Beer: Does this count as a crisis?

This is simply not the kind of headline I like to see in the morning: “Shortage of beer ingredients may mean higher prices“. Ye gads, that sets a bad tone for the day.

Shannon Dininny explains:

Small brewers from Australia to Oregon face the daunting prospect of tweaking their recipes or experimenting less with new brews thanks to a worldwide shortage of one key beer ingredient and rising prices for others.

Oh, and one other thing: Beer prices are likely to climb. How high is anybody’s guess. Craft brewers don’t have the means to hedge against rising prices, like their industrial rivals.

“I’m guessing, at a minimum, at least a 10 percent jump in beer prices for the average consumer before the end of the year,” said Terry Butler, brewmaster at central Washington’s Snipes Mountain.

While recent years have seen major brewers struggle with flat sales, craft breweries have enjoyed the fruits of dignified labor and proper beer. 2006 saw an estimated 12% increase among craft brewers to 6.7 million barrels. Microbreweries saw 16% growth overall last year.

Now the bright spot in the brewing industry is facing mounting costs on nearly every front. Fuel, aluminum and glass prices have been going up quickly over a period of several years. Barley and wheat prices have skyrocketed as more farmers plant corn to meet increasing demand for ethanol, while others plant feed crops to replace acres lost to corn.

A decade-long oversupply of hops that had forced farmers to abandon the crop is finally gone and harvests were down this year. In the United States, where one-fourth of the world’s hops are grown, acreage fell 30 percent between 1995 and 2006.

Australia endured its worst drought on record. Hail storms across Europe damaged crops. Extreme heat in the western United States hurt both yields and quality.

Dininny notes that industrial brewers such as Miller and Anheuser-Busch can plan against rising prices, and this makes sense. The volume of their supply contracts, combined with the fact that their beers do not depend so integrally on quality ingredients, makes it easier for them to weather the storm. As long as what they’re buying is remotely viable, they can make their swill which, in some countries, is illegal to sell as “beer”. With trouble in hops and rising malt prices, some quality brewers will simply scale back their product diversity. This sounds worrisome in a certain way.

I remember, for instance, the first time I had New Belgium’s famous Fat Tire Ale. The stuff was accessible the way few of the craft brews at the time were. Over time, that accessibility came to count against it in my book; its flavor came to seem generic. Fat Tire has taken a dubious station among beer snobs; it is our bottom-tier brew. On the one hand, that puts it in decent company; local favorite Redhook has somehow transformed its ESB (extra special bitter) into one of the blandest beers around, which, in the end, makes it more accessible to consumers attempting to graduate from the MGD and Busch market.

And this is where the looming crisis becomes worrisome. I do not doubt that quality beer will survive this period. We need not throw our hands in the air and run screaming to the hills with our hair on fire. But as our fine brewers decide on how to respond to market troubles, one could hardly blame them if they choose to run with their most accessible labels, and leave some of their more complex or specialized flavors to neglect and the shadows of memory. Heaven help us all if the blue lines suffer.

Snipes Mountain brewmaster Terry Butler is among those who will tinker with their recipies. “Palate-wise,” he notes, “it may change the flavor a little bit, but only a little bit.” Eric Rode, lead brewer at Tommyknocker Brewery traded out his hops last year, which altered the flavor of is the brewery’s three lagers. Though the Hallertau crop was there for him this year, the tweaking of recipes is a trend likely to continue. Thanks to Tommyknocker’s foresight in supply contracts, their brews saw only a fifty-cent increase per case on wholesale. Harry Schuhmacher, editor of Beer Business Daily, said price increases have so far been modest. “Brewers are trying to take pricing up, but it’s hard when beer is pretty sensitive to pricing per volume.”

To the other, though, the small breweries that cannot protect themselves as well against price fluctuations are better positioned to raise their prices. “They’re able to increase pricing more without losing drinkers,” Schuhmacher said. And it’s true. I’d pay more for a Boundary Bay or Diamond Knot IPA. And it doesn’t matter to me what happens to the price of a Miller High Life or Coors Light. I’m unlikely to put money down for either.

