September 11 – Eight Years Later

Today is the eighth anniversary of the terrible events of September 11 2001. This is a particularly poignant day because we are in New York. Eight years ago, I had been in New York the day before, September 10, and woke up, at home. on the morning of the 11th to hear my husband’s voice on the answering machine, ” I don’t know if you have heard what happened in New York but my parents are okay.” As everyone knows, September11 2001 was a picture perfect New York fall day and the 10th was as well. I felt very steeped in my New York roots because I had spent the evening of the 9th reading about the  pending city elections while I waited for my friend who I was visiting to come home.

Today, September 11, 2009, is not a beautiful day. The weather is  very bad, with high winds and heavy downpours. Because of these bad conditions, we have been unable to attend any commemorative event. Many of them were outdoors.

Despite that, since 2001, I have felt that this day should not be like every other day.  Apparently President  Obama and Congress agree with me. In March the federal government designated September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.  I really hope that this takes root and becomes how  people commemorate September 11th in future years.

My thoughts are with all the people who suffered a loss on that fateful day and it is my sincerest wish that nothing like that will ever happen to any person or country again.

End of Life

While driving today I saw a car that had written on its side, “Obama Lies, Granny Dies.” Of course this refers to the mistaken belief that HR3200. one of the various versions of health care legislation, creates “death panels” that will deem a senior life not worth living. The bill does not really say this. It simply states that if a person receives end of life counseling from a doctor, Medicare will reimburse them for the cost of that consultation. In my experience as a nurse, end of life counseling, health care proxies, and living wills are very infrequent. Doctors are often woefully ill equipped to provide appropriate direction and support for family members needing to decide about whether their loved one should remain on life support. As a result, patients can suffer needlessly at the end of their life. Family members who have not discussed these issues prior to a crisis or final illness are often ill prepared and are more likely to panic and disregard the wishes of their family member. End of life counseling also covers hospice options and pain management choices. Finally, end of life counseling also can include a discussion of Do Not Resuscitate orders. Many people do not realize that if your aged mother goes into cardiac arrest and your father calls, the paramedics who respond are required to perform CPR, insert breathing tubes, and transport the person to the hospital. Having a signed DNR prevents this scene. Deciding against heroic measures at the end of life is a very personal choice. HR3200 would not dictate to anyone what choice he or she should make; rather it would strengthen the concept of informed consent.

Beer Summit

This evening, President Obama, Henry Louis Gates, and Sgt. Crowley will all have a beer together at the White House. Apparently there is not much other news – I guess there is nothing going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy or health care and OctoMom’s reality show hasn’t started yet. Because of this dearth of news, newspapers and online news sites have  had a lot  to say about the beer summit. Much of the discussion has focused on what type of beer the three men will drink. Some American craft brewers are apparently offended that no domestically produced beer will be available. I think this is manufactured news and somewhat silly. Since this tempest in a teapot  or beer stein hasn’t generated much buzz, some news sources are trying to suggest that people will care about the President serving alcohol. Towards this end the Wall Street Journal spoke to the national president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Even if the WCTU was solely responsible for Prohibition as the article wrongly implies, is it still a relevant organization? I could not find out about membership figures for the WCTU  and it has affiliates in only five states. American society is not anti-alcohol and the number of people who totally abstain from drinking is a minority. To imply that President Obama will suffer a dip in his popularity because he drinks and serves beer is ridiculous.

Beer and the New Jersey Turnpike

There has been ongoing discussion in the beer blogosphere about Flying Fish Brewing Company’s decision to name a variety of  it’s beers after exits on the New Jersey turnpike. My first thought was that for anyone who has ever driven the New Jersey Turnpike this wouldn’t be very appealing or effective  marketing. Other people had more serious objections. A spokesperson for New Jersey MADD  initially released a statement claiming the Exit Series Beers were endorsing drinking and driving. Most beer bloggers responded to this claim with ridicule. MADD later retracted the statement.

Yesterday,Alan McLeod, A Good Beer Blog proposed that beer bloggers take the issue of drunk driving seriously and called for a new organization, Beer Bloggers Against Drunk Driving or BBADD.

In a followup post today, Alan suggested that the interests of brewers and beer bloggers differ. “From those in the trade, there’s a reluctance to look anything like MADD or to discuss the negatives related to craft beer.”

Historically however, the brewing industry tried very hard to work with and help fund MADD and other neo-temperance organizations.  While the USBA still existed they were very careful to not express an opinion on the minimum drinking age and were totally supportive of MADD’s efforts to reduce drunk driving. The Beer Institute, successor to the USBA, has pretty much followed this line. The larger brewers organizations generally save their energy for fighting taxes increases and any attempts to restrict their abilities to market their products.

