The Cold War Wasn’t Fun; Beer Should Be

951AE41E-D562-49ED-B8B0-B1E1911A4CBAAn American red, fighting for its life against a vestige of the Russian Empire. Rivers of the lifeblood of England, swirling and circling around as they fight with that of the Czechs. And Germany…Germany torn asunder, and clashing with itself, region by region.

The Cold War in beer.

What’s better: an American-style red ale, or a Russian Imperial stout?

Can an English brown beat a Czech pilsner?

How about a Munich helles lager, struggling against a porter from the Baltics?

We never fought with guns — let alone with the nukes most folks expected — but we DID fight with beer. Beer was a MUCH better way to solve our problems.87797B0D-966F-4C5F-9CB4-1A6FA99B9217

Look, there a million ways to guide yourself in choosing beers. Whether by style, or flavor profile, or region…take your pick. They all work, along with a dozen other methods. But…


But, you should have fun when you start exploring beers. You should, when you get right down to it, be a bit silly. Give yourself some guiding principle, some lodestone with which you can navigate — it doesn’t have to actually make sense, it just has to be fun.

You could do a great deal worse than to refight or relive the great struggles and moments of history through those beers that are “characteristic” of the players involved. Crap, what have you got to lose? Beer snobs are just as bad as wine snobs: they’re not gonna take you seriously, anyway, so have at it! Have fun!  Be silly, be stupid… Silly and stupid, by the way, are great ways to learn. Just ask any college freshman.

And, yes, I have indeed fought the Cold War in beer. The red team versus the blue. F0FF0B13-A4B5-44A3-96AF-8681BE701592We each picked a side — NATO versus the Warsaw Pact — then a country. Those countries fought, beer by beer, until the world stood under the domination of the winners. Until, when all was said and done, every palate lay under the beer-power of one side or the other.

I led a poor Czech division, I should mention, trying to use my pilsner-cannon to defeat a mighty fortress built from English brown ale. It was a hell of a fight.


Why Do I Always Have to Work Holidays?!

St Patrick’s Day…

Ahh, St Patrick’s Day…

Okay, yeah, it’s American “invention” to (ostensibly) honor a minor Irish holiday. An invention, I might add, created mostly as an excuse to drink and party.

So what? It’s a fun time, even if it is “cultural appropriation”!

What else are you gonna do on St Patrick’s Day, by the way, except celebrate it at German brewery? Of course you are…I mean, c’mon, that’s multiculturalism at its finest!

Quite simply, you haven’t lived until you’ve celebrated St Patty’s day with a few games of hammerschlagen! And screw the corned beef, I want sausage! And rye bread!

Technically, I suppose, I’m working today…which means I have my iPad open in front of me at the moment. Well, that and I’ll help out at the brewery when it gets truly busy. And there is, of course, also the pending Irish Olympics to think about.


9D5A524E-9ABA-41F3-B500-559D88BB46A1Work, work, work…another day slaving in the mines…

Now, if only there was actual, you know, money in spending your “work” life writing and in a brewery.

Fun? Oh, yeah, there’s tons of that…but money? Not so much…

Crap, a thought occurs…I hate it when that happens, but what are you gonna do?

On the same theme from my post last Friday: I learned everything I need to know about this stuff from my (fairly extensive) travels across Europe & the Americas. Tragically, I didn’t do that travel as part of an official gap year. Nope, I was far too deprived and challenged to do that.

Oy vey! How much farther ahead would I be if I had started this insanity at eighteen?!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the keg curling competition is getting ready to start…


The Gap Year

One of the scariest sentences in the world?  “So, I was thinking…”

Thinking is dangerous…thinking can get you into trouble.

But…well…I got to thinking, anyway….

It started when I wrote about education a little while back, got reinforced by an article I read after, then was brought to the front of my mind with a podcast I had playing while I drove.

What was I thinking about?  College.  The whats and whys, mainly, but also a tiny bit about the hows.

I did college twice, mostly because the first time I didn’t really come close to getting it right.  To be honest, I was most definitely one of those kids who would’ve benefited greatly from taking a couple of years between high school and college to work and travel and just experience something of the real world.

Put simply, I wasn’t ready for college at eighteen — I wasn’t mature enough, hadn’t experienced enough, and certainly hadn’t learned to understand myself enough.  There’s a reason why I went through a few majors before I got to linguistics (and my eventual degree).

