Saturday, April 12, 2003

Go Chicks

I don't mean Dixie Chicks. I mean Killer Chicks who drive A-10 Warthogs.
From Russia With Love

A bit of evidence about that the Russians spied on the UK and fed some information to Iraq. Apart from the suggestion that Russia offered its agents to make hits, which strikes me as unlikely -- Russia kills for its own interests, I doubt it hires its agents out for piecework -- I just can't be outraged by this. It may show where Russia's interests are, but the Big Powers spy on one another all the time and the world is, ultimately, safer for it.

In February, when news broke that the United States was spying on other members of the Security Council, the fans of the United Nations were shocked -- shocked -- to hear that spying was going on in New York and that for the United States to spy on Cameroon was the height of "arrogance". But I have yet to hear much outrage about the Russians spying on the British at the same time.... and to precisely the same end.

Is this sort of behavior okay for the Rodina but not for Uncle Sam?
Tony Blair's Place in the American Heart Now Complete

The Prime Minister will voice himself in an upcoming episode of the Simpsons.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Whiskey of the Week: Old Potrero Single Malt Spirit

In honor of the three pillars of Operation Iraqi Freedom : Democracy, Whisky and Sexy! I thought I’d talk about a single malt whiskey made here in San Francisco: Old Potrero, but first, I’ll start with a story of industrial espionage gone horribly wrong.

Beer can be made with almost any grain. Get sugar out of the grain and yeast will produce the two pillars of goodness: alcohol and carbon dioxide. Most beer is barley based. Wheat is distant second to barely, but common enough. Ethiopia makes a Sorghum beer which a friend said was virtually undrinkable, but he nevertheless failed to bring me back a bottle to prove his point. The big companies, like Budweiser, use rice and corn as well as barley. Not to knock Budweiser – although it’s not my favorite – their mastery of the brewing process is so complete that they could make a tasty beer out of lawn clippings.

To get from beer to whiskey, you just need to distill beer. And what can possibly be wrong with distilled beer? Nothing, so long as you don’t stop in the wrong place. Jack Daniels starts as a corn beer – which tastes like carbonated corn muffin mix – but if you know where that corn beer is heading, it’s like your first kiss - sort of sweet, mostly awkward but full of promise of even better things. But they’d never bottle it because - as interesting as it is to taste proto-Jack Daniels, no one would want to drink it.

The reader may recall that in the early 1990s, Red Hook Brewing Company of Seattle came out with Redhook Rye, a rye-and-barley beer, rolled out with some fanfare along side their existing beers. It was not, as I recall, so much as a specialty beer but meant to sit along side their flagship beer, Redhook E.S.B., and as part of the main line of beers.

I found the stuff to be virtually undrinkable. It was interesting, yes. But I’ve also tasted beer made out of Peet’s Coffee and marijuana (I’m one hundred percent for drug legalization and in much earlier days I did, in fact, inhale. But in this case, I tasted it before I knew what was in it. Me: What’s in this? He: Peet’s Coffee and Pot. Me: No, really, what’s in it? He: Peet’s Coffee and Pot) and while it had some of the desired effect, it tasted like death. Interesting. Not good. Redhook Rye died off ignobly. It might still be available at their brewery, but I haven’t seen it in years and I doubt I ever buy it would again.

At the time, there was room for almost any microbrew you could bottle. But at the time, the only liquid forms of rye were a few obscure rye whiskeys: Old Overholt for one, and both Wild Turkey and Evan Williams made them. But rye is for men beaten down by life. Rye is a drink for people who find Johnny Cash too uplifting. It’s certainly not a drink for the hip beer snobs. Or was it possible that Redhook had apparently found a segment that was worth a push? A unique beer to get some more shelf space at Safeway and draw more beer drinkers to your wide array of craft beers. Whatever their reason, they backed it the launch of the product. And while I’m all for experimenting with beer, but to spend the money on a big product roll-out suggests that Redhook knew something. Well, the story is, they did.

Mrs Earthling once told me that the best way to judge the prospects for commercial real estate, follow the Golden Arches. Nobody does a better job (a least, perhaps, until a few years ago) researching location that the boys from Oak Park and if you can find out where a McDonald’s is going to be placed, you can move your odds ona real estate investment in the right direction. McDonald’s knows this, so its location decisions a closely-guarded secret.

While, it seems that Redhook bought grains from the same place as Fritz Maytag owner of the Anchor Brewing Company and was tipped off that Anchor had been buying quite a bit of rye. If Anchor - makers of Anchor Steam, Liberty Ale and Anchor Porter - a company that, more than other, had revitalized craft brewing in this country - was buying rye, it stood to reason that Anchor was going to make a rye beer. Since Anchor knows what it’s doing, we’d better get to work on it and beat them to it.

