Periodic Abstinence

Recently the British paper, The Independent,  had an article entitled, “Booze: Why You Need A Day Off”. (Thanks to David Fahey and the ADHS website for the citation). British doctors apparently advocate stopping drinking for two weeks in January in response to the excesses of the holiday season. The idea is to delay building up tolerance, test if you can stay away for a sustained period of time, and rest your liver.

The idea of a two week vacation from drinking is part of a larger awareness among the British medical community that long-term daily drinking has far more serious consequences for liver health than binge drinking, even on a weekly basis. However British public health advocates have continued to push for daily limits on drinking rather than weekly. At least one doctor feels this approach encourages daily drinking which will only lead to increased tolerance.

This whole discussion is very intriguing when placed in an American context. Binge drinking is currently a big focus for public health advocates and ne0prohibtionists.  A group of college presidents have even called for a decrease in the minimum drinking age in part to curtail binge drinking connected to turning twenty-one.

In America Alcoholics Anonymous has set the definition for abstinence and it is total. The idea that a healthy approach tod drinking could include occasional heavy drinking would certainly be an anathema to AA.

Change Has Come

I went to Washington for the Inauguration. It was amazing. My husband and I were there from Saturday until yesterday. Saturday evening we went to a Fairfax County Democratic Ball which was very interesting. It is great that Virginia went Democratic for the first time since 1964.

Sunday we went to see a Lincoln exhibit at the National Museum of American History and also saw Julia Child’s kitchen. She had two copies of Joy of Cooking which I guess means that book was as indispensable to her as to the rest of America. We also met the director of the museum. He gave us directions.

Then we walked toward the Washington Monument to try to attend the We are One concert. We hooked up with a lovely young woman named Rima and her sister. Rima is a Washington native so she was very helpful and extraordinarily nice. The whole time in Washington everyone was very nice. We wound up being pretty close to the stage at the Lincoln Memorial, , and I did see with my own eyes, not on the JumboTron, the bottom half of Obama walk to the podium so I guess that we can count that as my Obama sighting.

The concert was very exciting. Garth Brooks was the best. When Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang “This Land is Your Land” everyone was singing. One person near me was pledging allegiance. The concert built as it went along and Obama’s speech was very good. Beyonce closed the concert which was very entertaining.

On Monday we walked completely around the Tidal Basin and saw both the Jefferson Memorial and the Roosevelt Memorial. The Martin Luther King Junior Memorial will also be on the Tidal Basin which is where the Cherry Blossoms are in the spring. The scenery was beautiful. (I will put up pictures in the next few days.) Since it was Martin Luther King Day and President Obama said it should be a day of service, we went and picketed in front of a Hilton Hotel with the workers from the hotel. Apparently they have been working without a contract for a year and a half. All of the candidates for governor of Virginia were there including Terry McAuliffe, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. He was the biggest celebrity we saw on our trip. He was passing out cookies.

Tuesday morning we go up at 3:15 in the morning and made our way to a subway stop parking garage in Northern Virginia. Even that early there was a line and many, many people on the Metro. We went to my sister-in-law’s office which is relatively close to the Capital We ate some breakfast and had some coffee then set out to get to the Mall to see the swearing-in. There were more people on the street then I have ever seen and it was only 6:30 in the morning.  My brother had two tickets but very nicely gave them away to stay with us and his children, who are eighteen and fifteen. We were trying to get to 7th and Independence which was the start of the non-ticketed standing area on the Mall. At one point a truck needed to get by and everyone had to squeeze together. Near 7th a guard told us that we should go on to 12th or 14th. We wound up getting on to the Mall at 12th – there was no security- and watched the whole on a JumboTron between 9th and 12th.

I feel so fortunate that we actually got onto the Mall and saw the whole thing live. It was very cold and we stood there from 7 a.m. until 1p.m. They showed the concert again as a warm-up and then the ceremony started at 10 a.m. The crowd was enormous  and very friendly. There were millions of flags and every time there was anything to cheer about everyone waved them at the same time. It was so moving to see the flags and to feel so good about my country. To be in Washington for a positive reason and share that with so many people was truly a blessing. When Obama spoke and stood up for the Constitution and civil liberties it was thrilling. Reverend Lowery’s benediction was stunning and it was a great feeling to say Amen with everyone else. Only my feet got cold and I put hand warmers in my shoes. Attending the swearing in feels like I got a  gift. Yes We Can! Yes We Did! Yes We Will!

