Thursday, June 30, 2011

I like this cartoon for several reasons. But suffice it to say, I just really like this cartoon.

That is all.



Wearing The Big Pants Now

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

After years of brewing beer either in small "extract plus specialty grain" batches or all-grain batches on borrowed equipment or cobbled-together mini-mashes I made the Big Leap. I invested all my birthday money in this lovely all-grain brewing system available at Northern Brewer.

First, the birthday money. Mrs. Smitty, in her infinite wisdom and loving support of my bestest hobby, told everyone to chip-in a couple bucks for my birthday because I had a wild-assed notion that I wanted to "step-up" my brewing process. So the family, strangely, happily, obliged.

So what do we have here? From right to left: a new grain mill with pre-set rollers and a hopper with a 7-pound grain capacity (with the capability to run it with a drill versus the hand crank, giving me a six-pound-per-minute throughput); a 10-gallon brew pot with pre-drilled holes for a thermometer and ball valve (thermometer and valve pictured but hard to see; the thermometer is in the white box to the left); and two 5-gallon coolers - one for the hot liquor tank (hot water) and the other as the lautering tun (steeping grains, sparging) complete with a false bottom to create a grain bed without clogging tubing and ball valves to control water flow for each.

The boil kettle is big enough to handle really massive batches, but can only be fired-up on my turkey fryer. My stove isn't big or powerful enough to heat up this stainless steel monster.

For the first few batches as I get used to how my grains crack and a gajillion other little nuances, the quality of my beers may suffer a bit. But in the medium-run and the long-run, brewing consistent all-grain batches yields way better flavors, way less off flavors and a much more professional-quality beer, nearly indistinguishable from Pro batches. There is so much more one can do with all-grain systems for the color and flavor and style of beer it is a reward in itself.

That said, all-grain batches are more time consuming. It becomes a 4 hour process as opposed to about a 2 or so hour process. But the improved quality and sheer increase in range of styles is worth the extra couple hours.

At least, that's what the Smitty Clan hopes for!


Talking Deficit, Debt and Job Creation

Friday, June 17, 2011

When your conservative friends start chatting you up about the big-spending Obama administration and all the debt he has rung up, at the same time waxing poetically about the good old days, during the fiscally responsibly Bush administration, I urge you to whip out laminated versions of the following two charts.  I think they illustrate who is really responsible for the majority of our deficit and debt.

Quick Translation: "Deficit without these factors."  =  Deficit would have been zippo!

And one more graph, just for fun:

The Atlantic.



Thursday, June 16, 2011

So much win.

After a thorough investigation, Daily Intel has discovered that God is separately backing at least three different contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. Over the course of the past few months and even years, God has sent signs and direct messages to each of these candidates encouraging them to run, presumably without telling them that he supports other candidates as well.
God could not be reached for comment by press time, because, a spokesman says, he was helping a baseball player hit a game-winning home run, giving an old churchgoing lady the winning lottery numbers, making sure that a plane made it through the turbulence okay, helping someone survive a heart attack, and also, just for fun, creating a new animal that's like a cross between a leopard and an alligator.


Excepting Exceptionalism

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Though my own spiritual beliefs have, umm, parents still attend the church in Lansing where we first started going when we moved here as a family from Detroit. They've never become "members," but are actively involved.

This is going to be a long post. The minister, Dr. Jeffrey O'Neill, delivered a sermon about a month ago that the church finally released in printed form (every sermon is printed and available for The Flock a week or two after its original delivery). It was relevant enough to recent conversations here and at Streak's blog that I wanted to share it with each of you in it's entirety; it deals with the true and false senses of Exceptionalism. Here it is:

Being Exceptional
May 15, 2011
Dr. Jeffrey O'Neill

Acts 2: 42-47[original transcript included entire verse; linked by me to save space. Look it up; it provides context for the rest of the sermon]
1 Peter 2: 19-25[same as above]

I'm sure you're aware that on Saturday, May 21, the world as we know it will come to an end. Actually, life and time won't simply stop, but things will get really, really unpleasant for the majority of us who won't be Raptured - that is, bodily taken into heaven on this day of judgment and Christ's second coming.

At least this is the scenario being laid out for us by some fellow Christians whose discomfort with life's messiness generates anxiety, and whose anxiety couples with resentment, which in turn produces a spirit of vengeance upon those with whom they disagree or dislike. This they project as God's agenda to wreak a violent justice upon a world that is so profoundly out of joint. In the hands of these fearful brothers and sisters the Bible has become a book of dark urges and secret codes, and victory goes to the one who figures it all out, while the rest of us can go to hell.

