Is Mitt Romney a Unicorn?

Pretty silly question, huh? Well, several bloggers have begun a campaign to “investigate”, even creating a website ( Their logic and criteria are, of course, absurd, but that is precisely their point; they are using exactly the same logic that Arizona’s Secretary of State and Bozo Trump are using to claim that President Obama is not really a native-born U.S. citizen.

Now that the birthers are (we can only hope) ultimately humiliated, is there any chance that we can start focussing on real issues? Not only is this birtherism a distraction, we all know in our subconscious that birtherism is racist.

The sterotypical racist is depicted as an undereducated redneck hick. That is a dangerous presumption. Sometimes, racists wear $1000+ suits and look respectable…with the possible exception of their hair.


Intelligent conservative is NOT an oxymoron!

I’m sure anyone reading this blog knows that I lean left politically, but I am far more concerned with people behaving intelligently regardless of ideology. Unfortunately, blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump get all the attention – which, in itself, begs a question about how we can get $$$ out of driving the news cycle – but there are people worth seeking out on the conservative side of the spectrum.

Jim Geraghty, who writes for National Review Online, is just such a person. Do I agree with everything he writes or says in interviews? No, of course not, but Geraghty strikes me as someone who loves his country more than he loves the sound of his own voice, as someone who is willing to listen to what others have to say, and as someone with the ability to stand back from the babble and chatter and examine it with a sense of humor.

I am confident that there are other Jim Geraghtys in the world, and their equivalents on the other side of the spectrum. We would all be better off following these people.

Chardonnay: Why all the arguing?

If there is a wine grape in the world that has a wider reputation range than Chardonnay has endured in the past 50 years, I have yet to read about or taste it. So, why has Chardonnay attracted commentary like “wine for people who don’t like wine” and “overpriced jug wine”, but also been the center of much of the global respect that the New World now commands, and whose European bottlings were the original wines to be called “poetry in a bottle?”

There are entire books written on the subject, so I’ll keep this brief. I believe there are three primary variables that account for the range in like/dislike for Chardonnay:

1. OAK. Used with discretion, oak is a wonderful enhancement for Chardonnay. Like other wooden storage devices, it allows a very gradual and minute amount of air to reach the wine that takes some of the sharper edges off of it, a quality that is especially desirable in wines containing a lot of malic acid. In addition, oak contains the chemical vanillin which, as you might guess, imparts a slight vanilla quality to the wine that makes even a bone-dry chardonnay seem fruity and even slightly sweet.

The problem is that some Chardonnays are so heavily oaked that no one can taste the underlying grape. In one of my tasting classes, I put a glass of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and dry Chenin Blanc next to each other and asked my students to taste each and take notes. I dosed the latter three with vanillin extract. The comments were interesting, but most interesting is that every single student (including some with experience in wine-tasting) assumed that all four wines were Chardonnnays! I would wager that a lot of people don’t even know what the varietal character of Chardonnay is supposed to be, but that statement begs the question…

2. TERROIR. Usually translated as “sense of place” it refers to the qualities that a wine picks up from its combination of soil, rainfall, angle of declination, latitude, degree days, etc. that are unique from place to place. When a Chardonnay is allowed to express its terroir, there are few grapes in the world that more wonderfully express a range of tastes. Unfortunately, when it became the most popular white wine, winemakers around the world all seemed to aim for the same sort of flavor: off-dry, easy to sip even without foods.

Want a real treat that will blow your taste buds! Try a bottle of Premier Cru Chablis (100% Chardonnay from the far north of Burgundy, not the jug wine from California) with raw oysters, mussels, or (if you can afford it) caviar. The Chablis has no oak, and the combination of the food and the wine is almost addictive, with the steely, crisp Chablis making you want to eat the salty seafood, making you want to drink the Chablis.

3. TONNAGE. Part of the problem with the meteroric rise in popularity of Chardonnay and the fact that it melds almost too well with oak is that it is an easy grape to grow for high profit. Unlike Riesling, Pinot Noir, or Nebbiolo, to name just a few, Chardonnay will grow almos everywhere. If you grow it in the hot, flat Central Valley, then dose it with lots of new oak, you can get yields of over 50 tons/acre and produce a wine that, to a novice, tastes significantly better than a run-of-the-mill house white. On the other hand, grown in a cool area and limiting yields to, i.e., 5 tons/acre, and you can produce wines that not only sell for over $100 bottle, but are worth it.

