Keeping it short…but real.

Migraine set in, probably yesterday. I’ve dodged it off and on but it’s back with a vengeance right now, so I’ll keep this short and go pop the magic migraine-go-away pill.

I gave a talk today at the Ventura County Fair. The topic was “Wine Magazines: Who needs ’em, who reads ’em?” It started off there, but sort of morphed into other wine issues. The audience was polite and small. But in it was an old friend from my childhood.

When we moved to California, we moved in next door to the Sandground family. They were emigre’s from the UK and to make a long story short, we grew up together. Angela is my age and we went through school together. After my parents split, I left the San Fernando Valley and rather lost touch.

But there she was with her husband, Dirk and her two kids. We caught up and she told me about her brother, Grant, with whom I spent a good deal of time as a boy. Her father, Michael, rather took me under his wing when my the folks divorced and taught me an awful lot. I’ve been in touch with him since, but not in person. This was the first time I’ve gotten to see a Sandground in more than 20 years, I believe. It was really nice to catch up like that and to see people from my childhood like that. Now, here we are grown and moved on–she’s got a handsome family and, come to think of it, so do I! They stayed for the whole talk, by the way–and the kids were delightfully well behaved. I thought to myself “my daughter would be stirring in her seat crying to go see “something else…”

No sleep last night, that’s a topic for another post, and I’m off for sleep. Good night, gentles–all.

Some Days, you get the bear…

I hope I never have to finish that title. Today was one of those days I could write about forever. It’s a lot and I’m a happy guy.

The first and most important news was that Sue had several biopsies performed two weeks ago. She has suffered through malignant melanoma twice and we are quite fortunate that both were in situ, and required a minimal amount of surgery to remove with no follow up and no chemo. We were fortunate then and thankful.

Today, the biopsies revealed no malignancy beyond the basic abnormal sun and skin damage and all was well with her. It was a great feeling to go into the last month of summer vacation with a relatively clean bill of health. We were all ecstatic!

News item number two is that the Tempranillo over which Brian and I labored beginning last September and whose birth and creation is recounted in these pages, took the gold! Yes, we found out today that we won a gold medal at the Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. We didn’t win best of show, but that’s OK–we did win gold for our class (class 6, by the way–red wine, other). Both Brian and I had a lot of fun with the bragging rights today and this makes those bragging rights now sort of official–out there in the world, as it were. We won the gold. Very, very cool. We’re humbled and proud all at once.

News item number three is that I connected with the editor of Decanter Magazine. If you don’t know Decanter, it is one of the pre-eminent and cutting edge wine publications in the world. Based in the U.K., it has a wide readership internationally and has a powerful online presence. In my bid to write for them, the editor gave me a shot at a short piece. I’ve written the piece already and sent it in. I’m really excited about the opportunity to write for such a great magazine.

So, today was a good day and the events were enough to warrant a good slow pace today. Tomorrow? Who knows? That’s the beauty of summer.

The gospel of the Day.

Aside from lunch with the boy, it was a normal day. And that’s grand as it could be. The boy isn’t a boy at all, of course. Smart as a whip that one. We’re figuring out how to conquer the world together. Rather, he is–and I’m just along for the ride, lend a little mature gravitas and listen to him talk about how to conquer the world.

Later, Sue, Peanut and I went off to Harbor Cove beach in Ventura. A grand place, closed off from the open Pacific by the Ventura Harbor Jetty and so relatively easy for the little ones to run, jump and swim in. Peanut and I built a sandcastle together. OK, well-it wasn’t much of a sandcastle, more like a large protrusion in the sand, a sort of miniature volcano across which we smoothed our hands to make it more, well…castle-like. No artist am I and my daughter has promise, but she’s a bit young to take on the mantle yet. I made doors and a mote (“gotta have a mote, P.–all castles have motes”—-“OK daddy. Daddy? What’s a mote?”–ah, the naivete of a young child) and a keen little bridge for which to cross said mote. Yes, I know…that rather defeats the purpose of the mote. But, I wanted to defend the place, not be downright unwelcoming…

After that, she led me down to the breaking small waves and we caught sand-crabs. Now, I’m not a beach guy. Raised in the Midwest in my younger days, I never glommed on to the beach. When we came to California, I was exposed to it enough, but as much as I love the ocean, the water and such, I’m not a big fan of the beach. Sand and all that–and is it just me, or are there more sticks, bushes, broken trees and such at the beach? Well, I think so anyway. Unpleasantness abounds.