72 Hours

I am a member of my local Medical Reserve Corps. We are trained to provide medical and other assistance in emergencies. This winter a terrible ice storm left neighboring towns without power or water for several days. For the Amherst MRC, this reinforced our understanding that helping people be better prepared for emergencies is a top priority.

Tuesday night, at our monthly meeting, we decided to make 72 hour kits our project for the year. A 72 hour kit contains enough supplies and every day items for a forced three day stay at home.  An article in today’s New York Times indicates that emergency preparedness is part of the Ready Campaign of Homeland Security for 2009. The article has links to sites which provide additional information about what a 72 hour kit should contain. For more information about MRC’s and to find one in your area, medicalreservecorps.gov

Beer Books on Amazon

Right now, 12: 55 p.m. on Saturday January 10, 2009, the hardcover version of Brewing Battles is number 87 in Amazon’s  list of  “The most popular items in Beer. Updated hourly.” Yesterday the paperback was 84 and the hardcover 100.

The rankings really do change by the hour so it could all be different by 2 p.m. I have always intended to write at least one blog about Amazon and I have been trying for a while to catch a moment when at least one of the versions of the book was on the list so I could write about the contents  of the list rather than its meaning and value .

Number One right now is How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Right the First Time by John Palmer. Of the nine other books in the top ten,  eight are about home brewing, including  Charles Papazian’s classic, The Joy of Homebrewing which is number 3. Number 5 is  The Alaskan Bootlegger’s Bible which, according to Amazon, tells the reader  “how to make beer, wine, liqueurs, cider and moonshine whiskey.” Home distilling is  illegal in the United States.

In my recent AHA talk, I discussed the fact that scholarly work on alcohol and temperance has been more weighted towards temperance than the industry. The reverse is true for popular literature as the Amazon list indicates.

Number 10 on the list is Charles Bamforth, Grape Versus Grain: A Historical, Technological and Social Comparison of Beer and Wine. Bamforth is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science at the University of California, Davis.

The next fifteen follow the same general path, being either about some aspect of brewing geared toward the home brewer, or about beer styles and types of beer. Number 18 , Stan Hieronymous, tells you how to Brew Like a Monk while number 23 is the late Michael Jackson’s opinion on the best beer in the world, Ultimate Beer. Charlie Papazian makes another appearance with the same book at 24 ( one of the many peculiarities of  Amazon’s list – for another post).Shine on Shiner Beer rounds out the top twenty-five and commemorates the 100 year history of the Texas brewery.

Numbers 25 to 50 cover more brewing how-tos,  a book on beer drinking games, a beer memoir by Steve Hindy, Beer School:Bottling Success at the Brooklyn  Brewery, Brewing For Dummies, another book by Michael Jackson as well as another by Charles Papazian. Numebr 36 New Jersey Breweries by Lew Bryson, is a guide book; the first history on the list is number 49, Maureren Ogle, Ambitious Brew, the hardcover.

Numbers 51 -75 include books on wine, sake, and root beer as well as another book by Charles Bamforth. Number 72 is Maureen Ogle in paperback ( that peculiarity again)

Okay I have been writing this for forty-five minutes . Let’s see if Brewing Battle’s is still on the list. I am but at 89.  Number 77 is Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early years 1587-1840 which is a good , popular history of the pre-German American brewing industry. The rest of the groups is more of the same with  beer drinking games, sake, Michael Jackson, The Big Book O’ Beer which is shaped like a beer can, and several cookbooks. Number86 is Ken Wells, Travels with Barley,a  journalistic endeavor. The final book, number 100 is Bill Yenne, Beers of the World. Yenne has written several books on beer.

Even though the list changes every hours and did so while I have been writing, the actual content of the list does not vary very much. You can pretty much count on Jackson and Papazian as well as a  few others; then books on home brewing and beer styles with a very small smattering of more serous works.

It would have been surprising to find an anti-alcohol work on this list, but having examined the beer list, I think I will try to find a similar list for health, temperance, prohibition or the like and see what that holds.