The question, of course, is how much of a rise consumers will tolerate. Matt Long, brewmaster at Big Sky Brewing, suggests, “The trend is going to be toward ten-dollar six packs.” To the other, he tries to be optimistic about the future: “”Maybe the pendulum will swing back … It might not happen for the 2008 crop, but maybe at some point, it’ll come back halfway, which would be nice.”

The truly worrisome note, though, comes from Paul Gatza of the Brewers Association. He sees challenges to innovation and testing for seasonal brews. “I would think brewers will try to keep their existing beers in the marketplace if they can …. But this may put a damper on some of that innovation and experimentation for some of those hoppier beers, which is a shame.”

And that means the blue lines are in danger. Can we call it a crisis yet?

Update: Indian girl survives separation surgery

I recently posted a “Headline of the Day” about an eight-armed girl from India undergoing surgery to separate her from her parasitic conjoined twin. The least I could do, for the sake of decency, is include a note that it appears all went as well as it could. Young Lakshmi Tatma survived the 27-hour surgical process that has, so far, been hailed a success. Yesterday, the family made its first public appearance. Lindsay McIntosh writes for the Scotsman:

The youngster, who was named after the four-armed Hindu goddess of wealth, appeared subdued – although her mother said she was “behaving exactly like her old self” – and her legs were in a blue cast.

A week ago, medics operated for 27 hours to remove what amounted to Lakshmi’s headless identical twin sister, who was joined at the pelvis and who did not develop and separate properly in the womb. The rare birth defect is known as a parasitic twin.

As well as cutting off the extra limbs, surgeons also removed extra internal organs and corrected a deformed skeleton.

Dr Sharan Patil, who led a surgical team of about 30 at the Sparsh Hospital in Bangalore, said: “All the surgeons’ lives have been enriched by our contact with Lakshmi and I really feel it has been our privilege. By no means are we completely done with Lakshmi but so far, so good.”

The BBC reported last week that doctors “hoped the procedure will allow her to survive beyond adolescence”.

Lakshmi Tatma with father, after surgery

Lakshmi Tatma, before surgery

CT scan of Lakshmi Tatma before surgery

Photos, clockwise from top left: Lakshmi with mother before surgery; Lakshmi appears in public with father after surgery; CT scan of Lakshmi Tatma before surgery. (Click for related content.)

Do we celebrate this record?

Speaking of abstinence education, I tip my hat to Dan Savage, who asks the pertinent question at Slog:

After a decade’s worth of abstinence education—a billion dollar’s worth—should we really be reading headlines like this one ….

Raise a glass, folks, because Americans are moving on up. That headline? “U.S. sets record in sexual disease cases“.

And the winner is … chlamydia!

The numbers, first, according to AP’s Mike Stobbe:

The CDC releases a report each year on chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, three diseases caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.

Chlamydia is the most common. Nearly 1,031,000 cases were reported last year, up from 976,000 the year before.

The count broke the single-year record for reported cases of a sexually transmitted disease, which was 1,013,436 cases of gonorrhea, set in 1978.

Putting those numbers into rates, there were about 349 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2006, up 5.6 percent from the 329 per 100,000 rate in 2005 ….

…. About three-quarters of women infected with chlamydia have no symptoms. Left untreated, the infection can spread and ultimately can lead to infertility. It’s easily treated if caught early.

Health officials believe as many as 2.8 million new cases may actually be occurring each year, he added.

Chlamydia infection rates are more than seven times higher in black women then whites, and more than twice as high in black women than Hispanics. But it’s a risk women of all races should consider, CDC officials said.

The ellipsis did knock out the silver lining: CDC officials think the climb can be partially attributed to better testing. That’s the only upside, though, because there is a long way to go. Delthia Ricks, writing for Newsday, quotes Dr. John Douglas, director of STD prevention at CDC: “We have reason to believe that chlamydia is dramatically underreported.” Dr. Douglas also suggested that the 2006 infections probably number somewhere closer to 2.8 million.

Gonorrhea, meanwhile, having seen a statistical drop in 2004 to its lowest level since tracking began in 1941, is on the rise again. And, here’s the even worse news: there is a superbug—resistant to fluoroquinolones—and officials are not yet sure of its extent. In 2004, the drug-resistant strain came in around 7% of known gonorrhea cases. In 2005, 9%. Of the 358,000 gonorrhea cases reported in 2006, as many as 14% may be drug-resistant.

