Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Calvert-Henderson Education Indicator

Of the dozen Calvert-Henderson QoL Indicators (HERE), I am most interested in Education. Sure, National Security is vitally important, but I feel that National Security is defensive. Investing in National Security is investing not to lose. On the other hand, investing in Education is more hopeful, future oriented, and positive. In the end, it's apparent that all 12 indicators are essential in balance. This quote makes a compelling case for the importance of education:
In today's globalized information-based economy, knowledge is now widely recognized as a key factor of production. Politicians in many countries, including the USA, run for office on platforms that stress education. The World Bank and other multilateral institutions now agree that investments in education (particularly at preschool and K through 12 levels) are the new keys, along with investments in health, to economic development. Nothing is changing our business and academic institutions faster than the new definitions of human and intellectual capital. As many new Internet-based, e-commerce businesses know, a company cannot "own" the part of its knowledge base that resides in the heads of its employees. This new evaluation of intellectual capital, on which all technical and social innovation is based, is still under-estimated in the US GDP. Current GDP still accounts for education costs as "expenditures" rather than as investments in human capital.
One of the reasons I continue my PhD studies is that I love to learn. Another reason is that I would love to teach. I think education is key to a better future. I like the way Calvert-Henderson argues to reframe the importance of education in how we measure Quality of Life.

Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators


Human Rights
National Security
Public Safety

I find this subject endlessly fascinating.
The Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators are a contribution to the worldwide effort to develop comprehensive statistics of national well-being that go beyond traditional macroeconomic indicators. A systems approach is used to illustrate the dynamic state of our social, economic and environmental quality of life. The dimensions of life examined include: education, employment, energy, environment, health, human rights, income, infrastructure, national security, public safety, re-creation and shelter.
More information is at this website: Calvert-Henderson

Related posts in this blog:

Jul 10, 2011
There are many different views of what produces a good quality of life (QoL) for individuals, teams, and organizations. These views have sprung up over time and have been championed by various proponents. ...

Jun 06, 2011
The Better Life Index allows citizens to compare well-being across the 34 OECD* member countries based on 11 dimensions in the areas of material living conditions and quality of life: housing; income; jobs; community; ...

Apr 11, 2011
And the short book which caught my eye is the Happiness Manifesto, by Nic Marks. I am captivated! I'm ready to announce my second career as a traveling Happiness Manifesto consultant. And by traveling, I mean via 2008 ...
May 17, 2011
A New Gauge Helps to See What's Beyond Happiness. Marty Seligman replaces "Authentic Happiness" with "Flourish," a more holistic view of well-being. “Well-being cannot exist just in your own head,” he writes. ...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is Happiness a Skill?

What do we mean by the term, Happiness?

Happiness is a mental state of well-being characterized by positive emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. --Wordnet 3.0

Is happiness a state of being? If so, then we can be happy on a sliding scale in response to our situation. Happiness might range from severe depression on the lowest end of the scale to intense joy on the highest end. This scale would reflect an ex-post facto state of being. Someone might ask, "How would you rate your Happiness on a scale of -10 (depressed)  to 10 (ecstatic)?" After thinking a moment, you might say, "I'm about a 7."

Is happiness something we recognize as after the fact, as a product of our general disposition and the circumstances we find ourselves in? Do changes in our environment bring about different levels of happiness? Probably so. But then, this begs the questions: why do different people feel different levels of happiness in similar situations? And why do some people recover from bad situations more quickly?

Happiness seems to be unique to each individual, since the same situation may produce different levels of happiness in different people. There is a theory about something called a personal Happiness Set Point which may account for some of the difference. This set point is a measure of a person's general disposition which is unique for each person. The evidence for set point theory comes from wounded warriors who achieve restored happiness in life after surviving traumatic injuries. People who were generally happier before they were injured became just as happy again after they heal. Meanwhile, people who were unhappy before similar injuries also returned to their set point before the injury. This suggests that severe injury is not the cause of a change in a person's happiness.

But what if happiness is only temporarily effected by the situation in which we find ourselves? How do some people achieve faster recoveries? People talk about "deciding" to be happy as a way of coping with unfortunate circumstances. Is happiness a choice? If so, then if we are unhappy, does that mean we lack judgement to choose what's best?  I do not think so. "Choose Happiness" seems a simplistic prescription. Unhappiness and depression are not merely bad choices. There is something that a person can do, in addition to natural gifts like the set point, to recover from sadness and maintain happiness. What is it that a person can do beyond choosing to be happy?