Attending the AHA

I returned yesterday from attending the American Historical Association annual meeting in New York City. The AHA is always very large and the panels are usually not that interesting. Most of the people attending are in some way involved in the job process; either interviewing or being interviewed. I am very glad I do not do that anymore. Smaller conferences like the ones the ADHS sponsors are much nicer and have more interesting panels. The few Berkshire Conferences I have attended have also been very nice.

The Hilton was the headquarters for the conference; it was very poorly run. Our room had no remote control for the TV, no hair dryer and no pen or pad. You could not get a bellman and the check-in was a nightmare. The drinks is the bar were ridiculously expensive; $11 for a Guinness and $4 for a seltzer. Of course it is New York but still.

The ADHS is an affiliate organization and always holds sessions concurrently, mostly due to W. Scott Haine. The first panel was on Friday afternoon and was on “Writers, the Creative Process, and the Influence of Drink and Drugs.” The papers were very interesting; the main question that came up for me was that of sociability and whether the sociability of a psychoactive substance affects how society looks at the substance. Alcohol has always been seen as a social activator while drugs such as opium or heroin are usually characterized as individualistic in their effects. Does society look at alcohol or coffee more favorably because of the perceived sociability of those drugs?

The other ADHS panel was one that I was on; “American Alcohol Studies Matures: The Class of 1979, Thirty Years of Reflection.” I am part of the “Class of 1979” because I helped found the Alcohol Temperance History Group (the former name of the ADHS). Dan Malleck, who is the editor of the ADHS journal, chaired the session. The other panelists either published books in 1979 or were influenced by books published in 1979.

We had a good discussion, both between the panelists and with the audience. There were many questions about transnational history and the study of alcohol and other drugs. David Courtwright, the incoming president of the ADHS, made the point that we too often do the single country or single drug kind of book. This is definitely true but there is also the problem of doability, especially for dissertations. If anyone is interested in my paper, email me and I can send you a copy.

Besides seeing Eric Foner, my dissertation sponsor and a good friend, the only other panel I attended was “Discrimination/Harassment on the Job”, sponsored by the Professional Division of the AHA and other groups. People spoke about the various, ongoing problems facing women, people of color, glbt, and disabled people seeking and retaining employment as historians.

Some of the stories were horrifying; several people remarked that Fortune 500 companies are ahead of academia in dealing with issues of family and work life balance as well as policing discriminatory hiring practices. Although I have not worked at a large corporation, I have worked in non-academic settings – hospitals. These institutions are just as capable of being discriminatory and harassing as your average history department. I think it is a bit of wistful thinking on the part of academics to believe that people working for corporations have it better.

Although I do not make my living as an academic, I do consider myself a professional historian and that is something I am proud of. I am also proud of being a nurse, an author, and a mother. The idea that one’s adult life goes along a linear path was never true for women and is increasing not true for men as well.

Your Liver on Drugs

normal liver

Cirrohotic Liver
Cirrhotic Liver

Tylenol has apparently started an advertising campaign to warn people about abuse of acetaminophen and liver damage. The television commercial, which I saw while I was running on the treadmill at the gym, explains how your liver processes almost everything you ingest. If you take too much acetaminophen you can harm your liver. You might take the right amount, but other drugs you take could also contain it. An example is taking a prescribed pain med such as vicodin and then an hour later taking two extra strength tylenol. The other problem is that many people think that if two pills are good three must be better.

This public service campaign and its focus on maintaining a healthy liver reminds me of a paper I wrote when I was taking a graduate course in public health nursing. In “American Indian and Alaska  Native: A Healthy People 2000 Proposal”, my partner and I envisioned a healthy liver curriculum that would teach young peoples about the dangers of abusing drugs and alcohol and the harm it can cause the liver. Of course Scientific Temperance Instruction, a major aspect of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union program,  involved showing a classroom of young students a shriveled up liver in a jar Recently A Good Beer Blog was questioning the validity of research showing that as little of a pint of beer can  damage your liver.

Alcohol related disease often goes unreported as a cause of death. From the public health perspective alcohol abuse is most often the problem with an ensuing focus on the psychosocial dynamic misuse of alcohol engenders.  Although society often characterizes alcoholism as a disease, both scholars and practitioners often slight the physical aspects of the disease. Further complicating matters research shows that some alcohol consumption is healthy, particularly for the cardiovascular system.  Heart disease is the number one killer of Indians and non-Indians alike.

