Please let me apologize for not posting last week. I have been very busy and the summer is packed with plans. Because of that, my next regularly scheduled post will be July 21st. I will also blog the following week, July 28th. Then there will be another break from the 29th to August 18th.
I hope everybody has a great summer and stays cool, healthy, and safe.
Last month news broke that FX Matt, a Utica NY based contract brewer, would acquire Flying Dog Brewery based in Frederick MD. FX Matt is the 14th largest craft brewery in the country, producing 183,200 barrels in 2021. Besides providing brewing capacity for other brewers including Flying Dog, FX Matt’s own beer line includes Saranac and Utica club. It is the 4th oldest family-owned brewery in the United States, dating from 1888.
Flying Dog, the country’s 34th largest craft brewery, is much younger. It began as a brew pub in Aspen CO in 1990. In 2006 the company purchased Frederick Brewing Company and is now based solely in Maryland. In 2009 both the Michigan and Colorado liquor commissions banned the labels connected with the brewery’s Raging Bitch beer. Flying Dog sued, winning both cases and used its $6 million settlement to create the First Amendment society. It is not clear if FX Matt will continue Flying Dog’s controversial advertising approach. I personally find such a name and its’ connected labeling misogynistic and salacious. I am, however, free not to buy the beer.
Flying Dog produced 81,231 barrels in 2021. Once the two breweries have combined, their output would make them a top ten craft brewery, according to the Brewers Association’s definition. Although the deal between the two companies will produce one larger brewery, the projected production level of at least 264,000 barrels is miniscule compared to the 495 million barrels Anheuser-Busch produced in 2021.
I had a terribly busy week and now Friday is here before I even realized it. I did not have a post pre-planned, and it turns out I am too busy to write one today.
Starting last week, my husband and I have been busy building furniture for a redo of his home office. We have done this many times before but, of course, we are older now. It turns out that repeatedly getting up and down from the ground is pretty difficult and exhausting.
We finished the lateral file on our own, after having to wait for a new drawer rail but the thought of putting the 68-inch desk with seven drawers together was daunting. The boxes with all the components weighed over two hundred pounds.
Luckily, our younger one was able to come yesterday, and we got the desk together. The two pieces of furniture look nice, and I hope the hard labor it took to assemble them will fade, eventually, from memory. I plan to never to do this again. In the future I will buy already assembled furniture or pay someone to assemble it.
Yesterday Congress passed a debt limit increase good for two years, averting debt defaul. During the endless discussion of the potential economic cliff we could fall off, many commentators brought up the 14th Amendment as a potential solution to Republican intransigence.
The discussion focused on the first sentence of the fourth section of the Amendment. “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for service in suppressing insurrection or rebellion shall not be questioned.” People take that line to mean that paying our debts is part of the Constitution, cannot be questioned or debated and therefore, the debt limit is irrelevant.
No one discussed the part that talks about insurrection or rebellion. The rest of the section goes on to say, “But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.”
This context for the debt provision of the 14th Amendment has not been discussed in the debate over the debt limit. To finance the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and the federal government incurred a tremendous amount of debt. During the war they attempted to finance it by raising taxes on a myriad of items including liquor and tobacco. They also instituted an income tax. Most of these temporary taxes were rescinded following the War but liquor and tobacco excise taxes remained.
Adding to the debt for fighting and winning the war were the pensions due to the soldiers who had helped secure the Union victory. The 14th Amendment wanted to make clear that the Federal government was not going to pay pensions for any Confederate rebels. Congress was also determined not to pay any of the debt the Confederate States of America had incurred. The part of the amendment which stresses that the debt must be paid and not questioned is in there because Northern Republicans were afraid that Southerners, once readmitted, would balk at paying for their defeat.
Northerners wanted to make sure the former Confederates were once again committed to the federal government and its ongoing existence. This is relevant to the current debate over the debt limit because the ultra conservate Republicans don’t want to protect the federal government; they want to destroy it. Many of them participated in the January 6th insurrection. Although President Biden took the 14th Amendment off the table for the current crisis, it should be made clear to the Republican insurrectionists that they cannot question the functioning of the Federal government and continue to be part of it.
