Wednesday, May 04, 2016

SHANE'S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Apparatchik, or nomenklatura?

Welcome to another installment of SHANE'S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS, a regular Wednesday feature at NA Confidential.

But why all these new words?

Why not the old, familiar, comforting words?

It's because a healthy vocabulary isn't about intimidation through erudition. Rather, it's about selecting the right word and using it correctly, whatever one's pay grade or station in life.

Even municipal corporate attorneys are eligible for this enlightening expansion of personal horizons, and really, for those of us who want nothing more than to understand why we must pay legions of Louisvillians to do what locals can do on their own, more creatively and for less overall expense, all we have is time -- and the opportunity to learn something.

Again this week, our words are occasioned by the inquiry of a regular reader:

Can you explain why these are Shane's excellent new words, not Bob's or Larry's?

The idea for this column dates to a brief social media exchange between the senior editor and Shane Gibson, the city of New Albany's "corporate" attorney, as opposed to "garden variety" or "proletarian" attorney (Stan Robison).

In a revealing moment of pique, Gibson offered that NA Confidential is prone to using big words solely from a desire to be "smarter than everyone else."

Of course, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck ... but we digress.

To be sure, New Albany cultural dissidents often joke that the only city ordinance enforced with any degree of consistency is the one prohibiting the public use of words containing more than four syllables, and at least now we know who wrote it.

The specific word provoking the attorney's unsocial media ire was nomenklatura, as borrowed from Soviet-era Russia.

Or should the word have been apparatchik? Let's take a look at the difference.

Apparatchik /ˌɑːpəˈrɑːtʃɪk/ (Russian: аппара́тчик [ɐpɐˈratɕɪk]) is a Russian colloquial term for a full-time, professional functionary of the Communist Party or government "apparat" (apparatus) that held any position of bureaucratic or political responsibility, with the exception of the higher ranks of management called "nomenklatura".

It's a difference in degree.

The nomenklatura (Russian: номенклату́ра; IPA: [nəmʲɪnklɐˈturə]; Latin: nomenclatura) were a category of people within the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries who held various key administrative positions in all spheres of those countries' activity: government, industry, agriculture, education, etc., whose positions were granted only with approval by the communist party of each country or region.

Virtually all were members of the Communist Party. Critics of Stalin, such as Milovan Đilas, critically defined them as a new class. Trotskyism uses the term caste rather than class, because it sees the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers' state, not a new class society. Later developments of Trotsky's theories, notably Tony Cliff's theory of State Capitalism, did refer to the nomenklatura as a new class.

The nomenklatura forming a de facto elite of public powers in the previous eastern block, may be compared to the western establishment holding or controlling both private and public powers (media, finance, trade, industry, state and institutions…)

Clearly, Shane's excellent new word is nomenklatura; there's nothing gray about this particular eminence.

Conversely, the apparatchik in this scenario?

Probably Stan.

Nick Vaughn: "Money and Power: My Primary Election Synopsis."

Earlier this year, Nick Vaughn began writing guest columns ("Within City Limits") for NAC. For various reasons, he was unable to continue doing so, but let it be known that Nick always has a place to write here if he so desires. 

Following are his ruminations on yesterday's primary election. 


Money and Power: My Primary Election Synopsis

Well, Indiana has spoken, and with Indiana, Floyd County has spoken (well, at least 37.49% of Floyd County’s registered voters have spoken). The age old adage of “elections have consequences” has never felt so near to me before until after watching the results come in last night.

What we saw last night was a disturbing shift, that some will argue has been happening for awhile now, from substance and General Election electability to the unquivering and ultimately resounding strength of name ID and money.

When vague platitudes and millions of dollars can propel someone out of a primary instead of a proven record or substantive plans, something is truly wrong. When simple name ID propels you out of a primary at the local level instead of hard work and elbow grease, something is very wrong.

The real question is: why do we settle for this? Why is it that we allow ourselves to be butt of this big joke that is our current political system?

Call me crazy, but I believe that we should vote for the candidates who meet the following criteria: 1. Has substantive plans for how they will affect change in office, 2. Has the best chance of winning in the General Election, and 3. Works the hardest, knocks on the most doors, and meets the most people. Does this candidate win sometimes? Yes of course, a few of them won last night. A few.

The overwhelming majority of candidates who won last night, however, won because they had more money than everyone else and therefore the most name ID, or they were the product of the uninformed voter picking them at random because they had a good ballot spot or because they had seen their name before.

It is time for us to rethink the primary process. Don’t you think we ought to stop settling for what we deserve? Because I think it is. We need to stand up for ourselves and be informed voters. We also need to hold our candidates to a higher standard viz. what their plans are, why they are best fit for office, why they are best to beat the opposition in the General. These are the things that matter.

To reinstill integrity to the offices held by the people we elect, we must reevaluate the type of people we elect. We need to stand together and say vague platitudes won’t do anymore, just having a lot of money and a Super PAC won’t do anymore. Why should we be the victims when we have the ability to change who we vote to represent us?

Old and new in Tallinn, Estonia, 2016.

More later, but first, here's a Tallinn teaser.

Pear cider and dark lager in the old town.

Hanseatic Tallinn in the foreground, and the modern city rising behind it.

Soviet-era vending machine. You were served fizzy water in a common glass.

View from the cafe on the 24th floor of the Radisson hotel, where we had lunch.

After a week of enjoying a comprehensive and efficient public transportation network, it's back to cars ... and more cars ...

Bernie Sanders at The Exchange pub + kitchen, Tuesday, May 3.

Photos from Fb feeds.

Bernie Sanders dines in New Albany as local Democrats join Hillary at an Applebee's somewhere.

Bernie in NA. Photo credit: BWS.

Bluegill summarizes Tuesday, May 3.

Got to vote for a presidential candidate who actually represents me for the first time ever, got to see the candidate, and the candidate won the primary in my state, all in the same day. Shazam.

Bernie Sanders capped it off by dining at The Exchange and using the NA-FC Public Library as the backdrop for his victory speech.

