Joel's Dialogue of the Day

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sometimes you've got to ask yourself... are we all just playing the part of a peasant in a Monty Python movie? I mean, it FEELS like we're being lead toward the answer with intelligence, but then, in retrospect you wonder "how the hell did we ever go along with THAT?!"
Man... it made sense at the time...

Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Sir Bedevere: There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
Peasant 1: Are there? Oh well, tell us.
Sir Bedevere: Tell me. What do you do with witches?
Peasant 1: Burn them.
Sir Bedevere: And what do you burn, apart from witches?
Peasant 1: More witches.
Peasant 2: Wood.
Sir Bedevere: Good. Now, why do witches burn?
Peasant 3: ...because they're made of... wood?
Sir Bedevere: Good. So how do you tell whether she is made of wood?
Peasant 1: Build a bridge out of her.
Sir Bedevere: But can you not also build bridges out of stone?
Peasant 1: Oh yeah.
Sir Bedevere: Does wood sink in water?
Peasant 1: No, no, it floats!... It floats! Throw her into the pond!
Sir Bedevere: No, no. What else floats in water?
Peasant 1: Bread.
Peasant 2: Apples.
Peasant 3: Very small rocks.
Peasant 1: Cider.
Peasant 2: Gravy.
Peasant 3: Cherries.
Peasant 1: Mud.
Peasant 2: Churches.
Peasant 3: Lead! Lead!
King Arthur: A Duck.
Sir Bedevere: ...Exactly. So, logically...
Peasant 1: If she weighed the same as a duck... she's made of wood.
Sir Bedevere: And therefore...
Peasant 2: ...A witch!


What's in the Fridge This Week?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Well, not my fridge, mind you, but at least a fridge. There is a lovely little bar in Okemos, Michigan called Dusty's Tap Room. They actually don't have many taps, but they do have loads of different bottled beers for their patrons' delight; 70 at last count.

One of the beers they have is a relatively obscure style of beer (though it is gaining popularity among American microbrewers and homebrew competitions) called Kölsch. The particular brand they have is Brauerei Heinrich Reissdorf Kölsch.

The beer itself poured a beautiful pale golden straw color. It was wonderfully clear and bubbly like champaigne. Incredible head retention, initially yielding a full bright white froth, calming after some time to a thin, delicate lace. After each quaff, it left a thicker ring of lacing down the glass like rings on a tree.

This Kölsch has a very clean aroma. There is some pale malt breadiness with what can be described as again an extremely clean apple note. A heavy but soft graininess is the real backbone of the nose, but there is a faint hop presence...almost pine

The taste is, again, clean. That's what I really like about this beer: it is clean and clear. It has a moderate body with a really crisp mouth feel from the relatively high carbonation; the body and mouthfeel make it very refreshing. There is also a pale malt sweetness with a little fresh cut hay and again a bit of pine, probably from the hops. What's really cool is that these are kind of complex flavors for what looks like it should be so simple given its clarity. The Kölsch here is dry with a big grainy overall palate. The crispness and carbonation keeps the mouth clean, and the hop bitterness, while light, is enhances the dryness. It finishes dry and malty with the scant piney note in the background. Crisp and clean.

I could drink this beer all night. OK, so I did drink this beer all night. Drink this beer before an appetizer. Drink it with an appetizer. Drink it with dinner if you want. Make it a session beer. This beer begs to be quaffed.

A couple of notes on Kölsh:

Technically, a beer cannot be called a Kölsch unless it is brewed on Köln (Cologne), and within sight of the cathedral in Köln. Thus, American micros and homebrews are not "Kolsch" per se, but it is certainly judged as a bona-fide BJCP style of beer. The German cops aren't going to come get you. This is an ale rather than a lager (where many people really are familiar with German lagers moreso than anything else).

Click here for a really interesting discussion of Kölsch consumption and culture in Germany found in Wikipedia. I found it enlightening, especially the piece about why Karl Marx quipped that Communism would never work in Köln, based on the popularity of this beer. Did beer stop the spread of communism?

Anyway, besides for this lovely little pub in Okemos, you can find this brand of Kölsch, brewed by one of the few "legal" breweries to brew it, in many specialty beer stores. In a word: clean.

**Update** All of the "o" in Köln and Kölsch have been changed to "ö" per instruction from george in the comments section. Thanks for the html lesson!


Edwards' Foreign Policy Speech

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

As a pretty lefty Democrat, I have been trying to figure out who I will support for the Democratic nomination for President. I really, really want to like Obama. I am sure he is a fine man, but his lack of specificity on his policies and his recent attack on the auto industry has left me wanting something else. Edwards has always been on my radar screen.

