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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cranksgiving 2016: Hail Hydra...Oh, Wait—Hail Big Grin

Cranksgiving: I try never to miss it. In fact, technically, since I met Corinna who turned me on to the whole affair, I've never missed it. I didn't ride it three years ago when I was post-op. I think I'd been cleared to ride bikes by then (open heart surgery) but since the bypass put me past my max out of pocket for the year, I got a long overdue vasectomy right before this ride.

I heard that last year's ride, Kansas City raised more food than at any of dozens of other Cranksgiving events around the country. At least by weight.

So here's the deal: Cranksgiving is about raising food and necessaries for St. Peter's Catholic Church's social services. You get a list of ten stores, and a list of things the food pantry needs. Fastest one to get to all ten stores, buy an item off the list from each and return with the receipts to prove it, that's your winner. Well, your winner for fastest. If you're really into speed, there's a team that just goes on a big fast group ride in a peloton and comes in with a bunch of cash, and that's cool too.

And that's all well and good. But then there's a category for Heaviest Load. And that generates even more donations because you don't have to be fast, you just have to be willing to pull/haul incredible amounts of weight almost a mile. There's an Aldi down the hill from St. Peter's and it's like 0.9 miles each way. Going down is a piece of cake, but once you have, in my case this year 74 pounds of canned food, flour, cooking oil and whatnot in your panniers, you get a good cardio climbing back up.

I don't know if other cities have a Team Heaviest Load category but that seems to be where St. Peter's is really cleaning up. Team Big Grin, named for our late friend Joel who died a couple years back, they've made a real project out of Team Heaviest Load.

In fact, me and Corinna's trailers were improved for hauling purposes for free by Paul from Team Big Grin but the condition was he got to use them for Cranksgiving. So while I was once again on my friend Eric's Team Hydra, two trailers that are normally in my basement were hauling incredible amounts of stuff up the hill for Team Big Grin.

They're pushing the envelope of what's possible, Team Big Grin. Teams are limited to eight riders, so you can only compete by growing your posse up to a point. Us Hydrates managed to haul back almost 500 pounds of food, and we were briefly in the lead. Then Team Cobra Kai more than doubled our haul, and then Big Grin. Well, those maniacs accounted for more than a ton, roughly 2,200 pounds of canned veggies, macaroni & cheese, laundry detergent, you name it. If it was dense, they had it on their trailers. That's an average of roughly 275 pounds per person.

I heard we had over 150 riders this year, and the overall haul was somewhere near four tons.

Add to that an after party with a chili potluck, a live band and plenty of free beer, who would want to miss Cranksgiving?

And of course I had fun playing with my camera. I'd brought everything, didn't bring in the diffusers and reflectors and tripods from the car, just my heavy-ass bag of lenses and speed lights.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Post Election Blues

Bear with me here, I felt the need for a bit of preamble but this is actually a post about a guy named Nick. A Trump supporter with the guts to go to an anti-Trump post-election protest to try and win converts.

I was a bit astonished by the election of Donald Trump, but then so many of my friends are liberals. I know a few people who were openly supporting Trump in the lead up, mainly gun nuts. One evangelical I've known since my days in the right wing yellow press blogged about how he was voting for Trump even though he considered the man 'a jerk' because he saw it as the only way to stop the progressive tide, put a conservative in Scalia's vacant seat and so on.

I won't cop to living in an echo chamber, I was as reluctant a Hillary voter as you'll get. I'm a long time libertarian (lowercase now because I changed my registration when I caucused for Bernie—an astonishing turn of events itself, I disagree with Sanders about almost as many things as with Trump, but I'll take a socialist with integrity over a pussy-grabbing, race-baiting, disability mocking, protectionist piece of shit).

I know, don't hold back on how I really feel, right? Going into the election, the conventional wisdom had it that Trump had maybe a 28% shot at winning. But then, I know people in 'the media' who deny that media bias is a real thing, but that's because they're socialists themselves (their term, not mine). They're good people, fine human beings, but if they could vote in European style socialism in America, Bernie would be borderline right wing.

Fox News is biased the opposite way of course, but I gave up my television years ago and last time I checked in on that network it was Megyn Kelly doing some legit journalism surrounded mostly by a bunch of shouting assholes. But anyway, those of us who weren't Trump fans had been lead to believe that he was actually bringing down the whole Republican party with his failed campaign and so disappointment was compounded by surprise.