As you'd expect, Floyd County's Democrats backed Hillary Clinton to the tune of 52.7% - 47.3%. Adam Dickey's local party apparatus mimics the national party machine's emphasis on incessant monetization to the exclusion of genuine political content, which makes Sanders' evening in New Albany all the sweeter.

He actually came close to overturning that voodoo, too.

The Confidentials returned from a brief holiday late yesterday afternoon, flying from Estonia to Netherlands to Atlanta to Louisville. We voted two weeks ago, and were asleep when the Sanders caravan passed through.

But that's okay, and I'm happy for those of you able to take part in the merriment. Echoing Jeff's comments above, the most important part for me was being able to feel good about casting a ballot, rather than doing so strategically whilst clamping the nostrils with a clothespin.

This one meant something. There's no reason why it can't continue to mean something.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Just been there and done that: "The Consequences of Airplane Classism."

At 6' 4" and a few too many pounds, lemme tell you: Steerage class never, ever was comfortable.

As this article suggests, the inexorable lessening of space in back, when coupled with constant reminders of how humane conditions are available only for those who pay extra, is leading to a phenomenon called air rage.

In my view, it is a form of rage that needs to extend beyond the cabin, to the ground. Feel the Bern, people.

The Consequences of Airplane Classism, by Tanvi Misra (City Lab)

The mere presence of a first-class cabin can “trigger antisocial behavior” in passengers, a new study finds.

 ... Airplane inequality is enough to make anyone a little grumpy. But according to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it can also predict “air rage”—instances when passengers act out aggressively, become abusive to staff or fellow passengers, or endanger flight safety. According to the study’s authors, Katherine DeCelles of the University of Toronto and Michael Norton of Harvard University, such instances take place usually in the economy section, and are are far more common on flights with a first class than without. They are also much more likely, both among economy and first class passengers, if everyone boards the plane from the front as opposed to the middle. Here is how the researchers put it in the paper:

Although virtually no empirical research examines the antecedents of this hazardous and increasingly common phenomenon, popular explanations for air rage include crowded planes, frustrating delays, and shrinking seats. We advance an alternative view: The modern airplane reflects a social microcosm of class-based society, making inequality salient to passengers through both the physical design of the plane (the presence of a first class cabin) and, more subtly, the boarding procedure (whether economy passengers must pass through the first class cabin).

Top Ten posts at NA Confidential for April, 2016.

"It's hard to determine which entity, Tiger Trucking or City Hall, is capable of greater flights of anti-social behavior."

Thanks for reading NA Confidential, where we annoyingly burrow beneath the headlines to offer unique local perspectives. April was another gratifying month in terms of blog traffic, and the posts highlighted here attest to a keen interest for local stories, perhaps because they're not being served elsewhere.

The April Top Ten is determined by numbers of unique hits, as reported by Blogger. The list begins with fifteen "honorable mention" posts, before concluding with the Top Ten, escalating to No. 1.




Chronicles of New Gahania, Chapter IV: Pat, just tell Coffey to shut the fuck up.


Green Mouse Q and A, Episode 2: Let the city know how you feel about the Summit Springs environmental clustermuck.


Learn what is meant by "parking crater," and see why Louisville has the nation's worst.


Them bats in Pinocchio Rosenbarger's belfry: BOW talks Greenway, and a night on Bald Mountain.


VIDEO: Summit Springs development and roadway proposals, Redevelopment Rubber Stamp Commission, Tuesday 12 April 2016.

248 (tie)

Ted Cruz is holding a rally in the Plantation Hall. That's about right (wing).

248 (tie)

NaNa Anchor City, too: "Commentary: A River City Shakedown."


Gospel Bird's patio will have a very distinctive feature.


Know that "traffic calming will occur prior to the tolls," just don't mention in which direction.


ON THE AVENUES: The Green Mouse tells all.


Coming soon: The Gupta Vincennes Revitalization Project, built to Caesar-surface glam standards.




"Katie Toupin is parting ways with Houndmouth."


Cartoon: "A Night on Bald Mountain" (State Street remix) will be followed by a free kazoo concert in Bicentennial Park.


BREAKING: Mayor Gahan cancels Break Wind Lofts, installs world's first Hologram Minaret.


Mapping the risk of lead poisoning ... in downtown New Albany.

399 (tie)

Thunder THIS.

399 (tie)

R.I.P. Prince.


As we move ever closer to bridge tolls, Team Gahan remains AWOL.


GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: Greenway timbering east of the (former?) boat club.


Behold the aesthetic monstrosity of Summit Springs, coming soon to our low-density State Street corridor.


Green Mouse Q and A: How the Summit Springs hilltop clustermuck got to this point.


Tiger Trucking's affectionate "fuck you" to the residents of New Albany.

Monday, May 02, 2016

To repeat: Stella Artois still sucks, and it has nothing whatever to do with Kentucky Derby traditions.

Now, THIS is a beer fest. Read all about it.

I've been so busy plotting various civic insurrections that Kentucky Derby festival season has slipped past, almost unnoticed. But don't think for a moment that you're somehow to be spared my annual Derby rant.

Better late than never, and Stella as yet sucks.

However, because my bile supply is nearly exhausted by this incessant daily struggle to dismantle Jeff Jong Un's budding personality cult before he erects a colossal statue of himself atop Warren Nash, I'll restrict my outrage to a few chosen links.

For the classic Derby prose, look no further than The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,’ by Hunter S. Thompson. Some years later, a prescient denizen of the blogosphere followed up with a valuable contribution to the Derby lexicon, namely "horse pimp", in this article: "The Kentucky Derby Really Is Decadent and Depraved."

Me? I've long since resolved to be patient, because when Derby Festival begins, bad beer flows, and so we learn to wait. At the same time, it isn't easy when bad beer is involved: Tradition, Americana, Churchill Downs and Stella Artois.

As for the latter, catching sight of billboards linking the Kentucky Derby and inferior AB InBev-style international industrial lager can only remind us to Killa Stella by drinking authentic and locally-brewed beer. permit me to explain why in this column.


