Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Night Beer: Saison D'Epeautre

Dropped the ball last week, apologies for that.

I'm actually in Vancouver right now, I'm on vacation for the next week. First thing I did when I got off the Canada Line from the airport was head to my favourite liquor store in Van-city and grab a brew. Booze are expensive as hell in Beautiful BC, but they do have an enviable selection of foreign brews... in Vancouver anyway.

Saisons are my favourite style of beer. Period.

Saisons are rustic Belgian (and french) farmhouse beers typically brewed for harvest season to satisfy the farm hands. None are available in Ontario, though you might find some in Quebec. 3 Monts should be available in Hull for any Ottawa readers and that's along the same lines as a Belgian saison. Typically they're incredibly refreshing, highly carbonated, and have certain cider characteristics combined with nice Belgian yeast flavours. They're usually pretty light, but this one actually has a bit of an alcohol hit.

Saison D'Epeautre
Brasserie de Blaugies, Belgium

A cascade of bubbles pours out into the sink after I pop the cork. Picture perfect pour into the glass. A saison should have a huge snow-white head, be a cloudy golden reminiscent of wheat fields, and have visible carbonation. This ticks all the boxes.

On the nose you get a nice hit of Belgian yeast, some sweet sugar and a nice mix of pears and green apples.

A little bit of hop bitterness right up front that combines nicely with the prickly carbonation. A subtle, sublime (for me) sweetness takes over pretty quickly. Mmmmm. Mmmmmmmmmm. You'll sometimes hear beer geeks describe something as "chewy", and it's true in this case. Despite some light flavours, the malt has a lot of substance, it's possible there's some wheat malt in there. If you know the profile of a witbier, you know what I'm talking about. There's that nice pear flavour, fruity, but not too sweet, right on cue. Finishes with a bit more bitterness, just enough for a satisfying finish.

If you've never had a saison, go find one. It's the perfect beer for the season. It's alive, it's flavourful, it's the most refreshing beer on the planet.

Don't know what my computer access is going to be like this week, but maybe I'll get a few more chances for reviews. As funny as it sounds, BC is always about beer for me... well most trips are about beer for me, but BC usually has something interesting to offer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Giving a Stage to Clowns

The intertubes are shooting off sparks as the Coulter incident at the UofO hits the blogosphere. Setting aside the pulling of the fire alarm (because that was not the reason the even was called off), I'd like to address one of the more common points being made. Many commentators, from the right and the left, are trotting out that old nonsense about giving voice to clowns so as to show the public just how crazy they are. I've never really understood this.

The fact of the matter was that Coulter was coming to speak because she had a certain segment of the population that wanted to hear her, and not just to make fun of her. I'd suggest that the University of Ottawa campus Conservatives didn't invite Coulter to the university for a laugh. Nor were the raging wingnuts at FreeDominion going to attend to throw tomatoes. And yet we're being told by bloggers and opinion writers that we need to give a platform to people like Coulter to show how foolish they are. But Coulter isn't just a harmless nut. She's not the equivalent of the crazed street preacher you pass everyday on the way to work. Coulter has a following. A large group of people share her apparent hatred of other races and harbour violent fantasies of ridding the country, or the planet, of dusky types or those that practice the muslim faith. That that following exists suggests that there are many others out there who share, or would be convinced to share, this nasty person's views.

Because our version of foolish isn't shared by everyone. We know people buy into the garbage Coulter spouts. We know that these people aren't persuaded by reason. We know that the campus Conservatives who organized this have heard all the crap that comes out of Coulter's mouth, yet they were still eager to hear her talk.

Must we set up a grand stand on the Hill and invite every KKK member, Scientologist, quack, and militant to come speak so that we can laugh at them? Of course not. Because, while they're stupid, there are thousands of other stupid people just waiting for the call to action.

EDITED TO ADD: Quite a bit of people chiding those damned dirty hippies for "preventing" Coulter from speaking, because now she'll get even more attention. Oddly enough, many of those making this point were all for her speaking in order to expose her. Funny how that works.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Talking Points in the House

Is there anything more pathetic than a MP, elected by his/her constituency and paid a generous salary by the Canadian public, getting up in the House and shouting out Leader-approved talking points? This goes for all parties, but in this case I'm talking specifically about the Government speeches in the House today (via Akin).

This last bit from Hoback is not doubt straight out of the script of a soon-to-air CPC attack ad:
"Canadians know that when the leader of the Liberal Party holds a big spenders conference, the only thing that will come out of it is new and creative ways to raise the taxes of Canadian families. That is because the leader of the Liberal Party is not in it for Canadians; he is only in it for himself."