There was no contest. Anchor never bottled a rye beer and never planned to. It made a rye beer, but it made it only so that rye beer could grok its happy destiny and be distilled into one of the greatest single malt whiskeys available: Old Potrero Single Malt.

Old Potrero is, as the link notes, a 100% single malt whiskey. It’s a traditional American whiskey - pot stilled, a bit harsh and much closer to the kind of whiskey at issue during the Whiskey Rebellion than is, say, Jack Daniels.

Old Potrero’s rye taste hits you up front – and with the sharper anise-like notes of rye, not the lingering slightly bitter taste you’d get in a rye bread – and the warm after glow is to be savored. It’s definately something to be enjoyed over ice – at 61.5% it’s probably not best consumed neat – and I think it goes best as a nice drink to have when you are reading something very, you know, manly like Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture. It’s not cheap – at no better than $55 a bottle – it’s an investment, but I think after this weeks events I’ll be buying it just a little bit more often.

On Wednesday, as I watched the icons of Saddam come down around Baghdad, I wanted to drink something, well, American. Much as I love our British allies, single malt Scotch wasn’t quite right. So I poured myself a couple of fingers of Old Potrero.

I almost tossed it in the sink.

The only time in my life I’ve really gotten drunk off the stuff was in the waning hours of September 11. Mrs Earthling, who lost three coworkers in the South Tower and who had been scheduled to go to that meeting until a few weeks before had finally gotten to bed. After a fifteen hour televised parade of horrors, I drank three big helpings of the stuff and I didn’t feel a thing until I’d washed that down with a couple of beers. When I finally got to bed, I cursed myself because I’d ruined one of my favorite drinks. It was a particularly selfish thought, but in as much as my wife (then of less than four months) was with me and not at some pointless meeting in New York, it was a thought that came to me nevertheless. And for the last eighteen months I couldn’t drink it without so much -- too much -- of that day coming back to me.

Mrs Earthling bought me a bottle for Christmas 2001 - 18 months on, I still have most of it.

Well, Wednesday night, I sat down and watched the fall of Baghdad and pushed down a couple of fingers of it, I didn't want to associate the fall of Baghdad with September 11th -- although September 11th was clearly necessary, if not sufficient, for us to get to where we are today -- I feared the whiskey might work a transitive property of Pavlovian association, so strong is the association. But I also wanted to rinse away the old flavor and the old memories that I associated with Old Potrero. I hope, now, this caustic goodness will be associated here on out with liberty.

If the Buddah can be as comfortable in a motorcycle engine as in a mountain stream, liberty can ring out just as well in bronze-on-bronze as with ice-on-glass. And if I can pour a glass of rye – especially one from San Francisco – from here until well past my three score and ten, and associate it with this... this new birth of freedom, it may bad for the liver. But it’s good for the soul.

So here’s to Democracy. And Whiskey. And Sexy.

Let Freedom Ring.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Water Discipline

There's been a lot of noise over at Atrios, CalPundit and now from Eugene Volokh about this article of a few days back about an Army chaplain who -- while our troops hadn't seen a bath in two weeks -- had a 500 gallon pool of water. You could immerse yourself, the story goes, but the price of admission was steep: Give Your Soul to Jesus.

I don't know the particulars of Baptist practice, so I don't know whether the 500 gallon pool is "Holy" in the same way Holy Water is at a Catholic baptismal font. I don't know whether or not it would be sacreligious to use the water for some other purpose. But it's pretty clear from the story that the quid pro quo here was not (and I think this is important): become baptised and you can take a couple of gallons with you, water that isn't available to those who aren't baptised.

Rather the quid pro quo was: become baptised and you can do the very act of baptism. That that someone who goes through this baptism is, if not exactly clean, at least rinsed of some of the diesel and dust is an entirely secondary effect. That they are clean(er) is no more fundamental to the service than the secondary buzz one might get from an overly large sip of communion wine.

Given that (and, as a Catholic, I'm moving onto more familiar ground here) I just don't quite see how this is distinguishable from a Catholic chaplain having unconsecrated communion wafers. No one in their right mind would argue -- except in the most dire moments of starvation -- that a Catholic chaplain would have to give up the very material he needs to perform a fundamental part of a Catholic service.

It becomes even harder to distinguish if we assume that, even in a situation of starvation rations, a Protestant chaplain is carrying with him communion hosts which have already been transubstantiated (which I believe they do if a Catholic chaplain isn't handy). It's downright sacreligious to simply eat something that corporally to non-Catholics is bread, but as a matter of theology to Catholics, is the actual body of Christ.