Syphilis, is up 14%, according to the numbers, representing an increase of around 1,100 cases to the 9,800 or so reported in 2006. Congenital syphilis rose only slightly to 8.5 per 100,000 live births.

And then I remember abstinence educator Pam Stenzel, who reminded in 2003 that sexually transmitted disease is not the enemy. Pardon me, please, if I do not find such notions reassuring.

The Canon – Barker’s Weaveworld

Excerpt: Weaveworld, by Clive Barker

Nothing ever begins.

There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any other story springs.

The threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and to the tales that preceded that; though as the narrator’s voice recedes the connections will seem to grow more tenuous, for each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making.

Thus the pagan will be sanctified, the tragic become laughable; great lovers will stoop to sentiment, and demons dwindle to clockwork toys.

Nothing is fixed. In and out the shuttle goes, fact and fiction, mind and matter woven into patterns that may have only this in common: that hidden among them is a filigree that will with time become a world.


Barker, Clive. Weaveworld. New York: Poseidon, 1987.

Z is for “zaftig” …

… a polite word, as I understand it, for “buxom”. Its etymology includes the Yiddish word for “succulent”.


Zaftig. I kind of like it. Old-fashioned, sublimely dirty, and just mysterious enough that the kids might like it.

Aah, family values.

Lesson over, right? Well, I should probably make a usage note to help you out. So a little background, first.

The word came to me via that forgotten magic medium called the radio. For those who have forgotten, the radio, once upon a time, was a useful and even important means for distributing information. Whether news and commentary, or sheer entertainment, there was a time when American families actually gathered around the radio in order to spend “quality time” absorbed in common experience. To the other, though, I should probably shelve, as being at least slightly neurotic, any glorious fantasy of quiet evenings spent with my daughter enraptured by public radio.

I mean, really. Come on.

Nonetheless, it happened that last month I happened to catch an episode of Speaker’s Forum on Seattle’s KUOW. The episode featured Michelle Goldberg, who covers politics for, and who came through Seattle in April, 2007, in support of her book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. She gave a good talk at Elliott Bay Book Company:

So at the 2003 conference, when the abstinence educator Pam Stenzel spoke, she knew she didn’t have to justify her objection to sex education with prosaic arguments about health and public policy. She could be frank about the real reasons society must not condone premarital sex. “Because it is,” as she shouted during one particularly impassioned moment, “Stinking filthy dirty rotten sin!” A pretty, zaftig brunette from Minnesota with a degree in psychology from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Stenzel makes a living telling kids not to have sex. Rather, she makes a living trying to scare kids out of having sex. As she says in her video, No Screwing Around, “If you have sex outside of marriage, to a partner who has only been with you, then you will pay.” A big part of her mission is puncturing students’ beliefs that condoms can protect them. She says she addresses half a million kids each year, and millions more have received her message via video. Thanks to George W. Bush, abstinence education has become a thriving industry, and Stenzel has been at its forefront. Bush appointed her to a twelve-person task force at the Department of Health and Human Services to help implement abstinence education guidelines. She’s been a guest at the White House and a speaker at the United Nations. Her non-profit company, Enlightenment Communications, which puts on abstinence talks and seminars in public schools, typically grossed several hundred thousand dollars a year during the first Bush term.

At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate, a question she regarded as risible.

“What he’s asking,” she said, “is ‘does it work?’ You know what? Doesn’t matter. ‘Cause guess what? My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public school’s job should not be to keep teens from having sex.”

Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!” And I should say that up ’til then, I agreed with her. But here’s what she means by the truth:

“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you to commit yourself to truth? Not what works, to truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day, I’m not answering to you. I’m answering to God.

“Let me tell you something, People of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy! I will not teach my child that they can sin safely!”

The crowd applauded. Of course, Stenzel isn’t just teaching her child.

Family values, indeed. Gather up the kids and have a post-pomo throwback to the glory days of radio. Or maybe put the kids to bed and fire up a joint before listening to this one. It might actually help.

Anyway, Z is for zaftig. Go on. Impress your friends with the new word you learned today.

