Schlitz Beer

August 1st, 2008

Apparently Schlitz beer is making a comeback. It's reformulated back to what it was in the early 20th century, when it was the best-selling beer in the world.

What happened to Schlitz? Well:

It was the world's best-selling beer from 1903 until Prohibition in 1920, and regained the crown in 1934 until the mid-1950s. That's when a strike by Milwaukee brewery workers interrupted production and made way for others, like St. Louis' Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., to eat into Schlitz' market share. That company, which makes Budweiser and Bud Light, has held the top spot to this day.

Before it vanished, the beer changed — for the worse. According to Jurgensen, considered by Pabst to be the foremost "Schlitzstorian": First, brewery control shifted from immediate family members to more distant relatives, who wanted to expand the business. With demand high, the new owners wanted to make more, so they shortened the fermenting process. And they let customers know it through heavy marketing. There were also quality control issues for barley, so the beer went flat quickly. Customers associated the flatness with the quickened brewing time, and they weren't pleased. To fix the flat problem, the brewers added a seaweed extract to give the beer some foam and fizz. But after sitting on the shelf for three or four months, the extract turned into a solid, meaning drinkers got chunky mouthfuls.

My grandfather had a beer every afternoon, and his criteria for choosing beer was: whatever was cheapest. As a kid we collected the cans for recycling, and I recall the empty cans of Olympia, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Hamm's, and Schlitz with the golden patina of fond memory. Although I'm not much of a beer drinker myself, I wish the relaunched Schlitz beer the best of luck.

Awareness of Horror

July 31st, 2008

Manitoba RCMP had no answers Thursday as to what prompted a man on a Greyhound bus to suddenly stand up and repeatedly stab his seatmate, behead him and carve up his body in front of horrified passengers.

That catches your eye, doesn't it? Bleah! Psycho killer! Watch your back!

Now, this happened in Canada, rather far from here. Yet it's news here in the San Francisco Bay Area, because of its shock value. "One person slain" is normally not something that leads to headlines more than a few dozens of miles away.

So I return to the question: is the world more dangerous on an individual, crime-based basis now than it was at some point before? Or do we just hear about it more often?

I tend rather strongly toward the second explanation. The world's population is a lot larger, leading to a higher overall number of violent psychotics; and their murderous actions are news. Whereas in the 19th century, a fellow who went around killing people was more frequently never caught, and if caught, rarely was announced more than a few counties over.

And yet, Jack the Ripper was big news in America and he only killed five or so people.

So I do have some doubt about that theory.

Water Safety

July 30th, 2008

Sunday before last we took the 2 year old down to Lafayette reservoir to feed the ducks. We went out to the floating pier that we like best with a bag of over the hill Trader Joe's hamburger buns. Two southeast Asian guys were there fishing, or rather working on their lures.

So I sat down and tore up the buns and the 2 year old threw the bits into the water, and mallards of various mixed ancestry came around and ate the bread.

At one point, the 2 year old did one of those "throw and don't let go" things and hurled himself into the lake.

Well, the wife shrieked and my feet were instantly in the water, ready to jump in. But he was floating just below the surface, about three inches of green water above his utterly wide, shocked eyes. So I reached in and pulled him out. He'd even held his breath, so no choking ensued, only crying.

A couple minutes later he was feeding the ducks again.

By coincidence, we had him enrolled in swimming classes starting the very next day. Tonight I'm going to take him down to the local pool and paddle around with him.

Throw the Bums Out

July 29th, 2008

Well, Ted Steven was indicted for various provable crimes around the central crime of rampant bribery. Anyone who is surprised by this has the general intelligence or a rock or a Bush voter.

Of course, Democratic lawmakers are often equally corrupt - witness William Jefferson and his freezer full of bills. The difference between the parties really boils down to this: Democratic lawmakers are often venal and corrupt, whereas the Republican Party itself is a corruption machine. The purpose of the Republican Party is to direct money to the already wealthy. Everything else is window dressing for the rubes.

But back to more individual corruption. I'm not sure how best to tackle the problem - well, except of course for my brilliant and well-detailed anti-gerrymandering plan - but I think national term limits might be a good start. They'd have to be national; any state whose senators and representatives are term-limited is at a disadvantage to those states whose representatives are not.

Even so, though, I harbor nagging doubts about the efficacy of term limits. Would they simply throw more power to unelected officials? To lobbyists? The president is term limited and that seems to work fairly well.

I'd really like a study on the issue. I'm certain one could compare states who adopted term limits on their state officials back in the nineties, and states which didn't, and devise corruption metrics and compare the two groups. That's a study that I'd read with great interest.

Reviews: Iron Kingdom, The Worst Hard Time, Wanted, The Dark Knight, X-Files

July 28th, 2008

Back from Comic-Con. I'll blog about that in a bit.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan - 7/10
I went to the book store looking for a sci-fi or fantasy novel, and as so frequently I do, I came away with non-fiction history. In fact, as I found myself in the history section I had a very minor destiny moment, picking up books and replacing them with the words 'no, that's not what I will read next' until I picked this one up and said 'Yes, this is the next book I shall read'.
At any rate... depressing. Extremely depressing. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, but... sheesh. A good book, certainly, well-written and I'm pleased I read it. I learned a great deal about the actual Dust Bowl, what it was, where, why, and who was in it. But you can only read about so many babies dying from dust in their lungs before things start to seem a little bleak.

Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 by Christopher Clark - 7/10
Very interesting book, full of fascinating characters and historical perspectives. Also, extremely poorly paced. Extremely. Clark spends a good fifty pages on the socio-cultural milieu of eighteen twenties Prussia - and then blows through the period 1866-1945 in about as many. Perhaps the first quarter is excellent, the middle half drags abominably, and the last quarter flies by as though Clark had his dinner on the stove and needed to wrap up before it burned.
Still, a worthwhile read. It irritates me no end that any give bookstore's German history section is 99.5% Nazi. Lots of real insight in this book, even if it took slogging through all that repetitive sociologist crap in the middle to reach it all.
As a side note, one can write a history of Prussia because Prussia is over. It began, happened, and then by gum was ended in a very final way. Just as Solon said "Call no man happy until he is dead," the fact that Prussia is in fact dead allows us to view it and make judgements. Of course, those judgements can only be profoundly mixed; and Iron Kingdoms does a good if not excellent job of providing the basis to make them.

The wife and I had been looking forward to seeing Wanted - I mean, who doesn't like over-the-top action with curving bullets and automobile gymnastics - but we were pretty sadly disappointed. Had I realized that the graphic novel the movie was based on was by Mark Millar I would have better adjusted my expectations. Now, I admit that a film can be a great departure from a graphic novel (witness League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but many of the problems with the film were classic Millar. In particular, the fact that the storyteller seems to think they are being oh-so-clever when in fact they are not, particularly. It was ultimately hokey and disappointing, not saved even by the yumminess of Angelina Jolie. I give Wanted 5.5/10.

I went to Comic-Con before seeing The Dark Knight, which bumped my expectations up to stratospheric levels. And it was good, very good. Not... not stratospherically good. But excellent. My biggest problem with the film was that everything kept working out really, really well for the Joker. Unbelievably well. To the point where it seemed his super power was minor omniscience. At every turn he was multiple steps ahead of the good guys... and it made no sense.
However, other than that I liked it. Heath Ledger's performance was truly awesome. It was tightly plotted and well acted. Grim, but I had been prepared for that. So The Dark Knight gets 8.5/10.

And then there's X-Files: I Want to Believe. It was. That's about it. Not painful, but at no point did I really see a point to the movie. It was a mediocre episode of the show, spread over two hours. 5/10.