However, that has not stopped God from giving me a special gift; I am a master sandcrab catcher. The little buggers cannot get away from me. It’s the thing I do at the beach when I’m feeling hemmed in by all that sand. I collect several at a time and so, I taught Peanut how to catch them, too. She giggled when they tickled her hands as they dug down through the sand and she laughed and ran and showed one to her mom.

That’s when it occurred to me…The greatest joys I get in my life are spent doing things that really aren’t that big of a deal. Sure, I love writing stories for the paper and for the magazines for whom I work. I get a kick out of teaching, at times too. There’s nothing like connecting with students over a piece of work that really makes them think. But–the joys I get, collecting sandcrabs with Peanut or watching her show her mom one–those are joys for which I don’t really have to work. That’s OK, too. Because slowly, I’m beginning to realize that work is vital, fun and necessary–and entirely over-rated.

In Praise of Carbon Fuels

The power was out for 24 hours. It began Saturday morning at 6:30 when the ceiling fan, which was set to a cool and comfortable “high” suddenly stopped. The general hum of things went away–fridge, freezer in the garage, water-softener, ceiling fans, all of them stopped.

This happens from time to time here. For some reason, the giant So. Cal. Edison, doesn’t quite have the handle on things that they think they do–or that they pretend they do. No slight on their mightiness, it’s just that they’re a monopoly and they do things their way and there are very few back-ups for the system. The result is, we lose power around here at least 3 or 4 times a year. But this time, 24 hours without power…well, it was some kind of record.

So, when a cable went out, replacing it was a big deal. It wouldn’t “stretch,” according to the Edison guys. Good guys, by the way, all of them. They had a tough job to do which included digging a bunch of holes and finding out where the cable was while they dragged 800 feet of it across the neighborhood. When we decided to leave last night, it was a little after 8:00 P.M. The transformer that needed replacing, along with the connection point for the cable–is in front of my house.

There were three trucks, a backhoe and a lot of Edison guys in front of my house and they told us they’d be there all night. They were attempting to set up temporary power and I’ve not yet talked to the neighbors to see if they did. That would have been around 9:00 P.M. last night.

Instead, we stayed in a hotel up by our church. It was a really reasonable rate for where we stayed and we were glad we did it. When we learned that they restored power at 6:00 this morning, it cemented our good feelings about the decision. What’s even more interesting is that in some places, the power went out on Friday afternoon around 4:00. That’s a whole weekend without power and that’s simply not right.

The cliche’s about how we all live hanging by a thread to our modern-day world are overworked. But what puzzles me is the recent reaction. This experience cements in me very clearly that what we need to do is focus on providing consistent energy, a lot of it and create a distribution network that’s a little less…well….fragile.

That’s the idiocy of the global warming silliness. How are we going to distribute all that wind and solar power you want? I’m not saying we can’t–but, we need to think about that. Is it consistent? Storing that power is a big deal as well. I know we have already dealt with some of those issues, but not all of them.

So, drill more oil wells, burn more coal and do it soon. Sure, you want to do it cleanly? I’m fine with that. But there are sources of energy that we have not exhausted, oil among them–and we need more of them.

It’s time to burn ’em up.

Mid-life Crisis…year 5.

So, I started early….so what?

I’m in the midst of trying to figure out whether or not I should go over to Oxnard College and enroll myself in the hospitality and food management program. The director of the dept. is a really nice guy and he told me once, by phone, that he can train folks for a fraction of the cost of any of the culinary arts places. You don’t walk out as a certified chef, but you do have a degree and you are trained in chef techniques and cooking skills–which is close enough for jazz. It’s probably a mid-life crisis thing. Still–it sounds like an awful lot of fun and now that I’m a certified sommelier, it’d be a nice addition to that little badge.

