On bias: you're doing it wrong | 04/26/2013
We hear much wailing and gnashing of teeth these days about bias.
We hear it from all walks of life, and from all political affiliations, but we hear it in particular from American conservatives, who as a class seem to feel as persecuted and under siege as Christians under the Romans at circus time. Daily you hear shrieking on every internet comment section ever, about the tyrannical, unfair, “liberal bias of the mainstream media.”
This whole argument about bias in general, and media bias in particular, whether it comes from left wing circles (complaining about capitalist, corporate bias in the media) or conservative circles (complaining about cultural liberalism in the media), is driving me up the wall at mach 3. I’m really sick of it. It’s more inane than reality TV.
The set of CNN’s late, unlamented, political talkshow Crossfire. (Image by Matt H Wade)
The typical critique often boils down to a variation of the argument ‘that there’s no such thing as 100% perfect objectivity, so people should stop trying to pretend that they’re objective’ (and is invariably accompanied on the conservative side with advice to just include more conservatives in every media outlet).
This is idiotically fallacious.
Here’s why: just because no one can claim omniscient objectivity, does not mean that some people are not more objective than others - regardless of their worldview.
It should be plain to anyone with eyes that some people take much more care in trying to examine multiple points of view, assess empiric evidence, and soberly evaluate arguments before coming to a conclusion; and that some people are explicitly advocating for a predetermined position or outcome before they even start looking for answers. (Or they just lack the intellectual tools).
Think of it as the difference between a salesperson and a diligent scientist.
There is a SCALE of objectivity. As a rough measure, let’s say 0% objective means you’re explicitly advocating for an outcome regardless of contradictory evidence, and 100% objective means you take all possible pains to follow all the evidence available, regardless of where it leads. Let’s also agree that 100% ‘perfect’ objectivity is unobtainable.
Note that this means that even someone who is much more objective than someone else - CAN STILL HAVE A POINT OF VIEW, based on the evidence and arguments they process.
Stephen Colbert once joked that “reality has a well-known liberal bias”, and it was only funny because of the way modern conservatism keeps vainly trying to make objective, empiric reality fit its increasingly radical worldview, rather than the other way around. (You could argue the shoe used to be on the other foot. Conservatives used to pride themselves on discarding airey-fairey political or economic notions that didn’t actually work, which somehow started to unravel some time in the ‘80’s, I’m guessing as a result of the Republican Party being gradually taken over by its evangelical wing). The list of examples is too numerous to mention, so I’ll just note a couple of the most egregious:
- “Unskewed Polls” in the last Presidential election, a conservative attempt to refute all the mainstream polls which showed Barack Obama leading.
- The idea that constantly lowering taxes and cutting government services always means more growth and prosperity for everyone, as opposed to disproportionately benefiting the wealthy.
- Denial of man-made climate change, in contrast to 97% of the scientific community.
- Denial of evolution (and far too much other mainstream science to mention).
The full-throated denial of mainstream science by modern conservatism is truly staggering.
Arguing that attempts to insert this denial into say, The New York Times is an example of how to lessen the bias of mainstream media, means you have the definition of bias exactly the wrong way around. You can’t get a more perfect example of bias than an ideological political party fighting against the consensus of the scientific community.
In my opinion, mainstream conservatism today is screaming about the liberal bias of the mainstream media because mainstream conservatism has itself long since forgotten how to be unbiased - and to a staggering degree. I refer you to the biblical proverb of logs and eyes, Matthew 7:5:
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Mainstream conservatism has pretty much explicitly left “the reality based community”, as famously articulated by a Republican aide’s now infamous quote to Ron Suskind in 2004 (later attributed to Karl Rove) in The New Yorker:
“The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Craft Beer vs Wine: A Food Pairing Smackdown | 02/05/2013
This is why publications like The American Conservative, which I would argue is the most consistently intellectually honest, interesting publication on the right, remain niche, and not mainstream.
It’s an objective conservative publication, not a biased one.
Everyone knows that beer goes well with pizza and pub food, but wine is a better, more sophisticated match for everything else – especially cheese — right?
In fact you couldn’t be more wrong if you were molesting a goat while wearing Crocs.
The idea that wine is superior to beer seems to have first come about around 1000 years ago when the Normans (French) conquered England for a spell. During this time they managed to ‘persuade’ everyone that everything French was more refined and appealing, and this misplaced notion is still widely believed – possibly even by you as you read this.
