The Mazaruni Scorpion

In Georgetown there is a certain drink made of green granadine, rum and ice. It is called the ‘Mazaruni Scorpion’ and is sometimes given to unsuspecting visitors who praise its pleasant taste and are beguiled by its receptive mildness. They ask for more. After the third or fourth drink the ‘Mazaruni Scorpion’ may turn on you and, like its namesake, it is found to have a sting in its tail.

This 1957 paper by Dr. Audrey Butt published in the Guianese journal, Timehri, is really “a study of the symbolic significance of tattoo patterns among the Akawaio”. The drink, described above, is named after a classic tattoo pattern worn by the old breed of Akawaio women that appears to be a scorpion’s tail protruding from their mouth. The green granadine in question is likely a lime cordial so the drink is most probably a daiquiri sold with a local name. It would be no surprise if the globe trotting mining engineers of David Wondrich’s recent daiquiri narrative brought the drink to Georgetown. The Akawaio may seem remote and exotic, but it is a small world.

This short excerpt and Wondrich’s article are important because they drinks as being connected to a deep and powerful mythology. Too many drinks today are written and exchanged deprived of any connection to life. They symbolize near nothing and they aren’t even part of a conscientious aestheticism movement (that I used to rock!). We have countless new drinks with no tales.

Mythology often proves authenticity and that a drink was formed and perpetuated by the noble pressures of the zeitgeist. Thirst and necessity of stimulation were the mothers of its invention. Anxiety, complacency, cementing memories, and retrieving memories were all to be solved for the imbiber and not brand kick backs, narcissism, and ego stroking for the bar star living in a bubble.

There is this strange thing going around in the new circles discussing drinks where everyone talks in the dialect of a conformist business school grad and not the rebellious dialect of art nor the dialect of the mythology creating bon vivant.

It is noticeable in written accounts of the Guiana tribes and also in my own investigations that there is a particular connection between the patterns and the making of sweet drinks and sweet cassava. The women bear the symbols of bees on their arms and faces and the ingredients of the tattoo dyes always include, something sweet —wild honey or sugar cane. Even the ‘aluai skin’ pattern is related to this stress on sweetness since the skin of the aluai fish is said to taste sweet. Farabee noted that “… the tattooing serves as a distinguishing mark, but it all appears to be most important in rendering the drink sweeter to the taste.” Roth maintained “that among the Makusi, Patamona and Arekuna “The honey, with which the pigment is mixed, is believed to act as a charm or bina to make the drink taste ‘sweet’ “.

What did we do with all of our charms and symbols? In the early days of the cocktail renaissance you used to look for that jigger, or that stir, or fuck even that tattoo to know your drink would be the right kind of sweeter, the kind steeped in mythology, connected to a lineage of people that were fun and helped you to simultaneously remember and forget the correct parts of your life. Now all the old symbols and signifiers have been stripped from us and commodified. Now half the time you look for the place to be scuffed up enough and not over renovated. You look for stuff to not be on the shelves, meaning no one panders to the reps and you look for the glassware to be clean, but modest. You still want to see the sacred silver repoussé relics used to convey sweetness, but not piles of their stamped reproductions.

When we drank Wray & Nephews years ago, we had to find it. It wasn’t brought to us with five other options and sometimes it wasn’t even written about yet (When I first drank Fire I found it myself and loved it). Our choice wasn’t only relative to a scene. Sometimes we were being lumberjack sexuals. Sometimes we were trying to retrieve the memories of spending three weeks in Jamaica drinking with a construction crew (they drank J.B. Trelawny with Campari). Ed Hamilton’s stories of the oil industry are actually the best out there and you’ll want to drink along. Other times it was gravitation to an authentic drink, drunk by real people and helped ground us after we worked away in cubicles and only broke a sweat artificially in a gym. Sometimes it was a fetish for something in a tiki book, but I never got into that.

The young generation wonders how politicians can get so corrupt, but a bunch of people that consider themselves artists go on paid trips and get politely in the pocket of their hosts so quickly they ask no questions and contest nothing. They feel they do no harm if they don’t open their mouths and that is why so many come back in silence. I’m not allowed to go because I’ve read too much. I ask too many questions (with no great writings, no great tales [except Matt Pietrek]). I demand to see things. I want to know what they’ve read and where they’ve been. I write letters to their old timers. I’m like a fucking U.N. weapons inspector, but you’ve got to be if you don’t want to be a pawn in a globalist marketing scheme. The pharmaceutical industry is going to start poaching these malleable people and then maybe we can get back to drinks that are a reflection of lives lived.

If you are lost in a post-modern drink scene with so much churning long after all the precedents were set, look to the Akawaio as a guide back to authenticity. Strip everything back down to its stinging and biting essence then start again.

On the practical side, they are believed to assist the bearers of the pattern in these specific tasks. They are formalised, symbolic representations taken from nature. In every case, the creatures which have inspired the patterns are those which are regarded as producing the essence of sweetness or of stinging and biting. The combined essence of this sweetness and powerful stinging is brought into the closest contact with those who require to stimulate it in their activities —the women who, years ago, made the cassava bread and chewed the ingredients of the spree drinks. Their aim was a sweet, powerful drink to make the men merry and drunk during celebrations and to achieve this they enlisted the aid of the creatures which possess the necessary characteristics and by symbolic association they thought to reproduce these same qualities. It is the Mazaruni scorpion which puts the kick, or sting, in the Akawaio drink!

The drinks world has gotten so lame I turned all of my creative energy over to the Houghton Street Foundry.

The Evaporation of Wealth

John Ralston Saul, in his 2005 Collapse of Globalism, keeps mentioning the evaporation of wealth. The concept is curious, elusive, and basically not talked about by anyone else because it challenges a lot of ideas in economics. We have to remember that money is not real and something that always sits a top the value of an asset is the concept of utility (which is hard to measure so economists hate it). We all know economics eventually have to go beyond a focus on GDP and switch to harder to quantify measures like happiness, but that is barely discussed. As JRS likes to remind us, if you ask around at economics schools if they’ve changed their curriculum since 2008, they will admit not by much.

There is a growing anxiety related to the not yet widely understood evaporation of wealth phenomena that is driving the democratic socialist movement which many elites like to ridicule. Our leadership and even our intellectuals are really weak on economics so they tend to grasp for or mock ideas like socialism. They cannot seem to see giant problems staring them in the face.

The easiest way to begin wrapping your head around the evaporation of wealth (exacerbated by globalism) is to consider decades ago what happened when women were added to the work force. If a family has two incomes, it should be wealthier, but that just hasn’t been the case. We once had a prosperous country where a family could support itself and achieve considerable happiness on a single income often working only 40 hours a week. Somehow we have evaporated that entire extra income as well as a hundred years of other accumulated assets. A lot of this has to do with how we allocate the tax burden and how we allow sanctioned corruption in the political process (lobbying).

A lot of people think of the evaporation of wealth only as inflation and deflation as well as speculation, but there is a lot more subtlety to it. Evaporation may also not be the best metaphor, but it is a good starting point. Evaporation also happens by degrees and is not an on or off phenomenon. Not all saving is evaporative, but some is significantly as the piles grow and the amounts in the billions lose productivity. When middle class people benefit from tax cuts and can save, their savings have normal utility, but when the 1% and .01% get a tax cut, the money has significantly different utility and is essentially evaporated or put into permanent storage where is does not contribute to the prosperity of the country. At the moment there is only one Elon Musk, but more on him later.