Enough for now. I’ll write about more Chardonnays as the weather gets warmer.

Learn the Constitution, for goodness’ sake!

Earlier this week, one of the letters to the Editor took the local newspaper to task for giving a “thumbs down” to the House of Representatives for their refusal to propose a budget that had any chance of being approved by the Senate and signed by the President. His argument? “You should also be taking the Senate to task. They haven’t proposed a budget at all. Obviously, you are showing your liberal bias!

Er, sir? Article One of the Constitution explicitly states that all revenue-based legislation must originate in the House of Representatives! Criticizing the Senate for failing to produce a budget makes as much sense as criticizing them for not passing a budget in Iceland!

If you are going to be an ideologue, at least learn enough about the Constitution so that you don’t look like a complete idiot when you publicize your opinions. Otherwise, the best you can hope for is to go unnoticed; the worst is for people to assume that people with your ideology are uniformly idiots.

The three (or four) steps essential to a democratic republic: Part Three

Well, I’ve delayed this long enough. I kept hoping for some inspirational way to close this, and nothing has been forthcoming.

I’ve already written about the first two essential steps for a successful democratic republic:  fair and open elections, and that the electorate must accept the results of the election. Step three is that the “losing” must offer what is often referred to as the “loyal opposition.”

Here is where it gets tricky, and where I was searching for a bright line to draw to better define the goal. What I do know is that there are a variety of ways in which an opposition canbehave, and that those ways can be placed on a continuum. At one end of the continuum is for the minority party to just roll over and allow the majority to have its way, without restraint. This probably sounds appealing if you are part of the majority, but it is very destructive in the long run. I would not want to live in a country in which every policy I believed I wanted would be granted; the ideas would become stale and would never stand a chance of improving. Only through an active marketplace of ideas can the best results be achieved.

On the other end, it is just as dangerous to have a minority that does nothing but obstruct the majority and prevent it from governing. Sadly, even Republican intellectuals  have pointed out that the current Republican policy is very close to this end of the spectrum. While Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) is most infamous for his statement that the only vital goal for Republicans was to ensure the defeat of President Obama in his bid for re-election, other GOP leaders have made similar comments on the record. This is not loyal opposition; it is disloyal to the United States and its citizens who badly need for Congress to work toward solutions.

So what is “loyal opposition?” It means both upholding the duty to challenge the majority party and force it to come up with the best possible policies, but it also means remembering that government loyalty is to the constituents and to the government as a whole. This means realizing that, as an elected official, you may not get exactly what you want, but it is more important to create policy that helps those who elected you and, more importantly, your country or state. Obstructionism might succeed in defeating your political foes, but then what is to stop them from turning around and doing exactly the same thing to you? This is a slippery slope that no republic can afford, and it is unfortunate that there seem to be so many GOP legislators at this time who think like Jim DeMint. I am old enough to remember great Republican legislators who managed to craft or strongly influence legislation that has been good for our entire country. When loyalty to ideology supercedes loyalty to citizens, that is selfish and immature, and you have no business being part of the government.

UPDATE:  In the wake of the growing  J.P. Morgan Chase scandal, Mitt Romney’s economic spokesman comes out and says that government should stay uninvolved and that the private sector can solve the problem. This is a perfect storm, combining obstructionism with a ludicrously rabid adherence to Ayn Rand-style ideology.

Reality creeping into my sports!

Sad to say, but reality is starting to creep into my sports. I love the SF Giants totally and irrationally, and my rooting is an escape from the real world (although the number of close games they play means that they are often greater torture than reality!)

They just started the last game of their series against Arizona and I realized that I really want the Giants to anhililate the Diamondbacks, embarrass them, humiliate them, run them out of the league. And it has little to do with baseball itself. But Jan Brewer and her jack-booted followers in state government piss me off so much that I have a big-time chip on my shoulder against the Phoenix metro area. You’ll notice that the sane, humane politicians in Arizona all seem to come from the Tucson area, and I suspect a much higher percentage of  their residents are multiple-generation Arizonans, compared to a high percentage of johnny-come-latelys in Phoenix who are there because they can’t stand the fact that “their” world was co-opted in whatever state they moved from.

So, thumbs up to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Tucson, etc., and any of my former students who happen to be in the Phoenix area. Otherwise, Phoenix can suck it.