Today, Edwards gave a speech on the Iraq war and on military and foreign policy before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. I was pleased to read that he didn't call for an immediate withdrawal of all troops like many of the other candidates. I think many Democrats will agree - no matter what their feelings are about the Iraq war - that we have a high level of responsibility for what happens in Iraq after we leave. He calls for a longer-term, but smaller contingent of forces to remain there to keep the place from degenerating into genocide. In the long speech, he also discusses the condition of the military, our duty to our veterans, and other policy matters.

I post the link to his speech to get feedback from my friends who have served in the military, as well as gather input from Around the Keg's other 1.01 Million daily readers.

Sorry I have been monopolizing the blog. It seems that Smitty has either completely drank all the beer in Michigan, and therefore he has no more beer to review, or he has entered the Betty Ford. I'll check in with Mrs. Smitty to make sure he's OK.

Hey, at least I am writing about more than just stem cell.

Read the speech here.


Part 2.5: Orrin Hatch and His Pro-life Stance.

Monday, May 21, 2007

On May 25th, 2005, United States Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) made a statement in regard to his sponsorship of H.R. 810. This bill would have allowed stem cell research in federally-funded labs, had it not been vetoed by President Bush. He's made many similar statements more recently, but this is one of the most well-written. The majority of the statement is posted below. The remainder can be found here.

I post this because it comes from a conservative Republican Senator, who up until this point in his career would not have had his pro-life credentials questioned. He is a better source than I am on why reasonable bills like H.R. 810 can be the pro-life position. His bills were also a model for the Michigan legislation I discussed in my previous post.

I respect President Bush’s views on this issue, and I fully support his efforts to promote embryo adoption in our country. I also support adult stem cell research, and I am the prime Senate sponsor of cord blood legislation similar to the bill that passed yesterday in the House.

But I know, as a long-standing pro-life Senator, that it is possible to be both anti-abortion and pro-embryonic stem cell research. I am pleased that many Right-to-Life Congressmen reached the same conclusion when the House voted yesterday. I don’t take a back seat to anybody in the Right-to-Life community. I’m the only person who successfully brought an anti-abortion Constitutional amendment to the floor of the Senate, and I have worked on Right-to-Life issues throughout my career, including running the conference committee last Congress that ultimately outlawed the horrific practice of partial birth abortion.

I understand why this form of stem-cell research may trouble some. However, after many conversations with scientists, ethicists, patient advocates and religious leaders and many hours of thought, reflection and prayer, I reached the conclusion that human life does not begin in a Petri dish.

While I respect those with different views, I believe that human life requires and begins in a mother's nurturing womb.

A critical aspect of being pro-life is helping the living. Helping those struggling with the challenges of debilitating diseases is exactly what embryonic stem-cell research promises.

This is a difficult issue, and we are being forced to draw a line between legitimate science and unethical tinkering with human life. As we learned with the debate over in vitro fertilization, this line does exist. And I believe that the United States must lead the world to help establish the moral and ethical safeguards that allows embryonic stem cell research to go forward in the interest of mankind.

-United States Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah)


Part Two: Refuting Those Who Discredit a Promising Life Science

Friday, May 18, 2007

The last time I wrote about embryonic stem cell research, (eSCR) I gave an overview of Michigan extremist laws. In this part I will discuss some of the claims against embryonic stem cell research. I apologize for the lack of brevity, but it was unavoidable.

Those who are opposed to eSCR believe that the creation and subsequent destruction of an embryo for treatment or research is in violation of their belief that life begins at conception. If opponents of eSCR used this in their opposition, I could not argue with them. That is their belief, and while I disagree with it, they are entitled to their religious freedom. Fortunately for eSCR, this belief reflects the feelings of a relatively small proportion of the population who as a whole have wide-ranging thoughts about when life begins. Since opponents cannot honestly win by advancing their own religious views, they instead attempt to defeat eSCR by attacking the science, attacking the motives of those who advocate for eSCR and attempting to create false hope that there are other, less controversial cures on the horizon.

Those opposing this research make many erroneous, often alarmist, claims about the future of eSCR, all of which have gone unfounded. Some of the most common are debunked below.

The most common lie: adult stem cell research is the most promising type of stem cell research:
Paul Long of the Michigan Catholic Conference, before the House Health Policy Committee said:

"The facts are that nearly 30 years of public and private financing for embryonic stem cell research have failed to produce any positive gains, while advancements with adult stem cells are occurring on a daily basis."
While adult stem cell research has been ongoing for 30 years, it is untrue that eSCR has been ongoing for this time. It wasn't until 1998 that researchers isolated human embryonic stem cells at the University of Wisconsin. ESCR is new research, which is being restricted by federal and state authorities.