The main focus of this blog is the collecting and republishing of old beverage technology research papers and they are a great example of evaporation (my library card is my condenser!). These papers were publicly funded research that took place over large spans of the 20th century and they should be part of accumulated American wealth and resources with utility to draw from, but somehow they managed to become hidden.

This is just like money we stashed and forgot where we put it, but it also gets wrapped up in various infamous pay walls that privately tax you when you try to access your public wealth. We do not understand our miscellaneous public assets. We improperly archive them by under funding our libraries, allowing private gatekeepers that should not be there, and essentially evaporating vast utility. Americans have so thoroughly forgotten their public resources that they’ve allowed lobbyists to hijack our copyright system, robbing the public of wealth that is supposed to accumulate.

The new American distilling scene is approaching a billion dollars in market value and for some reason this rickety blog is the largest source of advanced educational material because I condensed a forgotten trove of public research returning our wealth. I’m currently holding multiple pieces of forgotten public research I haven’t shared that will dramatically advance every major distilled spirits category (I just leaked the most major piece to a spirits writer you all adore).

The biggest art museums which are quasi public-private (but essentially have public missions) are quick to tout statistics like only 3% of their collection is on view at any one time. This means they evaporated nearly 97% of a few millennia of art they rounded up and put in warehouses. Civilization should have accumulated so much fine art by now that it is coming out of our ears, but we put it in storage where it has near no utility. This art could adorn our public schools which look like prisons and countless other public spaces like post offices and public libraries. If the West is turning its back on Enlightenment values, spread that damn Enlightenment art!

Vladamir Putin is thought by many to be the richest man in the world, but all the wealth he robbed from the people of Russia has very little utility. It is all hidden and sheltered because he is not supposed to have it. Russia has vast natural resources and it has been extracting them for decades during their recent kleptocratic era, but all that wealth basically evaporates because they have no Elon Musk who can create new prosperity from so much accumulation. Kleptocratic wealth is not original prosperity, but merely a transfer from the public good. Much of it goes to countless 40 million dollar Manhattan apartments that no one lives in. Though many of these investments have a dollar value, they have no typical utility.

We drag along far more military these days than our grandfathers did who supported large families working one blue collar job which is a wide avenue of wealth evaporation. The world may have changed, but it takes us so much more military to get the same utility (hell, we may get less because we are in perpetual conflict). At forty hours, we used to drag along diplomacy and the draft, but now we drag along bloated pork project fighter jets and multi million dollar missiles that are useless (declining utility) against the increasing irregular warfare phenomenon.

Spending on police or the TSA is relatively less evaporative because it is labor intensive and employs the middle class, but that is starting to change as the police militarize and use expensive swat teams to serve simple warrants. We are also evaporating money into settlements for police misconduct that we likely aren’t even legally allowed to track and study. The expense of wrongful death after wrongful is a part of that albatross around the neck of every citizen keeping them from supporting a household on 40 hours a week.

Much global tension comes from the rapidly deflating value of fossil fuel assets. All parties know their fossil fuel wealth is slipping into relative uselessness and there is a race to unlock this wealth before it evaporates. As a non-OPEC member, the U.S. is currently winning big time and as demand slows, the U.S. keeps opening its faucet to keep the price down though many parties have innovated and automated to the point they can make money on $35 crude.

In the new era of fossil fuel divestment, there is actually multi tiered evaporation going on. First, oil wealth is evaporating like just housing wealth in a deflating real estate bubble. Then secondly, this wealth is distributed to where it’s utility is low so it does not create a diverse economy that can help the civilization it serves move on. Petrol-states rely on a template of transference prosperity, they have proven unable to create hard won original prosperity.

Many futurists are starting to discuss the parasitic city where housing crisis are developing. Housing speculation is transference prosperity and those that benefit from it fall into the petrol-state template and can likely never create original prosperity. Money is sucked up from would-be middle class innovators and perpetually put into storage. Vast wealth is sucked up by the land lords to create pretty mundane lives of no particularly amazing happiness (I know countless of these people personally via my restaurant). Ostentatious behavior would condense the wealth and we don’t even see that. The only place the money ever goes is to corrupting our political system.

Commodity speculation is a classic hated layer of evaporation. Imagine the supply and demand curve of the price of oil. Now add another elusive pulsating curve atop it and the space between is the meddling of the spectators. When you reach in, you cannot grab that efficient price, you can only grab something from that layer above belonging to spectators and pay their private tax. Speculation is a transference of wealth from those trying to create original prosperity with the commodity to the speculator who is often Goldman Sachs, Exxon, or actually myself.

I have had great success as a commodity speculator and have funded a lot of my art projects that way. The wealth I transfer (should be illegal) is not evaporated because I use it at normal utility. Putting the money to use, I am overall a prosperity originator. The first dollars Goldman Sachs makes are not exactly evaporative because staff eats, clothes themselves, drives to work, and participates in gross ostentatious behavior supporting original prosperity. The last dollars, the majority, are supremely evaporative.

Oil is a strange ethical case. If the price is high we will use less creating less environmental burden and alternatives may seem more viable. If the price is low, oil isn’t always worth taking out of the ground. Oil companies make significant money on speculation and at the moment it keeps the price up in a viable zone. Banning speculation by financial regulation is a choice we are allowed to make and could eventually propel oil out of it’s viable zone downward toward staying in the ground. This is complicated by the fact that a lot of speculation these days is betting against oil. It starts to melt your brain and I would rather make my money via my workshop.

I work in an odd neighborhood restaurant in a super zip where I’ve noticed hundreds of millions in pretty evenly distributed wealth sitting around on a Sunday night. The modesty is amazing and there are bank executives with Timex watches that drink $9 Montepulciano by the glass. Everybody knows our names and there is no hint of any gross culture associated with Wall Street (so I’ve set the scene with all the “elites” you hear about #banalityoffinancialevil). Second only to 45, everyone talks about Elon Musk. These bankers, real estate tycoons, heirs to fortunes and family businesses are all enamored with Musk’s massive scale original prosperity and intuit that his wealth draws from a more noble category than theirs (but sadly they leave it at that). Their money is in storage because they don’t know what to do with it besides protect it from taxation while Musk is commanding hundreds of billions and knows what to do with every dollar like someone on minimum wage.

Musk is what we thought trickle down economics was for. Reagan might have had the best intentions, but the country could not produce enough prosperity originators for all the evaporators. Those that didn’t spend their capital actually inventing stuff, the evaporators, they had plenty of money to influence government and here we are today.

There turned out to be no trickle down economics, but there certainly is the evaporation wealth.

 

If you are intrigued, I took a break from beverage technology blog work to write:
Optimism is your weapon!, Inherently Good, and the Public Good
What is water? Swimming in the Public Good
Our Social Contract, Taxes and Charity
Ideology and the Supernormal Stimuli
A New Institution of the Public Good: Mandatory Civil Service

You can check out my Victorian door hardware workshop on IG: @houghstfoundry

RTFM: Keg to Champagne Bottle Manifold, Bottler, Bottle Filler

Welcome to the Bostonapothecary Keg-to-Champagne counter pressure bottler. You have just purchased a very unique tool, unlike any bottler on the market, from a very tiny Boston workshop.

