The Week that Was (Jan 14-20, 2013)

President Obama signed 23 Executive Actions on gun violence. Conservatives argued that rather than creating new gun laws, the government should enforce existing gun laws. A comic pointed out that we have laws in place to prevent the government from enforcing existing laws (and more). Your second amendment rights are just fine – all the other ones are under attack though.

Sonia Gandhi, the President of India’s Congress Party welcomed her son Rahul as the new Vice President. A former California middle school teacher who was fired when students discovered her pornographic work from years ago lost an appeal to get her job back, setting a precedent against those looking to escape their embarrassing but legal pasts. A woman in Washington has been charged with 2nd degree manslaughter for smothering her boyfriend to death with her breasts during intimacy.

The separatist insurgency in northern Mali entered into its second year with French troops joining several African states in support of the government. Several hundred people were taken hostage at a gas facility in Algeria by terrorists who are thought to be opposing the opening of Algerian airspace to French warplanes involved in the conflict in Mali – 23 hostages and 32 militants died. Afghan teen, Fawad Mohammadi, was reduced to tears upon learning that the film in which he acted (Buzkashi Boys) was nominated for an Oscar.

Grammarians agreed that people should stop using the word “they” as a singular pronoun. NASA just sent Mona Lisa to the Moon…with lasers! Scientology is a lot like communism. Anthropologists get pissed off at Jared Diamond (of Guns, Germs and Steel fame) – maybe they’re just jealous. Kim Dotcom, the founder of the defunct web portal Megavideo has launched a new file sharing site that supposedly cannot be legitimately shut down by any government. Proposition Joe died.

Rumors that the age of innovation is dead have been greatly exaggerated. Television news is fast becoming the most dangerous extremist in Indian civil society. The attempted assassination of a Bulgarian politician was caught on tape. A Bulgarian man was given a beat down after failing to assassinate a Bulgarian politician. A bicyclist admitted to using drugs.

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A Brief History of Beer in the US

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic recently wrote about the evolving drinking habits of Americans. We are drinking more bottled water, wine, spirits and tea and less of just about everything else.

What Americans drink 2001-2011

Beer seems to be way out but it really depends on which type of beer you’re talking about. While the traditional light American lager is in decline, stronger, more flavorful microbrews are experiencing a sort of boom right now. This isn’t new however. If anything, we are rediscovering the American beer heritage that was destroyed by prohibition.

From early colonial times all the way up until the mid-19th century, American beers were mostly styled after British ales. German style lagers (Budweiser, Miller and Coors are modern light versions of this) became popular because they lasted longer on shelves and offered economies of scale that ales could not compete with.

Not all ales are dark and not all lagers are light, but generally, in the US especially, it's a good way to tell them apart.
Ales are dark and lagers are light – not a rule but generally true for commercial brews.

These dark, heavy ales and light crisp lagers coexisted for almost a century. And then in 1919, the US government banned alcohol. Hard alcohol, unlike beer, was potent enough to offer bootleggers the incentive to illegally produce and sell the stuff. Beer was simply too week to survive and as a result, the industry was almost entirely wiped out.

Following prohibition, the large lager producers came to completely dominate the market. Whereas their success in the 19th century was alongside the traditional ale consumed by Americans and colonialists for centuries, prohibition effectively made everyone start from scratch. The large companies had a leg up in this race and were quick to capture market share as well as important government contracts for producing beer for soldiers during WW2. Beer as a whole died, but only lagers were reborn.

In the post-WW2 period, companies discovered that if they take an already watered down beer, and water it down some more, but add the word “light” to it, Americans would love it. Bud Light and Coors light account for approximately 40% of the American beer market. Things began to change in the 1980s.

Until 1978, brewing beer at home was still illegal (thank you Jimmy Carter). By the early 80s, microbreweries began to grow. Shockingly, customers wanted tasty beers. In many ways, the largest of these, the Boston Beer Co. (makers of Samuel Adams) and Sierra Nevada are barely microbreweries anymore – they are the 5th and 7th largest breweries in the country.

Silly Beer Name

As the Atlantic article stated, overall beer sales are down. When you factor in that craft and microbrews have been growing steadily over the past couple of decades, the piss poor American beer that the rest of the world makes fun of is in even faster decline.

This reduction in quantity coincides with a dramatic increase in quality. It’s an attempt to get at what American beer culture would have been like had prohibition not ruined it for almost a century. But perhaps the most fun aspect of the country’s renewed love of crafting beer is all the silly names. So far, my favorite is McGuire’s “I’ll Have What The Gentleman On The Floor Is Having Barley Wine“.

The Week that Was (Jan 8-14, 2013)

Nobel prize winning economist stated that Washington is too stupid to realize that the debt crisis has been mostly solved. Shortly after paying back a government loan of $182 billion, AIG said it may join a lawsuit against the government for being unfair when saving the company from bankruptcy. Jacky Chan called the US the most corrupt country in the world. President Obama would rather fight one duck-sized horse than 100 horse-sized ducks.