The 65 cures lie:
The media doesn't even question this whopper of a lie anymore. Many outlets continue to print that adult stem cells have provided 65 cures for various diseases and conditions. Despite the fact that the 65 cures lie has been debunked by well-respected scientists, it continues to be repeated.

On July 15, 2006 the Washington Post ran a story about three researchers who were calling out David Prentis of the Family Research Cuncil, who stared this part of the disinformation campaign. The Post reported on the scientist's well-documented arguments:

"The claim that there are 65 adult stem cell research cures has been said so many times that it is almost becoming an accepted fact. In the July 28 issue of the magazine Science, William Neaves, president and CEO of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, debunks statements by opponents of embryonic research -- which were created by the Washington-based Family Research Council -- who suggest that more than 65 illnesses can be treated by adult and cord blood stem cells. According to Neaves, only nine illnesses on the research council's widely circulated list have approved adult stem cell treatments."
Most of the diseases cited in the list compiled by Prentis rely on limited clinical trials or observations from patients and doctors, rather than approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Many are experiments, rather than treatments, some of which have taken place overseas.

Dr. Sean Morrison, who runs the University of Michigan adult stem cell lab, pointed out one of the most hypocritical examples in the Prentis-mentioned experiments. Despite Prentis's ties to anti-abortion groups, one procedure on his adult stem cell cures list utilized adult stem cells harvested from fetal tissue that was the product of an abortion.

Don't get me wrong, adult stem cell research is also supported by supporters of eSCR, but it doesn't have the same potential.

There are no restrictions on stem cell research in Michigan:
It is legal to do stem cell research, even on embryonic stem cells, in Michigan, if you create the cells elsewhere and import them into the state. This is where an intermingling of federal rule, Michigan law, patent protection, and practicality make any serious research efforts impossible.

Should your lab receive any federal funding, the stem cell lines must be one of the few federally approved stem cell lines, all of which are ethnically narrow and infected with mouse cells. Since most labs receive some sort of federal funding, they are eliminated from any meaningful research.

If a lab is 100% privately or 100% state funded, they could seek other sources of stem cells. Unfortunately, there is not an adequate source of stem cells from other states to study specific conditions, nor do stem cell lines exist that reflect our diverse population. Also, there are no sources of stem cells from individuals with specific disease we wish to study. Stem cell lines are also protected by patents.

Lastly, in order to treat patents, we must be able to produce stem cells from embryos in this state matching that patient's own DNA. If we cannot, patients will have to go elsewhere for treatment.

There is an adequate source of embryos in Michigan's IVF clinics, which instead of being thrown away should be used for this research. By not allowing stem cells to be created from embryos found here, it is a de-facto ban.

Allowing eSCR and SCNT will allow scientists to "clone and kill":
SCNT stands for Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer. It's sometimes called therapeutic cloning and is used to create stem cells with a particular genetic makeup. Make no mistake, that’s where it ends: within the Petri dish. Opponents of the research try to lump eSCR and SCNT together with all types of cloning. Yet all types of cloning are not the same. No human being is the result of SCNT. This is true unless you believe that an embryo that was never fertilized by a sperm and never implanted in a womb is the same is a human. A rogue scientist would have to take SCNT much further and implant the embryo into a surrogate mother to take this toward human reproductive cloning.

We should adopt out embryos to create "snowflake babies":
As I have written, hundreds of thousands of left-over and unsuitable embryos from treatment facilities are destined for the trash can. A few hundred nationwide will be "adopted" and implanted in infertile couples. That said, couples who created them cannot be forced to provide them to prospective women, and many of the embryos cannot be responsibly implanted into a uterus due to defect. Opponents of eSCR rarely propose to ban infertility treatments, which would be the only way to end the creation and subsequent disposal of embryos. Opponents of eSCR also attempted to ban in-vitro procedures decades ago and lost that fight.

A new "breakthrough" prior to every vote:
For the last few years every time there has been a vote in the U.S. Senate, or U.S. Congress authorizing eSCR, there has been a corresponding announcement of a new breakthrough. First was the initial adults stem cell "cures" announcement, then there was a breakthrough in "umbilical cord stem cells". That was followed by the discovery of "amniotic cord blood cells". Most recently, there was a claimed breakthrough using adult stems cells to treat juvenile diabetes.

Unfortunately, none of the above examples were true breakthroughs. All of the types of stem cells mentioned above are really just adult stem cells, all of which have limited uses. Claims of cures for juvenile diabetes, spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's' disease are fictitious or overstated and would surely surprise the millions of people worldwide who continue to suffer from these diseases and conditions.

