The ‘Base’ and the origin of Beer

Looks like we have a spell of Indian Summer after two weeks of November like weather. Our new rain barrels are overflowing and gone are the drought worries, relegated to next year.  I could see Campbell, Camp for all who knew him, was already in his customary seat, facing the water and Keats Island in the near distance. Must have been a slow day at Coast Books, his ‘non-profit’ bookstore. Vicky, our clairvoyant waitress, who had been elevated to bar tender, already had two pints of lager at the ready and Rosie brought them to the table.

“You look like you got something on your mind,” Camp said after we both toasted the sunny weather. He was right. I wondered what his take would be to my query. “We’re always hearing about ‘the base’, as in ‘Trump appealing once again to his base with his latest tweet’, blah, blah, blah or ‘Doug Ford counting on his ‘base’ to push through his conservative agenda. Who is that ‘base’? that’s what I want to know,” I said.

Camp leaned back in his chair, took a sip and commenced his soliloquy: “The base is that core group that supports their man or woman through thick and thin; in Trump’s case even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue. It makes up about a quarter of the people who actually voted for him. They are not swayed by any of his lies, false claims or insults and oppose all and everything that does not agree with them. Also they are predominantly white and male.  I personally think they are ‘a basket of deplorables’ to quote Hillary in one of her more unfortunate assertions.”

“Well yes, the so called ‘base’ is made up of mostly rural folks, without higher education, most likely religious and predominantly male, older and white. Not the kind of people that frequent book stores either,” Camp said dryly, emptying his first pint of the evening.

“And driven by cheap, unsubstantiated misinformation, masquerading as news,” I added.

“The key word there is cheap, because fake news are easily made up, therefore cheap, while reliable news are researched, back checked and well written, therefore more expensive to produce. I don’t understand why people buy expensive clothes, cars and accessories, demand quality in food and services but then gobble up cheap, fake news like candy.  Quality is more expensive then trash, the same goes for news.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I said, “but ‘the base’ isn’t going to change its allegiance by being dazzled and showered with facts.”

“No they aren’t,” Camp agreed, “you need to convince them with a better story; a narrative they can understand and identify with. You have to show them that the environment, nuclear war and migration are global problems that cannot be solved by retreating into nationalistic fortresses and prayer and you have to make them understand through education and examples that empathy, compassion, understanding and altruism are human traits more beneficial to the community then hate, revenge and blame. It will take years and is a never ending job”

Camp was punctuating his arguments with palm down slaps of the table, making the empty glasses jump. He was on a roll, preaching to the choir.

“You boys solving the world’s problems once again? Ready for another one,” Rosie asked and quickly added: “sorry that was a dumb question like: is the pope Catholic?”

“Do you know who invented beer Rosie?” Camp asked.

“The Irish?” she answered with a wink in my direction.

“Not exactly,” Camp said with a chuckle, “it was the Sumerians about 7000 years ago in Mesopotamia in what today is Iraq. A 6000 year old tablet shows people drinking beer with reed straws from a communal bowl and a 3900 year old poem contains the oldest beer recipe.”

“How do you know all this stuff?” Rosie asked, shaking her head.

“Well, last Sunday I attended a play reading at the Heritage Playhouse, written by a friend of mine, called: Relax Gilgamesh, a modern interpretation of the ancient poem. Gilgamesh, a Sumerian king abdicated his throne in order to become a god and was helped by Siduri, the goddess of wisdom and beer. Very funny and enlightening,” Camp said.

“Drinking beer with straws from a bowl ought to do the trick,” she said. “Relax indeed.”

“Here is to the Sumerians, who if not invented the wheel were at least the first to record it, like the chariot, writing, the plough, the sailboat, the division of time into sixty units, math, maps, astrology and to top it all off: beer,” Camp said.

“That is surely the empirical evidence that civilisation could not exist without beer,” I said.

“And you two are the living proof of that theory,” Rosie said, plunking down two ice cold fresh draughts.






Pod Casts and Beer Philosophy

We’ve had a lot of rain in the last week but nothing like in Wilmington or Manila. For once that rain got us out of the dog house again as far as water restrictions go but we, that is the local politicians, need to deal with it, once and for all. Clare and I installed two 300 L water barrels, which are full now. Water cisterns in the rain forest is a bit oxymoronic but hey, Clare and I feel we did our small part.

Campbell, Camp to us all, just raised his bushy eyebrow when I told him about our water conversation effort. “Good on you,” he said, “maybe you should write a letter to the paper as well. If everybody had a cistern, we wouldn’t need a water distribution system.”

“Are you being a cynic now, living water-worry-free on your most excellent Gibsons aquifer.”

“It was voted the best water in the world in 2005,” Camp dryly remarked, “and we never had any restrictions.”

“Lucky you,” I said, taking a draught from my pint.

“By the way our neighbours turned me on to a couple of pod casts and I thoroughly enjoy them. One is called ‘Desert Island’, it’s British, BBC, and features interviews with well known persons. If you now somebody famous, they’ve done it. The premise is they have to pick 8 pieces of music, one book and one luxury to take on a desert island. I’ve listened to Keith Richards segment. He’s 75 years old now and still having a lot of fun. Actually a lot smarter than you might think.”

“Must be nice to be retired and listen to other people go on about themselves. What’s so different from reading the tabloids or watching day time soap operas,” Camp said.

“Come on Camp, you can’t be serious, it’s not only educational, it’s highly entertaining. What pieces of music or songs would you take on a desert island? Let’s have it then,” I said.

“Ok, how about something from Vivaldi’s four seasons. Let’s pick Summer.  Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ by Andrea Boccelli has always impressed me as quintessential Italian passion. Maybe an early Leonard Cohen song-poem like ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, and how about ‘Desolation Road’ by Dylan; definitely something by Nina Simone like ‘Wild is the Wind’. How many we got so far.”

“Five.” I said.

“Ok, ‘La Promesa’ by Lila Downs, floors me every time I listen to this simple but powerful song. Redemption Song by Bob Marley would be a must. That makes seven. One more: How about ‘Dock of the Bay’ by Otis Redding. I can always listen to that song.”

“Alright, what about a book?”

“I’d take the brothers Grimm’s collection of fairy-tales. Archetypical to all stories and infinitely entertaining.”

“You can take a luxury item. What’s it gonna be?”

“Luxury, I’m not much of a luxury guy. Maybe sunglasses because it would be bright on a desert island.”

“Well Camp you get the gist now. You should give this pod-cast a listen. The other pod-cast is called: ‘The Daily’, current affairs interviews by the New York Times. I just listened to Bob Woodward talking about his new book ‘Fear’ dealing with the Trump administration. Very interesting and revealing. Add to that my daily Swiss newspaper and the odd soccer game and the days are always packed.”

“If we all could just have modest desires like you we’d live in a much kinder and simpler world,” Camp said with a sprinkle of sarcasm.

“Who needs more?” I asked, “a game, a beer, a chat, some news and a good story, the love of a good woman, health and some spare change.”

“You sound like you’re selling something,” Rosie quipped on her way with two refills.

“I’m not selling, I’m giving it away,” I said.

“Who is lining up?” Rosie said, “to make your well rounded beer philosophy a bit more alluring, you need some spice in there. A bit of mystery, some laughs, a measure of suspense. Life is not a happy gold fish bowl but an adventure and a caravan ride of dreams, goals and desires.”

“Hear, hear,” Camp said, “our wise friend Rosie here has the full measure of life. What would you take onto a desert island?”

“A hat, some sunscreen, a kayak and a fishing rod.”

“What about music?” Camp laughed.

“I have a head full of Irish shanties. That should do me for a while.”



Bad Weather and Trolls

We’ve had a few days of welcome rain but it does feel like summer is already over. No point to complain about the weather though, especially not to Campbell, my friend and sparring partner over our weekly pints.

“The rain here is welcome relief,” Camp said, but do the names Olivia, Mangkhut and Florence mean anything to you?”

I had to confess my ignorance.

“Mangkhut is a typhoon, presently bearing down on the Philippines; Olivia is a massive tropical storm that made landfall on Hawaii’s island of Maui yesterday morning and Florence is that monster storm that’s about to slam into North Carolina’s coast as we speak. Epic and devastating is what this hurricane is; like never seen before. Over a million people displaced, a foot and a half of rain, supposedly to continue for days.”

I shook my head in dismay at the tragedy such a storm creates for the people in its path. Nothing Camp or I could do about it. I changed the subject to something we could both get involved in, even if it was just on an argumentative and opinionated level.

Camp, did you ever hear about a Russian news service called Rossija Segodnja (RT)? It’s an umbrella organisation that owns TV stations and the online news platform ‘Sputnik’. They’re financed and controlled by the Kremlin and their aim is to undermine western institutions and at the same time promote the authoritarian Russian system.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” Camp said. “Putin needs all the help to distract from the catastrophic financial situation in Moscow. Only a desperate government is cutting pensions. Russia doesn’t have the economic and military might of the west therefore they use disinformation and propaganda to compensate their weakness.”

“Apparently RT has a large and diversified audience. They claim over 600 million hits. They produce U-tube and Facebook segments in many languages including Arabic, Spanish and of course English. According to Dimitri Kisseljw, RT’s boss, they produced over 70’000 videos in the past two years. They’re called trolls.”

“Another reason why I’m happy not to subscribe to any social media platform. I can get all the misinformation from the mainstream media and I see trolls in my sleep.”

“It’s more like information overload,” I said, “which leads to information fatigue and cynicism if not outright lethargy. The interviewer asked Dimitri if they really were able to influence the USA elections.  He said that what they were able to do was use the already deep divide in the American society and pour gasoline on the fires like abortion and gun ownership, therefore increase mutual distrust between people and therefore weakening their societies.”

“Russia considers world politics a zero-sum game. The more they can weaken the west, the stronger Russia appears in the international system,” Camp said, echoing Dimitri’s opinion.

“It seems to work,” I said “and the secret of the Soviet propaganda and disinformation lies in the fact that it is very entertaining, sort of like intercontinental gossip.”

“Not much different from the tabloids you can buy at the super market checkout. Even if you don’t believe their content, the message is subliminal and the Russians aren’t the only ones to use trolls and misinformation to influence opinions. Just look at Cambridge Analytica, a British company that does exactly the same with Facebook and Instagram  and they have been implicated in the US elections and the Brexit vote.”

“Watch out for trolls,” I said, taking a refreshing swig.

“We’ve recently come across a bundle of letters, handwritten, between Clare and myself,” I said. “Dozens of them which we wrote over a period of eight months during which time we were separated.  I remember waiting impatiently for days for a reply to my latest missive and agonizing over a turn of phrase or something I shouldn’t have written.”

“Yes, the written word is a powerful tool,” Camp said. “I should know, being in business to sell the stuff.”

“You two boys enjoying the cooler weather?” Vicky asked while serving us our refills.

“Not as much as I enjoy this new beer, Life Lager is it?”

“Yes, very refreshing with a hint of citrus I’m told.”

“You don’t drink beer?” I asked.

“No, I don’t drink alcohol,” Vicky said. “I’m into sparkling water and vegetable juices. You should try my beet and carrot juice some day.”
“I’ll stick with barley and hops thank you,” Camp said, “but only after 4 PM. It helps me to transition into the evening.”

“Transitioning,” Vicky said, shaking her ponytail. “You two never fail to amuse me.”



Summer’s End

Camp was already seated at our usual table, looking out at the tranquil harbour. “You’re here early, “ said.

“It’s the transition to fall, “Campbell said, “one of those in-between times in the retail business, especially book stores. The only traffic is people trying to return their unread summer reads.”

“School is back and apparently there is a lack of teachers in many places, especially up north and in rural communities. A combination of a vast number of  boomer-retirees and not many millennials interested in teaching,” I said.

“It’s a shame, because teaching is a rewarding job, it’s a an important part of shaping the future. We all know that education leads to knowledge, which in turn leads to proper decision-making. Not something that is evident in the White House these days. “

“Yeah, but the more the wolf is cornered the more he lashes out,” I said. “Take that latest anonymous op-ed in the New York Times or the interview at Bloomberg’s. We have a lunatic in the most powerful office on the planet and his gold plated yacht is floundering on the shoals of truth, freedom and dignity,” I pontificated, raising my glass in a mock toast.

“You’re right,” Camp said, “but Woodward’s book and this anonymous letter will only further incite the bully in the White House and make him more defiant, reckless and dangerous, to quote David Frum,” Camp said. “And anonymous accusers are cowardly. Afraid to lose their positions and reputations.”

“Which doesn’t mean the allegations are not true,” I said. “Even here in Canada whistle blowers have no protections despite legislations to the contrary,” Camp pointed out. A Vancouver women who was an EI fraud investigatorhad to find half a million in annual savings by denying people EI claims and when she blew the whistle she was fired for breaching the government’s communications policy.”

“Well, if you blow the whistle on your boss or employer you might as well look for another job. Kind of a no-brainer, Camp said, ”and we all know Trump is not the lodestar or the sharpest knife in drawer.”

“The stupid don’t know they’re stupid, that’s because they’re stupid,” I said.

“That’s pretty funny,” Rosie said, putting a plate of crostinies on the table. “From the management to our regular customers. It’s a new menu item and we would like your opinion.”

“Are they free?” Camp asked, “because in that case I love them already.”

“How about on a scale from one to ten.” Rosie said.

We both concentrated on the free treats, feeling rather special. “I love free stuff, “ I said, savouring the complimentary appy.

“We take our freedoms with too much complacency,” Camp said, always the cynic while guiding the last crostini home, “and before we know it they will be gone. We’re already seeing an erosion of our basic liberties like the freedom of free speech, mutating as hate speak, or ‘unlawful assembly’ as in demonstrations and protests, or the denial of choice to women to control their own bodies.”

“I guess freedom comes with responsibilities,” I said

“And respect, honesty, tolerance and a modicum of compassion for others, less fortunate,” Camp added.

“Like sympathy for your poor waitress,” Vicky said, setting down a couple of frosty pints, “who has to toil every night for minimum wages and be dependent on your tips. I’d rather make a proper wage.”

“Yes, tips are not an effective incentive for performance in servers,” Camp agreed. “A mandatory service charge built into the item price would be fairer to all, the server, the customer and the establishment.”

“How were the crostinies?” Rosie asked. “I see you’ve demolished them.”

“I give them a ten because of the great value and price point,” Camp said.

“I have to be honest,” I said, “a dribble of Balsamico would make the difference. I give them an 8.”

“An honest 8 and a compromised 10.”

“Just like the two of us,” Camp laughed.