Predictably, in my Facebook feed the day after the election there was a protest at the J.C. Nichols fountain on the Plaza. I stopped by on my way home from work, mostly to say hi to whatever of my friends were there. I saw a few, but mostly I saw kids about my own offspring's age, taking turns at a megaphone to talk about how scared they were. There was a large trans element to the crowd, though the crowd wasn't huge, maybe 50 to 75 people at a guess. And these were pretty far left kids, I wouldn't be surprised if at least a third of the crowd voted for Stein. And, sadly, I wouldn't be surprised if half of them didn't vote at all.

I almost asked for a turn with the megaphone to just tell them, look, standing around in a park the day after the election can't change the result. If you wanted it to go the other way, you needed to go to the polls yesterday and actually vote the other way. Just like with Brexit, we may be proven wrong in the end, but the vote only happens once and elections have fucking consequences.

And maybe I'm being unfair and all these kids voted. And anyway, this is about Nick.

Nick had a Trump-Pence t-shirt and an FBI ball cap. Nick is 19 years old. I wish I had a picture of the guy, I had my Nikon but no speed lights and it was black dark in the park. Nick's opening line to me, without any trace of hostility, was 'Who'd you vote for?'

I told him I'm a longtime libertarian but I voted for Hillary, the first time I'd voted for a Dem at the top of the ticket since 1988. He asked me why, and I said in a nutshell because the one thing the President can do on his own say so is launch missiles and deploy troops, and to give that power to someone who's motto is when they hit you, hit back 100 times as hard, that's a recipe for war without end.

And normally, the Republican would be the one I'd agree with about more things if you held Armageddon to my head and told me I had to vote for one of the two major party candidates. Low taxes, minimal regulation, free trade, gun rights, these are things I'm generally for. But Trump is against almost everything I'd normally agree with a Republican about, then compounds that by being in favor of all the things I hate about Republicans. Bottom line, he's an authoritarian and I'm an anti-authoritarian. You say jump, I say go fuck yourself in the ass with a big rubber dick.

Nick tells us he thinks Trump will bring peace to the Middle East, end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and I'm thinking, huh? I told him, Trump never promised to end those wars. The guy who did make that promise, and accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for doing so, hasn't really managed to bring that off in eight years. Come January, I think you're in for a rude awakening.

Nick said what about the illegals?

And I said, Dude, immigration is what built this country and continues to do so. We don't need a wall across the Mexican border, we need a bridge. There's only two ways an economy can grow, and that's through productivity gains and population growth. Industrialized countries can only gain in productivity at a tiny pace, practically a rounding error. So unless you can convince a lot of people to suddenly have five babies, you better keep that border porous.

Nick seemed to think that Trump didn't really mean we should keep out workers, only criminals. He also said he didn't take the Muslim ban seriously. Nick had his hands full with a lesbian couple who engaged him for a while, one of whom was a veteran who'd been sexually assaulted while serving in Iraq. She, understandably, didn't think pussy grabbing was just locker room talk. But Nick had an answer, of sorts, for everything and clearly no animosity towards anyone.

One of the protestors lit a cigarette and Nick pulled one out of his own pack and asked for a light. The answer was no, and I stuck up for Nick (though I don't smoke and both of their cigarettes were pretty annoying given proximity and still air). I was like, dude, he hasn't been disruptive, he's been nothing but respectful. If we can't have this conversation, what the hell?

So they stunk up the Plaza and irritated my nose with their tobacco as the conversation went on. Nick even made a point of stepping away when the megaphone came out and the official speakers took the stage.

The subject of gay marriage came up and Nick said something predictable about lifestyle and the way the family unit is the basis of civilization and I asked him, 'So when did you decide to be straight?'

He said he'd kissed a guy before but felt that homosexuality was wrong. He also said he was Roman Catholic, had been raised that way, went atheist for three years and Muslim for one.

And I'm like, Damn Nick. Nick was the most interesting guy in the park. He is also, to my view, ripe for recruitment into either a cult or a terrorist cell and I hope the cult gets to him first.

