Saturday, February 27, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
Ralphus, a poster at the Bar Towel Ontario beer forum created a program called drinkvine to help us beer hunters (and wine snobs).
Drinkvine takes the hassle out of trying to find a certain tipple. No more scanning 300 Ontario stores on the LCBO site for a bottle of beer. Just sign up (completely free, no catch), add your local LCBOs, put some beers or anything else on your watchlist, and when the product shows up in a store near you you'll get an e-mail about it. Easy peasy. It really is fantastic, I was just told that Brutal Bitter showed up at Rideau and that might just be the beer for tonight!
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Now, frankly I don't know what to think about Bernier's latest musings on global warming. There are two possibilities. One, Silver is right and Bernier really has gone rogue and is setting himself up for a leadership run as the candidate for the sociopathic grassroots of the Conservative Party. Imagine that, a Quebecer running as a crazy Albertan!
The second possibility is that Bernier's recent sorties into the realm of American conservatism have the full blessings of He Who Shall Not be Named. Is Harper floating trial balloons to see just where the public is at? Is he hoping the silly populism of the tea-baggers has drifted north? I'm leaning towards this possibility. The complete silence from the PMO on this is deafening. I understand they can't come out on either side of the issue for risk of alienating their base or, well, Canadians, but surely they have something they could say to pop Bernier.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The argument is very simple and goes like this: all Canadians should have the right to do what Danny Williams' did in their own country and private insurance is the way to accomplish that.
It's incredibly dumb. What, friends, do you think the chances are of an American with an average insurance plan, getting shipped off to see a specific specialist in Miami who performs a cutting edge and experimental heart surgery? Hm? Do you suppose that Blue Shield regularly sends gas station attendants in Fargo to Mount Sinai for more expensive, and medically unnecessary, surgery? The fact is that had Canada "enjoyed" the benefits of a private insurance system this case would have played out no differently. The rich get whatever health service they want, and, if they're paying for it, I don't begrudge them that. But let's not pretend that Americans are being jetted off for cosmetic surgery in the world's finest hospitals by their insurers.
Friday, February 19, 2010
This is a blend of 1, 2, and 3 year old lambics. In the past Drie Fonteinen have used lambics from Boon, Lindemans, and Girardin. It comes in a wire corked green bottle. This undergoes fermentation in the bottle, and as soon as I twisted the wire the cork popped right off and a bit of beer spilled out.
Beer pours a deep, hazy peach. Massive snowy head balloons to the top. Thick, sticky lacings to the finish.
I like to describe gueuze as a combination of cider and Champagne. This is particularly fitting for the aroma. A big hit of sour Granny Smith's with a touch of crisp Champagne grapes lingering just behind. Finally, and most importantly, there's a hint of barnyard funk. To me, this makes lambics lambics. It's a wild, natural aroma that suggests a barn after heavy rain. I don't want to get too pretentious, but if you've been exposed to a lot of Belgian beers, or even farmhouse ciders, you'll know what I'm talking about.
Sour. Sour, sour, sour. That's the defining characteristic of these beers. You'll immediately pick up lemon juice and sour apple on the middle of the tongue while the lively carbonation plays on the tip. There's the tiniest bit of sweet malt. Incredibly dry all the way through, like a German white wine, or vintage Champagne. The finish is all barnyard flavours from the wild yeast, but you also get a taste of earth and vanilla from the oak that the lambics are aged in.
As I already said, carbonation is what makes a gueuze a gueuze. The second fermentation brings the lambics to life and lets the flavours explode in the mouth. The sourness is puckering at first, but you need to dig in and get to the base flavours.
Gueuze is an experience. If you ever have the opportunity to drink it, don't spit it out after the first sip. Consider the fact you're drinking something that's alive. Consider the ageing in the finest French oak. Consider the natural yeast strains at work to create hundreds of flavours. Consider the centuries of expertise passed from father to son in the art of lambic blending.
In all honesty, I didn't appreciate my first gueuze, only a short while ago. This is only the third bottle I have ever had the pleasure of trying, yet it's already growing on me. The first bottle I had, I mixed with Faro (a sweetened lambic for Belgian schoolchildren), the second I finished, but didn't really enjoy, but this time I think I finally got it. Truely one of the more special experiences in the world of food and drink.