A few weeks ago, I was thinking about something and the phrase, “the hostess with the mostest” popped into my head. People used this saying to describe Perle Mesta who was well known in Washington for her parties and social events. She also raised large sums of money for Harry Truman in 1948. 
Googling Mesta, I realized that she was appointed Ambassador to Luxembourg during the Truman administration. Ambassadorships are often rewards for fundraising. Her appointment in 1949 made her the third women to become a minister to a country. Because of Google, Wikipedia, and the internet, idle curiosity can send you down many rabbit holes. In the case of Perle Mesta, I went in two directions.
One was to explore the musical film done in the 1950’s about Mesta. The film was an adaptation of a Broadway show. Both had the title, “Call Me Madam” To this day, one way of addressing a female ambassador is as “Madam Ambassador.” I was able to get a DVD of the film and watched it last week. It starred Ethel Merman and a noticeably young Donald O’Connor.
Of course, there was romance, princesses, and a lot of other silliness. There were also a lot of insider jokes about Margaret Truman, the daughter of Bess and Harry who was an author. The movie was very dated but fun to watch because Merman is a force of nature, and the music was by Irving Berlin.
The other topic that interested me in thinking about female ambassadors was to find out who was the first female ambassador and when that happened. The honor went to Eugenie Anderson who received her post to Denmark in the same year as Mesta.
In the early drafts of Dames, Dishes, and Degrees, I wrote about Lucy Benson, who during the Carter administration was the top-ranking female State Department official. Today 33 % of American ambassadors are women. As far as I know, a musical has not been made about any of them.
I read an guest essay – what used to be known as an op-ed – in the New York Times about gun safety education. The author, Harel Shapira, makes the point that the class teaches people to be vulnerable, instructing them in how to shoot someone they fear.
Over twenty years ago, Michael Moore in his documentary, Bowling for Columbine, made a similar point about how advertisers and other societal forces work to make the American people afraid. Fear can operate on many distinct levels. One can be afraid to undertake a particular task. I fear one foot skating, especially skating on my left foot and raising my right.
Fear can also work on a societal level to separate groups because one fears the other. Many white people have an innate fear or at least a deep suspicion of people of color. This has led to many unfortunate events including most recently when an elderly man shot a black teenager who was lost and knocked on the elderly white man’s front door.
Once you add guns to America’s toxic fear, based on white supremacy, you have a lot of trouble which leads to a lot of sorrow and death. Harel Shapira sums up his essay, saying:
“The N.R.A. says that “an armed society is a polite society.” But learning to carry a gun isn’t teaching Americans to have good manners. It’s training them to be suspicious and atomized, learning to protect themselves, no matter how great the risk to others. It’s training them to not be citizens.”
Hopefully, the current slew of mass shootings has convinced enough of the American population that guns are a public health emergency, and we need something to change. People who support sensible gun reform need to vote from that position and turn out of office pro-gun politicians.
I apologize for not posting last week. I was out of town, attending the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and visiting with relatives. I have been to New Orleans many times and I love the city. It is a unique place with a very lively street life; something you don’t find in the semi-rural, mostly suburban place I live.
Jazz Fest runs over two weeks and many, many people attended. New Orleans has a tropical climate, so it was hot and muggy with one day of torrential rain. That was the day we didn’t go because of the mud.
We saw a lot of performances including Santana and Melissa Etheridge. It was great to hear so much live music. We also listened to people we had never heard of before, but I plan to listen to them going forward. One of these performers was Sue Foley who plays a pink Fender caster guitar. Another was Martha Redbone who is a partly indigenous women with great politics and a great voice.
This was my first time attending Jazz Fest. I tried two times before but both events were cancelled due to the pandemic. I plan to attend again. I am also going to try to go to more live music performances because I really enjoyed doing that at Jazz Fest.
A while ago I watched a movie on the E! channel called Why Can’t My Life be a Rom-Com. The premise of the movie was that two young women go to the Hamptons to try to marry rich men. To aid them in this, they use a 50-year-old dating guide.
Like most romantic comedies the heroine, Eliza, has to choose between two men; one who is everything the book encouraged young women to look for – rich, handsome, and settled – and the other who seems more carefree, funny, and aimless.