I could go on and on to fight this fight, but I think you get the point. Opponents of eSCR will stop at nothing to discredit one of the most promising life science humans has ever discovered.

Next time: The economics of stem cell research.


Mental Institution Michael

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pseudo Documentarian Michael Moore recently challenged possible presidential candidate Fred Thompson to a debate. His terse reply seemed to show that he was probably not interested. I am not a huge fan of Michael Moore, though I did like Roger and Me when it came out and I thought he did a good job at making a compelling story and breathing new life into documentaries. Over time, he seemed to move more towards propaganda and telling people what to think instead of drawing their own conclusions. This is certainly not new, nor is he the only one who has done this. Leni Riefenstahl did many of the same things when she made Triumph of the Will.

Before I continue, I am not suggesting that Michael Moore is a Nazi or even like a Nazi. I am suggesting that he is using the documentary format to promote a political and social aganda, much like Triumph of the Will.

I didn't see Fahrenheit 9/11, so I can't comment on that one. I did see Bowling for Columbine and there seemed to be some inconsistencies and problems with facts. It turns out that I was right. There were major problems with trick editing, distortions, and outright lies. I have to give Michael Moore credit. He does a tremendous job of promoting his materials and his image as a regular, working class guy. He makes a good living at what he does and I am not suggesting that he stop. I do think it is unfortunate that his stuff is categorized as non-fiction and that many people seem to watch his material and take it in as completely factual.

I will be interested to see how his new movie Sicko will do and how much it contributes to the national debate on health care. This has been discussed on this blog before and I agree that there is major room for reform and improvements. I just hope that these debates are factually based and intelligent, though I'll admit that I doubt Michael Moore will be able to add to this in a meaningful way. I hope I am wrong.


Joel's Dialogue of the Day

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

You ever just sort of sit there, pondering the state of affairs in which we live and, rather than look for solutions or, more likely, develop yet another coping mechanism, just say to yourself "this is all such a fraternity haze. It's just one big haze." Well, it is a haze. Where's the meaning? Where's the exhilaration? Where's the "making a difference?"

It is from this school of thought that I present today's dialogue of the day, more of a monologue, courtesy of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) in one of the greatest "what the hell does it all mean" movies of all time... FIGHTCLUB.

I see in Fight Club the strongestand smartest men who've ever lived.
I see all this potential.
And I see it squandered.
Goddamn it, an entire generation pumping gas.
Waiting tables.
Slaves with white collars.
Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes.
Working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need.
We're the middle children of history.
No purpose or place.
We have no Great War.
No Great Depression.
Our great war is a spiritual war.
Our great depression is our lives.
We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd be millionaires
and movie gods and rock stars.
But we won't.
We're slowly learning that fact.
And we're very, very pissed off.


Some Legislation I Can Get Behind

Since this blog covers all things beer, I thought I would draw your attention to HR 1610. This bill will amend the Internal Revenue Code to reduce the tax on beer from $18 a barrel to $9 a barrel. I should note that a brewer that brews less than 2,000,000 barrels a year only pays $7 per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels (and $18 per barrel after 60,000). The bill has 52 co-sponsors, including one from Michigan, Dale Kildee (D).

I don't know what chance this has in the House, but I found out that the beer and wine industry gave $10 million to candidates in 2005-2006 and they probably epect something for that money. This bill is opposed by some public health groups and other assbags that want to tell me how much beer I should drink. Seriously, I think that $18 a barrel is a pretty high tax, considering the wholesale price far a barrel of beer.



Monday, May 14, 2007

Different from the movie whereby the "twins" looked nothing alike (is that paternal or maternal twins...I never remember), Sadly, No! has put a bunch of time into pairing wingnut mouthbreathers with some celebrity look-alike. Twins indeed. Some are uncanny, most are hilarious. Go take a look.

The winner in my mind? Michelle Malkin compared to Bat Boy of tabloid fame. Runner up? Vapid pseudo-liberal Susan Estrich = Eddie (the Iron Maiden mascot) or the Salt Vampire from M-113. I nearly fell out of my chair.


Belated Beer Review

Friday, May 11, 2007

This has been a crushingly busy week, but right near the very end of the week I had the opportunity to taste a real treat.

The historic holder of Michigan's first brewpub license is an eclectic restaurant in downtown Detroit, not too far from the DIA, called the Traffic Jam and Snug. It's got a little bit of everything on its menu, but of most note, this weird little slice of heaven features its own dairy and its own little brewery. In fact, in 1992, the Traffic Jam became Michigan's first brewpub. Tangentally, a brew pub allows for the sale of beer brewed on-premises, but it is not bottled or sold outside of the pub.

The beer list currently holds the Grand Theft Pilsner, an oatmeal stout, an IPA and a doppelbock. I chose to try the doppel.