Truthfully, I’m not sure that I could handle the life of a cook or even a restaurateur. My brother lived that life for quite some time and he has explained on a number of occasions what a brutal life it can be in terms of physical demands and hours. I’ve got a pretty weak back in general, so I know it’d suffer if I went down that road. Then again, if I was able to open a local micro-brewery with a kitchen, I could….well, it sounds good when I write it here.

It’s odd. I just think it would be a cool thing to do and I know that our little town here is ripe for such a place. There isn’t one–but there is a cool place to put it and already, little fun places are opening up all over Ventura Boulevard (in Camarillo) including a new Panini place called, strangely enough, the Panini Place. Enoteca Toscana (and no, Antonio doesn’t have website–for shame), is the coolest, hippest wine bar around with a lot of great wines and a very good petite plates menu. There’s Verona Trattoria that’s just excellent and then there’s a little bistro/bar that, in my opinion, isn’t very good–but gets a lot of attention. It’s just screaming for a cool brew pub with micro-brews and good fresh food.

So…who wants to back me?

Can't help myself

Yes, I know–we all get tired of it, but after all–it is a political season.

More on Gore-

The man is a lunatic and that is, if not literally documented, then certainly the refutations of his preposterous cries of global warming, amount to at least admitting as much. This latest little ditty from National Review Online is filled with…wait for it….facts! (h/t RCP)

I know, all you on the left are saying, “but NRO is a conservative publication. You can’t site that, it’s biased.”

Well….no.

As with so many NRO articles this one is very well documented and the facts are there for everyone to see. Gore’s pronouncements about the end of the world as we know it are so absurdly overblown, that as I’ve mentioned before, he’s simply become a parody of himself. His stubborn adherence to lies, damned lies and statistics that aren’t even based in fact are simply part of an act now.

I have a friend with whom I work who is a Gore disciple. He once asked me rhetorically, “how many scientists do you think agree with Gore, and how many do you think disagree?” He was asking because he was convinced–because the media and the UN told him so—that every scientist agreed with Gore. Now, of course, we know that this simply isn’t true. There is mounting evidence that nearly everything Gore says is, if not a lie, a gross exaggeration. His film, An Inconvenient Truth, bases almost all of its information on the now infamous “hockey stick curve” graph that has been completely debunked by scientists and statisticians.

In short, if you follow the real scientific evidence, what you’re left with is that the temperature has not gone up at all since 1998, that most of the models that show global warming are flawed in one or more ways, that the earth is a mightily complex and varied system that is difficult to comprehend and model and that at the end of the day, there is as much evidence to show that the idea of anthropogenic global warming is a fallacy as there is to show that it is happening.

Now that is a seriously inconvenient truth…at least for Al Gore.

While we’re on politics, I have to agree with Dick Morris, but I don’t think that my man McCain will do any of these things. I think, as I’ve thought for some months now, that Tim Pawlenty will be the next Vice-President of the United States.

Cheap Video Post

Ah, Midsummer. I’ve had enough freelance work to keep me plenty busy and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. It’s an honest to goodness blast and the days are diverse, interesting and full of activity….until now. Well, it’s not so bad. There’s a small slow-down at the paper, but I should be thankful–even during the slowdown, I’m getting stories assigned and meanwhile, I still have plenty of wine stories to write.

I’m not very wordy tonight, though I know I should be. I’m up for a blog-break but, I shan’t leave you without entertainment, gentles. Never fear.

I found this today at Youtube and being such a Rush fan of old, I thought it was hilarious. I didn’t realize that the band went on the Colbert report. But they did and Colbert was absolutely hilarious and Rush played Tom Sawyer–with Colbert’s comic relief toward the end of the song. Enjoy:

The Dark Knight

“Because Gotham gets the hero it deserves, but doesn’t need…” So says Commissioner Gordon about Harvey Dent, and inferentially about The Dark Knight himself. Certainly the best film of the summer, the latest installment of Batman is downright important film-making, downright wonderfully directed, acted and scored and downright fun.