I don't believe that politicians are much less civil than they were a hundred years ago, politics has always been a nasty business. However, I would appreciate a bit of originality.

Friday, March 19, 2010

On Conservative Values

There's been a bit of a discussion on the future of Conservatism and conservatism in Canada of late. Paul Well's take on it is thorough, if ultimately, I think, wrong. I think his thesis is off mark because he assumes a level of political awareness and activity that is far too generous to the Canadian public. He mistakes an apathy for issues like Rights and Democracy, and Youth for Christ, as being issue specific, a tacit approval of the CPC's actions, as opposed to a more general apathy towards any policy other than healthcare and taxes. Moreover, he makes a big mistake in assuming Preston Manning's big show last week was anything other than that, a big show. Gregg's poll in particular is a bad joke, and, to my mind as a pollster, ethically suspect.

That's not to say that I think he's entirely wrong. The problem is that, when you're talking about Conservatism, you're looking at two ideologies mashed together in an unholy alliance. The CPC is made up of social conservatives and libertarians. Despite Manning's poll, with it's carefully worded statements and bizarre 7-point scale, Canadians are not becoming more socially conservative. However, Wells is at least partially right when he suggests that Canadians are becoming more liberal.

Libertatianism is the new communism on campus. The older partisans in the CPC embrace libertarianism as a protest against taxes and the gun registry, and a reaction against what they see as a Liberal government. The younger generation of Conservatives don't see it the same way. They're classical liberals. They truly believe that free enterprise and absolute freedoms are the recipe for a better nation. In this, they're far more ideologically pure than the old guard. Issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, and the war on drugs will slowly take a back seat for CPC policy advisors as this new group moves up through the ranks. I know gay Conservatives. I know modern women who are Conservatives. I know pot-heads who are Conservatives. All of them have joined the Party for one reason, because they believe that individuals are better equipped to handle problems than governments.

How this happened, I'm not entirely sure. I mean there are the Westerners, well and truly indoctrinated right out of highschool, always loud, always politically active. But I can't point to where all the anger towards government actually comes from among the rest of the younger cohort. I mean, my generation was going through highschool during the Harris years for god's sake! I could be wrong, maybe they aren't really the majority, but I'm damn sure that they're the most politically aware and active, and that's enough.

So the question for old school conservatives like me and our new found partners on the progressive side of things is how do you combat this? I don't know the answer yet. The popularity of this new liberalism is based entirely on a disconnect. Government has worked too well. We're the most comfortable population there has ever been. Canadians don't know what it is to go without healthcare, without old age pensions, without well-funded public school, and without those hundreds of government funded initiatives that make life in our cities and towns tolerable. All they know is that a chunk of each pay cheque disappears every two weeks. And the Ottawa Citizen, or the National Post just told them that the government spent $1,000 on a door bell, or an executive of a crown corporation had a glass of wine at lunch, or how those damned lazy public servants have a generous pension plan. How do you offer an explanation of such a complex system when that malformed opinion of government has already taken root in someone's head?

Friday Night Beer tomorrow. I'll be making a trip out to Vankleek Hill to pick up Beau's exciting new Sleepytime Imperial Stout.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, etc.

Finally some numbers from Manning. As predicted, horse shit:

Respondents were given a series of “value statements” and asked whether they agreed or disagreed with them (strongly or weakly on a scale of 1 to 7). Those receiving majority levels of public support were:

Nothing is more important than family (89 per cent);
Marriage, by definition, is between a man and a woman (67 per cent);
Abortion is morally wrong (60 per cent);
Learn from what worked in the past to solve problems (54 per cent);
Better to implement small changes than all at once (54 per cent).

What is significant is that all of the above value propositions are more strongly associated with conservative values and policies than with those of liberals or social democrats.

Horse shit, horse shit, horse shit. That's all I have to say about that.

Green Cheese

I used to be a nut for St. Patrick's Day. Yeah, I was that guy, decked out in green at the bar clinging to a Guinness and belting out Rocky Road to Dublin. Today, not so much.

The holiday used to be a Church holiday in Ireland. It was a day to go to church and have a quiet pint in the local afterwards, shake some hands, kiss some babies. It's still not as big in Ireland as it is in North America. While I was living in Waterford, a local travel agency held a contest with the first prize being a trip for 2 to New York for St. Patrick's Day. Partly to take part in the party, part, no doubt, to get the hell away from all the Yanks that take over Dublin for the week.

