Here’s a list of Pennsylvania whiskey distilleries (and a few stories too)

Pennsylvania was once the country’s largest producer of whiskey, and rye whiskey was its showcase.

I wrote about this history and the Pennsylvania rye renaissance for NPR affiliate WHYY and its Billy Penn news site. I am personally fascinated by this trend and its history. A couple years back, ahead of the American Whiskey Convention, I found an angle that made sense to be published on Generocity.org, the nonprofit industry news site my company publishes. This year as the convention returned, I felt like I’d be stretching our editorial focus to force another story. Instead I asked friend and Billy Penn editor Danya Henninger if she was interested. Thanks much to Danya for a thorough edit on what I delivered her. Turns out I’m a far more experienced business and economics reporter than I am culture.

I have written here about my relationship to alcohol, and specifically how I’ve come to most enjoy whiskey. Heck, I even have opinions about what cups should be used for what liquid. But this was something else: a chance to begin putting to work the years of my tracking an industry in change.

Do read the story. Here I thought I’d share a few stories I’ve had squirreled away and maintain a list of Pennsylvania whiskey distilleries (because I suspect this will keep growing and I don’t want to annoy Danya anymore with updates). Find both below.

Continue reading Here’s a list of Pennsylvania whiskey distilleries (and a few stories too)

Homo Deus: notes on Yuval Noah Harrari 2017 book

Advancements in artificial intelligence could bring about a world in which humans are secondary to self-learning algorithms.

That’s one of the big themes in the 2017 book Homo Deus, a followup by historian and popular intellectual Yuval Noah Harrari on his 2014 book Sapiens. Even more than his first, Homo Deus has been criticized for its wide-sweeping generalizations and his science generalizations. Harrari is one of the chief architects of a kind of techno-pessism so I still find his approach helpful to follow.

He’s a great storyteller, and beyond any debunked science, he engages with concepts I found interesting. I’m sharing notes here for myself. The book is worth reading if only to grasp a view on the treacherous waters some fear are coming due to technical advancements.

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The strength of weak ties

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

My next-door neighbor Tom is a colorful, retired union tradesman. I adore him. This weekend, I overheard him watching the NBA playoffs in his backyard. I shouted over to see if he wanted company, and I joined him with a beer.

I’ve struggled with the social isolation of the last 15 months in many ways. I didn’t see much of my extended family, and I spent far less time with my friends and my coworkers. It was hardly enough but with these closest relationships, I did a lot of video calls and some social distance gathering.

The relationships I completely lost were my “weak ties,” as sociologists call them. In any healthy social network, we often over-estimate the importance our strong ties and under-estimate weak ties — those who you might not invite to your wedding. They give you new ideas, new information and new opportunities, exactly because you don’t overlap with your weak ties as much as your strong ties.

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Resist flattening your neighbor

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Describing political perspectives on a left-right spectrum began with the French Revolution.

In the National Constituent Assembly of 1789, deputies most critical of the French monarchy began to congregate in seats to the left of the President’s chair. Supporters of the monarchy to the right. No assigned seating. Just a natural affinity for sitting near those with which you most agree. So developed the party of movement, and the party of order.

Left-right is a metaphor. It only means something because the concept developed widespread familiarity, and it’s a helpful framework for explaining complex identities. Helpful, at least, in that it neatly described a spectrum of opinion on that very specific question in 1789: where do you identify on this spectrum between movement and order during this open debate on the role of monarchy?

Continue reading Resist flattening your neighbor

Hold firm your beliefs, let your opinions change

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Hippasus was a student of the Greek philosopher-mathematician Pythagoras 2,500 years ago.

Pythagoras, whom you may know for popularizing a theorem that is today named for him, taught that all numbers could be expressed as a ratio of two whole numbers. This seems obviously wrong to us today.

Continue reading Hold firm your beliefs, let your opinions change

Will the world be a better place to live in the future?

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

In 2018, Harvard psychologist and pop intellectual Steven Pinker wrote a book that made a lot of smart people very mad. He argued that, on the global whole, quality of life was continuing its trend of getting better for humans. It was the continuation on a theme from a book he wrote in 2011.

His argument was that we are so (understandably) focused on the immediate pain, suffering and injustice of the day that we feel heartless to zoom out and acknowledge broader trends. Diseases are eradicatedGlobal poverty is downLife expectancy is up. As Pinker often put it: We remember stories about airplane crashes but we ignore stories of airplane takeoffs. (In fact, there’s a movement among journalists to respond to that last point.)

Those aren’t trivial accomplishments for the world. Yet many intellectuals waved Pinker off as an overly-optimistic privileged pollyanna who went beyond his expertise. 

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More notes on what I’ve learned about writing

Every year or so, I’ve gathered enough of a collection of notes and perspective and general writing about writing that I want to share here. This is especially geared toward creative and fiction writing, which is decidedly not what I am professionally trained in.

But I’ve always thought of myself as professional writer first, and so I routinely invest time in reading about process.

Below find some links and perspective that I share here likely more for me than anyone.

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Predicting the future isn’t as hard as predicting when that future will come

On a long enough timeline, you might be right about plenty.

The cars might drive themselves. The software might generate itself. The transited American “inner cities” might become wealthy hubs segregated from poor inner-ring suburbs.

You could make predictions for days. Looked indefinitely, there are few trends I’d challenge. If a bet is a tax on bullshit, it’s not the idea I’d be as quick to challenge as the timing. That’s because, of course, it’s easier to predict the future than it is to predict when that future will happen.

Predicting the future is difficult because it’s easy to expect that future to look too similar or too different than the past. That stays tricky because

Look at predictions about 2019 that Isaac Asimov made in 1983. It’s difficult. But he just might have gotten the timing more wrong than the content.

It’s worth remembering that the very reason our memory can be faulty may be a consequence of our evolved ability to imagine a future.

(Photo by Naomi Tamar via Unsplash)

Authenticity is having no other choice

Is that pizza authentic? What about that neighborhood? Or the clothes they’re wearing? Or the slang they’re using?

To my ears, authentic doesn’t mean famous or even necessarily good. Authentic is not having a choice. Or not even being conscious of the choice.

Someone is authentic when they are true to themselves; they haven’t conjured up some sense of self. Rather, they’ve remained more or less true to their experience. A product or service or idea or experience is similar. It’s doing a job without being overly aware of itself.

Authenticity is having no other choice.

Notes from reading ‘Sapiens,’ a brief history of humankind

Our species, Homo sapiens, first grew powerful by banding together through myth-making. That self-deception is our strength and our curse.

That is something like the thesis of Sapiens, a kind of pop anthropology anthology that has — like all books that generalize heady issues — caught both praise and derision. Written by Yuval Noah Harari, it was first published in Hebrew in Israel in 2011 and in English in 2014. I was gifted a copy by a collaborator of mine, Deborah Diamond and I ready it in a couple weeks. I’m sharing here some of what I got from reading it.

Public intellectuals seem to face a harrowing choice. Either dive deeply into their subject matter to influence their peers but risk their ideas remaining obscure, or focus on translating and synthesizing for a broader audience, and attract scorn from those deeper situated in the academic. Harari is squarely in the latter category, garnering a 2018 New York Times profile focused on the adulation he’s received from tech executives, despite his criticism of their work.

Like a breakout hit in linguistics that I read, I approach these books with neither extreme. I find them fun, discover ideas to dive deeper into and often get inspiration. That was my experience with Harari’s book — even though I found myself ignoring extended passages of his extrapolation. I enjoyed it.

Continue reading Notes from reading ‘Sapiens,’ a brief history of humankind