I think a robust public service is incredibly important. The policy capacity of a country is a vital component to well run government. The Liberals figured that out after Martin slashed and burned a wide swath of Ottawa, and so, for the past few years, the PS has undergone a revitalization, an attempt to make public servants proud to serve again. More importantly, an attempt to make people want to serve again. A key component of this has always been to offer benefits that one can't get in the private sector. To attract the best and brightest you need to provide work people want to do and perks that they can't get elsewhere. It's a pretty simple idea, and it's why the foaming at the mouth of conservatives at those pampered public servants has always been especially annoying to me. Frankly, I've always assumed it's just jealousy.
However, times change, and our times are shockingly different to the times of our parents and grandparents. It was once a given that employers would provide for their employees after a lifetime of service. Now, as anyone new to the workforce will tell you, you're beyond lucky to find an employer that will match your RRSP contributions.
The reality, as the C.D. Howe Institute is saying, is that the public service is now completely out of step with the rest of the job market. We can argue about whether their benefits are too good, or whether the private sector no longer provides enough, but in the end it doesn't really matter, the gulf is there. So, as the CPC turns towards the PS (I picture Harper and Flaherty sitting down together with fat red markers and Wagner playing in the background), I think that the pension deals struck with future bureaucrats are fair game. A significant increase in contributions is completely fair, not overly onerous on well-paid civil servants, and it certainly won't scare people off from applying to government jobs. When looking for savings, the government must trim the fat but stay well clear of the bone. This policy just makes sense.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
As my previous post suggested, I've been pretty interested by the international, specifically British, press coverage during the Olympics. The Games have certainly had their problems, and there's a good deal of merit to some of the criticism. One of the memes though is completely out to lunch: Canada's Own the Podium program goes against the Olympic spirit and Canadians should be ashamed for our naked desire to win.
Excellent article on Slate about why this is garbage.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
One of the best things about Olympic watching is the sense of constant action and getting an appreciation for the size of the Games. Unfortunately, with CTV, you just spend most of the time waiting for something to start. In years past I could just switch it to CBC and melt into my couch. This year I'm flipping between CTV, TSN, Sportsnet, and NBC for worry that I'm missing something. The good news, I guess, is that there are plenty of CTV promos that give me a chance to change the channel. Did anyone else wait, like, four hours to see Williams' interview with Katrina Groves?
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Friday, February 12, 2010
And so we come to the unfortunate case of Ed Clark. Mr. Clark, CEO of TD Bank, is guilty of giving voice to a home economics level financial fact, if you're spending more than you're making, either spend less or make more. This had the Cons (or at least the ones on CPC HQ's e-mail list) salivating, and now Canadians are being told that Clark has spoken to Ignatieff, Clark wants taxes raised, ergo, Ignatieff will raise taxes.
I don't doubt that Ignatieff has consulted Clark, nor would I suggest that Clark, the head of the country's second largest bank, would be ignored in future Liberal economic consultations. My problem with this conversation is that the CPC refuses to address the substance of Clark's comments and the media just let them get away with it. Those CPC supporters, the ones that we're told are the fiscally responsible ones, blather on about the multi-millionaire Clark wanting to tax hard working Canadians, dutifully ignoring the question of whether taxes actually need to rise or not.
The kicker though, the thing that has me grinding my teeth, is that this has unfolded exactly as the CPC had hoped, and the inevitable attack ads linking Ignatieff to Clark and his higher taxes will convince a good chunk of Canadians that they must trust Harper, the fiscally conservative one, to run the country.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Power has brought a degree of discipline to this loose confederation of warring tribes but the differences between them remain and will inevitably resurface in due course.
This is one of the biggest questions in Canadian politics at the moment. How long can the CPC, or at least the CPC capable of forming government, last? We're told by one faction of the party that Canadians are really closet libertarians and are hankering for the chance to come out. The other faction has been telling us for years about the silent majority that hates homoexuals and wants to ban abortion. Yet anyone with an ounce of sense knows that a CPC that ran on a social conservative/libertarian agenda would be banished to the University of Calgary for a generation. The faction in charge knows how unpalatable they are to the Canadian people and so attempt to change the country in increments, hoping nobody will notice.