I have been reading beer bloggers for about three or four years and it is my observation that  beer bloggers, who are sometimes also home brewers,  are the most vociferous in their complaints about neo-temperance activities. I think Alan will have an uphill battle  promoting BBADD.


The Legitimacy of Taxes

Today’s New York Times has a story about Oakland, California passing a “huge tax increase – 15 times the former rate” on medical marijuana. Members of the pot industry see this as a further step towards legalization of marijuana.  From 1862 on, the liquor industry accepted federal taxation in exchange for the recognition of their business as legitimate. During Prohibition,  Jacob Ruppert and other brewers argued for a return to legal production of alcohol for  tax benefits. Repeal occurred in part because of the desire of very wealthy Americans to avoid personal tax increases during the Great Depression. California has a huge budget crisis.  Oakland will raise $300,000 from the tax increase. The need of governments for steady, stable sources of revenue often triumphs over moral concerns.

marijuana plant


On Monday the Congress voted to appoint Robert M. Groves as the director of the Census Bureau. (See New York Times )The upcoming 2010 Census has become very political. Republicans are worried about the use of sampling and ACORN workers to conduct the census. In 1988 I worked as Field Operations Supervisor in preparation for the 1990 census.

I had used census material from the nineteenth century in my research and was excited to help with the compiling of contemporary data. My experience doing this job for about six months made me much more skeptical about the validity of the statistics .

Groves’ appointment reminded me of this work and also of the d’var torah we heard while we were in Israel. We attended a Reconstructionist minyan on Shabbat and one of the rabbinical students spending a year in Israel gave a talk on the Torah portion for that day. It was from Numbers and had to do with the counting of the Jewish people. The person talked about what it means to be counted and if there are time when we would not want to be counted.

Another day on our Israel  trip we spent time with Daniel Rossing, Director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations. He discussed the minority status of Christians in Jerusalem. All of this has made me realize that we hold a multiplicity of identities at the same time. We can be the person with power in one situation and completely powerless in another. When it comes time to be counted what position you are in could make a big difference in how you would feel about being counted.

A-B Anniversay

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the InBev takeover of Anheuser-Busch. Jeremiah McWilliams had a story about it in Sunday’s St Louis Post-Dispatch. His story detailed the sequence of events that led to InBev taking over the  historic, mega company  Anheuser-Busch. Sidebars contained comments by government officials about the importance of Anheuser-Busch to the St. Louis and Missouri economy.

I don’t feel that the sale of A-B to InBev has really made that much difference in the beer landscape. The company is still a very big corporation producing a high quality, standardized product that I don’t like. At the time of the takeover, commentators wondered if it would set off a new round of mergers. That has not really happened; probably because of the global economic meltdown. Prior to the takeover, craft brewers and the mega breweries occupied two different and fairly distinct tiers of the brewing industry. That has not changed. Distribution issues for craft brewers and the perhaps, unfair advantage the big brewers have, have also persisted.

The biggest impact of the creation of InBev-AB  has been on the employees of Anheuser Busch. In that way the takeover contributed to the country’s negative economic picture. However, a year later, this Bud is still not for me.

( I could not find a link to the story. McWilliams’ blog is lagerheads/stltoday)

Book Review: “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant

The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, (Scribner:New York, 2008)is well written. The device of placing Sherwood Anderson within the story is more problematic. Anderson does serve to frame the story as a mystery. Under the guise of writing a story about the Bondurant boys and moonshine, Anderson’s character helps guide the reader through the narrative maze. It is interesting that Bondurant starts his story of hardship for the family in the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919. This certainly gives his book a timely feeling.

Bondurant presents illicit distilling or moonshine production as occurring because of both hard times and thrill seeking. Moonshine, governmental corruption, and tax evasion have a long history, dating back to 1862 and the creation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to finance the Civil War.

Until the passage of the Volstead Act, which established enforcement procedures for Prohibition, the federal government had a limited view of its proper role in the regulation of the liquor industry. From 1862 on, officials conceived of liquor taxation as an easy, painless, and morally expedient way to raise revenue. High excise rates led to speculation, corruption and illegal distilling, significantly reducing the amount of money the government received. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 created many new patronage positions and new opportunities for spoils. Because officials established a bureaucracy but paid little attention to administration, time honored patterns of political appointments and gain continued.

Despite reform efforts by David A. Wells and others, the combined forces of speculators and government spoils men dominated the federal tax policy and its administration. In the generally lax atmosphere of the Grant presidency, corruption reached new heights. Using the need for funds for Grant’s reelection as a pretext, mid-level revenue officials in St. Louis and other Mid-west cities set up a collection ring that cost the federal government millions in revenue from St. Louis alone.

