they were paying to Get Out of Hell Free or rid themselves of body thetans — you know, some immaterial and therefore unfalsifiable spiritual benefit. At least that makes a certain kind of sense — after all, if you already believe in pie in the sky when you die, why not tip the maitre d’ for a good table?

But no, these rubes spent their life savings — their life savings — on Thomas Kinkaid paintings! That’s not pie in the sky when you die, that’s shitting on a plate and calling it chocolate ice cream! It’s right there in front of them, in all its awfulness, and yet they wilfully disregard the evidence of their own senses.

I mean, look at this stuff. Just LOOK AT IT. Forget awarding them financial compensation — if I were the judge I’d order their drivers’ licenses permanently revoked, on the grounds of impaired vision.

Seriously, on what level did this even resemble a sound business investment? Even the stuff Amway peddles is at least somewhat useful.

Now, since to my great surprise I’ve actually been getting comments on this blog, I expect I’ll be getting some angry ones on this post. Let me attempt to answer them in advance.

Angry comment #1: Kinkaid’s paintings are luminous canvases of wonder! Millions of people love them! I love them! Who are you to say he’s a bad artist? Etc.!
My response: This is a painting of some water lilies. This is a painting of a sad-eyed clown. One of them is good art. The other one is not. Which one is which? For extra credit: read this essay on the definitions of “camp,” “kitsch” and “trash.” Which of these words define Kinkaid’s body of work? (Hint: this question has more than one possible answer.)

Angry post #2: “Kinkaid’s paintings are an inspiring message of faith! His work embodies Christian values! Of course you don’t like it, you heathen! Etc.!”
My response: The museums of the world are full of Christian art that doesn’t suck. In fact, plenty of other people today are capable of making Christian art that doesn’t suck. As for Kinkaid, to paraphrase Hank Hill, his brand of Christian art doesn’t make Christianity better, it makes art worse. Now, go read my response to Angry Comment #1.

Angry comment #3: Kinkaid’s paintings are worthless garbage — but so is Domino’s Pizza, and millions of people buy it anyway! That’s why there are so many franchises, and that’s what these people bought, a franchise to sell a popular product!They have every right to sue for getting ripped off! Stop blaming the victim! Etc.!
My response: That’s like the setup for a bad joke: “Do you know what the difference is between a Kinkaid painting and a Domino’s pizza?” “One’s a tasteless mass of cardboard, grease and artificial coloring that’s unfit for human consumption– the other one is a pizza.”
Get it? The joke is, the pizza gets eaten, right … but at some point, everyone who likes Kincaid paintings will have bought one already. Then what? Of course you can make a small fortune selling art. It helps to start with a large one. Now, read my responses to Angry Comments #1 and #2 above.

Angry comment #4: “Dude, nice Weird Al reference in the title!”
My response: Thank you. I aim to please.

If an investigative reporter finds out that someone has been robbing the store, that may be ‘gotcha’ journalism, but it’s also good journalism.“– Ben Bradlee, The Washington Post

“I think there are a lot of critics who think that . . . . if we did not stand up [in the run-up to the war] and say ‘this is bogus, and you’re a liar, and why are you doing this,’ that we didn’t do our job. I respectfully disagree. It’s not our role” — David Gregory, NBC News

Last night I attended a roundtable discussion at my local library, with panelists Peter Bhatia, executive editor of The Oregonian, and Scott Campbell, publisher of The Columbian, our two metro dailies, as well as Marvin Case, publisher of The Reflector.

The topic of the discussion was “The Future of Newspapers in Our (PDX) Metro Area,” as in, do they have one? Since I work in this industry, I’m curious to see what my career prospects are — especially since I’d hoped, starting out, to one day see Bhatia’s or Campbell’s signature on my paycheck.

The prospects are not encouraging: The Big O is shedding jobs left and right, The Columbian has filed Chapter 11.  As for The Reflector, it’s a small-town, small-time weekly that publishes half as frequently as my current job and looks considerably worse, in terms of page design (print and Web both). Not exactly a move up the career ladder.

So, what is the future of our local print media institutions? Judging by the audience, I would say “dismal.” The forum drew a crowd of about 50 people. Of that number, about six, counting myself, were age 30 or younger — and of that number, two were relatives and/or employees of the panelists.

Those three wise men didn’t have any new ideas, either. The future is new media, news delivered to your iPhone, streaming video, interactivity, blogs, etc,. etc.  Heard it all before. The present revenue model is 80 percent print advertising revenue, 20 percent subscriptions. What’s the sustainable revenue model for digital journalism? Dunno.

Campbell said that at the Columbian’s high-water mark, online ad sales were bringing in 10 percent of total revenue. He thinks that the online newsroom of the future (i.e. one that makes extensive use of unpaid stringers “citizen journalists”) could sustain itself with online ad sales making up 30 percent of revenue, Web-based subscriptions 5 percent, and the rest from a mix of endowment funding (from whom, exactly?) government funding (ah, there’s the answer) and of course, iTunes-style “micropayments” — for articles instead of songs, an idea which will either save newswriting as we know it or destroy the industry entirely. 

But more to the point, what’s going to make someone want to spend the 99 cents reading the story I wrote  some news article, versus buying the new single from some band?  Doesn’t the news have to be at least as entertaining?  Assume costs and coverage are equal: what makes a reader choose one news site over another?