I am beginning to think of happiness as a skill instead of a state. Happiness was defined before as a "mental state of well-being" but the question is, how do we achieve such a state? It's not enough to be blessed with a high Happiness Set Point, though that is a good thing. It's not enough to choose happiness, though that is a good thing, too. To be consistently happy, and to recover from setbacks faster, seems to take these skills:

  • Self-awareness to recognize and acknowledge, not dodge, physical or emotional pain. 
  • Living in the moment to deal with the pain fully, and then let it pass. 
  • Consciously choosing to recover instead of ruminating or lingering on the past painful circumstances.
  • Discipline to focus on the positive.
  • Ability to think thoughts, feel feelings, and do things that bring about healing and happiness.

I am not talking about taking a happiness pill. I am not talking about being not sad or merely avoiding pain. I am talking about being genuinely happy. We must allow ourselves to fully feel our pain if we are ever to let it go and know true joy.

Happiness is a skill.


New Brewhouse Plans to Tap Into Its Old Town Lineage

Keeping my eyes peeled for any news about the Portner Brewhouse coming to Old Town Alexandria. According to this article in the Old Town Patch, a site on the waterfront is being considered. The doors should be open no later than 2014.

Related posts:

Mar 04, 2011
Catherine Portner is a great-granddaughter of brewer Robert Portner. She and her siblings have the idea of creating a brewery incubator--a place for home brewers to test their favorite recipes alongside Portner family faves. ...
Jul 19, 2011
Robert Portner Brewhouse and Beergarden, Alexandria, VA (Portner's great-great-grandchildren plan a revival as a brewery incubator. Coming in 2012). · Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Baltimore (currently contract brewing at ...

Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, Military Chief in 1990s, Dies at 75


Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff from 1993-1997, died July 23, 2011 at age 75 after a second stroke. He provided outstanding leadership and counsel during some of the most demanding military, political, and diplomatic times in our Nation's history.

Gen. John M. Shalikashvili's name first came to my attention during Operation Provide Comfort, which entailed helping Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq and Turkey after the First Gulf War. His ability to operate in a tense, politically-charged environment was noteworthy. The Clinton administration's use of military resources for a humanitarian mission was also significant.

"Well done. Rest in peace."

The NY Times obit is here:
The updated Wikipedia page is here: Wkipedia

Your Dream Professor?

If you could study with any one soul, living or dead, who would it be?

This intriguing question comes via the folks at The Huffington Post's HuffPost College. Their article, which includes the top 10 Twitter responses to this question, is here: Your Dream Professors

I thought about this for a minute and would love to share some of my own musings while soliciting yours. Please nominate your favorite professor in the comments section below.

1. First thought: I love philosophy. Would I pick a classic philosopher, like Aristotle? I don't think so. While the classic problems of philosophy are timeless, the discussions I would benefit from require a modern perspective.  Perhaps a more modern philosopher, then? Maybe, but one of the things I like about philosophy is the struggle with life's most intractable problems. It occurs to me that I might get frustrated philosophizing 24/7. At some point, I need to feel a sense of forward progress. The fact that philosophers are still trying to figure out where we came from and why we are here does bode well for the achievement oriented.

2. Productivity, then? Would I select a Captain of Industry? Someone fabulously rich and powerful? An entrepreneur on the order of Steve Jobs? An investor like Warren Buffet? A mogul like Bill Gates? A chairman like Jack Welch? These characters loom large in the lore of American business, but would I want to actually be like any of them? Hmmm. This question is harder than it looks.

3. I would not pick an athlete, certainly not any modern athlete, regardless of talent. What would Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, or Derek Jeter teach me that I want or need to know? How to play a game? No. How to focus my brain so intently that I can drive my body to super-human feats of performance? Yes, maybe. But if I do not aspire to be revered, then why would I pick a professor who is accustomed to being worshiped by adoring fans?