All in all, this was a very nicely-constructed brew. It came to the table a lovely deep brown/black with ruby highlights and a thick, pillowy off-white head.

I immediately smelled bananas-and-chocolate, backed by a lovely roasted coffee. Really, the only bitterness came from the dark-roasted malt though there was a hint of floral hops that balanced the beer well.

The taste was a very nicely balanced beer. It is nowhere near the calibre of Ayinger or Paulaner, mind you, but for locally-brewed beer in small quantities in a brew pub, it was very balanced and drinkable. There was a nice roasted flavor right up front balanced by a malty sweetness that was neither subtle nor cloying. And there, after some hops shone through, was that lovely chocolate flavor that makes doppelbocks all taste like drinking chocolate milk and beer. Yum!

Again, all in all thi was a solid, drinkable, sessionable beer. I could see sitting there for hours at a time and never switching beers. The beer was very light-bodied and slightly watery, but really those are minor in the grand scheme of this beer.

So for all 5 of my Michigan-based readers, go visit the Traffic Jam and Snug. Enjoy their beers and take home some delicious all tastes greatwith the beers they brew (in the fine tradition of European catholic monks brewing beer and making cheese in the same place; Roquefort, anyone?).


Part One: The Lunacy of Michigan's Life Science Laws

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The following post is part one in a three-part series on stem cell research in Michigan. The series will focus on: Michigan's laws, the opposition's efforts to discredit embryonic stem cell research, and the economics of stem cell research in Michigan's life sciences industry.

For the last four years, one of my biggest projects in the legislature has been working to remove Michigan's serious restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. (eSCR) I say restrictions, but Michiganders should be aware that our state has some of the most restrictive stem cell laws in the nation. We are more restrictive than the federal policy and more restrictive than most other states. Michigan's laws are so severe that should a breakthrough take place in another state or nation, residents will have to leave the state to even received treatment. While knowledge of this situation has grown over the last few years due to some diligent reporting, eight editorials in favor of changing our laws, and hard work by stem cell supporters, we still have along way to go before our laws are no longer dictated by a vocal minority.

The prohibitions date back to 1978 when Michigan banned any research on an embryo, unless it is for the purpose of improving the viability of that embryo. It wasn't related to embryonic stem cells, which weren't isolated until 1998. Instead, it has been said that these laws were an over reaction to in-vitro fertilization, a new technology at the time, which was opposed by some of the same people opposing eSCR today. The second part of our prohibition is the ban on Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, (SCNT) which is needed for the creation of stem cells matching a patent's genetic code. This law was passed during the panic that followed the cloning of "Dolly" the sheep in Scotland. The intent of the bill, which few disagree with, was to prohibit human reproductive cloning by prohibiting using SCNT to initiate a pregnancy. Instead, we enacted a total ban on all forms of SCNT, including forms need for research and the creation of cells. The sponsor of this legislation, former State Representative Kirk Profit, has said that his bill went too far and is now working to see the law amended.

It should be noted that these laws do not save a single embryo from destruction. Left over embryos are thrown in the trash by the thousands, but should a scientist perform research on them, they will be sent to jail.

The bills before the Michigan State House sponsored by State Representative Andy Meisner and Mark Meadows, will remove Michigan's restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. They are similar to the bills passed by the U.S. House and Senate and passed in Missouri as a state constitutional amendment. These bills aren’t radical by any means. They are a balanced approach that will finally bring Michigan out of the dark ages.

Some may even say that the bills are a compromise because, like the federal legislation that President Bush continues to veto, they limit the research to embryos left over from infertility clinics. The bills will prohibit embryo donors from receiving any financial or other benefit from the donation and will require informed and written consent for the donation. The legislation also removes Michigan's restrictions on SCNT, so doctors will be able to treat patients.

The bill package includes two bills which will increase penalties for human reproductive cloning, to make a clear distinction in the law between SCNT and attempting to clone a person.

There are many medical benefits possible from both adult and embryonic stem cell therapies, but due to their ability to become any one of the 200 plus cell types in the body, embryonic stem cells offer the opportunity to cure many diseases and conditions that adult stem cells never will, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal cord injuries and juvenile diabetes. As an example, since pancreatic adult stem cells do not exist, we will only cure juvenile diabetes with embryonic stem cell therapies.

Supporters of eSCR also support adult stem cell research and other forms of stem cell studies. But, as researchers will tell you, and despite opposition claims, there is no replacement for embryonic stem cell research for many debilitating diseases and conditions. Reputable scientists will tell you that there are nine adult stem cell treatments. I discuss this further in part two of this series.