And I sincerely hope his candidate proves me wrong on many fronts. I resent Hillary for being such a shitty candidate. Maybe President shouldn't be a job that has charisma as a bonafide job qualification, but it does. Reagan had it. Clinton had it. W. had it in his folksy, can't pronounce 'nuclear' way. Obama has it big time. George H.W. Bush didn't really have it, and if the Dems had someone less like a Muppet in 1988, he couldn't have ridden Reagan's coat tails to office—and he was a one term wonder. So where Sanders shone bright in that department, the Democratic National Committee and Hillary insisted on a candidate less charismatic than a stinky pair of socks. Who transparently adjusts her message to whatever she thinks the audience is. Who just gave us President Trump.

Some of my liberal friends have said that it was sexism that cost Hillary the office, but I call bullshit on that. Ted Cruz was the smartest, most qualified person on the Republican debate stage and he didn't stand a chance, for the exact same reason. You can maybe amend the Constitution so the President is somehow decided on merit, but as of now it's mostly showbiz.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Land of the Muddy Waters

Just got back from the Quad Cities. I'd only ever been to Davenport once, and that time I arrived by bicycle and didn't stay much longer than it took to dip my tires in the Mississippi.

But I got one of those emails BJCP beer judges get, 'calling all judges.' About twenty years ago I got into the Beer Judge Certification Program, my friend John paid my test fee in fact (I was going to put it off because fifty dollars). And as a National rank judge, I've found that while 350+ days of the year my credentials impress nobody, the handful of days where I can show up to sanctioned beer competitions I'm always warmly welcomed.

And when I noticed the email, I was working too much because of the election and realized that this competition would be right after the election when the insanity at work should settle down. And I needed to get away.

It helped that I knew I'd see some familiar faces, there's several judges from Davenport, Rock Island, etc., who regularly make the drive to Kansas City to help judge the Kansas City Bier Meisters competition.

I was going to do the motel thing, but staying at the Indy Hostel for the Indiana Brewer's Cup taught me to look for better ways than that. Motels are kinda expensive, but an even bigger issue is, especially when you're traveling alone, they're fucking depressing. Let's see, go back to a home where people are being social and shit or go back to an isolation chamber with cable television?

I need to learn to travel lighter for these things though. I realized this as I carried my bags to my car, I was going away for two nights and had a full duffel, my laptop bag and my camera bag loaded to the brim. I only used one lens to shoot the handful of shots I took at the competition, and only used one speedlight (coulda used nine, the room we were judging in was pretty dark). Of course, if I hadn't brought my camera I wouldn't have these pictures, including the two up top of Allison, who's not just photogenic but every bit as interesting as her hair.

I didn't find a hostel to stay at but next best thing, one of the judge's houses. Just a quick email and a 'lumpy futon' was offered that turned out to come with a proper breakfast and everything.

Some good flights in this competition, too. Land of the Muddy Waters had, I think they said, 300 entries so that's a medium sized competition. I judge a couple of flights of various European lager categories where the worst entries were like 31 point entries. The Vienna lager I gave a 47 to ended up winning best of show. When I got into this, entries were poison until proven otherwise and gushers were common. I think the internet has helped a lot as far as the availability of good knowledge and techniques. I also think there are some guys who are very deep in the dork forest, willing to make 30 batches of a style you can easily buy that's actually pretty tricky to make at home until they nail it.

I didn't get to experience Quad Cities Style Pizza which I was variously told by people was awesome or disgusting, but I did get a little Whitey's Ice Cream before the long drive back.

Monday, November 07, 2016

'Twas the Night Before...

This election cycle has been good to me, it really has. We do a lot of election related printing where I work and when you have to rent an extra large dumpster for your paper trimmings, you know it's rocking. When your main supplier for 100# gloss cover sells out nationwide the first week of October, yeah, that's a heavy ass election cycle. That's like KFC running out of chicken.

Of course, what they spend on print is nothing compared to what they spend on TV. Not owning a television, I'm generally sheltered from the mayhem. But the World Series, I was really enjoying that whole thing with the way overdue Cubs (normally not a team I can root for being a Pirates fan), and the almost as overdue Indians. So I found myself at the bar watching a few...political commercials.

Holy shit. I mean, leave aside the onslaught of negativity at the top of the ticket, that's probably inevitable when one of the worlds biggest assholes is the Republican nominee and opposite him is a woman who is basically Kryptonite to your average Fox News/Breitbart consumer. But it struck me, I don't live in Missouri but through my work I've met and had dealings with a couple of Democratic candidates there. They're not close friends of mine or anything, but I've done business with them and interacted with them. Honestly, they're way more liberal than I am, there's some issues where I disagree with them wholeheartedly.