Killa Stella

In his autobiographical book, “The Factory of Facts,” the Belgian-American writer Luc Sante recalls the drab post-WW II industrial reality of his childhood home of Verviers, a city in the Wallonian rust belt. Reading Sante’s reflections on a society stratified by factory life and traumatized by its wartime experiences, my thoughts turned to lager beer, which originated in and around the German lands, to the east of Belgium.

We know that lager developed in lockstep with the industrial revolution throughout Europe, gradually departing from its original, artesanal methods to fatally embrace pure science utterly devoid of a guiding aesthetic, eventually supplanting traditional ale styles – many of which survived only in the countryside in cantankerous places like Sante’s Belgium.

By Cold War’s end, lowest common denominator lager had become perhaps the most imperialistic consumer item in world history, conquering Europe, America and the planet as a whole – taking full advantage of modern manufacturing techniques, improved distribution methods, and a consistent psychological bludgeoning sufficient to make Josef Goebbels smile with undisguised glee.

In its unprecedented trajectory to a worldwide stranglehold, mass-market lager isn’t entirely alone. Numerous parallels exist, most prominently in contemporary processed foodstuffs. The rise of mass-market lager also parallels the dissemination of cigarettes; more than one sociologist has observed that cigarettes represent the perfect adaptation of design to the necessities of time and space brought about by the industrial revolution, as well as reflecting the reduction in prices stemming from mass production.

In the beginning, cigarettes were cheap, effective conveyances for addictive nicotine, capable of being consumed in minutes while waiting for the tram. Pipes and cigars took more effort – and more leisure time to use properly.

Mass-market lager, as stripped of its more costly fundamental aesthetic (does anyone remember classic lagering times of up to 90 days?), is a quick and easy alcohol delivery device, familiar and trusted through frozen simplicity, reinforced through saturation advertising, capable of maintaining price points through multi-national economies of scale, and benefiting from "market rationalization,” which is geek-speak for “species extinction.”

But if mass-market lager didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it, seeing as something wet and yellow always must be handy to cook beer can chicken.


Through it all, and in spite of domestic consumption now favoring bland, mass-produced lagers to the tune of 70-30 or more, Belgium somehow has managed to retain a representative semblance of its diverse brewing heritage. It’s probably an accident, although it might be a miracle.

It can be argued whether the survivors of pre-industrial brewing traditions – Saisons, Lambics, Sour Reds and Trappists – are as “good” now as they used to be, but it remains that Belgium is a country where there is customary proximity to beers differing from the industrial lager norm. Importantly, just as in America, craft brewing has exploded in Belgium, and shoots of creativity eagerly rise from the burgeoning grassroots. New generations of brewers are assured, and this is comforting to know.

And then there’s Stella Artois, with an accompanying gag reflex so very hard to suppress through the years. You can lead a tourist – even a native, for that matter – to diversity, but you cannot make him think.

For this reason, American visitors to Belgium all too often fail to notice the numerous beer choices available to them, even though the country’s smallest tourist offices have long since taken to actively promoting the Belgian ale heritage. Instead, the world-renowned timidity of the American psyche is exercised by subsisting on a beer diet of Stella Artois, Jupiler and Maes Pils – mass market lagers entirely unrepresentative of the Belgian brewing heritage.

Before Stella Artois flooded the United States a few years ago in the run-up to the monolithic merger of monopolists that yielded the AB-InBev abomination, I’d often be asked to help folks find the beer they loved so much while in Belgium. I’d cringe by rote as they mispronounced Stella Artois, and then recite the familiar litany in a desperate, forlorn hope that something – anything – might come of the lesson proffered them.


So, once more … with feeling.

Stella Artois is a formless, insulting industrial lager. Specifically, it is a soft, forgettable Pilsner variant, mild and golden, complete with digestible alcohol, and mass-produced by a nefarious multinational corporation that became even nastier after it hopped into bed with Budweiser and began squeaking bed springs in the Leuven bean counter’s night.

As an import, Stella Artois is priced twice as high as American mass-market beer of the same insipid stripe, and while it is marketed as quintessentially Belgian (thus justifying the premium price), there is nothing remotely Belgian about it.

Repeat: Nothing.

If you care so little about what passes between your lips, you might as well drink another Silver Bullet. You deserve it -- even at half the price.

Just as a pound of ground chuck from Kroger somewhat vaguely hints at the many possibilities inherent in the concept of beef, Stella Artois at least makes us aware of Belgium, a country with so much more to offer in terms of the glories of beer. My favorite beer cafe in Brugge, ‘t Brugs Beertje, does not offer any Pilsner brands, because the style originated elsewhere.

Quite simply, when it comes to Belgium's considerable native brewing heritage, Stella Artois isn’t a factor worthy of consideration. The tradition does not go back “more than 600 years,” as proclaimed by one of AB-InBev’s PR flacks when Stella Artois was declared the official beer of the Kentucky Derby. It goes back all the way to 1926.

What of the unique Stella Artois chalice, glassware craft-blown to the specifications of Charlemagne, or some such nonsense? It is wasted on liquid more suitable for consumption from a red Solo cup at a fraternity kegger.

By and large, Stella Artois is a marketing concept, one pitched as “Belgian” by a parent shyster thriving on eternal deception, with the sad result that many tourists come away with an extremely misshapen impression of what Belgian beer is all about, returning home to America to find Stella Artois being further recommended to them on the basis of Belgium’s great beer reputation – which has nothing whatever to do with Stella Artois.

Come to think of it, I really, seriously dislike Stella Artois.

Now, did you get all that?

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The blog's annual May Daze observance, and the joy of feeling the Bern.

This essay is reprinted or linked yearly, attesting to my eagerness to remind you that on May Day, as the Louisville area typically eschews work and instead focuses its partying proclivities on the ponies, most of the rest of the world takes a holiday amid thoughts about the nature of work.

For more vague linkages, see Hunter's Double D and Seattle Slew Kabobs, please.

In 2015, there was a providential twist: Bernie Sanders was running for president. At The New Yorker, Andy Borowitz immediately found the center of the target.

The Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s potential bid for the 2016 Presidency was declared over, on Monday, before it even began, because of a key feature of the American political system that makes a person with integrity ineligible for the White House. According to some experts, the electoral system has developed a number of safeguards over the past few decades to prevent someone with independence and backbone from occupying the Presidency.