Now I’m not arguing that you can’t match wine well with food; there are many classic and wonderful pairings, obvi. Oysters with a dry sauvignon blanc or un-oaked chardonnay. Pinot noir with rabbit and mushrooms. Syrah with some lamb, venison, or other game. I’m a big wine lover myself. (Let’s face it; I’m fond of alcohol in all its forms).
But the fact of the matter is that while both beverages are complex, beer simply has a much wider variety of flavors than wine. This is because it has four main ingredients (a malted grain such as wheat, rice, or rye; plus water, yeast, and hops) and you can also add almost any other ingredient: from chocolate to bacon to fruit, flowers, honey, coffee, herbs, chili peppers and beyond. Delaware’s Dogfish Head brewery and charismatic head brewer Sam Calagione in particular are famous for experimentation with ingredients in their beers.
Image courtesy Tim H James
Compare this with wine, which features only one ingredient: grapes. There isn’t nearly as much difference between a pinot gris and even a merlot as there is between a wheat beer and a stout, or a saison and a brown ale. Because of this narrower flavor profile it’s rare that wine can complement, as opposed to merely contrast, the flavors and textures of food — particularly cheese — while beer’s broader flavor palette is versatile enough to both complement and contrast.
At this point I’d like to introduce you to someone you really do want to know more about if you’re interested in the possibilities of craft beer — and especially of matching it with food. Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver has served as a competition judge for the Great American Beer Festival for twenty years, is editor-in-chief of The Oxford Companion to Beer, author of The Brewmaster’s Table, and one of the world’s foremost authorities on beer.
Oliver frequently partakes in competition with top wine sommeliers both in New York and around the world to see who can come up with the best beverage match for a series of dishes — and has never been beaten once. He’s the Terminator of food pairings.
How does he keep on crushing the world’s best wine sommeliers as if they were grapes in his fist? Oliver explains that, “I can bring caramelized flavors to something like a sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees, which you can approach pretty well with certain white wines, but not as well as you can with a brown ale. So the sheep’s milk round of any of these events, I kind of already know in advance that I’m going to win. Washed rind cheeses, or stinky cheeses, are very difficult to pair with wines, but much easier to pair with beers, especially Belgian styles. They have such earthiness to them that finding a wine that will actually work well with that pungency can be tough, but again, beer has an easier time. For wines, you are generally looking for things with more subtle differences. And there are obviously great pairings that you can do with wines, but for most people, on a day to day basis, for beer, once you understand a little bit about styles and whatever else – that an IPA is going to be hoppy and dry and bitter and relatively pale and great with spicy food – that’s kind of all you need to know, and it’s not that hard to really get a grip on it. These big areas of beer flavor are pretty easy to get a grip on. And when the wine person comes to do one of these tastings, the flavors in beer are, in fact, so much more complimentary, that it really turns out that the wine person is almost handicapped in this situation, while they usually don’t know it.”
I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorite beers and some suggestions to try matching with them. I’m quite partial to an Abbey Tripel, also known as a Strong Golden Ale, and two of my favorite examples that have fairly good availability are Belgium’s Tripel Karmeliet and Victory Brewing from Pennsylvania’s Golden Monkey.
Image courtesy Roland Tanglao
This style of beer is high alcohol and has a complex, fruity, yeasty flavor profile, often with floral, bubblegum and banana notes, but a dry finish. Try one of these Tripels with dishes that feature basil, such as a pesto, a Thai chicken stir-fry or beef salad (not too hot, as the high alcohol will bring out the heat), shellfish – crabcakes! – a Thanksgiving turkey, a margarita pizza, or a ham ‘n cheese (Mmm, croque monsieur…). In terms of cheese you could try a triple cream such as St. Andre or Explorateur, and with dessert it’s probably best to stay away from chocolate. Instead go for something that features apricots or peaches, baklava, a nutty dessert like pecan pie (bring on Thanksgiving!), or blow your mind by pairing caramelized orange cheesecake with Tripel Karmeliet – the flavors will sing a symphony in your mouth so harmonious you’ll be able to hear angels cry. Find more Tripel pairing suggestions here.
I’ll be discussing more aspects of craft beer and food matching in further installments, including matching with vegetarian dishes – and cheese…