What? I had to look it up when I got home. And judging by the puzzled looks I’ve been getting as I play around with the word, I don’t feel stupid for having to. So neither should you, if you’ve never heard it before. In fact, if you already know this word, consider yourself either smart or old. Maybe both.

Seriously. I’m just glad the explanation didn’t involve any crippling moral dysfunction.

Oh. Right. Sorry. My bad.

Vocabulary lesson, A to Z …

… and nothing in between?

At any rate, first up, autogynephilia. Is it a scary word? Don’t worry, I won’t laugh if you say yes. In a way it’s simple, with the foremost translation or definition given as “love of oneself as a woman”. There is a catch, however: this does not refer to self-empowerment among feminists, but rather to heterosexual men.


Try it this way:

…. I think of an e-mail I received shortly after the Curtis scandal broke. A friend, a sex researcher, read an item I posted about Curtis on Slog, The Stranger‘s blog. I titled my post “XXX-Gay,” a reference to the adult bookstore and the porn films Curtis purchased for Castagna to watch while the men had sex.

My friend was writing to say it was possible that Curtis was telling the truth when he said he wasn’t gay.

I scoffed when I read my friend’s e-mail. Curtis was recycling Larry “I’m Not Gay” Craig’s talking points, for crying out loud. That’s pretty damn gay. Curtis had been fucked in his ass by a dude. It doesn’t get any gayer than that.

Does it?

You would think Savage would have a point. By and large, the whole penis-butt thing seems a standard in American society. But as suggested by Britney Spears’ popularity, the ratings for reality television, or the 2004 election of George W. Bush, American society is, by its mass standards, horribly, horribly wrong.

Really, though. Even I thought the penis-butt thing was fairly sound. Especially at the point that Republican politicians with homophobic voting records are consciously sneaking around in order to get that kind of contact.

But no. It is never so clear. It is never so simple. See, it turns out that these gay Republicans aren’t actually gay. Because when these men need to receive another man inside them, it is, in fact, a symptom of their heterosexuality.

No, seriously. Dan Savage writes:

“When I first read about the Curtis affair, I assumed that Curtis’s principal sexual attraction was to men, that his marriage was essentially one of convenience,” writes Anne A. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D., a Seattle physician and psychotherapist who specializes in gender identity issues. “[I interpreted] that his statement about ‘not being gay’ simply meant that he didn’t identify as gay, even though he was a man who had sex with men.”

But as more information came in about Curtis, Lawrence arrived at a conclusion opposite to the one everyone else was arriving at. The crossdressing, the rope, and, yes, even the anal sex—it all pointed to Curtis’s heterosexuality.

“The information that has come out about Curtis allegedly wearing women’s lingerie while engaging in receptive anal intercourse suggests the alternative hypothesis that Curtis’s principal sexual attraction is to women but that he is also sexually aroused by the idea of being a woman himself,” writes Lawrence. Curtis is so into heterosexual sex, according to this theory, that he wants to experience it from both sides. “Hypothetically, when being penetrated anally by a man, he might imagine himself as a woman being penetrated vaginally by a man. This hypothesis would also be consistent with his statement that he is ‘not gay.’


“A small percentage of men who are principally sexually attracted to women—perhaps as many as 2–3 percent—are also sexually attracted to the idea of being women themselves. Canadian psychologist and sex researcher Ray Blanchard coined the term ‘autogynephilia’ (literally, ‘love of oneself as a woman’) to describe this phenomenon.”

Autogynephilia most commonly manifests itself in erotic crossdressing—which is practically unheard of among gay men.

Roughly 30 percent of male heterosexual crossdressers report some sexual experience with men, so Curtis would not be unusual if he were, in fact, a heterosexual crossdresser who engaged in sex with men when crossdressed.

Shortly after the e-mail from Lawrence, another arrives from Ray Blanchard, Head of Clinical Sexology Services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Blanchard, again, gave autogynephilia its name. He didn’t want to comment directly on Curtis but was willing to discuss autogynephilia.

“There is a class of heterosexual men called autogynephiles, who are sexually aroused by the thought or image of themselves as women,” Blanchard confirms. “They may act out this fantasy in various ways. One common way is to dress up as women and seek sex with men. It is not rare that they employ pornographic movie theaters for this purpose, although that strategy usually limits them to wearing brassieres or panties beneath their male clothes.”