[Purchase]

SAFETY DISCLAIMER: USE THIS HIGH PRESSURE PNEUMATICS PRODUCT AT YOUR OWN RISK. WE ARE NOT LIABLE FOR ANY INJURY INCURRED BY THE USE OF OUR PRODUCT. ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES WHEN USING THE MANIFOLD. USE ONLY BOTTLES RATED FOR THE PRESSURE YOUR REGULATOR IS SET AT. DO NOT SET YOUR REGULATOR HIGHER THAN 60 PSI OR RISK WILL ESCALATE. BEWARE OF OUR SEDUCTIVE DESIGN AND MARKETING, THIS PRODUCT IS DANGEROUS AND SHOULD ONLY BE USED BY THOSE THAT FULLY UNDERSTAND THE RISKS. DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE BEFORE YOU OPERATE THIS PRODUCT.

This device is convertible between acting like the original Champagne Bottle Manifold and performing as a counter pressure bottle filler. When acting as a plain bottle manifold, the long down tube will be removed and a shortened one inserted in its place to help create a seal with the top Cornelius fitting. A Guinness silicon check valve (from their keg couplers in case you need to source a replacement) will be inserted into the food safe silicon seal so that when agitated, liquid cannot enter the gas line. When converting to counter pressure transfer operation, the Guinness valve is removed and a down tube is inserted through the very top fitting straight down the body of the manifold. The Cornelius fitting will create a seal so that no liquid will enter the inner cavity of the manifold. The cavity stays open so that air can be directed upwards to vent through it out the side port reducing pressure so that liquid is slowly drawn from the keg filling the bottle. The silicon bottle seal contains a tiny slit which air can move through when the down tube is inserted. The slit is closed when the Guinness valve is inserted.

The manifold is carefully designed so that if you lose a component it can be quickly replaced, often from third parties that have expedited shipping.

An optional tool recommended for use during counter pressure bottling operation is a bleeder key with gauge (pictured above). If this tool is not present, an object can be used to depress the Cornelius fitting, venting the bottle. With practice, you can get quite good at it and may not want to use the bleeder. The advantage of the bleeder is that you get consistent bleeding among inexperienced operators and the gauge can be used to measure carbonation levels in a bottle for product development tasks. A bleeder with a gauge can also be used to measure the pressure in the keg to keep carbonation levels consistent.

Counter pressure bottling happens at pressures typically under 35 PSI. If too much pressure is used, the liquid will increase in dissolved gas during transfer while if too little is used the liquid will decrease in dissolved gas. As rules of thumb, without knowing your specific equilibrium pressure or the resistance of your jumper line, sparkling wines and highly carbonated cocktails can be transferred at 35 PSI while beers can be transferred at 20 PSI. Liquid transfer hoses can be as short as 12 inches to reduce resistance and minimize warming of the liquid during transfer.

To start a liquid transfer, the chilled bottle needs to be brought to the same PSI as the keg (your keg pressure may need to be brought down to your transfer pressure). A gas line is disconnected from the keg and connected to the top fitting of the transfer manifold (this single fitting shares both liquid and gas). At this time the bottle can also be vented of atmospheric oxygen. The down tube will flush air straight to the bottom of the bottle, up and out creating a very thorough flush.

When the bottle has the same pressure as the keg, the gas line can be moved back to the keg and the liquid jumper line can be connected from keg to bottle manifold. The liquid will be nearly indifferent on moving between vessels because the pressure is the same. When the pressure is reduced on the bottle by venting the side port, liquid will flow across the jumper line into the bottle. When the bottle is filled, the liquid line can either be disconnected to stop the flow or the gas bleeding can also be stopped.

The manifold seal on the bottle cannot be disconnected right away or detrimental foaming and loss of dissolved gas may occur. Bottles often need to bond for upwards of 45 seconds depending on how cold they are and how much dissolved gas they contain. Chilled kegs and chilled bottles help everything move faster. Bonding time can slowly be reduced by empirical testing to maximize productivity. Once the bottle is released, it must quickly be capped. The inactive time of counter pressure bottling is significant and the transfer manifold is designed modularly so that multiple units can be used to reduce inactive time.

Adding a down tube and a second gas port adds lots of functionality to the transfer manifold beyond classic counter pressure bottle filling or acting like the original bottle manifold. Tubing can be put over the down tube to reach the bottom of a bottle and a gas-in line put on the side port to turn a bottle into a mini keg for research tasks. Chilled uncarbonated liquid can also be put into a bottle, such as a magnum, and gas moved down the down tube and vented out the side port, very much like the mechanism used by a Soda-Stream, to carbonate liquid in a bottle without agitating like is done with original bottle manifold use. All of this versatility means the transfer manifold can be in use 24/7 in your institution.

Congratulations on your smart purchase and thank you for supporting our small workshop.

SAFETY DISCLAIMER: USE THIS HIGH PRESSURE PNEUMATICS PRODUCT AT YOUR OWN RISK. WE ARE NOT LIABLE FOR ANY INJURY INCURRED BY THE USE OF OUR PRODUCT. ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES WHEN USING THE MANIFOLD. USE ONLY BOTTLES RATED FOR THE PRESSURE YOUR REGULATOR IS SET AT. DO NOT SET YOUR REGULATOR HIGHER THAN 60 PSI OR RISK WILL ESCALATE. BEWARE OF OUR SEDUCTIVE DESIGN AND MARKETING, THIS PRODUCT IS DANGEROUS AND SHOULD ONLY BE USED BY THOSE THAT FULLY UNDERSTAND THE RISKS. DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE BEFORE YOU OPERATE THIS PRODUCT.

[Purchase]

Our Social Contract, Taxes and Charity

Our social contract is something that has seen a lot of straining lately with the change in presidential administrations. Not many people even realize its connection to what they are debating. Are we keeping the ACA or dumping it and is that a contract to pool risk with all of society? Is defunding public schools and restructuring education in America also a revision of our social contract?  Our social contract is an invisible thing, very much like the public good, and we interact with it very much like DFW’s famed fish; what the hell is water?

Society requires participation and a lot of unwritten stuff gets agreed upon and lived by. Sometimes it gets written down such as do unto others… and a lot of what is written is the philosophical arm of the public good. Membership to a democracy is a little more specific than merely society and citizens get perks while non citizens do not, even when they often fund the perks by paying taxes. The rules get spelled out and formalized a little more. Taxes get paid, charity is given out, and disputes get settled by rule of law. A well agreed upon social contract keeps us from descending into murderous anarchy. And when we do descend, it keeps us from engaging in barbarous irregular warfare. No one has been burning down the unoccupied summer homes of GOP politicians because our strong social contract says you should not, and yet the GOP is trying to weaken it.