As an independent senator and avowed socialist, the fact that Sanders exists in the American political non-spectrum is as good an introduction as any to the "real" international workers' holiday. Two weeks ago, we participated in early primary election voting at the county clerk's office, and I've never been as excited to cast a ballot for a presidential candidate as I was to opt for Sanders.



By the summer of 1987, when I first visited the geopolitical conglomeration formerly known as the Soviet Union, the country’s annual May Day parade in Moscow had long since ceased to be a showcase of international socialism.

Rather, it had reverted to the overt, and was staged as an ideological pageant of nationalistic fervor – a genuine, old-fashioned, patriotic flag-waver for Mother Russia.

For the bedrock Soviet worker, who according to prevailing mythology was the chief beneficiary of international socialism, May Day’s single biggest selling point was being able to avoid the drudgery of the factory for a few precious hours. He’d have rather been on the beach at a posh Black Sea resort in Bulgaria, but what could be done?

At least for a while he could forget about the dystopian Five Year Plan by hopping the subway from his cookie-cutter, high-rise suburb to the historic center of the city, queuing with fellow vodka-bearers, plodding behind the massive missiles through cobblestoned Red Square, and then finally passing the reviewing stand arranged atop Lenin’s Mausoleum for a fleeting glimpse of the jowly old men in furry caps, grimacing arthritically as they waved vacantly into space.

The parade was a choreographed set piece, of course, one fraught with symbolic properties, both for natives seeking clues to the direction of their country apart from the stultifying daily propaganda, and for observers elsewhere, like professional Kremlinologists in the employ of Western intelligence agencies.

These consulting spooks subsequently would examine film of the May Day parade, reshuffle their tea leaves, and strain them through a few hoary apocryphal algorithms. Passwords would be repeated, reports submitted, meetings held, and murmured decisions reached. In appropriately clandestine fashion, money would be exchanged, and a hush briefly might descend, until suddenly, somewhere in the world, a legally elected government was overthrown – first one of the Capitalist paymasters’ choosing, then another selected by the Communists, each in its own turn, serving the dual purpose of preserving the status quo, and stimulating both full erections and full employment among participating secret agents.


Long before the decade of the 1980’s, the workers of the world – be they in Akron, Cape Town or Tashkent – already understood that they neither had united, nor shed their chains in any fashion sufficient to exercise control over the means of production.

The stewards of the world’s two great economic “-isms” had divided the planet into manageable spheres of influence, with the non-aligned throngs always ripe for recruitment and exploitation. At the end of a day’s toil, the best way for just plain folks to endure the enforced pieties of a May Day parade -- or a 4th of July picnic -- was to remain under the influence.

As Ernest Hemingway reminds us, the bottle is a blessed means of sovereign action. You first drink from it, and then throw it in the direction of the oppressor. In cases of rotgut, you can drink some of it, and then set the remainder aflame just prior to tossing (see “cocktails, Molotov”).

During the Cold War, Russians and Poles chose vodka. Cubans opted for rum. I always imagined the Czechs and Hungarians to be more fortunate than most, seeing as they possessed beer (Pilsner Urquell) and wine (Egri Bikaver) of a higher uniform quality than produced by Warsaw Pact neighbors.

For Americans, there’d be gallons of insipid ice cold light lager and a few pints of Jack Daniels. Choices from our NATO allies might have ranged from English cask bitter to ouzo in Greece, and from schnapps (Germany) to cider (Spain).

It goes to show that as opiates go, booze is vastly preferable to religion.


To recap, May Day takes place on May 1, and generally refers to springtime public holidays in the northern hemisphere, where the cultural tradition began long before Marx, Engels and Gus Hall.

For more than 125 years, May Day also has been considered International Workers' Day, which we Americans eventually chucked to another time on the calendar (Labor Day, at summer’s end) so as to avoid confusion with the Commies. Why? Labor and left-wing political movements first established May 1 as International Workers’ Day in memory of those who were killed and wounded during the Haymarket Massacre in 1886, which took place in Chicago.

In all my trips to Europe, only once did I find myself in position to physically attend a May Day parade. It was in Vienna, in 1987. I got up early and walked into the city center from my hostel across from Westbahnhof, finding a comfortable place to stand along the Ringstrasse near City Hall.

The various unions, workplaces and numbered districts each were represented, and at the end, after the sanctioned social elements had marched past, there were series of menacing, piggybacking trailers: Anarchists, Maoists, random radicals and even a mob of hooded Muslim extremists.

Ah yes, I remember it well. Afterwards, I splurged on schnitzel and local draft beer, reflecting on the way that America’s customarily oblivious exceptionalism has detached its labor holiday from the rest of the world’s.

It’s too bad. For us.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Old Albania, 1994: Beer in the Land of the Eagle (Part 3 of 3).

Part 3 of 3.

Back in the Brewing Business in Tirana.

In contrast to the brewery at Korça, the plant dating from 1952 in Albania's capital city of Tirana is a utilitarian, white-tiled facility resembling a dairy more than a brewery. It was built with Soviet assistance, and looks it.

Our ride from the port city of Durres to the brewery in Tirana took us past rustic villages, abandoned and dilapidated concrete irrigation channels, wandering herds of livestock, Albania's sparkling new Coca-Cola bottling plant, row after row of shabby socialist tenements, and finally a vast lot where the burned-out remains of the city's Communist-era bus fleet reposed in blackened, skeletal lines.

At the time of our visit, the Tirana brewery hadn't yet been privatized, but it was working again. Typically, upon arriving at the gate we encountered reluctance at letting us enter. Eventually a wiry, chain-smoking worker with an impressive five o'clock shadow and darting, nervous eyes took an interest in us and went off in search of the plant director, who couldn't be found -- but by that time we were in, our guide Genci having persuaded someone to make a decision and let the foreigners come inside out of the blazing, midday sun.

