Friday, September 29, 2006

Back to School

I have taken a teaching job at Baker College again this year, after a sabbatical of three years or so. I will be teaching COF222, Criminal Investigations, a class I taught first in 2001 and last in 2003. It is a great introduction to evidence gathering and criminal investigations and alot of fun to teach. I have only nine students, so far, so that makes it a pretty relaxed and informal atmosphere.

The pay is so-so and the great majority of the work is done at home, with no pay whatsoever, but it is rewarding and a challenge so I decided to give it another go. One of the biggest frustrations is the lack of serious study among the students these days. It is a challenge just getting them to turn out an acceptable research paper. The reading and writing skills of the majority of college students, these days is about on a par with what my High School's tenth graders were producing.

Anyway, with most of the hop harvest bagged and in the freezer, and plenty of beer still in the cellar, I have the time and can use the extra money. Think of me this fall while you're out enjoying the colors or hunting. I'll be the guy at home grading papers and writing tests...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Eat Your Heart Out, Eliot Spitzer!

In "California v. General Motors, 06-05755", U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, California has decided to sue automakers in this country for harming their state. The basis of the suit is that domestic car companies make a product that contributes to global warming and has harmed the health of Californians, while costing the state billions of dollars to combat pollution and erosion. If this isn't the most ridiculous waste of money a state government has exhibited, I don't know what is.

The suit is the latest attempt by California to push business and the federal government to acknowledge and address global warming.They've legislated lower to force utilities to cut emissions, recently and also sued the federal government to for failing to address carbon dioxide emissions. This suit against all domestic carmakers is the latest stunt.

While an admittedly minority opinion among the world's scientists, many of them do not believe that global warming is being caused by human activity at all. Those that believe glbal warming is part of a cyclical shift in temperatures further believe that if global warming is occurring as a result of human behavior, there is nothing that could be done now to stop it. Even if we all returned to the horse and buggy days here, in the US, China and India would continue to increase greenhouse gas emmissions to fuel the effect. This is mainly why a Kyoto treaty is non-workable. It fails to address third world countries and their emissions.

So, if cars cause global warming and contribute to a "public nuisiance", as this suit alleges, why not ban them, California? While you're at it, ban cattle-raising for it's carbon dioxide emmissions? Breathing should be addressed, too. Cars don't cause pollution, driving them does. Arnold, are you listening?

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Original Beer Festival

I know many of you might think this post is early, it being September and all, but Oktoberfest began on Saturday in Munich, with the ceremonial tapping of the first keg. In Germany the festival is called "die Wiesn", a contraction of "die Wiesen"-the fields. The original Oktoberfest was held on the fields in front of the city gates which were later renamed "Theresienwiese" (Theresa's fields). The original Oktoberfest was held to celebrate a wedding. Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, who was later crowned King Ludwig I, wanted the people of Munich to share in the celebration of his marriage to Princess Therese (of Theresa's fields fame) of Saxony-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810. He organized a horserace, offered copious amounts of beer and food, invited all the people of Munich and voila! Oktoberfest was born. It was such a success he decided to do it again the next year and a near two-hundred year tradition has ensued.

The modern Oktoberfest involves food, beer and a carnival atmosphere. There are 28-30 tents, six main breweries providing beer, tons of food and about six million visitors consuming about six million litres of German beer. It's a sixteen day festival and the fun flows as freely as the lagers. It begins with the tapping of the first keg by the mayor of Munich. As seen in the first photo above, taken on 9-16-2006, Mayor Christian Ude hollers out "O'zapft is!"-the barrel has been tapped-and the party is on! No, fellas it's the photo on the left...your other left...ahem.

The ladies on the right are wearing the traditional peasant dress, the dirndl. Wear a dirndl or lederhosen, for the men, and you can get in free, I hear. Last year the EU, in its PC frenzy, tried to ban the lowcut tops of the beermaids at Oktoberfest (skin cancer concerns, believe it or not!), creating quite a protest by the men. The edict was largely ignored, though, so no harm no foul. The protests continued until this year, when finally, two weeks ago, the EU parliament rejected the offensive regulation, just in time for Oktoberfest! To top it off, last year there was a group of pickpockets working a con, which involved a buxom, Bavarian maid exposing herself to inebriated men (and there might be one or two around), only to distract him while her cohorts snatched his wallet. Police were on the lookout...

Six Munich breweries, Löwenbräu, Spaten, Augustiner, Hofbräu, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr, brew a special beer just for the Oktoberfest. The beer, Wiesnbier is slightly darker and stronger than a normal Pils. It is served in a one-liter-tankard, ein Mass. This year the cost for ein Mass is 7.50 euros. If you don't specify a Wiesn, you'll likely get a lighter lager, so you need to know what to order.