4. I would not pick an entertainer, either, not even my beloved Elvis Costello. As much as I love the arts, and as much as I appreciate artistic expression in all its many forms, I believe the reason I like some artists more than others is because they are authentic, and something in their authentic vibration resonates with me. I want to be authentic, too. It seems I need a variety of arts and artists to resonate with the full spectrum of my spirit. What can any one artist teach me about being my authentic self?

5. Politics? Economics? Diplomacy? The Military? Architecture? Thomas Jefferson comes to mind. Actually, a modern version of Thomas Jefferson comes very close to what I have in mind as an ideal professor. He's not any one thing in particular, but a whole, complex bundle of interesting skills, roles, and professions. The fact that he was a brewer helps, too.

6. It just occurred to me that I am on my sixth paragraph about my dream professor and I have yet to mention anyone who is or was an actual teacher. I'd like to teach. Would anyone want me as their ideal teacher? Could I become the type of professor that springs to mind when someone asks the rhetorical "best professor" question? Randy Pausch comes to mind. What makes me think I could ever be anyone's favorite professor when I don't even think of my own favorite professors when given the same opportunity? Are the professors I know disqualified from the pantheon of ideal professors because I know them?

7. As a side note: Would I pick someone based similarity or differences? Could I learn more from someone with whom I generally agree--someone who could presumably help me improve what I am already good at?  Or would I be better off to chose someone with whom I disagree, on the grounds that such a contrast could potentially change me the most? I was very compatible with Professor Jaime Bellalta, my Architecture thesis adviser. I learned a lot about myself under his nurturing style. On the other hand, Professor Father Timothy O'Meara shined a light into some dark corners that I otherwise would not have explored. The answer is that the ideal prof and I should disagree sometimes without being disagreeable.

8. So clearly I am looking for a polymathic Renaissance Man. Why not go to the prototype, the man who is polymath personified, Leonardo da Vinci? That would give me an excuse to brush up on my Italian and my mirror-writing. Nice, but again, I would prefer a modern take. What about Stephen Hawking--so much more than a mathematician and theoretical physicist? Would I be patient with his ALS? Would I be patient with myself, trying to learn from someone with a much bigger brain? Perhaps the real question: would he be patient with me?

9. Would I choose a spiritual leader, prophet, or guru? Well, the modern ones fall out of contention quickly. L. Ron Hubbard? Tony Robbins? No way. Honestly even Joel Osteen, the best televangelist out there, still gives me the creeps. Life just isn't that sweet and I am not interested in learning how to sugarcoat it. How about His Holiness the Dalai Lama, then? Perhaps. Yes, I can imagine soaking up lots of wisdom from him. But if that's the case, why not just go straight to the source and learn from the Buddha himself? And on that note, since I profess to be a Christian, why has it taken me this long to mention the obvious choice: Jesus Christ? Answer: I know I am unworthy.

10. Calling a TED-talker, adventure-seeker, beer-lover, motorcycle-rider, Art + Science + Spirit super-achiever who believes in world peace yet knows how to fight for it: David H. Petraeus.


Thanks for reading my musings on this interesting question. What do you think about it? Do you know how you would pick your dream professor? Are you willing to nominate that person? Put your vote in the comment section below.

Hat tip to MFL

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Start-Up of You

Thomas L. Friedman, provocative author and op-ed columnist for the NY Times, has made a career of stating the what-should-be-obvious-but-somehow-isn't. His recent op-ed piece entitled The Start-Up of You is further evidence of his uncanny ability.

We can all see what's happening: (a) traditional media, such as broadcast TV and radio and printed newspapers and magazines, are in decline; and (b) new media, such as blogs, Hulu, YouTube, and social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) are rampant. Increasingly, new media are delivered wirelessly to mobile devices.  But we don't all see what this trend really means to us. Friedman's op-ed is a compelling story about the impacts of new media on our economy and the job market.

Reid Garrett Hoffman is an entrepreneur who is known as the founder of LinkedIn. He and a co-author, Ben Casnocha, are promoting their forthcoming book, The Start-Up of You. Friedman obviously takes the title of his op-ed from this book. Says Friedman, the book's subtitle could easily be: “Hey, recent graduates! Hey, 35-year-old mid-career professionals! Here’s how you build your career today.”