If anyone thinks I’m alone in that immaturity, they’re either freakin’ insane, or they’re living in a disconnected dream-world that makes me ask, “where can I get some of that shit?”
Most kids, I would argue, are nowhere near ready for college nowadays.  Oh, I’m not talking about academics — most high schools are very good at box-checking when it comes to classes and subjects — but rather I’m talking about life, and survival, and the maturity that comes from experience of the wider world.

We can prepare high school kids with all the prerequisites in the world, but no school can teach them to expand their horizons and develop the self-reliance and confidence that success in college requires.  Look, I know college is looked at — nowadays — as the end of childhood, rather than the beginning of adult life, but that outlook just infantilizes the students and defers for five more years the act of growing up.

The less prepared are the incoming students, the more in loco parentis do the teachers and administrators have to be.  The way things stand at present — let alone in the future — those folks already have too much sway and power over things that should be none of their business.*

*A fact neither their fault, nor intentional on their part: it is the fault of the families, and of society itself, who have done little-to-nothing to prepare their kids to be adults able to think and judge for themselves.

I’m far too many words in to this post — already! — to get into every area I want to touch on, so I am just going focus and finish on this one point:

Taking-a-gap-yearThe Brits do it differently.  They do it differently and, in my eyes, they do it better.  When a high school kid finishes their A-levels, they typically take a “gap year” to work or travel or study.  A year to grow up, and to experience something of the world.  A year to, hopefully, prepare themselves for university.  When that year is done, and university is beckoning, the students take three years for a bachelors.

Three years, not the five that is now average in the US.  Yes, the British Universities are structured differently than ours…but I defy anyone to show even the slightest evidence that they are somehow worse.

I repeat: THREE YEARS.  From the perspective of student debt* and finances alone, that is a huge win.  A gap year increases the odds that, unlike me in my freshman and sophomore years, a new student will have at least some idea as to what major they want to pursue.  We here in the US charge an arm-and-a-leg for college, and then do everything possible to stretch out that college experience.  Very, very few humans who walk away with $50,000-$100,000 in college debt are going to see sufficient return to justify that expense.  What, though, if we could reduce that by 40%?  Yeah, I’d take that deal, too…

*spit**spit* Don’t even get me started on the evil idiocy that is the US student debt industry — there aren’t enough curse words in the universe for me to express my derision and hate for that particular monster.

From an academic perspective, too, the reduced time in university is a win. From the perspective of the classes and work that is important to their intended major, three years of focused and intentional study is as much better than five of meandering confusion as it is from the financial perspective.

The point of this rant?  For those of you with kids nearing those college years — middle and high school age kids — think about what best prepares your kid.  Is it to go straight to university?  To, potentially, spend a year or two taking classes just to take classes…and, likely, partying, err, rather heavily?

Or is it better to spend a year experiencing the world?  A year to work…  A year to travel…  A year to, equally likely, party rather heavily…and get it out of their system?

You be the judge.

Looking back, by the way?  If I had it to do all over…the linguistics and history degrees would (very likely) be the same, even with a gap year, but the career path would be markedly different.  Oh, for all the paths I didn’t take, and the opportunities I missed…

Rest in Peace, Professor

IMG_0720Didn’t I just do one of these?

Sadly, time refuses to stand still…and death to stay his hand.

This time it was a titan not of the smaller world of sci-fi, but one that strode the entire world: Stephen Hawking.

Now, unless you live under a rock — or are just totally divorced from popular culture — you know who Hawking was, at least in a general way.

Take what you know and multiply that a hundred times.

Many of us know Hawking as the man who managed to “boil down” the incomprehensibility of astrophysics and cosmology in A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell.  More, even, know of him from The Simpsons and Star Trek and Big Bang Theory.

Hawking was a great communicator, yes, but he was no vapid, empty suit who could talk only about others’ theories and accomplishments. His (all-but-incomprehensible-to-normal-humans) work on the Big Bang and on blackholes provide some of the very building blocks in their respective areas of cosmology and astrophysics.  He challenged theories and thought — even his own! — and he changed things.  In the process, he left an intellectual legacy that will last for generations.

But he was (still) more than that.

He was one of the bravest, and most driven, humans to ever live.

Most saw the wheelchair, and the attached computers that allowed him to communicate, and saw shackles and limitations.  Hell, the doctors who gave him two years to live — in 1963 — saw only death and failure.  Hawking, however, saw past those limitations and found reasons to live, and to thrive: “However difficult life may seem,” he said, more than 50 years after his predicted demise, “there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

So, to the man who was “supposed to die” in his twenties, I say this: Congratulations, sir, on a life well and truly lived.  Thank you for surpassing every boundary, whether theoretical or real, and for teaching others to follow.