I've never been to THE Oktoberfest, but I am planning to go in 2010, for the Zwei-Hundert Anniversary of Ludwig and Theresa's marriage. That should be fun. In the meantime, I'll enjoy some festivals closer to home.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Beer and Football

"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."
Frank Zappa

The hop harvest is in full swing at the Beerme residence! I picked the US Goldings and most of the Hallertau hops yesterday and set them to dry in my garage. The weather has been gloomy, cool and wet here in Lower Michigan for at least two weeks, now, and it doesn't look to be getting any better anytime soon. I figured it was time. I think I was a little late on picking the Hallertau hops, because they were browner, on whole, than I wanted. I got a pitiful yiels on both of these plants, though.

Today I will pick the rest of the Hallertau and try to get all of the Cascades picked, too. The Nugget hops will be fine for another week, I think. I hope to get a good amount of Cascade for some future IPAs and Bitters. They do smell good!

After the hop harvest is done for the day, I plan on watching the Lions/Bears game. Yesterday was a fine one for Michigan college football, as both UM and MSU won their games. UM's defeat of the "Crying Irish" was particularly fine! Coach Weiss was very gracious in defeat, though, so I shouldn't really use that moniker, but what the hell. The win should place Michigan in the top five next week! Look out Ohio State!

In a year where all of Michigan's sports teams have excelled, it is now the Lions' turn to step up. The Pistons, Tigers and Red Wings all held the best records in their respective sports for most if not the entire seasons-though losing in the playoffs has been another common characteristic that may bode ill for the Tigers. Now let's see if the Lions have improved enough to make the playoffs this year. Should be interesting!

Hey, I just noticed that hop cones are shaped a little like footballs...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Gentle Wind

"Gardner Christopher 36 Darien CT Deceased WTC Occupant Christopher Gardner, a senior executive at Aon Corp., was seen on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center trying to escape the aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11. His father-in-law, Kenneth Hecken, told the New York Times that the family has received one or two unconfirmed reports that Gardner got out of the building but returned to aid others inside. "That's the kind of guy he was," Hecken said. Gardner loved to sail and was passionate about his wife, Susan, and his two children, Christopher, 3, and Alexander, 2. -- The Hartford Courant"

I have researched Chris a bit. I do know that he was working in Tower Two of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when the attacks occurred. Witnesses have claimed that he escaped the tower and ran back in to save others. Judging from the stories friends and family have told of Chris, this seems probable to me.I learned that he was called Sam as a child. I could write about his joys, one of which was sailing, or his work as a senior executive at AON Corporation, but I really don't know much about those things. I understand his business was Insurance (better known in the business as "risk assessment", perhaps).

Now, I have sailed exactly once, in a small sailboat with my wife and a friend who knew what he was doing. It was great fun but one trip hardly qualifies me to write about sailing, though I retell the story often; expounding on my wife's fears as we flew along with the mast tip bouncing off the waves (it does get scarier and more adventurous with each retelling, but that's what stories are for, right?).

I have purchased plenty of insurance and I understand the concept of risk assessment. I've always thought that insurance was one of the more ridiculous things we humans pay for. I mean, if you think about it, when you buy insurance, you are placing a bet with the insurance company that you will die soon and they are betting against that happy occurrence. Kind of wierd, huh? So obviously I have no business writing about Chris Gardner's job as a senior executive at an insurance company.

I'd like to be able to say that Chris loved a good craft-brewed beer or that he was a fellow homebrewer. That would make it easy for me, a homebrewer and beer-lover, to properly connect to the man's life. I'd like to know that he was an avid hunter or fisherman because we'd also have that in common. Unfortunately, I am unaware of his drinking habits or of any hobby he enjoyed other than sailing. The picture at the top of the page is a racing photo taken at the Glen Cove Yacht Club, in Glen Cove, Long Island. Chris lived there as a child and surely sailed this stretch of sea as a young crew hand. He was also known to have sailed at Camden, Maine from the Camden Yacht Club in Penobscot Bay. He still sailed there with his wife and two children up until 2001, I believe. So, while sailing and the sea was Chris's passion, I don't really know enough about it to properly expound on this aspect of his life.

Of course one of his joys was his family, and that I am very familiar with. Chris had a wife, Susan, and two young boys, Chrstopher and Alexander. He and Susan were very dedicated young parents. According to Susan, Chris never golfed a weekend in his married life, as time with his family was too important to him. I understand that sentiment! Many times I have left my family for a hunting or fishing trip or a golf weekend with the boys, only to feel guilty and somewhat cheated by not being at home with the three people I care most about. I suspect this is why Chris didn't golf. At least with sailing, he could bring along the whole tribe and have fun together! I understand that Chris had a Boston Whaler, "Robo Chief" and a sailboat, "Evening Star", and he navigated the waters of Pebobscot Bay regularly in both.