There is a small, extreme minority who are opposed to this research. In March, a poll commissioned by MIRS, The Rossman Group and Denno-Noor Public Opinion Company confirmed what previous polls have said; that Michiganders overwhelmingly want this research to take place. The poll showed 65% support among all voters. Of the twelve regions of the state identified in the poll, every geographic area supported the research by over 60%. Previous polls have also showed similar support among Roman Catholics and majority support among those who consider themselves "pro-life".

Hopefully, the will of the people, who overwhelmingly support stem cell research, will eventually prevail and move Michigan toward a future including cures and treatments for our friends and families.

Next time: Refuting those who discredit a promising life science.

To learn more about the science of stem cell, go to the University of Michigan's Life Sciences Department here.


A Bloody Game of Chess

Monday, May 07, 2007

From Crooks and Liars:

Over the weekend, Ayman al Zawahri, al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, released the latest in a series of bizarre videos, this time discussing his barely coherent “insights” on the war in Iraq. The video was quickly seized upon by partisans on both sides on the U.S. political divide, but one side seems wrong.


But if Zawahri’s comments are important when they bolster White House talking points, then they’re equally important when they don’t.


[quote on C&L from ABC News]In a new video posted today on the Internet, al Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman al Zawahiri, mocks the bill passed by Congress setting a timetable for the pullout of U.S. troops in Iraq.

“This bill will deprive us of the opportunity to destroy the American forces which we have caught in a historic trap,” Zawahiri says in answer to a question posed to him an interviewer.

Continuing in the same tone, Zawahiri says, “We ask Allah that they only get out of it after losing 200,000 to 300,000 killed, in order that we give the spillers of blood in Washington and Europe an unforgettable lesson.”
The usual folks came out and said that Zawahri, as supported by his video quoted above, favors the Democratic withdrawal plan, and that pullout is the proof Zawahri needs to show the U.S. is defeated.

But I have to agree with Steve at C&L. Zawahri indeed wants us to stay as long as possible so he can kill more of our troops. Look at the last 2 paragraphs of the quote above. He says the bill will deprive us of the opportunity to trap and kill more U.S. troops.

Now, like Steve at C&L, I see that Zawahri is a total lunatic and really, I don't think you can lend creedence to anything he says. But the Administratiuon sure does, so following that logic train, you have to regard everything he says, even if it starkly disagrees with your current policy. Thus, it seems to me that playing into the terrorists' them what they protracting, endlessly, our occupation of Iraq.


The Death of Coffee: Friday Beer Selection

Friday, May 04, 2007

Today's beer selection is an American take on a British standby. If you've ever had a British brown ale - smooth, low carbonation, malty-sweet - you know what a standard it is. But as we've done with everything in our Great American Quest for the Extreme, Rogue Ales Brewery presents us with

Hazelnut Brown Nectar.

As an avid coffee-drinker as well, this beer contains the best of both worlds of beer and coffee: hazelnut

What I like about Rogue, besides for the fact that they brew terrific beer, is that they actually list their ingredients right on the bottle right down to the "Free Range Coastal Water."It gives homebrewers a chance to try to copy truly incredible beers. On top of that, Rogue has started selling their specialized yeast strain, Pac Man. This is the strain of yeast they use in most, if not all, of their beers and they have cultivated it and made it available for home brewers. I am thrilled.

I digress. The beer:

This is a really creamy looking beer, with a nice light tan lace. It is a lovely shade of dark mahogany with reddish hues when held up to light.

There is a huge malty assault on the nose, with a very prominent hazelnut aroma. Underneath it all is a well-balanced toasted and roasted malt with a hint of a deep fruit (think date or prune).

We have another winner here. This beer has a balanced mix of toasted and roasted malts up front with a big backbone of sweetness; just like a solid British brown ale should have. And along that same line is a medium body with low, smooth carbonation that roils and boils as it settles. There is just a quick burst of spicy hops for balance. Along the way there are hints of chocolate and charred wood with that same hint of prune fruitiness found in the nose. But what sets it apart from just any other solid British brown is this lovely, sweet, mild nuttiness from the hazelnut extract. There is no mistaking its presence, but it does so much to the overall character of the beer.

This would be an amazing dessert beer. I imagine what this tastes like along a heavy square of tiramisu or a nice thick chocolate cake; the same stuff you'd drink coffee with. But now that you have a hazelnut beer, who needs coffee?


Gun Laws--What is and What Should be

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I started writing this in the comments, but then it got so long, I decided to add it as an article. I apologize for 'hogging' the blog and I promise to shut up for a couple days.

b mac, thanks for your comments, though I'd like to steer you to the following sites, lest you think all pro-gun people are conservatives: Pro-Gun Progressive, Liberals with Guns, and Pink Pistols.