Now, I will quickly acknowledge that his fellow's attitude needs adjusting. He sounds like a class one jerk to be joking about something like that, rather than treating his position as something solemn. Frankly, he ought to be cashiered for his attitude alone. It's wrong (the Army's problem) and, possibly blasphemous (his problem) to try to treat a religious thing as a corporal resource and to treat it as a quid pro quo.

But the soldiers supposedly* hurt by this, the ones who couldn't "bathe" were getting sufficient - but not generous - water rations while supply lines got worked out. And I don't think that trumps a religious service. The 500 gallons (about two cubic meters), given the requirement of (a) full immersion and (b) that the Chaplain usually stands with him in the pool, is about the minimum need for services and, therefore, had the smallest possible impact on the rest of the unit. And I have to say that, not least on a battlefield, a solider has a more fundamental right to a clean soul - and that's what those soldiers asked for - than a clean crotch.

And, finally, if this were a story about "eating" Catholic religious symbols (a broadly acceptable religion) rather than "bathing" in something fundamental to this sect of the Baptist fath (which, judging by some of the reactions to this, a less acceptable one), I just don't see how this story has legs.

UPDATE: On second thought, the other soldiers were actually hurt by this. Even though 500 gallons is a small amount, on the margins, that's a reasonable amount of extra water even spread over two thousand troops. My point, however, remains.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Les jeux sont faits. Translation: the game is up. Your ass is mine. - Ed Rooney

"Hey, listen, Mommar... buddy, yeah, it's me. Yeah, sorry, I know I haven't called you lately. But, listen, I'm moving out of New York City --- yeah, work's not so good here a change up in management and, yeah, I don't think I can keep my place. I need a place to crash for a couple of days... maybe a week. Think I could, you know, crash on your couch?"

HMAS Sydney

"A Greenpeace anti-war protester hangs from the bow of HMAS Sydney as the Australian frigate departs from Sydney Harbor, Australia, on its way to the Persian Gulf. Police cut the man free."

Why'd they cut him free? He'd have fallen off eventually.
Have Space Suit Will Travel

Heinlein's "Have Space Suit Will Travel" has been optioned by Warner Brothers. It's one of my favorite Heinlein novels, I just hope Hollywood doesn't screw up the ending with its rousing defense of humanity. After being accused, and convicted, of being an unpleasant, primitive and war-like race, the hero gets to say his final peace before humanity is sentenced to death, by having the sun extinguished:

"Have you anything else to say?" old no-face went on relentlessly.

I looked around at the hall. --the cloud-capped towers...the great globe itself-- "Just this!" I said savagely. "It's not a defense, you don't want a defense. All right, take away our star -- You will if you can and I guess you can. Go ahead! We'll make a star. Then, someday, we'll come back and hunt you down -- all of you!"

But then this passage, right at the end, struck me just now, as nice little parable on the month's events. You can set up your own countries as dramatis personae:

"Keep your ears open. 'Have Space Suit -- Will Travel' that doesn't say enough. To make money out of that silly clown suit, we got to have oomph. So we add: "Bug Eyed Monsters Exterminated--World Saving a Specialty--Rates on Request.' Right?"

I shook my head. "No, Ace."

"S'matter with you? No head for business?"

"Let's just stick to the facts. I don't charge for world saving and I don't do it to order; it just happens. I'm not sure I'd do it on purpose -- with you in it."

Both girls tittered, Ace scowled. "Smart guy, eh? Don't know that the customer is always right?"


"He certainly is. See that you rememeber it. Hurry up that malt!"

"Yes, Ace." I reached for it; he shoved thirty-five cents at me; I pushed it back. "This is on the house."

I threw it in his face.


Pacifica Watch

This morning on Pacifica Radio (KPFA) I have listened to a number of really cool things. A piece on a Jazz ensemble. Right now, I'm listening to an interesting interview with Mark Herman, the author of a new book on the history of gold mining all over the world. It's terribly fascinating stuff and I may well buy this book.

What's more interesting is that, after months of all-day coverage about the United States' plans to nuke Iraq until it glowed and then shoot in the dark --- they seemed to have completely ignored, shall we say, recent developments.
The Game is Over

Iraqi Ambassador: "The Game is Over, I hope that the peace will prevail."
Egypt, Saudi Arabia Call for Iraq

Official Saudi and Egyptian reaction is generally positive. But this was amusing:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the Iraqi people should take over the government of their own country "as soon as possible", the official news agency reported. He said it was "the quickest way to ensure stability for the Iraqi people." Saudi Arabia said Iraqis should be allowed to choose their own government, saying the US-British occupation should end as soon as possible.

Hosni, Abdullah - I couldn't agree more... and right back at-ya!

Iraqi National Congress has moved into the Iraqi Embassy in London

FOX News so reports.
"Candy" Bomber Wants to Fly Again

Col. Gail Halverson, who started dropping candy to German kids in Berlin during the 1948 airlift, wants to fly over Baghdad and repeat the process. The logistics are less difficult here, but good on him.