Like Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day is a marketing story. It's about drunken Oirish frat boys spending millions on Guinness. The only day when it's acceptable to drink yourself stupid before noon. This to celebrate the culture of a country where alcohol has always been, and continues to be, a major social problem. The curse of the Irish to celebrate the country's patron Saint, the Irish certainly appreciate irony.

Nonetheless, I'm not a curmudgeon. I have nothing against fun. I'll stay home tonight, have a beer, maybe play a couple tunes on my flute. But don't let me keep you, gead out to your favourite boozer and enjoy your stout... just don't dye your beer green and if the band starts playing Danny Boy, get the hell out of there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fish or Cut Bait

A great article from Coyne today. Incredibly accurate description of the current malaise in the Canadian Federal Government. This about sums it up:

Talk to Conservative backbenchers, at least among the shrinking numbers of conservatives in the party, and you find a glum lot, embarrassed at what their government has become: the drift, the cynicism, the total absence of ambition or purpose. So why don’t they do something about it? For the same reason that the Prime Minister declines to offer an agenda: fear. The Prime Minister is afraid the public does not share his views, and so refuses to share his views with the public. His MPs are afraid of the Prime Minister, and so shrink from offering any firmer resistance to his right. Unwilling to prod him to do more, they make it easy for him to do nothing.

This is an interesting take given Bernier's increasingly obvious leadership plans. The question Conservatives are dealing with is, just how conservative are Canadians? I've touched on this a couple times, including on Friday when I posted on Allan Gregg's presentation at the Manning Centre Conference. There is a story forming in the MSM, enthusiastically supported by various Conservative bloggers, that Canadians are really conservative, a variation of the old silent majority nonsense. I'd like to know whether CPC leadership is buying it.

Traditionally, Harper has stuck to soft conservative issues. Nobody likes crime, and everyone has an irrational fear of it. Nobody likes paying taxes and, if the resulting cuts are invisible to suburbanites, no harm, no foul. At some point, however, if Harper wants the continued support of the party, he'll need to jump in with both feet. The big question is whether Bernier and the western caucus, along with the Wild Rose movement in Alberta, will force his hand.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We are aware of all Parliamentary traditions...

Mr. Macdonald is shocked (SHOCKED!) at the horrible behaviour of those meanie-heads in the opposition:

But neither is there any justification for the outrage of Prince Edward Island Liberal Wayne Easter, who yields to no other member when it comes to rhetorical excess and phony outrage. Exceptionally, Easter was allowed two questions out of sequence, both of which he used to attack Guergis and call for her resignation for calling P.E.I. "a hellhole, or worse." Except that, as Transport Minister John Baird pointed out, she has "sincerely apologized", and in the traditions of the House, the matter ends there.

First of all, why the heck shouldn't a PEI MP be pissed off that a federal cabinet minister holds his province in such low regard?

To the issue of Parliamentary traditions, is it really true that once a MP apologizes, that's the end of the story and the House is no longer supposed to talk about it? Really? For one, I don't know why Baird knows this, when was the last time he apologized for anything? Secondly, who the hell are the Conservatives to lecture anyone about Westminster traditions? Thirdly, if it really is a tradition in the House, it's a stupid one, especially since apologies no longer mean squat and nobody pays attention to the House anyway.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Night Beer: Christoffel Nobel

Christoffel Nobel
Christoffel Bier
Roermond, Netherlands
Something different tonight. I've been doing mostly ales since I started, and, genereally speaking, when you get into beers you find yourself buying up ales to the exclusion of lagers. That's a shame, because lagers can be just as unique and fantastic as ales. Unfortunately they've been given a bad name thanks to Bud, Blue, Canadian etc. etc. etc.
Christoffel makes a coupld good lagers. The Nobel is new, but you should usually be able to find a Blonde in the LCBO. The Blonde is a more traditional lager, but quite good, hoppy and refreshing. This Nobel is a bit of a beast. High alcohol and highly hopped with continental "noble" hops. You'll notice the label says "dry-hopped". This means that hops are introduced after the boil, giving a nice hit of aroma, but not cooking the hops to add bitterness.
My bottle is beautiful, which is nice because I've heard from some people that the shipment has been a bit flat. Huge billowy white head off the pour. Settles after five minutes or so to a finger-thick head. Clear lacings on every sip.
Perfumey continental hops on the nose mingled with some hot alcohol. Slightly piney aroma, a touch of citrus zest.
Taste is all at the back of the tongue. About as bitter as you'd expect from a European pilsner. However, I'm sort of missing the flavours I really enjoy from Euro-hops. A good hit of fresh grass would be welcome. Instead the focus is all bitterness and floral herbs. Then again, I'm not sure how much of that can be chalked up to the huge alcohol hit. This beer is hot, and it gives it an almost Belgian strong ale character. One glass is fine for me, this is a tough beer. I'd definitely recommend it though.
I find this beer surprisingly heavy. Pilsners are typically light and refreshing, whereas this is alcohol heavy and full bodied. Worth a try. Drink it a bit warmer than you normally would a light lager. If it's not your cup of tea I'd recommend the Victory Prima Pils, my favourite pilsner at the LCBO.

