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Category: Dave Brockington

Pierre Celis, 1925-2011

[ 11 ] April 10, 2011 |

Pierre Celis, who died yesterday, is something of a legend in the beer world.  The basic story is that he unilaterally resurrected the style of Belgian Witbier back in the mid 1960s, eventually sold out, and recreated the brewery in Austin, Texas, in the early 1990s.

In the mid 1960s, Celis was reminiscing in his home town of Hoegaarden with some old timers about the local Witbier that had last been brewed in 1955, and he decided to bring it back.  Celis started the Hoegaarden Brewery, now famous for its Hoegaarden Witbier.  At some point in the mid to late 1980s, a fire severely damaged the brewery.  Several other brewers chipped in to help get him going again, one of whom was Interbrew, the Belgian giant.  Over time, Interbrew (now known as Anheuser-Busch InBev) made demands on Celis to, essentially, dumb down the recipe, so Celis sold out to Interbrew.

He decided to take advantage of the growing popularity of good beer in the United States by relocating his brewery to the US.  The mineral composition of water makes a difference to many (but not all) beer styles, and Celis required a water profile as close as possible to Hoegaarden.  He found that in Austin, and opened the Celis Brewery (1992?  1993?), using a recipe for the Wit that was, he claimed, the original Hoegaarden.  This was a fantastic beer, and in order to aid in distribution, Celis sold a stake to Miller.  In a familiar story, Celis sold out entirely to Miller, who eventually closed the brewery in early 2001 claiming that it wasn’t selling enough.

A brewery in Michigan bought the equipment and brands in late 2002, and their version is every bit as good as the original (the two or three times I’ve had it).  Additionally, it’s been “contract brewed” in Belgium by two different breweries (most notably by Brouwerij van Steenberge), leading to the oddly gratifying situation where a (good) American beer is being brewed under contract in Belgium for the Belgian market.  I’ve also had this several times, and it’s also excellent.

Celis was a purist, and possibly not the most business-savvy player in the brewing game — Roger Protz did say that he had been “so badly mauled by global brewers that it was good to find him sprightly and cheerful” when they met for an interview five years ago, and at the time of the Miller “investment” in Celis Brewery, my circle were not optimistic that this was perhaps the best way forward.  However, his impact on beer style, both in Europe and in the United States, can not be overstated.  I had the pleasure of meeting him twice, and back in England I have a couple terrific pictures of us together at a beer festival here in Portland, Oregon, from the early 1990s.  (Suffice it to say that neither of us were 100% sober).  He always seemed to me to be a jovial good natured guy, but then that might have been the beer.  I also brewed my own version of a Belgian Witbier, which, while I don’t think Celis ever tried, the late Michael Jackson did, and he rather enjoyed it.

Tot ziens, mijn vriend.

Additional testimonials from Austin can be found here and here.



[ 29 ] April 10, 2011 |

The Democrats signed off on this as part of their vaunted compromise rolling over and playing dead?  The following is buried at the end of the NYT story linked above:

District of Columbia officials expressed outrage on Saturday about two provisions of the budget deal between Democrats and Republicans, saying they dictate how the capital should spend money. One bans it from using its own locally raised funds to pay for abortions for poor women. The second is a federally financed school voucher program, which city officials said was unnecessary because 40 percent of students already go to public charter schools.

I’m stunned.  I shouldn’t be, but I am.

Conferencing (Chicago edition: MPSA)

[ 0 ] March 31, 2011 |

I’m sitting in an airport bar waiting to board my PDX-ORD flight, with an outside shot at an upgrade.  I’m off to Chicago to present a paper, co-authored with my (one) Ph.D. student, on turnout.  Entitled “Salience and Turnout in Second Order Elections: The Role of EU Regional Funding” we examine the role of salience in explaining electoral turnout to the European Union Parliament (EUP).  Recent work on turnout has examined the question of participation from the benefit side of the classic calculus of voting, rather than the cost side (I’d list the citations, but I’m one of them).  Rather than placing the onus on the individual (or demand side) and her ability to overcome the associated cost hurdles, attention is instead focused upon the electoral context (or the supply side) to which potential voters respond.