But how long can this last? With the Wild Rose stirring up the always angry Albertan populace and quickly becoming a provincial government in waiting, how long can the CPC keep up the illusion of centrism without pissing off its core? Can Harper distance himself from Wild Rose while his own caucus members publicly blow kisses at Smith? The yokels are increasingly jealous of the American tea-parties, and don't tell me there isn't a certain whiff of Palin about the "charasmatic" Rose leader.
I'm sure I'm not alone among progressives and conservatives in hoping that the CPC hangs a right in the next election. I expect there will be a good deal of noise coming from out west that Harper won't be able to ignore. Harper's success is based largely on his ability to keep the goofs in his party muzzled, but there's only so much temptation those dogs can take before they break their leashes and make a dash for some of that sweet libertarian love.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Ibbitson bemoans the fact that Canada doesn't have a tea party movement. With a sneer and upturned nose typical of Canada's professional political commentators, he chides the lowly Canadian for not being exciting enough. For not providing our own Palin. For not storming The Rock and burning the House of Assembly in St. John's to the ground.
Of course the truth is that Ibbitson, and any number of Canadian editorialists, aren't arguing that the American way is the way, that we'd all be better off if we were just more like our southern friends. No, what it really all comes down to is boredom. Ibbitson is bored. Coyne is bored. Hebert is bored. Gardner is bored. Cohen is bored. We have an entire profession consumed with a debilitating case of penis envy. Or Palin envy as the case may be. It's not that they think our standard of living would improve if we stormed The Hill, they just wish they had something more interesting to write about.
Prorogation, cabinet shuffles, and general apathy towards the medical care of the Premier of Newfoundland are so borrrring. Where are the legions of wingnuts waving tea bags and making nonsensical demands of the government? How long must we deal with peace, order and good(ish) government?
Have no worry though John. The Wild Rose is on the horizon. You'll no longer have to sit at the Hyatt bar with your head down, embarrassed to face your colleagues from CNN and FOX. You'll have your own crazies to talk about, genuine Canadian unrest. Not that you'll stop being ashamed of your chilly northern home, but at least you'll be able to impress those cute Congressional aides.
EDITED TO ADD: RedTory points out that Ibbitson doesn't actually fall on either side in his article. I could be wrong, but the article struck me as a bit passive-aggressive, or resentful, towards Canada.
Friday, February 5, 2010
That is the rallying cry for Ontario beer lovers (and the name of a darned good blog on the subject as well). Unfortunately for those of us who enjoy beer (or any alcoholic beverage for that matter), Ontarians suffer under a prohibition era, puritanical, alcohol distribution regime. There are two parts to this travesty, the government run Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the government sanctioned monopoly of the Brewer's Retail, The Beer Store.
For years, a small but vocal group of beer enthusiasts have lobbied the government to do away with our antiquated liquor retail system. The movement built up steam last year when the joke of a set up was featured in a series in the Toronto Star by Dana Flavelle (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Video). Flavelle rightfully focused on the Beer Store. Although I don't support the LCBO, I don't begrudge those that do. In fact it ensures incredible availability for smaller Ontario towns and, believe it or not, gives Ontarians enviable prices on many products. The same can't be said for Brewer's Retail. It should not exist, simple as that.
Up until a couple years ago, I, like most Ontarians I bet, believed the Beer Store was an agency of the Ontario government. It isn't. The Brewer's Retail was created as a kind of co-op for Ontario brewers. The idea was to protect local breweries from the multinationals. Today the Beer Store is owned by InBev, Coors, and Sapporo. These three non-Canadian companies are responsible for about 90% of beer sales in Ontario. Read that again. The Ontario government grants sole rights for the sale of 90% of the beer (both retail and commercial) in Ontario to three companies based in other countries.