Jefferson also said (quoting Cesare Beccaria), "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man,’’ and "No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

I do agree with what Jefferson was saying in your quote, but we need to cautious as to what we give up in the name of protecting society. One only has to look to the "war on terror" and the resulting Patriot Act to see what I mean.

As for what gun laws should be unconstitutional, that may be difficult to answer and it depends if you are talking about what is, or what I think should be. Under current case law, most gun laws are consititutional. The Supreme Court hasn't heard a 2nd Amendment case since the 1930's. The Federal Gun Free School Zone Act was declared unconstitutional in the 1990's, but on interstate commerce grounds. Congress went ahead and passed it again and said it was interstate commerce. There have been some lower court rulings, most recently the Ct. of App. for the District of Columbia overturned the ban on handguns that had been in place since the 1970's. They stated that there is an individual right to bear arms.

In my opinion, the right to bear arms is a fundamental right (just like the rest of the bill of rights) and should be given the same treatment as other fundamental rights, strict scrutiny:
1. First, it must be justified by a compelling governmental interest.
2. The law or policy must be narrowly tailored to achieve that goal or interest. If the government action encompasses too much (over-inclusive) or fails to address essential aspects of the compelling interest (under-inclusive), then the rule is not considered narrowly tailored.
3. Finally, the law or policy must be the least restrictive means for achieving that interest.

One could reasonably argue that the government has an interest in protecting the citizens of this nation from criminals. Most gun laws would probably be based on this, though many would fail (2) and (3). Most gun laws encompass a great deal of lawful behavior and affect a great number of lawful gun owners. Many of our laws do little to discourage criminal behavior, therefore I wold be hard pressed to find many laws that would be constitutional. A law that prohibits sound suppressors only protects me from fictional movie hit-men. I am unable to find any documentation that they are used in any significant amount of crimes. The now defunct Assault Weapons Ban had no measurable effect on crime, so it would also fail to be constitutional.


VT Part II--Guns and Crazy People

I don't recall if it was the same day or the day after, but we started to get an idea pretty quickly that Cho suffered from some kind of mental illness, which prompted the question, "how was he allowed to buy a gun?" If you have ever purchased a firearm from a dealer, then you filled out a BATFE form 4473. Among the questions it has, it asks if you have ever been "adjudicated mentally defective" or "committed to a mental institution." There is a substantial amount of case law on what this means and it varies from state to state. For the most part, in MI, it means that you cannot own a firearm under any of these conditions:

1. You have been involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility for a mental illness or substance abuse. This would not apply if it was only for observation or if you were released and discharge papers said you were not mentally ill.

2. A court has found you unable to care for yourself or manage your own affairs. This doesn't have to be for a mental illness. It could be for something else, such as a closed head injury.

3. You have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

For the most part, this law is ok. The bar is set pretty high for involuntary admissions and incompotency adjudications. These people are supposedly a danger to themselves or others. I do have a few problems with this system. This ban is a lifetime ban. If you recover from one of these things it doesn't matter, you are still not permitted to ever own a firearm. I think that there should be some process where you can have your right restored by filing a motion and providing evidence that you are no longer a danger to yourself or others. The other problem I have is that most people facing possible admission are not aware that they face a possible lifetime ban on owning firearms. From my own involvement, I have never heard a judge inform the person about this law. I also wonder if their lawyer has informed them.

The above mentioned conditions are supposed to be reported to the federal government and placed in the National Instant Check System (NICS). After you fill out the 4473, the saleperson makes a call to the NICS and gives them you name, address and SSN. You can be approved, denied, or delayed. Presumably, if you fall under one of the barred categories, you will be denied. From what I have read, Cho was involuntarily admitted, but then released. I also believe he may have had his record expunged, which would have removed him from a denied category.

Despite my concerns, I am comfortable with denying firearms to people that are currently suicidal or homicidal. There needs to be due process and it cannot be made on just the owrd of one professional. There have been numerous calls to make changes to the law. Some have been minor and mostly involve increasing funding to the NICS. Others have called for expanding the definition of who cannot own firearms to encompass a larger group of the mentally ill. This is a major problem and we should not easily deny a right to any group. There is evidence that shows some groups of mentally ill are at a higher risk of violent behavior. Most seem to suggest that this risk may be better explained by substance abuse or poverty. Additionally, the rate of violence is still relatively low. The perception that mentally ill people are dangerous is mostly a myth.