Higher quality more thoughtful social contracts can be designed to spur investment, produce culture, reduce inequality and basically be the high tide that lifts all boats. Single payer health care is freeing entrepreneurs to go off on their own and start new companies. Improving the social contract requires optimism. Pessimism is the erosion and slow opting out of the social contract into every man for himself. Pessimists just can’t see the value of living without need of a gate. They think backing off into armored cars and into a guarded compound is somehow saving them money on taxes and making them freer.

Lets wrap this up quickly. We could quote some Thomas Hobbes, John Locke or Rousseau, but the concept to be able to summon and hold on the tip of your tongue is that of taxes versus charity. “Betsy Devos is trying to take away free school lunches for needy kids.” That is what we hear and we are outraged (think of the children, we cry!), but that is not what is happening. Those kids will get their lunch, but who pays for it will change and that is where the outrage should be.

Currently those lunches are funded by taxes because enough of us believe they are necessary to have them legally embedded into our social contract. Devos change is to force charity to take over (and it will). The change is also the weakening of our social contract where some people are allowed to opt out and back away from their obligations as members of the same society.

The way the numbers historically add up, the burden will disproportionately move to the poor because the money is most likely to be raised locally where it is needed. Communities that need the most will pay the most even though it is hardest for them to do so.

We have this illusion taxes are going down, but only formally. The vast majority of people that do not want to break the social contract of feeding children in need will certainly pay up. The freedom sought by the pessimists is merely to avoid a commonly held sense of responsibility.

Tenets of the social contract, like feeding hungry poor kids, should be absolutely basic and fulfilled with disinterest as opposed to interest. Pessimists seeking freedom to optionally skirt the contract often participate in charity in very high numbers, but with interest. Large donations have names attached and come with leverage and egotistical satisfaction that does not belong there if the social contract holds that tenet as absolutely basic.

Sometimes contractual shifts are nefarious and sometimes they are not because few people can articulate these properties of the social contract (I learned it mostly from John Ralston Saul). There is often a gravity to these shifts, a path of least resistance, and a lot of it has to do with globalism and tax erosion.

We need new strategies for combating vindictive threats to cancel tax funded programs like the National Endowment for the Arts. We shouldn’t only be saying, but art is important!, but the amount is so small! We should be in command of the theory behind the policy change and its relationship to our social contract. Pessimists want to opt out and we either shouldn’t let them or need to convince them why it is so naive.

The right to health care is possibly the biggest renegotiation of our social contract we’ve seen since the civil rights movement. Burdens too often taken up by charity or failing to be met altogether were entering the tax code. The Affordable Care Act took us pretty far and now it is moving backwards, possibly because we did not invoke the language of social contracts. If enough participants in this democracy believe health care should be a right, we should all set a course to pool our risk together reducing the costs for as many individuals as possible.

As the wealthiest large nation, such an improvement to the benefits of being a member of society should not be out of the question. Actually, what are other benefits of being a member of society? There should be some easy to enumerate resources to pursue happiness. There is enough public land to traverse and escape to, to keep a well rounded mind. Somewhere formally it states that when we borrow water we return it clean so it can be re-used without fear (but some are trying to opt out of that responsibility). Our contract states that we are not allowed to be at the mercy of a monopoly and we are allowed to bust them up. Our contract goes on and on.

If an interest group messes with the countless tenets of our social contract they can unlock a lot of money and that is why there is large incentive to do so. The staggering breadth of the contract is why we must know its theory. If we go specific by specific we will become exhausted. We should also not be put in a position for experts on specifics to discredit our intuition, strong common sense should be enough to guide us (though that seems rare these days).

Money unlocked from weakening our social contract is not the creation of prosperity, but merely a transference of burden. It benefits the few at the expense of the vast majority. This is very much similar to how wealth can be robbed from the public good by privatization. GOP plans to lower taxes are often attempts to skirt responsibility veiled as freedom. Our ability to pursue happiness depends on the quality of our social contract. Tearing it up is pessimistic, selfish, and naive. As our nation grows wealthier, we should optimistically strive to strengthen our social contract and be ready to summon language to defend it against inevitable attack.

Ideology and the Supernormal Stimuli

Ideology and the Supernormal Stimuli

What does ideology and supernormal stimuli have in common? The answer turns out to be everything. Ideology is an important concept to have a handle on as we all grapple with polarized politics, the rise of fake news, a generation succumbing to dangerous organized nihilism, and increasing authoritarianism. The supernormal stimuli, a near forgotten Nobel prize winning discovery, is a topic I’ve covered quite a bit in relation to creative linkage in the culinary arts and its particular application to the cocktail. Supernormal stimuli are commonly thought to be only sensory in nature, but with ideology we experience a purely symbolic version of the concept and it is no less dangerous.

To quote wikipedia, “A supernormal stimulus or superstimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus for which it evolved.” If you need more background, Stuart McMillen’s comic strip primer on the subject is absolutely brilliant. The seductive tug of breast implants comes to mind immediately or the Venus of Willendorf. In the classic studies, the robin sits on the bluer egg and lets it’s own go un-incubated while the Australian beetle tries to mate with the beer bottle because it is bigger, more orange, and more dimpled than its natural mate. Multiple male beetles have been known to stroke the dimples of the same beer bottle until they all ran out of energy and died right next to each other. This last example sounds very much like ideology, but lets try to build a stronger case.

From the Doubter’s Companion (A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense), John Ralston Saul defines ideology as:

Tendentious arguments which advance a world view as absolute truth in order to win and hold political power.

A God who intervenes in human affairs through spokesmen who generally call themselves priests; a king who implements instructions received from a God; a predestined class war which requires the representatives of a particular class to take power; a corporatist structure of experts who implement truth through fact-based conclusions; a racial unit which because of its blood-ties has a destiny as revealed by nationalist leaders; a world market which, whether anyone likes it or not, will determine the shape of every human life, as interpreted by corporate executives—all of these and many more are ideologies.

Followers are caught up in the naive obsessions of these movements. This combination ensures failure and is prone to violence. That’s why the decent intentions of the Communist Manifesto end up in gulags and murder. Or the market place’s promise of prosperity in the exploitation of cheap, often child, labour.

There are big ideologies and little ones. They come in international, national and local shapes. Some require skyscrapers, others circumcision. Like fiction they are dependent on the willing suspension of disbelief, because God only appears in private and before his official spokespeople, class leaders themselves decide the content and pecking order of classes, experts choose their facts judiciously, blood ties aren’t pure and the passive acceptance of a determinist market means denying 2,500 years of Western civilization from Athens and Rome through the Renaissance to the creation of middle-class democracies.

Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection and their fear of debate.

The first part of ideology we see from John Ralston Saul is that they are a manipulative tool, very much like breast implants. She knows they are fake, but presents them as the simple truth to hold power. And it works. Men are quick to suspend their disbelief. They are also often exaggerated to make up for deficiencies.

The nth degree is often invoked in ideology as with gods and kings. If law comes from a common man it is not as attentional as when it comes from a supreme figure. The modern day supreme figure in our corporatist world being the expert. The more supreme the figure invoked, the more likely the ideology is in violation of common sense. Pre-destiny or harnessing inevitability is a mode of simplification that ideology takes. We become more biased to accept.