Minutes later, we met the "lost" director in the hall, and he hastily grunted retroactive permission to enter, no doubt thanking his lucky stars that he no longer lived in a nation where such negligence might be rewarded with a trip to the eastern Albanian ore mines or the dungeon-like prisons of the citadel in Gjirokastra with its handy rooftop garden once used by firing squads, but now serving as a convenient point from which to survey the ancient hilltop town and surrounding mountains.

We were met by a diminutive, white-coated brewmaster who happily led us around the spartan, functional plant and answered questions through our interpreter. Like the older brewery in Korça, Tirana's brewery had ceased to function for quite some time. According to the employees, it closed because the former brewery bureaucrat had been paid off by entrepreneurs who were engaged in importing Macedonian Skopsko Pivo, and who were intent on eliminating the local competition.

Only one beer, a Czech-style pilsner, was being brewed at the time of our visit. Hops are purchased from Germany and barley from Italy. Yeast bought in Italy is being cultured in a so-called laboratory; some was foaming merrily in a kitchen-sink sized steel receptacle.

After 5 to 7 days of primary fermentation, the beer is pumped into the secondary tanks in the basement for 21 days of lagering at near-freezing temperatures. As we enjoyed the contrast in temperature between the frigid lagering cellar and the sunbaked streets outside, the brewmaster's assistant tapped off some two-week old, unfiltered "Tirana's Best" and proudly offered glasses to each of us. It was surprisingly tasty, and it was better than most of the Italian imports on sale in Albania.

Later, we sampled the filtered, bottled, final 11-degree product and noticed the lack of labels -- they haven't quite gotten to that yet, but they hope to soon. Appropriately, the beer is priced to sell below the lowest-priced imports; this is a sound strategy in a country as poor as Albania. On both sampling occasions, first in the cellar and then at the bottling line, we were joined in our tasting by the wiry, chain-smoking employee from the guard shack, who had accompanied us the entire route through the brewery.

As we surveyed the women from the bottling line, who were taking a break as the line was repaired, I spotted our guide discretely posted behind a machine, taking a final, furious drag on his smoke as he removed the cap from an unguarded bottle and drained most of it in one swallow. In my view, it was his well-deserved reward for being responsive to the visitors, and I thanked him for it.

Plenty of Beer to Wash Down Your Qofte.

With only one brewery operational, and another fighting to revive, the thirst for beer in Albania must be met from elsewhere.

Albania's economy now is entirely open, and the entrepreneurial spirit seems to have taken root with a vengeance. Numerous small restaurants and bars are in operation, and street stalls and kiosks -- some no more than tables set up around the perimeters of dusty squares and thoroughfares -- vend all necessary consumer goods. Much of the import-export trade centers on cash-and-carry middlemen who have purchased used trucks from Germany and Italy, and who make buying trips abroad and purchase whatever is for sale and can in turn be resold in Albania.

In short, Albania still is in the transitional economic phase known as Big Lots Capitalism.

Although this wide-open business climate is bringing plenty of beer into Albania, the country is no Germany when it comes to beer. At least tolerable foreign brands are available, most commonly Amstel and Kronenbourg (both brewed under license in neighboring Greece) and a number of Italian brands, which attests to the status of Italy as prime investor in Albania at this time.

Some of the Italian brands aren't bad: Dreher, Splugen Oro and Moretti, all spritzy, mild lagers, do a fine job of taking the edge off the Albanian heat if served cool. All these imports are available at reasonable prices that range from 50 cents to a dollar, depending on the venue, but they are numbingly similar in terms of flavor.

It should be noted that the Albanians themselves don't seem to care, and we can only speculate as to the availability of beer during Communist times. Our guides said that beer from Tirana and Korça was generally available in the old days, and reminded us that the traditional beverages of choice in the country are wine and raki (brandy in various forms), as well as non-alcoholic beverages like coffee and tea -- legacies of the Turkish presence over five centuries.

However, surprises lurk in the chaotic, nebulous Albanian beer market. We found a small, modern street side bar in Tirana that boasted Hacker-Pschorr (Helles) on draft and Pschorr-brau Hefe-Weisse in cooled bottles.

Genci and Agim weren't as taken with the Bavarian wheat beers as we were. The future of this particular establishment is somewhat in doubt, as it has changed hands once or twice since being opened (I think it is currently owned by an Italian tour company).

A Clean, Well Lighted Place.

Pending the completion of an Austrian-built hotel complex adjacent to the former Hoxha mausoleum, one of the most modern, well-appointed bars in Tirana is the Piano Bar, owned by two brothers who amassed capital while working in Germany and who developed a taste for German beers while in the process. The bar serves little food other than sandwiches, and it is being expanded to include a stage for live presentations and an underground keller where the stone walls and wooden beams were being cleaned and readied on the day of our visit. Of all the privately owned bars that we visited, the Piano Bar was the best and probably the beer-friendliest.

The Piano Bar sells a Greek-brewed, Henninger-licensed export contrivance known as Golden Lager, which turned out to be a solid, Helles-like lager. The owners are eager to begin selling Pilsner Urquell on draft as soon as they can purchase the necessary tapping equipment and find a way to ensure an uninterrupted supply. Also available are a half dozen bottled beers, including (drum roll, please) Rolling Rock.

Why? Because both Rolling Rock and Italy's Moretti are subsidiaries of Labatt's, and Moretti can be found throughout Albania.

In any case, Latrobe, Pennsylvania met Tirana, Albania on the last day of our visit when we bought a round of Rolling Rocks at the Piano Bar for Agim, Genci and Nico, the latter our affable driver who pronounced it wonderful as the others looked on with a great deal of skepticism.

It was too mild for them, and also for me, yet it was fun to watch their reactions as we drank the only American beer to be found in Albania -- at least until Anheuser-Busch or Miller rewards the Korça consortium with vast profits for their reconstruction efforts and begins churning out Black Elk Mountain Light in aluminum cans.

It took nine years, but I was able to locate and taste Albanian beer. Now I need a new obsession.

Are there hamburgers in North Korea?

Friday, April 29, 2016

Old Albania, 1994: Beer in the Land of the Eagle (Part 2 of 3).

Part 2 of 3.

One if by sea, 1985.