I think that expanding the ban on the mentally ill from owning firearms is a bad idea and we would be better served at focusing on how we could improve services and access to services. The budget for mental health services in MI has remained the same for the past 8 years or so, despite an increase in costs. We could also benefit from re-opening mental hospitals, with modern, humane treatment methods. Many of the people that should be in those hispitals are instead in prison. Our current system is not the answer. I am not placng the blame for Cho's actions on the mental health system. Hindsight is 20/20, but I do think that society would benefit from improvement in this area.


Thoughts on VT, Part I

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I have wanted to comment on this since it happened, but decided to wait until more information had been released. I also wanted to see what, if any, legislation was proposed in response. I caught a fair amount of the coverage that day from MSNBC, CNN, and Fox. As is typical, they filled in what they didn't know by talking to experts, including former FBI and BATFE agents, profilers, and psychologists. Some of the speculation started wandering into the riduculous and I eventually just tunred the TV off.

Once the initial shock wore off, I started to wonder what would happen. These kinds of events are often followed by questions as to how it happened, then by calls to take steps to prevent it from happening again. These proposals are often knee-jerk and short-sighted. Some have little to do with what actually happened. Others can erode the rights of the people in ways that didn't seem possible at the time.

In 1999, Michigan was on it's way to passing shall-issue CCW. There was support in both houses of the legislature and Gov. Engler indicated he would sign a bill. In April of that year, two students killed 12 people in Littleton, Colorado, and Gov. Engler withdrew his support. It would be another year before legislation was tried again. This event also ushered in numerous zero-tolerence policies, in which students could be expelled for bringing drugs or weapons into schools. This included drugs like Motrim and weapons like butter knives.

At VT, despite calls by the Governor of Virginia for restraint, there were calls for action. Carolyn McCarthy issued a press release and proposed legislation several days later. The Violence Policy Center also didn't take very long before trying to exploit the tragedy. News pundits also threw in their takes. I won't reference them all, but I did want to point out an interesting one. Dan Simpson, from the Toledo Blade suggests a disarmament scheme that seems right out of Stalinist Russia. He suggests: The disarmament process would begin after the initial three-month amnesty. Special squads of police would be formed and trained to carry out the work. Then, on a random basis to permit no advance warning, city blocks and stretches of suburban and rural areas would be cordoned off and searches carried out in every business, dwelling, and empty building. All firearms would be seized. The owners of weapons found in the searches would be prosecuted: $1,000 and one year in prison for each firearm. Random, warrantless,searches?!?! Special squads of police?!? I will say that at least Mr. Simpson seems to be consistent in his disregard for the Bill of Rights.

Despite these calls for action, there were numerous calls for restraint. Some, from groups like the NRA, were not much of a surprise. Neither were the ones from pro-2nd Amendment politicians, like Ron Paul (R-TX), John Murtha (D-PA), and Craig Thomas (R-WY). I was surprised to hear these same calls echoed by Harry Reid, John Kerry and Bill Clinton. Reid has been luke warm on gun rights and Kerry and Clinton have been cold, to say the least. In the case of the last two, I doubt a change of heart, but maybe a sense that gun control should not be a major platform for the Democratic Party.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that I am not in favor of most gun-control. I wish the Supreme Court would use the same strict scrutiny reserved for 1st Amendment issues and apply it to 2nd Amendment issues. If so, most gun laws would disappear. Despite this, I doubt you would see an increase in crime. There is a tremendous amount of research that shows that most gun laws do little to prevent crime and that crime rates are more tied into issues like poverty and substance abuse. As for what happened at VT and why, I honestly don't know. The best I can come up with is that there are some truly determined, evil people in the world and no easy explinations as to why. I remember sitting in a clinical meeting around 8 or 9 years ago. One of the presenting was the head of MSU's Psychiatry residency program. We were discussing violent behavior in youth and he was asked about causes. He said there seemed to be a number of facors, like sexual abuse, poor parentling, neglect, etc. He also said that some people are just evil or sociopathic and that science and medicine can't always explain why this happens.

I have more to write on the mental health implications, but I save that for another entry.


Joel's Dialog of the Day

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Okay, my first "Dialogue of the Day" comes courtesy of the hit HBO show Entourage, which is one of my absolute favorites:

Vince: I think they're right, you're soft on her.

E: Oh yeah and you were real tough this morning Vince.

Turtle: You're both pussies okay? And this is the problem with having a hot lookin' agent.

Drama: That's the problem with hot lookin' women in the workplace in general. They should be barred because no man can say no to them.

E: You should run for President on that one Drama.

Drama: You can't run on the truth E.


The Circle Expands

Kegs are a community endeavor. In the spirit of such a community of beer lovers, Around the Keg is expanding its contributors to allow the meanderings and baseless opinions of a few very trusted beer lovers.

So say hello and raise a pint to steves, robert and joel!



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