We argue that one form the benefit term can take is that as the perceived salience of an election increases, the benefits of participation likewise increase.  Elections to the European Union Parliament are correctly considered largely irrelevant: the body doesn’t really matter, so people don’t bother voting for it.  However, we suggest that the presence of Objective I regional funding in an EUP constituency serves to increase the visibility of the EU as a whole, which in turn increases the perceived salience of the one direct manner in which the European citizen can participate politically in the EU through traditional means.

Our N is 1601, based on a level of analysis at the NUTS2 “region”.  Yes, it’s called NUTS, which is French for nomenclature d’unités territoriales statistiques, which is the primary EU statistical region.  There are three levels.  Our data are derived from 11 of the member states, going back to the first direct elections in 1979 where appropriate (as some member states in our data joined after 1979).  In other words, all of the original EU-12, save for Greece, because . . . neither of us could make out Greek.  The data were hand gathered from various official sources on the web, nearly exclusively in the native language of the country.  Hence, Greece lost its chance at the fame that this paper would have conveyed upon it.

In a multivariate model, we find that the presence of Objective I funding increases turnout roughly two percentage points (from an intercept of 34%).  As Objective 1 regions, by definition, enjoy less than 75 per cent of EU average GDP,  this finding appears incongruous when one considers the long standing relationship between SES and turnout.

This finding is interesting from two perspectives.  Theoretically, as variance in Objective I funding has no logical effect on lowering the costs of voting, it’s a good measure of the salience of the institution (and hence elections to that institution), and supports the notion that increasing the salience of an election has an observable effect on turnout.  Second, our findings suggest that increasing the visibility of the EU (ideally in a positive manner) engages a greater number of citizens in what is, for all intents and purposes, an election with little potential impact on policy.

And we’ve got some pretty color maps as well.  So, this is what I’m doing in Chicago for the next two nights.  That and, erm, drinking beer.

Random Airport Blogging, LHR Edition

[ 9 ] March 29, 2011 |

I’m sitting in the Star Alliance lounge in Terminal 1, awaiting the beginning of my LHR-SFO-PDX journey, having been awake since 0400 (to catch the 4.5 hour bus journey from Plymouth* to Heathrow), drinking for free.  At least the last part is a good thing.

British academics, specifically those who rely on the Arts and Humanities Research Council for their grant income, are somewhat disgruntled.  The government is directing them to “research” on David Cameron’s Big Idea, the “Big Society“.  To wit:

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will spend a “significant” amount of its funding on the prime minister’s vision for the country, after a government “clarification” of the Haldane principle – a convention that for 90 years has protected the right of academics to decide where research funds should be spent.

By “clarification”, they mean “you want money?  Do what we tell you.”  This is diabolical on so many levels.  I’m an empiricist by training — I try to study the way things are, not how they ought to be.  However, my first reaction is that this proposal is better suited for fiction writers.  It’s never been terribly clear just what Cameron means by the Big Society, and he had a notoriously difficult time explaining it last month, but a consensus seems to be settling on one pernicious observation: that the Big Society is a Mad Men-esque re-branding of privatization: replacing public services with a volunteer ethos.  He ill-logically argues that as Big Government failed to address poverty, the state must get out of the way and allow the private sector and volunteerism to equally fail, if not worse.

Returning to the requirement that research grants in the arts and humanities “study” the Big Society — while I’m an empiricist, I have respect for solidly done normative work: it’s predicated on a logic, can be constructed with rigour, and is often articulate (certainly more so than my work; there’s only so many ways one can make a “Data, Methods, and Measures” section of a paper sexy.)  However, the Big Society is an ill-formed vague idea that doesn’t yet exist.  What is there to study?  I suppose my colleagues in the humanities can construct equally rigorous normative work on how the Big Society ought to be, or one can conduct a comparative study examining how the Big Society operates in other settings (e.g. the US), but first the object of the research question requires definition.  This has been lacking.

Oh yeah, there’s also the whole bit where a sitting Government is pushing its ideology on the academy.  That’s mediocre as well.

What isn’t mediocre is drinking in an airport for free, and there’s a decent wine selection here.  Having just finished my first glass, it’s probably a good idea to cease blogging.