I’m hard pressed to find flaws here and that’s rare in a film. You can always find something to grouse about. I couldn’t find anything here. The story is once again comic-book simple, but with nuance. Our hero finds himself beset by mobsters, gangsters (one played to the teeth by Eric Roberts) and henchmen wreaking so much havoc, that he fails to see the real villain, a monster who calls himself the Joker. By the time he does, he may as well be humming Steve Miller: “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you…” The you in this case could be Harvey Dent, the new District Attorney who represents a new home, a new light in Gotham and one by which The Dark Knight can remove the cowl, drape the cape and walk away as billionaire Bruce Wayne to be with Rachel Dawes.

One problem: Rachel loves Harvey Dent and Batman doesn’t know. Meanwhile, the joker’s crimes now begin to take precedence. Christian Bale’s performance is tight once again. I really think he is a fine actor. I’ve thought so since he did Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun. But in Batman, he has found an acting calling, a kind of renaissance role in a series of films that avoid the campy and silly Tim Burton cliche’s of the first Batman movie, but still refuse to take themselves too seriously.

The supporting cast, though, doesn’t just phone it in. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Maggie Gyllenhall, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman and, of course, the late Heath Ledger are all brilliant in their respective roles of Alfred the butler, Lucius Fox, the defacto head of Wayne Industries, Rachel Dawes, Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon and the Joker. All of them shine, but to ignore Ledger at this moment would be to ignore one of the real greased wheels that helps this film roll.

Strictly speaking, Ledger’s performance was electric. If the poor guy had lived, his stock would have shot through the roof. I’m fairly convinced that because of his untimely and sad death that he’ll get an Oscar nod for the role. But I’m just as convinced that had he lived he’d have deserved the nod indeed. Ledger’s Joker is without a doubt one of the most chilling and even terrifying roles I’ve ever seen played. At once ruthlessly cruel and a bit vulnerable, Ledger created a Joker that made Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Batman’s arch nemesis in the original Burton version look like amateur hour. Ledger never relents and even his voice, a kind of trademark baritone that the young actor was known for, takes on a new tenor with a Midwestern twang in it–pretty amazing for an Aussie-born actor and one of the best voice transformations I’ve seen since Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote.

The music in this film never overpowered, but it also wasn’t a background–at least not to me. It had an urgency to it that was raw, powerful and a bit unsettling. It left the viewer with a kind of mild caffeine rush as it builds majestically in the sweeping camera shots high above Gotham City but it also became very gritty, very focused and almost maniacally dance-able when the camera is in close or a fight scene is being shown.

This is no remake, of course. This is an entirely new and faithful interpretation of the DC Comic book The Dark Knight, brought into the flesh and blood world, made alive by a humanity that weaves into the film like a theme. Batman declares that sometimes, “people’s faith needs to be rewarded,” and as he tries to convince a much beset upon Harvey “Two-Face” Dent to do the right thing, he tells him that he “used to believe in people’s capacity for good…” It’s a fair statement and it’s given at just the right moment, when the infamous “Two Face” himself is about to cross over the line and ignore any goodness he has left.

These moments are all enhanced, of course, by the extraordinary special effects, the new toys that The Dark Knight gets to use and the absolutely riveting fight and chase scenes. This isn’t a film, it’s a total escape into a realm that is black and white and simple, while nuanced with the complexities of love, loyalty, friendship and madness. It’s an absolutely must-see movie with so much to offer that it’s hard to ignore. I’m still thinking about it–I know I’m going to dream about it and I’ll probably go and see it again.

This is the film, in short, that the public deserves–and needs.

Earth to Gore: Cool it.

Whenever I run across great articles like this one, I have to bally-hoo them (h/t RCP) For the 100th time (hyperbole there, you know), I absolutely question all the basic assumptions of the left on the issue of global warming. I don’t just say “they may be wrong…” From a very basic and clear understanding of who we are and what the earth is, I question the assertions made in this most absurd, ridiculous and downright arrogant attempt at centralizing everything.

