February 2008

Trevor Hoffman give up the triple to Little T.I won’t have too many baseball posts on this blog, but I do have a fondness for readable sports journalism, especially when the subject is my beloved Milwaukee Brewers.  Tom Friend, a writer for ESPN The Magazine, wrote this article about the demise of the San Diego Padres at the hands of the recently-eliminated Brewers, specifically focusing on the at bat when, Tony Gwynn Jr., son and namesake of the most popular player in Padres’ history, tied the game that the Padres needed to win to secure a playoff berth: in the bottom of the ninth, with a two-strike count, against one of the game’s greatest closers.  He did it with a triple.  The Brew Crew went on to win the game, and the next one, forcing the Padres to play a one-game playoff against the Colorado Rockies, a game they lost in extra innings thanks to another Hoffman collapse.

And not only was “Little T” the namesake of Padre savior and hall of famer Tony Gwynn, he hit the triple off of Trevor Hoffman, his longtime friend and mentor.  This story was just too good to be left unwritten, and I’m glad Tom Friend stepped to the plate.  He over-writes his central theme: “The most intriguing at-bat of 2007…”, but the story is otherwise well-written.  Here’s the link:

“From San Diego’s favorite son…to spoilsport.” 

Happy reading.


Not the perfect pilsener.

Despite my Milwaukee patriotism regarding all things boozy, I cannot quite endorse the so-called Blatz “Pilsner”, left. However, it is a pretty cute bottle, as well as an apt reminder of the unfair struggles Pilsners have had in asserting themselves on the American craft beer landscape over the last decade or so.

As anyone familiar with American brewing history can tell you, Pilsners are the ugly step-children of the craft brewing world. This distinction has little, in fact, to do with either taste, refinement, or brewing sophistication. It is a product of the popularity of mass market, massive-batch, low-quality beers that were–and unfortunately continue to be–the staple of the American Beer scene since Prohibition. Brewers such as Miller, Blatz, Schlitz, Pabst, and Gettelmann and Braumeister (to a lesser extent) in Milwaukee, as well as other nationally distributed brewers such as Anheiser-Busch in St. Louis, rode the popular wave of lagering that had struck the nation in the wake of German immigration, and latched onto Fordist mass-production techniques to produce what has now become the “American Pilsner”: a flavorless, over-carbonated, urine-colored, bland lager that priced smaller breweries around the country out of business. This “Pilsner” deservedly ruined America’s brewing reputation in Europe.

With the rise of microbrewers in the late 80s and through the 90s, Beers (certain beers, that is) got better. And as Americans were becoming accustomed to bizarre and foreign elements in their beers: such as taste, texture, and quality, the noble pilsner (one of the best and most challenging lagers in the European brewing tradition was left in the dust.

I don’t blame American microbreweries for ignoring the Pils. Everything in their experience had equated Pilsners with all that was wrong with American brewing for decades: bad taste, mass-marketing, and the like. However, while this admission is historically admissible, the Pilsner is a distinct and highly-drinkable, excellent lager that deserves a resurrection. Let me explain…

The Czech Republic (second only to the Belgians in brewing prowess; apologies Germany and England!), a small land-locked nation of just over 10 million people has been quietly brewing the best Pilsners in the world since the style was invented in the mid 19th Century. The country far outpaces the rest of the world in beer consumption, (yes, Ireland, including you!) and their pubs are as numerous as their vacant renaissance churches: the nation is nearly 40% atheist. And, they invented the Pilsner.

“Pilsner Urqell”, the first Pilsner in the world was named from the town in which it has been brewed for over 150 years: Plzen, a city in Western Bohemia. The beer was famous for its impressive lightness of color and clarity, as well as its distinctive crispness (the two principal characteristics of the Pilsner). These qualities were the process of a revolution in lagering that led to the absolute clarity of the Pilsner, as well as specialized Czech Hop varieties and an the hardness of the drinking water in Plzen.

I lived in the Czech Republic in the Fall of 2004, as part of a study abroad program in Central European Studies at Palacky University in Olomouc, a college-town in North Moravia: three hours by train from Prague. From the first week in was in Olomouc, I fell head over heels for Czech pub culture, and especially Czech Pilsners. When I was there, I was drinking before class, between classes, after classes, and late at night (just like the rest of the people there), and yet, I never got all that drunk. The drinking habits there are so ingrained in social behavior, that drunkenness never finds a foothold. People are always drinking, but always slowly, and always as a companion to the task at hand: conversation.

As y’all can no doubt imagine, when I got back to the States, I was blind-sided by a number of things. (1) The high price of bad beer; a half liter of Czech Pils was between 40 and 60 cents in any pub, compared to the 3.00 bottle of Miller Lite in the states. (2) The emphasis of drunkenness over conversation and camaraderie. And (3) the lack of acceptability of drinking socially at 11:00 in the morning. After a month or so of stocking my dorm fridge with after-lunch microbrews, my pocketbook began to suffer, and I gradually weaned myself off of the glorious ritual.

