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Friday, June 22, 2007

More Hopsiclery

Intrepid journalist that I am, I ventured to Rustico for lunch today to give the "hopsicle" a try (it's a tough job...).

Sadly, they're no longer serving them. At least until the state alcohol control tyrants give them the okay. The bar tender told me the owner is trying to cook the beer and add a few ingredients before freezing—just enough to let the idea fit under the exemption the Alcohol Control Board grants for cooking with alcohol. I did try the St. Louis Framboise that inspired the idea, though, and it's quite good, though my inner frat guy won't quite let me call it a "beer." But I'd imagine it'd make a delicious frozen treat.

Rustico's battle with the ABC over the hopsicle idea apparently made CNN earlier today.

Also, try the soups.

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Rustico is a fantastic little restaurant just a short distance from where I live. It's where I watch most the Colts games in the fall. It has a massive-but-thoughtful thoughtful beer menu, and really innovative, tasty lunch and dinner menus. Even the bar food is interesting (and delicious).

A few weeks ago, Rustico owner Greg Engert put a St. Louis Framboise in the freezer to chill and forgot all about it. A few hours later, he went back to retrieve the beer and noticed it had frozen solid. He chipped out a chunk, tasted it, and an idea was born: the hopsicle.  He quickly moved to put a variety of frozen beer treats on the menu.

Enter the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. We can't have people innovating, you know. And we certainly can have people making alcohol fun or interesting. As it turns out, beer must be sold in its original container, or poured immediately into a glass (though I'm not sure how this accounts for deserts or foods made with beer). So the state egency is sending an appropriately official sounding "special agent" to investigate.

Engert was on the Washington Post's local radio station yesterday, sounding appropriately deferential to his regulators, promising to work with them to make the idea legal. Though it's unfortunate he can't call them out for the petty tyrants they are, his sucking up is probably a wise move. Virginia's ABC is pretty notoriously authoritative. Would hate to see Rustico get the Rack 'n' Roll Pool Hall treatment.

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AMA: On Top of All the Important Stuff

Of all the problems doctors face today--onerous HIPAA regs, the painkiller prosecutions, battling with HMOs--you'd think the AMA would have more important things to spend its time on than putting out bogus polls about college kids on spring break and--the latest nonsense--voting on whether people can get "addicted" to video games.

Curiously, the AMA no longer makes its membership statistics public. I'd guess that's because they aren't doing so well. Most doctors I've talked to say the organization is a joke. One thing's clear: It's no longer an advocate for doctors. Or patients. It's an advocate for the more militant wing of the public health industry.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Back to Capitol Hill

I'll be testifying on Capitol Hill tomorrow as part of House Crime Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott's "Crime Summit." My topic is the militarization of domestic police departments.

I've also been tentatively invited to testify on July 19th, when Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers will hold hearings on the Kathryn Johnston raid.

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My Fox Column...

...this week is on videotaping the police.

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The New Professionalism

Man tasered for riding a bicycle. And a cop with a history of disciplinary problems in a police department with a history of stealing cash from motorists during traffic stops...gets caught stealing cash from a motorist during a traffic stop.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rep. Bachus and the Intertrons

I just received the transcript to my testimony before Congress earlier this month on Internet gambling.

I thought you might enjoy one of the odder exchanges I had at the hearing. The exchange was with Rep. Spence Bachus, and I guess this was supposed to be his "gotcha" question for me. To be honest, I was so floored by the sheer ignorance of the question, I didn't quite know how to respond. To set up the exchange, one of the points of contention during the hearing was the reliability of age verification systems. Enjoy.

Mr. Bachus: Mr. Balko, in your testimony, you sort of—you talked about one of the brands you singled out for praise was FullTilt Poker?

Mr. Balko: Well, that was one of the—it's one of the more reputable poker...

Mr. Bachus: One of the more reputable firms. Have you looked at their website?

Mr. Balko: Yes, I have.

Mr. Bachus: Did you read—you now, they have the biographies of some of the players, and you've seen those haven't you?

Mr. Balko: I'm familiar with several of the biographies of the top poker players, yes.

Mr. Bachus: Are you familiar with Ross Boatman's biography on their website?

Mr. Balko: No, I'm not.

Mr. Bachus: Let me tell you about him. [Reading from bio.] Ross was 10 years old when he played poker for the first time. His brother Barney, who is a little older than Ross, was playing with some friends, and after much pleading, they let him sit in.

His gambling career really didn't get started until a couple of years later, though, when he was 12 years old. Ross was too young and didn't have the money to play with those guys—I guess they're talking about his 14-year-old brother—but they let him sit and watch, and he learned plenty.

[Bachus, now looking at me.] I guess the verification system didn't work.

Mr. Balko [flummoxed]: I believe that all took place well before the age of Internet gambling, Congressman.

Mr. Bachus: Okay. Was it? I wonder why it's still on the site today.

This really is astonishingly dumb. Either Bachus is posturing and intentionally misleading people who don't know the difference between a guy who played poker with his brother 30 years ago and a website that lets kids gamble online (which in itself is dishonest) or he himself doesn't know the difference. Which is even scarier.


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Monday, June 18, 2007

Tasers and Seizures

This case is so strange, I can't help but wonder if there's something else to it.

If there isn't, wow. Some heads need to roll.

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From My Email File

The email continues to pour in on my Fox column from last April on the Duke lacrosse case. Below, a doozy.

Weird thing is, on some level I actually agree with this guy. If I were forced to guess Nifong's motivation, I'd guess appeasing his majority-black, largely liberal constituency probably had a lot to do with it. Just like white prosecutors can sometimes be blinded by white mob justice, and white attitudes toward the perceived black "criminal element." The problem, I think, is that we tend to measure a prosecutor's job performance on the number of convictions he wins, not by his sense of fairness and justice.

Of course, the rest of what this guy has to say is rather unfortunate. Which is why I'm more than happy to include his name. Email after the break.


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Reason Happy Hour

If you're in the D.C. area, you might consider coming out to the reason happy hour tomorrow evening. It's at the 18th Street Lounge at about 6:30pm.

Details here.

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Regina Kelly, Drug War Victim

So as I noted, this weekend, I spoke about the use and abuse of confidential informants at the ACLU's biennial conference in Seattle. One of my co-panelists was Regina Kelly, a resident of Hearne, Texas who was wrongly arrested, jailed, and indicted based on the word of a confidential informant who not only had psychological problems, but was facing his own robbery charges, and claims he was beaten by local authorities. She was one of 27 black residents of Hearne arrested based on information provided by the informant. Most, including Kelly, were later exonerated. I was so impressed with her speech I asked her to sit down for an interview.

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