[*] Plymouth’s slogan is “the spirit of discovery”.  One thing I’ve discovered by living in Plymouth for 7.5 years is that it’s difficult to get anywhere from Plymouth.  It’s little wonder that the pilgrims are so mythologized in the US, and I often feel that in terms of logistics, little has changed since 1620.

Geraldine Ferraro 1935-2011

[ 20 ] March 27, 2011 |

Obit here in the NYT.  Not much to add to this.  I was too young to vote in that disaster (my first was the 1986 mid-terms), but I still remember it reasonably well.  With the advantage of time, she was probably under-qualified for the VP nomination, but in 1984 tacit qualifications for the post weren’t as defined as they are today (e.g. it’s difficult to imagine George H.W. Bush being nominated for VP today, let alone Sargent Shriver).  Her career would have benefited from remaining in the House, where she was something of a rising star.

And the Democrats learned a valuable lesson on vetting candidates for the VP nomination.  While Mondale is almost certainly wrong in his suggestion that the financial disclosure of both Ferraro and her husband, John Zaccaro, cost the campaign 15 points in the polls, it certainly didn’t help the cause.

Majority-Minority Districts

[ 2 ] March 26, 2011 |

This is an area that I used to know a lot about earlier in my academic existence, but has nothing to do with the paper I’m trying to  finish today opposed by my daughter’s best efforts (the effect of EU Framework I grants on turnout to European Parliament elections).  As I haven’t examined majority-minority districting in well over ten years the following is based on memory (hence corrections are not only welcome, they’re invited).

While I now vote in OR-5 based on our opulent Lake Oswego Estate, I voted in WA-7 for over 20 years, a shift I find satisfying as OR-5 is a swing district, whereas WA-7 is a very safe Democratic seat such that the Republicans often do not bother running a candidate.  There is a proposal to carve out a majority-minority district based in large part on the extant 7th District.

My initial reaction is that this is a bad idea.  I am not opposed to majority-minority districts per se.  However, this proposal fails to achieve the goals of majority-minority districting on two criteria.  First, to my knowledge every existing majority-minority district concentrates a single minority in said district, be it African-American or Latino.  The goal here is to afford political minorities the ability to elect a member of their community — in effect, to guarantee their election.  This proposed district, however, “wouldn’t give a majority to any single ethnic or racial minority — rather it would treat all of them as a single bloc.”

It doesn’t work like that.

Second, due to differences in turnout rates, in order to guarantee the election of a minority, they usually need to constitute around 55% of the district’s population (there are exceptions; see NC-12, made famous by Shaw v Reno).  The proposed district, at 50.1%, barely qualifies under an expansive definition of “majority-minority”, let alone one that achieves the primary goal.

There are other critiques of such districts, both normative (usually they require creative gerrymandering; see IL-04 as an example), and political.  The latter is problematic from a Democratic perspective as to achieve the goal of minority representation, an atypically high number of Democratic voters have to be packed into the district, thus mitigating their influence in neighbouring districts.  This reason is why the Bush 41 Justice Department was quite keen on majority-minority districts under the pre-clearance provisions of the VRA.  However, given that Washington has a new 10th district following reapportionment, in this case it’s not a zero-sum game.

There are positive ramifications as well.  Descriptive representation is a key result, and this is one reason why the demographics of the House come close to national percentages.  For example, in the 111th, African Americans held 9.5% of House seats (against 13% of the national population); Latinos did considerably worse, however, at 5% of the House against over 14% of the population.  There is also empirical evidence suggesting that descriptive representation enhances the sense of external efficacy amongst minority populations (not only from the United States, but also concerning the Maori in New Zealand).  Of course, descriptive representation does not necessarily equate into substantive representation.

I have a couple other observations on this article (written by Jim Brunner, whom I have known since my undergraduate days and is an excellent reporter).  First, it’s suggested one of the criteria employed by Washington’s redistricting panel is to avoid splitting cities “wherever possible”.  Maintaining the geographic integrity of Seattle clearly plays into Republican hands; furthermore, I’m not sure why retaining municipal integrity in House districts is at all important.  One of the dysfunctions of the US House is that a small minority of districts are ever truly competitive in any given election.  While I am a big fan of Jim McDermott, it would be more democratic if he faced credible opposition once in a while.  Second, Brunner writes that

Federal voting-rights laws do encourage states to avoid drawing boundaries that dilute the political clout of minorities. In many states, extra care is given to drawing districts that ensure African Americans are majority, for example, due to the historical efforts to disenfranchise them.