Rick Warren

I worked very hard to help elect Barack Obama and I am very proud that I did. I can’t wait for him to actually become President; Inauguration Day can not come soon enough. This year was the first time in my life that the person I wanted to become president actually won. Because of this, I have decided to trust him and, at the very least, wait until he is in the Oval Office before I start finding fault. However, his choice of Reverend Rick Warren to lead the invocation at Inauguration is very troubling.

When I studied the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt in graduate school, most scholars agreed that he was a wonderful president but that he had shown a deaf ear to the problems of African-Americans. There were various political reasons for this, but in hindsight it is a mark against his administration.

I believe that in the future historians will judge Barack Obama to have been a great president, but he will have a black mark against his administration because of his cluelessness around gay rights. I am sure that there are political reasons for his choice of Rick Warren but he and his team underestimated or were unaware of the deep disapproval the choice would generate among gays and their supporters. It is a mistake, his first. We can only hope that he will learn form his mistakes and understand that the position of gays in American society is a civil right issue.

If you have any doubts about the meaning and importance of gay rights, go see Milk. The film is amazing and reaffirms the need for ongoing action and commitment to the struggle for equality for all Americans.

Health Taxes

Today’s New York Times has an article about financing the various health care proposals. Most of the plans would cost a lot of money and one option for covering costs is to “increase taxes on cigarettes and non-diet soft drinks.”

I have written about this before but it is obvious that when considering health care reform, legislators will tun to products that they feel increase the cost of health care to help pay. The question remains whether they will decide alcoholic beverages are unhealthy enough to generate increased taxes as well.

Paragraphs

In the fall of 2007 when publication of Brewing Battles was imminent I knew I wanted to have a website. I settled on Networks Solutions to host my site, primarily because it seems like setup would be easy, I would not have to learn html, and I could have a blog on the site.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty and I now realize I was overly optimistic. I have had to learn some html; to maintain this WordPress blog I will have to learn css. In addition, Network Solution only half-heartedly supports the blog since within Image Café, its non-html web building software, you can’t actually have true external links.

In trying to acquire a deeper knowledge about websites and blogging, I have turned to books and online forums. I have had mixed results. Books such as the “dummies” series usually have general information but rarely address a specific concern or problem. The same is usually true for online forums. The WordPress documentation and support, so far, has been useless. Since I have had little success in finding answers ,I may have to write my own book. I always assume that I am not unique and other people probably have the same issues.

From my first posting on this WordPress blog to this one ,I have learned how to put spaces between paragraphs. You have to place a string of code after each paragraph. I find it very odd that in Microsoft Word you just hit enter, but for the blog I had to spend several hours figuring out how to get the space. Now every time I write more than one paragraph I will have to include the code. If someone could make blogging as easy as word processing they would make a lot of money and people would be eternally gratefully. At the very least I would be.

What’s Next

I have started thinking about my next project. Brewing Battles was my attempt to get into print some of the ideas, concepts, and research contained in my dissertation. Publishing the book has given me a good sense of closure yet I am not sure if I am done yet. My dissertation, “The Politics of Alcohol Production: The Liquor Industry and the Federal Government 1862 – 1900” dealt both with distilled spirits and beer. The parts of the dissertation that dealt with distilling remain unpublished; there is limited access to the material. I would like more people to read the ideas contained in those chapters but I do not feel that I necessarily want to write a companion book, Distilling Duels: The History of the Distilled Spirits Industry in America.



For the book, I chose to focus on beer because the story of brewing and brewers in America seemed both more cohesive and more integral to American history. The history of distilled spirits in America is a more predictable one, with concentration and consolidation occurring earlier and more completely. A notable exception was bourbon which claimed a more distinctive heritage and marketing.

Recently the same impulse that prompted home brewers, craft brewers, and regional brewers to reinvent American brewing on a small, local, artisanal basis has spread to distilled spirits. Anchor Steam now has a distillery, V1 Vodka produces small batch vodka in Western Massachusetts, and there are artisanal producers of rum and other alcoholic beverages.

To order my dissertation you can go to Dissertation Express . Type in my name, Amy Mittelman and or the title of the dissertation, “The Politics of Alcohol Production: TheLiquor Industry and the Federal Government, 1862 – 1900.”

You can also try to get a copy of the dissertation through inter library loan.