It's always been distressing to me personally and professionally that such silliness all too often rears it's clownish head in the church. It pains me to admit that religion has always had it's sideshows - some absurd, some simply stupid, but some very vicious, indeed. I don't know how many people really take rapture predictions seriously. What is disturbing is how much attention the sideshows seem to attract and how much the thirst for the bizarre seems to displace any thirst for good news. In a perverse way religion has become a form of entertainment not much elevated above the rude mean, fascinating the media with behaviors and beliefs that most of us would consider well beyond the fringe. On the other hand how little attention gets focused upon the routine, day in and day out service provided by you and millions like you who do good things because you are religious, and none of these things you do has to do with burning copies of the Koran, setting the date for the second coming of Christ, molesting children, or fleecing the flock of their millions.

These are not days where it feels comfortable to admit being religious. There are vast differences as well as fine distinctions to be made among religious groups, but we live in a time which holds no respect for nuance and lives only by labels. In regard to being a minister, I can identify with a lawyer friend who confessed to me that when he travels and is placed between two strangers on an airplane and the inevitable friendly chatter begins, he lies about his profession in order to avoid (a) hearing all the lame lawyer jokes for the millionth time, or (b) enduring stories about how badly a lawyer treated them in their divorce, or (c) being pestered for free legal advice. Likewise, I am considering going about in disguise. A clergy friend, in defense against the chance of his ear being toasted by a religious zealot on some interminable flight, says he simply lies and tells his seat mate he's a proctologist. "That usually shuts them up," he says.

The way we human beings are wired seems to prejudice us in the direction of prejudice. That is, we are wired to see similarities, to make associations, to simplify the complex in order to fashion generally acceptable rules in the handling of things and situations. if you think about it, that's a factor in the way language develops. We hear our parents say the same thing in regard to an object or an instance. We repeat it in the same instances or in regard to the same object, and before long we are extending the application, testing whether or not it fits or applies. We learn how to deal with one another this way, too. In short, it is native to us to think in terms of forms and groups and types. But, of course, as we do so and the more we do so, we begin to ameliorate difference, we veer towards distortion, we generate misconception. We get to the point where all Christians are alike, all Muslims alike, all Jews alike. It's lazy thinking, of course, but how quick and how convenient.

To me from a religious perspective one of the essential theological categories we should think in terms of is being exceptional - that is, in being different and making a difference. What made Jesus stand out was not that he was just like everyone else; rather, he was an exception. Today's scripture readings make that point in several ways, both about Jesus and about those who followed him. It was exceptional that the Jesus people helped one another, shared what they had in common, devoted themselves to good works, to worship, to healing and teaching. It was exceptional when they suffered the scorn of their neighbors or of the state, when they suffered violence and rejections and did not strike back. It was exceptional what they claimed was true of Christ, what they trusted was true of God's promises. It made them exceptionally peaceful people, exceptionally kind, and exceptionally generous.

How unfortunate that today much religion seems to be a force for making people unexceptional, for making them part of a rather unimaginative and uneducated crowd. Spiritually and theologically we are being "dumbed down" in our outlook and perspective. Jesus took exception with those who were judgmental, but today faith seems to have become the means for exercising a severe judgmentalism. Jesus took exception with those who were violent, but how many times have we heard our nation's war-making justified on religious grounds? How many Christians gathered in public places cheered the assassination of Osama bin Laden? It was Ghandi long ago who mused perplexedly that Christians seem the only people who fail to understand that Jesus was a pacifist.

It is a heavy irony. We are called to behave exceptionally, to think exceptionally, to bear an exceptional witness. As G. K. Chesterton observed, "It is not that Christianity was tried and found wanting; it was found difficult and left untried." instead of the rare Christian virtues, today we are encouraged to think in terms of American Exceptionalism, the idolatrous notion that America bears a destiny, that its people are imbued with extraordinary virtue, that its manifold gifts and wealth and skill have been bestowed so that it may thrive and achieve and dominate and lead. We hear this articulated in religious terms, of course, so that this becomes a Devine destiny, a God-mandated supremacy. God bless America becomes not just a suffix to political speeches but the sacred motto of an exclusive priesthood. Just wait - the political season is just warming up. This rank idolatry will be the order of the day. My friends: be exceptional and renounce it.

Arguably, it is the fundamental sin. Idolatry is the process of making sacred that which is unholy. It is the worship of that which is unworshipful. It is giving allegiance to that which is corruptible, transient, imperfect. It is giving power to that which enslaves.

Exceptionalism is what Alexander the Great claimed. It is what Caesar claimed. It is what Hitler claimed. In other forms it is what the KKK claimed about the white race, it is what many Christians claim about Christianity and what many Muslims claim about Islam. It is what some men claim regarding women, and vice versa. It is what some heterosexuals claim about homosexuals.

The world doesn't need Exceptionalism or any other kind that claims a goodness it cannot show or a justice it cannot achieve or a creative hope it cannot generate. The world needs exceptional behavior from persons of great faith, of diverse creed, of various colors and nationalities, of divergent insights and diverse experience. It needs persons exceptional in generosity, of spacious spirit, of hopeful action, of profound justice, righteousness and mercy. It needs persons who are exceptionally honest, whose hearts are exceptionally joyful, whose spirits are exceptionally open to the new things God is doing.

