New Drug Czar

Yesterday Vice President Joe Biden announced the appointment of Gil Kerlikowske as the country’s drug czar. Kerlikowske is the Chief of Police in Seattle, Washington. Both the city and the state have been in the forefront of harm reduction. Although Kerlikowske has not been a strenuous advocate of such policies, he has not opposed them.

In 2008 drug policy reformers sought lessons from  Prohibition and Repeal and hope from the election of Barack Obama. Many now feel that the appointment of Kerlikowske justifies that hope. Activists might have preferred a public health expert as  the new czar, but  Kerlikowske’s neutrality represents a significant change in policy from the Bush administration.

Most of the money the federal government spends on preventing illegal drug use is on the supply side rather than on treatment. For four years,I worked as a  nurse  in a  methadone clinic. That experience convinced me that education, support, and ongoing treatment are the keys to reducing our country’s drug addiction problem.

Jewish Beer and Brewing

On Sunday, I gave a talk at the Jewish Community of Amherst on “Jewish Beer and Brewing.” I didn’t actually write that much about this topic in my book, Brewing Battles, so this talk was a combination of material from the book and other sources. For this blog post, I will present primarily the new material.


In 1840, the Jewish population in America was about 15,000. By 1880, there were 250,000. The majority were German Jews. Their reasons for leaving were very similar to non-Jewish Germans. Many of the German Jewish immigrants were involved in business including banking and department stores. German Jews had not been prominently involved in brewing in Germany and thus did not gravitate to that industry in America. The industry that both German and Eastern European Jewish immigrants played a major role in was the garment industry as well as department stores. My father and his family all worked in the garment industry. Continue reading “Jewish Beer and Brewing”

Self Publishing

Many people seem to feel the book as a printed, tangible object may be on the way out. The rise in popularity of digital readers such as Kindle would seem to support this idea. The apparent demise of the book has not stopped books from being published. In 2008 almost 480,000 books were published or distributed in the U.S. This was an increase of over 100,000 books from 2007.

A recent article in the New York Times explored the contribution of self-published books to this increase. Technological advances have enabled aspiring authors to obtain printed copies of their work for as little as $3. Most self-publishing companies charge authors fees, staring at $99, for various services. The article points out that self-publishing authors sacrifice access to marketing and distribution that traditional publishers usually provide.

The article posits a strict dichotomy between self publishing and conventional publishing. Many authors who have their books published by main stream publishers do not receive any marketing services and have to market the book themselves. Technology and Amazon have given publishers greater latitude in printing and distribution which can led to a conventionally published book not being available from a wholesaler such as Baker & Taylor. Often being published by commercial publisher gives the author that distinction and nothing else. Some self publishing firms provide distribution via wholesalers as part of their services. It is more appropriate to look at publishing in 2009 as being a spectrum with major publishing houses on one end and self publishing at the other. For many authors in the middle there is little difference.

E Books

There was a review of the new version of Amazon’s Kindle in the New York Times the other day; today the Times has a story looking at several e-book personal reading devices. The question I have is about ebooks in libraries. WorldCat says about 140 libraries have a ebook version of Brewing Battles. On June 30 2008 WorldCat had 120 libraries owning the e book.I got my royalty statement in August and I got royalties on 3 ebooks. Does anybody understand how that works? So if the future of books, particularly more scholarly ones, is ebooks, does that mean authors will make even less from their books?

The other issue with ebooks in libraries is connected to the different databases and electronic services various libraries have, depending on the cost of the items. So if an academic institution doesn’t have a lot of money they may not have as big a collection of ebooks as another library. Some libraries may allow you to download a pdf of the book -in essence borrow the book-  and some may not.

The Slow and Steady Approach

The immediacy of blogging is both a blessing and a curse. The pressure to respond immediately to a news item or story prompts writing and diminishes procrastination. That’s the good part. The bad is when you miss the boat and don’t write something in a timely manner. The consequences are that someone else often posts about the very thing you were sure you would convey so elegantly.

You quickly forget the lost opportunity as the next topic emerges out of the ether of the world. The cycle begins again. There is also the option of ignoring the pressures of immediacy;  choosing instead to post about topics that may have a  longer shelf life than a day.

Ironically I wrote the above words last week. My plan was to post this, then begin posting about stories and ideas I had been ruminating on for the last month or so. My hope was that the longer period of reflection would yield better insight.

Before I could put this plan in motion, the immediate side of blogging reemerged. I guess that ultimately my approach to blogging is to be both the tortoise and the hare.

Bye Bye Blue Laws?