Class and race are the intersection of the symbolic aspects of ideology as supernormal stimuli with sensation. Class categories often divide along sensory features. This starts with the color of skin and when that existing response tendency changes, the shape of our noses is always available to provoke an exaggerated response. I have done a lot of writing to explore the ordinary and extraordinary in sensation and have found that frequency of occurrence rules so much around us.

Obsession that consumes those introduced to ideology is very much the beetle stroking the beer bottle until it runs out of energy and dies, unsuccessfully mating. Failure is ensured because key details are missed and overshadowed by the blown out oversimplifications. In the movie, Her (2013), society quickly becomes obsessed with their seductive tongued personal assistants and messy human relationships get dropped. Matching with someone possessing the complete details to achieve a goal like reproduction also comes with confronting the grittier side of the human condition.

Detail is the enemy of ideology. That willing suspension of disbelief relates to lack of ability to categorize, parse, and build detachment. She is in the same room and you are allowed to touch them if you dare, you literally gravitate towards the breast implants. Those doomed beetles could not parse and categorize the beer bottle as not a useful mate.

Marshall McLuhan emphasized the difference between acting and reacting. Ideology is the guilty pleasure of reacting and being willfully illiterate so that a primal satisfaction does not go unindulged. Many very smart people succumb to ideology and various motivators perpetuate the ruse. The guilty pleasure of reacting (sometimes we say “overreacting”) without detachment transitions to the euphoria of obsession and that sometimes gives way to wielding ideology to win or hold political power.

For those that learn to wield them, ideologies start to get swapped like trading cards. When open racism is no longer a useful enough ideology to harness the votes of the ignorant masses, it is traded in for Islamophobia and/or transphobia. Most politicians personally do not care about about the ideology of the moment, they know the robin will jump to the bluer egg or that if they troll with a beer bottle, they will come up with a pile of beetles not afraid to die without successfully mating.

Polar politics is all about ideology and both camps are capable of generating them. The pessimistic right leans on prejudices and policies to undermine taxes while dismantling the public good whereas the left is capable of being overly optimistic and does not respect enough the importance of private industry and choice. One side needs to be there to check the other, but it becomes harder as a fear of nuance and debate sets in. It almost seems as if we are at a point where we cannot talk down the beetles, we simply have to wait for them to die to move on.

Fake news is a form of supernormal stimuli and a pizza shop where Hillary Clinton traffics children for many, believe it or not, is just a bluer egg. Response tendencies have changed due to the 24 hour news cycle, and to stand out, a story has to be more attentional. More attentional these days is often plain fake. You’d think the average person would dismiss so many of the stories, but then again how could the robin not know? We are back at John Ralston Saul’s willing suspension of disbelief (he likes to use that term a lot).

The rise of nihilist culture and its ideologies is greatly exacerbated by supernormal stimli. Much of it starts with sensory stimulation and it also straddles the line of supernormal stimuli as therapy versus a grave danger. To start framing things it must be realized that all art is an attempt to create a supernormal stimuli and art is not so completely innocent anymore now that it has been widely co-opted by propagandists and advertising agendas. Games, a big part of internet culture, are an extension of art and they create protected worlds where response tendencies can be abstracted and again manipulated. Gamification is a fairly new field of study worth following and is generating very interesting ideas.

Games are thought of as therapeutic in moderation, but when they take up enough time they can start to interfere with productive goals like mating or being an integrated member of society. Unemployment among the male internet addicted demographic is many multiples that of the national average. When you give up on inclusion or being included you join the nihilists and somehow they’ve decided to organize to increase the “lolz”.

Nihilist internet culture is pornography obsessed and dependent, creating a significant enough population for concepts like “invol cel” to become pop culture. Sex with a partner is important because it ends up teaching compromise. Many that remain involuntarily celibate develop dangerous misogynistic ideologies.

Taking gaming beyond a therapeutic distraction to an obsession creates isolation and stunts social skills. Due to its artificial protective shield, risk tolerance increases in a game and decreases out of it. When social skills are developed in many online games they have a way of collapsing outside so that the afflicted demographic becomes increasingly isolated from contribution to productive goals. The importance of inclusion in society is becoming increasingly relevant to this group that is part of the majority (white males) yet little of their own actions support inclusion. Society needs this demographic included to break the nihilist cycle, but their own actions lead to exclusionary viewpoints that are increasingly turning violent.

The internet seems like it would be a place for debate and nuance, but it becomes a breeding ground for ideology and communicating in all caps oversimplifications. This happens because it is saturated with supernormal stimuli. It is not called hyper-text for no reason. One has to dodge bluer eggs left and right to find nuance. The nature of reward makes us prefer short pieces with abstracted “click-bait” titles over detailed long form journalism. In McLuhan-esque ways, in what we could even start calling media disease, shortened attention spans gravitate towards ideology. In a strange twist, these ideologies are not championed by priests invoking gods, kings or experts, they are championed by a collective being called anonymous who ascends as they are shared.

The world some no longer want to be included in requires authoritarianism. Many want a figure who can single handedly solve their problems short cutting nuanced affairs while they stroke the dimpled bottle. For others, the chaos is just a hysterical vindictive prank. Those used to the game world become increasingly detached from real world consequences. Regret does not set in fast.

Precocious figures start to navigate among this vast demographic that has risen, it seems, out of nowhere and manipulate them as seen with the growth of alt-right commentators. This finicky group seems like it could turn on a dime, but doesn’t because the externalities generated from their pursuit of lolz is typically outside of their isolation. On the verge of violent radicalization, this large population of men is an unprecedented problem we do not at the moment have strategies to tackle. We need to transition from making fun of them to incentives and policy.

Ideology’s link to the supernormal stimuli phenomena could continue to be elaborated into a full fledged book, but hopefully enough of a picture has been painted to jump start critical thought. Supernormal stimuli is a near forgotten concept and it has been hard enough to draw interest to studying it in relationship to the culinary arts. Just like in culinary, there is possibility for supernormal stimuli as productive therapy, but a line can easily get crossed and they can become detrimental to health as seen in the classic animal examples.

McLuhan prophetically warned us about the consequences of introducing new media. The internet, catalyzed by economics, has created a population dangerously susceptible to destabilizing ideologies. Home grown extremism is growing rapidly in the U.S. and we are seeing a large population of white males fail to become productive members of society. Hopefully new ideas to help us frame these challenging problems will also help us generate solutions.

A New Institution of the Public Good: Mandatory Civil Service

In my last short political thought piece about the public good as a support system for immigrants, I highlighted some great language by John Ralston Saul about public schools. Saul explains public school as a vital inclusive equalizing institution that is more relevant than ever due to modern life. If we needed a new institution to carry out those same vital roles and possibly solve a host of other hard to reach problems, what would it be? I wager it would look like mandatory civil service.