The world says to the victor goes the spoils, to be rich is the ultimate good, that he who dies with the most toys wins, that might makes right, that privilege is for the violent few, that the poor are undeserving, that friends are for getting ahead, that winning is everything, that perpetual war is peace, that truth is infinitely plastic... This man Jesus was exceptionally immune to these lies; so should his followers be.

[spelling errors and messed up sentences are mine]


Anthony Weiner

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Let me start out by saying that I am not a fan of Congressman Weiner and I will admit to feeling a slight "aha" when this whole thing started. That subsided fairly quickly and I failed to get all that worked up about this whole thing. I certainly think he showed terrible judgment and if I lived in his district, this may have influenced (to some degree) if I voted for him. That being said, I think this whole situation has become ridiculous.

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent take on Weinergate (I will cheer the day when this overused suffix disappears). I especially enjoy his condemnation of the media, in pointing out what they think is important:

Reporters who would never dare challenge powerful political figures who torture, illegally eavesdrop, wage illegal wars or feed at the trough of sleazy legalized bribery suddenly walk upright -- like proud peacocks with their feathers extended -- pretending to be hard-core adversarial journalists as they collectively kick a sexually humiliated figure stripped of all importance.

Yes! Where was your journalistic integrity? Where was your righteous outrage? Like Greenwald, I fail to get to worked up about this "scandal", when compared to other political scandals. Essentially, this involved consensual behavior that was not illegal. He was not some family values champion (Larry Craig), or someone that vigorously prosecuted prostitution (Elliot Spitzer), or someone that made illegal payments to keep things quiet (John Edwards). Yes, he lied and that isn't good, but this really is between him and his spouse.

John Scalzi has probably the best definition of cheating that I have read:

“Cheating” is not about whether you’ve physically met someone, whether they’re in the same room with you, the levels of dress you or they are wearing, or whether what you’re doing with them can be quantified on a baseball diamond. Cheating is allowing another person into a level of intimacy your partner expects to be theirs alone. That level of intimacy is not uniform from person to person. There is no guarantee that your partner’s expected level of intimacy will be entirely congenial to you; in that respect what qualifies as “cheating” is not up to you.

I like this because it takes into account that it allows for the fact that not every couple has the same rules. There are some behaviors that I may not be ok with , but that other couples are willing to tolerate. I don't know if that it the case here. Mrs. Weiner may be ok with her husband engaging in this behavior or maybe she is not...but in the end, it really isn't anybody else's business.

I hear on the news the rising number of Democrats that are calling for his resignation. While I suppose my opinion doesn't matter in that regard, I am calling for him not to resign.


The Midnight Ride of Stephen Colbert

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The embed link button didn't work, so just click here and witness Stephen Colbert proving that maybe Sarah Palin was right about the ability to ring a bell and load and fire a muzzle-loader while riding a horse.

And just to pile on, here's a revised version of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride:"

“Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Sarah Palin
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
He who warned and, uh, the arms,
And bells were rung out as alarms
To tell the British we were there,
And had our guns, and to beware.

He said to his friend, “Abe Lincoln, listen
I am riding out alone
On a super-secret mission.
You can’t get me by telephone
But if you don’t hear from me by ten
Send me a text and only when
I’m at the hotel I’ll hit you back.
This way the rebels can’t attack
And long will fly the Union Jack.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with guns blazing
Rode off for London. He was amazing.
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
He said, “You’ll never take away
These guns I’m shooting; you just try.”
He fired again into the sky.
It seemed he meant to shoot the moon.
That stirring night in early June.

Meanwhile, Lincoln, worried stiff
For his dauntless comrade Paul,
Took a cab to City Hall
And asked Grand Mayor Washington
To rig up his racing skiff.
They went by water, through a squall,
Each of them, too, had a gun.

Then Lincoln rang a second bell
There in the skiff, upon the waves.
It stopped the war and freed the slaves
And they all went to the hotel,
Which doubled as a rebel base
And Paul was glad to see Abe’s face
Broad and smiling, like the nation
(This was months before the assassination.)
Then Johnny Tremain, and Mark McGwire,
And lots more men that we admire
Joined up with the delegation.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How we used our guns to make Nazis dead.
How the rebels were the braver men
And still are today like they were back then.
How we beat the British at their worst
That’s why the Second Amendment’s first.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night his bells did ring
And so through the years we’ve come to sing
Of the way he saved us from our fear.
While the past is sometimes today scorned,
As a story we do not need to hear,
He was brave for us, he was he who warned.
He was our first President, Paul Revere.

Sarah Palin: the gift that keeps on giving.


Bikers v. Westboro Baptist Cult

Thursday, June 02, 2011

This is a few days old, but I thought it was worth posting. The Phelps gang was going to protest Obama's visit to Joplin, Missouri. One of the Westboro nuts was confronted by a group of bikers and things apparently got pretty rough for him. The police moved in and tried to stop it from getting any more out of hand, telling the guy:

run you stupid mother fucker

Here is a video of the guy making a hasty retreat:



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