New media are not adding as many jobs as they displace. Not only is the economy changing, but the way people get or keep a job must change, too. In Friedman's words:
Whatever you may be thinking when you apply for a job today, you can be sure the employer is asking this: Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer? Can he or she help my company adapt by not only doing the job today but also reinventing the job for tomorrow? And can he or she adapt with all the change, so my company can adapt and export more into the fastest-growing global markets? In today’s hyper-connected world, more and more companies cannot and will not hire people who don’t fulfill those criteria.
The old phrase was Differentiate or Die. The new reality is add value to the network or die.

The column is here: The Start-Up of You -

Hat tip to Doug

Questionable Truths

E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977)

In his 1973 manifesto, Small is Beautiful, Fritz Schumacher made a list of six 19th century ideas that an educated person would most likely hold as true, despite their being no proof of their validity. Moreover, holding these ideas true may be detrimental to society. 

  1. Evolution. Do higher forms continually, always, and only develop from lower? He's not debating Darwin; he's challenging the notion that homo sapiens is the crowning achievement to which every other life form aspires--the image of Man at the top of the heap.
  2. Competition. Does survival of the fittest justify the elimination of other forms of life with which we are interdependent? Natural selection explains the innate desire to survive and reproduce. Beyond that, a more cooperative approach to living would be better.
  3. Materialism. Are religion, philosophy, and art merely supplements to material life processes, as Marx suggested? 
  4. Psychoanalysis. Freud's interpretation of personality disorders as manifestations of genital obsession and unfulfilled childhood incest-wishes is demeaning and obscene. (Since Schumacher's book was first published, Freud's ideas have been discounted.)
  5. Relativism. When nothing can be right, nothing matters. Relativism undermines what truth as may be found in pragmatism. 
  6. Positivism. No knowledge is genuine unless based on empirical facts? This reliance on the scientific method denies the possibility of objective knowledge about meaning and purpose.

In his words, these six ideas ideas "dominate ... the minds of "educated" people today" (p. 67).  Schumacher placed the word educated in quotes to emphasize his point that the education system which teaches alleged facts does a disservice. Better would be an education system which imparts values.

The way in which we experience and interpret the world obviously depends very much indeed on the kind of ideas that fill our minds. If they are mainly small, weak, superficial, and incoherent, life will appear insipid, uninteresting, petty, and chaotic.

Schumacher was one of the first economists to question the appropriateness of using gross national product to measure human well being, emphasizing that "the aim ought to be to obtain the maximum amount of well being with the minimum amount of consumption." 

Schumacher argued that our current pursuit of profit and progress which promotes giant organizations has resulted in gross economic inefficiency, environmental pollution and inhumane working conditions. He proposed a system of intermediate technology, based on smaller working units and regional workplaces, utilizing local resources. 

I enjoyed and highly recommend this book.

Hat tip to Jack, who also recommends Small is Still Beautiful: Economics as if Families Mattered. This follow-up book by Schumacher's daughter takes up the themes of economic and political "smallness" for the new millennium. It offers an alternative to global consumerism based on respect for nature, humane working conditions, local sourcing, and appropriate technology.


Schumacher, E. F. (1973 / 1999). Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered, 25 years later... with commentaries. Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks Publisher's, Inc.

Related post about happiness per unit of consumption:
Previous post about this book:
Related website:
Wikipedia entry about the book:

Amy Winehouse: Back to Black (14 September 1983 – 23 July 2011)

Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Brian Jones - all musicians who died at age 27. Drugs? Alcohol? I don't care about the how, 27 is too young for anyone to die.

I suppose if one has talent, gets discovered, makes it "big" and then gets swept up in all the hoopla, the breaking point comes in one's mid- to late-20s. I believe all these deaths were drug-related. Sad that they all apparently felt pushed to the brink. Perhaps we too often take it for granted when someone survives the gauntlet of fame and fortune and everything that goes with it.

Truthfully, I would not describe myself as the world's biggest Amy Winehouse fan, but like so many others, I was captivated by the sound of her sultry, bluesy voice.  Knowing that she struggled with alcohol and drugs make the lyric to her popular song, Rehab, all the more poignant.

Despite the defiant tone of Rehab, Amy Winehouse did finally try to dry out. Rehab didn't seem to work for her. I reprint the lyrics here as a tribute to a talented, if troubled singer songwriter who left us far too soon.   