My first glimpse of the obscure and mysterious Balkan nation called Albania came in 1985. I was lounging on the deck of the ship traveling from Greece to Italy, eating straight from a tin of tuna with a camp fork and washing it down with Dutch Oranjeboom beer in a can, when the hazy shoreline of Albania became visible to the east.

After confirming our whereabouts on a nearby map -- the Greek island of Corfu could be seen to the west -- I went to the railing to investigate the shadowy headlands in the distance.

It didn't look like very much was there, only barren mountains sloping down to the sea and an occasional village. The bizarre concrete pillboxes and defense emplacements erected by the thousands by Enver Hoxha were not visible from the ship. I knew that Albania was the hardest of the hardline Communist regimes in Europe, and that Americans were seldom allowed to enter, but the biggest question of all was one that was unanswerable at the time.

Was there beer in Albania?

Two if by land, 1987.

My journey through Yugoslavia took me to Lake Ochrid, an ancient freshwater body of water on the border of the now-independent province of Macedonia and still inaccessible Albania. The public bus took me to the last village on the Yugoslav side, where I could go no further, and I was so intimidated by the soldiers and the fences at the crossing point that I was afraid to take pictures. Would they shoot the camera out of my trembling hands? Would it be an international incident?

Would I die not knowing whether there was beer in Albania?

Finally, 1994.

I finally was able to answer the question that had come up years before. By visiting the newly free and non-communist Albania for nine days, charting the progress and the problems in this living laboratory of social, economic and political change, and learning about the long and fascinating history of the Albanians, I now am able to confirm that yes, beer is being brewed and consumed in Albania.

The Korça Experience.

It would seem that Albanian commercial brewing history is entirely confined to the present century. There is no evidence to indicate that beer was a factor during five centuries of Turkish domination, although wine and raki (indigenous firewater of indiscriminate fermentable origin) make appearances throughout pre-20th century Albanian history and lore. For the record, raki is the chill-relieving, euphoria-promoting and paint-thinning social beverage of choice in Albania, and Albanian wine is honest if not spectacular.

The first commercial brewery in Albania in the 20th century was built in 1932 by an Italian company in the southeastern city of Korça (KOR-cha). The city is located in a fertile agricultural valley nestled in rugged mountains and is renowned for commerce (ancient trading routes with Greece and Macedonia), learning (the first Albanian language school was founded in Korça), ethnic culture, and as a hotbed of Albania's 20th-century quest for national identity.

The brewery is located on a tree-lined avenue on the outskirts of the compact city. Bulky iron gates bear the "Birra Korça" name in simple, red block letters. On the side of a building several yards away, a curiously pristine Communist-era historical marker notes the heroic action of anti-fascist partisans in 1945, who helped to liberate the area by burning some of the brewery's storage buildings.

As our guide Agim translated the words, I asked myself: How could this really be a victory if the beer wasn't liberated prior to the destruction of its home? Certainly the ideological struggle against capitalism could be suspended for a few rounds prior to the lighting of the arson's torch?

The Korça brewery reeks of faded, degraded elegance. It is constructed in the traditional tower layout, with the barley conveyed to the top for milling, the mash tun and brew kettle taking up the middle, and the fermenters and lagering tanks at the bottom. The mustard-colored, green-trimmed buildings are in decent shape in spite of the neglect of the past few years, but conditions were chaotic on the day of our visit. A horse and several dogs roamed the compound, and mounds of rusted machinery -- a staple feature of the contemporary Albanian landscape -- littered the yard. Inside, some windows were patched with cardboard and there were more than a few puddles made by leaking pipes

Yet, in spite of it all, the brewery at Korça -- the only one in Albania with a tradition of excellence, according to Agim -- is shuddering back to life following a period of inactivity since the collapse of Albania's economy in 1991-92.

It is being revived by a consortium of eleven investors who were victims of political persecution during the Communist era and who, as a means of settlement, were given a competitive advantage during the bidding to privatize industry.

On the day of our visit, the Korça brewery's first test batch of the new era was boiling in the kettle. The new owners have had to overcome formidable obstacles just to arrive at the point of brewing. The brewery was somewhere in the middle of the process renovation as we toured the building, and it had the littered appearance of a construction site. We were told that until the European Union chipped in several thousand cases of used, East German half-liter beer bottles, there was nothing in which to bottle the beer -- although a few dozen antique wooden kegs were left behind.

We briefly met with three of the new owners before departing. One of them worked in the brewery before and will now serve as the brewmaster, and he told us that they hope to resurrect Birra Korça's three styles: 12-degree pilsner, 12-degree dark lager and a special 14-degree lager. The pilsner will come first, and the others will follow.

Interestingly, the adjective used for "dark" to describe a dark beer is the Albanian word for "black." Owing to Albania's proximity to Montenegro ("Black Mountain"), the former Balkan kingdom and Yugoslav republic -- and more importantly, the birthplace of fictional detective Nero Wolfe -- marketing possibilities flowed liberally through my mind as we sat in the old, musty, high-ceilinged office and listened to the brewmaster explain his choice of German hops, Italian malt and yeast obtained at the brewery in Athens where Amstel is brewed under license.

I left with the impression that the consortium would be able to pull it off and put Birra Korça back on the brewing map.

Next: Tirana's beer.

Let's have a look at "The Singing Revolution" and Estonia's historical experience.

Absolutely amazing stuff; a nation redeemed by song, and nary a voice bellowing, "Play some Skynyrd." We watched this documentary on Netflix four years ago. It may still be available there. I recommend watching it. Each nation slipping Communism's noose has its own specialized story, but this one is utterly unique.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

ON THE AVENUES: You know, the two-way streets column I wrote -- 7 years ago, in 2009.

ON THE AVENUES: You know, the two-way streets column I wrote -- 7 years ago, in 2009.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

These periodic time capsules are worth the risk of repetition.

That's because they have a tendency to vibrantly illustrate a basic New Albany truth: As those in positions of authority dig their claws into the upholstery as you attempt to compel them to gaze past the county line, they like to dismiss the topic of the day as something newly brought to their attention, raised only now by wild-eyed, book-reading radicals with hidden agendas.