This is true, but to expand on what Jim’s written, the real teeth of the VRA as applied to representation is the requirement of pre-clearance under Section 5.  Washington is not one of the states or jurisdictions that require Justice Department pre-clearance of its electoral rules.

I find the entire notion of single member districts problematic from a representation perspective, and have long agreed with Lani Guinier that there are better remedies to representational disenfranchisement than gerrymandering.

This Has to be a Fake

[ 23 ] March 25, 2011 |

Not even freedom-hating anti-choice wingnuts could fail to see the irony in this, unless they don’t understand history.

Oh.  Hang on.

Poll at The Stranger here (update: correct link now) to vote this “the worst ad placement ever”.  h/t Richard Elgar.

One of the commenters in one of the threads I pursued to track down the original source indicated that the photo is from the Northern KY / Cincy area.  This is the chain.  Fortunately, LGM has a field office in the area to investigate the veracity of the photo.

Workers of the World Unite!

[ 27 ] March 24, 2011 |

Or, at least, “tens of thousands” of middle-class ivory tower academics across the United Kingdom.  Judging by the comments to this BBC article about the one-day walkout, it’s not a universally popular position.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t support the strike action, but would find it abhorrent to cross a picket line.  Hence, I’m at home today . . . working.  I get an unscheduled research day that I’m using to finish up my conference paper for the MPSA and progress on my paper for the WPSA next month (as well as an unplanned and un-budgeted day of unpaid leave).

Which, of course, is ironic, opens the question: is the nature of work as an academic compatible with the idea of withholding one’s labor through strike action?  I know several of my colleagues here at LGM experienced first-hand the organizing of graduate student TAs at the University of Washington, which I just missed out on due to having the temerity to graduate.  Unionizing graduate students and adjunct lecturers makes sense to me.  Here in the UK, we don’t have the benefit of a tenure system, and aside from those who have achieved the rank of full professor, we’re all on the same nationally negotiated pay scale (and poof, there goes my 0.4% pay increase this year) so I am somewhat swayed by the suggestion that a union can be beneficial in this context.  Yet, here I am working regardless, although I’m not giving the two lectures I was scheduled to deliver today.


Ideology in the Name of Austerity

[ 25 ] March 17, 2011 |

(aka Ramblings in the Name of a Coherent Blog Post)

As I’ve argued here before, the policy proposals of the recently ascendant right, in both the United Kingdom and the United States, disingenuously uses the excuse of austerity in order to sell impose a blatantly ideological program of spending cuts (and paradoxically in the United States at least, tax cuts as well) .  Dionne writes about this in his Post column this past Sunday:

A phony metaphor is being used to hijack the nation’s political conversation and skew public policies to benefit better-off Americans and hurt most others.

In the UK this has been, and will continue to be, a watershed in the rolling back of the state.  Examples include wholesale “reform” of the NHS (opposed by no less than the British Medical Association), and large scale job losses in the public sector (132,000 in 2010 alone, and this represents only the leading edge of the cuts).

Universities are not immune.  Given the job losses elsewhere in the economy, a sound long term approach would be to enhance, rather than stifle, universities.  Cuts for the 2011-12 academic year have been released, and it’s not a relaxing read  — only one university will not see an overall reduction in financing — with more dramatic cuts on their way.  My august institution of higher learning enjoys a 4.9% cut for next year.  The coalition government perseveres, even though data from the IMF suggest that perhaps this isn’t the most prudent approach.  (See additional warnings by an IMF-convened conference here, and a warning by the US Ambassador to the UK that the spending cuts proposed by the coalition government as bonkers here.)

The same is true in the US, with wide ranging ideologically motivated cuts suggested (e.g. Planned Parenthood, NPR) that promise an insignificant reduction of the deficit (the stated goal, remember).  At least the US has an empowered opposition to this ideology, with the Democrats holding the executive branch, and on paper at least, half of the legislative branch.  Or does it?  The Democrats, as genetically determined, are disorganized according to this account.  At least Labour here in the UK have found their voice, but it’s a toothless voice: Labour are powerless to do anything at all.