Nevertheless, as my drinking habits gradually changes to mirror those of my fellow Americans, my taste for Czech Pilsner never faltered. Unfortunately, the imported Czech Pilsners that are available in the States, while great, are not nearly as fresh as they are in Europe, and the quality of American microbrew pilsners has yet to impress me to any great extent. Therefore, I am embarking on a quest: the quest to find a good, affordable Pilsner in the United States.

I’m embarking on this quest with a great deal of skepticism, but like any quest worth believing in, its at least worth my best shot. In the coming months (and probably years) I’ll be reviewing the Pilsners I’ve found, and posting the results on this site. Stay tuned, and wish me luck.

Coming soon: Zatec (Imported Czech “Bright Lager”).

At the end of this month, a number of local activist and education groups will be holding a national urban agriculture conference: “Pollinating Our Future.” This occurrence, at this time, in this fine city is (at the very least) fortuitous. As anyone who knows me can attest to, urban agriculture and urban food systems are my primary activist concerns, and I am in the middle of an independent study through which I hope to devise an avenue for urban agriculture as an economic development strategy in cities like Milwaukee.

Pollinating Our Future

As anyone who lives in a large American city can attest to, a sort-of food revolution has begun in small populations of Americans: whites with a certain level of income. However, the people who would be best served by an agricultural revolution that values quality over quantity, localism over the international trade of perishable food items such as rock hard tomatoes, wilted bell peppers, and iceberg lettuce, and an emphasis on seasonal eating, are being left out: the poor.

As incomes have dropped in America’s inner cities, vicious cycles have begun to develop as regards goods and services. Hospitals in inner cities (St. Michael’s in Milwaukee) have been forced to close and move to the suburbs in search of greater profitability, which is a different injustice for a different post altogether. And grocery stores have also moved to the peripheries of metro areas, leaving inner city residents–who largely get by on public transportation–without an affordable source of quality foods, and without a reliable source of health care: the brutal combination of which has had a devastating effect on the well being of millions of Americans in the form of increased Type II diabetes, asthma, etc.

As usually happens when we let the falsely titled “invisible hand” of capitalism rule over the business community, the poor are continually under-served. I believe that urban agriculture can provide good jobs, increase education among populations of Americans that no longer understand the value of good food or the consequences of a poor diet of processed food, decrease the cost of food for inner city residents (through decreased transportation, preservation, processing and handling costs), increase the availability of good food, help the city economy as a whole through import-substitution, and by providing an outlet for municipal waste (compost) that will help to close the nutrient loop that has been painfully, catastrophically severed since the onset of public sanitation.

If that last paragraph was a bit jargonistic, my apologies, but honestly, if things are going to be genuinely changed, they need to be attacked from technical (rather than amorphous, hippy-dippy, earth mother, divisive) language. Essentially, y’all should take a look at the conference website, check out the types of sponsorship organizations, speakers and workshops that will be happening. Its a good way to start understanding the causes of urban degradation in America, and to start looking at ways to remedy some of those neoliberal policies that have led to the shrinking middle class, the privatization and financialization of services, the resulting lack of accountability when the private sector gets involved in urban public policy formation, the increased efforts to get Americans to take on debt, and a number of other things that we as a society have refused–out of convenience, primarily–to see correctly: both the forest and the trees.

In addition, I will be adding to the links section of this site a number of urban agriculture websites and organizations that are helping to educate the public, that are trying to convince people that the separation of agriculture from cities, from urbanity was a catastrophic, artificial imposition.

New Orleans, 2005

On the New York Times website today was an articleabout the failed effort by thousands of New Orleans residents to hold the Army Corps of Engineers resoponsible for the flood damage to the homes and properties affected by the three seperate levee breakages soon after Katrina.  Read the article, and read the Judge’s statement.  Though I approve of his language in chiding the Corps for a number of magnificent failures–both calculated and unknown, the fact that he was powerless to rule against the Corps on the basis of an 80 year old law (the Flood Control Act of 1928) is despicable.  For a state to forcibly divorce itself from any legal liability shows the real lack of public accountability that the U.S. Government has to its citizens…as though that hadn’t been proven a mere two days after the hurricane!

Read the judge’s dismissal order.  The flaccidity of the decision (due to the Flood Control Act) is genuinely depressing. 

In all seriousness, how else than by an unjust law can a passage like the one below occur in a dismissal order?

“This story–fifty years in the making–is heart-wrenching. Millions of dollars were squandered in building a levee system with respect to these outfall canals which was known to be inadequate by the Corps’ own calculations. The byzantine funding and appropriation methods for this undertaking were in large part a cause of this failure. In addition, the failure of Congress to oversee the building of the LPV and the failure to recognize that it was flawed from practically the outset–using the wrong calculations for storm surge, failing to take into account subsidence, failing to take into account issues of the strength of canal walls at the 17th Street Canal while allowing the scouring out of the canal–rest with those who are charged with oversight.

The cruel irony here is that the Corps cast a blind eye, either as a result of executive directives or bureaucratic parsimony, to flooding caused by drainage needs and until otherwise directed by Congress, solely focused on flooding caused by storm surge. Nonetheless, damage caused by either type of flooding is ultimately borne by the same public fisc. Such egregious myopia is a caricature of bureaucratic inefficiency.”

I’d write more of a complete reaction to this, but I really should get back to work…