How to Behave at an Academic Conference

I recently attended the ADHS 2017 conference. I have attended many conferences over the years and chaired many panels. These are my observations about how to have a successful panel at an academic conference. As chair you have to keep time to insure each panelist speaks for the same amount of time. Unfortunately there is now way to compel someone to stop talking. People have to police themselves; in my experience some are better at this than others. If the chair does not keep good time it is unfair to everyone. The speakers and the audience all suffer. It is rude if you are one of the speakers and you go way over time.

The chair should definitely have all the speakers talk and then have questions and answers at the end. Allowing questions after each speaker exacerbates the time issues and very often leads to the final speaker either getting very few questions or the whole session goes over. Making sure there is time for questions and answers is  important for two reasons. Without some interaction between the speakers and the audience the session becomes a completely passive experience. Also speakers like to engage with the audience.

Four speakers at a session is too many and makes time more of an issue. To maximize time the chair should not make a statement. Maybe panels should have only two speakers but that would probably lengthen the conference.

The ADHS conference at Utrecht did have some time issues at some sessions but as always it was a very interesting experience. Utrecht is a great city and I had a very nice time.








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Schedule Update

My faithful readers may have noticed that I have been blogging a little more frequently recently. I have been blogging every Friday since the beginning of 2017. I have deviated from the pattern for two reasons. I did a bunch of interesting things in a row and I wanted to write about them while they were still fresh in my mind. The second reason is that I will not be able to blog for about three weeks so to keep my total the same I front loaded a few posts. I will resume my Friday blogging schedule on July 14. Have a nice June.

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Understanding Addiction

Last Thursday I attended a seminar on “Understanding addiction.” The Institute for Natural Resources sponsored the one day seminar which was a way for nurses and other medical professionals to collect continuing education credits.

Much of the material was familiar to me and I don’t think I learned that much that was new. One interesting thing is that alcohol, tobacco, and even caffeine are now seen as drugs with psychoactive properties similar to the illegal drugs such as opioids or cocaine. In fact the legal drugs cause more societal problems than the illegal drugs. The seminar handout states that alcohol and tobacco costs the United States over $400 billion a year  due to crime, lost work productivity, and healthcare. Costs associated with Illegal drugs are about $181 billion a year.

There is an opioid crisis but the speaker did not spend that much time on it. He made the point that at different times different drugs are in fashion. Unfortunately heroin seems to be in vogue right now. It is clear that the War on Drugs has failed and we need to invest much more money on treatment. We also need to find a balance between maintaining pain medicines for people with chronic pain while reducing the more casual prescribing of opioids.



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Our Revolution MA and the State Democratic Convention

June 2nd and 3rd I was in Worcester, attending the State Democratic Convention. I attended all of the events that Our Revolution MA held. They had eight amendments to the platform of which four passed. Our Revolution also had two charter amendments which failed. The convention did not actually passed any resolutions due to the lateness of the hour.

I think Our Revolution did a great job given that it was their first time being involved in the Convention. They were a big presence and they helped pass a very progressive platform. Four of five amendments passed the signature threshold and then were adopted by the convention. The one amendment that failed had to do with housing and I think the convention felt it went too far. The chair prevented three amendments from being voted on. All concerned foreign affairs which the chair ruled was out of the scope of the platform. The most controversial one was about the Middle East and affirmed the right of Palestinians to a peaceful existence. I am sorry that it did not pass.

The  two charter amendments that failed had to do with party mechanics and procedures. The party, as represented at the convention, did not seem ready to fundamentally change  how the party operates to make it more open, democratic, and responsive to citizens. As part of a national movement to move the Democratic Party to the left and away from corporatist policies, Our Revolution’s performance at the convention was an auspicious beginning.


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Massachusetts Alcohol Task Force

Tuesday I attended a public hearing of the Massachusetts Alcohol Task Force. Deb Goldberg, the State Treasurer, created the task force to look at the laws and regulations governing the alcohol beverage industry. About fifteen people were present and about eight people spoke.

Three groups of stakeholders were present. The largest group, more in numbers than in influence, were people  from the public health community. All of these speakers were women and focused on prevention of underage drinking. Their basic demands were for public health to have a seat at the table, more funding for compliance checks, and controls over advertising if possible. Several of the women mentioned tax increases but this was not a major demand.

Viewing alcohol use and abuse through a public health lens is a relatively new phenomena. Before Prohibition, temperance and prohibition advocates saw alcohol use as a moral issue which affected all of American society. During Repeal and after, both the liquor industry and the medical community refashioned alcohol problems as problems of the individual requiring an individual medical response.

