R.I.P. Geraldine

March 27, 2011

Or…Where are the Strong Firebrand Women?

By Bob Sterry

Yes, where are they when they are needed desperately to fight the present tide of right wing bumpkin religiosity begun and fed by the nastiest set of bedfellows (sic) one can imagine. Here they are. The republican party. A dinosaur relic of old men bellowing out a foul creed of hatred for working men and women; in particular women. Next up, conservative churches; who are concentrating the exact obverse of the teachings of Jesus in their daily and hourly blasts of vitriolic intolerance. And then we have trash media, whose campaign of misinformation and fear can only be described as repugnant at best. And finally I include the wonderful corporations and financial institutions of America, who’s quiet funding via lobbying and quite possibly direct financing of some if not all of these fear and greed driven agents wants nothing better than a partially educated workforce to exploit much as they did in the 19th Century, little or no corporate tax, and please, please, no Federal oversight of anything they do.

In concert and separately these groups continue and have recently reenergized a revolting campaign against women and their right to make decisions about their own lives without interference from men who would be shocked and shamed if the reverse were to happen. The blatant hypocrisy of these creatures should qualify them for nothing but an international museum of bigotry. But somehow they have got into power by the usual mixture of lies and money.

There was a time when I could not turn on a TV set without witnessing another demonstration by women determined to make the point that if men can decide what is good for men’s bodies why is it so difficult for women to decide the fate of their own?  It is not. And yet this freedom has come under attack yet again. So where are you? the strong women of the last century and where are your daughters? Where are your nieces, second cousins and where oh where are the men who supported you?

As a man I write this because I absolutely believe in the fundamental equality of the sexes. And further than that I know that once these foul creatures have beaten down American women their next target is me, an ordinary working man.

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Libya. Another war brought to you by those huge
supporters of democracy, big oil. Right! If it were not for Libyan oil the
issue of democracy for Libyans would be at the bottom of the sports page, next
to lost puppy appeals.

It may sound so trite and old but I repeat it nevertheless. Imagine if we had
started a sensible energy policy in 1974 when it would have made all the
difference. But no, we lacked imagination then and so little seems to have
changed.

Thanks to you, big oil, big coal, and our American greed; individual and
collective.

It is hard to feel positive about any real change when we refuse to stop buying
oil, and nothing the chumps in D.C. do is directed at changing our wasteful
habits. Western civilization may be the death of this planet.

Do you have the impression that American media is just foaming at the mouth with glee at the prospect of a nuclear incident in Japan? To me it seems that they are actively hoping for a disaster. In the headlines and copy I get the message that they believe it better to create the news and crisis themselves rather than wait for facts to report. The legacy of Hearst remains. What hope do ordinary citizens have of finding the truth when so many are determined to deceive? News reporting is a commodity that can be bought it seems forever. Too bad for us.

It is not that I am such a rabid supporter of Nuclear Power, and I believe enough energy falls from the sky in one hour every day to supply the whole world. But compared to the colossal political, societal and environmental damage done by the present means of electrical generation and motive power supply over one hundred years Nuclear Power seems pristine. No miners killed, no rivers destroyed , no mountains destroyed, no forests destroyed, no acid rain , no black lung, no oil spills, no middle eastern wars, no greenhouse effect and no heavy metals released into the atmosphere. Sure, one cannot outrun a neutron, but neither can you choose your atmosphere and your water.

To say that you cannot believe the publicity of the nuclear power lobby is naive. Do you mean to say that you then believe what big oil, big coal tell you?

How often have you wondered as you wiz up and down the same strip of highway; why? Why as you are following a large trailer loaded with logs from some now denuded slope going northbound on I-5 you look over to the southbound lanes and see an exactly similar load hurtling in the opposite direction. The same could be asked for many different cargos? O.K. so I can’t see inside many trucks and have no idea whether they are dead heading or just shifting anonymous stuff from one point on the map to another for arcane reasons that have less to do with conserving the planet than it has to do with the supposed value of things in one place or another. And yes, I do know there are freight consolidation companies whose business it is to avoid the obvious example I gave earlier. And yet I see the logs rumble by in both directions and ask myself. Is that right? If we are not getting it right with something as simple as logs what hope is there for any other cargo?

I long for a good session beer

I reached drinking age in 1964. At that time where I lived in a sleepy commuter town some twenty miles south of London there were two pubs that were popular with teenagers and twenty something’s. Both served the thin, fizzy, metallic, skunky, chemical beer known as Keg Bitter.  In the so called swinging London sixties this fetid style brew had replaced many standard bitter beers as the main drink of the day.  Not really even cheap and not cheerful.

Americans do not know that in the UK most pubs were owned by the largest breweries. The managers or landlords of these pubs were told quite bluntly what to serve or be fired. There were free houses around that served more traditional bitters, and whatever else they liked, but they were scarce on the ground in 1964.