Which is precisely what Curtis did.

“The exciting aspect of the men they have sex with is the symbolic value of the male partner, which enhances their fantasies of being women,” Blanchard continues. “Autogynephiles are not interested in men’s bodies, they rarely or never have sex with men when they are not crossdressed, and they are being truthful when they state that they are not gay. In their normal lives, they are unremarkably masculine and they often have wives or girlfriends.

But Curtis didn’t seek penetration only; he got a blowjob, he fucked Castagna—how does that jibe with his desire to be a woman?

“Some autogynephiles will allow or even seek to be fellated or to perform anal penetration on a partner as part of the interaction,” says Blanchard. “A penis is, after all, the sexual organ that they have, and if they want to achieve orgasm as part of the encounter, that is what they need to have stimulated, one way or another.”

Okay, did you follow all of that? Did your head explode?

Conflicting voices murmur in my head over this one. There is, after all, that part of me that wishes to simply nod and say, “Well, that explains it.” But there is another part of me that really wants a bong rip. I mean, come on. We’re hearing about this now? In the middle of a GOP moral meltdown, a tragic cycle of events that symbolizes the sickness of these socially-conservative persecutors, this is what we are coming up with?

I mean, I don’t think autogynephilia is going to get Bob Allen out of his fix. The Florida legislator (R-Merritt Island) was recently convicted in a truly bizarre gay prostitution scandal. Apparently, in Florida, ’tis better to be thought of as a pathetically idiotic and condescending racist (really, we’re supposed to believe that excuse load of …?) than gay. I have not heard that panties were involved.

And it doesn’t help disgraced hypocrite and Idaho Republican Larry Craig, so I suppose I shouldn’t get too carried away with my shock, but I admit that the timing of this one is just amazing. In the middle of a Republican gay sex scandal, how are we supposed to handle the assertion that a man is so heterosexual that he needs to be penetrated by another man in order to fulfill his heterosexual needs?

And yes, I get the point. I won’t say autogynephilia isn’t real. But I do wonder if, just maybe, it isn’t also symptomatic. At some point, one’s sexuality can become too dominant an aspect of identity, and, you know, the point at which a man’s heterosexuality compels him to receive another man inside himself, we might well have crossed that boundary.

Try it this way: Maybe every heterosexual man, as a rite of passage, should receive at least one good anal reaming for his eighteenth birthday. You know. To affirm one’s heterosexuality, and prove to potential wives that they’re not gay.

Can we agree that it sounds just a little bit creepy?

We’ll catch up on Z later. And sigh our relief that I’m not trying to cram the other twenty-four letters in the alphabet into this vocab lesson.

Catching up on Sonics news

I obviously haven’t been trying hard enough. This story made Rolling Stone last month, and I completely missed it:

Founded in the early Sixties by refugees from other Tacoma groups, the Sonics were newcomers to a fiercely competitive Northwest scene already ruled by more technically accomplished bands like the Wailers (not the Jamaican group) and Paul Revere and the Raiders. “There was no decision to play more aggressively than the other guys,” Parypa says of the Sonics’ first rehearsals and shows. “A lot of it was lack of ability. We couldn’t play with technique. So we pounded on everything instead” ….

…. “The Witch,” a Number Two hit in Seattle, established the Sonics as regional heroes, and they were soon making a thousand dollars a night in Northwest clubs, huge bread for the day. But the band’s singles, issued on local labels, never charted in Billboard, and the good gig pay kept the Sonics close to home. “We were immature and un-business-like,” Parypa admits. “Our immediate goal was, how many women can we pick up tonight? We’d put our instruments in the van after a show, and not get them out again until we had to play someplace else. If we had a recording session, sometimes we didn’t write the material until we were in the studio.”

Now that is a proud heritage.

“If you come to these shows expecting top musicianship, you’re in the wrong place,” Parypa warns. “But if we can blow your face off, that will be cool.”

Really cool, indeed.

• • •

Also in Sonics news:

• Tony Sachs reviews The Sonics at Cavestomp for Huffington Post
• Knute Berger on The Sonics at Crosscut
• Mary Huhn covers the return of The Sonics for—get this—the New York Post
• And from overeas, the British site ContactMusic did not let The Sonics’ reunion go unnoticed