The idea is absurd on its face. Unlike the LCBO, which is public (which generates revenues for the province, whose mission it is to serve the Ontario people, who open up their books for all Ontarians to see), Brewer's Retail is a completely private venture. We can't take a look at how much their owners are profiting from the monopoly. More than that though, it's clear that the Beer Store is abusing its position. Anyone have an "express" store near your house? These are built to benefit the major brewers (the owners) at the expense of local brewers and LCBO purchased imports. The set up discourages consumers from tasting new products. The marketing in any Beer Store features some beers more prominently than others (guess which ones). And the very nature of the provincewide retail operation means that stocking fees for small Ontario brewers are prohibitively expensive.
Imagine for a second if Diageo was given the rights to liquor sales in the province and suddenly Guinness, Crown Royal, and Bailey's were all you could seem to find anywhere. Or if Ford were given the rights to car sales and suddenly you were only able to find Mustangs.
It's a bad joke. Worse, the government knows it's a joke. They know it because their own study in 2005 told them so. The abuses of Brewer's Retail have been widely publicized, Brick Brewing of Waterloo has been especially vocal about its run ins with the beast. Same with Beau's in Ottawa, whose expensive bottles were being destroyed by the Beer Store despite the small brewer's attempts to have them returned.
All sorts of nonsense excuses are trotted out to justify the continued public support of the beer barons. It's for the environment. It's efficient. It's about Ontarian "values". Somebody think of the children! Meanwhile, the government allows certain wineries to open up their own boutique stores. But when the Ontario Craft Brewers request their own stores? Sorry, no. The Beer Store has sole rights to all domestic beer sales.
It's enough to make you cry. The stubborness of the Ontario government on this issue is very strange. What do we gain from Brewer's Retail? What is this hold that Labatt's and Molson have over the Government of Ontario that prevents them from looking at the system with just the tiniest bit of common sense?
Ignatieff has put child care out there. We'll soon be inundated with the shield banging of working women and stay at home moms. The former will claim it a long overdue necessity for the modern age, the latter will perceive it as a direct insult.
For the record, I support a national child care plan. My 3 brothers and sister and I were all raised by our mother, so naturally I was on the other side at first. However, as with most policy issues, there's a wide range of data on the issue from other countries and I think any objective observer has to recognize that, given demographics and modern economies, the choice between child care and staying home is an increasingly rare luxury.
It's the demographics that will make this such an interesting battle. At some point our political parties need to turn away from the boomers and look to the next generation. Women now make up at least half of the Canadian workforce. We know that back in 2006 about half the population supported a national child care program, less in Quebec where they got to have their daycare and a nice cheque from the Conservatives at the same time. Going in to the next election I'm going to suggest that the numbers on support for a national system start to shift. The biggest reason is that even supporters of the CPC's paltry beer and popcorn money have by now realized just how useless that cash is for paying for child care. There's a serious shortage of daycare spaces in Canada's cities and it's affecting my demographic; young, educated professionals with mortgage payments and less benefits than their parents received 20 years ago. At some point ideology comes up against cold hard reality, and that reality is that my generation is having trouble affording child care and staying home is not an option.
At the moment, I don't think there's much of a downside on either side of this issue. However, going forward the Liberal position is where the smart money is and, framed correctly, can pay dividends as soon as the next election.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Taber picks up the nonsense colleague Spector was spouting Monday and runs with it straight off a cliff. The new talking point, that I'm sure the CPC will hammer home in the coming weeks and definitely during an election, is that Liberal minority = coalition.
EKOS' latest seat projections (for what they're worth) give the LPC a minority government with 122 seats. Instead of saying that, and leaving it there, Taber suggests that it wouldn't be a LPC minority... it would be a LPC/NDP MAJORITY - er, wait, no - MINORITY!!! Taber doesn't tell us exactly what the LPC would gain from this that the tories don't already have with the current makeup of the House.
Taber writes, "The idea of a coalition fits with recent Tory spin."
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
When I read it yesterday morning, I assumed I was just too tired to understand it. I read it again just now and I'm pretty sure it's the article itself that is tying my brain in knots.
After all the nonsense Spector has been spewing about prorogation, I think his frustration has boiled over, melted his brain, and this gibberish is the result.