In those wondrous days we young lads burped our way through thousands of gallons of this liquid muck until we finally discovered that there were actually beers around that had been brewed for a century or more. Bitters that had taste, character and history.  These were in sharp contrast to keg bitter, whose only positive quality was that it was not very strong.  Unless you were, as they used to say, “reely chuckin it dahn”, it was hard to get drunk in the restrictive opening hours that pubs were allowed by law. 10.30 AM to 2.30 PM and 6 PM to 10.30 PM.

The traditional bitter and other beers that had been almost killed off by the larger brewing companies had not only the aforementioned flavor and character but also had a range of strengths to satisfy the man or woman who was intent either on moderate or less moderate intoxication. There were beers that were tasty and satisfying yet with original gravities of less than 4%. They were most often called ‘ordinary bitter’. And there were beers that had slightly higher original gravities; 4% and over; that were call ‘best bitter’ or sometimes ‘special bitter’. And of course there were hundreds upon hundred of regional variations, which if things had not changed would have been slowly swallowed up by the largest brewing companies and would have disappeared for ever. Some did, and some remain.

A sensible drinker would approach an evening out with his friends as theater. He or she had a few hours to enjoy the drama. What to do. Strategies varied but most common was to begin the evening with two or three pints of ordinary and see the night off with one pint of best. My own strategy was slightly different in that I would start with a pint of best to gain what I called cruising altitude before tapering to a slow landing with following pints of ordinary. At these gravities it would be hard to get drunk at this rate. And yet we felt we had enough alcohol.

The change I mentioned was the Campaign for Real Ale; CAMRA. It was one of the most successful consumer campaigns ever effected. By promoting   the presence of real ale and focusing on young and impressionable people CAMRA changed the brewing industry on the UK in less than fifteen years. It published a guide to real ale paid for by subscription that pointed out pubs where good beer could be had. Pubs started to try and get into the guide because they knew young people with disposable income read it. It is still very active today.

By the time I immigrated to the US in 1974 the real ale revolution was in full swing and we ‘KNEW’ where to go to get good beer.

Immigrating to the US I knew that I losing something very dear to my social life. Good beer. In 1974 the same fetid chemical muck that had attempted to rule the British drinking public was the only thing that could found in bars under the name of beer. I had a lot of friends who took me to many different drinking haunts in the NYC area telling me that this beer or other would be different. It was not. It was chemical lager through and through. Different labels but still thin, skunky, fizzy, and just awful.  It was dreadful. And they had swallowed the same advertising hype that plagued the UK. “The Champagne of Beers” , oh please!  Rolling Rock, Steam Beer, Genesee Cream, Labatt’s, Olympia, and worst of all Coors. Even less flavor than the rest!  But so long as it was served ice cold so that one did not have to taste it, one could eventually get intoxicated.  It was a sign of the times that another very plain lager beer from Europe was considered exotic. Heineken. Almost as bad as Budweiser, but in a different bottle and imported. Oh boy!

And over the intervening years it has been a pleasure to watch the rise and growth of the American bitter. As an antidote the barren desert years it is long overdue. I have spent way too much money going home to England just to get a decent pint.  But there is this hiccup. There are in Portland, where I live now, many very creative and wonderful beers. Too bad they seem to think that the only marketing message they have is how flipping strong they are! It is a shame that I cannot drink over an evening without getting as my old drinking buddies used to say, legless.  Over hopped, over strong and indigestible some of these beers leave me cold, and sometimes with a very odd aftertaste.

Think about it. Bars and restaurants in Portland can be open for many hours. People like to hang out in them for as many hours as they can. While there they may eat food at a much higher profit margin than beer. You need to keep these folk in the pub! So a beer with moderate gravity and bags of character and ‘reasonable’ hopping is going to do that. It is called a session beer.

Portland brewers, come with me to London, and we will drink Young’s ordinary and special. We will go to Henley and drink Brakspears, and on to East Anglia, once considered a wasteland of keg bitter, where we will try Adnams, and on and on. We will never get drunk, we will never be legless, we will taste good things and we will have had just enough. Just enough to make us happy, loquacious and with a sublime aftertaste. I am not suggesting you duplicate these beers here in Portland.  You can’t. And I’m not suggesting that there are no bad beers in the UK. There are a lot. Call me if you want names. But the basic style of a session beer is within your grasp and is needed now!

Do this and I will mention you in my will.

To Kindle, to Burn

March 2, 2011

The Kindle; not exactly what Ray Bradbury was writing about in Fahrenheit 451 but there are some eerie similarities. Join my anti-kindle Luddite group. We pile kindles up in book shop parking lots, erase their drives with our neutron guns and then hand out book tokens and discount coupons to the needy owners. Now that’s real kindling baby! Burn little neutrons, burn!