There is plenty of evidence to show that global warming is A) not happening B) because it’s not happening, it’s impossible to say that man is causing it. But let’s go further still. Let’s assume for the moment that “climate change”, which is such a lovely and wonderful euphemistic term developed on the fly when global warming apostles saw that, in fact, the planet isn’t warming, is occurring in a negative way. There is almost no evidence to prove that man is causing it. None.

What fascinates me is the blatant hypocrisy, the truly arrogant hubris with which people like Al Gore makes his stupid pronouncements. As the above article suggests, Gore came down from on high last week and gave a speech about how the US should get off fossil fuels by 2018. Nevermind that this is a monumentally stupid idea: There are still PLENTY of fossil fuels out there and there are clean ways to get and distribute them. Wind power, on the other hand–does leave a rather large scar on the landscape. Imagine the corridor between Texas and Wyoming dotted with ugly white windmills. Where would cows roam? Nevermind too that to end our dependence on oil would mean that in 10 years, we’d have to research, develop and produce millions of products without oil. Medical industry syringes? Guess we don’t need those anymore–too much oil used in the creation of plastic. Tires? Now, we’ll make tires out of….garbage bags. Oh wait. Garbage bags are made out of oil. I could go on….

Add to that the very best part of the whole thing, the one that really knocks ’em all dead: Gore gave this speech and before it, advertised that those who came should ride in buses, public transit, trains–or other “environmentally clean ways.” As the author of the article points out: How did Gore arrive? He came in two Lincoln Town Cars and a large American SUV that sat with their engines idling and the air conditioners on outside the venue while he gave his speech.

Now, I’m certain the Secret Service has a policy about leaving engines running because of security. In fact, it’s my guess that they don’t give a damn about global warming–their job is to protect their charges and one of the ways to do that means being able to get out of someplace fast. But the air conditioners running? Why? Do those of us who are unimportant have to live within Al Gore’s parameters–but he doesn’t? Perhaps it was just too hot and poor Mr. Gore could not be expected to live by the rules he wants everyone else to adopt, right?

No–file this one under my now growing and bulging file: When Al Gore starts to actually behave like man-made global warming is a threat, then I’ll start to take him seriously. Until then, he’s a remarkable parody of himself, a joke in a suit and he makes the whole far left look incredibly ridiculous. And they didn’t need any help in that arena anyway.

Restoring Sanity

Last night’s post demands tonight’s post. We have begun Operation Restore Sanity in our home and it has been difficult, but even today–we are seeing dividends. Peanut has responded to our new regime favorably overall. The plan is a two week long affair that involves changes from the way Peanut goes to bed to the way she answers our questions when she’s asked. The difficult part for her, I believe, has been to notice that we have changed our behavior. We no longer tolerate the way she was doing certain things and at one point today, those two things clashed. I simply won and that’s all I will say…and in winning, I did not use physical force, I did not really raise my voice and I did not get emotional. I made a demand and the demand was met when it was apparent that I was not allowing any other options.

I don’t imagine all of it will be this easy, but at the core of Operation Restore Sanity is love–and Peanut knows this as we remind her of it consistently.

Sue and I were invited tonight to Cantara Cellars here in Camarillo. Mike Brown makes some really terrific wine with grapes from his family home of Lodi, California. He lives here–the grapes are there–and he trucks them down each fall. The results really do speak for themselves especially in his Zinfandel and his Petite Sirah, the latter of which won a double gold medal at the Orange County Fair this year.

I am going to be doing some preliminary writing work for Mike and Cantara Cellars to produce more content for their fledgling website. He and I will be sitting down this week to talk over what he wants to do and I’ll write “the story” as it were. It’s a fun niche, this wine business, and I told my wife tonight that I would rather be doing this than anything else. It’s just a tremendously exciting and vibrant business in which to take part.

Do us a favor, say a few prayers for us during Operation Restore Sanity. We need them. Happy Saturday to all!