They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No, no, no"
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go

I'd rather be at home with Ray
I ain't got seventeen days
'Cause there's nothing, there's nothing you can teach me
That I can't learn from Mr. Hathaway

I didn't get a lot in class
But I know we don't come in a shot glass

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No, no, no"
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know know know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go

The man said, "Why do you think you here?"
I said, "I got no idea"
I'm gonna, I'm gonna lose my baby
So I always keep a bottle near

He said, "I just think you're depressed
Kiss me, yeah baby and go rest"

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No, no, no"
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know

I don't ever wanna drink again
I just, ooh, I just need a friend
I'm not gonna spend ten weeks
Have everyone think I'm on the mend

And it's not just my pride
It's just 'til these tears have dried

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No, no, no"
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go


Man of Leisure? Are You Talking to ME?

Photos of Shields Negril Villas, Negril
This photo of Shields Negril Villas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Who am I really? Man of Omnivorous Appetites, whose insatiable curiosity is hard to pin down? Man of Promethean Labors, who would have little fun if not for the interruptions of friends? In reality, I work much harder than I play. When I have fun, it is usually by accident, and I find myself so amazed by the unplanned exhilaration.

Maybe I should get out more often. Life is exhilarating. Still, I am not ready for the Man of Leisure label.

I love my work as an active Army operations research analyst. Management science and data driven decisions are how we understand and shape the world in which we live. At the same time, I believe arts and letters are how we come to understand our fellow humans on a personal level. Maybe it’s just my architecture degree talking, but both art and science are needed in equal measure for a high quality of life. Or maybe it’s my innate desire for a balance between art and science that drew me to architecture, and then systems management, in the first place?

Now that I am neck-deep in my philosophy degree, I realize that there is more to life than can be understood or shared. There is also a need for a third component: mystery. A high quality of life leaves room for spiritual things and the unknown-unknowables. Everything is not meant to be understood by science or expressed though art. Some things, like the spark of life, like what happens to us after death, are better imagined and sought after. Or maybe that’s just my brush with cancer talking.

Man of Leisure, indeed! Maybe someday…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blog Design for Killer SEO - Infographic | LinkedIn

Blog Design for Killer SEO Infographic
Created by Dawn Shepard for SEOmoz

As a novice blogger, I appreciate all the help and advice I can get. 

Hat tip to MCRWS!

Kalachakra 2011 in Washington, DC

Kalachakra for World Peace

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was in Washington, DC. July 6 through 16 for the Kalachakra for World Peace. Though I am not a Buddhist, I am currently reading My Spiritual Journey and was thrilled at the opportunity to be in his presence. 

This is a promotional photo. The actual talk was given facing the Capitol!

The visit included 10 days of activities. Beautifully done, the official site of the Kalachakra for World Peace is here: Official Kalachakra 2011 Website. The activities began with a ceremony to purify the Verizon Center, an indoor session on the Dalai Lama's birthday, the public talk for world peace, and a state visit to the White House. 

Great photo of Ghandi's grandson, HH the Dalai Lama, and Martin Luther King Jr's son at the Verizon Center

Here is a link to a video taken at Verizon Center during the Dalai Lama's 76th birthday celebration with the grandson of Mahatma Ghandi and the son of Martin Luther King, Jr.

My view from the base of the Capitol steps to the speaker's dais. 

Here is a video of the talk on the Capitol West Lawn Check out his answer to the young man at the end.

A soul filled with joy.

Dalai Lama's Facebook status on 18 Jul 2011:
We have different degrees of happiness and different kinds of suffering. Material objects give rise to physical happiness, while spiritual development gives rise to mental happiness. Since we experience both physical and mental happiness, we need both material and spiritual development. This is why, for our own good and that of society we need to balance material progress with inner development.
I see the Dalai Lama as a man, just a man--not an infallible deity--yet a man who is as most completely human as anyone I have ever met. 

The Derivation of “Piss Poor” and Other Odd Phrases

Hundreds of years ago, urine was used to tan animal skins, so families would all pee in a pot and then once a day it was taken to the tannery and sold.......if you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor."

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot......they "didn't have a pot to piss in" and were the lowest of the low.

The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some interesting historical tidbits about city life in the 16th century:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water!"

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof... Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "Dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a "thresh hold."

(Getting quite an education, aren't you?)

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust.”

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake.”