A man in California is contesting a traffic violation for riding alone in the carpool lane, asserting that the corporate documents in the passenger seat constituted a person under the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling. Ken Layne thinks Silicon Valley should be transformed into an urban paradise. The best aerial image of New York City ever has been identified.

A Swiss court has written off a family’s 655 year-old debt stemming from a murder committed by their ancestor in 1357. Italy’s right wing parties agreed that Silvio Berlusconi will not stand for the position of Prime Minister again. Rocks and petrol bombs were greeted by water cannons and rubber bullet as tensions between nationalists and loyalists continue to escalate in Belfast. There’s more to life than being happy.

Apple may drastically reduce prices in order to maintain market share in the face of competition from Samsung, Android and others. A 13-year-old Italian boy ran away from home and drove his father’s Mercedes to Poland in search of his birth family. A man in Oregon used his dreadlocks to choke his girlfriend.

A series of bombs killed nearly 100 people in the Pakistani city of Quetta. A French Soldier and 17 militants were killed in a failed attempt to rescue a French hostage in Somalia. Critics were unimpressed with the first official portrait of Princess Kate. In Australia, there was a snake on a plane.

Tensions flared between India and Pakistan after two Indian soldiers were killed and beheaded near the line of control separating the two countries. Near-earth asteroid 99942 Apophis passes close to the Earth. 24-year-old Brit Adam Paciti spent his last £500 on a billboard asking someone to employ him. A man named Kelly Hildebrandt and a woman named Kelly Hildebrandt filed for divorce in Texas.

Several residents of Norfolk Virginia called the police to report a baby lion on the loose, ruining the day of a Labrador poodle named Charles the Monarch. A record number of teens were arrested in Louisiana for whipping, the latest craze which involves rubbing ones penis on an object (and sharing said images on social networks). Police have urged residents to report any and all whipping incidents to the Whipping Hotline at (785) 273-0325.

Gun Violence in Perspective

Following the school shooting in Newtown, we were told repeatedly that this time our response would be different. There’s something about mass shootings that capture our attention more than the same number of people being killed in separate encounters. That the victims were children makes the situation impossible to ignore.

Over the last month we have encountered claims that the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment has changed throughout American history; that the 2nd Amendment was a mistake; that the Black Panthers influenced our current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment; that the citizen’s right to possess military style assault rifles was exactly what the founding fathers had in mind. We’ve even seen epic tirades (please watch the whole thing – I’ve never seen anything like this on “normal” TV).

Did you catch that? Over 11,000 gun murders last year in the United States. That’s over 30 murders every single day. That’s more than Newtown – every single day! But is the number accurate?

It turns out 2009 is the last year we have good data for and the numbers are consistent for that year at least.

In my efforts to find reliable and recent data on gun related deaths, I came upon a fascinating project to crowdsource the number of gun related deaths in the country on a rolling basis. Since 14 December 2012, there have been nearly 700 such deaths in the country – on track to be more than 10,000 yet again.

For the sake of comparison, Canada has averaged fewer than 200 gun homicides per year over the past decade (1/7th the US rate). In England and Wales, the figure is just over 50 (1/36th the US rate). In the US, almost as many people are gunned down in a single day as in a year in England.

And for all the military hawks out there, the total number of military fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan for all coalition troops since 2003 and 2001 respectively is 8,058. The number of people killed by al-Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001 was 2,977.

This is more than a mental health issue of lone gunmen. This is an epidemic.

The Week that Was (Jan 1-7, 2013)

2013 is the first year since 1987 to have four different numbers.

Obama wanted to let Bush Tax Cuts expire for the top 2 percent – instead, he was only able to do so for slightly more than the top 1 percent. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was released from the hospital after being treated for a concussion and a blood clot. The coolest looking dolphin in the world has been identified.

Former Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel was nominated for Secretary of Defense. Current Republicans lambasted Chuck Hagel for being a leftie anti-Semite. The US Government may shut down.

Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda and South Korea joined the UN Security Council. Norwegian chess player, Magnus Carlsen, achieved the highest international rating ever. Rebels in the Central African Republic halt their advance towards the capital city of Bangui and agree to peace talks. Fewer North Koreans refugees are fleeing to South Korea. Mauritania has banned the use of plastic bags.

A suicide bombing in Iraq killed 27 Shiite pilgrims. Current TV was purchased by Qatari owned news channel Al Jazeera. Current TV is dropped by Time Warner Cable. Unilever agrees to sell Skippy Peanut Butter to Hormel for $700 million.

AC Milan players walked off the pitch in protest of racist chants from opposing fan during a friendly match. The UK and Argentina argued about the Falklands. A cat was caught smuggling items into Brazilian prison.

An Oregon teen was arrested after bragging about his drunken driving accident on Facebook. January 4th, 2013 would have been the day the Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future.

The Church of England allows for gay bishops – as long as they don’t have gay sex. Vladimir Putin hand delivered a Russian passport to French actor Gerard Depardieu, who is abandoning his homeland to avoid higher income taxes. A dog and baby learned to sing together.