They invariably play to the peanut gallery as pitiable victims of fresh thinking and new ideas, when the thoughts expressed actually extend well into the past, even allowing for local standards of comprehensive indifference to modernity.

And so it was April, 2009, and my column in the newspaper, which means that these words were not confined to a blog that no one ever reads until it needs rebutting, in which case someone else reads it aloud to them so they they needn't concede using their own eyes. Nowadays, Steve Price is back to playing music, which he does quite capably, and Dan Coffey -- after four years assisting the Gahan administration in spending more discretionary "quality of someone else's life" money than the Overton, Garner and England regimes combined -- has declared his neutrality, at least until the next paymaster comes calling.

I'm not entirely sure where the bloody shirt has gone, although the odds are it isn't in the landfill.

The two words I'd most like to take back are struck through. Other than that, I'm delighted with being so prescient.

Thanks for asking.

Now, go and read a book.

Any book.


BAYLOR: Two-way, better way ... April 30, 2009.

What is the desired outcome, and how do we get there?

If the desired outcome is boosting New Albany’s future prospects as an urban entity, a key element is improving the city’s quality of life in residential districts adjacent to downtown, and linking their inhabitants to niche-oriented commercial redevelopment in the historic business district.

A restoration of the city’s two-way traffic grid is rightfully viewed by a diverse cross-section of the community as an achievable centerpiece of future downtown redevelopment strategies, with added benefits for residential and business interests alike.

If the desired outcome is doing as little as possible to avoid offending a steadily shrinking minority of city residents who view the future as a threat to be “nickel and dimed” into leaving us alone, the chosen political alternative is lethargic decay management, a strategy preferred by those of our local council ward heelers adept at “boiling the bitter Coffey.”

Who are they, and what is that? Let’s begin with a digression.


Out there – in the wider world, beyond the Knobs, and even past the state line – there is broad agreement as to the merits of slower, calmer automotive traffic patterns.

According to the bigger picture, speeding and certain other manifestations of dangerous driving are viewed as street design issues, not law enforcement issues. To design a traffic grid that encourages speeding and reckless driving is to achieve exactly that. Aggressive law enforcement should be a given, and yet approaching the problem from a design perspective offers more lasting and substantive relief, as well as a long list of added attractions for urban areas.

By requiring greater driver attentiveness, two-way streets and related traffic calming measures lower travel speeds, and lower speeds reduce the number of accidents as well as their severity, further lessening repair costs and the number and extent of injuries. Lower speeds also are green, reducing noise and automotive emissions.

Planners of a previous generation responded to the advent of suburban sprawl and the corresponding desertion of the historic city core with one-way, arterial street refittings, manipulating the transport grid as a means of motoring people in and out as quickly as possible, and jarringly dismissing the patterns of urban life prefacing the city’s original layout.

Now, in 2009, as conditions in the real world outside New Albany constantly change, it’s plainly mistaken to persist with an antiquated one-way traffic pattern that defies all efforts to revitalize New Albany into a human-friendly, future-oriented city, creating a more civilized, less threatening streetscape for pedestrians, cyclists, residents and visitors, improving livability in the city’s neighborhoods, and helping to attract fresh New Albanians by offering them a better quality of life.

The rational future of downtown lies in its transformation into an overtly-stated, explicitly-billed antithesis of the plastic, big-box exurb, and what is more perfectly representative of the soulless exurb than its cruelly auto-centric traffic requirements?

Conversely, how better to jump-start the process than allow the city center to function as the city center was originally designed to function?


Let’s return now to New Albany’s stunted political culture.

The phrase "waving the bloody shirt" came into common usage following the American Civil War. It describes a familiar trait of political demagoguery, wherein a politician points to the bloodshed suffered by “our side,” as heinously inflicted by the enemy (“them people”). The tactic is a conscious effort to deflect criticism and avoid honest consideration of the topic.

In the lexicon of the New Albany Syndrome, the bloody shirt might be paraphrased as “boiling the bitter Coffey,” wherein a local politician attacks the source (“them people”) of ideas, innovations and hope in a conscious effort to deflect criticism, avoid honest consideration of the topic at hand, and protect “our side” from a difficult, demanding future.

Accordingly, to “boil the bitter Coffey” is to be trapped in a state of perpetual political obstructionism, inexorably bound to the nonsensical principle that “them people” – i.e., those residents who are eager, educated, capable and willing to assist in the process of change – are arrogantly and callously demanding unaffordable and effete luxuries, something that the saintly and penurious “little people” must oppose at all costs, supposedly on financial grounds, but actually on ones vaguely reminiscent of the GOP’s culture wars – except that our Coffey boilers are always Democrats.

We’re about to see a high volume of Coffey being mercilessly boiled, right down to the darkest dregs, because these standard bearers of the city’s embittered and increasingly irrelevant wannabeens seem fully prepared to go to their mattresses in an offensive against the current administration’s efforts to rebuild and re-energize New Albany.

In addition to proposals for comprehensive paving and two-way street conversions, a full range of uniformly exciting and long overdue public and private investments currently are on the table, including the second phase of Scribner Place, ongoing riverfront enhancements, rehabs for existing housing, and positive ideas for West End redevelopment, all aimed at improving the quality of life for residents and businesses within the city’s historic core, and providing a platform for future growth.

The two council districts with the most to gain from progress are the 1st and 3rd, congenitally under-represented on the city council by Dan Coffey and Steve Price, surely the city’s most predictable proponents of deflated defeatism, penny-wise, pound-foolish fiscal deconstructionism, and outright malice toward a modern world that neither seems to comprehend.

Decay and death, or progress and life?

Can we afford not choosing the latter?


April 21: ON THE AVENUES: The Green Mouse tells all.

April 14: ON THE AVENUES: Forever NA, the wrong way ... from 2012, through 2014, to 2016 and beyond, forever more.

April 7: ON THE AVENUES: The Six Session Beers of Session Beer Day.

March 31: ON THE AVENUES: Abortion? Wichita, or maybe Targu Mures.

Old Albania, 1994: Beer in the Land of the Eagle (Part 1 of 3).

Part 1 of 3.