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive... So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the “graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer.”

And that's the truth....Now, whoever said History was boring!?!

Hat tip to Helen!


| Belgian | National Day |
21 July 2011!

I wanted to put my love for Belgian beer into a little historical, social, political, and economic context.

Brewing traditions in Belgium go back to at least the Middle Ages. Pieter Bruegel (about 1525-69) painted people enjoying beer. The Trappist monasteries that now brew beer in Belgium were occupied in the late 18th century primarily by monks fleeing the French Revolution. However, the first Trappist brewery in Belgium (Westmalle) did not start operation until 10 December 1836, almost 50 years after the French Revolution and 5 years after what we now celebrate as Belgian National Day.

The Belgians took a unique path to independence, very different from that of the USA even though for both countries the genesis was similar: both chaffed under the unfair demands of an aloof and uncaring monarch. After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815’s Battle of Waterloo and the end of the French Empire, the major European powers created the United Kingdom of the Netherlands as a buffer state against future French expansion. Fifteen years later, in 1830, a revolution broke out when the people of what would become Belgium felt underrepresented in the Parliament of the Dutch king. King William I did not pay much attention to the revolt, refusing to even meet with the revolutionaries. Prince William, the king's son and representative in Brussels, was autocratic, unpopular, and ineffective. The inaction had the effect of fomenting the revolution.

At this time, the borders separating France and The Netherlands (modern-day Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg) were set, but the borders inside of The Netherlands were not so clear. The provinces around Brussels were split into French-speaking to the south and Flemish-speaking to the north. The provinces in what would become the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg had some different property inheritance customs that made them unique. Aside from language differences, there was little to separate the people: culture, art, trade, and customs flowed relatively unhindered, and as for the language, most people were multi-lingual. When King William began imposing some tariffs and trade restrictions, people in the outlying provinces revolted. It is said that a performance at the opera house in Brussels so inflamed the people that they impulsively demanded their independence. So at the beginning of the revolution, there was no Declaration of Independence, no sense of a National border, no clear central leadership, no organized militia, no idea of a fight for Independence. There was mostly frustration over the fact that the folks in and around Brussels were not benefiting sufficiently from the central government way up in Amsterdam.

In the wake of any decisive political, diplomatic, or military solution to the impasse, a Belgian constitution was drafted with the tacit support of Britain and France, though these countries had competing reasons for their support. The French saw Belgian independence as a means to extend the Catholic realm at the expense of territory held by the Protestant Dutch. England, fearing France would annex Belgium, imported a German from the house of Saxe-Coburg to serve as King and prevent the French from taking advantage of the situation. On this day (July 21st) in 1831, Leopold was inaugurated as King before the other major European powers, Austria and Prussia, could object.

But King William did not accept what had transpired, and refused to recognize Belgium as a separate country. Sporadic battles continued for 8 more years. Finally in 1839, Kings Leopold and William signed the Treaty of London which carved out who got what between the various belligerents and recognized Belgium as a sovereign country with a constitutional monarchy.  So in 1830 there really was no particular day on which Belgian independence was formally declared with flourished signatures. In 1831, despite having a constitution and a King, there really was no internationally recognized country of Belgium. By 1839, when Belgian independence was formally established and the border disputed settled, it was a formality and people were already thinking of 21 July as their National day. At this point, the people of Belgium had already been wrestling with national identity. Brussels sits on the boundary between the French-speaking Wallonian provinces in the south and the Flemish (Dutch)-speaking provinces of Flanders in the north.   To prevent the regions aligning with neighboring countries and preserve a strong central government, Brussels became a bilingual capital and remains so to this day.

The unique sense of a Belgian National identity that has developed out of that chaos over the past 172 years is what we celebrate today. Through two World Wars, major battles between neighboring countries Britain and Germany have been fought on Belgian soil. This is one of the reasons why the NATO is headquartered in Belgium and why Brussels is the de facto capitol of the European Union.  Peacekeeping, diplomacy, free-trade, and military alliances are important aspects of Belgium’s national identity. Beyond statecraft, Belgium is known for food such as waffles, moules (mussels), and frittes (twice-fried sliced potatoes), and products such as lace, chocolate, and beer. Of these, I am especially interested in the beer and in particular, Cuisine à la Bière: cooking with beer. Germany likes beer, too, but they have many formalities with their brewing process. France likes cooking too, but they prefer cooking with wine.   