As humans we like to name things because it personalizes those things for us and gives them even more meaning due to the personal connections the names add. The names of Chris's boats is an example. In the same way, in order to familiarize ourselves with people, we need to know who the people in their lives were, as we are a product of those personal relationships. Judy Gardner was Chris's mother. She was married to Jonathon Gardner, Chris's father. They had two boys, Jonathon and Christopher. Chris's wife was Susan. They were married in 1996 or 1997 and had two boys themselves, Christopher and Alexander. I don't know about you readers but that short list of the closest people in Chris's life helps me to understand him better.

This tribute to this particular victim of the 9/11 attacks is meant to celebrate the life of Chris Gardner and not to talk about the attackers. Of course it is tempting to rail on about the ignorant and bloodthirsty savages that perpetrated this crime or to lament the time with Chris lost to Susan and her boys. That would only exacerbate the pain and, in a way, assist those who enjoyed their (limited)successes on that day. I prefer to celebrate the life of an American husband and father, who lived a life of service to his family and his job, while enjoying the beauty and simplicity of the art of sailing and the magnificence of the sea.

I am a working class midwesterner, whose father left the Appalachian coal mining region and drove the Hillbilly Highway north to Detroit during that blue collar migration in the Fifties and early Sixties. I'm about fifty years old and could only dream of ever belonging to a yacht club or owning two boats (other than canoes or maybe a small fishing boat). I work in a middle management position in State government. I say all this to show that Chris and I come from very different worlds. The connection between the two of us is that we were both Americans and family men. We had more in common than we had differences, I believe.

Christopher and Alexander will be eight and seven years old by now. They will remember very little of their father, his having passed away when they were too young to have formed the memories that last as adults. I hope they remember the boating trip they took with Mom and Dad in 2001 on Penobscot Bay, where the two boys got to steer the boat through the crowded harbor. There is very little I can remember from before four or five years of age. I am sure Chris's wife, Susan, has kept the memory of their father strong in those little fellows , though. They now know what happened on that day and who is responsible. I'm quite sure they don't understand how such a thing could happen or why, but that's reasonable as most of us can't.

While I don't sail or even do alot of boating, I understand the lure of the sea and the peace and sense of communion with God and his nature that it brings. I have lost my father and mother and also know a bit about the loss of a loved one. Recently, the diagnosis of cancer in my oldest son, further illuminated the ephemeral nature of life to me and my family. For these reasons, I feel I can better understand what Susan and her two boys are going through. Perhaps a trip out on Penobscot Bay would help. I know just looking at the picture above, with that mast tipping towards the frothing waves, as the boat fairly flies along with the wind, helps me to blend with the nature that surrounds us all. I'll bet Chris would enjoy watching his family take another such turn on the water. He might even lend a hand, now and then, when the going gets tough.

Strange Bedfellows

As I indicated in a previous post, it is apparent that the Leftists are cozying up with the Islamists all over the world. This is especially obvious at any of the recent anti-war rallies and demonstrations across the US. What could make socialists so familiar with Islamic kooks? My previous post indicates it is the power vacuum created when the USSR (and all hopes for a socialist world revolution) went the way of the buffalo (which, by the way, are still doing just fine, thank you).

To expound on that thought, let me say that socialists are expected to be, *atheists-shunning all Godly talk or belief
*liberal-promoting almost complete freedom of choice in almost every aspect of life
*scientific-promoting a belief that an enlightened and scientific collective can organize and scientifically run society far better and more efficiently than "the invisible hand" could ever hope to,
and so on.

While Islamofascists are, well, fascists. They want everyone to do what they are told is the will of Allah, an all-powerful and very vengeful god. They want to restrict the behavior and dress and beliefs of all of the populace and offer no choice in almost any matter.

Why do the two sides seem to be working together? As has been suggested before, they are working toward the same end.

The linked article from The New Left Review, by Malcolm Bull (hat tip to Grim from Milblogs), is an articulation of this strategy. Basically the destruction of the current global capitalist entity by Islamist revolution is preferable to wasting away under capitalist, imperialist domination for even another day. Then, of course, the new utopia will rise from the ashes of the Islamist global society, as Marx promised us so many years ago. It's just that the current political situation has prohibited the proper spontaneous revolution from occurring as Marx foresaw it. So we need the Islamofascists to help us hasten the end. Revolution is revolution, you know.

Reminds me of the old saying "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". It also reminds me of some of the current crop of Democrats who will do damage to this country just to make political hay.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Crikey! Is that ironic, or what?

Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, is dead. He died of a freak sting from a stingray while snorkling in the Great Barrier Reef. The man who endeared himself to millions of people who watched his incredibly dangerous encounters with incredibly dangerous animals, met his death from an animal that rarely even attacks people, and then rarely results in death. Remember, this is a guy who literally dared animals like crocodiles, komodo dragons, vipers and other fearsome creatures to attack him-and was actually bitten, stung and injured by most of them during his career as an environmentalist and wildlife enthusiast.

I have watched this fellow for years and come to respect his dedication to the preservation of these animals that most people fear and want to see hanging from a hook. In his show, he revealed quite a bit about himself and his family. His wife, Terri, and kids, Bindi Sue and Robert, were also a prominent feature in his shows. He was a character, like many Aussies, and a loveable, humorous, incredibly passionate showman. He will be sorely missed in this whitebread world, by many of us humans, the Australia Zoo, and alot of those animals he loved so well.

To quote from a mourner in the above article from The Australian, the world "just lost a bloody good bloke"...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Brewgrass Festival

Last year I saw a mention of a Beer Festival that sounded too good to be true: a craft beer festival that also features Bluegrass music. I am a big fan of traditional bluegrass music and am moderately fond of craft brewed beer, so what could be better than mixing the two activities into one big festival?

The Brewgrass Festival does just that! Nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina-a beautiful place to be, indeed-this festival has been an annual event for ten years! This year there are forty-six brewers lined up to present their wares, most of them from the Southeast portion of the US, but some from as far away as the Pacific Northwest. The list is Here. Note that Rogue Ales from Oregon and Sierra Nevada from California are showing up to showcase their very excellent beers! I honestly am more interested in trying the local breweries' offerings, than those beers from the larger brewers that are available at any good beer store. The presence of these big, far-off brewers indicates this venue has become a premier beer festival, fo' sho'!

There will also be plenty of good music to hear.The lineup of acts is listed Here. Again, for me, it is the local, the least popularized and the most eclectic or most traditional of the bands that I am interested in. Still, the presence of some "national" acts indicates that this is a big venue (if that phrase can be uttered in reference to Bluegrass music...). From the link posted above (Bands) you can visit the websites of four of the five featured bands. I listened to examples of each of them. John Cowan Band seems to be an interesting mix of Country and Bluegrass, I'll listen and see if I like their stuff. The Gibson Brothers is the most mainstream Country of the bunch, which means, in this day and age, Pop Country. That is of little interest to me. They may be better than that in concert, though, so I'll give 'em a chance. Robinella sounds pretty darn jazzy to me, but Bela Fleck fits that category and can jam in the Bluegrass vein with the best of them. We'll give 'em a chance, too. The Whitewater Bluegrass Company seems, by the info on the website, to be the only traditional Bluegrass band on the menu. Their downloads indicate a proficient band doing lots of the classics. I'm very certain I'll like them! Finally, the wildcard will be the intriguingly named, Greasy Beans. No explanation or samples of their music is available from the website, so I Googled, 'em. Turns out they are a traditional and talented band. Take a listen, Here! Click on Broken Hearted Woman for a taste of the band, live. In fact, I think they'll be number one on my list of bands to see!

My wife and I will be going along with a beer-loving friend and his wife. We should have a great time and I'll let you all know how it goes after the festival which is September 23rd. Craft-brewed beer and Bluegrass music in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Am I lucky or what?

Friday, September 01, 2006


The results fo the MSF Homebrew Competitions are now posted here. Just click on the button labeled, "results". As you will see when you scan the winners of the different categories, several very good homebrewers won multiple awards at the Michigan State Fair this year. Some of the most successful brewers were, Kirk Rowland, John Applegarth, Jeff Carlson, David Coleman, Phillip Campbell and Robert Krieger. My Brewing Club, The Pontiac Brew Tribe scored with three medals and an honorable mention, thanks to Dale Markwardt's excellent showing of one First Place for his Belgian Trippel and a Third Place in the American Barleywine category, as well as an Honorable Mention in the American Pale Ale category. Way to go, Dale!

In an effort to bolster the public's consumption in good beer, not to mention local beer, these competitions and beer judging in general, are wonderful exercises. The next time you try a beer, even one of the fizzy, yellow sodas that comprise most American examples, try to evaluate it for taste, color, aroma and appearance. Be aware of the subtle hints of barley malt, hops and unexpected aromas and flavors which can range from fruity to caramel to biscuity. See if you can pick out flavors and aromas in one beer style that are not present in another. Go to a local beer store that sells craft brewed beer and mix-and-match a six pack, and perhaps over a card game or a sporting event on TV, join your friends in evaluating a beer or two using these criteria. It's fun and educational.

Watch for some links at this blog to further enhance the beer drinking experience.

Beer. It's not just for getting drunk on anymore! It is a handcrafted drink that enhances the dining experience and provides enjoyment and entertainment. Think of it in the same way oenophiles think of wine. It's really all the same sensory experience.