Inspired by the anti-smoking movement which saw smoking as having a societal cost, public health advocates began to see drinking in a similar light. The tightening of drunk driving laws, raising the minimum drinking age to twenty-one, and not allowing spirits advertising on television are all examples of the public health approach to alcohol problems.

The liquor industry has been careful to not directly contest public health demands but has continued to present options around alcohol as solely an individual’s choice. Two industry representatives spoke at the hearing. One was from the Distilled Spirits Council which is a longstanding trade association representing seventy-five percent of distilled spirits producers. His focus was on creating a level playing field for distilled spirits and limiting any legislation which works against a free market.

Such an approach has been standard for the liquor industry since Repeal. Distilled spirits producers have long resented the preferential treatment beer has received on both the state and federal levels. In the 1980’s  the Distilled Spirits Council had a very effective ad which showed that “Alcohol is Alcohol is Alcohol. The DSC spokesperson repeated this mantra at the hearing.

The other person representing the liquor industry has a farmer-brewer license and owns a very small brewery. These two speakers revealed a reality of the liquor industry which is that it is highly segmented. There are multinational corporations that produce distilled spirits and mega brewers but there are also very small breweries in many local areas and micro distillers in many counties in the country.

The final stake holders in  alcohol legislation and regulations are municipal officials whose primary concern at the hearing was the licensing system. Massachusetts distributes liquor licenses for various retail operations using a quota system based on population. The Mayor of Northampton, David Narkewicz has more requests than he has licenses and therefore wants a streamlined process for getting over-quota licenses.

Alisa Brewer, a member of the Amherst Select Board, wants the flexibility to issue different types of licenses depending on the needs of the community. Because all-alcohol licenses are the most expensive many restaurants want the more narrow wine and beer license. Amherst has less of those but has not used all of its all-alcohol licenses. Keeping the number allotted the same, she would like to locally determine how many of each the town distributes.

The hearing revealed a tension that has been present for governments regulating alcohol for a long time. The alcoholic beverage industry and the role it plays in the entertainment industry  provides a great deal of revenue for  state government. However the state must balance the economic benefits of encouraging alcohol production against the goal of providing public health and safety.

The Alcohol Task Force will wrestle with determining the right proportions for regulations. I will try to keep you posted on further developments.



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Basic 4 Figure Skating

Yesterday I passed Basic Skills Level 4 in figure skating. I have been trying to pass this level for at least three years so it feels like a real accomplishment. I posted about passing on Facebook and now realize a lot of people who responded don’t have nay idea what I am talking about.

Here is what you have to do to pass  Basic 4:

Forward outside edges on a circle both right and left. This means  if you are skating counter-clockwise, you would skate on your left leg while lifting your right leg. If you are skating clockwise, it would be your left leg that you would lift while skating on your right.

Forward inside edges also on a circle – both right and left. Skating counter-clockwise you lift your left leg while you skate on your right. Skating clockwise you do the reverse.

Forward crossovers on a circle both clockwise and counter-clockwise. This involves taking your outside leg and crossing it over the inside leg. It is not that easy,

Backward 1/2 swizzle pumps on a circle in both directions. Going counter-clockwise your right leg is on the outside and makes a backward c as you are moving. Clockwise it is your left leg that does the pump.

Backward on-foot glides – both right and left – Going in a straight line you skate backwards on one foot.

Beginning two-foot spin.

That is what I had to do to pass. although I passed I will continue to work on all of these elements because there is still room for improvement.

If you go on YouTube, you can see video  of all of these elements.

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Massachusetts Democratic State Convention

Today I am going to the Massachusetts Democratic State Convention. I was elected as an alternate but I will actually be serving as a delegate because some of the elected delegates are not going.

In 1992 I went to the State Convention because I was involved in the Jerry Brown for President campaign. Our local campaign produced buttons with the slogan “one moonbeam outshines 1000 beams of light.” This years convention will  adopt the state party platform; a process that happens every four years.

I was very involved in the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. After the election he formed Our Revolution to continue promoting activism around his campaign ideals. Our Revolution Massachusetts is involved in the state convention and is proposing several amendments and resolutions.

I wanted to be a delegate to help move the Democratic Party to the left and closer to Bernie Sanders positions on education, healthcare, and income inequality as well as other issues. I plan to support the Our Revolution Massachusetts agenda. I will let you know how it turns out.