So, it looks as though we’re taking to the streets.  Public sector unions are planning a million-strong strike this June, including the university union, in the name of pensions.  Additionally, all universities in the UK will be striking for, I think, one day only next Thursday.  At least I hope it’s only one day, as by carefully tended recklessly expended personal finances can’t afford much more than a single day.

But hell, this is one way to get out of a couple lectures.

Well, That’s One Solution to the Immigration Non-Problem

[ 32 ] March 16, 2011 |

When I first saw this, I briefly thought that I had wandered into the Onion by mistake.  Kansas state rep Virgil Peck (R, of course) suggested that the “immigration problem” could be solved with a method similar to that proposed for feral hogs in the very same state legislature: execution by helicopter.  When the story was elaborated upon at TPM, I took it seriously — this is the sort of thing that can’t be made up.  Peck even offered a response:

Asked about his comment, Peck was unapologetic. “I was just speaking like a southeast Kansas person,” he said.  He said most of his constituents are extremely upset with illegal immigration and the state and federal government response.

Because Kansas suffers from a crippling number of illegal immigrants.  At an estimated 47,000, if banded together they could almost fill the Kansas Jayhawks Memorial Stadium.  Of course, what Peck and his ilk are likely more concerned about is this mass of immigrants descending upon historic Lawrence-Dumont stadium in Wichita, capacity 6400, home to the Wichita Wingnuts baseball club.

Yes, the Wichita Wingnuts.  Peck’s home town of Tyro is only about 130 miles from Wichita; he might even be a fan.

Labour Rising?

[ 9 ] March 11, 2011 |

The latest YouGov poll has Labour on an 11 point lead.  Don’t get too excited, for the past couple of weeks this daily poll has had Labour around six to seven points up, so it’s likely an outlier.  However, it’s still not the best news for the coalition.  The government continues to suggest policies that don’t exactly excite the electorate, against a backdrop of an economic rebound that isn’t.  In response to the “it’s not about saving money, it’s about fairness” reform of public sector pensions, there’s a decent chance of a strike action of up to a million public sector employees will happen in June (including my union, balloting is currently underway).

Electorally, it wasn’t a surprise that Labour held Barnsley Central in the by-election last week.  The media were excited about the Lib Dems falling to sixth place, and UKIP finishing a strong second, but that’s not analytically interesting.  As the LSE blog correctly suggests, the real news is the cratering of the coalition partners’ joint share of the vote; it collapsed from 35% in the May general election to just 12.5% last week.  This calls the sustainability of the coalition into question.

If this were a normal single-party government with a healthy majority, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would ride out the storm and hope for better news in two or three years.  However, this is a different scenario.  There are two possible bordering on plausible ways that the government can fall.

First, this is an awkward coalition with deep internal divisions within the junior partner.  There is a possibility that over some issue, the Lib Dems leave the coalition, or more likely given Nick Clegg’s stubborn vanity, they fracture, with backbenchers breaking from supporting the government.  Second, as they perceive the Liberal Democrats to be unreliable, fickle coalition partners, there’s a rumour that the Tories will call a snap election in May, coinciding with the Local elections and the AV referendum, in order to achieve their own working majority.

A snap election won’t happen.  I agree with my former students over at Britain Votes that there is no rational basis for calling an early election; indeed it would be counter productive for the Conservatives, and the appeal of a snap election only diminished with the result in Barnsley Central.  It would also be ill-advised for the LibDems to break from the coalition.  They’re averaging around 10% in the polls, down from the 23% they won in the 2010 election.  They would be forced to defend policies unpopular with the electorate, and more salient, very unpopular with their own electoral support.  The LibDems would hemorrhage seats, and sitting LD MPs shouldn’t be expected to embrace the promise of unemployment that at least half, and more likely 75%, would face.

I suspect that the coalition will stubbornly solider on.  While both scenarios above are possible, they’re not rational.  It’s marginally more likely that a disgruntled segment of LibDem backbenchers withdrawing support from the government on principle, not electoral calculation, but lacking this, the government has four years to persevere in the hope of a more forgiving electoral and economic context by 2015.


[ 3 ] March 11, 2011 |

This can’t end well.

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