Today we have a largely urban population. Our cities are filled with a highly mobile population, two job families, high divorce levels, single parent families, the return of long hours of work, the loss of community identification, high immigration levels, a new rise in the division between rich and poor and so on and so on. All of these factors mean that the one—if not the only—public structure we have which is capable of reaching out to all citizens in all parts of the country and making them feel part of the extended family of citizenship is the public education system. In the classic sense of the inclusive democracy, those simple bricks and mortar buildings, which we call the public schools, are in fact the one remaining open club house of citizenship. Not only is the public education system and its fundamental structure not old fashioned, it has found a new form of modernity. I would argue that we are more reliant on it today than we were through most of the 20th century. -John Ralston Saul, Address to the Canadian Teacher’s Federation (2001)

To combat the formation of class divisions and to promote the idea of inclusive democracy we likely need to create a mandatory civil service as an extension of our public school system (which is in danger of going private). U.S. politics have become extremely polarized, almost as if we are living in bubbles, so we may benefit from the forced mixing of young people. Conservatives would rub off on liberals and liberals on conservatives. We would have the opportunity to create a new center before we spread too far.

I never thought I’d be outlining this and I’ve encouraged a discussion group of women I know to also pursue it, but the ideas have to become more common place. Whether we adopt one or not, thinking about a civil service and outlining one reinforces that we rely upon, and need to firm up, our equalizing institutions.

A mandatory civil service may also positively impact three of the most pressing and hard to solve problems within our society. The first is the heroin epidemic that gets many people at the critical age range of a civil service program. Young, impoverished Americans succumbing to hard drug addiction are often thought to be in cages and need geographic change to escape. Programming could be designed to give maximum positive impact to the nation’s growing heroin and meth problems.

Second, is the gang problem which is something I do not know of firsthand, being from Boston, but no doubt geographic change and forced mixing of young people at a critical age will make a positive impact where other strategies have failed.

Lastly, is making a dent in America’s startling leadership gap. The recent election season has shown that we are critically short of viable leaders. Programming within a civil service can highlight individuals who show strong leadership abilities and opportunities can be provided so they can advance as public servants. The equalizing nature of a program may fill our leadership gap with much needed diversity.

Civil Service programs previously have been associated with the military and were used as methods to build large trained forces in times of war, but this does not need to be the case. The U.S. is a startlingly large country and currently has a vast network of neglected and crumbling infrastructure that could be the target of civil service. Much of the infrastructure work is labor intensive and cannot be automated. The U.S. is also in need of transformative change to its energy infrastructure to combat climate change. All of these needs could be met and channeled in a way that provides equalizing opportunity for America’s young.

The major classic pro of a mandatory civil service is the promotion of national unity through shared experience and training together. Where in the past, programs have rallied around a threat from another nation, America could rally around the threats of climate change and extreme partisanship. A lot of the labor required to mend American infrastructure will be physical. Military programs create an appreciation for sacrifices, and no doubt young Americans would learn to appreciate the physical sacrifices of hard labor.

A new civil service deal will not be military oriented, but the American military will benefit from an increase in organized and trained individuals. Catching young Americans before they fall at ages where they are far more likely to commit crimes will increase military eligibility. Countless young Americans cannot benefit from the positive life transforming effects of military service due to prior offenses.

High levels of government participation come from civil service programs generated by heightened awareness of issues. Classically, this watches politicians and puts the breaks on military intervention because anyone’s immediate family could be impacted. An infrastructure orientated program would increase participation by tying more Americans to smaller national decisions that have typically attracted less scrutiny. Knowledge of local politics would increase as more communities worked with the civil service department.

Many neglected skills will be taught offering significant equalizing opportunity. Infrastructure work would require vocational technical skills and fill large voids in the American work force. Due to national mixing, young Americans will also migrate to fill these voids in ways that previously saw too much friction and expense. A young person from North Dakota with no local opportunity could find their calling and become a machinist in Georgia. There will be gains to character related skills such as teamwork, responsibility, stress management, initiative and diversity tolerance which are all increasingly deficient in young Americans. Anyone that goes on to college after their civil service will likely be more successful.

Civil Service is equalizing because it exempts no one. The wealthiest and the poorest Americans will have to work side by side and come to understand each other. Urban Americans and rural will have the opportunity to see more of the country and learn each others concerns first hand. The opportunity for all walks of American life to rub off on each other will hopefully generate bi partisan interest in developing a program.

There are classic cons to a mandatory civil service and the number one is the violation of free will. This is true, but few young Americans have enough opportunity to make it worth their while to skip out. Many rebels may find some adventure in it (though I’ve seen some Israeli movies that make it out to be horribly boring and bureaucratic). Wealthy Americans who want their children to work for the family business would likely be happy to have their children cut their teeth elsewhere (at civil service), shedding entitlement, and developing a work ethic before they return. A non military focus with the promotion of inclusion will reduce concerns for violating free will.

Interference with higher education is a concern, but statistics are showing that we are sending young people to college unprepared for what they are committing to. Too many are also unable to afford higher education while most jobs require education beyond a high school degree. State sponsored education within a civil service program may help everyone.

Safety, which is a concern of military oriented programs, will be less of a concern for a climate change and infrastructure orientated program. The military may also benefit with higher quality recruits that have graduated the civil service program. The American military is in transition to more specialist personnel and capital intensive warfare. Civil service may be a catalyst for significant military transformation while maintaining a pool of organized and trained young Americans to draw from in an emergency.

Not everyone will fit in, even while not being military orientated, but a big percentage require a kick in the pants. Americans are riddled with physical ailments, emotional problems like anxiety and depression, as well as unstable political ideology. It is time to take stock. Many young Americans will rise to the occasion and mandatory civil service could be the cure to numerous ailments. Bi partisan support should not be hard. What heartland American does not want to see a rich kid from Connecticut forced into some manual labor? What coastal progressive does not want to see a rural kid meet their first Muslim, work side by side, and learn they are not too different.

The aim of this article is simply to get you to ponder the idea and hopefully take up a pen and outline it for yourself. What did I overestimate or what did I miss all together? Is civil service more pragmatic than making college free where students exercise their miss guided free will and study for unmarketable degrees? When I discussed this with the group of women I referenced in the beginning, I assumed their children would not benefit, but wondered if they would anti them up to help others by rubbing off. The unanimous reply was that all their children would benefit immensely. Straight from their mothers lips, they all need to shed entitlement and gain focus before college. Near no kid out there is on a straight path out of high school through college and straight to a high paying job at Google. Any premier high tech company, no doubt, would want to hire the identified leaders of a few years of mandatory civil service.

What is water? Swimming in the Public Good

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?” -DFW at Kenyon

My last political thought piece included an introduction to the public good which was a new concept for a lot of people even though we swim in it. Institutions like public schools or documents like the Bill of Rights are not often explicitly categorized and taught as the public good so few of us can easily outline it. We commune with, and draw from this resource constantly but probably end up just like the David Foster Wallace’s fish, “What the hell is water?”

Last week I watched the video monologue of Marine Steve Gern in Iraq who is a very impressive guy and I admire the calming way he speaks about a very charged topic. Gern’s (over)simplified conclusion did not take into account that back in the states we are swimming in this public good that other countries simply do not have to our degree. The Marine notes that an American cannot go and walk the streets of Iraq alone because they’d probably get kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. That being the case, he concludes that no Iraqi should be allowed to come to the U.S. because they’d likely carry out the same behavior. Gern seems like an exemplary soldier, and no doubt has made many friends in hostile territory, but Iraqis to Gern are regarded as inherently bad until they are vetted.

Countless immigrants come to the U.S. from dangerous places around the world and this peculiar thing keeps happening, near all of them become productive members of society. But what makes that possible?