Defining the Centre

Strange presentation to the Manning Centre's 2010 Conference here in Ottawa by Allan Gregg (he of the infamous 1993 federal election) and Andre Turcotte. I've been waiting for the actual presentation or data to show up on the Manning Centre's site but nothing yet.

The headline and subtitle in The Star suggest a watershed in the Canadian political landscape:

Canadian values shifting to the right, poll suggests
Conservatives now ‘own the centre,’ while the left ‘is a very lonely place to be’ in Canada, pollster says

Heady stuff for a young Tory certainly. Until you actually read the article. Gregg and Turcotte have done a neat little thing. They've simply declared everything Canadians are supportive of to be Conservative! Hurrah! From The Star:

A Harris-Decima survey for the Manning Centre, says Canadians who identify themselves as in the centre of the political ideological scale are increasingly embracing traditionally “conservative” values.

Those include the “supremacy of the family,” an incremental approach to resolving problems, the definition of marriage and that abortion is “morally wrong.”

Pollsters Allan Gregg and Andre Turcotte said that most believe governments should play a minor role or no role in the regulation of individual behaviour and morality.

Anyone note a bit of a disconnect between the second and third paragraphs there? Setting aside the idea that Canadians embrace "the supremacy of the family", "the definition of marriage", and "that abortion is morally wrong" (none of which I believe at all), since when are incremental approaches and governments playing minor roles in individual behaviour and morality Conservative ideas? I thought they just told us that abortion is wrong, marriage is for straight people and the family is supreme (whatever the hell that means). I think the confusion lies in the word conservative being in quotation marks. Gregg and Turcotte are simply saying that conservative values are whatever the hell they say they are. The whole article, and I assume presentation, are like that, slapping together Conservative and conservative principles to capture the widest possible margin of Canadians.

It gets even better:

As for conservative government policies, the poll suggested a majority of Canadians supported spending deficits, abolishing the long gun registry, action on climate change, the decision to leave Afghanistan in 2011, and management of the economic recession.

Ah yes, those Harper policy favourites like stimulus spending, climate change action, and leaving Afghanistan. If only the Liberals would stop prorogueing Parliament and the NDP could get their crime bills through the Bloc Quebecois-controlled Senate...

The article goes on like this. Pollsters are known for their double-speak, but this jumbled mess just takes the cake. Canadians are true blue, but they aren't really that Conservative, just conservative, but centrist really, the left is a lonely place, not like the centre, which is conservative, but not really.

I do hope they release those crosstabs.

Breaking: Canada Slightly Less White in 20 Years!

A cracker from Gardner this morning.

Something I always find funny about the hysteria, which occurs everytime Statscan publishes this sort of thing, is the crazy concern Ottawans, Calgarians, and Haligonians have for the "changing face" of Toronto and Vancouver.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Slow News Year

I have to apologize for the lack of posting. It's not that I've already grown bored by blogging, and I can't complain that real life is any busier than usual. The simple fact of the matter is that nothing in the political sphere has gotten me excited lately.

Shocking revelations that a Conservative is a dick, the non-debate over changing the national anthem, Stockwell Day cutting jobs that don't exist, Flaherty rehashing announcements from the laziest budget of all time. Those are the kinds of stories dominating the front page lately. The amount of virtual ink spilled by the Canadian media in recent months on absolutely nothing is astonishing. I haven't been able to make it through a whole newspaper in weeks.

Here's hoping March and April bring a much needed thaw to a frozen Canadian political scene.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Night Beer: Hogs Back T.E.A.

T.E.A. (Traditional English Ale)
Hogs Back Brewery
Tongham Surrey, UK
English Pale Ale (Bottle Conditioned)

I guess I've been going a bit overboard on the ales eh? I'll switch it up next week.

Today a simple British session ale from the LCBO's spring release. You can see on the bottle that this is endorsed by CAMRA. That would be the UK's Campaign for Real Ale, the champions of cask conditioned beer and traditional public houses in Britain. So that's promising!