Her friend, Sofia, spends the summer using the book to pursue another rich guy while sleeping with the person she works with at a beach shack restaurant. Her rich guy turns out to gay. Sofia, an incredibly shallow person, not really having any another choice, decides love is more important than wealth. The heroine also decides this but is more fortunate, getting to have her cake and eat too, since her earnest, funny, summer worker turns out to be the son of the owner of the resort.
The movie was very formulaic, not particularly good, and somewhat dated in its assumptions about what a modern woman needs. While watching it, I realized I had seen the plot before in the 1950s movie, How to Marry a Millionaire. That movie starred Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable. Right there it is a better movie because of the cast. The male counterparts to these three models who are fortune hunters includes William Powell. The premise is the same as Why Can’t My life be a Rom-Com but seems more appropriate for the 1950s which promoted marriage and domesticity than 2023.
Apparently, in 2007, Nicole Kidman bought the rights to How to Marry a Millionaire, hoping to remake and maybe star in it. Perhaps she realized the idea that women need rich men to take care of them is not that humorous and gave up.
During President Biden’s State of the Union this past February, he endorsed harm reduction as one strategy to reduce the epidemic of drug overdoses. What harm reduction means on the ground can vary from state to state, city to city. The goal of harm reduction is to provide drug users with tools, enabling them to use drugs safely. Harm reduction doesn’t seek, in the short run, to end drug use. Rather these programs work to reduce deaths due to overdoses.
Harm reduction which can include needle exchange, fentanyl strip testing, and the use of the overdose reversal drug, naloxone, can be controversial. Critics often see these programs as encouraging drug use. Many conservatives feel abstinence, just saying no, is a better approach. In general, the country’s drug control policy for many years has focused on military style interdiction and punitive measures for drug addicts.
A critical component of any harm reduction program is needle exchange. The CDC states that new users of needle exchange services are “five times as likely to enter drug treatment as those who don’t use the programs.” Needle exchange also reduces infections including HIV and hepatitis.
Despite the science behind harm reduction programs, the country remains ambivalent about it. Many states prevent the use of fentanyl test strips, another critical part of most programs. The laws consider the strips to be drug paraphernalia. According to the New York Times, “While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages the use of syringe exchange programs, … federal funds typically cannot be used to purchase syringes for drug use.”
Because of this ambivalence, most harm reduction programs run on a shoestring budget and face legal peril every day. There needs to be concerted advocacy for harm reduction funding and a push to make needle exchange fully legal. These actions would save lives.
I recently read a book, Leaving Coy’s Hill: A Novel by Katherine Sherbrooke which is a fictionalized account of Lucy Stone’s life. Lucy Stone was an abolitionist and suffragette who also promoted marriage equality. She was the first woman in Massachusetts to obtain a college degree. She attended Oberlin, graduating in 1847.
She eventually married but kept her birth or “maiden name”. Today about twenty-five percent of women keep their own names. Since the 1970s, women, whether married or no,t have the option of calling themselves Ms. This was not available to Lucy Stone.
I liked the book, but I had some issues with it. I think there are inherent problems with writing fiction about a real person. If the author fictionalizes or imagines thoughts and feelings of the subject, the reader wonders how they could know.
Since Lucy Stone was an amazing person that many people know nothing about, my concern is that the novel’s version of her life may be the only information the reader receives. They may think it is all true when it is not.
Following the Civil War, the suffragist movement split, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony advocating for the vote for everyone; leading them to oppose the 15th amendment which gave black men the vote. Lucy Stone took the opposite position supporting giving the franchise to black men; thus delaying the same opportunity for all women.
Leaving Coy’s Hill presents this controversy and division from Lucy’s point of view. With historical hindsight, we can see that there wasn’t a good choice. Given Sherbrooke’s approach, Susan B. Anthony becomes the villain of the story which may surprise people.
Reading Leaving Coy’s Hill made me think about winners and losers in history and who becomes the face of a political or social movement for subsequent generations. Stanton and Anthony won the suffragism history war while Lucy Stone lost. The women I write about in Dames, Dishes, and Degrees are the losers in a historical narrative that places second wave feminism front and center.