Sunday, March 23, 2008

Coffee Update: Micro-roasting

It is by coincidence perhaps, that the closing of one of our favourite coffee shops on Edmonton Trail, Blends, brings with it our our introduction to two smaller coffee concerns, Cochrane Coffee Traders, and Molise Coffee, of Vancouver's Falesca Importing. That Blends roasted and sold its own coffee beans was not unusual, though it was one of our favourites, and its demise has led us to go looking elsewhere for fresh beans.

In an economic age that is increasingly putting a premium on product information and individuality, the rise of what we might call "micro-roasters" might be seen as inevitable. Like micro-brewing, the creation of small scale coffee companies, set to sell and distribute their own coffee within a limited geographic area is an evolution of a consumer market dominated by large scale chains. As coffee drinkers look to carve out their own personal, local, and regional identities, companies like the Cochrane Coffee Traders will emerge to serve the high-end, socially consciencious crowd (our East Timor dark roast promised not only to be Fair Trade, but also bird-friendly).

If the CCT represents an emerging coffee company, then the Molise brand of Falesca can be seen to be a more mature offering. Having started roasting their own beans in 1983, Falesca's products can now be found throughout Western Canada, whereas one can only find the CCT in a limited number of coffee shops. For our part, we enjoyed the CCT dark roast to the Molise Medium Roast Super Bar Espresso.

We've provided a link to an article on fair trade coffee and the Cochrane Coffee Traders from Fast Forward Weekly, as we were especially pleased to see the closing comments about attempts to develop consumer awareness of the geographic taste and characteristics of different beans.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Ghosts That Haunt Us (Richard Nixon Lives)

One of our favourite historical eras is the French Revolution. We're always up for a good book, essay, or even movie (really, we're afraid to admit that we'll even find time for Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette) on that tumultous period. In fact, one could almost say that we find it inspiring, as it has proved to be a fertile ground for historical analysis.

This time around, the cause for review came from Charles Savage's book Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency, examining political efforts by post-Richard Nixon administrations to expand presidential power in the United States. Savage's treatment of this phenomena reminded us of a similar experience in Revolutionary historiography.

One of the enduring problems of studying the French Revolution has been attempting to fix an end date to the Revolution. Napoleon himself once declared the Revolution over, while some historians speak of French Revolutions in the plural. For our purposes here, the problem is the revolutionary/counter-revolutionary ebb and flow that French society experienced as conservative and liberal elements traded power over three decades, each attempting to undo some of the work of the other. Some sort of concilliation and consensus did not occur until the reign of Louis Philippe, the so-called Citizen-King, which attempted to merge the interests of the surviving Bonapartists, Jacobins, Girondins, Bourbon Monarchists, and Phillipe's own Orleanist groups. Louis Phillipe marked the final consolidation of the revolution, and the end of his reign, could effectively be said to mark the conclusion of the Revolution. Unfortunately, this unity came at the expense of his own popularity, as his government was overthrown in favour of Louis Bonaparte in 1848, some sixty years after the original Revolution.

Similarly, Hunter S. Thompson once described Richard Nixon as a unifier, on the same grounds that Americans were all united in their anger towards him. Perhaps it would be wrong to blame Nixon entirely for the sheer depth of illegality surrounding White House corruption, in the same sense that Louis XVI cannot be blamed entirely for the long-running structural weaknesses that plagued France on the eve of the Revolution. As Savage explains, virtually every Cold War president since Truman had sought to expand the ability of the president to act without having to refer to Congress, chief of amongst these, revolved around conducting war and declaring war, in response to perceived communist threats. The Constitution of the United States clearly separated these powers between the President and Congress, and events like the Korean War, Bay of Pigs, and especially Vietnam, would see different administrations employ all kinds of tactics to evade congressional oversight, ultimately leading to the so-called "secret wars" conducted by Nixon in Laos and Cambodia. In the aftermath of Watergate however, it was revealed that Nixon had been deceiving Congress in domestic matters as well, involving domestic intelligence gathering and the undermining of liberal-minded government insitutions, giving full scope to the term, "imperial presidency".

So what does this have to do with the French Revolution? As much as the Revolution was a specific response to conditions in France, it was also an ideological manifestation, and much of the turmoil experienced during the later decades stems from the tug-of-war between different ideological factions, a contest that would dominate French politics in one way or another for almost half a century. In the same way then, the Nixon presidency also had its fair share of ideologues who supported a president free from Congressional intervention. The Unitary Executive Theory, as it was called, held that the separation of powers articulated in the U.S. Constitution made it unlawful for Congress to create agencies capable of interfering with the President's ability to execute law. Following Nixon, the Supreme Court found that this theory was an improper interpretation of the Constitution, giving Congress an open hand at reigning in Presidential perogatives.

As with the French Revolution however, rival idealogical factions did not disappear the moment they were out of power. Supporters of Unitary Executive Theory from the Nixon administration continued careers in and out of politics, many finding homes in the Reagan-Bush administrations, where they often worked to scale back the restrictions to presidential powers. Chief among these was Dick Cheney, who served under Nixon, Ford, Reagen and Bush, before becoming vice-president under the current Bush. Unlike the Revolution, where we can clearly see the ebb and flow of these sides before they come to some sort of consesus, Charles Savage's book documents the extent that the Bush-Cheney administration have been able to return to Nixon-like levels of presidential control. In fact, Bush's signing statements, closed-door meetings, undisclosed foreign prisons, have all gone beyond Nixon.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Electioneering

It's been awhile since we posted, but that's not to say we haven' t been busy. In fact, the office of The Daily Wenzel has been awash in new music, and our afternoon kino series has been as productive as ever, with a viewing of Nick Cave's screenwriting debut, The Proposition. However, what has kept us from posting has actually been the results of the recent Alberta Provincial election. We had hoped to offer some sort of insghtful commentary on the meaning of the election, but have recently come to grips with the fact that such a thing will take months, if not years to analyze properly.

One of the things that we would like to examine is the electoral boundaries. Calgary and Edmonton each have roughly 1/3 of the electoral ridings. With approximately a million people in each city, this means that the remaining 1/3 of predominantly rural ridings (Red Deer, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat, the next largest urban populations, each have two ridings) have a combined total of one million people? Have we really grown so much outside of the cities?

What is clear is that at the moment, the province is caught up in all sorts of demographic trends. Our earlier prediction that recent immigration to Calgary and changes in housing prices, has caused Liberal support to increase, and more importantly disperse throughout the city. We have yet to see exactly how this is playing out provincially though.

However, one needs to be very careful when talking about Liberal or Conservative support, since voter turnout was at its lowest point ever, something that is especially troublesome when the media was perhaps the most inclined as it has ever been to change. Earlier we made the comment that the Calgary civic election, with its faux David Bronconnier (returning mayor) vs. Ed Stelmach (unresponsive premier) battle for responsibility over the mismanagement of Calgary's growth. At the time, we said that Bronconnier's re-election could either be viewed as Calgarians blaming Stelmach for the city's problems, or else, the voting population of Calgary (again an election featuring a record-low voter turnout) being quite content with whatever regime is in power so long as the money keeps coming in, leading us to wonder what $110 oil will bring.

What worries us most though about the low voter turnout is that there is not much discussion over who is not voting. Generally speaking, it is assumed that the poor and the young do not vote. However, in Calgary (and we suppose Edmonton, or any other Albertan area experiencing an influx of people), the question really needs to be asked, to what extent do the new arrivals participate in the political process? How many Albertans failed to vote because they could not provide proof of the residency requirements - remember, Calgary shamefully has thousands of working homeless. Also, remembering the stories of the increasing outflow of workers from Calgary and Alberta this summer, workers and families selling their now doubled or tripled in value homes and moving back to Saskatchewan or further east where the housing prices have yet skyrocket, or else never really could establish themselves with Calgary's new cost of living.

To extrapolate, to what extent is the low voter indicative of a growing population that does not consider Calgary (or Alberta) home? a population that does not, or cannot, engage with the social fabric of the community around it? a community within a community? Such a thing would be disasterous for a city and a province that already has a lacklustre record in dealing with disadvantaged communities.