A fish needs water. Out of water a fish thrashes around dangerously gasping and embracing primal instincts. A fish in merely stagnant water languishes. The public good is the set of resources and rights that supports our inherent goodness and lets each of us participate in the American optimism that creates prosperity. The public good works when it is around. It stops working when it is privatized by kleptocrats.

A reason for the failure of the democracies we’ve tried to create around the world is that they were built with no strong institutions of the public good, no rights actually held firmly by checks and balances. They were set up by American politicians and consultants who cannot recognize the properties of the water they are swimming in.

There is a human gravity towards being lazy and corner cutting to make a job easier, especially when we stop exercising foresight, so there will always be a push towards ideologies like immigration restrictions that we need to resist. What we need to realize is that immigration, with its inherent risks, is integral to expanding prosperity. There will be a few bad eggs and even those that want revenge after seeing their entire families murdered in front of them at the hands of the West, but that may be laissez faire no matter how hard that is to swallow.

In parts of the world we’ve meddled, there is even a large shell shocked generation with hidden physical scars very much like our own soldiers who come back and succumb to erratic behavior and often suicide. We are in denial of their condition, often inflicted by us, just like we are in denial of our own veteran’s state. This kind of risk complicates freedom of movement yet we must allow it. We need to restrict the obvious, but never fully exclude. Anyone left behind will become increasingly dangerous. The ability to leave a hostile land with the choice to join the West reduces radicalization in areas we destabilize. Crossing our border and joining us, anyone foreign should realize they are entering water and can become their good self. It works, we’ve done this for years.

The relationship between immigration and prosperity is something we need to thoroughly debate more often so we can resist ideology. Many think immigrants are taking the jobs of American born citizens, but they are often taking jobs Americans will not do and at the other end they are truly innovating and creating new jobs for Americans as seen by looking at the figures in Silicon valley. Countless doctors who are the best and brightest of their countries come to America to supply our growing demand for healthcare. The closer you look, the more clear it is that we are nowhere near a point where immigration is damaging American prosperity.

What we also need to debate is whether fear of immigrants particularly Muslims is invented to accumulate the easy votes of the ignorant. Racism worn on the sleeve against African Americans has mostly subsided into covert systemic racism so that it can no longer be easily used as an electioneering tool. The hate vacuum has been filled by plainly spoken prejudice against Muslims. Many politicians, personally, barely care, but for the GOP party of pessimism, any category to hate openly is a tool to enter or maintain power.

Today we have a largely urban population. Our cities are filled with a highly mobile population, two job families, high divorce levels, single parent families, the return of long hours of work, the loss of community identification, high immigration levels, a new rise in the division between rich and poor and so on and so on. All of these factors mean that the one—if not the only—public structure we have which is capable of reaching out to all citizens in all parts of the country and making them feel part of the extended family of citizenship is the public education system. In the classic sense of the inclusive democracy, those simple bricks and mortar buildings, which we call the public schools, are in fact the one remaining open club house of citizenship. Not only is the public education system and its fundamental structure not old fashioned, it has found a new form of modernity. I would argue that we are more reliant on it today than we were through most of the 20th century. -John Ralston Saul, Address to the Canadian Teacher’s Federation (2001)

As explained by John Ralston Saul, the public good reaches out to people and makes them feel included and connected to others through citizenship. The outstretched arms of the public good, in forms so easy to take for granted as public lands, is an equalizer that prevents class formation and increases economic mobility which is important because most immigrants come here so poor.

When defending immigrants, asylum seekers, and refuges to those that are fearful or ignorant, it is important to mention the outstretched arms of the public good. For generations we have absorbed those that came from hostile lands and a positive force not readily apparent has been there to guide them in participating in the creation of American prosperity. For those of us that have never stepped outside of this force, we are doomed to say “What the hell is water?”

Optimism is your weapon!, Inherently Good, and the Public Good

We are clearly in a divided country, but what is the nature of the divide? Each side keeps placing the other in numerous rhetorically charged categories that obscure the root of their separation. Are we divided by geography being coastal elites or fly over states, or are we merely parties like Dems or GOP? More likely we are merely optimists and pessimists. It is also likely that pessimists who take power can never flip and create optimism.

Peeling back the rhetoric, our divide is near the root of our value system where we decide to believe whether people are inherently good or bad. Always the optimist and running on a platform of hope, Obama, frequently said very plainly he believed people are inherently good. A recent NYTimes op-ed quotes an astute baptist minister from the other camp who says: “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,”.

Believing someone to be inherently good or bad has profound impact on policy. Pessimists, often religious, do not think all people are bad, but all are bad until they are saved or reborn. If you are not saved, you do not deserve a safety net. To walk among the unsaved, you need a gun at all time in any space. Pessimism often runs with paranoia and can give way to resentment and vindictive policy where integrity and constitutional beliefs are too easily sacrificed to punish the other camp.

Common sense says that the economy is more likely to grow under optimism than pessimism, but what is the resource democrats draw their strength from and is it geographically concentrated? Optimism is supported by the philosophical and economic concept of the public good. Philosophically, the public good is rights like the freedom of speech while economically it is resources like a properly funded public school system. The concepts are seldom explicitly taught even among economic schools, but have been well outlined by thinkers like John Ralston Saul. Due to the nature of the parties, blue states have more of it and red states less.

Whether you practice or not, without even knowing it, we are first introduced to the public good via religion. The stories of the Koran, the Bible, and the Torah all strive to codify the public good. When religions overlap to reveal universal truths, that is the philosophical arm of the public good. Gandhi said all religions are true because all religions strive to have a relationship with the public good. If an ancient religious text seems dated and not to be taken literally, that is because what is good is in flux and constantly needs progressive revision and the removal of interests. Adamantly promoting an outdated, unreflected upon version of the public good to support an interest creates pessimism.

The next great codification of the public good (and recognition of its fragility) that we are exposed to is the United States Constitution. The document is set up to prevent erosion or deliberate destruction of the public good by outlining checks and balances to government bodies as well as containing a strong bill of rights. The document can also be officially amended to reflect the public good so it does not become as easily dated as a religious text.

But how does this all relate to the current divide within the country? Times of American growth and prosperity have taken place during periods where a vast majority have optimistically believed other people were inherently good without being hyper conscious of it. Prosperity has also coincided with policy that strengthened the resources of the public good so that they could be drawn upon for optimism.

Economically, the public good is a vast network of resources holding immense hard to quantify wealth so it has become a major target of kleptocracy and looting. The public good is hard to notice and outline so that it becomes hard to defend when it is stolen from such as the privatization of prisons or privatization of essential services like fire departments. We are currently seeing efforts to privatize public schools which may be the public good’s single greatest resource for optimism.

It is important to recognize what should be public and what should be private and to understand the benefits of both because they feed each other and help us find balance. Private for profit institutions can never have the full goals of public institutions and therefore cannot generate the same optimism that drives prosperity. Public resources such as research are integral to business optimism and make it easier for competitive private enterprises to start and grow. Due to externalities, production often has costs not factored into the price of a good. Protections from public institutions like the EPA create and maintain optimism by assuring the public will not foot the bill down the road for the accumulated destructive behavior of a corporation.