Or, as someone else who noted all the grey hairs in the room asked the panel, is this an economic issue or a demographic one?  As Campbell admitted in response, “we don’t edit the news for 23-year-olds.”

Well, what can we do about that? Who has some ideas about how to make reporting an entertaining, as well as informative, commodity that users (or advertisers) will pay for? Dan Froomkin, a skilled reporter with the Washington Post, who has plenty of online experience, wrote an essay on that topic. What does he have to say?

What is it about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that makes them so refreshing and attractive to a wide variety of viewers (including those so-important younger ones)? I would argue that, more than anything else, it is that they enthusiastically call bullshit.


I’m not sure why calling bullshit has gone out of vogue in so many newsrooms — why, in fact, it’s so often consciously avoided. There are lots of possible reasons. There’s the increased corporate stultification of our industry, to the point where rocking the boat is seen as threatening rather than invigorating. There’s the intense pressure to maintain access to insider sources, even as those sources become ridiculously unrevealing and oversensitive. There’s the fear of being labeled partisan if one’s bullshit-calling isn’t meted out in precisely equal increments along the political spectrum.

Indeed — one of the aging Baby Boomers at the forum got up to chew the panelists out for “bias.” With his next breath he admitted he was a teabagger and unhappy with how that story was covered this April.  I myself covered the local spontaneous demonstration “tea party” and made sure to mention (as the preceeding link shows) that it’s an Astroturf movement, a photo op staged by the GOP. That’s not bias. Bias is when you declare that anyone who took an active part in one of those “tea parties” is officially too stupid to live. Now, where were we?

But here’s the good news for you newsroom managers wringing your hands over new technologies and the loss of younger audiences: Because the Internet so values calling bullshit, you are sitting on an as-yet largely untapped gold mine. I still believe that no one is fundamentally more capable of first-rate bullshit-calling than a well-informed beat reporter – whatever their beat. We just need to get the editors, or the corporate culture, or the self-censorship – or whatever it is – out of the way.

There we go! This is the kind of plan that I as a reporter can get behind whole-heartedly. This Froomkin guy is sharp as a tack.  I wonder what else he’s been up to lately?

Dan Froomkin, deputy editor for Nieman Watchdog, has just been fired from his main job as writer of the online White House Watch column for the Washington Post. (SOURCE)

Wait, what? Why would they DO that?

The “why” is easy: he made too many people at the Post who were busy writing about how Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons or how there is more sea ice than there was a generation ago or how “opinions on shape of earth differ” look foolish.(SOURCE)

So let me get this straight: The Washington Post, a newspaper famous for exposing governmental abuse of power, just fired someone for … exposing governmental abuse of power.

Jesus wept. I wonder if my uncle can get me into the plumber’s union?

(Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald, the man, the myth, the legend …)

… but apparently, it will be Twittered. My hopes are with the pro-Moussavi protesters as they fight against theocracy, and I applaud them for their courage. It’s especially noteworthy that this movement is made up of my contemporaries, the Iranian Generation X. Every generation needs a new revolution, as Jefferson put it.

On a related note, it’s hard not to see this as the day the foriegn correspondent became obsolete. Journalism experts have talked about how the future of legacy media is online news aggregation. Well, the future is now. As one such expert, Clay Shirkey, recently pointed out: this time around, the whole world REALLY IS watching. And they’re not tuned to CNN.

To see what I’m talking about, visit The Daily Dish. for tweets, links and videos from the streets of Tehran.

Also, because I can:

Eargasm #001

June 12, 2009

One of the reasons I’ve started this blog is to get used to using all the bells and whistles that are out there  … embedded video FTW! All the cool kids are doing it! 

Anyway, I REALLY dig this song.  The first time I heard it on the radio I thought it was Nick Drake, but on second thought, that rythym section sounds more like Van the Man … In short, awesome with a side of awesome.

Since I thought of a snappy title, I think I’m going to make a series out of this, and post cool tunes as I come across them.

Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door – that way Lumbergh can’t see me, heh heh – and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.

Space out?

Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.

Ah, “Office Space” — that movie’s  like the I Ching, a line for every occasion.   In this case, a way to lead into explaining what I’m going to do here, what this blog is going to be about.

The answer is: I don’t know yet. This is an experiment.

I’m a reporter at a small-town newspaper. These are, as the saying goes, interesting times for those of us in the “dead-tree” media and on one level, this blog is about me establishing an online presence to promote myself and my work.

Yeah, it’s 2009 and I’m new at blogging. Screw you, I don’t have an iPod either. But the Web is the future of this business, even if no one knows how we’re supposed to earn a living doing it.

Leaving that dilemma aside for a moment, it seems to me that successful bloggers — people who make some kind of a living at it — offer a style and a personality that mainstream reportage excludes by design. Speaking as somebody who wanted, once upon a time, to be “a writer,” it gets tiresome working in a profession where use of the first person singular pronoun is verboten. And while it’s not that bad as jobs go, small-town news has its own set of frustrations (a good capsule summary is here, if you’re curious).

What I’m trying to do, I guess, is recapture my voice. Out of the entire World Wide Web, what makes me a precious and unique snowflake? Maybe nothing. But I’m going to try to find out.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look for my red Swingline stapler …

POSTSCRIPT: For an explanation of the blog title, please see here

Hello world!

June 7, 2009

I come in peace …