Today, celebrate Belgian National Day with Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolate, moules and frittes, and Belgian beer! Long live Belgium!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

DC Brau!

DC Brau is the first production brewery in DC since Olde Heurich closed in 1956

DC Brau had an open house Saturday, July 16th, from 1 to 4 pm. After a thirst-inducing class at Patriot University (What the Heck is Hoka Hey?), I drove up to the brewery on Bladensburg Road NE to get samples, take a tour, and buy some beer for myself, my neighbors in VA, and some friends from out of state.  

Logo on the door
Since opening in April of this year, the new brewery has been unable to keep pace with demand. I've been on a wait list at Schneider's of Capitol Hill since late May to no avail--there just is not enough beer coming off the canning line to replenish the shelf space in package stores in DC, let alone VA. The only way to score DC Brau is to catch it on tap, or trek to the source and snatch some cans. 

Samples and growler fills

I sampled both The Public Pale and The Corruption IPA. Both were mighty tasty. I prefer the piney and citrusy IPA. What they had available in cans was the Public Pale, so that's what I got to go. Talk about fresh: the beer in the cans I bought was just brewed on Monday, July 11th!


They have some cool merchandise available, too: stickers, t-shirts, and screw-top growlers. They cannot fill flip top growlers just yet. There is a law on the books in DC that requires packages to be sealed. So they shrink wrap the growler lid for you, and at the moment they do not have plastic shields large enough to accommodate flip-top growlers. A fix is on the way.

CEO Brandon Skall was an excellent host to the thirsty throngs that lined up to slake their curiosity--and their parched throats! He gives a great tour and is fun to talk to. His passion for beer culture and DC is evident. He also introduced Jeff, the brewmaster, and Chris, their first new hire.

Pristine--and room to grow.

The crew at DC Brau is not only brewing great local beer. They are also influencing the local beer scene by championing new laws. DC Brau successfully petitioned for the right to offer samples at the brewery--which previously was illegal. 

Kegs awaiting the planned 1st anniversary brew

They also brew The Citizen, a Belgian Pale. I wonder if they will have any on offer in kegs around town for Belgian National Day 21 July 2011? I want to find me some!

Cans waiting to be filled

I can hardly wait for their fourth beer to come out. The Penn Quarter Porter, which sounds delicious, went into the fermenters on 19 July.  

But the most exciting thing is that DC Brau has more fermenters coming in, which will allow them to increase throughput by 30%--and maybe get ahead of the demand curve in DC long enough to stock a shelf or two in VA.

Brandon describes the canning line

It's an easy drive up to Bladensburg Road NE, and I am sure I'll find my way back up to DC Brau again soon. Like the minute the PQP is available! 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hope Solo

Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Nike

Having kids changed everything for me. 

I grew up in the Midwest and played football, basketball, track, and baseball. Couldn't have played soccer if I wanted to because there were no teams, and I never even heard of lacrosse until I went to college in another state a little to the north and east. For me and my family and friends, football was the most fun to play and the most fun to watch. 

I selected Notre Dame because of the Architecture program, but watching Joe Montana and the Irish come from behind to beat the Houston Cougars in the 1979 Cotton Bowl sealed the deal. I still love to watch Irish Football.
When we played soccer for physical training in my old Army unit, none of us had any real skill. So we bastardized the game to make it more "interesting." For example, we played with two balls, no dedicated goalies, no goal boxes, no off-sides or penalties of any kind, and no refs or side judges to slow down the game. So, basically, we played rugby with two balls until someone got knocked out.

But my kids are growing up in a different time and place: thirty years later and on the east coast. They tolerate my fanatic interest in Notre Dame football, but unlike me, they do not dream of throwing the game-winning touchdown pass. And so football is not something we actually share. 

Both of my girls tried soccer and at least two other sports. For them, especially for my youngest, soccer is as important as football was for me. I go to the games and I work at understanding what's going on because that's my kid out there. My youngest plays goalie on a travel team and the level of play is steadily improving as the skills and awareness develop. I really enjoy watching her play. 

Hope Solo is my second favorite goalie.

Soccer is a great sport to watch, if you have a reason to care.