But they're good people. Sorry if you just blew Coke out your nose at me, of all people, describing politicians as good people. I'm not prone to that kind of talk, but it's true. The guys they're running against, I bet if I knew them I'd say the same thing. They're probably pretty okay people if you know them a little. They might be trying to advance policies that are disastrous, but they're not doing this out of malice, they're doing this because for whatever reasons they're convinced that this is the answer.

And the shadowy characters who finance their campaigns? Probably not antichrists either. Powerful interests have a way of looking out for their interests. And there are definitely situations where people do bad things even if they can come up with a narrative to spin the harm they're doing, just ask a tobacco executive. Or the oil industry types making Oklahoma more seismically active than California, none of those guys are actually comic book arch-villains, even if they do maybe need to be stopped.

I'm not sure I can go so far as accept Donald Trump as a good guy who's just misguided. But I suppose it might be true, except for his being a sexual predator and narcissist. Normally I can find a bit more common ground with a Republican. Free trade, I'm for it (though I'm also a union guy so not digging the 'right to work for less money' angle Republicans tend to favor. I like taxes to be as low as possible, though the 'supply side' theory advanced by Reagan and his disciples is the same bullshit as the stimulus spending deal, just look at Kansas: Brownback rolls back these taxes on the theory that the economic activity that will spur will balance the books in the end. Turns out, yeah, it's a slow, unimpressive ROI. But Dems shouldn't get too smug, if he'd just upped spending and left taxes alone, he'd still be the architect of a fiscal disaster. I think not only should weed be legal, but cocaine, heroin, psychedelic mushrooms, whatever you got. Like smoking cigarettes, some of these drugs are best avoided, but using them does not constitute a crime. It's your body, shoot, smoke or ingest what you will, don't come crying to me if your life sucks. And immigration: dude, the only way an economy grows is with more population or increased productivity. Once you're fully industrialized, the latter gets to be almost a rounding error, so if you want to grow you need immigrants. That's the problem Japan has grappled unsuccessfully with for decades now, they have very restrictive immigration policies, so they have slow growth in productivity and despite following Robert Reich's advice thoroughly they still can't grow their economy much. Eventually we'll need to embrace an economic model that's not so growth dependent (which means we can't just keep deficit spending at the federal level), but for now bring me your Mexicans, Gautemalans, Syrian refugees, whatever you got. There are problems that come with mass migrations but none of them are solved by trying to slam the door on the migrants.

So a Trump supporter I went to high school with, today she was saying on Facebook that the choice is between the 'continued destruction of America' and Trump, and I'm like, can you hear yourself? It's become so common it doesn't even sound remarkable, but disagree with him all you want, Barrack Obama has not been 'destroying' America these eight years, and Hillary isn't looking to destroy it either. We have a country that is far from perfect but never stopped being great. And this libertarian is voting for a Democrat at the top of the ticket tomorrow, first time since 1988 that's happened. I'm not super thrilled with Hillary and don't ask me to defend her beyond not being Donald Trump, but in this toxic mix I've come to the conclusion that not being Donald Trump is enough.

Now can we go back to the days when Tip O'Neill had drinks with Reagan at the White House? When the likes of Dole and Eagleton figured out what the hell they could actually agree on and what just had to be tabled? This whole Wrestlemania thing has been fun and all but maybe we should aim for good government rather than entertainment.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Racking Day

Okay, so I've been doing this homebrew thing for a day or two. First batch was in the spring of 1995. But learning new tricks even at batch #119.

So I read Steve Piatz's book, dunno what too me so long. I've known him pretty much the whole time I've been brewing and judging, and the techniques he espouses are a big part of why judging mead entries has gone from 'poison until proven otherwise' to 'an this many be so good?'

So today I kegged up a beer failure that had me fairly demoralized. It's super sweet, but it has enough alcohol that repitching is likely futile. It tastes good, smells good, but it's like a 1.040 final gravity (down from 1.100). Strikes me as a Belgian interpretation of a Wee Heavy.

But then the meads, when I racked them, they not only had attenuated down nicely they smelled and tasted, well, maybe the best meads I've ever made. So then I was looking at my beer fail and going, when your failures are this good and your wins are this huge...