Agressive pour, little head. Looks like a cask ale, that's promising. A clear amber.

Not much at all on the nose, some slightly metallic malt.

Not much in the flavour either. Light caramel malt. Oddly enough, a weak tea character... iced tea. Very subtle bitterness at the back of the mouth.

Nice bottle conditioned mouthfeel, but doesn't have the flavour to back it up, so it just comes across as thin.

Frankly, I can't say it's that much better than your average Canadian macro-ale. Rather disappointing. I'd give it a pass.

Simple review for a simple beer. Maybe I'll make up for it with an extra one in the next couple days.

EDIT: Note, as this is bottle conditioned, there will be some sediment in the glass. Feel free to gulp it down, won't kill you.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Deficit Hysteria and the Budget

Good discussion over at G&M with Tom Flanagan. I hate his politics, but he's a pretty forthright kind of guy, and sometimes deviates from the Party line.

In truth, I'm kind of happy with the consensus that this budget won't be about a narrow minded crusade against the deficit. As much as it pains me to say it, the CPC seems to be taking the prudent course with the budget. I'd prefer a reversal on the GST, but I'm happy enough that they don't seem to be declaring war on the public service.

I'm actually quite surprised. An obsession with balanced budgets is a defining characteristic of your average "fiscal conservative". In fact, Canadians on the whole have come to expect balanced budgets, and various media polls seem to suggest that slaying the deficit is what they're looking for from Flaherty today. Of course nobody is actually willing to pay for that, unless of course it means taking on those nasty public servants, but there's a general consensus that deficit=bad. So I'd suspect that some people might be surprised at Flanagan's lack of concern over the deficit.

The fact of the matter is, deficits in the short term, and even in the long term for countries like Canada, rarely result in catastrophe. Certainly dealing with the deficit can easily become far more damaging than not dealing with it. Something like 80% of Canada's debt is domestic. Servicing it doesn't result in money disappearing in a puff of smoke.

I have a feeling that household metaphors got us in to this strange frame of mind, nonetheless, we need to stop thinking of the deficit, and Canadian debt, like credit card debt, and start thinking about it like a mortgage. That money is coming back sooner or later and, unlike a 500 square foot condo in Vancouver, there's very little chance we're going to lose money on the investment.

Monday, March 1, 2010

"Power in the Collective Experience"

That from Stephen Brunt of the Globe and Mail in a great video essay he did for the CTV, I encourage you to find it on their Olympic site if you have the time.

After 17 days of the most impressive of feats, and most exciting of competitions, everyone in Canada (or at least here in Ottawa), is left with a cheery afterglow. Despite the faltering start, our first fears were not realized, these were not the worst Games ever, as The Times of London rather prematurely proclaimed only days into the events.

Everything ended up working out. However, as I said over at RedTory's place, the interesting thing for me is that it wasn't the IOC, or VANOC, that ended up righting the ship. No, the success was built on Vancouver and the generosity of the Canadian spirit. These Games were about boisterous curling crowds, spontaneous street hocky games, and welcoming locals. The athletes pitched in too. Could there have been a better first gold medal winner than Bilodeau, a more impressive athlete than Clara Hughes, a more enjoyable figure than Jon Montgomery, or a more inspirational person than Joannie Rochette? Technology, weather, and bad luck threw all they could at Vancouver, but the people made it wonderful all the same.

Some might not care for this mushy sentimentality. Tough. As Red says in the above linked post, the cynics will make themselves heard, and we will all be pressured to shoulder a certain amount of shame and guilt at having "wasted" money on something so trivial as a sporting event. They will grumble about the corporate sponsers. They will snort about professional athletes, as though there is something unseemly about the very best earning a living. We will be faces with false-choice after false-choice as we're told how many hospital beds, or MRI machines, or homeless shelters all that money could have purchased.

Let's not fall victim to the negativity though. These were great Games. For two weeks in the dreariest of months in the dreariest of times, Canadians were able to forget their troubles and give in to the most natural of human emotions. As I said in my very first post, the nation can accomplish great things when its resources are pooled. From our great buildings, to our museums, to our national parks, so many of the things that make life worth living, and that make it worth living in Canada specifically, exist because we, as a societ, cherish them and believe they are worth having. The Games were one of those things. There's nothing wrong with throwing a party once in awhile, and we shouldn't be ashamed that all our past success and the resultant wealth allow us to play the generous host. Well done Vancouver, well done Canada.