From the Bar and From the Back Room – Ginger Beer and Kvasir

beerRecently, I indulged myself in a quick bit of fermenting. One of my favorite magazines, Imbibe, had a recipe for homemade ginger beer. Currently, that recipe isn’t up on their website (they have one that is a bit of a cheat since it uses a CO2 cartridge). I’ll reproduce it here with my changes though it is worth picking up the issue to get it yourself. Indeed, it is very much worth getting yourself a subscription. The magazine addresses all sorts of drinkables, from coffee to spirits.

4 oz fresh ginger, roughly chopped
2 quarts water
1 C demara sugar (or use white sugar with a bit more molasses)
1 tbsp molasses ¾ cup lime juice (I used the stuff in the plastic bottle, you obviously could use fresh)
¼ tsp champagne yeast (I use Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast, the same stuff I use in my mead)

Take ginger, 1 quart of water and pulverize in blender. Mix this with sugar and molasses in a pot over medium high heat to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and let cool to around 80 degrees F.

Strain the liquid through a cloth filter (I suggest either the cheesecloth that looks like muslin, or a couple of layers of the thinner webby stuff.) Squeeze to get out as much of the liquid as possible. Pour this into a two liter bottle (I got mine from saving one from the club soda I keep on hand.)

Add the lime juice and remaining quart of water to the bottle. You might not need all of it because you want to be about 2-3 inches from the top. Sprinkle the yeast onto the surface of the liquid. Then squeeze the bottle to bring the liquid up to the neck and screw the cap on tightly. Gently tip the bottle to mix in the yeasties.

Let the bottle sit for about 12 hours at room temp, around 75 degree F. If your room is cooler, it’ll take longer for the yeasts to wake up. The bottle will puff out and get firm when you try to squeeze it. Then put the bottle into the refrigerator. Drink within a week. Use some common sense and relieve the pressure if it seems too much by opening the bottle occasionally; plastic bottles can become little bombs, or geysers, if you aren’t careful. It is a bit cloudier than store bought, but tastes great. It’s not quite as spicy as some brands, but those are generally so spicy I can’t drink very much of them. This version, I can happily drink 16 oz with no problem at a sitting.

At this point, I bottled my ginger beer into my beer bottles and capped them. They seem fine two weeks out and are still carbonated. There is, by dint of the use of champagne yeast, a tiny amount of alcohol in this, but I’m guessing quite a bit less than, say, Nyquil (a alcohol based cold medicine here in the states). (Addendum June 7, 2014: if you bottle your ginger beer, open it over a sink.  It has a tendency to bubble out of the bottle.  It also goes well with Bluecoat Gin, a nice citrusy gin.)

We mixed with with some Lunazul Tequila Anejo, our favorite. It gives the ginger beer a nice earthiness, accentuating the “rootiness” a bit. In tribute to the classic ginger beer cocktail, the Moscow Mule, I thought to call this a Jalisco Jackass or maybe a Balaam’s Ass. (yes, I do know that the term “mule” in the cocktail’s context is not the critter.)

On the beer front, we did try another of Dogfish Head’s historical brews, Kvasir. It strikes me as like a Belgian beer, with a certain tartness from the berries in it. It doesn’t have that lactic funk that Belgians have. We just drank it alone but I can see that it could be tasty with the foods that Dogfish Head recommends.

That’s all for today. Drink well!  Oh, and go donate blood.  I just got my 5 gallon certificate!donate blood

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – Pennsylvania’s anti-equal marriage rights law struck down; let the whining commence

330-Morality-Slavery-or-Homosexuality-Guess-which-one-the-bibles-ok-with-biblical-ethics-insanity-bigotryFinally, a break from work and a chance to kibbitz on the interwebs. Here in the US, we are celebrating Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have fallen in combat during our various wars. It’s also a time for celebrating the summer, even though it isn’t officially summer yet. Everyone wants to grill something outside, so the meat department is very busy.

Oy, I’m tired.

But that’s nothing new. We did have a great development here in PA when Judge John E. Jones III struck down the PA anti-marriage law, which said only certain people approved of by certain religions can enjoy the benefits of marriage. Judge Jones, you might remember, also was the judge for the Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial which showed intelligent design to be the same as creationism much to the disappointment of those who were doing their best to sneak their religion into public schools. Judge Jones may be one of the few Republicans left who respects the rights of people and the existence of the US Constitution. They are still out there, those who favor the government to stay out people’s lives and to be fiscally responsible, but they are a vanishing breed. It may interest you to know that even Rick Santorum supported this judge’s confirmation. So much for claim of “activist liberal judge”. I wonder, does he do so now that Judge Jones dares to disagree with him and his desire to make the US a theocracy?