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Colorado Beer

Every day I get alerts from Google about beer. Recently an item about  an event in Texas caught my eye.  A beer store was having a tasting of Colorado beer from Left Hand Brewing.  The notice reminded me that Left Hand Milk Stout is one of my favorite beers. It is a dark, slightly sweet, deep tasting beer.

I first tasted Left Hand Milk Stout when I served it at an Oktoberfest dinner I held in 2009. I paired the Milk Stout with apple cake for dessert. One of my guests remarked, “I didn’t  know you could drink beer for dessert.”

That was the only time I held a dinner where I paired beer with specific courses. Thinking about it, I would like to try it again. October is a long way off, so we will see if it happens.

Left Hand Brewing Company has been around since  1993 and is the 44 largest brewery in the country. According to a study from the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the Beer Institute, brewing contributes more than $15 billion to the Colorado state coffers and employs 68, 705 people.

Colorado had over 270 breweries; the Coors brewing Company, a division of Molson Coors is based in Colorado. New Belgium Brewing Company, located in Fort Collins, is the largest craft brewer in Colorado; one of its best-known beers is Fat Tire. Left Hand is forth

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Are We Rome?

We are currently in a period where macro brewers are buying craft brewers in an attempt to capture some portion of that market. Heineken becoming the sole owner of Lagunitas is a recent example. Heineken is the second largest brewer in the world. In 2014, when Lagunitas was still independently owned,  it was the sixth largest craft brewer.
To reflect on what macro ownership of craft brewers means, I am reposting an entry that discussed the merger of InBev and Anheuser Busch.

July 14, 2008

Are We Rome?


The Coliseum

I was browsing in one of my local bookstores and came across a book entitled, Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America  by Cullen Murphy. It occurred to me that this concept could be applied to Anheuser-Busch and it’s sale to InBev. When I was in junior high school my history teacher showed us a chart of world civilizations which depicted their rise and fall. Looking at the chart, I had the, somewhat inevitable, realization that even America could not stay ascendant forever. This insight is even more applicable for economic institutions.

In the 1950s, consensus historians, firmly believing in the uniqueness and permanence of the dominant American state, wrote business history from this perspective. If a company followed good business practices and integrated fully both horizontally and vertically, they would inevitably rise to the top and stay there. Pabst Brewing was a prime example of this for Thomas Cochran. However the subsequent course of events for Pabst as well as other companies including U.S. Steel and General Motors exposed the flaws in this approach to American history.

Anheuser-Busch is noteworthy for having survived and prospered through several waves of mergers, consolidation, and cost-cutting while retaining both its independent status and its family heritage. Yet to have expected that it could continue to maintain its position indefinitely was unrealistic. In a global market threats to a large company’s stability can come from various directions. ABInBev may very well continue its dominance in the United States but the increased cost of grains and hops as well as the flat market share which made Anheuser-Busch vulnerable in the first place has not changed.

Macro brewers have also faced increased competition from craft beers and imports. Jay Brooks, in the Brookston Beer Bulletin, makes the very interesting point that foreign ownership of A-B and MillerCoors means that Boston Beer, Yuengling, and Sierra Nevada are now the largest “American” brewers. Pabst is disqualified since it is essentially a virtual brewer and primarily a marketing company. Returning to the Roman Empire analogy, these craft brewers would then be playing the role of barbarian invaders of the late Roman Empire. Of course InBev is also playing that role. If we look at this whole issue through the lens of taste, then craft brewers are a civilizing force.


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Abortion is Legal but Television Doesn’t Know That

Last Sunday I watched an episode of Madam Secretary, a show on CBS. One of the characters, Daisy, played by Patina Miller, is pregnant. This episode was the first time her pregnancy was mentioned. The character is single  and her most recent relationship lasted one week. She  briefly dated a man who turned out to be a CIA agent who was subsequently killed.

The show portrayed  Daisy’s pregnancy as a fait accompli and did not indicate that the character considered any other options such as an abortion. Mainstream television very rarely show a woman considering all of the choices that are available once she finds out she is pregnant. Even more rare is a show where the woman chooses to terminate the pregnancy.

All kinds of women have abortions for a variety of reasons. In the show Daisy is a very ambitious women who initially had a life plan that involved marrying an equally ambitious man. Couldn’t the show at least consider that such a woman might think over what her options were since she is facing becoming a single mother?

It  is entirely possible that the actress is actually pregnant and that’s why this has become part of the story. However the show still could have shown her considering an abortion even if in the end she choose to continue her pregnancy. Abortion is legal and many women choose to have one. However television does not reflect this reality.

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