Blue Laws  restrict the selling of alcohol on Sundays and date back to the nineteenth century. Blue law legislation can also prohibit other commercial activities on Sunday. Most states have rescinded or overturned this legislation but Connecticut, Georgia, and Indiana still restrict sales of all alcoholic beverages. Fifteen other states , including Texas, prohibit the sale of distilled spirits only.

According to Time, these states may soon join the rest of the country in providing 24/7 liquor sales to their citizens. Although the Christian right opposes overturning the Blue laws, the states feel they are losing a valuable source of revenue by continuing  to prohibit Sunday sales. Connecticut faces competition from both New York and Massachusetts while Texas feels it is losing  revenue from potential sales along the border with Mexico.

The Time article points out how governments turn to alcohol as a source of revenue during hard times. The Repeal of Prohibition at the height of the Great Depression is the most striking parallel to today’s situation. President Obama certainly appears to share President Franklin Roosevelt’s affinity for cocktails but Jessica Warner, The Day George Bush Stopped Drinking: Why Abstinence Matters to the Religious Right, argues that, as a society America needs to abstain from something. If the revenue needs of states move our abstemious gaze away from alcohol, what other substance or behavior will we seek to curtail?

60 Minutes

I just finished watching a segment of 60 Minutes on the drinking age. I have written about this subject before but I guess there is always more to say. The spokesperson for the college presidents who want to lower the drinking age to eighteen was John McCardell, former president of Middleburry College while the head of MADD spoke in opposition. 60 Minutes told a horrific story about an eighteen year old who died of alcohol poisoning following a fraternity initiation rite. His friends left him alone to die. Both his parents and McCardell seem to feel that the situation would have been different if the drinking age was lower. I am not sure if the legal status of the alcohol and the drinkers could change the basic immaturity of the people involved. To my mind, their lack of judgment in every area caused the death of that young man.

McCardell wants to accompany the lowering of the drinking age with mandatory alcohol education and a subsequent license to drink. He proposed this after saying he wasn’t suggesting temperance or prohibition. However, his ideas for alcohol education sound a lot like Scientific Temperance Instruction which was a program of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement and featured a shriveled up liver in a jar. Although McCardell wants to paint his opposition as prohibitionist, his ideas support a temperate or moderate approach to drinking. McCardell acknowledged, to Leslie Stahl, that many people are opposed to lowering the drinking age but he feels history is on his side. After all, according to him, everyone knows that Prohibition failed. If the issue is strictly levels of alcohol consumption, Prohibition did not fail. Levels decreased significantly and did not climb back up to pre-Prohibition levels until the 1970s.

A Day in New York City

Yesterday I had to go to New York City for the day. After my appointment I had about four hours to kill before my train left. First I went to the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum which until 2000 was the Abigail Adams Smith House. I had chosen to go there because I thought it was the headquarters of the Colonial Dames of America. colonial-barbie

The CDA does manage the Museum but their offices and presumably archives are in the building next door. This was built in 1977 to look old. Oddly enough, this building looks worse than the museum, which was built in 1799 as a carriage house for the planned mansion of Abigail Adams Smith, John Adams daughter, and her husband. The museum does not have any artifacts pertaining to the Smiths which may be one reason they changed their mission.In 1826 Joseph Hart purchased the carriage house and turned it into a day resort, equivalent to a spa today.  Hart operated this business for seven years until 1833.

The museum only has a few things that are actually from the hotel. The rest of the artifacts are “of the period.”  This is often the case with small museums. No one was in at the CDA so I couldn’t talk to them.

After the 30 minute tour of the museum I ate lunch and then I went to Bloomingdales. I haven’t been in Bloomies in a very long time. The display windows  are full of Barbie doll mannequins because Barbie is 50 and Bloomingdales is celebrating her birthday. According to the New York Times the store is “leaning on Barbie to salvage its quarterly bottom line.”

On the third floor there must have been over one hundred Barbies from different years dressed as different careers including doctor and stewardess. There were also Barbies as different celebrity figures. Apparently the first one of these was Twiggy in the 70s but there is also one of Beyonce. Most of the dolls are from the 90s. The 1959 Barbie is a replica.I confess I still have my Barbie which dates from that time.

On the second floor the store is selling Barbie purses and replica dolls. There is also a display of life size mannequins in designer clothes. Although I didn’t plan on it, the day turned out to have a theme, Both the  Colonial Dames and Barbie represent American womanhood and ideals of femininity. Now I just have to figure out how they are connected.

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!

%d bloggers like this: