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The Reader’s Best Gin Semi-Final #2: Bombay Sapphire vs. No. 209

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A Gin Myth – William III, Gin, and England

 

 

Out of all of the English and British monarchs, I have to say that there’s a special place in my heart for William III. Or, more specifically, there’s a place in my heart for the era in which he ruled. It was a dynamic time in England, what with London becoming one of the most, if not the most, cosmopolitan city on the planet, and the era of English colonialism dawning, an era that would continue nigh upon 2 centuries.

As William III holds a distinct place in this era, I’m willing to let some legends remain legends.  But I feel the need to clarify a “fact” that I keep reading in several books and websites – that William III introduced gin to England.

Yes, yes, the Dutch had a drink called genever at the point when King Billy uprooted his life in the Netherlands and there were likely several (stone) bottles of the stuff amongst his army’s provisions as he crossed the channel and invaded England.  And I’m willing to concede that his marriage to Mary likely made the drink fashionable. But what I have a hard time believing is that before William. genever didn’t exist on the British isles.

For such a belief doesn’t take into account two very distinct (and different) points of facts:

  1. Amsterdam is only 220 miles away from London. Both cities were major trade hubs, and both would have had ready access to one another. In fact, with Edinburgh over three hundred miles away from London, Amsterdam would have been England’s closest foreign merchant port/capital. Paris, at 210 mile away, is technically closer, but is a river city, and has other geographical and logistical barriers that restrict immediate shipping access.
  2. Juniper was well known in England and Scotland long before William III reached Brixham. Apothecaries, who had all sorts of knowledge about distillation, used junipers to help cure those that were phlegmatic. It is well within the realm of possibilities that English apothecaries had some variation of genever upon their shelves.

My larger point is this – to believe that before William III showed up, there was no gin or genever in England is a risky belief, one born out of the need to have a simple answer to a complicated question. When did gin or genever show up in England? Taking into the two items I mentioned above, it’s likely that gin’s historical path is similar to that of uisge beatha, aka whiskey

King William III can claim, and be shown to be responsible for a lot of different things. Introducing gin to England cannot be said to be one of them.

 

The Power of “I Don’t Know”

I don’t believe I’ve ever felt more empowered as to when I’ve admitted to myself and others that I don’t know a damn thing about any given topic.

This isn’t to say that I don’t know “stuff”. I do. I know quite a bit, frankly, and my jobs require that I know a lot about very intricate subjects. But I am human, and I will not know everything, or even a majority about anything. Admitting this takes a weight off of my shoulders that is indescribable.

I know a lot of people, both socially and professionally, who take the opposite approach. They either claim to know everything, or, at least claim to know a lot about a subject to which they know little or nothing about. These people, especially when they get in positions of power, are the bane of our existence.  This problem is compounded by a cognitive bias called the Dunning–Kruger effect (Note: PDF), which essentially states that:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The
authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these
domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make
unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.

While I believe, based off of circumstantial and anecdotal evidence, that the Dunning-Kruger effect is a real thing, I also believe that we, meaning you, I, and everyone else, have the ability to diminish the problems surrounding both the “I-know-it-all” point of view, and even the Dunning-Kruger effect. This requires us to admit that, for the most part, we simply don’t know. Even if we’re an expert in our chosen professions, there can be only one person who is the ultimate expert in that arena, and the statistical probability of you (or me) being that ultimate expert is exceedingly small.

The brilliance of the “I don’t know” approach to life is that results in only three possible outcomes to any given situation. Let’s say someone asks you the question of “How did restaurants evolve in the city of Chicago?” If your answer to this question is “I don’t know”, your primary responses are as follows:

  1. I don’t know, I don’t want to know, I don’t need to know. (No further action needed).
  2. I don’t know, I don’t want to know, but I need to know for work or other social reasons. (Go learn stuff)
  3. I don’t know, but I want to know! (Go Learn stuff).
Two out of the three responses are telling you that there’s more learning to do. Ultimately, these responses put the onus upon us as individuals to take advantage of the situation being presented to us. If I, being the curious sort of person, want to know how restaurants evolved in the city of Chicago, it is my responsibility to fill in that gap of my knowledge. Now, whether I can or not is a different issue, dependent upon a vast area of variables, up to, and including the amount of hours in a day, or even my own skill set in reading comprehension.  But those are side issues.
If I want to be the sort of person that seeks to understand things such as Martinis, or New York City, (apparently) Pils and Pilsners, it is my responsibility to get off of my duff and educate myself.
But first? First I have to admit that I don’t know anything about these subjects. And to me, that’s where the fun truly begins.

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision” – Bertrand Russell

 

 

Hershey’s Problem with The Worst Forms of Child Labor

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to find the perfect analogy to a situation, and I just can’t seem to come up with one. It’s not that I have writer’s block, or that I’ve lost my creative edge. It’s just that the situation is so delicate that I wish to do everyone involved justice.

The major chocolate companies of the world have a problem on their hand, and they know it. The cheapest cocoa beans that were being sold by the cocoa commodity brokers, and were being purchased by representatives from the likes of Mars, Hershey’s, Guittard, and Archer Daniels Midland, re being grown and/or processed by children, some of whom are no better than slaves on the plantations where they toil.

Eleven years ago, the major producers signed on to the Cocoa Protocol, an international agreement signed in 2001, aimed at ending child labour in the production of cocoa. As I wrote about last year, it has been fairly clear that the major companies who signed the protocol missed their mark, in some areas by quite a large margin. Today, as you and I celebrate Valentine’s day, many of us with chocolate, children are suffering under the worst forms of child labor at cocoa plantations across Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

One of those signatories to the Protocol? Hershey’s.

Two weeks ago, to great fanfare, Hershey’s announced the following:

Over the next five years, Hershey will expand and accelerate programs to improve cocoa communities by investing $10 million in West Africa and continuing to work with experts in agriculture, community development and government to achieve progress with cocoa farmers and their families. By 2017, Hershey’s public and private partnerships will directly benefit 750,000 African cocoa farmers and over two million people in cocoa communities across the region.

Many advocates and activists who works around the issues surrounding the worst forms of child labor have said a variation of the following: It’s a good first start. The reason for the couched response is two fold:

  1. Hershey’s has tied the issues surrounding the worst form of child labor with “Improving the chocolate supply”. It says so right in the press release. “LONG-TERM COMMITMENT: Hershey to invest $10 million by 2017 to reduce child labor and improve cocoa supply in West Africa.”
  2. The amount of money committed, after it’s divided up, simply isn’t a whole hell of a lot. 2 million dollars divided by 750,000 farmers for the next five years adds up to $13 per farmer. The cost of living in either Ghana or the Ivory Coast is certainly less than living in the major areas of the United States. But not to the point where $2.66 means anything substantial.

I honestly don’t want to be the cynic in this instance, because the situation is such that any money spent, long term or short, is better than nothing. But for a company whose annual sales push close to $6 Billion dollars and net income pushes 500 million dollars, a $2 million dollar per year budget seems woeful. Especially when considering that the reason they can get such high profits is due, in part, to the low labor costs.

Two weeks ago, I worked with my publisher to write a response to Hershey’s gift.

There are times when timing can be everything. Mere days before this book was to go to printing, Hershey’s had a press release that spelled out their plans to institute a long term commitment to west Africa by investing $10 million dollars in the Ivory Coast and Ghana over five years, in order to reduce child labor and improve the cocoa supply. While $2 million dollars per year doesn’t break down to a lot of money on a per farmer basis, nor does Hershey’s pledge come anywhere close to the meeting the all of the articles established in the Cocoa Protocol, it is important to point out that their offer is a good first step.

Hershey’s has gotten a fair amount of positive press from their announcement, but if their recent history is any example of what we can expect from them, then they need to be held accountable to their pledge at the end of the five years, and we should demand evidence that demonstrates a marked drop in, if not outright elimination of, the worst forms of child labor. Anything else is simply not acceptable.