Of course, we do have the usual suspects throwing fits about this. Rep. Metcalfe, often a target of derision on this blog, has suffered quite a bit lately, with this and with the defeat of his attempts at requiring everyone to have “papers” to vote. We also have the Pennsylvania Family Institute (aka the Pennsylvania Family Council, and Independence Law Center, all the same organization) insisting that the sky is falling again. It’s always amusing when people who are so virulently anti-family, always have to add that to their official names of their organizations. It’s as if no one would realize that they cared about families at all if it wasn’t in their name. They may be interested in families but only those they approve of. One does wonder, do they approve of any family that doesn’t teach their particular religion? I do have reason to doubt that, with their carrying on about how marriage is *only* for a few.

Brandon McGinley, their “field director”, and he of claims that homosexuality can be “overcome” and that homosexuality is going to destroy any vision he has of appropriate “masculinity”, has an interesting op-ed in the local Sunday paper today. Unsurprisingly, it’s pretty much what you might expect from someone like Mr. McGinley. For a fun read about Mr. McGinley’s views, PA GLAAD has a great series of screen caps of Mr. McGinley’s tweets.

But enough of that, let’s take a look at the claims that Mr. McGinley makes. First, there is the claims of how dare anyone reject the “traditional” meaning of marriage and how marriage is somehow only a “unique” thing that only means man marries woman, they must have kids and nothing else. I guess that Mr. McGinley would be sure that my marriage of 22+ years isn’t a “real” marriage. But the state already disagrees with him and has for years. It’s a shock that he isn’t protesting my marriage, but that would be a bit of a problem since he also isn’t whining about divorces too, something else that his bible says is a “very bad thing”.

We get right into the claims of how this was an “activist” decision “unnecessarily broad in scope, faulty in reasoning and, to many, malicious in rhetoric”. Of course, there is nothing about this supposedly “faulty” reasoning, just vague claims of that. Silly of me to expect someone like Mr. McGinley to actually say how the reasoning if faulty. He also does skirt around the fact that more than half of Pennsylvanians approve of equal marriage laws and it was only our representatives that voted to have a law restricting marriage.

Then we get into the meat of the baseless accusations. Mr. McGinley is horrified by Judge Jones’ phrase “We are a better people than what these laws represent. And it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history”.  He is sure that anyone who uses such a phrase isn’t interested in “healthy public discourse”, aka allowing people like Mr. McGinley attempt to make homosexuality a thing to be hated, as he has admitted he wants to do. Mr. McGinley can continue to try spread his claims as much as he wants, but not with the tacit blessing of the government by its restriction of equal treatment under the law. Continue reading

What the Boss Likes – a little schadenfreude for the right wing wingnuts

Supposedly there is supposed to be tens of millions of anti-Obama people on the Mall in Washington DC right now.


washington monument 051614

I guess not so much, considering that one would think that  these “patriots” would meet near the Washington Monument in their belief that the Founding Fathers would agree with them.  It seems that the fans at Woodstock and us atheists at the gathering a few years ago might be made of sterner stuff.   This seems to be failing just as well as claims of how some truckers would circle the beltway until someone cried uncle.

You can watch live thanks to a cam at the Smithsonian:

In that folks claimed that the rain we had at the atheist gathering was God’s disapproval, I wonder if God is upset with these people who are ignoring his words (Romans 13).

Addendum (around 2:45 EDT).  Still no millions.  And such disappointed teabaggers.  Was reading a article about this nonsense on the Washington Times website (you may not want o go there since my IE closed the page because of malicious software).  It had that the “organizers” were all sure that since most hotel rooms were booked in the DC area, this meant that their people were coming in the millions.  Unfortunately for people who are generally ignorant about reality, hotel rooms around DC are pretty much *always* all booked.  As usual, their ability to confuse correlation with causation is in full bloom.


Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – what to do if your child comes to the conclusion they are an atheist? maybe not follow the God Squad’s advice

Double-standard-of-modern-mythologyIn one of the latest God Squad columns, the querent is a Catholic parent whose 16 year old son has declared he is an atheist. He asks for Rabbi Gellman’s advice on how to convince his son there is a god.   The parent, the father, admits that even he and the mother don’t go to Mass much nor take part of the sacraments and considers himself “spiritual” rather than Catholic. He seems to just want his son to believe in some kind of a “higher power” and accept at least “intelligent design”. The son accepts biology and evolutionary theory as correct and evidently has some respect for his biology teacher.

The main question I have here is why? Why is it so important for the father to have his son agree with him that there is a higher power? At the moment, it seems that the only reason is to get external validation, that my son believes, my wife believes, my neighbor believes so I must be right and have some “truth”.   The father’s last sentence also seems to be revealing “I’m at a loss as to how to debate the issue with him, but I wish, for his own sake, that he were open to the idea of a higher power.”. It seems no more than a variant of Pascal’s Wager, where one assumes that one is believing in the correct god *and* that this belief has some worth in getting you out of whatever divine punishment might be waiting if you didn’t believe in it.

Rabbi Gellman says that it’s good for atheists and theists to live together, that beliefs are “sharpened and refined” in the heat of dialogue. Unfortunately, on the theist’s side, they are stuck with believing that the atheist that they may love somehow deserves to die or be tortured eternally for not believing in what the theist does. Only universalists, those who believe their god will accept everyone in some form, get out of that little problem and their beliefs are not to be shown any more true than those who believe in divine punishmenet.

The rabbi seems to be taking refuge in the idea that atheism is only a method of his god to teach someone else something of importance, in this case “patience and forbearance”. Now, patience does mean forbearance, but forebearance can have a more detailed meaning, patience with someone who is “difficult” aka “stubborn or unreasonable”. This seems to be nothing more than the usual attempt by a theist to claim that an atheist is just being rebellious for no reason. That is a nice excuse but it does fail when reasons and facts can be brought to bear against the claims of the existence of a god. I am no more rebellious against a god than I am against the Emperor and Darth Vader. I can be rebellious against edicts claimed to be made in their name, that is a reaction to something real, not the fictional characters involved.

I do agree that it is very important that a teen does feel his parents do respect him or her. But to tell that teen that they should believe in something that has no evidence is rather like telling them that they should still believe in Santa Claus because it makes the parents feel better. Most teens that I know, or that I was decades ago, would just laugh at that since they came to the conclusion that Santa isn’t the one who is leaving the presents under the tree.

It isn’t terribly surprising that the rabbi claims that when he’s changed his beliefs it wasn’t because of a better argument. He claims that it was because he’s seen a “better life” in those people who have changed his beliefs, and many people do accept beliefs from people who appear to be telling some truth. One sees evidence and if it is misattributed to a divine being rather than a human, it’s easy to think that religion is true. But if one finds out what that evidence really supports, the conclusion changes. Since Rabbi Gellman has been good friends for years with a Catholic priest, I would guess that one of his changes in belief is that people of different religions are decent people and that there is no good reason to believe that they are going to be killed or tortured for what they believe. One can come to the same conclusion by realizing that there is no evidence for any version of the Judeo-Islamo-Christian god.

If I witness that someone is a good person, generous and forgiving, I attribute that to that person, not to some religion because I know that religion affects people in entirely different ways; it is not a consistent cause and effect. These ways are so diametrically opposite that again there is no reason to believe that one god is doing anything at all. The rabbi claims that “If he can witness in your generosity and forgiveness, your kindness and compassion the results of a pious life lived in an impious world, he might want to have the same qualities in his life.” Sigh. And what prevents this young man from having these same qualities without religion? What prevents atheists from being the generous and forgiving, kind and compassionate role-models? Again we have a theist tryingto make the argument that non-theists can’t possibly be good, forgiving, kind and generous. What happens when this young man points out that he can witness plenty of people, of his religion and not, being decent and humane and doesn’t need religion at all to be that? The rabbi’s argument fails, like so many theistic arguments have.

It also seems that the rabbi wants to adjust expectations for his arguments even before they are made, which seems to only be to excuse how badly they do fail.   His supposedly one guaranteed argument against atheists is “What is the source of your hope? Is there something in the way you view your place in the world that gives you a reason to get up in the morning and try to make the world a better place?””   This appears to be to assume that atheists have no hope which is again a rather sad little lie on the part of a theist.