Following the breakup of the Whiskey Ring, the administration of the Bureau of Internal Revenue stabilized. Although fraud by licensed distillers did not disappear, the Bureau shifted its attention to moonshine, particularly in the South.1 These unlicensed distillers are the characters in The Wettest County. During Prohibition, any production of alcohol for commercial purposes was illegal but the Virginia distillers in the book had a history of illegal production dating back to the nineteenth century.

After Repeal, widespread illicit distilling subsided but Southern moonshine has remained a perennial problem for the federal government. Federal legislation prohibits distillation of spirits for home use. Distilling sprits always requires payment of taxes and filing of paperwork prior to beginning production. In the early twentieth-first century, the ATF was the lead agency in Operation Lighting Strike, formed in Virginia and North Carolina to fight the big business of illicit distillation of alcohol. In a first, Operation Lightning Strike used federal money-laundering legislation to combat moonshine.2

Jack Bondurant is the chief protagonist; the author does not fully develop his character. The epilogue, which ends the book, although factual, is the least developed aspect of the book, particularly because the author does not really explain why Jack left the family business. Overall, The Wettest County is enjoyable to read and provides some, good historical information.

Poppins on the Roof

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in the movie
Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins in the movie

I went to New York City for the day on Saturday. There was an extended family with two little girls also on the train. They were going to see Mary Poppins, the musical This made me think about the ways in which P.L. Travers original book has been transformed; first into a Disney movie, which I loved as a child, and now a Broadway musical. The book was not about the sanctity of the nuclear family and the importance of parents being involved in their children’s life. The movie was about this and I imagine the musical had developed this theme even further. I feel this is the Disneyfication of Mary Poppins.

When we were in Israel, I had the opportunity to see Fiddler on the Roof, performed in Hebrew at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv.  Earlier in the day, Noam Semel, the creative director of the theater had given us a tour and then nicely got us complimentary seats. It was a unique experience. We had spent several days talking about Israel and the goals of Zionists in founding the country. The early settlers of Israel wanted to create a new Jewish identity that had nothing to do with the life they had led in Eastern Europe. For example, they chose to revive Hebrew rather than have Yiddish, the language of Eastern Europe, as the national language.

Sholem Aleichem’s, Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories is the basis for Fiddler on the Roof. He wrote the stories in Yiddish. In the early 1960’s, Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein, created a Broadway musical out of Aleichem’s stories about Tevye. Later it became a film. Similar to Disney’s treatment of Mary Poppins, the creators of Fiddler on the Roof sanitized and modernized Aleichem’s original material. In the book, when the daughter Chava, marries a Christian boy from the village she is lost to her family. They cannot even see her and mourn for her as if she is dead. The play and the movie both minimized this trauma, making it more about Tevye’s inability to be that flexible rather than a complete tearing of the family’s fabric.

The Israeli production of Fiddler is a big hit and the audience genuinely seemed to enjoy the nostalgic look back at early twentieth century shtetl life. However, most of the viewers and their ancestors did not have that past and the founding of Israel was a conscious repudiation of that narrative. The play was a Hebrew translation of an English language interpretation of a Yiddish book.

Fiddler on the Roof, Cameri Theater Tel Aviv
Fiddler on the Roof, Cameri Theater Tel Aviv

I now think it would be great to see Fiddler in different languages – Russian, Japanese, Chinese, maybe even Arabic. Largely I think the material and Tevye have become everyman, international style. The family values and the ongoing daily struggle of his life have universal appeal and speak to memories, real or imagined, for various national groups.


On Friday, The New York Times had a story about the United States Conference of Mayors meeting that was last weekend in Providence, Rhode Island.  Apparently, top-level administration officials, including Vice-President Biden, did not plan to attend because local firefighters were going to be picketing during the event. Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s Press Secretary stated, “We (the administration) have always respected picket lines and administration officials will not cross one.”

I do not think we have has such a pro-labor, pro-union Presidency since the New Deal. The firefighters union has been in a contract dispute with the city for ten years. The Mayors’ group chose Providence for their meeting five years ago. The Mayor of Providence, David N. Cicilline (D) called the picketing “political extortion.”

The Providence firefighters are using time-honored organizing tools including the boycott to advance their agenda. Boycotts were a typical tactic of unions, including the brewery workers, in the nineteenth century. Since the Obama administration is supportive of labor and unions, it will be interesting to see if that support, combined with hard economic times, leads to greater labor activity and union organizing.

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