This is the greatest political image I've seen since Christmas Day, 1991, when the Hammer and Sickled dropped over the Kremlin for the last time. We may get a better one out the fall of Baghdad, but this is pretty damned cool.

Still, I think of Scott Glenn's performance of Alan Sheppard in 1983's film version of the Right Stuff. As they are about to launch the Mercury capsule -- something well-designed and well-thought out and well-built but not quite completely tested -- and he's about to do something truly glorious, he mutters to himself: "Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up."

There's No Pleasing Some People

Baghdad is today rapidly disintegrating into a lawless city with hordes of looters taking to the streets. Initial jubilation as US troops took control of five main districts of the city has swiftly been replaced by concerns that the sudden collapse of Saddam Hussein's hold has created a new and dangerous security nightmare.

There's no pleasing some people.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

All Your Base - the 2003 Remix

Noted via Instapundit - All Your Base Are Belong to Us!
New Europe and New Alliances

Here's a great piece by Geoffry Wawro over at National Review about the City of Brussels, EU bureaucracy and the prospects of a successful Europe. But I really liked this passage:

He pondered for a moment: "We need to get closer to the American system." Indeed: Portugal spends 85 percent of its small defense budget on personnel, and 50 percent of that on pensions. Germany, unable to shed tenured employees to make room for procurement, spends just $40 million a year on new vehicles and $1 billion to repair the old ones.

"New Europe" — those doughty young nations of the east praised by Donald Rumsfeld (and told to "shut up" by Jacques Chirac) — is on an entirely different track. Rather than persist with a Russian-model military, they are moving into "niche specialties" that will benefit a U.S.-led war effort. The Slovaks, for example, will invest their entire defense budget in just four things that we Americans can actually use in a coalition of the willing: light and mechanized infantry brigades, an artillery regiment, and a nuclear-biological-chemical clean-up battalion.

Note that last part. The Slovaks know they can't do everything -- and they won't try. But what they will do is provide some sophisticated combat and support units that we can integrate into a war strategy, whether its to deal with an unneighborly Belarus or help us invade Lichtenstein. I don't know (and I'm trying to check) whether or not that means Slovakia is going to forgo an Air Force altogether, but it may, and it certainly means that they will be dependent on allied logisitics should these units be fielded.

Our really good allies do this already: Britain hasn't had an air superiority fighter since they retired the HMS Ark Royal and its F-4 Phantoms in the mid-1970s or sold off its BAC Lightnings to the Saudis in the 1960s. Years ago, we came to an understanding with the British that would specialize in ground attack aircraft (e.g., the Jaguar, the Tornado, the Harrier) while we would guarantee the security of the skies over Great Britain. If Britain and France wanted to go rounds, Britain would have a hard time doing it without the United States simply because they wouldn't be able to control the skies. But Britain knows we would never let them down in a fight and have become very adept at close air support and need not duplicate our air superiority capability. Likewise, the Australian Navy is excellent, but they don't burden themselves by trying to build their own aircraft carriers. Should Australia need defending, the Pacific Fleet will be there.

It will be interesting to follow how other New Europe countries move along this trend. Poland just bought 48 F-16s, and as we start to move our bases to Poland, I trust that the Poles will want to specialize their military as well -- not only to be a useful strategic ally to the United States -- but to see that the forces they do have are indeed gold standard. I'd much rather have a quality, integrated Polish armored regiment (or whatever) with British Challenger tanks that can be used in an integrated operation, defensive or otherwise, than a whole division of outdated T-72s.

What a Drag

Fedayeen are now resigned to wearing women's clothing in an attempt to ambush the United States Marine Corps:

Irregular Iraqi forces, some wearing women's clothing, ambushed a U.S. Marine platoon of light-armored vehicles Monday in the central Iraqi city of Ab Diwaniyah, but the U.S. unit escaped without casualties, Marines in the firefight said.

Via Tim Blair.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Dead Again?

MSNBC is claiming that Administration sources have told them that they think they got Saddam.

If that's too much equivocation for you, turn on the tube.

Where the Streets Have No Name

As I watched the Iraqi Minister of Information's rooftop press conference last night -- even as an M1 sat on Saddam's front lawn -- I half-expected the United States Army to appear right behind him and to have a Captain politely ask him to pipe down. "Excuse me, sir, do you have a permit? I know you are in the middle of shooting a video and all and we'd hate to disturb you, sir, but we've got to shut this little rooftop concert down. Infidel? Yes, sir. Maybe so. But you are making a hell of racket for this early in the morning. It's bothering the neighborhood and backing up traffic."

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Scotland the Brave

Just a great narrative of a battle around Basra. Bagpipes included for no extra charge.