I, and many atheists, have plenty of hope. I have great hope in humanity, though occasionally not a great deal in many individual humans. Humans have done great things and we have done it in spite of religion and its dogma and reinforced ignorance. We now say slavery is wrong when it was perfectly fine to supposed omnipotent and omniscient gods. We say humans deserve to have basic rights. We, or at least a lot of us, look beyond tribal, religious and state identities and see us all as humans.

What gets me up in the morning to make the world a better place? My fellow humans and some good ol’ enlightened self-interest. I don’t need the threat of a god to make me do any of this. I don’t need a promise of a magical present after I am dead to make me do any of this.   Gods are useless ideas that are nothing but humans wanting to explain things that they don’t understand and to pretend that they “know” better than other humans. The idea of a god certainly doesn’t make anyone automatically good, decent, kind and compassionate.

The rabbi say he doesn’t care if one uses the word God if we have a world view that does this for us. I do think he does care if we don’t use the word God at all and we say, and show, that this god doesn’t exist. He might not mind if some other theist says Allah, or Goddess, or Vishnu, but if I say that there is no magical supernatural force that does anything, then I’m guessing that the rabbi will be a bit offended. He still insists on trying to imply that atheists don’t have any hope and that we are all somehow nihilists, with his quoting of Camus “The meaning of life is just that it ends.” It tends to indicate that the rabbi has apparently talked to no atheists at all if he trots out such old tired nonsense.

Finally, we have the rabbi saying that he would encourage the father to “revisit” his decision to allow his son to stop going to Mass.   Per the rabbi, “family outings” produce bonds that are important. I do think that family outings are indeed important, but to a church where you are doing anything but interacting with your family but sitting still listening to things you’ve heard before? That seems to be the exact opposite intent. It’s no more effective than watching who will be thrown off the island again. Go for a walk, visit a museum, do something that makes you think, rather than something that says don’t think at all.

The rabbi says that the father has a “right” to expect church attendance for a “few more years”. Really? I know teens, and that might not be the tact you want to take. You want rebellious? That’s a great way to get that.

A note to the father of the teen here. Listen to your son and don’t just decide that he has to do what you say because you are the parent and need some validation. He very well might be right in his conclusion that there are no gods. You might be wrong and that’s not a bad thing as long as you can admit it. Kids realize their parents aren’t perfect long before the parents realize that they have and it is a rough thing to accept, especially if they know they are right. They’ll respect you a lot more when you stop trying to play the card that says I’m older than you and I’m part of your DNA.

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – we’ve always done it so that makes it always okay

I thought I’d also add to the commentary about the recent US Supreme Court decision about allowing prayer at town meetings.  The excuse that the conservative judges used to allow this nonsense is no more than “we’ve always done it so that makes it always okay”.  If each state wants to have its own rules that ignore the Establishment Clause:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

it’s okay.

Which means that

those who argued that slavery was okay since it’s always been around

that child labor was okay since its always been around

that women being considered property or second class citizens was okay since it’s always been around


were right per Scalia, Kennedy, Roberts, Thomas and Alito and everyone else who supports this decision.

Gee, they should be so “proud”.  As has been noted, these justices only consider the speech they agree with to be worthy of “free speech.”.  The rest of us?  We’re less than American citizens if we dare to insist on our rights.

Religion depends on arrogance, coercion and fear: arrogance that one religion is the only right one;  coercion in the idea that only one religion produces “good” people and fear that one will be excluded if one doesn’t follow the group.  That is exactly what these government sanctioned prayers do.

Addendum:  If one reads the opinion by Justice Kennedy,  one can see that Kennedy does a good job of showing that prayer is essentially worthless, by claiming it is only for “ceremony” aka tradition.  Unfortunately, for Justice Kennedy, the very nature of religion is to be intolerant and to claim that one group of people has the “truth” and all others will die or be damned to eternal torture for not having such “truth”.  No one is claiming that prayer should be forbidden.  If people need to pray to feel better about themselves, let them do so, but they do not have the right to do so in public and expect “respect” from others.   I would ask that any theists who read this blog post and feel the need to respond to consider how they would act if a religion that they did not agree with were to give required prayers at the beginning of each meeting they went to .  Should they be required to be “respectful” or should religion simply be left out of a venue where even the conservatives justices claim it is just a formality based on tradition and not belief?  Or are they willing to admit that they do want to force others to obey their religion and that they do want a theocracy?