The only “corporate” day job I ever managed to hold for any length of time lasted from 1988 to 1989, with a solitary Christmas holiday in between. On the festive occasion of Yuletide, 1988, our office in downtown Louisville declared a contest for best work station decoration.

My friend and co-worker JP, who was well-connected within local radical leftist circles, went to work with entirely uncharacteristic zeal toward his stated goal of winning first prize.

He soon appeared with scissors, glue, armloads of construction paper and dusty old copies of the English-language edition of the “New Albania” propaganda magazine, which he’d borrowed from a socialist workers group somewhere in town.

Who even knew Louisville had such an organization – or that there were publications like this, filed hereabouts?

Come the day of judgement, Jeff had transformed his work pod into a veritable showplace of smudgy, dully-colored agitprop, with a few bright red placards bearing impenetrable phrases in the Albanian language, and photocopied images, stiffly posed, of Enver Hoxha and Ramiz Alia, the country’s Communist leaders.

But it was JP’s genuinely demented final touch that I’ll never forget, because snaking along the tops of his gray office partitions were strands of silver holiday tinsel, wrapped convincingly into menacing coils of barbed wire.

JP dubbed it “Christmas in Albania,” celebrating the world’s only officially atheistic state, and while contest judges couldn’t quite bring themselves to award him the top prize, he was given second place for sheer creativity alone.

It was a landmark moment.

The Albanians call their country Shqipëria.

My first and only visit to Albania occurred in 1994, when the obscure and isolated Balkan nation was struggling for a grip following the collapse of its rigid Communist regime.

Shortly after my ex-wife and I departed Albania, the country’s economy crumbled in the wake of an immense financial “pyramid” scandal, and sadly, boatloads of Albanians again took to the Adriatic, seeking refuge and a better life in Italy.

No sooner had Albania staggered back to its feet than the Kosovo conflict flared up. The NATO bombing of neighboring Serbia in 1999 involved Albania in more than a peripheral way, owing to Kosovo’s predominately ethnic Albanian population.

For 15 years since then, Albania has been reasonably stable, and remains engaged in a long, painstaking climb toward grabbing the economic carrot dangled by the European Union – except that now, in the midst of the EU’s various identity, immigration, ISIS and economic crises, when no one seems to know what being European means, the country’s oft-delayed acceptance into the EU is likely to be set back once again.

Nothing has been easy for the Albanians, arguably the continent’s longest-serving underdogs.

Perhaps that’s why Albania has been a recurring, seemingly eternal source of fascination for me. Three years ago, there was a brief correspondence with a brewpub operator in Tirana, during which we discussed brewing a New Albanian/Old Albanian collaboration beer. Nothing came of it, although it caused me to speculate on the status of people, businesses and breweries experienced so very long ago.

It’s probably time to go back for a follow-up. Until then, here is my account of the 1994 trip. In terms of updates, I’ve no desire to be exhaustive. The two breweries mentioned, one in Korça and the other in Tirana, are operational in the year 2016. There are a handful of others: Norga, Kaon, Stela and Puka among them.

As for the people – Genci, Agim, Nico and many others – I’m honestly clueless. I hope they’re doing well. Now, let's turn back the clock to the summer of 1994.


Introduction: What is Albania?

Albania is nine overheated and gritty days spent in a pockmarked Fiat crisscrossing the central and southern Albanian landscape in the company of two successive guides and a deft, talented driver whose skill at dodging pedestrians, cyclists, horse-drawn carts, herds of sheep and sagging road shoulders put us at "ease" to focus on splendid mountains, peeling buildings, demolished Communist monuments, ubiquitous concrete pillboxes - and most importantly – the hardy, resilient, long-suffering Albanian people.

It is climbing the twisted, shadowed, cobblestone alleyways of the old city of Berat, a short and steep walk away from the rotting 60's-era public buildings and a restored mosque across the main square from the huge pile of gravel and broken concrete marking the spot where the statue of the former dictator Enver Hoxha once stood, and where the people with pick-axes and wheelbarrows could be seen physically dismantling the legacy of Communist rule within minutes (and centuries) of our vantage point amid the Ottoman dwellings that survived earlier tyrannies.

It is driving three hours on the "highway" from the coastal city of Vlore, where broad, shabby, tree-lined avenues lead to the port, a short boat ride from the place the Soviets used as a submarine base in the 1950s, and then ascending the forested mountains, pausing just before the crest to dine on freshly grilled lamb, black olives and tangy feta cheese, washed down with cold Italian lager, before going over the top for the 5 and 1/2 hour descent through a vertical cactus-and-sagebrush landscape giving way to sheer ocean cliffs that somehow had been made to cradle a tortuous and crumbling switchback asphalt ribbon without guardrails that demanded patience and concentration of all drivers, and the necessity of honking at every blind curve to clear the path ahead as the blue ocean incessantly meets the rocks, so far below.

It is being willingly and joyfully hustled by entrepreneurial urchins atop the craggy peak in Kruje that boasts the restored castle of Skanderbeg, national hero, slayer of Turks and role model for generations of Albanians, permitting the aspiring young businessmen to hawk postcards and needlework in fractured English -- but with considerable enthusiasm and a certain innocence, since Albania isn't yet overrun with tourists -- and being sure to sweep away the dried goat droppings before sitting on the boulders to haggle over wares in a midday sun made far more intense by the sleep-inducing beer enjoyed at the privately-owned roadside cafe on the way up the hill.

It is walking along the wharf at Durres and gazing up at the Chinese cranes, watching a handful of shirtless workers lazily chip away at the rust and cracked paint on the hull of a boat that may have witnessed the mass exodus of Albanians to Italy during the problematic winter when Communism collapsed, now reduced to serenely observing the re-enactment of those events by an Italian documentary film crew housed in the same seaside Italianate, pre-war grand hotel with lime green walls and red marble floors where we stayed, the film crew bitterly complaining about the quality of the $2.50-a-bottle Albanian Merlot wine and the greasy "beefsteak" before drinking and eating every bit of it, anyway, and retreating to the bar to watch the World Cup live from America.

It's enough to make a tourist awfully thirsty.

Next: The Korça Experience.