The pessimists have always been in this country, but they have never recently been so strong. Previously, pessimism was mainly the product of religion, particularly fire and brimstone versions of Christianity, but atheists and agnostics also have to form a value system and need to see the public good to become optimists. Optimism is harder when you are geographically further away from the resources of the public good which is disproportionately concentrated in cities due to higher population density.

Numerous catalysts for pessimism exist and a very significant driver has been terrorism created by economic unrest in unstable regions that have very weak public institutions and resources. The priest sex abuse scandals have also been very significant in destroying trust in a large institution that, whether you are religious or not, still plays a large role in the public good. McLuhan-esque changes to media have also weakened optimism and challenged the resolve of all our public resources. Social media is more like algorithmic media and nth degree negative stories get promoted to the fore generating pessimism and paranoia. Due to the algorithmic promotion of stories, many people believe crime is increasing while in actuality statistics show it to be decreasing.

Optimism and pessimism profoundly impacts policing. Who is more likely to shoot an unarmed black man pulled over for a simple traffic violation, an officer that believes people are inherently good or an officer that believes people are inherently bad? Proper funding for public institutions like police departments are integral to maintaining the public good which carries optimism. The funding for these institutions has been ravaged by globalism via the inability to raise taxes. The source of funding changes a municipal police department’s place in the public good. Forcing officers to fund themselves from one by one ticketing creates downward spiral of pessimism with consequences of serious social unrest.

Gun rights can be looked at in the context of the inherently good or bad construct. Citizens successfully move about coastal cities with optimism not carrying guns by holding the belief other people are inherently good while many rural dwellers (to pick a category name) do not believe they can visit the city without a gun. They believe people are inherently bad, or work on a sliding scale where some easy to recognize people are inherently bad. To hold an other saved, they have to be vetted personally.

Coastal cities benefit economically from an upward spiral of optimism generated by creativity that results from pursuing diversity and inclusion. This is all made possible by believing people are inherently good. Strong optimism correlated to key features of the public good helps coastal cities to easily weather storms that directly effect their locals such as terror attacks in New York or Boston. Distant pessimist locals are disproportionately shook despite their distant location.

The current GOP, believing people are inherently bad, is a dead end and cannot create optimism once in power. The economic arm of public good holds immense wealth and instead of keeping size in check, while recognizing its importance, ideology has taken hold with a goal of destroying any optimism supporting public good not tied down. Private business growth within GOP ideology comes from the looting of the public good. Public institutions that should remain public are privatized and protections are removed which create externalities that will have to be paid for later by the public. Current GOP policy does not create original prosperity, but rather only a transfer from the public good to private hands.

This inherently good versus bad, optimism versus pessimism construct lies beneath the rhetoric and hopefully is helpful to put a finger on exactly how we differ within this divided country. The relation of the public good to optimism and its associated prosperity hopefully can constructively guide policy to narrowing the divide. Rural areas need the resources of the public good that urban areas have been able to draw from if they are to conquer their pessimism. Believing people are inherently good is a hard road to walk and there will be bruising if not scars, but it is the true American way and path to sustained prosperity.

Return of the Champagne Bottle Manifold

I developed this product many years ago and have shipped them around the world, but I’m finally ready to launch the final design revision.

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Cornelius quick release fittings use a proprietary 19/32-18 threading that is very hard to create. You can’t get a tap or die so you either need CNC or go old school full manual with an engine lathe. I finally got my engine lathe set up to cut the threads which frees me from a piece I was previously buying. It also makes the design more solid because a single piece of metal has the threads and extends all the way down to the shoulder that contacts the food safe seal. The design still uses square acme style threads to engage the collar which are created with a molding process that molds them precisely around the brass. A one piece metal design probably can’t be done without CNC and the price would likely double.

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I don’t sell very many to the cocktail community which never latched on to the usefulness of Champagne bottles, so most sell to experimental wine makers and sparkling wine sales reps looking for high fidelity preservation.

For the trade, brand logos can be engraved in the brass so they are visible under the translucent plastic. If you are a Champagne house, feel free to buy them bulk for your sales teams.

If for any obscure brewing project you need 19/32-18 threads, I can cut them!

The Keg-To-Champagne-Bottler will likely be updated using these design improvements.

Don’t forget about the amazing Small Bottle Bottler or the infamous Large Bottle Bottler which is a full enclosure tool for many large beer bottle sizes and Champagne 750’s. Somehow I’ve managed to produce the most complete and effective lineup of affordable pilot plant bottling equipment on the market!

Alaska Ice Crusher

If you enjoy this site, check out the Houghton Street Foundry, my fine arts workshop and follow @b_apothecary

One of my prized possessions is my Alaska model No. 1 ice crusher. To be honest, I own a few of them and insist they are at any bar I’m working. Many in the cocktail scene aren’t familiar with them, but the bars of Boston are home to quite a few (And D.C.’s Green Zone just got its first fully restored unit!).

The Alaska is a big, hundred year old, fly wheel driven, block ice crusher that can shred cold draft cubes like it’s no ones business. They were used on fishing boats, in general stores, science labs, pretty much any where an awesome crush was required. With little effort you can fill five gallon buckets of crush in mere minutes (especially if you fit it with a hopper!). A 115 volt motor just can’t match the torque of a hand driven flywheel so there is nothing electric in its size range that can rival it (actually, if you’ve got the space you can attach a motor).

For years people have loved stopping by our house for a Caipirinha, the house drink, and crushing their own ice. “Oh yeah, the house with that big crusher.” It has always been the center of a lot of drunk memories. One of ours may or may not have made a pilgrimage to Burning Man.

Owning a great, clean and functional Alaska has just gotten easier because Brandon Neal’s PA Writing Tools & Restoration has started restoring them. Buying a restored machine will set you back $375-425 and Brandon can restore an existing machine for $200. Not too bad for a hundred year old statement piece.

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Unrestored Alaska’s are prone to dripping a little rust here and there because they were made from tin coated steel, but Brandon solves all that with a food safe powder coating. Restoration involves disassembly and sand blasting, boring the worn axle holes, rethreading the flywheel spindle, food safe powder coating, fitment with plastic bushing to prevent metal on metal abrasion, and finally a new handle. Brandon can even fabricate new metal tins to catch the crush if desired.

Boring of the axle holes, which are typically elongated by wear, is a modern update and a really great touch. When worn, the spinning drum tends to jump and rock side to side making noise and increasing the wear. When fitted with plastic bushings, there is no more metal on metal contact and a much more precise movement.

If you’re interested in an Alaska, leave a comment here or hit up Brandon on Facebook. There is often a waiting list because Alaska’s are a highly collected cult antique. They are increasingly behind the scenes of better bars and becoming statement pieces for distillery tasting rooms. I finally own enough of them that I’m comfortable telling you about them. [If your bar uses an Alaska, leave a comment. It would be great to know who else is in the club.]

Nothing rivals an Alaska.

I own a few 19th century Chandler’s
(This person owns a fleet! I must have lost auctions to them)
(Japaned or galvanized, take your pick!)

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I own a few Little Giants:

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I’ve owned the legendary Flak Mak’r:

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But the Alaska is king. Happy crushing.